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Orlando Sentinel

Hispanic Liaison Could Become Leadership Role

By Mark Pino

MAY 19, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

Creation of a Hispanic liaison is a sword with two razor-sharp edges.

If not structured correctly, such a position could cut those who create it and the community it is supposed to serve.

County commissioners dived headfirst into the subject recently and will consider their options during the budget process this summer.

It's a delicate issue on several levels.

Do Hispanics need a special liaison with local government? If so, which Hispanics? Because the term is overly broad for such a diverse group. Finally, what would the liaison do?

A true liaison should be more than a low-level employee. While there might be a need for more people who speak Spanish in county offices, a liaison has to be more of an advocate and troubleshooter.

Such a person should report directly to the county manager or the commission, which currently has three employees: the county manager, county attorney and county auditor.

A liaison would act as a link between government and the people, helping to ensure equal access to services and information for Osceola's Hispanic community, which the latest census numbers indicate is 30 percent of the population.

Creation of a position with power and clout is politically dangerous for commissioners. The liaison will be in the spotlight as a high-profile Hispanic -- and could well use the position to run for office, a commission seat for example.

So commissioners likely won't want someone with political aspirations. But another paper-pusher is the last thing the county or the Hispanic community needs.

On the other hand, a strong liaison automatically becomes a huge political patronage job.

With four Republicans on the commission, would they really give the job to a Democrat? We're back looking at which Hispanics would be served by the position.

It is generally accepted that most Puerto Ricans vote for Democrats. Nearly 60 percent of Osceola's Hispanics are Puerto Rican. The county's only elected Hispanic official, the late Robert Guevara, was a Puerto Rican and a Democrat. So would the liaison have to be a Puerto Rican Democrat? What about a Puerto Rican Republican? What about a Mexican, Colombian or Cuban or any party?

It's political dynamite for elected officials.

Honestly, what commissioners have in mind is probably nothing so grand or explosive.

There's much to be gained in all this because there's not a single Hispanic in elected office here. The very action of creating a Hispanic liaison -- or an office of Hispanic Affairs -- will buy leaders quite a bit of political capital.

They can say they're trying to understand Hispanic issues, something they admit they have trouble with now.

It doesn't seem that hard to me.

Good jobs. A good education. A safe place to live. Those are issues important -- not only to Hispanics but also to everyone.

Hispanics deserve a seat at the table of leadership and decision-making. The best way -- no, the only way -- to reflect a diverse community is make sure that leaders come from all quarters and all views. Government has to be accessible and responsive to the entire community.

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