There’ll be no leisurely introduction to the job for Woolwich’s new director of recreation and facilities. Karen Makela, who started Thursday, inherits a department with financial woes just as the township starts work on its 2012 budget. The township’s chief administrative officer says he’s got some lofty goals for his new hire, who fills the spot left when Larry Devitt retired last month after 28 years with the municipality.
Makela will be expected to bring costs under control, find new revenue opportunities and build strong ties with recreation groups and the wider community, David Brenneman said Wednesday.
Last year, the recreation department recorded more than $550,000 in overspending, most of it at the Woolwich Memorial Centre, where costs were much higher than expected prior to the opening of the $23-million facility in September 2009. With some juggling, the budget has been stabilized through 2011, but more will need to be done, said Brenneman.
Added Mayor Todd Cowan in an interview Wednesday: “She knows she’s got her plate full.”
He, too, will be looking for Makela to get the department’s budget under control.
“A lot of our emphasis will be on the WMC – it’s a big facility – but also on our other facilities, and looking for some efficiencies there.”
Brenneman said he expects to see some changes over the first 100 days of Makela’s tenure as she gets to know the department’s role in the community, assesses the current situation and develops a game plan.
That could include changes in staff levels and the approach to customer service, for instance.
Whatever stamp she puts on the job will be done in an orderly fashion, he added.
“Even if you’re looking to make changes, it’s still important to do that in a smooth transition.”
For her part, Makela said Thursday she’s hitting the ground running, as the 2012 budget process is already underway.
“The main focus is going to be looking at the budget and looking for any efficiencies and revenue ideas, and developing a [framework] to look at the department structure.”
Makela comes to the township with 28 years of experience in the parks and recreation sector, having held senior management positions with both the former Town of Walden (now part of the City of Greater Sudbury) and most recently with the City of Elliot Lake.
She also brings a solid background in key areas: fiscal management, organizational change, customer service, community engagement and relationship building, said Brenneman.
“We felt Karen had the best experience in all of those areas.”
The township got some 75 applicants for the job. The list was whittled down to seven candidates for the first round of interviews, then three for the next round.