Richmond County legislators condemned Augusta Housing Authority Dave Barbee's e-mail to two developers about the political ramifications of closing the Gilbert Manor housing project Tuesday.
Delegation Chairman Quincy Murphy, D-Augusta, also said the delegation supports Mayor Deke Copenhaver's request for Mr. Barbee to resign because of comments in the e-mail they consider racially offensive.
"Barbee's advancement of a strategy that promotes race as a basis for public decision-making regarding housing needs violated his fiduciary duty to the citizens of Augusta, is inconsistent with his public role as an appointed commissioner for the Augusta Housing Authority and raises concerns about possible criminal activity," Mr. Murphy said during a news conference in Augusta Commission chambers.
Mr. Barbee e-mailed brothers Clay and Braye Boardman on Aug. 27, begging them "not to give in on the revitalization of downtown Augusta!!!" He contended that politicians do not want to relocate residents in Gilbert Manor because of the black-white ratio in downtown Augusta. He said that by moving black residents out, the area would be made whiter, which could affect political boundaries.
Mr. Murphy said intentionally relocating residents in order to change political boundaries could be a violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
"We're just getting bits and pieces of this," he said. "As you know, this e-mail was only received this past Friday, so there are a lot of questions that still need to be answered."
Mr. Murphy said now that legislators know there are people in Augusta who would use strategies to change the ratio of black and white residents for political purposes, they won't take anything for granted anymore.
"So we're in position now to plan and anticipate some of the strategies that could very well be used," he said. "Therefore, we won't be lulled to sleep. We'll know that there are some persons that might want to change the process we have in place for another purpose."
In response to a question about the delegation's stance on the expansion of MCG, Mr. Murphy said the legislators would move ahead with it.
"As a matter of fact, we're planning to meet with the Augusta Housing Authority and discuss the information that's out there," Mr. Murphy said. "We cannot allow this particular incident to stop the progress of our community."
Mr. Barbee, who was present, held his own news conference afterward and said he had not resigned from the authority and does not want to.
He apologized and tried to explain that the e-mail he sent to the Boardmans has been taken "totally out of context." He said he was just trying to encourage them to move forward with developing Sibley Mill as a mixed-income development that would accommodate some low-income residents, a concept Clay Boardman has recently backed away from.
Mr. Barbee said he does not know why Clay Boardman sent the e-mail to state Sen. Ed Tarver, D-Augusta, but that the Boardmans have since distanced themselves from him.
"The e-mails I've received back from them have been terse," he said. "But that wasn't the intent. It was never the intent. Why it gets blown out of proportion, I don't know."
Mr. Barbee contends that Augusta politicians have fought the relocation of residents from Gilbert Manor for years because they do not want to disturb their political base, to the detriment of the expansion of the Medical College of Georgia and the possible loss of the medical school.
Mr. Murphy said when the relocation effort was put on the fast track this year that Housing Authority Executive Director Jake Oglesby projected that it would take 12 to 18 months, but that has been rushed forward.
Mr. Barbee said he wants to stay on the housing authority to work to get poor residents dispersed throughout Augusta.
"I think it's unfair, and I think I need to stay in my position to fight for the people that live in these public housing projects," he said. "We've got to stop this. We've got to get the message out that this warehousing has got to end. It has ended in Atlanta. It has ended in Macon. It has ended in Columbia, S.C. Why hasn't it ended in Richmond County?"
Despite his apologies and attempts to explain, several people in the audience called Mr. Barbee a racist and said he should resign.
Metro Courier newspaper Publisher Barbara Gordon said what was sad about the whole affair is that so many white people of Mr. Barbee's generation feel exactly the same way.
"It's just a scary thing that you can say something that damaging and not understand the gravity of what you've said," Ms. Gordon said. "Moving 500 blacks out and putting 200 whites in - you can't justify that no kind of way other than racism. It's just a sad commentary for the whole city."
Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
DAVE BARBEE: "I'm the one that wrote the e-mail, and I'm sorry if it embarrassed anyone. It was a politically incorrect e-mail, and I'm terribly sorry that it offended any of the neighborhoods or anybody of Augusta. There is a stream of e-mails that nobody cares to be reading and looking at. I am going to go to the minority community and talk to them because this is about them."