City interviews Parks director candidates

Gerry Logan

Reginald Burton, Jr.

Edward Smtih

Digby Whyte

Staff Writer

The Starkville Board of Aldermen interviewed the four candidates for the vacant Parks and Recreation Department director position during its special called meeting Tuesday afternoon.

The four candidates for the position are Reginald Burton, Jr., of Merrillville, Indiana; Gerry Logan, of Starkville; Edward Smith, of Jackson, Tennessee, and Digby Whyte, of Bordeaux, France.

Burton has worked as the operations manager for the University of Notre Dame since 2015, moving to the position after serving as the director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Lake Station. He has also served as the park supervisor for Chicago Park District. He has also coached, started a non-profit and served as the operations manager of Student Activities at Notre Dame.

Burton said on arriving to Starkville, the first thing he noticed was the need for beautification in Starkville's parks and the lack of color.

"It's no use in building new if you can't take care of the old," Burton said. "So I would say, first and foremost that's my goal."

Burton said in order to meet the community's wants and needs, not just for children, but for older citizens, he has found surveys successful in the past.

While serving as Parks and Recreation director, Burton said he was part of the construction of Field of Dreams, which included three baseball fields, a skate park, a playground, pavilions and a basketball court.

Burton said his strategy for fundraising, implementing the department's master plan and managing the department starts with the staff and implementing professional development when needed. He said the department must also think outside the box to create unique programming at a low cost, along with focusing on beautification.

"A leader is only as good as the team, so we need to see what we need to do to improve the staff and do everything we need to be able to get the job done," Burton said. "It starts there, for me."

Burton said his goal is to create programs for children at low costs that will reach every child, because not every resident brings home the same income.

Burton said to help raise funds for the department, which will help with new construction and ongoing maintenance as well as keep program costs low, the department needs to be visible in the community and create partnerships with schools, businesses and civic organizations.

Logan currently serves as the interim Parks and Recreation director after Herman Peters was terminated last winter amid an embezzlement investigation. Logan previously was the special events supervisor in College Station, Texas.

When asked about plans to build a tournament facility in Starkville, Logan said he would love the opportunity to be a part of it and lead in the building of the facility.

"I'm confident that I want that in the Parks and Recreation Department and put all the people in place to do all the things that need to be done there," Logan said. "A facility of that magnitude will need its own staff, especially when it comes to maintenance."

Logan said in relation to both children and adults in the community, he started the State of the Parks Initiative to receive feedback and discussions with residents. He has also organized clean-up days at parks in the city with local civic organizations and partnered with schools.

Logan said the culture difference between College Station and Starkville has been his biggest challenge in his time as interim director.

"Parks and Recreation is not just ball fields and sports programs," Logan said. "It's really a professional culture that affects nearly every aspect of daily life. Culture is an ongoing challenge and I'm trying to instill that."

Logan said his goals for the department, along with the new athletic facility, include readjusting programming, utilizing partnerships, continuing relationships with his many in- and outof-state contacts, and making Starkville unique with amenities such as synthetic turf. He said he also want to continue to be a face for the organization and use social media to show what Parks and Recreation can do for the masses.

"Starkville can be unparalleled in the state, I said it in my cover letter and I truly believe it," Logan said. "We are in a great position to succeed and we've seen in a short time the passion people have for this city."

Smith is currently the director of Parks and Recreation for Madison County, Tennessee. He has also served similar roles in Mount Holly, North Carolina, and Gwinnett County, Georgia.

Smith, a graduate of Mississippi State University, said his first reaction of Starkville's parks was that, for the size of Starkville, the city has good facilities and amenities, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.

Smith said he would like to see walking paths or trails between parks, along with expanding or adding another pool.

Smith said the biggest challenge is the amount of athletic fields compared to what other towns in competition with Starkville have to offer.

"Parks and Recreation is not necessarily a money maker, per say," Smith said. "It can be if it's done correctly, it can be a driving force economically by bringing tournaments in and bringing people into hotels and restaurants. It's also a very determining factor of people who are wanting to relocate to your area."

Smith said he also likes to receive feedback on the wants and needs of the residents of the community.

As far as fundraising, Smith said he has been involved with sponsorships, corporate underwriting and grants. He said while he was in Mount Holly, the city was recognized by Playful City USA for two years, and he received grant money through KaBOOM! to build a playground.

"I think Parks and Recreation is a vital part of the community," Smith said. "I think I come here with experience and the new ideas. I've seen what works and what doesn't work, and different things work in different places."

Whyte has worked as the Chief Executive International Federation of Parks and Recreation for World Urban Parks for four years. He also served as the executive contract officer for the Department of Natural Resources Environment of the Arts and Sports. He has served in various parks roles in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

"In this opportunity, I hope that I can bring some international sense and be grounded with some American experience too," Whyte said.

Whyte said he has been involved with grants for a $1 million stream restoration project and been part of a team involved with a fundraising campaign for corporate sponsors to rename a stadium.

In an effort to serve children and older members of the community, Whyte said multipurpose facilities should be utilized. Whyte said he wants to focus on the big picture of the department and develop and create a collaborative effort with staff and the community by delegating as much as possible.

"What my experience shows is that no matter how big your city is, you're going to face similar challenges," Whyte said.

Whyte said his last jobs lasted around four years because that's how long it takes to get to know a community, create solutions for the department, and he said he views this job as a project.

After a brief time in executive session, no action was taken by the board. The board recessed until 3 p.m. July 17.