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August 21, 2008 Issue

Fire truck problems discussed
SCLC wants commissioner to resign; peers accept his apology
Weeks to perform title role in Oliver!

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Fire truck problems discussed

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

In an effort to find an acceptable answer to the problems Matthews Fire Department has been having with their newest fire truck, Jefferson County Commission Chairman William Rabun suggested forming a committee.

During the commission’s regular monthly meeting held Tuesday, Aug. 12, Rabun made the offer to Matthews Fire Chief Barrow Walden after Walden had addressed the commission for several minutes.

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“Barrow, what I would like to do is appoint a committee to study this,” Rabun said.

“I will serve on the committee and Mr. (Johnny) Davis said he will serve,” Rabun said.

Johnny Davis is the county commissioner whose district includes Matthews.

Davis brought this issue before the commission several months ago during its regular meeting in April.

“Replace it, repair it or we have to pay the difference to get a new one,” Davis said at that time.

Numerous problems with this vehicle have been reported since it first arrived in the county in December 2006. At that time, several firefighters and area dignitaries went to Winder and picked up the vehicle along with five others.

The total trucks purchased at that time were eight. Two others, one for Avera and one for Wadley, were not ready until several months later. The price allowed by the SPLOST for each truck was $200,000. Any cost over that amount was to have been paid by the city where the truck would be stationed.

Since that time, firemen in Matthews have reported many problems with the truck.

“It continually breaks down,” Walden told the commissioners last week.

“It’s a hazard to people that own property. It’s a hazard to the firefighters,” he said.

Barrow said the truck was in a shop in Atlanta for two months but the mileage logged in by the shop when the vehicle was brought in was 3,761. When the shop logged the mileage when the vehicle was picked up, it was 3,761.

According to Barrow, the shop’s records show the vehicle was in use at the shop for only an hour during the time it was there.

“I’ve been asked to put it back in service,” he said, adding that when he refused to do so, he was told he would be removed from his position as fire chief and replaced.

There was no response to that remark from the county administrator or any of the commissioners, but a citizen stood and said, “We don’t want that.”

“I don’t honestly feel that anything’s been done. I’m not confident putting the truck on the road,” Walden said.

Several citizens and many firefighters were present in support of Walden.

Another citizen who was there stood and told the commission, “We don’t need to get rid of [Walden] … and the people on Pecan Place will not stand for it.”

Walden pointed out that there are liability issues not only for the citizens and their property but also for the firefighters.

“As parents of the kids out their fighting, they’re using their own trucks, their own gas. If something happens to one of our kids, somebody’s got to be held accountable,” another citizen said.

“We’re the ones that have got to deal with this,” said Pat Bell, the training officer for MFD.

Jefferson County Administrator Paul Bryan said some problems that had been identified were reportedly fixed.

At that point, Rabun made his offer. He asked Walden to agree to a committee of himself, Davis, two firefighters and two citizens of Matthews to study the situation.

A citizen stood and addressed the chairman.

“We are not willing to keep the truck,” he said. “Will you rule that out tonight?”

“Yes,” Rabun said.

Walden said he would agree to the committee as long as Matthews was not left with nothing.

Jefferson County Administrator Paul Bryan said the commission is already asking for bids for the next round of fire truck purchases. He said he would request bids the next day and suggested the group come back to discuss things in two weeks.

Rabun said on Tuesday, Aug. 19, he planned to have a meeting with the committee within the next week.



SCLC wants commissioner to resign; peers accept his apology

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

The people in the middle of a controversy surrounding Jefferson County Commissioner Tommy New wish it would all go away.

New made a comment earlier this month to three other county commissioners, two black and one white, in front of two black county employees. New said the group was coming from a restaurant toward him when he said, “Why did y’all monkeys go to dinner without me?”

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New said later he had no idea what he said would be offensive to anyone.

“After I realized that I hurt some of my friends’ feelings, I went to them individually and apologized,” he said.

The other commissioners have each said they were satisfied that New had intended no harm or insult and that New’s apologies were immediate.

The Jefferson County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference filed a complaint with its national office that the comment constitutes a racial slur and has called for New’s resignation.

“All parties who were involved in this are satisfied with the way it was handled by the people involved. The apologies were made and were accepted and it’s time for us to move on,” Jefferson County Commission Chairman William Rabun said in an interview Monday.

The issue is not just going away, SCLC officials say.

They claim the statement was reported to them by their sources as “Where you monkeys been? Nobody is in the office.”

James Ivery, president of the Jefferson County Chapter of the SCLC, has stated his intent to file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and with the US Department of Justice.

“This type of behavior is not only unacceptable but it violates the law in that it is clearly discriminatory speech based on race that creates a hostile work environment. In addition, SCLC shall request that the Jefferson County Commissioner’s office conduct its own internal investigation and we would hope that if there is sufficient direct evidence to substantiate the claims that Mr. New would be asked to resign or in the alternative the Commission should petition his removal from office,” the press release stated.

“The complaint is being investigated by the Jefferson County SCLC with instructions to report back to the national office in seven days,” stated Dexter Wimbish, SCLC general counsel, in an email to The News and Farmer last Thursday.

“In reference to the investigation ending at this point, SCLC cannot simply close the matter in light of an apology. The complaint was not by any of the victims, but rather another private citizen that has concerns that such behavior should not be tolerated by elected officials. The victims have a private cause of action that may be pursued via the EEOC, but elected officials have to be held to a higher standard. In the case of an admission the Jefferson County Commissioners have an obligation to not only take disciplinary matters, but should put into effect training to ensure these types of incidents do not occur. This case involves more than a slip of the tongue but is indicative of actions that do not promote diversity,” the email stated.

Jefferson County Commissioner Johnny Davis, who was present when New’s comment was made, said the remarks were taken out of context.

“The remarks were not racist, I think. However, Commissioner New has made a formal apology to all concerned and I have taken that apology as very sincere and honest. The matter is now closed,” he said.

Jefferson County Commission Chairman William Rabun agreed, saying he believes the comment was not meant to be offensive.

“It wasn’t intended to be that way. It’s been handled and it’s a dead issue,” Rabun said.

Jefferson County Administrator Paul Bryan said he has contacted the Association County Commissioners of Georgia to have a sensitivity training class set up for all elected officials and county employees.

“We have had them come down and teach other classes for us. That is one of the benefits of having ACCG as our insurance provider,” Bryan said.

Ivery said the information was given to the Jefferson County SCLC by a reliable source and the group then began a fact finding mission.

“We found that the incident was corroborated and prompted our chapter to notify our SCLC national legal department,” he said.

Besides the commissioners, the two employees who were present have said they believe New’s comments were taken out of context and had not been intended to offend anyone.

“He apologized. I feel he was sincere and didn’t mean any harm. I accepted his apology,” one of the employees, who asked to remain anonymous, said.

In a written statement, the other employee who also wished to remain anonymous, said, “As a citizen, taxpayer and employee of Jefferson County, I am perfectly capable of speaking for myself. Contrary to what they have alluded, the two gentlemen who are representing the SCLC are not, in any way, speaking for me or representing me. Neither gentleman has ever spoken with me or asked my opinion on any occasion. In order to represent me, I would assume that they would have had to have spoken with me about my views, feelings and position. Needless to say, they have done neither. Further, as they are not residents of Jefferson County, I do believe that there are issues and causes in their county of residence that they can champion.”

Ivery said he would like to have a meeting with the commissioners, the employees involved and the Jefferson County SCLC.

“The SCLC are out to promote unity in the community and at the same time will address any injustice, racism or discrimination of any kind directed toward any citizen regardless of color, national origin or gender,” Ivery said.

Ivery said that just because an apology was made and accepted by the victims does not do justice for the other citizens of Jefferson County and does not eliminate the fact that it was said.

Ivery said his group intends to go forward with complaints to the EEOC and the US Department of Justice.

Additionally, he said his group still wants New to resign.

“I apologize for not realizing that the word monkey would upset someone,” New said. “That’s the whole thing in a nutshell and that’s the truth. It’s a common word in my household.”

“I feel just about like Tommy (New),” said Jefferson County Commissioner Gonice Davis, who was present when New made his comment.

“It’s been blown out of proportion. Mr. New apologized. He apologized to me. I didn’t feel there was a need for him to apologize to me. He hadn’t done anything wrong to me. I think he’s just speaking. He just used a turn of phrase,” he said.

Gonice Davis said he had not been offended by the comment.

“I just hope everything turns out well for Mr. New. Mr. New is my friend,” he said.



Weeks to perform title role in Oliver!

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

Seemingly timid, Zebulon “Zeb” Weeks speaks softly when talking about his role in the Young Artists Repertory Theatre Company (YART) production Oliver!, but his eyes tell a different story flashing with excitement for the upcoming show.

Weeks, an 11-year-old Wrens Middle School student, earned the coveted title role after Oliver! Director John Greene asked him to come in to read for the part.

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“Zeb does a great job in the role, and more importantly for me, sings Where is Love? beautifully,” Greene said.

Before YART, Weeks began to act at age nine in church plays and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever with the Schoolhouse Players in Bartow. This is his third play for YART, which include Annie and the Wizard of Oz.

“I was in other plays for YART as an extra, but I got lucky and got this role,” he said about Oliver! “When I first tried it (acting) I was a little nervous, but it got more exciting. I got used to it and I’ve liked it ever since I first tried it.”

Weeks explained that he is still a little uncomfortable with the solo he has to sing in the play, but he said he has come a long way from the nervousness that used to overcome him in the beginning.

“You get used to being on stage,” he said. “You have to get relaxed before the start of the play. The first one for YART was Annie and I had to look in the mirror and give myself a pep talk for that one.”

Weeks said once he studies his lines diligently, they naturally come to him.

Ever since Weeks began to watch television shows, he said he wondered if he had what it took to be an actor. But he knew that one day he would like to see himself on the screen.

“I kept on seeing TV shows and said, “I would love to be on one of those,’” he admitted. “I still want to be in a TV show one day. It is like one step up from a play.”

Weeks said he spent most of the summer attending practices in Augusta after his mother, Renee' Weeks, found an ad for YART some time ago.

“At first I wasn’t sure, but after she asked me a third time I decided to give it a try,” he said. “After I did it the first time, it got better and better.”

Weeks and either his mother or grandmother make the trip to Augusta for practice every night except for Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.

“The practice is easy, but it is kind of hard to have to go to Augusta every day,” he said. “I have to thank my mom and grandma for driving me to practice. That helps a whole lot.”

But performing is not the only thing that Weeks looks forward to; he said it is another way to make new friends.

“It’s awesome because you don’t know the same people every time,” he said. “I get to make new friends with each play. My friend Mason from The Wizard of Oz is in this play and we hang out with this new kid named Joel.”

Oliver! will be performed at the Hull Theatre at Augusta Preparatory Day School, 285, Flowing Wells Road, on Aug. 22-24. The play will be at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 3 p.m. on Saturday as well as Sunday.

Tickets are available for the performances at the door with cash or check and at www.yart.org with charge/debit cards only.




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