March 31, 2006

Commentary:

Where does an organization go to get back its reputation?

By Katherine Lopez

That is a question the Memorial Recreation Council, the advisory committee to the Park and Recreation Department which has jurisdiction over the parks in our community, will wish it had an answer to now that it has pimped Memorial Park into the arms of a beer company.

Of course, Uniradio, the company that successfully seduced the Memorial Council into giving it up for a few thousand dollars and an afternoon of banda music, would never say that: It called the Cinco de Mayo program they offered to bring to the Park on Sunday May 6th, a “family-oriented event.” What fun: The kids jump in the Disney brincolín, while Dad and Mom quaff some cold ones a few feet away.

Executives from Uniradio (“La Poderosa” “La Invasora”) came to the Memorial Recreation Council on March 14th, to propose holding a Cinco de Mayo music festival in Memorial Park, offering to give a substantial donation to the American Little League as well as to the Memorial Recreation Center, if only the Council would allow it to have a “beer garden” as part of that event. As outgoing Chair of the Council, I turned down this proposal, as I was convinced that it would be the wrong thing to do. After many years of fighting to get alcohol consumption out of our parks and keep it out, to now invite a beer company back in and to give drinking in our park the official sanction and blessing of the Council seemed to me at the very least reinforcing the negative stereotypes of what our cultural events are about, as well as sending mixed messages about drinking in the park, and at worst a prostitution of Memorial Park to a beer company.

The very next day, the incoming Chair called for a special meeting of the Council to reconsider Uniradio’s proposal. Many concerned members of the community, leaders of various organizations, and committed activists attended the special meeting on March 22nd, and expressed their very strong feelings that there should be no Cinco de Mayo event with a beer garden at Memorial Park, and even offered to help organize an alternative event. To its shame, the Memorial Recreation Council, dazzled by Uniradio’s offers of money and promises of a good time, voted to allow the event as proposed with no conditions; Memorial Park was theirs to do with as they pleased.

During my two-year tenure as Chair, I worked hard to bring positive changes to the parks and facilities under our jurisdiction. I insisted that the Park Department bring in better management at the Recreation Center; that park employees do all they could to keep our parks and facilities clean and well-maintained; that the Park Department bring more programs to our Center to engage our youth in positive, safe, and healthy activities; that the City stop giving away park lands without the consent and advice of the Council and Park Department. I also worked to put together a Joint Use Agreement with Memorial Charter that would benefit the Recreation Center, the middle school, and the community. And I called on the Police Department to help us take control of our parks, to crack down on gang violence, prostitution, drug dealing and usage, illegal vendors, and delinquent youths who are using the parks for criminal activities.

When I became Chair, I could have said, “Nothing can be done to improve the situation here, it’s always been this way.” Instead, I believed we could do better. And we have. To their credit, the Park Department, the Police Department, the schools, and other organizations the Council works with, have responded to these challenges with a sincere dedication to problem-solving, and much has been accomplished. Ironically, when we were finally going in the right direction, the Council has now decided to throw all this progress completely off track. For by this action what message are they sending? If the Council doesn’t care about its reputation, why should anyone else care?

Here in our parks and facilities, I had insisted on creating a safe, healthy, and alcohol-free environment and offering alcohol-free events. When the Chair and the Council voted 6-1 (with myself opposed) to allow the Uniradio event, in effect they were breaking down the one barrier against alcohol that over the years had been so carefully built up and preserved, opening up the one sanctuary to the beer companies they had not been able to enter, our community parks.

The Council has sold the one thing it should have guarded with all its heart and soul: I sincerely believe that the money and the good time it gets in exchange for allowing beer into our parks can not in the end make up for the loss of its reputation.

Katherine Lopez is former Chair, Memorial Recreation Council

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