Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Department Director Angela Parker and Community Centers Director Laura Hildreth were fired Thursday morning in a unanimous decision of the Parks Commission’s Personnel Committee.
The pair — given an option to resign or be fired — can appeal the committee’s decision to the full commission within five days.
Parker, who immediately vowed she “will not resign,” may also challenge her firing in circuit court.
Committee members Christ Blunt and Jeff Pulliam, with commissioner Kami Hunt listening by telephone, echoed one another in explaining their decisions on terminating Hildreth and Parker. Pulliam and Blunt made their comments primarily in response to questioning from Jack Hollingsworth, a former alderman who is the husband of Mayor-elect Debe Hollingsworth, who was also in attendance.
The mayor-elect will take office on Jan. 1.
Blunt and Pulliam said Hildreth’s dismissal was based on her role in a $117,000 departmental budget shortfall, related in part to a local police investigation on a departmental youth program which the committee had stated it would discuss in an executive session that lasted over 90 minutes. The panel was also to have considered possible additional disciplinary action against Hildreth and Parker, who were suspended with pay on Dec. 11. Parker’s 2012 annual salary is $52,300, and she was to be eligible for retirement in 2017. Hildreth was earning $37,202 annually.
Blunt and Pulliam said Parker’s discharge was based in part on her “mismanagement” of Hildreth in Hildreth’s failed oversight of the Chester Hynes After-School Enrichment Program. Some students’ participation fees were apparently not collected from parents and delivered to Parker according to schedule, the police report indicated. The investigation determined, however, that no theft or misappropriation of funds occurred.
Blunt and Pulliam agreed, too, that Parker should be replaced because she “does not possess the skills set” they and other commissioners believe are needed for the department’s future success and Parker’s involvement in other questionable matters has contributed to “a need to make a change.”
“I never knew I had a problem with my skills set,” Parker responded. She said he has “good” relationships “with everyone” in city government, “works well with everyone” and has never had any findings in annual legislative audits of the department. Hildreth did not attend the meeting. The Commercial has been unable to contact her.
When asked who would serve as the department’s interim director in Parker’s absence, Pulliam said Parker’s administrative assistant, Melissa McHan, would have dual authority with Trudy Redus, manager of the Saracen Landing facility. When Parker was suspended earlier this month,Redus — wife of Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. — was named interim office director.
Pulliam said McHan’s title had previously been changed to office manager, effective Jan. 1, 2013.
Mayor-elect Hollingsworth declined to comment on the committee’s actions. Parker did not return a phone call requesting comment.