State Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, said Friday that Councilman Manny Rico should immediately step down after making what she perceived to be racial remarks in a City Council meeting.
"His comments and his behavior, I was just appalled," Brown said. "I can't forget that. I won't ever forget that."
Rico said he was expressing his freedom of speech and has no intentions of stepping down.
"Do I get in trouble for speaking the truth for what I feel?" he said Friday.
The controversy started Tuesday night during the City Council's Legal and Legislative Committee meeting discussion about redistricting. Several council members expressed disappointment in a redistricting plan Brown and other community leaders supported.
Rico abruptly told the audience he felt there were racial overtones in the community group's presentation. He said he is sick, tired and resentful of racial suggestions and comments.
As a Hispanic, Rico said he has worked hard to earn what he owns.
"White people have been more fair to me than anyone else," he said. "White people have bent over backward to make right what's wrong."
Councilman Russell Gilbert later said racism still exists. He said history books also would show a different story on civil rights in the country.
"Black and white fought for equal opportunities," he said.
Brown alluded to that legacy Friday as she talked about Rico's comments. Brown was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit brought in the 1980s that changed the Chattanooga city commission form of government to a mayor-city council form of government.
The commission form of government held at-large elections for commissioners. Under the city council form of government, the city if divided into nine districts; voters in the districts elect their representative.
Brown said as she listened to Rico on Tuesday, she thought of how his district is one of the districts formed to help minorities gain representation in city government.
"I took part in creating this creature," she said. "He's a beneficiary of our work. If he thinks he could get elected to dogcatcher in an at-large race, he's sadly mistaken."
Rico should "do a great favor and resign," she said.
The councilman said his comments were made in response to a draft proposal made by the group that seemed to have purposefully excluded key voting areas for him in the redistricting plan as an attempt to get him out of office.
"That's crossing the line," he said.
Cliff has worked for the Times Free Press for five years and covers Chattanooga city government. He previously covered Rhea County, as well as transportation and growth and development in Southeast Tennessee. A native of Maryville, Tenn., Cliff graduated in 2003 from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis on journalism. Before coming to Chattanooga, he was a crime reporter with Hernando Today, a supplement of The Tampa (Fla.) ...
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