Dimke named Rockford Park District Executive Director

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Dimke assumes Webbs Norman’s role

The transition has been seamless. That’s how new Rockford Park District Executive Director Tim Dimke described assuming the role Webbs Norman played in more than one-third—34 years—of the park district’s 100 years. Being tapped as the organization’s interim leader after Norman’s June 30 retirement obviously helped Dimke.

“Today doesn’t feel a whole different (from) yesterday,” he said.

According to Dimke, he’s receiving a lot of community support, noting he’d come to the office to find 80 voicemails awaiting him. But he stressed that support was due to the legacy Norman created.

Dimke still marveled at following in Norman’s footsteps and his predecessor’s confidence in him. He said “it was very rewarding to have someone of (Norman’s) stature” leaving the park district in his hands. Dimke said he and Norman believe the district’s strength comes from its capable board: “If you don’t have that at the top, you have a lot of mixed messages.”

He also showed gratitude for Illinois Association of Park Districts President Ted Flickinger’s vote of confidence. Though Dimke said a couple of board members wanted to continue searching, Flickinger convinced them they already had the best candidate.

“I think (Dimke) is just outstanding,” he said.

According to Flickinger, Dimke’s people and management skills are among the things that made him the best choice. He also praised Dimke’s commitment to keep up with current trends in the park and recreation industry: “I know he’s going to have a wonderful career…he already has.”

Flickinger marveled at the support Dimke received from both the community and lawmakers when he was named Norman’s successor. He noted Dimke’s good rapport with legislators and stressed the need to cultivate and sustain good relationships with them.

Flickinger said Norman’s mentoring and grooming helped prepare Dimke for his new position. While not stressing his influence, Norman gave Dimke his vote of confidence: “I think he’s prepared.” He predicted Dimke will raise the park district’s service level.

“(Dimke) is a real visionary,” said Rockford Park District Board President Nate Martin, who understands the community’s need for parks and recreation services and the importance of acquiring resources for the park district. Martin was sure Dimke plans to allocate resources to areas with the greatest need within the district.

The Park District’s original succession policy called for immediately launching a national search when replacing the executive director. But Martin said the policy was amended to allow for an initial local search initially. Since Dimke was chosen, the national search was unnecessary.

Norman said he gave Dimke no advice, since they share the same value system. Dimke pointed out Norman had created and implemented a four-month plan, with an emphasis on continuing to deliver quality programming during the search for a new director. That’s not the only planning that’s been put in place.

According to Dimke, the park district put a three-year plan into action in 2003 after the referendum failed. Nearly 70 percent of Rockford voters voted against a proposed property tax increase, which would have translated into a $67.13 increase for owners of a $100,000 home. Developer Sunil Puri and Road Ranger LLC owner Daniel Arnold were instrumental in the referendum’s defeat. Through his First Rockford Group, Puri contributed $11,000 to the Winnebago County Taxpayer’s Association, which used the money to place yard signs and conduct a direct-mail campaign against the Park District referendum. Arnold’s Ranger Enterprises contributed another $11,000 to defeat the Park District.

With the 2003 plan ending this year, Dimke is preparing to put the 2007-2010 plans into place, which, Dimke noted, would take the district through its 100th anniversary in 2009. He said a team was assembled and began charting the district’s future as soon as Norman announced his retirement: “Keep the good stuff going…and plan for the future.”

Future plans include earning the park district both state and national accreditation through the Illinois Parks and Recreation Association/Illinois Association of Park Districts and the National Parks and Recreation Association. Former Rockford Park District Human Resources Director Diane Barber, who retired just after Norman, will stay on part time to see that project through. Dimke said gaining accreditation, which should take about a year, will help the park district become more efficient and secure more grants.

He said accreditation involves reviewing the park district’s systems, programming and operations to see whether they meet or exceed standards.

“That’s a full plate till the end of the year,” Dimke said, referring to strategic planning and the accreditation process.

Park safety is among the top priorities as well. Dimke said the district will add a K-9 unit to its park police force. According to Dimke, the Rockford Police Department’s successful community policing has pushed criminals to the parks. He stressed it’s not duplication of law enforcement services.

The park district police only provide on-site prevention and security, Dimke said.

Building more parks is also part of a long-term plan. The park district’s policy dictates that a 4-to 5-acre neighborhood park is within one-half mile of any home. More than 40 areas have no parks.

Many of them, Dimke said, are on the city’s east side. He said the area has grown faster than the district can acquire land, adding the park district is working with school districts to build 3-to 5-acre school playground/parks like Highland Park on Rural Street and Beattie Playground.

A common thread runs through Dimke and Norman’s career path: “It’s not unlike Webbs.” According to Dimke, working on a Galena farm age 8 to 16 helped him learn to appreciate the outdoors and the value of hard work as well as assisting people.

“Making full use of that free time was important,” Dimke said.

He started his career at the park district as student worker at Page Park, while playing football and majoring in parks and recreation at Eastern Illinois University.

From the Aug. 16-22, 2006, issue

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