JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown City Council is under scrutiny from some members of the community for allegedly failing to attend a series of recent protests and rallies focusing on the Black Lives Matter movement. In addition, one specific council member is also being criticized by a local resident and candidate for public office for a post he made on social media this past weekend.
During the public comment portion of Monday night’s remote council work session – which was streamed online – the city clerk read a series of comments sent via email from several Jamestown residents, including Democratic candidate for the 150th State Assembly seat, Christina Cardinale.
Cardinale was critical of councilman and retired police officer Jeff Russell (R-At Large) for a pro-gun post on his personal Facebook page that was purported to be from Saturday, June 6. The post appears to be shared from the New York State Firearms Association and was intended for Russell’s Facebook friends only, but still managed to find its way to the public sphere.
“On 6/6 councilman Jeff Russell posted the following message on social media. Quote – The answer to the question, ‘Why do you need an AR-15 and a 30-round magazine?’ is on every news channel today – end quote,” Cardinale’s stated in her email, then directed a specific question to Russell. “Councilman Russell, can you please clarify your comment in full detail? When I turn on any news channel I see the black community demanding the end to systemic racism and I am now under the impression a retired Jamestown Police officer supports firing a semi-automatic rifle at Black Lives Matters protesters.”
Russell addressed the comment and defended his post, saying his post was actually a meme that he shared and was in now way calling for violence against any person or group of people. Russell added that he shared it after the death of a retired police captain in St. Louis during the weekend riots in that city.
“This featured a comment about owning an AR-15 and was in support of the Second Amendment, guaranteeing our right to bear arms – my right to defend my home and my family and my fellow citizens’ right to do the same,” Russell said. “You are now attempting to create a controversy where controversy doesn’t exist.”
Russell was also critical of Cardinale for trying to score political points as part of her political campaign.
“It’s no secret we find ourselves in a tremendously difficult time in this country. But your efforts to score political points by cherry-picking a singular Facebook post, which never referenced violence against the black community or peaceful protesters, is the absolute worst political stunt of its kind. It’s reprehensible, in fact,” Russell said.
In her correspondence, Cardinale also asked the full city council if it had any thoughts about Russell’s post and if the council has a policy regarding social media.
Council president Tony Dolce (R-Ward 2) said that he can vouch for Russell’s character through his 20+ years on the Jamestown Police Department, as well as with his various interactions with all students and staff at Jamestown High School where Dolce teaches.
Dolce also said there is no policy regarding how an elected member of the city council conducts themselves on social media.
“As far as social media conduct, we are elected officials. We are adults. We all make choices in terms of what we want to post [on social media]. There are no rules, laws, or regulations regarding what we can and cant’ do. We all have First Amendment rights,” Dolce said.
Russell wasn’t the only person on the council criticized during the public comment portion of the work session. Another city resident – Autumn Echo Swanson – chastised the council for not showing support during two recent rallies in Jamestown, organized by the Jamestown Justice Coalition.
“Both rallies have seen poor attendance and support from city officials. I would like to know why the city council has chosen not to support the Jamestown Justice Coalition when a large number of the constituents of the council – including those deeply and personally affected by the mission – are in support of the efforts being made by the coalition,” Swanson wrote.
It’s worth noting that both Dolce and councilman Tom Nelson (D-Ward 6) attended the rally on Sunday, May 31 – along with Mayor Eddie Sundquist and Police chief Harry Snellings.
Council woman Vickye James (D-Ward 3) also took umbrage with the remark, pointing to her long-standing involvement and leadership in the city’s black community.
“As a black mother, a black woman, a black daughter, I always have had this issue come to my face every day. It matters to me. The people in my community matter to me, and because I don’t make one event does not make me not care about being black. That’s ridiculous,” James said.
The council’s other African American member, Tamu Graham-Reinhardt, also addressed the issue – asking those who are critical of the council members to “sit back and take a breath.”
Swanson also raised concern about a lack of leadership and guidance from the council when it comes to working toward improving conditions in the African American community.
“The issue at hand – an issue for which Jamestown is now immune – concerns the poor training, systemic laws and over funding that have led to rampant police brutality across this country,” Swanson wrote. “On a local level we see multiple accounts of socioeconomic instability among our minority communities, ranging from underfunded neighborhood development; disregard for the issue of food insecurity; lack of minority representation and decision making; and a lack of support, education and funding of minority-owned businesses in Jamestown. My question for the Jamestown City Council is this: Where are you?”
Dolce explained that he has already had a conversation about those concerns with the mayor and the city would be working to address them more thoroughly in the near future.
Also during the correspondences last night, city resident Rev. Chloe Smith again urged the city to work toward bringing more diversity into the ranks, something that city officials have acknowledged needs to happen, but also said that it is difficult with a very limited pool of qualified candidates to draw from.