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Connect Savannah News Briefs - Dec. 16 edition
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson - photo by Brandy Simpkins

Savannah mayor urges event moratorium through February

TO PRevent the further spread of COVID-19, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson is recommending that the city continue its moratorium on issuing event permits through Feb. 28, 2021. The city’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations remain up in the air.

“In consultation with our public-health and epidemiology professionals, and looking at the difficult road ahead, I will be recommending to the Savannah City Council and the Savannah City Manager that the city will not permit events through Feb. 28, 2021,” said Johnson at his weekly press briefing on Dec. 8.

“Further, I will be recommending that the mask mandate be extended through Feb. 28, 2021,” he said.

Johnson emphasized that mass gatherings can only resume when local COVID-19 transmission rates are reduced to a safe level, and in order for that to happen, everyone in Savannah must abide by coronavirus precautions like wearing face masks and adhering to social-distancing guidelines.

“There is a very deathly cause and effect between our behaviors and our consequences,” said the mayor. “We do right, our numbers look right, and we can do things. We don’t act right, our numbers are bad, and things are taken away.”

According to the mayor, the actions of Savannah’s citizens will determine the city’s ability to host public celebrations for St. Patrick’s Day in March.

“We will assess our status at the beginning of the year, and we will make additional decisions at that time as it relates to going forward beyond to include St. Patrick’s Day,” said Johnson.

Brandy Simpkins

Chatham Commissioners to vote on raising their own pay

the chatham County Commission will consider granting each of its own nine members an annual pay raise of $5,000 during their Friday, Dec. 18 meeting.

At the board’s Dec. 4 meeting, Commissioner Pat Farrell proposed the pay hike and successfully added it to the agenda for a first reading. A discussion and vote on the proposal is expected on Friday.

The raise would take effect at the beginning of budget year 2021-2022, applying only to newly elected commissioners and those who were re-elected in the Nov. 3 general election. Farrell has served on the County Commission since 2004, and was the only member of the board to run unopposed this year.

“It came to my attention that the only way to adjust commissioners’ pay, by state law, is for a previous commission to do it for an incoming commission,” Farrell said. “It has been eight years since the commission pay has been adjusted. If no action is taken this month, which is still up to debate, then it won’t be addressed for 12 years.”

County Commission Chairman Al Scott expressed immediate displeasure with the timing of Farrell’s proposal. Scott and his soon-to-be successor, Commissioner Chester Ellis, were the only two board members to vote against the pay-hike bid’s first reading.

“I’m of the opinion that, if you want to raise your salary, the time to do so is before the election, not after the election,” Scott said.

Currently, the base salary for district-representative commissioners is $27,329 per year, while the commission chair receives $64,428 annually.

− Taylor Clayton

Former SCAD coach files racial-discrimination lawsuit

Former SCAD fishing coach Isaac Payne
Former SCAD fishing coach Isaac Payne - photo by Isaac Payne

THE SAVANNAH College of Art and Design’s former fishing coach, Isaac Payne, filed a federal lawsuit against his alma mater on Dec. 10, stating that he was the subject of racial slurs and discrimination from student athletes on the team. The lawsuit alleges that after numerous attempts at addressing the issue with SCAD administration, he was fired.

Payne, an African American, founded the SCAD Fishing Club and served as its president during his time as a student there, and became the school’s first fishing coach in 2015, according to an article posted on the SCAD website. Payne’s legal filing states that he was let go by the school in 2018.

“As a military veteran, freedom is something that I have fought for from all people through service to this country,” said Payne. “At SCAD I was treated less than even because of my race. My freedoms and civil rights were violated, and it has come with a cost.”

Payne’s legal team includes nationally prominent civil-rights attorney Ben Crump, who represented the family of Trayvon Martin after he was fatally shot by George Zimmerman in 2012. Crump announced the filing of the lawsuit on Dec. 10 during a press conference attended by Payne and former SCAD student Alexis Joyce, who spoke as a witness supporting Payne’s claims.

“We cannot allow this type of racism to flourish, anywhere, especially not in our educational institutions,” said Crump. “Hopefully it’s a teachable moment at an institution of higher learning where these matters should never be condoned but should be condemned immediately.”

In response to the lawsuit, SCAD released the following statement:

“The University has not yet received the lawsuit that was refer enced in the attorneys’ press conference today. As a matter of policy, SCAD would not comment on pending legal matters. However, there is no place at this University for behavior that discriminates based on a person’s race or ethnicity. SCAD is fully committed to inclusivity in every aspect of our work. We look forward to reviewing the litigation and will address this matter through the legal process.”

− Taylor Clayton

Savannah rapidly boosts LGBTQ+ inclusivity rating

SAVANNAH’S EFFORTS to be more equitable for the LGBTQ+ community have resulted in the city’s Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index doubling in less than six months, according to a City of Savannah press announcement.

PROUD Savannah, Mayor Van Johnson’s LGBTQ+ task force, was established on July 15 with a goal of increasing the city’s MEI score. Since then, the score has increased from 40 to 78.

“I am grateful for PROUD Savannah’s hard work to get us to this point, and I’m looking forward to continuing to make Savannah the most welcoming and equitable city it can be,” Johnson said.

PROUD Savannah dedicates itself to ensuring that Savannah’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities can work and live in a welcoming society. This initiative has proven beneficial toward the city’s MEI score, which examines how inclusive municipal laws, policies, and services are for the LGBTQ+ people who live and work there.

Cities are rated based on their non-discrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement, and the city leadership’s public position on equality.

“For LGBTQ Americans, the HRC MEI score is especially important,” said Pastor Candace Hardnett, chair of PROUD Savannah. “It gives us an idea of how accepting a city will be to our existence. This helps us determine where we will live and visit. Cities with higher scores are inherently safer for us.” − Brandy Simpkins