Tempers flare during Grambling City Council Meeting

Chris Jackson, principal of Midway Elementary School in Shreveport, a Grambling resident and adviser of Grambling State University’s chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, addresses the council during Thursday night’s meeting.

By T. Scott Boatright

What appeared to be a short, quick and sweet Grambling City Council meeting suddenly soured and went long Thursday night at Grambling City Hall.

The only official action on Thursday’s agenda was a report from Fire Consultant/Chief Tommie Woods, but during the announcements portion of the meeting near the end of the agenda, things got heated with city officials being accused of lack of communication and improper governing.

It all began when Christopher Jackson, principal of Midway Elementary School in Shreveport, a Grambling resident and adviser of Grambling State University’s chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, requested to make an announcement.

“I have been a resident of Grambling for the past 20 years and this is the first time I’ve come to a Council meeting, but unfortunately I felt I needed to come to this meeting and address a wrong or an unstated policy,” said Jackson.

“A few weeks ago an organization I advise on campus went to the city and began to make plans for a fall event. They were endeavoring to use the (city) park. They had to speak with many people. They first spoke with (Administrative Assistant Linda Butler). They spoke with several people, and essentially they were given the runaround and were told their businesses wasn’t wanted in the town of Grambling.”

Jackson then said Grambling calls itself a “town and gown” community but is “dismissive to our students.” Adding that he felt that essentially the adults  in the building were telling the students that they were not grown enough to use the public facilities in Grambling. That’s when Jackson got involved.

“I called the city and asked about their policy for use of the park, and Ms. Butler told me that she could not share that information,” Jackson said.

Mayor Edward Jones then asked Jackson if he could calm down. But Jackson continued, speaking louder while Jones warned him that public announcements were limited to two minutes.

“A public entity could not share a city policy and Mayor Jones did not answer my email, and Ms. Butler told me that the mayor and police unilaterally decide who uses the public park and who doesn’t,” said Jackson.

Things then continued heating up, with Jones asking Jackson to stop and Jackson accusing Jones of ignoring a public records request. 

As Jones explained the way he thought the matter should be handled at that point, Jackson told Jones that it was not important for him to address the mayor anymore because he felt Jones had been dismissive toward him and that he was now addressing the City Council.

As the two continued interrupting each other, Jones asked City Attorney Pamela Breedlove if the City Council should hold a roll-call vote to allow Jackson to continue to speak. Jackson told Breedlove the Lawrason Act said he had a right to see public records unless there were no public records to give.

Breedlove said there were no public records to give and then tried to take responsibility for the situation.

“Your request was sent to me and then my father died, and then I was not doing anything,” said Breedlove. “So I apologize for not getting back to you, but I had to deal with the death of my father and because there were no records to send to you in response to this, that’s why you didn’t get anything back. The only reason you didn’t get anything back – and I’m sorry – but I was dealing with the death of my father.”

Councilwoman G. Denise Dupree then asked what the proper procedure for use of the park was. Dupree originally asked that Jackson be added to the business part of the agenda but was told no because at that point the agenda had already been formally approved. Jackson could only be added to the announcements part of the meeting.

Breedlove said that the mayor controls all the city projects and that an application was required before use of the park could be considered.

“We have an application form and in this situation, my understanding is that before the application was turned in the young man who came to fill it first said that they were going to have 200 people for a barbecue in the park and was told that they couldn’t have more than 50 people,” said Breedlove.

“A few days later the young man came back and was told the same thing. So he filled out an application which was not complete. They did put 50 people (as the number who would attend), but he didn’t fill out the question as to if there would be alcohol. As I’m sure you know we don’t allow alcohol to be (consumed) in the park. That is my understanding why the mayor and (Police Chief) Tommy Clark did not approve it, because they have to make sure about alcohol use because the city could be responsible.”

After further debate, it was decided that the Council should hold a roll-call vote to decide if the situation should be allowed to continue. Council members Dupree, Cathy Holmes, Toby Bryan and Yanise Days voted in favor of letting Jackson continue, but Councilman Phyllis Miller voted against it. 

Jackson was then told the vote had to be unanimous for him to be allowed to continue.

After the meeting was adjourned, Jackson told media in attendance that the fraternity wanted to hold a voter registration barbecue at the park for incoming students as part of a national program called “A Voteless People is a Hopeless People” and that information was put on the application for use of the park.

Jackson also said that he had made a public records request of all park use permits granted over the past six months as well as policy for use of the park. He also said that Alpha Phi Alpha has a $1 million liability policy and that alcohol was not allowed at such fraternity events.

Clark and city clerk Pamela Stringfellow did not attend the meeting because they were in Baton Rouge to attend a grant request meeting being held today, but as Jackson was talking to the media, a GPD officer put Clark on her speakerphone to explain his views.

“I called the number on the application, but the person who answered said he wasn’t the name filled out on the phone,” Clark said. “But the person I talked to on the phone number was listed as the contact on the application. I told him I was told it was for voter registration, and I was confused. He told me, ‘Chief, I don’t want to tell you any lies.’ He said he hadn’t heard anything about voter registration, and that he was coordinating a back-to-school barbecue. I don’t know anything about that. That’s not the kind of event I’m trying to set up. I’m trying to set up a back-to-school barbecue for the students.

“Then I asked him why it wasn’t being held on campus, and he said they ran into some roadblocks. I told him we couldn’t accommodate 200 people as was on the original request form. I told him I felt that kind of event should be held on campus where it could be monitored, but that (the campus) wasn’t available.”

Jackson then complained again that no park use policy was given and that the mayor had been dismissive and ignored a public records request. Before leaving, Jackson said he plans on attending next month’s council meeting and said he hopes (GSU) students will be politically active. He also said that Jones and Miller will be voted out of office.

“I’ll make sure of that,” Jackson said.

When asked “if the bottom line was getting rid of the mayor and Phyllis Miller,” Jackson replied affirmatively.

“If you don’t support the students — and this town has been built upon students. They have been dismissive of students,” Jackson said. 

When asked again if the bottom line was to have been heard by the Council and get Jones and Miller voted out, Jackson said, “Not to get them out, but to make sure they listen to the students. I think that if we have elected officials in a college town, the students should be able to be represented. 

“The students are more than 60% of the population in this town, and if you don’t speak for them, you shouldn’t be allowed to lead this town. The Council should pass a park policy ordinance and make the mayor reply to any public request.”

Video of Thursday’s meeting can be found on the City of Grambling’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100064858684216

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