Last summer, when Apalachicola reconstituted its recreation committee, part of a sweeping revitalization spurred by the work of activist Krystal Shuler Hernandez, a young mother, to improve the playground at Battery Park, a funny thing happened.
When it came time to appoint the committee members, Hernandez, a likely prospect if there ever was one, didn’t make the cut.
It wasn’t about whether she could contribute to the committee, insisted Mayor Van Johnson, but all about whether she, as a non-resident of the city, was eligible to sit on the committee at all, given where she resided, outside the city taxing district that each year raises thousands of property tax dollars that go towards recreation.
“I’m obligated to enforce all the laws of the city,” Johnson said this week, recalling his thinking back in June.
Hernandez didn’t let it go.
Instead, she did her homework, and at the Dec. 5 city commission meeting, she raised the question as to whether she’s being afforded equal treatment under those laws that the mayor said he seeks to uphold.
“I’ve noticed others on (city) committees are not residents,” Hernandez said, not naming names but outside the meeting citing four examples. “You can’t pick and choose who the rules go to. I’m simply just asking for the right to choose like everyone else.
“I don’t think that that (residency) should stop me,” she said. “It should be based on credentials and passion. I don’t think it’s right."
Hernandez said she has lived in Apalachicola her entire life, except for going away to college and coming back, and now is raising her family here.
She said that while she has communicated with both City Administrator Lee Mathes and Commissioner Anita Grove, the mayor has ignored her telephone calls and texts.
“He wouldn’t respond to me in any manner. It was hurtful and rude,” she said. “I couldn’t get a response. I think it’s like a personal thing.”
Hernandez said she was encouraged to seek a volunteer seat on the recreation committee, after her work in spearheading revitalization of Battery Park, and was surprised the mayor rebuffed her attempt. She noted that several employees live outside the city.
“I don’t understand how you can work and be paid, but can’t volunteer,” she said.
Grove, who serves as an ex officio member of the committee, said the city boundaries don’t tell the whole story. “Our lines are so close, people live so close to the city limits,” she said.
City Attorney Pat Floyd asked for Hernandez to be patient as he researches the question she raised about residency requirements, “Your questions are something that deserves a studied response,” she said.
“I don’t want to step on peoples’ toes, I just want to serve my community,” said Hernandez.
“I agree with our attorney,” said Commissioner Jimmy Elliott, adding that “I appreciate what you’ve done in the past.”
Commissioner Brenda Ash said she applauded Hernandez’s desire to serve. “We are one big community,” Ash said. “Hopefully we’ll get a resolution and you’ll feel included in the process.”
While the mayor said little during Hernandez’s comments, on Tuesday he said that he would consider the findings of staff.
“If they come back with a finding that there are violations, I’m going to insist the rules apply to everybody,” he said. “It’s not my rule, I didn’t write the charter.”
Meanwhile, he said he has not looked into Hernandez’s claims. “I have other important things to take care of day-to-day than that,” he said.
Elinor Mount-Simmons, who chairs the rec committee, offered a report on the committee's work earlier in the meeting. In it she outlined the work of the committee, which meets the third Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. at Battery Park Community Center, dating back to July.
She said the goal of the committee has been to review and update an inventory of city-owned recreational space, and make recommendations regarding use, improvement and enhancement.
Mount-Simmons said the committee has heard from Augusta West, director of Apalachicola Main Street, regarding a possible state grant for a paddle park. Other projects the committee is pursuing could include work on the Apalachicola River Ramble Trail, and restoration of the city’s historic squares, including the installation of markers.
Also serving on the committee are Diane Brewer, secretary, as well as Alisa Hendels, Torben Madson, Robin Vroegop, and alternates Tasia Jones and Mark Milliken.