Baptism by hurricane
By Ty Johnson
Published in News on November 14, 2011 1:46 PM
Scott Barnard talks Wednesday in Goldsboro about the amenities that could be added to Stoney Creek Park. New additions to the park include a restroom and possibly an amphitheater.
Scott Barnard steps up to the first tee at Stoney Creek Park and peers through the trees to find his target: a disc golf basket with dangling chains.
He's an avid disc golfer, but finding each tee, a couple of cinder blocks, and basket is a challenge as he plays the course that winds through the trees and deep into the thickets.
Barnard has been the director of Goldsboro's parks and recreation department for more than two months, but this is his first time playing the course.
Forgive him, though -- he's had more important things to worry about than making par.
Barnard started his job Aug. 22 on the heels of the new city manager, Scott Stevens, who began work Aug. 8, or "Scott 3," as Mayor Al King calls him.
"Scott 4," Barnard, joined Scott Williams, the city's information technology director, and Scott Newsome, Goldsboro's buildings and traffic maintenance superintendent, on King's roll of Scotts, but the others' first week likely paled in comparison to the rollercoaster Barnard rode.
His second day of work, the whole of Wayne County was shaken when a 5.9-magnitude earthquake centered in Virginia struck, and by his third day, he was in a meeting where the city was preparing its response plan for when Hurricane Irene made landfall.
"I learned all of the resources I had day three," he said.
By the time Irene's winds and rain reached Goldsboro early on the morning of Aug. 27, Barnard said he had had plenty of time to meet his staff, so the trial by fire during the weekend was a welcome initiation for him.
"There was no 'I'm the new guy, I'll catch the next one,'" he explained. "It allowed me to immediately break the ice with the staff and I ran around with the superintendent. It was good to see John (Albert) perform under pressure and I saw that there was no weak link at the top."
Following the storm, he then had his staff members visit the Family Shoe Store downtown to pick up some steel-toe boots.
"It doesn't matter what your title is, your job is now limb picker-upper," he joked.
Cleaning up the parks and other debris became the city's No. 1 priority and Barnard made sure his staff was prepped. He boasts that the department was able to repair and reopen the golf course in just four days, but that still didn't cover up the fact that his arrival was marked by natural disasters.
That wasn't lost on Mayor Al King, who, along with the other council members, ribbed Barnard for his tumultuous first week at the first council meeting he attended on Sept. 6, but Barnard's busy beginning hadn't even begun.
Growing up in the Virginia Beach area back before it fully developed into a tourist haven, Barnard was a self-described community center rat.
With a public recreation center within walking distance of his home, he was constantly swimming, playing basketball, tennis or just being outside.
"I was the kid who went to preschool wearing shin guards because I had soccer practice afterward," he said.
Besides his active lifestyle, his parents loved the outdoors as well. Family vacations were spent in tents or cabins at state parks and by the time he was 14, Barnard was already working at a summer camp, where he learned the camp director had a degree in parks and recreation.
A degree in playing outside? Barnard was sold.
He discovered North Carolina State University had a parks, recreation and tourism management degree and headed to Raleigh where he earned his degree and began his career in park management.
He began in the Triangle, working for Wake County, but saw an opportunity in New Hanover County so he took a job there.
Renting a home near the coast while trying to sell a home in Holly Springs -- and handling his family responsibilities as a husband and father of two -- proved to be too much on top of his daily four hours of commuting.
Chalking the inability to sell his home up to the bad economy, Barnard accepted a job in Durham working for the city's parks and recreation department.
Looking back, he admits the move was the one time he took a job instead of going where his career led him, but the move would keep him closer to his family until his dream job opened up.
That, he said, happened when Goldsboro began asking for applications.
"I love the size of the community and it's east of (Interstate) 95," he said, adding that Goldsboro reminded him of growing up in Virginia Beach. "I love the down east way of life and I also want to live in a place where I can have an impact."
Still, family would have to come first for Barnard, whose family of four grew by a member a month into his directorship in Goldsboro.
Monday, Sept. 26, he checked into the hospital with his wife, who had a scheduled delivery the next day.
Baby Emerson joined Kyle, 8, and Ben, 5, as a healthy baby boy at Western Wake in Cary, where his wife's doctor was, but that didn't mean he was going to stay in the Triangle.
By Saturday, the 4-day-old infant was getting baptized by barbecue in his future home of Goldsboro with his inaugural trip to Wilber's Barbecue.
And although he still spends his workdays more than 60 miles away from his family, Barnard insists the hour-long commute truly isn't much of a difference from his Durham commute, thanks to relaxed traffic.
Still, that won't suffice to quiet chatter about how long this new parks and recreation director will stick around.
The city's parks and recreation director position has been a revolving door in recent years, as Barnard marks the sixth person to hold the position since 2008.
While the others might have viewed Goldsboro as a stepping stone -- three of the other five abdicated to pursue other positions in larger towns -- Barnard insists that he would like to be in Goldsboro until his retirement.
His family will seek, again, to sell their home in Holly Springs this spring and will hope for better luck and a resurgent housing market while Barnard aims to be busy cultivating ideas from his staff -- something he said might not have been a large part of the management culture under other directors.
"It seems like the staff hasn't felt free to run until we run out of chain," he said. "It's almost like they were wound up waiting for me to get here and now that I'm here, it's like 'Let's go!' It's an ignition of passion. Sure they're still skeptical, but it's about tackling risk."
Pressing his staff for ideas has led to the renaissance of many ideas gone by, Barnard said, especially the partnering together with the Kiwanis Club and library for events, like this year's Jingle in the Park.
"Reviving these things takes little effort because the thirst is there," he said. "It doesn't require a budget amendment. It just needs partnership and cooperation."
Other ideas, though, will likely take longer and require more effort, he said, like tapping into the city's best kept recreation secrets: water sports.
"I really want to incorporate the rivers into recreation," he said. "It's a resource that we're barely scratching the surface of."
Paddling the Neuse River and other streams in the Neuse River Basin could be a boost to the travel and tourism industry of Wayne County, he said, and he wants Parks and Recreation out in front of it.
But more than that, Barnard wants to restore Goldsboro's parks and recreation department to the level of relevance it once had -- through fitness, wellness, programs and outreach.
"I want to figure out what needs are not being met and become experts at that," he said.