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Southern Brooksville gets council's attention

Joe Bernardini will represent the City Council in a group trying to increase services and control crime.

By DAN DeWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- Brooksville City Council member Joe Bernardini will become the council's representative to an informal group trying to improve conditions in southern Brooksville.

But whether this group that wants to reduce crime will continue to function, its members said, depends on how responsive residents are to its efforts.

"If the community is satisfied with the level of service it is getting, that level will remain the same," said Sheriff Richard Nugent, also a member of the group.

"If they want more from the county, that level of service can increase."

The group started partly in the aftermath of a heated discussion about whether to change the name of Summit Road to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Doug Davis, a white resident and business owner, opposed the name change, which the council approved.

He thought his black neighbors misunderstood his position, he said, so he began discussing ways to improve the neighborhood with JoAnn Munford, who formerly lived nearby and heads the Jesus and Me ministry.

They contacted County Commissioner Diane Rowden, who enlisted Nugent and Bernardini. The Brooksville City Council voted Monday to make Bernardini their official representative to the group.

"I think Joe's interest is in being a sounding board for some of the problems that have troubled South Brooksville," Brooksville Police Chief Ed Tincher said.

At the first informal meeting of the group, its members agreed to hold a community forum at Kennedy Park.

All the members said that true improvement to the neighborhood requires efforts in a number of areas.

Residents at the meeting, for example, complained about drainage and trash problems south of Martin Luther King, and county crews have worked on them, Nugent said. Bernardini also said economic development would have to be a priority.

But no improvements can be lasting without decreasing the open drug dealing on the street, Davis said.

"We're tired of seeing the bad guys win all the time. We're tired of seeing our children kidnapped by the bad guys," he said, referring to the way young children are recruited into the drug trade by older dealers.

He said he hoped that the Hernando County Sheriff's Office would build a substation near his welding business near Martin Luther King and E Jefferson Street. He also hoped residents would work with deputies and Brooksville police against the dealers.

"We have to win the kids' confidence to confide in the people who can help them without feeling like a rat fink," Davis said.

Rowden said she hopes the group will have a followup meeting. What comes out of this, she said, will determine how she and the other government officials proceed.

"I don't want to force something on somebody and say, "This is what you need.' I want the community to tell us what they need. Law enforcement needs support, and the government needs support."

Bernardini, for one, is convinced that most South Brooksville residents want to cooperate.

"The people don't want that in their neighborhood, and a lot of them are just intimidated so they don't say anything," he said.

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