Monday’s meeting of the Pine Bluff City Council was marked again by division with a 4-4 split vote on a parking ordinance defeated by a tie-breaking vote of no from Mayor Debe Hollingsworth.
Sponsored by Ward 3 Alderman Glen Brown the ordinance would have removed the 30 minute time limit on several parking spaces on both sides of Barraque Street adjacent to the Jefferson County Courthouse between Main Street and Pine Street.
The measure was a continuation of a long-standing disagreement between several members of the city council and Hollingsworth over the use of these spaces during campaign season for candidates and their supporters.
“You should be able to campaign where you want to campaign within the bounds of law and order,” Brown said. “Up until this year nobody ever enforced that 30 minute time limit during election season. This is really a right to assemble issue.”
Ward 4 Alderman George Stepps voiced his support for the measure.
“Why are people making such a big issue out of this?” Stepps asked. “We’re only talking about four or five spaces. These tickets that were written during the campaign are the only such citations that seem to have been issued recently.”
Ward 2 Alderman Wayne Easterly opposed the measure.
“Why change the law to let people park a car by the courthouse for three weeks?” Easterly asked. “It sounds like a law of privilege for candidates.”
Ward 1 Alderman Thelma Walker pledged her support for the measure.
“I believe only the mayor and Ms. [ Lakishia ] Hill [ city zoning administrator ] cared about this law,” Walker said.
Ward 4 Alderman Steven Mays expressed his opposition to the measure.
“I studied this carefully,” Mays said. “I can’t support this. You’re going to have boats down there. You’re going to have yachts down there. Candidates are going to bring buses. They’ll be bringing yachts.”
Brown took issue with the comments made by Mays.
“You have such a bizarre mind,” Brown said.
Ward 1 Alderman Lloyd Holcomb Jr. earned a round of applause from the audience with his comments on the issue.
“This last election there were confrontations among candidates,” Holcomb said. “Every council meeting is a confrontation. We have been fussing over nothing. Your work as an alderman should speak for itself. You shouldn’t need to worry about having room for 15 people to hold your signs or for cars that have your signs on them.”
In other business the council approved a resolution overriding a Hollingsworth veto that the mayor said was necessary to remain in compliance with the Non-Uniformed Employee Handbook adopted by the council in October 2011.
Human Resources Director Vickie Conaway provided a summary of the situation at the mayor’s request.
“Prior to the adoption of the handbook we had situations where people who served as interim directors after the retirement of a department head were being paid the same amount as the person who was retiring,” Conaway said. “It was deemed not fair to pay an interim with five or six years experience the same pay as someone who retired with 20 years of experience. The new rules are that an interim supervisor be paid a ten percent increase in their salary or the minimum of the pay grade; whichever is more.”
Despite this explanation the measure passed overwhelmingly with Easterly and Ward 3 Alderman Bill Brumett casting the only no votes on the measure.
The council approved a Stepps-sponsored ordinance that amends the job description for the position of assistant chief of police so that nobody may be promoted to that rank unless they are at least a captain or equivalent; and that nobody may be promoted to assistant chief who is not already a deputy chief or equivalent.
“I was told that we have situations where police lieutenants did not want to take the test that would promote them,” Stepps said. “By not taking the test they have taken themselves out of the running for a promotion and shouldn’t be considered for a promotion. We can’t continue to have situations where people refuse to take the test but are then promoted anyway.”
Easterly said that such a move shrinks the talent pool too much.
“This is just way too narrow a job description,” Easterly said.
The measure passed with no votes from Easterly and Brumett.
The council passed a budget adjustment of $16,383 requested by the Pine Bluff Police Department with Stepps, Walker and Brown opposing the measure.
The adjustment will fund a portion of the salary for a bailiff for Pine Bluff District Judge John L. Kearney who will also serve as a prisoner transport officer.
“I just don’t see why we need to spend money for a new position when the police department has been getting by without that position for a year,” Walker said.