Councilors Spar Over O'Neil Flap

By Stephanie Ebbert, Globe Staff
Boston Globe, Thursday, February 4, 1999, page A24
� Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company

A week-old racially charged flap between Councilor Gareth R. Saunders (Roxbury) and Councilor At Large Albert L. O'Neil caused another eruption at yesterday's City Council meeting, this time between Saunders and the City Council president, James M. Kelly.

The dispute prompted a two-hour closed-door session to ease the tension.

Kelly, of South Boston, called for the executive session after refusing to let Saunders read a statement seeking a reprimand or apology from O'Neil due to angry remarks O'Neil made last week.

Saunders' statement, which he read to reporters, asked Kelly to take control of meetings by reprimanding councilors for personal attacks. The statement also said that all who enter City Hall should be treated equally and with respect.

''If I, as a council member, cannot be treated with dignity and respect, how can anyone else be?'' Saunders asked.

Saunders has said that O'Neil violated a council rule that prohibits councilors from using abusive language to members on the floor. But Kelly has declined to invoke the rule, which calls for an apology or for the member to be held in contempt.

Kelly said that O'Neil did not technically violate the rule because he never mentioned Saunders by name.

But last night, Kelly admitted he was liberal with that rule in allowing O'Neil to launch into last week's discussion during what was supposed to be the councilor's proposal to memorialize John F. Kennedy.

''At least for the immediate future, I will strictly adhere to the rules,'' Kelly said.

Though Saunders was outraged by being muffled during the meeting - even vowing to boycott future meetings if he is not granted justice on the issue - he said last night that he was satisfied with the resolution reached behind closed doors.

''I made my issues very clear to the council, and we were able to work something out that satisfies my concerns,'' Saunders said. ''It was a positive thing, because everyone just got it out on the table, how they felt about what was going on, how we felt about each other.''

Yesterday O'Neil was silent during the fracas and did not return to the council chambers following the executive session.

The disagreement began last week, when O'Neil lashed out at Saunders, who is black, over what he saw as Saunders' insinuation that he is a racist. Though O'Neil never named Saunders publicly, Saunders rose to defend his actions, saying that he had merely asked O'Neil whether he supports the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist group, which says that it has been endorsed by O'Neil. When asked by a reporter, O'Neil denied being a member but described the group as good.