Parks and Recreation rates poorly Leadership questioned: Dramatic changes called for in city task force report.

April 08, 1997

THERE WAS speculation when Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke appointed a task force to review Baltimore's Recreation and Parks Department that it would recommend new leadership for the agency. Although it stopped short of doing that, its report is so critical of Marlyn J. Perritt, director of recreation and parks since 1991, that the mayor should swiftly decide whether city residents would be better served by replacing her.

As has become typical in recent years, Mr. Schmoke is once again considering huge cuts in the Recreation and Parks Department budget to help offset the city's declining revenue. He also needs to think about who would be the best person to guide that department as it continues trying to provide Baltimoreans with recreation activities and parks with less money than it needs to do the job right.

The report, written by a 12-member task force following a five-month evaluation, criticized the department for consistently missing opportunities to raise money and failing to adequately market the services and programs it does provide. The panel said the department should immediately hire a marketing director and needs to adjust fees at recreation centers and other facilities so they can become less dependent on the city's general fund.

One of the most revealing criticisms of the department detailed an experiment in which a senior citizen, another adult and a youth were sent unannounced to rec centers to find out what activities were offered for their age groups. Each person returned to report that the center's staff was either uninterested in helping or missing. Ms. Perritt has claimed she is too busy trying to run the department to be concerned about the report, but she should be.

The Recreation and Parks Department cannot continue to operate this way. Its dependence on funding from dwindling city tax coffers usually means poorer neighborhoods are underserved while more affluent ones benefit from the higher activity fees they charge people who use their recreation facilities. The police department has taken over some rec centers, but many areas that need additional recreation opportunities for youths are still without them. Recreation and Parks must have the right leadership to handle the fiscal challenges staring this city in the face.

Pub Date: 4/08/97

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