Mayor fires 2, hints at more terminations

Parks' condition a factor in firing of Billups

`Parks system should be a gem'

Head of panel on aging loses job she held 14 years

July 04, 2002|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley has fired the directors of the city's Recreation and Parks Department and Commission on Aging, and hinted yesterday that more heads could roll at City Hall.

O'Malley said the generally poor appearance of city parks contributed to his decision to terminate Marvin F. Billups Jr., whom he appointed to the $99,800-a-year job in October 2000.

"Whatever strides we were making - and there were some strides made on the program front - we just needed much more massive change in the department overall, in particular with maintenance issues," O'Malley said.

"The parks system of this city should be a gem. It should be a real asset to the city and for retaining residents in the city. In order to make that happen, there are a lot of maintenance issues that have to be addressed and resolved, a lot of improvements that need to be made."

O'Malley declined to say why he dismissed Neetu Dhawan-Gray, who headed the Commission on Aging and Retirement Education for 14 years. She made $78,100 a year.

Both personnel decisions were made Tuesday, officials said. They came amid the city's midyear performance review process and less than a month after O'Malley decided not to run for governor and to complete the second half of his five-year term.

"There may be other announcements like this in the future," he said, declining to be specific. "We all have a tremendous responsibility to the people of this city. When I decided to stay, I said to the Cabinet, `This is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for all of us, and we need to treat it like that every day.'"

Billups, who also lost residency in a city-owned house in Clifton Park, declined to comment.

Since October, he has been president of the National Recreation and Park Association.

Dhawan-Gray oversaw 130 full- and part-time employees and a $12 million budget - $500,000 of that from city general funds and the rest of it federal and state grants. She said she doubled grant funding during her time in office. Her agency provides services and advocacy for senior citizens.

She said her dismissal came as a surprise in a meeting with O'Malley and his chief of staff, Michael R. Enright.

"Nothing moves as fast as the administration would like," she said. "And I understand. I, too, am impatient. But you need time to understand why things aren't moving."

Kimberley M. Amprey, 30, who helped track Recreation and Parks Department performance as an analyst in the mayor's CitiStat office, will serve as acting director of the department.

No one has been appointed to replace Dhawan-Gray.

As director, Billups oversaw a department with a $24 million budget, 374 full-time workers and 358 part-time employees, and a mandate to maintain 5,700 acres of city parks, 45 recreation centers and 24 pools. The department also develops recreational programs.

Billups had earned the mayor's praise for developing a youth boxing program and other initiatives.

But in a Sun article in February, O'Malley criticized the agency as inefficient and unresponsive. He complained about recreation centers that lacked repairs and city parks that weren't getting cleaned.

At the time, Billups said he was doing his best with limited staff and funding.

"Everyone now wants to microwave a solution," Billups said in February. "Is it going as fast as we want it to go? No."

City Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young, an East Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the recreation and parks subcommittee, said yesterday that Billups was hampered by an entrenched senior staff that he was too nice to fire or reshuffle.

"I think the mayor, in my opinion, had been very supportive of Mr. Billups and very patient," Young said. "But Mr. Billups just didn't make the decision to reorganize his staff, and I think that's his downfall there."

In 1997, under then-Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, responsibility for park maintenance was shifted to the Department of Public Works. Heeding the calls of park advocates, O'Malley gave most of that work back to the parks department when he took office.

But the parks department was no longer well-equipped to do the job, said Peggy Stansbury, a city parks commissioner.

"When they shifted it back, they didn't give them all the equipment, they didn't give them the budget," she said.

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