A Jacksonville City Council special committee on parks continued its inquiry into the system Thursday.
Council President Anna Brosche, when she took over the gavel last July, identified parks as a priority; the committee continues to explore ways to restore Jacksonville’s massive though unevenly maintained system of 400 parks, one that ranks among the worst in the nation.
Efforts to improve local parks are nothing new; as far back as 2003, there was a concerted effort to improve parks that were ranked poor. However, as is often the case with city initiatives, little came of the effort but good intentions.
Thursday’s discussion of 2003 revealed what happens when there is no follow through.
A discussion of live-in security from Jacksonville law enforcement at the 39 parks that have it led to allegations from Councilwoman Lori Boyer that the property was “trashed … blighted” at one park (Baker-Skinner Park) she surveyed.
Other members peppered parks director Daryl Joseph with questions, after which he allowed that the program needs to be revisited, given gaps between the original intent of the live-in security program and how it functions in practice.
“The presence certainly has value, but the whole thing needs to be re-thought out,” said Councilman Bill Gulliford. “2003, it’s been running for a long time without much oversight.”
“This program … when it first started worked pretty well,” said Councilman Doyle Carter, “but you’ve got to have criteria that you need to do … the more you get knuckleheads going out and messing up stuff, the more you need to do.”
Sometimes, said Joseph, the trailers in the parks are vacant, as officers move in and out. Criminals apparently know when that is the case and schedule their nefarious activity accordingly.
Vandalism was identified as an issue on the upswing in recent years, with a $150,000 annual price tag, which raised the ire of Councilman John Crescimbeni.
“The knuckleheads, if they see a security car driving around as opposed to a police car, they see that as a substitute teacher,” Crescimbeni said, pushing for more police officers to live in parks. “I want to hear how we can recruit more police officers. How are we marketing this opportunity?”
Expect legislation, sooner or later, to redress this issue.