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Park district hires director

Expect to see a couple of new faces around the Vanderzicht Memorial Swimming Pool this month.

After two weeks without anyone at the helm of North Whidbey Park and Recreation District, the new director started work Friday. The board of commissioners and a search committee unanimously chose Craig Carlson, the former park and recreation director for the city of Ellensburg, after another candidate declined the job.

“The commissioners are extremely enthusiastic about this fellow’s background and personality...” district Commissioner Fred Smyth said. “He’ll be a breath of fresh air.”

In addition, a new head swim coach is due to start work in August.

Carlson will make $42,000 a year. He spent Thursday meeting district employees and touring the pool facility. He said he doesn’t come to the job with any preconceived notions about how the district should be run or any changes that should be made.

“My goal is to evaluate what’s going on,” he said, “and see where I can help make improvements. It could be the smallest thing to providing other recreation opportunities. It’s hard to say before I get my feet on the ground.”

Carlson has spent the last three years working in sales, first selling recreation equipment and then selling cars. Before that, he worked his way up the food chain in Ellensburg to become the park and recreation director. He had 21 years’ experience working with the city’s parks and recreation facilities, which included a municipal pool.

Carlson said he left the Ellensburg park and rec director position because he was unhappy that the “job description changed.” At the same time, he also got the chance to work as a salesman for Northwest Recreation.

But Carlson said his heart was always in park and rec. “I missed it and I wanted to get back into it,” he said. “I want the opportunity to be part of a community and make a difference.”

Carlson signed a two-year contract this week. His salary is $7,000 a year higher than what former director, Jim Shulock, was making. This summer the commissioners raised the salary maximum on the director position from $40,000 to $50,000 a year.

Coincidentally, Carlson worked with the district’s new swim coach, Neil Romney, in Ellensburg. Carlson said Romney in bound to be an interesting addition to the staff. Romney comes from the University of Wyoming, Carlson said, where he was earning a doctorate in microbiology or something similar.

“He’s very intelligent. He has three or four master’s degrees,” Carlson said.

Romney is supposed to start work in mid-August, according to Carlson.

Smyth said the couple of weeks without a director didn’t cause in major problems because the pool staff “know their jobs so well and are so enthusiastic.”

“They’re really good, highly-valued employees,” he said.

Yet many people, including several commissioners, are undoubtedly hoping that the fresh faces will have a calming effect on a district that’s been under fire recently. Regular pool-goers and members of the group, Friends of the Pool, howled with outrage earlier this year when four of the five commissioners tried to use district money to support youth activities outside the pool.

The dispute heated further when three of the commissioners declined to continue Shulock’s contract as director. Last week, three members of Friends of the Pool submitted a recall petition against commissioners Brien Lillquist and Janet Sabalausky.

While Carlson said he’s aware that there’s been recent controversy surrounding the commissioners, he’s unaware of any details. In fact, he doesn’t know the circumstances surrounding Shulock losing his job.

“I really don’t know and I’m not going to try to find out,” he said. “I feel that’s in the past. I’m coming in with a clean slate and I’m trying to look at everything in a totally positive light.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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