The Austin Chronicle

Who Will Preside Over Parks?

By James Scott Bankston, June 6, 2008, News

Austin's national search for a new director for our Parks & Recreation Department has been extended to mid-July, to ensure a strong pool of candidates. As part of the selection process, citizens were invited in early May to have input into the candidate profile. In various ways, community members who spoke or submitted comments all expressed a sense that the choice to lead PARD is critically important to Austin now. As we gain more people and urban density, citizens want to see our city parks, trails, and green space proactively planned, preserved, maintained, and funded.

Facilitating the May meetings to gather community input was Heidi Voorhees of the PAR Group, the executive search firm hired by the city. (PAR also recruited City Manager Marc Ott late last year.) On behalf of the board of the Austin Parks Foundation, Exec­utive Director Charlie McCabe submitted a strong letter, which asked that "a renewed and expanded focus be placed on caring for our natural areas, especially our greenbelts and trails."

The foundation is in a uniquely informed position, as it funds and addresses many needs not met by PARD and city funding. Fundamentally, the foundation called for new leadership to "shift the focus of [PARD] from a 'facility-based,' program-dominated agency to more of a broad-spectrum comprehensive resource management department." Austin Parks Foundation called for a new PARD director who would:

change the department's management style, push decision-making down, and standardize best practices;

insist on putting management and funding plans in place before starting new programs;

incorporate a solid knowledge of urban design and planning;

cultivate public-private alliances for park development and maintenance;

restore parks, with innovative, ecologically sound methods.

Other community members who spoke at the forums called for a director who could simultaneously be an environmentalist, historic preservationist, cutter of red tape, creative fundraiser, art historian (!), parks professional, advocate, and City Hall bulldog.

"I want a PARD director who works closely with the Parks board and the related other PARD advisory groups," said environmental activist Mary Arnold. A number of citizens called for a strong director who could convince City Council and city management to make PARD a budget priority instead of a department that traditionally suffers major cuts during budget shortfalls. Others asked that the new director give attention to community recreation centers, especially on the Eastside, and improve maintenance at the five city-run cemeteries.

Acting Assistant City Manager David Lurie said input from the forums was helpful in shaping the job profile. Roberta Byram in the city's Human Resources Department reported that the PAR Group incorporated everything on the community's wish list. The consulting group's fee for the recruitment effort is $17,000, plus $6,000 for the candidate assessment.

"We're looking for a visionary, who comes from a system that's known as a leadership organization, such as our own," Lurie noted. But as far as expecting budget miracles from the new director, he cautioned, "We've got to look into the context of relative priorities." Lurie said the director must "be creative" with fund allocation, using what's available during budget shortfalls; he agreed that partnerships with community groups and foundations will be vital to PARD's success.

The salary for the new director will be in the neighborhood of $150,000. The job posting closes in mid-July; interviews will be conducted in early August. Notably, the finalists will meet with the public, in another round of open sessions. The new director should be hired by the end of August.

See the job notice and recruitment profile at

Copyright © 2022 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.