Outrage Greets Largo Commission Decision on MLK Memorial In Park
by Leo Coughlin
LARGO - Outrage among some greeted the Largo City Commission's decision July 10 to spend $60,000 on a memorial for Martin Luther King.
Ironically, one of those who now think that the project is much overblown is the man who first suggested that the civil rights leader be recognized somehow in the city.
Charlie Harper was then a member of the City Commission. In his generous and good-hearted way and in the spirit of recognizing diversity in predominantly white Largo, he suggested several years ago that there should be some sort of memorial in Central Park.
Not long afterward, Rodney Woods, now a member of the commission, but then a frequent face during citizen comments, pushed strongly for a King memorial.
The commission agreed that the city would make a contribution limited to $15,000 for such a project with the rest, if necessary, coming from private contributions.
Later, citizens were shocked and astounded when Steve Stanton, the former city manager, recommended a city outlay of $250,000 for a King memorial.
Obviously, an idea originally based on goodwill and kindness had gotten grossly out of hand. Some thought there might have been a personal element in Stanton's shocking idea to spend a fortune on the project. His personal problem was pending and he needed votes on the commission.
After much toing and froing Joan Byrne of the Parks and Recreation Department came up with an idea for a King memorial that would cost $60,000 and this was presented to the commission at its work session July 10.
Spending that much money for the memorial was one of several criticisms Harper had last week in the wake of Byrne's announcement and the commission's initial approval of proceeding with the idea.
"I wonder just how many people in Largo actually care if an MLK memorial is built," said Harper, noting that the city is overwhelmingly white and is afflicted with apathy on matters great and small.
"It seems to me," Harper said, "that the city may have its priorities a little misplaced. I fully understand that the MLK money would come from Penny for Pinellas funds, but it seems to me that money could buy a couple of police cars, equipment for the fire department or public works."
Harper didn't reject the idea totally of such a memorial. "A King memorial may be a good thing of money is available, but not now. As I look around Largo I don't see a memorial to Washington or Lincoln, nor do I see a single memorial of any kind to any of the city's founders," said Harper, a lifelong resident of Largo.
Harper also said, "While the commission is proposing to spend sixty thousand dollars to build a MLK memorial and ten thousand more to build a fence at Bonner Park, it plans to cut the Fourth of July celebration."
He went on to point out that the Bonner Park fence affects only four property owners while tens of thousands of people come to see the Independence Day fireworks.
Possible budget cuts bother Harper. Especially those involving the laying off of city workers. He contrasts possible layoffs with the $10,000 a week (a week!) the city lavishes on the cultural center, Largo's famous white elephant.
Also, talk of closing the $23 million Largo Library on Sundays irks Harper. "Sunday may be the only day some working folks can get get to the library," he said.
Another outspoken critic of the MLK memorial is Curtis Holmes, a close follower of city affairs.
"The commission plans to spend sixty thousand dollars to honor an individual who has no connection whatsoever with Largo?" he asked rhetorically.
"Why honor a private citizen when we have no memorials to the likes of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, Nimitz, Patton - and this list could continue," Holmes says.
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