City lagging on promise to clean parks

Drug paraphernalia, trash found a week after pledge to remove them

July 16, 2002|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

The heap of old tires was still there near the baseball fields in Leakin Park, as were the chairs dumped nearby, the busted computer terminal peeking up through the weeds, the electric fans, graffiti, drug bags and dozens of rusty oil barrels.

A week after Mayor Martin O'Malley's administration promised to make rapid improvements in the cleanliness of the west-side park and dozens of others around the city, Reggie Wilson Sr. returned to see only a cursory response - at best - to his complaint of illegal dumping.

Wilson, a police officer whose 13-year-old son plays Little League in the park, noticed rutted tire tracks that suggested a city truck had rumbled through to haul away box springs and a hot water heater that had upset him when he toured the baseball fields last week.

But despite an assurance that the city Public Works Department had removed "everything," heaps of junk remained 20 to 30 feet from where city workers had removed only the most obvious garbage.

"I would give the city a grade of F-plus," Wilson said. "The box springs have been removed, but the baseball fields are still in terrible condition, and we still have tall weeds growing up beside the benches, the bleachers are still splintered, and the graffiti is still there on the bathroom."

A tour of five city parks yesterday revealed the uphill battle that O'Malley faces to keep the promises he made last week to improve the cleanliness and maintenance of the parks. Halfway through his five-year term, the mayor fired his parks director, Marvin F. Billups Jr., on July 2 for not moving quickly enough to respond to complaints about the parks.

The lack of progress was also apparent at Traci Atkins Park at Stricker and Ramsay streets on the city's west side, where drug paraphernalia, broken glass and garbage still blanketed the playground where 6-year-old girls played and a drug addict slept shirtless on a graffiti-scribbled picnic bench.

Druid Hill Park remained in the same reasonable condition it was in last week, when a visitor found the grass neatly cut but garbage scattered on the hills and graffiti marring the stately Latrobe Pavilion picnic shelter. Patterson Park and Federal Hill Park - both beside more stable neighborhoods that have strong community organizations - were beautiful yesterday, well-trimmed and almost free of litter, with residents praising improvement efforts by the city and neighborhood groups.

Anthony Flood, a 40-year-old part-time actor and office worker who was eating lunch near Druid Hill Park's gleaming lake yesterday, pointed to a condom and almost empty bag of marijuana in the grass about 10 feet from a trash barrel.

"It's not just the city that needs to take care of this park," Flood said. "The city cuts the grass. But people come here and do this - they litter, and they need to be taught more individual responsibility."

City officials said yesterday they are investigating why Public Works employees did a superficial job of cleaning up the illegal dumping in Leakin Park.

Annette Stenhouse, spokeswoman for the parks department, promised July 8 that workers would promptly "investigate" complaints of dumping near Sloman Field in Leakin Park.

Two days after The Sun printed an article July 9 with Wilson's complaints, a city Public Works crew showed up and removed box springs and a hot water heater that had been dumped in a dirt parking lot near the baseball diamonds.

But they failed to remove more than 50 rusty oil barrels and old tires that had been dumped a few dozen feet away in a burned-out former city stable building. And they also failed to remove tires, an electric heater, two fans, chairs, a computer monitor and other junk in a weedy patch between the parking lot and a nearby community garden.

They also failed to remove graffiti from the filthy bathroom, or to pull up chest-high weeds that would obstruct views of the field from one of the players' benches.

"Typical government work," said Wilson, 46, a Baltimore County police officer, as he surveyed the lack of progress yesterday. "The city might have investigated the illegal dumping and just said, `Hey, there it is.'"

Kimberley M. Amprey, the acting parks director, declined to comment yesterday. But her spokeswoman, Stenhouse, said the Public Works employees had assured the city that they had responded to Wilson's complaint Thursday and "removed everything from the area."

"We will go out again tomorrow and assess the area and attend to any problems immediately," Stenhouse said.

O'Malley said Wilson was right to be angry with the city's lack of progress in cleaning up the park. "It's not OK ... I'll tell her [Amprey] to get out there herself before The Sun comes out and takes pictures of the park for a third day."

The mayor added that he changed the leadership of the parks department only about a week ago, and that it will take longer than that to fix the problems with the department and improve the parks.

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