2006-11-16 / News

Matt Bolles' reflections on public life

By Sam Bari

Matt Bolles Matt Bolles Friday, Nov. 10, was the last day on the job for retiring Parks and Recreation Director Matt Bolles, who has spent 17 years serving the town in that role.

Bolles took a few minutes last week to reflect on the past, comment on the present, and tell about his hopes for the future.

Bolles said that the fondest memories of his parks and recreation experience consist almost entirely of moments spent working directly with children and young teens in a learning environment, and then watching them succeed in high school and beyond. Whether the skills taught were athletic or artistic in nature, or a combination of the two, he said, "It has been a joy to see children, and even adults, gain the poise and confidence to succeed through involvement in recreation."

When asked about his accomplishments during his tenure as recreation director, he spoke in terms of programming, and referred to a list of activities that did not exist as town sponsored programs when he was first hired. The list includes: adult classes in yoga, pilates, tai chi, dance, children's classes in ballet and modern dance, girl's softball, community theatre, summer concerts, teen programs, and more. Even the Youth Litter Corps, formerly state sponsored, is now managed by the town Parks and Recreation Department. While many dedicated volunteers and expert teachers have helped establish many of these programs, Bolles said that he is proud of his role in facilitating the development of much more comprehensive public recreation services than Jamestown had previously known.

"In my early years with the town, I was active on the boards of all of the sports leagues on the island," he said. "As a chapter director and certified clinician with the National Youth Sports Coaches Association, I conducted volunteer coaches' clinics and personally certified over 100 volunteer coaches, helping to establish the proper philosophy for coaching children in our town. At the time, all of the leagues were operating as town programs and funneling their monies through a self-funded town account, just as the softball, basketball, exercise and dance, and the community theatre program still do. I believe the efforts of my predecessor and I helped put the baseball and soccer leagues on a firm footing, enabling them to eventually become independent of the town, consistent with such leagues in other communities."

People often forget that the department is parks and recreation, Bolles said. On the parks side, he is proud of turning the Fort Getty Park operation into a fiscal asset for the town. Before his tenure, the park generated revenues equal to roughly 80 percent of the overall parks and recreation annual budget, and often opened for the season with several vacant sites, Bolles said.

By improving the park and instituting better fiscal policies, revenues immediately increased to where they have consistently exceeded the annual department budget every year since he was hired, and there is a waiting list for sites, he said. Bolles is also proud of the role he played in helping to formulate the new plan for the park, which will make it much more attractive for residents to use, while maintaining the revenue stream, he said. Other capital projects have

included the soccer fields at Eldred Avenue, the beautiful landscaping and brick patio at the Community Center, the new windows and a long list of public safety improvements at the facility, and six newly paved tennis courts with new fencing at the schools, Bolles said. He also credited the many people who helped make those improvements possible.

When asked what he would have done differently, he said, "While I cannot claim to have always said the right thing, there is really nothing basic that I would have done differently. I fervently believe that public recreation is supposed to strive to serve everyone. As much as I enjoyed my years as a competitive coach, and the many successes, I was always mindful that I was serving fairly elite athletes. Most people, young and old, do not fit that category. Therefore, alternatives to competitive sport are needed." These alternative programs are generating greater participation and more revenues than team sports in other communities. This does not take place at the expense of team sports, he said, but in addition to them. "When our elected officials begin to realize this, recreation and leisure services can continue to improve in Jamestown," he added.

Bolles said that his hope for the future of recreation in Jamestown is that the general population will be well-served. That means aspiring athletes, artists, musicians, dancers, actors, writers, and anyone else who can benefit from participating in constructive, affordable public programs, as well as anyone of any age who just wants to have a little fun.

When asked what he is doing with the rest of his life, Bolles said, "I would rather not get into specifics, but simply say that my future priorities will be family, music and the arts, keeping physically active, and doing work which is in harmony with the first three."

Bolles contemplated the question about taking an early retirement before answering. He then quoted excerpts from his resignation letter to Town Administrator Bruce Keiser.

"I guess there's a lot of specu- lation about my specific reasons for retiring. I think this should clear it up," he said.

"The philosophy of the recreation department according to the town Comprehensive Community Plan is to provide opportunities for all people to participate in recreation. Future goals of the department include increased access to alternative recreational activities such as the arts and cultural programs, and linkage of recreational areas through linear walkways and bikeways. The recreation department would like to see an increase in maintenance capabilities as well as improvements to the existing inventory of recreational facilities, development of additional recreational facilities, increased volunteerism and additional outof town recreational programming. Increasingly, the political climate is making the achievement of some of these worthy, community wide goals literally impossible," Bolles said.

He also said that the department's effort to provide a participatory theater arts program, once lauded by the Town Council, is now the subject of false charges apparently instigated by representatives of certain private groups. Given that these groups enjoy the use of town facilities and equipment free of charge, their behavior appears unseemly at best. All revenues from recreation department programs are deposited in the self-funded .801 Recreation account, a system that pre-dates Bolles' employment with the town. Records for each activity were kept separate by his department so that funds, especially donations, were not misdirected. Funds remaining after expenses were generally used for improvements to the appropriate facility. These funds carry over year to year, Bolles said. They absolutely did not revert to the general fund, though that misinformation is still being repeated at the Town Council level. "Similarly, funds from our dance and exercise programs are deposited in the self-funded country-club account, which also rolls over year to year. The singling out of the theater program as being essentially 'different' from these other selffunded programs is questionable. The constant misrepresentation of the nature and goals of our very successful teen program, an after school activity, which belongs in the Community Center, is also disheartening," Bolles said.

"Far from seeing our maintenance capabilities increased we have found our parks supervisor and his equipment forced out of our only maintenance space to make way for an animal shelter that has yet to materialize," he said. "We were promised temporary garage space elsewhere, which also never materialized. In the meantime, thousands of dollars worth of recreation department landscaping equipment continues to sit outside in the elements, and considerable budget funds have been spent on shop labor costs for routine maintenance and repairs which would normally have been performed in house, especially over the winter. Nearly a year later, the garage still sits vacant. This is a disservice not only to my department, but to the taxpayer," Bolles added.

He said that the aforementioned was not everything that was in the letter, but it was adequate to make his position and feelings understood. "Our current leadership clearly does not favor a progressive approach to public recreation and leisure services. That's why I find this an appropriate time to announce my retirement," he said.

The many letters written to the Jamestown Press in support of Bolles and his distinguished record as parks and recreation director, indicate that he is loved and respected, and will be sorely missed.

Matt Bolles was born in Providence, R.I., on Aug. 25, 1948 and graduated from Pilgrim High School in 1966. He left Suffolk University after two and-a-half years to pursue a music career. He married Judith Steere in 1972. He and his wife have two children, Dylan and Erin, age 32 and 30 respectively.

They have one grandchild, Naima Chara Bolles, age 2 years and one month. The family has lived in Jamestown since 1976. Bolles began working for the Jamestown Parks and Recreation Department in 1988. He is an NYSCA certified sports clinician, a USSF licensed coach, a USSF certified referee, and has spent 30- plus years as a professional singer and musician.

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