Hillsborough County community activist Marilyn Smith was removed from the County’s Charter Review Commission on Friday. The move came after County Commissioners Ken Hagan and Les Miller heard heaps of criticism about Smith from members of the Latino community, following the first meeting of the newly constituted Review Commission last week.
Smith was accused by fellow board member Yomari Rodriguez of being disruptive during the meeting and making racially provocative remarks. After the meeting concluded, Rodriguez says Smith told her, “You people won’t ghettoize this community.”
“I’ve never heard of this lady,” Rodriguez told SaintPetersBlog last weekend, after she issued a statement to the media critical of Commissioner Hagan for selecting Smith to be one of his two choices to serve on the committee (each commissioner gets to appoint two people to the board). Rodriguez, who was appointed to the board by Commissioner Les Miller, said she and others in the Latino community reached out to Miller after the Charter Review meeting to complain about her actions. Miller said he would follow up by speaking to Commissioner Hagan about Smith.
“I’ve never seen anyone disrespect so many people in a meeting,” said Rodriguez. “She even told me, ‘I don’t know how they let you in.'”
SaintPetersBlog contacted Commissioners Hagan and Miller for a response on Friday afternoon, but neither returned our phone calls.
“She made a big mistake,” said Norma Reno, a Hillsborough County Hispanic activist who serves on the board’s Human Rights Commission, speaking of Smith. “She disrespected the Hispanic community.”
No Hillsborough commissioner can afford to alienate the growing Latino community. The most recent Census numbers show that Latinos make up over 26 percent of the population.
Although SaintPetersBlog was unable to reach out to Smith, this is not the first time she’s been accused of making racially provocative remarks directed at the Latino community.
During a discussion the Board of County Commissioners held three years ago about the possibility of creating a new single-member district that could pave the way for a Latino to be elected, Smith told the board that such a move would “ghettoize” the board, and said to those advocates, “You want to be different? Go back to where you came from.”
That led Commissioner Miller to respond two weeks later at a subsequent board meeting, describing the feelings when he served in the Air Force and had a woman call him the N-word while he held his 2-year-old daughter in his arms. “You may not have a Hispanic voice today… but you got Les Miller, and I’m going to speak for you,” he said at the time. “I’m going to be there for you, and I’m going to fight for you.”
Rodriguez said Miller and Hagan came through today.
“I’m so proud of the commissioners,” she said Friday afternoon. “Both of them worked together to find out the story.”
Every five years, each commissioner appoints two people to the Charter Review Board. They have decided to meet twice a month, and under the charter, they can convene for up to a year.