OKEECHOBEE — Douglas Brown Park community members were at the June 11 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commission to ask for help with problems in that community.
Deputy County Administrator Louis Johnson reviewed recent upgrades to the Douglas Brown Community Center.
He said improvements in the community building have included replacements or repairs to windows, the auditorium floor, auditorium paint, kitchen upgrades, lighting on the auditorium stage, drinking fountains, parking stops, benches, auditorium doors, picnic benches, a little free library, public free Wi-Fi, parking lot lighting and upgrades to the basketball courts.
Future planned projects include upgrades to the classroom windows and wiring, parking stops on the south side and restroom and concession stands. Other needs are air-conditioning assessments, bathroom upgrades, playground upgrades and resurfacing of the basketball sports.
There are many needs in the area, he said.
“I would like for the commissioners to go out and see it for themselves,” said Demetre Riles, a former Douglas Brown Park resident. “You will see that every street needs to be repaired. Every sidewalk needs to be repaired.”
“I have lived in Douglas Park for the last 15 years. I left when I was 12 years old. A lot of the issues that were there when I left at 12 years old, they are still there,” said Tamisha McQueen.
“I challenge everyone to come together,” she said.
“I live by a ditch that floods on a continual basis,” she said. Snakes come out. She said she is afraid to let her child play outdoors.
“Our communities at risk need to be taken care of,” she said. “We need to tackle the community as a whole.” She suggested the commissioner for the area work with the community leaders to tackle the needs there.
“After I first got elected, there was the OCIA (Okeechobee Community Improvement Association) and I went to the meetings, I believe about four or five, and then I was asked not to come back,” said Commissioner Brad Goodbread, whose district includes Douglas Brown Park. “I would go to the meeting once a month and they would tell me what the problems were, and there were several problems that were taken care of.
“If the people in Douglas Park want to re-up that group, I will be more than happy to come to the monthly meetings,” said Commissioner Goodbread.
He said he also welcomes community members to call him. He said his district is geographically huge and he can’t see everything. He relies on community members to tell him about the problems, he added.
Commissioner Goodbread said they are trying to upgrade the old Douglas Brown School so that it can be used as a hurricane shelter for that community.
The commissioner said the county always faces funding problems and they have to go to Tallahassee to beg for grant funding. He said sidewalks are expensive to build anywhere, so they need grants for those.
“You say money is slow and it takes time; how long?” asked Mr. Riles. “What has been happening here for years is not right.
“Commissioner Goodbread spoke about the OCIA meeting. I was sitting in that meeting,” he continued. “We didn’t have our stuff in order yet. Why would we present something to a commissioner when we were meeting to try to get things in order?
“We were trying to organize and plan to develop scholarships, but we were getting resistance,” he said. “Mr. Wiggins did ask Mr. Goodbread, ‘Hey, we’re not ready for you yet. You should not be here right now’,” he continued.
Commissioner Goodbread disputed this account.
“I understand you are frustrated,” Chairman Terry Burroughs told Mr. Riles. He said a county employee who was supposed to address some of the problems in Douglas Brown Park did not do their job. That person is no longer employed by the county, he said.
“We can ride through there nine times a day, and we may not see everything you see,” said Chairman Burroughs.
He encouraged Mr. Riles to bring his concerns to the deputy administrator and the county administrator as well as attend county commission meetings.
“Even a commissioner who is responsible for that area may not know every single problem that occurs in that area,” he said. “Your commissioner is a phone call away.”
“I drive through Douglas Park about twice a month,” said Commissioner Goodbread, adding he does this for all of his district
“Every time I have been called, I have responded. I believe in the past that Douglas Park was overlooked, and that wasn’t right,” he said. “If you have anything you think needs to be addressed you can call me.”
In other business at the meeting, Tiffany Collins of the Okeechobee County Health Department said the health department has been working at the Douglas Park community for an environmental health project. Postcards were mailed to every member of the community asking them, “Tell us what your needs are.” This survey will provide information for a needs assessment that can be used to obtain grants.
“This goes straight to Tallahassee to get their voices heard,” she said. The deadline for returning the survey is June 24.