The Walker County Commission has adopted new rules for the public to make comments after a man used a racial slur multiple times during a meeting two weeks ago.
At the end of the Jan. 28 Walker County Commission meeting, a man dressed as The Lone Ranger introduced himself as Ray C. Burnfin. Burnfin used his time to advocate for the Confederate flag, said there was no such thing as white supremacy and condoned the use of racial slurs.
Burnfin then used the N-word multiple times during his public comment.
None of the five commissioners stopped Burnfin from finishing his comments, even though the comments were later called objectively offensive by the commission.
Following the meeting, the county took down a video of the meeting, deleted the portion with Burnfin's comments and reuploaded the meeting without the offensive comments.
The following day, Commission Chairman Shannon Whitfield and Commissioner Robert Stultz held a news conference to condemn the words that Burnfin had used and to explain why the video was taken down and edited and why commissioners didn't do anything at the moment.
"The citizen's statement did not reflect the values of our community or the viewpoints of our county," Whitfield said. "Furthermore, each member of the Walker County Board of Commissioners condemns in the strongest terms his statements from last night."
Whitfield said the commissioners were shocked by his comments and didn't want to antagonize Burnfin, who Whitfield said had been at meetings before and was known to have a certain perspective and opinions.
At the news conference, Stultz read a prepared statement from members of Burnfin's family.
"His family in no way takes responsibility or supports anything my dad may have said last night," the statement read. "Mr. Burnfin has had a history of mental illness, and we believe these statements are a reflection of that."
Stultz himself went on to say the comments made by Burnfin were offensive, harmful and that he was outraged by them.
At Thursday night's meeting, the commission adopted new rules to the public comment guidelines to state citizen speakers shall refrain from "remarks that are lewd, vulgar, obscene or profane, including but not limited to racial slurs and sexual innuendos."
People who violate the rule could be forced to forfeit their time and be removed from the meeting.
The neighboring Catoosa County Commission has changed its public comment procedure a few times over the last two years despite some pushback. The commissioners passed a resolution last year that required residents to fill out a submission form before making a public comment. Residents there complained that it was infringing on their First Amendment rights.
The commission at the time said the change was made so county employees and its staff could address residents with answers to their questions if they had an idea of what was going to be asked.
This year, the commission voted 3-2 to move the public comment section to the end of the meeting. Many of the same residents who spoke out against the first change were opposed to the newest alteration.
The city of Chattanooga recently passed new guidelines on how to address the council during public comment, which included prohibiting the use of any vulgar or obscene language and prohibiting speakers from personally attacking anyone. It also prohibited speakers from addressing any single council member and required speakers to address the council as a whole.
Contact Patrick Filbin at email@example.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.
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