SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The Savannah City Council voted Tuesday to publicly reprimand Alderwoman At-Large Kesha Gibson-Carter, a Black woman, for calling a fellow council member racist.

The comment was made toward District 4 Alderman Nick Palumbo, a white man, during a property development discussion in their Dec. 9 council meeting.

Palumbo moved for her reprimand at the time, though Mayor Van Johnson said he would investigate accordingly. The mayor later added the item to the Dec. 21 meeting for discussion.

The motion for Gibson-Carter’s reprimand passed in a 6-3 vote, as follows:

  • Mayor Van Johnson: Yes
  • Alderwoman Alicia Miller Blakely: No
  • Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter: No
  • Alderwoman Bernetta Lanier: No
  • Alderman Detric Leggett: Yes
  • Alderwoman Linda Wilder-Bryan: Yes
  • Alderman Nick Palumbo: Yes
  • Alderwoman Dr. Estella Edwards Shabazz: Yes
  • Alderman Kurtis Purtee: Yes

Johnson said he reviewed Gibson-Carter’s remark and called it “absolutely inappropriate.”

“It is in the public record and I heard it and it is contained within the minutes and several people here heard you say it that you called Alderman Palumbo a racist,” the mayor explained.

The council had been discussing a property development item and Johnson questioned whether affordable units were included. City Manager Jay Melder said it’s market rate, though he later clarified he wasn’t sure of the affordability.

Gibson-Carter then said the discussion was proof of the council’s “duplicitous nature,” to which Palumbo called a point of order.

“Point of order,” he repeated. “The term duplicitous is inflammatory.”

“Racist, could you please let me speak? You always have to talk to me when I’m talking about something for a vulnerable community or the Black community. Back off!” Gibson-Carter replied, as evidenced in minutes and video of the meeting.

Palumbo claimed the alderwoman called him racist again, though it wasn’t on the microphone.

“The second time, Mr. Massey (city clerk), members of city staff heard it,” he said Tuesday.

Johnson and Gibson-Carter spoke over one another several times throughout the Dec. 21 discussion, at times raising their voices.

“We’re not going to allow you to continue to disrespect members of council and staff,” the mayor said. “You will act appropriately.”

“I’m here to serve the people, Van. Let’s go,” she responded, later calling the mayor childish.

Gibson-Carter turned back to Palumbo and asked him four times: “Are you a racist?”

After no response, she turned to the mayor.

“Ask him if he’s a racist,” she said.

“I’m not going to ask him,” Johnson answered.

“Well if you’re not, why are we here? Grow up!” the alderwoman said to Palumbo.

Gibson-Carter sent the following statement to WSAV News 3 Wednesday:

I did not call Alderman Nick Palumbo a racist. Play to the Council audio and read the Clerk’s transcript. My reference was in response to him continually interrupting me on the past as well as during the meeting in question. He created an antagonistic scenario, I challenged him on his behavior and now he’s playing the ‘victim.’

In times when I have advocated or spoken up and out for issues involving vulnerable citizens or the African-American community; to include the Weeping Time,  Fairgrounds, resources for our little league teams and the Hudson Hill Community Center, Alderman Palumbo interrupts with ‘Point of Order.’ I have never interrupted him or anyone on Council in their course of  advocacy. This last action of hijacking the process and using their advantage is appalling.

I am appealing to Mayor Johnson to stop with the power and control antics and get to the business to making a difference citizens of Savannah can feel. 

She mentioned during Tuesday’s meeting that City Attorney Bates Lovett had characterized some behavior of other council members as “consistent attacks against my person.”

When District 3 Alderwoman Linda Wilder-Bryan revisited the comment, Lovett said he would not be discussing conversations he’s had with members of the council publicly.

During his weekly press conference Wednesday, Johnson said it’s unfortunate to have to take action against a fellow council member.

“We as city leaders should exercise better behavior. People did not send us here to call people names,” the mayor said.

“We should disagree, we should have differences of opinion,” he continued. “But it should never, ever generate to the point of name-calling.”

It’s not the first time Gibson-Carter’s behavior has been formally addressed by the council.

In 2020, the alderwoman was found in violation of the city’s ethics ordinance. Other council members, including Palumbo, claimed Gibson-Carter bullied other council members, made unsubstantiated allegations about the unethical practices at City Hall and refused to be a part of the city manager hiring process.

The city council did not act on the board’s recommendation to publicly censure the alderwoman for the acts mentioned in the complaint.

“I asked council not to move forward on a censure after the ethics hearing. You know, ‘Hey, let’s just try to work this stuff out,'” Johnson said Wednesday.

Compared to a reprimand, Lovett explained that a censure is a more formal process by which a council member is silenced.