The Orlando Sentinel
Puerto Rico Profile: Mari Maldonado
She Doesn't Feel Lonely At The Top In St. Cloud
By Pamela Mercer
December 3, 2000
ST. CLOUD -- Mari Maldonado is the only Hispanic woman to occupy a high-ranking position in city government.
During City Council meetings, Maldonado`s slight accent and feminine voice stand out in a city administration dominated by Southern-accented males. This, she says, does not faze her.
"I`m used to walking in on board meetings where there are white men," Maldonado explained. "I feel more comfortable that way."
Her presence is not a statement of ethnicity nor the result of affirmative action. It is a sign of her own achievement and of the recognition she has earned. A graduate of Brigham Young University in Utah, she has thrived as a woman among men and as a Latin American among North Americans.
"I think it`s important to break down barriers," she said. "When you limit yourself to a certain class of people, you`re closing doors rather than opening doors."
Maldonado has been walking through foreign doors for most of her life. Born and reared in Arecife, Puerto Rico, she traveled frequently with her father, a federal employee, whenever he made business trips to the mainland.
At Brigham Young, she obtained degrees in political science and international relations and went to work in the same state.
Rather than feel like an outsider in Utah, Maldonado took on the challenge.
"It was an exciting change for me," she said.
Human resources was not an area in which she expected to specialize, but five years ago she began working as the director of employee relations for the Florida Department of Children & Families.
Then, she heard about a job opening for director of human resources in St. Cloud. The location appealed to her, she said, because her parents had moved to Orlando. They were elderly and in need of family companionship.
In May 1999, she began working for the city and soon became involved in key projects, spurred on by Lloyd Rinderer, who was the city manager then. She helped to create a fairer pay scale for the city`s 256 employees, as well as new guidelines for benefits.
In addition, she has led the effort to hire a new city manager to replace Rinderer, who resigned in September.
Throughout it all, she says she has felt at home in St. Cloud, a close-knit community of fewer than 20,000 people.