Quick gavel is not a quick fix

All involved would likely agree that the most recent meeting of the Pine Bluff City Council was less than ideal. In particular, Mayor Debe Hollingsworth’s abrupt adjournment in response to questions from Alderman Glen Brown was not the best way to handle the situation.

Brown has been known to get under the mayor’s skin with his persistent and, from her perspective, disrespectful tone. But he and others were asking questions relating to a matter that was up for a vote, and the questions seemed pertinent and relevant to the subject at hand even if they were a bit peripheral to the subject.

“The discussion was going on and then I ended the discussion because we were getting into procedural matters that had nothing to do with the ordinance being considered,” Hollingsworth told our reporter after the meeting. “Alderman Brown was wanting to clarify the procedure, but that is something that can be discussed after the ordinance is passed.”

While order should always be the maintained, we’re dismayed that matters had to take such a turn.

The subject before the council was a proposed ordinance from Alderman Steven Mays to curtail dumping in one of the areas he represents through the use of security cameras. The questions being asked were less about Mays’ proposal and more about how the police had handled previous complaints from residents in this part of town when they would alert the police department about dumping activity that had gone on.

In one sense, such questions are far afield from the matter on the table, but in reality, the answers to such questions would inform council members and help them determine how they might vote.

If the police are going to be tasked with monitoring security cameras and going after the people they see breaking the law, it would be of interest to know how actively police have pursued recent complaints with the tools they already have. If police can show they have aggressively followed up the leads they’ve been given by neighbors and yet the dumpers are still dumping, that creates a better argument for looking at additional measures such as security cameras or other methods to stop the activity. Obviously, the reverse finding would suggest that before we bought security cameras, a better option would be to direct police to monitor the problem with more old-fashioned methods and see what positive results could be realized — in which case, Mays’ proposal might be unnecessary.

Hollingsworth said later that she gaveled the meeting closed because she felt as if order had been lost. But if this matter comes up again, and it likely will, these same questions will be asked again — and probably more vociferously than before. If the measure isn’t ready for prime time, perhaps the best move would be to send it back to committee where there is more time to devote to answering the myriad questions surrounding it. At most, a short recess might have been in order. But shutting down the meeting did little in terms of either moving the discussion along or stopping it.

In response to the action, Brown and fellow council member Thelma Walker immediately accused Hollingsworth of having broken state law with the unilateral adjournment. Based on a story in Wednesday’s Commercial, we now know that to be wrong.

We also now know that had the council members wanted to continue meeting, they could have, with enough votes, reconvened without the mayor. In those terms, gaveling a meeting closed is now an invitation to go on without the chief executive officer, a situation that would be invited by more than one on the council.

In short, the mayor should learn the fine art of hunkering down when there is turbulence and letting the winds blow over, reaching for the gavel only when Dorothy, Toto and the house go flying by.