A recording of a city "customer service" training session aired via DVD before the Peekskill Common Council has become the indirect source of harsh racist accusations, hurt and anger.
The DVD was a recording of a training session held May 5 in the Peekskill City Hall Conference room with 23 city employees participating, said City Manager Rick Finn. The training session was supposed to help city workers interact with people of all different cultures and backgrounds.
But now Finn has become the center of a firestorm over the training. Mount Vernon activist and Peekskill political critic Darrell Davis announced on a New Rochelle WVOX radio show that Finn had made a racist remark during the training, something Finn says is completely untrue.
Finn says he never said anything racist and is supported by Mayor Mary Foster, who says she saw the tape and it never happened.
“I am offended by (Davis’) comments and there is absolutely no truth to it and it is unfortunate he has to go down this path,” Finn said. “I treat all people fairly, equally, and with dignity.” Finn added that he may pursue legal action on the personal attacks made against him. “To be called a racist, in my opinion, is one of the worst things someone can be called.”
Davis acknowledges he has not seen the recording, but told Patch that six different individuals called him to tell him they were upset over what they claimed Finn said during the May 5 training session. Davis said all six people were in the room during the time of the training and a few of them gave their names, while the others told him they wanted to remain anonymous. Davis would not provide Patch with any names.
Patch has filed a Freedom of Information request for a copy of the tape.
Based on the accounts Davis says he heard, he summarizes the incident this way:
“Basically, the facilitator asked, ‘How do you deal with an angry audience’ and said to be amicable,” Davis told Patch. “Finn replied, ‘Even if its an African-American audience? Do you think they can understand that?”
Davis says the fact he went public shows he's certain it happened as he describes.
“For me to go on a radio show and make that accusation without being damn sure I knew what he said — my neck is on the line,” Davis said. He has also requested a copy of the DVD from City Hall.
During his appearance on WVOX on May 12, Davis told the radio host Phil Reisman, “I am calling for Mayor Foster to fire (Finn) immediately if he does not resign.”
During the Council's May 16 executive session, city lawmakers watched the snippet of the recording where Finn was supposed to have said something racist, Finn told Patch. After viewing the video, the mayor said the comments that Davis has made are “untrue.”
“This is unfortunate because we have so much work to do and things like this become a setback,” the mayor said.
The training session was taped for internal use, intended to be shown to participants who may have had to miss a session. The recording will not be made public Finn said, as it shows an internal training session and all participants were told that the recordings would not be used for any other purpose.
The city is no longer taping such sessions.