Tussle at Authority meeting is main event

Community activist Woody Merry sought a warrant against Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority member William Fennoy after an altercation between the two at the James Brown Arena on Thursday.

Mr. Fennoy, who knocked Mr. Merry to the floor, said he will likewise seek a warrant against Mr. Merry, from whom he said he was defending himself.

A hearing will be held June 27 in Richmond County Magistrate Court to determine whether any arrest warrants should be issued.

According to a Chronicle reporter who witnessed the altercation, it began outside the conference room at the James Brown Arena just before the Coliseum Authority meeting was scheduled to start at 9 a.m.

Mr. Merry, the founder of CSRA Help and the Association for Fair Government, confronted Mr. Fennoy about his absence from Tuesday's authority meeting, which then-Chairman Keith Brown had canceled May 23. Authority Attorney Ed Enoch ruled Monday that Mr. Brown did not have the authority to cancel a regular monthly meeting, so five members showed up for the meeting and called for Mr. Brown's resignation. Mr. Brown resigned later that day.

On Thursday Mr. Merry accused Mr. Fennoy of obstructing the authority's business by not attending.

"You need to get out of my face," Mr. Fennoy said in response to Mr. Merry's accusations. He also called Mr. Merry a "redneck."

"I feel threatened. I will defend myself," Mr. Merry said more than once before shoving Mr. Fennoy with both hands.

Mr. Fennoy pushed back, and Mr. Merry fell to the floor. Mr. Fennoy then kicked at Mr. Merry, and other Coliseum Authority members intervened.

A Richmond County sheriff's deputy was called to the scene, and Coliseum Authority members voted for a three-minute recess to allow Mr. Fennoy to give a police report. Afterward, Mr. Merry said, he was asked to leave the building, and Mr. Fennoy returned to the meeting.

Although Mr. Merry said he did not intend to seek a warrant against Mr. Fennoy, he immediately went to the sheriff's department and filed for one. Mr. Fennoy did not seek a warrant Thursday.

Both men contended they were defending themselves.

"Woody questioned me on my way into the building about not attending some kind of meeting," Mr. Fennoy said. "We had a brief discussion. I went inside the building to attend the meeting. He followed me inside the building, got in my face. I asked him to get out of my face. He said, 'Don't touch me.' He continued to be in my face. He said he would defend himself. He threw a punch at me. I defended myself."

Before the meeting began, Mr. Merry made a statement to the Coliseum Authority members and the media.

"I apologize for my rudeness," he said. "I said I'd defend myself three times."

Richmond County sheriff's Maj. Ken Autry said that if a warrant is issued by the magistrate judge the charge would likely be simple battery.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Quincy Murphy, the chairman of the Richmond County legislative delegation, said he will ask his colleagues and Augusta commissioners to ask their appointees to resign so a new board can be appointed.

Lawmakers proposed bills to restructure the authority the past legislative session but couldn't agree on any of them.

When Thursday's meeting resumed, board members discussed rehiring former facilities director Julie Huggins. However, after several motions, a vote not to rehire her passed 6-5.

Mr. Brown also made a motion for the authority to pay all legal bills stemming from Ms. Huggins' lawsuit against member Willie Law and the board. But member Freddie Sanders noted that the lawsuit involved statements Mr. Law made outside the regular meeting, so no action was taken.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.