The gist: Frank Wittenberg, who took over Lafayette’s Parks & Recreation Department in early June after longtime director Gerald Boudreaux was pushed out, retired today from the department and accepted a position as director of Carencro’s Parks & Recreation Commission.
In recent days, Wittenberg has been somewhat of a lightning rod over deep cuts to the parks department, specifically the decision to shutter four Northside rec centers. “The process was completely new to myself, and when I’m given the information through administration that this is what I have to obtain, I start working on it,” Wittenberg told the Lafayette Parks & Recreation Advisory Commission earlier this week. The commission was never consulted or asked for advice on the plan, which calls for the parks and rec budget to be cut from $7.1 million to $3.5 million due to financial losses from coronavirus.
In an email to Mayor-President Josh Guillory at about 1 p.m. today, Wittenberg said he was resigning as interim director and signing his retirement paperwork.
Wittenberg, 57, has been with Lafayette’s parks department for almost 26 years, having started in 1994 as recreation coordinator. Before being appointed interim director, he was serving as athletic programs and maintenance manager. The Lafayette director’s salary is $105,000, according to the proposed budget. The Carencro position pays $50,000 a year.
The Carencro Parks and Recreation Commission, commonly known as PARC, was set up by the city to manage its sports and recreation facilities. It is funded by one-third of 1-cent sales tax.
“I get to build a full department from the ground floor up,” Wittenberg tells The Current, noting that while Carencro has had much success with its athletic programs, there are numerous opportunities to develop a more comprehensive recreation department on par with bigger cities like Lafayette. “These opportunities don’t come around very often.”
Wittenberg says Guillory’s vision for Lafayette’s parks department “didn’t mesh with with what I had built with Gerald and Greg [Gautreaux, the former athletic programs manager]. For my health and my family, it was just the right move at the right time.”
PARC Chairman Tom Meyers tells The Current Wittenberg will replace longtime PARC Director Jim Thibodeaux, who is retiring but will remain on for several months to help with the transition. Meyers says Wittenberg will have a jump-start on the job because of his familiarity with PARC. “I think he’s also going to bring some experience we don’t have, like working with seniors and therapeutic athletics,” Meyers says.
“I have worked closely with the volunteer youth association in Carencro for many years and know we could do more to help them flourish if I am chosen for this position while at the same time not diminishing the potential for Pelican Park and Carencro to excel in what it provides for the residents and general public,” Wittenberg wrote in his cover letter.
Approximately 50 people applied for the job and five were interviewed this week. Wittenberg was offered the job last night. No start date has been established.