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City officials are moving forward with a suggestion to hire a manager to oversee several of the city’s rental facilities.

A committee was recently formed to explore the matter and by the end of a lengthy discussion during the group’s first meeting Friday, committee members agreed that they needed to prioritize several components of the multi-pronged issue.

The first step, they said, is to come up with a job description for the position, which will primarily entail the management of and scheduling for the El Dorado Municipal Auditorium and the city’s trolley bus and stages.

Those who attended the meeting were Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer; El Dorado City Council Member Paul Choate; Pierce Moore, the mayor’s administrative assistant; Kaitlyn Rigdon, of the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce; Victoria Hollis, of the Boys and Girls Club of El Dorado; and Daniel Peralta of Hitmeupp fast-food delivery service.

During an El Dorado City Council meeting the previous day, Smith-Creer explained that the committee was made up of groups who regularly use the municipal.

She added that Peralta, a 2011 graduate of El Dorado High School, fills an at-large position and represents the city’s younger demographic on the committee.

“We talked about that age group and that demographic, and I thought it would be good to have a well rounded committee,” Smith-Creer said.

The creation of the committee stemmed from recent discussions regarding a heavily damaged grand piano that used to serve the auditorium.

Council members are considering options to replace the piano — which would be covered, in part, by a nearly $90,000 insurance settlement for the damaged piano — and ideas and costs to properly store a new piano.

The old piano is believed to have been damaged by water from a leaky roof at the auditorium.

Moore previously said the Steinway, which has been removed from the auditorium, was not stored in a climate-controlled environment or protected by a padded covering.

Hiring a manager

City officials have said that hiring a manager would help prevent such issues and would address and clarify other concerns that have arisen with the rental of city facilities, including scheduling, rental prices and — the services they cover — and the terms of the rental contracts.

For instance, Robert Edmonds, director of public works, said a few city employees are trained to operate the computer-piloted HVAC system at the auditorium.

The system was installed during a $5.7 million-plus remodeling project that was done in 2015 and 2016.

“We do have a couple of people who go in there and clean, and they’re there for the activities, but there’s no manager,” Smith-Creer said.

“Since we remodeled the auditorium, we’ve always had somebody down there to open up, help with the lights, setup, cleanup and make sure all the amenities are in the bathroom,” Edmonds later told a News-Times reporter. “Those guys do a good job.”

During the meeting, Peralta asked if the manager would actively pursue events to book the auditorium.

“We would want this person to book the auditorium, trolley and stage. They would handle that schedule,” Smith-Creer said, adding that seeking out events could be a future consideration for the position.

“Are there guidelines on who can use the auditorium?” Peralta asked.

“Historically, barely,” Choate said.

Choate then referred to a controversial issue that unfolded in 2016 after former Mayor Frank Hash canceled the city’s contract for a booking at the auditorium after promotions and ticket sales had gotten under way.

The show featured rapper YFN Lucci at the time, Hash cited explicit and profane lyrics in Lucci’s songs and a potential for violence — as, Hash said, was demonstrated earlier that year when shots were fired during a performance by Lucci at a Little Rock club — as his reasons for pulling the contract for the scheduled performance in the auditorium.

The move by Hash pushed concert promoter Memory Parker to find another venue — the performance was hastily moved to the city park in Huttig —, take legal action against the city and prompted the El Dorado City Council to call for the formation of a committee to help clarify to the public — and city officials — the process of booking the municipal facility.

“With a manager, you’re looking for a horse, but we’ve got a cart to define first — how the process was handled previously, we’ve got to look at utilization, how prior fees were charged or not charged,” Choate said Friday.

“When we look at what we charge for the facility, we need to give consideration to the fact that it’s city property paid for by taxpayer money,” he continued. “It’s no different than city parks or City Hall.”

Rigdon agreed, saying, “It’s like (Lions Club Municipal Golf Course). You can’t play for free. I don’t think in the past, people knew what the costs were.”

The need for consistency

Smith-Creer and Moore said that in the past, fees have not been consistently charged for the use of the facility.

Since taking office Jan. 1, the mayor said she and Moore have spoken with people who, when looking to book the auditorium, have said they “usually get it for free.”

She also said neither she nor Moore have been able to find documentation that explains the varying charges for certain groups.

“It costs $300 to rent the lobby and when you go into the auditorium, it’s $100 an hour, but that hasn’t always been the practice,” Moore said.

He pointed to the 2017 and 2018 budgets for the auditorium.

“Based on revenues and expenditures, you lost $70,000 in 2018 and $46,000 in 2017. If that trend keeps going this year, you stand to lose $65,000,” Moore said.

Added Smith-Creer, “It’s almost free for the people who use it, but it’s not to the city. We want people to use it, but we need it to be sustainable. We need to be able to put money back into it.”

Peralta said he believes the auditorium is under-utilized and that many people don’t know what types of events can be held in the facility.

He referred to a situation in which an out-of-town friend was searching for a local venue for a show.

Peralta said one local facility quoted a rental price that reached well into the thousands of dollars.

“He couldn’t afford that. He didn’t know about the auditorium, and if I had known, I could have told him,” Peralta said, adding, “We need to let people know what the fees are, what it can be used for and that anyone in town or out of town can use it.”

Moore also said there should be a fee structure for non-profit and for-profit groups who use the facility.

Peralta then asked if “anyone was trained on the stage.”

Choate said a city crew is trained to set up and take down the stage and Smith-Creer said the cost is $20 per hour, per employee.

“How many hours does it usually take?” Peralta asked.

“It depends on the function, what the event is and how many people are working. It has been up to five people at times,” Smith-Creer said.

For the trolley, a Class B commercial drivers license is required.

“Now, our driver doesn’t have that kind of license anymore, so I think it would be good to have a couple of people with that type of license,” the mayor said.

Noting that the city is still without a downtown parking enforcement officer, Smith-Creer said the facilities manager’s position would be part-time, with the potential to become full-time by taking on the parking enforcement officer’s duties.

To help develop a job description, Hollis suggested that the committee look to other cities with municipal auditoriums or similar facilities.

The group agreed to draft the job description and then focus on revising and clarifying the rental contracts to address such issues as bringing food and drinks into the auditorium performance hall.

City officials have said the practice is prohibited and often ignored, sometimes creating messes that are difficult to clean.

“I think we need to ride out 2019 and we need to have something in place by November so that we can say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to be doing in 2020,’” Moore said.

Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@ eldoradonews.com.

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