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Santa Rosa hires new parks and recreation director


Santa Rosa has hired a new parks and recreation director from El Paso, Texas, to replace Marc Richardson, who resigned in December.

Nanette Smejkal was selected following a nationwide search because of the experience she gained over a 25-year career managing parks and recreations departments with a diverse array of programs and facilities, City Manager Kathy Millison said.

"Her skills and experience in long- and short-term strategic planning, fund development, succession planning and staff development, community engagement, and budget and financial analysis will be important for leadership of the department," Millison said in a statement. "We are fortunate to have her join our team."

Smejkal, starts July 1. She will make the top of the salary range for the post, $153,960, plus about $40,000 in benefits.

She was most recently the director of parks and recreation for the City of El Paso, a post she has held since 2007. The west Texas city on the Rio Grande has a population of about 650,000.

Prior to that she was the director of parks, recreation and community services for the City of Reno, which has a population of about 225,000.

"I have dedicated my career to providing communities and our customers with innovative and accountable parks and recreation services and look forward to the challenge of continuing that tradition for the City of Santa Rosa," Smejkal said in a statement. "I have toured the community and was excited to learn about the robust services and facilities offered by the city."

Smejkal did not return a call for comment Wednesday.

Her accomplishments include seeking voter approval for a bond to build and rehabilitate parks and recreation facilities; acquiring land for open space preservation and parks through public and private partnerships; retrofitting aging parks with play structures and furnishings; and developing comprehensive trail systems, Millison said.

Smejkal will inherit a department facing several challenges. Its previous top two officials, Richardson and Rich Hovden, retired after an investigation showed they had for years accepted free golf and other benefits from the operator of the Bennett Valley Golf Club.

That course is struggling under the weight of nearly $500,000 in debt from the construction in 2007 of a $10 million clubhouse and pro shop. Cuts to the department have gutted the parks and maintenance staff.

And while the department has brought new facilities on line in recent years, such as the Church of One Tree, DeTurk Round Barn, and the new senior wing of the Finley Community Center, staffing and managing those facilities remains a challenge, Millison has said.

Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips has been interim director since Richardson left. For the moment, Phillips will continue to handle the issues facing the golf course, which will probably need further financial auditing to resolve, Millison said.

"Whenever a department goes through a leadership transition, it's always exciting to bring someone on on a permanent basis," Millison said. "I definitely expect that Nanette can come in and hit the ground running."

Whether to hire someone to replace Hovden, the former parks development manager, is a decision Millison said will be up to Smejkal.

Other benefits of the post include a month of vacation, up to $7,500 in moving expenses, and an automobile expense of $4,200 per year.

(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@citybeater.)