Willis's veto was first reported in The Daily World, where he reportedly sent a press release. A copy of that release has been requested by The Inside Scoop Online, but has not yet been received. However, Willis was quoted as saying in that release, "To allow the passage of this resolution is an insult to one of our community's most respected leaders...I will state again that Joe St. Columbia is no racist and owes no apology to the Helena-West Helena City Council or to the citizens of Ward 2."
St. Columbia sparked the controversy when he sent out an email about Helena-West Helena politics that said, "This is what happens when you put monkeys in to run the zoo." That email was first picked up by bluearkansasblog.com and has sparked a controversy throughout the city that has gotten regional attention from three Memphis television stations.
At the April 5, 2011 meeting, Alderman Marvin Jarrett sponsored a resolution censuring St. Columbia for the email and asking him to resign. The City Council passed the resolution by a vote of 6-4 with Jarrett, Don Etherly, Monica Davis, Christopher Franklin, Lakesia Chandler and Larry Brown voting in favor of the censure and request for resignation. Supporting the email and St. Columbia by voting no were Aldermen Eddie Clark, Daniel Strickland, Jay Hollowell, and St. Columbia.
Willis defended St. Columbia at the meeting saying, "I have known Joe St. Columbia for 25 years and have done business with him. He is not a racist." St. Columbia's strongest support came from fellow Ward 2 Alderman Jay Hollowell, who came under fire himself a couple of years ago for sending out a racially charged email saying that the city had known nothing but problems since the election of "Afican-American mayors."