SPRINGFIELD — A large crowd jammed into the township commissioners meeting Tuesday night to castigate an elected official for what they believe was a sexist, misogynist social media post.

And they had to wait through the entire public meeting, until the public comment section, to air their grievance against Sixth Ward Commissioner Bob Layden for what they believe was offensive material posted on his social media page.

Then eight speakers went to the podium to to fault Layden for posting an image or meme that seemed to make light of rape and sexual assault.

Each, in their own way, criticized Layden for posting an image – apparently meant as a “joke” – that took a jab at former President Bill Clinton. Each noted the post was that was offensive to the issue of rape and sexual violence.

Layden did not create the meme, and denied that he supported sexism or misogyny.

 “To read into (the post) that I support sexism and misogyny is absolutely ludicrous," he said from the podium. "It is blowing something out of proportion. It was a joke about (President Bill) Clinton. It’s ridiculous that people cannot take a joke.”

Jeanette Herrington and Bonny Hodges certainly did not see the humor. They spearheaded the well-organized attendance by more than 50 residents who were young and older, men and women. Herrington was the first speaker, strongly stating such a posting perpetuates a “rape culture” without regard to its effect.

“Elected officials should be held to a higher standard which require (Layden’s) resignation,” said Herrington, the first to state the demand consistently repeated by others that Layden step down.

As a Sixth Ward resident, Karin McCurdy Melfi said Layden represents her, but not her personal interests or well being.

“What were you trying to communicate?" she asked. "You and your fellow commissioners should care about your reputation and work. As a public servant, you have power,” said McCunney.

Evan Bradley was the only man to speak, but clearly not the only male in the audience. He said Layden’s action represented a “recurring theme” of sexism and racism.

"I don't have to explain to my children why it is inappropriate to joke about other people's bodies ... they're smart enough to know this already; what I should not have to explain to my children is why we have a leader in our community who thinks that it is OK to criticize the appearance of women he doesn't like," Bradley, the father of sons, said.

“There would have been more people here, but for the trigger the discussion would have,” said Hodges, referring to situations that recall a trauma, similar to soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Hodges said while the post negatively affected many, there seemed to be “a lack of overall negative response attached to the post, including from fellow commissioners. However, Commissioner Paul Wechsler later replied to this observation, saying, “To connect the dots that commissioners review (everyone else’s) post is inaccurate. To make the assumption we all look at Facebook for each other’s posts is wrong.”

Among the most poignant and pointed comments were those of teenager Molly Allen, attending with her mother, Lisa.

“I was going to middle school in Springfield and experienced sexual harassment," Molly Allen told the board. "I left to attend a Friends school. But where are people learning to do this?” said Molly of the behaviors.

Each speaker closed with the same two directives: Commissioners should hold a colleague accountable for such actions, and that Layden should resign his seat on the board.

Layden chose to respond from the dais. “To read into (the post) that I support sexism and misogyny is absolutely ludicrous. It is blowing something out of proportion,” said Layden. “It was a joke about (President Bill) Clinton. It’s ridiculous that people cannot take a joke.”

In what up to that point had been an ordered and restrained meeting, the audience then began to call out comments. Layden’s reply was that he was “not going to apologize.” Asked by Commissioner President Jeff Rudolph if there was anything more, Layden said, “I’m done.”

Following the meeting, Herrington said an apology – if genuine – might have helped, but did not suggest it was enough.

“I have hope and faith that the commissioners will do what’s right.”

In a somewhat ironic reference, Hodges said those attending rallied by “word of mouth,” not from a social media effort.

“We are obviously very concerned,” said Rudolph. “The board will certainly review this.”

 Rudolph and Wechsler were the only members of the board of commissioners who commented.

Layden, a public insurance adjuster by profession, was elected in 2011 to replace the former commissioner and re-elected in 2013 and 2017. He was not available for further comment on advice of counsel, said Township Solicitor Jim Byrne.

“Clearly we are going to look into this,” Byrne said, noting he would specifically be reviewing state codes regulating First Class Townships.

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