Racism Alleged In Grantville
Tempers flare over dissolution of rec board
by Clay Neely - firstname.lastname@example.org
Accusations of racism against Mayor Jim Sells flew Monday night at the first meeting of 2014 for Grantville City Council — and tempers flared when police officers forcibly removed Allen Smith, recently appointed head of the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee.
With two newly-elected council members in place, Sells said he wanted to do away with the recreation board and create a new city-paid position to handle the city’s recreation needs.
At their first meeting as Grantville city councilmen were David Riley and Leonard Gomez. The motion passed with councilmen Johnny Cooks and Barham Lundy voting against and Sells breaking the tie.
“I know this is a hot topic issue but I believe that it’s time we hired a professional recreational advisor,” said Sells. “We need someone with the education and experience that can tell us how best to focus on recreation. I feel we’ve made some very brash and uncomfortable decisions with the skate park and some other things. Quite frankly, we don’t know what we’re doing. We need some professional help.”
“I want to eliminate the current board and start from scratch, putting out an ad and hiring a professional to take over our recreation. We have money to spend. It needs to be spent wisely. That’s part of the change. We need to go ahead, bite the bullet and make the change,” said Sells.
After the motion was made by Riley to eliminate the recreation advisory board, Cooks asked, “Do you have any evidence that they haven’t done a good job?”
“I have several, but here’s one,” said Sells. “This community, in record numbers, came to this council meeting to say ‘we want a splash park.’ We have never had citizens come forward like this before — record numbers filling the room. It was all over town. They wanted a splash park. On two occasions, the recreation advisory board brought children to the council meeting to tell us they didn’t want a splash park. At that point, I would have eliminated them that night. I’ve got 20 things I could go on about but I don’t need to go any further than that.”
“There has to be some kind of performance evaluation” said Cooks. “They want to make all these changes but have no statistics in front of them, no evidence to support their claims and I guess they’ve been working in collaboration with you (Sells) to make these kinds of decisions,” he said, referring to the new council members.
Cooks continued throwing accusations.
“But let me say this,” Cooks added. “I guess this is now the Third Reich or something. We need to use this new precedence for every other board that we use. I can speak on the planning commission, which one of our councilmen was a chair,” speaking to Riley. “I saw him only one time speak before this council. If we’re going to start a discussion on people being inept, maybe we should use him as an example if we’re going to include the recreation board.”
“Also, we have the DDA [Downtown Development Authority], the historic commission, we have all those people who, in my opinion, have done little to nothing at all in comparison to what the recreation committee has done,” said Cooks.
“I know you’ve had issues with the historic commission as well, in fact there is some litigation with them. You want to get rid of them also?” Cooks said to the mayor.
“I’ve got something to say here before we take this vote,” said Lundy. “And it’s probably going to hurt me, but I don’t care. I think this is race related and I’m through with it. It’s race related.”
“I agree with you,” added Cooks.
“I’m disappointed to hear it,” responded Sells.
City Attorney Mark Mitchell noted that such changes would require a change in the town’s charter.
“The rec department costs us nothing. So to insinuate that there are cost problems and we need to bring in someone we can pay to do the job is ridiculous,” said Cooks. “Think about it, council. You’re eliminating your authority, you’re eliminating committees, you’re eliminating committee meetings for discussions on subjects. You’re taking away your power of council. I think you guys got elected, but I don’t think you got elected not to do anything and only do what the mayor wants you to do.”
“Mr. Cooks, there’s a lot of citizens that disagree with that $20,000 fence and think that that money should have been spent on recreation for our children,” said Sells, referring to a fence approved for Griffin Street Park. “There’s a lot of disagreement, I know that. We could go on, but there’s no point. I’ll agree that we’ll move forward as the attorney stated.”
“This is a sad day for this town,” said Cooks. “A sad day.”
Smith last week had been elected by fellow members to chair the parks and recreation advisory board, at a meeting Sells attended. The other recreation advisory members included Gladys Varner, Mary Elder, Ruby Hines, Amanda Shere and Judy Cook.
Smith’s being ejected from Monday’s council meeting came after Sells brought up the need for recreation for the youth of the Meriwether Street area.
“One of the things that recreation has failed to do is help those kids on Meriwether Street,” said Sells. “They’re cut off because of Highway 29.” At that point Smith verbally objected to Sells’ statement and was subsequently removed from the council meeting by Grantville police officers.