The wrong words at the wrong time

The outrage this week over a Clay County public employee's post about First Lady Michelle Obama resulted in-pardon the cliché here-a "Firestorm of Controversy".

But a story I covered more than 25 years ago in Marietta resulted in the same eruption-long before we heard of social media or even the Internet.

Merv Wendleken was an outspoken, anti-tax, anti-government activist who was a frequent "concerned citizen" visitor to public meetings (although, amazingly, he spoke in such a manner you couldn't completely hate him). In November, 1989, he was elected to the Marietta Board of Education.

If it wasn't already well-known, he said something at his first board meeting in 1990 that made him a household name.

During a discussion on diversity, he made a pronouncement including the words "white supremacy". That was all that was necessary to set off a sometimes-loud discussion that went on for weeks.

Wendleken insisted he wasn't making a racist statement, and, instead, claimed he was talking about abortion. That didn't change anyone's opinions about his statement. Citizens, both black and white, spoke out in opposition to his comments.

There were calls for his resignation. Wendleken didn't quit the board, but was defeated for re-election four years later. I believe his effectiveness as a board member took a hit because of the fallout from the statement.

Wendleken passed away in 1995, just as people (like me) were starting to hear about the Internet, and, of course, years before the start of Facebook, Twitter and the like.

I can only imagine what our local news environment would have been like if the always-quotable-but usually misspoken-Merv had taken to "tweeting".

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