MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Protesters gathered outside the Muskegon County administration building Tuesday while inside, commissioners debated a resolution to censure a member who posted a homophobic slur on Facebook.
Commissioner Zach Lahring, a Republican representing the southeastern portion of the county, posted to Facebook mocking fellow Commissioner Bob Scolnik. Scolnik, who chairs the board, is also a Republican and represents the Norton Shores area. The posts questioned Scolnik’s relationship to the LGBTQ community and one used a slur. They have since been removed.
Ahead of the Tuesday meeting, Lahring told News 8 he has no regrets or apologies. During the meeting, he said he was exercising his right to free speech in his posts.
“I’ve been insulted and offended and I’m not raising a debacle about it. They have a First Amendment right; I have a First Amendment right. It’s called freedom of speech,” Lahring said.
Commissioners voted 5-4 Tuesday to send the censure resolution to the Human Resources committee, who will decide whether the resolution will go before the full board for a final vote. The vote would happen in two weeks.
During the meeting, Commissioner Malinda Pego said while she doesn’t condone name calling, this is a free speech issue. Other commissioners said it should be up to Lahring’s constituents to “censure” him through voting.
“This is political in nature and I think we need to move on with county business and work on those issues and move forward,” said Commissioner Doug Brown, who represents District 8.
Censure is a largely symbolic move; even if the board votes to censure him, Lahring wouldn’t lose his job but some commissioners say it will send a message.
“I don’t mind opposition, but it’s just very divisive and it’s to the point where it’s almost embarrassing for us as commissioners and a lot of people in the community. Especially when it starts impacting our county as a whole. We’ve got people talking about not bringing their friends here, not renting here,” said Commissioner Charles Nash, who represents District 6. “We don’t have any other recourse but a censure, so if that’s all we have, then let’s just send the message.”
Scolnik said he’s brushed off his fellow commissioner’s comments before, but this time, Lahring took it too far.
“I ignored him because I didn’t want to draw attention to him and give him a bigger platform. Well, when he posted this thing about being a little queer and having a foot fetish … he pushed me too far,” Scolnik said. “You want to start a war, sure I’ll start a war.”
Protesters at the rally said they have had enough of Lahring’s hateful words. He faced similar criticism earlier this year, with opponents saying he wrote racist or otherwise offensive social media posts.
“Zach Lahring is not a representation of Muskegon,” one protester said Tuesday. “We are a very diverse community. To have someone in power who every post has some type of hate hidden within it, we’re not standing for it any longer. We put you in this seat; it’s time to take you out.”
Lahring said activity on Facebook should not have an impact on county operations.
“Facebook is a joke that if they’re going to make a mess like this out of Facebook, Facebook is editorial, it’s ethereal. It has no relevance on county business,” Lahring said.
Ready for the battle, Scolnik’s supporters want to see Lahring booted from office.
“It’s very shameful to know he’s here and has a voice in what’s happening in Muskegon County,” another protester added.
Also earlier this year, Lahring voted yes on a motion for conservative chunks of Muskegon County to secede and form their own county. That measure failed.