Athens City building

The Athens City Building. Photo by Sarah Donaldson.

In previous meetings, Athens City Council had been resisting Athens Steve Patterson's drive toward hiring his selected candidate for the Arts, Parks and Recreation director position. On Monday night, though, council changed its tune.

It also appears that Patterson's choice for the role has some level of connection to his family — although he has said he has never met her.

On Monday, council approved Patterson's request to pay his selected candidate a salary equivalent to $68,000 a year, or 34% into the pay grade for the position. Council must approve salaries for new hires that are more than 25% into the pay grade.

Patterson has identified the candidate as Katherine Ann Jordan, a visiting professor in Ohio University's department of Recreation, Sport Pedagogy, and Consumer Sciences. Jordan will fill the vacancy left when previous director Terri Moore resigned in August.

Council voted 6–1 on Patterson's request, with council member Arian Smedley gave the sole "no" vote. In the meeting, she asked Patterson for information about Jordan beyond the provided resume and cover letter that might justify a significant pay increase.

Patterson said Jordan had made a counteroffer for the pay raise and he felt she deserved the higher salary.

“I believe, as you have the full curriculum vitae for that individual, hopefully you recognize this individual is immensely qualified for this position, and is worthy of a pay increase of $2,000 a year more than what I am authorized to pay,” Patterson said.

Jordan earned a bachelor's degree in recreation management from Appalachian State University, a master's in recreation and leisure studies from the University of Georgia and a doctorate in parks, recreation, and tourism management from Clemson University, as well as a postdoctoral fellowship in recreation, parks, and tourism at Indiana University–Bloomington, according to her resume. She was a graduate assistant at both UGA and Clemson.

In addition to her current position at Ohio University, Jordan has been a visiting professor at Indiana University. In Athens, Jordan worked with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife on a diversity and inclusion focused project, according to her cover letter. She also worked with the Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia and Rural Action to “study and support the development of outdoor recreation opportunities within the region.”

The city received 42 applications for the position from across the country, including Washington, New York and Kansas. The listing was posted across all major job listing services and across city channels like the website, Patterson said. The list was reduced to two or three serious applicants that were interviewed by Patterson, City Service Safety Director Andy Stone and Athens Chief of Police Tom Pyle.

Patterson has said previously that he had never met Jordan before she applied for the director's job. However, he appointed Jordan to the Arts, Parks and Recreation Advisory board in January 2021.

The department where Jordan currently works is part of the Patton College of Education. OU spokesperson Carly Leatherwood confirmed that Jordan is a member of the college's "Dean's Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion," which also includes Associate Dean for Academic Engagement and Outreach Connie Patterson — the mayor's wife.

Leatherwood said the committee was formed recently and has never met. However, in February 2021, the committee apparently organized a presentation from a guest speaker on antiracism strategies.

Connie Patterson is also friends with Jordan on Facebook. A search of her Facebook page shows two interactions between the two, including a happy birthday message in June 2021 and a comment by Jordan in July 2021 on a photo of Steve Patterson.

 Jordan's last nonacademic professional experience was in 2013, when she was an “environmental education intern” at the Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, Georgia, while she was a graduate student at the University of Georgia, according to her resume.

According to the internship’s description on The University of Georgia website, the part-time internship offered experience ranging from “design and teaching to animal care and handling to facility operations. Interns would also “present educational birthday parties, family programs and a wide variety of school and public programming.”

From 2009 to 2012 Jordan was logistics assistant manager and, later, logistics manager for The North Carolina Outward Bound School, a program that offers teenagers and adults outdoor education focused on personal growth.

In her cover letter, Jordan said the management positions with Outward Bound gave her experience in supervision, managing a budget and making program decisions.

“As an environmental education intern, I gained programming and customer service skills,” she wrote. “As an Assistant Logistics Manager and Logistics Manager, I learned that no matter how seemingly meaningless, each role and/or task has a purpose and can heavily impact the service provided and customer experience.”

She previously had been an intern with Outward Bound and as a ski technician.

The mayor faced pushback from council members at previous meetings when the pay request was discussed. When Council Member Sam Crowl introduced the mayor's request at the Sept. 6 Finance and Personnel Committee meeting, Smedley, Ziff and Micah McCarey asked about the hiring process and the candidate's experience with the arts—a significant element of the position's responsibilities.

Crowl said in the meeting that the desired candidate was approved by Arts, Parks and Rec staff. But when Smedley asked if the Arts, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board had been involved in the interviews, City Safety Service Director Andy Stone said they had not.

McCarey then asked how the administration knew APR staff supported the candidate if none of them were consulted. Crowl responded, "I was curious about that question. When I inquired for more information from the city administration, that’s what I was told."

"So we don't know really know, exactly," Smedley said on Sept. 6.

"I have a note about a couple of important staff members who were in support," Crowl replied. Asked later for clarification, Crowl said he heard about APR staff support for Jordan "secondhand."

When Ziff asked about the candidate's experience with the arts, Stone acknowledged that the individual had none and that the hire would be expected to develop skills in that area on the job.

During the Sept. 20 council meeting, Smedley asked for information about the candidate, who had not been identified publicly. Patterson said he would be happy to provide such information, but hoped council would suspend the rules and skip the third reading of the pay approval. Smedley, Ziff and Jeffery Risner rejected that motion, citing a desire for more information about the candidate and a lack of urgency.

At Monday’s meeting, though, only Smedley voted not to approve the hiring at a higher pay grade.

Ziff said the information he received from the mayor after the Sept. 20 meeting helped change his mind about earlier “frustrations” he had with Jordan’s lack of arts experience.

“I think (Jordan is) absolutely very, very well qualified to be running this department,” Ziff said. “I think they say to themselves they’re going to have to play catch-up and have to work on the world of art, but it’s hard to find the exact, perfect candidate anywhere in the world for any reasonable amount of money.”

Smedley said after Monday's meeting that she was unconvinced by the resume and cover letter that the pay raise was necessary.

“My question to the mayor this evening, I was asking for a little bit more information about the candidate that would justify the pay increase,” Smedley said. “I wanted to hear that tonight — and I didn’t.”

Smedley said she has nothing against the candidate, but is concerned about a department that has been racked by financial and organizational issues.

“There have been funds that have needed to be transferred to Arts, Parks and Rec to cover payroll — and this is a different time,” Smedley said. “The previous director we hired pre-pandemic, and our books looked a lot different then than they do today. I appreciate the amount of work the new director is going to have to come in and do, my vote is not against her, it’s about being fiscally responsible.”

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