At the next Hope Mills commissioners meeting, town leaders will discuss potential guidelines for parades after a July 4 parade entry offended some attendees.
There were enough complaints that town commissioners, the town manager and the town Parks and Recreation Department director decided parade guidelines may be needed in the future.
The parade entry sparking the discussion included a tractor with a Confederate battle flag pulling a trailer of watermelons. On each side of the trailer was a sign that read "White History Month HUG WTE PPL."
Some parade watchers thought the parade unit contained racist overtones, and that is what prompted the complaints.
Mayor Jackie Warner said she did not think the parade was the appropriate venue to display the "White History Month" sign along with the Confederate flag and the trailer of watermelons. She said the parade is intended to be family friendly for everyone, and it is not a forum. For example, people running for political office are discouraged from being in the parade.
"If there's something that needs to be changed we're going to have to be bold enough to say hey that can't fly. That can't go," Warner said. "That's something that [is] giving the people that are in charge the authority to make those decisions, but we don't have that in writing. We don't have that as a policy. So we have to come up with the guidelines."
Without any current policies, Warner said Donnie Spell, who was responsible for the parade entry, cannot be penalized in any way. She said that is also true for Kenny Bullock, the town's Parks and Recreation Director who runs the parade.
Bullock said he asked for the sign to be taken down before the parade because he realized it could be offensive, but he did not double check to be sure the sign was removed. Warner said it may have been a good idea for Bullock to follow-up before the parade, but she said since there is no policy about parade entries Bullock did not violate any duty of his job.
Warner acknowledges that many people did not have any problem with the parade entry. However, she said town leaders need to make a public event like a town parade welcoming to everyone. She said future guidelines will work to strike a balance between freedom of speech rights and preventing potentially offensive entries.
"The accountability now lies on making sure this doesn't happen again," Warner said.
When reached at his farm Monday, Spell did not have any comment on his parade entry.
Brandon is a North Carolina native and UNC alum who lives in Fayetteville, and covers Cumberland County and the Sandhills. Returning to North Carolina to work as a journalist is a dream come true for Brandon.More>>