Political Fistfight Gives Buford Black Eye

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The September fight pitting a Buford City Commissioner and his son against the sons of another Commissioner was captured by a security camera.

The city of Buford in Gwinnett County takes pride in its historic downtown, fine restaurants and top-notch school system. Around 5000 people live there.

But no one in Buford was proud of what happened in the middle of a Doobie Brothers concert last month: a fist fight involving the families of two city commissioners. Out of an estimated 11,000 people who attended the concert, this was the only fight.

The whole sad affair was captured by security camera photos taken outside the Buford Community Center. Longtime commissioner Chris Burge and his son Cory squared off with Carson and Harrison Smith. Their mother, Michael Smith, also serves on the Buford City Commission.

The FOX 5 I-Team has obtained this raw video of the fight.

App users: Click here to watch the YouTube clip on the FOX 5 Atlanta channel

Carson Smith says Chris Burge threw the first punch. The commissioner said he pushed Harrison Smith away when he turned around and found him standing too close. That all happened behind a door; the security video only showed the fighting that followed as the two pairs squared off while bystanders grabbed their frightened children to get out of the way.

Gwinnett County police could not determine who started the fight, so all four men wound up with disorderly conduct tickets, a city ordinance violation. Authorities hoped that would end the bitterness. It has not.

"I've never seen anyone hit somebody with their family and children there," said Carson Smith. "It's a whole new level of wrong."

Commissioner Burge told the FOX 5 I-Team he's the victim. He owns an auto repair shop and has represented Buford for 23 years.

"Not only did I get a black eye, they're getting a black eye," he said, referring to the people of Buford. "And I apologize for that. I love this town."

There was already bad blood between the two families long before that night. Burge earlier accused Smith of voting on land deals that could have indirectly helped her son's law practice. She said she got clearance from the city attorney. The Smiths recently endorsed a friend running against Burge's sister-in-law for her seat on the Buford school board.

But as the Smith family left the concert that night, Carson Smith said Burge started swearing at them and insulting their mother. Burge denied saying anything improper.

The police report said all four men "appeared to be under the influence of alcohol." Carson Smith insisted he had nothing to drink that night, his brother one glass of wine. Commissioner Burge told us he was not drunk.

The fight left Burge with a black eye and his son with a bloody nose. The Smith brothers suffered slight bruises. All four plan to plead not guilty next month.

Buford has only three commissioners, all of whom have served more than 20 years. Burge and chairman Phillip Beard also have several family members working in various city jobs. The Smiths do not.

Carson Smith believes such longtime family connections feed into a larger problem.

"Sometimes when these elected officials have been in office a long time, they develop a sense of entitlement," he said. "And it leads up to things happening like this when anyone challenges them."

Burge said his family members work hard, and everyone followed the city's nepotism policy to make sure relatives aren't supervising each other.

"My people's been here since the 1800s. We're like seven generations. We're related to everybody," he said.

Burge apologized privately to Mrs. Smith for his role in the fight. But that was not enough for the Smith family.

"The honorable thing for him to do would be to resign," said Carson Smith. "Make a public apology and resign. And that hasn't happened."

And Chris Burge said it won't. Especially not now.

"This is hard," he said. "I thought about quitting. Months ago. But now that he's asked me to, they'll have to push me out with a bulldozer."