OCALA, Fla. -- Tuesday’s Ocala City Council meeting ended with Council President Mary Sue Rich suggesting Mayor Kent Guinn may, indeed, belong to the Ku Klux Klan and questioned whether he even deserves the office after his approval of a proclamation recognizing Confederate Memorial Day.
While Guinn presented the proclamation at the beginning of the meeting, it wasn’t until the council members’ comment time at the end of the meeting that Rich voiced her displeasure. Proclamations are under the purview of the mayor and are not subject to approval or input from the council.
“It upsets my stomach that we had a Confederacy (proclamation). You wouldn’t allow people to do a (proclamation) of peace,” Rich said, referring to a request earlier this year where Guinn refused to issue a proclamation largely because Manal Fakhoury spearheaded a City of Peace effort.
At that time, Guinn said Fakhoury’s ties to groups sympathetic to Hamas, a Palestinian organization considered a terrorist group by many Western countries, disqualified her from talking about peace.
On Tuesday, Rich said Guinn’s support of the Confederacy proclamation disqualified him from the mayor’s seat.
“I don’t think you deserve to be the mayor of Ocala. I hope somebody runs against you because you’re coming up with more and more negative stuff,” Rich said.
She also brought up unfounded KKK allegations that have dogged Guinn since 2015.
“I’m not proud of you doing a Confederacy proclamation. That turns my stomach. And when people say you are a bit of a Ku Klux Klan, I’m beginning to believe it,” Rich said. “The more I think about it, the madder and madder I get.”
Guinn did not respond to Rich other than to sarcastically thank her for her kind words.
In 2015, Guinn had to deny he ever had a connection to the KKK. The allegation came from the online hacker collective Anonymous.
Tuesday’s proclamation was almost identical to the proclamation the Marion County Commission approved on March 19.
The wording in both proclamations never mentions the Civil War, instead referring to it as a “civil conflict” and the “War Between the States.” People in the Confederacy avoided calling it the Civil War because they seceded from the Union and did not consider themselves a part of the United States.
While the county’s version of the proclamation sailed through largely unnoticed, on Tuesday, several people spoke out in opposition to the city’s version.
Avelia “Bert” Perkins, president of The Bridges Project of Ocala/Marion County, read a prepared statement voicing the group’s displeasure with the proclamation.
“The city has invested many years developing an image as a modern, forward-thinking, all-inclusive community through its racial harmony and cultural awareness task force ... We thus ask that the city not erode such progress by acceding to a very small group which glories in a romanticized past.”
The statement further noted that Memorial Day is the appropriate time to honor the United State’s military dead, including those who fought on both sides of the Civil War.
Jerome Gamble said the story of the Confederacy belongs in a museum along with the proper context of what it stood for.
“To codify and to celebrate what was done in that period of time is an affront to many people in our community. A large segment of our population did not support that. It was purely an effort to maintain a portion of the culture that wanted to enslave people of color,” Gamble said. “We can do better than celebrate it because of a segment of our population that desires to maintain and perpetuate the legacy and history of the Confederacy. The war was lost. The people who were supposed to be maintained in slavery have been set free. Let us remain free.”
For their part, Nancy Bowden and Judy Delk, who accepted the proclamation, listened quietly to those who spoke out against the item.
“We would just like to thank you for the recognition of our Southern heritage and history and to honor those that so valiantly fought to protect their homeland, their South, our Dixie,” Bowden told Guinn during the presentation.
After the meeting, Guinn spent several minutes speaking to the Rev. Richard Howard, a local church pastor who is black.
While he would not discuss Rich’s remarks, he did say he agreed to meet with a group of African-American church leaders and listen.
“What (Howard) explained is it’s like going to someone whose son or daughter died and your son or daughter is still alive and you say, ‘I know how you feel.’ You can’t say that because you don’t know how they feel,” Guinn said.