Ex-Miami parks director appointed to Baltimore post

Patterson Park cars, rec center closings on his plate.

Ernest W. Burkeen Jr., a 30-year parks veteran whose last post was chief of the Miami parks department, has been appointed director of Baltimore’s Department of Recreation and Parks.

Filling out a vacancy left open last April when Gregory Bayor departed for Tampa, Fla., to run their parks department, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Burkeen’s selection this morning. She called him “a nationally respected leader in his field with a great track record of success improving parks and recreational opportunities for urban communities.”

Burkeen’s task is “to make our parks and programs a catalyst to help grow the city by 10,000 families over the ten years,” the mayor added in a press release.

Ernest W. Burkeen Jr.

Ernest W. Burkeen Jr.

Burkeen, 64, has headed parks departments in Detroit, Fort Lauderdale and, most recently, Miami, where he served from 2004 until he was terminated by Miami’s Republican Mayor Tomas Regalado in March 2012.

Rec Centers and Patterson Park

Burkeen takes over a department with a $33 million annual budget and 300 full-time employees that is responsible for 6,000 acres of parkland, operating municipal pools and running various recreational and sports activities.

Since 2011, the department has been under orders by the mayor to drastically shrink the number of recreation centers and to find ways to monetize and privatize park functions.

A number of rec centers have been turned over to private groups, while about a half dozen have been closed. The agency is also responsible for building three new rec facilities.

Burkeen will be taking over the politically sensitive task of coming to a resolution over parking proposed for Patterson Park in southeast Baltimore.

The administration’s plan to create about 100 spaces for cars inside the park was met by vehement citizen opposition in September. The mayor has since called for a “master plan” that meets the demands of residents and the city’s agenda to expand the Virginia Baker Rec Center inside the park. Burkeen will presumably take over as head of the task force to reach a resolution.

His selection was hailed today by Jackie Carrera, president of the Parks & People Foundation, who was on the interview panel that made recommendations to the mayor. She cited Burkeen’s “success in building public-private partnerships that have maximized the benefits of urban parks in cities of similar size and composition to ours.”

Burkeen replaces Acting Rec and Parks Director Bill Vondrasek, who will return to his post as chief of parks.

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  • cwals99

    As most Americans across the country begin to understand the nature of public-private partnerships there is a growing citizen revolt against this policy that is simply one step towards privatizing public assets.  Whereas in Russia during Perestroika, Gorbachev and Yeltsin handed all of public assets, which for a communist country was considerable, over to a few connected families en masse, in the US, this would be unseemly and as such, this plan to incrementally hand off all US public assets through public-private partnerships came about.  It is a Third Way corporate/wealth policy that has hold of Democratic Party leadership right now.  It is good for the 5% who get their wealth from corporate shares….bad for everybody else…..95% of all people.

    So, in a state like Maryland ranked as wealthiest in the nation, there are no shortages of revenue…..the revenue stream is simply distorted and these private non-profits like Parks and People and all the greening groups add to that distortion.  The development becomes directed by non-profit heads chosen by a very small group of people represented in the same development circles we rail about with the BDC.  So, a community is not directing the greening of its neighborhood, these same BDC-type agencies are.  Making the distinction that this gentleman has worked in Miami with these partnerships is not a plus, but a minus for democratic development.  We need leaders that make the goal collecting revenue for city coffers the priority so that all communities can simply access these coffers for normal community development.  No private non-profits that channel corporate/wealth donations around general funds needed, as that is not democratic and it is not transparent.  Mr. Burkeen is probably a very capable gentleman, but I daresay his work history does not meet these needs and desires of most Baltimore citizens who have had enough with high-powered community development.

    • jan angevine

       Well said! Thank you. The destruction of the public sector by privileged elites under the guise of “private-public” enterprises has made me crazy. So glad to hear someone articulate its inherently, undemocratic problems.

    • liamhoey

       A nice sentiment, but naive beyond belief.  This city has shown itself as being incredibly incompetent managing parks and recreation.  How much more proof do you require?  I’ve seen it up close and personal.  The only hope for improving the overall state of public and community space lies with private entities working with the city to make things happen.  When was the last time a city agency did anything innovative?  People of goodwill who want to help and have the resources to do so are generally not going to give those resources over to this city, because they know that it is incapable of using them either efficiently or imaginatively. 

      I am not an anti-government, tea-party type.  I’m a practical person who generally votes Democrat, but who can attest that the city is ill-equipped to deal with an issue like this.  They need to turn to high quality, experienced and knowledgeable organizations from the private, non-profit sector to get anything done.

  • trueheart4life

    Just can’t seem to pick someone from BMore … Lots of capable candidates, so I’m wondering if its her special group of folk who serve on these whack interview panels that are the real perpetrators here,  Gotta B 1 2 luv US …

  • Jed Weeks

    You’re all right. We should just get rid of Parks & People and similar organizations and let all their good work go to waste because they are imperfect solutions to a near insurmountable problem. Let’s just wait for the merry days to come back when everyone is an engaged citizen that votes for public infrastructure!

  • Anthony Green

    Deanna Green died of electrocution by simply touching a
    fence, in Druid Hill field #8 the city has always stood behind the immunity
    clause and rightful so, we can handle that if it is the law, but once you caught
    in a lie about what happen, take the high road, and do what is right. Has long as
    the municipality government can hide behind the immunity law they will never
    have checks and balances to govern themself.  Does the right thing Mr. Ernest W. Burkeen Jr
    just make the Parks safe so no other family has to go through what we did. It
    is going to take watchdogs to make this city safe they need help from us not
    just comments after we read the article. That is why I must remember what
    Lincoln said    


    “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died
    in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and
    that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish
    from the earth.”

    I knew what my daughter’s talent was you didn’t only by what
    you have read if you did. If we don’t get what killed my Deanna in Druid Hill
    Park straight contact voltage is going to run rapid in this city. Contact
    voltage has killed more than 15 people in the state of Florida where Mr. Ernest
    W. Burkeen Jr is from. I am willing to give anyone a chance, but the eyes of
    Bubba are upon you. Good Luck sir.   

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