At the January 3rd Cato Town Board meeting, Cato's highway superintendent used a racial slur, the" n-word" when discussing frustrations with the town's health care plan. Since then Gary Cole has apologized and the incident has been under heavy scrutiny. At the beginning of Tuesday's meeting, Cato Supervisor Charles Ray asked Eli Hernandez from the Auburn branch of the NAACP to talk about the how the community could move forward. Hernandez asked everyone in the room to understand just how hurtful the use of a racial slur could be - but also to move forward and learn from the incident.
Hernandez said that Cole had taken responsibility for using a racial slur and was working with the NAACP on the issue.
" Making right what was wrong, we're going get somewhere. Our children will be able to see that. I made a mistake, I'm owning up to it and this is what I'm going to do to make a change," said Hernandez.
Supervisor Ray said the town has also been working with a representative of the Justice Department as it moves forward. At Tuesday's meeting, there was no discussion of removing Cole from his elected position.
Cole publicly apologized at the meeting and said he didn't mean to offend anyone. After the meeting was over, Cole told reporters that he understands how offensive his use of a racial slur was.
" I just couldn't believe that I had said something that foolish that caused this amount of grief but I did and now I'm beginning to understand more about why it upset everybody," said Cole.
Cole also had an emotional meeting with Harriet Tubman's great grand niece. Pauline Scopes attended the meeting with several other NAACP representatives. Scopes says she is still angry that someone would need to be told it wasn't OK to use a racial slur.
" He's a grown man, an elected official and he still uses that kind of language?" said Scopes.
Supervisor Ray said he also hopes this will be an educational moment and said the incident will be covered when training future town employees.