In the wake of BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight’s August announcement that she will retire when her contract expires at the end of the year, the park system launched a national search for her replacement and hired local consulting firm Emergent Method to find the best possible candidate for the job.
But after a three-month search that yielded 27 applicants, who were culled by the consultants to nine semi-finalists, a BREC search committee voted in late November to advance to the full commission a list of four finalists that includes two local administrators—one of whom has never run a park system.
The commission is currently lining up interviews with the finalists for later this month and will make a selection before the end of the year.
The finalists include Chris Nunes, director of the park system in The Woodlands, Texas; Nicholas Williams, director of parks in Oakland, California; Corey Wilson, BREC’s current chief of management and business; and Carlos Sam, superintendent of East Feliciana Parish Schools.
Though Sam is a former BREC commissioner, he has never served as a parks administrator. Rather, he spent 26 years in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System before becoming school superintendent in East Feliciana Parish in mid-2015.
He wasn’t among the candidates the consultant who spearheaded the search recommended to the committee. When asked at the Nov. 29 search committee meeting who she considered to be the strongest candidates, Emergent Method’s Leslie Austin named Nunes, Williams, Wilson and two other out of state candidates.
Yet, four of the five search committee members voted to advance Sam’s name anyway. Why?
Commissioners Lloyd Benson and Larry Selders say they recommended the career educator over candidates with more experience in parks and recreation because of his familiarity with Baton Rouge and his leadership experience.
“He’s been a great leader,” says Benson, BREC Commission chairman. “He’s a high-profile executive who has led in an industry that is compatible to BREC’s and he has been responsible for budgets similar to BREC’s.”
Selders also calls Sam “a great leader,” who has developed relationships in Baton Rouge.
Both men say they were “shocked” to find out Sam was interested in the position but they were glad he was.
BREC Commissioner Sandy Davis, on the other hand—who also voted to advance Sam to the finalist list—says he contacted her to express his interest in the position. She says he did not ask for her support, however, and adds she will not necessarily vote to hire him for the position.
“I voted to give him an opportunity to interview,” she says.
Only search committee member Betsie Baker Miller, who is not a BREC commissioner and will not have a say so in the final decision, did not vote to advance Sam to the finalist list, noting that “running a school system is not a direct corollary to what we do here.”
Sam did not return a call seeking comment. When he interviewed for his current position, Sam reportedly told the East Feliciana Parish School Board being superintendent was his “dream job” and promised “if you make me your superintendent, I’ll be here a long time.”