To the editor,
On Tuesday, April 14, 2009 I attended the City Council meeting and listened to the discussions related to the Council work session on Fort Ward Park. I also had the opportunity to review the April 14, 2009 correspondence from Kirk Kincannon and Lance Mallamo to Councilman Justin Wilson, and the April 14, 2009 correspondence from Judy Guse Noritake, on behalf of the Park and Recreation Commission, to the City Council. Although I appreciate the willingness to discuss Fort Ward Park, I found the oral and written presentations to Council inaccurate and misleading. For the public record, the following information should be noted and considered by Council as the city continues to work to address park problems and community concerns.
First, the statements and reports made at the work session indicating that the discovery of African American graves in the park was a recent development are inaccurate.
In fact, Clara Adams has been buried in the area that is now used for the maintenance yard since February 1, 1952. Neighbors and city employees indicate that workers removed gravestones from existing graves when the city decided to expand the maintenance and nursery area. In 1995, city workers interviewed Mr. Young, a former resident of the area, who indicated the approximate location of the graves in the maintenance yard. In April 2008, I contacted the managers of the Black History Museum, Recreation, Parks&Cultural Activities Department, Fort Ward Park Operations and Maintenance and the Office of Historic Alexandria about marked and unmarked graves and no action was taken until March.
Moreover, at the time that the city began the expansion of the maintenance yard there was no consideration given to the impact of this change on the marked graves within the Oakland Baptist Church Cemetery. Alterations to the maintenance yard continue to create water runoff problems that are causing grave stones to erode and grave sites to subside.
Second, the statements and reports outlined a list of seven possible immediate actions to be taken to address identified issues and concerns. It was said and written that the community members and stakeholders attending the March 18, 2009 meeting endorsed the action list. It was also written that there was general agreement in the community that these were appropriate steps to take at this time. In fact, the list of immediate actions does not accurately reflect the input of the public meetings or the written comments the city received. For example, none of the findings that were presented at the March 18 public meeting were shared with the Council. Most importantly, the list of actions that was presented on March 18 were not endorsed by the community leaders or stakeholders. City officials asked the audience to comment on the outline that was presented to the public and said that the action plan would be revised based on the comments received following the meeting.
In addition, the city presenters at the March 18 public meeting said that they were supportive of an agreement with the community to determine the mission and vision of Fort Ward Park.
Finally, the oral statements and written reports presented at the Council work session regarding the use of alcohol in the park contradict recent actions the city Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities Department has taken to post regulations in Fort Ward Park.
Earlier this month, the city posted Park Regulations & Rules on information kiosks and metal signs throughout the park indicating that, The consumption of alcoholic beverages is prohibited. These notices and signs contradict the stated desire of the mayor to be able to have selected groups who use the park use alcohol. In response to the mayors interest, Mr. Kincannon said that his department is looking at applications for the use of alcohol in the park on a permit-by-permit basis.
Although Mr. Kinacannon concluded his remarks to the City Council by indicating that, We are prepared for problems this year, it does not appear that community concerns and problems at Fort Ward Park have been addressed. The input that community leaders and stakeholders have provided to the city can help solve the ongoing problems that have been brought to the citys attention over the last 18 months. It will, however, take city action and commitment to follow through rather than the broad general statements communicated to the Council on April 14.
J. Glenn Eugster