Berkley searches for new parks director amid personnel changes

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published April 14, 2015

 Berkley City Manager Jane Bais-DiSessa is in the process of finding a new Parks and Recreation Department director.

Berkley City Manager Jane Bais-DiSessa is in the process of finding a new Parks and Recreation Department director.

Photo by Joshua Gordon


BERKLEY — The search is on for a new Berkley Parks and Recreation Department director after City Manager Jane Bais-DiSessa decided not to merge the parks department and Department of Public Works following personnel turnover.

At the beginning of February, Bais-DiSessa shuffled the management of the parks department by moving Director Tom Colwell to deputy director and placing Deputy Director Theresa McArleton into the interim director position.

Colwell remained with the department until about three weeks ago, Bais-DiSessa said, when he submitted his resignation. Colwell declined to comment for this story.

“It is a personnel matter, and I really cannot comment on that,” Bais-DiSessa said of the change of positions. “I do know that we do need to look at the organizational structure of our parks department, and there are some possibilities of some other organizational structure changes in the future. Part of the job is to always look at ways to do the job better and more efficiently and in a cost-effective manner.”

Recently, McArleton went on maternity leave, so combined with Colwell’s resignation, Bais-DiSessa has been left without a parks director, a position that she is filling for the time being. Bais-DiSessa said she hopes to fill the position within a month.

“It was just a matter of this being a timing issue and, unfortunately, right now I don’t have a parks director,” she said. “I am acting director right now, but with Theresa on maternity leave, I don’t have any direct leadership right now for the parks department.”

Because of Colwell’s resignation and McArelton’s temporary leave, Bais-DiSessa said she could not properly study the possibility of combining the DPW and the parks department, as she needed someone to fill the parks director position immediately.

Even if she would have made the decision to combine the two departments, Bais-DiSessa said it would have been tough to find the right candidate who had experience in both parks and DPW work.

“It is always good to look at new ideas that seem to be working, and the city of Royal Oak has what they call a public service director, where they combine parks and public works,” she said. “It is an unusual position because you need somebody that has (experience in) both, and that is rare. Parks have maintenance of grounds and facilities, and that is something a public works director would have in common, but the actual background experience and development of recreational programs is something that takes a while to learn.”

Bais-DiSessa said she is looking for someone who has a background in parks and recreation work, as well as experience in a managerial position, for the director vacancy.

For Berkley Mayor Phil O’Dwyer, one of the greatest assets of the city is its parks. He said that he would want someone who would know how to best utilize the parks and programs already in place, as well as come up with new ideas.

“For young families today, parks and recreation are central to their quality of life, and so when we are looking for a new director, we want someone who is creative, energetic and passionate,” he said. “Our Parks and Recreation Department has a tremendous board and volunteers that are very passionate and committed to excellence in providing these services, so we are looking for someone to lead that effort.”

With a structure already in place, O’Dwyer said the first steps for a new director will be to get caught up on what is happening and take advice from experienced personnel.

“Our Parks and Recreation Department is a vibrant department, and our new director will want to listen to the board and volunteers and understand what vision they have, and then work to implement the creative and imaginative programs valued by the people,” he said. “This department is a very strong department, and we want it to continue on that path.”