The mood in this East Texas timber town [Cleveland, Texas] is tense as the City Council meets tonight to review the recall election that removes three black members in a community already simmering over 19 other black residents being charged with gang-raping an 11-year-old Hispanic girl.
“Some people want to think this election was not based on race, but it is,” said Delores Terry, the only black member left on the six-member council who was not targeted for recall. “It wiped my heart out to see the cruel, ugly, nasty hate. I’d never dealt with it before in my life.”
However, a leader of the recall effort, Stan Jones, a dentist and former mayor, said he’s tired of recall opponents playing the “race card” to camouflage their mismanagement as they “spent money like inebriated sailors.”
Jones’ group was forced to obtain an appellate court order to compel the council to call Saturday’s recall election, as the four black members refused to recognize the 340-signature recall petition that they felt was racially motivated and possibly had forged signatures.
The fight grew so intense that the black mayor pro-tem, Barbara McIntyre, sent out cards urging supporters to mount a letter-writing campaign attacking the local newspaper for printing “half truths” and sent a letter asking the IRS to investigate the tax-exempt status of the First United Methodist Church, whose pastor had supported the recall.
In the prelude to the recall effort, the four black members had ignited a firestorm of controversy by banding together to fire longtime City Manager Philip Cook, whom they thought was unresponsive to their questions. This also led to the exodus of three key employees–the city’s technology director, grant writer and finance director. The trio had been constantly peppered with questions that left them feeling that they, too, stood on shaky ground, Jones said.
The recall election drew more than 1,000 voters–twice as many as usual in this town of 8,000.
By the end of the night, McIntyre, a real estate agent and six-year incumbent; Durlene Davis, a retired clerk who had held office for five years; and Cedric McDuffie, a policeman and one-year incumbent, had been kicked off the council by about 58 percent of the voters.
The black council members afterward gathered together, held hands and prayed. The three who were recalled declined any comment on the outcome.
“They’ll be rejoicing in their wrongdoing when they come to see the big show (tonight’s vote canvassing),” said Terry, a day care operator, who believes she was spared from the recall for appearances in order to keep “someone of color” on the council.
Taint of gang-rape case
The mayor said the recall had nothing to do with race: “It was just poor decision-making. The main thing started during the budget process. They did not understand the numbers given to them, and then there was the dismissal of the city manager without cause, which cost the city $45,000.”
She said it was unfortunate that the recall comes on the heels of the rape case that drew community activist Quanell X to their town months ago. Flanked by personal security guards, Quanell chastised the four black council members for being too afraid to attend a meeting in which he addressed the possibility of the town “losing an entire generation” of young black men when the 19 suspects in the rape case go to trial.
Three barred for 2 years
Kirkonis praised the recalled members for their “courage” in not feeling pressured into attending the meeting that attacked the city’s police department.
As a council member, Terry said she cannot discuss the rape charges.
However, she believes the voters were “brainwashed” by Kirkonis and others, who objected to a black majority running their town. The mayor votes only in case of a tie.