Albany City Hall STOCK PIX

Albany City Hall

"Diversity of cancers in the body is not a good thing."

That's what Albany resident Nick Glunz said during Wednesday's meeting of the Albany City Council.

He was speaking in opposition to a proposed language change to the Albany Human Relations Commission municipal code that would include the words "diversity" and "equity." The proposal would also remove the word "harmonious."

Glunz was one of almost a dozen other speakers in a room filled past capacity. Most of the speakers had come out to encourage the council to vote in favor of including diversity and equity in the code language.

In the end, the council did not do that. It voted 4-2 against the change, with councilors Ray Kopczynski and Dick Olsen voting in favor.

Leading up to the vote, residents made their cases for the change, telling stories, sometimes through tears, about a lack of harmony in Albany.

Ken Larson told the council of his wife's experience with race here.

"My beautiful wife, who is not white, is repeatedly asked if she is going to pay with her Oregon Trail Card before she even gets out her wallet," he said. "But when her white husband is with her, that never happens. And she makes probably three times what the cashier makes."

Kerry McQuillin also spoke, citing Oregon's history with racial inequity.

"Things that happened long ago still matter," she said. "We have to use language that invites all people in." She offered a timeline of racial oppression in the state.

But Glunz, in his presentation, argued, "Nowhere in the charter have I read anything that called out race."

Others took exception with councilor Rich Kellum's opposition to the proposed changes at the June 28 meeting, where he said "diversity" and "equity" were buzzwords used by Black Lives Matter and other groups. In that meeting, he referred to "those people" when describing people who support equity and diversity.

Still others argued that "justice" and "liberty" were also once considered buzzwords.

Erlene Wilson Huey, a black woman, spoke through tears, her voice cracking. She said she was was afraid to give out her address, and explained how she didn't send her kids to South Albany High School; they attend West Albany instead.

"The Confederacy and I do not get along," she said, a reference to the school's Rebels nickname. And she talked about her son being harassed by the police in Albany.

"My concern is my son coming home to me," she said. "That's a fear that I have. I live in Albany, and I have those fears in Albany."

Frederick J. Edwards, president of the Corvallis-Albany branch of the NAACP, also spoke.

"Not once have I heard 'love' in all of this here," he said.

"When I watched the video (of the last council meeting) and I saw him talking about 'those people,' I thought, 'How is he sitting there?" Edwards said. "I'm not going to point the finger at nobody, but you know who you are."

Edwards said voting to include the changes should not be complicated.

Before the council voted, Kellum spoke, saying, "Well, seeing as how I'm being blamed for all of this, I'll give you a little reasoning."

Kellum explained that his high school friends were Mexican and Indian, and that a Navy buddy was Mexican.

"My lady friend's name was Maria," he also said.

Citing Martin Luther King Jr.'s words about judging people on the content of their character, Kellum explained that he does not consider color, but character. He then told a story about hiring a woman who told the truth about being a lesbian, and that she was afraid he wouldn't hire her, but he did because he knew she would be honest with his cash register.*

"And that's when I learned all I needed to learn about lipstick lesbians," he added.

The crowd jeered him, and some shouted, "You serve us!"

"So vote against me," replied Kellum.

In other matters:

• The council also voted to allow Republic Services to collect trash on the night of the solar eclipse, instead of during the day, when the eclipse will occur and traffic could be in a gridlock.

• Mayor Sharon Konopa proclaimed the week of July 16 to be LGBT Pride Week.

*This story was corrected from an earlier version.

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Contact reporter Neil Zawicki at 541-812-6099 or neil.zawicki@lee.net