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UPDATE: Commissioners offer opinions about Fields’ racially charged comment

Angie Mayes • Aug 6, 2018 at 5:07 PM

On the heels of the controversy of Wilson County Commission District 1 candidate Robert Fields’ racially charged comment about opponent Tim Roehler’s wife and children on Facebook, The Lebanon Democrat polled each of the incumbent, incoming and outgoing commissioners to get their thoughts on the matter.

On Friday, Fields said Roehler “kept quiet” he was in an interracial marriage and had two interracial children in a Facebook post. The post was made after it was revealed Fields and Roehler tied with 526 votes apiece in Thursday’s Wilson County General Election. 

Incumbent Commissioner Annette Stafford said she took the comments personally. 

“I have bi-racial grandchildren and can’t believe he would publish those comments,” she said. “It upsets me to the hilt. It’s terrible for him to make the comments. I have six bi-racial grandchildren and two African-American grandchildren, and we don’t see color. I just wonder if he says those things publicly, what does he think privately?”

Commissioner-elect Kevin Costley said, “I’m just trying to wrap my head around this. It just blows my mind that someone would bring up the color of his wife and kids. It is a county commission race. I don’t know why that needed to be brought up. I don’t believe those kind of comments need to be in politics or in this world.”

Commissioner-elect Chris Dowell, who will be the only black commissioner except for Stafford when the new commission is seated, was offended by Fields’ comment.

“First of all, I don’t know what would make him say something of that magnitude,” Dowell said. “My first thought was that he’s not going to like me, because I have an interracial marriage and my children are interracial. That statement shouldn’t have been said, and for him to then go back on what he said about dropping out isn’t right either. 

 “If I can share light, since I am in the same situation as he is, if it does go to the election in November, I am going to the polls to help [Roehler] get elected. I feel that strongly about it.  If [Fields] is seated on the commission, I hope they don’t sit him anywhere near me, because I don’t believe he’s going to like me or my family. It’s not about him being a Democrat or a Republican. It’s what [Fields] said about [Roehler’s] family. 

“I was saying that they needed to battle it out at the polls, but now I think the commission should pick in this one race.”

Outgoing Commissioner Jeff Joines said, “I think it’s terrible. The way I see it, I read on Facebook that he said he wasn’t a racist. I can tell you how a person who’s not racist would speak. They would have said, ‘his wife and kids.’ Normal people don’t make the distinction. I feel bad for Tim’s family. If Fields has any decency, he’ll apologize and refuse to take office.

Joines said Fields not taking the office or the county commission voting him out would be the only two solutions. 

“If neither of those things happen, then I’ll be filing an ethics complaint after I am off the county commission,” he said. “There is not place in government for a racist.”

Adam Bannach and his wife, Cyndi, who is going to take her husband’s spot on the commission, said they have two daughters of Asian-American heritage.

“I’m proud of the diversity that they bring to our family. My father and my in-laws love them the same as they do their other grandchildren who don’t look the same. 

“[Fields’ comment] seemed pretty racist to me.”

Both Fields and Roehler entered the race for District 1 to replace Commissioner Becky Siever, who chose not to seek re-election. 

“When I heard that Mr. Fields had withdrawn his name, I felt that was the right thing to do,” Siever said. “However, I’m very disheartened and saddened by the news [Monday] that he had changed his mind.”

Commissioner Sonja Robinson said Fields showed “poor judgement” in writing the comment. She said, “It is between the two candidates, and we need to let it go where it needs to go.”

Incoming Commissioner Lauren Breeze said she didn’t understand why Fields brought up race. 

“If he wrote that, I just wonder how comfortable the people in his district would be in picking up the phone and calling him if they needed something,” she said.

Incumbent Commissioner Sara Patton said she disapproved of the comment “whether he meant for it to be seen or not. There is no room for racism in Wilson County government.” 

In all, 16 calls to commissioners were unanswered. Each of the messages relayed asked their comments about the issue and requested they call back. Calls were made to commissioners Chad Barnard, Jerry McFarland, Terry Scruggs, Frank Bush, Dan Walker, John Gentry, Matt Wilson, Terry Muncher, William Glover, Wendell Marlowe, Tommy Johns, Mike Justice, Mike Kurtz, Cindy Brown, Sue Vanatta and Jim Emberton.

Commissioners Bobby Franklin, Terry Ashe, Diane Weathers, Gary Keith, Joy Bishop and Justin Smith said they did know enough about the issue to comment. Commissioner Kenny Reich had no comment.

Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto said he was not able to read the comments or stories in The Lebanon Democrat because he was picking up election signs.

Multiple calls to Fields were not returned Monday.

Fields said Sunday he planned to concede the election to Roehler on Monday but changed his mind Sunday night. Hutto said, according to Secretary of State Tre Hargett, Fields can’t concede until after the provisional ballots are counted.

“Regardless of whether a person concedes prior to provisional ballots being counted, on our end, we still count the votes and certify the winner or a tie,” said Madison Tracy with the secretary of state’s office. “At that point, it is out of our control. In the case of a tie, the county commission can break the tie or call for a runoff.”

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