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Paducah City Commission to have hearing for commissioner who sent racially charged text

Paducah City Hall
Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau
Paducah City Hall

A Paducah City Commission member has been charged with misconduct after sending racially charged texts to a city employee in reference to a Black candidate for office.

A resolution charging Commissioner David Guess with misconduct passed with a 4-0 vote during Thursday’s meeting. The charge outlined the current commission’s commitment to enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion as a priority and said Guess’s actions had “undermined” the group’s aims. Guess abstained from the vote regarding the resolution.

The matter – which originally came to light during a called meeting of the commission last week – concerns Guess sending a city employee a series of text messages to a city employee on Nov. 8 after political signs were removed from civic property in violation of a Paducah ordinance. Some of the signs were advertising Dujuan Thomas, an African-American candidate for city commissioner.

Public opinion was heard on the matter and members of the commission, including Guess, then gave comments before the group held a nearly 90-minute closed executive session.

During his comment period, Thomas advocated for Guess to be held accountable for his statements but said the city should use this as a learning opportunity.

“Use this moment to communicate with one another – black, white, brown, red, blue, green – at the end of the day, our color shouldn't matter, but our history does. So be open to learn and open to share that history,” he said. “Mr. Guess – even though you've never issued an apology to me – I can forgive you for your comments about me, but a lesson must be learned because you hurt more people than just me.”

Paducah-McCracken County NAACP president J.W. Cleary voiced support for Guess’s dismissal from office.

“The big picture to me is anything negative that happens in our city will reflect our city,” Cleary said. “The whole idea is to get industry and big businesses to come to Kentucky and these type of things is negative. It makes us look bad. God knows I love David Guess as a person, but I really feel like – for the city’s sake – if he don't resign, I feel like the city has to take action to remove him from the position.”

Guess, a third-term city commissioner who recently won his bid for a fourth term, spoke briefly to offer an apology to the city and to Thomas.

“I recognize that the comments that I made near the end of the Election Day, after hard fought races by the candidates, can be perceived as hurtful and inappropriate. I wish that I had not made them,” Guess said. “There was no animosity. There was no harm or ill will wished in any way towards him. They are not a part of my character past or present, or my commitment to making Paducah a better place for everyone to live in a place where everyone has equal opportunity to succeed.”

Commissioner Raynarldo Henderson, during his comments, said Guess’s apology came off as disingenuous because of its timing. He also said he was “disturbed” by the texts as a sign that Paducah was “not as far along in race and race relations as [he] thought [it] was.”

“We have to stop and consider what our non-action tonight [would do] and how that non-action will affect those who are hurt. If we do nothing tonight, then all that does is continue to pull the bandage off of a not-yet-healed wound,” Henderson said. “We can't get better. We can't go any further. If we just look at this and say it was a bad mistake – and it was – we can't progress.

“Sometimes getting better, becoming better, is difficult. It's hard, it’s painful, but at the end we want to be better.”

Bray noted that just over 25% of Paducah’s population is Black or multiracial, and that a significant portion of the city’s employees were Black. He said the commission enacted the resolution to stand up for minority groups and the future of the city.

“We just want to move the community forward and we realize that these are hard, very hard decisions. It's been very, very difficult on all of us and we know that they weigh heavily on the community,” the mayor said. “But we would ask the question: Does the community want to move forward and imagine our community as a more diverse and inclusive community? We believe that the community does and we elect our leaders … to take us where we want to go and this commission believes that this is a necessary step to take.”

Following executive session, Paducah Mayor George Bray said he and the other three commissioners asked Guess to resign from his post, but that he refused and instead was opting to have a formal public hearing before the board.

The hearing will be scheduled in the near future.

The meeting can be streamed in its entirety below:

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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