The main reasoning behind the DEP’s entire privatization program is that New Jersey parks should not be supported by funds from the general treasury. These pieces of land are owned by and opened to all state residents operating them should be an appropriate state-funded activity. Given the New Jersey’s voters’ long history of strongly supporting Green Acres funding initiatives, this push for more and more privatization of state parks is directly counter to the public’s wishes. When was the last time a taxpayer complained “I wish the state would stop using my tax dollars for state parks.” In order to push through this privatization agenda the Administration’s first step was to replace an anti privatization Superintendent with a more politically fitting choice.
When a for-profit company takes over public infrastructure, public lands, and is responsible for public health and safety, we are concerned that their mission which is private and corporate does not include anything for the public.
Mark Pitchell has 35 years of experience running state parks, starting as a summer ranger in 1971 at Island Beach, 13 years as superintendent of Monmouth Battlefield in Freehold and another 13 years running Ringwood State Park in Ringwood, where we worked closely with him. During his career, Mr. Pitchell has had significant experience with successful privatization activities such as food concessions, boat rentals, and including shepherding the creation of a very high-end commercial catering arrangement at the Skylands Mansion at Ringwood State Park, which was the first of its kind for any New Jersey State Park. However, while Mr. Pitchell understands some privatization of certain park operations is inevitable, we believe concerns were raised regarding the privatization plans of the current administration.
What we see happen already is the removal of professional staff being replaced by a political appointee. Parks was never a place for politics since they have always stood up for the resource of everyone and above politics. Now with the plan for privatization of our state parks they are being looked at as a business rather than a natural sanctuary for the public to enjoy.
On the other hand Mark Pitchell’s replacement Ray Bukowski has no parks or forestry background nor has he ever worked in a park. He worked for Irene Kropp as an assistant also worked at site remediation program and air program, but has never worked in natural resources and parks. However, he has been working on the DEP’s parks privatization process, titled “Sustainable Funding Strategy for State Parks”. This is a perfect example of the fox in charge of the hen house.
Under state civil service provisions, in order to qualify to run a state park like Island Beach, a candidate must have a four-year degree in Forestry, or Parks and Recreation and significant experience in a natural resources program. Mr. Bukowski does not meet any of these qualifications, and yet he will be running Island Beach State Park. For an ocean front park, spring time is the most critical time for hiring summer employees and getting the park ready for the very busy summer season apparently Mr. Bukowski will not be preparing for neither.
However Ray Bukoski is not the only employee at the DEP without a proper background for their position. Commissioner Martin has no environmental education or experience. The Assistant Commissioner for Natural Lands, Amy Cradic, who over sees parks, fish and wildlife and historic sites has no degree in an environmental related field, instead majored in public relations.
By state law, the Division of Parks and Forestry is required to be run by a “director”, who “shall be a person qualified by academic training and at least seven years of responsible professional experience in the management of public parks, forest, and outdoor recreation facilities.” The position of director of Parks and Forestry has been empty for the at least the last 10 years and is currently empty. During part of this period, Assistant Commissioner Cradic installed two “acting” directors, who again politically appointed with no parks and forestry degrees or experience. There is currently no one with environmental or parks and forestry background in the top positions overseeing this privatization process, and now they have reached down to the day-to-day operations level to install an unqualified political yes-man to do their bidding at Island Beach.
The current administration recently advertised for the position of “manager” to lead the Division of Parks and Forestry (not a Director, as required by statute) requiring that the manager have “Three (3) years in a supervisory capacity”, with no requirement that the experience be related in any way to Parks. Note that 3 years as a general supervisor does not equal the statutory requirement of 7 years of responsible professional experience in the management of public parks. Apparently the DEP believes it is free to violate the express requirement of the state’s legislature that requires a Director, (not a manager) and which requires 7 years parks experience, not 3 years of simple “supervisory” experience.