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Orlando Sentinel

There's Plenty Of Blame For Fiasco At Park

By Maria Padilla

MAY 15, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

It was supposed to be a project everyone could rally around.

Nature Park, located in a growing Hispanic area in southeast Orlando, would be reopened after a four-year closure. The small park had become infested with crime and drugs, scaring families and other law-abiding citizens.

City Commissioner Betty Wyman and several Hispanic groups banded together in December to plan a way to return the park to the people. The re-inauguration was supposed to be last Saturday. Instead, there was a protest after Wyman canceled the event.

What went wrong?

A lot. And there's enough blame to go around. After months of planning, it appears that Wyman had not sufficiently clued in the mayor's office and certain department heads to the park's cleanup and reopening. Church groups and local Hispanic companies had contributed both sweat equity and financially to the project.

As the event drew closer, city officials were caught off guard by an activity that had grown much larger than originally planned.

Hispanic groups, coordinated by the Office of the Government of Puerto Rico, had booked musical acts and other entertainment, which had been heavily promoted on Spanish-language radio.

An estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people were expected at the park, which can accommodate 300, at best.

Meanwhile, neither the office nor Wyman had pulled any permits or obtained fire and police presence. The two parties couldn't agree on last-minute arrangements to meet city requirements. Wyman then canceled the event just days before it was to take place.

Now, everybody is pointing that-a-way, and the community still is without a park.

The office, which previously demanded all the credit for the park's reopening, now claims it was only a "facilitator" for the other groups. Other sources say the new staff at the office lacked the necessary experience to pull off the event.

Case in point: A planned trade mission to the island coordinated by the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce and the Puerto Rico office in Orlando recently was canceled because of a lack of coordination.

Worse, some protesters, such as Mildred Zapata, who heads the Puerto Rican parade organization in Orlando, had their own gripes with the city and used this unfortunate event to settle the score.

Last year, Zapata had complained rather loudly that city officials had discriminated against her parade, which the city denied.

Shouts of bias and racism were heard against Wyman, who is an easy mark because she lacks a solid track record among Hispanic voters in her district.

Just two years ago, two Hispanics ran against her, stating Wyman had ignored the needs of the emerging Hispanic community. They split the vote, easing the way for Wyman's re-election.

To complicate matters, some staffers in the Puerto Rico office were involved in redistricting efforts that targeted Wyman's area.

Clearly, there are too many agendas on this table -- too many "he saids" and "she saids."

Let's simplify things: Can't somebody just unlock the door to the park and let the people in?

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