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Susan Davies takes over Trails and Open Space Coalition

Dan Cleveland — former military man, and workaholic — is the type of guy you think will never retire.

And yet, in May, Cleveland did exactly that, leaving the Trails and Open Space Coalition he had led for 15 years to seek his replacement. In turn, the TOSC board has done something that, on the surface, seems equally surprising: It has hired a TV reporter as its executive director.

Susan Davies, who has worked in broadcast journalism for 30 years and most recently for KOAA (News First 5), will debut on Friday, Aug. 7, at TOSC's Gala in the Garden fundraiser. She's thrilled, even if she knows it will be a bit of an adjustment heading TOSC's four-person staff.

"At first glance, a television reporter [becoming] an executive director of a nonprofit?" she says. "[It's] a stretch, yes."

But Davies says this is a dream job, her chance finally to get involved in the issues that matter to her instead of standing objectively on the sidelines and reporting on them.

The TOSC board, in turn, sees Davies, 52, as someone who has it all: connections, communication skills, even a background in environmental issues. Davies, a Wisconsin native, has a master's in environmental science and management, and she covered KOAA's environmental beat for years. Cleveland was one of her best sources, and she kept close tabs on TOSC's activities. And she loves biking and hiking in area parks with her husband and 8-year-old daughter. A lot of people are betting she'll catch on quickly, including Cleveland.

"I walked into an empty office 15 years ago, and believe me, I knew nothing," he says with a laugh. "So she's got a big advantage."

Davies also has a lot of challenges. Besides its usual menu of events (which also includes the Starlight Spectacular midnight bike ride each June), educational outreach, and trails and open space advocacy, TOSC is embarking on its biggest project in years.

With tax collections down, the city isn't adequately funding many city parks, and with a looming $23.7 million budget shortfall, the future of many city parks is looking grim. TOSC wants to take on that problem via a ballot measure, and hopefully garner enough voter support to get dedicated funding for city parks, providing basic maintenance.

TOSC is probably best known as the organization that was instrumental in passing and renewing the Trails, Open Space and Parks sales tax, a dedicated fund that has allowed the city to purchase treasured properties like Red Rock Canyon, Corral Bluffs and White Acres. But TOPS was not designed to deal with city parks maintenance, and in April, voters said they didn't want TOPS money diverted to park maintenance.

Bill Koerner, TOSC's new advocacy director, says TOSC might ask voters in 2010 to consider one of two options: a special taxing district for parks, or a dedicated tax for parks akin to a "TOPS II." Whatever happens, he says, Davies will be a big part of the push.

"Both the city and the county have an enormous investment in their parks system," Koerner says. "People love parks; it's part of our culture and our environment and it's certainly part of our quality of life."



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