Brooks: “This board does not need to sit here and have four whites representing the county when the county is about 45 percent African-American!”
By Ron Williams
The extremely long Sept. 14 Lowndes County Board of Supervisors meeting saw District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks return from The Democratic National Convention [Where he served as a Mississippi delegate. – RW] and promptly bring the race card into an issue at his first meeting back.
The board had six applicants for the Convention and Visitors Bureau board at-large position recently vacated by George Swales. The supervisors used the nomination process, but only two applicants received a nomination. They were businessman Leon Ellis and former police officer Keith Worshaim.
District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith opened the process by nominating Worshaim. District 3 Supervisor John Holliman immediately followed by nominating Ellis. After Board President Harry Sanders asked if there were any other nominations and didn’t get a response, District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks then made a motion that the nomination process be closed. Smith seconded the motion and the supervisors voted unanimously to close the nominations.
Brooks then wanted to speak for Worshaim. “I’d like to speak for the nomination of Keith Worshaim. I guess I could be very tactful and diplomatic in trying to choose the right words…I just want to put it out very clear…and at the same time not insult anyone.”
Brooks continued on, “Keith is a very conscientious person. He’s a retired policeman. He’s very active in the community. I asked Keith specifically to apply for this appointment because I knew he would not have any agenda. He would go to the board with an open mind and that he would look at the issues at hand and not take sides. I think all of y’all can admit there’s some real issues on the CVB board…that have not served the community well.
“A number of us went before the CVB board the other evening to hear the new guidelines for their funding…and I think that it’s a tragedy the way they have done that,” Brooks said. “But the other aspect of this nomination is, that if we fail to appoint Keith Worshaim, who happens to be African-American, it will be the first time since the inception of the CVB board…that we will not have appointed an African-American. From the day that the CVB board was ever conceived, even when we only had two appointments [by the county – RW], out of some sense of fairness previous board members saw a need to try and be fair. So, when we had two appointments, we appointed one white and one black.
Here we are in 2012…with the possibility of not appointing an African-American to the board, which, again, shows an insensitivity to diversity,” Brooks said. “And so I’m calling upon the board to not let us go back by appointing four whites from this board, to be on the CVB board. I think that it would be an insult to, not only the African-American community, but to the total community. When I go back and look at board appointments from districts, Frank Ferguson [former District 2 Supervisor. – RW] is the only white board member – and I know at least one board member who is real sensitive to the whole issue of race – but I have to put it out on the table clearly. Frank Ferguson is the only white supervisor that has ever appointed an African-American from his district. Now we have some appointees at-large, but not from the district. Is contrary to what Jeff and I have done, we’ve tried to mix our appointments up to reflect the diversity of our district. And I think for this board not to appoint an African-American, and have four whites on the board…is reprehensible and is just not good business. This board will then set the stage for going in a different direction. So again…in as much as I’m not appealing strictly because of his race, because he certainly has the ability, but I wanted to put it on the table for some sense that you will be guided by some moral conscience rather than some political agenda. And so I’m asking this board…let us not go back…when it’s taken us so long to get to the point of fairness. So, again, I’m asking you-all to consider Keith Worshaim…because of the ability and certainly because I think this board needs to represent some diversity on the CVB board.”
Sanders asked, “Leroy, does Keith serve on any other board?”
Brooks responded, “Yeah, but that’s not uncommon, Harry!”
Sanders: “I’m just asking…what board does he serve on?”
Brooks: “He’s on the 911 board. And one of the reasons, if I may say this, one of the most difficult tasks in this community – and I think all of y’all know this – is to get people who are willing to serve and come to meetings and be an active part, is…that has not been the case with Keith. He’s been a very active board member. He has, again, he solicits to be on the board. He has the time, and he certainly has the knowledge and training, so when we find somebody willing to give of themselves – and I may have told y’all this – there were a number of people that I called and asked them to consider putting an application in…and they said under no circumstances would they put their name in for the CVB board. But I think that Keith would bring some aura of calmness to the board. And, again…I think that’s what we need. It’s not about how they allocate money, so much. But a calmness to the board, his influence with some of the other board members, I think, would greatly bring some calm. So, again, I’m appealing to this board, is, whatever we do…let’s not go back!”
Harry Sanders: “Do we have any more discussion?”
John Holliman raised his hand.
John Holliman: “Leroy, you made a comment that Frank (Ferguson) was the only one who appointed an African-American. I appointed one to the Industrial Board who works out at Eka Chemicals.”
Brooks: “Who is that?”
Holliman: “Kenneth…I can’t think of his last name.”
Sanders: “You know, I appointed George Cain to the Parks and Rec board…”
Brooks: “Those are at-large appointments, I’m talking about specific districts. This is an at-large. One of the reasons we appointed the way we have at-large is that the legislation stipulates that people come from certain entities. Mark Castleberry represents the hotel. Bart [Wise] is from the business community. Rissa Lawrence is at-large and George Swales is at-large. And the mere fact that Mr. Swales is an African-American set the precedent. And, again, I know in 2012, people don’t like to talk about it. This is as simple as I can explain it. I’m just putting it on the table. That this board does not need to sit here and have four whites representing the county when the county is about 45 percent African-American. That’s all I’m appealing to y’all. I could’ve reached in my bag of tricks and pulled out some of my words, and…other words, I want to put it as plain as can. Is, we need to show some sense of fairness, that as leaders in this community, we’re beyond just political agendas…that we are about doing the right thing. I know Leon [Ellis]…we’ve worked with Leon on the recreation board, as a matter of fact, occasionally…he, George Irby and I play golf. There’s nothing…I know he has a business skill. But I’m talking about some sense of fairness, now…some sense of us doing the right thing. It’s not all about politics, it’s about the right thing. And I think that to already have Rissa and Bart and Mark Castleberry, we certainly ought to show that there are some sense of fairness here. That we will put an African-American on the board.”
Sanders said, “I’d just like to make one statement, here. Leroy, you brought up three or four different times that if, hypothetically, we were to appoint Mr. Ellis, that it would be a political appointee, and it’s for political reasons. And I don’t necessarily think that it would be for political reasons. I think your argument for Mr. Worshaim is more political than the argument for Mr. Ellis. Mr. Ellis is very well qualified. Matter of fact, I think I’m gonna vote for Mr. Ellis. The reason I’m gonna vote for him is because I think he’s the most qualified. And I think at some point, we need as a board, to appoint qualified people and the best qualified that we can come up with. [Brooks tried to interrupt, but Sanders told him that he didn’t interrupt Brooks while he was talking. Brooks said, “I’ve got my hand up”, and actually tried to be diplomatic about it. – RW] So, I really think that Leon is the most qualified. He’s got an excellent business background. He’s one of the things that the CVB needs because everything I hear from the CVB has to do with money. I think we need somebody who knows something about money. And how it’s raised and how it’s spent and it needs to be used for. And I don’t think there’s a political agenda at all in my support of Mr. Ellis.”
Sanders then recognized District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith [who had his hand up. – RW] to speak.
Jeff Smith: “He had his hand up (referring to Leroy Brooks).”
Sanders: “I know but he’s already spoken and….”
Brooks broke in and told Smith, “Well, take your [hand] down and let him acknowledge me. Are you gonna acknowledge me, Harry?”
Sanders: “You’ve already spoken….”
Brooks broke in again, “Jeff yielded the floor….” [Sanders finally gave in. – RW]
Brooks: “Ok. First, I take an exception to you characterizing Leon as the most qualified. You probably have never set down and talked to Keith to understand the depth of his qualifications, so, unless you’ve set down with both of the persons and had a conversation with them, and I don’t think you’ve done that, is that you characterize him as probably more qualified because he’s your friend. We always like to talk about business people and politics and boards. The United States Congress, The US House of Representatives, a majority of those people are business people…and this country is in a hell of a mess because of business people! So, it doesn’t mean that business people don’t make good elected officials, but I think if there is an indication of what has happened, they failed the test. It’s not a political issue, it’s an issue about the fact that there ought to be…ya know, I knew there was gonna be this discussion. So I brought this book…it’s called ‘The American Insurrection’. About Oxford, Mississippi, 1962. That we were willing to burn up Mississippi to keep a black man from going to Ole Miss. Now here we are 40-something years later [That would actually be 50 years later. – RW], nobody cares! So, we’re gonna set here and talk about being representative of the entire county. Black people go to restaurants, we pay that extra tax, we go to hotels, we do all of this. And for this board to not appoint a representative an African-American to that board is reprehensible and is going back to the days of semi-Jim Crow. There is no justification…we can argue about business. There are other people that are good business people. It’s about having some moral conscience. It’s about, how do we set here in 2012 and say it’s all right to appoint four white people from the board of supervisors. I guess it’s easy, because Jeff and I set here and we don’t always get the respect that we ought to get…so I guess it’s easier. It’s not about politics, it’s about sending a message that Lowndes County is moving forward. Now, when there are things that the Link want, or this board want – Jeff, you don’t mind me using you – y’all want us to jump head over heel. Everybody wants to be supportive of this new Golden Triangle Alliance, and not ask any questions. We’re just supposed to come in here, take whatever because we are out-voted, with no sense of fairness. There is nobody in this room – I don’t care if you’re a Ku Klux Klansman or a Black Panther or Muslim or what – there’s nobody in this room that can sit here and say that appointing four whites from the board of supervisors is fair! Now I hate to have to use the word ‘black and white’, but that’s just the reality of it. You talk about his business accomplishment…there are business people on the board right now. That are business people. And you’ve still got the worst case scenario in the world! The business people, now. The very people that we appoint, and you’ve got major problems. Now, if we do what seems to be gonna happen [Brooks is sounding as if he is warning the board at this point. – RW], I’m just gonna take it to another level in the community. Because I think it’s unfair! I don’t think you should expect the African-American to support all of this stuff, and we get no representation. The city has four appointments. They’ve appointed three blacks and a white. [Bernard Buckhalter, Nadia Dale and Whirllie Byrd are the 3 blacks. Dewitt Hicks is the white city appointee. – RW] And I thought I saw Harvey [Myrick, the joint appointee of Sanders and Columbus Mayor Robert Smith. – RW] in here somewhere today. [He was in attendance. – RW] You all have appointed whites, so if you put Leon on there, that’s six whites and three blacks…that’s not fair anywhere! That’s not fair anywhere! And I’m appealing to your conscience to do the right thing. It has nothing to do with business…it has something to do about fairness! It has something to do about the 46 percent of the people in this county. I’m finished and I call for the question unless there’s something else to be said.”
Jeff Smith also added his comments of support for Worshaim. Smith made it plain that if Worshaim wasn’t appointed, it certainly wasn’t going to be because he was not qualified.
Sanders asked if the board would like to vote for the applicants in reverse order of how they were nominated. Brooks said, “Does it really matter, Harry?”
Sanders: “I don’t know. You know, I know that the makeup of Lowndes County is…the population of Lowndes County is 60-40 [He’s speaking of white-black ratio percentage. – RW] And the makeup, if we appointed a white person to the CVB board, that means that the makeup of the CVB board would be 60-40 [Not quite. – RW], which is the racial makeup of the county….”
Brooks interrupted: “It means that it’s 100 percent white from the county! Now you can skew the numbers. It means that the Board of Supervisors is appointing 100 percent white. You can’t factor it in with what the city is doing, now you can skew it…the fact is…” Sanders tried to interrupt…”no, no, I’m talking, Harry,” said Brooks. “The point is you can sit here and skew it…and on September the 14th, 2012, to go in another direction in that no point ever, has this board on a CVB board, not appointed an African-American…at no point! And for us on September 14th, 2012, to go in a different direction is insulting to the 40 percent.”
Brooks continued: “And Harry, for you to sit up there and talk about 60-40 and willing to not appoint a black, you ought to be ashamed! You’ve got black people in your district. You go and knock on their doors when you want their support. But now that you don’t need them, you’re willing to come in here and try and skew the facts! It’s not fair! Now, at the end of the day – we ain’t gonna have no falling out – all I want…Garthia, Jeff, all the press folks…it ain’t fair!”
The board voted on Worshaim first. Brooks and Smith voted in favor of, yielding only two votes. When Ellis was considered, Holliman, District 2 Supervisor Bill Brigham and Sanders voted in favor. Ellis was appointed.
In other board action: The supervisors adopted the 2012-2013 budget.0