By SCOTT JACKSON
Mayor Thomas Koch is seeking to place Quincy’s parks and recreation departments under the umbrella of a new commissioner of natural resources.
Koch filed an ordinance to create the Natural Resources Department at Monday night’s City Council meeting, along with a related budgetary item. The council’s ordinance committee will meet at 7 p.m. on Oct. 29 to review the proposal.
The new department would include five divisions: parks, forestry, recreation, cemeteries and conservation.
Koch, in a letter to the city councillors, said the new department would ensure the city’s parks would be better maintained.
“As you know, I have made no secret that I expect more – and residents deserve more – from our Park Department,” Koch said. “We have among the best park facilities and most beautiful open spaces of any community in the commonwealth, but the day-to-day maintenance operation needs improvement.
“I strongly believe that this reorganization – even this first step that adds no spending – will create the operational environment to get us where we need to be.”
In the related budgetary item, Koch has proposed eliminating the position of executive director of parks, forestry and cemeteries, which has a $108,000 salary. The salary for the recreation director’s position would be reduced from $102,000 to $90,000.
The parks and recreation departments currently have their own program managers, each with a $77,000 salary. Koch is seeking to merge those positions together into a single program manager’s position, which would report to all divisions, with a $90,000 salary.
The savings from those changes would be used to fund the new commissioner’s salary, which would be set at $150,000 in the current fiscal year’s budget. Koch, in his letter, said he wants to provide the commissioner of natural resources “a salary commensurate with the experience and skill set that will be required in this position.”
The position’s $150,000 base pay would be the third highest of any city department head, trailing only School Superintendent Dr. Richard DeCristofaro’s $245,000 salary and the $172,000 salary for the city’s fire chief, a position that is currently vacant. The mayor’s salary in the current fiscal year is $151,000.
Koch has also proposed creating two new positions that would not be funded until the start of fiscal year 2020 next July.
The first would be a tree warden to supervise the employees of the forestry division and who would be responsible for planning and overseeing the trimming, removal and planting of trees in the city.
The second would be an earth scientist, who would be responsible for the stewardship, maintenance and improvement of the city’s ecological resources, such as marshes, Sailor’s and Butler’s Ponds, and other conservation and open space areas.
The move to create the new department comes after the announcement that Barry Welch, Quincy’s longtime recreation director, will retire in the coming months. The city is also without an executive director of parks, forestry and cemeteries, following Koch’s decision to reassign Donald Martin out of the department head’s role back to his previous post in the Department of Public Buildings.
Chris Walker, the mayor’s chief of staff, on Monday said Martin was reassigned to the project manager position in Public Buildings Department in August. The decision was unrelated to delays with capital projects the Park Department is overseeing, such as the installation of new turf at Veterans’ Memorial Stadium.
“The mayor felt his talents would be better used in the Public Buildings Department in the role that he filled previously,” Walker said following the council meeting. “Projects that he managed previously included the move from old Quincy High School to new Quincy High School, the move from old Central Middle School to new Central Middle School, and, as luck would have it, we’re about to start a move this spring from old Sterling Middle School to the new South-West Middle School.
“That is job number one, managing that, which is…a pretty heavy lift to move a whole school.”
Paul Doherty, a program manager for the Parks Department, and Helen Murphy, Koch’s director of operations, have been overseeing the department since Martin was reassigned, Walker said, along with the mayor himself.
The decision to create the new Natural Resources Department was made following Welch’s decision to retire, Walker added.