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NAACP says steering team is starting off-course

NAACP says steering team is starting off-course

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Jackson County Commissioners on Tuesday appointed five community members and board chairman Clint Pate to a steering committee that will help shape the future of the Endeavor property on the west end of Marianna.

The Jackson County Tourist Development Council, partnering with the Commission in the Endeavor planning, had given that board 12 names to consider for that body, but commissioners cut seven from the list. The board may, however, revisit it and add or subtract names going forward.

One of the seven who were rejected asserts that the county board has run the committee off track before it can even start trying to steer.

Local NAACP Chapter president Linda B. Franklin expressed disappointment in the board’s decision to make the cuts. The board chose five white men and one Black woman, cutting two Black men, two white women, and a white man from the proposed list.

The working committee had suggested 12 names initially including Franklin’s, but in the end appointed the following individuals: Commission Chairman Clint Pate of Graceville, Campbellton-area businesswoman and artist Lillie Clark (From District 1); Cottondale resident Brian Braxton (From District 2), Marianna High School assistant principal Travis Blanton (From District 3); Rivertown Community Church senior pastor Paul Smith (From District 4), and Dellwood resident John Hamilton (From District 5).

Those cut from the list of 12 presented Tuesday included, in addition to Franklin: NAACP 2nd Vice President/former Dozier employee/ Marianna “West End” resident Leon Kelley; Chipola Historical Trust President Pat Crisp, Marianna Mayor Travis Ephriam; autism expert Syntha Alvarez; and Florida Caverns State Park Manager Jacob Strickland. Marianna City Manager Jim Dean had been on an earlier list but was cut from it before the final list of 12 was presented to the board.

The commission’s decision, made during the third of three consecutive sessions of the board that day, leaves the committee without a representative from the west end, where Endeavor is located, Franklin complains, and also without a representative of the NAACP. The state of Florida, she asserts, had at some time in the past verbally promised the then-seated president of NAACP a place at the table in every aspect of Endeavor’s future.

“The Jackson County NAACP is very disappointed in the action taken by the Jackson County Board of County Commissioners in reference to the steering committee appointees for the Endeavor project,” Franklin wrote in an email. “Having only one African American or minority period on a panel of five appointees and a county commission representative will not suffice. That is not a representation of the diversity of our community; therefore, our voices will not be heard when important decisions are made that will impact our entire community. In addition, in an agreement between the previous administration of the Jackson County NAACP and the State of Florida, representation from this organization was paramount on all future Endeavor decisions. In the action taken, that didn’t happen. This process must have the appearance of fairness and equity and as of tonight, that wasn’t the case. Shame on this commission.”

Commission member Jim Peacock said in the first meeting of the day that he didn’t know all the potential appointees – other than the five appointed by himself and the other four board members – the list that was ultimately approved along with Pate.

Commissioner Eric Hill said he didn’t know them all either.

“How did we come up with these people?” Peacock had asked. “How did some of these get picked? I think we need to revisit this list.”

“I know a few of them…what’s their background?” Hill added.

“Tell me why we’ve got some of these people on here. I don’t know them. I was asked to appoint one person, I’m just trying to figure out how all these other people got on here,” Peacock continued.

Jackson County Tourist Development Council Executive Director and Endeavor working group member Christy Andreasen, in presenting the list, said the recommendation of the 12 potential members suggested was based on the individuals’ “experience and subject matter expertise.”

The board had met Tuesday in three consecutive sessions. The first was focused on Endeavor, the second on budget decisions, and the third was the board’s regular second-Tuesday session, having been moved to 6 p.m. from its regular 9 a.m. time slot so that it would flow behind the two special sessions.

The board was provided brief biographical sketches of the potential appointees between that first meeting of the day, when the list was first presented, and the third, in which the board took up the matter again.

Initially in that 6 p.m. session, they tabled a decision on the appointments but later agreed on the six names. During the discussion of that motion, Commissioner Hill indicated they might look at the list again in a few weeks and make additions or subtractions to it.

Commissioner Chuck Lockey, attending remotely via Zoom, had expressed doubts that a committee should have as many as a dozen members.

The board had assembled one much larger than that in 2018, when it created the new Jackson County Economic Development Committee. There were slots for 23 individuals on that board when it was formed.

Ultimately, rather than keeping the decision tabled as they’d had it earlier in the meeting, the board appointed the six. The appointment of committee members at that time came at the urging of County Administrator Wilanne Daniels. She told the board that leaving the issue in limbo could delay critical time lines associated with getting started on the convention center and museum projects, and that the board could always adjust the group make-up later.

“The ones we’ve appointed (as board members), I don’t have a problem with them starting work, and the others I want to take a look at them. I don’t know who they are,” Peacock had added during the discussion.

Commissioners also made another Endeavor-related adjustment that evening, striking some language from the working document that serves as a general guideline for the development of two Endeavor property assets, the old gym-which is expected to be repurposed into a convention center, and the old cafeteria-which is expected to be repurposed into a Jackson County museum.

The board decided to strike a phrase in the paragraphs that provided background on the Endeavor property, which had once served as the Dozier School for Boys. In the narrative, the author of it noted that the facility had been closed several years ago “following decades of abuse allegations.”

Peacock wanted to know why that phrase was being put in the narrative, and so did Hill, and so did Pate.

All three indicated they thought the mention didn’t belong in that narrative, and the board by consensus directed that it be stricken.

“I don’t think that accomplishes anything pertaining to this,” Peacock had stated.

“We can strike that if you would like to,” Andreasen said.

“My preference would be strike it,” Peacock replied. “That’s in the past. That will be reflected in the museum, I’m sure, but I’m not sure we need it here. Because it’s an allegation.”

“Yeah,” Hill said.

Pate also weighed in. “I don’t see it needing to be there either, myself. I mean, we know it’s going to be in the museum…but…we’re getting away from Dozier, we’re going to Endeavor…there’s no sense in…”

“Absolutely,” Hill added.

Andreasen did note that, although it could be stricken in that narrative, the subject would likely be something that could come up as the team working on Endeavor projects build their grant requests for the convention center and the old gym going forward.

“Sure,” Peacock replied, adding in reference to the museum project, “I hope this is the history of Jackson County. Complete. Everyone.”

After the board decided to strike the reference to the allegations of abuse, Hill had a question for Andreasen.

“Who is going be the gatekeeper of that narrative (as to the history of the property)? Who is going to be that deciding factor?” he asked.

“I think that would go to the steering committee, and we would work together to build that from what the board directs us to do in this component,” Andreasen answered.

The narrative presented Tuesday could go through further edits: Some board members had not had time to read it all the way through by the time discussion about it began Tuesday.

“I’ll read through it later and I’ll contact you directly,” Peacock told Andreasen.

The document included some timelines for the conference center and museum components. Read more about those in an accompanying story.

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