Stokes wants audit of Baltimore Recreation and Parks Department

Councilman Carl Stokes called Friday for the city's comptroller to audit the Department of Recreation and Parks and to report the findings to the City Council in 90 to 120 days.

Stokes was joined at the Ambrose Kennedy Pool and Playground, one of the city's pools set to close this summer season, by Councilman James B. Kraft and Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. Stokes said he is convinced that there is "hidden money" in the parks department that could allow some recreation centers and pools set to close this summer to remain open.

"If we find what we think we're going to find, which is money being hidden in the dark, we're going to shine the light on those numbers," Stokes said. He later added, "I don't say this in jest, but if you close pools and recreation centers in those numbers, we can't hire enough police on our streets this summer."

A 150-member volunteer transition team appointed by Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake last month reported a lack of transparency in the department's spending. The team -- as well as the department's interim director and representatives from the mayor's office -- were unable to obtain details of the Recreation and Parks capital budget, which pays for construction and renovation expenses. A preliminary budget proposed by the mayor's office would cut the department's $31 million operating budget by nearly one-third, close 29 recreation centers and shut more than half of the city's pools for the swim season.

Stokes said there have been 14 directors of the parks department since 1989, leading to a lack of consistent vision. He said he knows the current parks administration has unaccounted money because he has received internal memos. Stokes cited funds provided by the state for the Open Space Program as an example of hidden money, saying some reports place that amount at between $3.5 million and $4.5 million.

Interim Parks Director Dwayne B. Thomas said that his department welcomes an audit.

"If there's any info out there that's missing, once we get through the audit, it will be revealed," he said.

Thomas added that he and his team at Recreation and Parks have been at the helm for a short time.

"I've only been here four months; much of my leadership team has been here four months," he said, "and we've had major transition."

In addition to the audit, Stokes also called on City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young on Friday to re-establish the Recreation and Parks subcommittee, a move he said would create a long-term plan for the department.

He said if City Comptroller Joan Pratt does not audit the parks department, "then we will ask an outside firm to come in and do this as soon as possible. We need those numbers now. We know the money is there."

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