Opinion

By Greg Jackson

As wildfires ravage whole communities, hurricanes remain a constant threat and America tries to heal from the worst mass shooting tragedy, folks want – no, folks need – something
positive to look forward to and focus on. With all that is going on, we all crave something that will bring us together, will highlight the good in humanity, as well as focus on something positive in the world.

Well, in the city of Apopka an event is coming that will highlight Central Florida communities’ respective focus on bringing people together. The Spirit of Florida Gospel Festival, which will feature Grammy-nominated, Stellar Award-winning Gospel recording artist, Martha Munizzi, as well as other talented artists, such as Teki Dericho and the UCF Gospel Choir, promises to be an event to make Apopkans proud. This free event will promote the good in this community and will be a day of fun, food, and fellowship for families and friends, both old and new. At a time when we can find a million reasons to pull
Apopkans and Americans apart, this event, which is now in its second year, in essence, will pull us together. All of Apopka should be proud of what this means and stands for.

So, why then is the City of Apopka refusing to support or promote The Spirit of Florida Gospel Festival? As businesses, leaders in the faith community and individuals come together to make this event a reality and success, it is baffling – and quite frankly embarrassing – that Apopka has declined to contribute anything. I could understand if the City never contemplated having a Gospel festival, but the fact of the matter is that the
City has previously set aside approximately $60,000.00, if not more, for a Gospel festival, that it has not used. Also, the point cannot be missed that the City has pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into festivals or events that promote country
music and symphony; so why then has the City made itself persona non grata when it comes to the Gospel festival?

Some may say it is because the Spirit of Florida Gospel Festival is in its infancy, and to that I say: you have to start somewhere. Besides that, as noted above the funds have already been set aside for a Gospel festival by the City and was fully supported by the Mayor. Others may say it’s because the City cannot support a religious festival due to the separation of church and state. To that, I simply say that that is false and will refer you to
the recent U.S. Supreme Court case of Trinity Lutheran Church Of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, Director, Missouri Department of Natural Resources. In short, in a 7-2 decision, the highest Court in the land held that efforts to separate church and state go too far when they deny religious institutions access to government funds meant for a secular purpose. In other words, if the only reason a governmental entity refuses to provide funds to a program, event, etc., is because the program, event, etc., is tied to a religious organization or purpose, the governmental entity is wrong.

The truth, however, may be in a statement that was shared with me under the condition of anonymity by a person in City Hall (or it is quite possible that I dreamt this up). This person, or my brain, said, “it’s not that the Mayor does not like the idea of the Spirit of Florida Gospel Festival, he just doesn’t like who is doing it.” Wow! This statement, if true is shocking for a number of different reasons, but let’s just deal with the most pressing – the organizers. The group that has assembled to organize the Spirit of Florida Gospel Festival, is highly qualified and capable of producing a top-notch event to make all Apopkans proud.

First, one of the organizers of the event is a seasoned Apopka business owner who has handled a multiple million dollar budget and regularly navigates through political minefields to get projects and programs approved on the State-level. The other organizer has operated a music foundation that has hosted major music events in Central Florida for over a decade. The other has assisted with the organizing of music festivals, one of which required the handling of artists from eight different countries, drafting and negotiating contracts and licensing agreements, as well as served as managing editor of the magazine that was the official publication for The Stellar Awards for a three-year period. No matter the reason, as one person opined as they tried to figure out why the City is withholding its support for an event that will appeal to a diverse group of people, this situation reeks of ultimate pettiness or displays a mindset that is better suited for a time and place 50 years in the past (their words, not mine).

Here is the good news, however, no matter what, barring some unforeseen disaster, there is going to be an outstanding event at the City of Apopka’s Amphitheater on October 28, 2017, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. While others continue to deal with the mass destruction and death that has occurred over the past several weeks from hurricanes, a mass shooting, wildfires, and more, in Apopka folks can come and let their minds be at ease, even if just for a few hours as we enjoy outstanding music, family, friends, food, and fellowship. As the very fabric of our nation is being tested and torn apart to some extent by this issue of NFL players kneeling in protest, now, is not the time for anyone, especially the City of Apopka, to take a knee on the opportunity to draw people together in a positive fashion – in my humble opinion.

Greg Jackson

Greg Jackson is a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida, a military veteran, current Orange County District 2 Representative on the Board of Zoning Adjustments, and General Counsel for the Community Redevelopment Agency. He has been as an active member of the Central Florida community for nearly 20 years. He was most recently a candidate for the Florida House District 45 seat.

36 COMMENTS

  1. The City Attorney at the Apopka City Council meeting advised the mayor that he should not have been even trying to put on a city sponsored gospel festival. He then went on talking, about the city should not even contribute toward the gospel festival, as it could cause legal problems, and that others could donate, such as the John Land Trust, for example, would be more appropriate, if they donated for the gospel fest. I was sitting there listening at the meeting. Now, I know Greg, you are an attorney, as well, and a very excellent and well- informed attorney, I might add, but I will also state, that is what I heard the city attorney say. I don’t know the law, like you, and the city attorney, but I am sure that you both do, and that you and the Apopka City Attorney could debate the issue over and over, but that is where this issue is coming from, of the city not contributing. Now whether there are any personality conflicts involved, I don’t know, but I acknowledge, it is possible. I just hope that you all have a very successful gospel fest event, and that it will help Apopka residents and others, to have a more positive outlook, considering the events of lately, and can unite people from feeling hopeless. Take care Greg and Rod…….

    • Mama Mia,

      We have been through this before. If you need a copy of the US Supreme Court’s ruling I can provide it for you, it is clear and easy to follow. As to the City Attorney, he is a fine barrister, but that does not mean he is correct. Do you know how many cases and trials I have gone into where the attorneys had different interpretations of the law. I have proven to be pretty good at properly interpreting laws. Remember the State Attorney’s $1000/hour lawyers? I disagreed with them and guess what, the Florida Supreme Court ruled the way I said they would. I am use to being the person who sees things differently and not afraid to argue for what is right; not what everyone else thinks.

      I guess it’s easier for me to find ways to legally help and support Apopka residents because I work side-by-side with the folks in the community and it is hard for me to treat them like just words on a page.

    • Also Mama Mia … Let’s not forget that up until a federal judge ordered otherwise, the then Apopka City Attorney assured the commission it was okay not to render needed services to the same area we are fighting for still today (I assume you are in the fight). Do you really want to hang your hat on the Apopka City Attorney’s position solely on this? Really?

    • Attached is the link to the actual case; it is 53 pages long, but you can get the gist in the first three (3), which summarizes the case. You don’t have to be an attorney to understand that the U.S. Supreme Court says you can not deny funds to an entity just because it is a church. But please, do not take my word for it, read the words of the Court

      https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/15-577_khlp.pdf

      Should Apopka residents trust elected officials who will only follow an attorney’s word when there clearly is an opposing view by the Supreme Court? Just asking for a friend.

  2. Okay Greg, I have read the Supreme Court link that you wanted me to read concerning the Trinity Lutheran Church vs. The State of Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources, I believe was the government entity. As you know, and I learned by reading it, it concerned a daycare and pre-school that later was ran under the Trinity Lutheran Church. They wanted to replace the harsh pea gravel surface underneath their playground with a poured recycled used tire surface that would cushion the children if they fell. So the state of Missouri had a program offering grants to reimburse different groups for the monies they spent on pouring the rubber surfaces. They applied and were denied because they had a strict policy against grants to religious groups. That also included preachers, teachers, ministers, etc. Do you agree with this so far?

  3. Okay Greg, I am assuming that your group, that you work with, the Ministerial Alliance, is a non-profit, but why was the application that the alliance submitted to the COA listed as for profit? I am asking? I notice this Trinity Lutheran Church is also a non-profit. I know that representatives were at the city council from the ministerial alliance, and asked for a waiver of the amphitheater fees or for funding to otherwise help in putting on the gospel festival. Now I know another gospel fest is planned for later this month. If I may ask, is the application still listed as for profit. You don’t have to answer me, I will understand.

  4. I see other cases on the link, the Santeria religion vs. Hialeah, the Native American Indians vs. another government entity, and so on. These cases landing in court, because of religion. I am sorry Greg, but I cannot come to a conclusion, that the City of Apopka is wronging you all, because they aren’t waivering the fees of the amphitheater, or contributing funds for the gospel fest. I know you don’t want to hear this. It seems the court cases change, the different judges have differing opinions, as well as the attorneys, and to me, it is hard to say that case can equally apply to what you are comparing to Apopka and the gospel festival. The Trinity Lutheran Church case seems to be more about government reimbursement grants, so I don’t know. Remember, I am not a legal professional.

  5. You ask me, can you assume that I join the fight for the underserved? That is funny to me, really. I have been standing before the city council a lot, fighting for the residents on many many occasions. I have protested millage rate tax increases that many of our residents won’t be able to afford eventually, I have protested the various water, sewer, reuse water rates that are increasing each year that was passed for 5 years. I have stood before the council and protested lowering the impact fees that they lowered on certain homes, for the developers, while at the same time increasing the utility rates upon the rest of us residents. I have protested the various utility fees that have been increased greatly from what they were. I have stood and protested charging a utility bill for water, sewer, and re-use when the resident is not there or gone, or vacant that will accrue and add up big time, and truly is a burden for someone having a hard time paying due to hardship cases. I have asked for a hardship water fund policy. I have asked for increased impact fees on developers, and not to give our taxpayer money away to them. I have protested the new cemetery policy that changed the flower bouquet policy for grieving families, and petty little pickiness of removing sentimental items family members put on their loved ones graves. I have protested special assessments on property tax bills they add, so Greg, I think I am trying, but I do not wield the power that they have.

  6. No one, Greg, even you, should assume that I am on anyone’s side. I deal with things as I see them, and don’t cater to someone just because of who they are, and the position or power they have.

  7. Clearly there are times things aren’t fair, but sometimes you can try with all your might, and nothing changes. It doesn’t mean you should quit trying though. Take care Greg.

  8. I don’t know if this comment will be posted, it might, but since it is under moderation because I failed and only signed Mama, and not Mama Mia, I will post it again. I see other cases on the link, the Santeria religion vs. Hialeah, the Native American Indians vs. another government entity, and so on. These cases landing in court because of religion. I am sorry Greg, I cannot come to a conclusion, that the COA is wronging you all, because of not waivering the amphitheater fees, or contributing funds for the gospel festival. I know you don’t want to hear this. It seems the court cases change, the different judges have differing opinions, as well as the attorneys, and to me, it is hard to say that case can equally apply to what you are comparing to Apopka and the gospel fest. The Trinity Lutheran Church case seems to be more about government reimbursement grants, so I don’t know. Remember, I am not a legal professional.

  9. I also do not see the city trying to stop the Ministerial Alliance from having the gospel festival, or from enjoying and promoting their religion, or free exercise of religion. I have said this before. I have also seen another church approach the city council, where their representatives asked for waivers of the amphitheater fees, or a reduced fee, for an Easter Sunrise Service, and they too were denied, but got to use the amphitheater after they paid, so I think that should be considered also that not just the gospel fest was denied. It is my understanding that all use of the facilities will be charged fees, regardless of who they are, and that for profit groups have to pay more, and non-profits less. That is my understanding.

  10. I also stood before the council and asked that people who get issued parking ticket violations be given more time in order to pay. Some of the tickets are high, and a person is only given 5 business days to pay. I tried to reason with them, that everyone is not loaded with available money, and that the red-light camera tickets issued have 30 days to pay according to state law……my efforts go nowhere before the council. I fight for our residents because I am one of them.

  11. All the utility service fee increases also, such as having to come cut your water off, cut it back on, etc. and how much those have increased! A lot of the what is being charged for now, used to be complimentary as a courtesy call, such as when a water line breaks and you need it cut off, you get charged now! A lot more fees than the average resident even realizes……I protested them.

  12. Nope, I get nowhere trying to reason with the city council on issues I protest, coming up before the council. I guess I need to find out how the guy that wanted to get a couple of stop signs, to slow the traffic down on Lake Av. and requested them before the city council and got them…….how he “worked them” or convinced the council. Bam, the next thing, hardly before the blink of an eye, we now have 22 new stop signs around Lake Avenue. That ain’t all either, the city even put the guy’s last name up on top of them when they first put them up!!!….LOL

    • I am going to be honest, following your various posts was very difficult. Perhaps you should pin an article about these things. In any event, I commend you for your efforts and for doing you homework (from the portions of your post that I read). The “fight”, however is not just tax-based, just as the role of government is not just to collect tax dollars; I am not going to insult you with the various roles of government, but I will say that to a great extent Apopka has and is missing the mark.

      As to the Gospel Fest, let me just say this without violating any confidences, the City did indeed try to control and shut down the Gospel Fest, but when yiu have descent legal guidance to help exercise your rights, it is very difficult to keep folks from having a meaningful event; which by the way, I hope you are there with as many folks as possible and I will even have you as my VIP guest.

      Also, this is not a South Apopka Ministerial Alliance or Apopka Christian Alliance event. The alliances and true member of the Apopka faith-Community have come together to support the event, which is greatly appreciated. Residents of Apopka and folks who love the city and its residents have come together to put this event together; which makes it even more baffling how the City has declined to suooort this event under the guise of it being a religious organization putting on the event. Check the city documents to see who the organizer is … i guarantee you it is not a religious organization.

      As an aside, a great debate is forming around who Mama Mia is. I have been asked by folks who follow my pieces to ask you to come out of the shadows and from behind the pseudonym and stand proudly by your words. I take all kinds of heat because I write as Greg Jackson, that’s me. Will you join me Mama Mia. There is true strength in identity. Hope all is well and keep up the fight.

      Greg Jackson

  13. If the author assumes residents of Apopka “crave something that will bring us together,” what makes him think that would be religion? It is the most divisive thing that we can find other than politics! Our Constitutional Framers knew better, which is why the first freedom is freedom FROM the religion established by the state.

    Also, he recognizes the “secular purpose” as a notable point in the Trinity Lutheran case, but fails to point out the secular purpose in this case.

  14. I was under the impression that it was the alliances that were putting on this latest upcoming event, the gospel festival, much like the last one that was held. I thought it was either the South Apopka Ministerial Alliance or the Apopka Christian Alliance, or both, that is who I believed was putting it on, but you say it is not them putting it on, but that they are supporting the event, but that the event organizer is not a religious organization. Am I correct to assume that the first gospel fest that was held was organized by the alliances? Or maybe it was organized by someone else, and supported by the alliances and faith- based community? I am not trying to pin down anyone, just trying to get the correct facts regarding the coordinators of the events, or who is the person, persons, group, or groups named on the applications. If this sounds like some kind of interrogation, I truly apologize, Greg, I am not asking for that reason, I am just trying to understand the situation, that is all. Once again, you don’t have any obligation to answer my questions, as I will understand.

  15. Thank you Greg, for cordially inviting me to the gospel festival. I don’t have an entourage of people to bring along, if I attend, it will just be myself and my husband. I had already thought about coming to check it out, since we have exchanged comments on the Apopka Voice about the gospel festivals. VIP invite? Greg, you must be trying to test Mama Mia with flattery ….LOL It is very kind of you to extend such an offer, thank you once again. So when is the event anyway? I saw something about the date somewhere, but don’t remember when, or even where I saw it. It wasn’t held today, was it? I am used to being a day late, or a dollar short…….

  16. Greg, you are writing me to tell me that you post your comments under your real name, and about the heat you take….and you want me to use my real name….LOL. Sounds like a good reason not to. Greg, a rose is a rose is a rose…(by any other name, the same) You want me to come out of the shadows? Who am I? Am I Morticia Adams, Elvira, or Lily Munster? Hmmm…..I am getting a fair tan, so I must not live in the shadows very much….LOL It really is no big secret who I am. There are plenty of people who know me….even people I don’t know. Just like the last few days when I went into the convenient store, and I put my items on the counter, and the clerk I did not know said, ” that will be $ 5.68 Mama”….and then she said, “do you want a bag, Mama?” It happens all the time….see, they all know me, LOL. If the gospel fest has not already taken place, and if I attend, I will come and introduce myself to you Greg. Take care.

  17. Oh, I see when it is now, right up there in the article, under my nose, Oct. 28th, 11-5pm. I know the last gospel fest, the weather didn’t cooperate. I was out at McDonalds that morning, and the rain was happening, and it was questionable if it was going to flood out, and there were a lot of people coming into McDonalds at Rock Springs Road, getting some coffee and waiting it out to see what the weather was going to do, and they said they were headed to the gospel fest because I talked to them.

  18. You mentioned the Easter sunrise services, didn’t the used to be held at Kit Land? Don’t ever remember hearing about any charges for the use of the park, in fact I remember John Land going to them. Why o Why are we charging for the use of our public lands all of a sudden, first they took away the little League park and then they start charging them to play, we will never have a chance to bring home another US Championship if we don’t change our ways. What’s next, oh that’s right a water park in Kit Land, where they are going to have to hire someone to run it and charge admission, and fence it to keep out the non paying who won’t be able to afford to pay and extra liability ins. for something that isn’t really wanted or needed. What this City really needs is a YMCA like we were promised , not a slash park that can only be used for maybe 6 months a year.

  19. There is an Easter sunrise service at Kit Land Nelson Park still. I used to go in the past a few times. I haven’t been lately at Easter. I do not know about whether there are any charges for anything that takes place at Kit Land Nelson Park, whether it is the sunrise service, a wedding, or any other usage. I just don’t know. There used to be a sunrise service over at Apopka High School too in the football stands outdoors, and I went to it right after the sun came up, at daybreak. This was a long time ago. They had coffee and doughnuts too.

  20. When Apopka got the US Championship for the Little League, that was truly something to brag on! They almost got the World’s Championship, too. Close, but no cigar…….

  21. I don’t think a determination has been made yet regarding whether the city is going to charge to use the splash pad. At least, I haven’t heard it discussed myself. Many people want the splash pad, especially the parents who have small children. Then probably there are just as many who don’t want the taxpayer funds to go to have one. I guess you can’t please everyone.

  22. The YMCA partnership that was going to partner with the Apopka High School or more specifically, Orange County School System, went nowhere. They were planning on building it right over here on the school grounds of the Apopka High School. I was excited in one way, but then concerned too, because I thought, who knows, they may want to take out this square block of homes, next to the school, for more room, which is 6 rows of homes, under eminent domain. I wanted this school, that was rebuilt over here, to go out on Poncan Road near the NW Recreation Area. Mayor Land was also for that too. People gave Mayor Land a very hard time about him wanting the school to be rebuilt out there, actually very nasty to him, in letters to the newspaper, and I still say, it would have been better out there, but it is here, and I can live with it, it is not bad to live here, challenging occasionally, but not really bad. I don’t know if the city was going to be one of the YMCA partners or not.

  23. I know I voted for this one guy, years ago, that ran for the Orange County School Board, in the past, I won’t name him, but he let it be known that he was a of a political party that I desired, and I decided to vote for him, for that reason. However, what I didn’t know, was that the big new subdivisions out and around Poncan Road, that were new then, basically recruited him to run for election for the school board, against the incumbent in this area, and if he got elected, he would vote against, or push against having the high school relocated, to go in out there along Poncan Road. I didn’t know that when I voted for him. He didn’t let that “cat out of the bag” so to speak….. You never know what some candidates are up to when they run for office. You might vote for someone, and then discover they have a totally different agenda than what you thought you voted for. Then you are stuck with them.

  24. We used to have a nightmare with the school kids parking along in front of our house. So many of them. I would get after them, because they blocked the trash pickup, and mail too, at that time, but they were hardheaded. I didn’t want to have them towed, however. I did once, when one parked in front of our driveway, and we couldn’t get out, and it was my husband’s birthday, and we had planned to go off, being stubborn. So I called the police first, and they told me to go ahead, and have it towed. He wasn’t hardheaded anymore after that. We haven’t had any problems like that in a long time, however. It wasn’t the new parking ordinance though, because they had already stopped parking along here. It used to a nightmare when people coming to the football games parked all along our street, but they, for whatever reason, don’t do that any more. The way it was, if the cars had a school parking permit sticker, they could do something, but if the cars didn’t have a school parking permit sticker, they couldn’t do anything, unless they blocked your drive. We used to have the school hooky players have someone come pick them up on our street, too, after climbing the fence, and some even would sneak out of the school yard, and go get bags and bags of fast food (Hahaha) and then have someone drop them back off and climb over the fence, next to the resident’s homes, to get back into the school yard….LOL

  25. There is a big plus however, to living next to the school, and that is the power doesn’t go off during the hurricanes, because we are on the same power grid as the school. This is what I was told. (knock on wood) as it can always go off, but so far, so good. We just got the flickering off and on. Power was out when the lines to the street lights behind the school yard, and ours too, due to repairs for 3 hours after the hurricane though.

  26. Big California trucks, 2 of them, came back around today and got the rest of all the tree debris. Still have piles of wood fencing, rotted plywood, and a few other things left on the street. It looks so much better. Also today, we had a tree service that we hired, come out, they brought 5 big pieces of heavy equipment, 5 trucks, trailers too, one with a tall lift bucket, a bobcat, a chipper shredder, and a stump grinder. We had all of that on the street, to cut down our massive giant Sycamore Tree in the back that we got the permit for. Their crew did a fantastic job! They knew exactly what they were doing, and how to swing the limbs down and around to our side, without going over on the neighbor’s side. They used 3 different sized chainsaws, the” big mamma jamma” chainsaw on the bottom. The thing that amazed me was when the guy got it cut down to about 10 feet from the ground, I thought he was going to cut it into several chunks, but no, he did not. He then cut it ground level, and then another guy took the bobcat, and pushed that humongous piece of tree trunk over, and it made a crash that you could hear all over the neighborhood block. I thought oh, he must going to be cut it on the ground, but no, he picked that entire thing up, with that bobcat, loaded it in the truck, and hauled all that stuff off. I did not know a bobcat had the power to pick up something that heavy! Then they stump-ground the stump, and we have lots of ground up mulch to use. It didn’t take very long at all. If anyone wants to know a really good tree removal service, let me know, although he is busy, busy, busy……..

  27. I know I am going on and on but I will sleep so much better when there is another storm with high winds. After seeing that huge tree in Apopka that fell on the resident’s home, and how much the crane cost to lift the tree off of the home, that was a deciding factor for us, to get this tree removed, and also because the roots at the ground surface were getting uprooted, and it had suffered some downed limbs, that were heavy. I said if that tree falls on our house, it will be all over and I worried about it all the time, during high winds. I will miss it though, the shade, not the leaves, that worked me to death raking them.

  28. There is one Florida Senator, it is in the today’s Orlando Sentinel, that claims she was taken, by an outer space alien bunch….3 blonde space aliens, that looked similar in appearance to Rio De Janeiro’s statue of Christ The Redeemer….a GOP Florida Senator…..OKAY, I believe her totally, 100%! That explains it all to me….LOL!

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