FACT CHECKING APR– the Director’s “Covid Staffing” Claim

by Dean Silver

At their February 2, 2022 study session, the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commissioners heard testimony from APR Department Director Michael Black regarding funding and how it affects operations.  One of the factors he stressed was the lower level of staffing in the department; he referred to it as “covid staffing”. [transcription and link below]

An analysis of available City of Ashland financial data shows that there is no decrease in the number of employees maintaining the parks or staffing the Recreation Division.  The staffing decreases have been to office support staff and custodial staff, which have been subcontracted out.

For FY 2022, there are 17 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) park technicians, funded and filled, including one who is now listed as a “golf technician”.  That is the actually one more park technician than were working in FY 2019-2021.  There has been no reduction in the number of employees who do the actual work of maintaining the parks properties in the field since FY 2018.

The FY 2021-23 biennial budget lists the number of park technicians as 17.  A list of currently filled positions as of 12/09/2021 confirms that 17 is the number of funded positions that are filled. [fig 1]

Thus according to all available data, the number of park technicians actually increased in FY 2021-2023 by 6.25%.

The “covid staffing” that Dir. Black referred to does not have any bearing on the workers actually maintaining the parks, nor operating the Recreation Division.  The Recreation Division programs have basically been unavailable to the public during the pandemic, although staffing has remained as authorized.  The only reductions in force were in office support and custodial staffing.

Beginning Monday, July 6, 2020 APRC instituted one furlough day per month from July 2020 through June 2021 to address the decrease of revenue from Recreation programs. That should have saved 5% of salary costs, and reduced overall staff time by 5%. That should not have caused a drop in productivity, because technician staffing increased by 6.25%, and the Recreation programs have been essentially shut down, although the Recreation staff is still on the job. It is unclear whether the furloughs continued beyond June 2021. There is no mention to be found in APR’s public facing pages, so it would be a reasonable assumption that the furloughs have ceased at this time, and have not been in effect for the past seven months.

Recent Historical Analysis

The employees who actually maintain the parks are the park technicians. In 2014 there were 19 FTE park technicians and 3 temps.  In 2016, the number of Park Technicians was reduced to 17 FTE with 0.5 FTE temps. In 2018, the number of Park Techs was reduced again to 16 FTE, and the temps reduced to zero. [fig. 2]

Thus there actually had been a reduction in the number of technicians maintaining the parks, but that reduction occurred in FY 2016. Director Black assumed his position with APR in August, 2014, so his management began in FY 2015, and his influence on the biennial budget first occurred in FY 2016.  The reduction of parks technicians began when he assumed management of APR, and fell again in FY 2018, increased in FY 2021, and has remained constant since then.  The FY 2019-2021 biennial budget was prepared before the pandemic. The FY2021-2023 budget was prepared during the pandemic (early 2021).

In 2016, two new management positions were created, Western Division Supervisor and Forestry, Trails, and Outer Parks Supervisor.  A full time Admin Asst and a part time office assistant were also added to the Admin staff.

Also in 2016, the 0.25 FTE CC/Recreation Facilities Manager was eliminated, as well as the full time Environmental Ed Assistant.  The Nature Center Manager and Nature Center Coordinator were added as full time positions, and 1.5 FTE office assistants were added. 5.45 FTE Temps were added to the Recreation Division in 2016, for a total of 9.15 FTE, all of whom were eliminated in 2018. Also in 2018 the Senior Program Specialist was eliminated, after being downsized from .70 FTE in 2014 to .25 FTE in 2016.  The half time Senior Program Support Specialist was also eliminated.  It is very difficult to compare Recreation staffing during 2017-18, because that was the time when the Senior Center program was totally reorganized, and at least partially separated from the Recreation Division.

Staffing information was not published for 2021, because a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) was not prepared for the Parks and Rec Dept. as it had been in previous years.  That omission meant that the details of APR’s finances and operations were not reported as they had been previously.  They were summarized in the City CAFR, but the level of detail was just a fraction of what had been reported in the past. 

I was able to obtain a report of “Authorized vs Filled Positions” from the City via a Public Records Request.  It is difficult to make a direct comparison with the previously reported data due to the format of the report and the changing titles of some of the positions.  What that report shows is that APR had 34.75 authorized (meaning funded) positions for FY 2022, a reduction of 2.5 FTE from 2020.  Of those positions listed, four were listed as “0.00 FTE”.  That indicates that those positions were unfunded for FY 2022, whereas they had been previously funded.  Those four positions were three office assistants and a custodian.  The custodian position was eliminated because APR is subcontracting for custodial services. There were two custodial positions listed for 2020 and previous years.  If those positions were removed from the comparison, the level of staffing for FY 2018-2020 would total 35.25.  That is only 0.5 FTE (non-field techs) greater than for FY 2022, when the purported “covid staffing” is a presented as a problem by Dir. Black.

The most relevant statistic to note is that there are currently 17 FTE park technicians.  It is one employee (6.25%) more than the number working in FY 2018-2021. There has been no reduction in the number of employees who do the actual work of maintaining the parks properties in the field. If maintenance of the parks has been suffering, it is not due to decreased staffing. “Covid staffing” is hyperbolic and does not accurately describe the current APR employee roster.


The “covid staffing” that Dir. Black referred to does not have any bearing on the workers actually maintaining the parks or operating the recreation programs which have not been operating during the pandemic.  The 5% furloughs should not have significantly affected employee performance, especially considering that park technicians positions increased by 6.25% in FY 2021. There has been no reduction in staffing for park technicians, nor for the Recreation Division.  The only reductions were in office support staffing, and outsourced functions.

Any performance problems pertaining to maintenance of the parks or recreation program operations cannot be blamed on staffing.  They are the direct result of decisions made by the top management of APR. Director Black’s comments do not reflect the realities of APR staffing.  There are many more aspects of APR staffing and funding to examine, which I will be doing in the weeks to come.

There is no doubt that staffing levels and employee compensation are key elements of the City’s financial issues in general, and of course APR specifically.

Factors that must be investigated and addressed are:

  • Staffing levels
  • Staffing compensation
  • Staffing assignments and responsibilities
  • Staffing activities

I will be examining these issues in the weeks ahead, as well as APR’s actual funding levels and the utilization of those funds.

The Parks and Recreation Commissioners oversee the Parks and Rec department. Michael Black manages the Parks and Rec department, and reports to the Commissioners. Without accurate information, the Commissioners cannot effectively oversee the Parks and Rec department. Without accurate information, the City Council and the taxpayers cannot evaluate the actual needs and performance of the Parks and Rec department.

To be absolutely clear, these observations do not reflect upon the employees of APR or the Commissioners in any way.  They only evaluate the accuracy and reliability of Michael Black’s assertion that the department’s performance is suffering from “covid staffing”.

Relevant Excerpts from Statement by Michael Black Feb. 2, 2022 to APRC

[37:40] “Just to remind you, the level of staffing we have right now is covid staffing. So we are at 34.75 FTE, several years ago, actually not that long ago, just a few years ago, we were at 41 FTE.  So if we continue at the same level of funding with the same staff, we will be at a deficit of around $750,000 the first year, and that will go up in the second year. It could be as high as $950,000 in the second year. So if we advance, and were able to bring back a few staff members to fill a few spots, especially in recreation, where we hope we’re hoping they will be opening up and providing more services, they will also be bringing in a little bit more revenue as well, but that factored into it, we’re still going to be, if we’re at $1.89 funding level and we bring back two full time equivalents, then the, it just gets bigger, obviously….”

[40:52] “So we want to meet, and we’re always striving and we do everything that we can, everything, all of our employees, all of them, we’re all trying to do everything that we can to exceed expectations and to give people the best experience they can when they come to the parks or participate in recreation.  It’s getting, we’re at a point now where we no longer can do it to the expectations that people have in a lot of cases because of the cost….”

[fig.1] from Public Records Request:

[Fig.2] https://www.ashland.or.us/SIB/files/Administrative%20Services/CAFR%20Documents/2019-20/2019-20_Ashland_Parks_and_Recreation_Annual_Financial_Report-FINAL.pdf p.94-95: