Image campaign gains a 5-3 nod

A resolution calling for a $175,000 appropriation for a campaign to enhance Pine Bluff’s image and help in attracting new, better-paying jobs drew the city council’s narrow approval Monday night.

Aldermen Charles Boyd, Bill Brumett, Wayne Easterly, Lloyd Holcomb Jr. and Steven Mays supported the measure, which was opposed by Aldermen Glen Brown and George Stepps and Alderwoman Thelma Walker. Stepps had been among the legislation’s co-sponsors.

The money for the campaign will come from the “Penny for Progress” five-eighths-cent sales tax approved in voters in 2011.

Stepps said he changed his mind on the issue when he realized that The Alliance is already engaged in fulfilling the resolution’s purpose of educating the public on “the positive attributes of and opportunities” in the city “for cultural, educational and business involvement.”

Mayor Debe Hollingsworth, who championed the notion of the campaign, disagreed and said The Alliance aims its efforts at attracting industries to Jefferson County.

Stepps suggested that the city’s economic and community development department could perhaps be given less funding to perform an image enhancement effort. He likened the independent campaign to “putting a bandage on a cancer.”

Instead of funding a study with the tax revenue, Stepps believes construction of a multipurpose center would generate an improved image. He said voters don’t want city leaders to “pinch off” any tax money earmarked for such a facility.

“We need to market the strengths of our community,” Hollingsworth countered. “We’ve allowed some incidents to define our city and we should disallow that.”

Brown began addressing economic development and said the city’s hamburger and hotel taxes should fund any drive for image enhancement.

“Are we kidding ourselves?” Brown asked. “This is totally unreal. I would vote eight times against it.”

Walker supported Stepps’ contention, saying, “Construction energizes a city and gets people excited.”

Walker also questioned the effectiveness of the city’s advertising and promotion commission, of which she is a member. She said the commission isn’t “doing what we’re supposed to be doing.” She believes the city should hire an economic development administrator instead of funding a public affairs campaign.

Brown accused the mayor of not being accountable.

“What are you thinking,” he asked her.

Brown left the council chambers immediately after a vote on the resolution. Five additional items remained on the agenda.