Anything You Want To, Do It

Spotlight Professional in Parks & Recreation - Steve Roemer

Describe the scope of your position in parks and recreation.
As the Director for Burien, I lead, plan, organize and direct the activities of the City’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services including recreation programs, arts, parks (25 parks covering 350 acres), buildings (the Burien Community Center, Moshier Art Center, and the Annex) and grounds maintenance. With that said, I really do everything I can to support and remove obstacles so that my incredible staff can do all the great work they do on a day in and day out basis.  In addition to managing the budget, I am the Department’s representative and advocate to the City Manager, City Council and peer agencies, and have a strong role with our capital improvement program, from acquiring funds through grants or other means, through project design and construction, serving as project manager on larger capital improvement projects.

How long have you been with your present agency?
I’ve been with Burien for 8 years and was hired as the Park Development and Operations Manager.

Background experience and previous careers.
After graduating from college in 1982 from Humboldt State University with a B.S. in Forestry I ended up working for the City of San Jose as a Park Ranger Trainee in 1983. In San Jose, over a 23 year career, I worked my way up the chain as a Park Ranger, Senior Park Ranger, Park Facility Supervisor and finally Park Manager prior to leaving in 2006. As a Park Manager in San Jose I was responsible for all aspects of park operations and capital improvements for about 40 facilities throughout the central or downtown area. This also included the management of all citywide special events and park reservations. In my younger days, I did some time working in fruit packing canneries, on survey crews, in vineyards and for animal control services, all in the San Francisco Bay area.

What were some of your first jobs, and what did you learn from them?
Early in my Parks and Rec career, as a Park Ranger I learned through necessity to be extremely adaptable and truly wear many hats. Growing up in the Bay Area, even before there was Silicon Valley and then starting my career there, I was always part of a very diverse community. So I learned to flexible, adaptable and open to ideas and backgrounds different than my own.

Why are you passionate about the parks and recreation field?
Having been heavily involved in capital projects, such as restoring parks, planning and building new parks, the process of public meetings in a wide variety of neighborhoods, really showed me the pride people have in their community and when the projects were done and we had a new park, the reward for me was how I was able to contribute to people’s quality of life.

As a park ranger when I did a lot of interpretive presentations and more recently as I now watch our day camp kids, I get great joy in seeing the impact Park and Rec staff has on children’s lives, which contributes in many ways to building stronger communities.

I am really excited about the passion and commitment I see in the young professionals in our field and I hope that I am able to contribute to their growth and I will always be available to my staff for any insights, advice or coaching that I can offer.

What has been your biggest professional challenge?
For me it would probably be sustaining a positive work/life balance. As you progress in any career, you may immerse yourself trying to be the best you can be at your profession. I’ve had my periods where I couldn’t think of anything but work 24 hours a day. Watching e-mails, taking phone calls, checking in a bit too often while on vacation. Needless to say, your loved ones are impacted by your distractions and deserve your full attention when you’re with them. It’s also not healthy for yourself not to be able to take a break and get your body and brain removed from work. As much as we may think of ourselves as heart surgeons, we’re not and when we’re away from work the world keeps spinning. I’ve gotten much better at “relaxing” when I’m away from work and I am very grateful that in Burien there is a culture that values a work/life balance.

What's the best advice you can give to someone starting out in the field of parks and recreation?
The field of park and rec is very diverse and there are many different directions you can pursue for a career. So I would advise that early on in a career, maybe starting with an internship, try different fields. Try programming for a variety of age groups, participate in special events, check out what goes on in parks maintenance, or help design a new park or improvement. Even if these aren’t your job classifications, be interested, maybe shadow someone if an option, get a broader view of what parks and recreation is all about and find the niche that makes you the most passionate.