JOLIET – Tom Carstens brings an outsider’s point of view as he takes over as executive director of the Joliet Park District.
Carstens started the $135,000-a-year job Wednesday.
He called it “a great opportunity” in large part because of the Joliet Park District’s reputation, size and operations, which include golf courses, a water park, an athletic center, a stadium and even an airport along with its parks.
“I’m very excited. The staff here is good. They have a great reputation,” Carstens said. “In the park and recreation field, the Joliet Park District is reputable.”
That’s good, because Carstens was brought in under somewhat disreputable circumstances.
Former Executive Director Dominick Egizio resigned in October after being put on leave following a complaint made by a woman employee of the park district and the threat of litigation.
Carstens said he does not intend to dwell on his predecessor’s circumstances.
“My philosophy is don’t look backwards. Look forward,” Carstens said. “We’ll be implementing a different culture and operating philosophy. From what I understand, staff is looking to move forward, and so am I.”
Carstens comes to Joliet from the Frankfort Park District, where he was executive director since 2010. He previously was deputy director of the Bolingbrook Park District and, before that, he was superintendent of recreation at the Cary Park District.
Carstens started his career at the park district in Downers Grove, where he grew up and where his father, Dick Carstens, is a football coaching legend. The football stadium at Downers Grove North High School is named after Dick Carstens.
After his father’s death in 1985, Tom Carstens was an assistant football coach at the high school.
His father and other coaches have influenced his management style, Carstens said. That style, he said, is to coach staff but not micromanage them.
Like many coaches, Carstens said there are key goals on which he focuses: professionalism, customer service and quality of life being a few.
“I think a park district has to look at ourselves as we’re here for our residents,” he said. “I’m big on improving the quality of life. Our staff will hear that from me a lot.”
Carstens’ focus on customer service was one of the qualities that stood out when he was selected for the job, park board President Glen Marcum said.
“His organizational skills and people skills is what really set him apart,” Marcum said.
Carstens also has experience “with all facets of the park district,” Marcum said, pointing in particular to his experience with the Pelican Harbor Aquatic Park in Bolingbrook. Attendance at the Splash Station Water Park at times is an issue in Joliet.
Marcum had said early in the search for an executive director that he expected to get good candidates in part because of the $19.5 million bond referendum that was approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2014 and has provided the park district with resources for improvements and new facilities.
“That was definitely an added plus,” Carstens said.
But, he added, “I would have applied with or without the referendum because of the quality of the park district. ... It’s a great opportunity to work for a park district like this because of its positive reputation.”