Berkley hires permanent Parks and Rec Department director

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published January 13, 2016


BERKLEY — After a year of uncertainty in the Berkley Parks and Recreation Department, the city has selected Theresa McArleton as the permanent Parks and Recreation director following the restructuring of the department and a resignation.

In February 2015, former City Manager Jane Bais-DiSessa shuffled the department by placing then-Director Tom Colwell in the deputy director position and moving McArleton, who had previously been the deputy director, into the interim director position.

Bais-DiSessa took over as interim director in April when McArleton went on maternity leave and, after an extensive hiring process, selected Art Serafinski as the new director in May. McArleton returned to her deputy director position at that time.

However, Serafinski resigned from the department in August, a move that Bais-DiSessa did not elaborate on at the time, other than saying it was a personnel matter.

McArleton once again was named interim director during the search process and eventually was named the permanent director at the end of the year by interim City Manager Richard Eshman.

“A big catalyst for me applying for the position was I grew up in Berkley and have worked almost eight years for the city, so I have a deep commitment here both for the community and the city,” McArleton said. “This is a position I want for a very long time, and in my mind this is a department I care deeply about and feel invested in and think having someone that is familiar with the community, the streets and parks, that will play into more stability.”

When Colwell eventually stepped down from the department following the restructuring, McArleton didn’t apply for the director position that eventually went to Serafinski. The decision, she said, mostly had to do with her personal life.

“I was on maternity leave at that time, and some things were personally not great timing for me to apply for the director position,” she said. “At that point in time, it didn’t feel like the right fit for me. I was undecided when Art resigned, but I did end up applying because I did feel I was ready, and it felt like the right move for the department.”

After deciding to apply, McArleton said she met with Eshman, who is the city’s public safety director and the interim city manager since Bais-DiSessa’s departure in October, to discuss the position.

“We’re thrilled to have Theresa in the director’s position,” Eshman said via email. “She is a team player and a great fit for the team at Parks and Recreation.”

McArleton previously had served as the assistant to the city manager for four years before moving into the deputy parks and recreation director position nearly four years ago. She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and public policy from Albion College, and her master’s degree in public administration from Wayne State University.

When the deputy parks and recreation director position opened up, McArleton said it was Bais-DiSessa who suggested she fill the role.

With a background working in sports camps and recreational programs, McArleton said she felt she had the right mindset to help the Parks and Recreation Department — then and now.

“One of the biggest things you do in parks that may not be in other departments is customer service,” she said. “People don’t have to be part of our programs or use our parks, so we need great customer service so people want to come back to the parks or ice arena, and we really have to provide those programs and spaces that people want to be in.”

Moving forward, McArleton said the biggest project she will be tackling in the near future is the parks and recreation five-year master plan. The plan had a draft completed in mid-December, and the goal is to have the final plan submitted to the state by mid-February.

The Oxford property also will be a big project. The city purchased land from the Berkley School District near Merchant Park and is setting up plans on how to develop the area, a process that will take a few years, McArleton said.

Being a 1999 Berkley High School graduate, McArleton said she is excited to have the opportunity to make a big impact on her community.

“I love Berkley; it runs through me,” she said. “I grew up going to every park here, and I believe the department and staff and volunteers we have here are phenomenal.”