published Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Man who piles pallets along Highway 341 in Walker County has court date

Wilburn Fields Jr. drives a forklift at his pallet business on state Highway 341 in the Wallaceville community near LaFayette, Ga. He is involved in legal action with Walker County in their efforts to limit him to one lot.
Wilburn Fields Jr. drives a forklift at his pallet business on state Highway 341 in the Wallaceville community near LaFayette, Ga. He is involved in legal action with Walker County in their efforts to limit him to one lot.
Photo by John Rawlston.
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    David Ashburn is the Walker County Coordinator
    Photo by By Ryan Harris

WALLACEVILLE, Ga. — A man who for years has piled wooden pallets along state Highway 341 west of Chickamauga, creating what county officials call an "eyesore," will be arraigned Saturday morning in LaFayette, Ga.

Wilburn Penn Fields Jr., 69, is scheduled to appear in State Court Judge Billy Mullinax's courtroom on misdemeanor charges that Fields' business in the unincorporated community of Wallaceville has violated Walker County ordinances.

"It's all the people around him that have filed complaints nonstop," County Coordinator David Ashburn said. "This has been going on for years."

Fields' violations, Ashburn said, include creating a de facto landfill where he's dumped broken pallets. Fields has expanded his operations beyond where they're allowed, Ashburn said, and Fields' forklifts load trucks in the middle of the windy road, creating a hazard.

"It's not safe," Ashburn said.

Fields, who is black, said he's being harassed by the county.

"I think it's discrimination," he said.

He said he's been in business for 40 years -- before the county enacted zoning ordinances in 1992. Fields said another county property owner has old tires piled up on several properties nearby and one has junked cars on several parcels.

"If I don't have the right, they don't have the right," Fields said.

Ashburn, who is white, dismissed Fields' claim of racial discrimination.

"It's a cheap shot to say that," Ashburn said.

"When we had the community meeting on it, there wasn't one white person in the room filing the complaints," Ashburn said. "A lot of people filing the complaints are his relations. Family members and other black people in the community filed the complaints -- not us."

Sole County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell is midway through a series of 20 community meetings around Walker County. She held one Monday night in Wallaceville that attracted about a dozen people.

"The first thing they said is, 'What have you done about the pallets on 341?'" Heiskell said.

County officials previously had prepared two cases against Fields, but former State Court Judge Bruce Roberts dismissed the Fields cases on Nov. 6 of last year.

Roberts also threw out 53 traffic cases in August 2012 in what he called a one-time act of kindness.

County officials say Roberts dismissed cases because he was upset about losing his seat to Mullinax, who received 66 percent of the vote in the July 31 primary election.

Roberts could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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