The Casco Board of Selectmen tonight will consider whether to censure a board member for forwarding a racist e-mail about Michelle Obama.

That board member, Barbara York, is expected to announce whether she plans to resign.

The content of the e-mail, which has circulated widely on the Internet, is presented as a joke. It includes side-by-side images of the first lady and a monkey with similar facial expressions. In the punch line, a father tells his daughter that Sarah Palin descended from Adam and Eve, and that Obama descended from monkeys.

York forwarded the e-mail July 31. She has not named the recipient. It was not a town official.

The e-mail became public knowledge two weeks ago, when Mary-Vienessa Fernandes, an African-American resident of Casco, handed out copies of it at a selectmen’s meeting and demanded York’s resignation.

The board has pushed its regular business off tonight’s agenda so it can focus on the one issue, which is expected to draw a large crowd to the Casco Fire Station.

Town Manager David Morton said board members need to make it clear that they reject the racist imagery in the e-mail and affirm that Casco is a great place to live for people of all races.

He said he suspects that York, who is in her 70s and has served on the board since the early 1990s, will speak from a prepared statement. Morton said the past two weeks have been emotionally difficult for her.

“I think she’s really crushed,” he said. “She’s saddened, upset and embarrassed.”

York has not said publicly why she forwarded the e-mail. She declined to return phone messages left at her home.

Two weeks ago, she told WGME-TV: “I thought it was a joke-type thing. Nothing vicious.”

An official from the NAACP will attend tonight’s meeting, said David Lourie, chairman of the group’s Legal Redress Committee.

Lourie said there has been a sharp increase in the number of such incidents around the country since the election of President Obama. When people forward racist e-mail jokes, he said, they are “enabling” the spread of racism.

Lourie said he would like to know more about York’s intent at the time she forwarded the e-mail. At the least, her behavior showed a lack of judgment, he said.

“She is supposed to be representing all of the people of Casco, including those of color,” he said. “She should have known this was offensive.”

Still widely unknown is how Fernandes got a copy of the private e-mail. At the meeting two weeks ago, Fernandes said someone had left it at her door.

Fernandes could not be reached for comment Monday. Her housemate, Becky Behlen, said an elderly woman came to the house and admitted to leaving a printout of the e-mail at the door. The woman said she was “appalled” that a town official had forwarded it, and that she wanted Fernandes to be aware of it.

Behlen would not identify the woman.

Some residents have accused Casco Helping Casco board members of distributing the e-mail to discredit York. The group is feuding with Morton and York over accounting issues related to its heating oil assistance fund.

Behlen said the woman who distributed the e-mail is not affiliated with the group. She said she is upset that some officials and residents are now blaming those who made the e-mail public, rather than addressing racism.

“They are getting away from the issue. It’s appalling,” Behlen said. “This little clique is trying to defend her.”

Jeannine Oren, a board member of Casco Helping Casco, contacted the media about York’s e-mail.

“Because of the uproar, I have been demonized because of this,” Oren said. “This whole thing has been handled inappropriately.” A vote to censure York would amount to a public reprimand.

The town attorney has prepared the motion of censure. Calvin Nutting, the board’s chairman, said he’s not sure who — if anyone — on the board will make the motion. Another selectman would have to second the motion to have it be discussed and to allow for public comment.

Nutting said the board has only one other legal option: issue an apology to residents from the board.

Before discussion about the motion begins, Nutting said, he expects York will say whether she will resign.


Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]


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