Bailey, DeGroft should apologize, resign

Published 9:29 am Friday, May 31, 2013

Editor’s note: This letter directed to the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors and the School Board is reprinted with permission from Isle of Wight Commonwealth Attorney L. Wayne Farmer.

Members of the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors and School Board:

Words matter. Think before you hit send. What we post and send on the Internet has consequences. These are lessons that I have hammered home time and time again to the young people in our schools for the past five years through the SafetyNet Program dealing with Internet use.

And now, this.

To say that I am disappointed in Mr. Bailey and Mr. DeGroft for forwarding the racist nonsense to County staff and fellow Board Members is an understatement. But, I must say that I am more appalled by their inability and the inability of many in our community to simply understand why people are so upset. “They’ve apologized, can’t we just move on?” “They didn’t mean it to be racist. It was just a joke.” “Mr. Bailey is a conservative Republican. That’s just how he is.” These are all comments I have heard or read in the last few days.

In order to help you understand the magnitude of this, I would ask you to consider the following: Our Director of Planning and Zoning, our Director of Budget and Finance, our Public Information Officer, our second in command at the Sheriffs Office, our School Superintendent, the principal at Smithfield High School, the principal of Westside Elementary School, the principal of Windsor Elementary School and the principal at Hardy Elementary School are all African-American. As members of the Board of Supervisors and School Board, they are your employees. They, and the countless other African-Americans who work for the County, look to you for leadership and support as they try to do the tasks they have been assigned. They most certainly have a right to know that those leaders do not harbor racist views and opinions.

I will believe that Mr. Bailey and Mr. DeGroft “didn’t mean it to be racist” when either of them can say with even a hint of sincerity that they would have forwarded the emails in question to any of the people listed above.

And the suggestion that somehow any of this is because Mr. Bailey is either conservative or Republican is, quite frankly, an insult to conservatives and Republicans. One can most certainly believe in limited government and fiscal conservatism and not be racist. There are countless conservatives and Republicans who demonstrate that every day.

The latest statistics indicate that twenty-five percent of the citizens of Isle of Wight are African-American. The decisions that you make every time you meet directly affect them. They are entitled to confidence that when they come before you with a request or a concern, that they will be treated with fairness and without regard to the color of their skin. How, now, can they be certain that that is so? If Mr. Bailey votes against their request for zoning or if Mr. DeGroft votes against their request that a school take some action, wouldn’t it at least be reasonable for them to wonder if the decision would have been different if they had been white?

Everyday I step into a courtroom I represent the people of Isle of Wight County. People are charged, judged and sentenced. The very foundation of what we do in those courtrooms is based on the idea that everyone is treated the same – that your wealth, your sex and your color are irrelevant. It is the ideal to which we strive. It is what I hope people will think of when they hear of Isle of Wight County. So, when leadership in Isle of Wight acts in a way that is contrary to that ideal, it affects us all. It brings shame to us all.

But there is a way to make this right. The two men could offer a sincere apology to the employees of Isle of Wight County and to the citizens of Isle of Wight County. Not the “I’m sorry if I offended anyone,” “I just thought it was interesting,” “I don’t know how to use a computer” apologies that we have heard to date. But, a real, sincere apology that recognizes the hurt they have caused and the damage they have done. And then they should resign – because that is what is best for Isle of Wight County.

It will demonstrate to those school students that I speak to that there are, in fact, consequences for our actions. It will show that they care more about the citizens they serve than themselves. Because, make no mistake about it, if they choose to stay now, it will not be because they have the county’s best interest at heart. It will be to save face and to stubbornly insist that what they have done is no big deal. Quite frankly, the citizens of this county that we care so deeply about deserve better than that.

Yours very truly,
L. Wayne Farmer