A community conversation is planned Monday, July 18, to discuss interests and expectations for Manhattan Parks and Recreation into the future.
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board Monday was unanimous in setting the special meeting, planned for 7 p.m. in Manhattan Fire Department HQ’s meeting space. Board Chair Ed Klimek says hearing from the public is necessary.
“We’ll work with the parks department, parks & recreation, City Hall and let’s see if we can come to a good solution for this because there are a lot of folks going through trying times right now and have some concerns and I get it,” he said.
The City of Manhattan had announced the possibility in June of programs being modified or suspended depending on the city’s revenue picture into Fall and Winter, leading to organization and conversation around the topic by numerous residents.
Interim Director Wyatt Thompson presented Monday, detailing staffing struggles as well as flat and shortfalling revenues amid rising demands of the department. That’s led him to say the department needs to explore new approaches and models that build a culture of customer service with an awareness of cost – and that the public’s input will be vital in shaping the path forward.
“I think we need to come together and get on the same page as to what that looks like so that we know what the expectations are, we know what we’re able to deliver and deliver that well. I don’t know that we’ve been delivering that well for the last five to seven years because of the challenges that we’ve been facing,” he said.
Numerous residents spoke during the public comment period at Monday’s meeting, expressing support for continuing and prioritizing recreation opportunities provided by the department. Among them was Josh Runyan, a sixth grade teacher and coach. He vouched for the physical, emotional and relational value of rec programs provided by the department – as well as questioned what’s causing staffing issues at the department.
“I don’t know what’s going on. A lot of it’s just things that I’m hearing and being told from others, but when you go from 11 full-time employees down to four, that’s concerning. I’ve heard that could go down to 2 by Aug. 1. That’s even more concerning for me,” he said.
Thompson has stepped in for the retired Eddie Eastes in the interim director role. He detailed difficulties attracting qualified applicants as well as paying competitive salaries – something he says recent pay adjustments by the city should help. Board member Karla Hagemeister also noted the strain that flat or falling city revenues placed on staff over the past five years.
“A finite number of staff can only carry an ever-expanding load for so long before the cost outweighs the benefit to them as individuals. I have to imagine the burnout level is pretty high. We’ve increased responsibilities, but decreased people,” she said.