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Hispanic Liaison Idea Draws Mixed Reaction
By Katherine Leal Unmuth
June 10, 2002
KISSIMMEE -- Osceola County commissioners are considering creating a Hispanic liaison position to bridge the communication gap between the soaring Latino population and county government.
Osceola is almost 30 percent Hispanic, according to the 2000 census, but has no Hispanic elected officials.
Commissioner Mary Jane Arrington, who envisions the liaison serving as an ombudsman for Hispanics, would like to see the position filled by Oct. 1.
But Armando Ramirez, vice chairman of the Osceola County Democratic Party, questioned county officials' motives.
"I see the proposal as a ploy to appease the Hispanic community," Ramirez said. "I see the proposal as a bread crumb falling from the table of the political arena. We don't need a liaison -- what we need is a public elected official."
Dalis Guevara, a community leader and the widow of Robert Guevara, the only Hispanic to serve as county commissioner, said she likes the idea of a liaison. She said the only way Hispanics will become more politically active is if someone accessible reaches out to them.
When her husband was in office, he had weekly office hours at the Buenaventura Lakes Community Center -- now the Robert Guevara Community Center -- to meet residents.
"You need to know the needs of the community first before you deliver the service," said Guevara, a Democrat. "You need new blood and new ideas."
Ramirez, however, said Hispanics will not have a true voice through an elected official unless single-member districts are restored. In the current at-large system, commissioners must live in separate districts but are elected countywide.
Voters approved switching back to an at-large system the same night in 1996 that Robert Guevara, running from a heavily Hispanic single-member district, became Osceola's first Hispanic commissioner. Ramirez said at-large voting was to blame for Dalis Guevara's failed 2000 bid to gain her late husband's commission seat.
While Ramirez said a Hispanic liaison would be subject to the whims and pressures of county commissioners, others see the post as a way to integrate Hispanics into the larger Osceola community.
Jose Hoyos, treasurer of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of Central Florida, said the biggest problem is the language barrier. He said Osceola could learn a lesson from Orange County and Orlando, both of which have Spanish-language Web sites that detail community services online (orangecountyfl.net and www.cityoforlando.net).
To many Hispanics -- who move to Osceola every day from large U.S. cities such as New York and foreign countries as far away as Colombia -- the leadership void is glaring.
"We are many, but we don't feel like we are part of the community," said Omar Yepes, who moved to Poinciana six months ago from New York.