According to a memo shared with us by a reliable source, Seattle Parks Superintendent Tim Gallagher has just turned in his letter of resignation. By all accounts, the department is facing a budget crisis – as we reported here a month ago – and may be hit the hardest of any department, according to what City Council President Richard Conlin told the Southwest District Council in West Seattle earlier this month. Read ahead for the memo that includes Gallagher’s resignation letter (ADDED TUESDAY MORNING, reaction from West Seattle-residing Parks Board chair Jackie Ramels):
First, Gallagher’s memo:
As many of you know, I just returned from Australia. It was clear to me upon my return, that the focus of attention was not on the sustainability of the department, the real issue at hand. After careful consideration and discussion with my family I feel it is better to remove myself from the center of the discussion, so instead the focus can be on the long-term financial stability of the department.
My letter of resignation reads below. I want to express my sincere appreciation for the great strides we have all made as a department, and I want to assure you that I will continue to work on the issues that are important here.
April 26, 2010
To: Mayor Mike McGinn
Council President Richard Conlin and Seattle City Council
From: Tim Gallagher, Superintendent Parks & Recreation
Subject: Letter of Resignation
Effective May 10, 2010 I will resign my position as Superintendent of Parks and Recreation for the City of Seattle.
When I decided to return to work in 2007 my decision was based not only on the opportunity to manage one of the great park systems within the United States but my continued concerns with the issues of environmental sustainability and obesity, especially with the long-term health effects towards children. During my time with Seattle I have made those issues a primary effort and one that was recognized by the Seattle public as important.
Further, I worked to develop an organization with a culture of learning and one that placed a value on the systems greatest resource, its employees. I worked to develop and encourage a learning environment within the organization, bringing in new ideas and concepts and tracking the trends and developments in the field, not only in the United States but world-wide. Further, I made an effort to reach out to the public as was evident by my 200 plus after hour public meetings each year.
As with many professions, continuing education is important to not only the sustainability of the profession but the requirement to be up to date. Recently the department sent nearly three dozen employees to the annual Washington Parks and Recreation Society’s annual conference. This is but one example of the many learning experiences and continuing education opportunities that the employees have been provided to attend during my term with the City. The investment in the employees has many positive outcomes, including, but not limited to the development of staff and delivery of services to the public.
I will stand by my efforts to develop this learning environment within the department not just as it relates to the employees but more importantly as it relates to the long-term sustainability of the department. Clearly, the subject of long-term sustainability is one that must be addressed in the next year. Voter approval of several recent levys shows the tremendous public support for parks and recreation, unfortunately operation and maintenance resources have not been provided to the department to match the public’s request. The result is a park and recreation system that is now unsustainable and in jeopardy of collapse.
Unfortunately, the press has decided to focus on other matters and not the real story, the upcoming collapse of a truly great park system. With the reality of the direction of the focus, I believe it is best for me to step aside to allow the press to concentrate on the real issue at hand, the sustainability of the park and recreation system for the City of Seattle.
Over the past several months we have suggested several avenues to develop a level of sustainability, from elimination of lines of business, to asking the voters to decide on new revenue to support the current system. My hope is that all elected officials step forward and fully evaluate the opportunities at hand.
What he appears to be referring to in the defense of education and the mention of “the press has decided to focus on other matters” is the recent PubliCola report that he had been away at conferences for three of the past six weeks. (In the story that’s linked, the site also says he may be up for a King County job.) 11:33 PM UPDATE: After reading this WSB story, county spokesperson Frank Abe e-mailed us to say, “… Mr. Gallagher is not a candidate for any position with the county.” 8:19 AM TUESDAY: We asked Parks Board chair Jackie Ramels of Alki for reaction to Gallagher’s resignation – here’s what she e-mailed back:
Our wonderful parks system has been built by a succession of leaders who have each left their indelible mark. Tim is committed to everything symbolized by the “Healthy Parks, Healthy You” slogan, and he worked hard to raise awareness of personal fitness and the role that parks can have for every individual. He works fast and works smart. One half of that equation runs contrary to Seattle culture. My favorite Gallagher project is the Bell Street Boulevard, and it’s a lovely legacy to leave our city. I have truly enjoyed working with him. He is absolutely correct in focusing on the financial challenges facing our parks today. Tim had the foresight to anticipate the challenges facing our system several years ago, and now, we need all the attention focused on long-term sustainability.
On a side note, we have one of the best urban parks systems in the US. I think many Seattle residents don’t understand how fortunate we are – throughout the country recreation facilities have been underfunded for years. Many have closed their doors permanently. Seattle voters are generous; we cherish our parks. The superintendent leads a department that’s close to the hearts of many residents; he (or she) is also a political appointee. A thick skin has to be one of the job requirements. The real test, I think, is what’s left behind.