Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. has denied that he accused Chester Hynes Community Center Director Laura Hildreth of “sabotaging” the facility after a recent paint job that has been contested by Parks and Recreation Department Director Angela Parker, Hildreth’s supervisor.
Redus encountered Hildreth at the center on Monday afternoon, and Hildreth and three of her co-workers who witnessed the exchange have detailed it in written statements.
“I can assure you that there was no intent to intimidate Laura Hildreth,” Redus said by telephone Thursday evening. “My only intent was to obtain information on the (painted) walls. As director, she should be aware of what is taking place there.”
“His tone was so loud that we held children in their classroom until he left,” Jerrika Kelly, a mentor in the Arts in Motion Summer Camp Enrichment Program at Hynes, said of Redus’ conduct. “He was yelling. He was very aggressive.”
Kelly, who serves as a local liaison for Pine Bluff native and Los Angeles Angels baseball standout Torii Hunter, said at one point she feared the mayor was losing emotional control, and that’s when co-worker Joyce Suggs intervened and suggested that Hildreth “not say anything else.”
Hildreth responded by folding her arms and maintaining silence until Redus finally departed, Kelly said.
“I did not accuse Laura Hildreth of sabotaging the building,” Redus said. “There was no confrontation between us. That’s totally off base. As I said, I was simply making an inquiry on the condition of the walls. My only reason for inquiring was that we’re talking about a $20,000 paint job and I want to know how it got messed up.”
The mayor said Hildreth became argumentative. “Her job is not to argue but to figure out what happened,” he said.
Redus indicated that he did not know Kelly, and Kelly said she was not aware that Redus was the mayor until the incident.
“I was shocked to learn that he’s the mayor,” said Kelly, who is primarily a summer worker at the facility and spends much of her time in Dallas. “I’m not impressed by him. He never acknowledged the kids at the center and he was inconsiderate of everyone else, too. His behavior was completely unacceptable.”
Kelly said she’s “a little apprehensive” of Redus, but feels that she “should speak up.”
The work in question was performed by contractor Keith Ross, whose efforts have been strongly disapproved in part by Parker. In a Tuesday morning walk-through of the facility with Parker, members of the parks and recreation commission’s personnel committee and Community Development Department Public Works Coordinator Larry Matthews, Ross agreed to take corrective action beginning Monday on “problems” as pointed out by Parker.
Meanwhile, Parker remains firm in her opinion that Ross, who has turned in change orders with which he’s requesting additional compensation, cannot be paid more than an adjusted $20,000 fee to which he had already agreed. Matthews, however, said Ross is eligible for more monies.
Ross believes The Commercial’s coverage has been “unfair and inconsistent” toward him and is damaging his reputation. He said Thursday night that he was instructed before starting the job “to deal only with Mr. Matthews and the mayor.” He said he fulfilled his work orders and “even did some things that I wasn’t paid for.”
Parker, however, listed 100 items in what she deemed as unfinished or improperly-done painting tasks under Ross’ charge. Among the adjectives Parker employed in describing the flaws were “terrible,” “crappy” and “horrible.”
Hildreth said that during Redus’ Monday visit at Hynes, she was in a hallway with Kelly, Suggs and another summer program director, Linda Nance, when the mayor – accompanied by Community Development Department employee Sarah Price – “called me to him.” She said he asked why tape was on hallway walls where corkboards are to be, and she replied that the painting of the walls was still incomplete.
She said she asked the mayor “what he would like,” and he raised his voice and responded. “You are the director. Figure it out.” Hildreth said she walked away, returning to her office. Hildreth said “a few minutes later,” Price appeared and “summoned me to the gym.” There, Redus asked why “a piece of wood” had been placed on a wall. Hildreth said she told him it was “part” of an upcoming “final performance” by summer students. She said Redus told her she couldn’t put “things” on the wall.
Hildreth said that moments later, Redus “cornered” her and asked “why paint was coming off the walls.” After she told him she didn’t know, she said he leveled the sabotaging charge against her. Hildreth said she was stunned and replied, “Really? You must be kidding.”
“I was embarrassed because he yelled at me, totally disrespected me in front of my staff and (summer camp) children,” said Hildreth. “He did it out in the open and it was direct harassment.”
She said she felt the mayor had “bullied” her. “He pointed his finger in my face and told me I would not win this battle,” she said. “What battle?”
“We teach our children that bullying isn’t permitted nor tolerated and that they should respect each other’s feelings and property and they should treat others as they want to be treated,” said Nance. “If this lesson is good enough for our children, then it should certainly be applied by our mayor.”
Redus said he was displeased that “a piece of old, burnt wood from a house across the street” would be attached to a center wall. “We’re investigating that,” he said.
The participants in the Arts in Motin Summer program will conduct the grand finale at 5:30 p.m. at