The following article by Jake Weyer appeared in the October 7, 2010 online edition of the Southwest Journal:
PARK BOARD QUERIES TRIO OF SUPERINTENDENT FINALISTS
The board expects to make a hiring decision for the top parks job at its Oct. 13 meeting.
Three finalists for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s superintendent position spent an hour each Oct. 6 answering board questions and making their pitch for presiding over one of the nation’s premier park systems.
More than 20 people applied for the job. Four were ultimately selected for interviews. The most prominent of those, House Speaker and former DFL gubernatorial candidate Margaret Anderson Kelliher, withdrew her candidacy Oct. 5 to pursue other opportunities.
Park Board President John Erwin made a brief statement prior to the interviews thanking Kelliher for her involvement and expressing the board’s regret about her decision.
“She was an e xcellent candidate and we were very much looking forward to hearing her vision for the Minneapolis parks system in a public forum,” Erwin said.
At-Large Commissioner Annie Young jumped in with a final comment before the questions started.
“On behalf of the citizens, I guess, and a 127-year history of this organization, I just wanted to remind us as commissioners that this is the most important job that we have, is to choose a good person, a person that’s qualified to move our system and keep our system world renowned,” Young said. “We’re elected and we’re supposed to listen to the citizens, but in the end the buck stops here.”
Interviewed were Steve Rymer, director of recreation and community services in Morgan Hill, Calif.; Jayne Miller, former director and chief executive officer for the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority in Michigan, and Stanley Motley, who most recently served as director of parks and recreation in Georgia’s Fulton County.
Whoever gets the job will take over for interim superintendent David Fisher, whose contract expires at the end of this month. Fisher came on in July; six months after the board voted not to renew the contract of embattled superintendent Jon Gurban.
Based on the board’s questions Oct. 6, here’s some of what the organization is looking for in its next leader: Someone who can improve services to underprivileged ethnic populations, boost revenue using non-tax-based sources, keep an eye toward sustainability, plan strategically, have fun, and work well with the board, staff and community members.
Up first was Rymer, a Minnesota native who at 41 was the youngest of the finalists. In Morgan Hill, Rymer oversees parks and recreation services in a city of 40,000 people. He also administers the city’s fire and emergency services contract, manages operating budgets of $10.5 million, a capital improvement budg et of $7 million, 14 full-time employees and 175 part-time workers.
Moving to a city with a population nearing 400,000 and a park system with roughly 600 employees and a $60 million budget would be a significant career leap. Rymer said he has faced big challenges in every career change, and as a park professional, he was naturally drawn to Minneapolis’ nationally recognized system. He previously oversaw parks and recreation in New Brighton, Minn.
As superintendent, he said he would strive to create a high-performing team that built on the system’s history and fulfilled promises in the comprehensive plan through community involvement, establishing relationships with many organizations and fostering an entrepreneurial spirit.
He said he has improved recreational services in both Morgan Hill and New Brighton while decreasing those systems’ reliance on tax support. During the economic downturn, Rymer said he led efforts in Morga n Hill that resulted in revenue growth and increased use of services.
“I have a long and accomplished background in looking at sustainable cost-recovery efforts,” he said.
Rymer also emphasized that he would engage all park stakeholders and not take himself too seriously. To help explain his passion for the parks profession to commissioners, he told the board that he views weekends as “only two days until Monday.”
The second interviewee was Miller, 52, who started her opening statement with an explanation of why she left her previous job overseeing a five-county parks system in Michigan after just six months. She said the organization faced significant revenue reductions in the coming years and it ultimately was not ready to make changes she proposed in a strategic plan to meet those challenges.
“As a result of that, I made a decision it wasn’t a good fit and I resigned my position with the organization,” she said.
During her stint with the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority, Miller was responsible for a $74.5 million budget, 231 full-time employees, 700 part-time staffers, and 13 parks spanning 25,000 acres.
Before that, Miller spent 23 years working her way up the ranks within the Ann Arbor, Mich., parks department, which employs 350 full-time and temporary employees and has more than 150 park locations totaling 2,000 acres. The population of Ann Arbor is roughly 115,000.
Miller eventually served as Community Services Area director for the system. In that role, she oversaw park and recreation services, parkland acquisition and preservation, farmland preservation, and land-use planning and management, among other duties.
She boasted the depth of her experience, her emphasis on communication and her enthusiasm for moving to Minneapolis. She called the city “vibrant, exciting” and said it shares her pr ogressive values. She also said it feels similar to Ann Arbor in several ways, including its emphasis on community engagement.
When asked how she’d work with staff following the Park Board’s recent restructuring, which resulted in the organization’s first-ever layoffs, Miller said she hoped to bring stability.
“My understanding is that the organization has been challenging for at least the last 12 months and I think that as a leader of an organization, providing some stability for an organization that has been struggling for a number of months is going to be important first and foremost,” she said.
Motley, 64, was the final interviewee and the most experienced of the candidates, with nearly four decades of park management experience in six states.
“The leadership in those positions that I received was invaluable,” Motley said in his opening statement. “Many of those organizations might have been larg er or smaller than Minneapolis, many might have had more or less amenities than Minneapolis, but all of them have the same passion and were vital to the quality of life in those communities.”
Most recently, Motley directed the Fulton County park system in Atlanta, a city with a population of roughly 500,000. Fulton is the largest county park system in Georgia, with 23 parks totalling 2,080 acres, a staff of 77 and a $4.2 million budget.
When asked about what he wanted to accomplish in the next three to five years, Motley said he envisioned being in Minneapolis for five or 10 years, empowering the staff to execute a long-term vision for the parks system. He emphasized listening to all stakeholders and working as a team.
“I can empower a team and make almost anything happen,” he said.
Motley told commissioners he felt some uneasiness and nervousness among staff because of the recent restructuring. If hired, he would take the first 90 days to analyze the organizational structure. He said he doesn’t expect any major changes, but if there were, they’d be made after a planning process that involved communicating with staff.
After the interview, Motley said he’s looking for a new challenge and he doesn’t care where it takes him. He said he’s fond of Minneapolis, but he’s also a candidate for a job in a New York borough.
Erwin said the candidates exceeded his expectations. He said the board planned to discuss the candidates and make a hiring decision by the end of its meeting next week.
The interviews were recorded and can be watched here.