MELBOURNE BEACH, Fla. — Florida history and heritage in Brevard County are colliding, as a centuries-old debate over a famed explorer and flags are up in the air.
- Commissioner says Ponce de Leon never visited Melbourne Beach area
- He wants to rename Ponce de Leon landing, replace flags
- The park, monument is a tribute to the explorers alleged landfall
Complaints have reached the Brevard County commissioner's desk, but now a proposal to remove two flags tied to Ponce de Leon's Florida landfall more than 500 years ago is bringing a debate to present day.
Four flags fly high at Melbourne Beach's Juan Ponce de Leon Landing — the American flag, Spanish flag, Puerto Rican flag, and Florida's state flag.
It’s a tribute to the explorer's landfall, debated for centuries if indeed he came here.
The park and monument was built in District 3 Brevard County Commissioner John Tobia's domain.
He is proposing the Spanish and Puerto Rican flags be replaced, but that doesn't sit well with residents like Samantha Nazario.
"By removing the flags, you are hiding Florida's true history," she told Spectrum News 13. "It's a flag from when we were colonized by Juan Ponce de Leon, when he became the first governor of Puerto Rico, by bequeathal of King Ferdinand of Spain."
"It's an absolute joke," Tobia said.
Tobia says a previous commission spent $67,000 honoring someone who did not land there. He decided to take action when some of his constituents brought it to his attention.
He cites a UCF study proving the explorer never visited the now Melbourne Beach area.
"You might as well have a sign up there for Santa Claus," Tobia said. "Because Santa Claus has spent just as much time in that park as Ponce de Leon has."
Tobia wants to save taxpayer dollars by replacing the two flags instead of taking the entire pole down. He even wants to rename the park.
"I think they should find where Ponce de Leon landed and fly the flags there," he suggested.
"It should be something of pride, something you hold true to your history," Nazario said.
Commissioners could vote on the issue at their meeting Tuesday night.