NAACP asks to meet with Pickens council members about Ellenburg’s remarks

PICKENS — City of Pickens officials have agreed to meet with NAACP representatives to discuss the recent suspension of police chief Tommy Ellenburg, who has admitted to making “racially insensitive and derogatory remarks.”
NAACP officials will meet with Pickens City Council at 6 p.m. this Thursday, May 26, at City Hall.
In a statement Tuesday, Pickens City Administrator Katherine Brackett said she received the first and only complaint about Ellenburg’s use of racial slurs on April 22, during the course of a separate personnel matter involving former city police officer Matt Ward.
According to Brackett, Ward had been demoted by Ellenburg and was in the process of appealing that decision when he reported the complaint.
“I upheld and supported the chief’s decision to demote Matt Ward from the position of Lieutenant,” said Brackett. “Mr. Ward resigned on his own accord. It was clear he was resigning because he was disappointed that Council [and I] did not reverse the demotion decision.”
What motivated Ward to file a complaint against Ellenburg matters little because Ellenburg admitted that the complaint was factual.
Following proper protocol, Brackett said, “the complaint was investigated, Chief Ellenburg admitted he was wrong, apologized and he was punished with a 15-day unpaid suspension and given a final warning.”
On May 16, Pickens City Council convened to discuss whether or not Ellenburg should be terminated as a result of his actions. During open session, Mayor David Owens and City Council members voted 5-2 to uphold Ellenburg’s suspension in lieu of termination.
Council members Carlton Holley and Fletcher Perry opposed the motion.
Shelia Crawford, president of the Pickens County Branch of the NAACP, issued a release last week expressing disappointment in council’s decision not to terminate Ellenburg.
“In 2011, it is unbelievable that Pickens City Council would allow an employee to bring such disgrace to his position, the city and the citizens he is employed to work for, and would allow this person to remain in employment,” Crawford said. “The use of the ‘N’ word directed at the African-Americans on the council, some of his employers, demonstrates his disrespect for African-Americans and the entire City Council.
“It is in effect a ‘lynching,’ a verbal assault, of the African-American councilmen.”
Crawford said the decision not to terminate Ellenburg could dissuade people and businesses from relocating to the area.
“Businesses do not want to operate in an area where there is such disrespect for elected officials, and people will not relocate to an area where racial discrimination is openly tolerated toward any group of people,” she said.
With a police chief responsible for setting the culture for his department, Crawford said, “it sends the message to his staff that this behavior is acceptable.
“If the council allows him to remain as chief, it sends the message that they agree and approve of the use of this language and are complicit in racist behavior and racial discrimination.”
While the City of Pickens has agreed to a meeting with the NAACP, Brackett said, “while the City respects the NAACP’s opinion, the matter has already been settled by the governing body. The City will work with the NAACP and any other organizations on ways the City can help spread awareness about discrimination and harassment and on ways diversity can be increased in the City staff.”
“It is the policy of the City to provide equal opportunity to all applicants for employment, and to administer hiring, conditions and privileges of employment, compensation, training, promotions, transfers and discipline without discrimination because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, age, national origin, or any other status protected by law,” said Brackett. “The City has a zero tolerance policy with regard to any employee who engages in any type of unlawful harassment or discrimination and is currently taking proactive steps to educate its employees while strengthening our discrimination and harassment policies.”
Last week SLED announced that the agency would be making an inquiry regarding Ellenburg’s remarks.
“As of May 23, 2011, the city has had no contact with SLED or the Department of Justice in regards to this matter,” said Brackett. “The City will cooperate fully with SLED and DOJ. We have nothing to hide in regards to how the City and, in particular, the Police Department operate.”