This week marks the beginning of a new era at the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. Kane Webb takes the reins after more than three decades under the steady guidance of Richard Davies.
Webb most immediately comes from working in Governor Asa Hutchinson’s office in the Communications Department and as a senior advisor to the governor. But most of his career has been spent in journalism, where he was known on the editorial board of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to write pretty harshly about big government. Now he’s heading one of the largest departments in state government with roughly 1,600 employees and a $135 million budget, which oversees the second largest industry in the state.
“At first, (going to work in the Governor’s office) was more intellectual curiosity,” said Webb. “I wanted to see how things really work. I criticized it enough that I wanted to see if I could do something to change it. I figured, if nothing else, I’d get a great book out of it. But I found I have a great affinity for it.”
He said he was surprised how well a journalism background prepared him for leadership in government.
“I ask a lot of questions. I listen. And I have pretty good BS detector,” he said. “But mostly I’m now old enough to know what I don’t know.”
That’s why since his announcement in October as Davies replacement, Webb split his time between the Governor’s office and Parks and Tourism. He spent time asking Davies questions and doing “homework,” as he called it on the inner workings of the department.
“The strength of the organization has to be the people who work there,” said Webb. “They really believe in the cause, and that has to be a function of Richard’s leadership.”
He said he hopes to continue that steady leadership Davies was known for. However, his first order of business will be finding replacements for the many key positions who have also retired. Greg Butts, State Parks Director; Gloria Robbins, Executive Assistant to Davies; Kerry Kraus, Travel Writer; Joan Ellison, State Parks Public Information Officer; Chuck Haralson, photographer; and Kay Killgore, Human Resources Manager; have either already left or will retire before the end of the year from the department.
“I think Gloria [Davies’ assistant for more than 20 years] knew as much or more about running this place than he did,” Webb observed. “I’ve got to find my own Gloria.”
Webb said he does not foresee major changes in the immediate future for the department. There have been rumors for some months that the Department of Heritage would be merged into the Department of Parks and Tourism. Webb said that in the Governor’s office he had been part of a group that looked at potential mergers for state efficiencies, but that after running the numbers, “it doesn’t make a lot of sense to merge Heritage with Parks and Tourism. You can get too big to get anything done.”
He said his plan is to continue the ongoing work of his predecessor. “Richard Davies took this from a scruffy little department to outstanding. It’s one of the finest in the nation.”