Austin mayor, Williamson County sheriff clash over Veterans Day parade

Nov 10, 2017
Descendents of Confederate Veterans march in the Veterans Day parade on Nov. 11, 2016. RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Austin Mayor Steve Adler’s decision not to join an estimated crowd of thousands in the city’s Veterans Day parade has drawn the ire of Williamson County’s top law enforcement officer.

Just after midnight Friday, Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody chided Adler on Twitter and called on him to reconsider his decision not to join the parade.

“Shame on you @MayorAdler!” he wrote. “As a veteran I’m offended you would allow a small group dictate the true meaning of the intent of the parade.”

Later that day, Chody explained his tweet came from his military experience, having served in the Army for four years and an additional four years in the Army National Guard.

“I think it was political correctness that the leader of Austin has chosen … and letting a small group of people dictate the true honor and respect the veterans deserve,” he said.

Adler said he faced a “near impossible choice” after the Veterans Day Parade Committee’s decision to let certain flags tied to the Confederacy be flown in the parade.

“I resent having to make that horrible choice,” the mayor said. “I had the one choice (that) I could do something, and the other choice I couldn’t undo. But at the end of the day, there were other ways to honor vets, and I’ll do that all weekend.”

Instead of joining the procession Saturday on Congress Avenue, Adler said he would volunteer at the Central Texas Food Bank, which operates a mobile food bank serving nearly 500 veterans at a Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic.

“I’ve seen the pain that is caused in so many with symbols of the Confederacy,” he said. “And I think it’s important that (the Confederacy) not be erased or removed from our past … but not celebrated and cheered in a parade.”

RELATED: In Austin’s Veterans Day parade, Adler won’t walk if Confederate flag flies

While the parade committee voted to ban the X-pattern Confederate battle flag, it will still allow the national flag of the Confederate States in the event.

In an emailed statement, the committee acknowledged Adler’s decision, and said it understood how “some in our community consider the Confederate battle flag as a negative symbol.”

“The Committee’s focus is to honor our veterans by including as many veterans as possible and create a safe environment for the parade,” the statement said.

About a dozen members of the Descendants of Confederate Veterans are expected to join the parade with a vehicle, the committee said. The Confederate descendants group declined to comment.

While many online have backed Chody’s response to Adler’s decision, it has riled others. One Twitter user, @ljet06, said he is a black Air Force veteran and admonished the sheriff. “good to know what kind of sheriff u are. no integrity,” he posted.

That comment spurred Chody to reply: “No integrity? I call you out on that comment. … BTW, I was standing up for you too.”

Chody has embraced community outreach much more than his predecessor, Sheriff James Wilson, a longtime lawman who retired early last year. Since being sworn in as sheriff, Chody has tweeted on subjects ranging from social and political issues to updates on traffic delays.

RELATED: Williamson County sheriff reflects on lifetime in law enforcement

He called social media a great medium to foster government transparency.

“It’s a powerful tool,” he said, adding that it provides insight on his decisions as head of law enforcement in the county.

Chody said his tweets also have been a means to spur conversation.

Earlier this week, one of his tweets said “some on (the) commissioners court continue to tie hands of elected officials, some might call it retaliation u judge.”

And in late September, he posted an image of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. “#Athleteprivilege when u get paid large to play a game while others sacrificed it all for the very flag u refuse to stand for.”

“I don’t see it as inappropriate,” Chody said of his tweets. “It lets you know what a leader of an organization is thinking, even with something as simple as a parade.”

Chody said he hoped Adler would change his mind and join the parade, warning about the precedent skipping the event would set.

“What do we do now when there is another parade that is a political firestorm?” Chody said. “What about a Christian-based organization that has a disagreement with him? Where does this stop?”

But Adler noted that Confederate veterans are not recognized by Congress as U.S. veterans, and he emphasized one of the tenets of the Confederate States of America.

“Confederacy tenets included African-Americans were lesser people, and that’s part of our history,” he said. “We should understand that so we don’t repeat it. And we certainly shouldn’t be celebrating it.”