Copperas Cove City Council discusses status of Five Hills Scholarship Pageant

Program's future now uncertain: Will the city council accept it as an official city program, or cut ties with the all-volunteer program?

Cove Leader-Press

The fate of the Copperas Cove Five Hills Scholarship program, which volunteers in the community for thousands of hours each year and raises funds for the animal shelter and other local causes, is now up in the air after the Copperas Cove city council was presented with a discussion of keeping it as a city activity.
The city council discussed the status of the Five Hills Scholarship Program and whether it should remain an activity under the city during their regular meeting Tuesday evening.
The discussion point came about after discussions began several months ago between the city council and City Manager Ryan Haverlah about storing the program’s float, purchased in 2017 using $20,000 of city funds. The pageant program has maintained, changed, updated, and used the float since 2017. The float had been stored at the former Fire Station #2 prior to that structure being demolished in 2021. 
City Manager Ryan Haverlah touched on past discussions regarding the Five Hills Scholarship Program and its relation to the city, being part of the city as an activity of the city versus its own separate organization/entity. 
The Five Hills Scholarship Program was previously known as the Rabbit Fest Pageant and was connected to the Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the annual Rabbit Fest. Although the Chamber of Commerce had previously assisted the Rabbit Fest Pageant by being the fiscal agent for the event – helping handle the pageant’s registrations and books - the chamber broke ties with the pageant as of October 1, 2016. Then, pageant program became the Five Hills Scholarship Program and a program/activity under the City’s Parks and Recreation Department, and the city became the fiduciary agent of the Pageant.
Because of the way that the Five Hills Scholarship Pageant was brought under the Parks and Recreation Department as a city activity, Haverlah said he wanted to get the council members' direction on the status of the program/pageant since the city council did not have a say back in 2016. 
Councilmember Joann Courtland was one of the first to address the relationship between the city and the pageant. 
“I know we have talked a lot about this particular issue, and as I see the scholarship pageant and the pageant participants are doing so much to bring highlight on our city and doing things for our citizens and our city, I would like to see the pageant set up in a way just as KCCB (Keep Copperas Cove Beautiful) is set up, as part of our city, but the same rules and regulations would apply as far as how they conduct their business.” 
Councilmember Jay Manning said that he could not support that because he did not see the public use or benefit of the city running a pageant, apart from supporting it. 
Councilmember Fred Chavez asked about what KCCB’s status is, in reference to Courtland’s suggestion. Haverlah explained that KCCB is an organization established by ordinance and is also an affiliate of Keep Texas Beautiful. The ordinance delineates how the organization operates, who can be appointed to the board of directors, etc. 
Currently, the Five Hills Scholarship Pageant Program exists as an activity of the city with no city council authorized organization, Haverlah said. At the time the pageant board was formed, however, then city councilmember David Morris was placed on the board as the council liaison, and he still serves on the board of directors, Sledd said. In addition to establishing a Board of Directors, Sledd also created bylaws for the program. 
Haverlah said that based on none of these actions being directly authorized by city council and based on the city’s charter, this means the program directly falls under his responsibility, authority and control as City Manager. 
“Since the program has been with the city, I have provided little authority or control over the organization,” Haverlah said. “Mrs. Sledd does an excellent job at running the program, at organizing the events, encouraging the participants to do great things, but one of the concerns I do have is that if council expects me to lead this organization in all the aspects that I’m supposed to lead, that means there needs to be some additional oversight of this program. 
“I’m not saying that there’s anything dubious or inappropriate occurring with the pageant. We have worked with Mrs. Sledd on a number of things, and she has helped us, and she has been willing to go through a number of additional procedures, but I do think it needs to be a policy decision by the council, and not an administrative decision by the administration.”
Manning clarified his earlier statement, saying that he is in awe of the work that Sledd does for the city. However, he questioned its “public purpose.”
“My problem comes with public purpose,” Manning explained. “Where we can do some of these other things with the public purpose, running a pageant is not something that the council- I don’t see how I could see public purpose in that, but the benefit to the city in what you do, I’m very grateful, and like I said, I’m in awe that it can be done the way it is, and so much has been done. It’s just the problem that I have with what city government responsibility is.”
He added that it is the pageant itself that he finds issue with, not participating in parades and representing the city that way. 
Sledd had the opportunity to address the council and stated that the Five Hills Scholarship Pageant Program calls itself a program, because “we are more than a beauty pageant,” because the individuals in the program perform service all year long, from the moment they are crowned to when they crown their successor. 
“We use that pageant to select the representatives that will do the work on behalf of this city,” Sledd said. 
Sledd also mentioned that the Five Hills program has been beneficial in raising thousands upon thousands of dollars for the Copperas Cove Animal Shelter, with its annual Howl-O-Ween Puppy Pawlooza that was started seven years ago. The program has also been instrumental in connecting the city with a corporate sponsor who is willing to provide $50,000 to fund the city’s proposed dog park.
Not counting the 2021 event’s funds, the Five Hills Scholarship Pageant Program has raised more than $50,000 for the animal shelter alone through this event. 
The Five Hills program has also purchased sensory playground equipment that is at South Park, Sledd added. 
“We have done almost $500,000 worth of good in this city,” Sledd said. 
Councilmember Vonya Hart praised the work that the program and its titleholders have done for the city but said that she agreed with Manning’s feelings on the public purpose aspect. 
“You’ve actually created such a wonderful pageant that is something different than any other pageant I’ve ever seen, and I think that is wonderful,” Hart said. “At the same time though, pageants do not fall underneath the cities. They’re separate, but what cities can do is sponsor.”
The discussion later shifted to whether the Five Hills Scholarship Pageant Program would be able to operate on its own, as its own entity with a 501c3 designation. 
For Sledd, however, the idea of her forming a 501c3 for the pageant program is out of the question.
Sledd said that she had a “more than full-time job” with Copperas Cove Independent School District and her work with the pageant is also probably full-time as well. 
She added that she did not feel she had the ability to continue on her own, without the city. From the audits to forming a 501c3, Sledd said she could not see that as an option for her as the volunteer director. 
Sledd added that she has been willing to follow any guidance from the city in bringing the Five Hills Scholarship Pageant Program into compliance, including relating to the board of directors. 
“I think the bottom line is if you want the program and the benefits it brings to the city, which to me are numerous, then you will keep it, and if you don’t, then that’s okay,” Sledd said. “Life goes on, and I will do other great things somewhere else. You know, there’s lots of need always around us where we can pitch in and make a difference.”
The council went into executive session to discuss the definition of public purpose with the City Attorney. After reconvening, the council continued their discussions of the Five Hills Scholarship Pageant Program and whether to establish the program as an activity of the city through ordinance, or to no longer have it be an activity of the city. 
Councilmember Jack Smith made a motion to table any further discussion and action on the item until the city council’s second meeting this month so that the council members may get more information and look at the bylaws.

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