Legal Issue, Other Needs Cited in Battle Against King Memorial
by Leo Coughlin
LARGO - The flummery of having a $60,000 Martin Luther King memorial in Largo's Central Park came under heavy fire with citizens pointing out better ways to spend taxpayer funds and raising a legal question.
When it was revealed last week that the Police Department had cut School Resource Officer funds there was a barrage of e-mails to City Hall protesting such cuts.
This played into the idea of how best to spend city funds.
And at the July 17 City Commission meeting, Curtis Holmes, always very involved in city doings, urged that the commission direct the $60,000 to needed sidewalks in the northwest section of the city.
Funds for the memorial will reportedly come from the Penny for Pinellas tax and there is a question whether the King idea qualifies under this law which is generally limited to spending funds on infrastructure.
Even the chief proponent of a King memorial, Commissioner Rodney Woods, admitted that the memorial was something people in the city did not want.
Quoted in the county's only daily newspaper Woods said, ". . . I would not want this put off any further because there is an attitude out in the community that we really don't want to do this."
The great puzzlement is why there would be a King memorial in the first place. Certainly King was a key figure in the civil rights struggle, but he has no direct connection to Largo and Largo has no memorials or statues to anyone else.
In fact, if a memorial were to be erected to honor someone who got civil rights into American law it would be President Lyndon B. Johnson. (Likewise, in the baseball context, Jackie Robinson is recognized for breaking the color line, and although Robinson was courageous in his role, it was Branch Rickey who made it happen.)
It appears the issue of School Resource Officers is going to be handled in a composition by the Sheriff's Office and superintendent of schools.
The King memorial subject has had a rocky course. It apparently is one of those things that gets caught up in emotionalism and political correctness, among other things.
There are many more reasons to vote against such an idea than to support it many observers in Largo say.
In its usual higgeldy-piggeldy blind man's bluff way of procedure, the City Commission is now confused as to whether and what it has authorized.
The King memorial started out as a modest idea by Charlie Harper some years ago when he was a member of the commission.
Rodney Woods took that idea and ran with it, beginning when he was a frequent citizen comments speaker and continuing to his present time as a member of the commission.
The commission limited city expenditure for any memorial to $15,000, the rest to be raised by private donations.
Then the former city manager, Steve Stanton, hungry for votes to keep him in office in light of his turn into a bizarre lifestyle, earmarked $250,000 (a quarter of a million dollars!) to the project, an obvious sop to Woods.
Observers say that the commission would have to rescind its previous action (approving $15,000) and then entertain any new suggested appropriation.
One irony in view of Holmes' idea of pushing for sidewalks is that at the first meeting Woods attended as a new member of the commission he said his primary goal would be to get more sidewalks built and increase sidewalk building expenditures.
At the July 17 meeting, John Atanasio, another close observer of the Largo political scene, called the idea of spending $60,000 for a King memorial "mind boggling."
Atanasio said it was "discrimination" and suggested that a statue of Christopher Columbus be erected.
In fact, there is a very long list of other personages that make more sense for a memorial in Largo than Martin Luther King.
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