When Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs writes the City of Orlando on official business, she likely expects full and honest responses from her partners like Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orlando Venues Director Allen Johnson. But that does not appear to be the case in the recent memo sent by the Orlando Venues director to Mayor Jacobs responding to questions regarding the fate of historic Tinker Field.
Official city records show that Allen Johnson included false and misleading information in his official memo to Orange County. Now, more questions and even bigger concerns cloud the already controversial issue that has been going on for more than one year.
Mayor Dyer and Allen Johnson both responded to the Orange County Commission questions just this week. The third question raised by Mayor Jacobs stated “Is there a way to work with Major League Baseball or the Ripken Foundation to find a way to preserve the history that occurred at Tinker Field?”
Allen Johnson’s direct response in his official memo stated: “The Ripken Foundation had reached out to the City regarding their program but then decided to implement their program in another city.”
Here’s where reality differs from the City of Orlando’s version of the truth. There is nothing true in the statement by Allen Johnson. And that raises bigger questions about the reliability of any other responses made by the City of Orlando on this issue or others. In fact, public records confirm Venues Director Johnson misled the County Mayor and Commissioners at best, or he just flat-out lied and does not respect Orange County enough to include the facts.
Yesterday, Venues Director Johnson admitted in an email, “I’ve placed a call to the Ripkin foundation but so far have not received any information.” A total contradiction to what was stated in his memo to Orange County just one day earlier. He also spelled Ripken wrong.
It’s not like the City and the Venues had a lot of records to review before finalizing the information being sent to Orange County. After all, there were zero records to review. Based on a public records request, the City confirmed there was no communication with the Ripken Foundation, no communication with Major League Baseball, and only one meeting with Davey Johnson, former MLB manager and former bat boy at Tinker Field.
Last February, Davey Johnson spoke out publicly from Washington DC to tell the City of Orlando to “save Tinker Field.” He and many other expressed much interest in saving, preserving and renovating historic Tinker Field. Records show Mayor Dyer and the Venues had one meeting with Davey Johnson and his group. City staff state in the emails they connected Davey Johnson with Orange County Public Schools and Jones High School instead of forming a partnership with the City of Orlando to save Tinker Field. Nothing came of it. That’s it.
Makes you wonder, who is vetting City of Orlando memos? What other misleading information is being pushed out by the Dyer administration? How can residents truly believe there is a transparent and open process?
In response to the original public records request, Dyer’s Chief of Staff also provided emails revealing the only communication about Tinker Field he could reference was with a former Buddy Dyer campaign volunteer. That resident was active early on in the saving Tinker Field effort and had ideas for outreach, but does not have any official or professional connection to Major League Baseball or other foundations. He also did not have any affiliation with the Ripken Foundation. This further shows Dyer’s administration had no outreach or communication with potential partners to save Tinker Field.
It is no secret Mayor Dyer, Johnson’s boss, is extremely frustrated about the ongoing Tinker Field controversy and wants it put to an end as soon as possible. Dyer has insisted for over a year that the City will demolish the historic grandstands and all structures on the site to pave way for a parking lot and concert/festival space. But now even more questions are being raised about why the Orlando Venues director included false, misleading information in his official memo to Mayor Jacobs.
The sad truth left out of the memo to Mayor Jacobs and Orange County is the reality that there are many interested parties who could join the City of Orlando in partnership to save and preserve historic Tinker Field. Mark Popkin, former General Manager of the Orlando Monarchs who played at Tinker Field, testified in front of Mayor Jacobs about the future of baseball at Tinker Field and opportunities to work with MLB and others like the Ripken Foundation. The interest in historic Tinker Field is big and the opportunities are endless, but not if the site is demolished and repurposed. Popkin along with Rickie Weeks, founder of the Orlando Monarchs, and all the players were determined to keep baseball alive at Tinker Field. Popkin even specializes in both baseball and historic preservation. The interest exists.
The truth is that Buddy Dyer, Allen Johnson and the City of Orlando were never interested in responding to Mayor Jacobs or Orange County. Dyer and Johnson were never interested in finding a way to save and preserve Tinker Field. But is it appropriate to mislead the Orange County Mayor and the public?
Calls to Mayor Jacobs and her office were not returned on the subject this afternoon. The controversy just got bigger ahead of one of the most controversial votes on Tinker Field’s fate this Monday.