Interview With Rodger Schmitt

From the interview with Rodger Schmitt of Port Townsend conducted at the Fort Worden History Center on March 18, 2011 by Patience Rogge.  Mr. Schmitt serves as vice chair of the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.  Before he retired, Mr. Schmitt had a long career in parks and recreation with the federal government.  Here he discusses how he became a commissioner and the work of the commission:

“While I was serving on the Fort Worden Advisory Committee, we started the visioning of Fort Worden and ended up with the final Life Long Learning Center concept…I was active in that. When the whole question of what we were going to do with governance here came up, I was asked to represent the committee, along with George Randals, on a statewide task force that was put together by Director Rex Derr to look at the whole alternative governing structure. I served on that task force  with one member who was a Parks commissioner.  During that process we got to know each other pretty well and he indicated to me that there was an opening on the commission that I might be interested in applying for.  I did and got selected. …It is an unusual commission in the state because it has full authority to make decisions, whereas some commissions are just advisory, similar to what the advisory committee is here, but the Parks Commission makes decisions.  They hire the director and they fire the director.  They make land exchange and sales decisions, planning decisions.  They learn and have to approve all of the camp studies, the planning studies.  We have a lot of major decisions to make, with staff making recommendations.  We do just a little bit of everything—any rights of way on timber cuts—just everything that comes before the commission.  We have seven meetings a year, and there’s a whole bunch of background information they give you in advance and you spend time going through it, making phone calls and asking questions of staff and getting more familiar with it.  We make decisions on budgets—capital and operating.  The hiring and firing of staff is all done within Parks.  We don’t do any of that, we try to  stay out of the day to day stuff.  We implement policy and do major kinds of things.  I’m enjoying it.  I’m really pleased because I heard that previous commissions were mostly a good old boys network.  They’d sit around and shoot the bull and weren’t as committed to parks and recreation.  I found when I got there all the people who were on the commission were pre-committed to parks and very engaged and read all the material and came prepared.  That apparently wasn’t the case in the early days.”

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