Johnson City is advertising for a parks and recreation director who also will be responsible for seniors’ programs and services when the city shifts these functions to the new Memorial Park Community Center.
The move shines a light on two issues. First, it confirms City Manager Pete Peterson is hiring someone to oversee senior services at the new center who will be neither an assistant city manager nor the current Seniors’ Center/Senior Services director.
This has been common knowledge long before the April 26 municipal election, and it didn’t rub any sitting city commissioners the wrong way at the time. However, the method has never been very popular among seniors, a demographic that helped elect three commissioners, two of whom voted, though unsuccessfully, to secure a dedicated senior wing at the new center.
Second, Peterson is now shining a light on why he purposefully has held back on filling several top positions to save money, which is not necessarily a bad managerial move, depending on your point of reference.
The ad calls for “an experienced parks and recreation director that will lead a staff of 63 employees and oversee a multi-purpose arena (Freedom Hall Civic Center); 25 parks; 46 ball fields; 19 tennis courts; two 18-hole golf courses; seniors’ programs and services; four recreation centers; and two swimming pools.”
Tom Alexander, the last person to hold the title of director, was fired in early March 2008.
Upon Alexander’s termination, Peterson appointed Assistant City Manager Charlie Stahl to assume the parks and recreation director duties on an interim basis until someone was hired to fill the post. Peterson said then that he hoped to conduct a search and hiring process “as quickly as possible.”
That was more than three years and four months ago.
But the city has been able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year by leaving certain positions open and/or filling them with interim appointments, Peterson said late this week. This includes the city’s fire chief spot, which has not been filled since 2009, its building codes official position, which also has been vacant for about two years, and the parks and recreation department head.
“Including benefits and salary, the fire chief and parks and recreation director collectively cost about $200,000 per year,” he said. “We have over 25 positions either frozen or unfunded at this time in our ongoing efforts to balance the budget without a tax increase. It is my philosophy that these vacancies should be throughout the organization, placed strategically where service levels will not be impacted. In other words, we don’t need to limit vacancies to front line positions.”
Salary for the new parks and recreation director position is $2,088.56 bi-weekly, or $54,303 annually, according to the ad. This is the city’s minimum starting salary for the position, according to its pay and classification plan. However, there apparently is a bit of wiggle room since the ad also states, “salary will depend on experience.”
The successful candidate will work with a 2012 fiscal budget of about $3.4 million.
The new parks and recreation director will have direct supervisory responsibility over senior services and will report to Stahl. However, the senior services director, who currently is Sue Orr, will continue to be responsible for programming, evaluations, staffing recommendations and so on, Peterson said.
This person will report directly to the new parks and recreation director rather than Stahl.
That was news to Orr, who on the same afternoon Peterson provided the information to the Press, was attending a Johnson City Seniors’ Center Advisory Council meeting.
“Charlie keeps telling me, ‘you’re the ones that are moving,’ ” Orr said. “I know we do need to get clarification on programming.”
Members of the advisory council are appointed by the City Commission and are charged with deliberating on issues and making recommendations to commissioners for action.
“Pete Peterson has never come to our meetings here,” said Gary Lyon, the council’s chairman-elect. “We don’t know if Sue will still be director, and we don’t know who she would answer to. The city hasn’t told us.”
Meanwhile, Peterson said many employees have assumed additional duties in order to cover all of the responsibilities associated with the vacancies, and city administrators have stretched the organizational structure thin to try and contain costs.
But he said the city has continued to progress.
“As revenues allow, we will fill the more critical positions,” he said. “We have had the resources necessary to cover the administrative needs of parks and recreation and fire, so we have filled front line positions where services are delivered rather than the administrative positions. Revenues are improving, and we will be filling the park director, fire chief and development services director positions in the foreseeable future.”
That last position is newly created and has been publicly advertised as a “planning and development director.”
The successful candidate will be responsible for overseeing a consolidation of the city’s planning, community development and building code departments.
Peterson did not hesitate in his approval to reorganize in April when Matrix Consulting Group completed a departmental review and recommended to the City Commission that city staff, builders and developers would be best served if the city combined the departments.