The search for a permanent executive director for the Pine Bluff Convention Center is on hold following a meeting in which two members of the Civic Auditorium Complex Commission (CACC) resigned. Two vacancies have also opened on the Advertising and Promotion (A & P) Commission.
CACC Chairman Thomas Brown and commissioner Tyrell Meadows resigned Tuesday following arguments at a CACC meeting over the composition of a search committee to replace former convention center executive director Bob Purvis, who retired in March.
The CACC will now vote at its July meeting on whether to restart the search.
Brown had announced during the Tuesday meeting that the committee had narrowed the search from 23 applicants to four finalists. Commissioners Gary Wilson and Ethel Cogshell, among others, however, criticized Brown and the committee for going ahead with interviews after the CACC voted in May to table the search in order to seek legal advice.
The criticisms stem from the composition of the search committee for Purvis’s replacement. The search committee was, until Tuesday, comprised of three members of the CACC and three members of the A&P Commission. Tax revenue controlled by the A & P commission subsidizes part of the convention center’s operating costs, and the two commissions hold several joint meetings each year.
Wilson believes A&P commissioners are, by state law, not allowed to participate in the hiring of an employee for a separate commission such as the CACC. Pine Bluff Alderwoman Thelma Walker, who is also a member of the A & P Commission, said she told the CACC the same thing at one of its recent meetings.
Wilson said Tuesday that the CACC could be vulnerable to lawsuits from applicants for the executive director position because the A & P commissioners were involved, and thus the search be deemed illegal. The CACC had voted on May 23 to table the search pending a legal opinion on the concern of Wilson and others.
Pine Bluff Assistant City Attorney Joe Childers sent Brown a memorandum dated June 1 advising that the search committee can include A & P commissioners, “so long as it is understood that the A & P members serve in a strictly advisory capacity, and have no vote in determining whether a candidate is advanced in the selection process, or in the ultimate hiring decision.”
The memorandum also stated that “it is reasonable” for A & P members to have input on the search process considering that the A & P Commission “contributes a substantial sum to the operation of the Convention Center and is interested in the selection of the director of the facility.”
Brown said during the meeting Tuesday that he emailed a copy of the memorandum to other members of the CACC, but several said they never received it.
Wilson said the assumption was that the search committee would proceed no further after the CACC voted to table the search at its May 23 meeting. He accused Brown of overstepping his authority by continuing the search. Brown objected, accusing Wilson of recording candidate interviews with his phone, which Wilson denied. Meadows questioned why Wilson had not brought up his complaints when candidate interviews were occurring. Wilson replied that as a member of a public commission he could only speak about commission business during an open, public meeting.
The search committee was formed in January, according to CACC meeting notes. It was headed by Brown, with commissioners Meadows and La’Tasha Woods also participating. Three members of the A&P Commission—Harold Terry, Jimmy Dill and its then-chairman, Win Trafford—also participated in the search committee.
Trafford, Brown and Purvis discussed requirements for the position, the proposed selection process and advertising plans at a joint meeting of the CACC and A&P Commission on Feb. 21, according to meeting notes. Wilson, Cogshell and Walker each attended that meeting, according to the meeting notes.
In other news, Harold Terry resigned from the A & P Commission after its meeting Wednesday, citing time commitments. Terry’s resignation leaves two vacancies on the commission. Walker recommended two candidates for the openings, while Alderman Win Trafford recommended one. The commission voted to wait until its July meeting to consider the candidates. It also voted to table Walker’s nomination of William Moss to chair the commission. Moss replaced Trafford as the commission’s at-large member.
Dill said he was sorry to hear about the CACC controversy, saying that the A & P commissioners who took part in the search did so with no underhanded intentions, although the decision of who to hire as executive director is up to the CACC.