Beaumont councilman fights gerrymandering, allegations of race baiting
Racial tension and city politics merged this week in Beaumont with Councilman Mike Getz bearing the brunt of the ensuing melee. During a public meeting of the Beaumont City Council, the seven members voted 4-3 to strip Getz of a large portion of his voting base in Ward 2 and, on the heels of the loss, a group calling themselves People of Colors demanded Getz’s resignation, alleging the elected representative embarked on a racist tantrum at outgoing Beaumont Independent School District Superintendent Carrol Thomas’ retirement “Extravaganza” held at the Ozen High School campus Aug. 23.
Dissent among the Beaumont City Council members concerning redistricting maps shows a divided city government. A total of five proposed redistricting maps were submitted by the seven-member council for review and/or acceptance, but a consensus could not be reached on a single one. The problem centers on Ward 1 Councilman Alan Coleman, who proposed Map C, a redistricting map that would shift Pct. 65’s affluent West End into his own ward from Mike Getz’s Ward 2, a move Getz and many Pct. 65 residents staunchly opposed during a public hearing on Beaumont’s redistricting held July 17.
Judge Bob Wortham, who lives in Pct. 65, reflected the view of many who spoke during the public hearing when he said, “The least change we can make, the better off we are.” Murmurs of approval greeted his remarks, but he wasn’t finished. “If three or four (council members) vote against one, you are not going to have harmony in this body. If you can’t agree, you are not a very good council.”
Coleman. who devised the map, rallied support from council members Get Williams-Wright, Audwin Samuel and Jamie Smith by creating a map that pulls traditionally black precincts from Coleman and moves them to Samuel and Smith. Those voting against the mass voter move were Mayor Becky Ames and council members W.L. Pate and Mike Getz.
After the votes were tallied, council members Wright, Samuel and Smith took the opportunity to add insult to injury when they publicly admonished Getz for his involvement in a demonstration he took part in at the retirement “Extravaganza” for outgoing BISD Superintendent Carrol Thomas. Getz had attended the event with a handful of other citizens to remind attendees and observers that Thomas’ tenure was not celebrated by all, but rather looked on with skepticism by some for controversial actions made by the school district leader to, among other things, recommend renewing the contract of Calvin Walker after the electrician admitted to a federal judge he doctored invoices submitted to BISD for payment.
Councilman Samuel, who presented Thomas with a key to the city during the retirement party, said he appreciated those who attended the soiree to “show respect for a man (who) has given a lot of his life to make Beaumont a better place” and chastised Getz for hindering the free speech rights of those coming to address the Beaumont council – a claim Getz vehemently denies.
But it was Smith who had the most to say about his fellow council member, also making note of the “Extravaganza” debacle.
“The event went off almost without a hitch,” he said, “but there were some issues.”
According to Smith, Getz was “causing problems that didn’t need to be” since Thomas was leaving the school district.
“The man was leaving; there was nothing else to be said or done. What was done was uncalled for and very disrespectful to the community,” Smith said.
Getz said he was not representing the City Council or his constituents when he attended the protest, but was simply exercising his right as an individual citizen and taxpayer.
More discourse could be heard among the council that day, and more was still to come.
Also at the Thomas retirement “Extravaganza” was self-proclaimed People of Colors leader Eligah “Ricky” Jason, whose group picketed outside the venue alongside Getz’s in an effort to neutralize the efforts of the Thomas detractors.
Jason later made an appearance in the Beaumont City Council chambers to make several unsubstantiated assaults on Councilmember Getz.
“He was out there saying he wished he had a chain and rope, he’d hang that ‘n,’” Jason said. “He was calling Dr. Thomas a ‘monkey n.’
“He was like a bat out of hell out there. He was going crazy. That’s what got the people worked up. Then, Mike Getz made (a) statement about James Byrd; that’s when it all broke loose.”
After the racially charged statements Jason claims Getz made, members of both groups started pushing and shoving, Jason said, causing a need for police intervention.
But it wasn’t just those comments that prompted a dispute, Jason added. “(Getz) said, ‘We got it right in Jasper. That’s good they fired that ‘n.’
“(Getz) said to Calvin Walker and his wife, ‘Die in hell, ‘n.’ It was like somebody unleashed the devil. I thought it was Hitler.”
News and private party video from the “Extravaganza” doesn’t show Getz making any such comments, and show most of the rants of a racial nature being spoken by the Thomas supporters, but Jason is adamant in his assertions and stated that the citizens of Beaumont “don’t want a Klansman on the council.”
“Do you think I’d risk my reputation, or that of Dr. King (III) or Dick Gregory? This is not a game; this is serious. This is real,” Jason said.
Getz, a Jewish man, said he took exception to being lumped in with the Ku Klux Klan, a group whose mission of segregation and hate targets both African-Americans and Jews.
“(Jason) might as well said I was a Nazi,” Getz said. “I never said any of those things he claims. Ricky Jason is a liar.
“The things he said was such outrageous lies, I’m still flabbergasted he could come out with something like that.”
What videos of the event do show are Jason and his crew pumping their fists within inches of the faces of the men, women and children assembled with Getz.
Chants of “Go home, cracker, go home” dominated the speech from Jason’s group. Added to that were comments aimed at Getz’s group such as, “You left your white sheets in the car,” and “Go back to Jasper.” All this was amid a nearly continuous song of “black power” from Jason and the handful of people with him.
“If Mike Getz didn’t show up there, none of this would have happened,” Jason would later tell The Examiner. “The bottom line is – he’s a racist. He needs God in his life.”
Jason said nothing short of a public apology and Getz’s resignation from council would set right all the wrongs the elected representative has done.
“(Getz) needs to admit what he said, admit he was wrong,” Jason said. “A majority (of people in Beaumont) want him to step down and apologize. Over 100 people called me today already. I don’t have time to play no games. People in Southeast Texas are tired of this here. My phone’s been ringing like popcorn. Even whites don’t like what’s going on.”
Jason’s phone might have been ringing, but the support from his supposed followers certainly didn’t show at the council meeting where he attacked Getz; four or possibly five people escorted Jason or showed support for his accusations.
“If he don’t want to apologize to us and the people, then we will be prepared to follow suit against him. He has to apologize for him disrespecting Dr. Thomas and the celebration, for smoking on school property; stop saying that Dr. King is racist. For the things he said about James Byrd, he should apologize to the world for that.
Jason, who brings up James Byrd’s name on many occasions in his claims against Getz, has been battling with members of the Byrd family for years. In one bitter statement made to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, James Byrd’s sister Mary Verrett said, “A lot of that has been spurred on by a disgruntled and vindictive person, Ricky Jason.” Clara Taylor echoed her sister’s feeling about Jason, who partnered with the Byrds through T-shirt sales before differences between the sides resulted in a parting.
“Dick Gregory and them are getting ready to come down here because of all of this right here,” Jason said, invoking yet another famous name. “Mike Getz … is a evil man. He needs some help. All we want from him is an apology, and for him to step down. Everybody is with me all the way on that.”
Getz said an apology and subsequent resignation are highly unlikely at minimum.
“I have absolutely nothing to apologize for,” Getz told The Examiner. “If that’s what Ricky Jason is waiting for, he can hold his breath.
“The man is a flat-out liar. Until he acknowledges that and admits that, I don’t have anything to say to the man.”
“I’m doing this because God wants me to do this,” Jason said in response to theories that he was put up to starting a “race war” at the behest of someone(s) from within the Beaumont school district. “I do this rallying from the heart. No one is paying me one dime.”
Jason does have a connection to the district, however, through school board attorney Melody Chappell, who could be seen hugging Jason after his speech to the Beaumont City Council and whose firm represented Jason in acquiring part-ownership to the likeness and name of Jasper’s James Byrd Jr., according to Jason.
“I own 25 percent of James Byrd’s likeness – the Byrd family don’t own anything,” Jason said. According to Jason, attorney Nancy Hart of Chappell’s firm, Wells Peyton Greenburg and Hunt “did the contract on that. It was a business deal; I’m in business.
“By them transferring that to me, it was just as me being one of the kids,” he said before commenting on another BISD affiliate, electrician Calvin Walker.
“Calvin Walker, from my understanding, I see a man that has made Beaumont beautiful,” he said. “I see a man that has no racist bone in his body.”
Whether or not anyone related to the school district asked Jason to intervene, Getz said he still feels the racial tension is stemming from BISD.
“The racial tension in Beaumont is an offshoot from the problems with the school district,” he said, adding that “trust and transparency” will be the only things to quiet the turmoil.
Getz said his constituency has given him feedback contrary to that of Jason’s camp.
“In the past week, dozens of my constituents, the people that put me in office, have called me, e-mailed me or spoken to me in person, thanking me for the actions that I took (attending the Extravaganza) and telling me of their support,” he said. “I was at the Ozen High School not to protest the retirement of Dr. Carrol Thomas. I was there to protest the hypocrisy of singing praises for a man that never embraced this community, a man that refused in 16 years to join the social fabric of this city, and was conspicuous by his absence at charitable and philanthropic events, a man who raped the taxpayer and will leave this town with shiny new schools but more segregated than in has been in the last 25 years.”
Getz, despite losing a large chunk of his voter base in a council vote, is still looking forward to the upcoming May election, he said, especially considering he isn’t the only elected official going on the ballot.
“The school board election is coming this May, and even though they’ve fought redistricting even after the voters demanded it, it’s going to happen,” he said. “This gives us a real opportunity to make some real changes this May.”