SCHENECTADY — A Schenectady High School basketball legend is embarking on a new chapter as the city’s parks director.
Willie Deane, who helped deliver a state basketball title to the city in 1998, has accepted a provisional position in the administration of Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy.
Deane, 43, said he was excited to take the position, which has sat vacant for nearly two decades.
“It means the world to me because Schenectady is and always will be a part of me,” he said on Monday. “Schenectady is the reason I am who I am. The city has taught me so many things in life. So it’s a pleasure for me to give back to the place where I was born. A lot of successful people from Schenectady move on to other destinations. I had that option too and I chose to come back and help.”
The parks director position was funded with a $72,800 annual salary in the city’s approved 2023 budget.
McCarthy said he was grateful to get Deane on board in the role, which the mayor noted had been vacant due to budget decisions and recruitment issues.
“When you get a man with that talent, community involvement and inspiration, if you can sign him up, you sign the deal,” McCarthy said of Deane.
Following his high school basketball stint, Deane attended Boston College and Purdue University before embarking on a professional basketball career overseas that saw him play in Ukraine, Italy and France through 2018.
In 2019, Deane released the children’s book “Love” and has been mentoring youth in Schenectady following his athletic career.
“For the past 15 years I’ve been a mentor and I ran an educational basketball program in Jerry Burrell Park for at-risk kids,” Deane said. “I’ve always been very heavily involved in the community, whether it be at Schenectady High School or at the parks or just going to kids that I went to school with and helping their kids with whatever they may need, academically or athletically.”
Deane said he was not certain if he would be required to take a civil service test to gain the position but said he would be willing to do so.
“I’m not sure on that position,” McCarthy said. “Because it hasn’t been filled for a while, there’s one scenario where it would be an exempt position and he would serve at the pleasure of the mayor. There’s another scenario where it would be a competitive civil service position.”
McCarthy said a formal announcement of Deane’s hire will be made in the next two weeks.
Deane said that his top priority in the parks director role will be to establish educational and sports programs for children in the city’s 25 parks.
“My primary focus is on enriching young lives,” he said “The best way to do that is through academics and sports and these things will take place at designated parks throughout Schenectady. The parks should be considered a safe haven. With this position vacant for a little while, the parks need some TLC. Now that I’ve become an advocate for that, I’m going to do the best I can to get these parks the attention that they need.”
Deane said he was receiving mentorship from numerous members of the administration.
“There were no previous academic initiatives in the parks and that’s a role that I’m bringing to the table and we’re going to implement this summer with our educational initiatives,” he said. “So I’m creating these programs from scratch, but also leaning on established programs that are already in the community.”
The hire was made as the city prepares a $10.1 million construction project to build a new pool complex in Central Park.
Deane said there are several challenges in undertaking a job that’s been vacant for a prolonged period.
“I think the biggest challenge will be the maintenance of the parks,” he said. “The older parks are in need of a lot of upgrades, which a lot of them we are addressing this summer. We have the $10 million project with the pool and a $1.2 million project in Jerry Burrell Park. With these educational programs, the challenge will be getting the word out to the community and then getting the community to be in attendance. These will be high-level programs that kids will benefit from.”
McCarthy said that his administration will not have to file a waiver immediately to address the issue of Deane’s residence. The provisional hire currently lives in Guilderland, with Deane given six months to relocate to retain the position under city code.
“At this point I’m happy to have him onboard and the code doesn’t require me to do anything for six months,” McCarthy said.
The city council does not have to approve Deane’s hire.
“I know who he is from growing up in the community and from being a basketball player and an author,” Council President Marion Porterfield said of Deane. “It’s the mayor’s decision who he hires.”
Deane said the timing was fortuitous for his new career as a public servant.
“I just think I was available at the right time,” he said. “There hasn’t been someone in this position for quite some time and I feel like I was the best fit for the position with respect to what I’ve already been doing in the community and the mayor has recognized that. The mayor and I have always had a rapport behind the scenes and he’s noticed some of the things I’ve done in the community. I think it’s just being in the right place at the right time and being the right fit for the right position.”
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