05/16/17 — Fuming councilman storms out of meeting, calls counterparts racists

View Archive

Fuming councilman storms out of meeting, calls counterparts racists

By Rochelle Moore
Published in News on May 16, 2017 8:16 AM

Full Size

Stevens, District 3

Full Size

Williams, District 1

Foster, District 4

A tense exchange between Councilman Bevan Foster and the city's public works director led Councilman Mark Stevens to storm out of a work session Monday night.

Foster challenged Rick Fletcher, public works director, saying he didn't believe the wire hanger Fletcher brought to the meeting is the same hanger some thought looked like a noose.

"It's a totally different color," Foster said.

The hanger was used to hold items, such as baskets, in place for painting at a public works paint shop.

Foster continued to disagree, after looking at the wire and looking at a photo on social media that was posted last week.

"It's exactly the same wire," Fletcher said. "I will stand behind it."

Fletcher brought a hanging basket to the meeting, at the request of Foster, to show an example of items painted at the shop. He also brought other wiring used during the painting process and presented photos of how the hanger has been used in the past.

"So, when the wire was up, did you think it looked like a noose?" Foster asked the director.

Fletcher said the photo, which appeared on Foster and Councilman Antonio Williams' Facebook pages last week, was taken out of context.

"At the angle it was taken it looked a little ominous," Fletcher said. "Had that person taken that picture in the context in which it was used, if he included the paint shed, anyone would have known, wow, they hang stuff up there to paint.

"It's taken up facing the sky. The person who took them, it appears they wanted to make it look ominous."

Foster asked if Fletcher thought the hanger brought concern for any safety violations, and the director said clothes hangers have been used for some time and work well.

"This works just fine," Fletcher said.

Councilman David Ham interrupted the discussion asking for the point.

"I'm not understanding the line of questioning here," Ham said.

Foster said he continues to receive phone calls from people concerned about the hanger and its appearance, which some view as looking like a noose.

"First of all, I've gotten 30 to 45 calls about this issue, and I'm addressing the issue because a lot of employees are concerned about what appears to look like a noose hung at public works," Foster said.

The hanger photo, taken in April, was brought to the attention of public officials recently and resulted in a city investigation, in early May.

During Monday's meeting, Pamela Leake, Goldsboro human resources interim director, said the wire photo looked like a noose. She was shown examples of how the hanger has been used, and her investigation revealed that there was no racial motivation or intent involved.

The hanger, which was left out for possibly several weeks, was removed in April as soon as concerns were voiced by public works employees.

Williams said Fletcher appeared insensitive to the issue and has not apologized for the incident. Fletcher said he apologized through Facebook Live.

"My problem is, you seem insensitive that this would offend someone," Williams said. "Your department is predominantly African-American, and you need to be sensitive pertaining to that."

Fletcher said one of the paint shop employees who has used the hanger to paint items is African-American. He also said he still has concerns. Fletcher and Leake took two days last week to talk with public works employees about the hanger and resulting investigation.

"Does it still bother me that someone perceives it as that?" Fletcher said. "Most definitely. I care about every employee out there."

At that point, Stevens stood up from the council table and walked out of the meeting.

"(Expletive) y'all," Stevens said. "This is (expletive.)"

Goldsboro Police Chief Mike West followed Stevens out of the conference room.

After a little more discussion, Mayor Chuck Allen said the council had talked enough about the issue.

"I think we've had enough explanation," Allen said. "I think he's apologized. They're not on trial here. They've already explained it.

"We're not going to do this here."

The council then ended its discussion.

Stevens walked back into the meeting room after the discussion was over, but his head was down and resting on his hands through most of the meeting.

After the meeting, Stevens said he is tired of Foster and Williams constantly raising racial allegations during the council meetings.

"It's racist," Stevens said. "I've never met more racist people in my life."

He also said there was no racism involved in the hanger.

"I am so sick and tired of it," Stevens said. "Until we can get a handle on this crap, I'm done with it. I'm just tired of them."

Stevens said he's also upset of discussions that don't have anything to do with racism. His great-grandfather was badly beaten, in the 1920s, during the heyday of the  Ku Klux Klan. After the beating, his great-grandfather struggled to make it home, only to die at the feet of his great-grandmother.

"Do you think I know anything about racism?" Stevens said. "I damn well know."

Stevens said he has no plans to step down from his post on the council.