By Lynette Sowell
My front porch
Copperas Cove city councilman Fred Chavez described the current “situation” with the Copperas Cove Five Hills Scholarship Pageant Program (FHSPP) an “entanglement” at the last council meeting. Now, getting something tangled means that there’s a way to un-tangle things. I’m not 100% sure it seems things are “entangled.” Entangled means it’s a burden and hindrance, and I doubt that Fred intended it to sound that way.
With a bit of history, we can understand the current situation, which has a number of facets. First, the pageant itself was brought back when volunteer pageant director, Wendy Sledd, was approached in 2013-early 2014 – I am assuming by Copperas Cove chamber leadership at the time – to restart the “Rabbit Fest” pageant.
Stick with me here, even if you know the story. You may start to see its different facets.
So, Ms. Sledd began the program again and added an element that was not a previous part of Rabbit Fest pageants in the past – COMMUNITY SERVICE.
The pageant went like gangbusters for 2014, 2015, and 2016 – with many local children and young adults and older adult women – doing great things for the city and multiple organizations. Thousands of hours, thousands of dollars.
(My email inbox exploded this weekend with numerous letters from current and past titleholders and their families, from Georgia to Honolulu, Belton, Killeen, and Copperas Cove, expressing what the pageant program has meant to them – and what it has done for the city.)
Things were great with the pageant starting in 2014, until the fall of 2016.
In the fall of 2016, then Chamber President Sean Corrigan – I assume under the guidance and direction of the chamber board – basically told Ms. Sledd, “We can’t keep doing your books anymore; we can’t help you. Take your money and go.” At that time, the chamber was going through a change and some upheaval, with a total of three interim presidents/presidents in the 2016-into 2017 timeframe alone. The chamber was also having an extensive financial audit of its books at the council’s request, after the departure of President Betty Price (so, make that four presidents/interims during the 2016-2017 time frame).
Ms. Sledd was literally left holding the bag, a bag which also included tens of thousands of dollars that came into the organization for scholarships, pageant expenses, and more. The royalty at that time were out, raising funds, serving the city.
Enter the City of Copperas Cove administration, who at that time said the pageant could come under the umbrella of the city’s Parks & Rec Department. And so, the pageant found a new home and was rebranded (at the cost of thousands of dollars after the chamber sent Ms. Sledd a cease and desist letter to stop calling it the Rabbit Fest Scholarship Pageant) as the Five Hills Scholarship Pageant Program.
All seemed well in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021, as the FHSPP continued to flourish under its umbrella with the city. The city council even bought and paid for a float for the pageant to use, in 2017, for $20,000. It was stored most recently at the old Fire Station No. 2, which was demolished last summer. Now, the float needs a new home.
And I guess, here’s where the “entanglement” began. Several costs have been bandied about and discussed for a float shelter. This is not a Taj Mahal and I would wonder where other cities store their floats. KCCB stores its own float at the Solid Waste Department.
Somewhere along the line, in some office or somewhere, someone began to be concerned about the pageant overall. After five pageants under the city, now there is an issue.
This latest development is CYP – Cover Your Patootie. If it’s anything government and municipal leadership value, it is Covering Your Patootie.
My opinion and semi-educated guess is that our city manager doesn’t want to be left holding the bag if things go south with the FHSPP. Not that there is anything wrong at the FHSPP, something he said himself in the meeting. However, he has his bosses – the city council – to answer to.
But, it’s like a couple who have been together a long time – either let’s make things official, or you go and do your own thing.
If you’ve read this far - and I hope you have – I’d like to propose some solutions for the council’s “entanglement” on how to make this an ordinance activity. Crafting an ordinance – such as with KCCB – has been done before. Here’s some things to consider when making the program an ordinanced activity of the city.
Make it like the sports and other programs. For the pageant itself, registrants/participants should pay a fee – which includes a restoration fee such as what is paid for sports or using the pool. Limit it to Copperas Cove residents, or not. For example, KCCB accepts applications from other cities’ residents. You then receive your “volunteers for the year” who change out after each pageant. Someone said the FHSPP should be open to all – it is, but there are only so many “vacancies” for this annual “volunteer board.” As with city boards, not everyone who applies “wins” a spot.
There are indirect costs which the city manager has referred to, such as cleaning the pool after the dogs use it at Puppy Pawlooza. Well, bill the FHSPP for those. There is bookkeeping involved with the FHSPP. Bill the pageant for that. Bill them for website updates. The City bills the chamber for some costs associated with Rabbit Fest, and it also billed the EDC when it was under the city’s umbrella. This is not impossible to do and would help the city “recoup” those indirect costs and the city would still receive the benefits of the funds raised.
Appoint Ms. Sledd as Lead Volunteer/Director. All others such as past royalty and pageant board, can be appointed as board members. All can have background checks such as other city boards. The pageant program already has bylaws and practices which can be confirmed and tweaked. Make an “exit clause” in the event Ms. Sledd cannot serve, after which the FHSPP can be dissolved unless another lead volunteer is determined.
Restrict fundraising to benefit city departments directly – Parks & Rec, Animal Shelter, Senior Center, Library, KCCB, and more. If other nonprofits that are Copperas Cove based, such as Cove House, My Brother’s House Food Pantry, Operation Stand Down, Star Group VHV, etc., might also be included. There is nothing wrong with a city holding a fundraiser – KCCB raises funds for scholarships. What other organizations have done so much for ALL these local entities to the extent that the FHSPP has? I’ll wait…
Another alternative to ordinance would be for the chamber to accept the pageant back again, not rebranding, but to continue the mission under the chamber’s umbrella. The chamber is under new leadership and most of the board members who served in 2016 are no longer on the board. Check out the City of Pharr Texas – it has a city pageant under its chamber with the city’s name on it.
Otherwise, if the council says no-go, it is turning the back on the program and forcing Ms. Sledd to make the decision she doesn’t want to do. After being twice-rejected by the two city entities that could help her, she would be left again with tens of thousands of dollars, no website, no bookkeeping and accounting. It wouldn’t be impossible for her to do – but certainly not herself and not on her own. She is clear that the FHSP was intended, from the beginning, to be an event to benefit the city and community, and not an organization she wanted to run herself. The City has gladly and gratefully accepted the monies and benefits the FHSP has offered it, but someone, somewhere does not wish to help cover the program to help it continue.
I struggle to understand why and the explanation that “cities don’t ‘do’ pageants” does not ring true to me. The city has been “doing” this pageant for five years. Why not make it official and ensure this unique program continues for years to come? Because I don’t see anyone else doing it… All things to think about before Tuesday, Jan. 18.