White Mississippi county official questions intent of black caucus group

Published 9:15 am Thursday, January 24, 2019

A white North Mississippi county supervisor has criticized the existence of caucus groups formed by black elected officials.

During a Lee County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, District 2 Supervisor Mike Smith criticized, and ultimately voted against, a measure allowing the board’s lone black member to receive reimbursement for travel to the Mississippi Association of Supervisors’ minority caucus education conference in April.

Supervisors ultimately granted Tommy Lee Ivy’s request, with only Smith voting in dissent, The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported.

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“I want my voters and I want my constituents to know that I don’t throw away their tax dollars,” Smith said.

Ivy represents District 4 and annually attends the meeting.

Smith described the minority caucus as “racist” and said money spent on Ivy’s travel for it is inappropriate.

Supervisors routinely approve reimbursements for county officials attending professional development and professional association conferences.

Smith previously voted without significant incident against Ivy’s travel to the same meeting in 2016, but then voted in favor in 2017 and 2018, according to meeting minutes.

However, on Tuesday Smith described the minority caucus — affiliated with the state Association of Supervisors — as exclusionary.

Despite his comments in an open meeting, Smith hesitated when the newspaper asked him if he believes the state group sponsors a racist organization.

“I think they are sponsoring a minority organization, which refers to race,” Smith said. “I don’t know that they do racist things there, but I do know minority means
skin color and when it’s all for one skin color, I do think it’s racist and things should be done for the whole county.”

Smith said he doesn’t know what’s discussed at the supervisors minority caucus conference and notes he’s never been one, despite an invitation from Ivy.

“I probably should, but I don’t feel like I would be welcomed by the people,” Smith said. “I think they want black folks there, not white folks. I think that’s why they call it minority.”

However, Smith said he would consider attending if he felt he’d be welcomed.

Smith went on to tell the Daily Journal that he believes the supervisors minority caucus should disband. When asked, he agreed that his criticism also stands for caucuses of black lawmakers who routinely meet in state capitols across the nation and in Congress.

Black caucus organizations typically date to the entry of black lawmakers into previously all-white governmental bodies at times of wide scale voter intimidation and other violence directed at minority communities.

Ivy said he remains hopeful that Smith will attend a meeting at some point to educate himself about the caucus. He said he also hopes to meet with Smith and mend relations over the issue.

“We need to be able to work together,” Ivy said.