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Critics want Boys & Girls Club out of Plantation

photo
[Times photo: Mike Pease]
"This club is excellent. This club is the greatest club I've been to," says Randy Harshbarger, 7, as he sits against a window at the Boys and Girls Club in the Plantation of Carrollwood on Friday.

By TIM GRANT

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 1, 2001


They say they oppose the program's use the facilities, not the program itself. Still, some of the children take the conflict personally.

CARROLLWOOD -- Now that homeowners have voted against a permanent building for the Boys & Girls Club in Plantation of Carrollwood, leaders of the opposition say they will campaign to get rid of the whole program.

Critics have complained that the Boys & Girls Club children are poorly supervised, that they create trash and that they prevent other residents from using Plantation's recreational facilities. They consider the club a worrisome liability.

The club operates out of one large portable building.

"We want them gone," said Mary Jo Kail, who led the opposition. "But we want to help them find property outside of Plantation. We're not against the club. We just don't want them on Plantation property."

After six years in Plantation, county funding will end next June. When that happens, the program might have to locate elsewhere, a sad outlook for many children who consider the club their second home.

"This is like our part-time house," 9-year-old David Rodriguez said. "We live here."

Club counselors spent some time Friday reassuring the children that the homeowners voted against the building, not the children who use the program.

For some, it was harder to separate the two issues.

"They are cold-hearted," said Brittney Mills, 13. "They were looking for ways to say no."

The vote count was 165 in favor and 155 against the proposal. But the measure would have needed a two-thirds majority, or 213 votes, to go forward.

Plantation Boys & Girls Club administrator Gary Moses said the children and counselors are trying to stay optimistic. The club is exploring options to continue serving the Plantation children.

"This morning, the kids were pretty traumatized," Moses said. "We don't want them to think we are packing up next week. They need to know we are not going to abandon them."

Plantation property manager Tom Jones said he and his board of directors will also explore their options. Seventeen percent of Plantation's homeowners voted in Thursday night's election, and only 8 percent voted against the building, "so it's not an indictment against the Boys & Girls Club," Jones said. "That vote was not a mandate from residents to do away with the program."

A previous vote on the issue passed by a wide margin in November. But that vote was declared invalid by an attorney because of flaws in the proxies they used.

That is when Kail, who sells real estate in Plantation, and a handful of helpers started mounting their opposition. Their campaign drew about 200 neighbors to the largest meeting in the development's 25-year history.

"I give her credit," Jones said of Kail. "She was organized and tenacious in pursuing this."

Supporters say they believe people who voted against the project were misled and misinformed. Some of the criticism about the club has seemed personal to people involved with it.

Adam Durham, 15, is a junior leader who helps supervise the children in Plantation. "When the kids go on the playground and play, there are 20 or 30 kids to a counselor," he said. "They are not running amok. We are watching them."

Brittany said that most people who spoke and voted against the club had never even visited.

"If they came here and saw what we do, they'd have a whole different perspective of what the Boys & Girls Club is," she said.

- To reach Tim Grant, call 226-3471.

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