July 23, 2024

Parks & Rec begins transition process as Director Michael Black’s resignation date approaches

Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission Director Michael Black talks about the Japanese Garden in Lithia Park on the cusp of its grand reopening in October 2022. photo by Holly Dillemuth
June 4, 2023

Deputy Director Rachel Dials set to take the reins in acting capacity after his departure July 14

By Holly Dillemuth, 

On the heels of announcing his resignation as Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission Director, which takes effect July 14, Michael Black on Monday, June 5, will start the transition process for APRC Deputy Director Rachel Dials to fill in as the commission prepares for his exit next month.

“I want to leave them in the best possible position, and that means I’ve got a few projects to see how far I can move them along,” Black said in an interview with on Friday. “We always have things in the hopper and I want to see what I can do to help them see those things to fruition. So that’s what I’ll be focused on until July 14, but I’ll be around.” 

His primary focus in the meantime will be on finishing the Lithia Park Master Plan, the open space plan, the Daniel Meyer Pool plan, and some property acquisitions for trail extensions that he’s started and would like to finish.

Black said he’s looking forward to the next phase of his career, though he declined to share his concrete plans. He confirmed he has a job offer, but said he is still making plans.

 “I’m looking at this as positive and I’m heading off because I’m getting a new job and going onto a new phase in my career and in my life, but I’m proud of the things that I did while I was in Ashland,” he said.

When asked his reasons for leaving, Black said, “I’m leaving because I want to.

“There’s a lot of things that go into making a decision like this,” he said.

“Some positions have more challenges than others and I think I tried to do the best that I could while I was in the position that I was in — there were a lot of challenges, but I’m proud of the things that I did and I’m moving on in good standing and proud of what I did there.”

When asked about the APRC position moving forward, Black said, “I am positive they 

are going to be looking for another director.” 

Black said the position has been a tough one at times because of the dynamics of the city’s change from an strong mayor/city administrator form of government to a city manager form of government.

“It’s not only the Parks Commissioner’s goals and objectives, it’s City Council’s goals and objectives, too, and then with the change in government to a city manager … it’s a very difficult position to be in, because there’s a lot of, I don’t know how to put it exactly, but, a lot of people who are calling and saying I want you to do this,” Black said.

“I have a lot of bosses,” he added.

“In reality, the commissioners were my bosses and I feel like that … I was there to implement their vision, their goals and objectives, and I’m really proud of what I did for them.”

“I have no reason to think that they don’t think the same thing. I believe that they’re very happy with my performance.”

Black shared some of his favorite projects while serving in his position, namely the Japanese Garden and Garfield Park splash pad addition.

“The Japanese Garden is, of course, the thing that I’m most proud of, considering we were able to get it through donations and we were actually able to complete it even though it had several starts and stops,” Black said. “I’m really proud of that because it’s something that I think will be there for centuries.”

APRC Chair Rick Landt praised Black for his expertise in planning and project management, and specifically in seeing the Japanese Garden to fruition.

Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission Director Michael Black talks about the Japanese Garden in Lithia Park on the cusp of its grand reopening in October 2022. photo by Holly Dillemuth

“He’s really quite good at it and we’ve been able to get a lot done because of that,” Landt said.

Landt said APRC has been “fortunate” to have Black on staff and commented on the shelf life of parks director positions.

“I would just like to point out that positions like the parks director … in a community like Ashland is a challenging position,” Landt said. “We have a community that has high expectations, lots of community involvement, and in terms of parks, there’s just a high passion for what goes on in our parks. All this makes for a challenging working environment and normally with these types of positions, there really is a shelf life … typically eight to 10 years.

“What happens is, over time, controversies come up,” Landt added. “The list of people who are frustrated grows and … it’s just the nature of the job. It isn’t necessarily the individuals, it’s simply that it is a challenging position. You’re in the limelight and it really doesn’t last forever.”

“I think it’s very important that the Parks Commission continues and that the ommissioners remain in charge of Parks and are able to focus on parks,” Black said. “And that the charter continues to have that body in place as an elected commission. In going with that, having their own funding source would only make them more successful.

“I truly hope the legacy of Ashland Parks & Recreation continues,” Black added.

Prior to coming to Ashland, Black served as community development director in Grants Pass for five years.

Ashland City Manager Joe Lessard declined to comment on Black’s resignation or the position of commission director.

Reach reporter Holly Dillemuth at

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Email him at

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