Leroy: “St John, You’re No. 1, the Dispatch is No. 2, and The Packet Has Gone Back To Trash Status!”
I started to apologize to the rest of the staff at The Packet for bringing such shame to our newspaper, (according to District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks). Then I got to thinking…if I’m gonna be slammed for telling the truth and telling a story that no one else told, [Or would tell. – RW] then I’m guilty as charged. I’ll proudly wear that label and badge with honor!
While the real story here is what happened with Leroy Brooks reportedly cursing out County Administrator Ralph Billingsley about three weeks ago, for refusing to order him an iPhone [Brooks now claims Billingsley “disrespected” him and that it wasn’t about the phone. – RW],I couldn’t help but feel like many of those attending the Monday meeting of the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors were looking at me as the reason the current longstanding cease-fire between Board President Harry Sanders and Brooks came to a screeching halt! Why? Because, during the meeting, Brooks made reference to that fact. He believes (through comments he made on my Facebook page) that Harry Sanders had me write the story. I had heard about the incident between Brooks and Billingsley from two people long before I spoke with Sanders about what happened. In fact, I later learned that Sanders had actually planned to bring the issue up as concerning county policy in the use and issuance of cell phones for county officials. After discussion with others [and likely after reading my column where I said I was more interested in Brooks’ treatment of a county employee than the cell phone issue. – RW], Sanders correctly brought it to the board as a county policy issue. When Sanders brought it up as the final item on the agenda at Monday’s board meeting, he did so by making reference to the incident, but using no names in doing so. It was Brooks who, after listening to Sanders tell the board that no official needed to curse or mistreat any county employee, finally blew up and told Sanders to “put it on the table..he’s talking about me and Ralph!”
As the drama unfolded, I looked at the faces of District 2 Supervisor Bill Brigham and District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith. I know that both were disgusted that it had come to this [Especially Brigham, being the newest member of the board. Smith has seen a messy meeting or two. – RW]. Look, I don’t like those types of meetings, either! Granted, it’s great for selling newspapers…we all know that! But I’m a citizen just like everyone else. I get disgusted at bad behavior myself. But, bottom line…it was the bad behavior of Leroy Brooks that got us to this point! Period! We can’t lose sight of that fact. It wasn’t my fault for reporting the story, it wasn’t Harry’s fault for bringing it to the board table [He was advised to by the state auditor, who overheard the incident involving Brooks and Billingsley in Ralph’s office, by the way. – RW] and it wasn’t Billingsley’s fault. It was the fault of Leroy Brooks for losing his cool and snapping!
So, when faced with the monkey upon his back at the board meeting, what does Leroy do? He points a finger at everyone but himself. A simple, “I’m sorry, Ralph…I lost my cool and snapped!” Billingsley would have likely accepted his apology and offered one of his own…whether he needed to or not…and we might have avoided the entire ugly mess that took place Monday at the courthouse! I’ve never heard Ralph Billingsley disrespect anyone. In comparison, over the 14 years I’ve covered Lowndes County Board of Supervisor meetings, I’ve heard Leroy Brooks rant, rave, mock, wisecrack, and slam Roger Larsen, slam me and slam numerous others who are not in his close group of allies. Oh…and then there’s his favorite diversion tactic…the race card, which he displayed, once again, at the Monday meeting!
Some legitimate points about race were brought up by Brooks and Smith, some that should certainly be discussed at some point. But bringing it up when faced with an admonishment because Brooks was busted cursing and screaming at a county employee is simply a diversion from the issue. That incident had nothing whatsoever to do with race! It’s something he’s long been known for. Not to mention he dredged up years-old accusations and allegations, also to divert the issue. Then, at the end of his long, divisive tirade…he gets up and walks out of the room as if to make a statement!
Was he saying, “I’m Leroy Brooks…I’ve been here nearly 30 years. So, you can’t touch me because I’ll do as I please! And I don’t want to hear your criticism or your admonishment because I don’t have to listen to it?”
I believe he was. How sad!
As far as the argument by Jeff Smith that the issue should have been discussed in executive session, it wasn’t an executive session issue. Executive sessions are usually called to discuss legal matters or personnel. The reason it wasn’t a ‘personnel’ issue is because the conduct in question involved a supervisor (Brooks), not a county employee. Billingsley said he only stated about seven words during the entire exchange. [Which really didn’t make it an exchange. All of this is not just speculation, by the way…it has been verified by the state auditor who heard the conversation. Billingsley added that he hasn’t disrespected Brooks or any other person, by the way. – RW]. If the board had tried to go into executive session, I would have refused to leave! As ugly as the meeting turned out to be…the issue was NOT an executive session issue!
Harry Sanders stated during the meeting that he never really intended to bring the issue to the board, but the auditor who heard the exchange advised that he should. We don’t know for sure, but there could have been two separate reasons for the auditor wanting a ‘record of it’ by bringing the issue to the board.
No. 1: He could have wanted to see that such behavior by a supervisor should absolutely not be tolerated!
No. 2: Being an auditor, he might have had concern for the fact that a county supervisor was making demands and ordering a county administrator to purchase some equipment for the supervisor.
If the latter is the case, this might not be over with yet!
Also during the meeting: When it appeared that Leroy Brooks was becoming disruptive and Board President Sanders instructed Chief Deputy Marc Miley [Who was filling in for Sheriff Mike Arledge, as he was away at a sheriff’s convention. – RW] to remove Brooks, Board Attorney Tim Hudson held up the palm of his hand to Miley, asking him to hold off. Miley, who was beginning to get up from his seat to escort Brooks from the meeting, sat back down. It turned out to be a correct and courageous move by Hudson and Miley both. They are to be commended!
Noteworthy: District 2 Supervisor Bill Brigham’s plea for Brooks not to leave the meeting was emotional and heartfelt. His message that followed his plea – that Brooks not bring the ‘race card’ into an issue that had nothing to do with race – was equally as moving…and refreshing to hear. District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith also showed great restraint. Smith was caught between a rock and a hard place during this particular issue. He, too, deserves praise. District 3 Supervisor John Holliman made a short statement admonishing any bad behavior toward any employee.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders. Sanders sat there nearly stone-faced as Leroy Brooks threw everything at him that he could muster. Brooks all but slapped Sanders in the face [In a matter of speaking. – RW] while he slammed the supervisor. Though Sanders’ face turned about six different colors during the Brooks’ tirade…Sanders held it together and took it! Sanders later told me, “I’m not scared of Leroy Brooks!”
Chancery Clerk Lisa Neese also held her cool. On more than one occasion during Brooks’ rant, Neese showed signs of chiming in. She held it well. As did Ralph Billingsley.
Leroy Brooks’ attempt to make it appear that this reporter is ‘picking on him’, or that I show favoritism to Harry Sanders, has no validity. Case in point: Last March, I wrote a front page Packet story entitled ‘Lowndes Supes Meeting: Rants, Raves and Rudeness!’ in which I admonished Harry Sanders for his behavior. It can still be found on The Columbus Packet website here:
I rest my case!
Ron Williams can be reached by email at Ronsings2you@aol.com.0