By Jonathan Phelps
---- — SALEM — The city’s new parks, recreation and community services director is on the job not even a week after being officially hired.
The City Council last week voted 9-1 to approve Mayor Kim Driscoll’s appointment of Karen Partanen, who most recently worked as the facilities operations manager for the city of Palm Beach Gardens in Florida. On Wednesday, Partanen celebrated with the three students who won this year’s Thanksgiving coloring contest by taking photos with them.
She was one of the judges for the contest along with Recreation Supervisor Tim Short and Council on Aging Activities Coordinator Fay Ventouris. Earlier this week, she spent time getting to know her new staff.
The only councilor to vote against Partanen’s appointment was Michael Sosnowski, who typically doesn’t vote for out-of-town candidates. Councilor Paul Prevey was absent at the meeting.
Partanen will replace Doug Bollen, who left the department after 10 years this summer to take a job with the Boy & Girls Club of Greater Salem.
She was selected from 16 applicants, eight of whom were interviewed for the job. Partanen’s annual salary will be $80,580, according to the city’s human resources department.
Partanen said she is looking forward to working with the different areas of the department from the Council on Aging, recreation programs and the golf course.
“I know I have very big shoes to fill, and I hope to maintain the same quality of services and programs that the previous director set the standard for,” she said. “I am here to serve the residents and am looking forward to meeting the different neighborhood groups and organizations.”
Driscoll said the department is one of the city’s largest and requires skills in personnel management, facility maintenance, capital planning and budget development. “Her experience really tipped the scales in her favor with respect to this position,” she said.
The department oversees a large number of sites, including Winter Island, Salem Willows, Salem Common, the Witch House and Forest River Park. Six years ago, the Council on Aging, which includes the senior center and a number of programs, was added to the responsibilities of the director of parks, recreation and community services.
“The golf course has to open every day, the Witch House has to open every day,” Driscoll said. “It is more than just recreational programs. It is a significant department.”
In his decade at the Park Department, Bollen had added scores of programs, overseen major improvements at almost every city park and greatly expanded the number of youth clinics. Partanen said she is looking to continue many of those programs, including the annual Wild Turkey Race and other road races.
The department has about 21 full- and part-time employees who work year-round and hires about 50 to 75 seasonal workers each year, according to Lisa Cammarata, human resources director.
In Palm Beach Gardens, Partanen was responsible for about 100 staff members and a $4 million budget, according to her resume. She was hired in that city in August 2002.
Like Sosnowski, Councilor Joseph O’Keefe initially supported a candidate from Salem. But in the end voted in favor of Partanen’s appointment because he was impressed with her resume, he said.
“I thought she was a qualified person,” O’Keefe said. “As I read her resume she was in charge of 100 employees and a large budget. She is bringing a lot of skills sets from Florida.”
Partanen, who grew up in Maine, said she was looking to move closer the family and was intrigued by the history of Salem when she came across the job posting.
She said the staff has been very welcoming and friendly in the week since joining the staff. “I am excited to be here,” she said.