High Point council turns attention to healing
No hard feelings.
That may be the official line in the wake of the City Council’s attempt to oust Mayor Bernita Sims, but the reality on the ground appears to be far different.
After the council’s 6-3 vote on Thursday to request Sims’ resignation, city leaders were saying all the right things about putting the discord behind them.
That belied the steady stream of critics who have lambasted council’s action.
Some noted the fact that the vote targeted High Point’s first black mayor and that all six council members who supported the resignation request are white, while the three who opposed it are black.
“Where you think today may have been throwing water on the flame, I believe you’ve thrown gas on the flame. And where there might have been just a small flicker, it may turn into an inferno,” the Rev. Frank Thomas, president of the High Point Ministers Conference, told the council after the vote.
Councilwoman Becky Smothers made the motion to request the resignation of Sims, who has faced a series of financial and legal troubles. The vote carries no practical consequences, since the council doesn’t have the authority to unseat the mayor.
The action has involved plenty of controversy, however.
In addition to Smothers, council members Jim Davis, Jason Ewing, Judy Mendenhall, Britt Moore and Jay Wagner supported the resignation request. Sims and council members Foster Douglas and Jeff Golden opposed it. Sims says she won’t resign.
“We get along fine when we’re dealing with the city’s business,” Smothers said. “We have plenty to work on that we’re united about. If there are those that want to try to continue to divide the community, that’s what you’ll do, but don’t try to drag us in it.”
Council members who opposed the resignation vote also sounded a note of unity.
“I think, to move forward, we have to make a conscious decision on this council that we’re going to support the person sitting in the big chair,” Golden said. “We’ve got to make a conscious decision to do what’s right by the people who put us here.”
Douglas said, “I don’t have a problem working with any of the council members going forward. We can’t take these things personally. I think that we can move forward with the business of the city. That is what we were elected to do, and we have an obligation to do just that.”
The city’s Human Relations Commission is stepping into the controversy to try to promote healing.
After the vote on Thursday, the commission released a message to the community that reads, in its entirety:
“Helen Keller said, ‘Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice can never be attained.’
High Point has reached a social justice crossroads and the time has come for courageous conversations around race. National, state, and local events have forced us to put aside the parasol of Southern gentility and stand boldly in the rays of the sun. Being familiar with the heat of the South, we know the warmth can be soothing or can render a stinging burn.
High Point’s warmth of superficial banter has moved to the stinging burn of institutionalized racism; thus the advancement of courageous conversations about race equity and authentic inclusion.
Institutionalized racism doesn’t mean the people of High Point are bad. It means that opportunities to activate entrenched oppressive systems and practices is as easy as breathing without thinking about it. So, we as the Human Relations Commission step forward to begin the courageous conversations. To make the invisible, visible.
Stand with us. Speak with us. Be heard by us.”
Sims said the council hasn’t stopped working through the turmoil and will continue doing so moving forward.
“To those who say that we have been polarized and we have not done anything, nothing could be further from the truth,” she said. “Can we move forward from this? I would submit that we’ve been moving forward all the time. We’ve never missed a beat.”
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The city of High Point’s Human Relations Commission has scheduled four informational forums this month billed as “courageous conversations around race.”
The first is scheduled for 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Macedonia Family Resource Center, 401 Lake Ave. The others are scheduled for Oct. 17 at the Southwest Guilford High School media room, 4364 Barrow Road; Oct. 24 at Southside Recreation Center, 401 Taylor Ave., and Oct. 31 at High Point City Hall City Council Chambers, 211 S. Hamilton St.