Finance committee discusses future direction for managing city parks
Committee weighs options to handle Gunder Paulsen’s retirement
BY KEVIN BONESKE
Though Rhinelander’s Finance, Wage and Salary Committee was in support Tuesday of posting internally for current city employees to apply for the parks, buildings and grounds director position that longtime city employee Gunder Paulsen plans to retire from in early January, committee members also discussed other possible options as to how to manage that department in the future.
Committee member Alex Young made reference to a controversial proposal backed in 2010 by then-city administrator Bill Bell that would have involved the city consolidating “turf management” of the parks and golf course with additional seasonal part-time employees, instead of having a full-time parks director position, with the stated intent of achieving more work production at a cost savings.
“It didn’t go through at the time for a bunch of different reasons, but there was discussion back then that the right time to do it would be whenever we had a retirement in the parks director spot,” Young said. “That would be right now, so I don’t know whether we want to consider taking a look at this, how we’ve got that (department) structured, or not.”
Current city administrator Kristina Aschenbrenner said that while both the parks and golf course are involved in mowing grass during the summer months, the two have different operations. She favored continuing with a separate parks, buildings and grounds director.
“To give justice to the parks system, I think having that dedicated person (would be best),” Aschenbrenner said. “You have to think it’s not just parks – it’s buildings, it’s grounds, it’s cemetery, it’s urban forestry, it’s a lot.”
Committee member Dawn Rog said the parks, buildings and grounds department is “an equal department of all departments in the city.”
“It’s just as important as fire and police to the city taxpayers,” she said.
Committee chairman Mark Pelletier said the only savings with doing away with a parks director would be having one person who is a foreman rather than a department head.
“It would save the city $8,000 to $10,000, and we’d create ourselves $30,000 worth of headaches and the parks would end up looking like crap,” Pelletier said. “That’s not an insult to anyone doing anything, but the longer I’ve been here the more I realize that (department heads) do have some great intricate work that they do, too.”
A memo from Aschenbrenner to the committee notes the internal posting is being sought “with the hope that a qualified candidate can be found and a training/transition period can be implemented. If the internal posting does not yield a qualified candidate, we will then create an alternative succession plan and determine optimal dates to advertise for outside recruitment.”
Upon the internal posting being finalized Monday by the full City Council, currently city employees would be notified in a memo that they have until July 22 to apply for the parks director position. The city would interview those employees who submit a letter of interest in the position and meet the qualifications. The city may also choose to advertise the position and accept applications prior to conducting final interviews.