by: Scott McCaulley
The Mayors of Branson and Harrison each release statements late last week regarding events that have happened within their respective communities.
In the case of Branson Mayor Edd Akers, he addressed the recent passage of a Face Covering or Mask Mandate by the Board of Alderman that went into effect Friday and will continue until at least September 8. Akers thanks the Board for passing the new law and addresses concerns that Branson is being considered a “Hot Spot” for COVID-19 Cases. Akers states that while cases are on the rise in Taney County, the percentages used by much of the media don’t account for the numbers of visitors in the area and just use the base population to determine the percentages.
Meanwhile, Harrison Mayor Jerry Jackson issues a statement Friday on the City’s Facebook Page in regards to the video released on YouTube last Monday showing a man getting hateful reactions to a “Black Lives Matter” Poster he was holding in town. Jackson, who along with Harrison Chamber President Bob Largent and Boone County Judge Robert Hathaway issued a statement Tuesday denouncing the actions portrayed in the video, says upon investigating the creator of the video, Rob Bliss, discovered that he and a partner from Los Angeles put together what Jackson calls a professional “Hit Job” on the city. Jackson says Bliss and his partners have done this in other cities as well and that he used provocative comments to draw out some of the comments. Jackson still states that the reactions were wrong and not representative of the community and region as a whole.
The complete comments by Mayors Akers and Jackson are below:
Dear Branson Community,
Thank You all for your input and for caring about our community.
The Branson Board of Aldermen and I have received hundreds upon hundreds of e-mails, texts, social media comments and messages, and telephone calls regarding COVID-19 and face coverings. I have responded to as many as I could. The majority of the feedback I have received has been from those who recognize that face coverings are the best option. I am proud of our Board of Aldermen who took action to slow the spread of COVID-19 rather than do nothing. Our mandate runs to September 8th, 2020, and will be continually reviewed.
Sadly, Branson has been singled out in headlines recently as a “hot spot” for COVID-19. While the numbers of COVID-19 cases in Taney County are rising, I do not agree with this assessment. Media outlets use percentages based on the population of our area and fail to add in the thousands of visitors that are continuing to come to our City to the total baseline.
If you’ve been around town lately, you know, our visitor traffic is steady and getting better. This, combined with the passage of the face covering ordinance and the swift action our City Hall Administration took in March to revise the budget accordingly, is a positive sign for our community. I am encouraged by where we are currently and will continue to keep the health and safety of our community a priority while keeping our economy strong.
For those who pray, I solicit your prayers for discernment and the wisdom of all city employees and elected officials so that we may keep the people we serve in the center of our focus.
Thank you for letting me serve you,
Mayor Edd Akers
On July 27 a video recorded in Harrison was released on various social media platforms. It has since been viewed by over 3 million people, who now know Harrison only through this distorted portrayal. On July 28, Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, Bob Largent; Boone County Judge, Robert Hathaway; and I released a joint statement denouncing the video as unfairly representing Harrison and eroding decades of work to overcome our past racist reputation. I would like to take this opportunity to share some thoughts, feelings, and opinions I have about the situation.
When the video first aired, several people, including me, came together to look into the truth behind this video and its creator, Rob Bliss. I believe this was nothing less than a professional “hit job.” Our opinion became clear: Rob Bliss, and a partner, both from Los Angeles, are professional agitators who saw an opportunity to exploit Harrison. Bliss presents himself as an “agent of change” when, in fact, he is only interested in making money, and doesn’t actually care about the issue. He has done similar stunts in other places. After posting his highly edited videos, he immediately starts a “Go Fund Me” page where he collects thousands of dollars in donations, in addition to the money he is paid by YouTube and other social media for views. He promotes his video and “GoFundMe” page until he has eked out all the money he can, and then he moves on to his next project. If you doubt this, I challenge you to do your own investigation. The words of the people in the video were way beyond horrible and cannot be justified. Those individuals should be ashamed of themselves. However, it is important to know that Bliss and partner spent at least three days in Harrison on a very busy street and in front of a very busy Wal-Mart. We estimate that about 80,000 people would have passed by in those 3 days. They were able to, through provocative comments of their own, which they did not record, get just a couple dozen of those people to respond with disgusting comments, making up just two minutes of highly inflammatory video. We have a local Black Lives Matter group that have been leading peaceful and productive protests. Rob Bliss did not contact this group at all for a partnership. Quinn Foster, organizer of the local Black Lives Matter protests, denounces Rob Bliss as a profiteer, out to make money from a movement in which he has no real interest. Visit the Facebook page of Ozark Hate Watch for more information.
Many other southern towns and Harrison’s distant past includes some well-documented racist acts of violence. The town and our local race relations group have worked over many decades to overcome our history of racism and its lingering reputation. We are not the racist town we have been made out to be. The fact that the Ku Klux Klan and leader, have settled in nearby Zinc Arkansas, and that a few supporters have rented billboards to display their hateful message has only added to Harrison’s undeserved notoriety. Our race relations task force has worked to successfully remove four of the five privately owned billboards. They continue trying to remove the last one. Neither Bliss, nor the media has contacted our task force or our Black Lives Matter group for comments or insight into the true nature of the majority of people in Harrison.
Since the video went “viral,” over three million people have seen. The story has reached at least 14 major media outlets, including an article yesterday in the Washington Post. We have been flooded with emails, social media posts, and phone calls from people spewing hate, vile comments and vague threats. This is one of the most devastating things that I have been through as Mayor, and there have been many. I know that when we are attacked, our community can come together to fight this. We must pray that we can move beyond this and become a better community because of it. I urge you to combat hateful comments with something good. Your opinion is powerful. Please respectfully stand up for our town whenever you get the chance.
These comments made by some of our very own citizens were reprehensible and horrible beyond belief. Like many communities across the country, we do have racist people among us, but we are not going to let a few define our city going forward. In the last few decades, we have taken community efforts to denounce racism on all fronts and we are committed to doing more.
Mayor and Citizen of 40 yrs