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After declining to call racism a public health crisis, Jackson County commissioners vote to not discriminate

MLive - Jackson logo MLive - Jackson 6/18/2020 By Marie Weidmayer, mlive.com
a screen shot of a group of people posing for a photo: A screenshot of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners meeting on June 16, 2020. © MLive File Photo/mlive.com/TNS A screenshot of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners meeting on June 16, 2020.

JACKSON COUNTY, MI – Thirty-six residents spoke in favor of declaring racism a public health crisis in Jackson County, and no one spoke against it.

Still, the county’s Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night failed to support a resolution declaring that racism affects the health of the county.

Jackson County commissioner misses 2 votes while sleeping during virtual meeting

Commissioner Daniel Mahoney, D-Jackson, proposed the resolution at the county’s June 16 virtual meeting. In part, it states, “the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, hereby declare that racism is a public health crisis that adversely impacts our children, our families, our community and our county.”

“For as long as I have been on this Earth, there has always been racism,” county resident Tashia Carter said during a lengthy public comment session at the meeting. “I’ve experienced it and my family has experienced it for generations. It will take multiple strategies to break down and dismantle 400 plus years of cultural and systemic racism.”

Other public comments supporting the resolution came from a spokesperson from AWARE Inc., a domestic violence shelter; the president and CEO of the Jackson Community Foundation; a chairperson from the Jackson Pride Center; multiple pastors and multiple health care providers.

The resolution failed 2-7, with Mahoney and Commissioner Darius Williams, D-Jackson, voting for it.

“I don’t like the feeling that I get from this that all white people are bad,” Commissioner Tony Bair, R-Sandstone, said. “That’s not true. A lot of people of any group are not bad.”

A counter resolution was then proposed by Commissioner David Elwell, R-Blackman Township. In part, it states that discrimination of physical differences, including height, weight, sex, age, race and national origin, “is and has been unacceptable in our county, as it impairs the ability of our citizens to reach their full potential.”

More than three hours into the meeting, that resolution passed 7-1, with Williams voting against it and Mahoney abstaining.

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The board also committed to creating a committee with three commissioners and four county residents to create an anti-discrimination policy, which the board will consider adopting.

Both resolutions supported the creation of this board.

Commissioners opposed to Mahoney’s resolution said it was finalized too close to the meeting for it to be passed. Chairman James “Steve” Shotwell Jr., R-Summit Township, suggested Mahoney send his resolution to the administrator’s office so it could be combined into one with the other resolution.

Mahoney declined, saying he didn’t want to wait for the next county meeting in July.

“They ignored my outcry for help and compromised until the 11th hour, when they tried to publicly back me into a corner, to either chose to support a resolution drafted and written by one of them – opposed to one written by myself – or to choose to send it back to the administrator’s office and have him be the one to write the resolution they want to see, for it to be presented back to the board of commissioners,” Mahoney said on Wednesday.

Although Elwell’s resolution was presented after Mahoney’s at the meeting, more commissioners said they had seen it prior to the meeting.

If racism is a problem in the county, it needs to be stopped, Commissioner Phil Duckham, R-Brooklyn, said on Wednesday.

“We’re a good country,” Duckham said. “I don’t know where mistakes were made in the past to have a sector of our community, or our country, feel this way. Fair and equal, that’s always been my motto. I’m a Christian. Fair and equal, what more can you say?”

During a second public comment session after the resolution was passed, 21 county residents expressed disappointment and, in some cases, disgust, at the board’s decision to not declare racism a public health crisis.

“We’re not just African Americans,” Mahoney’s wife, Semaj, said. “We are Americans. We helped build this country. Your bias is showing. It is very clear. … All we want is to be equal. We don’t want to take anything over. No. We want to be equal.”

Commissioner Earl Poleski, R-Spring Arbor Township, voted against the resolution declaring racism a public health crisis and for the resolution that passed.

“This is not a white or black issue, this is an all people issue,” Commissioner Earl Poleski, R-Spring Arbor Township said at the meeting. “I appreciate the passion that the visitors we have tonight brought their opinions. It’s very much appreciated.”

Williams and Mahoney worked for three or four hours to create the final version of the public health resolution, Mahoney said Wednesday.

“I thought and he thought, ‘Well maybe we missed some of the critical points that they felt like were important in this resolution. So let us compromise and add to what we’ve already written and put it together so it can be agreeable to all the commissioners on the board,’” Mahoney said. “Last night’s meeting showed me that our commissioners are not trying to work toward what’s fair, equitable and agreeable to all.

“They’re more interested in dictating what they feel is fair and equitable for all. It’s just an unfortunate situation and a terrible feeling right now.”

The meeting is available on YouTube here.

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©2020 MLive.com, Walker, Mich.

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