When Mecklenburg County commissioners stood to take their oath of office Monday night, every seat in the meeting chamber was taken.
The audience applauded when the board chose Democrat Parks Helms as chairman, and stood for a standing ovation when Democrat Wilhelmenia Rembert was named the board’s first female African American vice-chairman. But when it was Republican board member Bill James’ turn to give opening comments, audience members booed. James hesitated, looking at Helms.
Many people said they had come in response to comments James made last Tuesday, when he wrote in an e-mail that urban blacks “live in a moral sewer.” The e-mail, about the challenges CMS faces educating students, went to 1,272 people.
The next day, county Manager Harry Jones e-mailed James to say he was offended, and said the comments “smack of racism in the highest form.” On Friday, James apologized for not choosing his words more carefully. Jones said he was “proud of him” for showing contrition.
Friday night, James filed a police report, saying he had received harassing phone calls. Matthews police are investigating.
On Sunday, James said he might not allow his family to attend the ceremony, but Monday night, he said his wife had insisted that they come.
Later, he quoted from the Bible, Galatians 4:16. “Am I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” he asked, to groans from the audience. In the end, he said, “I am bowed, but not broken.”