Revamping city recreation and parks Risky business: Overhaul of department raised fears that are dissipating.

December 09, 1997

SIX MONTHS AFTER Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke fired recreation and parks director Marlyn J. Perritt and ordered a dramatic restructuring of that agency, the worst fears of critics have not come to pass.

Indeed, while pessimism remains, confidence is growing in the ability of acting director Thomas V. Overton to rejuvenate the downsized department. His performance should carry considerable weight in the process to replace Ms. Perritt. But first Mr. Schmoke needs to get on with the national search he promised.

A budget crisis this summer forced Mr. Schmoke to make some decisions about recreation and parks that probably should have been considered years ago. The mayor finally admitted the department would "dwindle to a level of mediocrity" if it continued to take the biggest hits whenever budget cuts are made.

To save money in this year's city budget, 11 recreation centers were given to the Police Athletic League, the agency's capital development division staff was transferred to the Department of Public Works and DPW assumed responsibility for maintaining city parks.

Losing its development staff meant recreation and parks no longer had the visionaries responsible for planning and for finding the grant money to help finance major projects such as the Gwynn Falls Greenway and Druid Hill Park master plan. Putting the more than 200 employees who cleaned and trimmed the parks under DPW control raised concern that they might not do their jobs as well.

It may be next summer before all the changes can be accurately assessed. Mr. Overton, though, has correctly recognized that the key to successful transition is communication. He said he is working closely with DPW director George G. Balog and with Gennady Schwartz and other former development staff members to ensure parks projects continue on schedule.

Concerned foundations have been reassured; no city funding is threatened, Mr. Overton said. His measured actions leave us with hope that City Hall finally understands what parks and recreation centers contribute to Baltimore's quality of life. It's not enough to say the right words while continuing to slice the department's budget. Ways to compensate for those cuts must be found.

The reorganization occurring now appears to be a good first step.

Pub Date: 12/09/97

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