Frustrations Mount Over State Of Orleans Recreation

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Town Meeting , Orleans news , Recreation

Members of the recreation advisory committee in Orleans earlier this month expressed concern about their ability and the town's commitment to making necessary changes to improve programming.

ORLEANS – Flagging programming. Staffing issues. Miscommunication. Overlong and indecipherable reports.

The disorganization facing recreation in Orleans has been a sore spot for the town's recreation advisory committee in recent years, and committee members said earlier this month that a lack of leadership is leaving them with little hope of any kind of turnaround.

At their Sept. 14 meeting, recreation committee members lamented a report on summer programming presented to them by the town's recreation director, Alan Harrison. Members said the 69-page report lacked any sort of clear analysis about how programming and participation fared compared to last year. Instead, committee chair Tracy Murphy said much of the report amounted to "screenshots" of data that can be found on the department's MyRec webpage.

"I was pretty disappointed in the report," Murphy said.

The committee was looking for more specifics regarding program fees, program participation and how many people were waitlisted for different programs this summer, Murphy said. She said none of that data was readily available, adding that the committee has had the same issue getting data from the recreation department in past years.

"A 69-page email is so unprofessional," committee member Sharon Basso said. "I can't even begin to think that someone who is a director of a department would send out an email that's 69 pages long that's nothing more than scanned copies of information that he gets. It isn't presented in any way whatsoever that an end user could use it, not the select board, not to his bosses, not to Nate [Sears], not to Tom [Daley] and certainly not to us."

Harrison was not in attendance at the Sept. 14 meeting. He did not respond to requests for comment about the committee's concerns.

Committee members said it isn't hard to keep tabs on year-to-year programming data. Basso said she's been keeping a programming spreadsheet for the last four years. Joan Francolini of the committee also said she's found the data to be accessible and easy to organize.

Frustrations over the lack of data and information come as the committee and the town continue their efforts to get the recreation program back on track. Beyond the report, Murphy also addressed other issues including incorrect programming fees that have been posted online as well as the failure of town staff to quickly address and fix them.

"I feel like a real nuisance when I'm emailing Alan and saying there are fee mistakes on the MyRec website," she said. "That's not a role that I like playing. If I were Alan, I wouldn't like receiving those emails, but then he doesn't even fix them."

Murphy also noted that while a 19.5 hour recreation staffer was hired to help out with summer programming this year, the department only added an additional two hours of programming.

Basso countered by saying the department didn't actually expand its summer programming at all this year.

"We've lost field hockey," she said. "We've lost cross country. The pickleball is not an actual, official thing. It's not even on the website."

In May, town meeting voters authorized hiring a consultant to conduct an organizational study looking into staffing and other needs in the recreation department. The study, which is being conducted through the Edward J. Collins Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts Boston, was originally slated to be done in August. But Select Board member Mefford Runyon told the committee that the study is now expected to be done by January.

"I think there will be some follow through on this," he said of the study.

But committee members said they aren't confident in what the study will yield, citing what they see as a lack of commitment from the town to improve the state of recreation. Anne Sigsbee said the committee has been "ignored" by the town, and that the committee should take a "vote of no confidence" in the town's commitment to recreation.

"I don't want to beat around the bush," she said. "I think it's a mistake that we pin our hopes on a study, because there's no commitment that the study will be followed."

The committee has been met with support from the select board as well as other agencies such as the council on aging, Murphy said. But she said the biggest hurdles facing the committee's work are internal.

"We've been met with such support everywhere but where we need it most to affect change," she said.

Francolini asked Runyon if the select board, members of which also serve as the town's park commissioners, could intervene to help the committee move its initiatives forward. Runyon said the board does not have control or managerial oversight of the recreation department, but that the select board shares in the recreation committee's frustrations.

"There's been a two- or three-year continuous message of wanting to support and grow this program that hasn't amounted to anything," Runyon said. "I don't know what to tell you other than there is support, both from the select board and the town, to grow this program. And that it hasn't happened yet is a failure that I don't want to speculate on, but it definitely needs to be corrected."

Runyon invited the committee to come before the select board at a future meeting to further discuss its concerns. Murphy has addressed the committee's issues to the board on multiple occasions in recent months during their public comment period.

"I guess we'll wait for our invite then," Murphy said.

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