Longtime Parks Director Lori Stirn will leave Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation District in September.
Stirn, who has led the Parks District through more than 15 years of expansion and park development, gave a letter of resignation to the district board during a closed executive session Wednesday night.
After reopening the public session, the parks board accepted Stirn’s request and voted to search for a new director before her departure, effective Sept. 29.
“The board was saddened to receive her resignation and recognized her many accomplishments in the years she served the district and community,” board members said in a joint statement.
Stirn’s letter of resignation surprised some board members.
Board President Art Carroll said it came “as a shock,” and that board members weren’t aware the matter would surface that night.
The parks board had scheduled a meeting item regarding a staffing matter for executive session under a personnel exemption in public records law, but the board wasn’t aware there would be discussion or an action item on Stirn’s resignation, Carroll said.
Shortly after Stirn submitted the letter during the closed session, the board reopened their public meeting and accepted her resignation, board member Greg Davis said.
Stirn didn’t explicitly mention reasons for stepping down during the public session leading up to Wednesday’s executive session, and her resignation was not included as an agenda item.
According to Carroll, Stirn said in her letter it was time to move on after her long tenure at the parks district. The board declined to provide the Hood River News with a copy of the letter.
“We certainly had an inkling Lori felt frustrated,” Davis said in a follow-up interview. He said, however, tension had risen with Stirn and one board member, not the full body.
Stirn’s resignation didn’t come up at Wednesday’s public meeting, but there was strenuous discussion regarding board powers and one elected member’s role overseeing staff.
Board member Mike McCarthy said he had requested past system development charge information from park staff and not been provided with adequate information, to which other board members argued he overstepped the boundaries of his position.
“I do think it’s important that we have and respect, as a board, rules of behavior and engagement for ourselves as members of the board, and I think that’s an issue that we can work this out,” Davis said.
“I’m totally for it, but I think the district has to be way more transparent than they have been. They cannot wait for five years to react to management letters,” McCarthy said, referring to district audit reports. He questioned their financial accuracy.
“That’s your opinion and you’ve raised that point and we’ve responded to the audit findings, so I think piling on to that same request … is inappropriate,” Davis said.
“I think we need to find out why there’s these differences in balances,” McCarthy said.
Other board members argued McCarthy made unreasonable requests of staff, and issued demanding deadlines on requests for information, to which he countered by saying his actions had been reasonable.
A copy of the records staff and the board were discussing Wednesday was not immediately available. The Hood River News was unable to obtain a meeting packet by press time.
At one point in the meeting, Davis mentioned that such “second guessing” and “micro-managing” of parks staff harmed the district’s ability to hire and maintain qualified leaders.
In a follow-up statement, McCarthy said he will “continue to pursue district information that will clarify for me how staff handled SDC income and expenses and required reporting over the last several years.”
When asked to comment on Stirn’s resignation, McCarthy said, “I do not know if my attempts to obtain district records on several years of past financial transaction are related to her resignation.”
Westside and Golden Eagle
For more coverage of the June 15 meeting about future parks, see next Wednesday’s edition of Hood River News. The Parks District took input from proponents of two park concepts — Westside Community Park on Fairview Road and Golden Eagle Park next to Hood River Valley High School. The board voted 4-1 to incorporate some elements of the Westside plan into Barrett Park instead of buying the property.
Davis reaffirmed the overall board’s support for Stirn.
Stirn began working for HRVPRD in spring of 2001, according to an article of the Hood River News. During her tenure as HRVPRD director, Stirn was active in national and local boards, instrumental in obtaining major grant funding for the district, and integral in making cross-agency partnerships, the board said.
Some major projects she spearheaded include the expansion of Aquatic Center services and swim programs; the development of Odell Community Park, Culbertson Park, and the Disc Golf Course; the acquisition of Barrett Park through a state parks grant; and the development of Barrett, Indian Creek and Westside Community trails.
The HRVPRD Board of Directors plans to leverage resources from the Special Districts Association of Oregon as well as national and state parks and recreation associations to find and hire a new district director.
The District has a five member board of Directors that are elected by citizens of the District, which includes Hood River County excluding the city of Cascade Locks.