Paris City Council censured, and Benny Plata resigned his District 3 seat at a brief emergency meeting Tuesday amid a social media controversy. The council is now tasked with appointing a replacement.
Councilors were unanimous in their support of a censorship resolution with Plata abstaining and Linda Knox absent from the video conference.
“I responded to a post someone put about Nick Cannon,” Plata said about posting the comment “Why don’t you leave America if it is so bad.”
“Cannon was really berating America,” Plata said. “I love America, and I responded because I think America is the greatest country we can live in.”
Plata said he did not agree with the censure resolution, which states Plata’s comment was related to “the George Floyd situation,” and “the ensuing protests,” including a peaceful protest in Paris on Saturday.
“I did not mention anything about George Floyd,” Plata said, adding “everybody has taken this out of context.”
Plata then offered his resignation, which he soon followed with a statement of resignation in an email to City Manager Grayson Path.
“I let my emotions take over, and I should not have commented. I apologize,” Plata told his colleagues. “In the best interest of the city, I will resign. I apologize to anyone I may have offended, and especially to my constituents who trust me.”
On his Facebook site prior to the emergency meeting, Paris Mayor Steve Clifford described Plata’s post as “inappropriate and highly divisive.” And, in reading a censorship resolution, Clifford said that Plata’s statement violated the Code of Ethics and Conduct for City Council by “engaging in conduct that reflects discredit upon the government of the city.”
Councilors expressed both empathy and decisiveness in addressing Plata’s plight.
“I have known Benny for 20-plus years and have never seen or heard him do anything like this, but responding to that post at a time like this today was inappropriate,” Renae Stone said. “We don’t need any controversial things happening because that comment does not represent our city council, our city official or our city as a whole.”
Paula Portugal became emotional.
“We don’t challenge people who we disagree with to leave America,” Portugal said. “I am so proud of our community last Saturday night when we had a peaceful protest. I do not condone violence but neither do I condone action, which could incite violence. This type of statement conduces that.”
Both councilors Derrick Hughes and Clayton Pilgrim acknowledged Plata’s statement may have been taken out of context.
“The statement, whether out of context or not, was inappropriate,” Hughes said. “It may not reflect how Benny really feels, but we already have protests going on, and it might add fuel to an existing fire. I respect him for resigning, and thank him for his service to the city.”
“I have had things taken out of context with me before, and I have had to pay for it; it’s a tough thing to chew,” Pilgrim said. “Benny, I accept your apology and your resignation. I hate it that anybody has to stop anything that they are doing because of Facebook, but that is the way we work now. I hope the community understands that justice has been served on the comment, and we can all move to the next level.”
Clifford emphasized that everything said on social media is both permanent and public, adding he is sorry Plata’s comment occurred during a bad situation when the country needs unity.
“Mr. Plata, I appreciate that you are doing the right thing; and it’s an unfortunate situation,” Clifford said.
Before Clifford offered a censure motion, Plata asked to make one more comment.
“It’s bad when you can not defend America,” Plata said. “A while back, when Mexican-Americans – that’s me – were being told to leave America because they were going to build a wall, it wasn’t that big of a thing. But that’s OK.”