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United for Change group appears before city commission

Representatives from the United For Change-Danville group appeared before the Danville City Commission Monday evening to present a document outlining demands for change within city government. 

Cheryl Burton, Ann Goodwin, and Josh Stamper appeared before the commission on behalf of the local group, which promotes equality, justice, equity and diversity inclusion in the Danville/Boyle County community. 

“I challenge you today to listen and think through the changes that are being proposed before you,” Goodwin said. “At the core of these demands is an insistence on human dignity and an insistence that all human beings have value, including and especially those who have historically been marginalized and our black friends and community members.”

Goodwin spoke to the commission and outlined the demands in the document that were gathered during a public forum earlier this month. A story about those demands can be found in the July 7 issue of the Advocate-Messenger or online at amnews.com. 

“We have an opportunity in front of us,” Goodwin said. “Let’s work together to ensure that we are building a Danville and Boyle County we are proud of and that it includes one that challenges our legacy of racism and is supporting our community members that are hurting. Right now, that is our black community.”  

Goodwin said the group hoped to hear a response from the city commission within the coming weeks about the document presented to them. 

Commissioner Kevin Caudill said he appreciated Goodwin and the group presenting the document. 

“I was going to say this is comprehensive and you all have done an outstanding job bringing some things to my attention that, you know quite frankly as a Caucasian male here in Danville, I don’t know about and don’t have to deal with,” Caudill said. “I think something like this needs its own day, a workshop, where this is the topic and that would give our attorney some time to go through these to see if there are any legal hiccups and go from there.” 

City Attorney Stephen Dexter said there are several personnel policies already in place from the city that deal with a number of the concerns raised by the group.  

“Giving us some time to put, maybe, a comprehensive summary together that would address some of the issues raised here would be appropriate,” Dexter said. “After that, whatever issues remain that are more policy-oriented, I think a workshop would be appropriate to handle them.” 

Commissioner J.H. Atkins said he appreciated the group bringing its concerns to the city commission and that he appreciates all the individuals within the community who have raised concerns about racial inequality and the manner in which they’ve done so. 

“Keep that coming and keep us in the loop,” Atkins said. “Let us tell you what our policies and procedures are and I think this will be very beneficial to the entire community.”

Atkins committed that the group will either hear back from him directly or from the entire commission about the concerns raised during the meeting. 

“I will commit, as just one commissioner, on the things that you have brought up with policing and diversity, that you will definitely hear back from us, either as a commission or as individuals,” Atkins said. 

While he didn’t speak to anything that was specifically brought up, Atkins said he has been to several events hosted by the group and wants to be part of the solution. 

“I’m going to be part of the struggle and part of the solution to the struggle hopefully,” Atkins said. “I’m not answering your demands. I’m just preaching to the choir because I feel the need to speak what is on my heart and on my mind. I am supportive and want to thank you for how you’ve presented this information.” 

Caudill said the commission did not want to “kick the can down the road” with this topic, and asked for a range of time to begin work on going over the document. 

Interim City Manager Earl Coffey said he would meet with Dexter later this week and would then email the commissioners about a schedule following that meeting. 

“You could schedule a workshop within the month of August, I would imagine,” Coffey said. 

Commissioner Denise Terry asked that Danville Police Chief Tony Gray be invited to participate in upcoming meetings on the issue. 

Goodwin also questioned a recent issue regarding “chalking” sidewalks in front of city buildings. Goodwin said she, along with others, were asked to go home, to which they “respectfully complied.” 

Goodwin questioned City Attorney Stephen Dexter about the constitutionality of the issue, which led to a lengthy explanation from Dexter on the issue. 

Dexter explained that public speech is protected under the First Amendment in a public forum, either traditional in nature (such as standing on a sidewalk) or a designated forum, places where a government designates or sets aside an area for public speech. 

Dexter said that sidewalks on government property are not a traditional public forum under the Constitution. 

“You can’t write on the steps of the Capitol building for instance, unless the government makes a decision that it can be a white board for speech,” Dexter said. 

Dexter added that the city has never “made a conscious decision or designation” of its facilities to be public forums.