One parks and rec director’s plan

Photos Courtesy of Winter Springs Parks and Recreation.

As in much of the nation, changes within our community are leading to fiscal stress and budget cuts. We’re meeting that head on, changing the way we operate by looking at specific opportunities for cost reduction.

We must do more with less. We must be bold leaders, not good followers. As those in charge of our facilities, we should take the lead and be the innovator of change. The future workforce will be marked by insight, speed and the ability to change problems into advances.

A staff member mows the outfield on a baseball field at Central Winds Park as Parks SuperintendentAlan Greene (red jacket in background) supervises as part of the documentation process.


I’ve identified three specific strategies for meeting the budget challenge: achieving goals, motivating the staff and addressing the problems. To set the goal, establish small steps and find champions, the people on the staff that can get behind your ideas and help you carry them through. To motivate the staff, celebrate their accomplishments. Plan ahead, identifying the potential for problems and organize how you’re going to address the problems.

Leadership is less about leading and more about helping people identify their role in the big picture. This helps create accountability. At the same time, it helps them realize that they’re a leader and everyone working with them is a leader.

We have to evaluate for efficiency to determine how well our resources are being used.

Dealing with change

We may determine that a cooperative agreement with an outside contractor for specific services is the most effective way to save money or enhance those services for our organization. It’s a brave and bold step that produces opposition from our staff, yet it can be a vital choice in facing budget challenges.

In the city of Winter Springs, Fla., we are contracting out the maintenance of all of our neighborhood parks, including the sports practice fields at those facilities. We’re putting these programs and processes in place to install efficiencies and mitigate costs.

It’s vital to have help throughout the organization. I was involved in the initial meetings on this, along with Alan Greene, parks superintendent, and two crew leaders. Then, Greene, the crew leaders and dedicated staffers worked through the process. We next met with the entire staff, both full-time and part-time, and told them we’d be contracting out the maintenance of the neighborhood parks, that vacant positions would not be filled, and that two of our staff members would be transferred to another department so that no one would lose their job.

We also made it clear that during a budget crunch, all positions are vulnerable.

In effect, our staff—and your staff—needs to recognize that they may be competing directly with the private sector. We have to do a better job of documenting what we do, how we do it and how well we do it. We experimented with several different kinds of forms, but they were too generic to cover the scope of what we do, so we made our own. We need the detailed information to give an accurate accounting of our program that I can present to my supervisor and our elected representatives to show that what we do is important to our residents, and this is what it takes to provide it.

Photos of specific areas are important in establishing the standards. Weather and acombination of other factors led to the problem area documented in this photo. This photo shows the former problem area in optimum condition providing a base for thestandard setting process.

Setting the standards

It’s important to calibrate and measure our successes. In evidence-based management, the decisions are made by facts. In many cases, the facts on what works are there, and the managers need to use them.

A key element is establishing the maintenance standards seasonally, quarterly, monthly and weekly. Our entire staff had functioned as one large group. So, we reorganized and formed three smaller groups and separated their duties. One group maintains Central Winds, our major park, which encompasses all of the game fields. A second group serves as the “fix-it” crew, focusing on maintenance and repairs throughout the park system. The third group encompasses our small, part-time staff. With the three smaller units, it’s easier and more effective to set the maintenance standards.

Our staff has more knowledge of the overall park system and the needs of those using our parks than outside contractors. They also have multiple skills achieved through experience and cross training. While they are on the site, they also do other tasks, and these other tasks need to be tracked and documented along with the core task assignments.

Following the lead of police departments and law firms, our staff is recording their work by 15-minute intervals. We accomplish the tasks at comparable speed and to our specified standards, and we accomplish these additional tasks all within these cost parameters.

The standards start with the description of how a specific area should look in optimum condition. We found that photographs of specific areas were important in establishing the standards. We use photos not only showing the problem areas, but also showing how those areas should look.

Then, we break that down to the tasks it takes to achieve that condition; the procedures to follow to complete each task; the equipment and maintenance required for each procedure; and the staff members and time necessary to do each procedure.

Each staff member keeps a pad to record what they are doing; how long it takes to do it; what equipment they use; and the procedures they use to do the particular task.

After they started documenting their work, the part-time staff members realized that three or four tasks of their basic assignments could be completed by the private sector in less time than their designated work hours, so they always look for additional things they could accomplish during that time. Because they also pick up trash, remove graffiti, solve restroom issues and police field use along with multiple other tasks beyond their basic assignments, they’re on the positive side of the cost factor balance.

All this data also needs to be compared within the crews. They’ll know, and we’ll know, how long it takes one staff member to mow compared to another. It’s important to recognize that, analyze it and determine the fastest pace for that mowing without compromising safety or the quality of the job. Each staff member needs to realize that their longevity in their position will come from meeting the standards established.

This is, and will be, a work in progress. Each staff member’s input goes first to their crew chief and then to Alan Greene. The data is being complied within a binder, first for Alan’s review and then for mine. We’ll be adding data as necessary as we see the various steps laid out. We’ll be plotting everything through the GIS system to further quantify the data. We’ll also be working as a team to analyze the documented facts to determine what we can do better.

Chuck Pula is parks and recreation director for the city of Winter Springs, Fla.