Thursday, August 30, 2012
By Tiobe Barron
Dale Sumersille resigned her position as Ojai Parks and Recreation director Tuesday, prior to a joint meeting between the Ojai City Council and its Parks and Recreation Commission. Sumersille’s last day will be Sept. 6 and no reason was given for her departure.
According to a city press release, longtime Recreation Department employee Sophocles Cotsis was named acting director. Steve McClary, current assistant to the city manager, who will devote half of his time to help the the Department’s administration.
At the Tuesday meeting, Mayor Betsy Clapp told Sumersille, “We wish you the best of luck, Dale.”
Sumersille had a parting suggestion for the council members and the Recreation Commission members regarding future joint meetings.
“Next time, ask the Recreation staff for their recommendations,” said Sumersille. “There have been a lot of cutbacks, a lot of challenges and hardships, but this is an extraordinary group of people. They always have a can-do attitude.”
“Over the last two months, she (Sumersille) has taken a beating from this commission, and she has taken it in stride, she’s listened,” said Commission chair Randy Haney. “I feel pretty good about where we are now, and the direction we’re headed.”
Some community members have expressed a different perspective, however.
“The state of our department has floundered under stagnant and passive sports coordinating; suffering from absentee representation within the community; as well as a complete unavailability of leadership during scheduled program hours,” said Ojai resident and former Recreation Department employee of 20 years, Russell Connick, in a letter submitted to City Council. “Our city management and administrative decisions have unfortunately illustrated a priority towards policy and revenue, and not a sincere conscience or commitment on behalf of our community and its families. The fact that we continue to blame our folding leagues on Jayden Morrison only reiterates our complacent and dismissive attitude towards tenaciously competing and striving to reestablish our brand name and credibility … And in probably the gravest display of our administration’s disconnect with our program needs is the decision to pull Vicki out of her gymnastics position to serve as an office staff (member).”
Morrison, who resigned from the Recreation Department in July 2010, said recently that he created his independent Wrec Room sports programs to fill a need in the community — not to be accused of creating unfair competition with city programs.
“I love recreation, be it with the city or through the private sector, it doesn’t make a difference to me. I don’t play politics. I do what I feel is right and fair. I don’t do things for notoriety. I do things for the community. I have the best interests of my kids, of my friends’ kids at heart,” Morrison said. “I resigned from the Recreation Department because of Dale, her utter lack of knowledge and integrity. She would flat-out lie. Repeatedly. She cancelled a program without discussing it with me, and it was a very valuable program.”
Morrison also said that if offered his former position within the Recreation Department, he would accept.
“I would love to make a difference in this community. I would create a teen program, an adult-sports program. And it would happen quickly, it would not be a process,” Morrison said. “The best thing for the Recreation Department to do would be to have the whole department put under public works director Greg Grant, have him oversee Parks and Recreation. The Department also needs serious restructuring. Sophocles and Vicki do great programming. But there are unneeded positions in the department. It’s all about accountability.”
Recreation Commissioner Robert Roddick said Tuesday he interviewed 120 Ojai Valley residents regarding the state of the Recreation Department.
“First, you need to understand that we serve 32,000 residents, not just the 8,000 who live inside city limits,” implored Roddick. “Parents feel that the parks are not safe and the reduction in services is a problem.”
“The city of Ojai is 8,000 people. You can’t ask the city to bear the burden of 30,000 people,” disputed Councilwoman Carlon Strobel. “But you can ask Rob Clark to contact the county so they can pay their fair share.”
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us to view the meeting in its entirety, and to view future meeting agendas.