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Families rally behind a man they say has done an excellent job despite arrest record.
By John Barry, Times Staff Writer
Published February 26, 2008
[Martha Rial | Times]
Three dozen families are trying to save the job of a St. Petersburg camp director who is beloved by children but has a 17-year arrest record that came to light in the summer.
The families have all written letters on behalf of Lynn Marshall, who runs Pioneer Camp for the city of St. Petersburg. He has taught children survival skills - like rubbing sticks to make a fire and forging steel tools in a coal furnace - for more than 10 years at the Boyd Hill Nature Preserve.
A St. Petersburg Times profile in the summer revealed that Marshall, 54, has fought drug and alcohol addictions most of his life and has an arrest record dating to 1972. He served two months in jail in 1994 for possession of crack cocaine. His last arrest was in 2005 for driving without a license. Most parents didn't know.
"I have no shame in who I am," he said in the summer. "Everything I've done is the result of what happened in my life. I'd be ashamed only if I weren't doing anything about it."
Marshall has been clean and sober for more than a year, he says. St. Petersburg officials were aware of most of the arrests. They allowed him to start the camp in 1997 because three years had passed since his cocaine conviction and because Marshall had passed a screening by the FBI.
In 10 years, parks director Cliff Footlick says, he never heard a complaint from a parent.
But on Jan. 25, the Department of Children and Families notified Marshall that he could no longer direct Pioneer Camp. The DCF gave him until today to appeal the decision. He was invited to submit proof of rehabilitation and letters of recommendation.
Footlick said he provided the state with Marshall's employment history, but left it to the DCF to decide whether he should continue at the camp.
Thirty-five parents urged the department to give him a chance.
Mary Carranza, a mother of three, said her children have been part of Pioneer Camp since Marshall started it. Every summer, her Long Island family vacations here. One daughter now teaches, and her older son is a camp counselor himself in New York. She said Marshall inspired them both. "He's done nothing but wonderful things," she said.
Richard Lally, a teacher at Seminole High School, says his 14-year-old daughter has been in Pioneer Camp since the second grade. He understands that the state needs to safeguard his daughter, but believes Marshall's background helps him relate to kids with problems.
"I've watched him," Lally said. "He helps turn kids around."
Marshall said he will deliver the letters by today's deadline. He was told that a review would take six to eight weeks. For now, Footlick says, the city is holding his job for him. DCF officials were unavailable for comment Monday afternoon.
Marshall called the support overwhelming. "It's something I wasn't expecting. I have a responsibility to be the person these parents think I am."
John Barry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727 892-2258.
[Last modified February 25, 2008, 23:57:11]