“I’m not a racist. That’s what they’re accusing me of.” – Mayor Clonts

By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

CROCKETT – On Tuesday, March 13, Crockett Mayor Joni Clonts was contacted concerning Houston County Democratic Chair Sharon Berry’s remarks at the previous night’s city council meeting.

“I think she (Berry) is just looking for something,” said Clonts, who also serves as the Houston County Republican Chair.

Asked specifically about a picture circulated at the city council meeting, Clonts said the picture was taken several years ago at her business.

“Somebody had this monkey taxidermied,” Clonts said. “They brought it in on their way to Bryan. They asked if I wanted them to leave it in there to go with everything. I told them it didn’t go with my moose or everything else. But, I never had a sticker that said Obama in my store. That was photo-shopped.”

She added the stuffed monkey might have been in her restaurant maybe 45 minutes to an hour.

“I don’t know who would have taken a picture and done that. There are things that are going on in the city and they’re trying to retaliate against me. I’m not for what is going on with Economic Development (the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation). When it comes to that picture – you see two or three months ago Hollywood (community activist Billy “Hollywood” Groves) brought that to a council meeting. It was black and white but it seems like there was something else attached to it,” Clonts said.

“She (Berry) said she got it the day before (the council meeting). I don’t know where she got it. I’m not a racist. That’s what they’re accusing me of. I’m not a racist. If anyone knows me, they would know what kind of a person I am. I don’t want to cause any problems with anyone but that’s what it comes down to. One of the reasons I didn’t want to keep it in there was I didn’t want to offend anyone when they brought the monkey in,” the mayor concluded.

As the Crockett City Council meeting got underway on March 12, Crockett Mayor Joni Clonts opened the public forum portion of the meeting. After the mayor explained the guidelines of the forum, Berry was afforded the opportunity to speak.

“I am the chairman of the Democratic Party in Houston County,” Berry began. “I come to you today because I have concerns for the racial climate in the county.”

She said the matter she wanted to address would normally be brought before the Equal Employment Office “… but I feel a climate exists where individuals fear retaliation or retribution. This climate should concern all of us. I bring before the council a matter I believe to be a civil rights violation, a degradation to the office of the mayor and an insult to the citizens of Houston County.”

Berry then requested to be allowed to distribute a picture of a racially charged representation of former President Barrack Obama allegedly taken in a business Clonts owns to the council and members of the media. Because of the offensive nature of the photograph, The Messenger has opted not to publish it.

As the picture was being distributed, the mayor was heard to say, “That’s an old picture.”

“I was given this picture last week,” Berry continued. “I believe it was taken at the Moosehead Café, currently owned by the mayor. I feel it is offensive because of the message it sends. This type of photo has been used in the past to degrade people of color.”

Since her election as the Democratic Party Chair in Houston County, Berry said she had witnessed, as well as heard things she deemed “very disturbing.”

“Protecting civil rights is an essential part of the democratic process in the United States. We all know violating and interfering with one’s civil rights creates an environment of action for injury. I know that to be personally true. Articulating the exact definition of civil rights is difficult, because it is a broad set of laws,” Berry explained.

She added these laws were designed to protect the citizenry’s civil rights and helped to prevent discrimination in the areas of housing, transportation and public accommodations.

“This type of behavior emboldens divisiveness among citizens and communities and these are happening inside of Houston County,” Berry cautioned. “This was brought to me because of the office I hold. Even though this council represents the citizens of Crockett, the citizens of Crockett fall in Houston County.”

Before her allotted time was up, Berry asked for specific actions to be taken in regard to the depiction of the former president.

“I believe and hope the mayor would publicly apologize for this photo to the citizens of Crockett and to the county and should render her resignation at once,” she concluded.

Because the mayor and council are not allowed to comment or reply on matters addressed in the public forum, Clonts did not respond to the allegations.

Also during the council meeting, a public hearing was held pertaining to the removal of stop signs at the intersections of: Polk and N. Seventh streets; S. Tenth and Clark streets; and S. Grace and Ann streets. All comments were in favor of the removals and once the hearing was closed, the council unanimously approved the measure.

A second public hearing regarding “… the submission of an application to the Texas Department of Agriculture for a Texas Community Development Block Grant Program grant,” was held.

Once the second public hearing was closed, the council approved the filing of the grant program application and authorizing the mayor to act as the executive officer and authorized representative.

Before the meeting concluded, the council retired into executive session to consider the annual performance evaluation of Crockett Police Chief David “Buddy” Cross.

When the council reconvened, the mayor said the evaluations had been accepted and added “… they were all very favorable.”

In other matters brought before the council:

  • Crockett Police Chief David “Buddy” Cross reported the police department received 258 calls for service during the month of February, which resulted in 46 arrests. There were 78 traffic citations issued and 71 police reports filed.
  • The police chief also received approval for the submission of two grants for law enforcement communication upgrades and training.
  • Crockett Fire Chief Jason Frizzell reported the fire department responded to 33 calls during the month of February with two structure fires. Twenty-three of the calls were in the city limits while nine were in the county. The structure fires were outside the city limits.
  • The minutes of previous meetings were approved.
  • The Council approved designating the month of April as “Fair Housing Month.”
  • Approval was given to authorize services for the procurement of the 2018 Community Enhancement Fund.
  • The council approved cancelling the election for the Precinct Three council position.

 Will Johnson may be reached via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.