Huntingburg – Jeff Summers’ words on his Main Street sign on Monday caused an immediate backlash from the community.
“I cannot justify, in any way, my actions or comments,” he said in a written statement. “This was a childish act coming from an adult. There is no excuse for my actions. Trust me, your comments were a wake up call for me.”
The written statement is a succinct apology to the community, but the long term effects on Summers business, Summers Tanning at 1016 N. Main St., and on Summers himself will continue to haunt the lifelong Huntingburg resident.
He has voluntarily resigned from two community boards he has served on; the Huntingburg Museum and Teen Outback boards.
Summers was heavily involved in the Teen Outback as a board member. Assisting with events and helping to clean and repair the popular pre-teen and teen hang out. Last fall he installed the new basketball scoreboard on the north side of the building.
Summers also served on the city’s Park Board for four years. He and board member Marlene Morgan were instrumental in getting the splash park project started. Summers and Morgan spent countless hours visiting other splash parks in the region to plan the newest addition to the city park. Stacks of photos of splash parks in Owensboro, Princeton and other cities are filed away in his office at Summers Tanning.
The splash park is currently under construction at Huntingburg City Park next to the city pool and should be open for citizens by this summer.
The lifelong member of the community can tell you stories about when the county fair was at Huntingburg City Park. How the carnival workers would set up camp at the park with their RV’s and simply dig a hole for their septic lines to dangle in while they were in for the fair. He likes to tell a funny story about walking behind one of those RV’s and not seeing one of those holes until he was up to his thigh in effluent.
He’s still angry at President Obama and blames his policies on the increased national debt. He’s not the only one angry around here, unfortunately he’s the one that put those words on that sign on that day. The day of the President’s inauguration and a day set aside to remember a great civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr.
He says the sign didn’t have anything to do with Martin Luther King Jr. It was done as a joke about the President to share with some friends. He said the sign was only up for 2 to 3 minutes, only long enough for Summers to take a photo, but it was long enough for someone else to see it and be offended.
The power of Facebook and Twitter spread Summers’ statement across the region and caused an immediate backlash. The City of Huntingburg began receiving phone calls soon after word about the sign began to spread. “I went down to Summers’ business but there was nothing on the sign at that time,” Mayor Denny Spinner said today.
Mayor Spinner stated the city can’t impede on Summers’ First Amendment rights but, “This is something that was offensive to our citizens and our city government. It was maybe more inappropriate by the day on which it happened. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the President’s inauguration,” he said.
The mayor recognizes Summers’ involvement with the city. “Jeff has done a lot of work for our city and has solidly supported many things that happen in our community,” he said. “Unfortunately, one misstep can change that perception and that view. I think at this time it is probably best for Jeff to step away (from community involvement) for a while.”
The mayor is looking to move past the incident. He recognizes that Huntingburg’s strength is in the diversity of its citizens. “This was a misstep by one a community member who expressed a view that is not consistent with how our community feels,” he said, “and I think the immediate response from the community reflects that.”
Summers is sorry and humiliated; so much so that he is thinking of moving away. The tanning business doesn’t make a lot of money for Summers and he says he had thought it was time to close it and turn the building into more apartments. That’s where the bulk of his income is based.
“I’m ashamed of myself, but more importantly, I’m humiliated at the fact that my actions caused so much pain to the people that I’ve come to know and interact with here in Huntingburg,” he said. “For this, I am truly sorry.”