'They are ignorant by choice'

Mayor Kennon, residents argue at congressional town hall

By Cliff McCollum
Posted 2/24/17

Tensions flared at a congressional town hall meeting in Orange Beach Tuesday morning, as a video surfaced showing Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon appearing to call some of the attendees ignorant.

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'They are ignorant by choice'

Mayor Kennon, residents argue at congressional town hall


Tensions flared at a congressional town hall meeting in Orange Beach Tuesday morning, as a video surfaced showing Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon appearing to call some of the attendees ignorant.

A group of residents had come to Orange Beach’s City Hall for a question and answer session with Congressman Bradley Byrne’s office.

Byrne was in Singapore on an official trip, so Baldwin County District Representative Daniel Catlin was representing the congressman’s office.

Caitlin took questions from the audience on several issues, but one question led to the exchange that has made its way across social media over the last few days.

The video footage, taken by Jackie Gano, begins amid a discussion following a question about the Affordable Care Act and went as follows:

Kennon: Then there’s a choice of being ignorant because you don’t know the facts, you haven’t done the research and you haven’t educated yourself. I hear people talk about the Affordable Care Act, they are ignorant by choice. They do not know what they are talking about. They are preaching from a point of emotion, but no science, no studies, no research. That’s my definition of ignorant. If that doesn’t fit you, then don’t take offense to it. But if you haven’t done your homework, you probably ought not … what’s the old saying?

Unnamed Woman: Why do you think we haven’t done our homework?

Kennon: I don’t think y’all are listening to me and what you’re telling me is not the case for someone who’s been in the business for 30 years. You really don’t know what you’re talking about.

Unnamed Woman: You’re telling me that I am ignorant and haven’t done my research.

Kennon: I’m telling you that you are ignorant of the true facts, ma’am. I’m telling you that you do not know what you are talking about, and I have a right to say that. If you don’t like that, then don’t accept it. This is one town where there is going to be a counter from the public to your assertions.

Unnamed Woman: I don’t mind the counter, but I’m not convinced this is a productive way to get your point across.

Kennon: I see. I see. So the productive way for you guys is to shut the other side out.

Unnamed Woman: I’m not shutting you out, but please don’t call us ignorant. I heard you call us ignorant.

Kennon: Don’t take offense to the word ignorant. Ignorant means you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Unnamed Woman: That’s offensive to me.

Kennon: Well, get over it. You’re a grown woman. Get over it.

At that point, Catlin stepped back in and urged all parties to calm down.

“Let’s all take a deep breath here,” Catlin said. “I want everybody to be respectful of one another. We can disagree on every point here, but we can act civilly toward one another.”

With regards to the exchange in the video, Kennon said he was trying to share his expertise about the healthcare industry learned from his years of work experience in that sector.

“I’ve been in healthcare for 30 years,” Kennon said. “I have a good feeling about what healthcare is about. I felt like I had a degree of knowledge that leant something to the conversation, but it countered their narrative, so they started attacking.”

The woman featured in the video exchanging with Kennon said she felt nothing had precipitated the mayor’s response.

“In general, we were just discussing decisions about the Affordable Care Act and had made some points about the concerns we had,” she said. “Nobody was going against anything or saying anything rude about the congressman, but it was angry from the get-go.”

Attendees said a further exchange happened between Kennon and another attendee that was not caught on video, with those attendees alleging Kennon had threatened to have the police remove them.

Kennon said he never threatened anyone in the audience and simply wanted to make sure every opinion was heard.

“I didn’t threaten them in any way,” Kennon said. “The gentleman was attacking me because he didn’t like what I was saying.”

Kennon said he has had a policy regarding public speaking since he took office in Orange Beach that people must remain respectful in their comments.

“In Orange Beach, since the day I took office, everyone is heard,” Kennon said. “Everyone is treated respectfully. If you can’t behave in a gentlemanly or ladylike fashion, you’ll be asked to leave. If you won’t leave, then you will be escorted out.”

The woman from the video said Kennon did say the police could be used to remove people from the meeting.

“The gentleman arguing back was essentially saying ‘Stop calling us ignorant,’” she said. “He made no move to get up, he wasn’t shouting or using bad language. But then the mayor said ‘This is my house’ and that he was going to start throwing people out.”

Kennon said things did seem to get heated, but he felt nothing rose to a personal attack on his part.

“I’m the first one that can get red-faced or upset, but, at the same time, I try not to get personal,” Kennon said. ‘We understand things get overheated at times, but everyone has the right to speak. No one comes to Orange Beach and will shut down dialogue. That’s not how we do things here.”

The woman from the video disagreed that Kennon had not gotten personal.

“The mayor made it personal when he called us all ignorant,” she said. “I didn’t necessarily feel threatened, but I felt like he was trying to intimidate us and it certainly got me to stop my part of the discussion. The last thing I need is to be on the news being escorted out by the police.”