Walker pulls proposal to repeal image appropriation

Pine Bluff City Council Ward One Alderwoman Thelma Walker, citing a need for further discussion, asked that a resolution that would repeal a measure narrowly passed by the Council at its Jan. 6 meeting, be withdrawn from consideration at Tuesday’s meeting of the council.

The measure, which Walker co-sponsored with Ward Four Alderman George Stepps and Ward Three Alderman Glen Brown, was intended to repeal a resolution that would appropriate $175,000 to fund a public image campaign for Pine Bluff. The money would have come from a five-eighths-cent sales tax approved by voters in February 2011.

“Much of what has been proposed in Resolution No. 3673 is just a duplication of work already done by city officials, business and educational leaders and residents of Pine Bluff through the 20/20 Initiative,” Walker said. “I believe that we should hold a special meeting to discuss this. The idea for the 5/8 cent sales tax came out of the 20/20 Initiative. The work done by this group was never completed. I believe that this is where we need to focus our efforts.”

Stepps added his thoughts.

“A lot of projects we have started were birthed out of the 20/20 Initiative,” Stepps said. “They spent countless hours working on different initiatives, and finishing what we started with the 20/20 Initiative will not cost the city $175,000.”

Walker said that money was spent by the city at the time of the initiative to hire consultants to help improve the city’s image.

“One of the objectives at the time was to hire a planner,” Walker said. “Let’s fine-tune this work that has already been done.”

Walker said that she plans to reintroduce the repeal proposal at a future council meeting.

Underpayment correction

In other business, the council approved a resolution sponsored by Ward Three Alderman Bill Brumett to correct the underpayment of retirement benefits to retired firefighter Tommy Davis, who served with the Pine Bluff Fire Department for 30 years.

“Unbeknownst to Mr. Davis, the City of Pine Bluff inadvertently underpaid retirement payments to him for 107 months in the amount of $25,410.36 plus three percent interest in the amount of $2,956.63 which totals $28,366.99,” the resolution reads in part.

City Finance Director Steve Miller attributed the original mistake to a former city employee in a letter to the City Council dated Jan. 8 and further said that the law as interpreted by City Attorney Althea Hadden only allows for the city to refund any shortfall for five years.

“The short fall in payment was caused by an error made by past City Clerk Katy Hagan,” Miller said in the letter. “The law as interpreted by our city attorney only allows the city to refund the shortfall for five years. As I understand it, no city official has the authority to approve a payment larger than the five-year amount.”

Nevertheless, the resolution highlighted the need to instill confidence in city government by taking corrective action that extends back the full 107 months of underpayment as opposed to the 60-month maximum cited in Miller’s letter.

“It serves a public purpose to preserve the City’s reputation for good faith and fair dealing and morale among firefighters and employees,” the resolution said. “City employees should be able to rely on the retirement calculations received by the City and its agents. Because Mr. Davis detrimentally relied on the City’s calculations, he should be fully reimbursed.”

The desire to avoid lawsuits was another factor in the decision by the City Council to fully reimburse Davis.

“The City will continue to attract qualified employees and avoid the cost of potential litigation that may exceed the amount of the payout,” the resolution said to further explain the full reimbursement to Davis.