Council vote is a deadlock on McKenzie
by DAVID DAVIS, Managing Editor
Feb 26, 2013 | 2218 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Charlie McKenzie
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Two votes by the Cleveland City Council left the governing body evenly split, one that went beyond the Council chambers and continued in front of the Municipal Building.

Just how far and wide the split will be could be determined by Councilman Charlie McKenzie.

The Bradley County Chapter of the NAACP plans to begin distributing petitions throughout the city on Saturday.

Chapter President Lawrence Armstrong said after the Council meeting more information will be released as the plan emerges.

The two votes were taken on items added to the agenda by 2nd District Councilman Bill Estes. The two nonbinding votes were in response to allegations that McKenzie made racial slurs in the performance of his duties as an employee of the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office. The first was to censure McKenzie. The second was to ask for his resignation.

So far, McKenzie has neither confirmed nor denied he spoke racial slurs, as alleged by two deputies in written statements.

Estes, Vice Mayor Avery Johnson and At-Large Councilman Richard Banks voted in favor of the censure and resignation. Fourth District Councilman David May, 5th District Councilman Dale Hughes and At-Large Councilman George Poe all voted against the censure and asking for the resignation.

Mayor Tom Rowland was silent throughout the discussion except to call for the votes.

Armstrong said Monday after the meeting the outcome of the votes was not a surprise.

“We pretty much know how everybody feels about certain things. This is one of those hard tasks. It’s kind of like disciplining your own children sometimes. You don’t like certain things that they do,” he said.

“Right now, you have a Council member who made some bad judgments, made bad decisions and bad behavior and unfortunately, because of the closeness of these individuals, the relationship that they do have, this becomes more personal than business. If we would just look at this from the business side and what’s best for our community at large, then I think everyone would do the right thing.”

The pastor of the city’s oldest black church said the outcome was a joke — and not a funny joke.

The Rev. Teresa Oglesby of Price Memorial Zion AME said, “It’s a joke and it’s not a funny joke. I’m definitely not pleased, because I’m a part of this city and for that to be on the national news — we’re embarrassed by what he said and then he cannot apologize. He owes the city an apology.”

But, she said the entire controversy surrounding McKenzie would have already ended had he simply admitted his mistake in the first place.

“Absolutely (it would be over with) because then he would have taken responsibility for what he said. As long he says, ‘I don’t remember,’ there’s no responsibility,” she said.

Prior to Monday’s vote, May said, “I feel like I should not judge a member or members. I feel like they were elected by the voters and it’s up to the voters to judge each and everyone of us. I vote no.”

Hughes said, “People who know me know I abhor any racial slurs. I repeat, I abhor any racial slurs. As a coach at Lee University, I recruited numerous African-Americans to play on my team. I traveled all over the country with them and had a great relationship.”

As principal of Bradley Central High School, he said there were four African-Americans in the senior class in which Alfonso Martin was named “Mr. Bradley.”

“I loved it. I applauded it. But for me to say to a fellow Council member I am going to censure you, I’m going to ask you to resign. That’s not my position, so therefore, I vote no,” he said.

Banks said, “We’re in an awkward position like we talked about last time. I’m going to vote aye. It doesn’t mean Charlie’s not my friend. I just wish there had been more discussion. I don’t know that that’s really effectively happened.”

He said Johnson extended an olive branch at the Feb. 11 meeting and wishes McKenzie had made a statement.

“We don’t, as a city, need to be involved in this discussion,” Banks said. “It’s a personal, individual act on Charlie’s part and I would think for the city’s benefit and the Council’s benefit, he would have taken more of an active stance in admitting the mistake and rectifying the wrong.”

Poe said, “I do not feel right telling somebody else who was elected by the people how they should conduct themselves. I feel like the people of his district ... which I don’t belong to that district. I can’t vote for or against him in that district, and I’m not voting to do anything to him. I have to vote no.”

McKenzie said during the exchange outside the Municipal Building with Oglesby, “The best I can remember, it’s been two weeks ago, it (the situation) kept saying what I said and when I said it. I said I didn’t say it. It kept on, it kept on, and it kept on, and I said, if I said anything like that, I apologize to everyone here.”

“But you said ‘if’ and therefore you just eliminated —” Oglesby interrupted.

“I can’t tell you what I said six weeks ago,” McKenzie replied.

Oglesby reminded McKenzie he represents the entire city and he cannot simply apologize to her. “You represent this city, so stand up now and —”

McKenzie said, “I made a statement here, awhile ago upstairs, I made a statement to this lady. I don’t need to make any more —”

“But Charlie, we haven’t heard you clearly say you’re sorry and until we hear you say you’re sorry, we’re going to come here and keep sitting in on your meetings,” Oglesby said. “We want to see you stand up and be a man.”

McKenzie read a prepared statement during the Feb. 11 meeting that said he “has and will continue to serve every citizen equally, no matter what color or race and — if — I ever said something to offend anyone — I apologize. I don’t think anyone can get their story straight. The first story I heard, I beat up a guy over at the sheriff’s department. I’ve never arrested anybody in the last six months. I serve warrants. So, until somebody tells me something, I don’t believe nothing.”

McKenzie continued, “If that’s Mr. Ruth’s statement, they’ve got an election coming up over there and it’s going to be a doozy of an election. One lies about the other and the other lies about him.”