Bradley County NAACP President Lawrence Armstrong addressed the Cleveland City Council Monday afternoon regarding racial slurs Councilman Charlie McKenzie allegedly made while working as a sheriff’s deputy.
Mr. Armstrong said, “I want the council to consider the information that’s before them in reference to Mr. McKenzie’s statement. I know there were questions earlier as to whether or not this is a matter of the council. Every one of you took an oath of office. In that oath, morally you have an obligation to the community.
I just ask that you each look at this particular situation. It is a sense of hatred that this demeaning language has been used. These are actual statements that were submitted by two police officers. Again, Mr. McKenzie has never denied these allegations. I’m asking that you hold him accountable.”
Member of the city of Cleveland Parks and Recreation Department Hiawatha Brown addressed her statement to Councilman McKenzie. She said, “I don’t know you and you probably don’t know me, but as an elected official, we hold you to a higher standard. Those are the same type of standards that we hold each elected official. I am not from your district, but I have family members that live in your district. As a citizen of this city, I’m appalled at the information that I read. Yes, it may be a witch hunt and there may be political undertones, but the statements that I read from sworn members of the police department cannot be overlooked. I’m asking you to resign as city councilman of your district.”
Councilman Richard Banks responded, “Sometimes perception is stronger than the truth. This council is in an awkward position. Charlie McKenzie represents the constituents in his district with many issues. He said some things that were very upsetting. We are at a disadvantage because we don’t know under what context he said those things. We are, as our city attorney said, limited by what we can do by our city charter. There was not an official act by Charlie that we can do anything with.
"How we are perceived is very important. Mr. Armstrong was obviously upset because of the timing of Charlie’s apology. We have in the past had some contentious issues and people from both sides come together and meet to talk about their situations. That’s what I suggest you do. A meeting with Charlie to see if there’s been any misunderstanding about the words that were said and then make a decision on what you think he ought to do. Clearing the air would be an important thing to do. This is an important matter that needs to be resolved.”
Councilman George Poe said, “I represent all the people of the city. I’m an At Large councilman. All the things going on concerning this issue are rumors to me. All my life, I’ve heard rumors with no way to prove them. I feel bad saying we should be running the sheriff’s office. All I know is rumors.”
Councilman Bill Estes commented, “Richard Banks is right in saying there needs to be a conversation. Context should not matter with words like that. This doesn’t end today. Everyone has moral values.”
Mayor Tom Rowland said, “Communication is one of the better things we can do.”
Resident Jonathan Porter addressed the council saying, “As city council members, all of you are held accountable to the city.” He asked Councilman McKenzie, “You didn’t say whether I said that or not, did you? You said if I did say it I apologize. That’s not answering, that’s if I did, so it’s an if.”
Councilman McKenzie agreed to meet with Mr. Armstrong, Mayor Rowland, constituents and other council members to discuss the matter.
In other business, several rezoning requests passed unanimously. They were final passage of zoning ordinance No: 2013-03, rezoning 5673 and 5693 Mouse Creek Road NW from R2 to CN. The Planning Commission approved the decision 7-0; 1 member absent. Zoning ordinance No: 2013-06 correcting the zoning map error by rezoning property abutting Morningside Drive NE and Pryor Road NE near Gale Drive from R1 to R3. The Planning Commission approved the decision 9-0, and zoning ordinance No: 2013-07 denying rezoning property at 432 Mason Road SW and 452 Mason Road SW from RA to CH. The Planning Commission denied the decision 9-0.
Cleveland City Offices will be closed on Monday in observance of President’s Day. The Cleveland City Council will hold its next voting session meeting Monday, Feb. 25, at 3 p.m.