Georgia officials' racially charged quarrel spills over onto CNN

Macon TelegraphOctober 22, 2010 

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — Warner Robins made the national stage Thursday as two councilmen sparred live on television over an exchange at Monday night’s council meeting ending with one telling the other he should be working in a cotton field.

Councilman John Williams said instead of him apologizing to fellow Councilman Daron Lee for being "baited" into his response, Lee should apologize for being belligerent and causing discord at the meeting.

"I'm very appalled and hurt," Williams said on the program "CNN Newsroom." "His behavior was … unbecoming of a councilman."

At Monday night's meeting, the two were engaged in a debate when Lee, who is black, said he wouldn't be talked to like he worked in a cotton field. That prompted Williams, who is white, to say Lee should be working in one. The cable news network tried to get the two men to sit down face-to-face in its Atlanta newsroom. Lee was present. Williams told CNN officials he couldn't make it but appeared via satellite.

Williams said he would apologize to Lee if Lee apologized to him. Lee declined. "Absolutely not," he said. "I don't believe I was put in a position where I should have to apologize."

Monday's exchange was the latest in a series of issues in which Lee said racism has been displayed in City Hall. During a recess at the Oct. 4 council meeting, he said another councilman, Tom Simms Jr., called him a "boy" during an executive session.

Lee's brother, Warner Robins Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Gary Lee, wrote to city officials earlier this year that he had been told by Williams during a conversation not to touch his skin. Williams attributed that to a rash, saying it made contact painful.

Mayor Chuck Shaheen responded Thursday to the exchange, saying he wished the councilmen would find a resolution to their issue. Because the men answer to the citizens, his hands are tied as to handling it himself.

"I didn't hear the comments. I only knew there was something heated going on down there," Shaheen said, which prompted him to call for order in council chambers. "I should have escorted both of them out."

Shaheen said on one hand, he wishes he could take sides with Lee. But Lee has called him racist, too.

"It saddens me," he said. "I don't even know how a Lebanese Catholic can be a racist."

Read more of this story at Macon.com

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