The Winnetka Park District’s executive director search was truly coast to coast.
During a special meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 5, the Park Board approved the appointment of Shannon Nazzal, a parks and recreation director in Calvert County, Maryland, a district bordering the Chesapeake Bay to the southeast of Washington, D.C.
After six years in Calvert County, and 18 overall in parks and recreation, Nazzal is set to begin as executive director of the Winnetka Park District in February 2024 and told The Record that she is excited to join an area that values its parks and rec.
“(Illinois) is the place to be when it comes to parks and recreation. It’s what drove me to take this chance,” Nazzal said. “… It’s the communities want for great parks and recreation amenities, that they specifically have a way to fund those, and it’s important to have that support of a community for those resources. That’s what makes Illinois and especially Winnetka special.”
Nazzal takes a position vacated by retiring John Peterson, a former Park Board commissioner (2015-’19) who has served as the district’s executive director since April 2020.
Peterson, a Winnetka resident since 2012 according to the WPD website, replaced John Muno as executive director. Muno held the role from 2017 until 2020, and Terry Schwartz was in the role before then.
After Peterson’s retirement announcement, the Park Board contracted GovHR in the summer to lead the search process that resulted in Nazzal’s selection.
“Shannon brings a remarkably deep level of experience and expertise in recreation and government administration to the Winnetka Park District,” Park Board President Christina Codo said in a statement. “We are delighted she will lead the agency into the future. The park district has a number of key projects ‘in flight,’ such as reopening the 9- and 18-hole golf courses, as well as advancing the Elder Lane + Centennial Beach Project. There are many other near-term projects for which Shannon will be of great value. I join my fellow commissioners in welcoming Shannon to the Winnetka Park District.”
Nazzal said her experience working along the waterfront will be important to her success in Winnetka.
She said that Calvert County just finished a breakwater project to address beachfront erosion in the county, which features about 30 miles of shoreline on its east and west borders.
“Winnetka is working on shoreline projects and I have extensive experience,” Nazzal said. “It is a very familiar topic to me. It was definitely something that we talked about in the (hiring) process and that I will be able to assist with.”
The executive director is the park district’s most senior and highest paid position. In 2022, the position earned an annual compensation package of at least $191,349 — up from $170,373 in 2021 but down from $199,922 in 2019, according to OpenTheBooks.com, a project from nonprofit American Transparency that pulled the data from the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.
The park district’s media release says Nazzal’s contract is for three years. Her compensation package — provided by the Winnetka Park District — includes an annual base salary of $205,000 anchoring a total package worth $241,763. The contract includes 25 vacation and 18 paid-time-off days per year.
Nazzal received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Florida State University before earning a master’s of public administration from Florida International. Her professional experience includes five years in recreation with the City of Tallahassee (Florida) and nearly five more with the Martin County (Florida) Board of Commissioners before becoming Calvert County, Maryland’s first parks and recreation director in 2017.
In Winnetka, Nazzal inherits several projects and challenges, headlined by the renovation proposals for Elder and Centennial beaches and the related $3 million donation offer from property owner Justin Ishbia.
“It is important when a community has a passion for their facilities, for their parks and for their amenities,” she said. “Sometimes you have passion loudly and sometimes it differs on different sides. And I look forward to being able to work with the Park Board and community on making sure we are doing what is in the best interest of the entire community.”
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