Selma, N.C. — Some residents are calling for the mayor of Selma to resign after he made a comment about a lynching at a town meeting – a comment the mayor says was only an unthinking joke.
Mayor Charles Hester opened a public hearing on Tuesday night by saying that he did not expect so many people to be there. He followed with the comment: "Maybe one day we'll have a lynching, and we won't have to worry about that anymore."
Video shot by community activist Tony Tetteron shows that audience members immediately protested the statement, with some calling it a "racial slur," "very inappropriate" and "a rude remark." Hester then apologized.
The town government was holding a public hearing on a rezoning request that would allow a 106-acre ethanol plant to be built in Selma.
Tetterton said Hester's words were directed at him, although the mayor did not mention any names. Hester denied that he intended the comment to be about Tetterton or anyone else.
"It's just unconscionable that he would insult all of the people there," Tetterton said.
Hester said he meant the comment as a joke and did not think out its possible connotations.
"I felt right stupid when I said it," he admitted.
The mayor said he does not understand why some people have taken the comment personally.
"It's a small town and small-town politics," Hester said. "You know I don't want to go into that, but there might be some people who don't necessarily care for me."
Many residents said the mayor's lynching comment draws the kind of attention that this north Johnston County town – known for quaint antique shops – does not want.
"He should have said something that wouldn't pertain to lynching," Selma resident Kisa Neal said.
Selma council member Eric Seller said he does not know if any formal action will be taken against the mayor but believes that Hester did not intend his comment to be offensive.
Hester said he regrets making the comment and will continue to apologize for it at future meetings.