LARGO -- When Joan Byrne presented, at the Largo City Commission meeting August 10, a revision in the city's policy for rental and use of Central Park one particular sentence obviously caught the attention of Commissioner Charlie Harper.
That provision, referring to a park event that co-sponsored by the city, said that it could not be "of a political, commercial or religious nature."
Harper pointed out what happened at the July Fourth holiday. The city did not have a program for the holiday, but two churches, Indian Rocks Baptist and Shiloh Baptist, put on a patriotic program.
Harper said he was there. He said there was a lot of singing and the crowd in the park responded well to it. Harper emphasized that, although a couple of churches were involved, the context of the program was not religous.
So Harper evinced a combative reaction to the provision of excluding in the future exactly what occured July 4.
"Why is this before us tonight?" Harper sharply asked. "Be straight. Tell me the truth, why is this before us?" Harper was obviously disturbed.
He said he wondered about the motivation and acknowledging the participation of black people in the July 4 event, Harper pointed out that this fulfilled a long held dream -- that is, that people not be excluded.
"As to the political, suppose the president came here? What is more American than a political rally," Harper asked rhetorically.
"These are the wrong kind of controls," he said. "I would go along with reasonable recommendations, but this goes against all that we should be working for."
One knowledgeable source said that at the time of the July 4 event, Steve Stanton, the city manager, was perturbed at what went on.
He also defended himself against Harper's remarks, although the commissioner did not address him directly on the issue at the meeting last week.
"This is insinuating something inappropriate," Stanton said in referring to the language on Central Park rules. "That is not the case," he said. "There needs to be an open process."
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