Existing city ordinance addresses Hollingsworth meeting adjournment issue

The question of whether it was legal for Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth to abruptly adjourn the Monday meeting of the Pine Bluff City Council before the agenda had been completed appears to have an answer in existing municipal law.

According to the City of Pine Bluff Code of Ordinances, Section 2-51, Appeal from Decision of Chair, any member may appeal to the council from the decision of the chair [mayor], but no decision of the mayor shall be reversed unless by a majority of two-thirds of all the members present.

The Procedural Rules for Municipal Officers published by the Arkansas Municipal League, as amended from time to time, are the official rules of procedure for the Pine Bluff City Council, according to the City Code of Ordinances.

Hollingsworth cited her responsibility as the chair of city council meetings to preserve order as the reason for her dismissal of the body.

“I have the authority to adjourn when I deem it necessary,” Hollingsworth said Monday. “If you allowed chaos to escalate, you can’t get any business done and you can’t allow that.”

Arkansas Municipal League Executive Director Don Zimmerman said that it would have been possible for the meeting to be reconvened after Hollingsworth’s adjournment if members of the city council had acted to do so.

“If the city council acted immediately to my way of thinking the meeting is not over as long as a quorum is present,” Zimmerman said. “If the mayor has not already designated someone to act in her absence, then the default presiding officer is the city clerk. If enough city council members want to keep meeting, I would say they could continue to do so.”

Arkansas Municipal League legal counsel David Schoen said Tuesday that there is no overarching state law that speaks to the matter.

“There really is no state law on the issue,” Schoen said. “Any laws that might exist would be those created by the city council itself.”

Business conducted

Despite the premature end to the meeting, some official business was conducted.

The council approved an ordinance on third and final reading submitted by Ward 3 Alderman Bill Brumett that will allow the city to increase the compensation it receives from cable television providers operating within the city limits.

The ordinance — which goes into effect 60 days after passage — will allow the city to collect franchise fee payments on advertising and home shopping commissions revenue.

Chris Stuhlinger with the Arkansas Urban Forestry Council spoke to the council in support of an ordinance that was to have been introduced by Alderman Steven Mays to adopt a community forestry plan for Pine Bluff.

“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 that 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.

Stuhlinger asked that the city council pass the ordinance Monday in order to meet an application deadline, but the early adjournment of the meeting prevented such action.