Racial harmony effort is rebuffed Yates and Dell say they won't participate in Call to Community

June 03, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Donna Engle contributed to this article.

County Commissioners Richard T. Yates and Donald I. Dell have again refused to participate in Call to Community, a metrowide effort to promote racial harmony.

The year-old effort does not represent all residents of Carroll County, said Dell, who with Yates voted against joining "Call to Community: An Honest Conversation About Race, Reconciliation and Responsibility" in March 1997.

Yates has maintained that racism does not exist in the county and dialogue on the subject is not needed.

Call to Community began last year and drew more than 200 people of diverse backgrounds into 20 study circles throughout the Baltimore area, including one at Carroll Community College. Participants plan to organize other groups to address the role race plays in housing, education and transportation.

"The better we can all understand one another, the better we can attack the issues that confront us all," said Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin, a banker who works in Baltimore and sees every day that "one area no longer is insulated from another's problems."

Buoyed by the effort's success, John C. Springer, executive director of Interfaith Action for Racial Justice, the Baltimore-based sponsor of Call to Community, again contacted county leaders, only to be rebuffed by Yates and Dell.

Dell said he would personally support the effort, but he cannot as an

elected official.

"I don't see signing a document as a solution," he said. "I represent all the people in Carroll County, and I want to stay neutral."

Yates said the county's constant support of state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, an African-American who began his political career in Carroll and ran successfully for the House of Delegates several times, is one example of Carroll's tolerance.

"Try that with a white candidate in Baltimore City and you won't have the same results," Yates said.

Since the initiative began, "We have a good base of support in Carroll County, but we need to offer residents more ways to participate," said Springer.

Joining the metrowide effort would "get us involved with racial problems which may exist in other jurisdictions," Yates wrote in a June 1 letter to Interfaith Action for Racial Justice. "I do not feel that the voters of Carroll County elected me to delve into problems which may exist outside our borders."

Call to Community could spawn racial turmoil in a county that has no racial issues, Yates said. Rather than help the city, Yates said last year that he was willing to watch it die.

"Maybe we will dig it up and make farmland out of it," he said at the time.

That comment earned him plaudits from many constituents, he said. "I probably could get re-elected on that comment alone," he said. "If I am wrong, people will let me know on Sept. 15," a reference to the primary election.

Springer said Yates' insensitivity is a strong indication of why Carroll needs Call to Community.

Manchester Mayor Elmer C. Lippy Jr., a former commissioner, said, "We cannot ignore injustice. It exists here, if only in the stance of two commissioners."

Manchester has witnessed Ku Klux Klan activity as recently as two years ago, when Klan members passed out literature along the town's Main Street, Lippy said.

'We have to take a stand'

"We have to take a stand against racism," said Lippy. "We can't use Baltimore City as a scapegoat. When the bell tolls in Baltimore, it is going to toll for all of Carroll County."

Mount Airy Mayor Jerry Johnson sees the effort as a "way to get ahead of any problems we might have in the future." Carroll's population is less than 3 percent minority, but "somewhere down the road that percentage will change," Johnson said.

The commissioners' decision dismays Nevin, Lippy, Johnson and the other mayors of the county's eight towns, who unanimously endorsed the effort last year and plan to support it as it continues for the next four years.

"As leaders in the community, we must eradicate racial problems wherever they are," said New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr., who re-endorsed the effort in a letter to Springer last week.

Union Bridge Mayor Perry L. Jones Jr., the county's only %J African-American mayor, said he hoped more dialogue might change attitudes.

"Personally, I just feel -- maybe not everybody's looking at it in the same way -- but there are definitely problems in Carroll County that need to be addressed," Jones said. "To make people aware, I'm not sure we can change it because it's always been that way and always will be, but by admitting there's a problem, through education, maybe we can change it."

'Inconceivable to me'

Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan called the commissioners' refusal to endorse the program for racial dialogue embarrassing. Their decision left him "ashamed that two-thirds of the leadership of my county feels that way."

Yowan said he didn't understand how Yates could say Carroll County is free of racial problems.

"I can't believe anyone with a straight face could come out and say there's no racism in Carroll County. That's just inconceivable to me," Yowan said.

Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman called the commissioners' decision short-sighted.

"We are all in this together," Herman said. "Whether we like it or not, the greater Baltimore area is getting closer to us. If everybody abandons Baltimore and we don't help the city, we will have its problems here."

Pub Date: 6/03/98

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