“Lee Kleinman, a member of the park board search committee, said only a few applicants were considered serious contenders. There aren’t many municipal park systems as large as that in Dallas.
‘That was a challenge,’ Kleinman said, ‘but there were a number of good candidates from park systems that are within the target range. They might not be as big as ours, but they are large systems.'”
Dallas’ search for a new park director, the first in two decades, attracted 114 applications from across the country.
The list has been whittled to five finalists, three of them current assistants in the city’s Park and Recreation Department.
The finalists are assistant director Daniel Huerta; assistant director John Jenkins; assistant director Willis Winters; Subhajeet Seve Ghose, parks and recreation director in Davenport, Iowa, since 2008; and Sue Black, parks, recreation and culture director in Milwaukee County, Wis., from 2004 until this summer.
A seven-member committee of the Dallas park board plans to meets Thursday with the three internal candidates. Those interviews could each take two hours or more. The committee will interview the two outside candidates on Dec. 13.
Lee Kleinman, a member of the park board search committee, said only a few applicants were considered serious contenders. There aren’t many municipal park systems as large as that in Dallas.
“That was a challenge,” Kleinman said, “but there were a number of good candidates from park systems that are within the target range. They might not be as big as ours, but they are large systems.”
Officials said there is no firm timetable for replacing Paul Dyer, who is retiring after running the park department for about 20 years. Dyer is credited with helping create a more sophisticated and diverse park system in Dallas. During his tenure, Fair Park was renovated, the Dallas Zoo was expanded, Klyde Warren Park opened over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway, and the city’s trail system was increased to more than 100 miles.
In Dyer’s absence, the department is being run by interim director Barbara Kindig. She did not apply for the permanent position, saying she hopes to return to her job as assistant director of administration and business service.
Initially, park board members announced their intention to find a new director from within the department. They changed direction and launched a nationwide search after criticism from City Council member Dwaine Caraway, who said Dallas deserved the “best and brightest director that this nation has to offer.”
Caraway wanted the board to hire a professional search firm. Board members balked at that as an unnecessary expense but agreed to broaden their search.
At the same time, some members bristled at what they perceived as interference from Caraway. The park board — not the City Council — selects the park director.
On Wednesday, Caraway’s reaction to the result of the search was mixed at best. He described the effort as “somewhat of a national outreach,” adding that of the finalists, “the three that they had proposed from inside [the park department] are still there. I find it a little ironic.”
He also expressed concern that the interviews are being conducted on two different days, with the internal candidates having the first shot.
“Everyone should be interviewed in the same time frame,” Caraway said. “Those people coming in on Dec. 13, they could just be wasting their time. People might have their minds made up.”
The committee posted ads in local newspapers and on the websites of the National Recreation and Park Association, the Texas Recreation & Park Society and the Texas Municipal League. Word of mouth also contributed to the large number of applications, Kleinman said.
“When Paul resigned, it didn’t take long until the word got out,” he said.
The two external candidates could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Ghose previously worked in parks and recreation departments in Oregon, Illinois and Colorado and was the Iowa State University women’s soccer coach in 1994 and 1995.
Black worked in parks and recreation departments throughout Wisconsin and was chief of operations for Arizona’s state parks in the mid-1990s. In Milwaukee County, she was fired suddenly and without explanation in August after 10 years as director. After her ouster, Gov. Scott Walker came to her defense, saying she’d had a distinguished career in the field. The county official who fired her has been widely criticized for the move.
Of the internal candidates, Winters is probably the best known to the public.
An award-winning architect, he was a leader of the city’s parks renaissance plan, its downtown parks master plan and many other projects over a long career with the city.
Jenkins’ role is less public. He manages the park system’s massive maintenance services operation, with 300 employees responsible for upkeep of everything from grounds to recreation centers.
Huerta oversees the system’s historic anchor in Fair Park and its community services arm.