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Black leaders claim Covington mayor is blocking them from making decisions

COVINGTON, Tenn -- There was controversy in Covington over a heated battle between elected officials with racial overtones.

Two black aldermen said the white mayor is not giving them an equal seat at the table when it comes to making major decisions.

However, the mayor is holding strong, arguing he's done nothing illegal.

"Since you have been on, you have consistently — consistently moved African-Americans out of leadership roles," Alderwoman Minnie Bommer said during a board meeting last week.

Bommer made bold claims about Covington Mayor Justin Hanson.

"It was race, gender, age -- whatever you want to call it. I mean I'm all three," she told WREG.

Bommer said she is being blocked from making major decisions for the city after Mayor Hanson refused to appoint her to chair a committee.

In the last meeting, Alderman John Edwards said, "You would think that at least all six of the aldermen would have one of those positions."

"It is my privilege to name these committee chairs," Mayor Hanson responded last week.

"It is his privilege, but it is also his responsibility to represent everybody in the city of Covington," Edwards explained.

Bommer and Edwards are the only two black aldermen in the city.

Edwards said what is being done to his colleague happened to him following the last election.

"She turned that chairmanship down because you didn't have a chairmanship," Hanson said in a recording of last week's board meeting.

"That's right. And you have done the same thing that you did two years ago," Bommer responded last Tuesday.

"John was vice mayor for six years, and you didn't give him anything? 'I can't do that.' So I told him I can't keep this position," Bommer told WREG.

"She had turned it down, and I wasn't going to extend that same offer this time," Hanson said.

Hanson explained to WREG he is working well within his rights under the city charter and is appointing people he believes will help move the city forward.

"It has nothing to do with race," Hanson insisted. "This has everything to do with positive, productive leadership. The reality is that these committee chairmen -- I depend on heavily. I have to have an open line of communication."

"I wanted fairness and inclusion -- that's what I wanted," Bommer said.

Two things that Bommer said has not happened for black leaders in Covington since Hanson has been in office.

"I am being fair. I am all about fair and honest, transparent government," Mayor Hanson explained.