Wednesday, January 19, 2000

Indiana council member apologizes for racial slur

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WEST HARRISON, Ind. — A town council member offered a public apology Tuesday, more than a year and a half after uttering a racial slur during a town meeting.

        In a statement read by William K. Ewan, the town's attorney, council member Bryan C. Kelly admitted he “made an inappropriate remark” about African-Americans as “an aside” during an August 1998 council meeting.

        The council had been discussing the possible closing of a local bar when Mr. Kelly stated he was opposed to it because the property could be used to build low-income housing that would attract African-Americans, using a slur to refer to people of that race.

        “I realized after the meeting that I should not have made the remark, and I thought that the issue was forgotten since the council and I had moved on to the business of West Harrison. I will take this opportunity to ... request forgiveness from anyone who might have been offended,” the statement continued.

        The apology came more than a year later because Mr. Kelly's statements weren't publicized until a West Harrison police officer complained about the remark in relation to a recent incident involving a Dearborn County commissioner.

        Officer John Rudisell accused Council President Roy Blum and Councilman Wallace Lanham of making disparaging remarks about the character of County Commissioner Vera Benning.

        Officer Rudisell, a four-year veteran with West Harrison, said the remarks about Ms. Benning occurred during a council meeting in November, after Ms. Benning had left the room.

        He said Ms. Benning has threatened to sue the town for defamation of character. However, Ms. Benning could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

        Council meetings in this rural town of about 200, composed mainly of white, blue-collar workers and farmers, are not televised and are rarely attended by the public.

        As a result, council members treat the meetings as “friendly conversations” among neighbors, Mr. Kelly said after Tuesday's 30-minute council meeting.

        “I've apologized,” he said. “Council has done a lot of good things for this town. I'm tired of all this he-said-she-said stuff.”

        Mr. Ewan said there are no plans to engage council members in sensitivity training.

        One resident, though, took issue with Officer Rudisell and complained that the officer was acting out of revenge because council does not back the officer's law enforcement methods.

        “There is a lot of negative sentiment toward (Officer Rudisell),” said Eric Oatman, a local business owner. “I think he has been overaggressive.”

        Officer Rudisell said Tuesday he was satisfied by Mr. Kelly's apology but wants council to act more professionally. He characterized Mr. Oatman as a disgruntled former bar owner who lost most of his clientele because of increased police presence.


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