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Washington Borough Council member censured, asked to resign for ‘racially insensitive’ remarks

Mayor says the member brought 'big stain' to community

WASHINGTON BOROUGH, NJ (Warren County) — A councilwoman who’s been under fire for controversial remarks regarding Juneteenth was formally admonished and asked by colleagues to step down during a combative meeting Tuesday night. 

Four council members approved a resolution to censure Councilwoman Louann Cox for   “disrespectful, biased and racially insensitive statements” she made June 1. She had claimed that Council had “95 million more important things” than Juneteenth to discuss and noted that “it was a white man who got rid of slavery,” among other comments.

Public backlash came from borough residents, the local NAACP, a newspaper editorial board, and Warren County Democrats when recorded audio of her remarks circulated later last month. 

Cox had offered apologies near the end of the June 1 meeting, and in a subsequent interview aired on RNJ. In the end she voted in favor of the commemorative resolution despite being critical of the holiday.  

Yet criticism of her culminated with members of the public and Mayor David Higgins calling on Cox to step down Tuesday night. 

“It was inappropriate, it was insensitive and it was actually ignorant,” Higgins said to Cox at their first in-person meeting in over a year. “This right here has brought a big stain on the Borough of Washington.” 

Cox refused to resign and Higgins acknowledged that Council was limited in how it could respond, beyond registering its disapproval in a censure resolution. As an elected official, Cox could only be forced out of office in another election or a recall, which rarely succeed.

Washington Borough Council Resolution 2021-94 censuring Councilwoman Louann Cox
Washington Borough Resolution 2021-94 censuring Councilwoman Louann Cox for “racially insensitive statements” about Juneteenth. July 6, 2021

 

All other council members at the meeting (Keith Norris was absent), as well as political opponents and residents also individually condemned Cox’s comments. 

None as impassioned as the harsh rebuke from Deputy Mayor Ethel Conry, who encouraged Cox to learn about Black History.  

“I come from Mississippi, I’m not from New Jersey,” Conry said during discussion on the censure vote. “I know what a lynching is. I know what it is to walk through a door that you can’t walk through cause there’s white people on the other side. I know what it is.” 

Conry also took aim at members of a Facebook community group who spread false rumors claiming her husband acquired his job through nepotism. Borough Manager Matt Hall explained that Mr. Conry is a custodian on the Board of Education’s payroll and at times cleans the municipal building through a shared service agreement with the Borough.

The Deputy Mayor became increasingly upset while addressing Cox, raising her voice to distortion levels on the recording device Council used to livestream the meeting. 

“You didn’t mean what you said, you didn’t apologize to me nor the African American community that lives here in Washington,” Conry said. “You still did not understand the recognition of Juneteenth. I feel to this day that you have not apologized for the things you said.”

Cox said little throughout the meeting. At the time for final comments by council members, she gave a brief apology. 

“I just want you to know that I said I was sorry about what happened, how it came out, and I meant it,” Cox said. “I have no problem with any race, gender, creed of any sort. Never did and never will. So that’s just what you need to hear from me. Other than that, you know.”

Conry replied she didn’t think Cox was being sincere. 

Mayor Higgins closed the meeting, expressing support for the Deputy Mayor, and once again asking for Cox to step down from council. 

Again, Cox refused.

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