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Mobtown Beat

Restorative Justice

After much angst, City Council restores budget cuts that threatened city rec centers

Baltimorecitycouncil.Com

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 6/24/2009

In the end, the mayor's $2.3 billion city budget passed with just one cut--$200,000 from Hilton Green's Office of Inspector General. Green submitted his retirement papers and left his office on Monday morning, June 22, according to a person in his office. He did not return a phone message seeking comment.

The council had cut $1.1 million on Thursday, June 11, but restored most of those cuts at its 3 p.m. Monday meeting. The reason? Mayor Sheila Dixon (D) gave the dissenting councilmembers a little something--or at least the promise of a little something. "I got my fire engine," Councilwoman Agnes Welch (D-9th District) told The Baltimore Sun, speaking of Engine Company 36 on Edmondson Avenue, which had been restored in the budget.

Protesters came to the meeting ready to complain anew about changes to the Police Athletic League (PAL) centers but did not protest, and seemed confused (as some even on the council and at the mayor's office did) as to what, specifically, had been restored.

The youth center cuts dominated debate during the run-up to the budget, as community members packed hearings to plead that their local recreation centers, PAL centers, and community pools be spared budget cuts that pared some $65 million from the city budget. The mayor's office continuously claimed that the PAL center moves were not cuts at all, just shifts in authority that would put a few more police on the city's streets. But the protests continued right up until the final budget vote. In the end, the actual cuts were few, according to a mayoral spokesman and the spokesman for the city's Department of Recreation and Parks and Recreation, Michelle Speaks.

Rec and Parks has dominion over 46 recreation centers, Speaks says, and in the original budget plan the agency was going to take control of an additional 13 PAL centers, which offer similar services and activities but have been overseen by police officers. Of the 46 recreation centers only one, Easterwood, at 1530 N. Bentalou St., was going to be closed and two others--Carter G. Woodson (on Seabury Road in Cherry Hill) and Tench Tilghman (600 N. Patterson Park Ave.)--would have been returned to control by the city's school system.

With the budget compromises, all three of these centers will be open through the end of August, Speaks says. After that, only Easterwood will close.

Of the 17 PAL centers, the original budget was going to close four of them while transferring control of the remaining 13 to Rec and Parks. Closing were Bocek (3000 E. Madison St. on the east side) and Rosemont (1201 N. Rosedale St., on the west side). The Montebello PAL (2030 E. 32nd St., in Montebello Elementary School) and Webster M. Kendricks PAL center (4130 Callaway Ave., near West Cold Spring Lane) would be returned to the school system, she says.

Under the budget agreement, Bocek, Webster, and Kendricks will all continue programs through the end of August. Montebello is already effectively operated by the school system, she says, and only Rosemont is closed.

As for the Inspector General's office, which as of Monday faces a 40 percent cut to its budget, the mayor was still considering a line-item veto to restore its funding, says mayoral spokesman Scott Peterson. "With the news of Inspector General Green's retirement . . . this obviously changes how the mayor is going to make her decision about this veto," Peterson says. "If we're going to have a national search [for a new inspector general], it makes it more difficult to recruit someone to an office with depleted resources."

The Baltimore Sun reported Green's sudden retirement first on Monday. Green is being replaced temporarily by Assistant City Solicitor Donald R. Huskey, who had also run the office last summer for several months when Green was out on sick leave.

As of press time, a spokesman for the mayor's office indicated that Mayor Dixon was expected to veto the cut to the Inspector General's budget, but he could offer no further details.

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