- Wendy Halloran, Local | WSBTV
The Mayor of Kennesaw is in the hot seat over a comment he made at a ribbon cutting ceremony that was overheard by several city employees. He equated his zoning director, who is black, to a chocolate doughnut.
This triggered an emergency meeting with the city manager and human resources.
On Tuesday, both men spoke to Channel 2 Action News investigative reporter Wendy Halloran about what happened.
Kennesaw Mayor Derek Easterling has been in office for two and a half years. His comment set off a firestorm of controversy. The mayor decided it was time to speak on camera. Halloran was told he was going to be 100 percent transparent.
“I’m upset because I hurt my friend,” Easterling said.
The incident happened last Tuesday when he made the comment to City Zoning Director Darryl Simmons during a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new Dunkin Donuts restaurant.
This is what he said to WSB Radio reporter Pete Combs.
“All I said was, 'Hey, look. Stand right here. The sparkles match your shirt.' And the sparkles I was indicating were referring to the donut costume that was standing next to me," Easterling said.
But that’s not what multiple witnesses told Combs. They said Easterling told Simmons to 'Go stand by the chocolate donuts where you’ll blend in.'
Halloran asked Easterling about the discrepancy and why he didn’t mention anything about a chocolate donut on the radio.
“I was excited. I was pumped up and I said, 'Darryl, come stand next to me. Stand next to this donut or this chocolate donut.' and I said, 'Oh my God. You match. Your shirts match the sprinkles,'” Easterling said.
Simmons gave us his side of the story.
“What I heard is what I heard. (I) was being compared to a chocolate donut and that’s what I heard,” Simmons said. “I was shocked like anything else.”
On WSB Radio, Easterling said it was "perceived differently than it was intended."
"As a professional, I only deal in truth, I can’t deal in perception,” Simmons said.
Easterling said he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.
“I find fault with what I said. I own what was said and what was perceived," he said.
He added that he’s sincerely apologetic for what came out of his mouth. Simmons said he has accepted the apology.
"He gave a heartfelt apology, which I accepted because of our working relationship and knowing the type of person he is, I did not see it as a malicious act," Simmons said.
Easterling's office also sent the following statement to Channel 2 Action News about the incident:
"The City Manager’s Office along with Human Resources swiftly called an emergency meeting to address employees’ concerns. Mayor Easterling sincerely apologized for the comment and explained it was unintentional and will never happen again. Mayor Easterling said he has always had a good working relationship with the employee addressed and he in no way intended to offend the gentleman or other city employees. The City of Kennesaw is committed to maintaining a professional and lawful work environment free of harassment and discrimination."