Klan-link mayor decides to walk

The Age/July 23, 1999
By Greg Roberts

The Mayor of Coffs Harbor and one of his councillors have stepped aside over the revelation that they head a group whose parent body is linked to the KuKlux Klan and other white supremacist organisations.

The Mayor, Cr John Smith, told a council meeting late yesterday that he could not "properly answer the allegations'' while he continued as Mayor.

The Age revealed on Wednesday that Cr Smith and Cr Bob Burton head a local chapter of the Christian Identity movement, which is associated with the KKK and similar groups.

Cr Smith told the meeting he would step aside from his duties and seek leave of absence until a council meeting on 12August.

As he left the meeting, Cr Smith described the reports as a "media concoction coming after my long service to the city as Mayor''.

Cr Keith Rhodes has been appointed Mayor in his absence.

Cr Burton is also seeking leave of absence.

Another councillor at the meeting, Cr Alph Williams, welcomed the departure of the pair. "We are going to work hard now to try to improve the reputation of Coffs Harbor,'' he said.

Cr Smith issued a statement on Wednesday saying he was "not a member of any group that has links with the Klu (sic) Klux Klan''.

However, the Mayor had conceded to The Age in reference to Christian Identity and the KKK: "They may be very close to each other.''

Cr Smith also elaborated on his views on Jews killed in World WarII. "Many other races died. What about people in Russia? There were many other people abused. Six million? I think that is exaggerated.'' The departure of the two councillors followed mounting demands for their resignations and plans by other councillors to move a motion of no confidence in Cr Smith.

The chairman of the Ethnic Affairs Commission of New South Wales, Mr Stepan Kerkyasharian, said earlier yesterday that the views of Cr Smith and Cr Burton had no place in public life.

"If even one of the views attributed to the two councillors ... is correct, it is an appalling state of affairs,'' Mr Kerkyasharian said.

The Anglican Bishop of Grafton, Bishop Philip Huggins, attacked the councillors' views on the Holocaust.

"The Holocaust against Jewish people should never be forgotten,'' Bishop Huggins said. "This mindset and historic awareness is crucial, particularly for those in public office.''

The B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission said it was examining possible legal action against the councillors.

Mr Zane Boon, the chairman of Tourism Holiday Coast, the local tourism body, said: "The matter needs to be resolved and we will resolve it as quickly as we can.

"I don't think there is any room in society for people who have those types of extremist views.''

In 1995, Cr Smith resisted calls for his resignation when he suggested people who died of AIDS were being punished by God.

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