Connie Edmonston loves her job. Passionate about outdoor activity, she holds two recreation degrees: a bachelor's from Kansas State University, and a master's from the University of Kansas. As parks and recreation director of Fayetteville, Ark., she has parlayed a lifelong love for the outdoors into a career, and has helped make her town one of America's Most Livable Cities.
How did you get into public works?
Parks and recreation has been dear to my heart since I was a child. I wanted a profession that provided avenues for people to enjoy God's beautiful earth. I started with the city of Fayetteville parks and recreation department in 1982 as an administrative assistant, was promoted to assistant parks and recreation director, and in 1998 to director.
What are your daily responsibilities?
I am responsible for the administration and operations of parks and recreation, which has 40 full-time staff, an operation budget of $.3.15 million, and a capital budget of $1.54 million. It includes more than 3400 acres of parks; the recreation programs include soccer, Softball, flag football, Champs League for children with special needs, swimming pool, sport camps, Gulley Park Summer Concerts, movies in the park, Lights of the Ozarks, and the Fourth of July celebration.
What unique challenges and problems have you faced?
The challenge is to provide a diversified parks and recreational programs to meet the needs of our citizens, given our limited manpower and funding. Our staff is always looking for ways to become more efficient and to offer citizen-driven programs as well as park facilities.
What techniques have you used to make Fayetteville more attractive and save money?
Our community is dedicated to helping us provide a quality parks system as indicated by the large number of volunteers and donation/sponsorship programs. Fayetteville is a very progressive city in its challenge to meet the recreational needs of our citizens through the HMR (hotel, motel, restaurant tax of 1 cent), adopted in 1996, and the Park Land Dedication Ordinance created in 1981. Approximately $1.8 million per year is accumulated through our HMR tax for promotion and development of parks. The ordinance requires residential developments to dedicate land or money for the development of parks. Twenty-six parks have been acquired through this ordinance.
Our staff must be efficient in every aspect. We purchase state-of-the-art mowers that cover a lot of ground. It is important to preserve park land, and we must become as efficient as possible to increase our acreage. Most importantly, I have a staff that is highly trained, devoted, and motivated in providing top-notch work in parks maintenance, recreation programs, and park planning.
What's the best part of your job?
Helping our citizens have fun and engage in healthy recreational and leisure activities. To watch a child, family, or senior citizen enjoying our parks, trails, and recreational programs makes our hard work worthwhile. We work for the citizens and we want to please them and provide them with the best parks and programs.
What makes your town special?
Of course, our parks and recreation facilities and programs! The benefits are endless ... our parks and recreation services are community builders, protect the environment, provide a place for social interaction, boost our economy, increase tourism, build strong bodies, reduce stress, lower health care costs, provide safe places to play, teach vital life skills, provide space to enjoy nature, increase property value, attract new business, reduce crime, and create memories. I am excited and dedicated to what we provide for our citizens!