District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders listens as Bishop Scott Volland asks the county to consider removing a Confederate monument from the courthouse lawn during a board of supervisors meeting on Monday at the Lowndes County Courthouse.
Photo by: Claire Hassler/Dispatch Staff
June 19, 2020 10:31:41 AM
Lowndes County supervisors have reached a deadlock over their stances on embattled Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders, with two supervisors hoping to discuss Sanders' removal as president, and two others urging for his resignation from the board.
District 2 Supervisor Trip Hairston, who previously criticized Sanders' recent racist remarks toward African Americans, is asking for a special-call meeting to decide on Sanders' position as president of the five-member board, according to a letter he sent The Dispatch on Thursday. He also hopes to discuss relocating the Confederate monument in front of the courthouse, which the board voted 3-2 Monday along racial lines to leave in place.
However, two supervisors, Leroy Brooks of District 5 and Jeff Smith of District 4, have said they will not attend a special-call meeting and will accept nothing short of Sanders' full resignation from the board, echoing other local officials and protesters.
Following his Monday vote against relocating the monument to Friendship Cemetery -- where both Confederate and Union soldiers are buried -- Sanders told The Dispatch he thinks the black community has been "dependent" since slavery ended and is the only ethnicity not "assimilating" into the country. The remarks drew sharp criticism from community advocates and public officials, both locally and nationally.
In his letter, Hairston said he thinks Sanders' resignation from the board is "warranted based on comments and the harm they have caused our county." However, he said, supervisors cannot force Sanders to resign.
"To date, Mr. Sanders has refused to resign completely from the board," Hairston said in his letter. "This puts our board and ultimately our county completely unable to respond to the current situation and at an impasse."
One thing he can do, Hairston said, is cast a vote on who Sanders' replacement is as the board president. Sanders, he said, can no longer lead the board effectively with his "reprehensible comments."
Hairston said District 3 Supervisor John Holliman has agreed to the meeting, but for it to take place, Hairston needs three supervisors. As of now, he's one man short.
Hairston's appeal did not sway Brooks and Smith. Removing Sanders as the president but allowing him to stay on the board, they said, would not satisfy the community.
Brooks, who joined more than 100 protesters Wednesday calling for Sanders' resignation by June 30, said picking another president is merely "a slap on the wrist."
"If you remove a racist from the head of the table and set him on the side of the table, you still have a racist in the room," Brooks told The Dispatch on Thursday. "It doesn't serve any purpose."
Even if Sanders steps down as president, Brooks said he thinks the new president would just be another white supervisor.
If the board has to eventually decide whether to replace Sanders as the president, Brooks said he is not interested in voting on the issue at all. Smith said he has yet to decide what to do and refused to comment further. Holliman did not return calls and messages from The Dispatch seeking comment.
Sanders, who previously told The Dispatch he won't resign, declined to comment when reached Thursday.
Brooks acknowledged the current standoff among supervisors, but he said the board's functionality is already undermined.
"It's already dysfunctional," he said. "It's going to be a dysfunctional board. It's going to be a dysfunctional community."
Push for resignation
Brooks said Sanders' remarks, which have gained national attention, have hurt the black community and will potentially hurt the county's economy. Calling for Sanders' resignation Wednesday, Brooks urged protesters to come back to the courthouse for the June 30 board meeting if Sanders doesn't resign by then.
The community will take the issue to the "next level" to push for Sanders' removal from the board, Brooks told The Dispatch Thursday, including bringing national leaders to Columbus to add pressure to Sanders. He has received many calls from people across the country willing to travel to the city and assist in his effort, Brooks said.
"He ought to be honorable enough to say, 'I've caused damage,'" he said. "If he thinks what he said is fine and he feels good saying it, that's a hell of a notion throughout the community. If people are willing to just sit quietly and let Harry Sanders have his way, if he gets by with this, what is he going to do next?"
With Sanders unwilling to resign, Hairston said in his letter the only other way for his removal from the board is for Sanders to "be recalled by his constituents." Sanders, who was re-elected for a four-year term last November, is less than a year into his fifth as the board president.
An elected official can be removed by a judge if convicted of a felony, according to state law. The governor also has the power to remove any elected officials "knowingly or willfully failing, neglecting, or refusing" to fulfill their duty in their official capacity. In that case, at least 30 percent of the official's constituents will have to sign a petition for the governor to consider the removal.
Sanders previously told The Dispatch the community cannot force his removal over his comments.
"I haven't been convicted of a felony and my remarks are not a felony," he said in a Wednesday text message to The Dispatch.
Yue Stella Yu is the local government reporter for The Dispatch. Reach her at 662-328-2424 (ext 106) or follow her on Twitter @StellaYu_Mizzou
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