Former Pine Bluff City Collector Albert Ridgell’s second firing apparently isn’t a done deal, Pine Bluff City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott said Friday.
Hadden-Scott said state law permits the city council to address and vote on overriding any termination by Mayor Debe Hollingsworth as many times as it desires, and Hollingsworth can in turn dismiss a department chief as often as she pleases. Apparently, there’s no end to the process.
Hadden-Scott related her opinion after being asked about a Tuesday email to council members and the mayor in which Ridgell said he was denied due process when he was not allowed to address the council in an executive session during the panel’s Oct. 21 meeting.
Ridgell, who had served as collector since 2007 and earned nearly $52,000 annually, said in the email that while Hollingsworth met with the council during the closed gathering, he was not afforded an opportunity to contest her reasons for his repeated firing.
Ridgell’s email noted that Hollingsworth was present during the executive session. Hadden-Scott said the mayor is allowed by law to join the council in such sessions.
The due process argument is a moot issue, Hadden-Scott said. However, she added, the fact that there are no established limits on Ridgell’s appeals to the council could lead to the matter re-emerging at Monday’s 5:30 p.m. council meeting.
“I thought this issue had been put to rest,” Hollingsworth said. “I guess it hasn’t. I certainly intend to abide by the law, but I can’t help but believe that there has to be some sort of boundary on such matters.
“This is bordering on becoming ridiculous,” she continued. “I don’t think our law-abiding citizens want to pay their taxes without receiving a functioning city government in return, and I’m talking about city departments as well as elected leaders. Everyone knows we’ve had continuing problems in the collector’s office. Those with the authority and responsibility to address and correct those problems need to do so. They don’t need to make a circus out of our political process. That’s just a waste of time, effort and money.”
Alderman George Stepps, who called for the executive session at the Oct. 21 meeting, said Friday that he didn’t notice that Ridgell was in attendance at the meeting, so he didn’t seek to have Ridgell brought into a conference room to join the discussion. Stepps said he feels that Ridgell should have an opportunity to counter Hollingsworth’s explanation for firing him on grounds of insubordination for failing to follow instructions and being repeatedly late for work.
Stepps said Ridgell, who commuted from Little Rock, disputes his arrival times as cited by the mayor.
“As far as I’m concerned, this situation is history,” said Alderman Wayne Easterly, who joined with Aldermen Bill Brumett and Lloyd Easterly to successfully oppose a second override. Six votes among the eight council members are required to overturn a termination.
“When I received the email, I sent it back,” Easterly said.
Brumett expounded on Easterly’s contention.
“I believe Mr. Ridgell has exhausted his appeal process with the council,” said the senior alderman. “I think his only alternative now is circuit court. At some point, this needs to be put to bed so we can move forward.
“I’m like most citizens, I believe,” he went on. “I want the collector’s office to be operated efficiently and correctly and without actions being taken on the basis of special interests. This ought to be about integrity and proficiency. Isn’t that more important than who’s running the office?”
Holcomb, who supported an Aug. 23 override of Ridgell’s original July 31 firing in a 6-0 council decision with Brumett and Easterly absent, said he’s open to hearing another appeal from Ridgell. When asked if he might again change his vote on a question of reinstatement, Holcomb said, “I vote on the facts, not on a color line.”
Of the remaining council members, Alderwoman Thelma Walker declined comment and Alderman Glen Brown did not respond to a telephone message.
Aldermen Charles Boyd and Steven Mays said they wanted to research the matter before making any statements. Boyd said he was unfamiliar with the email from Ridgell.
In Ridgell’s first firing, he was cited for continuing unsatisfactory work performance that Hollingsworth said had been documented.