She had served as deputy director since May 2016
When Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR) Director Carolyn Brown announced in July that she would be retiring in October, the county began advertising for her replacement.
The job description released on Aug. 2 — with a tentative closing date of Sept. 28 — explained the director’s responsibilities as follows:
“Performs and oversees a variety of complex professional and administrative tasks including the planning of new parks and initiatives, administering the budget, strategic planning, increasing revenue streams, and building partnerships. Responsible for the development, organization, staffing, coordinating, directing and controlling of all policies, procedures, functions and operations of the Parks, Recreation & Natural Resources system (PRNR). Develops high performing employees, seeks opportunities for collaborations, and studies the needs of the community. Leverages Parks and Recreation services to achieve community health, economic and environmental sustainability.”
The advertisement noted the minimum qualifications were a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in “Parks & Recreation, Public Administration, Business Administration or other related field and 10 years of progressively responsible related experience OR a Master’s Degree with eight (8) or more years of progressively responsible related experience; six (6) or more years of supervisory/management experience.”
The salary range was $90,688 to $120,000.
In response to a Sarasota News Leader question, county Media Relations Specialist Brianne Grant wrote in a Nov. 15 email that 184 people applied for the position.
As it turns out, the new director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department is someone with whom county staff and members of the public have grown quite familiar over the past several years: Nicole Rissler, who had served as deputy director to Brown since May 2016.
The county announced on Nov. 8 that Rissler had accepted the offer to succeed Brown.
Rissler’s salary as interim director, following Brown’s departure in early October, was $100,526; her salary as director is $115,136, Grant told the News Leader in the Nov. 15 email.
When Rissler took the deputy director’s position two-and-a-half years ago, Brown said of her in a county news release, “She is well known throughout the community and has a passion for parks. We welcome the opportunity to work with a professional who is bringing with her so many years of experience that have been invested into this community.”
Most recently, Rissler has been part of the county team working to craft a “term sheet” that laid out how Mote Marine Laboratory can lease and later purchase 11.45 acres at Benderson Park for construction of its planned $130-million Science Education Aquarium.
Rissler was among several county staff members County Administrator Jonathan Lewis publicly thanked after the County Commission voted unanimously on Oct. 24 to approve the term sheet.
In the county news release announcing her promotion, Lewis said Rissler’s experience, background and long-standing ties to the community made her the ideal choice to lead the department. “Nicole’s innovative and collaborative approach to providing world class service was key to her being named director,” Lewis added.
For Rissler, being selected as the new director “is not only an honor, but an important opportunity to continue the success and innovation that Sarasota County’s parks department is known for,” the release continued.
“I’m thankful to be able to continue serving the community I grew up in, and to work with the amazing and talented staff who make our parks system the best in the nation,” Rissler said in the release.
Rissler earned a bachelor’s degree in sports and exercise science from Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Penn., and an MBA in 2003 from Lynn University in Boca Raton. She coached volleyball at Lynn while working on her degree, she pointed out in a Lynn University alumni newsletter.
In the late summer of 2012, Rissler joined the staff of Visit Sarasota County as its director of sports. Prior to that, she worked for The American Red Cross as director of financial resources and community relations and with the Sarasota Y as the director of marketing and communications, according to a Visit Sarasota County (VSC) news release issued at the time of her hiring there.
As director of sports, Rissler was responsible for attracting new sports business to the county and serving existing sports businesses, the news release noted.
Then, on July 20, 2015, Rissler became chief operating officer of the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA), which manages Benderson Park for the county. A 2015 SANCA newsletter called her “instrumental in securing the bid for the 2017 World Rowing Championships” while she was with Visit Sarasota County. It also explained that her focus with SANCA was business development, expanding and elevating the level of events, “exploring new ways to generate revenue, and overseeing marketing and communications strategies.”
Then-SANCA President and CEO Paul Blackketter added in the newsletter that being able to hire someone “who understands the relationships between Manatee and Sarasota [counties], understands nonprofits, sports and the political area is invaluable.”
Less than a year after she joined SANCA, however, Rissler took the deputy director’s position in the Parks Department.