Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Smithfield Herald speaks on Mayor Hester's comments

First, a newsy article.

Some want mayor to quit
Comment made at Town Council meeting draws fire
By Jordan Cooke, Staff Reporter

SELMA -- Sylvia Henry had just settled into her seat last Tuesday night when Mayor Charles Hester called the monthly Town Council meeting to order.

Henry, of Jordan-Narron Road, had come to join more than 100 other people opposed to the rezoning of 106 acres near West Blanche Street. A South Carolina company was seeking the rezoning in hopes of building an ethanol plant on the land. The plant, if approved, would abut a parcel of land that Henry and her four siblings stand to inherit from their mother.

From her seat at the back of the meeting room, Henry didn't hear the next words Hester spoke. But based on the reactions from some in the crowd, Henry knew it must have been something controversial.

"All of a sudden, people in the audience were giving him up the country for what he said," Henry said.

Hester, viewed by some as a polarizing figure in town, had made the following remark: "We have a big crowd here tonight, bigger than we are used to handling. We have people in our community that stir up big crowds and we have one here tonight. Maybe one day we’ll have a lynching, and we won’t have to worry about that anymore."

Several people fired back at Hester, calling the remark rude and distasteful. One resident, Erin Downey of Campground Road, said Hester’s statement was a racial slur.

Hester apologized for his comment and, days later, told a reporter he regretted what he had said. "It was one thing I said, and I shouldn't have said it," he said. "I'm sorry."

But one man in particular said Hester's apology didn't go far enough. Tony Tetterton, owner of RVacation Campground on Campground Road, said he didn't consider Hester's statement racist. Rather, Tetterton said the comment was "a hateful remark" that was "unmistakably addressed toward me."

Tetterton said it was common knowledge that he had printed a flyer speaking out against the proposed ethanol plant. Tetterton said he thinks his efforts frustrated Hester.

Also, Tetterton suggested that Hester had a vendetta against him for speaking out against involuntary annexation last year. "I think what it all boils down to is that I was one of the people willing to point out that what the council did with the annexation was unlawful," Tetteron said.

Friends Tom and Kara Kuebler say they think Hester resents Tetterton for his passion for issues that concern him. "If there's an issue he’s concerned about, he voices his opinion," Kara Kuebler said of Tetterton. "He gets right in there and questions things like the annexation."

"That's been one of the big points of opposition with them," she added, referring to interactions between Tetterton and Hester. "There’s also been the quiet zone [for trains] issue. That was fine that they did not opt to approve that. But in my opinion, the mayor considers Tony ... he expects opposition from him. He expects things not to run smoothly because Tony questions things."

Tom Kuebler said Tetteron is just a "concerned citizen" whom Hester is trying to "demonize." He said Hester’s remark shows he is not fit to remain in office. Both he and his wife are among some Selma residents who want Hester to resign, he said.

"I would like to see him out of office," Kuebler said. "The thing that frustrates me is that he is deciding things for us that ... we don’t have a say-so in in any way, shape or form, except for what we can say at the town meetings."

"My mission is not to personally oust the mayor from office," Tom Kuebler added. "I'm just concerned about the decisions he makes because they affect us. He seems like a vindictive man, just for the comment he made. Here is a man with power that can abuse it."

Tetterton said he too would like to see Hester resign. He said Hester’s remarks at the Town Council meeting not only insulted him personally but also degraded the town.

"As an effective business leader for the community, what outside business would want to come to Selma now knowing they have to deal with someone like [Charles] Hester?" Tetteron asked. "He [Hester] has definitely tainted the ground. On a professional basis, he has tainted the ground with his remark."

"He should step down as mayor," Tetterton added. "You can't, in a public forum, suggest that someone should be lynched and expect that no one would be upset."

When asked by a reporter to respond to statements about his character and effectiveness as mayor, Hester repeatedly declined to comment. And when asked by phone if he had any concerns that his silence would add fuel to his critics’ fires, Hester responded in an unexpected manner.

He hung up.

And the editorial in the Herald.
Selma mayor crossed the line

Mayor Charles Hester thinks he knows what is best for Selma — say, an ethanol plant — and he has no tolerance for people who oppose his will. That is likely why the mayor wanted to lynch the person who rallied his neighbors against the proposed plant last week.

It's tempting in the aftermath to call for the mayor's resignation; he crossed the line when he called for a lynching. But perhaps demanding Mr. Hester's resignation goes too far. Recently, a Golf Channel announcer suggested that Tiger Woods' fellow players might want to lynch the world’s No. 1 golfer if they hoped to beat him on the course.

That announcer got suspended but kept her job.

Besides, Selma needs Mr. Hester and his leadership, particularly his fiscal conservatism. What it doesn’t need is a monarch, and we're willing to give Mr. Hester another chance if he now realizes he cannot impose his will on Selma. Last week, he faced a room full of people who did not share his vision for Selma, and while that no doubt frustrated the iron-willed mayor, we hope it opened his eyes too.

We hope also that Mr. Hester will take from this episode that running Selma is a partnership that requires compromise. Just as important, we hope that Town Council members now know that the mayor’s voice is not the only one in Selma government and policymaking.

Mr. Hester has been generally good for Selma. He has restored fiscal discipline while courting business investment in town. And if he truly learned a lesson last week, we think Mr. Hester will be an even better mayor.

No comments: