How will protests affect CH mayor election?

Posted 7/11/19

Let's clean out the notebook ... • On the Carbon Hill controversy, we received a press release late Tuesday night from Hometown Action. Champagne E. Girten of Warrior, who has been a leader …

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How will protests affect CH mayor election?


Let's clean out the notebook ... 

• On the Carbon Hill controversy, we received a press release late Tuesday night from Hometown Action. Champagne E. Girten of Warrior, who has been a leader among the protesters. She is a board member of Hometown Action, a Montevallo-based statewide grassroots organization that pursues issues of racial, gender, economic, and environmental justice. But this is the first time I have seen a press release suggesting the group is actively involved. 

It noted that organizers in the group, which would include Girten, delivered a petition with 700 signatures asking for Chambers' resignation. 

“Small town issues that suddenly make international news are far too often neglected in the long run - especially in these days of fast-moving political news,” Girten said in the release. “People in small towns need support from allies outside their immediate area, and Hometown Action works together with local communities to develop place-based, sustainable solutions to prevent further injustices.”

She also related how the meeting with Chambers suddenly happened.

"After leaving a message for Carbon Hill’s Police Chief on Monday, alerting him to our plans for a peaceful action, ... Girten received a call from Mayor Chambers. Chambers asked to meet, saying he wanted to 'clarify what had happened and explain what he meant.'" She and two other organizers agreed to meet with him before the march.  

“The meeting with Mayor Chambers was disappointing, though not surprising,” said Hometown Action organizer Sav Miles. 

“He continued trying to blame the media for his own hateful actions," Girten said. She went on to say, “When he asked what he could do to make us happy, we reaffirmed our demand that he resign. We also offered to provide Mayor Chambers with model language for developing a local non-discrimination ordinance to protect the rights of people living and working in, and visiting Carbon Hill. Mayor Chambers was open to this possibility and we look forward to following through with our offer.”

She said the group will continue to work with Carbon Hill citizens to find solutions of hateful speech and racial discrimination, as well as come up with the proposed ordinance. And they said the organizers would continue to attend the Carbon Hill Council meetings. 

Of course, here is the thing: The municipal elections are coming next year. I am hearing people say that a backlash to these protesters coming from the outside could easily lead to Chambers' re-election. If the large crowds continue to come, it largely may play into Chambers' hands. If it dies down and Chambers is viewed without the glare of the media, it could level the playing field. But I have no doubt he said he would run again. Then again, a year is a lifetime in politics and qualifying is not until next year, as I understand. I wonder, too, if the protesters are to be believed, that Chambers looked at a lesbian councilperson and was open to how the proposed ordinance  might be viewed by the voters. 

Then again, many leaders across the county are aghast Chambers is still in office at all, knowing a resignation from him would end much of the hysteria. As it is, I got a call Tuesday from the Associated Press wanting my Chambers photo for a state wire story that was available that day. 

As for the ordinance, I can't tell but it has been passed in a couple of places in the state; it would be unique for a small town to pass one. 

I should also note that I pulled up more of the quotes of the actual Chambers' post for my last story. It is obvious some people are starting to quote from his friend as being what Chambers actually said. I understand guilt through association, but we need to be careful how we classify as being direct quotes and what we classify as association. It is already tricky in that we've never seen the full conversation, which perhaps only WBRC and/or Chambers would have access to. 

And as for the march, they picked one of the hottest times of the year. I ate at the Pizza Bar and walked up to the Methodist Church, as it is a short walk. I saw quickly I had done the wrong thing by the time I got there. Another staff member, Jeffery Winborne, who was taking video, drove me back to the car so I could drive it up and sit in the car as needed, with the A/C full throttle. 

Added to that I had the son of a friend from Tuscaloosa who came up for the march. I hung back to talk to him a minute after the meeting. That may have been when the reporters followed the mayor to his car. I probably would have followed, but I personally hate that sort of thing. Still, for the past two meetings he has not been accessible in the building after the meetings, as the mayor and council have exited through the side door. There does come a time when the "60 Minutes" tactics have to take place, especially on deadline. 

• Meanwhile, as I write this, the Jasper City Council has called a work session for late Wednesday morning (which will be in executive session) and a city followup press conference, once set for Wednesday afternoon, has been delayed a few days, so on deadline my comments might be incomplete. I will say that Saturday was an awful day, as interviewing the witnesses was heartbreaking as they broke down crying. We were all affected. That is why I asked - rather innocently - at the press conference how the family was doing. Police Chief J.C. Poe's somewhat irritable answer to me took back several of the out-of-town reporters, as the officials leaving without identifying themselves, even after they were asked. I saw some reporters make faces like, "What's with that?" Publisher James Phillips and I had to help the reporters identify the participants. Of course, we all had a bad day, but ...

By the way, there were other things that could have gone better at that press conference. The fire chief said nothing, and nothing I know of was said about his department's participation. They were not releasing the child's name, but the mayor mentioned her unique first name twice in one sentence. Overall, they need more practice at this. 

I can say some of that because some people watched the full press conference on WBRC, which streamed it, and many of them reacted similarly or said I asked good questions. We did not stream it because some person, for whatever dumb reason, posted video of the child being worked on, which was roundly criticized. We were dumbfounded, worried about community standards in the wake of the video already posted -- and access on Saturday night to equipment and personnel for that was limited - and decided to not stream the press conference. I'm glad WBRC did it, but it seemed best at the time for this paper not to look like we were taking advantage of a tragedy. Time could prove that wrong, but you had to be there, as we were somewhat in grief ourselves. 

As for the incident itself, I will say police on the ground seemed to do a great job. One officer, whose name I can't remember, had to handle the media, witnesses and curiosity seekers, parked at the south end of the facility. I hope he is given all professional considerations, because he did a great job handling things, but I think the police acted very well. I understand they even blocked traffic at places to allow the child to be transported faster to the hospital. (If the fire department helped out, they should be thanked as well.)

Again, I will wait to see if anything more is said today, but I would say at bare minimum the city needs a review to make sure lifeguard and safety procedures are well to standard - which they may be, but in the wake of a tragedy we need to make sure. Are the lifeguards rotated out enough? Are they prevented from using cell phones? They are basic things, but I think the basics need to be re-emphasized. 

• I hate to see Heather Hall leaving as the mayor of Parrish. No one can blame her, when the family needs more income. She told the Parrish Town Council on Tuesday night that she knew the closing of the Gorgas Plant would have an effect on Parrish, but she didn't know it would affect her own family that severely. But it makes sense that if they have to get jobs at this stage to get them close to where they will retire and close to other relatives. 

Heather impressed many people across the county with her drive and her passion to improve Parrish. She put her heart into it, and I know she was always accessible for us. Many people will miss her, as she did help a great deal to improve the image of Parrish over the past three years. 

Meanwhile, we all wish La'Tisha Oliver good success as the new mayor, as she will be sworn in on July 18 at 7 p.m. She is a councilwoman, so she knows the problems and I am sure she will do a good job. It also is important for many people to know that we have an African-American female leading one of the county's major municipalities, which is important in spreading around the leadership in this county. (We have fortunately had females as mayor sometimes, with Eldridge's Bobbie Jean Dodd coming to mind as one example.) 

Ed Howell is the Daily Mountain Eagle's news editor.