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Founding member of city arts panel quits

Published Oct. 1, 2005

A fourth member of the city's Public Arts Committee has resigned, citing "unanswered questions and the attitude of our mayor."

Elsie Coy, a founding member of the group, said the city should have consulted the committee before moving the Cultural Affairs Department to the library and naming a new director.

The department had formerly been housed in the city clerk's office with City Clerk Cheryl Mortenson serving as its director. Oldsmar Library Director Nancy Mellican took over the position March 1.

"I just don't understand why they did it," Coy said. "They should have gotten the committee together and explained to us why they were going to change it from the city clerk's to the library."

In the past three weeks, the 13-seat committee has lost three other members: veteran Sunday Page; Mortenson; and Janet Coleman. Coy and Page resigned for many of the same reasons; Mortenson said she resigned because she felt the city did not value her services; Coleman left because of work obligations.

Coy said she didn't like Mayor Jerry Beverland's attitude at a Feb. 6 committee meeting. He had been invited to talk about the city's plans for a cultural center.

Beverland began by telling the committee, "You may know as much as I do about art, but you don't know more than I do about art."

After that meeting Coy said the mayor had been "so aggressive."

Beverland said blaming him is "ludicrous." He said some people may not remember that he worked to persuade past councils to pay for arts efforts in the community.

"Using me as an excuse? Come on," he said. "No one has been a bigger supporter of the arts in this community than I have. I don't understand resigning from the arts committee for my attitude."

Coy was vice president for the Art League, the group that preceded the Public Arts Committee, and has volunteered in Oldsmar for the last 20 years.

"That was one of the best organizations I ever belonged to," Coy said of the committee.

The group has been hurt by the city's recent decisions, she said. The volunteer committee reviews art submitted for display in the City Hall gallery.

In January, the committee decided not to display photos of bare-chested men submitted by a University of South Florida faculty member. The City Council later chose to hang two of those photos.

Like Page, Coy said she felt slighted when the council overruled the committee's recommendation.

"I've been in the community for 28 years and I know how the people in the city feel about these things," Coy said. "I was only trying to follow what was right. Then the mayor stepped in and overpowered us."

Coy said the city's actions have made her wonder if it wants a different committee.

"It's really hurt the whole committee," she said. "We'd been having great meetings and our artwork looked great in City Hall. It was such a slap in the face. I said, "No way.' I can't hack that stuff."