Director: Parks commission working on organization, finances

Thursday, January 14, 2021
The Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission has seen many changes over the past year. Pictured from left to right are employees Michael Simar, Vince Peschka, Denise Petmiller, Scott Miskiel, Herman Owens, Nicky Boyette and Dave Renko.
Samantha Jones / Lovely County Citizen

The Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission has a lot of work to do in 2021, and interim director Scott Miskiel said his team is ready for that challenge.

Miskiel, who was named interim director last October after the firing of former director Justin Huss, said he’s working on getting parks finances in order. Miskiel said the commission voted last year to “take financial reports out of the previous director’s hands and hire an accountant.” The third-quarter financials for 2020 are still being processed, Miskiel said, and the fourth0quarter financials will come after that.

“Because we just finished the fourth quarter and we don’t have those today, I went ahead just a day or two ago and prepared those and forwarded them to our finance committee,” Miskiel said.

The parks finance committee is composed of commissioners Scott Bardin and Kevin Ruehle. Miskiel said he hopes his finance reports are acceptable, saying he’s already prepared a budget for 2021 for the commission to approve at its next meeting.

“They’re looking at it. We had a meeting a few weeks ago and they made some comments to me,” Miskiel said. “I tweaked it a little bit. I’m optimistic we’ll go into this year with a budget approved right off the bat.”

Miskiel said the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t affected the parks finances nearly as much as he expected, saying the commission brought in $718,000 in revenue in 2019 compared with $600,000 revenue in 2020.

“It’s not too bad considering that we were totally closed for four months — months that would have been among the busiest months for parks,” Miskiel said. “I’m glad to see where we are.”

Miskiel said most parks employees were furloughed for four months in 2020, making it difficult to accomplish any major goals.

“That being said, we didn’t spend money we would have spent doing projects had we been in a different situation,” Miskiel said. “We’ve got a pretty aggressive plan for capital improvements and maintenance this year. We’re tackling projects that we’ve needed to tackle for some time.”

Miskiel said those projects include restoring the pavilion at Lake Leatherwood City Park and repairing the stonework at Basin Spring Park. In his year-end report dated Nov. 19, 2020, Miskiel writes that Basin Spring Park is “our most visible park and should be spectacular. Sadly, it is not and it is not the source of pride it should be.”

Miskiel said the stone repairs should cost less than $25,000, saying it would cost an additional $10,000 to repair the stone that supports the fountain in the park. He is working with city preservation officer Glenna Booth to apply for a grant for both repairs, Miskiel said, which would push that work later in the year.

“We need to see if we can get those grants before we start the work,” Miskiel said.

Also in the report, Miskiel writes that the hillsides are covered with unsightly invasive plants, there are no functioning irrigation lines in the park, the statue in front of the bandshell blocks the view of the stage and the park lacks shade after three large trees were removed. Miskiel said he plans to address all those issues.

Miskiel said the commission has work to do at Lake Leatherwood City Park, too. He said he’s excited to work with new employee Dave Renko to fix those issues. The commission hired Renko to serve as the grounds and natural resources manager in December, allocating $62,400 for Renko’s salary. Renko said he’s working on developing policies and procedures for the trails and the lake at Lake Leatherwood City Park.

“The head of the lake is suffering because of several bad-weather incidents in the past decade and kind of a botched dredging job on the lake a couple decades ago,” Renko said. “It’s causing a backup into the creek and a number of different domino effects.”

Renko said he’s been involved with the parks commission several times over the past 20 years. From 2000 to 2002, Renko said, he served as the trails coordinator. Then he was a parks commissioner from 2002 to 2005. He served on the trails committee until 2008, Renko said, and was the president of the Ozark Off-Road Cyclists for quite some time.

He agreed to come back to the parks department, Renko said, because he feels it was left “disadvantaged” after the last two directors left. Former director Bruce Levine was fired in 2015 after serving in the role for 12 years. Hired in March 2016, Huss served as director for four years.

“Upper management and administration was squarely on one person’s shoulders,” Renko said of Huss and Levine’s tenure. “When those directors left, there wasn’t really a number two person or a hierarchical structure, so it kind of left us disadvantaged.”

Renko continued, “In our talks about what would be healthy for the community going forward, we decided to have more people in a management position that would be able to help with that transition when you lose a director.”

Renko described himself as a “right-hand man” to the director. Miskiel said the structure of parks is “definitely evolving,” with Renko joining the team and office administrator Nicky Boyette being promoted from part time to full time in December.

“I like to hire people that know more about what I’m hiring them to do than I do, like [Renko] and [Boyette],” Miskiel said. “I give them the authority and the resources to get their job done and let them know what the expectations are.”

Miskiel said he is “very much into checklists and procedures.” He’s working to streamline parks processes, Miskiel said, to establish continuity at an administrative level.

“We lost two directors and we didn’t have a lot of guidance as to how to take over,” Miskiel said. “One of the things I’m doing is making sure that for every job we have, there’s at least one if not two people that know that job and can step in and fill the position — even the director’s job.”

Miskiel acknowledged that the parks commission has added a few new commissioners over the past year and said he’s excited to work with everyone on the commission.

“I have a lot of complimentary things to say about the current commissioners. I have a lot of complimentary things to say about the former commissioners as well,” Miskiel said. “There’s at least two of them that I still meet up with on a regular basis to benefit from the vast wealth of information they have, to get a different perspective.”

Miskiel said the parks department has a long way to go, but he has a plan in place and a team that’s ready to execute it.

“We’ve got a good team and support from our leadership, the commission and the rest of the city,” Miskiel said. “We’ve got a good staff in place that know their jobs and are highly qualified, and we’re going to get a lot accomplished.”

The parks commission will consider the 2021 budget at its next regular meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, at The Auditorium.

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