JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s been a little more than a year since a 3-year-old boy died after plunging into a septic tank at a Jacksonville park. But while Amari Harley’s death opened the city up to a lawsuit, it also inspired an effort to make the city’s parks safer.
News4Jax wanted to see how well the city is living up to its promise, and the latest progress report from the City Council’s Parks and Recreation Committee shows there’s still more work to be done. In fact, there’s a list of 62 of open and active complaints.
But despite the lengthy list, which characterizes the complaints as being past due, most of the issues appeared to be minor on closer inspection. The vast majority dealt with things such as holes in fences, overgrown grass and lights that don’t work.
Out at Murray Hill Park, the complaint was the state of the restrooms. The men’s restroom was locked when a reporter went to investigate. But inside the women’s restroom was a mess, as well as evidence that someone had been sleeping there.
Resident Katie Pickle takes her dogs for a walk at the park every day. She acknowledged the conditions there leave something to be desired. Specifically, she said, the restrooms and gazebo tend to attract homeless people looking for shelter.
“It does seem to be a little bit unkempt a lot of the times,” she said. “I would just like to see them clean it up a little more, you know, keep track of all the homeless people around here.”
Over on the Westside near Naval Air Station Jacksonville sits Tillie K. Fowler Regional Park. Among the documented complaints were issues with playground equipment that were first raised last March. But a search of the park revealed there are not any major problems.
Some of the playground equipment looked as though it could use a paint job. There also were some areas where the plastic was broken or frayed, which might be a little dangerous for children. But it’s something the city contends it has dealt with over and over again.
Marsha Oliver, spokesperson for Mayor Lenny Curry, said the city’s parks department has examined the list and found that many of the items listed have been completed. She said none of the issues in the report are related to public safety.
One outlier listed in the report was a road cave-in at Crystal Springs Park reported last April. News4Jax tried to locate the cave-in, but found no sign of it. A reporter did, however, see crews doing maintenance work at the park.
The council committee, meanwhile, is asking for improved inspections at parks citywide. Members also want more information about the cost of repairs needed.
As for Amari's family, earlier this month they added the city as a named defendant in their ongoing negligence lawsuit stemming from the child's death. Court records show the suit, which seeks a jury trial, is currently tied up in legal back-and-forth.