NEW ALBANY — Though it bears no legal weight, a proclamation approved by the New Albany City Council on Thursday is meant to take a stand against acts of white supremacy in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend.
The council approved a non-binding resolution expressing solidarity with the people of Charlottesville and publicly condemning racism, white supremacy and Neo-Nazi ideologies. It follows a statement from Mayor Jeff Gahan issued Sunday making clear that white supremacists "and other hate groups" aren't welcome in New Albany.
"I think it's important for public officials to take a stand on issues, particularly of this magnitude," said City Councilman Greg Phipps, who brought forth the proclamation.
The resolution calls “violent events” led by a group in protest of the city's removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, which ended in the death of a counter-protester and two police officers, a “senseless, malicious attack.”
It references New Albany’s Human Rights Commission legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race and national origin, affirming the city as inclusive and accepting.
"I think when we see bad things happening in society, it's our role to speak out against those, and if we don't speak out against those, in a way we're kind of indirectly contributing to it," Phipps said.
The resolution also makes clear the city council acknowledges protesters' right to free speech, but reserves the right to condemn the speech itself. Councilman Al Knable said that particular paragraph is a vital component to the document.
"I wouldn't defend what they're saying but their right to say it," Knable said.
The resolution wasn't on the agenda as advertised to the public, so it needed a unanimous vote to be added.
Councilman Scott Blair agreed to do so, but he abstained from the vote on the resolution itself.
While he said he agrees with its content, a non-binding resolution that makes a statement of this nature isn't the council's role, he said. Blair read from Indiana code during the meeting, which states the council passes legislation concerning "the government of the city, the control of the city's property and finances, and the appropriation of money."
Blair argued the council's role is to work on local issues and that government functions better when its sticks to its pertinent role.
"I think it's just a waste of time," he said. "For instance, I probably had more budget items I wanted to talk about but it became more of a distraction."
Knable said he believes the council doesn't necessary need to stick solely to its duties outlined in law.
"I think when these come up, if there is a matter of import that inspires a council member to bring forth a resolution, it does give an opportunity for us to come together across party lines," he said.
"I know our role is primarily to look out for the interests of the city of New Albany," Phipps added, "but sometimes we have to be Americans first and look out for our nation."
This isn't the first time Blair said he hasn't voted in favor of non-binding resolutions of a similar nature. In the past, he said they often overwhelm council discussion.
But he did vote in favor of a resolution condemning the promotion of intolerance this March, after white supremacists and anti-Semitic fliers were posted around New Albany and on the door of a local restaurant owned by Muslim immigrants.
One member of the public, Tony Nava, began to ask whether the council would extend a similar proclamation against counter-protesting groups in Charlottesville such as Black Lives Matter and Antifa, an anti-fascism organization. The council stopped Nava, as he had not signed up to speak ahead of the meeting on the resolution.
After the meeting, Nava said he believes the council should have condemned counter-protesting groups, which he called hate groups.
"They're counterproductive,"Nava said. "They still keep that hatred going. It's just an anti-hatred. You've got the hate-based, then you have the people that are opposing them hating the people that are hate-based ... why can't we all just get along?"
Phipps said he doesn't see the two sides as comparable.
"Those other groups are pushing for social justice and equality, where the white supremacy groups are doing just the opposite and in contrary to American values of equality," he said.