My job as president of the Lakewood Estates Civic Association is to work to unite our neighborhood, to bring our residents together in a common effort to maintain our way of life, bolster our property values, keep our crime rate down and protect our children. Everyone can appreciate this job is not always easy, and our neighborhood in particular has issues with the equal-opportunity offending young drivers speeding through our streets, playing music over decibel limits, tossing litter from cars and engaging in occasional graffiti. I am known for dealing with this problem proactively and I do not let up on repeat offenders. For my doggedness, I am sometimes misunderstood, but I am more often praised for my hard work.
For instance, under my leadership and with the help of others, in 2009, our neighborhood was recognized with the Outstanding Achievement Award for Neighborhood Advocacy by then-Mayor Rick Baker and City Council Member Jamie Bennett because of our proactive approach to problem-solving, along with a cooperative attitude toward our neighboring associations and city departments. Today, our membership continues to grow (56 new members so far this year) and attendance at our meetings runs consistently between 70 and 80, and that includes attendance by homeowners and renters, black, white or other. The reason for that is simple: All of our residents have a concern over the quality of life in Lakewood Estates and that supersedes the perceptions of a small minority who level criticism toward me based on perceptions of race.
On the other hand, it goes with the territory that criticism sometimes comes my way. Sandra Gadsden's critical editorial of me overlooked some important factors. For instance, a former president of our crime watch, Connie Oliver, happens to be African-American. Ms. Oliver appreciates the hard work I do to keep our neighborhood peaceful, and furthermore stated, "My hat is off to Judy for having the perseverance to fight the uphill battle to keep our neighborhood peaceful, quiet, and safe for all. She knows that the problems in our neighborhood are shouldered by all, black and white, and that the troublemakers are also black and white, as well."
Lakewood Estates is one of St. Pete's nicest neighborhoods and I am proud of our diversity. We work together to take care of each other. The woman who needed her garage door painted was white; the woman who got a free xeriscaped yard was black. We didn't ask about the color of the people we helped last Thanksgiving, or the individuals who benefited from the huge quantity of cold-weather bedding and clothing we raised for Pinellas Hope. I am disappointed that so much credence was put into just three families critical of me personally, yet who do not take part in neighborhood activities, do not pay dues, do not come to meetings, and do not participate in the casual and formal activities of interacting with the neighborhood. That is their choice, but I hope these families, like so many of their neighbors, will join with us in conversations and work to protecting our neighborhood and bring their concerns forward in a meaningful, productive dialogue.
Judy Ellis has been president of the Lakewood Estates Civic Association since 2006.