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As Beaufort County officials investigate the recent theft of $450 from the Bluffton office of the Parks and Leisure Services department, a new director will take the department reins Monday.
Deputy county administrator Bryan Hill said Wednesday the hiring of Lady's Island resident Cristina Roberson is one of several parks department personnel changes that will take effect in the coming weeks.
Hill and county administrator Gary Kubic are restructuring the department in the wake of an internal investigation into whether one or more PALS employees stole department money.
The investigation has been ongoing since February 2008, but a recent incident indicates there are still problems to work out -- $450 in cash was stolen from the PALS office on Ulmer Road in Bluffton, according to an Aug. 19 report from the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.
A PALS employee put the money in his desk drawer, left the unlocked office for about five hours, then returned to find it missing. Two of the employee's co-workers were in the office during his absence, the report said.
The county is looking into the incident, officials said.
Hill is optimistic Roberson can get the department on track.
"I'm not bringing on a novice here," Hill said of Roberson, who has spent 25 years working in the parks and recreation field. "I'm bringing on someone who's done it, who's lived it and who can turn some things around."
Roberson spent 15 years as a civilian employee with the U.S. Navy, working most recently on the island of Crete, Greece, where she built a parks and recreation program for sailors, their families and ships pulling into port.
She also spent eight years directing the parks departments in Fluvanna County, Va., and Roanoke, Va., before moving to Lady's Island two years ago for personal reasons.
Roberson was a substitute teacher with the Beaufort County School District and worked with special-education students and teachers at the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence before accepting the PALS director job, which will pay between $55,000 and $71,000.
She will oversee a department with 41 full-time employees, an annual budget of $4.42 million and athletics and recreation programs on both sides of the Broad River, Hill said.
"I live, eat and breathe recreation," said Roberson, who has already been briefed about the theft investigation. "I am extremely accountable, and I expect my staff to be accountable, and I also expect there to be some kind of standard operating procedures on how to handle cash."
Roberson said she also wants to bring diverse programming into the county and improve resident satisfaction with the offerings PALS already provides.
"I've traveled, and I've settled in the Lowcountry and I love it here," said Roberson, who was born in Germany and has worked in parks and recreation in Panama and Puerto Rico in addition to Greece.
"I'm really looking at enhancing the image of the department, looking at making us more visible and providing excellent services."
Kubic, the county administrator, asked the Sheriff's Office in October to interview more than 20 parks department employees about missing money. The Sheriff's Office completed its investigation in late March, and no charges were filed.
The probe began after the county Finance Department found discrepancies in the parks department's financial records.
Kubic has said it's impossible to tell how much money is missing because of the department's shoddy record-keeping and lack of oversight, but he does not believe it to be a large amount.