TEMPLE TERRACE - After complaints from city residents, the Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club has notified the City Council that it will not rent space again to the Sons of Confederate Veterans for its annual banquet.
The country club's executive committee said in a letter to the city manager that the club had decided earlier not to book the group again because of objections raised last year. But new management didn't know that, according to the letter, and the club hosted this year's banquet Sept. 8.
"Faced with a specific request to use our ballroom last year by a so-called 'southern heritage' organization," wrote club general manager Jim Musick, "the negative implications toward the club ... caused the board to review the situation and it ultimately voted to not permit that and similar organizations to utilize our ballroom for such events."
This policy has not changed, but a new management team "inadvertently" accepted the event in an effort to keep the club fully booked, Musick said.
The leader of the Confederate group, David R. McCallister, said he would consult a lawyer and consider legal action, "especially if our civil rights are being denied."
McCallister, commander of the Judah P. Benjamin Camp #2210 Sons of Confederate Veterans, objected to the description of his group as a "so-called Southern heritage'' organization, saying, "We're a legitimate, genuine Southern heritage corporation and a legitimate, genuine American heritage corporation . I don't know what negative implications he's talking about.''
The group has held banquets at the country club during the past five years, he said, but announced a new location at the 11th hour last year in the midst of a debate over moving a Confederate memorial in Tampa. McCallister said at the time that accommodating all the attendees, and not the debate over the memorial, was behind the relocation of the banquet.
The letter to the city of Temple Terrace comes as the country club, struggling financially, is turning its fortunes around under managers Christovich & Associates, City Council members were told at their meeting Tuesday. One key to the success, company president Greg Christovich has said, will be boosting banquet and party revenues by actively seeking out groups to rent the ballroom.
The city owns the golf course and co-signed a $3.1 million loan for clubhouse improvements and other work in 2009. The city took over payments when business plummeted at the country club. Now, the club must pay $125,000 to the city each year -- about half of the city's debt obligation on the loan.
During its meeting Tuesday, the City Council heard both opposition and support for continued use of the country club by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Some of the speakers complained that lynching was discussed at the banquet and that some people attending wore a pin or pendant in the shape of a hangman's noose. The speakers were relaying information they heard from others but did not witness what occurred at the event themselves.
"I feel like whether or not we agree with this group, shouldn't they be allowed to have a banquet in our country club?,'' said Temple Terrace resident Ellen Snelling. "We are all very supportive of our country club. We want them to be able to pay back their loan. And the business has, I felt like, improved so much over the past year and is heading in such a great direction.''
Another resident, Colleen Clark, said she was upset that the country club hosted the group.
"I think it's important that everyone here understand that this is not a simple banquet," Clark said. "This is not freedom of speech. This is hate speech. There was discussion of lynchings and how they were understood and accepted by this group, and people that work there had to hear this."
Country club member John Nash told the council he quit the club last year but rejoined after he was assured it would never host the Sons of the Confederate Veterans again.
"And it's happened again, and my resignation letter is already typed," Nash said.
Still, he said, he was waiting to see how the club would react to the latest objections.
Wayne Green, an African-American member of the club, told the council, "I don't mind the Sons of the Confederates there, but when you have a noose and you traumatize the entire staff."
Green said workers at the club approached him "in tears'' about the banquet.
Lynchings spread across the South as white vigilantes tried to intimidate blacks after the end of Civil War and slavery.
McCallister said he knew nothing about objects or discussions related to nooses or lynching. Certainly, he said, there was none coming from the podium.
"My camp has a diverse membership - whites, blacks, Hispanics, Jews,'' McCallister said, noting that the group takes its name from the secretary of state of the Confederacy. "My camp was named for probably the most famous Jewish man in the 19th Century."
Contact Philip Morgan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3435.