Eustis’ Community Residents Put Commissioner Sabatini On Hot Seat For Facebook Post About Confederate Monuments
BY LOUIS C. WARD
EUSTIS - It was high noon at the Eustis City Commission meeting Thursday, September 7, 2017.
Before the smoke cleared, Eustis residents, supportive of a nationwide stance against keeping Confederate monuments in public places, vilified Commissioner Anthony Sabatini for his public statement on Facebook, requesting any city that did not want its Confederate monuments could bring them to Eustis.
And the Eustis City Commission voted to censure Commissioner Sabatini for his public statement on Facebook, stating it should not have been said because the city of Eustis never agreed to a commitment to accept the Confederate monuments.
It was almost 10 pm before it was time for the last item on the agenda, Audience to be Heard, came up, but those individuals who were concerned and visibly upset about Commissioner Sabatini’s statement waited patiently to speak their piece in the City Hall Chamber.
Even before the “Audience to Be Heard” testimony began, Linda Bob, the only African American on the Eustis City Commission, referring to agenda item: "Discussion Regarding Home Rule", set the tone for the remainder of the intense community meeting. “I feel a slow resurgence of Jim Crow attitudes towards poor people, brown, and Black people,” revealed Commissioner Bob. “We aren’t represented right, but we are expected to pay taxes, and be a part of a system that leaves us out.”
The first speaker, Fred Walker, who many yielded their speaking time to, said, “Bringing things (Confederate monuments) to Eustis that other communities do not want is causing division, and it was disrespectful to a lot of people. One Eustis is what we want.”
“Your attitude, your demeanor, you made a horrible decision,” emphasized Tonya Lee. “We made a bad choice in putting you in the seat. You (Commissioner Sabatini) sound ridiculous!”
After a few people testified, a contentious Commissioner Sabatini tried to defend himself, but was often refuted by the participants’ loud shouting and heckling.
When later asked why he made the statement on Facebook, Commissioner Sabatini said he wanted to generate conversation about the Confederate statutes, so he made a “brazen post to garner conversation about it.”
“I believe they (Confederate monuments) should be displayed in some context. Should they be on court house steps? Probably not, probably somewhere more discreet.”
Commissioner Sabatini doesn’t agree with the “knee jerk reaction of local government regarding the Confederate monuments. “But the idea of putting them in private hands and eliminating them is bad. I think it is a slippery slope, and puts us in a bad spot. 59 percent of the country said leave them alone because they see the historical context.”
“I felt bad when you tarnished the image of this town,” remarked Jane Hepting, who, with her husband, recently signed a contract to purchase a home in Eustis. “This town welcomes diversity.”
Hillary Mitchell Lyles was “absolutely shocked of what I read on Facebook. My mother gave thirty years to this community. They have lots of stories of pain and hurt. Listen to the other side of the community.”
“If you go forth, there will be somebody to push back. One Eustis, two communities,” Lyles continued.
There was enormous misunderstanding, revealed Commissioner Sabatini, and referring to the City Commission vote to censure him, he said, “That was unbelievably ridiculous, unstatesmanlike, and unprofessional. The three commissioners who voted to censure me were the same people who spent $25,000 of tax payers’ money to challenge my residency, where I have been a lifelong resident of Eustis.”
The meeting concluded with last speaker, Lorenzo Hagins, who will seek election to Sabatini’s seat in 2018. He said, "My goal for running for commissioner of Eustis is to bind the community together as one and be the right voice for the people.”
Hagins affirmed Sabatini isn't the right man to represent the community. "I believe the office should have a man of integrity, a man of character, a man that loves the people," emphasized Hagins.