AP NEWS

Protestors demand town hall meeting

February 25, 2017

“Listen to us.” “I can’t live without clean air and water.” “You work for us too.” “Stop deporting families.” These were messages on signs held by people in a group of about 40 who demonstrated Friday morning outside the Statesboro Regional Library demanding that U.S. Rep. Rick Allen hold a town hall meeting.

Allen, the Republican representing Georgia’s 12th District, hosted the start of a public briefing on free income tax filing services on the library’s second floor. He also answered some questions in a scheduled interview with the Statesboro Herald. He has not slated a town hall meeting in Statesboro. But Allen cited a number of public appearances this week, and his communications director encourages 12th District residents to take part in “Telephone Town Halls” with the congressman.

“We’re out here because Rick Allen has refused to meet with us,” said retired teacher and Statesboro resident Laura Campbell. “He won’t have a town hall and let us express our concerns.”

Asked what those concerns are, Campbell, holding a “Listen to us” sign, mentioned President Donald Trump’s refusal to make his tax returns public.

“Lots of issues,” said the Rev. Jane Page, local Unitarian Universalist minister. “You can ask each one of these people. We’re here to defend immigration rights, we’re here because we’re very concerned about clear air, clean water and what’s going to become of the EPA.”

Carter’s town halls

Statesboro small-business owner Jake Hallman said, “Even Buddy Carter showed up for a town hall meeting” but that Allen “hasn’t shown any indication that he wants to do that.”

Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Georgia 1st District, held several town hall meetings in his district this week. He faced supporters as well as angry hecklers Thursday in Brunswick, the Jacksonville-based Florida Times-Union reported. Tuesday in Savannah, the crowd for Carter’s event overflowed the meeting hall at Armstrong State University, leaving hundreds of people outside, including frustrated protestors, as WTOC-TV and other news organizations reported.

Here, the protesters were outside, but there was no town hall meeting.

“Personally, I want Congress to investigate this administration’s ties to Russia,” Hallman said. “That’s something I’m pushing for. If they could investigate Benghazi, God knows how many times, I think they could do this one for us.”

“People first - Not party,” proclaimed a sign held by Don Armel, a retired Georgia Southern University professor. He and several of the other demonstrators are active in the local Democratic Party, but the protest was not a party event.

“Our primary role today is to really get Rick Allen to hold a town hall somewhere that we could have an open forum and hear him that way rather than just the random emails that come out,” Armel said. “Not everybody sees those, so I think that a town hall would be a better way to communicate.”

Hallman and Armel said they didn’t know what efforts had been made before the demonstration to call or contact Allen seeking a town hall meeting.

Security measures

Interviewed inside the library, Allen acknowledged that he had not spoken to the demonstrators outside. He was accompanied by several members of his staff and, compared to his past public appearances, an unusually large number of local law enforcement officers.

The security measures followed a briefing representatives received from the House sergeant at arms, Allen said. Monday was the Presidents Day federal holiday, and Congress had a scheduled break in its session the rest of the week for members to do work in their districts.

“These folks have every opportunity to protest, but then again, you’ve got to have certain security measures, and that’s unfortunate, it really is unfortunate,” Allen said. “We got a security briefing before we left. Most of these folks are just passionate about their cause, but there are some people out there that are... As we know, we live in a dangerous world.”

Representatives were advised to be aware and “to try to provide as much of a controlled environment as possible,” Allen said.

Asked if he had received any letter or other request for a town hall meeting, Allen didn’t give a direct answer, but cited his schedule of events this week.

“You know, we have been everywhere,” he said. “My schedule is completely full.”

As examples, Allen began by mentioning two hours spent talking to people Monday morning at the Sunrise Grill, worship with 400 men at Warren Baptist Church that night, and a United Way annual luncheon Tuesday with about 500 people, all in Augusta.

Asked about events in Statesboro, he noted the Free File briefing Friday, followed by his tour of Georgia Southern’s new Military Science Building.

Allen was scheduled to attend a veterans’ town hall in Swainsboro at 2 p.m. Friday, he said.

Telephone meetings

A link is available on Allen’s website, https://allen.house.gov, where district residents can sign up for his Telephone Town Hall conference calls. Look under “Contact” on the navigation bar. Or, they can call any of his office numbers to sign up, said Madison Fox Porter, Allen’s communications director.

“We have to make sure that these people are part of the 12th District of Georgia. It’s in the House rules that we can only call constituents of the 12th District,” Porter said. “But if they sign up on that link, they’ll be called for all of our future telephone town halls, and we host those quite frequently. We’re trying to plan the next one for March.”

About 15 people attended the Georgia Free File briefing, where IRS and Georgia Department of Revenue personnel talked about public-private partnerships that make free federal and state tax filing services available to taxpayers within certain income limits. Allen spoke briefly to open the event.

In the interview, he answered questions about his positions on Obamacare, immigration, and the Environmental Protection Agency. These will be the subject of separate stories.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.