The racial divide

Published 9:58 am Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of City Council’s inability to elect a replacement for its currently vacant Ward 6 seat during Monday night’s council meeting is how utterly unsurprising the outcome actually was. Currently comprised of three black members and three white members, council was given two nominees to choose from, one black and one white. When the votes were tallied, the black nominee and the white nominee each received three votes.

How did the votes fall?

Along racial lines, of course.

In fairness, both of the men who were nominated to fill the position seem to be qualified for the job. Bobby Cutchins, a well-known and respected businessman, has been the owner of Bobby’s Tire and Muffler for over three decades. He has built a successful business, essentially from scratch, and that business continues to grow and flourish today. He is passionate about serving his church and the local business community, having recently served consecutive terms as president of the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce. He is widely regarded for both his business acumen and ability to forge lasting relationships, attributes that would serve both council and the city well. Dr. Antwan Hatch, is a practicing physical therapist who spent the better part of the last five years in a management capacity at Southern Virginia Regional Medical Center in Emporia. According to his professional resume, he managed to juggle those responsibilities while continuing to provide therapy services through several local companies, including a business he started himself. Like Cutchins, Hatch is involved in his faith community and is incredibly active in youth sports. Is one man more qualified than the other? We suppose that, depending on what direction you would like to see City Council move in, either one could make a fine choice.

But that is not the point.

As expected, Dr. Hatch, who is black, garnered the three black votes on council. Mr. Cutchins, who is white, secured the three white votes. Is it a coincidence? Perhaps. Do we believe it is? Not even a little. We’ve seen this play out in Franklin too many times before to believe that the three black members of council all felt that Dr. Hatch was more qualified to serve the city than Mr. Cutchins. Conversely, the same could be said for the white members of council and Dr. Hatch. What we are saying is this: we have now reached a point in Franklin where a judge is going to have to decide who represents the 6th Ward on city council because every single vote that is perceived to have do with race has once again gone right done racial lines. It is a problem that is not new to Franklin, but it is one that must come to an end in Franklin. It makes a mockery of this city and does a disservice to her citizens. And make no mistake, both sides are equally to blame.

Perhaps, while this whole ridiculous mess gets sorted out and the racial balance of power on city council remains evenly divided, the first order of business should be for council to address how on earth the city is going to move beyond the ever-widening racial divide that seems to inform city council of many of its most important decisions. Until that happens, council will continue to be considered little more than a joke. And, unfortunately, the laugh will be on all of us.