A small group kicked off an effort Tuesday to do what the Pine Bluff City Council voted down: put a referendum on the ballot to allow the public to vote on whether they want to shorten the hours of nightclubs operating in the city limits.
Last month, the council rejected a resolution by Alderman Wayne Easterly that would have placed the item on the May primary election ballot. Now supporters of the idea hope to collect 3,000 signatures, which would place it on the ballot in November.
“The people have the right to decide what is best for the city,” said the Rev. Gary Bell, one of those who gathered Tuesday afternoon on the north steps of the civic complex. “I’ve heard various aldermen say they represent Ward 1 or Ward 4, and my question to them is, did you talk to everyone in your ward or just to the club owners?”
Certain clubs have licenses to serve alcohol longer than others. Current city ordinance allows these clubs to serve alcohol until 5 a.m. and requires that they close at 5:30 a.m. The proposed referendum would ask voters if those hours should be shortened to 3 a.m. and 3:30 a.m., respectively, which is what the hours were until a June 2010 city council vote to lengthen them.
The proposal would leave in place the times for other clubs without the extended license: stop serving at 2 a.m. and close by 2:30 a.m.
At last count in summer 2013, there were 15 establishments with liquor licenses within the city limits. Seven had permits allowing them to remain open until 2:30 a.m. The others were allowed to operate until 5:30 a.m.
The Rev. Kerry Price Sr., who is a former Pine Bluff police officer, said when he was still with the department “every accident I worked at night, there was alcohol involved.”
Price also wanted to know, “Why clubs in a small city like this are allowed to stay open until 5:30 a.m?”
Dr. Joanna Edwards said she was appealing directly to the citizens of Pine Bluff to voice their opinion on “what kind of city they want to live in.
“The citizens voted to upgrade our schools and we are getting very little return for our money,” she said. “We have nice new school buildings but they are producing criminals.”
Edwards also said “people who are holding office for personal gains and not for the citizens of Pine Bluff must go.”
She was also critical of the council decision not to approve the resolution to put the issue of the ballot, as was the Rev. Eddie Harris.
“The citizens vote them into office,” Harris said, “and like Ying and Yang, they can vote them out of office.”
Harris said it is up to the churches in the city to take up the issue, because “if the churches won’t lead, then who will?”
The Rev. Jesse Turner was one of the organizers of the petition drive and said petitions will be sent to local churches and the group will contact various businesses and seek their assistant in placing petitions there.
The petitions must be submitted to the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office 120 days before the November General Election, or roughly by the end of June.