Jim Hall didn't really know what he wanted to do with his life when he was 18. Having just graduated from high school and working as a box boy in a Moscow grocery store, his life changed forever when the then-parks director for the City of Moscow pulled up to the store and asked Hall if he wanted to go to lunch. They made a point of driving past the University of Idaho.
"He told me that he would hire me, right on the spot, to run the city's youth programs if I agreed to go to college and study administration of parks and recreation," remembered Hall. "I said, 'OK, but what's parks and recreation management?'"
Forty-two year later, Hall is ready to retire from a life of parks and rec management.
"With the exception of six years when I was deputy city manager in Juneau, Alaska," he said, but those years included his oversight of Juneau's parks in addition to police, fire, airport and libraries.
"I honestly don't think I could have done this job if I had simply been a parks and rec person from Moscow," said Hall.
But in August 1991, when then-Boise Mayor Dirk Kempthorne called to offer him the job of Boise parks director, he was ready.
What kind of department were you coming into when you started?
We had just taken over recreation, and rec people didn't feel they were part of the team. It was important for us to change the name to Parks and Recreation. Plus, I had to mend a lot of fences, starting with Joe Albertson.
What was going on?
The department wanted to build the [Kathryn Albertson] park one way, but Joe wanted to build the park the way it is now, and there was a lot of resistance. Joe finally told the mayor that he was going to build it his way and he would give it to the city when he was done. When you make someone like that unhappy, that message goes out to a lot of other people who otherwise would want to work with you. I needed to build a more positive reputation and over time, donors really stepped up with some really great projects. Since I've been here, we've added 33 new park sites with a value of $34 million, and we probably only paid about $17 million. The rest was donation.
What's your operating budget?
Twenty million dollars. We bring in about $7 million in revenue. When I got here, I think our budget was $4.8 million. Ironically, some people say, "You're an empire builder." But people love their recreation and they love their parks. And now look at what we have.
In May 1997 you said you had an idea to preserve open space in the Foothills. I think a lot of folks take that initiative for granted now, but at the time, there was a pretty big question of how that vote would end up.
Even a couple of people who worked on our open space plan were not in favor of the levy. I honestly didn't know if it was going to pass or not. And now, we're set to close on the sale of Hammer Flat to Idaho Fish and Game. We paid $4.1 million and we'll get more than $4.2 million back.
Is there a wish list for what the city might buy next?
There might be some good opportunities based on the conversations we're having with some folks. I think there's some low-hanging fruit out there that we can pick off.
You have a terrible-looking bruise on your left arm. You were in a pretty bad accident recently.
It was June 8, and I was riding my bike near Military Reserve. I didn't negotiate the trail right. I clipped my front wheel and went over the top. I chipped a bone and separated my shoulder, cracked a rib, and I'm bruised all over my arm and chest. My helmet was trashed. Let me tell you, helmets save your life.
Your retirement is set for Friday, June 29, but have you thought about going back to work sometime?
I'm going to take four to six months and relax, but I would love to do something in the nonprofit sector.
And the day after your retirement is your 62nd birthday. How will you celebrate?
I'll put on my shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops, and I'm threatening my wife and kids that I'll shave my head, just for the heck of it. I might take a lot of heat, but they'll get over it.
But how about taking a lot of heat from the sun on a bald head?
I wear a lot of hats.