2012-07-06 / Front Page

South Portland welcomes back city native

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

Rick Towle will take over as South Portland Parks and Recreation director. He replaces Dana Anderson, who Towle called “an icon in all of New England.” (Jack Flagler photos) Rick Towle will take over as South Portland Parks and Recreation director. He replaces Dana Anderson, who Towle called “an icon in all of New England.” (Jack Flagler photos) The South Portland Parks and Recreation Department has a new director at the helm.

Rick Towle, a native Mainer who graduated from Jay High School in 1989, has taken over the position. He replaces Dana Anderson, who held the position for 34 years before stepping down.

Towle returns to Maine after he worked for eight years as the parks and recreation director for Talbot County, Md. He said that position posed a challenge not just because he was in charge of a whole county rather than a single town, but for geographical reasons as well.

Talbot County includes 602 miles of coastline on five peninsulas along Maryland’s eastern shore, so traveling from town to town was not easy. Talbot said he ended up traveling hundreds of miles, all within his own community.

He finished his job in Maryland on Friday, June 22 and began work for South Portland on Monday, June 25. Towle said he barely had time to unpack his boxes before he started work in Maine. His wife Deborah and their two daughters will join Towle in a few weeks, in time for the girls, who are 8 and 10, to start school in the fall.

Talbot County Manager John Craig, who had worked with Towle since 2010, said the parks and recreation director’s move is a “very big loss” for Talbot County. Craig added that he could count on Towle not only to do what was expected, but also “to go above and beyond to do what’s best for the citizens.” But Craig said he understood that Towle felt it was the right time to bring his family back home to Maine.

Before moving to Maryland, Towle had previous experience in parks and recreation within Maine, working as the director for Old Orchard Beach from 1997 to 2000 and Biddeford from 2000 to 2004. While he worked in those two towns, Talbot lived in South Portland at Cleveland Circle.

Towle said through a combination of recreational and professional travel he has visited 49 states (all but Alaska). But he is looking forward to the opportunity to be back in his original home.

“I just found that this was the right place for me right now and for my family. I wanted to move back and enjoy it a little bit,” Towle said.

South Portland City Manager Jim Gailey said Anderson and interim parks and recreation director Tim Gato left the department in a good position for Towle. But a fresh perspective should help bring improvements to the department.

“When you bring a new set of eyes in, there’s always the ability to do things a little bit different. That’s something that intrigues me. (Rick) has already seen a couple of little things to implement that would make customer service easier,” Gailey said.

One example of that fresh perspective, Gailey said, came when Towle visited one of the city’s municipal golf courses. Towle didn’t have any cash in his pocket, and wondered why more locations in the city under the parks and recreation umbrella didn’t accept credit cards. Gailey said even those “little tweaks” will make customer service easier in South Portland.

Outside of those minor details, Towle will not be making too many drastic changes in his first few months on the job. Instead, he will perform an initial overall assessment of the department to focus on “big picture” ideas and establish a long-term vision for the department over the next 10 to 25 years.

Towle has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Maine in public policy, and has experience working in both the public and private sectors. He said that wide range of experience gives him a unique perspective.

“It does allow me the luxury ... to look at parks and recreation differently than a lot of folks who are classically trained in parks and rec,” Towle said. “And what I mean by that is, that a lot of times administrators in parks and recreation don’t see things the way the city council sees them, or the way that the city manager has to see them in a budget process, or how it fits into the web of a community.”

“Anybody can come in and ask for more basketballs or a bigger park,” Towle added. “The question is, how do you frame it so they understand why it’s important and what it is that can be accomplished and what’s to be gained through that process.”

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