Pine Bluff City Council Administration Committee Chairman George Stepps agreed to withdraw a proposed ordinance Thursday after deeming the impetus behind it a misunderstanding.
Stepps said that he originally decided on the need for the proposed ordinance — which would require the attendance of all aldermen at every city staff meeting related to the expenditure of city funds for construction projects — after reading about a meeting of the city bond project task force in which the future of the new animal control facility was discussed.
Ward 2 Alderman and committee member Wayne Easterly asked Stepps to pull the measure and all agreed that greater efforts to notify council members of upcoming meetings must be implemented.
“I will notify my co-sponsors that I am pulling it,” Stepps said of Ward 1 Alderwoman Thelma Walker and Ward 3 Alderman Glen Brown.
Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth said that better communication between her administration and city council members is imperative. Hollingsworth said that the task force cannot make decisions on funding without first taking the issue to the city council.
“We can’t make decisions for the council,” Hollingsworth said. “We present what was discussed in these meetings to you in city council meetings.”
Stepps said that he acted after reading about the July 1 task force meeting.
“All I had to go by was what I read in the newspaper,” Stepps said. “It was talking about a $1.8 million project for the new animal shelter but the city voted to approve $1.1 million for that project. I became worried that decisions about funding were being made without input from the council.”
Easterly faulted the Pine Bluff Commercial for causing confusion by providing inaccurate information.
“I’m sorry but you can’t read the Pine Bluff Commercial and think that what they say is right,” Easterly said. “They get it wrong too many times.”
An article that appeared in the July 2 edition of the Commercial said that plans for a new animal shelter — as authorized by Pine Bluff voters in a February 2011 bond measure — were being significantly downsized because of a funding shortfall of $770,000.
The bond project task force met July 1 to discuss the need to scale back plans for a new animal shelter from a $1.6 million to $1.8 million budget that project architect Fred Reed of Reed Architectural Firm was originally given to work with, down to the $1.1 million that was authorized in the 2011 bond measure.
Reed confirmed in a conversation Thursday what The Commercial reported in the July 2 article. Repeating and adding to the information Thursday, Reed said that the city had originally hoped to receive between $200,000 and $300,000 in funds from the Jefferson County government. At the time the bond measure was passed, the idea of securing additional grant funding from other sources for the project was discussed.
The larger figure that included the fundraising goal is what Reed based his plans on, but after the July 1 meeting, he will be downsizing the drawings to just the amount of money provided by the bond issue.
“People were just hoping that more funding could be found,” Reed said Thursday. “But because that extra funding did not come to pass, I am in the process of significantly revising the architectural plans for the animal shelter.”
Ward 1 Alderman and committee member Lloyd Holcomb Jr. also attended the meeting.
In other business, the committee recommended sending a proposed resolution that would revise the job description for Assistant to the Mayor Evelyn Horton to the full city council for a vote.
Stepps said that he was concerned with some aspects of the plan.
“When we look at this change, what revenues will be tied to it?” Stepps said. “That will be the reaction. We will start getting calls from other city employees about changing job titles and adding duties to job descriptions.”
Easterly said that the job description had no funds attached to it and that it was just a more accurate reflection of Horton’s job duties.
Human Resources Department Director Vickie Conaway said that all changes in city employee job descriptions will be sent through the administration committee.