1 Facing Down a Firestorm: A Small Town in the National Spotlight
Irene Dobson had an idea. It was the summer of 2003, and the nation had just celebrated the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. She drafted a letter to the Zephyrhills, Florida, city council noting it was time for Zephyrhills to have a street named in honor of Dr. King.
The street selected was 6th Avenue, the gateway to the African-American community and one that traverses the entire city. The portion in the African-American community was in an unincorporated portion of the county, and the balance crossed the city through what is primarily a residential area.
In late October, Mrs. Dobson stood before the council and, after its approval, her dream became a reality. She had lived through Jim Crow and segregation. Now, in a city of 11,000, with a population of African Americans that totaled less than 3 percent and an all-Caucasian council, her idea was embraced and moving forward.
Although many residents--mostly white, and particularly those living along 6th Avenue--opposed the street name change and opposition to the naming appeared quickly, 6th Avenue did become Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. Following initial flare-ups of opposition, life returned to normal.
That is, until municipal election qualifying took place in early 2004.
Two newcomers ran for council seats, and they organized their campaigns around the issue of renaming the street. They ran in opposition to two supporters of the street name change. One incumbent was defeated and the second survived a close election--winning by one vote. A new majority on the city council vowed to return the street to its original name.
Irene Dobson was stunned. She and other members of the African-American community, remembering the civil rights struggles from their past, now were set into motion. On the eve of her 80th birthday, Irene Dobson picked up a picket sign and, joined by neighbors and friends, marched in front of city hall.
Overnight, a small, southern town found itself in a political firestorm and in the glare of the national media spotlight.
ISSUE NOT UNIQUE TO ZEPHYRHILLS
Since the designation of a federal holiday named after the slain civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. has become a focal point of black American pride and recognition. Steven Tuch and others note that no one leader ever "inherited King's mantle as the pre-eminent black American leader," (1) and his persona and name are central to most commemorative efforts and to the civil rights movement in general.
Derek Alderman, associate professor, Department of Geography at East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, has written that, in both small and large communities, the debate over the naming of streets in honor of King is framed around the physical geography of confining or limiting the street naming to African-American neighborhoods, as opposed to selection of a street of more significance that crosses over into Caucasian areas. (2) For many African Americans, street signs and names that are designated in only the black neighborhoods reinforce the idea that, despite all the changes and advancements, Americans as a whole still reside in segregated communities, living separate lives. Metaphorically, blacks remain in their place and whites in theirs.
The argument against renaming a major thoroughfare is often raised by Caucasian property and business owners "who cite the financial costs of changing their address and the social stigma, as they see it, of being associated with the black community," Alderman finds. (3) This division is further explained by the vastly different views held by members of both races regarding the "historical importance of the civil rights leader." Thus, the battle that ensued in Zephyrhills has been an all-too-common American phenomenon.
THE POLITICAL FIRESTORM
Caucasian residents in Zephyrhills, particularly those residing on 6th Avenue, were incensed at the street name change. They believed that city councilmembers acted too quickly and dismissed their concerns. African-American residents were equally upset, believing they had not asked for much and that the significance of King's contributions warranted a street recognized by the entire community. Naming just that portion of 6th Avenue that crossed the African-American community would lessen his contributions and the impact of the street renaming.
As city manager, I expected some fallout, particularly from property owners along 6th Avenue. The range of the anger and cross section of complaints were a surprise. As the debate raged, it took on a life of its own, and residents dredged up past inequities and the issue of majority rights versus those of the minority.
Councilmembers were in a dilemma, torn between acting in a representative capacity and charged with considering the rights and needs of all residents or responding to the desires and dictates of the majority.
At the next council meeting following in the swearing in of the newly elected and re-elected members, the street-naming issue was again placed on the agenda. It was standing room only in chambers designed to hold 240 people. As protestors picketed outside city hall, national news organizations were on hand to follow the debate, CNN, the New York Times, CBS News, and ABC News among them. Local Tampa affiliates set up shop around the municipal offices, interviewing city officials, residents, and protestors.
The situation was unique for Zephyrhills, but it is not uncommon for local government officials who work in smaller communities.
The issues may vary, such as in the recent scenario in Largo, Florida, after the city manager there announced he was undergoing a gender reassignment operation. Although Largo is a larger municipality than Zephyrhills, a similar scene unfolded, with more than 230 residents attending a hearing where the city manager appealed his firing and national media, including CNN, Newsweek, and representatives from "Inside Edition" and "The Daily Show," descended upon the city (4) As the manager of Zephyrhills, I was thrust into the limelight and found myself appearing on local television stations and national radio talk shows.
In Zephyrhills, at the April 2004 meeting, council voted 3 to 2 to rescind the street naming. A resolution finalizing that action would be considered at the next meeting in early May.
Managers typically deal with council conflict, council-manager conflict, irate citizens, and the press. The street-naming process brought all these factors together at one time, magnifying their intensity. Rescinding the name provided more press coverage and led to the protests. Some 50 residents of the area vowed to march every weekday between meetings to protest the council's action.
Several steps were taken to defuse the situation. Councilmembers met individually with a group of the protesters, seeking some common ground and compromise. A citizens' initiative was started, bringing together different groups from within the community to talk about race and the impact the street naming had overall.
In the Zephyrhills incident, councilmembers, after meeting individually with protestors, agreed to a compromise. The street name would revert to 6th Avenue, but the signage commemorating King would remain to recognize his contributions to the nation. This compromise seemed agreeable to almost everyone.
Property owners along 6th Avenue were satisfied that their addresses would not change, and African-American residents were content that the street signs honoring Dr. King would remain. The new name would not be marked on city maps, but otherwise the recognition was visible and on a prominent street. This year, new signs are being erected noting the King designation as an honorary drive.
RESOLVING CONFLICT AND FINDING COMMON GROUND
Conflict management research suggests that local government managers should be prepared to help elected officials handle conflict. Repercussions of conflict include delays in local government action on pressing issues of public concern. (5) In addition, social issues, including minority representation, race relations, and senior citizen matters, might be more likely to invoke greater council participation and involvement in a search for resolution. Further, the more a manager is involved in policy, the more the manager risks becoming an advocate for specific groups or issues. (6)
Author William Pammer and others suggest that strategies for conflict resolution include involving the key stakeholders in the conflict, such as individual councilmembers and the mayor, the manager, staff, and, in this type of situation, community leaders. (7) Other tools to be used are to identify the sources of conflict, as well as the sources of commonalities among the stakeholders and policymakers. Finding some common ground will assist in building bridges over differences.
Finally, outside assistance may be considered. Several not-for-profit organizations offered to conduct racial counseling services for Zephyrhills, and the city worked with a human resources consultant to conduct diversity training for employees. As communities continue to grow, become more diverse, and struggle with more complex issues, managers will have to learn to bring together people with opposing views and defuse conflicts within the organizations they direct and the communities they serve.
(1) Steven A. Tuch, Lee Sigelman, and Jack A. Martin, "Fifty Years after Myrdal: Blacks' Racial Policy Attitudes in the 1990s," in Racial Attitudes in the 1990s: Continuity and Change, ed. Steven A. Tuch and Jack K. Martin (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997), pp. 226-237.
(2) Derek H. Alderman, "A Street Fit for a King: Naming Places and Commemoration in the American South," Professional Geographer 52, no. 4 (2000): pp. 672-684, http://personal.ecu.edu/aldermand/pubs/aldermanpg2000b.pdf.
(3) Derek H. Alderman, "Street Names and the Scaling of Memory: The Politics of Commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. within the African American Community," Area 35 no. 2 (2003): pp. 163-173, http://personal.ecu.edu/aldermand/pubs/mlkarea2003.pdf.
(4) "Largo Confirms Stanton Ouster," Tampa Tribune, March 24, 2007, p. 1.
(5) William J. Pammer Jr., Herbert A. Marlowe Jr., Joseph G. Jarrett, and Jack L. Dustin, "Managing Conflict and Building Cooperation in Council-Manager Cities: Insights on Establishing a Resolution Framework," State and Local Government Review 31, no. 3 (Fall 1999): pp. 202-213, www.cviog.uga.edu/publications/slgr/1999/3e.pdf.
Steve Spina is the city manager of Zephyrhills, Florida (firstname.lastname@example.org).
by Steve Spina
2 A Sign of Changing Times: A Street-Renaming Lesson from Chapel Hill, North Carolina
A common yet contentious issue that local government managers and elected officials might confront during the course of their careers is the renaming of a street after slain civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Naming streets for King is part of a movement to recognize the often neglected historical achievements of African Americans. Although this commemoration occurs most often in the southeastern states, it represents a national movement.
By 2003, at least 730 streets in 39 states and the District of Columbia had been named or renamed for King (Figure 1). Streets named for King are found across the urban hierarchy, from metropolises such as New York, Los Angeles, and Houston to hamlets such as Cuba, Alabama, and Pawley's Island, South Carolina.
The work of naming streets for Martin Luther King often takes place through highly public debate and controversy, particularly when African Americans seek to rename a major thoroughfare that cuts across business districts and through neighborhoods of various racial and ethnic groups.
How a community handles the renaming of a street after a civil rights icon may very well indicate how that same community treats its minority residents in general and how race relations will be perceived in the future.
Also pertinent are discussions of government's responsibility to private businesses and residences situated on public streets and thoroughfares. Residents and business owners fronting a particular street do not have a proprietary interest in whether the road is renamed; however, it is important to recognize that these stakeholders do incur much, but not all, of the cost and inconvenience of an address change.
In addition, some business and property owners have expressed anxiety and consternation over seeing their street's identity changed, particularly when the current road name has a long history within the community.
Local governments have developed some creative strategies for mitigating the economic aspects of an address change. Some communities phase in the street renaming over several months or even a few years to allow for old inventories of labels, stationery, and invoices to be used. Some cities, like Clearwater, Florida, have even allowed a road to carry two official names--the old and the new--until the full renaming takes effect. More difficult for managers is addressing the deeper psychological and social impact that comes with the removal and replacing of one's address.
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Chapel Hill, North Carolina, offers a potentially useful lesson on how to rename a road for King while not completely erasing a street's previous identity. In 2005, after intense public opposition from residential and commercial interests, who cited a strong belief that the street's original name was a key part of their heritage, the city proceeded to rename Airport Road.
The Airport Road controversy prompted Chapel Hill's city council to organize a special committee to study the issue. The committee, composed of a cross section of stakeholders, including but not limited to property owners on the street, recommended that Airport Road be renamed but charged the city to design a compromise street sign (Figure 2).
The special signage used in Chapel Hill clearly indicates that Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is the street's name, while the sign also designates it as "Historic Airport Road." Such a design has the advantage of minimizing initial confusion from the name change, particularly for visitors who return after the change is implemented. More important, the sign gives authority and visibility to the traditional historical identity of a street, even as local leaders are called upon to commemorate the civil rights movement.
The Chapel Hill case illustrates how our streets can be used to preserve the memory of local landmarks as well as serve as a "sign of the changing times." Other communities might consider adopting such a design, not only when asked to memorialize King but when faced with any street renaming request.
Derek Alderman, Ph.D., is associate professor, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina (email@example.com), and Preston Mitchell is town manager, Nashville, North Carolina (firstname.lastname@example.org).
by Derek Alderman and Preston Mitchell
Sixth Annual Swimming Pool Issue
The December 2007 issue of PM magazine will continue the special section featuring swimming pools that are owned and operated by local governments.
If you serve in a community that provides a public pool for its citizens that has not already been featured in the magazine--or has been updated since it was featured--and if the pool is distinctive in style, structure, operation, location, cost, or other management aspect, share this information in PM.
Send a 250- to 500-word description telling why the pool is distinctive to PM Editor, ICMA, 777 N. Capitol Street, N.E., Suite 500, Washington, D.C. 20002-4201; e-mail is preferred, at email@example.com. Electronic photo files in high-resolution PDF format are welcome. The deadline for submitting article copy is September 14, 2007.…