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Statesboro leaders approve equity law, refute social media falsehoods
Nondiscrimination ordinance does not restrict speech; no such constraint was proposed
Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar, during Tuesday's council meeting, displays a printout of social media posts misrepresenting the city's new nondiscrimination ordinance and the process used to enact it. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

Statesboro City Council approved the three-part Nondiscrimination and Equity Ordinance by a 4-1 vote Tuesday, adding that Article 2, which includes a 6% margin of preference for minority and female-owned local businesses in city bids, will be revisited after four fiscal years.

That section also includes a nonbinding goal for the city to increase its spending with minority and female-owned local businesses to 20% of the annual total, from the roughly 8% share they reportedly received in three recent years.

Article 1 forbids discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as disability, race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, age or military status, in employment, housing, real estate and public accommodations. It sets out a local process for complaints leading to nonbinding mediation or Municipal Court action, including civil fines of up to $500 for a first offense, or and fines up to $1,000 or suspension or revocation of a business license for subsequent offenses.

Article 3 is the “equity provision,” requiring diversity training for city employees, direction of federal grant funds to historically disadvantaged neighborhoods and a measured and monitored “campaign for equity.”

The ordinance does not contain anything restricting freedom of speech, and no such thing had been proposed by Mayor Jonathan McCollar or any of the council members. But before hearing from 13 supporters and one opponent of the ordinance in an unusual second hearing before a final vote, McCollar and District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum refuted falsehoods that had circulated on social media.

“I think there’s been some confusion in regard to this ordinance, and there’s some stuff that’s going around on social media that I want to address immediately,” McCollar said, before reading one of the false social media posts.

Social media lie

“It says, ‘FYI, the mayor and City Council of Statesboro are trying to push through a hate speech resolution that if you say anything against Antifa, Black Lives Matter, et cetera, you will be arrested. They have a meeting tonight at 5:30 at City Hall. They have not made this public knowledge. …,” the mayor read.

That particular version of the message went on to encourage people to attend the meeting, pray and let others know. But another Facebook message, with some of the same content, ended in a repeated obscenity directed at “antifa” and “BLM.” It also claimed that city officials had not made their intentions “public knowledge.”

“This and other messages like this have been shared across social media, and what I want to tell the city of Statesboro and all of those that call this beautiful city home is that this is a blatant lie,” McCollar said. “This is a blatant lie, and for this to be circulating in our community, what I want you to know is that we are better than this.”

He went on to refer to the false social media rumor as “embarrassing to the city” and a product of “cowardice.” 

The Statesboro Herald obtained examples of the social media messages from more than one of the city’s elected officials. One example, after the false claim that anyone criticizing “Antifa or BLM” could be arrested for hate speech, stated that Boyum “said all citizens that can show up to do so.”

Noting that his name had been associated with this, Boyum spoke up after the mayor.

“We may have our differences up here, but I am absolutely 100 percent confident that everyone here, the mayor and myself, we love this community, and the fact that someone has associated my name with this nonsense is unacceptable,” Boyum said.

“I am absolutely, 100 percent for anyone in the public to come up here, but  if you are going to put on Facebook that I am spreading hate or dissention ….,” he continued, to everyone. “I will come up here and speak my mind and speak my peace, but I am not sowing seeds of hate or dissention or any of those things. So I am 100 percent behind what the mayor just said.”

The messages carried names of apparently local people, but District 5 Councilwoman Shari Barr said she heard from others that rumor originated with an untraceable “spoof account.” 

One absurdity was the claim that the mayor and council were attempting to sneak something through without making it “public knowledge.” The ordinance has been through a lengthy, publicized development and approval process.

A front-page Statesboro Herald story Saturday had announced that the antidiscrimination ordinance and the bidding preference it includes were on the agenda for a second reading during Tuesday’s 5:30 p.m. regular meeting.

Two public hearings

As previously reported, a public hearing on the first reading of the ordinance Oct. 6 drew 11 speakers in favor and three against. Under the city’s usual practice, no further hearing is required at a second reading. If there are no further changes, at that stage council members usually just ask a few questions, make a motion and vote.

But at the first hearing, McCollar promised that there would be a second one. The speakers Tuesday brought the totals from the two hearings to 24 speakers in favor and four opposed.

When the last had spoken, the council renewed its discussion.

Boyum, who had spoken against the bidding preference for minority and female-owned local businesses and voted against Article 2 at the first reading, no longer opposed these. Instead, he made the motion to approve the entire ordinance but suggested adding a clause to have the mayor and council “reauthorize” Article 2 every four years.

He had also made the original motion, last summer, to have the city attorney draft a nondiscrimination ordinance, although the city-appointed One Boro commission was already working on a larger proposal that included one.

“It’s easy to pass an ordinance and just push it aside and fail to analyze the effects of that ordinance, and I think that by requiring us to readdress this every four years … we can make adjustments. …,” Boyum  said Tuesday.  “Maybe we’ll need to strengthen it; maybe we’ll need to make modifications.”

But District 2 Councilwoman Paulette Chavers wants any changes to provide increases, not reductions, in opportunities for female- and minority-owned businesses. 

“If we’re going to go down on the percentage that we are offering to minority-owned business when we reconvene after these four years, I am not for it,” she said.

“District 3 Councilwoman Venus Mack expressed a similar view, and McCollar noted that Congress stripped provisions from the federal Voting Rights Act when its reauthorization year arrived.

Boyum then agreed to substitute the word “revisit.” The deadline for the mayor and council to first revisit the ordinance was made June 30, 2025.

Riggs votes ‘no’

District 4 Councilman John Riggs cast the one vote against the ordinance, after first announcing that he would do so but then seconding Boyum’s motion to approve.

Riggs noted that he has served 10 years on the council. Except for an established 3% preference for local businesses in bids, the city government has not practiced any form of discrimination in purchasing or other actions, he asserted.

“I am appalled that anyone or any entity would even imply that we have discriminated in any way during the last 10 years that I’ve been on here,” Riggs said. “If anybody can see that we do, please bring it forward, and we’ll remedy it. I guarantee we will fix that.

“I love everybody, and I show it every day to everyone that I see, and I do not discriminate, and I cannot vote for this ordinance because it discriminates,” he continued. “This ordinance has many, many wonderful things in it that I am wholly in favor of, but I cannot I vote for them because of the discrimination.”

The bidding preference in Article 2 refers to minority or female business enterprises (MFBEs) bidding for city government contracts and purchases. If an MFBE with a Bulloch County business location offers a price that is not the lowest but is within 6% of the low bid from a non-local or non-MFBE bidder, the MFBE must match the low bid to get the contract.

Article 1 also includes provisions to ensure that Statesboro Police Department officers receive training in hate crime laws and that the SPD reports statistics on hate crimes to the FBI.

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