Seven of the nine Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Commission members attended an orientation session Wednesday morning in the civic center's council chambers.

Seven of the nine Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Commission members attended an orientation session Wednesday morning in the civic center’s council chambers.

Mayor Debe Hollingsworth said the session was designed to help the recently expanded panel “know its roles and responsibilities” as it begins overseeing a department that has experienced some recent difficulties. The commission — then consisting of five members — came under fire last year after the department had a financial shortfall for a second consecutive year.

After disclosure of the problem, Parks and Recreation Director Angela Parker and Community Centers Director Laura Hildreth were suspended and then terminated before being reinstated and placed on probation.

Shortly after taking office on Jan. 1, Hollingsworth expressed interest in dissolving the commission and bringing the department under direct charge of the mayor’s office. Several council members objected to and blocked that move. Hollingsworth then spoke of a 13-member commission, but that number was cut to 11 and finally nine.

Attending Wednesday’s orientation were re-appointed commissioners Carson Fields and Kami Mays Hunt and new appointees Duke Fakouri, Fabian Fontenot, Jonathan Frazier, Krandon Henry and Roy Tolson. Re-appointees Chris Blunt and Jeff Pulliam did not attend.

Hunt has been serving as the panel’s chairwoman.

Evelyn Horton, the mayor’s chief aide, led the training. She outlined reporting requirements, appropriation procedures, basic rules and regulations, primary authority and membership and meeting particulars. Horton told the commissioners they were responsible to the mayor and council. She added that any “financial problems” within the department are to be dealt with by the panel “as they occur.”

Horton spoke briefly on needed physical improvements at the department’s 19 parks and facilities. Hunt and Parker pointed out maintenance supervisor Kevin Smith’s detailed work plan and devotion to his job. Horton responded by saying some part-time positions might be necessary to ensure needed enhancements are made. She challenged the commission to locate money within the department’s existing budget to allow the extra work.

Horton became emotional over conditions she witnessed during a recent inspection of the Merrill Center.

“Our children deserve better,” she said.

Horton, after saying she will be “silently” overseeing the commission in the future “to advise and assist,” added, “I just want a quality program for our kids.”

Fakouri told his counterparts that they “don’t need to agree on everything” and a positive exchange of thoughts and opinions on issues is healthy.

Hollingsworth said Fakouri’s statement is “good advice.” She then asked commissioners to show their respect and support for one another by backing commission decisions “even if you disagree personally.”

Parker provided the commissioners with assorted information on the department, including job descriptions and budget details.

Also attending were Alderwoman Thelma Walker, Aldermen Lloyd Holcomb Jr. and Steven Mays and special projects coordinator Lanette Frazier.

Hollingsworth said she believes the event was “successful” and “will help commissioners in their endeavors.”