Par­ents still seek­ing sat­is­fac­tion for loss of memo­rial play­ground

The Kent Island Bay Times - - Front Page - By AN­GELA PRICE bay­times@kibay­

CH­ESTER — The de­struc­tion of the Chil­dren’s Memo­rial Play­ground at Old Love Point Park con­tin­ues to be a source of pain and frus­tra­tion to par­ents whose chil­dren’s lives were hon­ored there. Queen Anne’s County Com­mis­sioner Robert Buckey is cham­pi­oning the par­ents and has vowed to see their griev­ances ad­dressed.

Buckey and County Com­mis­sioner Steve Wil­son met with a group of par­ents and in­ter­ested cit­i­zens Oct. 2 in the Bar­rett Room at the Ch­e­sa­peake Her­itage Cen­ter on Oct. 2. The lon­gawaited par­ent meet­ing was some­thing the group asked

for from the be­gin­ning, but, some­how, it never hap­pened.

Ev­ery­one present agreed that step one should have been to con­tact the peo­ple in­volved, those with me­mo­ri­als at the play­ground.

Buckey apol­o­gized and said the sit­u­a­tion should have been han­dled dif­fer­ently. He said the Parks of­fice told him its staff had con­tacted all the par­ents in­volved in­di­vid­u­ally, rather than as a group — a no­tion the par­ents present quickly told him was wrong.

Wil­son agreed al­ter­ing the park with­out in­volv­ing the pub­lic was a mis­take, but he said the fault is that of the com­mis­sion­ers, not county staff.

“Parks was act­ing on or­ders,” he said. “The com­mis­sion­ers dropped the ball.”

Par­ents weren’t in­clined to let staff off the hook so eas­ily. They main­tained that work­ers should have no­ti­fied their su­pe­ri­ors when they re­al­ized they were jack­ham­mer­ing through me­mo­ri­als writ­ten in con­crete and throw­ing away benches with names on them.

Elaine and Greg Har­ri­son’s son Matthew was one of two ba­bies who died in 1998 at an in-home day care in Clover­fields. He and Ian Walden Denny were both 5 months old in May 1998 when they suf­fo­cated un­der a quilt while nap­ping on an adult bed while their day care provider was hold­ing a birth­day party down­stairs for her own child. Their deaths lead to changes in reg­u­la­tion of in-home day cares in the state of Mary­land. Lo­cally, their deaths sparked the memo­rial play­ground project.

Elaine Har­ri­son has been quite vo­cal about what she calls the “ar­ro­gance and ig­no­rance” of County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Gregg Todd and the parks depart­ment, pub­licly call­ing for the fir­ing of both Todd and Parks di­rec­tor Chip Price. In fact, she said the county staff will no longer take her calls.

In a phone in­ter­view, Todd con­firmed staff has been di­rected not to take Har­ri­son’s calls, that he has told her to com­mu­ni­cate through emails. She can talk to him, but he sees no rea­son for staff to be screamed and cursed at, Todd said.

Har­ri­son ad­mit­ted that, in her anger and frus­tra­tion, her lan­guage hasn’t al­ways been the best.

As a spokesman for the par­ents, “she (Har­ri­son) had all of our anger in­side her,” said Sharon Robert­son, whose hus­band Bert has a memo­rial at Mow­bray Park. Their son Brian was killed by a drunk driver. Robert­son said, af­ter what had hap­pened at the Chil­dren’s Memo­rial Play­ground, she wanted to move Bert’s rock to en­sure it wouldn’t be care­lessly dis­carded.

With no in­put from par­ents, the mis­takes have con­tin­ued. The memo­rial plaque for Wil­liam N. Gard­ner Jr. left the Jr. off, so the new bench read as a memo­rial to his fa­ther, who is still liv­ing. At least one bench, the one in honor of Ian Denny, has not been re­placed.

“If Parks’ first plan had been to Google that sign, it would not have taken much ef­fort or thought to con­tact the fam­i­lies,” Har­ri­son said.

Robert­son said there needs to be accountability of me­mo­ri­als and there needs to be a con­tact per­son for them.

Parks and Re­cre­ation Ad­vi­sor y Board mem­bers Jean Waagbo and Ed Mor­gan also at­tended the par­ent meet­ing. They asked the par­ents what needed to hap­pen in or­der to move for­ward.

Pri­or­i­ties, as out­lined by the par­ents, in­clude the cre­ation of an in­ven­tory of me­mo­ri­als in the county, poli­cies and pro­ce­dures cre­ated for me­mo­ri­als, in­put from fam­i­lies — and maybe an­other par­ent meet­ing.

Mor­gan said the county has cre­ated a me­mo­ri­als pol­icy and of­fered to send it to the par­ents to re­view.

In the mean­time, the new play­ground has opened qui­etly, with­out fan­fare, and with­out the promised reded­i­ca­tion.

Har­ri­son said she was so up­set with how things have been han­dled, she has told the county she doesn’t want Matthew’s name in­cluded on a new memo­rial — un­less changes are made.

She and sev­eral other par­ents said the de­struc­tion of the play­ground brought back the pain of los­ing their chil­dren all over again.

“It’s dragged ever ybody through a lot of mem­o­ries,” said Greg Har­ri­son. While he would like to see the me­mo­ri­als re­placed, he wants as­sur­ances the same mis­takes won’t hap­pen in the fu­ture. “If you can’t fix the prob­lem … I don’t want to have to go through this all over again.”

He asked that fam­i­lies be given op­por­tu­nity to proof the me­mo­ri­als for er­rors be­fore they’re en­graved or printed in stone.

Wil­son and Waagbo both agreed hav­ing par­ents proof the names was a good idea, but said they didn’t know where the county was in the print­ing process.

Buckey asked the fam­i­lies gath­ered to give him and the county the chance to make things right.

If par­ents are in­cluded and their con­cerns ad­dressed, most in­di­cated they would like to see the play­ground reded­i­cated.

“It’s been 30 years for us; we don’t need any­thing big,” said Mindy Voelker, whose son Andy was memo­ri­al­ized at the play­ground.

“I just want to see this done right and the par­ents ap­prove it,” said An­nette Sanger, Wil­liam N. Gard­ner Jr.’s mom.


Queen Anne’s County Com­mis­sioner Robert Buckey meets with par­ents about the Chil­dren’s Memo­rial Play­ground at Old Love Point Park. Be­side him, from left, are Elaine Har­ri­son, Mindy Voek­ler and Sharon Re­bert­son.

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