On the heels of the controversy of Wilson County Commission District 1 candidate Robert Fields’ racially charged comment about opponent Tim Roehler’s wife and children on Facebook, The Lebanon Democrat polled each of the incumbent, incoming and outgoing commissioners to get their thoughts on the matter.
On Friday, Fields said Roehler “kept quiet” he was in an interracial marriage and had two interracial children in a Facebook post. The post was made after it was revealed Fields and Roehler tied with 526 votes apiece in Thursday’s Wilson County General Election.
Incumbent Commissioner Annette Stafford said she took the comments personally.
“I have bi-racial grandchildren and can’t believe he would publish those comments,” she said. “It upsets me to the hilt. It’s terrible for him to make the comments. I have six bi-racial grandchildren and two African-American grandchildren, and we don’t see color. I just wonder if he says those things publicly, what does he think privately?”
Commissioner-elect Kevin Costley said, “I’m just trying to wrap my head around this. It just blows my mind that someone would bring up the color of his wife and kids. It is a county commission race. I don’t know why that needed to be brought up. I don’t believe those kind of comments need to be in politics or in this world.”
Commissioner-elect Chris Dowell, who will be the only black commissioner except for Stafford when the new commission is seated, was offended by Fields’ comment.
“First of all, I don’t know what would make him say something of that magnitude,” Dowell said. “My first thought was that he’s not going to like me, because I have an interracial marriage and my children are interracial. That statement shouldn’t have been said, and for him to then go back on what he said about dropping out isn’t right either.
“If I can share light, since I am in the same situation as he is, if it does go to the election in November, I am going to the polls to help that he had changed his mind.”
Commissioner Sonja Robinson said Fields showed “poor judgement” in writing the comment. She said, “It is between the two candidates, and we need to let it go where it needs to go.”
Incoming Commissioner Lauren Breeze said she didn’t understand why Fields brought up race.
“If he wrote that, I just wonder how comfortable the people in his district would be in picking up the phone and calling him if they needed something,” she said.
Incumbent Commissioner Sara Patton said she disapproved of the comment “whether he meant for it to be seen or not. There is no room for racism in Wilson County government.”
In all, 16 calls to commissioners were unanswered. Each of the messages relayed asked their comments about the issue and requested they call back. Calls were made to commissioners Chad Barnard, Jerry McFarland, Terry Scruggs, Frank Bush, Dan Walker, John Gentry, Matt Wilson, Terry Muncher, William Glover, Wendell Marlowe, Tommy Johns, Mike Justice, Mike Kurtz, Cindy Brown, Sue Vanatta and Jim Emberton.
Commissioners Bobby Franklin, Terry Ashe, Diane Weathers, Gary Keith, Joy Bishop and Justin Smith said they did know enough about the issue to comment. Commissioner Kenny Reich had no comment.
Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto said he was not able to read the comments or stories in The Lebanon Democrat because he was picking up election signs.
Multiple calls to Fields were not returned Monday.
Fields said Sunday he planned to concede the election to Roehler on Monday but changed his mind Sunday night. Hutto said, according to Secretary of State Tre Hargett, Fields can’t concede until after the provisional ballots are counted.
“Regardless of whether a person concedes prior to provisional ballots being counted, on our end, we still count the votes and certify the winner or a tie,” said Madison Tracy with the secretary of state’s office. “At that point, it is out of our control. In the case of a tie, the county commission can break the tie or call for a runoff.”