Good sport: Svetz puts it in Parks

As new director of Charlottesville's newly formed Parks and Recreation Department, Mike Svetz faces a juggling act.

Among his diverse goals: to improve the city's recreational programs, to increase the beauty of our entrance corridors, and even to make visible "ambassadors" out of Parks and Rec employees, who currently sport orange shirts.

"Maybe a bright yellow," he muses about a replacement, "something that falls within the safety spectrum first and foremost."

On the Downtown Mall in particular, he says, that bright color would also alert the public of the employees' approachability.

"We want to create a crew of ambassadors," says Svetz, "who are comfortable speaking with the public and answering questions about particular restaurants or stores."

The city's decision to combine three separate city departments– golf, parks, and recreation– under a single umbrella back in February meant that the 80 or so employees of those departments had to adjust to new responsibilities– and to a new boss.

"I spent the first few months getting to know people," explains Svetz, 35, who says he's had to "listen and learn."

Pat Plocek, the city's director of parks who formerly reported to public works director Judy Mueller (and now reports to Svetz), says he thinks combining the departments was a "good move."

But the change has not been without its difficulties.

"No transitions are smooth," says Plocek. "When you take over new duties, there are always bumps in the road."

A Cleveland native who earned a master's in sports administration from Ohio's Miami University, Svetz topped more than two dozen applicants (including one inside City Hall) for the position after going through a grueling interview process that included taking a personality inventory, meeting with city manager Gary O'Connell, and interviewing with the staff he'd be supervising.

His nearly 15 years of experience helped win him the job. Following grad school, Svetz spent five and a half years as head of Parks and Rec in Brunswick, Ohio before moving on the head up the Parks and Rec department in Strongville, Ohio, where he stayed for almost seven years. There, he successfully managed that city's $18 million recreation center, which operated with a $2.5 million annual budget.

"It was like running a business," says Svetz, who left the position because he wanted "to expand his experience in Parks and Recreation." Charlottesville's wide range of recreational opportunities, he says– especially the McIntire Golf Course– was a strong draw.

After several months on the job, Svetz says he's starting to form long-range plans.

"We will have to do a needs assessment," he says, to determine which projects should be tackled first.

But more than altering his employees' attire or focusing on one particular aspect of his job, Svetz says he plans to just keep listening.

"You have to be open to comments and suggestions," he says. "If we're not, there's no way we're going to improve."

Mike Svetz.