Now she has followed her father’s footsteps in leading the Cleveland Parks and Recreation Department as director.
“My father was the city commissioner over fire and parks for 27 years, so I grew up in it. I was 5 when he was elected,” Petitt said.
This was before the city had moved to a city manager model.
“My first job was in the parks department. They used to have a summer program at the city schools and I ran the summer program with a guy at Stuart School,” Petitt said.
After graduating from Cleveland High School, Petitt enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University.
“I thought I wanted to be a teacher. I really didn’t know,” Petitt said.
After a year she returned to Cleveland. Later, she enrolled at Cleveland State and took some business courses.
She spent the next six years working at a local bank.
Petitt found herself back in the parks and recreation department when the director asked her to be his secretary. She served as administrative assistant for 19 years.
In April 2005, when the director retired, she moved into the role of interim director. Later she was selected as the new director.
“I just love the parks and rec, the Greenway. I saw so many needs that we had. What I did the very first thing was I called in the state to do an assessment on what Cleveland needed,” Petitt said.
The assessment led to a plan for future projects. This plan served as a guideline as Petitt began to pursue grants to secure funding the projects.
Grant writing is still a major part of her role as director.
“I apply for a grant any time I can … this is the first cycle that I am not going to be able to apply for a (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) grant,” Petitt said.
Departments can apply for TDEC grants every two years. However, new stipulations require that the previous grant project be completed before another grant request is applied for. Petitt had hoped to apply for a grant to update the playground equipment and tennis courts at Deer Park. Because work on Mosby Park, her last grant request project, will not be completed by the deadline, she cannot apply for a TDEC grant. Work on the Mosby park pool will be complete in time for swimming season.
“I love my job. I have a passion for parks and rec, and I have been so fortunate to have two wonderful city managers,” Petitt said.
She said it was Joe Cate, former Cleveland city manager, who first gave her the opportunity to be director. Cate was also the person who taught her how to apply for grants, Petitt said.
Petitt said she worked with Janice Casteel in Casteel’s various roles in city government before being appointed city manager.
Petitt said Casteel, the current city manager, and the Cleveland City Council have been equally supportive of the parks and recreation department.
Petitt’s office oversees individuals reserving local parks and collects money for the reservations and the golf course. Her office also coordinates maintenance of the Cleveland/ Bradley County Greenway.
“We deal with a lot of vandalism and that is what just breaks my heart. We have so many great things along the Greenway,” Petitt said.
She commented that the city is working on installing video cameras in order to deter and catch vandals.
Each time the Greenway floods, Petitt organizes and participates in cleanup.
She is also a member of the Greenway board.
Future projects include establishing a dog park in Cleveland.
She said she attends a lot of meetings for her job. Many are local, but some are in other parts of the country for training. Her next trip will be to a college in Indiana as part of a two-year program. She will only have to be at the campus a week.
“I do all the training I can in parks and recreation since I don’t have the degree,” Petitt said.
She said many parks and recreation directors do have management degrees in the field.
She feels the biggest accomplishment of the department since she has been director is receiving TDEC’s Recreational Educational Benchmark Tier II.
When not working, Petitt enjoys traveling with her husband of nearly 27 years, Brent. Although they didn’t date in high school, both attended Cleveland High School.
“When he got out of college I saw him and I went, ‘Wow!’ And I don’t think there was a day that went by that we didn’t see each other after that,” Petitt said.
On their honeymoon the couple traveled to Cancun and went fishing for sailfish.
“We love the Caribbean. We love to fish,” Petitt said.
Lake Tahoe is another one of their favorite places.
“One place we like to go, too, is Key West. … We always go fishing and there’s a restaurant there where you can bring your fish in there and they’ll fix it for you fresh. … It’s the best fish you’ve ever eaten,” Petitt said.
Petitt said their daughter Sierra also enjoys the outdoors and is studying to be a marine biologist.