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La Grande City Parks and Recreation workers Tee Gandy, in backhoe, and Bob Leonard continue preparing the Y Street park in north La Grande for new playground equipment. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
No immediate major changes in the works for La Grande Parks and Recreation Department
Despite losing the parks director last week, the La Grande Parks and Recreation Department will continue to function normally.
City Manager Robert Strope said he is in the process of evaluating the position to fill it since Mark Touhey vacated the position Friday.
“Any time a key individual leaves an organization, it’s a good practice to see if there’s anything we should do differently,” Strope said.
That means he will look at the job description and at the department’s structure. He noted that under the city’s fiscal constraints, that also means looking at the salary range for the job. Currently, the salary is on the same level as that of the fire chief, police chief and pubic works director.
“They’re not equitable in terms of responsibility,” Strope said.
In a Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission meeting Tuesday night, Strope told commissioners he plans to start advertising the position sometime next month.
The advisory commission plus some community members active with the department will be selected to review proposals and applications.
In the meantime, Strope has picked up the responsibilities of the director position.
“Each week he meets with the parks personnel and reviews what’s going to happen through the week, so he’s continuing to be on top of that,” said Steve Antell, a member of the commission.
Antell said there was some concern prior to the meeting over uncertainty for the department, but that it appears that there will not be any major changes in the near future — like getting rid of the director position, privatizing the parks or otherwise doing a big restructuring of the department.
The commission will continue to work on improving Morgan Lake.
“We still have concerns about being able to have some kind of a management presence at Morgan Lake because there has been continued vandalism,” Antell said. (Tuesday), a tree had been cut down and trash is a steady problem, Antell said. “There are various ideas being talked about. That’s still going to be worked out when the new parks director arrives.”
Mark Touhey said Friday that he is proud of everything he accomplished with his team during his tenure as parks and recreation director, a position he held for more than 10 years.
Touhey said the department has added acreage to parks, nearly doubling the size of Pioneer Park. The pavilion at Riverside Park was replaced with a full kitchen added. The greenway project, which will eventually link Riverside Park with Island City, was also a big project Touhey helped start. Touhey also noted upgrades to Morgan Lake, including restrooms, piers, campsites and dam safety.
“We’ve accomplished a heck of a lot with very little,” he said. “I hope the public will continue to support the parks going forward.”
Touhey said the list is long with many people to thank, though he has always been glad to work in La Grande because of the support.
“One of the reasons I was so excited about working here was the community involvement,” he said. “I just hope people recognize the value of parks in the future.”