HFV Wilson Community Center operations to transfer to board of trustees

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite
Voters walk into the HFV Wilson Community Center to cast ballots in the Ardmore municipal elections Tuesday, April 6, 2021. Long operated by Ardmore parks and recreation, the center beginning next week will be leased to a newly created board of trustees to oversee programming while the city retains ownership of the property.

The HFV Wilson Community Center has hosted decades of sports, summer camps, elections, public forums and many other events that have helped shape generations of Ardmore residents and southern Oklahoma. A major change behind the scenes will go into effect next week but officials say day-to-day operations at the center should remain the same. 

“I don’t think it’s going to change that much. JaMia Cody is our program director and she has been the heartbeat of this things for years anyway,” said Steve Martin, a trustee for the recently created HFV Wilson Center Trust Authority. He and other trustees were on hand during a town hall meeting on Thursday hosted by Ward 2 Commissioner John Credle to discuss new oversight of the 81-year-old facility. 

A former advisory panel to the city has been turned into a board of trustees that will oversee operation of the community center and Cody will serve as interim director. While the city still owns the property and building and is responsible for upgrades or large mechanical systems, the trustees will be responsible for staffing, programming, maintenance and utilities. 

“The city still owns the building. It’s like when you rent a home, you lease property or so. They’re the landlords, we’re the tenants,” trustee Cedric Bailey told the forum of less than a dozen in attendance.  

The change in structure comes after the discovery of a problematic use of city personnel while the center was under city oversight and staffed with parks and recreation employees. Trustee Harold Brown told the forum he was notified about the problem while center director. 

“After 20 years of doing that way when I became the director, some lawyer found out we were doing things illegally therefore we had to make changes,” Brown said. “The city mixing city funds with 501(c)3 funds was illegal.” 

City Manager Kevin Boatright clarified that the funds were not directly mixed but the problem came with how the center was staffed since about 1999. The city for about two decades employed supervisors while the center's nonprofit board hired support staff and Boatright said the issue came from the city's relationship with nonprofit employees.

"The City of Ardmore through the parks and rec department and our HR department, they were doing the background checks and drug testing. Our attorney's said 'the city shouldn't do that because they're not your employees,'" Boatright said on Saturday.

"There was nothing about misuse of funds or mingling of funds," he said. "We've always had, ever since the parks and rec department got involved with the center, two separate individual budgets. But in order to make everything work at the center — all the services, the programs — we had to have funding from both sides," Boatright said.

The Ardmore City Commission discussed the community center during a December 2019 retreat and again during three special meetings of the commission through the summer of 2020, according to agendas posted online. Bailey said he and two fellow panel members at the time held meetings with city officials and legal counsel to work out the center’s operations. 

“We kind of slowed down during COVID but we picked it back up in February and was able to go back and forth to make sure the transition was smooth,” Bailey said on Friday. 

The Ardmore City Commission last month approved the creation of the HFV Wilson Center Trust Authority to oversee the facility beginning July 1. According to the declaration of trust approved by commissioners on May 27, the nine-member board of trustees will be nominated by the mayor and approved by a vote of commissioners. Seven members must be residents of Ardmore while all must be Carter County residents.  

Seven of the nine members of the new HFV Wilson Center Board of Trustees Thursday, May 27, 2021. From left: Bo Waddell, Cedric Bailey, Consuela Gordon, Donna Blackmon, Steve Martin, Eddie Lankford, Harold Brown. Not pictured are Josh McGee and Andy Harlow.

The lease agreement approved by commissioners is for five years at $10 per year with the leased premises to be used for “youth programs and recreation, education and community awareness.” 

Ardmore Parks and Recreation Department Teresa Ervin confirmed that several employees tied to the center will leave her department with the transition. 

“It was city staffed with the programmers, the executive director, the secretary and the maintenance specialist. They will no longer be city employees, they will be trust employees,” Ervin said on Friday. 

A main goal of the new board will be to continue securing funding for HFV Wilson operations. Boatright said the city has budgeted about $300,000 for the center next fiscal year, and trustees said the center will still rely on grants and donations from organizations like Valero and United Way.

“We’re still going to need funding, we’re still going to need people donating money," Martin said. 

Trustees already have operation details to consider like how to provide benefits for employees. The topic came up briefly during the forum on Thursday and Bailey confirmed the following day that bids are already out for consideration. 

The building dates back to at least 1940, according to records from the Carter County Assessor's Office. Bailey said the center is different from what he grew up with as a child because the community it now covers has a much larger footprint. 

Even with the challenges and greater responsibility as a steward of funds for perhaps the largest community center in southern Oklahoma, Bailey believes that HFV Wilson can continue to grow and improve. 

“We do this because of our love. Me growing up as a kid there, I’m just honored to be a part of it because it gets to go to the next generation,” he said. 

This article has been updated to include comments from City Manager Kevin Boatright and clarifies the reason for the oversight changes