TAMPA — Hillsborough County Sheriff's officials were still scratching their heads Wednesday after they were blamed for the cancellation of a church celebration that was to feature Sen. Barack Obama's controversial former minister.
"Honestly, we don't know what the problem is," said sheriffs spokeswoman Debbie Carter. "We're disappointed in the fact that information was put out there that was not accurate."
Carter said her office has not received an apology, despite the fact that the pastor of the church, the Rev. Earl Mason, told a national television audience that they were unhappy with the security arrangements, and blamed the Sheriff's Office.
Mason did not return calls for comment Wednesday. His administrative assistant, Iris Metcalf, declined to discuss it.
"It's in the past. It's history," she said.
A large crowd was expected to converge on the Bible-Based Fellowship Church of Temple Terrace during a three-day revival this week to hear the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. in his first appearance since his sermons drew fire for Obama.
Mason called a news conference Tuesday afternoon to say the appearance had become a media circus and security was inadequate.
According to Tampa Police spokeswoman Laura McElroy, Metcalf contacted the department about hiring officers for parking issues last Friday.
They asked for two officers for three nights from 6 to 10 p.m. At some point, the Sheriff's Office contacted the police department to say that they, too, had been asked to provide security.
The Sheriff's Office offered to help, but "we totally had it covered," McElroy said.
The church eventually asked for a third officer, and the contract was drawn up and a deposit was placed, she said. Plans for security and crowd control were already in place as part of police duties, McElroy said, adding that they had a team of both uniformed officers and undercover personnel lined up.
Then Tuesday, a Tampa police officer who attends the church called the department to tell them the revival had been canceled. Mason called the news conference and blamed it on the Sheriff's Office.
"I'm waiting for a call from Sheriff Gee (on why they decided) to remove themselves," Mason said during the nationally televised remarks.
He said the two agencies serve together at Gasparilla and the fairgrounds and (football) games, "so I believe there is another agenda here and I would like to know what it is."
The Sheriff's Office was willing to provide any additional help, Carter said, adding that three different high-ranking sheriff's officials had spoken with Mason and the police department about providing added security.
Wright, meanwhile, has canceled his appearance Saturday at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, where he was to attend the State of the Black Church Summit and Awards Banquet.
Mason made what appeared to be an oblique reference to the dustup during a Bible study Wednesday night when the discussion turned to word changes in the New Testament.
"I'm going to be real sensitive about words from now on because your words can be taken away,'' he said. "You can have your words recited back to you a few minutes later and you don't even know what you said.''
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 269-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.