ACTION PLAYGROUND PROJECT Official explains misunderstanding

About 50 people plan to attend a park commission meeting later this month.
YOUNGSTOWN -- A city official targeted by ACTION members said he has tried to help the group improve a local playground, and that he missed a meeting with them because of a misunderstanding.
At a meeting Sunday, members of the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods said Joseph McRae, city parks director, failed to come to a meeting with their youth committee to talk about the playground near Cleveland School in the Fosterville area on the city's South Side.
ACTION leaders said McRae didn't call.
McRae said he went to one local church for the meeting last Thursday, but ACTION members didn't come. He thought they would call him Friday. In reality, the meeting was at a different church, he said. He also had told ACTION he would not be at Sunday's meeting because he was going to be out of town.
McRae also said that he or his staff had met with ACTION members on four previous occasions about the playground project. At those meetings, McRae said he explained that unless the group had its own funding, ACTION would have to approach city council about the project.
The Park and Recreation Commission controls his department, but the money comes from city council.
Budget for 2004
His budget for 2004 is a little more than $2 million, which is down from about $3 million in past years, he said. The budget is set by council in January and finalized in April, McRae said, and areas such as police and fire protection often get more attention.
McRae oversees 20 full-time employees that deal with 48 parcels, including 20 playgrounds, two swimming pools, a golf course and the Federal Plaza downtown.
In the summer, the department mows 700 acres of grass and runs supervised activities at 11 playgrounds, including the Fosterville site. His department also is responsible for trees on the land between the sidewalk and streets.
In recent years, the parks department have put new swing sets and slides into the Fosterville playground and upgraded the basketball court, McRae said.
The tennis courts also were scheduled for refurbishing, but the city ran out of money for the project. By the time more money was in place, he said, the contractor would not work for the reduced amount. He showed a report from one of his employees who had gone out to the playground, taken pictures and made notes about its condition.
McRae said he is glad to see the youth involved, but feels they need to understand how the system works.
At Sunday's meeting of 800 people, a teenager from the committee gave a report on the project. An adult ACTION member called for 50 volunteers to go to the Park Department's office Oct. 28, which is where the park commission will have its the monthly meeting. McRae said he will explain to them again how to approach their councilman about getting money to fix the park.

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