VALDOSTA -- Fifteen men and women were arrested at the Valdosta City Council meeting Thursday evening after a disagreement with the Council over the Barber Park issue.
Rev. Floyd Rose addressed the Council during the citizens to be heard portion of the meeting, following more than an hour of comments requesting that the renaming of Barber Park be reconsidered through the appointment of a committee to study the issue.
After the mayor and Council explained to Rose several times why the item could not be added to the agenda as requested, Rose said, "We will not move," as more than a dozen members of the audience joined him at the front of the Council chambers. Mayor John Fretti explained to those refusing to move that they would be placed under arrest, at the direction of the Council.
Commander Johnnie Fason of the Valdosta Police Department approached the group and stated, "Everyone who wants to be arrested, please follow me," whereupon 20 people followed him and several other officers to vans waiting outside City Hall to transport them to the Lowndes County jail.
According to Capt. Brian Childress, 15 were placed under arrest and charged with disruption of a public meeting. "Several of them changed their minds," said Childress. "The police department did make contact with individuals in the group who were arrested tonight prior to the meeting and they were advised ahead of time that if they did disrupt the meeting and violate the law, we would follow normal procedures regarding arrest and booking procedures, and in obtaining arrest warrants."
Those arrested spent Thursday night in jail and will be arraigned today in a hearing where a bond will be issued before they can be released.
After the chambers were cleared, Pastor Clifford Dobson asked the Council, "What is the proper way to get the proposal in writing to know how to proceed?"
The Mayor informed Dobson that a Councilmember would have to request that the item be placed on the agenda, but since a vote on the issue was already taken and did not pass, a two-thirds majority would be required to have the item placed on the agenda within six months of the vote.
Councilman Sonny Vickers, whose district contains Barber Park, addressed Dobson. "I've been going to that park for 30 years."
Prior to the park's acquisition by the city, it contained Barber Pool, which was restricted to whites only. Vickers said, "I'm one of them that couldn't go. I've had family reunions there. My preference, if we were to rename it, would be to rename it for a local person who's done something in the community."
Vickers said he was upset with the group that appeared before the Council as "not a one of them is from District 3. They live somewhere else."
Vickers said the people in his district are unhappy over the issue. "They feel like they've got somebody coming into their neighborhoods, outsiders, who are imposing their views on my community. Those who've been using the park for 30 years, they are not happy."
Vickers said he has lived in that area for all of his 62 years. "I have no problem with the name. The Bible says we've got to forgive and move on."
Dobson said the name has a stigma attached to it for members of the black community, claiming that the park's namesake "is a racist. We want your help to get rid of the past and you're the only ones who can."
Those who spoke at the meeting were requesting that the Council revisit the issue of approving a committee to rename the park in honor of the late Ossie Davis. The acclaimed actor lived in Valdosta during his childhood.
Dobson said the Councilmembers would be approached about the issue separately with requests to put the issue on the agenda again.
Councilman James Wright told Dobson, "The Council has tried to discuss this with them, we've tried to agree on appointing a committee, and we've been turned down."
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