Originally created 07/23/02

NAACP, official criticize findings

The special grand jury's investigation of former Augusta Fire Chief Ronnie Few is a biased account of a black leader's progressive actions, an Augusta commissioner told a roomful of local NAACP members Monday night.

The recent presentment on fire department operations was filled with omissions and inaccuracies designed to mislead the public, said District 1 Commissioner Lee Beard.

Monday's meeting, held in the 11th Street office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is expected to be the first of many. The group is working to build a community response to the grand jury's latest presentment, which is highly critical of the city's first black fire chief.

"We feel as though all sides have not been heard," said Robert Howard, vice president of the Augusta NAACP chapter. "It's time out for us taking a back seat on these issues."

Mr. Beard agreed to talk to about 25 NAACP members who showed up to learn more about the report and hear the facts he said has not been told in the newspapers or on television.

"It's time for our community to know another side of that report," Mr. Beard said.

Monday's meeting marked the first time that Mr. Beard has spoken out publicly against the grand jury's scathing 124-page report, which was released two weeks ago.

Criticizing Mayor Bob Young for calling for a government investigation and blasting District Attorney Danny Craig for controlling the process, Mr. Beard said the special grand jury was designed to lynch and degrade certain fire department employees. Moving expenses were spent legitimately, accounts were created openly and Chief Few's actions never went without the approval of his supervisor, City Administrator Randy Oliver, Mr. Beard said.

In the process, he said, other past wrongs and financial improprieties in city government went ignored by grand jurors.

"I still can't understand why just one or two departments are being examined," Mr. Beard said.

NAACP members discussed crafting a formal response to the grand jury report, in part, to encourage blacks to run for office and seek positions of leadership.

"It appears to me (grand jurors) had an agenda, and that agenda was to stick it to the blacks," said NAACP member Herman Fort.

The grand jury report ignored all the positive things Chief Few did for the department, attendees said, including raising the education requirements for firefighters and equalizing pay among employees.

In cooperation with the Concerned Ministers of Augusta, a group of black clergy members, a rally is being organized for early next month to make a stand against the grand jury's findings.

"This is just the beginning," said John Maben, the NAACP chapter's president. "This whole thing is going to snowball."

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.


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