Going South

Civics and spirituality. Politics and prayer. In the ongoing battle against inertia, Goulds bares the conflicts at its core.

Floyd protested to the CHI and the Homeless Trust and requested from both agencies information about the programs. She consulted the Dade County Attorney's Office, which told her informally that as long as Johns's fellow CHI board members knew about his financial involvement (he was paid $28,800 in rent; CHI also paid the electricity and sewage bills for the properties), he probably wasn't in violation of the state's conflict-of-interest statute. But by then -- around March of this year -- Floyd's numerous challenges, which had expanded to include two HRS facilities in residential areas, had begun to annoy Odell Johns.

"Everybody," he says, "had warned Lana not to play with Odell."
Johns embarked upon his own campaign, dispatching a series of disparaging communiques to practically everyone in the county bureaucracy with whom Floyd had any contact. In a March 23 letter to Metro-Dade Police Department Director Fred Taylor, Johns alleged that Floyd had used county time to verbally harass people involved in the projects she opposed. The letter also pointed out that Floyd had conducted business for her homeowners association on an office fax machine and attended at least three public meetings during working hours. She had, according to Johns, exhibited a "disrespectful attitude and lack of professionalism," particularly toward Commissioner Dennis Moss (whose district includes Goulds), showing "utter disregard or respect for him or his position as her employer." Johns attached to the letter copies of a homeowners association newsletter critical of a new apartment complex being constructed in Goulds, a clip from the Cutler Courier in which Floyd castigated Moss for having recused himself from the commission's vote approving the juvenile justice center, copies of several letters Floyd had sent to CHI and other organizations in which she listed her office phone number, and a copy of a letter addressed to him from prominent Perrine businessman and CAA advisory council member Freddie Bowe expressing "deep concern [about] . . . the outrageous and disgusting conduct exemplified by Ms. Floyd on March 1, 1995 at our regular meeting." (Floyd had read a statement to the committee alleging that her First Amendment rights had been violated and challenging Johns -- though not by name -- to "please have your facts straight" if he wanted to continue contacting her employer.)

In an April 18 letter to Hilda Fernandez, assistant director of the Homeless Trust, Floyd described the barrage of accusations made to her supervisors by Johns and requested an audit of the two CHI homeless programs the trust was funding. "I will not attempt to answer any of these allegations only to say that because I had the audacity to ask what I consider logical questions, Mr. Johns has been compelled to contact my employer . . . because of my involvement in my community."

Last week Johns delivered to Lillie Williams, the Dade County chair of the CAA, a three-page missive repeating his charges about Floyd's "illogical and irrational" assertions and her "disgusting" use of county time. He sent copies to twenty other county officials and community leaders as well as to the Metro-Dade Police Department's internal affairs unit, which he encouraged to "monitor and hopefully mitigate some of her continued ridiculousness."

Why would an influential, highly respected man such as Odell Johns react so passionately to criticism and scrutiny from a neophyte gadfly? "I got tired of it," he explains disdainfully, then warms to the question. "I maintain an extremely low profile personally, but when attacked I can come out and fight. The question is, 'Who is she? What has she done?'" His voice takes on a faintly ecclesiastical inflection. "I've fought with the best of 'em, and to have to put up with a little noisemaker like Lana -- gets me."

Odell Johns's first fight in South Dade was covered by the national media. In the late Sixties, when black students were sent to all-white South Dade Senior High as part of the county's effort at desegregation, the school's teams were called the Rebels, the fight song was "Dixie," and the Confederate flag was raised out front. Tenth-grader Otis Wallace, one of South Dade High's first black students and now mayor of Florida City, helped form Students Organized for Unity and Liberty (SOUL), which petitioned the school board to get rid of the Confederate symbols.

After signing up to play trombone in the marching band, Wallace had objected to the fight song and the Confederate soldier garb. "I refused to wear the uniform, and as a result they flunked me in band." he recalls. The issue became so heated that outspoken black students and residents received death threats. The Stars and Bars flew everywhere, white kids came to school with rifles in the back of their pickups, and a black dummy hanging from the greased flagpole greeted the minority students one morning. Many black parents' white employers threatened to fire them if they allowed their children to continue to press for change.

"Mr. Johns and a group of parents got together and met with us students to support us," says Wallace. "Mr. Johns also met with parents on the other side. Mr. Johns was one of the true leaders at a time when it wasn't so easy to stand up."

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