GEORGETOWN — Despite a legal threat, Town Council voted once again Monday to grant funding to the Georgetown Historical Society, sparking condemnation from opponents of a Confederate flag flying on the grounds of a society museum.
The financing, originally granted July 25, had been voided by Mayor Bill West following accusations of Freedom of Information Act violations, remediation suggestions by the state Attorney General’s Office and multiple calls by various organizations to withdraw the monies.
The debate hinges on the display of the flag at the Nutter D. Marvel Carriage Museum, a Georgetown Historical Society facility on South Bedford Street that includes a monument maintained by the Delaware Grays chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Following a presentation Monday by NAACP and a discussion of a Department of Justice opinion, council members Penuel Barrett, Angela Townsend and Sue Barlow cast support for the $24,750 check, which first became the focus of heated debate in late July.
“It just shows us what type of people you really are,” said Fleur McKendell, president of NAACP’s Central Branch. “We know that what we have to do, ultimately, is to remove you from office, which we will.”
Joe Lawson of the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice agreed.
“Taxpayer money should not ever be used for an organization that flies the Confederate flag and honors the Confederacy that enslaved 4 million people,” he said.
Councilwoman Christina Diaz-Malone and Mayor Bill West voted against granting the check from the Georgetown Recreation, Education and Arts Trust Fund on Monday.
After the vote, NAACP and SDARJ countered immediately, vowing to support possible boycotts of the town and back political candidates who oppose the flag.
“You hold temporary positions of power. But remember, it is the people, this community, that hold the power. We have the power to elect representatives who are going to act in good morale conscience,” said Ms. McKendell.
Another NAACP member, Jea Street — who is also a New Castle County councilman and president of Delawareans for Educational Opportunity — said the effort will continue “until either the check comes back, or the flag comes down.”
The July 25 approval was contingent on a proviso offered by society president Jim Bowden that an attempt would be made to form a committee with the Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter to address the flag issue. However, the chapter, which has an agreement with the society about its monument, declined to come to the table.
Monday’s decision followed a Sept. 15 Attorney General’s Office ruling on a complaint filed by Tom Irvine of the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice. That ruling opined that the delivery of the first check — signed by Councilwoman Townsend, Councilwoman Barlow and Councilman Barrett — violated the Freedom of Information Act.
In follow-up correspondence Sept. 21, the attorney general offered several remediations regarding the check. “To remediate, the opinion recommended that the Council construe the three councilmembers’ decision and action on the check as void and convene a public meeting in compliance with FOIA to reconsider or take action on this matter,” it read.
Additionally, the letter stated that the “petitioners in this opinion asked this office to file suit.”
Meanwhile, it was discovered that the Georgetown Historical Society’s application missed an April 1 deadline for the town’s GREAT Fund.
“You did not meet the April 1 deadline, as spelled out in ordinance. You are still wrong, and you will be held accountable,” said Ms. McKendell on Monday. “There will be serious consequences for your behavior, effective 8 a.m. (Tuesday) morning.”
Mayor West explained his decision to initially void the check. “I, as mayor, saw that, under the circumstances, we did not follow the code of the law. We were wrong. Yes, sure, I didn’t know it,” he said.
Discussion during the meeting was punctuated by several heated exchanges, which drew the gavel from Mayor West.
Councilwoman Townsend maintained that the signing and delivery of the check was aboveboard.
“We had an executive session. We cleared the air. And we were moving forward with the check. We didn’t have private meetings, none of that,” she said. “I have been called every name under the sun.
“I go out into the community and talk to my constituents. And they are for the flag, and they are for the flag because they consider it history,” she added. “Whether I believe in the flag or not, I have to do what people are asking me to do. I am not a White supremacist.”
Ms. McKendell countered, “Miss Townsend, you mentioned that, in talking to constituents, (you found that) your constituents are all supportive of the flag. Well, you must not have any Black friend constituents.”
Town Manager Eugene Dvornick read into the record 17 letters, all expressing support for the flag. Most stated that, while the Civil War was a divisive time, it is nonetheless history and should not be ignored.
However, Councilwoman Diaz-Malone expressed disappointment in the approval of the funding by her three colleagues. She noted the application’s failure to meet the April 1 deadline and the negligence of not heeding legal advice.
“If something is pointed out to you and (you) do it anyway …,” she said. “When people reduce themselves to sending each other notes, to sending each other letters, and no one has the (guts) to sit down and talk about this issue — I am appalled once again that we have become a renegade council. Rules were not followed.”
Town resident Dennis Winzenried agreed, saying the three council members have “definitely not followed rules. You have not listened to public opinion here.” He also called out Councilwoman Barlow, a life member of the historical society, about a possible conflict of interest.
The councilwoman responded that she became a life member in the 1990s, “when I paid my $100. I have not been involved since 2004. I am not an active member.”
Ms. McKendell summed up the NAACP’s position by stating the “right thing to do is to remediate the mess, the collective mess that three of the council members have made. Have the courage. Do the right thing and remediate this issue, so that this town can begin to heal.”