Justin Cutler, Sunset Empire Parks and Rec and Ken Warner, City of West Linn

Posted on May 16, 2014

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The real Pawnee came to ELGL this week. Ken Warner, City of West Linn and Justin Cutler, Sunset Empire Parks and Recreation District, presented two unique perspectives – one from a city-run parks and recreation department and the other from a special district. Attendees were treated to details on staffing ratios in the Portland area, a somewhat challenging instant recess, and a review of funding sources for parks and recreation. The forum marked the first time ELGL members have had the opportunity to witness each other stretching. Don’t worry we have shredded the incriminating pictures, or have we?

Background Check

Connect with Justin: LinkedIn and Twitter

Bnil8oACMAA1CWzJustin grew up in Seattle. Prior to Sunset Empire Parks and Recreation, Justin served as the first executive director of the La Pine Parks and Recreation District. He also has worked for the cities of Wilsonville and Gresham. Justin is the president of the Oregon Recreation and Park Association.

As a the General Manager for SEPRD, Justin is the chief executive officer for the District and responsible for the day to day operations. He reports to a five member, elected at-large, board of directors. Together they set policy and identify goals and opportunities for the District. Justin works with 35 dedicated staff to implement the vision of the community and provide high quality recreation services for Southern Clatsop County.

Connect with Ken: LinkedIn and Twitter

Ken Warner has more than 25 years of management and diverse experience in the public sector parks and recreation. He was worked for the City of West Linn since 1993, first as the Recreation Director and now as the Assistant Parks and Recreation Director. Ken volunteered for the City of Gresham Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee in 2011-12. Ken is graduate of the University of Oregon and was a member of the football team from 1981 – 1985.

What We Learned


Presentation: Parks and Rec: The Real Story

Picture Show: The Real Pawnee with Ken Warner and Justin Cutler

Lightning Round: Favorite piece of old school playground equipment.

Medford, West Linn, and Gresham are the only three cities with park maintenance fees.

111Volunteer coordination is a huge responsibility for parks and rec. Parks and rec works with the most volunteers in a local government agency. Ken reminded us that “volunteers are not free.” Require management.

Justin shared that the public expects and demands strong relations between public schools and parks and rec.

Communication is the key between the tenuous relationship with parks and recreation and the school district.

Parks and rec staff have unique challenges due to special events which often are held after 5:00 p.m.tumblr_mfxfubLa6S1qh01r8o1_r1_400

Should cities or special districts run parks and rec? Ideally city but difficult with property tax system in OR.

Most citizens don’t know where one special district boundary ends and another begins.

We love Sunset Empire District because they don’t accept faxes.

Sunset Empire puts walking maps in Seaside hotels to promote wellness.

Health and wellness programs are great ways to promote employee health and reduce absenteeism.1212

Have you read “No Child Left Inside”? Justin has and he recommends it. Focused on children and nature.

Parks and rec work stays interesting because of the diversity of programs.

Economic impact of parks and rec is underestimated. Softball tournaments, adventure courses, festivals can be driver.

West Linn Spooky Stroll attracts 1500+ visitors.

Parks and rec districts are often the largest land owner in cities and counties

Word on the Street


Emily Leuning, Oregon Microenterprise Network (OMEN)

Given the the excitement generated by the instant recess, the only way the presentation could have been more fun would be if Leslie Knope herself had presented. Ken and Justin did a great job of discussing the many facets of a Parks and Rec department as well as providing details on current events and trends in the field. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

Dan Englund, Listen Acoustics, Inc.

Ken Warner is a wise man and provided great conversation on what Parks and Recreation does while highlighting the increased need for communication. I learned a lot from Ken and I’m looking forward to running into him again at another ELGL event soon I hope! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Justin Cutler more than a few times now and each time, he leaves me more impressed. I truly mean it. I think he is on his way to becoming a real life Parks & Rec rock star. He is determined, focused, driven, and best of all, a cutting edge thinker. The public sector is lucky to have him. If you don’t know Justin and see him somewhere, go to talk to him. He’s an engaging presence.

Kent Wyatt, City of Tigardtumblr_lkacsx3wXA1qzgtbj

Despite pulling a back muscle during the stretching routine, I enjoyed getting deep in the weeds of parks and recreation. Parks and recreation is often overshadowed by public safety, but it is clear that they have a role in providing opportunities for kids and adults that might decrease some of the Police workload.

Ben Kittelson, Metro Newsroom

Ken and Justin’s presentation was great, they both covered important aspects of parks and recreation that I had never considered before. That department has its own unique challenges and issues but they made it seem like the most fun department to work for. Also instant recess is my new favorite thing!

Kirsten Wyatt, City of West Linn

I loved Justin and Ken’s presentation!  They did a great job describing the day-to-day responsibilities of a parks and recreation department, and also highlighted trends and issues on the horizon.  Justin and Ken are great reminders of the professionals we have working at every level in local government, and we’re proud to have them as members of ELGL.

Supplemental Reading


Cutler named GM of Sunset Empire Parks & Recreation

The Transition with Justin Cutler, Sunset Empire

Forum Announcement: What does Parks and Rec Do All Day?

There’s still time to take care of West Linn

1983 football team – Oregon Digital

Duck Feed: Saturday’s Duckcast, Alumni Reunion


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