Wishing a fond farewell to parks director Nowotny, telling Platte County treasurer to hang in there

Here’s a thank you to outgoing Platte County Parks and recreation director Brian Nowotny, and a pat on the shoulder to embattled and embarrassed Platte County Treasurer Rob Willard.

Nowotny was hired in from out of state in 2001 to manage the county’s park system. He had a blessing counterbalanced by a major challenge. The blessing was that he didn’t have to step into an office and manage people in an entrenched park bureaucracy. But the challenge was that there essentially was no park system to manage. 

The county had one tiny postage stamp park, a neighborhood park that probably should have been a city park.

Most directors hired to manage a county park system in a major metropolitan area, with an international airport nearby, would count on finding parks and staff in place. The public would already have invested family traditions in using and enjoying those parks. All Nowotny had to start the job with was a packet of plans. 

Luckily for him, those plans were solid. 

Platte County commissioners spent a few years getting public input with surveys and open houses. Consultants helped with plans. Discussions were held with city park managers, including the big gorilla, Kansas City. 

Commissioners such as Betty Knight, former presiding commissioner, were also well tapped expertise offered by members and staff of the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC). Voters in 2000 bought into the plans and approved a half-cent sales tax for parks.

Voter renewal in 2009 of the 10-year parks tax was a vote of confidence for the job well done by Nowotny, parks staff, various Platte County commissioners and citizen volunteers who served on the Platte County Park Board. 

That good work continues. Parks and trails are in place. The system has grown. But also, county officials have wisely provided parks and recreation funding to projects such as ball fields in city parks. Partnerships with other entities have provided benefits for a wide range of county residents.

I suspect through all this Nowotny has had plenty of down days to go with the up days. 

The parks office and staff is relatively small. It’s easy to light up the director’s phone. He has answered directly to community members, a park board, county commissioners, other office holders and various special interests wanting this or that. 

All of this as caretaker of public properties and dollars, which brings a large pressure you would have to feel directly to truly understand the weight. 

Nowotny has also had to defend the very idea of a county park system from people grinding political axes, most who don’t care if the public has parks and recreation. Despite this, the county has parks, an award-winning trails system and viable blueprints for the future. 

Nowotny is moving on to the Jackson County park system. I wish him the best, and thanks for all the help given to me about park issues over the years.

On another note, treasurer Rob Willard is in the frying pan for losing $48,220 after falling for an email scam. More than $28,000 has been returned. Willard is being asked by county commissioners to repay the rest out of his personal pocketbook.

I do not know the treasurer, nor do I know all the ins and outs of procedures that were not followed to cause the loss, but I confess some sympathy for him. One day life is normal for him, and in the next, evil that lurks in this complex world has snared him in an embarrassing web — one all media outlets have highlighted. 

You or I could be surprised scam victims someday, too. 

Many people laughing at the treasurer might easily fall for the right pitch. Part of my sympathy is because a bright young family member living confidently on her own in California recently was harmed by the IRS scam that has been making the rounds nationally. That scam involved a perpetrator that cleverly used threats, intimidation and a surprising amount of information about her life. 

The hurt is more than financial.

Some years back, I answered the phone one night and a voice came on in a chat that resembled a happy family member calling. It was a ways into the call before I realized it was a scam and hung up. 

But even financially unharmed, I felt invaded and threatened because for awhile I had been gullible. I later learned others in the Platte county community had been hit by those calls. A few individuals were eventually arrested, convicted and served time, and they were likely the same bunch that tried me at random from the phone book. 

Willard got hit by a more sophisticated scheme, one that according to news accounts has worked on other county officials around the nation, too. Hang in there Mr. Treasurer, I’m sorry for your woe.

Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at editor@plattecountycitizen.com.