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Pair of finalists moves forward in Parks & Recreation director search

by | Aug 8, 2023 | Featured: News, News

Two finalists were chosen from the top four candidates for the Parks & Recreation Department’s director position after they interviewed Monday night before commission members and town leaders.

After a three-hour-plus meeting that consisted of individual interviews and commissioner discussion, Jonathan Lewitus and Mark Kelly will advance to the next step in the process. They both come from larger recreation program backgrounds. Their references will be contacted, and they will undergo background checks. They also will be interviewed by Maria Casey, the human resources director, in further detail on their goals and salary requirements.

The commissioners who reviewed the candidates also commended Frank Livera and Julie Harrington for their dedication. They noted that while any of the four would make a good director, their chief concern was who would fit best with the department and the town as a whole.

Top contenders impress

Lewitus, who appeared to be the front-runner, stressed the pride he has taken in his work and his desire to provide recreational activities that he would want to see his two children enjoy. For more than three years, he has worked as the assistant recreation director for Brookline, where he previously was employed as a recreation leader and facility manager. He also worked as an assistant recreation director in Sharon.

“The entire time, I was always involved in programs and services,” he said of his Brookline stints, “whether I was teaching youth martial arts, coaching athletics, and running public fitness programs and summer camps.”

Said Lewitus: “I like to say that I’ve done everything under the sun when it comes to recreation.”

In his current role, he manages an aquatics center as well as the public golf course and runs afterschool programs.

Lewitus stressed his leadership style, noting that he picks up trash while walking on a public beach to demonstrate the pride he has in the areas he oversees. He called himself “personable, fair and transparent” with staff members.

“A lot of the time, the frustration we get from residents is not getting an answer and not being heard,” he said. “I think that one of the biggest strengths I have is my ability to listen, think and then come up with an answer to their question or problem.”

His experience with managing budgets as well as a master’s degree in business administration with a concentration in sports management were seen as assets. He currently manages a $7 million budget.

His goal for Hopkinton would be to oversee a department with programming that he would like to see offered to his two children. Lewitus has family and friends who live in Hopkinton and surrounding towns, so he is familiar with the town and its needs. His hope is to bring Hopkinton “to the next level.”

Lewitus plans on doing that by talking with community members, the School Department and local partners about programming they would like to see. He hopes to increase participation in programs and retain current members. A priority of his is “being out in the public,” even on his days off with his family.

Reaching out to underserved populations is another goal to ensure that the entire community is being served and trusts the department. He talked about offering art and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs as well.

His one weakness, he explained, is that his career has been focused on the recreation side of the job rather than “the parks aspect” because Brookline has a separate parks department.

Kelly, a Hopkinton resident, has 25 years of experience in municipal management. He currently works as the director of special needs for the Newton Parks & Recreation Department. During his interview, he stressed his efforts to create programming for people who have special needs and creating events to raise awareness, such as a road race.

He stressed that he is looking for “a long-term commitment” in the position and how he plans on taking a “team approach” to the job. He noted his experience in managing staff and volunteers and working with a variety of stakeholders.

“This is a really unique opportunity for me,” said Kelly, who has lived in Hopkinton for the past 17 years. “I’m a tremendously hard worker, and I like to advocate for parks and open space. I think I’ve learned over the years that you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with.”

One achievement he highlighted was starting “Paddy’s Road Race” in Newton. The funds raised have benefited programming for children and adults with disabilities. He also transformed Camp Echo Bridge from a camp for children with disabilities to an inclusive camp that is now the largest camp in Newton.

Said Kelly: “If it’s going to have my name on it, it’s going to be open and welcoming to all, whether it’s race, religion, gender identity or ability level.”

Other contenders highlighted

Livera, who has worked as the assistant recreation director for the town of Sharon for the past four years, was considered to have the least experience among the four contenders. He also has worked as an assistant and interim parks and recreation director in Sudbury.

Livera stressed his “versatile set of experience across parks and recreation” where he has focused on programming and special events. He hoped to bring his aquatics experience to the position and called Hopkinton “an up-and-coming town.” He also was excited about the potential growth of recreational space into new buildings.

Harrington impressed the committee because she actually created Medway’s first recreation department five years ago. She also started the Choate summer camp and hosted seasonal events there over the past five years.

One thing that made her stand out is that she gave a concrete example of a situation where she took leadership in solving a problem. Some residents wanted to use a turf field in the winter. When she refused to let them because of potential turf damage, they began to shovel it. In response, she had them removed and contacted the town manager before the situation could develop into a social media nightmare.

Finalists have own strengths

Commission vice chair Laura Hanson said she believed Lewitus had “the entire package” of experience and commitment. She also praised Kelly for his experience, knowledge of the town and his willingness to make this job a long-term commitment as opposed to a stepping stone position.

Commissioner Seth Kenney said he liked Kelly because “he is in it for the long term.”

Interim director Pat Savage noted that both Lewitus and Kelly come from larger departments where they receive more support.

She appeared to lean toward recommending Lewitus because she did not “see the same passion” for the position in the other contenders. She countered that by noting Kelly’s extensive experience and leadership.

“The town is fortunate to have four great candidates,” added Town Manager Norman Khumalo, calling the decision “very difficult.” What concerned him most was how the new director would fit in with the staff, town leadership and the community.

Casey said that Kelly showed “a softer side” of his personality during this interview process than in the initial round that included seven candidates.

“I don’t think you could go wrong with him,” she said.

Chair Dan Terry countered that Kelly’s focus was more on populations with special needs, making him lean more toward Lewitus.

Savage added that while Lewitus was “very polished,” she would like to learn more about him from his references.

Casey will contact the finalists and begin the background check process. Once she has compiled the information, she will reach out to Terry to schedule a follow-up meeting and vote. Because Terry, Hanson and Kenney joined this meeting on time and heard the interviews of both candidates, they will be the ones voting on who will assume the directorship. Commissioner Ravi Dasari was able to attend for the final two interviews, while commissioner Amy O’Donnell was unable to attend.


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