Controversy is brewing in Bellows Falls after a town official allegedly made a racist remark that was caught on camera. The comment happened Tuesday at a select board meeting. The town manager claims he just had a slip of the tongue. But some residents are outraged and stunned saying the racial remark is unacceptable.
"Well everyone was shocked. There was the sound of some gasping. Some people sucking air in, and a little bit of laughter like nervous laughter, I thought," said Deborah Wright, who was at the meeting and is upset by the comment.
Town Manager Chip Stearns says he was giving a presentation about an effort to bring a K-9 unit to town to help crack down on drug dealers. He says he was trying to think of the name "Latin Kings," a street gang that's allegedly causing trouble in town.
"I was looking at, in my mind, the image of this Latin Kings that is painted on the back of our building, and saying they are claiming Bellows Falls and we need to do something about it and I just couldn't think of the name of the gang at the time," Stearns said.
Instead, he said "I am hoping that we put them in a car, and that a lot of Latinos leave."
"I apologize for anyone who didn't understand the context in which I was talking. There was not an intent in any way, shape, or form to create a racist slur or remark," Stearns said.
Stearns says it was a slip of the tongue. But the apparent mistake isn't sitting well for locals like Joel Love, who has two Hispanic kids and has lived in the area for 20 years. Mistake or not, Love says no one questioned or apologized for the remarks.
"And I listened and no one corrected him, no one asked him for clarification, no one said, 'Hey, you shouldn't have said something like that,' so that he could have corrected himself. That's the part that really gets me," Love said.
"So nothing happened and then the rest of the meeting just kind of went on from there. And I wish it had been different, that someone had made an apology or that someone had been asked to make an apology," said Wright.
Select board chair Tom MacPhee says he is backing Stearns and doesn't feel the comment was intentional.
"No absolutely not. Again, it was just a slip. He had a lot of things on his plate that day and night, and he was thinking of the symbol, the graffiti, and he just couldn't remember the name 'Latin Kings.' It's as simple as that," MacPhee said.
At this point, the select board chair says no disciplinary actions are being taken and the town manager says he is not planning on issuing a formal apology.