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NRPA's Board of Directors and the Challenges Ahead

2012-12-01, Feature

NRPA's 2013 Board of Directors stands ready to face this year's challenges and lead the association with experience, enthusiasm, and pride.In many ways, 2012 has been a test of the structural and strategic changes in how the National Recreation and Park Association governs itself. The past year saw the first term of single board leadership structure (the position of president was eliminated in favor of just the chair role). Having recently downsized the board from 70 trustees to the current 21 directors, the current board now operates on an “at-large” basis for each member rather than selection on a geographical or specialty basis to allow easier and more direct communication between board and members. That’s a strategy greatly facilitated by the recent switch from an organization-wide committee structure to NRPA Connect, an online network of 30 affiliate groups open to all members.

This past year also saw the maturation of one of the association’s most important and far-reaching programs—PRORAGIS (Park and Recreation Operating Ratio and Geographic Information System) as well as the development of three key messaging areas of the NRPA mission. With this online research database of PRORAGIS, members now have a wealth of comparative information on park and recreation agencies across the county. By employing and shaping its work through the pillars of Conservation, Health and Wellness, and Social Equity, the association can better maximize its mission.

Recognizing that strength in numbers drives success, NRPA this year launched the Premiere Membership Program. This special package rate includes all full-time professional employees working in the agency and up to 10 citizen members serving on boards or advisory councils, in elected or appointed civic roles such as commissioners, mayors, or town council members, or simply as volunteers.

As of this month, NRPA has seen its membership increase more than 50 percent in 2012 to 30,000.

These board-driven initiatives will make 2013 a critical year in making NRPA even more effective in achieving its mission. Chair Steven J. Thompson says the role of the NRPA Board of Directors will continue to evolve in the coming year.

“With careful retention and recruitment of new Board members, NRPA is now better dedicated to providing the best leaders who will obtain the best return on your membership investment,” Thompson says. “The bringing on of Jennifer Harnish, Barbara Baca, Stephen Eckelberry, and Steven Jordison to the Board mix in 2013 has added a combination of new abilities and experience to the board table [through leaders] who are passionate and committed to their communities and to the national association.

“Although it has only been a short time since the NRPA Board was reduced from 70 to the current 21-member structure, the newer board is not only leaner, but is more suitable in helping set the tone for big-picture decision making, such as the 2014-16 strategic planning process that was begun in October at an active and engaged retreat in Anaheim and that will be finalized and approved at the 2013 NRPA Legislative Forum in March,” Thompson continues.

Unlike previous strategic planning initiatives, Thompson explains, the board wants to embrace a fresh perspective and process for determining what NRPA should focus on in the next three-year cycle. He says the board is determined to establish a working plan that will be relevant, and that can be understood by the entire membership. 

“In fact, an attempt will be made to create a ‘strategic map’ into a single-page graph that will visually capture the basis of the next plan,” Thompson wrote in the November issue of Parks & Recreation. “It will also be a working plan that the board and staff can allocate both time and resources to, and will constantly be reviewed, discussed, and assessed for its effectiveness.”

Thompson is particularly pleased with how the board communicates with NRPA’s members. The former system of branches, sections, and regions tended to be unwieldy and closed, since members could only join a committee based on their specialty and location. The online nature of NRPA Connect allows members to join—and communicate—via a wide variety of Network sites, including professionals, citizens, educators, regions, conservation, and young professionals, among the many venues for participation. It’s also the portal to the NRPA Knowledge Center.

“The NRPA board has also become more transparent in its decision making and in the sharing of needed information through the various Networks and association publications,” Thompson says.  “In addition, the current NRPA board is active in soliciting and utilizing non-board member expertise and resources to assist them in completing needed tasks and/or assignments.”

NRPA’s Networks will also play an integral role in the formulation of the 2014-16 strategic plan by soliciting feedback from members on what they perceive as the major issues facing the association and profession. A Strategic Planning Task Force will review the feedback and incorporate it into further planning. “I am optimistic that the 2014-2016 NRPA Strategic Plan will be a concise and accurate working resource and tool to help guide the association during the next several years,” Thompson says.

“The board won’t be resting on its laurels, since it has become a leaner operational entity,” he adds. Recently, the board brought on Susan Meier, the principal at Meier & Associates, and a senior governance consultant from BoardSource, to assist it in enhancing the current nomination and board development process. “This will ensure that NRPA continues to obtain the very best of the citizen and professional members to serve our national association well into the future.”

Snapshot: Steven J. Thompson, NRPA’s Chair, Board of Directors
NRPA Chair Steven J. Thompson is chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Park & Recreation Association in Greendale, Wisconsin. He earned a B.S. degree in Recreation Leadership from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. Thompson is also an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, an advisory council member for the Aurora University School of Experimental Leadership Recreation Administration, a member of the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Stewardship, and a board member of the American Park and Recreation Society. Additionally, he is a member of the Governor’s Commission on the Year of the Trails, the Governor’s Commission on Wisconsin State Parks Centennial Commission, and the Wisconsin Division of Tourism Grants Committee.

Thompson served on NRPA’s Board of Trustees from 2005 to 2009 and has been a member of its Board of Directors since then.

Over the course of his career in parks and recreation, Thompson has received many awards and recognitions: the Excellence Award (University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, College of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation); the Professional Award of Merit (Wisconsin Park & Recreation Association); the Vietnam Veterans Advisory Council Service Award; the Wisconsin Special Olympics Outstanding Professional Award; and the Tommy Wilson Memorial Award (American Association for Leisure and Recreation). 

New to the NRPA Board of Directors

Barbara Baca is the director of Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Department of Parks & Recreation. She is a former employee of the National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program and serves on the board of the New Mexico Recreation and Parks Association. She has been widely recognized for her contributions to the field: the National Park Service Fast Track Award; Outstanding Young Professional (New Mexico Recreation and Parks Association); Certificate of Outdoor Leadership (Wilderness Education Association, Colorado State University); and State Historic Preservation Office recognition for Northwest Mesa Escarpment Plan. Baca serves on the NRPA Board as a Professional for the 2012-13 term.

Stephen Eckelberry is president of the Bartlett Park District in Bartlett, Illinois, and is technology manager for the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association in Carol Stream, Illinois. He served on the NRPA Nominating Board Development Committee from 2009-11 and is a current member and past co-chair of the Illinois Association of Park Districts/Illinois Park and Recreation Association Distinguished Accreditation Committee. Eckelberry serves on the IPRA/IAPD Conference Committee. He is the past IPRA Communications and marketing section director. Eckelberry serves on the NRPA Board as a Citizen for the 2012-13 term.

Jennifer Harnish is director of technology for the Southwest Christian School in Fort Worth, Texas. She is chair of the NRPA Citizen Network. She is also treasurer for Streams and Valleys, a nonprofit organization working on behalf of the Trinity River and its tributaries in Fort Worth and Tarrant County; a member of the Citizen Advisory Board of Trinity River Vision Authority; a member of the Fort Worth Urban Forestry Board; Director; a board member of Playgrounds UNLIMITED; former chair, Fort Worth Parks and Community Services Advisory Board (1999-2007); Mayor’s Task Force: Parks and Library Department merger proposal (2010-11); and past chair, Citizen Branch, Texas Recreation and Park Society (2006-10). Harnish is a recipient of the Texas Urban Forestry Award. She serves on the NRPA Board as a Citizen for the 2012-13 term.

Steven Jordison is executive director of the Iowa Park and Recreation Association and chair of the NRPA Council of State Executive Directors. He is also a member of the Iowa Sports Foundation Board and the Iowa Senior Olympics Board, and treasurer of Iowa’s Resource Enhancement and Protection Alliance. Jordison has served on the NRPA Awards Committee and the NRPA National Forum. He serves on the NRPA Board as a Professional for the 2012-13 term.

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