The Making Of A Good Parks And Recreation Administrator

When I was the director in Rawlins, Wyoming we had the good fortune to recruit an individual who had a degree in parks and recreation but who had not been practicing. Instead, he had been managing Jack’s Sports and OK Hardware in Cody, Wyoming, home of the world’s largest Winchester rifle, “BOOM!” (This thing was seriously, like 54 feet long and an icon in Wyoming folklore.)

Kevin became our superintendent of recreation and later became the director of parks, recreation & golf. He also had an impact on my professional development. Kevin had a great sense of humor, pretty good charm and was a very hands-on manager. He had a wonderful way of making sure the staff in the field, the ones doing the real work, did not feel isolated. When he did this, he often took the time to drag me along too; whether it was setting irrigation pipe on the soccer field, refereeing youth basketball or participating in our programs, he had me more involved than I would have been otherwise.

In all honesty, it was the most pure fun I have ever had doing any of my parks and recreation jobs. Because of Kevin, I have always reminded myself work has to be fun and managers and leaders have to ensure we make it that way as much as possible. Nobody is more productive than a group of happy employees who feel like members of a team. As well, the positive culture this breeds is both contagious and synergistic. The creativity comes out, the risk taking is heightened, and the commitment is cemented.

Kevin also taught me to trust your heart when making important decisions. For example, when hiring staff, it usually comes down to your head or your heart. Go with your heart. If you have a good one, you’ll be right 95 percent of the time. And the 5 percent you’re wrong, it will be for the right reasons and who can’t live with that. Also, take a chance on some very important things — they call them long shots. Don’t be afraid! Long shots pay off big when they hit!

Peter Clavelle, Mayor, Burlington, Vermont 1988 – 1993

In 1987 I was the parks and recreation director in Rawlins, Wyoming population 10,000. Let’s not forget Wyoming is the home state of Dick Cheney and well known for its bountiful lakes and harbors, NOT. By 1988 I was the director and harbormaster of Burlington, Vermont, arguably the “Most Liberal City in America!”

I know it probably sounds like I’m calling out our colleagues from Boulder but seriously Boulder is like Holyoke, Colorado in comparison and contrast to Burlington, Vermont. Burlington is a strong mayor-form of government, no city manager or administrator. In order to run for one of the 13 seats on the Board of Alderman you have to affiliate with a political party, Democrat, Republican or Progressive/Socialist. The mayor at that time was Bernie Sanders, elected leader of the Progressive Coalition and currently the only independent to be elected to Congress. His understudy Peter Clavelle

a self- avowed “Socialist and Progressive” succeeded him so I also had the privilege to serve under Peter for about five years.

My experiences in Wyoming did not prepare me for my first week on the job as I came to find out I was in charge of the world’s largest free Reggae Festival. All kidding aside, I had never heard of Reggae in little old Wyoming. This was just the beginning of my social and professional transformation. During my tenure in Burlington not only was I given free reign but I was encouraged to take risks, create and explore so far outside the box you couldn’t see the box! New ways of thinking. New ways of getting things done. I learned about the whole social side of what we parks and recreation pros do — things that are now commonplace such as licensed childcare, hot lunch programs, community gardening, sustainable decision making, risk and reward, union negotiations, gay rights and domestic partner healthcare benefits and the list goes on.

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