A 24-year-old Army reservist who has gone the distance for Zephyrhills builds a Web site to encourage change.
ZEPHYRHILLS - Gregg Hilferding left his hometown last year to serve with the Army in Iraq and Kuwait. In 1999, he hiked the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail to raise money for Zephyrhills' historic preservation fund. His Eagle Scout project was to put an American flag in Times Square downtown.
So when he learned of the City Council's vote last week to change Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue back to Sixth Avenue, the 24-year-old sat down at his computer and got involved.
He built a Web site: better-zephyrhills.org.
Hilferding sought to create a resource for people to learn more about the issue. The site provides background on the controversy that began last fall, descriptions of the people involved in the fight, links to other media coverage, e-mail addresses of council members and an online poll. He plans to add more background on the players, start an online forum and post the results of his poll.
Hilferding's site, which he calls "a personal project," is anything but neutral. He is angry over the decision to rescind the King name and wants it changed back.
"I'm going to do whatever I can to educate people . . . and fix this so it doesn't actually go through," Hilferding said.
Council members are scheduled to vote once more at their meeting Monday, finalizing a resolution to name the street Sixth Avenue.
Hilferding now lives in north Tampa. Last year, as an Army reservist, he spent 10 months serving in Kuwait and Iraq. Now he does Web site design and Internet marketing for Shirts and Caps, his family's business on Fifth Avenue in downtown Zephyrhills.
Hilferding, who is white, said he thinks those most staunchly opposing the King name do not reflect the opinions of most residents.
"I persist in the belief that it is only a small minority of Zephyrhills that does not want the Martin Luther King name," he said. "I think the majority is unhappy with the current decision and wants to see Martin Luther King honored in whatever way possible."
Hilferding has not tracked how many hits his site has collected. It went up Wednesday, and he started paying for advertising on the search engine Google.com on Friday.
Gina King, the newly elected council member who revived the issue last week, gets a great deal of attention on Hilferding's site, with quotes attributed to her in newspapers.
Monday evening, King said she had not heard about the site.
"I would like to look at it for myself," King said. "I'd like to see if really what's presented there is true."
Some Web sites where the street issue is addressed do not get a link on Hiferding's site. A white nationalist site contains a thread of mostly positive users' postings praising the decision to revoke the Martin Luther King name and questioning his status as an American icon.
Hilferding said he refuses to link to what he considers hate groups but wants his visitors to be aware of all sides.
"I think it's important for people to know that's being said," he said.
Hilferding's site encourages visitors to contact city leaders about the issue and attend the next council meeting.
In a disclaimer at the bottom of his Web page, Hilferding defends his right to publish its contents, as well as the rights of others to disagree. His sources: links to the First Amendment and U.S. Constitution.IF YOU GO
Zephyrhills City Council will meet at 6 p.m Monday at City Hall, 5335 Eighth St. Residents who wish to comment may sign up at the door.
For more information see: www.better-zephyrhills.org