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Direction for next Parks and Rec Director (non-sports)

If the city is considering putting out a help wanted ad for Parks and Rec Director on its social media this week, I can help them with it. Here’s a glance of what something realistic would look like:

Wanted: Parks and Rec Director

Job Description: Oversee Milner Recreation Center, a state-of-the-art facility that holds programs few people know about, leagues that everybody complains about and has services that tens of people asked for (Must be able to ignore anybody who asks for an indoor pool). Also, develop parks across the county so people think you’re doing something and try to embrace the booming? tourism to the community with some kayaks. Ultimately, you’ll serve as the city’s scapegoat when millions are spent and people start asking why that money needed to be put towards a project nobody seems to be happy with.

Previous experience required: Relevant experience in community relations, spending taxpayer’s money and ass kissing of local officials.

Education requirement: Whatever level the city needs to establish that excludes anybody from McMinnville. A BS in BS is the minimum.

Honestly, it seems pretty good for me. I’m sure there will be plenty of applicants as well – actual good ones too (not just the one person who hits all the above criteria). Maybe they qualified ones even get a look, if the city doesn’t already know who they are going to fill the recently vacated position with (and, my guess is when you fire somebody a week before Christmas, you already know the replacement). Either way, Scott McCord won’t be a whipping boy for McMinnville anymore, as it has been reported by the Southern Standard that he was terminated from employment just months shy of his 10-year anniversary.

As always, we’ll never know the real reason why McCord was let go. The city won't comment and McCord won't either. There could be 100 behind-the-scenes things playing into it or it could be something as simple as needing somebody to fall on the sword of the $10 Million Milner Recreation Center project that seems like a huge waste of money to date. Anyway, Scott got one of the worst presents you can ever receive from Santa – walking papers right before the holidays. When I went into management, I found out quickly there isn’t really a good day to fire somebody – but wow, a week before Christmas? You’d think he would’ve had to made some headline news to get canned right now.

I’ve been living back in McMinnville since Scott was hired back in 2012 and even had a chance to sit down with him to discuss city leagues a few times. Personally, I really don’t know if he’ll leave a legacy behind as Parks and Rec Director, but he was an easy enough guy to get along with for me. I always got the impression he had his hands tied any time there was a common-sense approach to issues that caused public uproar (applying some common sense was usually the answer). I don't know if McCord could move the needle or get things back in the right direction, but I never thought he was the person pushing them the other way either.

For all I know, this could stem from Parks and Rec asking for a grant to devise a "Master Plan" months ago when construction was still ongoing. Yikes!

Maybe I’m just naïve about McCord's performance or maybe I’m just quick to blame “big government” in these times. At the very least, I feel like I earned the right to be skeptical of a city department because of their ability to clog everything up with chain-of-command and red-tape issues. I watched them add position after position to try to run local sports leagues that used to be done by volunteers, sometimes just one, and fail – miserably. When you’re tied up in that kind of mess, what can you really do?

Anyways, there are obvious issues McCord’s replacement will need to fix that won’t be easy. Hopefully though, he or she won’t have to inherit a $10 million monkey on their back.

While the person who takes over the Parks and Recreation Director position will inevitably be responsible for making Milner Recreation Center (somewhat) worth the money spent to make it nice and shiny, they shouldn’t be judged as harshly as the city officials who approved the project (unless, of course, a promotion is made within of somebody who was also involved).

The new director probably won’t be somebody who was in on the planning and construction of a project that fell nearly eight months behind and needed over 70 change orders in a two-year period to get done. They also won’t have to take some share of responsibility for said project lacking an indoor pool – basically the one thing pretty much everybody in the community thought the Civic Center was missing before it got a facelift and name change.

Operating with that kind of clean slate will be nice for somebody, but it won’t change the fact they’ll be accepting a position in a department that draws plenty of public scrutiny (Praise, as with every position, it usually given out sparsely and silently). You’ll be the person who has to answer to city officials that could throw you under the bus at a moment’s notice and running a facility that parents are fleeing from every year.

I know the Parks and Rec Director has a multitude of responsibilities (or, at least, I hope they do) and there are people in other, lower director positions hired to get the ball rolling, but – for me – priority No. 1 for the next person should be finding some way to make local sports attractive to kids again.

Having a brand-new, fancy building is great. That building sitting mostly empty throughout the year isn’t great.

I remember back when the city made the decision to rejuvenate all the local city fields. They spent a bunch of money (although, nowhere near $10 Million) to make the seven fields look great – new dirt, new fencing, the works. The promise before was the park would draw in tournaments and people from everywhere because they’ll be so nice.

Well, they were nice. And nobody came because the city couldn’t find a way to bring them here. Only a handful of tournaments ran for the first few years, a slow-pitch tourney here and there, but there was never the big, three-day, 50-team tournaments people envisioned. Of course there wasn’t – the city couldn’t handle that.

It’s a shame too because I’ve traveled for tournaments (playing or watching) since I was 10. Over the years, every location started to look the same – a clover park, where four fields faced outward from a central location (usually a concession stand). There would be no shade, nowhere to get away for an hour or two between games and rest – just fields and concrete.

McMinnville’s city fields would be great for youth tournaments. It wouldn’t be bad for some large adult softball tournaments, though they don’t have enough of the right size fields for the weekend warriors who like slamming softball and beers – which are outlawed on the premises the last time I checked (or was told to leave for having a cold one visible; Always have a koozie or a cup).

The fields should be put to use but haven’t ever since the remodeling. Even on nights when the leagues are in “full swing” during the summer, you’re just as likely to have a field sitting empty as you are to have one active. Rarely, if ever, do you see all seven fields packed anymore.

I fear that will be the same case for Milner Recreation Center. It may have all the bells and whistles you need to make people ooh and aah, but there can’t be any oohs or aahs if nobody is there. At some point, you have to find a way to showcase the Center.

I made the point last month that Milner Recreation Center should be out begging the county leagues to host their preseason and postseason basketball tournaments at the gym. It shouldn’t be about making money either (they could give the gate to the schools and keep the concessions), it should only be about getting people in a new place where the aura could grow. It should be a destination spot for kids growing up playing sports – you should want people telling stories in 20 years about how “I hit the game-winning shot at Milner Recreation Center” (It’ll probably take 20 years for people to stop calling it the Civic Center too).

It shouldn’t stop there. Take a page out of the Erick Baird playbook for years ago and try to get a Sun Drop Romp going. Bring in high school teams for a big tournament during Thanksgiving or Christmas Break and have the ball bouncing from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. for a week. Reach out to one of our local hotels as a sponsor – especially if you’re bringing in an out-of-state team – and roll with it.

While we’re on suggestions – let me get back to outside. Call Phillip King and see if the WCHS baseball team would want to play a game or tournament at Edley Newman Field every year. King is doing a tremendous job bringing Pioneer history back to Patrick Ramsey Field, but maybe he wouldn’t mind returning once or twice to the place where many memories were made when Warren County Senior High was making pushes to the state tournament in the 80s and 90s.

Also, bring back the chicken sandwiches I loved as a kid. OK, maybe put that way down on the priority list (but remember it, please).

While we’re digging up memories, what about finding a way to run softball and baseball camps throughout the summer for kids that encourages them to come out and play sports all day. Heck, I know three softball players from Warren County who did their best to put together a camp this year for kids and the only involvement Parks and Rec had in that was taking their money for renting the fields. Great job, Parks and Rec!

Again, I know the next Parks and Rec director is going to have more on their plate than youth sports, but I’d say the easiest way they could guarantee themselves job security (other than becoming big buddies with aldermen) would be having hundreds of happy kids running around, year-round, at the complex.

If that means figuring out a way to chop some of the cost of the leagues down, do it (I mean, how many city league entrants could’ve been paid for with $10 million?). If that means going back to paying cash/writing checks for score keepers and refs/umpires at the end of the night to get good ones, do it (find 1099s, petty cash, something to get those gigs off punching the clock and being city employees). Maybe that means trying to find ways to attract travel teams from other communities to come play here some (instead of finding ways to annoy our parents so much that they go play in surrounding counties).

If you can’t do any of that with new leadership, then maybe the next person will be able to convince the city of something that has seemed obvious since they took over baseball, softball, basketball and soccer – they aren’t good enough to keep it running. Let the people have it back.

I could go another 1,000 words about how Milner Recreation Center would be wise to look into holding concerts again – Seriously, try finding somebody who has lived in Warren County in the last 3-4 decades that doesn’t have a story about seeing a good artist at the Civic Center. You can’t do it – I saw Tim McGraw, Lone Star and, as my parents love to remind me, I fell asleep during Brooks and Dunn there. I wasn’t ready to Boot Scootin’ Boogie that night. I won’t keep hammering away though.

I wish the next person the best of luck. They are definitely going to need it.

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