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Palmetto commissioner files complaint against city

PALMETTO — City Commissioner Mary Lancaster filed a complaint with the Florida Office of the Attorney General, charging her fellow commissioners with disenfranchising minority residents.

In a Feb. 5 letter to Attorney General Bill McCollum, Lancaster wrote that a proposal for the city commission to take over the duties of the Community Redevelopment Agency would mean her constituents in Ward 1, which has a large black population, would not receive the same services they now get from the CRA.

The CRA district in Palmetto is largely comprised of Ward I.

Lancaster did not return a telephone message for comment.

“During her campaign . . . (now Mayor) Shirley Bryant stated that one of her three priorities if elected would be the improvement of the roads in ‘old Palmetto,’” the letter to McCollum stated. “‘Old Palmetto’ is the local colloquialism for Ward 2 — one of the wealthier areas of the city, which is absolutely in superior condition to that of Ward 1.”

Bryant said Wednesday that improving the roads in Ward 2, in west Palmetto, had nothing to do with the CRA.

“The two are separate issues,” she said. “The roads all over Palmetto need to be resurfaced.”

The mayor said CRA funds have to be spent in the CRA district, and the city’s top priority is to resurface the roads in Ward 1.

City commissioners are in the process of becoming the CRA’s board. A public hearing on the proposal is set for 7 p.m. Feb. 23 at City Hall.

During her campaign and at the first commission meeting she chaired, Bryant said she felt the commission should be in control of the CRA because of court rulings that had found cities responsible for funds CRA boards spent.

“My concerns were about different CRAs being audited and the cities having to reimburse the funds,” she said, “and the city doesn’t have the funds to do that if the CRA is audited.”

In Lancaster’s letter, she said the proposed ordinance, which provides for the mayor to appoint the advisory board, “may be inconsistent with State Statue.”

Bryant said the office of mayor has always had that power.

Bryant also denied Lancaster’s charge in her letter that public works director Alan Tusing, who had previously worked for the city, had “demonstrated a long term practice of inequitably distributing the resources of the city — excluding the 1st Ward.”

“I served on the commission for 11 years,” Bryant said, “and we always took interest in doing things in Ward 1.”

Lancaster asked the attorney general’s office to look into several issues, including whether the proposed ordinance putting CRA powers in the hands of the commission is in accordance with Florida statues.

She also wants to know if there is a process in the statues that deals with such transitions and if the Palmetto commission followed them.

A spokeswoman at the attorney general office said a response to the letter would be available today.