Crowd calls for Thomson mayor to resign

The Rev. Fred Favors (right) reads a statement critical of the city of Thomson's handling of an incident in which a city employee who had been drinking drove a city truck to the scene of storm damage. Favors is a McDuffie County commissioner and the pastor of Springfield Baptist Church in Thomson. Joining him at the Wednesday news conference at Thomson City Hall was the Rev. David Walker (left), the pastor of Greater St. James A.M.E. Church in Thomson. The Rev. Roscoe Perry of Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Appling distributed the prepared statement to reporters.

A group of more than 100 people gathered at Thomson City Hall this afternoon to call for the resignation of Mayor Kenneth Usry and an investigation by the city council into disciplinary actions taken against Scott Huff, a Public Works supervisor who admitted driving a city vehicle after drinking.

The group, led by the Rev. Fred Favors, the pastor of Springfield Baptist Church, called a news conference to "express our concerns regarding the disappointing and disturbing actions displayed by the mayor" on the night of June 18.

Huff drove a city vehicle that night to Lee Street and West Hall Street, where stormwinds had brought a tree down.

Police at the scene noticed the smell of alcohol and were administering a field sobriety test when the mayor arrived, police video and audio recordings of the incident show. After some discussion, and before police could administer a blood-alcohol test, the mayor told Huff, "Come on with me" and took him home in the city vehicle, according to the police report on the incident.

Thomson Police Chief Joe Nelson has said that the mayor's action prevented the possibility of a DUI arrest.

The mayor has said he was acting to protect Huff and others present.

"It goes without saying that the video clearly shows the intereference of the mayor with a police officer performing his responsible duty," the group's statement said.

"Mr. Mayor, you have intimated that you intervened in this situation to have Scott Huff to leave immediately to, 'prevent harm to himself or others.' It was obvious that the officer had already detained Scott. So, what harm captured your immediate attention?"

The statement concluded by asking that the mayor step down "so that the acceptable moral standards that this community desires are respected."

The group, which Favors said consisted of people from throughout the community, also urged the district attorney to ask that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation look into the mayor's handling of the incident.

And it called for the city council to investigate to determine whether the 10-day suspension given Huff was consistent with disciplinary actions against other employees.

Favors did not mention Constance Starr, who stood at his side as he read the statement. Starr, who did not speak during the news conference, said in an interview with The McDuffie Mirror that she was fired in May from the city Public Works Department after she was cited for DUI-less safe, which means she was below the legal blood-alcohol limit, and for driving on a suspended license. She was not cited while on the job.

Huff, who was her supervisor, initially told her that she would be placed on probation.

"What he did was a whole lot worse than what I did," said Starr, who had worked for the city, primarily as a street sweeper operator, for almost 12 years before her dismissal May 25.

"My punishment was too severe. His was not."

A few city employees were among those in the crowd.

One, who identified himself as Rikki Taylor, said all city employees are required to sign a statement swearing that they will not perform city business after drinking.

Other people at the gathering agreed that the mayor should step down.

"I just really got upset when I saw that video because I never thought I'd see anything like that in my life from a city employee in a state with zero tolerance," said Sheila Stapleton of Thomson.

David Groves, also of Thomson, said Huff should have been fired.

"Just because he's higher on the food chain (than Starr) doesn't mean he shouldn't have been terminated, too."

Usry did not immediately respond to a message left on his home answering machine this evening seeking comment.

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