Park and rec names interim

Published 10:26 am Thursday, July 3, 2008

The meeting started somber for the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Board, which, like the department, is still grieving the sudden loss of its director Dennis Maschka, who died of complications from surgery June 22.

“His death leaves a huge void in the City of Austin, and we can’t change that,” board chair Darlene Thaisen read from a statement Wednesday. “His untimely death also comes at probably the busiest time of year for Park and Rec, and leaves the department without a director — we can change that. Tonight we can appoint an interim director.”

The board unanimously approved Kim Underwood, the department’s administrative assistant, to the post, a vote that will require a second approval by Austin city council members Monday. The board also set a six-month timeline, to conclude Jan. 1, 2009, to fill the position full time, and agreed to a $62,500 salary for Underwood in the interim.

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According to Thaisen, Underwood is a great fit, having been groomed for the position by Maschka. The late director, she said, had been working with Underwood over the last year as he prepared for retirement.

“Denny was already mentoring her, so when he retired she could fill his shoes,” Thaisen said.

Board members said she also demonstrated sound leadership during Maschka’s absence the month of June, noting that she well-handled the city’s latest flood event two weeks go.

“You’ve been doing wonderfully,” board member Gretchen Ramlo said. “You got us through the flood, and this team needs a leader, and you’ve been that leader.”

Underwood, with 26 years at the department, accepted gracefully, thanking the board and pledging to manage with a “we” approach to the department.

She later said the appointment came as a surprise.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” she said.

Board members also discussed ways to memorialize Maschka, with board member Don Fox first suggesting a second pond at Todd Park, which he envisioned could be used with the one already in place for catch-and-release fishing by youth.

“It will be expensive, but I think Denny is well worth it,” Fox said.

Board members voted to include the project in its 2013 planning, though may push its construction earlier. According to staff member Larry Dolphin, the second pond would first have to be approved by the Department of Natural Resources.

Members also discussed renaming the Central Bandshell Park to Maschka Park, though nothing was approved.

“It’s called so many different things, it may be good to have it memorialized to Denny,” Thaisen said.

Board member Bob Wilson told the group that Riverland Community College has already done its part, calling a trail connecting the campus to the concession stand Maschka Pathway.