ashland.news
June 21, 2024

Parks commission picks commissioner as interim director

Leslie Eldridge. SOU photo
July 14, 2023

Leslie Eldridge to fill post left vacant by Michael Black’s resignation — for a year, at least

By Damian Mann for Ashland.news

Southern Oregon University instructor Leslie Eldridge has been appointed interim director of Ashland Parks and Recreation starting full time on Aug. 21.

Eldridge, a member of the Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission, was appointed by the commission last week to fill the vacancy left by Michael Black, who resigned July 14, after a series of harassment issues rocked the department.

Eldridge recused herself from voting on her new job and will be taking a hiatus from her teaching position while she takes the reins as director.

“I look forward to enhancing the relationship between SOU and parks through projects and student involvement, which will advance our mutual goals of economic, social and environmental sustainability,” Eldridge, said in a prepared statement. 

The Parks Commission has put its recruitment process for a permanent position on hold.
“If Leslie Eldridge turns out to do excellent job, one option for the commission is to go into a truncated process and make her permanent,” said Rick Landt, chair of the parks commission, who said he was the designated contact person for comment on the appointment.

The commission interviewed two people who applied for the interim position.

“It just seems like at this point she is the best fit,” Landt said.

He said Eldridge, who has worked well with other commissioners, isn’t afraid of change.

“I think she’s very connected to the community,” he said. “She’s got children in the Ashland School District. She’s a professor at the university. She’s connected to the mountain biking community. Our hopes are high that she will be successful.”

Eldridge is stepping down as commissioner, and a process will begin in the near future to find a replacement for her on the five-member commission board.

Deputy Director Rachel Dials will continue to handle the day-to-day operations of the parks department until Eldridge assumes the director position.

The commission has set a number of goals that they hope Eldridge will implement, including greater integration of the Ashland Human Resources department with Parks & Recreation.

“We want someone who is fair and respectful and supportive of the people out there doing the work,” Landt said.

Parks & Recreation has been roiled by accusations of harassment and abuse over the years, particularly directed toward women.

A lawsuit filed by Laura Chancellor in June 2022 alleged that the former director and others were part of his “boy’s club,” routinely subjecting her and others to abuse. Chancellor was superintendent of the Oak Knoll Golf Course.

Others saying they’ve been victims of abuse have come forward as well.

Eldridge will also be part of a process to select a management firm to take over the operations of the Oak Knoll Golf Course, with the goal of putting that operation in the black financially.

Before she’s hired, Eldridge will submit intake paperwork and background checks required by the city and will resign from her elected office when those are complete. 

Eldridge is a senior instructor of environmental science and policy at SOU. 

She teaches about the history and philosophy behind the National Parks, as well as critical regional issues, such as land-use, forestry, agriculture and the impacts of climate change in the Rogue Valley. 

Previously she did work on environmental policy, natural resource management, protected areas and planning.  

Eldridge has a professional master’s degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in environmental science and management, with a focus in conservation planning and natural resource management, and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Stanford University. 

She has worked for the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee as a congressional aide and environmental fellow in Washington, DC. She spent a decade working for the National Marine Sanctuary program to protect and manage California coastal parks and marine protected areas. 

Before going back to school for her graduate degree, Eldridge worked as a professional mariner, serving as captain and mate aboard oceanographic research vessels and large traditional sailing ships in Alaska and both coasts of the Americas. 

Reach writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.

July 14: Updated to correct why Leslie Eldridge wasn’t contacted directly for comment.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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