July 12, 2008

County to Move Forward in Recreation: New Director Would Oversee Park System

By Jamie Jones, The Daily Citizen, Dalton, Ga.

Jul. 12--Whitfield County's next recreation department director will have the expanded duties of overseeing a growing park system as well as programs geared to all ages -- not just children.

County administrator Bob McLeod said Friday the person who replaces Roger Crossen, who resigned Thursday after more than 23 years with the department, will be a part of the board of commissioners' renewed commitment to recreation.

"The commissioners are interested in doing a lot more in the area of parks and recreation," McLeod said when approached by a reporter after a meeting with Georgia Department of Transportation representatives. "They started to show that when they approved the capital budget last fall, which included money to do more at Edwards Park, to create the Westside Park, to look at beneficial reuses of the (Westside) landfill, to acquire more land for historic preservation/greenspace and parks. The whole process started then."

McLeod declined to comment on Crossen's resignation, saying he does not discuss personnel with the media. McLeod said he didn't want his comments about the new director to be a slight against Crossen.

"I respect him and I wish him well," McLeod said. "I appreciate you asking the questions and we're interested in talking to you, but when I give you these responses, I don't want it to say, 'He didn't do this and so we're going to do something else.'"

On Thursday, Crossen declined to say why he resigned but said he was surprised with the outcome of an afternoon meeting with McLeod. County officials haven't given a reason why Crossen resigned.

On Friday, The Daily Citizen submitted an open records request to the county asking for Crossen's personnel file and a copy of his severance package. Jackie Palacios, the county's human resources director, said she expected to have the information available on Monday. According to state law, the county has three business days to respond to the request.

Crossen was paid $54,000 annually. He was an "at will" employee and did not have a contract, Palacios said.

According to the job posting, the county is seeking a director for the parks and recreation department "to direct operations of the parks and recreation department and to coordinate, plan organize and promote provisions of a comprehensive recreational program for Whitfield County."

The job requires a bachelor's degree in recreation administration or a closely related field supplemented by five years "of progressively responsible experience." The salary range is based on qualifications.

McLeod said he does not have a timeline for hiring a new recreation director.

"It's important to have the person who has the right qualifications and the experience that will work well with our managers," McLeod said. "Sometimes you can accomplish that in a month or two and sometimes it will take a lot longer."

While county officials are looking to expand the recreation department, they want more than just ball fields.

"What do people want?" board chairman Brian Anderson asked. "There's a big crowd that wants ball fields, but everybody doesn't play baseball or softball. We feel comfortable as we expand one type of facility, there are certainly ways to do walking trails, maybe a picnic area, a family playground area in that same complex. That's the approach that we're going on right now."

Commissioner Leo Whaley said he was concerned the recreation department had not provided enough parks for county residents. The city of Dalton has several large parks and smaller "pocket parks." Some county commissioners have mentioned the city's Civitan Park near Tibbs Road as a success story, while the City Council this week bought more than an acre of property at the intersection of Ridge and Crawford streets for a neighborhood park. Earlier this spring, the city opened a 1.4-acre park at the corner of Thornton and Walnut avenues with a walking path and greenspace.

But Anderson said the county lacks the population density of the city, and with residents spread further apart, smaller parks may not make sense financially. The county's recreation department budget is $883,633, up from $756,268 in 2007. The city's recreation department budget is $4.42 million.

The county is paying Atlanta-based MACTEC, an engineering and consulting firm, $36,000 to compile a parks and recreation master plan as part of the county's comprehensive plan update.

MACTEC will balance the benefits of facilities, the cost to develop them and requirements for maintenance and operations. Later, MACTEC will recommend future park facilities and programs. The process also includes a facilities/programs list, a parks and recreation questionnaire, and information on costs with detailed five- and 10-year capital improvement programs. The final step is a presentation to the board of commissioners, which will happen later this summer. MACTEC is also studying possible recreational uses for the county's closed Westside landfill. Plans are already in place for a recreational complex in Westside.

Commissioners and the Varnell City Council recently agreed to share the city's gym. McLeod hopes the gym can be used for recreation programs of all ages.

Will the board of commissioners be involved in selecting the next recreation head?

Anderson doesn't think so. He said all personnel decisions are made by McLeod "to minimize the politics of personnel and staff." However, commissioner Greg Jones said Thursday the board will be involved in the process. Jones did not know what role the five commissioners would play.

"We do not input into the day-to-day decision-making on personnel," Anderson said. "Certainly as an individual I have an opinion that we want good, quality people with certain leadership capabilities and those kinds of things. Unless he (McLeod) asks my opinion, that's where it stays. My opinion."

Asked if McLeod sought Anderson's opinion on Crossen or the recreation department, Anderson said, "Not currently. He gives updates informally, I guess, to the things that need to happen."

There have been three "major hires" by McLeod and he did not ask commissioners their input on them, Anderson said.

McLeod said he will "brief" the board on the search for the new director.


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