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Work together on dog park

I would like to support the suggestion of Mr. Herbert Weiss, of Winter Parks’ Parks and Recreation Board (“Take dog park back” published Dec. 2) that an investigative reporter dive into the conflict surrounding Fleet Peeples dog park.

How is it that the Friends of Fleet Peeples Park had an amicable relationship with the city until membership on the Board of Commissioners changed two and a half years ago? FFPP volunteers supported the Parks Department by taking on many financial and maintenance responsibilities at the dog park. FFPP planned to contribute amenities for the non-dog visitors’ portion of the park including restrooms and a pavilion.

How did commissioners let a collaborative relationship get so contentious that a city official brought groundless assault charges against an FFPP board member, meant to embarrass and burden? Charges were dismissed. Similar action against other FFPP members was threatened. Do city officials believe intimidation can be used to quiet citizens who criticize them?

Questions remain about the validity of data used to justify the fee structure. It now costs more to run Fleet Peeples Park. Commissioners have not addressed fears that the park is to be sold to developers. Why won’t commissioners allay these fears as baseless?

Now officials have denied children younger than 5 access to the park, resurrected unproven concerns about water contamination and posted inflammatory warnings of dangers of dog feces. Are these power tactics devised by city officials to deflate the FFPP and limit dog park use in general? But to what end?

The majority at public meeting comes to speak passionately against fees, yet commissioners grant them little consideration. Why? Officials cast themselves as victims and FFPP as troublemakers. But is the reverse true? Don’t bullies, whether in a company, playground or city government, call their victims whiners, sissies and/or troublemakers?

Why won’t intelligent, civic-minded officials find ways to work with the FFPP? Do commissioners have agendas affecting the dog park they are unwilling to share? Where is their talent to collaborate effectively? They haven’t clearly and reasonably shared how plans for the park will serve all citizens and be a credible business decision. Investigative reporting could help us all understand what is really going on in Winter Park government. Why all this drama and these unanswered questions?

Commissioners must demonstrate a genuine effort to work with all its constituents to maintain trust within the community. Once the right city officials are in the room, bringing genuine collaborative intent, I’m hopeful this conflict might still have a positive outcome in the future.

—Jamie Lynn Conglose

Winter Park

Maitland skirts its charter

Well the city of Maitland is at it again, or should I say, continues to flaunt the law. In this case, it is the city charter directed by state statutes specifying how a vacancy to the Council shall be filled. After Jan. 3, there will be only four members on the Maitland Council. The City Charter (2.06) states “A vacancy in the council shall be filled by appointment of a successor by a majority vote of the remaining members of city council to serve until the next general election.” Failing to do so, “the election authority shall call a special election to fill the vacancy, to be held not sooner than 90 days nor later than 120 days following the occurrence of the vacancy.” The city just decided that they will ignore that law and hold an election for the vacant spot with the other elections in March and not fill that position until then.

Ignoring the law or hiding information from the public is not unusual for the three controlling members of the Council, as this has been the case for years. In the city’s budget, it was not usual to hide the impacts of the Community Redevelopment Area on the city. This time they opened the door a little and showed that the General Fund must pony up about $500,000 this year to cover the CRA short fall. As stated by the tax assessor’s office, this deficit will continue to grow as more of the property within the CRA is developed. Further, that deficit does not include the cost of CRA-related city personnel, legal coverage, police, fire, emergency and maintenances costs, none of which can come from taxes of people living within the CRA. This deficit, of course, will result in either the loss of services or increased taxes subsidized by the citizens outside of the CRA. Since 2003, the city has loaned the CRA more than $40 million including interest.

One must ask the question: Why would three council members continue to support a developer in the CRA who has filed for bankruptcy, owes back taxes and fees to the city for years, has multiple times promised funding that never materializes, gives away city property without a referendum, and has been told multiple times by the tax assessors and other professionals that, from the city’s standpoint, the CRA is not a financially viable operation? I would imagine that they would never do the same thing with their own money if they were building a house.

Ignoring the public interest was best demonstrated by Councilwomen Linda Frosch. She was asked by Councilman Phil Bonus why she and the mayor and then-Councilman Jeff Flowers hardly ever explain why they vote a certain way so that the public can see their rationale. Her answer was, “I spoke to our city attorney, and I asked him if we had to give an explanation before we voted. He said that it is not required. This is not a court of law; we are not interrogated. So I don’t have to give any reason to Councilman Bonus why I vote.” The mayor and Flowers did not object to her statement. So as it has been for years the public is not entitled to hear the rationale for all too frequent irrational decisions. Their vote on Council is a private matter, not related to the citizens.

—Bill Kahn

Maitland