County Councilman’s Remarks Under Scrutiny
WILKES-BARRE — Luzerne County Councilman Robert Schnee says he did not mean to offend anyone last week when he described Luzerne County as “like the black child here” when it comes to state funding.
Local civil rights leader Guerline L. Laurore says she finds Schnee’s comments offensive.
Schnee’s colleagues say they misheard his remarks, at an April 9 council work session as council discussed the poor state of roads in the county.
Councilman Stephen A. Urban criticized state lawmakers who represent Luzerne County for not doing enough to obtain funding to repair the county’s roads.
Schnee said those lawmakers do the best they can at state level, where funding is disproportionately distributed to the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh regions.
“We’re like the black child here, whatever you want to call it. ... We have an uphill battle,” Schnee said.
No one commented on Schnee’s use of the phrase “like the black child” during the work session.
Council members reached Monday said they thought Schnee had said “black sheep” instead. The phrase “black child” can be heard clearly on an audio recording of the work session posted to the county website.
Schnee said in a phone interview Monday that he did not misspeak.
He said he wanted to draw a comparison between African-Americans, who face discrimination in their daily lives, and Luzerne County, which faces discrimination when it comes to state funding.
“Sadly enough, the black person in the minority is still discriminated against,” Schnee said. “It’s sad to say in this day and age.”
He compared that to Luzerne County’s attempts to compete for state funding with Pennsylvania’s two large metropolitan areas.
“The money goes ... where the votes are coming from,” Schnee said. “Pittsburgh and Philly get all the money.”
Schnee, in a later interview, said he feels “disrespect” might be a better word to describe the county’s situation.
He stressed that he meant no disrespect to the African-American community.
“I think it’s being supportive of them,” he said. “That’s what I meant.”
Laurore, secretary of Gov. Tom Wolf’s advisory commission on African-American affairs and former president of the Wilkes-Barre chapter of the NAACP, said Schnee’s remark was “entirely inappropriate.”
“Basically, he’s saying that nobody wants to be the black child, because this is how you are treated when you are black,” said Laurore, an attorney and Shavertown resident.
Also, Schnee’s use of language that some would consider racially charged distracted from the discussion of an important infrastructure issue, Laurore said.
“It seems to me the councilman is using language meant to inflame and take away from the real issue at hand,” she said. “You can point out that the African-American community feels mistreated in many areas, but to use them to make your point, I don’t think it’s fair. It’s confusing the issue by bringing up racial epithets.”
Council Chairman Tim McGinley and Councilwoman Sheila Saidman said Monday they thought Schnee had used the phrase “black sheep” at the work session. Councilwomen Linda McClosky Houck and Jane Walsh Waitkus said they did not recall hearing the phrase “black child.”
The audio recording of the work session can be heard at: https://www.luzernecounty.org/AgendaCenter/Luzerne-County-Council-2.
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