Wilson County commissioners approved a resolution Monday evening that voiced their opposition to racism that stemmed from a racially charged comment made by incoming District 1 Commissioner Robert Fields, but 10 commissioners abstained.
The vote count on the resolution showed 14 voted yes, zero voted no, and there were 10 abstentions.
Commissioners who voted yes were Becky Siever, Adam Bannach, Jerry McFarland, Kenny Reich, Terry Scruggs, Sara Patton, Jeff Joines, Mike Justice, Gary Keith, Terry Muncher, William Glover, Annette Stafford, Sonja Robinson and Wendell Marlowe.
Commissioners who abstained were Bobby Franklin, Chad Barnard, Frank Bush, Terry Ashe, Diane Weathers, Sue Vanatta, Joy Bishop, Dan Walker, John Gentry and Jim Emberton.
Following the Aug. 2 election, the District 1 race between Fields and opponent Tim Roehler was tied at 526 votes each. The next day, Fields posted a comment on Facebook, which he claimed was the answer to a question, that said Roehler “kept quiet” he was in an interracial marriage and had two interracial children.
The comment caused an uproar from some commissioners who denounced the comments and called it racist.
Before Monday’s resolution was passed, Franklin said he would like to defer the measure until Fields was sworn into office.
“I’d like to defer this until the person takes his seat,” he said. “I would rather wait until he’s here and do this to his face and let him respond to it. There’s no need that we have to declare we’re not racist because a private citizen said that. Once he takes office, that’s another thing, but I’m not going to do it behind his back.”
Joines, a cosponsor of the resolution, said there was no reason to delay the vote because “there’s no one mentioned in this resolution. This simply says we don’t support racism and racist remarks.”
Siever, whose District 1 seat Fields will assume, said the comment was “appalling to the people of my district, and I’ve received many, many calls about this situation. It’s important that we as a body do not condone any such behavior. I urge the county commission to vote unanimously to our opposition to any such comments.”
Patton, who authored the resolution, said the vote was to let the public know “that we don’t condone racism whatsoever.”
Stafford, an African-American woman, said, “We need to vote yes and stand up strong as a county. We have a lot of diversity in this county, and we need to let the people know it doesn’t matter what race, creed, color, gender, religion or any of that should matter. I would hope and pray that we give some kind of confidence in this county that we don’t condone racism at all.”
Justice said, “the saddest thing of all is that this body cannot remove this man from office.”
Bishop said, “I’m thinking this is something we might not even need. We don’t need to be throwing stones, and it seems to me that our actions may speak louder than our words in this resolution. I don’t feel comfortable voting for or against this. I wish it had been pulled from the packet.”
The commission voted not to defer the resolution, and it passed on a 14-0 vote.
Because the comments were made prior to Fields sworn in as commissioner and because he was a private citizen at the time, nothing can be done to him once he is sworn in, according to county attorney Mike Jennings.
Commissioners also voted overwhelmingly Monday for District 6 incumbent Reich to remain as county commissioner, after he tied with Kevin Graves in the Aug. 2 general election.
The results of paper balloting during the commission meeting were 22 for Reich, zero for Graves and two abstentions.
Reich and Graves ended the general election with 571 votes each. Because there were no provisional ballots, which might have broken the tie, there were two options to determine the winner. Commissioners could vote on their choice, or the race could go to a runoff on the Nov. 6 ballot.