Commissioner, activist clash over ‘freedom of speech’

Charges of racism heat up city commission meeting


A clash between Zone 5’s city commissioner and a community activist over “freedom of speech” during the public comment segment of a Daytona Beach City Commission meeting prompted Daytona Beach’s mayor to weigh in on the conflict, which got heated during the May 1 city commission meeting.

130509_dt_community01“We can say what we need to say, but have respect,” Mayor Derrick Henry said during last week’s meeting, directing his comments at Commissioner Patrick Henry – the mayor’s brother – and community activist Marjorie Johnson.

Johnson serves on two Volusia County Council boards – the Human Services Board and the Children and Families Advisory Board. She is a regular speaker at city commission meetings, and has been outspoken about the city “giving us our minutes back.”

More time?
In an interview this week, Henry also said he is open to going back to giving residents more time to speak during meetings – if he has the support of a majority of the commissioners.

Henry was referring to a vote taken before his mayoral election that reduced residents’ public comments from six minutes – three minutes before the start of a meeting and three minutes after – to the current policy which only allows residents to speak on non-agenda items for two minutes at the end of the meeting.

“The constitution gives me freedom of speech. I am a taxpaying citizen. A lot of things I’ve spoken up about you and your brother benefited,” Johnson said to Commissioner Henry.

Commissioner Henry responded to Johnson saying, “I (also) live in America. We do have freedom of speech. I have the freedom to speak.”

“Make good on (your) campaign promises. One city and one vision. The gap has gotten wider,” declared Johnson, who said just because she is Black and Henry is the city’s Black mayor won’t stop her from speaking up on issues.

‘Rampant racism’
Johnson upset Commissioner Henry after saying at the April 17 meeting, “Racism is running rampant in this community and it needs to stop.”

Johnson referred to a Black resident being arrested last month by Daytona Beach police for calling 911. The resident, Dedra Jones was upset that the police had not arrived at her home, located in a heavily Black populated area, until an hour after the initial call.

Johnson said her rights have also been violated in the past by the Daytona Beach Police Department. She pointed at an officer in the meeting she accused of having harassed her on at least two different occasions.

“I went to the Police Department and filled out a complaint (against her) and have heard nothing,” Johnson said in an interview this week.

Selective enforcement?
Coincidently, during the May 1 meeting another Black resident alleged racism exists in the city’s Code Enforcement Board which operates with the assistance of the Police Department.

“You all are not up on the code board. The code board goes around picking who they want to attack…That house was there for 20 years and the city hadn’t torn it down.

Why is it the time I got it after they issued the White guy a permit, I get the house, now the (wrecking) ball got to hit? Something is wrong,” said John Burch who owns a house on Berkshire Road in the city. He called for a meeting with City Manager Jim Chisholm and Mayor Henry.

“What one person says does not reflect the views of the city.  I believe folks who come to meetings care about the city’s objective to get things done in a positive way,” Henry said, noting his only worry is when people say things unintentionally that are not facts.

“We are all going to work for the  city and say the things that need to be said. I request we have decorum – sensitivity toward one another and respect,” Henry concluded during the meeting.

‘Don’t bite the hand’
Remarks by Commissioner Henry directed at Johnson made at the April 17 city commission meeting upset Johnson to the point that she said she felt compelled to respond at May 1 meeting after she learned what Henry said.

Johnson told Patrick Henry he would not be where he was today if it were not for her speaking at a meeting before he and Derrick Henry were on the commission.

“When they wanted to appoint a commissioner for that seat, (I spoke up for) a special election. That’s how you got here, that’s how he (Mayor Henry) got here. So don’t bite the hand that got you where you are,” Johnson said.

Johnson returned to the May 1 meeting to demand that the city do something  about the paving of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, which she said “is in deplorable condition.”

Henry ‘proud’
“Maybe in the past, it (Midtown) has been neglected. I am proud of what we have done. We have allocated funds for Orange Avenue. Funds for flood mitigation. We are not neglecting Midtown. We are trying to do things as money comes available,” Commissioner Henry said.

City Manager Jim Chisholm chimed in, saying since he has been with the city, $40 million has been infused in the Midtown area “for the benefit of all our residents.”
Johnson replied to Chisholm’s assessment.

“We were neglected for many years. We need more money invested in our community.  They have invested more in other communities,”she explained.

“Respect goes both ways. Respect is we get some of the dollars that are going across the river,” Johnson concluded.



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