After working feverishly for the better part of a year to bring their religious based community school to downtown Safety Harbor, it took the City Commission less than three minutes to squash John and Kathy Leone’s dream.
On Monday, night the commission was asked to consider amending the city code to allow schools of general education to operate in the Community Redevelopment District, meaning the couple could open their Harbor Christian High School at an as yet-to-be-determined location downtown.
But with the Leones, plus a group of supporters, in the audience eagerly awaiting their decision, the commissioners quickly dashed their dream when they decided not to change the code.
“I’m always open to the idea, the problem is I hate to make a move and begin to do work and change the code if there’s nothing…” Mayor Andy Steingold said.
“I mean, having a dream and wanting to fulfill it is one thing,” he added. “Working towards it and actually having a location and bringing this issue before us…I don’t want to make a code change at this point. That’s how I feel.”
Fellow commissioners Janet Hooper and Carlos Diaz quickly backed up the mayor, with Hooper stating, “If we make a code change it applies all the way across the board…(and) I don’t want high schools all the way up and down Main Street.”
The mayor then got a consensus not to pursue the matter any further, and just like that, the Leones idea was shot down without even allowing them to speak.
(Note, this wasn’t the first time the commission didn’t take public comments on a matter despite the common practice to do so regarding any item listed on the agenda.)
After the meeting, Kathy Leone expressed her frustration and disappointment with the situation.
“We asked the city to be taken off the agenda because we knew we didn’t have a location secured at this time,” Leone told Safety Harbor Connect. “We didn’t feel comfortable leasing a building without knowing how the city was going to rule on this.”
“What’s been very difficult for us is we didn’t know if the city would approve us, so it would be foolish of us to sign a lease.”
Leone stated that city officials told her to let the commission make a decision on the issue anyway so they would know what direction to go in, so they agreed to remain on the agenda and hopefully be allowed to plead their case, as the couple did last July.
“I had people with me to speak in our favor, but we never got the chance to speak, which was disappointing,” Leone said. “I was really confused. If they knew this was how they felt, why not tell us in July?”
After the brief discussion, it became apparent the direction the commission would like the Leones to go is out of Safety Harbor.
“We have other locations in mind, and it looks like now we’ll have to explore them,” Kathy Leone said. “Our heart is in Safety Harbor, but if we’re not wanted there, we have to go somewhere where we’re wanted. Our goal is to be liked in the community.”
“God has a plan, and maybe he has a different idea where this school should be,” she added. “What concerns me more was the message they were trying to send, ‘don’t even bother to do this.’ Isn’t chasing the American dream a big part of this country?”
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