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Largo commissioners clash on placement of King memorial

Not long ago, City Commissioner Rodney Woods was shown the place at the Largo Library where a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be placed if city officials approved.

Upstairs and in the back among some research materials, it was far from the placid but more high-profile setting in Largo Central Park he envisions.

So at a City Commission work session last week, Woods expressed his dissatisfaction with the proposed location.

"I think it would be a dishonor and a disservice to even have the implication that Largo wants to put this up on the second floor and just hide it from the community," he told commission colleagues.

Woods, who has watched the project languish since 2003, asked the commission to vote Tuesday to install the monument in the park.

Fellow commissioners appeared ready to make the decision. They also plan to decide whether city staff will take on fundraising and related work.

The discussion could get intense.

Most of Woods' fellow commissioners indicated last week that they think the monument belongs in the library.

"Part of your proposal way back when was to educate the community," Vice Mayor Andy Guyette told Woods. "I think you (will) do a much better job where you have it focused in an area where you have a lot of visitors, there at the library, who are being educated on a regular basis and have the opportunity to see, for example, the bust there."

When Woods disagreed, Guyette reminded him that e-mails the commission received — most of which came after Curtis Holmes, a critic of Woods and the project, encouraged an undisclosed group to speak out against the idea — showed residents were against the project 10-1.

City Commissioner Mary Gray Black said she wants the memorial in the library because if it was outside, inclement weather may drive up operational costs. She was also concerned about security.

"We've already had a statue removed from the park," she said.

Mayor Pat Gerard said she would support a monument in the library as long as it is not "buried somewhere."

"It's got to be in a prominent place, and I don't see the library being in a real hurry to do that," Gerard said. "And I don't know if we can shove that down their throat, and I think we have to."

On Friday, Woods told the Times he has an idea which may satisfy his colleagues' concerns.

While he still wants the memorial in the park, he also now wants the library to be renamed after the late civil rights leader as well.

"That would satisfy the location and educational aspects," Woods said.

He said renaming the library would cost little more "than the ink for the mayor to sign the ordinance."

Woods also would like to install a bust of King at the library's entrance.

To accommodate the statue, "not one book would have to be moved," Woods said.

He planned to send a memo to fellow commissioners outlining the plan and believes "everyone will agree."

Woods said he would like the library to be renamed before the city places a statue in the park.

So far, the city has allocated $15,000 for the memorial, and estimates it will cost about $45,000 more.

City Commissioner Woody Brown said during last week's commission work session that the reason the project has been stagnant was because the community doesn't support it.

"The money hasn't been pouring in," he said.

He also blamed Woods for not making more of an effort to raise the necessary funds.

But Gerard said Brown wasn't being fair.

"I don't know about you, but I have a full-time job plus this," she said. "I don't have time to be out there raising $45,000, although we put it in his lap to do it and just walked away and said, 'Well, okay, come back when you're done.' "

Woods said as soon as a site is chosen, the donations will follow.

According to City Manager Norton Craig, four people have contributed a total of $850 so far.

"Quite frankly, it's time to move forward," said Woods. "It's not the community that's holding it up right now; it's this commission that's holding up this project."

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

Largo commissioners clash on placement of King memorial 03/16/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 10:06am]
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