Comments as Published in the Lincoln Journal Star
Aug. 27, 2003
Page 04, Section E
BY TERRY WERNER
On Monday I raised a question about an issue that is near and dear to me and to many people in this community. I questioned the motivation of my colleagues on the City Council and the County Board who voted against Sandra Washington's appointment to the Planning Commission.
I questioned it because in my view, their stated reasons for rejecting her did not make sense. That is, they expected that she would likely have a poor attendance record because of her record on the Parks and Recreation Board. Washington acknowledged that her job with the National Parks Service required her to travel extensively and as a result she was frequently out of town when meetings occurred. She acknowledged it and, more importantly, addressed it with her employer. She requested that her employer allow her to adjust her schedule to not be out of Lincoln on scheduled Planning Commission days. Her employer agreed and she provided a letter to both boards stating that.
Washington's qualifications are exemplary. She is currently employed as the regional planning director for the National Parks System. She has a master's degree in planning and has been a business owner for many years. She has served our community through the Girl Scouts, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and assisting on the development of our Comprehensive Plan. In my time on the Council, there has not been a better nominee.
I was criticized shortly after Sept. 11 for questioning whether the Pledge of Allegiance should be said at City Council meetings. It was not that I objected to saying the pledge, because I consider myself to be a patriot and say it every week at my Rotary Club. I work hard on a daily basis to serve my community and my country, often at the expense of my family and business. No one can question my allegiance to this nation. I questioned whether we truly provided "liberty and justice" for all.
I routinely see examples of how we do not. I have staked my reputation and my political career on the pursuit of working for justice. We cannot be a free country or a democracy until there is justice for every citizen.
The nomination of Sandra Washington to the Planning Commission is a perfect example of injustice at work in our community. Washington was nominated by the mayor. The Planning Commission is a very important appointment for the future of our city. However, in the entire existence of the commission, no new appointment was ever rejected, and the council and county commissioners rejected only one reappointment. In the past 16 years, every mayoral nomination was approved.
The irony of all of this is that the county commissioners within the past year lobbied to have a commissioner reappointed because they considered him to be their appointment. He was approved unanimously. It is interesting to note that his attendance during his first term was about 60 percent.
So again, I must ask, was Washington rejected because she is African-American, female or was it nothing more than petty politics?
I am not making accusations, I just want to know how such a qualified candidate could be turned down. The real loser in all of this is the city of Lincoln, and for that I am sorry.
One of the wonderful things on which our country is founded is the right to free speech to express our views even on matters that are sensitive. That is what I did when I expressed my concerns on Washington's rejection to the Planning Commission.
As elected officials, we must be sensitive to issues such as racism and sexism, and we must not be offended when another person expresses a view that is different from ours. We need to be leaders in displaying fairness to all citizens.