"Let's stay close," said mayor Keith Holliday to his fellow City Councilmembers as they positioned themselves for a roundtable discussion of the Truth and Reconciliation process this afternoon. He was referring to the seating arrangements in a crowded conference room at the Melvin building, but his words set the tone for a surprisingly positive session.
Eight of the nine councilmembers attended, with Florence Gatten out of town to address a family issue. City manager Mitch Johnson and attorney Linda Miles also sat at the big table, but (along with the audience) did not speak.
The big news is that there will be more discussions going forward. The Council will direct the city's Human Relations Commission to facilitate future activity around the TRC report.
Holliday said he had not made it through the whole volume, but urged everyone to read it, and said it deserved to be discussed in depth, even line by line. Referring to his earlier statements on the TRC, the mayor said, "I was wrong when I said I didn't believe this effort would open the door to healing."
Yvonne Johnson said, "There are enough apologies on every side to be made...reconciliation does work. Mediation and conflict resolution work." An apology, she said, does not have to be "an admission," but can be a way of saying "that you are sorry for the pain, you regret the loss."
The mayor recognized the TRC members who were present. He also said he thought there was too much emphasis on the police in the report, and repeated the old half-truth about outside groups coming to Greensboro.
Goldie Wells said this is an opportunity to promote the city, not to bring shame on it. She also said that reconciliation should start with the Council.
Johnson, who said she had read the report several times, said the respectful conversation among councilmembers, even when they disagreed, was a better advertisement for Greensboro than a tape of the county commissioners in action. She said Nelson Johnson bore some responsibility for the events of 1979, but should not be the scapegoat for them.
Tom Phillips, who told me afterwards that he attended the meeting as a "defensive position," supported Sandra Anderson's suggestion that the HRC be given specific goals rather than just being turned loose without a mandate. He said he had not read the full report, and originally urged the group not to spend time discussing it but to vote up or down on its specific recommendations.
Holliday promised to get some ideas together in the near future and bring them to the Council in preparation for discussions with the HRC.
Update: Jerry McClough live-blogged the meeting.