Council members sit on committee that approved Confederate flag

BY ELGIN JONES  

HOMESTEAD — Five of the seven Homestead city council members serve on a committee that authorized the display of the Confederate flag in last year’s Veterans Day parade, the South Florida Times has learned.

The news came as a shock to some former members of the Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board who sought to ban the controversial flag from taxpayer-funded events. They were told that the city had no direct connection to parade organizers.

“Oh, my God! No wonder we never got anywhere,” said a surprised Rosemary Fuller, the former chairperson of the board. “That is the pits and it’s a doggone shame. This is the worst thing I’ve heard out of this entire situation. I cannot explain how bad this is because it’s ethically wrong, and a disastrous public relations blunder.”

The Military Affairs Committee of the Greater Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce organizes the annual Veterans Day parade in Homestead.

The committee is at the center of an escalating controversy over the display of the Confederate flag. The group allowed Confederate States groups to display the flags in last year’s parade.

Supporters of the Confederate flag say it is an expression of southern pride. Opponents, including many members of the black community, say it is a reminder of slavery, lynching and racial intolerance.

When local opponents of the flag asked city council members to ban Confederate groups from future city-sanctioned events, they were told that the city provides in-kind support in the form of  police protection and cleanup services, but that the city has no say in whether the flag is displayed.

Last month, the Homestead City Council unanimously voted to dissolve the board, a week after the board voiced its opposition to the display of the flag at taxpayer-funded events.

The five city council members who serve on the Military Affairs Committee are: Mayor Lynda Bell and Council Members Judy Waldman, Nazy Sierra, Wendy Lobos and Tim Nelson.

When contacted by the newspaper, Bell said through an assistant’s email, “the City of Homestead Mayor and Council DO NOT serve on the MAC Parade Committee or the MAC Executive Committee.”

Homestead City spokeswoman Lillian Delgado confirmed that the five council members, including Bell, do serve on the chamber’s Military Affairs Committee.

Delgado did not respond to a question about whether council members should have disclosed their membership in the Military Affairs Committee to the public.

Officials with the chamber of commerce also confirmed that the five council members presently sit on the committee. But, chamber officials said, the council members were in no way involved in any decision about the parade, or in allowing Confederate organizations to participate.

“Just to confirm – although some members of the Homestead City government are general members of the MAC, none are members of the MAC executive board,’’ said Jeff Wander, chairman of the Military Affairs Committee. “Their membership in the MAC has never been secret. The same as the membership of prior office holders. They never had any input in the organization, or production of the Veterans Day Parade. Only the parade subcommittee did. No meeting was held, nor votes taken to screen participants. The only criteria we required was that the entrant honor veterans.”

Some members of the former Human Relations Board said they find little solace in that explanation, and are now demanding a full disclosure of the council members’ involvement in organizing the parade.

“This is surprising, and disappointing. We deserve to know what else they may not be telling us,” said Pat Mellerson, a former founding member of the Human Relations Board. “At this point, how can we trust them?”

At their April 20 meeting, and by a unanimous vote, city council members dissolved the Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board, which addressed racial issues in both cities.

The board’s former members say they suspect that the move was in response to their challenging the Military Affairs Committee about its decision to allow the Confederate States organizations to participate in last year’s Veterans Day parade.

Bell said the HRB was no longer relevant to the city’s growing population – which is largely Hispanic – and its needs.

Fuller said there needs to be a full review because she’s concerned there may have been a conflict of interest for the council members to take action without disclosing the relationship, even if it is determined that they had no part in the parade decision-making.

“It doesn’t matter what they claim not to have done,’’ Fuller said. “We need the facts, because if they are on that committee, they should have let it be known, but they said nothing and it raises a lot of questions.’’

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