BANGS — Over the last month, citizens of Bangs have been talking about what was said by council member Larry Williford after the city council adjourned their Feb. 12 meeting.
“It was brought to many people’s attention — over the last month — since the meeting that there were some items that were said that weren’t appropriate for the area or place,” said Richard Perez, Bangs Mayor Pro Tem. “We wanted to get together and get this out on the table and talk.”
Tuesday’s night meeting had the incident set for discussion in executive session, which prohibits the media or anyone who’s not on the council from attending, but Williford requested the discussion be made in open session.
“All I can say is it wasn’t intended as a racial slur — it was a slip of the tongue,” Williford said. “Something was said that, well all of you know what was said, but the reference was to slingshots — that’s what they call them now, slingshots, but they weren’t always called that.
“I’ve talked to Detective (Perry) Kelley about this — I decided I needed to apologize to him and everyone present when it took place. I went straight to Kelley the minute that it was said to apologize, and I apologize. I don’t feel that way towards any race. As far as I’m concerned mankind is one.”
Before Williford finished his sentence, Kenny Dunlap asked if he could speak to the council.
“The problem is not with what you said, the problem is that nobody saw fit to tell you it was wrong,” Dunlap said. “I was taught in the military to fight for what’s right… you have no right to use that kind of language in this forum. This is a hallowed hall, where you were born or how you were raised has nothing to do with this.
“I’m not angry with you, Mr. Williford, every man that sits at this table, and woman, that did not see fit to tell you what you did was wrong is culpable. Nobody saw fit to stand up and tell you that what you’re doing is not the feeling of Bangs and this city, or council members — unless, I’m wrong … all I’m asking for is respect to any man.”
Council member Waymon Sheppard quickly told Dunlap the council doesn’t approve of the language used. Dunlap continued to address the council about the comfort level of the word that was used.
“That’s not fair to me, my mother, my father, my daughter, my son — and excuse me for being angry,” Dunlap said. “But, you don’t allow me to do it in your businesses here, so how can you have business here and use that kind of language. All I ask is the respect that is due a dog.”
After Dunlap was finished addressing the council, Williford apologized again to Dunlap.
“I know it was wrong,” Williford said. “That’s why I went to Kelley as soon as it was said. It will not happen again.”
After the council members made their statements to Williford and to everyone present during the meeting, Kelley asked if he could make a statement before the meeting was adjourned on the issue without having to worry about retaliation.
“I kind of struggled with this and I really didn’t want to say anything at first but I feel that you have to do what’s right,” Kelley said. “I don’t have anything against anybody here on the council; I’ve been a police officer for a couple of years now. When you put on this uniform, you hear a lot of stuff from a lot of people and a whole lot of the things, and sometimes they mean them and sometimes they don’t. It comes with the job.
“But I will say this — it wasn’t hearsay because I was here. What happened was Mr. Williford did say it. We weren’t leaving. We were here and nobody chose to say anything … What I do know is I was here, what I do know was everyone was here at the table and what I do know is for whatever reason that it may be nothing was said. My only issue with the whole thing is that in a month that no one from the bottom of the food chain all the way to the top came to me and said anything. No one said this is how we feel. No one said this is not how we feel.
“Mr. Williford said he was sorry, he may mean it but look at the predicament he is in. It’s the right thing to do… You work at a professional job and were that to happen at your job, immediately HR would pull you in and say, ‘hey, this is not how we operate.’ I have nothing against Mr. Williford.”
Members of the council shared their thoughts about the incident during the open session and after hearing Kelley address the council.
“I don’t appreciate Mr. Dunlap coming here and accusing us of using that word and treating the council as if it was our fault. And him coming in here and addressing us, chewing us out basically on hearsay because the man was not here at the meeting and doesn’t know exactly what happened. I don’t appreciate being accused on secondhand hearsay. Did it happen? Yes, it did — it did. I was sitting right here, the meeting was called and we were all scattered. It did happen. As soon as it happened, we all looked and realized Mr. Williford had made a mistake — you could tell by his body language that he made a severe mistake. What did Mr. Williford do? He got up and went straight and he apologized for offending that person, and using that word. Now, if Mr. Williford had made that statement and not realized he made a mistake, I’m sure one of us would have come up and said, ‘Larry, you messed up, make it right.’ But, he knew he made a mistake and he made it right on his own— he made it right that night.” — Council member Truman Westfall
“I struggled with it all day long, OK I’m going to be honest with you Larry…We as the council are asked to represent the city in a positive light and ultimately do right. As a peer and a friend, I do not believe you’re racist. But, I do believe you exercised poor judgment that day. To me, as a voter, all credibility was lost. This reflects not only on Mr. Williford, but it reflects on us as a city — and that’s me addressing this… I’m almost believe truly that you took this to heart.” — Mayor Pro Tem Richard Perez