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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Schools to parks: Conley takes on new city position

Jody Lawrence-Turner And Nicholas Deshais Staff writers

Jason Conley is swapping yellow school buses for emerald green parks.

Starting next month, Conley will begin his job as executive officer of Spokane’s Parks and Recreation department. The role is second to Leroy Eadie, the parks director, and is proposed as a way to let Eadie focus more on the department’s operation. Conley is the first person to fill the position.

“I get pulled away a lot from the day-to-day activities of the department,” Eadie said. “It’s suffered.”

As executive officer, Conley will supervise the Riverfront Park Department, oversee budgetary and financial matters for parks and negotiate contracts, among other things. Conley will make $108,000 a year, a bump from the $100,500 he made at Spokane Public Schools. Eadie makes $115,000 a year.

Six months ago, Conley hadn’t considered leaving his schools job, but when someone recruited him to apply for the parks position, he made the leap.

“You don’t always have the opportunity to choose when these things happen in life,” said Conley, who has been the district’s safety, security and transportation director for eight years. “It’s just a great opportunity for me.”

Conley worked at the city of Spokane’s Parks Department for 10 years, earning employee of the year in 2001. He was the parks security supervisor when he left. The new position gives him a broader brush and a chance to complete unfinished business, he said. Increasing security is a big part of the Riverfront Park bond on November’s ballot.

The idea of having a hand in shaping the future of Riverfront Park for generations to come is particularly exciting, he said. The downtown park is near to his heart. Conley worked there as a college student.

Since its creation, the Park Board has been autonomous, allowed to control its own budget. This setup has made the parks department “successful,” but it also means Eadie has three bosses: the mayor, the City Council and the Park Board.

Conley, who answers to Eadie, will have four bosses.

“There is an intense amount of work when you’re working with citizens, in a positive way,” Mayor David Condon said of the Park Board, a citizen board.

Eadie had too many duties and needed someone to take on some of the responsibilities, Condon said.

“Other things were falling to the side because we weren’t doing it,” he said. “There was a body of work that the Park Board identified that needed to get done. It allows Leroy the latitude to get some of these things done.”

Conley’s experience with the school district will be helpful in his new role. He pointed to increasing security at Riverfront Park, the city’s effort to combine its fleet in one location and the parks’ risk management policy as areas where Conley’s schools experience would help.

Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson learned of Conley’s new position this week. “The district went from a system that didn’t have any cameras or secured entrances to tight security,” Anderson said. “He’s worked very hard to expand our school resource officers, on-site, central officers and nighttime specialists. Graffiti and vandalism are at an all-time low as a result.”

Conley has been the driving force behind arming school resource officers. He also helped find a new bus contractor. He said he is most proud of putting defibrillators in all of the district’s high schools and middle schools.

Eadie said Conley “came highly recommended by the folks he worked with at Riverfront Park. When I got a chance to meet him, everything they said was true. No big ego. Builds a lot of great relationships. He has a great big smile.”

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