Town Working To Staff, Resume Winter Programming
ORLEANS – The town’s recreation director has been put on paid administrative leave, and winter recreation programming has been temporarily suspended as a result.
Tracy Murphy, who chairs the recreation advisory committee, said she was informed by Town Administrator John Kelly by email last week that Alan Harrison was put on leave effective Dec. 6.
Language of the email shared with The Chronicle by another committee member said Harrison was placed on leave “as part of a process to address his performance and future in the position.”
Select Board Chair Andrea Reed said she was informed by Kelly of the decision to place Harrison on leave. Citing it as a personnel matter, Kelly in an email said he “cannot discuss Mr. Harrison’s status or provide any additional information.”
Murphy said the committee was given no prior notice about the leave, and that she was “caught off guard” by the email.
But public criticism of Harrison’s performance has grown in recent months as the town works to figure out a way to improve its recreation programming. Murphy has twice addressed the select board since the spring publicly expressing the committee’s concern about the town’s lack of programming compared to neighboring towns.
An organizational study is underway by the Edward J. Collins Center of Public Management at the University of Massachusetts Boston to look at the recreation department’s staffing and other needs moving forward. Town meeting voters authorized spending $15,000 earlier this year to hire the Collins Center to run the study, which is expected to conclude in January.
As part of that process, a workshop was held in November to gather public input about the recreation department’s needs. Better leadership of the department was among the recommendations put forth by residents and town officials in attendance.
With Harrison on leave, the town has temporarily suspended winter recreation programming until staffing can be secured for it to resume. A message posted to the recreation department page on the town website said the town hopes to resume programming in the next two weeks. The message was also distributed through the department’s MyRec page to residents and families registered for winter programs.
“Orleans Rec is working diligently to staff ongoing programs recognizing the importance of access to the mental and physical health of residents,” the message read. “We’re hoping to have coverage within two weeks.”
Kelly did not comment further about how the recreation department is currently staffed, or provide specifics as to what measures the town is taking to secure more staff for programming.
Murphy said the town is working to resume two programs in particular, early bird fitness for seniors and the department’s youth basketball program, the latter of which was due to begin Dec. 10.
According to Murphy, there is an eagerness among parents of children in the basketball program to see it resume, and some have expressed a willingness to volunteer as needed.
“It already has players registered and coaches ready to get their rosters and start practice,” she said.
The town also plans to start “open gym” on weekends at Nauset Regional Middle School or Orleans Elementary School, Murphy said.
As for early bird fitness, that program is run by Brendan Guttman, who retired as the town’s recreation director in 2017 after almost 30 years in the position. Guttman was hired earlier this year to work 19.5 hours a week in the recreation department.
“My very strong feeling is this is not a very heavy lift, hours-wise and management-wise,” Murphy said. “It should well be within the ability of the rec assistant, who used to run the department. He’s run these programs before.”
Preserving winter programming is critical, Murphy said, especially for children and families that are already registered for the season.
“If we think about what it’s like to be a kid right now on Cape Cod, it’s dark at 4:30,” she said. “The idea of getting together at the gym with other kids twice a week is important. We talk a lot about community, that’s community, giving kids a place to be on a dark and cold December night.”
The early bird program is held outside, weather permitting, Murphy said. The basketball program, meanwhile, is run by volunteers. Games are set to begin in January, she said.
“At this point, you’d need someone with keys to unlock the gym, and then lock the gym again,” she said of what would be needed to keep the basketball program going. “It could be anyone at DPW.”
The recreation advisory committee is expected to discuss the state of winter programming further at its Dec. 15 meeting.
“It will also be an opportunity for us to discuss priorities and planning for the year ahead,” Murphy said in a follow up email last week.