No. 7 - Mayor, council often at odds

The ongoing friction between Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth and some members of the Pine Bluff City Council has been voted the No. 7 local news story of 2013 by The Commercial’s newsroom staff.

In August, Hollingsworth and city council members met at the historic DuBocage House here for a day-long seminar titled, “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High.”

Afterward, the participants gave the closed conference — underwritten by Simmons First National Bank — high marks toward satisfying senior Alderman Bill Brumett’s desire for enhanced dialogue.

For much of the rest of the year, however, the city officials often clashed. The discord reached a crescendo that was temporarily silenced when Hollingsworth dramatically adjourned the Dec. 2 council meeting when the mayor decided that the combination of a line of questioning from several aldermen that she deemed off topic and an increasingly restless audience merited such action.

Brown and Alderwoman Thelma Walker were immediately critical of Hollingsworth’s action at the recent council session. Brown said Hollingsworth violated the Arkansas Municipal Code.

“She broke the law,” Walker said.

The Commercial researched the matter and learned that city code — which follows Arkansas Municipal League guidance — states that any council member can appeal such a decision from the mayor, who chairs council meetings. But the appeal must be given while in the meeting is still active, and a two-thirds majority vote of attending aldermen is required to override the adjournment.

There were plenty of other mayor-council skirmishes of note during the year.

In June, the mayor vetoed an approved ordinance directing a move of the police department’s patrol division from its a Commerce Road warehouse location to the old Army Reserve/National Guard armory at 1000 North Myrtle Street. The mayor favored accepting an offer from The Pines shopping mall for free space to be made available there for police operations.

An attempted July override of the mayor’s veto fell a vote short. Meanwhile, verbal wrangling ensued on the matter. Eventually, other arrangements were made involving the armory and mall.

Topics of other disagreements included proposed improvements to Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Department facilities, residency requirements for city department department heads, and Hollingsworth’s dismissal of City Collector Albert Ridgell.