Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington is putting together a team to interview applicants who applied to be director of the Parks and Recreation Department after the Pine Bluff City Council voted Monday to abolish the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission and transfer authority over the department to her office.
Washington said she is disappointed that the commission did not interview the 60 applicants who expressed interest in the job.
“I feel that is the right thing to do because I felt the commission did not review the applications,” Washington said. “I asked Trudy [Redus] to go back into the interim position. She agreed to go back to interim director. We are starting to review applications. We will narrow it down and interview candidates.”
Former Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Omar Allen on Thursday explained why the commission did not interview any candidates before promoting former assistant parks director Trudy Redus to director on July 10. These developments followed then-director April Layher resigning in June.
“We knew the job needed to be posted and that they did a nation-wide search,” Allen said. “We talked about all the different projects that were coming in line and the budget. That is a lot of work. There were some commissioners who felt Mrs. Redus was qualified. She had actually played the interim role twice within the parks department. She did understand what’s going on directly and understood the department’s needs. There was a motion and the motion passed.”
Washington said she had to do a lot of things as part of the transition, including transferring payroll.
“We expect to have seven people who will review the applicants,” Washington said. “We hope to start the interview process by the end of next week. We hope to do this as soon as possible. I look forward to getting everything finalized with a director in place and long-needed upgrades.”
Allen said he objects to the City Council abolishing the commission and has been outspoken about the issue for several weeks.
“The commissioners were taken by surprise from how quickly city officials wanted to take over the parks and rec. department, especially the new commissioners who had only been on there for a month and a half,” Allen said. “They felt like they wasted possibly a month and a half of their time.”
Allen also addressed another topic that’s been a source of controversy.
During the July 10 meeting at which Redus was hired, Allen did not call for a proper vote. Commissioners Reginald Johnson, Rodney Holcomb, Tina Owens, Quincy Pridgeon and Allen voted to hire Redus after meeting in executive session for more than an hour. Krandon Henry, Alexandra Kosmitis and Harold Clark voted against hiring Redus in executive session but did not have a chance to do so in the open meeting because nay votes weren’t called for.
If the nay votes had been tallied, the vote to hire Redus would have been 5-3, not 8-0.
The commission violated the spirit of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act Law by not asking for a proper yea or nay vote on the issue, according to attorney Vincent Chadick of the Quattlebaum, Grooms and Tull law firm, which specializes in FOIA cases. According to attorney Chadick, Redus was technically “legally hired,” but the spirit of the law was still broken since only the “for” votes were tallied in public session.
When one obeys the letter of the law but not the spirit, one is obeying the literal interpretation of the words “the letter” of the law, but not necessarily the intent of those who wrote the law.
Allen said he did not have malice intent in not calling for commissioners to vote nay and wished another commissioner had corrected him. Allen defended his fellow former commissioners and himself for acting within the law. He said he consulted with city of Pine Bluff attorneys and the city of Pine Bluff human resources people before deciding to hire Redus.
“Any public office is always learn as you go,” Allen said. “We worked great as we became fully staffed. As the chairman, I communicated with a majority of city officials. They knew what was going on inside the department: the good and the bad.”