02/12/09 — NAACP president demands $35,000 from city for 'insult'

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NAACP president demands $35,000 from city for 'insult'

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on February 12, 2009 1:46 PM

Sylvia Barnes, president of the Goldsboro-Wayne Branch of the NAACP, is requesting $35,000 from the city, as well as a a public apology from Councilman Chuck Allen for comments made during an Oct. 20, 2008, City Council meeting.

Ms. Barnes wrote a letter to Mayor Al King and City Council members, dated Jan. 25, in which she stated that Allen made a comment about her credibility.

The letter states, "This letter is being written after much prayer, consideration and thought. However, after considering all of my options and how I have been approached by many citizens in the city, county, and outside of our county, I must take the necessary steps to correct the wrong, the hurt feelings, the humiliation, the scrutiny, and the scorn with which I now have to live.

"Going to the post office and grocery store is a nightmare. Citizens want to know, 'what did Councilman Chuck Allen mean when he held his two fingers up on public TV, measured, and talked about your credibility?'"

The letter goes on to state, "Councilman Chuck Allen was very much out of order when he publicly scrutinized me, demeaned me and my credibility before hundreds/thousands of tax paying citizens. Councilman Chuck Allen is a public servant, elected by the voters in his district, and sworn to uphold the oath he took when he was elected."

At that Oct. 20 meeting, Ms. Barnes said the people of Goldsboro were displeased with the actions the City Council had taken with regard to the questions over promotion policies in the Goldsboro Fire Department, adding that they were "very hurt, very upset and very dissatisfied." She asked the council to grant the promotions of the three firemen who had been denied.

She also stated that she was asking the council to "do their jobs as elected officials and take control of the city in which (citizens) pay their taxes and in which they elect you as City Council."

Allen asked to reply to Ms. Barnes' comments during the council members' report period.

He told Ms. Barnes that, to him, her credibility was low because of her past experiences with the City Council.

A year ago, he said, Ms. Barnes "knocked the dog pound" and stated that what the council was doing was hurting people, but wouldn't take the time to look at the plans for the new shelter or to discuss the issue further.

He also said she told council members that Goldsboro police Chief Tim Bell was "racial profiling," but that ever brought information to the council and hadn't contacted Bell.

As for the Fire Department issue, Allen said that it was not a race issue, that the council had just received the report on the department that day and that the city manager was trying to work out the issues with the department.

Then, Allen addressed Ms. Barnes' comments about the council.

He said it didn't sit well with him for Ms. Barnes to come up and say the council wasn't doing its job.

"It upsets me because we work very hard for the city," he said at the time. "I take my job very seriously, and I think everyone on the council does, too."

He added that the council didn't need to hear about racial issues from the NAACP, and asked her to look at the profile of the council.

"We are as racially neutral as there is," he said. "We don't look at race. We look at what is right and wrong."

Allen responded to the letter this morning, saying that "it's a complicated issue," and emphasized that his comments were his own opinion, and that the city attorney will be writing a letter to Ms. Barnes as the official response from the city.

"I stand by what I said," he said. "I think what I said needed to be said, and I certainly don't apologize for what I said. I believe that then, and I believe that now."

He said he tries to do the best for the city every day as a council member.

"I work very hard to make this city a better place for all of us," he said. "It does bother me when someone starts attacking our departments and our city unsubstantiated, and doesn't give us anything to go on.

"Our council is very in tune and works very hard to make things better. There are issues. But let's deal with those issues, put them on a table and talk about them."

He said he has always voted for what he believes to be right for the city, adding he has probably done more for the black community than the white community.

"But frankly, we don't look at race. We do what we think is right," he said of the council. "I'm about as unprejudiced as anybody I know. It wasn't about race or anything like that. It was about the comments she made about the council and the city."

Still, Allen said that if he hurt Ms. Barnes' feelings, he would apologize for that.

"At the end of the day, if I hurt her feelings, I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to hurt her feelings or embarrass her. I was stating what I believe. I'm there to do good for everybody. If she needs me to apologize for hurting her feelings, I will, but I won't apologize for what I said."

King also responded to the letter this morning.

"Chuck said what he felt," he said. "I'm not going to question my council members on what they feel. That's the way he felt, and that's what he said.

"People don't understand -- people come to the meetings and throw bombs and allegations and make threats. In the past, I have told (the council members) to please just listen and not say anything, but our council is tired of that now. In the future, when people come to the meetings and throw bombs, they're going to get a response from the council. I don't know what that response will be, but it will be a response."

Meanwhile, Ms. Barnes also wrote another letter dated the same day -- Jan. 25 -- to Goldsboro police Chief Tim Bell, stating concerns about the way officers allegedly treat "blacks."

That letter states, "I am not privileged to give you the names of the complainants, but I must inform you that there is a big concern among the black community about the way blacks are being stopped and how they are harassed after being stopped. This is especially true for our young black men. People do not want their names mentioned because they are fearful for their lives and other family members as well."

It goes on to say, "I have been told in conversations they are being harassed by the white officers that have shaved heads. They are being called the 'n' word. Cell phones have been jerked from their hands and thrown down on the ground. They have been shoved into the police cruiser, and one arresting officer even raised his hand to strike the person he stopped.

"This type of treatment must stop immediately. Your officers have tremendous responsibility to protect all citizens in our city. We realize that their lives are in constant danger, but we ask that all citizens are treated fairly regardless of their skin color."

The last line of the letter states, "Since a meeting with you cannot take place, thank you in advance for ensuring the safety of citizens in the City of Goldsboro even when they are stopped by an officer."

Bell was contacted this morning and didn't wish to make a comment on the letter.

King said he has discussed the letter with Bell, but that Ms. Barnes never gave anyone names of the people who were allegedly being mistreated.

"I asked her to give us the names of people who had been harassed, and she never gave them to me," King said. "I've never seen any names. Until we get that and can look into it, there is not a heck of a lot we can do. ... If she has some specifics, we can look in our records, and of course, we are going to review it."

Ms. Barnes confirmed that she wrote both letters earlier this week, but couldn't be reached for further comment by press time.

There was no request for compensation in the Bell letter.