Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Commissioners Christopher Blunt, left, and Jeff Pulliam speak during an emergency meeting held to suspend Parks Director Angela Parker on Tuesday. (Special to the Commercial/William Harvey)
Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Director Angela Parker and Community Centers Director Laura Hildreth were suspended with pay by the department’s commission in a called meeting on Tuesday at the agency’s Lake Saracen office.
The panel declared in a called Monday night meeting that Parker — a long-time Parks and Recreation employee eligible for retirement in 2017 — had been “negligent” in her management of the department’s summer program funds, which are at the core of a $117,000 in expenses that went beyond what the department had available for its 2012 budget.
Both suspensions were specified as “pending further investigation.” Commissioners estimated the suspensions would be in effect “three or four days” while a Pine Bluff Police Department investigation of the financial matter is conducted. Also, a state legislative audit will be requested.
Commissioners decided that in the absence of Parker and Hildreth, Teki Jimenez will be interim director and Trudy Redus will oversee the office. Jimenez is a former commissioner while Redus, the wife of Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr., manages the department’s Saracen Landing facility.
Trudy Redus served a two-week suspension without pay May 3-17 after an April 28 accident in a department utility vehicle she was driving. Redus’ young son was injured in the incident. After the accident, Redus failed to take a drug test as ordered by Parker. Redus said that no test was administered because she was unable to provide required directives from city authorities to a Jefferson Regional Medical Center nurse.
Redus appealed her suspension, which was then upheld in a 3-2 commission vote.
Following Tuesday’s meeting, Parker said she believed her suspension “is related to my intentions to terminate Hildreth.” Parker provided a copy of a Nov. 30 letter she wrote but never delivered to Hildreth, “immediately” terminating Hildreth’s employment for instances of “insubordination, rudeness, failure to follow instructions, safety violations” and policy violations. Parker, whose letter also pointed out several financial concerns related to summer programs, said the commission was made aware of her plans but she was asked to delay the matter while the panel looked into the budget issue.
Hildreth did not attend either of this week’s meetings and was unavailable for comment.
Gina Devers of the city’s finance department was questioned for about 30 minutes during Tuesday’s executive session, attended by commission members Christopher Blunt, Carlson Fields and Jeff Pulliam, with Chairwoman Kami Hunt participating by phone. Parker’s letter includes a review of a Nov. 16 meeting involving Hildreth, Devers, the mayor and Parker.
Tuesday’s meeting was called at about 9 a.m. to commence at 11 a.m. Fields was present when a Commercial reporter arrived about 10:45, but Blunt and Pulliam didn’t enter the meeting room until 11:17. The meeting was hastily called to order. It adjourned at 12:32 p.m.
At Monday night’s city council meeting, an Alderman Steven Mays-sponsored resolution seeking a $100,000 appropriation from general funds to the Parks and Recreation Commission to ease the department’s budget woes was tabled and sent to the City Coucil Public Works Committee for additional consideration. The council’s final regular meeting of the year is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 17.