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City Rec Center Scheme in Disarray

December 14, 2011

Mark Reutter at the Baltimore Brew committed journalism yesterday,  reading the proposals filed by three of the four would-be private recreation center operators and doing a quick background check on them.

All three companies are dubious.

By late yesterday Monday a line item on this morning’s Board of Public Works agenda, which would have granted three of the four companies a total of $200,000 to operate six rec centers, had been withdrawn. Nice work, Brewskies. Correlation is not causation. [[Update (12/20) we got a call from  Sun staffer Luke Broadwater pointing us to this Scharper piece about the item's  withdrawl--which appeared on Monday, Dec. 12 and contained this line: "Late Monday, following repeated inquiries from a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the Board of Estimates would defer a decision on the contracts."  That's a day before The Brew got their piece up.]]

We at City Paper have slept on this issue since last summer, so here’s the background: Due to budget pressure, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake threatened to close up to 26 of the city’s 55 youth recreation centers. As usual, this riled city parents/activists, so this time the Mayor proposed a scheme by which some centers would be run by private nonprofit corporations instead of closing.

Requests for proposals were duly published but, basically, no one responded. Advocates for youth crammed into meetings and wagged their fingers at the administration.  The thing was rebid and, yesterday, the Sun’s Julie Scharper got the piece announcing that the city would give the four winning bidders a total of $200,000 in “seed money” to operate six of the rec centers. It was enough of a scoop that Lester Davis, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s spokesman, sent an email to other media outlets and council members with the story’s text. [[update: Young calls back to say that he sent the story to CP and other media outlets in error, not because he was trying to stoke any fires. He says he routinely sends news clippings to city hall colleagues but this time accidentally sent the piece to his media list instead.]]

City Paper’s emailed response, asking how those figures were arrived at, and whether the subsidies were part of the original bids, has not been answered.

Meanwhile, Reutter was doing the work. Yesterday he read the bid packages from three of the four companies: Boys and Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore, Little Dimples II Corp., Reclaiming Our Children and Community Project Inc. (ROCACP). The fourth, from Omega Baltimore Foundation, was missing. His conclusions:

• The operators are thinly capitalized and the owner of one company—Little Dimples II—has a history of financial setbacks.

• Boys and Girls Clubs says it will be forced to withdraw its proposal to run Brooklyn O’Malley if the city does not cough up $100,000 in seed money.

• All three operators are currently out of compliance with Baltimore’s minority business enterprise (MBE) and women’s business enterprise (WBE) participation goals.

Only Boys and Girls Clubs reports actual experience in running a rec center.

• Little Dimples and ROCACP seek to partially convert the rec centers into fee-based daycare or adult treatment centers.

The proposals are full of spelling and grammatical errors; two of the three would-be operators wouldn’t talk to Reutter. One hung up on him. The one guy who did speak—Boys and Girls Club CEO Kenneth R. Darden—reportedly said his outfit can’t do the job unless the city gives it $100,000.

The details are typical Baltimore, with rec center operators getting foreclosed on, going bankrupt, and generally displaying a lack of capacity while hyping their proposals in a way that would be embarrassing if anyone in this town were capable of shame. Kudos to all of them, though, for their lack of criminal records.

Read the whole Brew story. Sad but entertaining.