Mecklenburg County commissioner Kim Ratliff apologized Tuesday night to the public and her colleagues for saying she preferred that the next county manager not be a white man.
Ratliff, the board’s vice chair who is a Democrat and black, said in a brief statement at the board’s regular meeting that she regrets making the statement.
“My comments were meant to encourage all candidates to apply for the position and not meant to exclude anyone,” she said. “I realize now my comments may not have been appropriate, and I regret making them.”
The issue surfaced June 21, when Ratliff told a WBTV reporter that she preferred that a “white male” not replace former County Manager Harry Jones, who was fired May 7.
Ratliff voted against the firing.
In interviews last week, she said she chose her words poorly and that she hadn’t intended to exclude white men from the manager search.
She said she only wanted to encourage women of all races and religions to apply. The county’s four managers have been men. Jones was the only black manger.
On Tuesday, it appeared Ratliff extended her encouragement to all qualified candidates.
She said she wants a manager with “strong leadership skills” and executive experience. She added that she looked forward to “working with the next county manager.”
In emails to commissioners last week, dozens of residents called on Ratliff to resign – or, short of that, to recuse herself from the new county manager’s selection.
Ratliff, one of three at-large commissioners, mentioned nothing in her statement Tuesday night about resigning or removing herself from the vote.
Her apology didn’t stop some commissioners from taking shots.
Commissioner Karen Bentley, a white Republican, told Ratliff she appreciated her apology, “although it was a few days late in coming.”
She said she’s received emails and letters from people around the country who wrote they would not visit Mecklenburg because they viewed it as intolerant.
Bentley said elected officials “have a high standard. The words we say have a high meaning” and impact. To those people, she said, “it seems like reverse racism is acceptable in this community. But it is not to be tolerated.”
Commissioner Dumont Clarke, a white Democrat, also thanked Ratliff for her apology and “acknowledging your regret,” adding that it took courage.
But, he said, it is critical that the county manager search be conducted without “any preconceived notions.”
Clarke said that not long ago in Mecklenburg County the only people who would have been considered for executive jobs were white men.
“We are just a little removed from a history of overt discrimination of basically everybody except white men,” he said. “We live in a different world these days. We must all be careful about what we say as we go forward.”
Clarke urged the board “to remain vigilant” in being fair and to consider all candidates “without regard to race, ethnicity … and other factors.”
Ratliff’s apology didn’t stop several residents from railing against her at Tuesday’s meeting.
Wayne Powers, a white Republican, told Ratliff that what she said wasn’t just insulting, “it’s a textbook definition of racism.”
“Racism and bigotry are wrong and repugnant for any color,” Powers said. “They create misunderstanding and foster resentment.”
He urged the board to prevent Ratliff from voting on the new county manager, censure her and replace her as vice chair.
“Silence is consent,” he said.
Former commission candidate Paula Harvey, a white Democrat, said she met Ratliff during the campaign last year and they became fast friends.
Harvey said Ratliff has been “devastated” by how she’s been portrayed in emails and in the media.
“It’s not the Kim I know. It’s not how she was raised,” Harvey said. “…We need to forgive her and move on.”