Local News

AP groups divided on MLK event plans

AVON PARK - Southside community members disagree on whether to hold Martin Luther King Jr. Day events downtown for possible wider participation by the city or have the events on the Southside of town with roots and support from the local neighborhood. The issue was discussed recently at a special meeting of the Southside Community Redevelopment Advisory Board and will be addressed by the city's CRA at a special meeting Thursday, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers. Southside CRA Advisory Board Member Arnold Davis said Tuesday that the MLK events started on the Southside and they want to keep it on the Southside. "No one is trying to separate or segregate anything, but we want to have activities down here for the older people and the young kids who don't get to make it up to the north end of town," he said.
Arnold said he hopes the council, sitting as the CRA Board, will side with the majority of the people who want the MLK events on the Southside. It's only three Southside CRA Advisory Board members who want "vendors" for the event, but the "people" want to keep it the same with participation by the churches and everybody doing their part, Davis said. If a lady came by with five or six children she wouldn't have to worry about paying to buy a meal for every one of them at the event, he said. They can just eat right there. City Administrative Services Director Maria Sutherland noted that for two years she has been taking the minutes for the meetings of the Southside CRA Advisory Board. The original or traditional group of citizens who spearheaded the MLK events, which were centered around Memorial Field in the Southside, have not been involved in the activities the last couple of years, she said. The MLK parade has been held on Main Street the past two years. Sutherland said it appears the Southside CRA Advisory Board ended up organizing the MLK event the last couple of years, but now the original, historical group wants to take it back. Three of the CRA Advisory Board members want an event that is a little more broad in its reach and bring in outside groups and make it a draw for the entire city, she said. At Monday's city council meeting, Southside CRA Advisory Board Chairman Gerald Snell said, "It is my desire and the majority of the Southside Advisory Board to have a unified city MLK event. "I truly appreciate the tradition the Southside community has injected into the MLK event and for that reason I will defer any action taken by the council or CRA Board and accept their decision wholeheartedly." Also, at the end of the council meeting, Snell spoke of some comments that were directed at him and others. Snell said at a recent CRA Advisory Board meeting someone stated from the audience that if someone isn't from Avon Park they shouldn't be allowed to serve on the board. "I want to defend one of the Southside CRA board member's rights to serve as a volunteer despite being raised in Hardee County," he said. "He volunteers more than many people who were born and raised in Avon Park. Snell said he also wanted to defend the planner who has coordinated the MLK event that is sponsored by the Southside CRA. "Although he is of the same skin color as most of the residents of the Southside community apparently that is not enough to be accepted by some that have been born in the Southside," he said. Snell said as he walked out door after a city council meeting two weeks ago, he commented that "everyone should act and conduct themselves as adults." After his comment, Snell said he was subjected to "racial ignorance and bigotry" by one of the regular audience attendees who sponsors the person who said, "if you weren't born here, you had no heart for the city." He has yet to receive an apology, Snell said. "I am a citizen, one of the best of this community," he said. If a special city council meeting concerning the police pension board is held as scheduled at 5 p.m., Thursday and continues past 6 p.m., the special CRA meeting would commence after the special council meeting concludes. mvalero@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5826