The board that oversees East Baton Rouge Parish’s park system further narrowed the finalists to fill the top position at BREC on Friday and plans to bring the two candidates back for a second interview next week.

The two finalists — Stuart Johnson and Carolyn McKnight-Bray — were among six candidates BREC’s board interviewed this week for the position of BREC superintendent.

Johnson, of Lafayette, is an assistant secretary at the Louisiana Department of Culture, Tourism and Recreation and is in charge of the Louisiana Office of State Parks.

He told BREC board members during his interview this week 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.

Johnson said Friday he was “extremely excited” to be one of the two finalists for the job and believes he brings a great deal of experience in the parks and recreation field.

If selected, he said, he would reach out to BREC’s staff, commissioners and the public to learn from them about what they want from the parish park system.

“Going into any new position, the most important thing a person can do is listen – absorb and be a sponge,” he said.

McKnight-Bray, who holds a master’s degree in education administration from Texas Christian University, is executive general manager of business development and procurement services for the city of Dallas.

The office McKnight-Bray works for is responsible for developing and implementing the city of Dallas’ minority and woman-owned business enterprise programs, according to a city government website.

She previously was an assistant director of the Dallas parks and recreation department’s east region operations where, according to her resume, she was responsible for managing $16 million of the department’s $77 million general operating budget.

McKnight-Bray reported managing a staff of 228 full time and 102 seasonal park employees. She said she was responsible for 194 neighborhood, community and regional parks, 133 athletic fields, 23 recreation centers, 10 community swimming pools, five spray parks, two dog parks and other park facilities in the east region.

McKnight-Bray also was formerly a commander of combat support group reserve forces for the Texas Air National Guard in Fort Worth, according to her resume.

She said Friday she was excited to be selected one of the two finalists for the top position at BREC from among “a number of wonderful candidates with great experience.”

If chosen, McKnight-Bray said, one of the first things she would do is “take a really strong look at the budget to see where we are in terms of revenues and expenditures.”

McKnight Bray said she would also would want to meet with staff and “key stakeholder groups” and to review BREC’s master plan.

McKnight-Bray 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 Friday at a brief special meeting of BREC’s board.

BREC Chairman Bill Benedetto said the board hopes to decide on a replacement for 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.”