published Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Cleveland City Council weighs racism claim against McKenzie (with video)

The Rev. Teresa Oglesby of Price Memorial AME Zion Church confronts Cleveland, Tenn., City Councilman Charlie McKenzie over racial slurs he allegedly made while serving part-time with the Bradley County Sheriff's Office.
The Rev. Teresa Oglesby of Price Memorial AME Zion Church confronts Cleveland, Tenn., City Councilman Charlie McKenzie over racial slurs he allegedly made while serving part-time with the Bradley County Sheriff's Office.
Photo by Paul Leach.
  • WRCB video of exchange between Councilman McKenzie and Rev. Oglesby

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The Cleveland City Council deadlocked Monday on a nonbinding request that Councilman Charlie McKenzie resign over racial slurs he allegedly made while working for the Bradley County Sheriff's Office.

The council voted 3-3 on a proposal of formal disapproval of McKenzie's actions and a call for him to abandon his position as District 1 councilman. Councilmen Bill Estes, Avery Johnson and Richard Banks supported the measures; Councilmen David May, Dale Hughes and George Poe opposed them.

The proposed sanctions, introduced by Estes, came two weeks after McKenzie, fellow councilmen and members of the Bradley County NAACP met about the situation. At that meeting, McKenzie said he apologized if he had ever said anything to offend anyone.

"I've said and I've said and I've said," McKenzie responded Monday to a request for a statement.

Two white deputies with the sheriff's office, Anthony Liner and Kristi Barton, both of whom worked alongside McKenzie when he served as a part-time deputy, filed statements Jan. 18 about racial slurs they maintain they heard McKenzie make, records show.

"Over the last several months, while training Deputy Charlie McKenzie, I have heard him make a number of derogatory statements regarding race," Liner wrote. "I have heard him refer to African-Americans as spook, coon, spade and n ---- ."

Citing medical issues, McKenzie resigned from his sheriff's office job in late January.

Banks expressed regret Monday that McKenzie was not as forthcoming as he could have been in a previous council meeting or in a later conversation with the NAACP.

"We're in awkward position," he said Monday.

Johnson said there is no way the City Council can just ignore the matter, citing "so much damage" that he said has been done to the black residents in McKenzie's district.

Estes was more direct.

"It's not about Charlie; it's about us. This is about Cleveland," he said.

Councilmen opposed to the nonbinding sanctions against McKenzie said the question is for the voters to decide, not them.

"I abhor any racial slurs," said Hughes, who cited his experiences of interacting closely with black students while serving as a high school principal and a Lee University basketball coach. However, he said, he could not take the position of censuring a fellow councilman and requesting his resignation.

After the meeting, Mc-Kenzie spoke on the sidewalk outside with the Rev. Teresa Oglesby of Price Memorial AME Zion Church, which is in McKenzie's district.

She asked him to admit whether he made the remarks noted in the deputies' affidavits and to issue a true apology if he was going to make one.

McKenzie said he could not remember what he said six weeks ago.

Oglesby described that as "one of the oldest excuses ever."

McKenzie indicated that he would present a statement to Oglesby's church.

Lawrence Armstrong, president of the Bradley County NAACP, said Monday's council vote is not the end of the matter.

On Saturday, NAACP personnel plan to collect District 1 signatures for a petition requesting McKenzie's resignation, Armstrong said. He said the group also will conduct a survey of other districts to show Councilmen May, Hughes and Poe how their constituents feel about McKenzie.

Armstrong said that, regarding the City Council's split vote, it seemed as if personal relationships got in the way of handling business and doing "the right thing."

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