Tampa Bay Times
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So what do you do with more than 30 grand in goodwill from your friends and neighbors, the happy result of citizens doing the job of their elected officials?
In our own messy contribution to a conversation going on across America, Hillsborough County commissioners last month tied themselves in knots over moving a divisive Confederate soldier monument from outside a public courthouse to a private family cemetery where it would be welcomed.
Commissioners voted no, then yes, and then disingenuously tacked on a 30-day deadline for raising $140,000 in private money toward getting the job done. Bust that deadline, they said, and the statue would stay.
You probably know the rest: More than 700 assorted contributors did it in a day, and with an excess of more than $30,000 once you subtract the GoFundMe cut and other transactional fees.
(Quick program note here: It was instructive to see Commissioner Victor Crist, who made the motion to require private contributions, nearly break his arm patting himself on the back afterward when the community, and not its elected leaders, came through.
Crist also wins Most Cringeworthy Moment in an issue that sparked deep emotions and long-held beliefs about racism and history for citizens who showed up to the meetings in droves. As they waited through other county matters — one involving a local theater group — Crist quipped from the dais that if they ever decided to do Gone With the Wind, there sure were "a lot of characters in the audience" to play the parts. Ha ha, sorry, couldn't resist that one.)
Tampa lawyer (and Southerner) Tom Scarritt, who organized the fundraising effort, said the excess donations would not go to the commission. So how to spend it? We did not lack for opinions, offered up on the GoFundMe page:
Use the rest to remove the giant Confederate flag that flies near busy Interstates 4 and 75 for motorists to view daily. But that flag is on private property, and for now a reminder that progress can be a slow road.
Other ideas: Give the money to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League, the ACLU, the NAACP.
Feed the hungry. Replace the statue with art that's for everyone. Give it to the next town working to get a Confederate shrine off public property.
My personal favorite: Use it for voter-registration efforts, because didn't our own County Commission just show us the importance of whom we elect?
There was also this cheekier suggestion: Develop a scholarship for broke college students like myself! But seriously, the writer said: Can't we at least help our local schools?
In fact, this good-hearted suggestion was the one that rallied the most people: Get busy spending the money on the next problem at hand — the air conditioning woes plaguing Hillsborough County schools at this sweltering start of the academic year.
Wrote another proponent of relief for sweaty students and teachers: If we all come together, we see what can be done. Which turns out to be true even in Hillsborough County.
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