As I read "Leisure Services quietly undergoes some changes" in the Athens Banner-Herald (13 March 2011) I couldn't help wondering what was happening to Athens-Clarke County. I have always been proud that we were a community where citizens really could get involved. The government didn't always welcome the public’s involvement, but it seemed a government "of the people, by the people, for the people."
According to the article, the reorganization “will make the department more responsive and easier to manage." It also states “the public should not notice that anything’s changed."
After more than 40 years of involvement with the and its predecessors in Athens and Clarke County, the change I notice is a quiet move away from transparency and citizen involvement.
The Athens-Clarke County Department of Leisure Services is one of the best departments in Georgia and has consistently set the standard for quality programs and facilities. Achieving that status began before the unification of city and county governments and was the result of the time, work, and talents of hundreds of volunteers and of the staff of the department as it evolved to meet the needs of the community.
Two divisions have been especially prominent in serving the people of Athens-Clarke County and in making it the envy of other communities across the state and beyond: the Arts Division and the Natural Resources Division. Now after 40 years of leadership in these services the county has decided to diminish both divisions. At a time when everyone is proclaiming how green they are, I have to agree with former ACC Commissioner Carl Jordan, that dismantling the Natural Resources Division absolutely “makes no sense."
How does placing the Greenway in Park Services (a maintenance function), the Sandy Creek Nature Center in Arts Division, and in Recreation Programs make Leisure Services “more responsive and easier to manage?" It only adds new layers of bureaucratic communication complicating efficiency and effectiveness.
Apparently this new efficiency is supposed to come from “combining six divisions...into four." The six were: Arts, Park Services, Recreation, Natural Resources, Internal Affairs, and Director. The new, and supposedly better organizational chart scatters the former Natural Resources facilities and staff among what appear to be four other divisions (Operations, Park Services, Arts & Nature Programs, and Recreation).
Since no explanation was offered as to why this new arrangement is better, I wonder why Memorial Park & Bear Hollow Zoo are in the Recreation Division, while Sandy Creek Park and the Greenway are in Park Services. Also, how does Sandy Creek Nature Center fit in an Arts & Nature Programs Division? How does scattering facilities and staff with science education backgrounds among maintenance, the arts, and recreation create a situation where there will be no change for the public to notice?
Does adding Sandy Creek Nature Center to an already over worked Arts Division whose staff and administrator are trained in the arts improve efficiency? Does putting Memorial Park & Bear Hollow in the recreation division with athletics and community centers ensure that park and the zoo will be more responsive?
It could be argued that the six previous divisions were, in fact, only five. It seems everything under Internal Services is really a function of the Director’s office, unless the Director’s office only consists of two people: the director and a secretary.
If the Director’s office is, in fact, a separate division, then it could be argued that the new, “quietly reorganized” Leisure Services Department still has six divisions: Director, Operations, Park Services, Arts & Nature, Recreation Programs, and Internal Services.
However, if Internal Services is really just a function of the Director’s office then the new chart has five divisions. Only if Operations is also part of the Director’s office, along with Internal Services, are there truly four divisions in the new chart.
Re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic would not have saved the ship. I have to wonder how splitting up professional staff who have worked together for years to provide quality programs can possibly make the department easier to manage. Does adding responsibilities to other staff with no expertise in the functions for which they will be responsible not risk the eventual sinking, and disappearance, of many excellent services for which the Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services Department has been a leader in the state?
The quiet reorganization of Leisure Services is a troubling change. It has the potential to diminish or eliminate programs and facilities that have served our community long and well. Before the unification of Athens and Clarke County disagreements between the city and the county at times threatened the continuance of arts, athletics and other programs. When that happened citizens came forward, expressed their opinions and saved the programs. I hope that will happen now and that the county government will remain of the people, for the people, by the people.
Dr. Hope was the Superintendent of Parks for the City of Athens in the 1970s. He helped create the Lyndon House Arts Center, the Sandy Creek Nature Center, and the beginning of the Greenway.
As Director of Leisure Services in Charleston, SC, he brought the Parks and the Recreation departments into Leisure Services as divisions and created the Cultural Affairs division.
As a member of the University of Georgia’s public service faculty, he created the Recreation Technical Assistance Office, which provided services to city, county and the state government. He was one of the university’s appointees to the Greenway Commission, and a director of the Executive Development Program for Recreation and Park Professionals at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education.
In retirement he still consults and he helped create the Oconee River Land Trust, which he currently chairs.