IW citizens, supervisors air feelings on discrimination

Published 10:43 am Monday, January 23, 2017

Numerous residents spoke up on behalf of Hardy District Isle of Wight Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson during the board’s meeting on Thursday following its decision during the organizational meeting Jan. 5 to ask Carrsville District representative Rex Alphin to stay on another year as chairman, and to appoint Newport District representative William McCarty as vice chairman.

The motion to break with the tradition of rotating among the various board members to serve as chairman and vice chairman came from Smithfield District representative Dick Grice. Grice, in explaining his reasoning for breaking with tradition, described the chair and vice chair position as facilitators. There were no dissenting votes to his nomination of Alphin and McCarty during the organizational meeting.

Former Newport District representative Byron “Buzz” Bailey described Jefferson as “a fair and honest man who has served this county for over 20 years” during his comments.

“I believe you have done him a great injustice by denying him his rightful chance to serve as chairman,” Bailey said. “In using your own logic, which is flawed, I think, none of you should ever serve as chairman. Mr. Jefferson is certainly capable and has served as vice chair for years. Do me a favor and listen to your own lame excuses; even to you they will sound off.”

A.J. Uzzell, Valerie Butler, Ed Easter and Rosa Turner also spoke out in agreement with Bailey, with Butler alleging that discrimination may have played a role in the board’s decision.

“The NAACP would like for you to know that we are appalled at the actions the board took in electing the 2017 chair and vice chair. It was disgraceful and I would even go as far as to say it was discriminatory,” Butler said. “I was appalled at Mr. McCarty’s and Mr. Grice’s comments that the vice chair position was insignificant. The only explanation that made sense to me was Mr. Acree’s, which was transparent. He even had concerns about last year’s appointments of chair and vice chair. Mr. Jefferson is the only African-American on this board and it definitely appears that color was an issue.”

Easter suggested a possible solution for the future would be to create six voting districts with representatives on the board and one at-large position who would serve as chairman throughout his term.

Jefferson, for his part, seemed ambivalent to whether or not he would be named chairman, and attempted to quell the allegations of discrimination voiced during citizens’ time.

“I took a charge from Sharon Jones [the clerk of court] and that charge was to serve the people of Isle of Wight County and I still plan to serve the people with or without being the chairman,” Jefferson said. “I listened to the legacy of Michelle Obama and she said, ‘you go low, you go high.’ I’m going to do the best I can do. I don’t want to give this county a black mark.”

“Breaking up tradition, I guess, lies on my shoulders. It was Windsor District’s turn to be chair this year,” McCarty said. “It was my feeling that the chairman was doing a good job and should stay in that place. I was also nominated along with Mr. Jefferson for vice chair and I voted for Mr. Jefferson. I have great respect for every one of these men and their decisions that I work with even though at times I may not agree.”

Windsor District representative Joel Acree said the comments from citizens regarding Jefferson gave him a lesson in the power of perception.

“In this case, the perception is or may be that a person was not allowed becaue of his race; that cannot be farther from the truth,” Acree said. “I do not care about he color of my brother’s skin. At the end of the day, I feel I have failed if Mr. Jefferson feels in any way that there was discrimination. I can assure you that discrimination was not at all in my mind.”

McCarty echoed Acree’s comments regarding the public perception of the board’s decision.

“We’re gong to make missteps but we value one another and we’re going to do what’s best for our citizens,” he said. “We’re one community and one board.”