SC city plans diversity training after social media posts

MAULDIN, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina city will spend $50,000 on diversity training and programs after one of its city council members drew objections for sharing social media posts defending the Confederate flag and criticizing racial justice protests as “getting out of hand.”

The Mauldin City Council unanimously approved the funding, with $25,000 to go toward council training and initiatives “related to diversity and inclusion” and another $25,000 to pay for staff training “related to civility, diversity and inclusion," The Greenville News reported. The money comes from a $1.6 million city surplus.

The newspaper said Mauldin saw protests and calls for Councilman Dale Black to resign after the councilman shared several posts on social media, including one that said if the Confederate flag represents racism, “so do these," listing Black organizations, the Democratic Party and a Hispanic scholarship fund. Another Facebook post said: “This whole racial thing is getting out of hand" and objected to the removal of statues.

The newspaper said it reviewed screenshots of the posts in June, after Black appeared to have taken down his Facebook page. At the time, the city's mayor said he'd seen the social media posts and believed there was a distinction because they were shared posts, rather than written by Black, according to the newspaper.

In response, the city approved a resolution in July aimed at developing diversity training and initiatives. The latest approval gives Mauldin a funding mechanism for those efforts.

Black, a long-time city council member, and Mayor Terry Merritt did not return calls from the newspaper seeking comment about the spending. Councilman Michael Reynolds, who introduced the spending proposal, said the idea is to ensure a healthier public dialogue.

“What transpired was offensive, it was hurtful and that can often times cause a misunderstanding,” Reynolds said.

The diversity training initiatives are important "because we can be so harmful without listening first,” Reynolds said. “It’s much more my intent to listen to people. I think especially when you’re dealing with race issues.”

Members of a group of Mauldin religious leaders that have called for more action from the city said they viewed the city’s funding allocation as a good step.

“I think that was a real positive move, gesture for this city,” said Rodney Neely.

“They’re showing effort,” he said. “That means they care about how we feel, that’s what’s important.”