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New parks superintendent changing department

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Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham believes the new Parks and Recreation Superintendent Erin E. Gardner has already displayed her capability for changing the public’s view of the troubled department after two weeks on the job.

It showed when Mrs. Gardner appeared before the Watertown City Council Monday night to talk about parks fees, Mr. Graham said.

“She’s hit the ground running,” he said.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Gardner said she has already been involved in a series of projects to turn the department around.

“I’ve been really busy,” she said Tuesday. “I’ve learned a lot, but I need to learn a lot more.”

Since coming on board on April 11, Mrs. Gardner has been overseeing some locker room and other improvements at the grandstands at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.

She’s already started getting ready for the city’s summer playground and municipal pool season. As part of that work, she will soon hire a staff for the playgrounds.

Mrs. Gardner will also be involved in hiring a program director, who will oversee scheduling and programs. The new position will be filled once results from a Civil Service exam comes back from the state, she said.

With the department having so many problems for years, the new superintendent will be under the scrutiny of the public eye and from council members, the mayor said.

“Obviously, we’re expecting great things from her,” he said.

On Monday night, she attended the council meeting to discuss some further modifications to fees that the Parks and Recreation Department charges to its users. On April 16, council members amended an ordinance that includes a series of fees for the department.

But a few issues have come to light since then. The mayor liked that she took it upon herself to make some suggestions and then went to the meeting to address council members with them.

Mrs. Gardner and Elliott B. Nelson, assistant to the city manager, suggested to council members establishing a fee for organizations that want to rent tables and chairs from the department. Under the plan, it would cost 50 cents per chair and $2.50 per table for some events at the fairgrounds. The fee would only pertain to groups not renting the city’s facilities.

On a suggestion from the mayor, she also agreed that fees for nonprofit groups holding fundraising tournaments should pay an “all-day” set fee of $100, rather than charging per game.

Last week, Mr. Graham received a letter from Benjamin P. Coe asking that the per-game fee be changed for a Volunteer Transportation youth baseball tournament that will be held in June at the fairgrounds. It would cost more than $1,000 under the old policy. Under the changes, the group will now be charged $100.

Mrs. Gardner, 33, an Adams Center native, has taken on a department that was in disarray.

For years, the department failed to bill users of the fairgrounds and other city facilities and did not collect tens of thousands of dollars in money owed to the city. An external audit blasted the department for mishandling its finances.

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