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Dawson mayor continues to recover from shooting, remains focused on his job

Mayor Christopher Wright was elected in November 2012.
Mayor Christopher Wright was elected in November 2012.

On Wednesday, March 5, one of Georgia's youngest elected mayors, Dawson's Christopher Wright, spoke to the Macon Examiner about his recovery after being shot six times last October along with his vision for the City of Dawson.

The city of Dawson is approximately ninety minutes southwest of Macon and thirty miles northwest of Albany.

Wright was elected the same day that President Barack Obama was re-elected-- November 6, 2012 and had won a close race against longtime incumbent Robert Arbritten-- 755 to 726.

However, less than a year later, Wright was shot outside of his Dawson home and almost died. The young mayor had to be transported to Albany to receive the necessary treatment to survive.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the media had provided a narrative that the shooting was part of a robbery and/or a home invasion.

The GBI has left the investigation open, and it is now a cold case.

Officials with the Georgia Conference of Black Mayors believe the shooting was not the result of a robbery or home invasion, but was politically motivated.

“The way it was originally reported was as some kind of robbery or home invasion and that’s not, in fact, the case,” said Carlotta Harrell, field director of the mayors conference.

“We believe there was an attempt on (Wright’s) life, and that (the attempt) was the whole point of the attack.”

Coincidentally, the shooting happened just a few days before the November 3, 2013 city (municipal) elections in which Dawson City Council seats were up for grabs.

The Dawson City Council has the power to remove appointed people from un-elected positions such as City Manager and City Attorney.

Barney Parnacott, a conservative Republican who had been serving as Dawson's City Manager since the Robert Arbritten years, has ignored calls for his resignation from office since progressive Democrat Christopher Wright became mayor.

Prior to Wright assuming office, Parnacott had to deal with legal issues which could be considered 'cause' for a dismissal:

According to WALB-TV Parnacott was indicted by a Lee County grand jury in April 2011:

Lee County grand jurors indicted Dawson's city manager on felony theft by receiving charges.Barney Parnacott was arrested last May after he bought a bulldozer for $2,600. Another man claimed the dozer belonged to him and was worth $16,000. Parnacott's lawyer told us at the time it was simply a misunderstanding.

Parnacott has remained in office.

When asked about why Wright ran for office, Wright mentioned his nephew, Christian Johnson, as one of the main reasons.

Last year, he had explained to The Albany Herald:

"I wanted Christian to have a positive male role model in his life, someone who got up in the morning, put on a suit and went to work," Wright said. "That's the way my family raised me, with manners and morals, and that's something that drove me."

Wright says he wants to make a difference, but there is a reality that exists in which some people in local government want to continue with the status quo and do whatever it takes to stay in office without being held accountable by the people of Dawson which has a seventy-eight percent African-American population.

Four and half months before Wright was shot, Barney Parnacot attempted a poliitcal power grab which was endorsed by City Attorney (also former Albany, Georgia mayor) Tom Coleman:

A report from Albany's WFXL-TV stated:

Council members debated whether or not to overturn an ordinance that contradicted the town's charter, which is similar to a constitution. City Attorney Tommy Coleman says the charter states the city manager serves as chief executive officer, however a code was passed years ago that assigns that title to the mayor.

After things finally calmed down and Mayor Wright regained control of the floor, the council then voted 4-to-2 to overturn the code and clarify that Parnacott is indeed chief executive officer.

Current City Councilman John Harris had said: "By them voting the way they did tonight, it just gives the city manager more power," said Harris.

Subsequently, in November 2013, new Council members -- Iri Pittman and Chris Benton-- were elected who had defeated incumbents that supported giving Parnacott the designation as chief executive officer.

In addition to being the city manager, Parnacott ,the unelected Republican, is also Dawson's city inspector.

Terrell County has a long history of voter intimidation and voter suppression and even though it is 2014, some believe the shooting of the mayor was also a message to its citizens.

In 1960 the city of Dawson (Terrell County) became the first jurisdiction to be sued by the Justice Department under the 1957 Civil Rights Act for discrimination in voter registration

Despite tension with Dawson's City Manager and City Attorney, Chris Wright says he has big plans for the city and still remains optimistic.

After the 24 year-old mayor was elected in November 2012, he told local Albany television that he wants the city to open its doors to bring in more opportunity for jobs and growth.

"We need to make Dawson a more prosperous place by means of working together, working with the county, helping the citizens with their needs and requests and making it more open door for businesses, industries, or anyone who would like to come to Dawson."

Wright states that improving the housing situation in Dawson is also one of his major priorities as well.

As of 2008-2012, median price of a house in Dawson is $74,300, which is much lower than the state average of $156,400 and is much lower than the national average of $181,400. The Dawson median house value has grown by 35.58% since 2000. The growth rate for the price of a house in Dawson is lower than the state average rate of 40.65% and is lower than the national average rate of 51.67%.

The median year that a house in Dawson was built is 1971, which is older than the median year for a house built in the state which is 1986 and is older than the median year for a house built in the USA which is 1975.

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