DOVER — Longtime civil rights leader Cecil Wilson resigned from the Dover Human Relations Commission Tuesday, citing actions by city council over the past few months.
Mr. Wilson is a retired teacher and principal and past president of the NAACP Central Delaware Branch and the Delaware NAACP State Conference.
For months Mr. Wilson said he viewed with a degree of skepticism council’s actions toward the city’s employees and residents.
He said his concerns started growing when Dover Police Chief Paul Bernat asked city council to add more officers to strengthen its police force in January.
“That was the biggest thing for me,” Mr. Wilson said. “He was begging for more manpower for the crimes committed in the city and it seemed as though the city kept fighting over it instead of just making a decision.
“We needed more officers because crime has been up and I just felt at the time that was a decision that should have been made quickly because the safety of the residents in city is important. Instead, they kept going back and forth over it.”
But Mr. Wilson said the tipping point was when council reversed its decision on the responsibilities of the mayor during Monday night’s meeting after they previously approved a decision earlier this month.
“I feel very uncomfortable as a DHRC commissioner after the city council meeting (Monday),” Mr. Wilson said.
“The rush to change the city government without a timely discussion with more city residents or possibly newly elected council members after April 21 is totally unacceptable.”
Council voted 5-3 to rescind the role of the mayor as “chief executive” of the city during Monday night’s meeting.
Now, the mayor will be a full-time position but all departments, excluding the city clerk’s office and the finance department, will report to the city manager.
In turn, the city manager is appointed by the city council and will report to city council. Included in the approved motion two weeks ago was the city manager would report to the mayor.
“I had a problem with that,” Mr. Wilson said. “I’m one for public input and the first meeting there was about six people that voiced their opinions and those six people don’t represent the city as an whole.
“The council’s decision to rush judgment on a structural change is unacceptable. It takes more than three minutes to hear public outcry for change and I don’t think council members are effectively getting this information out to the public. There’s no public involvement.”
Mr. Wilson was appointed to the Dover Human Relations Commission when it was revamped last March. He was elected as chairman by his fellow commissioners, said Melanie Kelsall, administrative assistant of the city clerk’s office.
The committee’s purpose is to develop ways to measure and monitor community relations, and consists of nine members with two representatives from each of the city’s four districts and an at-large member.
It was officially established in February 2002, as the commission is little more than a decade old.
The need for the committee came about after two incidents that occurred in March 2001 — one involving the shooting of a police officer in the Capital Green area and the other involving the death of Reginald Hannah — caused racial tension and divisiveness within the city.
The term expires in February 2017.
The First District vacancy created by Mr. Wilson’s resignation will be filled in accordance with Section 58-32. The DHRC will need to elect a new chairperson during their next meeting, said Ms. Kelsall.
Resignation ‘a terrible loss’
City Council President David Bonar said it’s a terrible loss for the city and the Human Relations Committee.
“He brings a diverse, intellectual and reasonable view in our society that is unparalleled to the city,” Mr. Bonar said. “I hate to see him go, but that’s his decision.”
Roy Sudler Jr., former Dover Human Relations Commissioner, said he is proud of Mr. Wilson’s decision.
“I think my mentor has taken a stand that is noble and admirable,” Mr. Sudler said. “I can relate to some of the challenges and struggles that he faced as a chairman.
“This is just another example of changes that need to be made in Dover. When leaders have issues and can’t get them addressed, they resign.
“There are inconsistencies in council’s decision-making skills and I’m proud that he took a stand,” Mr. Sudler added.
Mr. Wilson was the lead plaintiff of the NAACP vs. City of Dover lawsuit by the NAACP Central Delaware Branch 2028.
The Central Delaware branch of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People and Cecil Wilson brought plaintiff action against the city of Dover, then-Mayor Crawford J. Carroll and Dover elected commissioners for a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The NAACP sued the city in 1985, charging that at-large election of council members and dual registration requirements were discriminatory and violated the Voting Rights Act of 1964.
The NAACP demanded that elections be by district and that the council redesign districts so that at least one would contain a 65 percent minority population.
After the lawsuit was settled, the regular municipal election in April 1989 selected candidates from four new districts, along with an at-large pick. The council president would come from the elected membership, serving as vice mayor with the right to vote at all times.
Also beginning in May 1989 after a charter change, the city operated in a nine-member council format with a mayor serving as ex-officio member of all council committees but having no vote.
Mr. Wilson said he expects a quick revisit by city council of the 1988 NAACP Vs. City of Dover Consent Decree and doesn’t want there to be a conflict of interest as the committee’s commissioner.
“I want to speak on it freely,” Mr. Wilson said. “I want to work with the city directly regarding the consent decree.”
State Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, who served on council for more than three years before resigning last November the day after his election to the State House of Representatives, hopes Mr. Wilson reconsiders his decision.
“I thank you for your service to the city,” Rep. Lynn said in a statement. “You have been a blessing to us all. Here is why I think you should reconsider, should the city not change this course of action, again, or should the mayor veto last evenings decision thus reverting to the strong mayor vote 2 weeks ago the need for you to resume your role as an individual plaintiff in the NAACP lawsuit is clear and presents a conflict of interest (being a party to a suit against the City while serving on the DHRC).
“However, I would posit the following: we need you as a leader within the city to help rectify the endemic problems which have given rise to this problem and others. I believe that the city can right its course through action of council and ask that you defer your resignation to allow them that opportunity.
“Accordingly, I would ask that you defer your resignation until such time as council rectifies last evening’s actions or a new Council is seated and presented with an opportunity to fix this mess.”
Mr. Wilson said he still plans to be a resource in the community.
“I will continue to work with city officials to improve the 4th district and the entire city for the betterment of all people,” Mr. Wilson said.
“I will continue to be a resource for civil rights and to the improvement of education in the Capital School District.”
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