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Volunteer board member to resign over Oldsmar councilwoman's remarks

OLDSMAR — Sara Normandeau is so incensed that one of her City Council representatives reeled off stereotypes about illegal immigrants at the July 6 meeting, she plans to resign from the volunteer planning board next week in protest.

Janice Miller, a third-term council member, said she thought the people who repaired City Hall's roof in 2006 were "illegals" based on their physical appearance and the debris that she said they left behind at the work site.

"It is obvious to me that they were from Central America," she said in a subsequent interview with the St. Petersburg Times. "I'm 68 years old, and I know what different people look like from different countries. I know what Mexicans look like and Italians or Spanish or black or white or Asian. It isn't a big leap."

Turns out, the foreman on the roof repair project was born in the United States.

Miller backed off the statements last Wednesday and said that she did not know how to articulate her request for a city ban on contractors who employ unauthorized workers. But by then, she had already used her inaccurate observations and Arizona's much-debated immigration law as arguments for her proposal.

(The council didn't take any action on Miller's suggestion, but a city attorney said Oldsmar could make contractors sign an affidavit that they do not and will not employ illegal immigrants.)

"Regardless of your position on that particular issue," Normandeau said, "you have to look at what Janice said. She was not only racially offensive, but her response (that she) couldn't articulate (her) ideas clearly — you have to, as a voter, be angry."

In a note of thanks to an Oldsmar woman who applauded Miller "for going to the heart of the problem of illegal workers migrating to this country," Miller on Tuesday continued to back off last week's remarks and said that she "meant nothing racial.

"For Pete's sake, you know Ruben (Hernandez, Miller's husband) and you know he's of Puerto Rican descent," she wrote in the e-mail to Judith Black, which she copied to the council and a Times reporter. "My heart breaks for the many Americans out of work."

But Normandeau said this isn't the first time Miller has made racially insensitive remarks. At a March 14, 2007, luncheon of the Upper Tampa Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce featuring former Pinellas schools superintendent Clayton Wilcox, Normandeau was present when Miller "literally said that minority kids would do better in school if their parents weren't on the street corners selling crack."

Normandeau said she fired off an e-mail to Miller, who was in the middle of her second term on the council at the time. Miller responded. Normandeau no longer has the messages, but said she forwarded both e-mails, hers and the council member's, to the city.

The Times requested the e-mails Tuesday morning, but the city did not have them ready until after press time.

Normandeau, who lost a 2009 City Council campaign to current Vice Mayor Doug Bevis, said she has no ulterior motive for relinquishing her seat. "Somebody has to say enough is enough," she said.

The planning board is one of several citizen boards that make recommendations to the City Council on everything from rezoning requests to site plans. The council can override what the volunteer group says.

"I can't imagine being in an advisory capacity to a City Council that endorses that kind of rhetoric," Normandeau said. "If the city is going to back Janice Miller and say it's okay that she can't speak clearly, that's it."

Reach Rodney Thrash at rthrash@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

Volunteer board member to resign over Oldsmar councilwoman's remarks 07/13/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 11:39am]
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