A private e-mail from Augusta Housing Authority member Dave Barbee to two Augusta developers about the political ramifications of closing the Gilbert Manor housing project has Mayor Deke Copenhaver calling for Mr. Barbee's resignation.
Mr. Barbee's e-mail to brothers Clay and Braye Boardman has made the rounds and has some black area legislators up in arms over comments that they consider racially offensive.
"I'm terribly sorry a poorly worded, private e-mail concerning issues that have been brought forth before was disseminated through the public as an official statement when it's not," said Mr. Barbee, the Republican Party official for the 10th Congressional District.
Mr. Barbee e-mailed the Boardmans on Aug. 27, saying he wanted to keep them in the loop concerning the Augusta Housing Authority, the Gilbert Manor project and the Medical College of Georgia. The authority is trying to close Gilbert Manor so MCG can expand in Augusta. Mr. Barbee also forwarded an e-mail he had received from state Rep. Wayne Howard expressing concerns about the housing authority.
"Gentlemen I am begging you both not to give in on the revitalization of downtown Augusta!!!" Mr. Barbee wrote. "The problem with the politicians is the White/Black ratio in downtown Augusta. The development of the property beside St. Paul's Church is high income folks who will tend to be White and now we are closing GM (Gilbert Manor) and moving Black folks out. We will be making the downtown Whiter with moving 200 whites in and moving 500 blacks out! The numbers will affect political boundaries, school board lines, commission district lines, State Representative district lines, and Senate district lines."
Changing downtown Augusta, Mr. Barbee said, will require condos costing $200,000 and up.
"When this happens, you will see more whites moving in the city and blacks moving into West Augusta and Columbia County. However we cannot build anything on top of buildings we have to tear down first!!"
Mr. Barbee also said the area around MCG needs to be worked on.
"The State of Georgia Medical School is built in the slums of Augusta not a good idea," he wrote.
That same day, Clay Boardman forwarded Mr. Barbee's e-mail, along with this message: "I just thought you should see this stream of consciousness..........."
A phone message left with Clay Boardman on Monday seeking comment was not returned.
It is not clear who received the forwarded message, but state Sen. Ed Tarver, a black Democrat, ended up with a copy and sent it to the other delegation members, stating that he had "grave concerns regarding its contents."
"I provided the Mayor with a copy of the email and raised the issue of Barbee's removal from the AHA Board," Mr. Tarver wrote, adding that he would ask the chairman of the delegation whether they should meet to discuss the matter.
State Rep. Quincy Murphy, also a black Democrat and the delegation's chairman, e-mailed the delegation and about two-dozen other people.
"It is apparent that there is an alternative motive that some members in our community are promoting," he said. "We cannot allow persons with this type of mentality to destroy our city.
"Dave Barbee and any other Augusta Housing Authority Board member with this type of mind set must be removed. I ask that you review his email and share it with all of our citizens of goodwill."
Mr. Murphy also stated that the local delegation will meet "immediately to deal with this unfortunate revelation."
Mr. Barbee, who is white, said Monday that the politics of relocating Gilbert Manor residents was raised in July by Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp. executive director Robert Cooks at a meeting at Augusta Technical College.
Mr. Cooks noted that amid all the talk that day concerning Gilbert Manor and MCG, nobody had broached the subject of the politics of the matter, although that was a major concern. Then Richmond County Board of Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey was called on to provide the number of registered voters in the district and in Gilbert Manor.
Mr. Barbee said the subject has been discussed by the legislators themselves many times. He said his mistake was not using phrases such as "mixed-use" and "multipurpose" developments.
"We can no longer warehouse the poor," he said Monday in a telephone interview. "We have to be more like the cities around us - Columbia, Charleston, Savannah."
"No one knows my heart and the intent of what I was trying to say," he said Monday.
He said he is hurt that what he has been trying to do since he's been on the Richmond County Human Relations Commission and the Housing Authority has been misconstrued.
"It breaks my heart," he said. "It literally breaks my heart to see the elderly and the poor warehoused and half the homes in downtown neighborhoods boarded up or burned out."
He said he would resign from the housing authority, as he said Mr. Copenhaver requested in an e-mail Friday. An e-mail Monday to Mr. Copenhaver was not answered.
"I do not want to be an impediment," Mr. Barbee said.
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The Richmond County legislative delegation met Monday at delegation Chairman Rep. Quincy Murphy's office to discuss Mr. Barbee's e-mail and agreed to seek a meeting with Mayor Deke Copenhaver this week.