After City Council’s chaotic August 21 meeting where outraged attendees commandeered the meeting to vent about the deadly Unite the Right hate fest, many have suggested that trying to immediately conduct business as usual probably wasn’t the best idea, and that a wounded citizenry needed a chance to vent its hurt, anger and frustration.
At its September 5 meeting, council conducted a town hall on the events of August 11-12. Even with opening the meeting to extended public comment, Councilor Kristin Szakos struggled to maintain order, and Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy declared that “white supremacy masks itself through politeness.”
Are Robert’s Rules of Order out the door at City Council?
Bellamy says politeness encourages people “to get over it” and tries to “shut people up” when they’re trying to express themselves. And he disagrees that people were shouting out their feelings at the council meetings.
“People were expressing themselves civilly,” he insists. “We have to empathize with people who are hurt over this.”
One speaker urged compromise on the Confederate statue issue. As he walked away from the podium, Bellamy said, “You left your hat, and when you get your hat, take that compromise with you.”
Szakos chastised her colleague, whom she had joined in calling for the removal of the monuments last year. “We are here to hear all voices, whether we agree with them or not,” she said, an admonishment that drew jeers from some of those in attendance.
Two days after the meeting, Bellamy is unabashed at his dismissal of a speaker.
“My question is why the oppressed always have to compromise,” he says. “Why is it they can’t express themselves?”
On Facebook, he posted a photo of himself making the black power salute at council, with the comment, “It’s OUR turn now. I’m tired of ‘compromising,’ I’m tired of ‘meeting in the middle,’ and I’m tired of other people who know very little about us trying to tell us how we should be or act or conduct ourselves.”
As for whether Robert’s Rules should be pitched for future City Council meetings, says Bellamy, “There are no norms. I don’t get why people are in a rush to get back to convention in an unconventional time.”
And while he reiterates that he is “embarrassed and ashamed to be part of a system that masks white supremacy,” he doesn’t intend to leave council before his term is up in two more years. “I don’t quit on anything,” he says.
After the meeting, Szakos declined to comment on Bellamy’s remarks. “It’s going to be awhile before we can know what a new normal is,” she says. “People are still reeling.”
One of those interjecting comments during the meeting was Rosia Parker, who ended up being escorted out of the meeting by activist Don Gathers, rather than being hauled out by police, which happened to three people August 21.
That, says Szakos, was not something she asked Gathers to do, and that police removing citizens “is the last thing we want.” Gathers and Parker did not immediately return phone calls from C-VILLE.
Others, however, are not denouncing civility or justifying the outbreaks that have plagued council meetings over the past two years, and say it’s a small group that doesn’t like the way the things are and have targeted City Council.
Former mayor Kay Slaughter attended both the August 21 and September 5 meetings. She came to the most recent meeting “because I felt there should be average citizens who weren’t raging.” Others, including former mayors Virginia Daugherty, David Brown and Bitsy Waters, came to support City Council, she says.
“There are thousands of people who may be upset who do not behave that way,” she continues. “It becomes a show. We need civility.”
Slaughter says the country as a whole needs civil discourse and should be able to discuss issues—and disagree.
“We should be able to stand up to white supremacy but not demonize everyone who believes they should not remove the statues,” she says. To those who conflate the hatred of the KKK and white nationalists with anyone who has a differing opinion, she says, “We should be better than that.”
Slaughter says she attended other post-August 12 forums, such as one at the Jefferson Center, where people were angry, but didn’t attack others there.
“It is troublesome that people feel they’re empowered to not let other people express their views,” she says. ”We are a democracy.”