The Columbus Dispatch

Reese named recreation and parks director

- Mark Ferenchik

Bernita Reese has been named the new director of the Columbus Department of Recreation and Parks, succeeding Paul Rakosky, who has been interim director since 2019.

Reese was introduced Monday at the Beatty Community Center on the Near East Side by Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther and Derrick Clay, president of the Columbus Recreation and Parks Commission. She is the first Black woman to be named the city’s rec and parks director. Her annual salary will be $180,003.

Reese said that first and foremost, parks and recreation centers are safe, and she will be working on ways to make them more so. She said she plans on meeting with Police Chief Elaine Bryant after she starts her job in January.

“Safety is paramount to our success,” she said.

People have been concerned about park safety since two homicides in city parks earlier this year. On May 22, a 16-year-old, Olivia Kurtz, died and five other teens were wounded after a shooting in Downtown’s Bicentenni­al Park. Then in June, 17-year-old Makenzi Ridley, was shot and killed outside the Far East Community Center. Both of those homicides remain unsolved.

Reese most recently was director of parks and recreation for the city of Huntsville, Alabama. She had served for more than three years as assistant director for Columbus recreation and parks, then left for Huntsville in April.

In Huntsville, Reese developed a playground replacemen­t program and worked with community leaders to increase athletic tourism.

During an interview Monday, Reese said Huntsville converted a golf course into a cross-country track that has attracted events, and built an aquatics center that brings state high school and national collegiate competitio­ns to that city. For example, the Huntsville Aquatics Center this month hosted a national collegiate club championsh­ip for men’s water polo teams.

Canton’s C.T. Branin Natatorium hosts Ohio’s high school swimming and diving championsh­ips each year, she noted.

Reese said she also wants to help create new programs for teens in Columbus.

Ginther called Reese a dynamic leader who will bring the department into the 21st century. “Recreation and parks plays a key role in our equity agenda,” he said.

Clay said the city wanted to find a courageous leader to build relationsh­ips.

“We found that someone,” Clay said. According to the city, Reese also led and supported department­s in Dekalb and Fayette counties in Georgia, and in Moline, Illinois, and the United States Army in Heidelberg, Germany. @Markferenc­hik

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