Mayor to councilman: 'Speak up, boy'

Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell, Councilman Cody Ray Wheeler exchange words

PASADENA, Texas – A Pasadena City Council meeting Monday took an uncomfortable turn thanks to a heated exchange between the mayor and a councilman.

The meeting began with an invocation by Lou Ann Nolan, director of the Madison Jobe Senior Center.

"Guide us all in a spirit of kindness and consideration every day," Nolan prayed.

The council then began discussing a contract with Roy D. Mease and Associates for services regarding both delinquent municipal court collections and delinquent property tax collections.

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As Mayor Johnny Isbell called for a vote on the measure, Councilman Cody Ray Wheeler asked to speak.

"I’ve not been able to speak yet," Wheeler said.

"Well, then you better speak up, boy," Isbell said.

Wheeler and another council member took exception to the mayor’s remark.

"That’s very offensive," Wheeler said. "I’m a council member of this city."

"Well, act like it," Isbell said.

The back-and-forth continued, before Isbell said Wheeler’s remarks should have been made in a timely manner.

[Raw video: Heated exchange at Pasadena City Council meeting]

"If you want to talk, talk," Isbell said. "Now’s your opportunity."

"Don’t talk to me like that again," Wheeler said. "Don’t call me 'boy.'"

"That almost sounds like a threat," Isbell said.

"You calling me 'boy' is very disrespectful," Wheeler said.

"Man," Isbell said.

"I’m not threatening you," Wheeler said.

"You’ve got about one minute to get to talking," Isbell said.

A few more sentences were exchanged before Wheeler began his discussion about the contract. At the conclusion of Wheeler’s remarks, Isbell seemed to apologize for how he addressed him.

"You’re right councilman, member," Isbell said. "That was a slip of the tongue on the 'boy.'"

The meeting proceeded as normal.

"I instantly recognized there's racial overtones to this and it's not right," Councilman Wheeler told Channel 2.

The word "boy", when used toward men of color, is historically seen as a racial insult.

This controversy comes after a January ruling by a federal judge who said Isbell's city council redistricting plan was a deliberate effort to undermine Hispanic voters.

The city is appealing that ruling.

"I think in his heart of hearts he doesn't have respect for me or the people I represent," Wheeler said.

Some Pasadena residents said they accepted the Mayor's apology.

"Sometimes we speak out of turn and if he apologized for it in my book that's all that's necessary," said Marie Chaffee.

Isbell released Tuesday a statement about the incident:

"I apologize to Councilman Wheeler for my comment during yesterday’s City Council meeting. I agree that the term could be construed as inappropriate and that City Council members should be addressed more respectfully.

"What I don’t agree with is those who have called the comment 'racist.' There was no racial component in my mind whatsoever. Having spent years involved in sports and coaching and in the military, saying 'hurry up, boy,' is simply something that you might say to expedite an action. It’s a term I have used with friends and with family. I was not trying to disparage anyone in any way.

"Again, I apologize to Councilman Wheeler and anyone else who my comment may have offended."

KPRC 2 has also contacted Wheeler, seeking comment.

Click or tap here to watch video of the entire council meeting.

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