- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2001

A report released yesterday by the D.C. Inspector General's Office found the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation was in worse shape than previously known, with problems including serious understaffing and failure to document spending, renovate ball fields or address safety and health issues at its facilities.
"Unfortunately, there was considerable evidence of lax management of DPR programs, serious operational inefficiencies, insufficient or no accountability for expenditures and property, and low employee morale," according to a report of inspections conducted from August 2000 through March 2001.
"The inspection team also found numerous instances of expenditures attributed to official programs and activities that appeared excessive or inappropriate. In most cases reviewed, there was no documentation that adequately explained or justified listed expenditures or [any] verifying the receipt of many purchased items and services valued at thousands of dollars."
The report covers problems in the summer months of 2000 that led to endless complaints over uncut grass and unkempt parks and recreation centers and dirty pools. DPW Director Robert Newman was forced to resign because of mismanagement, improper use of funds and questionable entries on his resume.
Interim Director Neil Albert, appointed in October, promised to begin addressing the problems and has been able to upgrade the grass cutting and swimming pool programs and get them operational ahead of schedule, officials said.
But Mr. Albert said in an interview earlier this summer that the department was severely affected by "decades of disinvestment" and has a long way to go.
The Inspection team also found:
Serious maintenance problems at recreation centers and other facilities, such as eight years of broken outdoor lights at the Langdon Park Community Center's amphitheater, a nearby tennis court overgrown with weeds, and peeling paint and plaster at the Anacostia Recreation Center, where contractors apparently didn't finish $1 million in renovations. The report says the problems have persisted for years and prevented the full use of the facilities.
A decline in the maintenance staff from 1,000 employees to 50, which severely limited the ability to perform routine maintenance because they were too busy responding to more than 100 repair requests weekly.
Fifteen instances of serious and less than serious hazards in the maintenance building, as documented by the D.C. Office of Safety and Health, including improper storage of hazardous chemicals and dangling electrical wires.
Only one athletic field being renovated by December, although the former director promised to renovate 10 ball fields and 10 tennis and basketball courts by that date.
Problems with the department's contracting procedures, including a lack of evidence that program managers monitored the performance of contractors, or verified that goods and services were received before contractors were paid. Specifically, inspectors could not verify whether seven individuals paid $7,296 each for tutorial services in the department's Before and After School Care Program actually provided those services.
No functional system to receive inventory or issue thousands of dollars of department equipment.
Failure to distribute 3,000 orange shirts for a summer youth program because they were the wrong color.
Two-year-old electrical and plumbing parts made redundant because a contractor purchased its own, new parts.
The report also noted that some staff members were concerned over the safety of children.
"At one center, children can readily identify the smell of illegal narcotics that are used outside of their building," the inspectors wrote. "Staff often must curtail children's outside activities because of gang activity, gunfire, and the presence of unknown individuals loitering in the area."
Inspectors found broken playground equipment at the Bancroft facility, including screws protruding from equipment and unsafe stepladders and slides. The nearby basketball court had large holes children could fall into.
At the Benning Stoddert facility exposed wires, an unsanitary refrigerator, broken toilets and drug paraphernalia were found.
At centers with computer labs, inspectors found few or no computers for children to use. Some computers were locked in storage closets and inaccessible to staff members and others had been sent out for repairs and never returned.
The department has about 595 employees serving in 89 recreational centers and facilities. It oversees 354 parks, 71 playgrounds, 142 buildings, 42 indoor and outdoor swimming pools and a one-week summer camp for 120 children in Maryland.

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