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Protests to King Avenue belie Zephyrhills' progress

Zephyrhills, Pasco's second-largest city, frequently serves as a symbol of progress for local municipalities.

It boasts of a growing tax base. It owns and operates its own airport. It used federal money and a public-private partnership to build a YMCA. It took a gamble and passed on similar federal dollars in order to successfully obtain state money to help refurbish its downtown core.

It also helped obtain grant money to pay for infrastructure improvements for a needy area outside the municipal limits. It saved an abandoned rail depot, relocated it and turned it into a museum and community meeting place. It opened new police and fire stations. Its wish list for using sales tax proceeds includes a civic and performing arts center.

Still, it is not immune to small-town politicking. The hiccups along the way included a drawn-out public debate about a proposed traffic roundabout and an ill-conceived attempt to oust the city manager. However, the city is highly regarded for its professional management. Even the controversial call to ask for the resignation of a recently hired police chief was done to eliminate fears of acting unprofessionally and the potential for future liability.

Given that progressive outlook, it is incredibly disappointing to see the reaction from a portion of the community to renaming Sixth Avenue after slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The City Council, on a 4-1 vote, actually did this the right way, agreeing that a thoroughfare running nearly the length of the city should bear King's name. Too frequently, King's legacy has been attached to streets in blighted areas of cities around the country.

The ugly response in some quarters is a two-pronged petition drive. One calls for reconsideration of the name change. The other seeks a recall election of the four council members, Elizabeth Geiger, Cathi Compton, Lance Smith and Celia Graham, who voted to rename the street.

It is not a simple task. For the recall petition to succeed, it must contain the signatures of at least 10 percent of the city's registered voters, or 720 names. If verified by the elections office, a second petition must be circulated and bear the names of 15 percent of registered voters.

Opponents should put their energy to a more productive use. There is no malfeasance at work here by the council and this issue does not meet the litmus test for a recall.

More accurately, the reaction is based on racial prejudice, plain and simple. There is no documentation to verify some objectors' claims that King's name brings down property values.

"We have no way of measuring that," property appraiser Mike Wells said.

One resident told St. Petersburg Times staff writer Molly Moorhead that the council did its job improperly because it didn't follow the will of constituents. The interpretation is incorrect. People are put in office to lead, not to pander and kowtow.

Irene Dobson, who lives outside the city, showed leadership in asking for the name change. A progressive council majority agreed.

City residents should demonstrate their own progressive attitudes. They should ignore the petition drives and support honoring Martin Luther King in this appropriate manner.

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