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Acting parks director enjoys leadership role

July 24, 2013
By BOB PETCHER (rpetcher@breezenewspapers) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Town of Fort Myers Beach Acting Parks and Recreation Director Randy Norton is comfortable in his latest position within the local government department.

Norton was one of the original park staff members that the Town hired after it took over operations of Bay Oaks Recreational Campus from Lee County back in 2009. In fact, he is the lone soldier standing from that group, moving from part time work in sports promotion to full time as the athletic coordinator 2-1/2 years ago to recreation manager last year to his current role when the former Town Parks and Rec director resigned.

"I feel like we have transitioned nicely," he said. "Our staff is really strong. It really helps to have a strong staff around to build all of the programs."

Article Photos

Acting Parks and Recreation Director Randy Norton, pictured at Bay Oaks, has worked his way up the ladder into a temporary leadership role he would like to have on a more permanent basis.

Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Norton graduated from Grand Valley State University with a dual bachelor's degree in sports promotion and public relations. He also played centerfield for the varsity baseball team while attending college.

Before moving down to the Southwest Florida area roughly five years, Norton worked in high school administration in athletic directing. Prior to that, he worked in sports promotion at the high school level.

After the shift from the Wolverine State to the Sunshine State, he noticed an ad for a part time position within the Town's newly formed parks and recreation department. He applied, was hired and the rest is history. Since the position was not full time, he also used his baseball knowledge as a coach at Bishop Verot until 2011.

"When I first moved down to the Beach area, I was looking to get into high school adminstration as an athletic director again. That's when I found a position working with athletics on the Beach," he said. "I came down with my sports promotion background and started working with the Town."

Norton began working for the Town in August 2009. He enjoys his most recent role and gives accolades all around for achieved success.

"I completely credit our staff below me and above me," he said. "(Town Manager) Terry (Stewart) has been very helpful, and all of our program coordinators have been willing to step up to the challenge as well as learn and grow within the system."

Stewart stated that when the former director left, he assumed the added responsibilities of parks and recreation director before handing the role to Norton on an interim basis.

"I had not yet worked directly with Mr. Norton and therefore was not sufficiently aware of the level of his knowledge and skills," he stated through email. "After working closely with him for a period of time, I became impressed with his knowledge and skill level to the point that I had great comfort in stepping away from the acting P&R director position and assigning that role to Randy."

A big test for Norton and his staff came recently when the Town parks & recreation department took over Fourth of July parade duties, an added task to the fireworks coordination duties of a year ago.

"I felt that the parade went very well. We exceeded our own expectations," he said. "We expected to have a certain percentage of floats and participants, and we exceeded it. The goal was to have 30, and we had 38. We received a lot of positive feedback, so I believe it was a great success."

Like most summer days and recent Fourth of July events, rain can be a deterrent to outdoor activities. But, with luck, the event coordinator stated the rain held off during the morning and evening events.

"We did get lucky with the rain," said Norton. "It worked out to our benefit. (The pyrotechnic experts) got a late start packing everything, but they were able to catch up and everything went off on schedule."

In regards to the Town parks and recreation staff's planning and operation effort for the Fourth of July events, Stewart first thanked the Fort Myers Beach Civic Association for "its dedication and commitment to this event in years' past" and growing it to an annual event, before addressing the effort from his staff members three weeks ago.

"Randy and his team at Parks and Recreation did an outstanding first time job with the parade which proceeded almost flawlessly," he wrote. "The fireworks event was another element of the Independence Day celebrations that also was a great success. Both the public and the Town Council were pleased with the day's events."

Norton said the Town parks & recreation department is currently focused on expanding its programming with increased programs at the Town Pool and at the overall athletic level. Its next big event is the annual Halloween bash and a poker crawl a week before to benefit youth and teen programs and scholarships.

"We've also revamped our teen program to make it more user friendly, and our youth program is becoming more structured with more participants as well," he said. '"About 40 percent of our kids are on scholarships, and the poker run will help fund that."

When not on the job, Norton is working on a Master's degree in athletic administration. He is enrolled in an online program at Ohio University and is expected to be done in the spring of 2014.

The position for a regular parks and recreation director will be addressed soon. Norton said he would "absolutely" apply for that position.

"At some point in the not too distant future, I will move to fill the position with a regular appointment," said Stewart. "Should Randy continue to perform in the manner he has to this point, he will be a strong candidate for that designation."



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