By Dan Harkins
DEBARY - Someone was conspicuously absent from the ribbon-cutting last Friday morning for the city's new Splash Pad at U.S. 17/92 and DeBary Drive: Mayor Bob Garcia.
A vocal opponent of the new $400,000 amenity (almost) from the start, Mayor Garcia said after the event - replete with barbecue, live music and splashing about - he was actually offended not to have gotten an invite.
"That's what the mayor is for, the ceremonial stuff," he said. "I thought the issue was over with. What's the sense of crying over spilled milk? I was ready to move forward and they still refuse to work with me."
Mayor Garcia shot off an indignant e-mail to City Manager Dan Parrott, the same day that he read about the opening in Mr. Parrott's weekly report on Oct. 12. (The mayor said later he objected to the ceremony being held on that date and would have pushed for it to be moved to a weekend.)
"It appears that you and this council feel no need to inform the mayor as to events or any actions on issues," he wrote, in part. "This week alone, I was at City Hall more than three times and spoke with you in reference to other issues. Not one time did you mention that the opening of the Splash Pad was next week."
Mr. Parrott told Mayor Garcia in response that no one on the council was consulted about the opening date, which had just been chosen that day by Parks Director John Fletcher because students were out of school on Oct. 19.
"I take full responsibility for the decision," Mr. Parrott said.
Mayor Garcia is used to feeling like an outsider at City Hall. His truck is still his office and he's often the lone dissenting vote on a variety of spending issues.
Councilman Dan Hunt was tearing into plates of ribs and corn with his wife, Michele, at the opening. He was quick to point out DeBary not only wants but needs a better face.
"Aesthetically," he said, "you drive through the city now and you see that, 'Hey, there's something going on here,' that we're not just a drive-through city. And really, it's about the quality of life of our children."
The acre-square site, wedged between Valencia Road and DeBary Drive, is fully landscaped, with parking lots and restrooms.
It used to be a bank branch, then a temporary city hall. For a few years, it sat vacant. So this is a big improvement, Mr. Hunt added.
That's how 10-year resident Jennifer Holly feels about it, too. She and her three young children eagerly awaited the opening.
"This will give the kids of DeBary a place to spend their time," she said. "For a lot of people, money is an issue, so this is something fun that doesn't cost anything."
Michelle Thompson brought her 4-year-old twins Blake and Brady to the pad all the way from Orange City, which features its own, differently designed Splash Pad.
She stared out past her sons at the nearby intersection of U.S. 17/92 and DeBary Drive.
"As long as we have responsible parents," she said, "it's a good place."