Peggy Thompson, the beleaguered executive director of the Prince William County Park Authority, announced last week that she will retire April 30, ending an 18-year term that was most recently marked by a series of scandals and problems with agency projects.
Thompson said that the problems did not lead to her retirement and that she is leaving on her own terms.
"I'm leaving for personal reasons," she said. "I want to go play. I've spent 20 years promoting recreation, and now I want to go do some of it."
Thompson, 54, has been under fire since 2001, shortly after the Board of County Supervisors approved a multimillion-dollar plan to help the agency right itself. Thompson told supervisors that additional money in the form of a $1.3 million loan was needed to complete Valley View Park, and they approved the loan with the understanding that it would solve problems at Valley View.
But it didn't. Last year, supervisors learned that the bailout funds they had given the agency for other projects were being used to cover Valley View's escalating costs. They also learned that the project was again about $1 million over the revised budget.
Other projects and decisions have also come under question. Last spring, it was revealed that Supervisor Edgar S. Wilbourn III (R-Gainesville), a manager at a grading and excavation company, began dumping dirt onto county-owned parkland without permission from the Park Authority. Park officials also appointed one of their own board members, R.B. Thomas, to manage park construction, and they later acknowledged that they had little or no control over what was going on at the site.
Thomas, a softball tournament organizer, also has been questioned about pushing the championship-level softball fields that are being built at two parks.
An independent audit released late last year described an agency rife with management problems and, in some cases, an almost complete lack of accountability. The combination of the problems led a handful of supervisors to suggest that the semi-autonomous authority ought to be dissolved and reconstituted under the county board's direct control
Board Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R-At Large), who originally floated the idea of dissolving the Park Authority, praised Thompson for helping to expand the agency "from a very small organization to a major entity within the county." He said her departure creates "an opportunity to bring in new leadership, which can focus on updating the organization and budgets and financial picture."
Thompson joined the agency when it was running only a few sports fields. It is now a $25 million agency that runs golf courses, two water parks, large fitness and aquatics centers and other major services.
County and park officials are working through a new operating agreement that will give supervisors more oversight of park finances, require quarterly project updates and establish a reserve fund to cover cost overruns, Park Authority spokeswoman Beth Robertson said. Robertson said that the details of the revised agreement are still being worked out and that both boards must approve it.
"By the time I leave, we will be in pretty good shape," Thomspon said. "The operating agreement between the county and the Park Authority as it's unfolding now will be a very good starting point for improved operations. I'm pleased with that; it's long overdue."