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Posts Tagged ‘Orlando Sentinel

Freedom Ride: Maybe, Maybe Not

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Orlando, the city where the children of the world come to play – the lucky ones, anyway – still hasn’t decided whether or not the local kids deserve a break.

But they’re kind of leaning in that general direction.

Although no move has been made to offer Freedom Ride a new five year lease to extend the current one, which ends in 2011, the Orlando Sentinel reported that “at least three of the six city commissioners agree that Freedom Ride should stay.” Mayor Buddy Dyer appears to be leaning in that direction as well. But no talks are scheduled, and it’s possible that the city government will take the easy way out – ignore the issue until the contract runs out.

Starting from scratch isn't cheap

It’s hard to imagine a worse publicity journey than the one which Mayor Dyer embarked upon a few months ago when he decided that the therapeutic riding center in Metro Orlando would be of better use as fallow fields, awaiting funding in the undefined future to become still more soccer fields. As every SUV within one hundred miles of Orlando has at least one soccer-related decal affixed to it, I fail to see why the city feels honor-bound to provide so many playing fields that it can’t spare ten acres for children, adults, and veterans with everything from multiple sclerosis to ADHD, whose lives are changed daily by visits to the horses of Freedom Ride. It appears, to me, anyway, that everyone in Orlando is already playing soccer somewhere.

The president of Freedom Ride’s board of directors, Sam Dunaway, told the Sentinel that starting from scratch, on a new piece of land, would cost more than $500,000 – they would require new barns, new arenas, new paddocks, new everything. To say nothing, of course, of the cost to the users of the program. It might be an hour’s commute from East Orange County to Freedom Ride now. If they ended, say, west of town, in Lake County, where the land is almost, vaguely, sort of, still affordable, it would be more than two hours. Prohibitive in time, to say nothing of gas, inching back again towards three dollars a gallon, and the interminable toll roads which are the only way to get around Orlando.

In 2000, when Orlando was trying to decide what to do with Ben White Raceway, bids were submitted that included creating a showground. Imagine if Orlando, always second best in equine terms to Ocala, Wellington, and Tampa, might have rivaled Tampa’s fairgrounds, the eventual building of HITS Post Time in Ocala or Jacksonville Equestrian Center. If money had been the object, profitable measures were there for the taking, that could have been good for Orlando’s struggling equestrian industry and the city. But the city decided on Freedom Ride, allowed them to build a beautiful facility, and if charity and a sense of decency aren’t enough to allow the group to stay, then a sense of responsibility ought to be.

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Written by Natalie Keller Reinert

April 7, 2010 at 9:47 am

Guardedly Optimistic, the Horses Trot On

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With a good response to the weekend’s open house, frequent editorials in the Orlando Sentinel, and local television news coverage, Freedom Ride can feel “guardedly optimistic” that they stand a chance of continuing their mission of helping Central Florida’s citizens with special needs.

This morning I spoke with Robin Baker, Freedom Ride’s Volunteer Coordinator. The more people that are paying attention and showing support, she says, the better the outlook for Freedom Ride is.

Many people who came to the Open House had no connection to horses at all. “People just came out to support us, from what they’d read.” People were generous with donations as well, and in promising to wear the free “Freedom Ride” hats and shirts to publicize and show support for the non-profit.

The tidy shedrow sits just a few miles from downtown Orlando.

Discussions are going on this week within City Hall that could determine the future plans for Trotters Park. In the meantime, the online petition is still collecting signatures, and the media continues to cover the mayor’s comedic waffling.

From mid-February, Scott Maxwell, the Sentinel’s political columnist, shares Orlando’s colorful history of inside deals and croneyism, illustrating with Orlando’s Safety Council:

For two decades, the council has operated in a city-owned building near Orlando Executive Airport, offering classes on everything from safe driving and workplace safety to victim awareness.

Then somebody else decided they wanted to use the Safety Council’s building. And that somebody happened to be a high-ranking city official: Deputy City Attorney Jody Litchford.

Apparently Litchford’s co-workers thought her idea was a dandy one. So they booted out a rent-paying tenant — eight years before the lease was up – for one that would move in rent-free for the first few years.

The deal was done with no fanfare, no announcements, no bidding – and losing rents costs the city about $200,000 over 3 years. A drop in the bucket for a city that is cheerfully laying off police, fire, and education professionals; the city insists that the space, now occupied by a charter school, will eventually turn a profit. Because so many charter schools are successful? Hmm.

Freedom Ride’s story isn’t new in Orlando, the City of Who You Know. But the decision to pick on the disabled is even lower-class than usual. As long as Central Florida, horsemen, parents, anyone who believes that people with special-needs deserve better than to be kicked out for non-existent ball field, maintain the pressure on the city, Freedom Ride can be a success story, instead of one more victim of Orlando’s exclusive City Hall.

Written by Natalie Keller Reinert

March 3, 2010 at 11:39 am