750 people gather in Phenix City to discuss firings of two prominent black leaders

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comMay 26, 2014 

A week after two prominent black Phenix City leaders were fired, about 750 people filled Gaines Chapel AME Church Monday night looking for answers and direction in how to respond.

Central High football coach Woodrow Lowe was fired May 19 after four seasons and a 33-13 record. A day later, City Manager Wallace Hunter was terminated after leading the city since 2008. Hunter was fired on a 3-2 council vote that fell along racial lines, with the three white councilmembers calling for his immediate ouster.

Noble Williams, pastor of Greater Mount Zion Baptist Church, said that almost a dozen black Phenix City ministers met Monday morning to address the situation.

"The issue at hand is greater than Wallace Hunter or Woodrow Lowe," Williams said. "The issue is an injustice has been done. Woodrow Lowe and Wallace Hunter will be our catalysts for change. After the emotion, there must be a plan of action. We must hold the powers to-be to decisions that are not only legal but are moral."

The meeting was called by CURED -- Citizens for Unification, Revitalization and Economic Development.

Both Lowe and Hunter addressed the crowd.

Councilman Arthur Day, who supported Hunter, also spoke. Mayor Eddie Lowe and Councilmembers Chris Blackshear, Gail Head and Jim Cannon were invited but did not attend.

Blackshear said he would not attend out of concerns of violating the Alabama Open Meetings Law if a quorum were present.

A number of Lowe's current and former football players were in the crowd. He told the players they needed to move forward "and get what's their's."

Asked whether he wanted his termination overturned, Lowe said, "No. It would cause too much disruption. The world needs to go on."

Lowe, who is the mayor's brother, was clear that he appreciated the support but the decision was not going to change.

"Let's hold this community together and move forward," he said.

Chris Jakes, a former Central player who works for the state of Alabama, said that Lowe's firing was not because he had failed to win a state championship.

"It couldn't be about a state championship," Jakes said. "We have not had a state championship since 1993 and no other coaches have been fired."

Hunter said "he was doomed" from the time the new council was elected 19 months ago. He outlined problems and issues with Head and Blackshear.

"Mr. Cannon told me Mr. Blackshear said he didn't care if it took a half million dollars to get rid of me, but I had to go," Hunter said.

And Hunter, who has been with the city 32 years in various leadership roles in the fire department and city manager's office, pinned it on race.

"I knew my destiny, and I moved fast to get things done," he said. "… Some days I thought I was back in 1954."

Hunter touted his accomplishments as city manger. There are major projects going on in all three council districts. The city has a $10 million reserve and more than $45 million in various banks for incomplete projects.

"The city of Phenix City did not have one layoff, one furlough day, and our employees got a raise every year," Hunter said of his tenure.

He reserved sharp criticism for Head and Blackshear. Hunter said the two councilmembers and City Attorney Jimmy Graham met about two weeks ago in a room off council chambers.

"You said I talk to you in a tone you do not like," Hunter said of Blackshear and Head. "And you talk to me in that same tone. You talk to me like I am a little boy."

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