The search to find Tullahoma’s next Parks and Recreation Director has come to an end, as city officials appointed Dave Anderson to the position.
Anderson was approved to be the new parks director at the Oct. 11 meeting of the Tullahoma Board of Mayor of Alderman based on the recommendation of City Administrator Jennifer Moody. Anderson will start by early November and will be relocating to Tullahoma from East Tennessee.
According to a memo from Moody, Anderson currently serves as Recreation Center Manager for Gatlinburg Parks and Recreation and will bring over 29 years of experience working with children, adults and senior populations in recreation and leisure services. She added when she spoke to Anderson’s references, they all described Anderson’s energy as “infectious” and “positive” and is credited for creating a positive work environment and strong partnerships throughout his 29-year career.
One example given was that he was the catalyst behind joining together the baseball leagues in both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, which has resulted in growing participation from three teams to more than 10 teams.
Moody detailed the hiring process, which she noted was a “multi-step process” that informed her decision. She first relied on a panel from the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) and human resources and management consultants from across the state. That panel identified three finalists for the positions based on their skills and critical competencies. Next, Moody said, a community panel selected by her evaluated the finalists. Finally, Moody said, all candidates participated in a one-on-one interview with her.
She praised the hard work of all the employees in the parks and rec department and thanked interim Director J.P. Kraft, Program Manager Lyle Russell and Aquatics Coordinator Shelia Rico, who she said went beyond the call of duty to do everything necessary to continue park operations.
Moody said she believes Tullahoma’s parks system has been a great source of community pride and expects the new director to build upon that foundation.
Moody said over the next few months she hopes to see the full list of recommendations for the Think Tullahoma 2040 plan and a master parks plan for the department. She expects the new director will work with key staff to find and compete for grants as well as implement capital projects as identified by the five year capital plan that is currently under development.
“Mr. Anderson is well prepared to lead our parks team and become a valued member to our Tullahoma community,” Moody said. “I believe he will work quickly to assess and learn about our facility and parks, work with our sports councils in order to create a vision for the next one to five years and I believe he will lead collaboratively when working with both inside the department and with outside.”
Following a motion to approve the recommendation, Alderman Sernobia McGee asked Moody if Kraft was given an opportunity to be mentored or coached to meet the qualifications Moody was looking for.
“I believe he was,” Moody said.
Alderman Jenna Amacher took issue with recommendation and asked Moody how Kraft failed to meet her expectations since serving in the interim position. She pointed out Kraft has not been written up or disciplined and did everything asked of him while being responsible for running the department, listing multiple examples of his leadership, such as the soap box derby and Independence Day events, staffing the community centers, putting together the dedication of Joe Moon Way and running the city’s outdoor water park Splash Island in addition to serving in his original Recreation Facility Manager position.
She also noted Anderson originally withdrew his name for consideration last May due to personal issues.
“So what exactly did he fail to do to meet your standard?” Amacher asked.
Moody stated to the board she reviewed with them the process she used and the strengths of her recommendation. She added her job was to find the best qualified candidate for the position and bring her recommendation to the board to either approve or deny.
“It is your job to either approve or deny that recommendation, but you do not get to substitute my recommendation for your own,” Moody said.
Alderman Rupa Blackwell said she was agonizing over the process of finding a new parks director and spoke with a parks director from a different city.
“She made me realize how grateful I am with our form of government, where it takes out political appointments; it’s a confirmation process, and it makes sure that it is fair,” Blackwell said.
Alderman Daniel Berry said he did not want the board to be overruling Moody’s decision, because it leads to a lack of accountability for each position.
“You are responsible for what happens in the parks and rec department, and he is responsible for the people under him,” Berry said.
Amacher spoke again and shared a message she received from a city employee, who asked to be nameless, who stated not hiring Kraft would be creating a “dangerous precedent” for employees who spend a better part of their life working diligently for the city towards an end goal only to be utilized when needed and then discarded.
“What precedent are we setting even for Mr. Anderson who’s coming in as an outsider,” Amacher said. “Is he going to have a career here or is it going to be until we decide someone better is going to come along?”
She went on to say she felt this was a terrible decision, not because of the choice, but more about the way Kraft was treated.
Ultimately, the board approved Moody’s recommendation 4-1, with only Amacher opposed. Mayor Pro Tem Jimmy Blanks and Alderman Robin Dunn were absent.
Following the vote, Anderson was given the opportunity to speak on the decision. He thanked the board for trusting him to lead the parks and recreation department before addressing Amacher. He told the alderman he understood her position, as he was recently put in a similar position over being passed over for a director’s job.
“It ended being a political move, and I don’t agree with that either,” Anderson said. “What I am going to do is give my best to Tullahoma, to the citizens of Tullahoma.”
Anderson said his goal is to provide the best parks and recreation department in Middle Tennessee. He said he will also work to improve on the sports council, the community centers, greenways and the existing structures.
“I really appreciate the fact that you guys have entrusted this with me and I can’t wait to get started and I hope we get to work together in the coming months,” Anderson said.