AMITE CITY-- Tensions exploded on Tuesday evening for council at Amite City Hall, as racial slurs exploded from longtime Councilman Jonathan Foster towards his fellow black councilmen, Emanuel Zanders and Arthur Leonard.
Foster, who has protested his spot on the council for months by sitting in the public gallery as opposed to his council seat, arrived armed from the start with a folder of documents and requests.
One of the grievances, Foster accused, was that he said he was not notified in advance for regular and special council meetings.
Mayor Buddy Bel explained to Foster that regularly scheduled monthly meetings are "a given" by state law, and that all agendas are available and mailed (by the city clerk) to council beforehand.
Foster denied ever receiving his agenda.
City Clerk Mary Lou Lee then asked Foster how come he doesn't receive his agenda, when all other council members "receive theirs."
“I’m gonna tell ya," began Foster (hear sound clip) "‘Cause you got two negroes right here … (inaudible)…. getting everything they want.”
Foster was directly referring to black Councilmen Leonard and Zanders. Foster's use of the racial slur stunned the small crowd at city hall, and caused a few to suck in their breath.
The remark also caused Councilman Leonard to take serious pause -- and with all of his might -- stay seated.
“You calling me a n*****?” Leonard asked Foster.
Foster bellowed in reply to Leonard, “You’re a n***** then!”
Councilman Zanders would tolerate no more of the racial smears, and requested Foster be "escorted from the building" at once.
“This is ridiculous,” repeated Zanders several times of the outburst.
Councilman Leonard, who sat still as could be for about two seconds, then stood and told his fellow board members simply, “I need to leave.”
And with that, Councilman Leonard left the building with his head held high, but said nothing further as he exited the doorways to his car, then drove away.
During this time, Foster also departed council chambers, not to return.
Mayor Bel reprimanded Foster before he took his leave however, and told Foster that his racial remarks and outbursts were “destructive, and disruptive.”
Though council tried earnestly to continue with the meeting, tensions remained thick.
For the next agenda item, the now three-member council examined a proposal to purchase a new police car, paid for partially by a USDA grant and police department funds.
But by this point, Zanders was having none of it.
Zanders criticized Amite Chief of Police Jerry Trabona for wanting to purchase another vehicle, and therefore voted against it. Zanders said he wanted more done for the youth in the city, who are now out of school on summer vacation.
“Why can’t we take that money and do something else with it?” Zanders asked. “We’ve got kids out of school, not doing anything. You can take that money and set up a program for them.”
He added that it didn’t make sense to him to purchase another police vehicle, when there are vehicles already at the station with insurance being paid on them.
Chief Trabona requested to reply to Zanders, and as Mayor Bel considered this, Zanders continued, “Since there’s so much animosity going on, let him say what he’s got to say.”
It was then that Councilman Zanders accused Chief Trabona of being in “cahoots” with Councilman Foster and his antics.
The "cahoots" accusation surprised the chief, who said nothing, but chuckled instead.
Zanders and Trabona talked over one another, with Zanders accusing the chief of “locking the kids up.”
Trabona, who appeared offended by the accusation, flared in response, “Come on Emanuel, Jesus Christ!”
And with that, Zanders left the building too, but not the premises. He waited outside Amite City Hall instead.
With lack of a quorum, remaining council members and city legal adviser Charles "Chuck" Reed suspended the evening's meeting until further notice.
After the meeting dispersed, Trabona stated to Action News 17 for the record, that he is in no “cahoots” with Councilman Foster whatsoever, despite Zanders accusation.
Trabona said that Foster does stop by the police station on occasion, but added, “What am I gonna do? Kick the guy out? Tell him (Foster) to leave?”
Trabona agreed that tensions were wound tight for everyone on Tuesday evening, and said that he hopes council can continue discussions in a civil manner, next time.
As Mayor Bel departed Amite City Hall, he told Action News that by law, he cannot remove Councilman Foster from the meeting. However, the mayor said he intends to seek the state’s advice on Councilman Foster’s racial slurs as a civil matter.
Foster’s racial outburst on Tuesday evening was another among several he is now well-known for-- over the past year in particular.
When Foster reached city hall this evening, his vehicle once again bore the magnetic signs (see photo below from Tuesday night) which read, “Uncle Buddy Negros” (misp).
In May of last year, Foster was involved in a fist fight with a resident just after adjournment at the city hall, for which they were both charged for. See related story: Violence ensues at Amite council: Longterm councilman arrested
-- Photos and Filed by Alissa Vilardo, Reporter for Action News 17