Copperas Council hears from citizens on the status of the Five Hills Scholarship Pageant Program
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Copperas Cove City Council heard from citizens about the impact of the Five Hills Scholarship Pageant Program during their workshop meeting and into their regular meeting on Jan. 18.
With two council members missing (Dianne Campbell and Jay Manning), the council tabled any action and further discussion regarding the status of the program and the subsequent float storage, but not until several titleholders from past and present as well as their parents and Volunteer Director Wendy Sledd shared their thoughts.
In introducing the discussion during the workshop meeting, City Manager Ryan Haverlah explained that the discussion began back in March 2021 and has continued again this month, as detailed in the Jan. 7. 2022 Leader-Press publication.
Haverlah stated that there were three possible options for the Five Hills Scholarship Pageant Program to go with. Those three options are: “to encourage the pageant program to become its own legal entity, encourage the project program to collaborate with another entity or to establish the program in the city organization by City Council action,” Haverlah said.
Examples of programs established by city council direction or policy direction include Keep Copperas Cove Beautiful Commission, the Youth Advisory Council or other activities that exists within the city such as baseball or other sports activities.
If the Five Hills Scholarship Pageant Program were to operate as a program under the city, there would be a need to review and, if needed, revision of the mission statement for the program and revising of the program’s bylaws for approval by city council.
Haverlah also stated that the purpose of the Five Hills Scholarship Pageant Program would have to be reviewed, and council would have to determine what the purpose is and whether it continues to serves as a community service organization, and additionally, whether it does so with or without the pageant that is held every year during the last Saturday of March. The current purpose identified in the Program’s Bylaws reads as follows: “Its purpose is to develop and maintain a high quality and professional pageant system and be recognized as the ‘Symbol of Excellence’ within the community the program serves. Annually, the program will donate funds, goods, and services back to the community.”
“The reason I put that in there is because council members, you have actually talked to me and asked me the question, ‘Can this be done without a pageant? Can this be done just as a community service organization?’, so that would have to be a decision and direction that city council would have to provide,” Haverlah said. “I have already had this discussion with Mrs. Sledd, and one of the first comments she made was, ‘How do you select those individuals to participate in the program?’ It's a good question, and it's a question that would have to be answered.”
Another change would be involving the program’s board of directors, which are appointed by the volunteer pageant director and meet quarterly. The board is currently made up of: Joan Manning, David Morris, Shawn Smith, Tania Culpepper, Wendy Sledd and Bill French.
“Currently, the board appointed board of directors were a group of very interested and engaged individuals in the pageant program and have volunteered their time to support the program and the efforts that Mrs. Sledd has gone through to establish the program and continue the program,” Haverlah said. “With any city activity that has a board or a commission that is established by city council, City Council is the one who appoints those board members. Those board members are then responsible to city council and can be appointed and can be removed at the direction and action of city council.”
Another item would be dealing with the subcommittees, such as the Pageant Committee which is created in the bylaws, and the council would need to conduct interviews to determine the volunteer coordinator/pageant director. The Pageant Committee is currently made up of: Sledd (the Founder who serves as the Chair), with other members: Mary Ann Jack, Dawn Hale, Bonnie Turner, Jillian Tobias, Ashley Coombs and Robin Spencer.
“As a result of that you, the board directors, would want somebody as invested in the program as the success that has currently been shown in that program,” Haverlah said. “Mrs. Sledd has dedicated significant hours and portions of her life to this program to make it as successful as it is, and so in the event that a new director or coordinator would ever need to be appointed at some point in the future, those interviews would be necessary to determine whether that person could be that dedicated. Concurrence with city council or city administration is important because that one person would be guiding and directing numerous activities throughout the city, so I think that concurrence would be necessary.”
Haverlah also stated that the Five Hills Scholarship Pageant Program board meetings would need to be posted and conducted in compliance with the Open Meetings Act, as all of the city’s other boards and commissions do.
He also recommended that the titleholders’ different community service platforms would need to be approved by the Board of Directors, in a way consistent with the bylaws, and the community service platforms by the royalty program would also be included in the annual budget process including the submission review and presentations.
Mayor Dan Yancey then opened the meeting to allow for public input from members of the audience, which was packed with current and past titleholders, their families and other supporters of the program.
“Nobody wants this program to go away,” Yancey said. “Please understand that nobody wants this program to go away. It does a lot of good for the city of Copperas Cove. It's just how best to administrate this program because of its success and the best way that it makes sense for the Five Hills Scholarship Program to continue and have a great future beyond today.”
The program’s volunteer director, Wendy Sledd, approached the microphone and shared her thoughts on the discussion, specifically touching on the point brought up at the last meeting and whether the program serves a public purpose.
Sledd said that in her research of trying to find a definition for “public purpose”, she came across a definition that mentioned eight program areas that when served meet the definition of public purpose. After sharing her findings with the city manager and detailing how the program “overwhelmingly met not only one of the areas required for public purpose but met all eight,” Sledd said that she was told that the city does not have a written definition for public purpose on record and that each councilmember, with advice from the city attorney, decides on a case by case basis of an activity, organization or program meets what it defines as public purpose.
“Given this information, I still attest that the activities of the Miss Five Hills Scholarship Program and the volunteer hours that we have contributed to the community as well as the goods, services and financial donations so program is provided specifically to our city department and programs do make public purpose,” Sledd said.
Sledd pointed out again that the program raises its own funds through the pageant and does not require any budget allocation from the city.
“It is important to note that the Miss Five Hills Scholarship Program is the only city activity I know of that is run by a volunteer and not a paid staff member, avoiding salary costs to the city for this position,” Sledd said. “It is cited in the agenda packet that the Miss Five Hill Scholarship Program has approximately $58,000 in this account, with $10,500 submitted to scholarships and approximately $3,000 for the Alzheimer's Association raised by the program. This is money that we raised, not received from the city.”
Sledd also pointed out that the parade float that the titleholders ride on is the property of the city, not the program. The Five Hills Scholarship Pageant Program provides a vehicle to pull the float and a volunteer to drive the vehicle, as well as covers the cost of the decorations on the float, but the float itself belongs to the city.
“Again, volunteers make this happen,” Sledd said. “Our titleholders have consistently won multiple awards with the city float, spending dollars raised by the program to adhere to every parade theme and project the city of Copperas Cove in the most positive light possible.”
In response to a concern over liability issues related to the pageant contestants/titleholders, Sledd shared that all pageant contestants are required to sign a liability waiver, just like sports program participants do, and titleholders are required to sign additional contracts that release the city of liability.
“I would argue that every city activity has a level of risk whether swimming in a city swimming pool, playing on one of the ball fields, running in city park or even a person tripping when entering City Hall,” Sledd said. “The decision for council tonight is if the reward of the Miss Five Hills Scholarship Pageant outweighs the risk.”
Sledd also again addressed the remarks of whether the Five Hills Scholarship Pageant Program could become its own entity if it is removed from the city as an activity.
“This program is bigger than just one person. It belongs to the community,” Sledd said. “I work a full-time job in addition to running this program for the city as a volunteer. With all that this program accomplishes each year, it requires my attention every night of the week and both weekend days. I have shared with city administration and this council and mayor that I cannot handle the additional workload of starting my own business to run the Miss Five Hills Scholarship Program. There are only 24 hours in each day, and I make every one of them count.”
Sledd added that if the program were to become it’s own separate entity, the city council will no longer able to make decisions.
“In that same vein, it cannot expect the same return on investment when no investment by the city in the program is being made,” Sledd said. “The council does have to take responsibility for the dissolution of the Miss Five Hills Scholarship Program and all it brings to our citizens if it is eliminated as a city activity.”
Ashley Coombs, Director of Operations for GymKix, spoke during the citizens forum portion of the regular meeting and asked a series of questions for the council members to consider.
“My first one is I'm curious why the council feels that the program may not be supported by or why it should not be supported by the city of Copperas Cove, and can you guys, as council members, quantify why this program should not be in the business of what Copperas Cove supports?” Coombs asked. “I know that we do have your support in this program. However, I'm curious as to why you'd feel that it may not be something that you voted into. My next question is why the council feels that becoming its own entity would be beneficial to the city of Copperas Cove. As our city's council, I'd like to know why you would not want to have a hand in what a program is representing the city is doing as them becoming their own entity that is kind of relinquishing you all from responsibility, and I feel like as city council and as a program that is representing the city, that is kind of something that you might want to have a little bit of jurisdiction over.”
Coombs added that she understood the issue of liability and risk and said she felt that would be the most important part of the discussion, but that it seems the program is already abiding by what is required by the city at this point.
“I feel that they need your guidance in order to accommodate all those measures, but I think that given what they have and what they've done, they have done everything that has been asked of them, and I know that they're willing to do more to become an ordinance supported by the council,” Coombs said.
Elizabeth Chase, mother to Emily Kimball, the 2021 Young Miss Five Hills, spoke about the point made of changing the platforms of services.
Her daughter’s current platform of service is the Alzheimer’s Association, but when her daughter was Pre-Teen Miss Five Hills and Five Hills Ambassador in 2017 and 2018, her platform was the Copperas Cove Animal Shelter. Chase said that Kimball chose Alzheimer’s Association for personal reasons, but she could switch her platform to something else if that was a requirement, such as the Senior Center. Chase also touched on the resistance some council members have expressed over the pageant itself.
“The program is so much more than that pageant,” Chase said. “It is a selection process, almost like an interview process that you all would do, and the title holder must be able to walk eloquently and carry themselves on stage. They have to speak in front of others, and they have to speak on why they want to be a titleholder and what they're going to do during this year of volunteer service to their community. So, it's so much more than that pageant.”
Chase also mentioned Yancey’s earlier statements of how the city does not want to dissolve the program or see it go away. Yancey had mentioned earlier that the program’s board could see that the responsibility does not fall solely on Sledd’s shoulders.
“I have been told that the city doesn't want the program to end, which has been stated again tonight,” Chase said. “What you all have been told and it has been stated that if the program does not continue under a city entity that it will not continue and that a 501c3 will not be happening under the current director, so I'm just saying that a ‘No’ vote from you all is a vote for dissolving the pageant.”
Other speakers of the night were Hayley Sawyer and her mother, Amanda. Hayley served as the 2019 Junior Miss Five Hills and 2020 Five Hills Junior Ambassador. Her platform of service was Helping the Homeless, where she raised funds specifically for Operation Stand Down Central Texas.
“It's more than just a pageant, and we do things for this community that we love to do,” Hayley said. “We love working to make our city a beautiful place, and the pageant is one day- one day to get everybody together, to get people who love this community, who love it so much that they're willing to, throughout the year, help this community, to just overall just make it a better place. We get them together, and we all try our absolute best to make it a great place, and we turn into a family, and we get really attach to each other.”
Hayley was overcome with emotion, and her mother took over. Amanda said that she had been with the program in some capacity since her eldest daughter, Carly, had served as a titleholder in 2015. Since then, she has watched the program grow over the years under the direction of Sledd, at no cost to the city.
She predicted that it could continue to grow and still be under Sledd’s direction with just a few changes to make it work under the city.
“Why is it so important that this program is officially under the city? I think that's the question, right?” Amanda asked. “I think beyond the fact that it's too large for only one person to handle, simply it’s purpose because wearing this banner and walking into a room gives them that purpose that they are more than just Hayley from down the street. They are Copperas Cove. They are more than just the Five Hills Program. They are this city. They are the ambassadors of the spirit within the city, the heart of volunteerism that's in all of us, in all of us here. So, for some children it's finding this purpose within the program that helps them grow as individuals, that helps our families grow with them and encourage them to work alongside them for things like Operation Stand Down or Cove House and better our city altogether.”
Amanda added that the program has also helped her daughter grow to be a more confident person
“When Haley started she was she was very quiet, very timid, and she just got in front of you today, and she spoke from her heart, so I am very proud of her right now,” Amanda said. “I think we're all very proud of all the kids here and all the adults who've done so much. I think the future is brighter when we're all together, city, community together and if some aspects of this program are lacking, we can fix that, as highlighted there- that's how. We’ve got our roadmap. We just have to say yes. The future belongs to all of us, and it starts right here, with this choice. Please vote, make this choice to make this program official.”
The final speaker of the night for the Five Hills Scholarship Pageant Program was Dawn Hale, who served as the 2020 Senior Ms. Five Hills and as the 2021 Five Hills Ambassador. Earlier during the workshop meeting, Hale, like the other current titleholders, was recognized for receiving her Presidential Volunteer Service Award.
“I have gotten a few medals in my life,” Hale said. “Some were at participating in school events and a few were in the military. This is just as important to me as those are. They make me and they mean a lot and it shows what we do for our community. So, I just want to say that it's not that we don't want you to do away with this program, as you say you're not going to. How could you not want to be a part of such a wonderful thing that brings so much to the community?”
The city council will meet again on Tuesday, Feb. 1 to continue discussion and make a decision on the status of the program.