City denies permit for Latino gala

Sponsor calls refusal a week before festival a `slap in the face'

`It was just wrong timing'

Officials said police would be strained on day set for event

Annapolis

May 01, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

Noting concerns about the availability of police, Annapolis officials have denied a permit for the city's first Latino festival - a move that had its organizers fuming, coming little more than a week before the long-planned event.

Festival Annapo-Latina, sponsored by the Organization of Hispanic/Latin Americans of Anne Arundel County (OHLA), was scheduled for the city's Truxton Park on Sunday. But at a permit-review hearing Friday, city officials decided that the festival would have to be moved to an alternative date.

They said the city police would be spread too thin in covering two other events scheduled the same day - the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Walk and the downtown Maritime Heritage Festival.

"It was just wrong timing," Ward 3 Alderman Samuel Gilmer, who attended the meeting, said of the Latino event. City police "could not spare the officers," he said.

The decision did not sit well with Rick Ferrell, the Cuban-American president of OHLA, who described it as "horrendous" and a "slap in the face of the Hispanic community."

"It's saying, `You guys don't count,'" Ferrell said yesterday. "It just really hurts that they try to squash us like this."

OHLA, an Annapolis-based nonprofit aimed at helping newly arrived Hispanics gain access to social services and integrate into American life, has been promoting the event since March and spent $2,200 printing posters, fliers and tickets and several thousand more on deposits for entertainment, organizers said.

Ferrell said the festival was to be a cultural celebration with arts and crafts, a job fair, displays from government agencies and five bands playing Latino music from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The event was expected to draw 1,000 to 1,500 people, he said.

City officials said festival organizers failed to keep them properly informed of the event's scope and did not file a permit request until 13 days before the event.

"We've been working with Rick on this for weeks, but the simple truth is that had a permit come in a month or two ago, we would have known we had a conflict," said city spokesman Thomas W. Roskelly, adding that Mayor Dean L. Johnson has been supportive of the event. "We would have had more time to come up with alternative dates or locations. It's not a slap in anyone's face; it's simply a resource problem."

Ferrell said that in October the mayor pledged to support the event and referred Ferrell to the director of the city Recreation and Parks Department, LeeAnn Bogan, to select a date. Bogan said Ferrell spoke with her about the event in November and, after checking facility availability, she offered May 6 and May 13 - Mother's Day - as possible dates.

The date for the Maritime Heritage Festival had not been set at that time, she said, and because she was under the impression the Latino festival would be a "small event," she did not see a conflict with the Bay Bridge Walk - which takes place at Sandy Point State Park, but uses Navy-Marine Corps Stadium as a parking and shuttle bus site. But during the past six months, Bogan said the Latino event "grew much larger than its original intent," and the city realized only recently the resources it would need for the event.

"The event grew without [its organizers] keeping the city informed in terms of what the city would need to provide," she said.

The original plan was to have one or two bands and a job fair, Bogan said. "This wasn't going to be a huge event originally. It was going to attract 200 to 300 people over a few hours."

Ferrell said that isn't true. "The plan has been exactly the same from day one. I never said a small group," he said.

He also said Roskelly did not inform him of the need for a permit until last Tuesday.

"I got the approval from the mayor - what the hell did I know that the city council had to approve?" he said.

Ferrell said that at the meeting Friday with city council members and several city department heads, concerns were raised about possible noise from the music and the $5 price of admission for an event on public land. Ferrell said he tried to appease the group by offering solutions - including private security and moving the music further into the park property - that were rebuffed.

OHLA still plans to go ahead with the event and has asked County Executive Janet S. Owens to help find an alternative site.

"It's going to be tough to salvage it because it's so close, but we've got to try," Ferrell said.

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