The Pine Bluff City Council passed an ordinance Monday that allows vehicles or trailers to be parked for the main purpose of displaying campaign sings.
A proposed emergency clause that would have made the law go into effect immediately failed by one vote. Instead, the law will go into effect in 30 days.
The practice will be allowed for 60 days prior to the start of early voting and up to 10 days after the election or referendum. The item was sponsored by Ward 1 Alderwoman Thelma Walker.
Ward 4 Alderman Steven Mays voted against the measure and the emergency clause. Ward 2 Alderman Wayne Easterly and Ward 3 Alderman Bill Brumett were absent from the special called meeting. The emergency clause needed at least six of the council’s eight votes to pass.
Ward 4 Alderman George Stepps said the current ordinance had been in effect since 1994 and until recently, people had been able to park on the street with campaign signs.
“Why are tickets being issued now?” Stepps said. “We want to amend the ordinance so people can park with their signs during the election period.”
Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth said that city ordinances would have no effect on activities conducted on courthouse property and spoke against the proposed ordinance.
“Right now we have people who are parking in the 30 minute parking spaces across from the Jefferson County Courthouse who are leaving vehicles with campaign signs on them for up to two weeks,” Hollingsworth said. “Those spaces are for the use of the public to be able to conduct their courthouse business in an expeditious manner. Just because a law hasn’t been enforced in the past doesn’t mean that it should be broken.
“I think it’s disrespectful to the citizens to park in spaces reserved for them and it is the elderly who are suffering,” Hollingsworth said. “These spaces are not reserved for political candidates.”
Ward 3 Alderman Glenn Brown disagreed.
“It’s not about the parking but about a violation of the right to assemble,” Brown said. “It is you Constitutional right to assemble. Parking has never been a problem at the courthouse. The people enforcing this law now did not enforce it in the past.”
Mays was visibly upset by what he characterized as legislation meant to benefit politicians and not the public.
“I’m running for re-election and I’m not parking any car in front of the courthouse for three, four or five days,” Mays said. “I’m going to do what’s right and I don’t think what you all are doing here is right. I don’t think it’s fair to the citizens.”
Hollingsworth called City Zoning Administrator Lakishia Hill to the speaker’s podium to explain why she issued a citation to someone near the courthouse for refusing to remove a sign from his vehicle.
“I warned him about it and when I came back later he had not removed it,” Hills said. “Because the sign he had was there for the primary purpose of being displayed, he was in violation of the city ordinance and I cited him for the violation.”
Stepps asked who sent Hill to confront the man.
“I sent her,” Hollingsworth said.
Walker said the point of the proposed legislation was being missed.
“Right now we have people supporting their candidates by telling people to vote for their candidate when people get out of their cars,” Walker said. “Elderly people are not trying to park across the street and then going to the courthouse. They are parking in the courthouse lot.”
Brown said that the idea that senior citizens are being inconvenienced by the presence of campaign vehicles across from the courthouse is not true.
“I am a person who looks out for senior citizens because that is how I was raised,” Brown said. “Right now any senior citizen that needs it can pull up to the courthouse door and they will be taken in a wheelchair to vote. So that is not an issue.”
Ward 2 Alderman Charles Boyd also expressed frustration with the direction of debate.
“I think that what we are dealing with is putting signs on cars,” Boyd said. “The new law doesn’t allow people to park for a week in a 30 minute space. It doesn’t deal with that.”