A news story appearing in the Branson Tri Lake News got the attention of Harrison officials Thursday morning, but it also led to an apology from the city administrator in Branson, Missouri.
The article was a report of the June 23 meeting of the Board of Aldermen. The story appears free on the newspaper’s website: https://bransontrilakesnews.com/news_free/article_a9b24924-b639-11ea-a146-c3ad9802cf04.html
The report focused on a recent Branson Black Lives Matter protest against a store that sells Confederate flag merchandise in that town.
The story relates that an individual requested immediate response from the aldermen regarding their views of the Ku Klux Klan.
According to the news story, “Others waited until a designated time at the end of the meeting reserved for aldermen to report on a variety of issues. Then, other aldermen, the mayor and city administrator voiced their opinions, which ranged from disapproval of the KKK, disgust regarding the tactics that led to the death of George Floyd and concern of outside influences on the city of Branson...”
City Administrator Stan Dobbins, who was Branson’s police chief before taking over as city administrator, condemned the police tactics used in the case of George Floyd’s death in Minnesota and talked about his time training police officers in defensive tactics.
“‘I’ve been a police officer for 40 years. I’ve arrested members of the Ku Klux Klan, and I’m not going to tell you I’m sorry that I did it,” said Dobbins. “But, I’m going to tell you this: My son-in-law’s black. He comes to this town all the time and never has a problem. Not one. So it makes me wonder where all the mouths and voices come from that say, ‘oh my God, the city of Branson has a problem,’ when you can drive 30 miles down the road and be in Harrison, Arkansas. If you want to find the Ku Klux Klan, you go to Harrison, Arkansas."
Harrison Mayor Jerry Jackson brought up the newspaper column and Dobbins remark about Harrison during his time to make comments at the end of Thursday’s city council meeting agenda.
Jackson said he was made aware of the remark Thursday morning. He said he called Branson Mayor Edd Akers.
“I never met him before. He was extremely apologetic. He really handled our conversation so well,” Jackson said. Jackson said Akers told him that he would talk to Dobbins. Akers called back, but did not indicate Dobbins would extend an apology for his statement about Harrison.
“We’re not trying to make a big deal of it,” Jackson said. “It was unnecessary and an apology should have happened and it didn't."
Council member Bill Boswell reacted this way. “I agree 100%. Pardon my expression, but it’s BS and that’s the way I feel about it. Mr. Mayor, I’m proud of what you did.”
Continuing, Boswell said, “Mr. Mayor, I don't know about you, and I appreciate you letting it roll off your back, but I'm not so sure that I as a council member make a recommendation that we ask for an apology from the police chief or the city newspaper ... that just runs all over me.”
Bob Largent, CEO of the Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he contacted his counterparts in two Branson business organizations. They expressed their apologies. Largent said his calls were made to ensure that those two city leaders understood that the comments made at that meeting “is not Harrison, Arkansas.”
Council member Mitch Magness said the council should ask for an apology and suggested Boswell make a formal motion.
Boswell complied, “I make the motion that we as the council of the city of Harrison ask for official response and apology from the city of Branson.
“We’re not interested in creating a fight with them. I don’t want that to happen. They need to understand, we’re well aware of what everybody else thinks about Harrison, Arkansas, we don’t need their help.”
Council member Wayne Cone pointed out that Harrison is fighting the stigma of being a home of the KKK due to social media and the internet. That organization of few individuals is located outside of Harrison in a rural part of the county.
Depending on which search engine you use, when you enter the KKK in the browser, Harrison is associated with the first several search responses. This statement made in that newspaper will only create more responses, Cone said.
Jackson told the Daily Times that he received an email from Dobbins regarding the kerfuffle.
Dobbins told Jackson that he refused to apologize for standing against racism and the beliefs of the KKK.
“I would however, like to apologize to you and your entire community for doing the same thing that is being done to us. That is, using a broad brush when addressing a specific problem. That is as wrong there as it is here,” Dobbins wrote.
Dobbins went on to say he is aware that Harrison has fought long and hard to shake the perception of being a racist community, including white supremacist billboards and the KKK marches once held in Boone County.
“I am also very aware that it is not right to blame the entire community for the actions of a few and that was never my intent as that is the same thing we are battling,” Dobbins wrote. “I also know that you have another problem that we deal with as well. That being if you live within twenty miles of our town you live here.
“I should have directed the group outside of your actual City to the proper location. My statement was not meant to shed a bad light on your community and for that I do apologize. I know if we all work together we can overcome hate, racism, and bigotry.”
Jackson said the city wholeheartedly and graciously accepted the apology.