Carrie Howard has brought the needs and concerns of the Whitesville community to the attention of elected officials for decades. She was back talking to Statesboro City Council earlier this week about issues with Whitesville.
“The reason that I am here is to … ask the question, ‘Are we a part of the city of Statesboro?’” Howard said, having signed up in advance to talk to the council Tuesday morning.
It was a rhetorical question, and she later said she would not have been there if Whitesville wasn’t a part of the city. But Whitesville is not getting the services it should, she asserts, and she wants it to be on the city’s priority list.
Howard, who will be 84 this month, has lived in Whitesville for more than 50 years. The streets were paved around 1993 and haven’t been paved since, she said in an interview. That was also the year that Whitesville was annexed into Statesboro. Some news stories in the early 1990s mentioned a much earlier U.S. Justice Department ruling that Statesboro could not annex other areas unless it annexed Whitesville, whose population is mostly black.
Whitesville is an area north of East Parrish Street, or U.S. Highway 301 North, from Matthews Road out to the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office. The old subdivision contains modest but attractive single-family homes, surrounded by more trees and green spaces than many other residential areas in Statesboro. Some of the streets are very narrow, but the pavement, at least on Shelby and Raymond streets, remains smooth.
The quality of Whitesville’s water was one concern Howard voiced Tuesday. City officials tell her how often the water is tested and that it is safe.
“But I haven’t drank any of the water for at least six months because of the discoloration and when I drank it how it made me feel,” Howard said.
In an interview, she said that when Whitesville was connected to Statesboro’s city water system, pipelines from a previous system remained in use. She and her family now buy water for drinking and bathing, using the tap water only for washing clothes and flushing the toilet, she said.
She described the water as sometimes milky, turning rust-colored after it runs for a while.
People from outside Whitesville dumping trash in the area was another concern Howard told City Council about.
“We need to get some help, some support as to police protection, police patrolling in that area,” she said. “Someone is taking the Whitesville community as a city dump. They’re dumping tires in that community.”
She also mentioned a lack of ditches for drainage as an “environmental issue.”
“I want you to know I do appreciate you. You’re doing a good job for the inner city,” Howard told the mayor and council. “You’re doing a good job in places where I don’t go, but where I live, that’s where I need some help. We need some help.”
Councilman Phil Boyum, who represents District 1, including Whitesville, had previously contacted city Water and Wastewater Director Van Collins about the water quality concerns and received information on the testing.
“He’s looking into the discoloration issue as well,” Boyum told Howard. “As far as the water itself, the water itself is fine, it has passed all the appropriate tests.”
Boyum also said he texted Public Works and Engineering Director Jason Boyles and that they acknowledged that illegal dumping has occurred on some vacant lots where grass has grown tall.
“A lot of folks do unfortunately drive through there and dump their trash, so Jason is not only on top of that, he’s going to send a crew through there and see what we can do to clean it up, but he’s also going to look into the ditches issue,” Boyum said.
Howard also requested help with Whitesville’s neighborhood park, which was previously maintained by a neighborhood association organized as a nonprofit corporation. The park contains a building that housed the association’s office, as well as restrooms previously open to the park.
After the building was vandalized and some records destroyed, Howard and the one other neighborhood volunteer who remained actively involved in maintaining the park decided to close it, Howard said in an interview. The other volunteer, who was not contacted for this story, is not being identified here.
Howard called City Hall last year and asked that the water be turned off until further notice, but the water was left on and the charges continued to mount, she told City Council. Georgia Power did cut off the electricity when asked, she said.
The final water bill, she said when interviewed, was several hundred dollars and she and the other volunteer had no means to pay it. The amount she remembered was about $900, but the Statesboro Herald has not confirmed this with the city.
Lease it to city?
As of Friday, the grass was tall in spots and the park appeared long disused, but the gate was open. On the phone, Howard said she is trying to start a new organization to restore and maintain the park and relaunch its programs for children.
The Whitesville Community Resource and Development Organization Inc., of which Howard was CEO, was administratively dissolved Dec. 7, 2016, according to the record on the Georgia secretary of state’s Corporations Division website. The nonprofit corporation, formed in 1988, was last registered in 2014.
City officials note that city crews and equipment cannot legally be used to maintain private property, which the park remains even if held by a nonprofit corporation. One suggestion officials make is for the neighborhood association to deed or lease the property to the city, which could then maintain it as a public park.
Boyum made this suggestion again during and after Tuesday’s meeting. He and City Attorney Cain Smith said they are looking into how this could be done.
“What we’re in negotiations with, really, is we’d love to have them donate this to the city and if the city were to have ownership of the property, we would pay for the water (or provide it at no charge),” Boyum said after the meeting. “We’d treat it just like a city park. We could install a water fountain; we could pay for the Georgia Power lights; we would maintain the property.”
The park would also become part of the city’s park system as the city is looking at long-term needs in strategic planning, he added.
But in Friday’s interview, Howard expressed distrust of suggestions that the park be placed under city control, even through a lease. Her husband, William Howard Jr., who died 12 years ago, and their construction company built the little community building with help from their sons and people who donated materials. She named other local people who contributed to creating the park and maintaining it in earlier years.
She does not want that legacy of volunteerism to be lost, she said.
“We have too much of a history in that park to give away everything without the documentation of what was there before,” Howard said.
When a reporter went to talk a picture of the park entrance, Charlie Jackson, a lifelong Whitesville resident, stopped by. Jackson said he believes the neighborhood could revive and maintain the park without making it an issue for the city.
“We could get someone like a semi-retired person to out here and run it,” Jackson said. “The community just needs to come together.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.