The board that oversees East Baton Rouge Parish’s park system interviewed the last group of finalists for the agency’s top job on Wednesday, setting the stage for board members to select a replacement for outgoing BREC Superintendent Bill Palmer at a meeting on Oct. 27.
After interviewing the remaining three finalists, Rusty Freeman Bahr, of Wyomissing, Pa.; Stuart Johnson, of Lafayette; and Jerry Smith, of San Antonio, BREC’s board went into a closed meeting to discuss the candidates’ qualifications, and those of three people whom the board interviewed Monday.
Louisiana’s Public Records Act contains an exception that allows public bodies, such as the East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission, to go into executive session to discuss the character and professional competence of job applicants, said Murphy Foster III, an attorney representing BREC.
“This is for discussion purposes only,” Foster said in an interview prior to the meeting. “No action can be taken and no votes can be held. Any action has to take place in an open meeting.”
During his interview, Johnson, an assistant secretary in charge of the Louisiana Office of State Parks, told BREC board members 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; and a preservation area; and employs 371 full-time and about 250 seasonal employees, according to information he submitted to BREC. Johnson said the Office of State Parks has a $32 million annual operating budget.
Johnson, who holds a master of business administration degree 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.
Bahr, former chief executive officer of the YMCA of Reading and Berks County, Pa., told BREC members his 24-year career in recreational management would make him a good fit for the top parks job in Baton Rouge even though his career has been running YMCA facilities rather than parks departments.
“I think I can bring a new twist to this,” Bahr said.
He said he’s adept at finding revenue sources and has strong fiscal management skills.
“My strength would definitely be fiscal management,” Bahr said. “I’ve turned around several organizations … I learn the financials like the back of my hand.”
Smith, a manager/director of the Bexar County parks department in San Antonio, said in written materials he submitted to BREC that the park system he works for serves 2.5 million residents and includes civic centers, parks and sports facilities in the county.
Smith, who holds a master of science degree in parks and recreation administration, told BREC’s board that he has had a “very diverse career.” He said he once worked as a park ranger and as supervisor of privately operated residential programs for juvenile offenders in Florida. He said he also served as deputy director of parks and recreation for the City of North Miami Beach.
If selected, Smith said, he would provide BREC with effective leadership.
“A leader has to be a person who’s a dreamer,” Smith said.
Smith also talked about programs he developed to reach at-risk youths.
The candidates interviewed on Monday, all with backgrounds as managers in parks and recreation were: E. Jay Ellington, of Montclair, Va.; Carolyn McKnight-Bray, of Dallas; and Ted Jack, of Baton Rouge.
BREC Chairman Bill Benedetto has said he expects BREC’s board to choose one of the six finalists as BREC’s new superintendent Oct. 27. 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.