The El Dorado-Union County Recreation Complex board of directors have started off the new year with questions about the status of the board, its powers, its membership roster and a decision to reach out to El Dorado city officials to sort out the matter.
Using firm words, board member Chris Nale broached the topic during the group’s first regular meeting of the year on Jan. 8 and suggested that the board invite Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer and other city officials to the next regular board meeting in February.
Nale and other complex board members noted that El Dorado City Council Member Mike Rice is also a member of the board and has not attended a regular board meeting in several months.
They cited a need for active board members to help oversee general operations and special projects, such as the two-phase improvement and renovation plan that is under way at the complex.
The issue stems from several changes the complex and its board of directors have undergone in recent years, including a decision by city and Union County officials in 2019 to dissolve a 20-year-old inter-local agreement regarding the operation of the complex.
Per a new agreement that was proposed by the Union County Quorum Court in late 2018 and approved by the city council in early 2019, the city assumed administrative duties for the Champagnolle Road facility.
The county had served as the administrative arm of the complex, partnering with the city to make pro rata contributions to the complex’s annual operating budget. The complex is located just outside city limits and sits on property that is owned by the city and the complex board.
During a series of meetings with complex board members and county and city officials in 2016, the county agreed to cap its annual contribution to the complex budget at $100,000 and agreed that any budget overages would require a vote by the quorum court.
The same details were included in the new agreement that both entities had approved by early 2019.
In addition to relinquishing administrative duties to the city, the county’s proposal also called for the dissolution of the complex board.
However, the El Dorado City Council agreed in July of 2019 to keep the board intact until the master improvement plan is completed.
Therein lies the rub.
In July of 2019, city council members appointed Rice to the complex board to represent the city.
Rice assumed a slot that had been held for several years by Council Member Dianne Hammond, who was unable to attend the specially-called meeting in which the council reviewed and clarified issues regarding city boards, commissions and committees.
The issues included the makeup, function and membership of the entities.
At the time, Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer said she could not find any documentation pertaining to Hammond’s appointment to the complex board. Hammond joined the board sometime in 2016 and served as co-chairman.
There were also questions about the makeup of the complex board.
The 2001 interlocal agreement called for a six-member board with three members representing the county and three representing the city.
Several Union County Quorum Court members have served on the complex over the years but city officials did not join the board until former Mayor Frank Hash took on an interim role as co-chairman in 2013 and Hammond joined three years later.
Until then, the city had been represented by at-large board members who were affiliated with the complex as coaches, umpires, tournament operators and in other capacities.
In response to grievances about the complex that were aired in 2013 by coordinators of girls’ softball leagues around the county, the complex board agreed that some changes in complex operations were in order.
After longtime board chairman Ken Blackmon stepped down from his seat in 2013, Hash and Union County Judge Mike Loftin assumed interim positions as co-chairs and worked to iron out some of the issues at the complex and restructure the complex board.
During a meeting in August of 2013, former complex board member John Turbeville was elected chairman and Cynthia Bolding, who is still member of the board, was elected vice-chair.
Upon a suggestion by Hash, board members also agreed then to expand the board from six to eight members to allow more flexibility in decision-making.
Consequently, Keith Smith and Stacy Scroggins were appointed to the newly-added seats. Both are still members of the complex board.
The current membership roster also includes Greg Harrison (chairman), Bolding, Nale, Rice and Phillip Lansdell.
Former member Avo Vartenian stepped down from the board last year.
On Jan. 8, Nale pointed out that Rice has not attended a board meeting in several months and he suggested that the group speak with Creer-Smith about the matter.
Referring to Hammond and Rice, respectively, Nale said, “The mayor took someone off the board who was for the complex as an active member and who was attending meetings for someone who hasn’t been to a meeting in (several) months.”
While discussing the matter later, Smith-Creer recalled the special city council meeting that was held in July of 2019, emphasizing that it was the council who voted in favor of Rice’s request to serve on the complex board.
Lansdell asked if anyone had spoken to Rice about the matter. Nale said he had asked Rice about his absence from a previous meeting but did not receive a clear answer from Rice.
Several board members cited a need for new members, with Harrison saying that during a couple of recent meetings, the board was not able to take any votes due to the lack of a quorum.
Robert Edmonds, director of public works for the city, and other city officials have said that while the council agreed to keep the complex board intact to continue oversight of the improvement and renovation project, the board no longer has authority to make any other decisions regarding the complex.
However, the board has continued to meet and do just that since the July of 2019. Harrison said Jan. 8 that he notifies city and county officials about monthly board meetings.
In an email that was sent prior to the board’s noon meeting on Jan. 8, Smith-Creer provided information about city council representation on various city boards, committees and commissioners.
She noted that Rice is a member of the complex board, writing, “I am not sure of the status of this board since it was only to remain in place until renovations were completed and they continue to meet.”
Smith-Creer said she made the note after receiving notifications from Harrison about the Jan. 8 meeting.
In his reply to the mayor’s email, Rice wrote, “I was told that the complex board was disbanded by the council several months ago. I’m not attending the meetings and not really sure why they are still having monthly meetings.”
Work is ongoing in the first phase of the master plan at the complex.
Phase one includes completion of two existing youth baseball and softball fields and construction of the two new youth fields on the south end of the complex; construction of two new youth soccer fields that are adjacent to the baseball and softball fields on the south end of the facility; and the installation of turf, lighting and fencing on four older fields on the north end of the facility.
Crews are putting the finishing touches on the soccer fields and board members are discussing options for a new concession stand and additional restrooms — which are also included in phase one — to serve south fields.
The work is being covered by $2.7 million from the one-cent El Dorado Works tax, which is geared toward economic development, municipal infrastructure and quality-of-life projects.
The El Dorado Advertising and Promotion Commission also kicked in more than $356,000 to help complete the soccer fields. Revenue for the A&P commission is generated by a 3% lodging tax.
A new baseball field for older teens and adults and major parking lot improvements are components of phase two, which has not been initiated or funded.