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Race card flies after criminal record revealed

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BATON ROUGE - The group that revealed a recommended CATS board candidate's criminal history is getting slammed as racist.

Louisiana Strong backed another board candidate, Doug Pennington, who is white.

Candidate William Johnson, who is black, removed his name from the list of candidates when Louisiana Strong sent an email to all members of the Baton Rouge Metro Council addressing his troubled past.

The email included information about Johnson's guilty plea in an investigation dealing with a fake organization that collected money for D.A.R.E.  Prosecutors said the group pocketed the money.

The Qualifications Review Committee is in charge of making sure candidates qualify for the board. The committee does not run background checks on candidates because it is not required to do so.

"All we did was Google the name," Louisiana Strong Executive Director Lennie Rhys said. "I didn't learn about this until 11 o'clock Wednesday morning...I just felt it was my civic duty to alert the metro council."

The email was welcomed by some.

But Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards responded to Rhys' email by saying it "makes the behavior appear very racist, underhanded and outright mean spirited."

"It's information that was very important and people needed to have factored it into their decision. But, the manner in which it was handled is what I take exception to. I think it was unprecedented and I do believe it had perhaps remnants of racism associated with it," Edwards said.

Edwards admits she thought the email was racist before she even checked its validity. But even knowing the truth now, she still accuses Louisiana Strong of picking on a black candidate.

When asked if she believed Louisiana Strong would have released the information if a white candidate had been convicted of a crime, Edwards feels the outcome may have been different.

Edwards also accused the group of withholding Johnson's criminal record only to reveal it the day of his possible appointment.

Rhys argued the email about Johnson's past was not racially motivated.

Councilman John Delgado and councilman Trae Welch plan to introduce an ordinance that would make it mandatory for all board candidates to go through a background check.

 

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