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28093: Hermantin(News)Haitian Americans receive an apology (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Fri, Mar. 10, 2006

Haitian Americans receive an apology
Haitian Americans voiced their concerns Thursday to Fort Lauderdale city officials at the first town hall meeting to reach out to the community since 2003.

Fort Lauderdale City Manager George Gretsas offered his apologies Thursday to the city's growing Haitian population for not reaching out to the community.

Gretsas made his remarks before some 300 people who had packed into the cafeteria of North Side Elementary School for the city's first town hall meeting since 2003 with members of the Haitian-American community in Fort Lauderdale.

The city, its police department and North Side Elementary hosted the meeting in English and Creole for Haitian-American residents to learn about city services and meet city and school leaders.

''We need to be doing more of this,'' Gretsas said, of the meeting that was organized by Junia Jeantilus-Robinson, Fort Lauderdale's community relations specialist who works with the Haitian-American community. ``I think we need to be meeting quarterly to discuss issues that affect your community.''


Several other city leaders attended the meeting, including Mayor Jim Naugle, Police Chief Bruce Roberts and Broward School Board Chairman Benjamin Williams.

Gretsas and other city officials addressed questions on issues ranging from what some perceived as discrimination against Haitians to frustration over the paltry number of Haitian Americans on the police force, in the school system and in decision-making positions in city government.

''We have qualified Haitian Americans who can work at any single level in this city,'' said Francois Leconte, founder and CEO of Minority Development and Empowerment.

Communication between the city and Haitian Americans has stalled under the new administration, Leconte said.

He also complained about the city not translating important materials into Creole so that it can reach the more than 15,000 Haitians living in Fort Lauderdale.

Naugle said the city did translate FEMA information into Creole during the 2005 hurricane season so Haitian residents could get the information.

Many questions were directed at Williams. Audience members asked how could the district ensure that Haitian Americans who graduate can read and how should students deal with a verbally abusive teacher.


Fred St. Amand Sr., a member of the Miami Police Department's civilian investigative panel, said he was disappointed at the low number of Haitian-American officers in Fort Lauderdale. Three of the city's five Haitian-American officers attended the meeting.

But, St. Amand said, he was encouraged at Thursday's turnout.

''The power belongs to you,'' he said.

Some left the meeting feeling unsatisfied, saying panelists' answers were vague and short on specifics.

''It doesn't make sense,'' said Timothy St. Fleur, who thought the meeting itself was a good idea.