Hollingsworth dismisses city collector - again


Pine Bluff City Collector Albert Ridgell was fired by Mayor Debe Hollingsworth on Tuesday morning for the second time in less than three months.

In a two-sentence emailed news release dispatched at 11:39 a.m., Hollingsworth said Ridgell was terminated for insubordination.

Ridgell, who had been city collector since June 2007 and received a $51,818.52 annual salary, was initially dismissed by Hollingsworth on July 31. The mayor cited Ridgell’s “unsatisfactory work performance that has been documented for some time now” as grounds for her action.

Ridgell appealed to the city council, which voted 6-0 to reinstate him in a special called Aug. 23 meeting. The six votes represented a required three-fourths majority of the eight-member panel needed to overturn the mayor’s decision.

The consecutively ranking senior aldermen — Bill Brumett and Wayne Easterly — were not in attendance. The remaining council members — Charles Boyd, Glen Brown, Lloyd Holcomb Jr., Steven Mays, George Stepps and Thelma Walker — provided the tally.

After the meeting, Walker said she believed Ridgell had been “disrespected” by and “taken abuse” from the mayor.

In a telephone interview early Tuesday afternoon, Stepps said the latest firing would likely be addressed at Monday’s regularly scheduled council session.

“I’m going to be speaking straight and say some rough things,” he said. “Things are getting out of hand and we need to look at realities. The fact is that the city has had more potential lawsuits come up in the last nine months than in the last nine years before.”

Hollingsworth has been in office for just over nine months, having assumed her post in January after winning a nine-candidate, November 2012 mayoral race with just under 50 percent of the votes.

Ridgell’s latest firing followed a five-day suspension without pay imposed on him by Hollingsworth on Sept. 27. The mayor didn’t issue an exact cause for the suspension, but said it was related to Ridgell’s work performance.

After his August reinstatement, Ridgell had been meeting with Hollingsworth, Human Resources Director Vickie Conaway and the mayor’s top aide, Evelyn Horton, to track his job performance goals.

Stepps said Tuesday that Ridgell’s recent suspension was lifted because it conflicted with state law. Conaway confirmed that as a department head with two or more employees, Ridgell held exempt status and could be fired but not suspended without pay on a job performance issue.

Stepps said Ridgell’s most recent firing was based on his having arrived for work at 8:30 a.m. instead of the job’s mandated 8 o’clock reporting time. Ridgell commutes from Little Rock.

Ridgell has filed a complaint against Hollingsworth for “harassment and retaliation” with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said Stepps.

Asked for additional comment late Tuesday afternoon, Hollingsworth shook her head and replied, “I’ll have nothing more to say about this subject until I am certain any and all appeal processes are completed.”