EASTON — In a letter to Talbot County lawmakers, local NAACP leader Richard Potter requested a meeting with the county council to discuss the lingering issue of the Talbot Boys Confederate monument. Some council members appeared hesitant to come to the table.
Potter, president of the NAACP’s Talbot chapter, said he’s pursuing talks with the council to confront the “civil unrest” that has persisted since the council voted 3-2 in August to keep the controversial statue on the county’s courthouse lawn.
In response to the lawmakers’ vote, citizens have organized several protests against the statue in the last two months. The council called the demonstrations “disruptive” because they mostly took place outside the council’s meeting room while the legislators were meeting.
Council President Corey Pack, who voted in favor of removing the statue, said Tuesday, Oct. 13, he “certainly support(s)” the council’s meeting with Potter and other community members. But Council Member Frank Divilio, who voted against its removal, took issue with the meeting request, saying Tuesday it was unclear in Potter’s letter who would be coming to the meeting with the NAACP leader.
Potter referenced “we” throughout his letter to the council and said he wanted the council to meet with him and “community leaders” on Oct. 20. Potter declined to say in an interview with The Star Democrat who he planned to bring with him to the meeting.
But Potter said Divilio’s stating that he did not know to which community members Potter was referring suggested that Divilio was “out of tune” with “what is going on in the county around him.”
“There are various pockets of community leaders speaking up for the removal of this statue. They have spoken at protests on the courthouse lawn,” Potter said in an interview Wednesday. “(Frank) sits on the county council. My question, Frank, is where are you?”
Divilio asked the council after Potter’s letter was read aloud at Tuesday’s meeting, “Is this a work session he’s requesting with multiple individuals from the community who we don’t know who they are?”
“We don’t know where this is, how big, or what time,” Divilio said. “We haven’t coordinated with anybody else ... I do not like this.”
Assistant County Manager Jessica Morris had read the letter to the council members during the meeting because, she said, she was putting it in the public record. When Pack appeared ready for the council to decide whether to schedule Potter’s requested meeting, Divilio and Council Member Laura Price objected.
Divilio said the meeting request was not on the council’s agenda Tuesday evening. “We’re not going to sit here in a council meeting and have a letter read where one individual is asking for a meeting with all of us. This is not appropriate,” he said.
“Let’s figure out who these individuals are, and if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right,” Divilio continued.
Price objected for a different reason. She said the council has never been asked to “pull out our calendars in the middle of a council meeting” to schedule something.
”This is a very different situation that we should take under advisement and come back to it,” Price said.
Pack said the meeting discussion would be an item on the council’s agenda for its next meeting on Oct. 27 — seven days after the date Potter asked for the meeting to take place. “You’ll have to notify (Potter) we won’t be able to pick this up again until the 27,” he said.
Potter called it “pathetic” that the council members appeared reluctant to agree to a meeting and said the council was using a “white supremacist stall tactic.”
“My letter (to the council) was not threatening at all,” Potter said. “It was to say, ‘Look, we need to come together to discuss this issue and then move forward.
“To me, it sends a powerful message that the ones who were in opposition to having a meeting, they don’t want to move forward,” he said.
Potter said he was not sure if there was a different procedure he should’ve followed to request the meeting, though he said it was explained to him Wednesday that the council usually receives a letter and responds to it without having to add it as an item on a meeting agenda.
The county in response to his inquiry about the process, he said, gave him a 20-page document detailing the procedure for requesting a meeting with the council. Potter said he would be reviewing the document to better understand the process, but had not yet read it by press time Wednesday evening.
In his letter, Potter said it is “my desire, along with other community leaders, that we take a proactive approach to this issue and matter.”
He said his goal in meeting with the council was to initiate a “transparent dialogue about how we can work together as one community to move forward in an effort to achieve a more inclusive, equitable and welcoming county that we all desire to see.”