Pine Bluff’s ranking aldermen — Bill Brumett and Wayne Easterly — issued support Wednesday for Mayor Debe Hollingsworth in her Tuesday decision to fire City Collector Albert Ridgell a second time in less than three months.
“The mayor is the city’s chief executive and represents the executive branch of our municipal government,” said Brumett, the senior council member. “She has complete authority in hiring and firing department heads, and I would say it actually goes beyond that. She not only has the authority but also the responsibility to the public and the council to place the best people available in such positions. The taxpayers deserve that leadership commitment from her.”
“This is an administrative issue, an executive matter,” Easterly said. “The mayor has to do her job. The way I look at it, the council has its responsibility, but that’s not to be involved in an administrative role. The council is the legislative branch. The mayor should be allowed to do her job, and on matters like this, it’s her call. I’m backing the mayor.”
Brumett said he believes Ridgell should not have been reinstated by the council after his original July 31 dismissal, based on what Hollingsworth deemed “unsatisfactory work performance that has been documented for some time now.”
“I think that was wrong,” Brumett said of the council’s 6-0 override vote on Aug. 23. “We’ve had some issues for an extended time now concerning some tax collections and business licenses, and I believe the mayor had plenty of documentation to support her decision to fire Mr. Ridgell. Personally, I’m tired of hearing excuses from him as to why he’s not getting his job done. I want someone in that post who can take care of his or her duties. We don’t need any more excuses. We need results.”
Brumett is a member of the city’s advertising and promotion commission, which helps in overseeing tourism (hamburger and hotel) tax matters. He and Easterly were unable to attend the Aug. 23 special called council session because they were tending to their seriously ill mothers. Easterly was still recovering from an illness, too.
Alderwoman Thelma Walker, also a member of the A&P panel, said Wednesday that she wasn’t prepared to comment on Ridgell’s latest firing.
“I don’t know anything about it,” she said.
Also on Wednesday, Alderman George Stepps said he plans to “wait to see if there’s more evidence” the mayor might have against Ridgell before he would consider projecting a possible outcome of Ridgell’s appeal, to which the council has 30 days to respond. Stepps did say, however, that if Hollingsworth doesn’t have any more documentation than she did previously, she shouldn’t expect different results from the council.
Stepps, Walker and Alderman Glen Brown are currently under investigation by the Arkansas Ethics Commission on a number of accusations lodged by Stu Soffer of White Hall, a Republican member of the Jefferson County and Arkansas election commissions. Soffer is charging in part that Stepps and Walker compromised themselves as elected officials by allegedly supporting Ridgell’s reinstatement as compensation for Ridgell’s favor in matters related to Ridgell’s professional role.
Stepps and Walker were asked if they would recuse themselves from a vote to possibly overturn Ridgell’s latest termination.
“There’s no reason that I should recuse myself,” Walker said.
“No sir, never, that’s not going to happen,” Stepps said. “I won’t be recusing myself. All of Stu’s stuff deals with my integrity, and I’m not going to do anything to risk my integrity.”
Alderman Steven Mays said Wednesday night that he’s still looking into Ridgell’s second firing and hasn’t made a determination. Alderman Lloyd Holcomb Jr. said he had no comment. Aldermen Charles Boyd and Brown did not immediately return calls requesting comment.