Change at the top for Parks: Superintendent Tim Gallagher resigns

April 26, 2010 at 6:13 pm | In West Seattle news, West Seattle parks | 25 Comments

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.

Sincerely,
Tim Gallagher

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.

25 Comments

  1. Good riddance! Tim had no idea what he was doing…

    Comment by Ben Jammin' — 6:30 pm April 26, 2010 #

  2. I am not impressed when leaders jump ship in times like these.

    Not at all impressed.

    A special permit for a wedding in off limits area?
    Tacky. Tacky. Tacky.

    Comment by d — 6:35 pm April 26, 2010 #

  3. what’s wrong with taking a few days off when in a foreign county. When was the last time you took a business trip and say the weekend.

    Comment by E J — 6:48 pm April 26, 2010 #

  4. He said one of his goals as Park Director was “obesity.” HUH? WHAT??

    Who’s obesity, and what does that have to do with running a parks system????

    Comment by Say What — 7:18 pm April 26, 2010 #

  5. I think there’s more to the story.
    .
    A smart person wouldn’t fall to a site like Publicola, which no one reads, doing a piece of bad, confusing journalism that even its own commenters can’t seem to figure out.

    It would be like Don Wakamatsu stepping down because Brock & Salk don’t like him.

    Comment by Michael — 7:29 pm April 26, 2010 #

  6. @ Say What: That was my first thought too. But then I thought more about it. Of course, parks have everything to do with countering obesity. One word sums it up: exercise. And what better place to get exercise than in a free and open public park? Esp those with “jungle-gyms” or whatever term is used for them now.

    Comment by Seattle Guy — 7:47 pm April 26, 2010 #

  7. Ideally, the next Superintendent of Parks and Recreation will be able to write clear, concise sentences.

    Comment by J. J. Furlong — 8:08 pm April 26, 2010 #

  8. I initially didn’t read the his letter but I just did and that is some really poor writing. Just one choice example: “With the reality of the direction of the focus, I believe…” Sounds more like a recent college grad who needs more remedial writing classes than someone who “decided to return to work” as if he was doing the public a favor.
    .
    On a related note the more I read WSB the more I realize it’s not just the timely stories that keep me coming back – it’s the very solid writing. Even though WSB uses all the latest technologies to post text and photos it’s great that Tracy and gang use the right level of editing, punctuation and spelling to make it easy and informative to read. Thanks!!

    Comment by ScottA — 8:27 pm April 26, 2010 #

  9. Thanks, ScottA. We’re not fancy – got that out of our system many years ago – but we do try our best to be clear and thorough, no matter how much we’re churning out. And we really appreciate the folks who call us on the occasional boo-boos, including bad links and HTML goofs (hi, Lucian! :) ) … TR

    Comment by WSB — 8:47 pm April 26, 2010 #

  10. The parks belong to the people of Seattle. The past few years have been riddled with obfuscation and poor management. The city requires a leader who understands the population visiting the parks and the neighborhoods that surround the urban park settings.

    Comment by kim — 9:09 pm April 26, 2010 #

  11. Blah blah blah Mr Gallagher. So happy you are gone. What took you so long? Now go back to college and learn how to write, will ya?

    Comment by Manuela S — 11:05 pm April 26, 2010 #

  12. @ Michael

    Publicola is a site that no one reads? Give me a break. They scoop local politics much better than the Seattle Times.

    Comment by Justin — 8:59 am April 27, 2010 #

  13. He speaks of sustainability, but I’ll venture to say that our parks would be more sustainable if he hadn’t wasted so much taxpayer money on unnecessary travel. His actions show that he’s just another official who doesn’t have a clue when it comes to handling our money. He spent more in four months on travel than the entire previous years entire travel budget. And this during a major budget shortfall and city worker furloughs? He doesn’t know the first thing about sustainability. He’s just another self-entitled, greedy, selfish, incompetent. Good riddance!

    Comment by Smokie — 9:47 am April 27, 2010 #

  14. You know, WSB, I used to comment here much more often… and then these spots became filled with the same kind of uninformed useless crap that flows around the Seattle Times and P-I.com comments.
    .
    Gallagher has his faults and detractors, but he’s done a number of great things for the Parks department, and was one of the few department heads willing to not only have public meetings but attend them in person to speak with attendees.
    .
    He has been fighting hard to prevent deep, deep cuts to Seattle Parks that threaten to close all environmental learning centers, pools, and possibly some community centers.
    .
    He’s the victim of a smear campaign in the press for trying to train employees and promote our department, and for trying to keep our city from going the way of countless others around the country.
    .
    And the best several folks can do is make fun of his writing style?

    Comment by Mickymse — 2:53 pm April 27, 2010 #

  15. Well, Micky, I disagree with you that our comment section is comparable. We patrol for racism, sexism, sizism, name-calling, and a host of other things that no one else that I know of bothers to prohibit – or, if even if they do, they don’t enforce it. But if it gets to the point where I am expected also to ban people from commenting on poor grammar, we will have a list of rules longer than a day’s worth of news on the home page.
    .
    Nonetheless, I appreciate that you chose to comment on this, because frankly, the main way to have more thoughtful comments is for more thoughtful people to comment. I suspect in this case that many are not fully aware of Mr. Gallagher’s accomplishments and strong points. I sought out Jackie Ramels’ thoughts and added them to the story here earlier today – interesting perspective. I wish I could have gone to the Parks/Green Spaces Levy Oversight Committee last night, something we often cover, since it was shortly after the announcement, but I couldn’t – I did tell our partners at the Times it might be a good place to get reaction, and from their story, it looks like they took that advice.
    .
    Back to the comments – I am proud of many of the comment threads we have had here and the discussions that have ensued over problems and challenges in our community, or assistance to new businesses that ask for ideas or support, to name just a few. There is ill-informed discussion in face-to-face public meetings, not just online (which unfairly gets a bad rep for it), and that’s just the way life goes. – TR

    Comment by WSB — 3:26 pm April 27, 2010 #

  16. Gallagher did do some good things for Parks I’m sure. Its unclear to me, however, what those things are exactly. He did have a good side, I saw that mostly at his public speaking occasions.

    Many of us believe he was arrogant and combative. He was not elected by the people of Seattle and he showed a contempt for Seattle culture. We need local Department heads who are elected by us, not appointed by the Mayor. These people need to feel accountable to us.

    -He wanted to shove his native plant policy down our throats. I agree with some of the points, but the way he did it was thoughtless and he had a total disregard for what his own Department and the general public thought about it.

    -He was pushing to rotate urban farmers out of their p-patch plots in the Year of Urban Agriculture in Seattle. This really put Neighborhoods and Parks in an awkward, hostile relationship. Really stupid. We need more gardens. Kicking people off their plots discourages citizens to give farming a try.

    -He went after naked cyclists and skinnydippers. Clothing-optional beaches are the #1 most requested amenity in the Parks Strategic Action Plan and #1 most requested amenity for parks on the Mayor’s Ideas for Seattle website. That really backfired for him.

    -He wasted his political capital on a weak smoking ban in parks. Smoking is harmful and stupid but there are better ways to discourage this addictive behavior.

    Daniel Johnson
    Gardens Everywhere Bike Parade

    Comment by Daniel Johnson — 8:49 pm April 27, 2010 #

  17. I am glad to see that Tim Gallagher will be hanging up his traveling shoes at last. He has been fiddling while Rome is burning.

    My husband and I have been recently embroiled in a Seattle Park’s controversy over the removable of a retaining wall and the restoration of an unstable slope near Ravenna Park. Ironically it would be nearly impossible to remove a retaining wall without fighting city hall, but Park’s managers were insistent on the removal. This site, belonging to the Park, sits above a sensitive stream adjacent to our home. We continually tried to bring the matter to Mr. Gallagher’s attention (at times imagining he was perhaps visiting Betty Ford’s clinic), but he has been completely missing in action. Only once, during this “Battle of Seattle II”, did he reply to a neighbor’s email letter of concern with a dismissive “please answer this” e-memo, addressed to another member of his team.

    Meanwhile, a hapless crew of bungling Parks officials foiled an attempt at stabilizing a sensitive slope and negligently removed a portion of the critical retaining wall posing a threat to other’s private property. On one recent morning, I personally had to stage a desperate act of civil disobedience, in order to prevent one of their enormous dump trucks from depositing a load of fill onto the ill-fated slope. Then on April 12th, we were forced into another corner when the Parks Planning & Development crew threatened further deconstruction, and we had to recruit the actions of the Mayor’s office at the eleventh hour in order to get a stay. Not one soul or Parks official was “at home” during office hours on that Monday to answer any of our desperate phone calls at that time. Mr. Gallagher was “away” and his entire staff was on furlough. It took my midnight email letter addressed to every Parks official; the City Attorney, Peter Holmes; the Mayor’s office; and every City Councilmember, declaring we had no recourse but to hold the City accountable for all liabilities as a result of any slope failure or private property damage if the retaining wall was completely removed before they could hear our concerns.

    While we have witnessed ill-tempered Parks employees forced into making difficult decisions under extreme budget constraints and furloughs, we can be sympathetic to their situations and lack of leadership, but their irresponsible decisions are harming the Seattle Parks system in the interim. The City Parks cannot properly maintain the public lands they now own, yet we have passed recent Parks’ levies for them to buy more property. The tree is rotting from the ground up here.

    Mr. Gallagher may have noble and earnest concerns about smoking and obesity (really?), but our City Parks health and welfare is currently on life support.

    Comment by Jennifer Kennard — 12:15 am April 28, 2010 #

  18. @Justin,
    .
    Yes, nobody reads them. Whether they “scoop” anyone or not, Publicola doesn’t even register on measurement services. WSB ranks much higher than they do.
    .
    And if this is an example of their “scooping,” I can see why.

    Comment by Michael — 1:03 am April 28, 2010 #

  19. It’s amazing how the media can influence public perception. The superintendent was forced to resign because of divergent opinions on the department cost cut. The travelling expenses (6000 dollars ?) and the use of the media were just excuses.
    As we are (or were) all excited about the new parks levy that will grow the seattle parks green spaces and playgrounds (with 30 millions in land acquisition only.. parks cut is 12.5 millions), we are just finding out this will come to the detriment of closing community centers and related programs and classes (probably 3 this summer and more to come next year), the wadding pool program and swimming pools and so on..
    The mayor wants to expand the infrastructure while closing the current one and laying off city employees as a result …. think again !!!!
    Should we burn Gallagher who is talking about future sustainability of the parks or the new mayor for setting indoors recreations low on the list of priorities ?
    And yes, I love the Seattle parks but I also enjoy the pools, the classes and the toddler/baby rooms when it rains.
    BTW: English is NOT my first language (yes, I pay property tax) so i apologize for any bad writing style and grammar mistakes.
    I hope this will make you think about how the seattle parks budget cut and levy will affect you in good and bad.

    Comment by marie — 12:34 pm April 28, 2010 #

  20. Gallagher also worked very hard to remove encroachments on parks lands, and for that I am grateful. Just because a park abuts your private property, doesn’t mean it’s part of your back yard. Some privileged people think so, though: fences, hot tubs, play equipment, all over the city. Gallagher fought hard to get city property back in city control. Where was the press on this one?

    Comment by JSR — 1:11 pm April 28, 2010 #

  21. One thing I can tell you, JSR, from this corner of the news media – there were a lot of interesting parks proposals in the past year or so, when I started watching agendas and websites really closely, that just weren’t trumpeted much, for better or for worse. I “broke” several stories, including the original smoking-restrictions proposal and a possible big change in the beach-fires program, only because nobody else seemed to be reading the agendas! Those were all matters that if I were the communications folks – who are GREAT people who help us out a lot with inquiries, so I am not bashing them – I would have wanted to get advance info out in a BIG way. But certainly the policy is set from the top, and perhaps that wasn’t Gallagher’s style. I will say that when we put out one of the first detailed reports a month ago about the looming budget crisis, the Parks Board’s chair and vice chair (both West Seattleites) made time for me to speak with them and Tim G before the board meeting … I got trapped in traffic and lost most of the window they’d cleared, but it was clear that he and they were trying to get the word out (I think one other reporter, from a small newspaper in the north end, finally showed up for the budget briefing at that meeting too). Meetings, agendas, documents are not “sexy” to cover but they yield most of the real news, and are easily accessible … TR

    Comment by WSB — 1:22 pm April 28, 2010 #

  22. TR, you do a fabulous job. I don’t think the encroachments were in West Seattle (or they haven’t been discovered yet) so I wouldn’t expect you to cover them. I would expect the citywide press to take a look, though. And you’re right about the sexy stuff; the devil’s in the details. Thank you for sifting through the details. I have to laugh about the budget cuts that you reported weeks ago; I am afraid the rest of the bunch won’t see it until they start boarding up the community centers. Coming soon to a community center near you!

    Comment by JSR — 2:38 pm April 28, 2010 #

  23. Anyone who actually knows Tim Gallagher, knows him to be a powerful administrator and a very, very good man. If you are lucky enough to actually know him, you also know that he “doesn’t suffer fools gladly” and that’s probably the underlying reason for criticizing him. He fights like a champion for parks, public health and the environment and has done so for decades. He stands up for what he believes in and trys to protect his staff. He takes blame for things he shouldn’t. If he didn’t comment to the press on the issue it was because he was gagged by the mayors office!

    He has been struggling for months with the Seattle “powers that be” to find alternate funding for parks. The mayor wouldn’t hear of it. Instead the mayor is forcing layoffs and facility closures. I actually saw Tim Gallagher just before he went to the conference and the level of concern for his staff and the stress the situation was creating for him was palpable. He was not being allowed to take a course of action that could solve the problems, save people’s jobs and keep or facilities open.

    Many of us depend on our community centers and pools but the Mayor probably takes the attitude (as he did with the panhandling issue) that if he doesn’t need community centers for child care or pools to ease the summer heat then they are not necessary.

    As far as Tim Gallagher being invited to attend and present at a very prestigious international parks conference, he deserves it. As far as the cost of the trip, the only things that he didn’t pay for were his accomodation and registration fees for the conference. It would have been the same cost if he attended a week long conference in Portland. On top of this … people are forgetting that such costs were in his budget approved by the same people who want to criticize him. Any world-class administrator knows that meeting with other experts in their field is an important part of solving problems and building alliances. Only an idiot would suggest that such activities are unnecessary. In times of trouble, it’s more important than ever to learn, teach and grow. At times like this it’s important to look for innovative solutions and learn from others ways to bridge the gap. We have lost a powerful advocate for Seattle parks.

    Comment by Emerald — 3:47 pm April 28, 2010 #

  24. For those of you hung up on a professional conference get grip you idiots. The real story is about the superintend’s opposition to the Pro Parks Levy Mike Mcginn authored.

    Tim Gallagher Parks Superintendent almost certainly did not resign on his own initiative. To understand this you have to understand the most recent events, the current budget crisis, and the 2008 Pro Parks Levy.

    On Monday April 26th 2010 Mayor Mike ordered Parks Superintendent Tim Gallagher to his office immediately upon his return from his trip to Australia. It is almost certain that the Mayor gave the superintendent an ultimatum, either he resign or he would be terminated. This was allegedly because a professional conference in Australia. While the city did pay for him to attend the conference the superintendent purchased his own plane ticket for the trip. There is no conflict of interest or corruption on the part of the superintendent.

    The real reason for this has to do with the Pro Parks Levy voters recently passed in 2008. Mike Mcginn was a significant architect of this levy. When Mike Mcginn was running for office he time and again used this levy as evidence of his ability to lead the city. He bragged about his grass roots efforts and the tremendous impact this levy will have on voters. What he didn’t mention is it will further tank the already existing Parks Department.

    Lets go back to 2007 and 2008 when the first signs of the faltering economy were showing. While the economy in Seattle was still doing ok it was clear the housing bubble was ultimately going to nab us too. The city would be faced with a similar crisis to that of other cities in the country in a matter of time.

    Despite the initial signs, the soon to be mayor convinced the public to support his Pro Parks Levy. Mayor Mcginn lacked any foresight and pushed this levy from a delusional perspective of spend now and worry later. While there are many great things this levy does it’s biggest problem is the millions of dollars in new acquisition for the parks department.

    Timothy Gallagher and Mayor Nickles were opposed to the levy. I am presuming because of the acquisitions. Anyone with some foresight would realize it does not make sense to expand departments only to not be able to maintain them.

    Mayor Mcginn got elected in 2009 and took office in 2010. One of the major pillars of his election campaign has been crumbling. Timothy Gallagher has been arguing for some time now that we cannot afford to acquire millions in new assets as the levy mandates especially when the parks department is faced with a roughly 10 million deficit in 2011 from 2010 levels. Add on top of that deficit, the cost of maintaining millions in new parks and facilities as Mayor Mcginn would have it.

    This is extremely embarrassing for the mayor who has just been looking for an excuse to shut this guy up. He is ignoring all rational thought and is willing to can a dynamic city leader who in reality has been a tremendous and fiscally responsible asset the city and the Parks Department.

    Comment by PAC — 2:56 pm April 29, 2010 #

  25. While it is embarrassing to admit ones’ own mistake I found some new information. Apparently the real reason for Tim’s resignation has to do with sustainable funding for the parks department.

    From: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2011718429_gallagher28m.html

    One day after submitting his resignation, the director of Seattle Parks and Recreation aired his frustration over the “dire straits” of the budget — and his failure to convince the mayor that parks need to be funded in a different way to survive.

    He said he wanted a ballot measure to help fund operating costs. Seattle needs to consider a system like Tacoma’s, he said, where parks are run through an independent body that has the power to collect taxes.

    Comment by PAC — 10:24 pm May 2, 2010 #

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