Working from a prepared list of questions, the board that oversees East Baton Rouge Parish’s park system quizzed three of six finalists for the agency’s top job on their backgrounds and philosophies at a meeting Monday night.
BREC Chairman Bill Benedetto said the board hopes to make a decision on replacing Superintendent Bill Palmer, who is winding up a 32-year career with the East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission, at the board’s meeting on Oct. 27.
The candidates interviewed on Monday were E. Jay Ellington, of Montclair, Va.; Carolyn McKnight-Bray, of Dallas; and Ted Jack, of Baton Rouge. Each person was interviewed for one hour.
Ellington, executive director of the Prince William County Park Authority in Virginia, is a Louisiana native who has managed several park systems in Louisiana during his career, including Terrebonne Parish, Shreveport and Ruston. He also served as regional parks director in San Bernandino, Calif.
Ellington described himself as a “people person” and a visionary. He said his master’s degree in business administration from Centenary College in Shreveport gives him a different perspective from many managers of public agencies.
Ellington said he constantly seeks ways to make park operations more efficient. For example, he said, he brought in private management companies to take over the operations of publicly owned golf courses in Prince William County.
“In a number of areas, salaries and other paid services, at this point, we can say it’s been cautiously successful,” Ellington said.
McKnight-Bray, executive general manager of business development and procurement services for Dallas, previously held top level management positions in that city’s parks and recreation department. She told BREC board members that working in parks and recreation remains her passion and she wants to get back to that kind of work.
McKnight-Bray said funding parks is a challenge, not just for BREC but for park systems across the United States.
“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. We have to engage and help the community take ownership in their parks.”
McKnight-Bray said she found from her experience in Dallas that people will pay fees to cover the cost of programs if they are quality programs the people want.
Jack, an assistant superintendent at BREC who previously served as director of planning and engineering, told commissioners that it is critical to get community participation in planning parks and programs.
“Our best parks come about when we truly understand what the public wants,” Jack said. “It takes effort and it takes time but you can see the results when you do that. You have parks that provide lot of value to the community.”
Jack said one of the requests BREC has received from the public is to be fair and equitable in how park resources are distributed.
“People want us to spread the butter evenly across the bread,” Jack said. “They want to make sure we’re not leaving anyone out.
On Wednesday, starting at 6 p.m., the BREC board is scheduled to interview Rusty Freeman Bahr, of Wyomissing, Pa.; Stuart Johnson, of Lafayette and Jerry Smith, of San Antonio.
The interviews at BREC’s headquarters at 6201 Florida Blvd. are open to the public.
The job description for the top job at BREC says the salary is negotiable and would be in the same range as those for similar positions elsewhere.