Dr. Helena Hicks was happy to rededicate the Lillian S. Jones Recreation Center in Sandtown-Winchester on June 11. The center, built in 1976 and named for Hicks' sister, has been a community anchor for 30 years, she says.
"We were rededicating it with a new purpose to make sure we were expanding services to children and include services to parents," she says. "We wanted to honor the 20 women who volunteered all year long."
Hicks was also pleased to see a crew of five or six workers from the Department of Recreation and Parks arrive just before the ceremony began. Weeks before, she had noticed that the lettering on the building was missing the "J" in Jones. "So I called parks and rec and asked them to, you know, to put the J back," Hicks says. "They said OK."
That's why Hicks was shocked and offended when she came out of the building and saw the sign. Instead of replacing the J, the workers had put up a giant banner reading "Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore City Recreation and Parks Welcomes You to Lillian S. Jones Recreation Center."
"This is the craziest thing I ever saw," Hicks says. "No public officials showed up, so I had nobody to raise cane with."
Hicks has been a critic of the mayor. She says she did not invite Rawlings-Blake to the ceremony because of a conversation she'd had with a 10-year-old boy a few weeks earlier, who told her that the mayor's people handed out questions to the kids in class to ask during a photo op. The boy had his own question, Hicks said. He did not want to ask the mayor's question. "We couldn't invite her after what she did to those children," Hicks says.
The banner was not put over the old lettering, Hicks says. The old name was removed. "The mayor's just gone through this foolishness about locking up people for defacing property," Hicks says. "And here she is getting public employees to deface public property. It's political."
Well, hold on a minute, says Arli Lima, a spokeswoman at Rec and Parks. "We're in the process of getting new signage for all of our rec centers," she says. Instead of ordering one new letter for a sign that was coming down anyway, the department rushed the banner over. "We wanted to make it look as good as possible, but you know of course with the city there is a process for everything."
Hicks doesn't buy it.
"Why did they put the mayor's name on it?" she says. "It doesn't quite make sense. In eight months she might not be the mayor."
The mayor's name normally goes on banners, fliers, and promotional material, Lima says. The banner is temporary, until the new sign goes up. "The signage plan is currently in the Capital Budget, but we will not begin the new signage until next year 2016," she writes.
By Thursday, the new sign appeared on the Jones center—right below the banner, which was still firmly affixed to the bricks, with Mayor SRB's name on top.