DETROIT-Give city workers the job of cutting the grass at Detroit's parks, and you might learn the meaning of the expression "watching grass grow." But apparently, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has discovered the secret of getting workers to suddenly spring into action: Hire private contractors to do the same job. 

In July, when grass in some of the city's parks reportedly got so high toddlers could hide in it, Kilpatrick had the quasi-public Detroit Building Authority (DBA), which he chairs, hire three private companies to do the mowing for $1.1 million.

Suddenly, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 6,000 city workers, became a flurry of activity. Its leaders, as well as some members of the Detroit City Council, charged that the DBA's mandate, which is to provide capital improvements on city property, did not extend to cutting grass. The union filed a lawsuit alleging that the city had violated its contract with the union, and seeking $25,000 in damages. The union also filed a complaint with the Michigan Employee Relations Council and conducted media interviews.

Fighting back, Recreation Department Director Hurley Coleman stood in grass up to his chest as he told the Detroit News that the DBA has been used in the past to perform similar work, and that there are too few city workers and not enough equipment to maintain the parks.

But to no avail. In August, a Wayne County Circuit Court terminated the contracts and ordered the city to go back to having city workers mow at Belle Isle, Eliza Howell Park, Palmer Park and other sites. 

Summing up the situation succinctly was Kilpatrick spokesman Jamaine Dickens, who told the Detroit News: ". . . we have parks that need their grass cut."