District D Neighborhood Alliance (DDNA) Meeting on July19, 2008.
A stellar attendance at today’s DDNA meeting, the best attendance we’ve ever had and a fine representation of District D neighborhood leaders. Today we welcomed City Manager Russell Allen, bright an early on a Saturday morning, to discuss the hiring of the new Parks & Rec Director and other concerns from District D.
- Special Guest: City Manager Russell Allen
- John Reaves Jr., Caraliegh / SWCAC
- Chris Weedy, Boylan Heights
- Benson Kirkman, Avent West / WCAC
- Mary Belle Pate, Fairway Acres / SWCAC
- Pete Huckins, Pullen Park Terrace
- Nick Woomer-Peters, Pullen Park Terrace
- Les Sykes, Cameron Park / Hillsborough CAC
- Elizabeth Byrd, Avent West / WCAC
- Phil Poe, Glenwood-Brooklyn / 5-Points CAC
- Joe Boisvert, University Park
- Dwight Wadford, Avent Ferry / SWCAC
- Lana Dial, Lake Johnson Harbor
- Jeannine Grissom, Glenwood-Brooklyn / 5-Points CAC
- Sallie Ricks, University Park
- Jim Paumier, Fairview Acres
- Mark Vander Borgh, Avent West / WCAC
- Marsha Presnell-Jennette, University Park
- Jeff Mason, Boylan Heights
- R. Bethea, Historic Method / WCAC
- Shelia Jones, JT Locke Resource Center / Method
- Jason Hibbets, Lineberry Alliance / SWCAC
- Ana Duncan-Pardo, St. Mary’s-Morgan St / Hillsborough CAC
- Thomas Crowder, District D Councilor
Introductions around the room.
Russell started off with a brief update on the Parks Director position, noting that Jack Duncan, recently retired, was the Parks & Rec Director for over 23 years and had over 40 years of experience in parks. Russell conducted a national search for his replacement, which is typical for a management position of this nature. The application process is closed, they received somewhere between 60-70 applicants. About a third of those do not qualify, another third are good applicants, but not at the level of experience needed, and the final third are extremely qualified. Internal applicants are included in the applicant pool.
Russell will be looking for feedback from employee’s as well as community leaders. So far, he has received about 100 or so feedback forms from the community and noted that he often finds many things to consider that he had not thought of (and thinks this is a useful tool).
For the rest of the process, the interview team consists of an internal group of managers including, Carl Dawson, Chief Harry Dolan, and CIO Gail Roper. The interview process is confidential, mainly to protect many applicants who are applying from their current positions and may not want it known that they are interested in this job (to their current employer). The hope is that over the next 2-4 weeks, the interview process will complete, then over the next 4-6 weeks a selection will be finalized. Russell is not only looking for a Parks & Rec Director, but a good leader of a large staff.
DDNA members had many questions.
Was the Parks and Greenway Board approached for feedback and do they have any future part for the interview process? Russell said that he did, in fact, gather feedback from the board and there is no further role for them moving forward since the interview process is to remain confidential.
Additional questions centered around the changing and projected demographics of Raleigh in the future including the Senior population and the Hispanic community. Another person asked about the ability for the new director to be able to plan and execute a for a potential major project like Dix Park.
The term “Freshness” or “Fresh Face” came up several times. There was an overwhelming sentiment for some sort of newness and culture changing person to take over and take Parks & Rec to the next level for Raleigh.
One person asked if there was an administrative type person on the interview team, because sometimes they can add value, picking out certain qualities about the candidate. Russell stated that there was no administrative person on the interview team and because it was confidential, that probably wouldn’t be changing.
Another member asked about the focus of Parks & Rec. There is a very broad scope and lots of different focus area’s including (but not limited to) building maintenance, greenways, programs, etc. Russell responded that there is no set priority list, but there is a set of goals.
The group felt strongly that the recently retired director was not publicly visible, hinting that there may have been too many administrative tasks, but seeking that the next director be much more visible and accessible. Having interpersonal contact with the citizens seems to add value.
Two topics that come up multiple times were emerging issues and sustainability. Also, the maintenance issue was raised again and one member was concerned that some part-time positions were being jeopardized because these people might be working close to full time, but not getting benefits. Russell said that he has addressed this issue and currently, part-time employee’s who work for 6-months are eligible to for full-time (if a position is available) or a benefits package that reflects their work status. It was re-iterated by the member that Russell made these changes and not the director, but offered a thank you to Russell for implementing that. Russell also mentioned in this response that there has been a lot of progress made on the equipment needs over the last few budget cycles.
Another member asked about the increase in fuel prices and how it’s effecting the level of services, not just for parks, but across the city. Russell stated that the fuel price increase has not impacted the level of service that much (currently) and one key component of this is decentralizing services and education about fuel usage and idling vehicles.
Lastly, there was a healthy conversation on the current parks planning process. Members expressed their feelings of exclusion and feelings that their input is not really considered. A “culture of change is needed in the planning process” claimed one member. It was also mentioned that their seems to be “tunnel vision” when looking at parks and area’s around it are not considered, particularly walk-ability and pedestrian issues. Again the issue of sustainability came up and the new City Council Mission Statement was mentioned. It was hinted that the new director should be familiar with the Mission Statement and be able to address that during the interview process.
The group spent a little over an hour discussing the Parks Director hiring process, very good questions from a variety of members throughout the district. It was mentioned numerous times how people wanted the interview process to be more open and numerous comparisons were made to how the police chief was selected. There was a general understanding about the confidentiality issues, but there was a strong desire to have a similar format where the public participated in the final two candidates with a public interview process and a department interview process.
We moved on to other issues and concerns from the District.
First up was the cities’ initiative for an ERP system and website. Something that can be timely and costly. What kind of deliverables can we expect over the next 12-24 months? Russell agreed that this will be a long process and stated that there are two things going on with the ERP, internal changes and publicly visible ones. The publicly visible ones are still 24-months away. When Russell started over seven years ago, the IT organization was in silo’s, was extremely customized/departmentalized, and on legacy systems. In fact, there was not even a CIO, much less a plan. Great strides have been made over the years. We now have a CIO (Gail Roper) who has installed a plan for integrated systems, removing the silo’s, and moving toward an ERP solution. On the website side of things, Russell hopes for an elevated web presence.
The next topic was on Zoning and Density violations. Quality of life issues were mentioned and the request for a streamlined / re-engineered planning process. Russell mentioned that staff is close to moving to a new model for development review. Mark mentioned the Zoning Handbook that he found very helpful.
One current pain in District D is the inability for us to prove how many unrelated people are living in a single family dwelling. Zoning does not have the tools necessary to enforce this. Density violations and Front Yard Parking are major concerns for our district and will help improve our quality of life.
We also spent a good amount of time talking about older neighborhoods and the need for sidewalks, curb, and gutter. The current system in place does not favor a citizen approach to get neighborhoods up to standards. Sidewalk dis-connectivity was mentioned along with aging sidewalks in neighborhoods. Moving to a Complete Streets solution was mentioned.
Other topics that were discussed included on-street parking issues / parking violation (contact Gordon Dash or Mike Kennon), urban planning / forecasting software, Carolina Pines Avenue resurfacing (with lack of curb, gutter, and sidewalk), the cities unfriendliness to cyclist, and more recycling with a larger bin (equal in size to our current trash bins) with single-stream collection.
Russell left us with this thought, he wants his legacy to include that his employee’s feel that he “empowered them to do good work.” And so far, he thinks he’s on the right track.