A couple weeks after the mayor proposed closing half of the city’s recreation centers and almost all pools for the summer, Councilman Carl Stokes called for an audit of the Department of Recreation and Parks. He said he believes there may be funds in the department that are unaccounted for and substantial enough to keep some of the pools and centers open.
“I don’t say that there’s misappropriation or even mismanagement,” the 12th District councilor said. “We don’t know, that’s the issue. If we’re going to talk about closing half of the recreation centers and almost all swimming pools because of an economic crisis, we don’t know the full extent because all of the money was not put on the table.”
The chairs of the Mayor’s Transition Team, the co-chairs of the committee looking at youth services, the mayor’s staff person who oversees youth programs and the legal counsel to the transition team have asked for a complete and total accounting of these funds but only received part of the books, Stokes said. But Dwayne Thomas, interim director of the Department of Recreation and Parks, said capital budget records are readily available in the city’s finance department and denies any information has been withheld.
“We support any type of checks and balance system,” Thomas said. “We shared all the information we have.”
Also in question is $3.5-$4.5 million the department is holding from the state’s Open Space Program (OSP).
“That money came from the governor to other agencies throughout the city,” Thomas said. “That’s not money that parks and recs can use. It goes through parks and recs to other agencies.”
Thomas said the real issue is not the capital budget, but the fact that his department accounts for 2 percent of the city’s budget but is taking 11 percent of the mayor’s proposed cuts. Nonetheless, he expects a favorable outcome of the audit, which is moving forward.
“We follow every city procedure and there’s no secret findings being held out,” Thomas said.
Comptroller Joan Pratt is fully committed to conducting a “top to bottom” audit and has already contacted the department to set up a meeting, Stokes said. He requested that Pratt complete the audit and report her findings to the City Council within three to four months and asked City Council President Bernard Young to re-establish the Recreation and Parks subcommittee to create a long-term plan that engages children and families.
“It is imperative that the city’s budget shortfall not be balanced on the backs of Baltimore’s children and families,” Stokes said. “We must think creatively and be proactive in dealing with these issues. But we can’t do that if the department cannot provide a full accounting of its funds.”