By Clint Confehr
NASHVILLE, TN — It’s practically ironic that metro’s new director of parks and recreation was an academic rather than a sports-oriented student before starting her career.
“I was not a student athlete,” Metro’s Parks and Recreation Department Director Monique Odom says. “I am now a parent of a student athlete.” In school, she was an academic honors student.
In college, her counter clerk job at Whiteway Cleaners was where she acquired “transferrable skills.” Named parks director last week, Odom still uses those skills.
She graciously declined to discuss Fort Negley, a controversial city property. “I have a personal opinion and a professional duty.” She and former Director Tommy Lynch “didn’t talk that much about it.”
While she didn’t play team sports like soccer, she’s a team player. In 2009, “the department faced fiscal challenges.” Lynch became interim director when Odom was a finance officer, having been with the department since 2006, working on grants and other fiscal matters.
She “didn’t really know” Lynch, but he asked her to lead the finance and administration division. They “worked hard” with metro’s central finance department and division heads to keep from ending over budget by $1.5 million. “We ended that year within budget.”
Lynch and Odom developed a relationship of mutual respect. He listened to her ideas. She recognized he makes the decisions. After private discussion, they were a team to accomplish goals.
She’s the first woman leading the department, but not the first African-American. “I was hired during Mr. Roy Wilson’s administration.”
As for African-Americans’ employment by metro, Odom says, “There are some deliberate efforts” toward having the workforce reflect the residents of the city.
A diversity study during Karl Dean’s administration reported “exactly what many of us in metro already knew,” Odom said. “There were underrepresented people in different demographic groups throughout…”
She wants the department to reflect Nashville’s demographics, but, “We’re not interested in quotas. We’re interested in well-qualified teammates who look differently, think differently, and can roundup our team.” She wants relationships with various organizations to diversify the applicant pool.
The parks board promoted Odom. Applicants were limited to city employees. Human Resources received applications. Five parks employees were interviewed. The board unanimously selected Odom over two other finalists: Planning and Facilities Development Assistant Director Tim Netsch; and Jim Hester, assistant director of natural resources, cultural arts and special events.
Lynch recommended Odom as interim director and supported her as director. Before February she was deputy director. “Megan Barry has been very supportive of me … particularly since I’ve been deputy director and interim director.”
Barry and Odom welcomed people Saturday to Centennial Park for Celebrate Nashville, a multi cultural and ethnic festival started at the Scaritt-Bennett Center. The festival offers food, cultural dance and art. “In its infancy it was called a celebration of cultures.” Odom was on the festival planning committee while working for the Metro Human Relations Commission. She’s participated in Scaritt-Bennett’s diversity and dialogues program for talks on racial and social justice, and economic and health disparities.
Born in Nashville on Feb. 29, 1972, a leap year, Odom can claim to be 11 years old. She went to Whites Creek High School, earned a bachelor’s degree at Fisk University and and a masters in public administration at Tennessee State University.
After 20 years, her husband, Brian, closed his music shop in 2010. He started working for Xerox that year and could participate in more family activities. Their son, Brian “BJ” Odom Jr. becomes a teenager Oct. 29. Monique is the clerk at Berea Baptist Church at Bordeaux. They joined 17 years ago, “the year after we married.”