Two Statesville City Council members who were offended by comments that Councilman Steve Johnson made during last Monday’s council meeting are demanding he apologize for the remarks.

Steve Johnson

At the May 6 meeting, Johnson told council members that continuing to approve large residential developments would result in an influx of new residents, which he did not view as a positive outcome.

“No disrespect,” Johnson told his colleagues. “You’re going to fill this room up with people whose last name looks like an eye test, who have no affiliation with Statesville. And you’re going to try to rezone something for a good business that’s going to create jobs and tax base — they’re going to burn this place down. They’re not going to have it.”

Doris Allison

Council members Doris Allison, Lisa Pearson and Kim Wasson have condemned those remarks as insensitive and xenophobic.

Allison, who represents Ward 3, immediately took offense with Johnson’s remarks, calling them disrespectful during the meeting.

“That’s not right. I am a council person and I will not tolerate that,” she said. “And I will not be a part of that.”

In an interview, Pearson, who represents Ward 6, said Johnson’s inference that newcomers from different cultural backgrounds would automatically resort to violence if they do not get their way was offensive.

Lisa Pearson

“I’m not going to sit there and allow that,” she said. “We’ve come too far for that. We’re trying to change the perception of Statesville.”

Johnson should apologize or expect a censure motion, Pearson said.

“He said it so I think he needs to apologize for it,” she said. “If he does not apologize, that’s when the censure should be put in place. You need to make it right and personally apologize.”

Wasson, meanwhile, said Johnson crossed the line with what she called “an incredibly derogatory comment” about people moving to the area.

Kim Wasson

“Council members sign a Code of Ethics,” the at-large councilwoman said in a statement, “and I feel he violated that code. I want him to publicly apologize at our next council meeting.

“As a public official you should hold yourself to a higher standard,” Wasson added. “We should respect our current and future residents. Racism has no place on our council. I was embarrassed and appalled. Our council and city should be a safe and welcoming place for all. We have to stand against this kind of rhetoric on our board. I want everyone in our community to feel welcome and not be fearful when they come to live or do business in Statesville.”

An at-large councilman who previously served on the Iredell County Board of Commissioners, Johnson said in an interview that he has no plans to apologize.

“They can view it however they want to. I’ll tell you what’s not going to happen: Steve Johnson is not going to be the next victim of the cancel culture,” he said. “I’m going to express myself the way I want to because I have the right to freedom of speech. If you don’t like it, then be offended.”

In response to criticism from his colleagues, however, Johnson said he did not mean to imply that any particular racial or ethnic group would resort to violence. And he stressed that he was speaking figuratively when he said newcomers would “burn this place down” during his comments at the council meeting.

“I probably could have said that better,” he said.

Johnson said his intent was to stress the importance of protecting land for commercial and industrial development so children who are born and raised in Statesville will have an opportunity to land high-paying jobs in their hometown. If the council chases and approves every residential development, there will be no land left for job-creating industrial development.

“Do we want 50 vinyl villages around here on a slab?” he said. “Is that really the development we want?”

Johnson reiterated that he will not apologize for speaking his mind.

“I am not going to knuckle to that mentality. I’m not going to do it,” Johnson explained. “I’ve seen people do it over and over and over again. That’s not going to happen with this guy.

“If they want to censure me, get on with it. Go ahead. We’ve got work to do.”

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