TC asks city to close 4 streets through campus
by Chris Norwood
TALLADEGA — Talladega College President Billy Hawkins addressed the City Council Monday night regarding security concerns in the wake of a student getting shot on campus early Saturday morning.

While he was appreciative of measures the city has taken in the past, including additional lighting and speed bumps, he asked the council to consider closing Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Coosa Street, College Street and Nolan Street where they run through the campus.

“Friday evening, between 11:30 and 12, my cell phone rang,” Hawkins said. “I was asleep. I got up and called the campus police, and they told me a student had been shot.

“I had been through something similar when I was president of Texas College and we had a dorm fire in a building that housed a single parents program. I asked if there was anyone still inside, and they said there was one student and one child unaccounted for. I risked my own life; I ran into the burning building and got that parent and child out.”

Hawkins said he went to the scene Friday night and found city and campus police officers already launching an investigation. He followed the victim to Citizens Baptist Medical Center and then to University Hospital in Birmingham, where he stayed until the student got out of surgery Saturday morning.

The student’s parents drove up from New Orleans, where the victim is from. “They told me they sent him to Talladega College to get him away from New Orleans. And now this happens.”

He went on to say that someone had “sprayed bullets” from a location off campus, and could have hit anyone.

“A bullet doesn’t know names or colors,” he said. “We have 1,200 students on campus now, and we’re hoping to grow to 2,000 soon. It could have been any one of them. It could have been a small child walking down the street.”

The incident early Saturday stemmed from an “ongoing problem with non-students coming onto campus and starting altercations with our students. My police department, since August, has seized six guns on campus and impounded eight vehicles containing guns, drugs or both. According to Campus Police Chief Jefferson Walker, two of the guns had had the serial numbers filed off of them, and one was loaded with hollow point bullets.”

Hawkins also specified that there was no “beef” between him and Talladega Police Chief Alan Watson. “There is no rift between us,” he said.

“My concern is that we need to do something,” he said. “We are looking at getting more lights and beefing up security, but we need the city to look at some street closures.

“I know West Battle Street is very busy, and I am not asking to council to address that. I talked with Troy and Auburn campus police departments and they said they had experimented with closing some streets on campus from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Auburn eventually closed theirs completely. Talladega College is not the only college with an open campus that has this problem.”

Walker then related an incident where three students were crossing Coosa Street and three other people in a truck thought they were not crossing fast enough. Obscenities were exchanged, and the three men got out of the truck brandishing guns. A city police officer rolled up shortly afterwards and asked what happened, but everyone said nothing happened and everything was fine.

The three men in the truck were Talladega residents, not college students, he said.

“The police need information to do their jobs,” Council President Donnie Miller said.

Councilman Jarvis Elston agreed. “People are afraid, but this is a real problem and I don’t have the answer. But people brandishing guns in public is a real problem, and it needs to be tackled head on.”

Miller also pointed out that the Auburn campus is now covered with security cameras, which Hawkins said was something the college was looking into.

Watson said, “Obviously we are making this a priority. Most of my investigators are working this case, and have done numerous interviews hoping to find witnesses. An event on campus may have led up to this or it may not have, we don’t know yet. It may have been a Talladega citizen.”

Watson said city police respond to incidents on campus when they are called or when a felony offense is alleged. The city does patrol the four streets Hawkins asked to be closed, and extra patrols had been added after the shooting to make sure there is no further violence.

Regarding those closures, Councilman Horace Patterson, whose ward includes all the streets in question, said, “We have state laws on street closures. You need a petition from all the private property owners. You have to give notice and hold public hearings. We need to educate ourselves on this. Also, we have had some problems in the past with local folk, but in a lot of drug cases, they come in from out of town, too.”

No formal action was taken during Monday’s meeting.

Also Monday, the council:

• Heard a presentation from Chamber Director Mack Ferguson and board member Keela Brown regarding the fall block party, which was deemed a success and came in under budget. Brown also announced that there would be trick or treating on the square and a “House of Horrors” in the basement of the Bemiston Recreation Center.

• Honored this year’s Chamber Ambassadors.

• Heard a presentation from the residents of 210 South Street, who were involved in a disagreement over the shape of porch rails on their historic home with the city’s Historic Preservation Commission. They indicated their intent to follow the law, and the council was generally supportive. Elston apologized for the way they had been treated in the past, and Miller was concerned that they had been working for almost two years before anyone from the city made contact.

• Approved an alcoholic beverage license for 129 North Court Square.

• Approved a street light request for McAlpine Street.

• Approved 4-0 an agreement with the college for use of the Ben E. Bruner Sports Complex for softball and soccer at $1,900 per year and $50 per night if lights were used. Elston abstained.

• Approved 4-0 an agreement with the college to use the Spring Street indoor pool for one hour per day Monday through Friday for water calisthenics for $400 per month from October through January. Again, Elston abstained.

• Approved a contract with Mitchell Paving and Grading for $20,796 to reseal the parking lots at Coffee Street, Davey Allison Park, Veterans Park, the B.N. Mabra Center and East Street, with the Chamber parking lot as an alternate.

• Approved a contract for a maximum of $175,041.83 for E911 service.

• Approved a contract with Terracon for technical consulting services for phases one and two of the EPA Brownfield program for no less than $272,446 and no more than $367,824.

• Approved a list of outside appropriation including two $45,000 appropriations to the Talladega City School System, $5,500 with the Talladega Rescue Squad, $8,500 to the Community Action Agency, $31,000 to the chamber, $70,000 to FIRST Family Services, $50,000 to the Heritage Commission, $10,000 to the Boys and Girls Club, $2,500 to Senior Connections, $4,000 to the Community Life Institute, $10,000 to Isaiah House, $2,000 to the Palmer Place Children’s Advocacy Center, $10,000 to the Red Door Kitchen, $25,000 to the Talladega County Economic Development Authority, $25,000 to the Senior RX program and $6,300 with the Talladega County Emergency Management Agency.

• Announced that Veterans Park would be closed to relocate a sewer line and renovate the drainage ditch there for four to five weeks. All of the city’s other parks and recreation facilities will remain open.

• Heard Mayor Larry Barton announce that a contract had been signed on the Parigi’s building on the square.

• Heard Ferguson announce that a Pizza Hut would be locating in the city.

• Heard Water and Sewer Manger Chuck Thomerson announce “daily progress” was being made in cleaning up the water in Forest Hills.

• Discussed closing Mump Creek and Talladega Creek Dam areas to fisherman due to liability concerns. The former Water and Sewer Board had also discussed this option, but it proved unpopular.

• Heard Miller encourage the City Board of Education to “go back to allowing prayer in school and at sporting events” since there was already a revival taking place on a city school campus. Patterson cautioned him to “Tread carefully. When you talk about God, you need to know which one. Because if you’re open for one, you’re open for all. And you can believe someone will test that.”

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© 2012