Editors note: Mary Blake will retire in June after 28 years as the general manager of the Sunset Empire Parks and Recreation District. In the following, she talks with the Signal about her career.
SIGNAL: You had told us earlier that deciding to retire after 28 years was a difficult decision for you. Now that you are close to leaving, how are you doing?
The feelings have really risen to the surface more than I expected. The most remarkable part has been the conversations and celebrations in the community. Thats the beautiful thing. We are having fun with it. You dont realize the impact youve had on a community until you take this step. When people make the connections about how powerful play is that makes me realize the satisfaction of the work I have been blessed to do. This position has saved my life in so many ways.
SIGNAL: What has been your leading achievement?
There are two that rise to the top. First, assembling the staff I have. We have people that are able and willing to commit to the District that have built deep values and we have enhanced those skills. I am most proud of the human potential of our employees. Thats work for people. The work is ever so essential because it gives them value and they give that back to our community. You can tell people and they will forget. You can show people and they might remember, but when you involve people, they understand and that makes a radiant and successful community asset. That is using your tax dollars in the most effective way.
The other part of this is our patrons. Water really connects us all at any age and with any disability. We serve everyone. Our motto, Positive Leisure Activity for You, or PLAY means leisure is that time when you recreate yourself. You reinforce yourself to have the strength to handle all the challenges in life.
SIGNAL: What has been the hardest part of being the SEPRD general manager?
The hardest thing and I can say it now, has been dealing with two cities and communities that are putting their taxes first and not understanding that those taxes can go to the quality of life. Its been the whole annexation issue. This has been goofy to me the whole 28 years. People need to understand what really counts within our communities that will work. I feel I didnt have that magic to bring that about. Unfortunately, the people that live in those out-of-district areas will continue to find they have to pay more for our services
That was the most frustrating for me.
SIGNAL: But you arent abandoning the annexation push?
No. I am recommending that the new General Manager pursue this issue. Cities are using an older law allowing them to annex areas and that means that we lose money. Thats how Gearhart took property away from us and thats how Cannon Beach is moving to annex property out of our district. That breaks my heart. It surprises me when people think their tax money can be cut from one pot and put into another. The annexation can generate tax dollars to tackle community issues as well as supporting parks and recreation services.
SIGNAL: You do have more advice for the Districts new General Manager?
Understand the human potential of your staff, the community leadership of your board. Think big. Dont stop at anything. Keep going and growing. This is all about people, planet and profit. Its not just one element, so keep your balance, dont lose your good judgment. Base decisions on how you make people feel. Know what to hold onto and what to let go. And always laugh.
SIGNAL: How have you kept so positive during your 28 years as the GM?
Its from my mother and father. They never told me to grow up and they never took away my dreams. They were very encouraging. They taught me to expect the best out of people, to be kind and know the importance of a smile. Ive learned to do what I love and not to regret the choices I make. If they are bad choices, I try to learn from them.
I am also trying to listen a little bit harder so I can understand people.
SIGNAL: What will you take away from this experience?
The development of my heart and my soul and the joy of opening myself up to the community. I found how important a community is, no matter how lonely, how successful, or how connected you are, it basically comes down to love and love of community. I have learned to live with intention and forgive quickly.
SIGNAL: What are your plans after you step down as GM?
I will certainly remain active in this community. But first I am going to catch my breath. Just be. Be in the moment. It is something I am really looking forward to. People are concerned that I might flunk retirement, but I tell them I will base my retirement on reflection, spiritual growth, take stock and count my blessings.
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