Monique Odom was born, reared and educated in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a proud graduate of Whites Creek Comprehensive High School, Fisk University (with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science) and Tennessee State University (with a Master of Public Administration degree), and she has worked in a variety of fields that made use of her skills in business administration, mediation, self-development, diversity and inclusion, and outreach. After a brief trial with entrepreneurship, Monique began working as an employee for Metro Government’s Human Relations Commission — managing outreach and education for diversity and inclusion programs and overseeing the fiscal and administrative matters for the department.
Through her work with Metro, her love for public service was solidified and she transitioned into the position of finance officer. In 2009, she joined Tommy Lynch (interim parks director at the time; current director now) and his team to head the Finance and Administration Division of the department. From 2010 to now, Monique has been promoted from Parks and Recreation superintendent to assistant director, and now is the deputy director and second in command. Within this position, she is making a meaningful contribution to the city and the many diverse communities they serve, which is what motivated her to accept the position. Read on to learn about Monique’s role within the Metro Parks Department, the range of programs, activities and facilities the park systems offers and, most importantly, her love of Southern food. Help us welcome Monique as today’s FACE of Nashville!
What are your main responsibilities as deputy director of the Metro’s Parks Department?
In a nutshell, my duties have broadened. In addition to maintaining my duties for leading the Finance and Administration Division, I now have supervisory responsibilities for all our divisions — Consolidated Maintenance, Community Wellness and Recreation, Cultural/Special Events, Outdoor Recreation and Environmental Education, Revenue-Producing, Planning and Facilities Development, and Park Police.
I work closely with the parks director, division heads, council members and the mayor’s office to run an efficient and productive organization. That’s where my mediation skills come in handy. Although everyone’s goal is usually the same, sometimes the road to get there may require some navigation. Helping people understand each other and our goals — then building the consensus to reach those goals — just sort of comes naturally to me.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? What is the most challenging?
The most rewarding part of my job is seeing people enjoy the park system. Nashville’s park system offers an extraordinary range of programs, activities and facilities. It makes me happy to think how parks and greenways contribute to people’s quality of life.
The most challenging part is limited resources. It’s a somber reality. There are so many meaningful demands. It can be a challenge to prioritize sometimes but we have a talented and diverse team that is always looking for creative solutions to complex problems.
What are the three top priorities you hope to accomplish in your tenure?
My main priority is to maintain the assets we currently possess. We work hard to be responsible stewards, facility managers and program deliverers. We have got to take care of what we already have and do what we do well!
Second, I’d like to see our department reflect the diversity of Nashville; not only in front line positions but, most importantly, in decision making positions.
Finally, as our park system continues to expand, I’d like to see our operating budget keep pace with the demands of the growing system.
Can you tell us about Plan to Play?
Plan To Play is our initiative for a county-wide parks and greenways master plan, which will serve as a guide for future investments in and growth of our park system in the coming decades. The year-long Plan To Play process includes an inventory of past and current plans, an analysis of programs and facility offerings, a bench-marking of peer cities and an intensive public input process — including public meetings and surveys.
We’ve encouraged residents to share their ideas and input with us. Public participation is critical to the outcome of this project. We want to make sure everyone feels welcome to participate. So far, we’ve gotten some really valuable information from the public meeting and surveys. I’m looking forward to seeing the final plan when it’s completed around the first of the year.
How is the Parks Department adapting to the growing population of Nashville?
With the rapid growth of the city, it can be a challenge but the main thing is we listen. We love hearing from native Nashvillians, as well as newcomers. There are a lot of wants and a lot of needs out there. We try to take care of the needs of our under-served communities first — and then move on to the wants. In the case of “want,” we try to come up with creative or doable solutions, when we can. We try to accommodate everyone. That’s why the Parks and Greenways Master Plan is so important and timely. It’s a road map for us that helps address population growth, changes in demographics and so on. It will guide us in determining levels of service across the county and identify where there may be facility and/or program deficits and demands.
Is there a common misconception that people have about the Metro Parks Department?
I can’t think of a common misconception. What I’d say is there is a general lack of public awareness of all the programs, activities, facilities and recreational opportunities offered by the Parks Department. Usually, people know about a couple things we offer because they are really interested in those activities — which is great — but they have no idea that we offer dance classes, or arts classes, or kayaking, or after school programs, or golf, or operate The Parthenon and Wave Country, among other things. There’s just about something for everybody.
What is a valuable piece of advice you have been given and from whom?
I will not say who gave me the advice, since I’m not sure she’d want her name in print, but a previous supervisor of mine told me to always “Think for yourself.” That advice has stayed with me. To me, it means gather the information you need to make a decision, which can include insight from others, consider it, then make your own decision.
What do you think sets Nashville apart from other Southern cities?
I love Nashville! It’s changing some, now, but it has always offered a slow pace of life. I love that. Now we’ve added many big city amenities and that’s great — but I like that it’s perfectly acceptable and sometimes expected to just slow down.
If you could change one thing about Nashville, what would it be?
As we move toward becoming a major city in the country (or maybe we already are), I fear we’re inching toward losing some of the way of life that makes Nashville special. While we may have many of the amenities offered in New York or Chicago, I don’t want Nashville to become those cities. Nashville is a unique, Southern, one-of-a-kind city. As a native Nashvillian, I’m all for progress but it need not take away from the genuine character of the city.
What is your next restaurant destination?
Oh wow; I have no idea! Though my favorite pastime is eating, I’m not very adventurous when it comes to food selections. I’m a meat and potatoes, Southern cooking kind of lady. I have a friend who is kind of the Chief Restaurant Ambassador in my life. I’ll follow her recommendations for new restaurants to try. She holds my hand … LOL! The last place we went to was Smokin’ Thighs. It was great! She mentioned something about The Old School. I’m looking forward to that!
What books are on your bedside table?
Right now, the only book on my bedside table is The Holy Bible. It is always there and very well used.
What are three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
Well, since you’ve named the three things I would have said, I’d have to say potatoes prepared any way — but I prefer fried with onions, oven-baked macaroni and cheese and hot chocolate. Interesting, I’ve named all food.
Special thanks to Ashley Hylbert for today’s photos!
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