- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Charles County commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II and Commissioner Debra M. Davis were among a crowd of about 80 who attended a protest Thursday outside the board of elections in La Plata condemning recent actions by the Charles County Board of Education and Superintendent Kimberly A. Hill as attempting to coerce voters from casting ballots for African-American candidates.
But following the rally, the talk in an adjacent parking lot where candidates and their supporters had set up tents during early voting, which ended Thursday, was over the words directed at a woman by one of the rally’s organizers.
Waldorf resident Cathy Redmond was speaking with a reporter immediately after the protest, which she criticized as an act of “race baiting.”
Local activist Cornell Posey, who said he took the lead in organizing the rally, overheard Redmond’s remarks. He directed a common racial slur, “house [expletive],” at her as several protestors stood nearby. He repeated the slur several times.
Visibly shaken and her voice cracking, Redmond, who is black, continued speaking. She remarked that she was hurt less by Posey’s words than by the fact no one from the rally spoke up in her defense.
Word quickly spread in the candidates’ tents, and several hopefuls and campaign volunteers came to comfort Redmond.
She later confirmed that, in addition to encouraging people to vote, she is supporting Charles County sheriff’s Lt. Troy Berry, who is black, in his campaign for sheriff.
During the protest, Posey drew cheers from the crowd after he called on Hill to resign following a June 11 robocall to parents in which she said the $354.5 million fiscal 2015 budget recently passed by the Charles County commissioners on a 3-2 vote “does not adequately fund the needs of our students or the opening of our new [St. Charles] high school.”
At the end of the call, Hill asked parents to “Please contact your county commissioners and ask them to reconsider their budget decision,” but did not ask that they vote for particular candidates.
One of about a dozen protestors wearing black T-shirts reading “Black Men Vote” and bearing a “raised fist” symbol, Posey and others at the rally said Hill’s robocall amounted to voter intimidation and coercion.
“We are going to ask for the superintendent to resign because what she’s doing on taxpayers’ money is totally wrong,” Posey said.
“My job is to advocate for the children of Charles County. As superintendent of schools, my job is to advocate for the 26,500 children that go to our schools. To assume that anything I did is politically motivated is just flat-out wrong,” Hill said in an interview Thursday afternoon. “The phone call was intended to make our community aware of the decisions the commissioners had made and allow them to contact their commissioners, if they so chose. There was no political motivation at all, and I have no intention of resigning from this position.”
Posey also said the board of education recently held a meeting in which school employees were told to not vote for Collins (D), Davis (D) or Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D), the three commissioners who voted to approve the budget. Posey said his son works for the school board.
“They told my son not to vote for Reuben, Debra and Bobby,” Posey said. “They told my son. My ancestors died to vote, and they’re going to tell my son, who is a friend of Reuben Collins, not to vote for him on government time? That’s wrong. They’re trying to swing this vote.”
“I know nothing about any such meeting,” Hill said. “We would never tell our employees how to vote or who to vote for. That is not what we do.”
Posey also criticized the school board for requesting more funding when it already represents 46 percent of the county budget.
“The school board now, they got a $100 million high school coming up. They got a $6 million pool that they just put in. They got half of the budget, and they want more,” he said. “They want more. It’s crazy, and it’s not right.”
Janice Wilson, president of the Charles County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also spoke at the protest and condemned “recent acts that we consider to be … economic voter intimidation and the attempt to steer voters away from certain political candidates to other candidates.”
“We consider this a form of coercion of voters,” she said.
Though she did not specify which “acts” she was referring to, she later said “robocalls, email messages sent and postings on social media are indicators of this type of coercion.”
A transcript of Hill’s robocall was also emailed June 11 to everyone on the school system’s mailing list.
Wilson said “the NAACP does not endorse” candidates but is committed to ensuring the voting rights of all citizens.
“It is extremely disheartening and tragic to note the attempts by some who want to use violations of these rights in order to promote and protect their own causes and candidates,” she said. “When voting rights are compromised and under attack, the NAACP will stand up and take action.”
The Rev. Delman Coates, senior pastor at Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton and the running mate of gubernatorial candidate Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), began the protest with a prayer.
“We must do everything possible to protect the right to vote, and we must organize to combat any effort that would attempt to limit access to voting and that would attempt to discourage people from voting,” Coates said.
Former Charles County NAACP President William Braxton and District 3 commissioner candidate Robert Taylor also spoke at the protest.
Braxton said it is illegal for the school board to engage in political activities or endorse candidates.
“If we stand here and say it’s not about race, we are kidding ourselves,” he said.
Taylor asked the crowd to “stand with Reuben, Debra and Bobby.”