Claims of discrimination dominate City Council meeting

Bamberg City Council held their regular meeting on May 10 at the Bamberg City Hall. The agenda was specific about two concerns that council member Janeth Walker would raise. Consequently, council members were prepared to voice their opinions. Walker charged the city’s recreation commission with lack of consistent maintenance/upgrade of the basketball courts at the Ness Sports Complex in comparison to the other city sports facilities, “including the Foster Park and tennis courts.” In a separate agenda line item, Walker shared concerns of possible discriminative behavior of Foster, who serves as the chairperson of the Public Buildings, Parks, Franchises and Economic Development commission.

In a prepared statement, Walker read, “statistically, basketball is played by African-Americans”.

Walker said she has been approached by constituents who have pointed out inconsistencies as it relates to the basketball courts in comparison to the other city recreational facilities. Walker said the recreation commission said the situation would be discussed at a March 15 (2010) meeting. She went on to accuse the commission of not addressing her concerns. “The commission failed to discuss upgrading the basketball courts. Basic necessities are not met. I have witnessed continuous pleas for fairness regarding basketball courts,” she said. Walker who represents one of the highly populated African-American districts said she has “watched thousands of dollars flow through the city to maintain other facilities.” She warned the council that “failure to fix the problems could result in litigation.” Walker went on to say that Rep. Bakari Sellers is concerned about the problem and is willing to provide funding to address the problem.

Foster, who is also the mayor pro tem, accused Walker of “strong arming” the recreation committee to “have her way.” “Mrs. Walker has unnecessarily pressured other members of the committee. She is trying to influence others and I am not going to be pushed in a corner. It’s like it’s her way or no way,” continued Foster.

Foster went on to say that "I have never discriminated against anyone. I did not or have not had a problem doing things with or to the basketball courts. If the public wants new courts, or different courts, or things done to the existing courts, I am all for it."

Foster told Walker that Bakari Sellers was her representative as well and he told her he would help them get funding for the basketball courts.

Foster expressed concern about how she was represented on the agenda for the meetings. Making reference to Walker, Foster said, “by putting my name on the agenda, you have impugned my character and I really don’t understand any of this. I have tried to work with you. No other council member has ever brought another council member before council,” exclaimed Foster.

Foster went on to assert that Walker displayed a lack of respect for the process of city government by enabling Rex Williams and an organization that city council recommended not be given a platform to speak at city meetings. Citing information that she had previously received, Foster said Williams had worked to get Walker elected to her current council seat. Foster went on to say, after Williams was arrested at last month’s city council meeting for disorderly conduct, Walker enabled Williams by taping the remainder of the meeting for him. Foster also accused Walker of trying to “shove” a petition in her hand on behalf of Williams. Walker said she didn’t know anything about what Foster was talking about and said she didn’t have control over who campaigned for her. Foster and Walker continued to express their dissatisfaction with each one another, mostly by way of their prepared statements. Foster accused Walker of bribing her. “You told me if I give your husband an additional $1,000 for the city basketball league, you would not bring up that Buzzy (Foster’s son-in-law that also serves on council) is running the Ness Sports Complex.”

Foster accused Walker of making a motion to fund a program that she and her husband run. Throughout the exchange, Walker denied or corrected most of Foster’s claims. Councilperson Teresa Hannibal made a motion to have the recreation committee work with Walker’s husband, Craig Walker, who serves as the City’s basketball director on addressing the problems with the courts. Councilman Buzzy Bunch said while he thinks that Mr. Walker does a good job with the city’s basketball program, he did not understand how Mr. Walker would be able to take a neutral position since his wife (Janeth Walker) was the one to bring the matter before council.

Councilwoman Hannibal explained to Bunch that just as his (Bunch’s) thinking is independent of his mother-in-law’s who serves on council with him, she believes that Mr. Walker’s thinking would be independent of his wife’s. Bunch also recommended that an age limit be placed on those who would be playing basketball at the Ness Sports Complex. Councilman Bo Griffin intervened. “At this point, I would like to see that this matter goes to the commission (recreation) and let the commission do their job.” Griffin also included instruction for the commission to consult with the basketball director. Griffin amended an earlier motion by Hannibal to have Mr. Walker work as an independent agent to study the basketball courts’ needs. Rather, a motion was made to leave the matter in the hands of the recreation committee who would consult with the basketball director.

In other business,

• Council approved Dell Brown’s 2008-2009 audit report.

• Heard commission reports from each chairperson.

• Reappointed Spann Brabham and Gene Schwarting, Jr. to a four-year term each on the planning commission.

• Reappointed Kitty Padgett and Robert Thomas to the Board of Zoning Appeals for four-year terms.

• Vote to participate in the Lower Savannah Regional HOME Consortium.