Bad marks given to city parks agency Funds squandered, leadership weak, task force tells mayor

Director's fitness doubted

County residents called main users of soccer center

April 05, 1997|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's Recreation and Parks Department is squandering money on programs primarily used by county residents and has a lethargic top administrative staff, according to a report from a task force commissioned by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to scrutinize the troubled agency.

The report stops just short of calling for the resignation of Marlyn J. Perritt, the recreation and parks director but clearly gives her a vote of no confidence.

"If I were in her position, I'd see the handwriting on the wall," said a task force member who asked not to be identified. "If you are a good manager, why would you need a task force?"

The report, which was given to Schmoke on Thursday, was written by 12 city leaders, private citizens and business leaders who were charged five months ago with evaluating the agency.

Schmoke and Perritt said they would not comment until they had reviewed the report.

Last year, when the department's budget was cut by $1 million, the mayor warned that the department was deteriorating to an unacceptable level. The mayor instructed the task force to find ways the department could prosper while saying that he was open to personnel changes.

The report, part of which was obtained by The Sun, says the city is subsidizing county residents who are the primary users of the Du Burns Soccer Arena on South Ellwood Avenue.

It says the department consistently misses opportunities to raise its own money and needs to adjust fees to make its facilities less dependent on city funds.

The report also says the department fails to market its programs and should immediately hire a marketing director.

The task force gave failing marks to some of the programs. In a test, a senior citizen, another adult and a youth were sent to recreation centers to participate in the programs. Each returned to report that the staff was uninterested or missing.

"What they came back with, showing what was going on, it wasn't pleasant," said a task force member who asked not to be identified.

Because the mayor has reserved comment on the report, the task force members would speak only on condition of anonymity.

Longtime civic activist Sally Michel chairs the task force. Other .. members include former City Solicitor Neal M. Janey, developer Carl William Struever and Councilman Edward L. Reisinger, who represents the 6th District.

The report given to the mayor Thursday was a revamping of a much more critical draft report that was deemed too negative by some on the task force, members said. In the earlier report, Perritt was criticized for being too slow to act and not working hard enough to see that the department prospered.

In the draft report, some task force members called for her to resign, one asked that she be given six months to get the department in order, and another suggestion was for a transition team of managers to take over the department.

The first report was softened to allow the mayor to make up his own mind about Perritt, a task force member said.

"He's a smart man. He should get the message" that Perritt is not up to the job, a task force member said.

Perritt, who had not seen the report, said she was devoting her attention to running the department. "I'm not overly concerned about the report right now," she said.

The effectiveness of the parks department has come into question as the Police Athletic League has met with success. The league's centers are better equipped and have proved more popular with youths. They also have substantial funds from state and federal grants.

Many of the city's recreation centers are old and in disrepair, and the Police Athletic League has taken over 11 former city centers.

Pub Date: 4/05/97

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