An “inclusiveness” resolution local officials said goes hand-in-hand with the “Stellar” goal of being “Safe and Welcome” has now passed both city as well as county councils. However, the inclusiveness vote did not get a “yes” from everyone.
Just a few days after the Henry County Council passed the measure 4-3, the New Castle City County voted 6-1 Monday night in favor of the document. The resolution was the product of teamwork by the County Council’s Betsy Mills and the City Council’s Aaron Dicken.
The debate was not so much on whether everyone should be treated equally. There seemed to be unanimous agreement on that count. The concern revolved around unintended consequences such a statement might carry into the future.
For Dicken, the resolution goes hand-in-hand with New Castle and Henry County’s Stellar Communities vision. He said it embodies the “Safe and Welcome” theme that helped make the local Stellar plan a state finalist and win a consolation prize of $333,000.
“These are times of stark division, hateful rhetoric and constant negativity,” Dicken said. “Our issues have become polarized, whether they be wind energy, rural broadband or racial inequalities.
“I cannot relate to what some in our community have experienced because I come from a life of privilege,” Dicken continued. “And I know it. But that is also why I understand the importance of not being silent. It’s important to show the marginalized members of our community – and yes, there are marginalized members of our community – that this resolution does not contain empty words. This should be an actionable first step toward progress and needs, to be followed by many more actionable steps to show we mean what we say.”
Council President Rex Peckinpaugh said such a resolution is an important statement by city leaders. As an active member of the Stellar Communities committee that became a state finalist, Peckinpaugh said one of the comments about the local effort was the lack of diversity.
“We want to make all people feel welcome, no matter who they are, make all people feel safe, no matter who they are, and treat all people nice, no matter who they are,” Peckinpaugh said.
New Castle Main Street Director Carrie Barrett spoke in favor of the resolution. She said the EDC and Hope Initiative organizations also supported it.
“I’m really excited about it because it acknowledges that everybody means something,” Barrett said. “We are a ‘City of Valor’ and this resolution is brave and courageous.”
New Castle Parks and Recreation Board President Patty Broyles also supported the resolution.
“I think this is wonderful,” Broyles said. “This is the best place you could ever live in.”
But local school teacher Zach Lee worried that behind the well-intended words could lurk unintended consequences down the road.
“I agree with and support the text of the resolution,” Lee said. “Everyone should be treated with respect. My concern is that while the authors of this resolution clearly have good intentions and I trust them, others who may come along later on and use it ... to silence the reasonable voices of people like me who are pro-Christianity, pro-traditional family, pro-life and pro-America. I realize that I am taking a risk in publicizing my conservative Christian views and I realize that putting myself on the line like this could cost me friendships, opportunities and – hopefully never but maybe one day – even my job.
“But I do realize, as John Wayne once said, ‘Courage is being afraid and saddling up anyway, so here I am.’” Lee continued. “I’m not alone in this sphere as a recent national survey showed 77 percent of conservatives and 64 percent of moderates are silenced for fear of backlash. They don’t tell their political views because they are afraid they could lose their job or their family could be in danger. In a world with more inclusivity statements and more pride and tolerance than ever, this should not be case. Something is clearly wrong.”
Lee urged the Council to not forget “people with traditional religious convictions.”
“These people also need to be included when we consider these kinds of resolutions, especially when these resolutions are called an ‘actionable first step,” Lee said, “We can’t let inclusivity be used as a Trojan horse to usher in mob rule that leads to attacking and burning churches, Bibles, the Constitution and canceling anyone who is not in total obedience to the woke agenda – all of which is happening across the nation right now.
“I support the resolution because I agree with the text and I trust the authors’ intent,” Lee concluded. “But I do so with this word of caution: any implementation of an inclusivity resolution which negatively targets those who hold the values of traditional family Conservatism and patriotism should be called out and vehemently rejected.”
Councilman Mike Guffey cast the lone “no” vote.
County Council members passed the resolution “supporting inclusiveness” last Thursday. But it proved to be a divisive issue, at least with the final vote.
The resolution was passed 4-3, with Chad Malicoat, Clay Morgan, Betsy Mills and Harold Griffin voting in favor. Susan Huhn, Peg Stefandel and Kenon Gray opposed it.
The action came at the same meeting as the three-hour debate on the alleged “racist” social media postings by Gray.
The resolution, however, was not triggered by Gray and his social media controversy. Council member Betsy Mills said it was in response to events that have taken place across the nation this summer.
Mills said she had worked with New Castle City Council member Aaron Dicken on the resolution.
“It’s been on his heart all summer and I know it’s been on mine, too,” she said.
Councilman Clay Morgan made the motion to pass the resolution.
“This moment is very sobering for me,” he said. “I’ve been deeply concerned about the actions across our nation. I know there are many in this room tonight that would agree with me that our entire nation is in an extremely polarized condition.
“People are anxious and tense,” Morgan continued. “There’s riots, burning of businesses, smashing of windows. Tensions are extremely high and many people are misunderstood.”
Councilman Chad Malicoat second the motion to pass the resolution.
“We have an absolute duty to equally represent all the citizens of Henry County,” Malicoat said.
But Council President Susan Huhn said while every individual is “incredibly valuable,” she could not support the resolution as it was written.
“I do believe that every individual is incredibly valuable,” Huhn said. “And specifically, I also believe that every black life is incredibly valuable. Furthermore, I believe that every individual should be treated with kindness and respect.
“However,” Huhn continued, “I believe our country and our culture have reached a point where inclusivity, freedom of speech and religion are at war with one another. I believe that in the year 2020, in the history of the United States of America, inclusivity, freedom of speech and religion unfortunately have irreconcilable differences.
“I will err on the side of freedom of speech and religion every time,” Huhn said. “So I will not be supporting this ordinance.”
Neither Stefandel nor Gray offered any comments with their “no” votes at the meeting.
The resolution is available to read in its entirety on the city website – www.cityofnewcastle.net – by clicking on the government tab and then the link “legislation log.”