By David Markham
The newest member of the Board of Commissioners of the Johnson County Park and Recreation District says he sees parallels between his roles as a professional financial advisor and being a Board Member.
"The job of a JCPRD commissioner seems similar to being a trustee for a large estate," said Steve Baru of Overland Park. "A trustee is responsible for managing the assets in the trust and keeping them from harm’s way; similarly the JCPRD commissioner is responsible for the safe- keeping of the parks. The residents of our community then become the ultimate beneficiaries."
Baru was appointed by Johnson County Commission Chair Annabeth Surbaugh. He steps into a seat on the Board previously held by James Azeltine. Baru's term will run through Jan. 31, 2011.
"There are many reasons for my interest in becoming a board member of the JCPRD," Baru said. "The population of our county is expected to keep growing over the coming decades. Parks will be even more important. I’m interested in helping plan for the future and serving the needs of the present. As a life-long Johnson County resident, a member of the business community, an environmental activist, and an investment planner, I understand that there are many different variables that interact with each other in order to achieve a safe and healthy community."
Since April 2004, Baru has been the owner and financial advisor with Baru Investments of Overland Park, which specializes in "socially responsible investing for qualified investors and institutions." His previous positions include nearly four years as a senior investment executive with Archer Alexander Securities, about five and one-half years as a senior investment executive with Berthel Fisher Financial Services, and three and one-half years as an associate vice president of investments with Dean Witter of Kansas City. In addition, he served for about three years as a volunteer member of the Investment Advisory Committee with Sierra Club Mutual Funds.
The new board member holds both a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Kansas. His undergraduate studies included international trade and finance and public finance, while his MBA included concentrations in finance, international business and strategic management.
Baru is a native of the Kansas City area and a 50-year resident of Johnson County, He and his wife, Carolyn Hall, who is a counselor at Prairie Trail Junior High School in Olathe, are the parents of one son, Jon, 26.
Baru's community activities are many and varied. He has been involved with the Sierra Club and its national organization including serving on several national committees, and as chair and a member of the board of directors of the Kansas Chapter. He is a member of the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce and has served on the State and Federal Affairs Committee, and the Transportation Task Force. He was a 1998 recipient of a chamber award called "Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things for the Community."
He has served on the Kansas Department of Transportation's Long-Range Transportation Plan Advisory Committee, the Mid-America Regional Council's South Connector Study Group, the Kansas City Metro Regional Transit Alliance, and was a board member and chair of the Workforce Investment Board for Wyandotte, Johnson and Leavenworth counties.
In Johnson County, he has been on the County Arterial Road Network Plan Taskforce, the Johnson County Transportation Advisory Board, the Intermodal Transportation Committee, the South Metro Connector Partnership Advisory Board, the Johnson County Citizens' Visioning Committee, and the Johnson County Public Works Strategic Planning Committee.
When asked what he sees as the District's greatest strength, Baru praised staff. "Those that I have known over the years and have met recently seem to be knowledgeable, friendly, and courteous,' he said.
Securing adequate funding and dealing with the encroachment of urban sprawl on wild lands are among challenges sees for the District.
"I am very interested in bike/hike trails but my goal as a commissioner is to help the park system be the greatest value possible to the community," Baru said.