HomeNewsOPINION: Mercer’s accusations of racism appear to be misguided

OPINION: Mercer’s accusations of racism appear to be misguided

Scenes like this week’s Madison County Commission meeting are becoming too commonplace.

It was during the discussion of the Comptroller’s letter to the Commission sent in December that an accusation had been made that a group of Commissioners including three specified during Tuesday’s discussion – Olivia Abernathy (Independent-District 2), Tony Black (Democrat-District 2) and Luther Mercer (Democrat–District 1) were part of a meeting that violated the sunshine law in September.

During the conversation, Abernathy confirmed she was at the meeting. While she didn’t specifically confirm anyone else who was at the meeting when questioned by Chairman Gary Deaton (Republican-District 4), she did confirm there was conversation about strategizing making a run at nominating someone at that month’s Commission meeting to run against Deaton for Chairman. Claudell Brown (Democrat-District 5) would eventually be nominated by William Martin (Democrat-District 1) at the September Commission meeting. Deaton ended up winning a roll call vote 14-9, with one Commissioner passing and another absent.

But Mercer kept trying to steer the conversation back to one he initiated during the September Commission meeting– when he played a video of Republicans showing up for the monthly Republican caucus meeting at Town & Country Realtors.

This video was shot from the adjacent hotel with Republican Commissioners recorded walking into the meeting, and it played in September as Mercer made claims they’d violated sunshine laws.

Except they didn’t. If they’d met without giving any prior notice at least five days in advance, then they would’ve violated the law. But I can confirm from nearly five years’ experience in my previous job that the caucus chairman, Joey Hale (Republican-District 3), and his predecessor, former-Commissioner-turned-County-Attorney Jay Bush, that a notice went out every month they met inviting the media and public.

And not every month, but as often as I remembered, I ran a notification of my own of the meeting in a listing of public meetings. You can see a similar list in the local briefs section of this edition. They did it before September. They’ve done it each month since The Post began as a news organization in November. I can’t confirm specifically about the filmed meeting in September of 2022, but I’d be surprised if other local media that actually existed in September didn’t have record of prior notification of that meeting.

Since that question is addressed, I hope this issue can be put to bed by the Commissioners. And I hope we can see more professional behavior among the body.

What happened in Tuesday’s meeting doesn’t need to be the norm, but it has become the trend as angry Commissioners disrupt the meeting to make points that aren’t relevant to the meetings.

Mercer’s remark at Deaton calling him racist isn’t a new thing. I remember at least two specific times he’s loudly called Hale racist in the last couple years, and Mercer and Deaton – both longstanding Commissioners – aren’t each other’s biggest fans.

But holding up a meeting for 20 minutes in September (I just watched the video on E+TV6’s YouTube channel) with an accusation and then still harping on the accusation four months later when the Comptroller’s letter and ensuing conversation this week were addressing something totally different is a waste of taxpayers’ time.

If Mercer is claiming a Commissioner is racist because of anything they do in Commission meetings is false – at least to what I have seen.

Sometimes it’s a matter of the rules– some Commissioners aren’t allowed to complete their arguments in discussions because there is a time limit for their statements (that are probably violated multiple times each meeting if we were to go back and look at them close enough with a stopwatch).

Addressing claims by Mercer, Brown and Sheila Godwin (Democrat-District 5) from Tuesday though, does Deaton interrupt some Commissioners to let others talk? Is there a double standard in how some Commissioners are treated? Is there preferential treatment given to some Commissioners over others?

Those answers are yes, yes and yes.

But, I don’t believe this is anything to do with race, but everything to do with party politics at play. And sometimes just plain confusion that could happen in a room of 30+ people. A couple of observations: 

  1. Deaton literally looks over some Commissioners because of their placement in the room. This week, he had to have pointed out to him that Abernathy on his extreme left from his vantage point was standing at one time as well as Jeff Wall (Republican-District 9) on his extreme right at another time. And it happens at various times when he’s looking at his notes when he’s ready to move on and someone stands wanting to make another statement or ask another question with the previous discussion. It happens to various Commissioners no matter what color their skin is.
  2. Some Commissioners are Republican and some are not. The republican caucus meets every month before the County Commission meeting. They discuss the agenda, details, and how they will vote. There is a plan every month before the meeting. Does the Democratic party have a plan in these meetings? I’ve rarely seen one. 
  3. The treatment is based on previous conduct. 

I’m a parent of multiple children, and if a certain child tends to act more disruptively than another child (and with the number of children in my house right now, there are multiple shades of gray in this scenario), then what each child is allowed and not allowed to do, to say, to try, etc., varies on the behavior of that child.

I think Deaton has a similar method. If a Commissioner speaks up frequently and either has a history – particularly in that meeting – of being disruptive or getting off topic and not continuing the discussion – then Deaton may let someone else speak first if multiple Commissioners are standing or may be stricter about calling time when a speaker’s allotted time is up.

Is any of this behavior by Deaton or any other Republican on the Commission fueled by racial prejudice? I hope not, and I see no evidence of it. If there’s evidence of it outside of Commission meetings, I invite any Black Commissioner or anyone else in the community to let me know confidentially so I can look into it.

But back to the party politics: from what I’ve observed with my own eyes and ears, racist isn’t the R word that Deaton is guilty of being. It’s Republican.

There are 16 Republicans on the Commission. That’s one away from a super majority, meaning they could literally do anything they wanted on the Commission. They almost can do it now, and I’ve observed in the past week in committee appointments in which a Democrat wanted to be on a committee, approached Republican leadership asking for that spot, had a legitimate opportunity at having the spot and would’ve had it had there been another vacancy on the committee.

But the committee had two vacancies, and two Republicans had requested to be on the committee, leaving the Democrat to ask why he or she wasn’t allowed to be on the committee. And the simple reason was because of which political party they are a part of.

Is it fair? It is not. Is it a part of the government/politics game at the local level? Unfortunately, yes.

And that’s the game that Deaton plays as well.

So Democrats can make complaints of racism, but so far, any action taken against them appears to be political. Could they make that claim? Since all seven Commissioners who won election last year as Democrats are Black, it’s possible, but claiming racism anytime you’re unhappy with how the process is going runs the risk of crying wolf. Others get desensitized to the claim to the point that no one believes the claim when it actually happens.

And considering how much it’s happened in the last three years, some in Madison County leadership may be getting to that point already.

Brandon Shields is the managing editor of The Jackson Post. Contact him at brandon@jacksonpost.news. Follow him on Twitter @JSEditorBrandon or Instagram @Editorbrandon.

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