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Parks and Recreation Department reorganized

City manager praised for cost savings
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald correspondent
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With more than $1 million cut from its budget since the recession began, Rocklin’s Parks and Recreation Department is once again the target of cuts and reorganization. The department director position has been eliminated and the department is now under the umbrella of another city department, according to the city.

In August, City Manager Rick Horst announced to city staff the Parks and Recreation Department would be dissolved into the Public Services Department. The director of Parks and Recreation, Gordon Holt, is on administrative leave pending his retirement, according to Horst, who declined to elaborate.

"The Parks and Recreation program remains intact," Horst said. "There has been no change in program or service levels. The only change is that the department is now considered a division – a division of the Department of Public Services under the broad oversight of Rick Forstall, director of Public Services.”

Horst declined to release the details of Holt’s deal with the city or elaborate on how long the leave will last. The city clerk reports Holt’s current salary is $118,015. Last month, the City Council approved a measure to use the recreation director’s eliminated position to fund a new Public Affairs and Economic Growth Manager position.

Under the California Public Records Act, the Placer Herald requested emails to and from Horst and Holt for the two weeks leading up to the director’s leave announcement. Horst declined the disclosure and City Attorney Russell Hildebrand said the emails were “exempt from disclosure as private personnel records.”

Attorney David Greene of Bryan Cave LLC, the general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition, a government watchdog group, said he has seen similarities between this instance and others in which records were eventually ordered released.

“Records in personnel files may be withheld, but only if the disclosure of those records would be an unwarranted invasion of privacy,” Greene said. “As a general matter, when the records pertain to the termination of a high-ranking governmental official, the disclosure is not unwarranted and the records are typically public, even if there are accusations of wrongdoing within the record that are unreliable.”

The city attorney did approve the release of emails from Horst and Forstall during the same time period that shed light on some of the challenges within the department.

In an Aug. 9 email from Forstall to Horst, Forstall said he wanted to be able to make an announcement to staff about the reorganization following Holt’s departure, in order to stay ahead of the rumor mill.

Last year, the city laid off three Parks and Recreation employees, eliminated summer swim lessons and Station Extreme, the after-school teen program. Recreation staff was moved from the Rocklin Events Center to a newly remodeled community center at Johnson-Springview Park. 

In a July 28 email from Forstall to Horst, Forstall complained about recreation staff abusing the intent of furlough Fridays.

“Closing Fridays (to the public) was supposed to aid staff who were doing more as a result of staff reductions so they could get caught up on their work,” he wrote. “Recreation does not do this; instead they are scheduling their week so they have Fridays off, this is done by them working four 10-hour days or scheduling time off.”

Forstall added, “Send a message that we are starting to clean things up.”

Horst has been vocal about millions of dollars in cost-savings measures under his leadership since he started in February 2011. 

The city made $18,000 in new revenue by renting out the pool facilities at the high schools to the Wave nonprofit to do private lessons last summer. City-subsidized swim lessons have become a political issue in the Nov. 6 election for some City Council candidates vowing to reinstate the lessons.

The city has taken in about $8,461 in new revenue from a disc golf shop added to the recreation building remodel, according to Horst. And the remodel of the Rocklin Event Center is expected to bring in new revenue, as it is being marketed as a wedding destination.

The city is looking for even more cost savings with a new adopt-a-park initiative to get citizens groups working in city parks. In a July email to the Placer Herald, Horst explained the program’s cost benefits.

“The volunteer work helps extend the benefits of tax dollars by enabling city parks employees to spend their time on other crucial projects, such as major renovations, repairs and maintenance work,” Horst wrote.

The program has not yet been presented to the City Council for approval. Council member Peter Hill said Horst has a mandate from the council to reorganize departments.

“We told him we wanted him to look at the entire organization and tell us what needed to be changed. He is doing exactly that,” Hill said. “Any suggestion that the city has somehow changed its commitment to recreation is nonsense. Rick has been making changes in a lot of departments since he was appointed our city manager. He has identified inefficiencies and has made changes to correct them and make the city more efficient.”

City Council member Scott Yuill said that in this economy, reevaluating long-term plans is the right thing to do.

“All areas of government — not only recreation — must be reviewed,” Yuill said. “It’s only prudent. Not doing so would be reckless,” Yuill said.