by Ivan Foley
The longtime assistant director of the Platte County Parks Department is out of a job.
In a move that he says caught him by surprise, Jim Kunce has been fired from his position. The decision to fire Kunce was made by Brian Nowotny, county parks director.
“I was definitely disappointed,” says Kunce, who says he had received nothing but positive performance reviews in his time with the county.
According to county payroll records, Kunce was earning $54,178 annually as assistant parks director. Nowotny earns $79,964 as parks director.
“I thoroughly enjoyed working for Platte County. I consider public service to be a privilege and not a right. That’s how I always perceived my responsibilities. I worked on behalf of the citizens of Platte County,” Kunce told The Landmark this week.
Kunce, 50, of Weston, said Nowotny informed him of his dismissal last Wednesday morning. He said Mary Robinson, human resources director for the county, was present when Nowotny told him he was being let go.
At that meeting, Nowotny told Kunce that he is “restructuring” the department and that is the reason for Kunce’s dismissal.
“They had not given me any forewarning that the position was getting structured out of the department,” Kunce said.
Kunce said while the parks department comes under the control of the county commission, the county policy, as he was told, is to give department heads full control of personnel decisions.
“I was given the impression that’s a fairly new policy,” he said of the county commission’s choice to let department heads handle all personnel decisions.
Reached by The Landmark while attending a work-related conference in the Lake of the Ozarks, Nowotny confirmed the firing of Kunce.
“I will be looking to add another staff person,” he said, declining to go into specifics into the decision to remove Kunce.
“Jim made a lot of good contributions to projects over the years and I wish him nothing but the best,” Nowotny remarked.
Nowotny said he hasn’t made up his mind whether the new hire will be an assistant director or whether it will be more of a technical skills position, such as a landscape architect.
“I really need technical skills right now to get projects completed,” Nowotny said. “That’s a lot of what we do.”
Some upcoming projects that will require technical skills include the next phase of Prairie Creek Greenway and the next phase of Platte Landing Park at Parkville, Nowotny said.
Many county officials, some of them high ranking, have told him they were surprised by the move, Kunce said. Members of the community have also been positive in reaching out to Kunce after learning of the move.
“The thing that has really kind of impressed me in the past week or so since I’ve been terminated is the community outreach to me has just been really incredible. So many people have contacted me and have really reached out to me and my family and that’s really special,” he said Tuesday.
Kunce said he has already been offered and will accept the opportunity to begin work soon for the state of Missouri parks system in a full time but temporary position.
“I’m chasing down other more permanent type leads for employment. I’m integrated into the community and it would be difficult to leave,” he said.
Asked if he had any idea if there were other factors in play in his dismissal from Platte County, Kunce declined to answer directly, opting instead to discuss his philosophy as a parks department employee.
“I wouldn’t be comfortable trying to describe the difference of philosophies between Brian and me. My philosophy is very community-focused. I don’t think that Platte County parks should be a place to build a personal legacy,” he said.
“I think our mission is to build a better community. So for me, the personal focus was making the community a better place. That’s what was important to me and that’s a true component of my fabric, how I’m made up as a person,” he continued.
Kunce said he had been with the county nearly 13 years.
“I’m very dedicated to public service. I don’t think using public tax dollars as a playground to build my own ego is the right thing to do. And I’m not speaking on behalf of Brian, I’m just stating my opinions on how I conducted my business,” he said.
Kunce said he initially came on board the county parks staff as a park planner, and then within nine months to a year, Nowotny promoted him to assistant director.
“I was excited to work with a fledgling parks department,” Kunce said.
“I always wanted to make sure even though I was in a senior management position that I treated all of my work colleagues with equal and mutual respect. I didn’t care if it was a park maintenance person or a county commissioner, to me they were one and the same. I’m pleased with how I interacted with staff,” he remarked.
(For more on the Nowotny firing of Kunce, see the Between the Lines column here)