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Magnolia mayor hopes East Side Park splash pad can be open by next spring, doesn’t want design ‘to be like everyone else’

by J.D. Bailey on 06/28/22

A major addition at Magnolia’s East Side Park became one step closer to reality this week as Mayor Parnell Vann re-assured the public that a new splash pad and skate park will be built as promised, and that he has been in significant talks with a development group over the last month.

“It will happen,” he said as he addressed the Magnolia City Council on Monday. “We should have something before July’s (city council) meeting – hopefully to bring to you."

The mention of the park project was the second from the mayor in as many months. In May, the city leader told the public that he had been in talks with a designer for the new East Side Park improvements, but that he was extremely underwhelmed. Vann noted last month that he wanted to be “wow’d,” but hadn’t yet seen anything to satisfy his vision of a significant revitalization of the multi-acre public park area in the city’s eastern region.

On Monday, however, the mayor’s tone had somewhat changed. He seemed more optimistic that his “wow” park project could actually materialize. He noted that a skate park group had recently reached out to the city.

“I’m not going to bring an average splash pad for you to approve,” Vann said while speaking to the city’s governing board. “We’ve got a company working on that right now, and they know not to bring me and the team something that’s just average.”

The splash pad and skate park project using local funding was approved in March by the Magnolia City Council. The move was made after the city was twice denied in recent years a state parks grant that would have seen the cost of the build split 50-50 between the Magnolia and Arkansas governments. After receiving the second grant denial in February, the mayor came forth with a $600,000 joint proposal between the City of Magnolia and the Magnolia A&P Commission to fund the East Side endeavor and negotiations with contractors began soonafter.

On Monday, the mayor assured the public that the funding for the project was still secured, and that he hopes the new park additions can be open and operational by the mid 2023.

“As I’ve told folks, we want to be playing in the water and skating by next spring-summer -- and that’s still our goal,” Vann said this week. “The money is still there to do all this with, and we are still on go.”

A dog park has also been discussed to be part of the East Side additions, but it is not clear yet if that piece of the project will be part of any presentations brought to the Council in the coming months. The mayor did mention Monday, however, that the topic was still on his mind. 

“I have gotten some local interest in working with the dog park,” Vann added.

As of last month, plans for the splash pad still included locating the structure at the apex of northern hill inside East Side park. Currently, a baseball and softball field, as well as sand volleyball court, occupies that area. Those structures, though, will need to be removed to make way for the new park recreation areas. 

Although no official diagrams or layouts have been presented to the public so far, one thing is for certain: the mayor wants something to make the park pop. 

“We want people to talk about Magnolia’s splash pad,” he said. “We don’t want to be like everyone else.”

Boyd steps down as Magnolia city attorney after 13 years, former deputy attorney McKendree appointed as new head legal rep for Magnolia government

by J.D. Bailey on 06/28/22

After 13 years as the lead legal representative for the City of Magnolia, Michael W. Boyd has stepped down from his post. The longtime local attorney and partner at Bell, Boyd & McKendree, PLLC, in Magnolia officially resigned from the position on June 24, but he was recognized for his service on Monday by the Magnolia City Council. At the same gathering, the local governing board appointed a new city attorney, Jennifer Jameson McKendree, to fulfill the rest of Boyd’s term.

The move has been in the works since Boyd was named executive vice president and general counsel at Farmers Bank & Trust in late May. He will begin his new position officially on July 1.

Boyd is a native of Cleveland County and attended law school at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He has also sat on the board of directors at Farmers Bank & Trust since 2015 and will continue to help oversee bank affairs going forward. 

Monday’s farewell was congratulatory in nature, with Magnolia Alderman Jamie Waller thanking Boyd for his years of service to the city.

“We appreciate how much Mike has done,” the city official said. “You’ve always made sure we stayed on track, and I know I’ve turned to you many times with questions.”

After the gathering this week, Boyd was greeted and thanked by even more local officials, including numerous Magnolia aldermen and Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann.

Besides legal duties for the municipal government, the city attorney serves during Magnolia City Council meetings to guide the board on procedural legalities and answer any legal questions that may arise about matters of city business.

The Magnolia City Attorney is an elected position and will be on the local ballot this November.

In his place, the Magnolia City Council unanimously appointed McKendree to take over the duties as city attorney. The position will be nothing new to the veteran legal official. The Magnolia native and local private practice attorney has served for years as deputy city attorney and was recently added as a member-partner at Bell, Boyd & McKendree in Magnolia. According to the motion passed on Monday, she will serve out the remainder of Boyd’s term, which expires at the end of the year.

“We look forward to working with Jennifer,” Waller added. “You’ve always been more than capable, so we’re excited about what’s to come.”

McKendree is a graduate of Magnolia High School and earned her undergraduate degree at Southern Arkansas University. She also attended law school at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and became a firm partner earlier this year. Besides her work with the city, McKendree’s legal background includes cases involving adoption, guardianship, divorce, estate planning, estate administration, and real estate. She also served as assistant general counsel for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission from 2012 to 2018. 

In other Magnolia City Council News: 

- Annette Pate and Haley Bell were unanimously appointed to the Magnolia A&P Commission. Pate is currently the chairman of the local board and Bell is new to the local commission. She takes the place of outgoing commissioner Megan McCurdy. The A&P board terms last five years.

Magnolia Boys & Girls Club executive director resigns as spring sports, after-school activities boom in post-COVID year

by J.D. Bailey on 05/24/22

The Magnolia Boys and Girls Club has lost its executive director after less than a two years at the job.

Announced to the public Monday, Chris Ludwig, sports and facilities director at the 1600 Hollensworth Street complex, stated that Deneisa Jamerson, former head of the Magnolia Boys & Girls Club, had recently resigned her position.

“Her last day is tomorrow,” said Ludwig during a Monday evening financial briefing before the Magnolia City Council.

According to her social media profiles, Jamerson started with the El Dorado Boys and Girls Club in 2013 and had been with the Magnolia location since August 2020. The resignation comes less than two years after longtime Magnolia Boys and Girls Club head David Smith announced his retirement. The Magnolia resident had been with the local sports, recreation, and after-school nonprofit for 30 years. From 1990 until October 2020, Smith had overseen the day-to-day operations of the 1600 Hollesnworth Street facility. During his retirement announcement in July 2020, he stated that he regularly worked 60 hours or more per week.

On Monday, Ludwig did not publicly issue any reasoning for Jamerson’s departure and did not issue any updates on the future of the executive director position -- only saying that the former Club director had given her resignation “a few weeks ago.”

Under Jamerson’s leadership, the Magnolia Boys and Girls Club successfully lobbied for an additional $15,000 per year in contracted financial aid from the City of Magnolia. The move was part of a longstanding municipal agreement with the local organization to help fulfill after-school and recreational needs for area children. The deal has been in place throughout multiple city leadership tenures, with some estimates dating the agreement back some three decades. Until 2022, the city’s annual contribution was $35,000.

The $50,000 contribution agreement is currently valid through the end of the year but the aid contract is approved on a yearly basis as part of the Magnolia City Council’s annual year-end budgetary discussions. The approval to increase the annual donation came as the city was experiencing consecutive years of increased local tax revenues. On Monday, Magnolia Alderman James Jefferson questioned whether the $50,000 amount would remain, should the city suffer any setbacks or decreases in its annual tax intake.

“That’s something we will have to discuss at the Council’s finance meeting at the end of the year,” answered Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann. “Our first priority is keeping our own doors open.”

Jamerson also oversaw the end of a capital campaign that raised over $300,000 to help fund a new roof on that office and gymnasium complex at the Magnolia Boys Club's primary facility.

COST OF OPERATION AND GROWTH IN ATTENDANCE

As for the overall youth participation at the local organization, Ludwig stated Monday that numbers are booming compared to last year.

According to the facility and sports director, spring baseball and softball participation have increased by 187 kids over a one-year span. The total number of children and teens now involved in the two sports sits at around 400.

“We have seven-, eight-, nine-, and 10-year-olds that have never played baseball before they came out (to the Boys and Girls Club),” said Ludwig.

Most of the club’s recreational expenses, according to its estimated 2022 budget, come by way of general utilities -- mainly lighting the multiple ball fields for evening games -- and supplying baseball and softball uniforms, as well as umpire salaries. The total cost to fund the sport this year is estimated to be $12,000. That figure is up nearly $1,500 over 2021, due to cost increases.

The largest growth among sports is expected in flag football. According to estimates, the activity will cost the Magnolia Boys and Girls Club about $6,000 to host this fall. The cost of football, unlike baseball and softball, has actually remained the same, according to the Club’s 2022 projected budget. One reason for the steady figure, according to Ludwig, is due to the National Football League footing the bill the purchase of new jerseys for youth football participants every year.

“They update and redesign them every year,” Ludwig said.

The executive also noted that projected numbers in all sports, including volleyball and basketball, are estimated to increase in 2022.

“Since we’ve had such growth in baseball and softball, I think it will trickle down to the other sports,” Ludwig added. “That’s what I hope.”

A full breakdown of estimated expenses for sports at the Magnolia Boys and Girls Club is as follows:

  • Baseball and Softball - $12,000
  • Flag Football - $6,000
  • Basketball - $1,500
  • Volleyball - $1,000

Soccer was listed on the 2021 budget at $1,148 to fund, but the sport was not on the 2022 budget. The sport, according to the Club, has extremely low interest locally.

To take part in these activities, membership at the Magnolia Boys and Girls Club is required. The annual fee is $45 per member or $20 for families that qualify for free or reduced lunch at the public school system. If a family cannot afford either membership option, Ludwig stated that local kids will always be welcome to play at no charge.

“We’re not going to turn anyone away to play … or to become a member just to come after school,” he said.

Youth sports are what the Club may be most known for, but its most expensive and, perhaps most vital benefit to Magnolia comes via its after-school initiatives. The local organization serves as one of the biggest supervision centers in the city every weekday for much of the year.

On Monday, Ludwig noted that almost 130 kids showed up at the 1600 Hollensworth facility to participate in after-school activities. That number is nearly four-times over last year when only about 36 children and teenagers visited the Club on a daily basis.

“When we started, it was during COVID,” he added. “Now, we’re at 126 today.”

While at the facility, meals are also provided during the school year and during the Club’s summer camp season -- which lasts about eight weeks. Due to stress on the staffing numbers, the summer program is capped at 70 entrants. Those slots have already been fulfilled, according to Ludwig. 

During the summer months, children will be provided with two USDA-approved meals per day. These offerings contribute to a significant expense for the Club.

“(Meal costs) have increased significantly,” Ludwig said. “The price jumped from $11,000 last year to $16,000 this year. Just the summer camp alone will cost around $11,000.”

The facility director also stated that, due to astronomical spikes in transportation and fuel costs, just shipping the meals to Magnolia cost the orgazination around $3,000.

“That’s a huge increase,” he added.

Food costs are high for the Club, but after-school programming, as well as funding mentorship and tutoring initiatives are also significant. According to its 2022 budget, the cost of the each program is estimated at $16,000 and $13,000, respectively.

The annual membership to the Magnolia B&GC also covers all after-school activities, as well as sports.

In total, the local organization is expected to spend approximately $65,000 on providing Magnolia youths with daily supervision, meals, and recreation. That means that every penny of the city’s increased annual contribution will be used directly at the local facility -- and then some.

“This is an absolutely essential service that the city needs,” said Magnolia Adlermand Jamie Waller last year during city budget disucssions. “… We’ve got to keep the Boys and Girls Club going.”

The next 
Columbia County Hayride is 
September 17,  2022!