P.J. councilman’s comments about Mexicans draw fire

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By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

    A Pacific Junction City Councilman is under fire after remarks he made in reference to Mexicans during last Monday's regular council meeting.
  Following a  request by The Opinion-Tribune for a copy of the audio recording of the meeting, Mayor Jim Lovely played the tape in the Pacific Junction City Hall on Tuesday.
    A voice on the recorder, who Lovely identified as Councilman Rodney G. Bents, can be heard saying, “Well, then don't be getting hit by a Mexican up in Omaha.”
    Another voice, identified as Councilman Andy Young, then replied, “You don't want to be saying that with a recorder around.”
    Bents is heard replying to Young“ I mean it, that's the facts of life.”

    Lovely said the context of Bents' comments related to a discussion he and councilman Earl Smith had concerning property damage to the city's community center and if the city's insurance would cover the repair costs. As part of that discussion Lovely made an analogy to auto insurance covering your damage should you be hit by an uninsured driver.
    Lovely, after reviewing the tape, felt there was “enough of a comment” he referred the tape on to the city attorney, T.J. Patterman. After discussing the comment further with Patterman, Lovely said a formal resolution will be drafted condemning Bents' comments.
    Patterman said that he has yet to draft the resolution but he plans to present it to the council at the Sept. 6 meeting. The council will have to read and pass the resolution before it can be entered into the official record.
    “It's going to be an assertion by the city that they do not adhere to, abide by or approve any racist comments or remarks and they don't reflect the opinions or position of the city,” said Patterman. “I think the council and the major were just as shocked if not more so than anyone else who may have heard them (Bents' comments). The city is taking the position this is not appropriate behavior.”
    Other than the resolution condemning Bents' remarks, Patterman said there is little else the city can do. The city has no statute covering decorum on what can and cannot be said by council members during public meetings.
    “There is not a written policy in the code of ordinance,” said Patterman. “Most cities use stock ordinances that are adjusted as necessary. I don't believe there is any written policy saying what's going to happen should someone do something. We're limited to what we can do by the state statutes. This is not something the city council approves of but it's also something we haven't had to deal with before.”
    Lovely declined to address the specifics of Bents' comments, but the longtime mayor did say: “Neither myself nor my office or the City of Pacific Junction condone this type of attitude towards any minority or majority for that matter. This does not reflect on the City of Pacific Junction or my office. We just don't tolerate that.”
    Lovely has not spoken to Bents since the meeting.
    When reached at home Friday, Bents stood by his statements.
    “I don't have a problem at all with what I said,” said Bents. “It's all over. I worked for 15 years in Omaha driving a truck and I've been hit a lot and 90 percent of them don't have insurance. They don't.”
    Bents went on to say “they” was in reference to “The people in Omaha.”
    When reminded his quote singled out Mexicans and not Omahans, he replied, “That's all that's there driving around Omaha. Maybe you don't know this not driving around Omaha as much as I did but Mexicans are all you see driving.”
    Bents has served on the council since last year when he filled a mid-term vacancy. He was re-elected in January.
    Councilman Young was surprised and offended by Bents' comments
    “I felt it was inappropriate and there was no need for it,” said Young, who has served on the council for seven years.
    Young thinks the city has no choice but to make a resolution condemning Bents' remarks.
    “We have to,” he said. “I hate to say this phrase but when people do dumb things you have to alienate yourself from it.”
    Councilman Earl Smith, when reached last week confirmed Bents' statements but declined to comment further.
    Other council members Richard Kerres and Patricia Hatcher did not immediately return messages seeking comment.