Report: PALS needs culture change, reduced role

cconley@islandpacket.comMay 5, 2013 

Park users play in this file photo of Pigeon Point Park in Beaufort.

FILE — File

Beaufort County's Department of Parks and Leisure Services is "reasonably dysfunctional" and its staff "must be held more accountable," according to a consultant's report released this month.

The report says changing the department's workplace culture should be a priority.

Ballard King Associates of Highlands Ranch, Colo., also suggested the department consider giving the responsibilities for field maintenance and programming to municipalities where PALS operates within the next three to five years.

"It should be recognized that most counties in the United States have a rather limited role in providing these services with much more of the overall responsibility falling on the individual towns and cities," the report said. "Counties rarely are major program and service providers."

The authors recommend coordinating with the Beaufort County School District and other outside groups, such as the Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCA branches, for a broader approach to sports, recreation and other services.

County administrator Gary Kubic said the report shows "substantive change" is needed.

"Quite honestly, I think we as a county are extended too thin," he said Friday, "and we need to now combine resources -- that, I think, is going to be a harder process."

PALS has numerous offerings, including youth and adult sports leagues, summer recreation, swimming and senior citizens programs. It also operates recreation centers on both sides of the county. It has an annual budget of about $3.55 million.

In the past year, there have been occasional reports of unsatisfactory field maintenance, fields that were double-booked and other concerns. County officials have described the incidents as isolated.

The county paid around $50,000 last fall for two reports that explored what's working and what's not with PALS, which has about 32 full-time employees. The second report, from Heller and Heller Consulting of Oak Park, Ill., has not yet been released.

Ballard King's 77-page report was obtained last week through a Freedom of Information Act request.

In the short term, the consultants recommend the county hire a strong director and other top staffers who can reorganize the department and bridge a lack of trust between staff members and management.

"More than anything else there needs to be strong, consistent leadership, with a clear management style that is able to bring all of the staff together as a cohesive team," the report says.

The county is seeking a director for PALS, which has been without a permanent leader for nearly a year. Kubic said he will weigh suggestions from the report when considering candidates. He also might raise the salary range to attract top-notch candidates.

In the near term, the report recommends better record-keeping software, better financial accountability and a computer system that manages things such as program registration, facility scheduling and rentals. The consultants also urge the county to examine its current range of programs and determine if any should be discontinued. Some fees also should be raised.

Councilman Rick Caporale of Hilton Head Island has been seeking information about the report for several months. He said it will take time to fully digest.

"It's going to take some time to filter out the real insights from the boiler plate and window dressing common to all consulting reports," he said in an email.

Kubic said he wants to hold one or more work sessions on the report soon, but with budget season in full swing, it's not clear when those might occur.

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