BY STACIE LETT CAIN
Statesville City Council members got an earful on Monday night from protesters who believe they have been neglected by city officials and the police department while exercising their constitutional rights.
The criticism stems from the ongoing protests in downtown related to the presence of a Confederate monument on the grounds of the Iredell County Government Center.
“For 47 days we protested peacefully and endured threats, stalking, assaults, slander, lies and derogatory terms that were thrown our way,” Mikayla Edwards told the council during the public comment portion of the council meeting. “That was 67,680 minutes of patience while being abused by strangers and repeatedly refused help by law enforcement and the magistrate. After that we defended ourselves verbally.”
One of the protesters was arrested for using profane language.
Coles Bristol told the council that the Confederate monument is a divisive symbol.
“To many this statue represents the Confederacy, many treat it as a memorial,” Bristol said. “But it isn’t. It states very clearly its intent on the side of the statue.”
The statue bears the inscription “For all those who died, though the war was lost, the cause was just.”
It serves as a painful reminder that equality does not exist within our community, Bristol said.
“Every person of color who walks by that statue dies a thousand deaths and they grieve,” Bristol explained. “It doesn’t represent our ideals or the ideals of this country. It needs to come down.”
Edwards, menwhile, accused the police department of failing to take threats against the protesters seriously and failing to protect them from a group of counter-protesters known as Statesville History Guard. Directing her comments to city leaders and city police, she issued an edict:
“You are an example of why we began protesting and continue to be the reason we will not stop,” she said. “No justice, no peace. Black lives matter.”
City officials did not respond to the criticism.
Customer Service Office to reopen
With the lifting of the Governor’s Executive Order on July 29, the city will resume applying late fees and disconnections on delinquent utility accounts.
City Manager Ron Smith advised customers who have a balance due for utility services to contact the city as soon as possible to insure that their service is not interrupted.
“Our city staff is working tirelessly to make sure that arrangements are being made for anyone who calls in on their utility service, but we can only help you if you call us,” Smith advised. “We want to help make this transition as easy as possible and we don’t want anyone to experience an unnecessary interruption of service.”
In addition to discussing disconnections, there was also discussion about the Customer Service Office and the inability of people to visit the office.
“I don’t see where we are providing a whole lot of customer service with that office closed to the public,” Councilmemner C.O. Johnson said, explaining that he had contacted by several constituents.
“We have to do something to fix this situation.”
In addition to guaranteeing the drive-thru stay open until 5 p.m., Johnson also wanted to make sure that city workers were giving change back to clients.
“I remember when just 10 cents meant I could afford to buy myself a drink,” Johnson said. “I don’t think it’s right that we are refusing to give change back when someone comes in to pay a bill with cash.”
Opening the office to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic comes with challenges, according to Ron Smith.
“I made the decision to close that office based on the governor’s order and the protocols that were put in place were done to protect both city staff and citizens who would visit the office,” the city manager explained. “If we were to encounter a person with COVID, the entire staff would have to be quarantined for two weeks, not to mention exposure to others who may be there at the same time.”
The council voted to reopen the office, keep the drive-thru open until 5 p.m. and require employees to give change to paying customers. The office will have a 10-person limit and, according to Smith, that number would be strictly enforced.
“I want everyone on this council to be aware that if this office is reopened, we will expect your support when you get calls that people are being escorted out of the office for being over the maximum number of people allowed,” Smith advised. “We will very strictly enforce that number.”