The newly hired executive director of the Prince William Park Authority pledged this week to try to "heal any wounds" between park officials and county leaders.
E. Jay Ellington, who has 30 years' experience in parks and recreation, including senior positions in California and his native Louisiana, started the $125,000-a-year job Monday.
"This an opportunity to put forward my knowledge in the field and cap my career off by giving back to the community," said Ellington, 53. "These sorts of challenges bring lots of opportunities."
As part of his introduction, he appeared before the Board of County Supervisors on Tuesday and read a poem that spoke to how parks work to soothe souls.
Referring to strained relations between the quasi-independent Park Authority and county supervisors, Ellington pledged to meet individually with supervisors.
"Believe me, we have plenty to talk about," said board Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R), who has been a strong critic of the Park Authority, even calling for it to be dissolved and its duties brought back into general county government.
Delays, cost overruns and allegations of political favoritism plagued the construction of several parks. Sudley Park, off Route 234 in Sudley Springs, is being built primarily with donations and developer proffer funds. In addition, the county has contributed more than $1 million from the general fund. That prompted Connaughton and others to oppose the park, saying it took away from other park needs and wasn't in any county plan.
An independent audit released in 2002 described the Park Authority as rife with management problems and, in some cases, an almost complete lack of accountability. In March 2003, Peggy Thompson, who served as Park Authority executive director for 18 years, retired.
County and park officials then agreed on a plan that would give the Board of County Supervisors a greater role in capital and financial issues. It would also play a role in the hiring of a new executive director.
Supervisors also asked for a financial audit of Park Authority books. The audit, completed two months ago by James A. Webster, the county's internal audit director, found that all funds transferred to the Sudley Park project were properly authorized and appropriate.
Ellington served as parks superintendent in three localities in Louisiana, including Shreveport, before moving to California. For six years he served in senior park positions with San Bernardino County, which has more than 1.5 million residents. He then returned to Louisiana, where he worked as a private consultant and served as the city parks director for Ruston.
"He already has a game plan on how to move forward," Brenda Gardziel, acting chair of the Park Authority, said through a spokesman. "He has shown [himself] to be a quick learner, and the board and I are glad to have him here.''