Mayor Steve Noble is seeking the Common Council’s support for a plan that would fold the city’s Parks and Recreation Department into the Department of Public Works. Noble’s proposal also calls for the appointment of his wife, Julie Noble, and his former confidential secretary, Lynsey Timbrouck, to senior positions in the department. The merger proposal comes as longtime Parks and Rec chief Kevin Gilfeather gets set to retire in April.
If the plan is approved as proposed by Noble, Julie Noble would get a raise of more than $20,000 a year.
The proposal calls for DPW Superintendent Ed Norman to take on oversight of Parks and Recreation. A new position, deputy superintendent of environmental services, will oversee city parks, recreation programs, environmental education and DPW’s sanitation division. Another new post, recreation director, will lead new and existing city recreation programs.
Noble said the reorganization of the departments would be accomplished by shifting funds within the current budget and would not require additional expenditures or changes to the contract with CSEA, which represents workers in both departments. Noble said the new arrangement, announced Monday, would create efficiencies by forming a single pool of workers and equipment to perform maintenance duties in city parks as well as non-park open spaces. Noble said the merger would help streamline operations as the city embarks on a series of capital projects — like the ongoing Kingston Point Rail Trail — that will increase the amount of city-managed open space.
“I think it’s going to lead to better parks, better recreation and better public works in the long run,” said Noble.
Noble said he would appoint his wife Julie, who currently serves in Parks and Rec as an environmental education and sustainability programs coordinator, to the new deputy superintendent post.
Julie Noble, who holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies, has been employed full time by Parks and Rec since 2007. In 2015, the year before her husband took office, Julie Noble was paid $42,543 for her work as an environmental educator. Last year, following her promotion to sustainability coordinator, her salary, including overtime, totaled $53,628. As deputy superintendent she will be paid $73,185. Timbrouck, who was paid $40,309 a year as Noble’s confidential secretary, will earn $46,180 as recreation leader.
Julie Noble’s appointment is provisional, meaning that there will eventually be an open competitive civil service examination for the job. She will need to be among the top three high-scorers on the exam to remain at the post. (Timbrouck was selected off of an existing civil service list). In a prepared statement that was part of the release announcing the plan, Julie Noble touted her experience working directly with DPW on interdepartmental projects and coordinating the city’s recent switch back to dual-stream recycling.
“There is so much opportunity in aligning departments and I look forward being part of, and building, a team that will improve efficiencies, streamline communication and collectively move this city forward.”
Noble, who praised his wife’s work on behalf of the city in his New Year’s Day address to the Common Council, defended the appointment. Noble said the restructuring of the department meant that Julie Noble would not report directly to him, but instead to DPW chief Ed Norman. Noble added that his wife was eminently qualified for the post based on her experience managing city projects and programs involving recycling, climate change, transportation and environmental education. She currently coordinates the city’s Climate Smart Community program and chairs the Conservation Advisory Council. She has worked for Parks and Rec since 1999, when she was in high school, and was hired full-time in 2007.
“I think that the public will see the value of the work that she has done and the leadership that she has provided,” said Noble of the appointment.
Common Council Majority Leader Rennie Scott-Childress (D-Ward 3) said he supported the reorganization effort as a way to improve efficiency and eliminate duplicate services in city government. Scott-Childress added that he did not see an immediate issue with Noble’s appointment of his wife to the deputy superintendent post.
“As long as they satisfy the requirements of our ethics law, I don’t see a problem with it,” said Scott-Childress. “Julie is a professional and she has done a lot of good work.”
But Alderwoman-at-Large and Common Council President Andrea Shaut said she was “blindsided” by the mayor’s press release, though she had been aware of the proposal itself. Shaut, who has previously spoken about the need for better coordination between the mayor and the council, said the council would take a careful look at the proposed restructuring.
“We all want what’s best for Kingston and that’s how we’re going to approach this,” said Shaut. “We are not going to be pressured to rush this through.”
Regarding Noble’s decision to appoint a close family member to a senior post, Shaut said hiring authority belonged to the mayor, not the council. Previously, Noble recused himself from contract talks with the CSEA, the union which represents his wife, citing a potential conflict of interest.
But Shaut suggested that the city’s ethics board might be called on to weigh in on the issue.
“We don’t have any power as far as hiring, nothing with teeth,” said Shaut. “I hope that the public will weigh in on this and that the mayor will listen.”