City Council votes down return to nonpartisan elections

The Pine Bluff City Council failed Monday evening to pass a resolution submitted by Fourth Ward Alderman Steven Mays that would have repealed a resolution championed by former Ward One Alderman Irene Holcomb a year ago that set the stage for partisan municipal elections.

“I was against this resolution last year and I am against it now, one year later,” Mays said in the discussion period prior to the council vote. “I believe partisan municipal officials will be focused on their party and not on the people of this city. I am also concerned about the younger candidates having to pay high fees associated with being party affiliated.”

Ward Three Alderman Glen Brown cited historical precedent in his defense of the existing resolution.

“The party system is the American way,” Brown said. “This country was founded on that. It’s an exciting thing to see the Democratic and Republican candidates in presidential elections. We vote for Democratic and Republican candidates in county races as well as state races and national races. I don’t think city elections should be any different.”

In other business the council approved a resolution on third and final reading that was the topic responsible for the abrupt adjournment of the Dec. 2 council meeting. Submitted by Mays, the measure prohibits the unlawful discarding and dumping of solid waste and promotes increased surveillance of known illegal dumping locations.

Mayor Debe Hollingsworth adjourned the Dec. 2 meeting early, citing the inability to maintain order in the Council Chambers after discussion on the anti-dumping measure became heated.

Ward Four Alderman George Stepps asked Hollingsworth on Monday whether a meeting took place between Pine Bluff Police Department Chief Jeff Hubanks and members of the Westside Loop Neighborhood Watch Association.

“Yes, they did meet to discuss whether the current language of the anti-dumping ordinance should stay how it is or should be changed,” Hollingsworth said. “They decided it should stay the way it is.”

Mays spoke in support of his measure.

“This will give us an opportunity for a fresh start on addressing illegal dumping in Pine Bluff,” Mays said.

The council approved an ordinance adopting a community forestry plan for the City of Pine Bluff after suspending the rules to allow it to be moved up to a third and final reading from its original first reading spot on the agenda. Brown and Ward One Alderman Thelma Walker voted against the measure.

“Why are we making this an emergency?” Brown asked in reference to the rules suspension measure. “If there is an end- of-the-year time limit on this then why was it not brought to us before Dec. 2? This is a lengthy ordinance and not all of it has been explained sufficiently.”

The measure is the first step in having Pine Bluff formally recognized as a Tree City USA municipality, as described to the council in the Dec. 2 meeting by Chris Stuhlinger, a System Forest Manager with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service

“This ordinance calls for the creation of a tree board,” Stuhlinger said. “A tree board was actually already formed and has been meeting regularly since mid-summer. The goal is to have Pine Bluff classified as a Tree City U.S.A. There are already 43 Arkansas communities that have been designated this way.”

Stuhlinger said the requirements for Tree City U.S.A. status include having an Arbor Day ceremony and official proclamation every year, a tree board, a tree care ordinance and the spending of at least $2 per city resident on tree-related work including leaf removal and tree pruning.

The council approved an ordinance up for its third and final reading to rezone a piece of property on the east side of the intersection of U. S. Highway 63 and Ridgway Road from residential to commercial.

“The property owner lives in Hot Springs and wants the property to be rezoned so that a small eatery can be built at that location,” said Zoning Department official Lakisha Hill. “This is within the plan of the city, which is to see this area become commercial.”

The council approved a resolution appointing James. A. L. Walker to the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Board of Trustees.

The council approved an ordinance on third and final reading amending Ordinance No. 6463 to clarify the authority of the City Council regarding cost of living increases for the local firefighters’ pension fund.

The council approved a resolution authorizing Hollingsworth to contract with Hydco, Inc. for the construction of the Lake Saracen Splash Park.

The council approved a resolution authorizing Hollingsworth to enter into an agreement to purchase real property at 217 Beech St. which is located to the north of the proposed Splash Park site, after being contacted by the property owner. The mayor is authorized to spend up to $8,700 plus closing costs to purchase the property.