Parks panel suspends community centers director

Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Department Community Centers Director Laura Hildreth was suspended five days with pay Monday for what was termed “ineffective management.”

The parks and recreation commission’s personnel committee met in executive session for more than an hour before commitee chairman Jeff Pulliam announced its decision. The full commission is scheduled to consider possible additional disciplinary action in a July 22 regular session.

Committee member Duke Fakouri said the suspension follows a recent disappearance of theater costumes valued at $700 by owner Brandon Smith. Fakouri said the costumes have been missing since being stored at the Chester Hynes Community Center after a March staging by Smith of a children’s play there. Meanwhile, the committee is seeking to determine if the department has any financial liability in the matter.

The panel also instructed department Director Angela Parker to have the Hynes Center locks changed. Pulliam said the step was not directly related to the costumes’ disappearance, but rather a “security issue.” He said several contractors who had worked in recent projects at the facility still have keys to the building.

Upon the urging of Evelyn Horton — Mayor Debe Hollingsworth’s administrative assistant — the committee agreed to implement policies concerning future department volunteers. Background checks will now be conducted on persons applying as volunteers, and once approved they will have to “sign in and out.”

Pulliam said the action is not specific to the Hynes Center.

Committee members attending Monday’s meeting in addition to Fakouri and Pulliam were Chris Blunt and Roy Tolson. Panelist Kami Hunt was absent.

During the executive session, city Human Resources Director Vickie Conaway and Hildreth were summoned to meet with the committee. Hildreth was behind closed doors for 31 minutes while Conaway was summoned twice for a total of eight minutes.

The commission suspended and then fired both Hildreth and Parker late last year in the wake of a department budget shortfall of more than $100,000. Less than two weeks after Hollingsworth took office on Jan. 1, commissioners decided to reinstate the pair while placing them on probation.