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Property appraiser clarifies remarks

Ron Schultz says he did not call minorities "you people'' when answering a query on minority hiring.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 26, 2000


INVERNESS -- Property Appraiser Ron Schultz said Wednesday that he may have confused the audience at a political forum this week with his comments, but he insisted he is not a racist and that he never used the term "you people" at the event to describe blacks or minorities.

The audience at Monday night's forum, which was held at the Greater Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Inverness, asked Schultz and other candidates for public office why there were not more minorities in county positions.

Schultz replied that language skills were a problem generally with job applicants in Citrus County. He went on to say that job candidates with a "patois," or a thick accent, have difficulty being understood by people on the phone.

Schultz said he was talking in general about people who have accents, but some audience members said they thought Schultz was talking about minorities specifically because he was answering a question about the lack of minority employees.

"I can't remember the exact words, but the idea was that he didn't hire minorities because of their lack of ability to express themselves in written or verbal communication," said Pastor Leroy Jones, who heads the Mt. Carmel congregation.

Schultz said that was not the impression he had meant to give.

"Yes, I chose to answer the question of employment opportunities from the perspective of what the applicant could do to increase their chances of being employed. That may not have been the perspective that some people in the audience wanted to hear," said Schultz, who along with his wife, Diann, made an unscheduled visit to the Citrus Times' Inverness office Wednesday morning to discuss the issue after publication of a story on the forum in that day's edition.

Schultz disagreed with an account given by Judy Groner, who attended the forum. When contacted by a Citrus Times reporter Tuesday, Groner paraphrased Schultz's statement as, "We've got a lot of (residents) from up north and they just can't understand you people."

"I would never use the phrase, "you people,' " Schultz said. "It is profiling, it is racist, it is inappropriate. It is not something I would say."

Schultz noted that Groner is an active supporter of his Democratic opponent, John Barnes. Groner's husband, Daniel, represented Barnes at at least one political forum, Schultz said.

Barnes would not comment on the incident. Judy Groner said Wednesday that her political ties did not color her interpretation of Schultz's comments.

"Without a transcript or a tape, it is hard to say the exact words he said," Groner said Wednesday. "But the way he said it, we were talking about not hiring black people, and he said nobody can understand you. If that wasn't what he meant, that was certainly the inference."

Several other candidates and audience members said Schultz left them with the same impression.

"I felt insulted," said Zoe McLendon, a County Commission candidate who is black. "I'm sitting here, and this man is telling me that I can't communicate."

Schultz acknowledged Wednesday that at times he is the one with the communication problem.

At the forum Monday night, he told the audience that if they felt he was not hearing what they were saying, then they could go through an intermediary such as Alida Langley, a county employee who used to work for Schultz. Langley is black.

"I told (Schultz) that was unacceptable," Jones said. "He didn't seem to understand. He was still trying to convince me that that was another way I could get to him."

Schultz said he offered Langley and others as intermediaries because he says he can be difficult to communicate with at times. He said the issue has nothing to do with race: Sometimes his daughters go through their mother to talk to him, Schultz said.

"The forum opened with a prayer about how we hear each other, but we don't always hear each other," Schultz said. "And then we did that right then and there."

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