Opposing land swap

Dear Editor:

My name is Albert Mize, | attempted to talk with Starke city commissioners, concerning the retention of the Veterans Memorial Park as it currently stands on Nov. 7, 2023, at the city commissioners meeting. After three minutes I was told “politely” that my three minutes, were up and to wrap it up. I was the only guest/person requesting an opportunity to talk on that night. As I quickly wrapped up my comments and, prior to sitting down, I told the city board of commissioners that I would provide my comments to them in writing. Accordingly, these are my


Engraved in the granite monument within the Bradford County Veterans Memorial Park, on Call Street, Starke, Florida: DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO SERVED AND TO THOSE WHO DIED WHILE SERVING.” Dated May 30. 1985.

The city of Starke commissioners have “tentatively approved” the swap of the Veterans Memorial Park for a small piece of property that is not buildable without a formal vote by the commissioners. How can that be? I thought that Bradford County was a “political sub-division” of the state and is bound by the Sunshine rules.

The purpose of the swap of land will allow the construction of rent- to-own modular apartments and/or condominiums on what is now the Memorial Park property.

I have been told by a veteran and member of the American Legion on Edwards Road in Starke that the veterans are opposed to the swap, but that they were told by city officials that the city owned the property and could do whatever it wanted with the property.

It appears that the city does not support the request of the veterans to preserve the existing park. I want to retain the existing memorial park. I’m not opposed to expansion and/or improvements to the park. I’m concerned that major cities across our great country are becoming “woke” and are removing historical markers and undermining our history and the so many veterans who gave their lives for our country. I never thought it would happen to Starke.

Historic Call Street in downtown Starke is considered Main Street for the city of Starke. The current Veterans Memorial Park has beautiful, mature trees and park benches that front on Call Street. To move the memorial park monuments to the back of the properties adjoining the overpass project shows little regard for our veterans and is paramount to telling our veterans to be quiet and go stand in the corner.

The state has done a beautiful job with the construction of the railroad overpass. This is a great improvement to the downtown area. It is my understanding that the excess property bought by the state for the right of way for the overpass is being provided to the city of Starke.

The city is not desperate and not destitute! We don’t have to give up a Bradford County-dedicated memorial park in order to attract builders to Starke and Bradford County. People from other states are fleeing to Florida. We need to continue to build a faith-based community that supports not only our veterans, but also supports our police department, our sheriff’s office and all first responders of Bradford County.


I was told by a city commissioner that our memorial park was 10 feet onto private property.

I was further told that the size of the property that the city was gaining from the contractor was much larger than we were giving up.

So, as many have done, I walked the properties and talked with state contractors on site. There were no boundary markers separating the memorial park form the contractors’ property and no boundary markers separating or identifying what properties were being provided to the city of Starke by the state.

So, | went to the city of Starke building/permit department and requested a site plan. There was not a site plan, a plat or a survey of the projects. So, I discussed the same topic with the city manager. He had not been given any surveys or site plans pertaining to the swap of properties. I asked the city manager how much bigger the property was that the city was gaining as compared to the size of the memorial park property being given up by the city. He replied: about 1,000 square feet. In my opinion that is not significant as there are over 43,000 square feet in an acre. So, the city has turned their backs on our veterans for 1,000 square feet of property.

Ironically, at the Nov. 7, 2023 city commissioners meeting, City Commissioner Shannon Smith tasked the city manager with flagging the properties so he could tell what the city was swapping. He further stated that he previously tasked the city manager to do the same.

This is a difficult task as there were not any surveys at the time of the meeting.

More concerning is that our city commissioners have a tentative agreement for the swap decimating a Veterans Memorial Park without knowing what is being traded.

As a business owner, in downtown Starke, I’m not opposed to improvements in the city. The state overpass project will bring improvements to the city and a new look! Although the overpass project is not completed, it appears that Water Street, that ran between the downtown square and the veterans park has been terminated; thus, possibly bringing the two properties closer together. It also appears that St. Claire has been extended past Call Street to Highway 100. I believe that the property for the expansion of St. Clair Street was purchased by the state from the same developer desiring to build these apartments/condominiums. I’m not sure of the amount that was paid to the developer.

1 do not believe that we should build on properties adjoining the town square or memorial park or “west” of the new expansion of St. Claire Street. I believe that it is in the best interest of the city to purchase this property between the veterans park and the property being granted to the city by the state.

My Story:

I have owned the two-story building at the corner of Call and Thompson streets since January 1997. Over 25 years. my wife has owned and operated Scarlett’s Southern Accents. The building was built prior to 1885 and is one of the oldest buildings in the city. Ironically, the original use of the building was to house the National Guard upstairs and a stable downstairs with a buggy works in the rear of the building.

I volunteered and served in the United States Marine Corps from October 1967 thru mid-August 1971. During 1969, I volunteered for orders to Vietnam as a radar tech on the F-4J Phantom Jet. I was routed to the First Marine Air Wing in Iwakuni, Japan. I returned home in August of 1971. During September 1971, my F-4J Phantom Jet Squadron returned to Vietnam.

Upon returning back to the USA, Treasure Island, San Francisco after my second tour in the South Pacific with the First Marine Air Wing in August 1971 to be processed out of the Marine Corps, we were told by the sergeant in charge that we were at liberty to go anywhere in San Francisco and that:

1. We should not wear our Marine Corp uniforms in downtown San Francisco.

2. If we got into any fights that we would be sent to the brig and not discharged.

While visiting Chinatown in San Francisco I was met by war protesters. For the first time, I experienced and saw real resentment and anger toward our military veterans. It was easy to distinguish veterans from the long- haired protesters. The protesters would circle one or two of the veterans and shout, curse and spit on them. It was like they (dope- smoking, hippy protesters) knew that we couldn’t fight back. | regretted the actions of the protesters, but have never regretted my years in the USMC.

As a sergeant in our United States Marine Corps, I was not allowed to wear my uniform in a major city in our United States or protect the honor of the Marine Corps. It’s hard to express my feelings after returning home. It was a sad, empty, and hollow feeling. Our culture had taught me to be a proud American and to serve my country. If we lose sight of our culture and how we got to be this great nation, we will lose the America that we love.

Meeting with Starke American Legion members on Tuesday Nov. 14, 2023:

American Legion Veterans appear to be between a rock and a hard spot. They want to retain the memorial park on Call Street, but need room for expansion. They would like to install approximately five additional monuments in recognition of veterans who were in wars and military conflicts following Vietnam.

American Legion veterans have not been provided site plans or surveys of the current memorial park or the property being provided by the Florida Department of Transportation.

I asked for a show of hands on whether I should continue with my letter and almost all attendees supported the information presented to them.

What I wasn’t expecting was comments pertaining to the ownership of the memorial park. Apparently, the American Legion owned the property, or at least a portion of the property. Some remember swapping a portion of their property with the city that allowed the park to have more footage on Call Street. It was not clear to the Legion members when the city took control of the memorial park. It was asked during the meeting where the warranty deed was.

Members at the meeting were concerned that a portion of the veterans park may be on the developer’s property. Apparently, the city sold the properties just south of the memorial park to the developer years ago without verification of property lines or location of the park.

My takeaway was we need surveys, warranty deeds and all documents pertaining to the sale of city properties to this developer. We need to table this transaction until all facts are made available to citizens of Starke and Bradford County.

According to the internet; over 58,000 military service members died during the Vietnam War. The average age was between 17 and 20. Some of my high school friends and military comrades never celebrated their 21st birthday.

These young men and women gave their lives in a war to protect our way of life and our Constitution of the United States, which gives us freedom of speech, the right to own property, and which allowed protesters the right to protest the Vietnam War. These two amendments to the Constitution go hand in hand. We can’t have one without the other. Ironically, freedom of speech is what allowed protesters the ability to protest against the Vietnam War and our returning veterans.

The Veterans Memorial Park was dedicated to our veterans by Bradford County, not to the city of Starke. I believe that when the park was dedicated to the veterans, it became the property of the veterans! Under the United States Constitution, veterans should have the right to defend a memorial park dedicated to veterans. If we can’t trust the city of Starke commissioners to be the caretakers of our memorial park, maybe we should elect more patriotic representatives.

Veterans and every elected official in the city of Starke and/or Bradford County should stand together and oppose the destruction and desecration of our Veterans Memorial Park. I’m requesting that all elected officials in Bradford County and the city of Starke come to the podium at the next city commissioners meeting and state: “Stop the swap; buy the land for our veterans.”

Currently, all of the military services within the Department of Defense are having difficulty meeting recruitment goals; even my Marine Corps. I can recall a time when Vietnam veterans were not appreciated, not welcomed home and protested against. WE must protect our culture and not return to those days. WE must support our Constitution, our laws, our law enforcement, our first responders and our military. If we lose our culture as we know it, we will lose our United States of America!!

I’m asking for every elected official in Bradford County and the city of Starke to appear at the Dec. 5 city commissioners meeting and go on the record at that meeting on their stance for retention of the memorial park. This request includes Sheriff Gordon Smith, Chief of Police, Jeff Johnson and all county commissioners. This park was dedicated to our veterans by Bradford County!

The more I learn about the swap the more the deal stinks! I will not support any elected official in Bradford County or the city of Starke who doesn’t support our veterans and their desires to protect their memorial park. Further, I would like all city of Starke elected officials and all city employees and officials, including the city attorney who have advised the city commissioners to sign a financial disclosure statement, under the penalty of law, that they and/or their family members are not receiving any benefit from the swap of the properties or the development of the newly proposed memorial park.

The city of Starke, had a special commissioners meeting on Oct. 31, 2023, to discuss the purchases of properties for the city. If we have funds for the purchase of other properties, why can’t we purchase the small piece of property between the existing park and the Department of Transportation-donated property. The developer is a businessman, and I don’t believe he has an emotional attachment to that particular piece of property. Let’s stop the SWAP and purchase the property for our veterans and for the future growth of Starke.

Remember: The Veterans Memorial Park was: “DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO SERVED AND TO THOSE WHO DIED WHILE SERVING” by Bradford County on May 30, 1985, not to the city of Starke.

I appreciate you taking the time to read my letter to the mayor of Starke. The next city commissioners meeting is currently scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 5, 2023. Please attend and support our veterans and retention of our memorial park. Please come to the podium and speak!


Albert Mize