The board that oversees East Baton Rouge Parish’s park system today further narrowed the finalists to fill the top position at BREC and will bring those candidates — Stuart Johnson and Carolyn McKnight-Bray — back for a second round of interviews next week. They were among six candidates BREC’s board interviewed this week.

Johnson, an assistant secretary in charge of the Louisiana Office of State Parks, told BREC board members during his interview this week that that he would address financial issues that face the agency by being aggressive in pursuing grants, corporate partnerships and sponsorships and cooperative endeavor agreements with businesses or public bodies.

“BREC I see as an opportunity of a lifetime for me,” Johnson said. “I love my job at state parks, don’t get me wrong, but BREC is at the top of the mountain. It is one of the best programs in the country.”

As director of the Office of State Parks, Johnson oversees 22 state parks, 17 historic sites, a preservation area and employs 371 full time and about 250 seasonal employees, according to information he submitted to BREC. He said the Office of State Parks has a $32 million annual operating budget.

Johnson, who holds a masters of business administration from Loyola University in New Orleans and a doctoral degree from LSU’s College of Education, said he dealt with severe budget cuts during his tenure.

McKnight-Bray is the executive general manager of development and procurement services for the city of Dallas. She previously was an assistant director in that city’s parks and recreation department east region operations and said she want to return to the parks and recreation field.

McKnight-Bray, who holds a master’s degree in education administration, told BREC’s board during her interview this week that finding ways to fund parks is a challenge for park systems around the nation.

“We have to make sure we find creative ways to insure that we have the funds necessary to deliver the kind of quality people expect,” McKnight-Bray said. “It’s absolutely critical for us to have partners. We cannot do this alone.”

The two finalists were announced at a brief special meeting of BREC’s board today.

BREC Chairman Bill Benedetto said that the board hopes to make a final decision on which candidate will replace outgoing BREC Superintendent Bill Benedetto at a meeting Thursday but will take more time if needed.

“We’re going to make sure we get it right,” Benedetto said. “If we have to go past that date, we’ll go past that date.”