A boisterous group of 150 parents and children shook up a normally sedate gathering of the Recreation and Parks Advisory Council last night, voicing opposition to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s plan to privatize and shut down many recreation centers.
“We are here because once again our city is playing ‘Let’s make a deal’ with our children,” said Rev. Glenna Reed, pastor of the Church of the Holy Nativity.
“Our children are being used as pawns as the city seeks to address its budgetary shortfall. Furthermore, we’re expected to be silent and actively complicit as the future of recreation in the city is put on the auction block.”
The crowd – bused in from the Crispus Attucks, Rita Church and DeWees rec centers – burst into chants of “Don’t Close!” and “Stop the Flawed Process!” as the advisory council listened quietly and the city’s director of recreation, Bill Tyler, looked stricken.
Adding to the surreal atmosphere were Halloween cobwebs and black spiders dangling from the ceiling of the Rec and Parks meeting hall.
Designed for Failure
The protest was organized by BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development), which has accused Rawlings-Blake of breaking her promise in the mayoral campaign to create 55 quality rec centers.
BUILD said her plan to spin off rec centers to community groups has been so secretive and ill-thought-out that it “appears to be designed for failure.”
“To expect a not-for-profit to have $5 million set aside for insurance – come on. To expect a not-for-profit to sustain a quality recreation program with a one-time grant of $50,000 or $100,000 – come on,” the group argued in a press release.
Recreation director Tyler has said that while the city’s goal was not to close any rec center, the result may be the closing of an undetermined number of centers if private groups are not found to run them.
Last night Tyler referred all questions about potential closings and the selection of rec center managers to the Department of Purchasing. Response to the city’s Request for Proposals (RFPs) has been disappointing, with only five parties submitting bids – and only one bidder with a track record in rec management.
Parents Rely on Centers, Too
A string of speakers last night voiced their support for rec centers, often accompanied by criticism of the city’s spending priorities.
“There’s no problem with building prisons in Baltimore,” said John Anderson. “There’s no problem with having the Grand Prix…. I’m begging the mayor, please, keep my neighborhood rec center open.”
Regina Edwards said her family depends on the Crispus Attucks facility in Madison Park. “I can’t afford $100 or $200 a week for after-school care. The children depend on it, and the parents do as well.”
The protesters called on the advisory council to meet with Rawlings-Blake and ask her to keep all rec centers open until a better process is developed to meet the recreational needs of the city.
Carolyn Wainwright, chair of the council, expressed sympathy for their point of view, saying, “What I heard tonight is that we need these rec centers.”
But with only two members present, the council lacked a quorum and deferred action on BUILD’s request.