Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fenty Fired Who?

Clark Ray, then-the new head of Washington’s Department of Parks & Recreation, greeted children at the Harry Thomas Sr. Community Center pool. (Photo Joey DiGuglielmo, Washington Blade)

District residents should be shocked and disappointed this morning to learn of Mayor Adrian Fenty's firing of DC Department of Parks and Recreation Director Clark Ray, The Examiner reports.

Prior to Ray's tenure, the District went through something like five DPR directors in six years. Leadership was absent. Communication was nonexistent. Plans stood still or fell apart. Getting a light bulb, gate, or fence fixed in a park took a monumental effort. Parks were no fun.

Clark Ray's appointment by Adrian Fenty was a sign that our new mayor was going to put competence over politics. Ray had previously served as a Ward 2 neighborhood service coordinator and led Office of Community Relations & Services, among other positions. He had a reputation for getting things done. He knew the neighborhoods and the residents.

As DPR Director, Ray lived up to expectations. When streetlights were out or a park was trashed, he had it promptly fixed, such as the New York Avenue / 1st Street NW park just this past week. He took and interest in fixing once abandoned parks, like that at 2nd and Massachusetts Avenue NW. He moved forward with the construction of dog parks, which was on the wish list of many residents for some time, and several other park renovations. Ray was responsive, returning e-mails quickly. He had to work within resource and political constraints, but he was not shy about advocating DPR's mission. Now, I've been a harsh critic of some of our parks, but Ray was moving us forward after years of neglect. Competence is sometimes so hard to find.

He's fired. Not the person who authorized the transfer of a fire engine and ambulance to the Dominican Republic. That person's not fired. Ray's fired. Not the person who unexplainably reclassified decades old abandoned houses as occupied so that Shiloh Baptist Church would not have to pay higher taxes on it. That person's not fired. Ray's fired. If the Mayor has the urge to fire someone, we can find someone worthy of a 7pm Sunday visit to the Wilson Building.

I'm looking forward to Amy Poehler's sitcom because this one isn't funny.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tired of this Slum Park: A Photo Tour

A can of Milwaukee's Best lies in Shaw's Worst.

Nearly every day, I walk or bike in frustration by the "park" on the 600 Block of N Street NW. A brief numeric summary of its history:
  • 1 block from the convention center
  • 2 murders in the last 3 years
  • 3 community meetings (at least) to determine its future that went nowhere
  • 4 broken lights that were finally fixed after 5 years of being broken (the only progress made on the park in a very long time); and
  • Decades of abandonment, crime, public drinking, and drugs.
So why do we have still have this crime magnet, this eyesore in the heart of Shaw...

Community meetings did not bring about a renovation because government officials refused to move forward by blaming residents for not reach a consensus on a vision for the park -- basketball courts, a playground, tennis courts, or benches and green space, etc. A joint survey was widely distributed by a number of neighborhood groups by hand and online, which was also dismissed. Advisory Neighborhood Commission (2C) continues to refuse to take a leadership role, under the previous and current commissioners. Councilmember Jack Evans at one point (during a campaign) pledged an immediate $250,000 to redesign the park and get improvements moving. It didn't materialize.

Meanwhile, the United House of Prayer, which owns a substantial portion of the surrounding apartment complexes and is a political force, has pushed hard for the city to transfer the property to them for development. Most neighbors strongly oppose giving away public property and precious (potential) green space. UHOP, however, views the park as having a history of nothing but crime (in fact, UHOP refuses to acknowledge the parcel as a "park" at all given its long abandonment) with the only way to cure the problem as building on it. Nevertheless, in all of the community meetings that have come up on this issue, I've never seen or heard of a concrete plan as to what UHOP would pay for the parcel and how they would develop it.

Here's what I would propose. First, there are some elements that most, if not all, neighborhood residents agree should happen: (1) Remove the ugly chain link fence, the remnants of basketball hoops, and the broken concrete; (2) Remove the concrete planters that surround the entrance to the park, which only provide a barrier and hiding place; and (3) Install a new wrought iron fence around the park. (The final element was fixing the lighting - which did happen, although new light fixtures are needed at some point). Second, instead of placing the responsibility with the neighborhood to design a park, the Department of Parks and Recreation should come up with 3 alternative designs to present to the community. Ultimately, the ANC should vote to select one. Finally, DPR might enter a memorandum of understanding with UHOP, by which UHOP housing management would be permitted to lock the park after dark and assist in maintaining it. We should set a goal of obtaining funding, developing the design options, obtaining ANC approval within 2009, and breaking ground, completing the restoration, and naming the park in 2010.

Enough of my rantings, and now for our tour. From top to bottom, left to right:
  1. View of the park from N Street NW;
  2. A fence was recently erected around this structure, which I believe is a vent for metro, which is now filled with trash;
  3. A sorry excuse for a basketball hoop - does anyone actually shoot into a milk crate or is this urban art?;
  4. A makeshift backboard - look closely and you can see that the streetlight is leaning at an odd angle;
  5. A garbage bag attached to the park fence - yes, those are dozens of singles;
  6. Sneakers hang from the tree at the entrance to the park, marking a spot where a person was killed.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Little Engine that Couldn't

A Sosua local sings the blues after learning that a free DC fire engine and ambulance will not be coming to the "most beautiful beach in the Dominican Republic."

I have not posted in a while, but I've been following the fire engine fiasco, which you've no doubt heard about by now.

The basic run down: the DC government donated a fire truck and ambulance worth nearly $400k to Peaceaholics, an organization accustomed to receiving million dollar earmarks to purportedly negotiate gang truces when MPD throws in the towel.

Peaceaholics was apparently just an intermediary to transfer the little engine that couldn't work for the DC taxpayers anymore to a "poor" resort town in the Dominican Republic, which, of course, necessitated at least one publicly funded trip of a DC fire official to check it out.

Of course, as the details emerged, the town actually wasn't that poor and the equipment wasn't actually quite so worthless. Sunlight has a way of changing stories.

Authorized by an obscure line in the DC Register, The Examiner's Mike Neibauer
caught it with a good eye and exposed the deal, and the duo was "recalled."

It's the political equivalent of attempting to stop a stupid email after hitting send, which only draws greater attention... and never works.

Rather than continuing to pretend everything is A-Ok, Mayor Adrian Fenty, Attorney General Peter Nickles, the Office of Procurement, Peaceaholics, and the fire department should fess up, immediately provide full transparency on who was involved and why, and address it appropriately. There are no take backs or do overs.

Barbara Hollingsworth nailed it in her column today. In case you have not been following the story, here is the play-by-play of Examiner coverage:

Odd deal sends D.C. fire truck, ambulance to Dominican town
, 3/27/09
Cheh demands explanation of firetruck, ambulance donation, 3/27/09
Donated firetruck, ambulance recalled to D.C., sources say, 3/31/09
Fire official went to Caribbean to donate truck, 4/1/09
Fire chief says he was ‘clueless’ about donation, 4/1/09
Firetruck donation to Dominican town will get independent review, 4/3/09
D.C. Council opens own probe into donations to Caribbean, 4/10/09