By John Schaffner

George Dusenbury
George Dusenbury

Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook praised the new head of the city Parks department as “a passionate advocate for city park space.”

Mayor Kasim Reed on May 24 named George Dusenbury to be commissioner of the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs. For the past six years, Dusenbury has been executive director of Park Pride, a non-profit volunteer organization dedicated to building civic and corporate support for Atlanta parks.

“The citizens of Atlanta depend on the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs to serve the community by providing clean, safe, family-friendly parks, recreational facilities, programs and cultural experiences,” Reed said.

“As my administration works on initiatives such as the Centers of Hope and the Atlanta BeltLine, we need someone with experience, vision, and a strong commitment to public service to lead this department. George Dusenbury has had a distinguished career and brings the right expertise to help the Parks department meet its long-term goals.”

Dusenbury cited the BeltLine and the mayor’s plan to develop his Centers of Hope – the reopening and staffing of city recreation centers — as two primary focus areas in his new position.

Shook said there is “a third hot priority, but Dusenbury just doesn’t know it yet.”

Shook was referring to his personal push to locate and develop more parks and green spaces in his council district, which takes in just 70 acres of parkland, the least of any council district in the city.

But Dusenbury indeed is aware of Shook’s hot priority. “I am very well aware that Shook’s district has the smallest amount of park space of any district in the city,” Dusenbury said. “I am a strong believer that we need to acquire additional property there.”

In fact, Dusenbury and Shook say they have discussed the issue before and the new commissioner said he has worked with Shook previously through Park Pride to acquire park space in Shook’s district, which takes in about half of Buckhead.

One example is the new Little Nancy Creek Park, which fronts Peachtree-Dunwoody Road. Park Pride, under Dusenbury’s leadership, helped to design the park and recently provided a $50,000 grant for its development.

Dusenbury said that as commissioner, his focus needs to be on improving parks throughout the city. The problem is finding financial resources to accomplish those goals, he said.

“I do believe we have a great opportunity here,” he said.

He praised his predecessor, Dianne Harnell Cohen, for her accomplishments, including increasing “the capacity of the staff.”

“It will be an interesting transition” for Dusenbury,” Shook said. “He is going to have to transition into becoming a manager of a large department that is far more than just parks and green spaces.”

At Park Pride, Dusenbury and his staff worked with hundreds of volunteers to improve Atlanta’s parks and green spaces. The organization coordinates more than 15,000 hours of volunteer work a year in Atlanta parks. Park Pride also works with communities to develop conceptual plans through its Park Visioning program.

In addition, Dusenbury built relationships in Atlanta’s business and civic community to advocate for money to maintain and increase parks and green spaces through initiatives such as the Atlanta BeltLine project. He worked tirelessly to encourage municipal and county governments, such as the city of Atlanta and Fulton County, to improve parks and increase green space acreage.

Dusenbury is expected to begin in his new position on June 21, following approval by Atlanta City Council. Shook predicted that approval would come easily. “He is familiar and credible with council.”

Gordon Certain, who chairs the Parks Committee of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, said, “I am really delighted” with the choice of Dusenbury. “George is just wonderful and supremely qualified,” Certain said.

But Certain said he also liked Paul Taylor, who had been interim parks department commissioner for the past few months.

“The BeltLine and the mayor’s Centers of Hope are both important for the health of the city,” said Certain, who also serves as president of the North Buckhead Civic Association. “But it would be nice if there was a long-term plan for getting money for parks in Buckhead.”

Park Pride Director of Operations Allison Barnett will be interim executive director while the search for a new executive director is conducted.

“While we are clearly disappointed that George is leaving Park Pride, we cannot thank him enough for the work he has done over the past six years. George’s leadership set the tone for our growth, and we certainly look forward to working with him as (Parks Department) commissioner,” said Sarah Yates Sutherland, Park Pride board president. “We congratulate Mayor Reed on his excellent choice for this important position.”