Bonner Park Attracts a Turnout of Citizens and a Very Big Question
by Leo Coughlin
LARGO - The Largo City Commission is on notice - if it makes one move toward closing Bonner Park for budgetary reasons the citizens will be storming City Hall with pitchforks.
Bonner Park - or, to give it its full and proper name, John R. Bonner Nature Park - is a bucolic piece of landscape located in the westernmost reach of Largo on the Intracoastal Waterway.
To hear citizens at last week's City Commission meeting who showed up in droves they don't want that park closed.
And one shocking bit of information was elicited during a rare response from someone among the electeds. Those folks never, but never comment or answer questions from the public.
Focus on Sylvia Jordan, one of the citizens who uses Bonner Park and was outraged at the very idea that it be closed.
"I know some private parties would love to get hold of that land," she said. "If we find you have sold it . . . ."
At that point, Mayor Pat Gerard interrupted. By now, a half dozen citizens had come to the microphone to talk about not closing Bonner Park (and there would be four more before it was all over).
Gerard said, "Let me tell you that we have no intention of selling that park - ever. No decision has been made. No discussions have been held." Jordan had raised the question of what did it cost a year to keep Bonner Park.
Gerard answered that question during her interruption in an attempt to pour oil on troubled waters.
It cost $87,900.
"What?" Jordan said, clearly shocked. "Why so much? There is no full time person there. Someone opens, cleans the rest rooms and closes."
That cost figure sent a ripple through the audience in City Hall. One guy with hand held calculator ran the figures - $87,900 is $1,690 a week; $7,325 a month; $240 a day, 365 days a year.
For what? It's a good question.
The Bonner Park thing came out of nowhere.
It was on a television news report earlier in the day. Also mentioned was the Nature Park east of Central Park. No one got very stirred up about that park.
Keep in mind, television news outfits don't "cover" Largo City Hall doings. Like the only daily newspaper in Pinellas County, if they have news someone called them and tipped them.
The likelihood that the television news was prominent enough to get that many folks to City Hall on short order.
What more likely happened in the view of one observer is that Joan Byrne, director of Parks and Recreation, saw a budget threat to her empire and did what has been done so often before - that is, getting a turnout of citizens to City Hall.
The scenario - tip off the television news to a threatened closing of parks, make phone calls to key people, get citizens to City Hall to talk. Clearly, it was an organized effort.
All of this happened at the citizens comment portion of the meeting. It was not an agenda item, but it was the most important business of the evening, as far as the public was concerned.
There were other interesting footnotes last week.
Among them this -
In the closing comments, Commissioner Rodney Woods paid tribute to Michael Jackson, wishing that he may "rest in peace" (which, by the same token, makes the world that much safer for children).
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