Police investigation shows no theft, misappropriation of funds at P&R

A Pine Bluff Police Department document indicates Detective Sgt. Charles Harrison found no evidence of theft or misappropriation of funds in a investigation completed Dec. 19 on a $117,000 funding shortfall within the Parks and Recreation Department.

The report was provided by Jeff Pulliam of the Parks and Recreation Commission, who said he received it Wednesday. The commission will meet at 10 a.m. Thursday to discuss investigation findings and determine what additional disciplinary action, if any, will be taken against department Director Angela Parker and Community Centers Director Laura Hildreth. The commission suspended the women with pay on Dec. 11.

A Dec. 19 letter from Deputy Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant to Chief Brenda Davis-Jones references a Dec. 4 meeting between the two and Gina Devers, an internal auditor with the city’s finance department. The letter stated that Devers requested an investigation into possible misappropriation of funds in the Chester Hynes After-School Enrichment Program, which Hildreth was overseeing.

Sergeant wrote that while no findings of “theft or misuse of funds” were made, “there are issues that need to be addressed” by the commission “in reference to children who attend the program and funds not being paid or paid in a timely manner.”

Parker said in a previous interview that she believes her suspension was “related to my intentions to terminate Hildreth.” Commissioners declared Parker had been “negligent” in her handling of the department’s program funds at the core of expenses that surpassed budgeted limits.

In a Nov. 30 termination letter that was prepared but never actually sent to Hildreth, Parker charged that Hildreth had been “insubordinate” on several occasions as Parker attempted “to find ways to fund the financial mess we were in.” Parker said the letter was not sent to Hildreth at the request of the Parks and Recreation commissioners, who asked for time to look into the situation before a decision was made.

Parker said she had worked closely with Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. and Devers in seeking to determine funding possibilities to help the troubled department continue operations for the remainder of the calendar year.

On Dec. 17, the city council approved an emergency appropriation of $100,000 in assorted redirected funding by Redus so that Parks and Recreation employees — including the mayor’s wife, Trudy Redus — could receive their salaries through December. The council members discovered, however, that the mayor had already allocated the funds before receiving council approval. The Parks and Recreation Department was closed the week of Thanksgiving and is closed this week as well in a money-saving effort.

In the termination letter, Parker also accused Hildreth of not following directions on collecting and delivering fees assessed to parents of children participating in after-school activities.

Efforts by The Commercial to contact Hildreth have been unsuccessful.

In a written statement given to Harrison on Dec. 13, Hildreth said she considers the police investigation “a form of harassment” by Redus, Parker and Devers. “There is no one getting free services” in the after-school program, Hildreth wrote.