Warns City Council of potential legal issues

Representatives from the Apopka Christian Ministerial Alliance and the South Apopka Ministerial Alliance asked the Apopka City Council to partner with them to bring the  Faith, Food and Family Festival to Apopka in January. They asked for in-kind donations of the amphitheater and associated costs of holding the event at that venue amounting to approximately $8,000. However the Council had a counter proposal – go through the John Land Apopka Community Trust.https-%2f%2fcdn-evbuc-com%2fimages%2f25884876%2f181336616588%2f1%2foriginal

What began as a city-sponsored Gospel Fest event that could not gain enough support from City Commissioners due in part to the perceived rushed November 15th date, was picked up by the two ministerial alliances, and re-scheduled for January 8th.

Seven speakers expressed their desire during the public comments section of the City Council meeting last night that The City of Apopka partner with the two ministerial alliances to hold the event.

“I want to say how important it is to have the faith based communities to continue to move forward,” said Pastor Hezekiah Bradford, President of the South Apopka Ministerial Alliance. “I do believe God resides in Apopka and that He is proud of what we are doing. We have a very diverse group, and we would really love to have the Mayor be on the stage welcoming this great event to the City of Apopka.”

Rod Love, an Apopka business owner who was co-chairman of the Apopka Task Force on Violence, reminded the Council what they were budgeted to spend $108,000 on Gospel Fest, and that an in-kind donation to the event would be a savings to their original plan.

“The commissioners saw fit not to use taxpayer dollars,” he said. “So the faith community came together to make this happen.”

“Wouldn’t it be nice to bring the Gospel to Apopka?” Pastor Darrell Morgan asked the Council. “Wouldn’t it be nice to bring music to Apopka?” Morgan, the Lead Pastor at Word of Life Church in Apopka and incoming President of the Apopka Christian Ministerial Alliance, referenced how this was an opportunity for unity between the City and faith community.

“I was excited to do this festival until I got the bill. I do not mind the labor, because I think it will be worth it. I think our city deserves it. I think our kids deserve it. Having that diversity on stage and the good work we are doing would all be worth the time and effort. But one of two things are going to happen tonight. I’m going to go back to church and say ‘good news the city is working with us, or I’m going to say dig deep into your pockets.’ I don’t think that gives a positive image. When we started the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, it was free. Mayor Land gave us the VFW. Now we are charged for it. The City charges us. I would like this administration to work with us.”

The City Council took on the issue by first asking the advice of City Attorney Cliff Shepard.

“The question before us is can you waive fees for a religious event? And the answer is yes you can but that’s not going to be the dissuading factor. The issue is going to be what does that mean to you as a community? As you know you adopted a fee structure that applies to all community organizations, civic, religious and when they use our venues a fee structure applies. And the reason you did that was so you’re not put in a position to choose the merits or message of one and not the merits and message of another.”

“So the principal is everybody has to pay something? Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer asked.

“Or nobody,” said Shepard.

“Have we waived that fee for anyone else?” Commissioner Doug Bankson asked.

“No,” said Kilsheimer. “We don’t waive the fee for anyone.”

“And the Old Florida Outdoor Festival?” Bankson asked.

“Well Old Florida Festival is our event,” said Kilsheimer.

“And that’s my point, if it is structured as a city event, could we consider it, because it’s going to reach out to a huge part of our community.”

“I think we are in between a rock and a hard place,” said Kilsheimer. “And I take the attorney’s advice to heart. If we waive the fees for the Gospel Fest, we are going to be asked to waive the fees for other events. And we don’t want to be in that position. And that’s the issue tonight.”

“So there is no legal wiggle room? Commissioner Kyle Becker asked. “Because obviously Council has a certain amount of discretion, correct? So from a legal perspective, how great is that discretion?

“It’s really as much as your risk tolerance is,” said Shepard. “Because as elected officials you can do what you want and see how it all plays out. But the idea as City Attorney is to keep you out of that situation. You don’t do this, or you do it for everybody.”

Bankson and Kilsheimer rekindled the discussion of making the festival a City event, when Shepard suggested another option.

“I know that what was set up upon the departure of Mayor (John) Land was a community trust funded by City money. And by the way, it was funded for exactly this situation. To get it out of government hands and to say ‘here’s some seed money’ for when a minister’s alliance comes along and says ‘we really don’t have money, but we’re going to do great good in the community.’ This is what that trust was designed to do.”

“I remember Mayor Land saying that was one of the reason’s to do that,” said Bankson. “So that we could do great events and other things like this.”

“Again I am confident as to why the Community Trust was created,” said Shepard. “And it’s for this very purpose… to avoid what we’ve debated for about a half-an-hour. It’s so that you can take a position on organizations that you think are wonderful like this and point them towards the Trust and say ‘go there’.”

“Gentlemen, I would suggest that’s the way to go,” Bankson said to the ministerial alliance representatives. “Quite honestly I’ve been all around this thing and I think that’s the best way. Otherwise we’re going to end up biting away any single ability to help anyone who is doing good in this community, and that’s what is so crazy about our legal system right now, but that’s where we are.”


  1. I don’t want to sound negative but I don’t foresee any resolution to the Gospel Fest fiasco unless the Ministerial Alliance convinces the John Land Trust to pay the fees, or some part toward the costs, or either the Ministerial Alliance pays the fees themselves, and divide the costs among the churches involved, and hope that the income from the event at least covers the costs. It is a shame that the amphitheater sits unused the majority of the time. I know that the Gospel Fest idea was honorable, from the start, for the good of the community, to help create unity, and was never intended to cause such a division between Ministerial Alliance and the City of Apopka. It appears that the political undertow may be to blame, I hope that is not the case. Then there is city attorney and his warning that comes into play……….

  2. How is it when the “big” stars come to entertain at the amphitheater? They don’t pay, do they? The COA pays them, isn’t that correct? Or does the COA pay their booking agents? It is all a big mess. The Ministerial Alliance could have the event at one of their churches or on one of their church properties and have a big rental tent, but then again, I have seen what the big tents cost to rent, after looking at the expense records the COA and what they pay out for the Old Florida Festival. They are extremely costly to rent! That would not help. And there sits the amphitheater unused……this is tough! Is the Zellwood corn festival grounds a government entity, and what are the costs for it’s rental? When the corn festival was held they later changed the corn festival and made it a three day event with Friday night being made a family Christian day…….so I don’t see how the religious aspect that the attorney warned about would apply if it were held there. The COA council members could donate some of their discretionary money if they wanted to be sincerely nice…..um. How was it that the Orange County School System, COA, and the YMCA were going to partner together for the gym and swimming pool over at the AHS grounds years ago. That is a Christian organization……guess I just don’t quite get the attorney’s advice and warnings sometimes………..

  3. I hate to say, it but it appears that there is a lot of button-pushing, and attempted galling going on from some of both sides of the divisiveness. It is true!

  4. And to be frank, I never really understood why the Methodist church on Park Ave. was not allowed be able to have the B-B-Q and Spuds Fest they had planned, in which they requested that the street between the church and Walgreens, between Forest and Park be shut down and blocked off for one day for the festival. The church had already applied, gotten the necessary liability insurance, signatures from the neighbors and businesses around them, that it would not bother them, and yet the decision was left up to the former chief of police to decide whether to allow the street to be blocked off and shut down, or not. I feel that should have been an council decision to decide, maybe I was wrong, I don’t know. I did not speak out at the time, but it did strike me as odd,

  5. The Ministerial Alliance must also realize that back on Easter Sunday the fees were not allowed to be waivered for the rental of the amphitheater for the Easter Sunday Service that was held there by one of the churches. The “slippery slope” lecture was brought into play by the city attorney then also. So again, I don’t want to be negative, but it does appear the city will waiver the fees for the Gospel Fest, but I could be wrong. I wish the Ministerial Alliances the best of luck on having their Gospel Fest somewhere, somehow, and I hope it is a successful venture, and that you all have a great time and enjoy yourselves!

  6. I meant to say in the above posting…..It does appear the city will NOT waiver the fees……sorry, I left out the word, NOT, in my above posting.

  7. Here is a thought…..the Orange County School System rents the auditorium of some of the Orange Co. Schools to churches on Sundays for church service. Maybe they would rent out one of the school’s auditoriums for a Gospel Fest, if a school facility were available on a Saturday and Sunday…….I don’t see how it could be denied, if other churches rent the school facilities………maybe should check into the subject and see what the school people say…..it could be interesting, don’t know what the costs would be……..or if allowed…….??? They have their own Jazz Fest there in the auditorium too, as everyone already knows………..

  8. Or, perish the thoughts, but it is possible that the Ministerial Alliances look to another facility in another town, that is available for a reasonable rental. Another town not too far away from Apopka………..it could still be a success. Somewhere other than here in Apopka, but I know you would rather have it in the city you all know and love. That is all I can think of to try to help………..other than have some fundraisers for the fees.


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