The Pine Bluff City Council and Mayor Shirley Washington made us proud Monday night. They abolished the Parks and Recreation Commission in a long-overdue move to bring the parks department under the auspices of the mayor’s office, just like all the other city departments.
The vote was 5-3 for the measure.
The parks commission had more egg on its face than an IHOP country breakfast platter after ignoring 60 applicants and skirting the law in hiring Trudy Redus as parks director on July 10. The mayor and a majority of the council saw that and took action. Oh, they had been talking about abolishing the commission before last night, but ignoring the 60 applications was the death knell. Oh, and did we mention that the commission skirted the law, too?
First of all, the commission chairman did not allow three commissioners who were against hiring Redus as director of the parks department a chance to voice their nays in a public meeting held July 10. The only votes asked for and cast were those who supported hiring Redus.
Secondly, the commission had around 60 applicants for the position but chose to speedily hire Redus without even granting interviews to anyone else. We have nothing against Mrs. Redus at all, and none of this is about her personally. It was always about the commission doing what’s right. Ignoring dozens of applicants for a job isn’t right at all.
In fact, we found it disturbing.
As far as the vote to hire Redus, the commission, specifically commission Chairman Omar Allen, 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. In this case, we feel the intent is holding a proper yea and nay vote on the issue of hiring Redus.
Commissioners Alexandra Kosmitis, Krandon Henry and Harold Clark were opposed to the hiring of Redus as director of the department. Commissioners Reginald Johnson, Rodney Holcomb, Tina Owens, Quincy Pridgeon and Allen voted to hire her after meeting in executive session for more than an hour. Kosmitis, Clark and Henry also took part in the executive session but did not get to vote in the open meeting. Commissioner Robert Jackson was absent.
Kosmitis told the Commercial that in hindsight, she wishes she had spoken up during the public portion of the meeting and pointed out that Allen did not call for any “no” votes. In the public’s eye, the commission appeared to hire Redus with eight commissioners voting yes and none voting no. Immediately after the meeting, Allen told the Commercial that the commission voted 8-0 on the motion to hire Redus.
That simply wasn’t true, Mr. Allen. The vote should have been tallied at 5 for and 3 against. But wait, there’s more. Mr. Allen should not vote as chairman unless there is a tie to break. So that would make it 4 for hiring Redus and 3 against. Allen did not answer a question on why he did not allow commissioners to vote during the public portion of the July 10 meeting. Allen also did not answer additional questions via email and did not return two phone calls regarding the issue on Friday or on Monday.
According to Chapter 19, Section 4, of Arkansas Code Annotated 25-19-106, “No resolution, ordinance, rule, contract, regulation, or motion considered or arrived at in executive session will be legal unless, following the executive session, the public body reconvenes in public session and presents and votes on the resolution, ordinance, rule, contract, regulation, or motion.”
Our hope now is that the parks department can move forward, and that the mayor will interview candidates for the position of department head. Mrs. Redus can and should apply for the job, but others should be interviewed as well. As we said earlier, we have nothing against Mrs. Redus. But what’s fair is fair. We feel that running our city’s parks is one of the most important jobs around. And we want to ensure the right person is at the helm. Thanks again, mayor and City Council members. You did what’s right.