Racial poison

The Beaumont City Council has been a fairly congenial body in recent years, mostly devoid of the grandstanding, pandering and petty bickering often seen among elected officials who represent diverse constituencies. The norm on this council has been to build consensus, finding areas of compromise and agreement. This is often accomplished out of the public eye, which is a discussion for another day. But in recent weeks, an ugly strain of racially tinged discontent has surfaced at city hall in Beaumont.

Mike Getz, the newest member of council, has shown he is willing to ask tough questions about city operations. He’s not always right but doesn’t accept the notion that “because we’ve always done it that way” is a valid way to conduct the public’s business. That has rankled some of his colleagues but that is not the real problem they have with Getz.

Before his election to council, Getz led a citywide petition drive to force a ballot referendum on how the Beaumont Independent School District elects trustees. BISD officials vehemently opposed the proposed change but a majority of voters approved the measure to add at-large members to curb what they saw as the excesses of the district under now-departed Superintendent Carrol “Butch” Thomas. The BISD response to the referendum has been foot-dragging by its lawyers to thwart the will of the voters, demonstrating the same lack of accountability that led to the electoral defeat.This has made Getz a target of Thomas supporters on council who teamed with an opportunistic Alan Coleman, who wanted to make his district whiter and more affluent, a feat accomplished by stripping key precincts from Getz’s district.Jamie Smith, one of those members who helped engineer this anti-Getz gerrymandering, had complained during last week’s council meeting about Getz joining a group of peaceful demonstrators outside Ozen High School during an “extravaganza” to honor Thomas. Smith rebuked Getz for bringing discredit to Beaumont city government by “disrupting a gentleman’s retirement party” as if the First Amendment right to protest the divisive Thomas did not apply.

Smith made no mention of the small group of counter-protestors who shouted racial slurs at Getz. When two members of that group showed up at this week’s council meeting, Smith sat mute as a dubious character named Ricky Jason floated a series of outrageous charges accusing Getz of making radical, inflammatory statements during the protest about ropes, monkeys and Jasper, statements replete with the worst racial epithets and so outrageous that anyone who made them should rightly suffer the condemnation of civilized society.

The only problem is Getz never made any such statements. None of the television crews or private citizens with phones and cameras recorded any hate speech coming out of Getz’s mouth because it never happened. For his fellow councilmembers to sit in silent witness of these vicious lies is a form of moral cowardice. Whether they agree or disagree with Getz’s views, at long last have they no sense of decency?