AP returns MLK back to community
AVON PARK - The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day observance will once again be a Southside community event and not a four-day "elaborate" event with the parade on Main Street. At Thursday evening's special meeting of the Avon Park Community Redevelopment Agency, the city council members as the CRA board, voted unanimously to nix the Southside CRA advisory board's recommendation for the event. Deputy Mayor Brenda Giles said the Southside CRA advisory board planned a four-day MLK event, Jan. 17-20, including a march on The Mall (Main Street). Before the planning started, the Southside board asked for volunteers, but no one stepped up, so a planner was hired, she said. When the plans got out, community members made it known that they didn't want such a big event and believed the $10,000 earmarked for it could be spent elsewhere to help the Southside.Gray said the CRA's decision was whether to, "go along with the advisory board's recommendation of having this elaborate event, four days that the community doesn't want, or to give the event back to the community and let them plan their own event." CRA Member Parke Sutherland asked those in attendance to raise their hands if they supported returning the event to the community. Virtually all of the two dozen in attendance raised their hands. When Aljoe Hinson stepped up to the podium, a slide show of photos from a past Southside MLK event was shown. The presentation ended with a slide that read, "This event must not be moved." Hinson said, "For the CRA to take our money and not put it in that area is terrible." The MLK event will still be open for everyone in the community, he noted. "We are not trying to divide ourselves," Hinson said. "All we want to do is have our history." Hinson said he doesn't have a problem with a planner, but has a problem with paying so much money for a planner. The CRA board advised the Southside citizens that they can apply for CRA money to help with the event, but some citizens, such as Hinson, balked that the board is making it difficult for them to get the funding. Arnold Davis said in the past he asked for $500 and that is what he received, a $500 grant, without being asked for matching funds. "But, like Mr. Hinson is saying now, it seems like we have to jump through hoops to get the money," he said. "We shouldn't have to go through this ... about an event that we started." CRA Member Sharon Schuler said the event should remain in the community. The Southside CRA advisory board is not asking anyone to "jump through hoops," she said, just follow the established procedures and fill out an application. The CRA board voted 4-0 to withdraw the $10,000 earmarked for the Southside CRA advisory board's MLK event. CRA Board Member Terry Heston was absent from the meeting. Willie Gamage asked how the advisory board members are selected because many people were not aware that the board meets with the CRA concerning the needs of the community. "How long are these people going to stay in that position?" he asked. Schuler advised that the board members were volunteers who were selected by the city council and that one of the two alternate positions is currently vacant. The board changes when people decide they don't want to be part of it anymore, she said. Gamage declared, "We as the people in the community feel that the people on the advisory board, that meet with you all, their input is not in the best interest of the people in the community." Johnny Roberts said the Southside CRA advisory board members put the interest of the vendors before the people at last year's MLK event, Children were not allowed to bring food into the event at the football field, he said. Food had to be thrown into a trash can to protect the vendors. People worked hard to raise money and giveaway food. "It's like the advisory board didn't have the best interest of the community when they made the decision," Roberts said.