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County Council, November 1

More criticism of the Chair
But some went too far
Warwick Jones

Last nightís meeting was tense. It had nothing to do with what was on the agenda. It had all to do with the Chairmanís comments to the Coastal Conservation League and Nix 526, published in the Post and Courier some weeks ago. But we will start this commentary with the report on the first item of Councilís agenda Ė a presentation which is relevant to citizenís comments.

The presentation was about the progress made in the participation of minority businesses in County contracts and procurement. Until about 10 years ago, there was little interest on Council, and participation was low. Following the introduction of single-member districts and the election to Council of three black members, a target rate of 10% participation was set. This target was realized and was raised to 20% in 2011. This target again was realized, and this year, the target was raised to 25%. Staff in the presentation recounted the progress in minority business participation. The staff complement involved was about 6 and had done much to encourage and educate minority businesses. It now sought Councilís approval to move further - to offer aid in creating business plans, help to access capital, support for obtaining patents and other things. It also required more staff.

Council applauded the success of the program. It also endorsed staffís plan to move further but asked staff to come back with some estimates of funding for the new initiatives.

There were a number of speakers, all African Americans, in citizenís participation last night. As those were in the last Council meeting, the citizens were critical of Chairman Summey for the recorded remarks. But there was more. Council members, black and white, were criticized and so were white folk generally. Much of the criticism was similar to that in the previous Council meeting. Some folk criticized Council members for being tardy to condemn the Chair. The criticism went beyond what Chairman Summey said and the Councilís tardiness. It was directed at Council specifically and the community in general. Council had not done enough for the black community, and the white community was charged with racism. Even some well-known entities such as the NAACP were accused of being financed by the white community. And some white mayors such as the Riley and Summey were charged of making gestures to the black community that were token, and made only to further their own causes.

Viewers of this site know our opinion of Chairman Summeyís comments. They were wrong, offensive, demeaning and patronizing. We thought that the most appropriate thing for the Chair to do was immediately resign. We would say that these views were shared by every citizen who spoke in the citizenís participation period. Some of us wondered at the tardiness of Council members to step forward and immediately criticize the Chair for what he said. But it was clear when Council members spoke at the conclusion of last nightís meeting that all shared our view of the Chair's remarks. Some indicated that they urged the Chair to step down.

Ii was Council member Johnson that explained the tardiness of Council members to act. Council cannot force the resignation of the Chair. Under the Countyís rules, the Chair can continue until the end of his/her term. Nor can Council force a resignation of a member. So if Chairman Summey insisted on serving out his term, Council members could do little. But having said that, we would agree with the citizens that there was no reason why Council members could not have come out immediately to condemn the Chairís comments.

The highlight of speeches last night was that of Council member Darby. It was very emotional and his voice broke a number of times in the delivery. It was one of his finest and I donít think there was a Council member unmoved. He spoke of the transgressions of the Chair and in earlier speech referred to their ugliness. He did not defend the Chair except to say that the accusations of racism made against it were unfounded and unfair. His ire grew strong when he reflected the criticism made of him and other black members of Council, and of white folk generally. He rightly pointed to the progress that had been made by Council in increasing diversity within the County. He also recounted his own personal experience from early years to the present and the difficulties in lifeís progress. He looked to his present position. His early years were impoverished and his achievements would not have been possible if it were not for the efforts of white folk who too fought for racial justice. He also spoke of how Dr. Martin Luther King's philosophy had influenced his life.

There was bitterness and hurt in Council member Darbyís words. We would challenge anybody to say that Council members Darby and Pryor had not done their utmost for the black citizens of the community. The words he spoke reflected his resentment, to be accused of indifference and ineffectiveness. He was indignant that he had to defend himself from accusations by other black folk, the folk who he had tried so hard to help over the years. And his indignation extended to the wild claims made about white folk generally.

We were not able to see the full impact of the speech but it seemed the eyes of of Council member Condon and Chairman Summey were wet#. Council member Condon spoke after Council member Darby and her speech uncharacteristically was subdued, seemingly overwhelmed by the weight of Council member Darbyís emotion. Chairman Summey concluded the session and I think, for the first time, we saw real contrition in his eyes.

As earlier reported, Chairman Summey indicated last week that he will not seek reelection when his term ends at the end of this year.

# The writer has temporarily lost the sight of one eye and cannot attend meetings. This report was written after observing the meeting as recorded on the County web site.

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