June 25, 2018 11:39:44 AM
The city of Starkville will soon begin the interview process for a new director of its parks and recreation department.
Aldermen have scheduled an initial round of interviews for 3 p.m. on July 10, with further interviews likely to follow. Four people have applied for the position.
Starkville Parks and Recreation has been without a permanent director since former director Herman Peters was fired on Jan. 2. Peters was also arrested and accused of embezzling more than $21,000 between January 2015 and January 2017. Three other former parks and recreation department employees were also fired for embezzling in the same general time frame.
Gerry Logan is serving as interim parks director.
The interviews for a new director comes as Starkville is turning an increasingly-focused eye on improving its parks and recreation facilities. Several aldermen told The Dispatch they're looking for a director who can lead the parks department through growth for the future.
"I think with this next director, we won't be so much looking for a maintenance-type person, but someone who can idealize, master plan and possibly create new parks on the Highway 25 bypass," Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver said. "We could possibly see some big expenditures in the near future on parks and recreation, and we want someone who can understand quality of life and how parks and recreation ties into the everyday life of constituents here."
Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk said she's looking for someone with vision and the ability to help grow the parks department. She said that's going to include recognizing that there's a balance to be struck between Starkville improving its parks as tournament-ready facilities and making improvements for general recreation activities.
"Not everyone is interested in using parks, but there are things we can to make them more attractive and more usable by a larger segment of the community," she said. "We focus a lot of attention on recreation and tournament sports. There's a segment of the community that needs and wants something else from parks like walking trails or splash pads, or I've even had people ask about fishing ponds."
Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins said he sees Starkville's parks department as an integral part of the city that offers many opportunities for quality of life improvements in the future. As such, he said he's going to go into interviews with an open mind and will look to select who he believes is the best choice for the city, moving forward.
"I am going to be keenly focused on the candidate's qualifications, experience, on-the-job training, work background and any other related credentials, if any, the candidates may possess," he said.
Four people, from Starkville, other states and another country, have applied for the position.
Logan, director of sports and recreation, and interim director since aldermen placed Peters on unpaid leave in late December, is one of the applicants. Logan previously worked as a special events supervisor in College Station, Texas.
Reginald Burton, of Merrillville, Indiana, has also applied for the position. Burton, according to information The Dispatch obtained from the city, is the current operations manager for the University of Notre Dame. He has served in that capacity since 2015. Prior to that, he served as the director of parks and recreation for the city of Lake Station, Indiana. He's also served as a park supervisor for the Chicago Park District.
Edward Smith, of Jackson, Tennessee has also applied. Smith is currently the director of parks and recreation for Madison County, Tennessee. He's served in similar roles for Mt. Holly, North Carolina, and Gwinnett County, Georgia.
Digby Whyte, of Bordeaux, France, is the final applicant for the parks director position. Whyte is the Chief Executive of the International Federation of Parks and Recreation for World Urban Parks. He's held that position for four years. Before that, he worked as the executive contract officer for the Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport in Darwin, Australia.
Sistrunk said the wide net that the search for a new director cast is evidence that Starkville's efforts and commitment are drawing attention.
"We have the advantage here that most Mississippi towns won't -- we are a college town," she said. "There's a lot going on here. As a result, we're going to be a little more attractive than some other towns. I do think that the people who've responded have done their research and know this is a point of emphasis."
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