Parks superintendent moving on: Ken Bounds retiring after 31 years with city

He's been the subject of intense criticism from everyone from animal-rights activists to community groups upset with plans for their neighborhood.

On the flip side, Seattle Parks and Recreation Superintendent Ken Bounds has been praised for-among other accomplishments-his leadership in helping the $200 million Pro Parks Levy pass in 2000.

But after working in city government for almost 31 years-10 of them as Parks superintendent-56-year-old Bounds has announced his retirement at the end of next February. "It's time to move on," he says.

And it's not a case of Bounds getting burned out as point man for seemingly unending controversies at the Parks Department. "I want to do something else," he said in his small office at Parks headquarters on Dexter Avenue.

"I've had three great careers with the city," said the recipient of the 2001 National Recreation and Parks Association Rose Award for management. The positions included a stint at the Office of Policy and Planning that began in 1976, a 1981 move to the Office of Management and Budget, where former Mayor Charles Royer appointed him budget director in 1989.

Bounds landed a job as Deputy Parks Superintendent in 1990 and was appointed superintendent in 1996. He also survived an extensive purging of department heads under newly elected Mayor Greg Nickels in 2002.

Bounds said that after retiring from Parks he plans to travel for around a year with his wife, who is also retiring from her position with the Burien finance department. But the tall, lanky man conceded that he's too young to retire for good. "Playing golf and eating bonbons is not something I want to do for the next 20 or 30 years," he grimaced.

Bounds isn't sure what he wants to do next, but he didn't want to wait another two or three or four years before leaving his $140,000-a-year job as superintendent. "It might get harder to transition and do something else," he explained.

A press release from the mayor's office about Bounds' retirement has nothing but good things to say about him. It was under his leadership, the press release notes, that the 1985 $31 million Zoo Bond issue passed, along with the $43 million Open Space Bond Issue in 1989, the $50 million Community Centers Levy in 1991, a second $36 million Community Center Levy in 1999 and, of course, the Pro Parks Levy.

Bounds downplays his own significance in those accomplishments. "I feel good about what we all have done, not just me," he said. "We've got our staff working very well with lots of partners, not the least of which are volunteers."

In fact, Bounds said, volunteers contributed around 300,000 hours of labor to the department last year, doing everything from planting trees to cutting down English ivy in greenbelts.

Hot-button items

The outgoing superintendent notes that Parks has been able to add "a huge capacity to the system" of city ball fields through a combination of joint planning and leveraging department funds. But the going hasn't always been easy.

For instance, one ballfield plan that got the Parks Department in hot water was installing artificial turf at the Queen Anne Bowl up the street from Seattle Pacific University. "All we were doing was improving the ability of the field to function," Bounds explained.

But neighborhood residents were kept out of the decision-making loop, he said, and that led to some heated public meetings that pitted sports enthusiasts against certain community members.

The objection was that changing to artificial turf, which can be played on year round, changed the intensity of the field's use and, because of that, the neighborhood should have been consulted, he remembered.

"I think that was right," Bounds said of an objection that altered the way Parks operates. "We did change our public-involvement policies," he said of using signs in parks, among other steps, to get the word about proposals out to people who might not regularly go to meetings.

Discovery Park in Magnolia has had its share of controversy as well, Bounds said. Among other points of contention, there was the issue of preserving the old military chapel at Fort Lawton. "That was a tough one," the superintendent said, adding that he thought that demolishing the aging building fit the park's Master Plan. But the Board of Parks Commissioner decided in a split vote to keep the chapel, Bounds noted.

A last-minute decision to shift One Reel's concert series from South Lake Union to Gas Works Park also caused an uproar, although Bounds noted that most of the objections were coming from a man who didn't even live in the neighborhood.

Parks already had negotiated an agreement with the neighborhood to stage the concerts there when One Reel pulled the plug on the idea. Bounds said he sees some irony in the outcome. There would undoubtedly have been a public outcry if Parks had passed on the idea because there wasn't enough time to go through the public process, he said.

And then there were all those Canadian geese leaving a slippery, stinky mess in the city's parks a few years ago. "Well, we had too many," Bounds said of a reality that led to culling the flocks in Seattle.

Animal-rights activists were furious, but Bounds said there wasn't much the city could do about such an obvious difference in philosophy. "We needed to get the population down, which we did."

Asked if he was going to miss the job, Bounds said, "You bet ... this is a great job." Bounds added that he'll also miss all the people he's worked with in the department for so many years.[[In-content Ad]]