Parks Commission keeps directors on board

The Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Commission voted unanimously Thursday night to continue the employment of Director Angela Parker and Community Centers Director Laura Hildreth, who had been recommended for termination by the panel’s personnel committee on Dec. 27. They’ve been on paid leave since Dec. 11.

“I’m happy to be back on the job,” Parker said after the commission’s vote at city hall. “It’s been a stressful time for the past month, and I’ll be back at work on Monday. But first, I’m taking a vacation day Friday to let my mind process everything. I’ve been working hard for years and I’m just four years away from retirement, and that’s what I’ll be working toward again.”

A number of Hildreth’s young clients crowded around and embraced her.

“I’m relieved,” Hildreth said. “I’ll be back working with my kids again and that’s what I’m about. I love these kids and it’s great to know they love me.”

About 80 people packed the council chambers for the meeting, which included a 56-minute executive session and was adjourned after more than 90 minutes.

Committee Chairman Jeff Pulliam made the motion for the pair’s reinstatement with a probationary period of nine months to a year. Pulliam said “any findings” on either during that time would result in “immediate firing.”

Pulliam said Parker and Hildreth would also meet and work to resolve differences so that “this will never happen again,” prompting collective cheers from the audience.

When Commission Chairman Kami Hunt called for those in favor of the motion to say, “aye,” much of the audience loudly participated in the vote. A round of applause followed the decision.

Parker had been disciplined for having “mismanaged” Hildreth in Hildreth’s “failed” oversight of the Chester Hynes After-School Enrichment Program, officials said.

A local police investigation determined that some students’ participation fees for the program apparently were not collected and delivered to Parker according to schedule, but no theft or misappropriation of funds occurred. The program woes were related to a $117,000 department 2012 budget shortfall.

Before the commission went into executive session, a dozen residents addressed the commission, offering support for Hildreth, Parker or both.

“I’m glad this is over,” said Parker. “I appreciate everyone who supported me in this.”

“I want to thank the commission for its decision to keep us,” said Hildreth. “Now it’s time for us to put this behind us. We need to move Pine Bluff forward.”