BY JAMES HARPER
The Daytona Beach NAACP president has weighed in on the controversy surrounding the local police chief’s comments about Volusia County Councilwoman Joyce Cusack’s appointment of an Indian American to the Halifax Area Advertising Authority (HAAA).
Cynthia Slater calls Daytona Beach Police Chief Michael Chitwood’s comments about Cusack’s appointment of Pravin Patel to the HAAA board “out of place.”
“He should respect the councilwoman’s judgment and be open to work with the county council and the Halifax Area Advertising board in order to correct any issues that the board needs to address,” Slater stated.
“It sounds like Mr. Patel has instituted a zero tolerance campaign as it relates to unlawful activity happening in and around his establishment,” she continued.
Reminded of B-CU comment
Slater was president of the organization in 2009 when it sent a letter to Daytona Beach officials asking for an investigation into Chitwood and the Daytona Beach Police Department over comments he made in a newspaper article about Bethune-Cookman President Trudie Kibbe Reed and the university.
In October 2009, he was quoted in the Daytona Beach News- Journal calling Bethune Cookman University President Trudie Reed an “inept leader who has lost control of her students.’’
The letter sent by the NAACP said that the police department, including Chitwood, repeatedly made inflammatory and racially tinged statements, issued a “sham subpoena” and made false statements to the media alleging a cover-up on the part of B-CU officials involving a disturbance at a dormitory involving students and school employees.
No word on future actions
“The community relations division of the Justice Department came in and the two parties (B-CU and DBPD) resolved the issue,” said Slater, who did not say if the NAACP is planning any future actions against Chitwood involving his comments related to Cusack.
Chitwood recently was quoted in the city’s daily paper saying, “Clearly, the County Council doesn’t really know what’s going on in Daytona Beach, or at least vet who they are applying to these boards. When they heard the address, 1100 South Ridgewood, if they knew their county, they would say, ‘I’ve got to call the police chief.’”
Cusack took the comments personally. She felt she was being singled out by Chitwood because she is the only Black on the board and because she appointed Patel, who is Indian.
Belgrade elected to lead board
The councilwoman was at the HAAA board meeting on Wednesday where her appointment participated in the election of a new chairman.
Sean Belgrade, who works for the Daytona International Speedway, was unanimously elected by the 11-member board to take over the chair position from attorney Ted Doran.
Doran did not put his name up for a vote. “I didn’t want to draw attention. It wasn’t about me but about the future direction of the board,” said Doran, who also admitted he didn’t have the votes to get re-elected.
Belgrade took the mantle after the vote and called on the group to work together.
“It’s important we all come together. We’ve had a tough year. Our community has suffered. We must work together toward a common goal,” he noted.
‘Let them do their jobs’
Belgrade also directed comments at county council members Cusack, Josh Wagner and Joie Alexander, who attended the meeting.
“You appointed people who have great backgrounds. Let them do their jobs,” Belgrade said.
Wagner, who supported Cusack’s appointment of Patel said to the board, “Educate us. It’s part of the process.”
Wagner also had a problem with Chitwood’s comments about Cusack’s appointment to the board. “It hurts relationships between city and county,” Wagner said.
Councilwoman Alexander said she was glad to see the new leadership in place but said future appointments will come under more scrutiny.
“We need more time to do our own vetting. We never had a process. Need more time so appointment is not an embarrassment,” Alexander added.
Cusack ready to move forward
Cusack also appointed Doran to the board last year when he was voted chair. She thanked him during the meeting for doing a good job and urged the other board members to work together with each other.
The councilwoman said she is still perplexed that now that she is on the board, there is a call to do more vetting of appointments since it was not done in the past. However, she said she will support more vetting of appointments.
“Make sure it’s all seven appointments and not just Joyce Cusack’s appointments,” she remarked.
Cusack is responsible for three appointments to the HAAA board.
The HAAA board is an 11-member volunteer board appointed by the county council that spends roughly $6 million on tourism advertising each year and advises the council. Last year, Cusack appointed the first Blacks ever to serve on the board.
Cusack said she is ready to move forward and put the incident with her and Chitwood behind her.
“My point has been made. It is not the responsibility of the chief of police to vet my appointments,” she concluded.