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NARRAGANSETTâ€”Beach Superintendent Steven Wright has been named as interim Parks and Recreation Director by Town Manager Grady Miller, temporarily filling a position which has been unfilled on an official basis since the former director, Barry Fontaine, was fired last June. Wright, elected by the town council in May 2011 as Beach Superintendent, has presided over beach operations and helped to direct the clean-up efforts after Tropical Storm Irene hit at the end of last August.
â€śSince he has come to us last summer, [Wright] has done a great job turning around the operations of the beach,â€ť said Miller. â€śHe has placed a big emphasis on customer service and clean facilities.â€ť
â€śHe has also gotten a chance to know the employees in the Parks and Recreation Department, and his peers in different departments,â€ť he added. â€ś[Wright] already has a good understanding of the system to make for an easy transition during the interim period.â€ť
At a time when the town is planning its budget for the next fiscal year, Miller stated that it was important that the position be filled. Wright will serve as Parks and Recreation director for a six month period, at which point his progress will be assessed by Miller.
â€śI want to provide some stability to have a director there for a period of time,â€ť said Miller. â€śI will evaluate how that is working out, and then decide if there will be an open recruitment or not.â€ť
â€śWe are in the budget now and have a number of things for the summer, such as Parks and Recreation programs that are critical at this point,â€ť he added. â€śWe need to try and plan for the capital budget as well.â€ť
Wright has an extensive resume working with the state parks and beaches, spending 36 years at the Parks and Recreation office of the Department of Environmental Management (DEM). He also served as Superintendent of State Parks since 1986, managing the administrative and operational duties of campgrounds and parks throughout Rhode Island. Wright was key figure three years ago in the implementation of the Rhode Island Great Outdoors Pursuit, and initiative to get children outside and experiencing the natural environment which state parks and campgrounds offer.
â€śHaving somebody in place to directly oversee the Parks and Recreation staff, and do the day to day management operations as well as planning that goes along with it, is very critical,â€ť said Miller. â€śIt was important to get somebody on. I was finding that I had less and less time filling that interim spot myself.â€ť
Wright also led the beach efforts in August, alongside the Department of Public Works, after Tropical Storm Irene caused damage to beach facilities and eroded portions of the beach itself.
The decision to insert Wright as interim Parks and Recreation Director comes after Miller withdrew his original appointment of Susan Cooper, former Director of the Recreation Department for the City of Newport, in January. Miller did not wish to express the reasoning behind withdrawing Cooper as a final candidate at the time, but a number of town council members emphasized the importance of filling the position in a timely manner.
â€śIn recent years, weâ€™ve made some changes to the Parks and Recreation director position,â€ť said Councilman Christopher Wilkens in January. â€śThe new beach superintendent has taken a lot of work off of the Parks and Recreation director, and we are interested in developing more and different types of programs. Those things need guidance and we need a department head to get these things going.â€ť
Former Parks and Recreation Director Barry Fontaine was fired due to performance issues in June and subsequently awarded a $28,000 settlement by the town, which was based on the sum of three months salary and the cash value of one-third of Fontaineâ€™s sick leave benefits. A provision was included requiring both Fontaine and the town to refrain from making disparaging remarks about each other was also included in the agreement.
Fontaine had worked for the Parks and Recreation Department for seven years and hired an attorney to pursue legal action against the town for his termination, but the town council voted unanimously in September to award a severance package.