On many occasions over the past several years I have written the mayor and commission and asked why no one seems interested in the slow, deliberate dismembering of the Department of Leisure Services. I have asked why the mayor and commissioners allowed the department to be reorganized, especially when it was done with a deliberate decision by the manager’s office to not tell you what was being done until after the fact. I have asked why the commission paid $150,000 for a master plan no one read and that was not used when reorganizing the department. I have asked why a finance administrator was hired to help justify the position and pay of another employee who was supposed to be handling finances for years.
I also have asked about the propriety of the director of leisure services working with her husband, also an Athens-Clarke County employee, to make decisions about how Leisure Services is operated, and about pulling something over on mayor, commissioners and managers by having all the work Leisure Services didn’t want to do transferred to Central Services.
I have also written to Manager Alan Reddish expressing my concern that Leisure Services Director Pam Reidy was thinking of moving her office into the Lyndon House, which violated all the reasons citizens of ACC worked so hard to fund the expansion of the facility and the service it provides to the community. The people of Clarke County worked hard to plan a new wing for the Lyndon House, to acquire SPLOST funding and to see that the Lyndon House became a comprehensive center for the arts. Tearing that apart under the misguided leadership now in charge would be a travesty.
In my letter to Mr. Reddish, I asked why Reidy and Kent Kilpatrick have been allowed to remain in their positions and to steadily undermine the morale and ability of the employees for whom they are responsible. As seems to be normal procedure, Alan did not deem the inquiry of a mere citizen to be worthy of a reply.
I have not asked these questions lightly, and I have expected substantive answers from elected officials. Unfortunately, none have ever been offered.
Meanwhile, I hear people who volunteer their time, their talent, and their money to make Athens-Clarke County one of the best places to live in the U.S. saying our local government is not listening. I learn of people asking honest questions about why programs are being cut, why educational classes are considered not useful, why experienced professional staff are not allowed input into the programs for which they are responsible, why the Natural Resources Division was eliminated and why the Oconee River Greenway Commission has been quietly undermined. When they ask these questions, all they learn is that the employees in the Department of Leisure Services are being accused of talking to the public they are supposed to serve and encouraging the public to find out why such poor management is allowed. Personally, I cannot blame them, because if there is this much trouble in Leisure Services, what must be happening in other departments?
I spent my career in recreation and leisure services, part of it as superintendent of parks for the City of Athens, part as director of leisure services for the City of Charleston, SC, and part as head of the UGA Recreation Technical Assistance Office helping agencies throughout Georgia. I wrote the chapter on recreation and parks in the Handbook for Georgia County Commissioners and in the Handbook for Georgia Mayors and Council Members. In over 30 years in the field of parks and recreation, I have never felt the need to question management knowledge, skills or ability of my fellow professionals. I feel that need now and have for several years, because it is difficult to watch what is happening to one of the departments that always made Athens-Clarke County such a great place to live. It is especially hard to watch employees who have worked hard to do their best to serve the public become demoralized because of the way they have been treated. I hope each of you will begin to ask questions of the manager and of any and all employees of the county. Yes, I have heard that employees are not allowed to talk to elected officials or the public, but that seems a bit absurd. What person doesn’t feel he or she has the right to expect certain things from the people they hire and the right to talk with them? Maybe it is time to review how the manager’s office and its employees are evaluated before all the good government services and departments that have been built over the years are totally destroyed.
Please don’t allow a few poor managers to destroy a department that has been one of the most envied in the state for many years.