Beaufort County didn't have to look far for a new Parks and Leisure Services director.
Scott Marshall, who has led the county's Board of Elections and Voter Registration for the past four years, was introduced last week as PALS' new leader. His appointment ends a two-year stretch during which the agency lacked a permanent leader.
In an interview this week, Marshall said plans to stay in the position "for the long haul."
He also said the department, which serves about 6,000 kids a year in youth sports, can improve.
"There are definitely aspects of the program that have a lot of room to be strengthened," he said. "In terms of (specific) programmatic areas, admittedly I know very little about them at this point, but I intend to assess them fully."
County officials said there were "many" applicants for the PALS director, but that Marshall's leadership experience and success at the elections board were key reasons why he was selected.
"That was a true sign to administrators that he would be able to work very well in PALS," county spokeswoman Joy Nelson said. "With the Board of Elections and Registration, there are lots of moving parts constantly, and that is kind of how PALS is."
Marshall's appointment comes about two months after a consultant's report urged major changes to a department that offers youth and adult sports, summer and after-school activities, and aquatics. It also has programs for senior citizens.
The report urged better coordination 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. It also urged steps to revamp the culture and boost employee morale and buy-in.
Marshall said he supports those goals and will work to carry out the necessary changes. The consultant from Ballard King Associates of Highlands Ranch, Colo., is returning to the area later this year to work with Marshall and county administrator Gary Kubic, Nelson said.
PALS, which has an operations budget of $3.5 million next year and about 32 employees, has a checkered reputation. Although the county says formal complaints are rare, parents and coaches have long complained of double-booked fields, maintenance issues and other concerns.
Robert Gecy, a longtime PALS youth baseball coach, hopes Marshall can usher meaningful change within the department after years of fitful progress.
"I have heard some good things about him," Gecy, who in 2011 launched an online group to pressure changes at PALS, said. "I don't know what his parks and rec background is, but as far as heading a department, a lot of times it's about leadership and it seems like he certainly has those qualities."
Marshall, who is 45, spent 23 years in the U.S. Air Force, and worked as a consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton before taking the board of elections job.
He has already started work at PALS and will move to that post full time as of July 1.