Several of Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Director Angela Parker’s differences with Community Centers Director Laura Hildreth are detailed in a Nov. 30 termination letter that Parker wrote but did not deliver to Hildreth.
The Parks Commission suspended Parker and Hildreth with pay “for three or four days” in a called commission meeting Tuesday. The commission has requested an investigation by city authorities into a 2012 budget shortfall of $117,000.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Parker told The Commercial she believes her suspension “is related to my intentions to terminate Hildreth.”
In a called Monday meeting, the commission declared that Parker had been “negligent” in her handling of the department’s summer program funds, which are at the the core of expenses that surpassed budgeted limits. In addition to asking for an investigation by the city, the commission has indicated it may seek a state legislative audit.
Parker’s letter states that Hildreth “went well beyond” budgeted salary amounts for the summer program. Parker said she had been “working” on the matter with Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr., the commission and city finance department officials “to find the funding to get us through the end of the year, as you continually make accusations toward me as to how I am treating you and telling me that I just don’t care about the kids.”
Parker wrote that on Sept. 11 she requested “several pieces of documentation” from Hildreth for the finance department’s Gina Devers. “You were insubordinate with your response and basically refused to give me some of the information requested,” Parker wrote to Hildreth in the letter.
According to the letter, Parker — in an Oct. 19 e-mail — informed Hildreth of “employee cuts that we decided upon in one of our many meetings trying to help with the budget.” Parker said Hildreth responded in an Oct. 22 e-mail with Hildreth’s “own budget cuts instead of what came out of” Parker’s meeting with finance department personnel.
The letter states that Hildreth, also on Oct. 19, charged that Parker was being “non-committal” to Hildreth and the community centers.
“I responded to you that I had no idea why you were making those accusations,” Parker wrote, “because all I had spent most of my time over the last several months … trying to find ways to fund the financial mess we were in.”
The letter also asserts that Hildreth did not follow Parker’s direction on collecting and delivering fees assessed to parents of children who were being picked up and transported to community center after-school activities.
Parker said that on Nov. 16 she met with Redus and Devers and it was noted that Hilldreth had not “turned in” any such monies since Oct. 15.
“We requested that you bring in the money that day,” Parker wrote. “Gina did a spreadsheet with all of the monies you brought in. You were then told to tell all parents when they picked up their child that day that if they did not pay all monies due that day, that their child would not be picked up on the Monday following Thanksgiving.
“You emailed me copies of letters you said you gave to all parents,” continued Parker. “No more monies were turned in until November 30th. This was not all monies for all children. We do not know why these children are still being picked up if they haven’t paid, as you were instructed. But, also once again, you were insubordinate with your response to me in your email telling me that you had met my demand.”
Parker also charged that Hildreth failed to comply with her orders in securing daily bus/van condition reports, as requested by Redus “for safety reasons for the children.”
“I told you that you were to have the driver do this every day and copies were to be sent to my office,” wrote Parker, who said that Hildreth did not discuss the matter with her until “going over my head” to commissioners,” as Parker charged Hildreth has done a number of times on assorted issues. Parker said Hildreth was told in an Aug. 10 text message that according to the department’s personnel handbook, problems are to first be discussed with an employee’s immediate supervisor. If the supervisor doesn’t resolve the issue, the employer can then contact the commission.
Parker said she requested the safety reports on Nov. 30, and Hildreth produced only three, none of which were marked and only one that was dated.
Parker wrote that she was basing Hildreth’s termination on “several instances”of “insubordination, rudeness, failure to follow instructions, safety violations and violations of departmental policy.”
Efforts to contact Hildreth were unsuccessful.
In the absence of Parker and Hildreth, Trudy Redus — the mayor’s wife, who normally oversees the department’s Lake Saracen facility — is managing the office. Redus served a commission-imposed, two-week suspension without pay in May following an April accident involving a department utility vehicle she was driving. Following the accident, in which her young son was slightly injured, Redus failed to obtain a drug test as ordered by Parker. Redus appealed her suspension, which the commission upheld in a 3-2 vote.
Teki Jimenez, a former commissioner, was to serve as interim director. However, Commissioner Jeff Pulliam said Wednesday night that Jimenez may not be able to fill that role because of possible “time restraints” involving her other responsibilities. Pulliam said if the investigation is completed within the next few days, it may not be necessary to have anyone fill an interim director’s role.
Pulliam said that a notion of extra compensation for Redus or a salary for anyone who might serve as interim director hasn’t yet been considered by the commission, especially with the department facing its current financial woes.
Right now, everything depends on how quickly the investigation can be completed,” he said.
Pulliam is also concerned with the public’s perception of the suspensions and subsequent investigation.
“This is not a witch hunt,” he said. “It’s not about black-white or anything like that. There are two sides to every story and we want to give everyone involved equal consideration.
“The commissioners are coming together to figure out what the problem is that might be existing and how to correct it so that the same problem won’t happen again,” he continued. “We’re trying to make the most honest and best decision we can. Right is right, and that’s what we want to be with our actions and decisions.”