By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Pulaski County Administrator Peter Huber and the board of supervisors threw their support behind the county recreation park and its director, Anthony Akers, Monday night.
The public statement of support at the board’s monthly meeting came as a result of months of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and complaints about the department primarily voiced to the board by Pulaski County resident Brenda Blackburn. Blackburn unsuccessfully attempted to unseat supervisors Chairman Joe Sheffey in 2011.
Huber initiated the discussion near the end of Monday night’s meeting by reading a prepared statement. In the statement, he pointed out that the recreation department has been the subject of 24 FOIA requests in the past 18 months and that state police were involved, but no problems were found.
Before reading his statement, Huber told the board and others present at the meeting “There have been a number of questions that have come up and it’s time to set the record straight as to my feelings about the Pulaski County Recreation Department.”
Blackburn left the meeting early and was not present to hear the statements made by Huber and members of the board.
Following is the full statement made by Huber:
“I am pleased to address concerns brought up at previous board meetings concerning the operation of Randolph Park and the job that Anthony Akers and staff have, and are, doing in serving the citizens of Pulaski County.
“We welcome Freedom of Information Act requests and the recreation department has been the subject of 24 freedom of information act requests over the past 18 months. These requests along with the involvement of the State police have turned up no problems whatsoever in the department. Indeed, the county rec and other departments have been audited by an outside auditor every year with no problems found.
“County employees, being human, are going to make mistakes and we regularly implement suggestions and recommendations made by the auditor. Indeed, the county has misplaced or disposed of one of two Randolph Park pool pass receipt books from the end of the 2012 pool season. The county staff plans to continue to look for the receipt book, but even without it, we are confident in the sound financial operations of the rec department based on all previous years as well as the current season.
“Anyone who provides this many youth with one of their first employment opportunities is going to experience some mistakes. I have a general idea how difficult it is to work with youth and satisfy as many parents, youth and citizens as Anthony does. I would like to publicly commend him for doing an excellent job. His love for the youth of this county, his integrity, his sincerity, his dedication and above all, his ethics are beyond compare.
“I have known Anthony Akers for the past 17 years. When Anthony came to work for Pulaski County, Central Gym was being used as a storage area for the burned contents of the courthouse fire. Joe Morgan, previous county administrator, turned Anthony loose to do something with the mess. Anthony proceeded to clean up the building, rehabilitate the floor, and contracted out the addition to the building. He and other staff members, as well as volunteers then did the same thing with the construction of Randolph Park, DeHaven Park, and some of our small community parks.
“I used to carry one of those Chinese Fortune Cookie papers that said ‘write your name on hearts not on buildings.’ Anthony must have one of those, too, because, the work he has done on these facilities is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what he had accomplished and continues to accomplish in working with the youth of Pulaski County.
“Today, Anthony is directly responsible for the establishment and operation of after-school programs now offered in each of our five elementary schools in the county, making sure 163 children per day have a place to go after school and before their parents get home. Anthony organizes the nine-week summer camp providing very affordable daycare to 213 youth with summer activities while also managing park and pool activities at Randolph Park.
“Anthony has made a career of making positive changes in the lives of children and families. The programs he operates increase the quality of life for all of us and I am very proud of all he has (accomplished) and continues to accomplish. Anthony Akers and the Pulaski County Recreation Department have my full support and confidence.”
Sheffey agreed with Huber’s statement, adding, “When the property for Randolph Park was given to the county it was just a big area of land, but if you look at Randolph Park today, that’s a jewel of Pulaski County. He said it was the desire of Evelyn Alexander (who donated the land) that the park serve all ages and provide swimming for those in Pulaski and surrounding communities.”
He pointed out elected officials from other jurisdictions often comment on the park and state that they wish they had one like it.
Since Anthony took over the department the recreation leagues have “done extremely well,” with more children participating in more activities, according to Sheffey.
“I feel Anthony has done a remarkable job and I give him my full support,” Sheffey concluded.
Draper District Supervisor Dean Pratt and Robinson District Supervisor Charles Bopp said they think the county is lucky to have Akers.
“I don’t care who you are or what you do, there’s always going to be somebody who’s going to have criticism,” said Bopp. “Anthony, in my opinion, has done excellent … I hope Anthony stays with us for a long time.”
Ingles Supervisor Ranny O’Dell agreed with Huber and the other supervisors’ comments.
Andy McCready of Massie District added, “I’ve known Anthony for quite a long time. He is an outstanding individual. He has put this county and county rec front and center. He has built that department up.
“I have the utmost confidence in Anthony Akers. I am proud to call him a friend. I am proud to have him as an employee of this county,” he added.
McCready said the board always wants citizens to be informed “but being informed and being harassing can get to be a problem. … I think the efforts of some folks, for whatever agenda they have, is particularly disgusting.
“I will continue to support Anthony and I hope our recreation department continues to grow as much over the next 10 to 20 years as it has grown over the last 17 years that Anthony has been with us.”
Referring to the fact Blackburn left before the meeting concluded, McCready said, “I’m sorry to see that not all of our citizens decided to stay so they can hear this.”