Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has hired a new director of recreation and parks, choosing an experienced manager who has headed similar agencies in three cities.
"Ernest Burkeen is a nationally respected leader in his field with a great track record of success improving parks and recreational opportunities for urban communities," Rawlings-Blake said in a statement.
In a telephone interview Monday, Burkeen, a native of Detroit, said he was excited to take on the new position.
"I look forward to the challenge," he said. "Urban recreation is my specialty. My experience in other cities will help me provide the same type of opportunities to the children of Baltimore."
Burkeen — who said he plans to begin by meeting with residents — said he wants to learn more about the city's plan to consolidate, privatize and close some recreation centers. "It's been taking place all over the country because of declining funds," he said.
He also said he supports efforts to audit the agency, which some City Council members say hasn't been done in decades.
"I think you should audit every year," Burkeen said. "You need to know if you're doing things right."
Earlier this year, some political observers said they were concerned about a rash of resignations in City Hall, when the city's finance director, development chief, police commissioner, parks director and the mayor's chief of staff all left or announced plans to resign.
Since that time, Rawlings-Blake has replaced former Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III with Anthony W. Batts; finance director Edward J. Gallagher with Harry E. Black; and chief of staff Peter O'Malley with Alexander M. Sanchez. Last week, Rawlings-Blake announced Brenda McKenzie as the new president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's quasi-public development arm.
Burkeen will earn $125,000 annually. His predecessor, Gregory Bayor, who left to run recreation and parks programs in Tampa, Fla., made $127,500.
In the 1970s, Burkeen was a physical education teacher and coach in Michigan. He received a bachelor's degree in physical education from Michigan State University in 1975 and a master's degree in recreation administration from Michigan State in 1976.
From 2004 through 2012, Burkeen served as director of the City of Miami's Department of Parks and Recreation, administering a $23 million annual budget, 400 year-round employees, 106 parks and a variety of recreational programs, according to the mayor's office.
From 2001 to 2004, Burkeen was director of the parks and recreation department in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Prior to working in Florida, Burkeen worked in a similar capacity in Detroit, managing more than 1,300 employees, 400 parks and 38 recreation centers, the mayor's office said.