Doing more with less

August 20, 2002

MAYOR MARTIN O'Malley is full of praise for Kimberley M. Amprey, who took over the troubled recreation and parks department when its director was fired in early July. The reason: By trying to do more with less, the 30-year-old policy analyst is giving quite a shock treatment to the long-neglected, demoralized agency.

Hers is an approach that could be useful in many areas of city government.

Take the recreation centers. When the mayor hit the roof in a cabinet meeting because so many minors have been shot dead in Baltimore this summer, Ms. Amprey didn't talk about needing more money or staff to keep kids off the streets. Instead, she quickly ordered 20 recreation centers in violent areas to stay open until 10 p.m. Monday through Friday.

She didn't spend more money to accomplish this; she couldn't. Instead, she simply dropped morning hours in order to add evening time where it was needed. This kind of "can do" attitude and flexibility are refreshing. If there is any danger here, it lies in trying to make too many changes quickly and without properly assessing the consequences.

A particular source of worry is Mayor O'Malley's seeming willingness to sell two badly rundown but potentially fabulous waterfront parks, Fort Smallwood and Fort Armistead.

The city has opened talks with Anne Arundel County about the future of the 100-acre Fort Smallwood, which is located at Rock Point, near Riviera Beach. The mayor says disposing of the 40-acre Fort Armistead, next to the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge near Anne Arundel County, also is on the agenda.

Despite fiscal problems, the city should not consider selling parks that are part of its residents' common legacy.

The proposal might be better, however, if it entailed turning Fort Smallwood over to Anne Arundel under a long-term lease -- as long as that county pledges to restore the park's glory and permit city residents to use it.

An outside caretaker should be sought also for Fort Armistead, which is attractive because it has a rare public boat ramp. That operator could be a for-profit outfit -- or a foundation.

One intriguing possibility would be for the city to broker a lease deal with developer Bill Struever and the Living Classrooms Foundation. They have been searching for ways to restore crumbling Fort Carroll on a nearby island. If Fort Armistead, which is just a few hundred yards away, were added to the mix, a water-oriented recreation, education and tourist attraction would become a possibility.

The city's goal in all this should be to maximize the value of underused park assets. Selling is not the way to go -- but creative redevelopment can be.

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