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City's new rec director ready to work (and play)

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Posted at 12:00 PM, May 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-15 12:00:10-04

CINCINNATI -- Daniel Betts thinks that every child should have the chance to learn how to swim, visit a library and read a book, visit a museum and explore a zoo.

As the Cincinnati Recreation Commission’s new director of recreation, he’ll have a chance to ensure that the city’s youth are afforded those opportunities. 

“We want to expose our young people to those opportunities as early in age as possible so they see that people are people, at the end of the day,” he said. 

Betts, 49, celebrated his first 30 days on the job Wednesday.

Betts comes to Cincinnati by way of Chicago. The bulk of his background is in parks and recreation, but he also has experience in other areas of government. He once served as the procurement manager of a school district; prior to coming to Cincinnati, his most recent role was deputy director of economic development for Cook County, Ill.

Betts sees those experiences as a plus because he understands how his work affects the big picture. But recreation is his calling.

“I’ve served in about every capacity of it that you can imagine,” he said. “I get it from soup to nuts, and I love it. It’s a passion for me.”

The CRC took its time to vet the large number of candidates. In the end, it was Betts’ combination of experience and his passion for the field that won him the job, said Pat O’Callaghan Jr., CRC board president. 

“We thought he could be a transformational leader for the CRC,” Callaghan said.

Betts spent much of his first month on the job visiting CRC-run facilities and meeting with staff. He plans to use what he has learned to analyze the organization’s strengths and weaknesses.

Naturally, he sees the people in CRC’s employ as one of its greatest strengths.

Though he’s diplomatic when he broaches the subject, Betts does see opportunities for improvement at CRC. He sees making how the department develops and evaluates programs a priority, and he wants to improve technology to make programs and employment opportunities more accessible.

For the latter, Betts' hometown could serve as an excellent model. One Summer Chicago provides a one-stop portal for young people to apply for the more than 25,000 summer jobs and internships with the city’s departments, community organizations and private companies. The site also makes it easy to discover and sign up for programs and activities.

Betts said he doesn’t think enough people know about all of the programs CRC offers or how they impact the city’s quality of life, and he wants to make getting the word out a priority.

“I think what I’m hearing is that Cincinnatians are big on supporting causes that they believe in,” Betts said. “I think we have a great story – we’ve just got to tell it.”