Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield has announced that he has selected Wade Walcutt as the city’s new Parks and Recreation director.
Walcutt replaces Rhonda Parker, who retired as DPR director in February 2020. Assistant Director Joy Guy has served as director in the interim.
Walcutt is not new to North Carolina: between 2011 and 2017, he served as the director of Greensboro’s Parks and Recreation department, overseeing a staff 200 and budget of $18 million, according to the city’s press release. In 2017, he began a job as executive director of the Cincinnati Park Board. In that position, according to the city press release, he oversaw an staff and budget roughly the same size as Greensboro’s.
In October of 2019, he resigned from the position with a $39,528.88 severance package. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, that settlement was intended to defray the moving costs that Walcutt’s family had incurred by moving from North Carolina. In his resignation letter to the board, according to the Enquirer, Walcutt stated that he was resigning in order to take “another professional opportunity.”
Durham Parks and Recreation—which ranked 72nd last year in a Trust for Public Land ranking of parks in the 100 largest cities in the country—has struggled with recent internal issues. In September of 2019, 17 employees at Durham Parks and Recreation’s school-age-care unit sent a letter to Bonfield that alleged an erosion of working conditions as well as “increased hostility and alarming employee turnover.” Employees also stated that the department lacked a sufficient employee grievance process.
Cincinnati, in that same 2019 Trust for Public Land assessment, ranked as the eighth best city for parks in the country. Durham officials, however, have stated that such assessments don’t take into account funding constraints. The General Assembly, for instance, doesn’t allow local municipalities to mandate affordable housing, which means that cities like Durham must fill in the gaps by redirecting public funds to housing crises. (On that same assessment, Raleigh placed 30th in the country’s best parks, and Charlotte came in 95th.)
“We are at a critical time in the life of our city and our Parks and Recreation Department,” Bonfield said in a city press release. “As we chart a course to re-establish services coming out of the pandemic, and also contemplate how to best serve those in our community who have traditionally been underserved, I am confident Wade has demonstrated the innovation and leadership that make him the best fit for our department.”
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