Lawsuit filed by three Swainsboro City Council members over alleged racism

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SWAINSBORO, Ga. (WJBF) – Disagreements among city leaders in Swainsboro could end up in court. That’s because some council members have filed a lawsuit.

It’s an issue that stretches back two months.

During an August 24th Special Called Meeting, Swainsboro Mayor Charles Schwabe told three council members, “My research tells me that we do not have a quorum and the meeting will stop now.”

And now those same elected officials say enough is enough.

“Let us have a voice at the table,” said Rita Faulkner, District 6 Swainsboro City Councilmember.

Councilmembers Faulkner, Bobbie Collins and John E. Parker say they are speaking in court now, filling a lawsuit earlier this month against the City of Swainsboro and Mayor Charles Schwabe. We told you two weeks ago about a series of meetings that these leaders say impeded completing the important business of the city. After the council unanimously voted to remove the District 1 councilmember due to lack of attendance in August, a quorum battle began over whether three equaled a majority.

“[The] City attorney told us yes that you had a majority. Now when the other members or when someone else contacted the city attorney, he said we did not,” Swainsboro City Councilmember John E. Parker, who represents District 5, said.

The lawsuit goes on to say because the September meeting ended early, the council could not vote on the 2022 budget or submit a report on the more than $2 million of American Rescue Act money. A decision on both items is due at the end of October, with the budget taking effect December 1.

Councilman Parker added, “Roads need to be repaired, winterizing homes, demolishing old properties there. It’s just so much. The vaccinations, masks, mental health issues.”

The councilmembers told NewsChannel 6 they feel that since they are the councilmembers who attend each meeting each time and vote, carrying the majority, the abrupt meeting cancellations are due to racism. The lawsuit also states Mayor Schwabe is violating the the Georgia Open Meetings Act, something they believe happened this past Monday when the Mayor canceled October’s meeting.

Swainsboro Mayor Pro Tem Bobbie Collins, from District 4, told us, “I’m here as a servant for the public good. Anytime that you deny my right to do that, I feel that you are violating my rights.”

The group is calling for an emergency hearing to get the critical business done. We reached out to Mayor Schwabe and he said the October meeting was postponed until that emergency meeting can be held.

He added, “My efforts as Mayor have been and continue to be to provide full and fair representation and inclusion for all the citizens of Swainsboro.  It has not always been easy and differences arise.  Naturally, we would prefer to handle things in a spirit of reason and cooperation.  However, if that is not possible, we will do what is required.”  

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