Hollingsworth to announce challenge to election commission plans

Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth is filing a challenge against the Jefferson County Election Commission in an effort to prevent the panel’s approved 2014 mayoral election.

Hollingsworth, elected to a four-year term without a runoff in a nine-candidate race in 2012, will announce details of her challenge in an 11 a.m. news conference Tuesday on the steps of the Jefferson County Courthouse. The mayor said in a Monday night telephone interview that she will be represented by out-of-town attorneys recommended to her by a number of local lawyers who have been advising her since former mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. was allowed by county Clerk Patricia Royal Johnson to file as a mayoral candidate earlier this month.

Election commission Chairman Ted Davis was Redus’ chief of staff. Davis and the other Democratic Party member of the commission — Cynthia Sims — voted to authorize the election. Republican Commissioner Stu Soffer opposed the action.

“We’ve done what we thought was legal and by the Constitution,” Davis said late Monday. Adding that he “hadn’t necessarily expected” Hollingsworth’s court challenge, he declined further comment.

Redus declined to comment.

“I will reserve comment until I’ve had the opportunity to evaluate her action,” Redus said.

Hollingsworth said: “I am disappointed that the collective voice of our citizens who voted in the 2012 election on certain four-year positions is being totally disrespected and ignored. I intend to speak for the voters against an effort by a self-serving few who would seek to deny the public its right to determine our future through the integrity of a lawful election. Those few who are taking this course of disruption seem to think that law doesn’t apply to them if it’s contrary to their desires at a given moment.

“I’m sure citizens are uncertain what to anticipate because of these actions,” the mayor said. “People are wondering what’s happening and what might happen.”

Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter had advised the commission, to which he provides legal counsel, that there should be no elections for mayor, city clerk and city treasurer offices until 2016. Current City Clerk Loretta Whitfield, elected to a four-year term in 2012, has filed for re-election this year. Lloyd Franklin Sr., defeated by Greg Gustek in 2012 for the city treasurer’s post, has filed for the job again.

No one has filed against Whitfield or Franklin. Gustek is also in the midst of a four-year term.

Redus says that state law dictates a change in the election cycle because the city’s population dropped below 50,000 in the 2010 federal census. Redus employed the same argument in an unsuccessful 2012 lawsuit in which he sought to add an extra two years to the four-year term to which he was elected in 2008.

The city’s population should have no bearing on the timing of mayoral elections, Circuit Judge Jay Moody of Little Rock ruled at the time.

“I consider it to be a waste of good, valuable time for our city to have to be going through this nonsense,” Hollingsworth said. “Judge Moody in 2012 gave a final order that was not challenged and now the election commission’s own counsel and the secretary of state have stated that there should be no election in 2014. Now we’re going for another decision.”