Ludowici Elections Superintendent and Long County Board of Elections Chairwoman Vanessa Cunningham went before the Ludowici City Council on Tuesday and claimed The Long County Press committed libel against her, which is when a publication writes or publishes false statements that damage a person’s reputation or character.
Cunningham brought the matter to the council’s attention after The Long County Press owner Mittie Vaughan asked the council — for a second time — to use her newspaper as Ludowici’s legal organ. Vaughan made the same request at January’s meeting, but the matter was tabled. Currently, the Coastal Courier is the legal organ for Ludowici and Long County, and has been since 2008.
Referring to a Feb. 11 Long County Press article, Cunningham said the story was fictional, calling parts of it “absolutely untrue,” and claimed portions of the article incited racial tensions in the community. The front-page article in question was titled “Election Discussion Dominates Meeting.” It continues on a second page under the heading “Elections Supervisor Not Trained.”
Holding up a copy of The Long County Press, Cunningham said, “This is not what any community needs.”
The council did not discuss the matter but voted unanimously to keep the Coastal Courier as the legal organ.
After the meeting, Cunningham said her reference to possible racial tensions stemmed from an excerpt from the story that said, “Mrs. Cunningham complained that it was ‘racist’ to send the two white women to the training, and the two were told to return to Long County while they were en route to training in Athens.”
Cunningham also said she had not been contacted by Vaughan or reporter Joe Parker, whose byline is attached to the story.
“I’m not a racist, and to say that is absurd and it challenges my character. I’m a military wife who has been around all kinds of people my whole life, and nothing like that is a part of my life or any part of me,” Cunningham said.
Vaughan did not have much to say about Cunningham’s allegation.
“Joe Parker and I stand by our article. I have no other comment,” she said.
Parker, who was at the Feb. 5 Long County Commission meeting where the two employees’ training was discussed, also said he stands by the portion of the story that he wrote.
The portion of the article under fire focuses on a question from local resident Dwight Gordon, who asked whether elections supervisor Leah Hughes, who was hired in July, had been given an opportunity to complete her training. Gordon said it was his understanding that Hughes had been en route to a class in Athens, but had been told to return. Hughes told the Courier on Thursday that she and a second employee had been planning to attend a training session, but Commission Chairman Bobby Walker contacted them before they left and said the second employee was needed back in her office.
As a result, Hughes said she decided to reschedule that training session for a later date and continue with online training, which she has completed.
A second story on other business conducted at the city council meeting will be in an upcoming edition of the Coastal Courier.