Whirllie Byrd Speaks Out About CVB After Ousting—–Byrd Says That “Male-Dominated” Board Removed Herby Ron Williams Right after last Thursday’s near-three hour CVB board meeting, I was in a hurry to get somewhere. But Whirllie Byrd, fresh from being ousted as CVB Board Chairperson, obviously wanted to speak. She followed me outside.
She must have recognized I was in a hurry to leave, so she didn’t have much to say. But when I sat down with Byrd for an interview the next day, she had a bunch to say. And I mean a bunch!
As I had reported in a previous board meeting in which boardmember Dewitt Hicks had hinted, from his scathing comments, that Byrd’s days as Chairperson was limited, that reality came to pass at last Thursday’s meeting. The first order of business, after Mayor Robert Smith had sworn-in newest member Bernard Buckhalter, was for the board to vote to hold new elections even though the ninth and final member had yet to be appointed (the ninth and final board member will be a joint appointee of Mayor Smith and Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders. At Thursday’s meeting, Mayor Smith indicated that he and Sanders weren’t even close to deciding on someone. Harry Sanders told me that Mayor Smith wanted to appoint Claude Simpson, who Sanders says is a “political activist.” Sanders wants to appoint Allegra Brigham. Sanders first wanted to appoint former board member John Bean, but he said that Mayor Smith had said appointing Bean would be a slap in the face of Council members who had already voted not to appoint Bean. Sanders said that Smith won’t waver on Simpson and he’s not wavering on Brigham. Sanders had also said that Smith wasn’t wavering on Simpson because the mayor feels that Simpson would go along with the festival request for money.
New boardmember Buckhalter must have known what was coming. Fresh out of the gate, Buckhalter jumped right into the fray. After being sworn-in, he apparently attempted to ward off any such coup to remove Byrd. He told boardmembers that they didn’t seem to be operating by any by-laws and wondered why. He asked how often they held elections (the board had not-long ago elected Byrd as its Chairperson) and was told once-yearly. But it was all for naught. Board members Mark Castleberry, Bart Wise, Dewitt Hicks, Rissa Lawrence and Nadia Dale must have already made up their minds. They were the five who voted to appoint George Swales as their new chairperson (Swales is very eloquent when speaking. He’s a stickler for details. RW).
During the Friday interview, I asked Byrd did she not see it coming? “I didn’t. I knew the ninth member had yet to be appointed so I thought elections would be held after that. At least let’s get fully constituted,” she responded.
Byrd said that the main culprits wanting her out of the chair were boardmembers Mark Castleberry and Bart Wise, whom she specifically labeled the “county people” (because they were appointed by the board of supervisors. RW). Byrd believes it was Castleberry who swayed Nadia Dale into wanting to elect a new chairperson. Hicks was already upset with Byrd’s speaking freely to the media and Byrd’s insistance that the board consider hiring a permanent board attorney. Byrd maintains that her entire agenda with the CVB was for the body to remain transparent when it comes to handling such a large chunk of taxpayer money. Byrd admitted that she got along very well with Hicks until Castleberry and Wise came along.
The problems seem to have started for Byrd when she reported to the media about, what she felt was, an illegal meeting (she had told me the meeting took place and had included herself, Dewitt Hicks, Rissa Lawrence and Nancy Carpenter. But I told her an illegal meeting would be a quorum of boardmembers. The meeting she described was not an illegal meeting. No one ever pointed that out, including The Commercial Dispatch who had crowed for days about it in article after article. After informing Byrd of that, she said that she “stands corrected”. RW).
Byrd wanted to be a team player from the beginning, she maintains, even if it doesn’t appear to some board members that she is. “I would have to have a good, sit-down talk…’Whirllie, we don’t do it this way’. Prepare me ahead of time,” she said of her critics. “If I have to fabricate something, which I don’t have to do that…but prepare me. If i’m the last one to know, prepare me. I didn’t know that they had already pre-voted to send David Sanders a letter.” (She’s talking about the money paid to Sanders while he was a board member. He had been asked to repay that money and did so. RW) “Mark (Castleberry) had started barking at me and I just started barking back…more or less just defending why I did not agree to some of that.”
(I’ll have more from my interview with Whirllie Byrd in next weeks Packet. RW)
Buzz About Tim Hudson’s Letter
Tim Hudson is our (Lowndes County) longtime county prosecuting attorney, as well as the attorney for the Board of Supervisors. He’s also the city prosecuting attorney. But more than all of that, Tim is a father of a wounded soldier (Russ) and a great patriot. After the funeral procession of fallen soldier Sgt Christopher Bell came through Columbus Friday, Hudson sent a letter to the Commercial Dispatch (it appeared in Sunday’s edition) and also to The Packet (it appears in today’s edition). The letter is Hudson’s personal account of emotions he felt while riding along with the funeral procession Friday. And the emotions and feelings he felt after witnessing an outpouring of love, pride, patriotism and tears after watching thousands line the funeral procession route and hundreds attend the funeral.
I’ve often said that writing stories or articles is the easiest thing in the world…when it comes from the heart. I don’t mind telling anyone that I cried tears after reading Tim’s letter. As a matter of fact, I doubt there were many dry eyes during the procession or after reading that letter. Watching people, most of whom didn’t even know this brave fallen soldier, with their hands over their hearts as the procession passed…or crying, waving American flags, saluting or just showing up in 96 degree heat to honor the fallen, was a highlight of my life. I can say – and it’s been echoed by many over the past week – i’ve never been more proud of Columbus, Ms. and its citizens than I was last Friday. The outpouring was priceless as was the letter from Hudson.
Ron Williams can be reached by email at Ronsings2you@aol.com