Originally created 02/20/03

Walker asks city officials to hold forums on protest



A plea from Charles Walker Jr. for Augusta commissioners to wait and publicly work out the details of a city protest ordinance came too late this week.

Mr. Walker, a one-time congressional candidate and the son of former Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker Sr., appeared before commissioners Tuesday to ask them to put aside their "personal agendas, egos and fear of the press" and hold town meetings on ordinance amendments early next month. The younger Mr. Walker said he had confirmation that those meetings would be attended by Martha Burk, of the National Council of Women's Organizations, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

"It smells like a conspiracy," Mr. Walker said of the public's perception of the protest ordinance.

But his chance to speak didn't come until after the commission already had voted to amend the local law.

Until Tuesday, the commission had been unable to find six votes either for or against amending the city protest ordinance.

Those who supported amending the law said the changes were needed in the event it is challenged during this year's Masters Tournament, where demonstrators have threatened to protest the Augusta National Golf Club's all-male membership. Those who opposed amendments said the changes look manufactured and present the wrong perception of the city.

But a compromise among Augusta commissioners apparently worked out before Tuesday's meeting broke a monthlong deadlock on the issue, allowing Mayor Bob Young to cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of the amendments with no discussion on the matter beforehand.

Ms. Burk said earlier this week that she opposes any changes to the protest laws.

"The changing of the ordinance makes the city look as if it is doing the bidding of the National," she said.

Mr. Walker said he still is going to work toward organizing a town hall meeting with Ms. Burk, the Rev. Jackson and city officials in early March.

Commissioner Willie Mays said he would be willing to attend such a meeting.

"As an individual and as a member of this commission, I have no problem meeting with anyone," Mr. Mays said. "There is nothing wrong with dialogue."

But Mr. Walker said he wished commissioners had heard from him before their vote.

"It's going to be a mess if they don't work it out," he said, "and they didn't work it out."

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