You can get the gist here, but I think there’s another story here that Matt Barnwell did not get to (not his fault at all, but there is another story).
In the past two weeks, we’ve seen Willette Hill-Chambliss going to the Telegraph to call Nancy White and Mike Cranford “immature,” while Elaine Lucas went on the radio to call them “idiots.” Now they are going back to the Telegraph to call Nancy “racist.”
It’s no secret that there is a cult of personality at City Hall. City employees suck up to City Council lifers seeking gossip, job protection, and trading off favors, rumor, and innuendo. We can see an example of this in the City Clerk’s office where Rev. Eddie Smith’s picture was graffiti’d after he came out strongly for Miriam Paris — the candidate opposed by Willette and Elaine. By and large, Elaine Lucas is one of the Queen Bees. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that the employees at City Hall love Elaine. And they should. She treats them kindly and they reciprocate.
Considering that, it is no surprise that Denise Mercer’s email made it to Elaine and members of City Council who view Nancy White as a threat. Here, though, is what is disturbing.
Denise Mercer is a non-partisan city employee. Nancy White forwarded Denise an email from an older gentleman who is Nancy’s constituent. It is abundantly obvious from the email exchange, which I unfortunately deleted, that Nancy had not read down to the last two to three lines of the man’s email. She saw it was a constituent suggestion and she forwarded it to Denise Mercer, the “customer representative” for the city.
Nancy has a habit of doing this. She is constantly forwarding on constituent concerns to Denise, who in turn forwards them to the right place. That is Denise’s job. It’s great customer service. Couple Nancy’s frequent referrals of constituent concerns and the fact that she is a sitting member of City Council, and you have what I’d call a professional relationship with Denise Mercer.
When Ms. Mercer got Nancy’s email, what did she do? Instead of emailing Nancy back with her complaint, she broadcast an email through City Hall complaining about the racist email. Nancy, naturally, apologized and the gentleman who had sent the original email wrote in to explain he had not meant to seem racist. His reference to feeding prisoners fried catfish and cornbread had been based on his own experience as a prison guard. At the time, they would feed prisoners on the type of work detail he had suggested fried catfish and cornbread.1
The damage, of course, was already done.
And so there are three issues here that must be commented on.
(1) Denise Mercer’s actions were wholly unprofessional. She should have gone straight back to Nancy White with her complaint instead of acting unprofessionally in broadcasting out her complaint.
(2) The unhealthy cult of personality that exists as City Council between some elected people and some employees needs to be disrupted. And the fact that some members of Council hold other members in such utter *public* distain should be repudiated by the other members of Council.
(3) Perhaps we all need to stop making our first assumption be that something was intended to be racist and instead choose to believe, unless shown otherwise, that people are not intending to be racist or offensive — it may be their cultural background. The hypersensitivity to race in this town — capitalized on by some elected officials — keeps this town from healing old wounds and moving forward.
I think an objective reading of the letter would find it clearly “insensitive” at best and racist at worst. However, having lived in Macon for over a decade now, I am mindful that there are a number of people who either grew up here or moved here decades ago who say things like this regularly as a product of their upbringing/background/culture (you choose) who are not actually meaning to be insensitive or racist. And while they should be educated on such sensitivities and why such things should be purged from thinking and speaking (see e.g. Fuzzy Zeller), I think the reaction to the email makes it much more likely that the gentlemen will not learn anything from the experience, but instead will be embittered by the reaction to what he apparently viewed as an innocuous email.