Controversial parks chief is stepping down after 30 years with city
Seattle Parks Superintendent Ken Bounds is leaving the controversy behind. After surviving four mayors and community battles over goose...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle Parks Superintendent Ken Bounds is leaving the controversy behind.
After surviving four mayors and community battles over goose poop, a zoo garage and artificial turf, Bounds said Tuesday he will retire in February to hang out with his wife.
"I'm still young enough to want to do something else," said Bounds, 56. "I figure if I'm going to get into another career, it's probably a good time to do that." The parks department is winding down work funded by levies for parks and community centers, and he wants fresh leadership to come up with a new strategic plan next year.
His wife, a finance director for the city of Burien, also has retired, and the two will take the next year off to travel and decompress. Although he's not sure of his next career, he plans to stay in Seattle.
Bounds has worked for the city for 30 years, rising from planner to budget director to manager of 400 parks, 974 employees, 26 community centers, 10 pools, four golf courses — even an aquarium. He has left the city with hundreds of acres of more open space and overseen a $198 million parks levy, the largest in city history. He earns $140,000 a year.
"It sounds like it's easy to run around and make sure the grass is mowed and buy some open space," said City Councilwoman Sally Clark. "But the truth is neither of those things is easy given budget constraints and how tough it is to find more open space and how to keep it for posterity."
The department undertook more than 100 projects funded by the parks levy and built new community centers from a separate 1991 levy. Under his 10-year tenure, the department became the largest provider of before- and after-school programs in the city. Next year, the department plans to reforest the city.
Given the public's competing desire for parks — ultimate Frisbee versus quiet meditation versus nature conservation — Bounds was destined to become the target of vitriol. As he often said, "People love their parks, they don't always love them for the same reasons."
Protesters have marched in front of his office and his home — including a man in a bird suit after the department decided to gas an overpopulation of Canada geese defecating all over the city's parks.
Most recently, Bounds became the object of criticism for decisions made by Mayor Greg Nickels and the City Council to build a garage at Woodland Park Zoo, install lighted ballfields at Magnuson Park and replace grass with synthetic turf at Loyal Heights Playfield.
"He's been a lightning rod who has been wrongfully blamed," said Kate Pflaumer, chairwoman of the Seattle Board of Park Commissioners
Community members complained that he turned a deaf ear to their concerns. Last month, voters gave the City Council the power to evaluate and potentially fire certain department heads, which will hold Bounds and his successor more accountable.
Cheryl Trivison, past president and founder of Friends of Gas Works Park, said Bounds' relationship with her advocacy group has been mixed over the years. The group sued the department earlier this year in an effort to reverse Bounds' decision to move One Reel's Summer Nights concert series to Gas Works in 2006.
Bounds had announced the move a few days before last Christmas, which led Trivison and others to criticize him for what they believed was an intent to circumvent park advocates.
"The timing was bad," Trivison said. "The way he handled it was just totally top-down. There was no community input."
Partly because of the lawsuit, the concert series was canceled for last summer, and Bounds later conceded his approach lacked tact.
Pete Lukevich, past president of Friends of Athletic Fields, called Bounds' his retirement a "great loss" for the city. Lukevich's group lobbied Bounds for lighted fields at Magnuson Park, as well as for replacing grass fields with synthetic turf at playfields across the city.
"What Ken did was give voice to the needs of adult recreation and, as such, opened up a whole lot of avenues for people who otherwise didn't and wouldn't have an opportunity to recreate," Lukevich said.
Bounds said the controversy doesn't stand out when he looks back.
"What I get to see is what we do every day in the parks," he said. "I get to see those several hundred projects we've done over the past 10 years, from Kubota Gardens in the south to Licton Springs in the north to neighborhood matching projects."
Staff reporter Stuart Eskenazi contributed to this report.
Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.