Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Take Democratic Party politics out of non-partisan city council


We’ve expressed our views before about the unnecessary, even gratuitous, establishment by at least two local jurisdictions – Burlington and Mebane – of local “advisory boards” purporting to have “racial equity” as their presumed purpose or mission.

In both cases – but for this week’s purpose, Mebane, in particular – there simply is no demonstrable, long-standing or even recent, evidence of a systematic racial problem that needs official city involvement.

The Mebane committee’s abstract “purpose” is, supposedly, to “research, identify, and address racial disparities in all areas of local government,” according to a description of the committee’s purpose used last year to solicit applicants. (More on the application process in a moment.)

So, it is not too surprising that Mebane’s Racial Equity Advisory Committee (REAC) has been floundering since its establishment last May.

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It simply has no real basis or substantive reason for existence.

In fact, we find the committee’s name rather ironic, since five of its seven members (70 percent) are blacks in a city that doesn’t have but about 25 percent black residents.

It took at least two or three meetings before its members could even decide on a chairman.

Their subsequent meetings have largely been philosophical discussions about race, very rarely focusing on anything Mebane- specific.

Several committee members got way off track, thinking that is was somehow a “racial equity” issue whether the city council adopted a specific rezoning request. Three of them testified at a public hearing last November that the issue should be postponed, perhaps so that their committee could consider the merits of a rezoning proposal.

One member subsequently got so irate, she (finally) resigned, four months after her snit.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t substantive problems with the way the committee is operating – or the way the city council is overseeing its operations, or failing to do so. The committee has seven members. Mayor Ed Hooks had asked each of the five council members last year to submit 10 top choices for the seven available slots from among 47 applicants who applied for the positions.

Appointed to four-year terms (and the number of votes they had received from the councilmen in parenthesis) were: Travis Albritton (4); Dr. Schenita Randolph (4); Keisha Bluford (3); and Tomeka Ward-Satterfield (3). Appointed to two-year terms were Stuart Smith (3) and Tommy Jones (3). Jones had advocated for the city to establish such a committee.

At a subsequent city council meeting, council members appointed their favorite among the seven remaining candidates who had received two votes each – i.e., Avonte Brown, Carolyn Burns, Courtney Doi, Cintia Fernandez, Destiny Reid, Charles Strickland, and Daniel Velasquez – ultimately naming Velasquez to the final, two-year slot.

But do note, each of the other six applicants under consideration had received at least two votes from then-sitting council members.

This week, Sean Ewing proposed that two other applicants – Erica Bluford and Daniel Troxler – be named as replacements.

Each had received only one vote last year – Ewing’s.

The council blithely went along, probably further evidence of how little thought, attention, or seriousness council members attach to the committee.

Even if we don’t think much of the need, or usefulness, of such a committee, still we think the fundamental process the council used to make these new appointments was deeply flawed.

The agenda item of appointing new members had never previously been mentioned at any city council meeting.

We doubt that any of the six candidates with more votes than Ewing’s selections had been told about the openings or the possibility of a council appointment.

The public at large in Mebane had never been informed, by any of many means available, that there were any vacancies, much less two out of the first seven within the first 10 months of its creation.

And one of those vacancies, as it turns out (once we asked for the resignation letters), has actually existed for almost 5 months!

So what was the sudden hurry?

It seems to boil down to politics.

Partisan politics – even though Mebane’s city council is supposed to be a non-partisan elected body.

We cannot help but notice the coincidence that city councilman Sean Ewing filed for election to the state senate last week, as the Democratic Party’s nominee.

Over our previous objections, Ewing has continued to hold a partisan office (second vice president, whatever that is) with the county’s Democratic Party even while holding his non-partisan city council seat. As we’ve noted before, when then-Democratic Party chairman Wayne Beam was elected to the non-partisan school board in 2018, he stepped down from his party post.

We thought that would be standard procedure, but not for Ewing.

Which, by the way, makes Beam’s example of public service all the more admirable.

But back to Ewing. Now he wants to go to Raleigh to replace Amy Galey, the Republican first elected in 2020.

We hold no brief for senator Galey, nor for any of the overlooked REAC applicants.

But what appears increasingly obvious at this month’s Mebane council meeting is that Ewing intends to use his ostensibly non-partisan city council seat as a part of his launch pad for partisan office.

Just by coincidence, we’re sure, both of his nominations to the REAC were black Democrats.

The fact that no one even bothered to look at who was being skipped over, in Ewing’s rush to make his motion, is a sad commentary on the preparedness and thoroughness of Mebane’s other city council members. (Or, as noted previously, more evidence of their lack of seriousness toward this committee in the first place.)

Six Mebane residents who had received two votes from then-councilmen were totally skipped or overlooked. We haven’t looked up their races or political affiliations, but they deserved better treatment regardless of who they are.

What we do know is the full contingent of the current committee: five out of seven black; six out of seven Democrats (and the seventh is not a Republican, but unaffiliated).

This doesn’t instill much confidence in the fairness of the committee’s deliberations.

We also reluctantly raise the question of whether it’s good public policy – anywhere – to have multiple members of the same family on the same public board.

Erica Bluford is the daughter of Keisha Bluford, who is already a member of the committee.

(Mother and daughter are delightful, smart, talented people, we hasten to add.)
But is it appropriate to have both on the same seven-member committee – especially when almost four dozen Mebanites wanted to serve?

The county’s commissioners faced this same question last summer over a county planning board member and his son; they decided, 3-2, it was OK to add the son to the same committee, but we’re still not sure it was, or is, a very sound practice.

But Ewing’s political mischief didn’t stop with bulldozing his two special candidates onto the REAC.

Ewing then proceeded to suggest that Mebane adopt Juneteenth as a paid city holiday.
An alert mayor Ed Hooks at least said the council wouldn’t vote on the unannounced subject on the spot, but apparently may deal with the topic at the council’s April meeting.

We’ve recently written at some length about the tendency of local governments to pile on raises and bonuses for their employees on top of already high government salaries.

Now Ewing wants to add even more generosity – at taxpayer expense, of course – in the form of yet another paid holiday.

The actually non-partisan members of Mebane’s city council, presuming there are some, need to call a halt to Ewing’s partisan priorities forthwith.

Otherwise, he will continue to undermine the nature of a city council that has up to now enjoyed a good reputation for its fairness, thoughtfulness, and vigor.

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