Special meeting held to discuss Spray and Play

Published 5:00 am Friday, June 8, 2007

City aldermen held a special meeting Thursday to discuss ascheduled summer children’s event that caused one citizen toprotest earlier in the week.

Aldermen decided Thursday that Spray and Play Day will betentatively held on Hartman Street both Tuesday and Thursday eachweek. The event was originally planned to be held in the parkinglot of Alexander Junior High School on Tuesdays.

The board called the special meeting to discuss possible changesin the summer fun program after Roy Smith, a Brookhaven businessowner, spoke out against the event. Smith said Spray and Play,which involves a fire truck spraying water from the top of theladder for area children to play in, is a racist plot by the cityto re-enact the crowd control tactics of the Civil Rights Era.

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“The purpose of this is to attract kids and let them play,” saidMayor Bob Massengill. “There was never any intention on anyone’spart to do anything but provide recreation for the kids.”

The board visited the Spray and Play as it took place on HartmanStreet in front of City Park on Thursday and interacted with thechildren, parents and firefighters on scene.

“Nobody in my neighborhood feels like this man feels,” Ward SixAlderman Buddy Allen said. “I spoke with three adults who said theythink it’s great.”

Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron said from what he could see,the children were having fun, but that he wished the entire boardhad been there to see it.

“I saw that it was a good thing for kids to do this summer,” hesaid. “I regret all of us were not there to vote so we could make adecision.”

Smith’s contention was that the city government was trying tounderhandedly disrespect the black community by holding the eventin what he considers to be the “black part of town.” He saidwhether the kids enjoyed it or not, it shouldn’t be done, as hefelt not only was it disrespectful, but he believes it to be inlieu of building a city pool in that area of town.

Smith also admits to having an axe to grind with the city.

“I am the political foe of the city government,” he saidTuesday.

The areas in which Spray and Play are held were chosen by PoliceChief Pap Henderson as areas that would be safe for the children toplay in the water. Another consideration is where fire hydrants areavailable for the fire trucks to attach to.

Massengill suggested to the board three possible options of howto handle the situation, saying they could choose to leave thingsas they are, they could discontinue the event altogether, or theycould possibly simply discontinue it in the Alexander area butcontinue it at City Park.

“I don’t want to put anyone in an awkward position,” he said.”When I came in as mayor, my goal was to make this a better townfor everyone, so people could be proud to be here.”

Cameron echoed the mayor’s concerns about keeping harmony in thecommunity.

“It didn’t offend me because I observed closely that they werenot spraying the kids with the water, it was more of a mist,” saidCameron. “But I don’t want to do anything that’s going to dividethe community. I don’t want to see a black and white issue developout of this because Brookhaven can’t grow if that happens.”

After visiting the Spray and Play, where incidentally many ofthe children were the same ones who attended the first Spray andPlay held at Alexander, aldermen decided to hold the event at CityPark both Tuesday and Thursday until the next regular boardmeeting, at which point they will vote on a permanent solution.

Never at any point during the meeting did any of the aldermen inattendance seem to feel there was a reason to discontinue theevent.

“If even one child enjoys it, it’s worthwhile,” said Ward FiveAlderman D.W. Maxwell.