FORT WORTH — The city has chosen a new speaker for the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration to replace the original speaker who stepped away after some residents expressed concerns that he had been accused in civil court of sexually assaulting women in his former church.Former City Manager Bob Terrell will take the place of the Rev. Sherman Clifton Gee Allen. Terrell was the first African-American city manager in Fort Worth and served from June 1992 until January 2001.The public is invited to the event at noon Jan. 17 in council chambers at City Hall. The theme of annual event is “Keeping the Dream Alive ... Embrace the Power of His Vision.” Allen, 52, declined the invitation to speak on Tuesday evening, about three hours after a Star-Telegram article was posted online about the concerns. Allen was sued in 2007 by a former church employee who accused him of assaulting her and forcing her to have sex. After that suit, seven additional women stated that Allen had assaulted them. The complaints led to his suspension by the national Church of God in Christ that year.Councilwoman Gyna Bivens — who worried that having Allen as a speaker could distract from the celebration — said Terrell is a fantastic choice. “That is absolutely great news,” Bivens said of the selection. “I think he will have a message that will not only benefit city employees, but the citizens as well, because he has a knowledge of how things have worked, how things are working and how things are going to work in the future.” As city manager, Terrell helped establish a gang intervention program and led the city’s establishment of a 911 system. Terrell said he does not yet know what he will talk about, but that he is working on a speech. A city employee group plans the event and selects the speakers, city spokesman Bill Begley said previously. There is not an established vetting process for the speakers and the city does not approve the speakers.Five members of the employee committee voted for Allen, three voted against, and four were undecided, Begley said.In the 2007 lawsuit, Davina Kelly, an employee and member of Allen’s previous church, the Shiloh Institutional Church of God in Christ, said the pastor forced her to disrobe for a paddling if she was late, failed to read Scriptures or committed other infractions. She said the abuse led to sexual assaults.Allen is now the pastor at the nondenominational Christ Cathedral Church in Fort Worth. Allen and Kelly settled for $50,000 in 2009, which was increased to $60,000 in 2010 when he failed to make payments. Another suit was filed against Allen and his new church in October for failure to make payments.One of the women who came forward in 2007 had accused Allen of criminal aggravated sexual assault in 1983. The woman said she stopped cooperating with prosecutors because she was afraid of Allen.In the emailed statement Tuesday night, Allen said that while he and his family have moved on from the past allegations, he felt compelled to decline the invitation to speak at the MLK celebration.“I fear that some may view my presence negatively in what should be a most inspiring, positive event. I humbly pray and look forward to a future where my life, my work and my faithful service to God are able to be cast in a favorable light,” he said. This article includes information from Star-Telegram archives.
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984 Twitter: @catyhirst