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Tom Rozman: Leadership and the execution of the plan

Making an Un-Programmed Private Public Partnership Happen, Building a Turn Key 275 acre State Battlefield Park

Article by Tom Rozman

A state park region in the American south had a small sub park of one of its larger staffed parks that consisted of 6 acres deeded to the parks division by the Daughters of the Confederacy.  An earth star fort’s remains occupied the six acres.  The fort had protected a vital railroad bridge for the Confederacy during the American Civil War.  The parent park manager was noting a situation in the area that caused him concern.

The southern area of the park region, a vast area, had been experiencing economic decline for several years  Many of the younger people in the area that had been settled in the late 1600s to early 1700s were unable to find jobs and were leaving the area.  Many industries had left.  There was great concern about further economic decline and many strategies were afoot to create opportunities and encourage people to remain and bring business back into the area.

One industrial initiative, not entirely popular in this generally bucolic location, was the construction of a high technology coal fired power plant with technology that greatly reduced harmful emissions.  The plant being built was massive and its site was adjacent to the old fort site. The two power companies involved in the venture were keen to engage in a project or activity that would take some of the negativity out of the local community’s sentiments toward the plant.

The railroad that owned the old railroad right of way and had deeded the old railroad bridge over the river that flowed by the fort and the building power plant to the State Parks Division several years before, wanted to deed the right of way to parks as well.

Another initiative was the federal grant supported economic development consortium director in the area who had embraced the “rails to trails” movement and also saw state parks as a logical manager of a park based on the long and extended rail right of way.  As well, the local communities and political leaders from the area in the state legislature were all lining up behind the park solution.

And a local interest had purchased the historic old railroad depot that had been sited in the town on the other side of the river, moving it to a private property site for preservation.  This interest also saw a park solution that the depot would figure into.

The park concept had already been embraced by the power companies as a possible way to enhance their position by transferring 275 acres to state parks including the other two of the three Civil War Era fortifications employed by the Confederate Army to defend the railroad bridge—in other words the entire footprint of the Civil War battle fought at the site on that side of the river.  There was even some comment by the power companies that they were prepared to build a full service turnkey state park campus with interpreting museum for the battle and the power plant to the park division’s specifications.

The railroad depot purchaser combined with others in the area desired a further expansion of the park on the depot side.  This expansion would increase the park by an additional 250 acres encompassing all of the battlefield on that side less the federal cavalry’s artillery positions in the town.  The idea was that the depot would be restored as a park center.  It would interpret the economic and transport activity along the river and rail line over the last 300 years.  The concept would balance the museum in the other center thus telling the full story of the site.

Adjacent to the 275 acres proposed state park parcel was a 250 acre wetland mitigation parcel necessary per federal requirement for the plant being located at the river site in development.  The state’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries was managing this adjacent land at the time.

Adding to the situation, the new administration at state level was desperate for successful significant private/public partnerships.  An initiative as these disparate developments indicated was a real possibility if the various interests could fashion a common ground and move forward towards a clear vision objective.

But, state parks leadership wanted nothing to do with the initiative.  In fact, the previous division director recently retired had avoided any involvement for well over a year even though solicited to engage politically.  The primary reason was a previous experience with similar overtones that caused the division to assume an attenuated park along some 30 miles of river further west in the state.  Insufficient funding had been provided to staff and resource such a park configuration.  It was found that a park of this nature required more staff than usual to operate the park, maintain its infrastructure, secure the park installations and police the park.

The infrastructure of such a park proved more challenging to design and construct and some of the issues with people who frequented the park proved challenging.  The experience had convinced park division leadership that they did not want to revisit another experience like the river park.  In leadership’s view—a “rails to trails” park of some 30-40 miles was a reprise of a not pleasant experience.  The fear was that such a park configuration would stretch scarce state park resources to the breaking point.

But, the region manager in feeling the pulse of the growing movement and coalescing of all the interests, presently lacking a central leadership, sensed a situation that would be forced upon parks perhaps in an undesirable way.  “Better to lead and influence the shaping and result than to become a target” was his forming thought.

The region and parent park manager assessed the situation and determined that the parks division needed to act and become a leader and form a project team of all interested parties.  Consequently, and to avoid interfering and countervailing internal parks politics, the region manager took advantage of an opportunity to have a private meeting with the new division director.  He informed the director that the situation had reached critical mass and if he chose not to provide leadership he would take a hit and come out of it badly.  But, the region manger pointed out that the new administration was desperately looking for successful major private public partnerships.  He suggested to the director that this situation had the potential to be a major success and probably the only one at this early stage of the administration’s career possible from the division’s agency.  The region manager recommended that the director initiate support and shaping of the situation immediately.  The new director agreed and authorized that course of action.

As a result of the meeting the region manager proceeded as a de facto project manager.  He recommended further to the director that an initial organization meeting be conducted where every agency that owned a document or piece of the administrative processes necessary to effect such a project initiative be invited.  This initial organization meeting would be followed by biweekly in process reviews (IPRs) until project completion.  The director agreed and e-mail invitations were sent with a situation statement and reason for the meeting copying the addressees supervisory levels as well.

The first meeting was instructive.  Some 20 agencies with 30 representatives were present.  One meeting objective was to identify every project “killer” action that needed to be completed or addressed to make the project happen.  There were some 12 major actions and the comment from attendees was essentially that the actions could not be completed and the project could not proceed.  Further discussion determined that all actions “could be accomplished.”  The meeting concluded with all attendees agreeing to initiate and complete the actions in their areas.  The attendees had been organized into a project team and they were given a date to return for an IPR to report on progress of the actions.

One critical piece that was needed early, was a site plan from the agency planner.  The planner was opposed to the park and was part of the internal political resistance to the Parks Division inserting itself into the confused mix as a “leader.”  He started dragging his feet.  This was unacceptable as the plan was an essential first hurdle. Prior to this point the planner and the region manager had been very good friends —both were veterans one Marine and one Army. Both were infantry. The friendship became strained but the planner ultimately provided the plan.

The IPRs worked.  The team came together.  Key actions were completed on time and if an issue emerged it was identified and dealt with early. The project became a high visibility project of the secretariat the agency was assigned to and the IPRs became such high visibility meetings that the division director attended many of them when critical issues were being reported on.  The project visibility was at the level of the governor’s office.  The project had become an important private/public partnership initiative.

The project proceeded on time and on schedule.  The 275 acre expanded park was organized and facilitated. A railroad bridge was decked and restored. The three fortifications were restored and a brand new park campus was completed and turned over to the state in a ceremony.  The new park had a conference center, museum to interpret the battle and the technology of the power plant with a store, a staff residence and shop and vehicle park, picnic shelters, parking lot, roads and trails, and park entrance.  All of these installations brought the park to initial opening standard.  A gala opening was held with the secretary officiating for the state governor.

The park became very popular with the local community and especially with the Civil War reenactment community.  Plans were proceeding to acquire six 6 pounder replica guns to restore the battery that was in place during the war.  A subsequent project expanded the park on the other side of the river by a further 240 acres incorporating the terrain across which the dismounted Union cavalry made three assaults on the Confederate defensive position.  The old railroad depot was moved to the park addition and restored as a museum interpreting the economic/transportation history of the river’s historic valley.

This case illustrates the critical role leaders play in being ever engaged with their situation, assessing trends and developments and identifying actions they must take to shape results positively.  As well, it underscores the importance of a subordinate leader approaching his leader, even with a difficult issue—that leader listening and critically, if a difficult issue, the subordinate leader having a plan to recommend on how to proceed.  Lastly, the case demonstrates how important execution of plan is—the leader staying involved until mission is complete.