Thursday, June 13, 2024

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Mebane city council votes 3-2 to pay $1,000 to join racial equity group


A divided city council, reflecting a very divided audience’s reaction to the issue, voted 3-2 Tuesday night to spend $1,000 for the city to join a national racial equity group.

The council had voted 4-1 in July to postpone a decision on the recommendation, which had been made by the city’s Racial Equity Advisory Committee (REAC).

But Tuesday night, two members who had voted to postpone the decision – council members Sean Ewing and Katie Burkholder – voted to approve the expenditure and membership.

Speakers who addressed the council during the public comments period at the beginning of the meeting were about equally divided: four white Mebane residents spoke in opposition to GARE membership, while three black Mebane residents spoke in favor. (Also speaking in favor was a white resident of Hillsborough, Nathalie Volkheimer, who serves on Orange County’s Human Relations Commission, a similar advisory committee with a focus on “social justice” and racial equity issues.)

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The white Mebanites referred to the “identity politics” of the GARE organization, with Chris McKinley describing a “poisonous, divisive philosophy” that surrounds the organization.  Ed Priola called the group an “unadulterated bigoted group with a propensity to promote vile propaganda.”

Chris McKinley

Tameka Ward-Satterfield, one of REAC’s four current members, said she had been “shocked at the line of questioning” from city council members in July when the GARE membership issue had first come before the council.

Tameka Ward-Satterfield

She characterized the white residents who had spoken against the expenditure in July as a “handful of residents” who “had a problem with racial equity.”

Later in the meeting, councilman Tim Bradley said he had dug into the GARE organization “pretty extensively” and could not find a single reference to Critical Race Theory (CRT) on the organization’s website, one of the frequent criticisms of the opponents of GARE membership.

At the same time, Bradley said that “purchasing a membership [in GARE] accomplishes nothing.” Bradley pointed to other racial equity groups, such as one maintained by the Institute of Government, that he said might be a better fit for the city.

Councilman Jonathan White acknowledged that “racism is a real issue,” but he said membership in GARE will cause “unnecessary polarization.”

Burkholder pointed out that the city’s advisory committees had their own budgets and that the city could use $1,000 from the REAC budget to finance the $1,000 membership.

Mebane city council member Katie Burkholder

Ewing asked the city manager if the city was a member of other organizations, and city manager Chris Rollins gave a dozen or more examples of both group and individual memberships.

Mebane city councilman Sean Ewing

Ewing ultimately made the motion to have the city spend $1,000 to join GARE, which was seconded by Burkholder.  The motion passed 3-2, with Ewing, Burkholder, and Hadley voting in favor, and Bradley and White opposed.

After the meeting, city officials clarified that the $1,000 membership fee would, in fact, come from the REAC budget.

In a brief interview after the meeting, Burkholder said he “didn’t change her mind” about the value of the GARE membership between July to September, but had simply wanted more information about the organization.

She said the ease of discontinuing or stepping away from funding also persuaded her to give the organization a try.


REAC vacancies

In another REAC-related matter, the council voted 5-0 to remove Daniel Velasquez, who had just been reappointed by the council in June for a one-year extension of his term, be removed from the committee.

Committee members voted 4-0 last month to ask the council to remove him based on his having been excessively absent without providing any reason for missing the committee’s meetings.

It is the second time this year that the committee has made such a request.  Earlier this year, they sought the removal of another member, Daniel Troxler, which the council also approved.

Meanwhile, one of the original REAC members, Stuart Smith, who had been appointed in 2021, had asked not to be considered for reappointment.

The three actions have left the committee with only four of its seven seats currently filled.

See the newspaper’s editorial page view on this week’s vote:

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