Tenacity can be one of our greatest virtues. Tenacity beyond reason is mere stubbornness. A resolution presented at the most recent meeting of the Pine Bluff city council exemplifies the latter.
As all matters of public policy do, the latest proposed ordinance — governing the residency of municipal employees — has a backstory that needs a bit of elaboration.
As readers recall, Ward 1 Alderwoman Thelma Walker; Ward 3 Alderman Glen Brown; and Ward 4 Alderman George Stepps opposed the appointment of Jeff Hubanks as interim chief of the Pine Bluff Police Department by Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth last January because he lived outside of the Pine Bluff city limits. This is more or less a revisiting of that previous subject.
Their most recent proposal is clad in reason — increased tax base — but the rationale falls apart upon closer scrutiny. To their good, they did make accommodations for persons already employed by the city who live outside of town.
Well-intentioned as those aspects may be, the broader thrust of the resolution would, if enacted, decimate the pool of prospective municipal employees. In short, we don’t have the luxury of placing such narrow strictures on our public servants. With flagging schools, poor housing stock and other communal detritus, we can ill-afford measures that impair our ability to attract high quality candidates. This resolution would do exactly that.
As local resident Mary Jo McCord told the assembled council: “The idea that you have to live here to work here is not going to work. I am currently a resident of the Fourth Ward, but for many years I didn’t live in Pine Bluff but did all of my shopping and banking here. We should focus on the fact that we are all residents of Jefferson County.”
We couldn’t agree more. There are plenty of good people who have chosen to live near Pine Bluff, shop in Pine Bluff, support Pine Bluff with their tax dollars and patronage, but who simply want to live outside of town. One need only drive out Middle Warren Road a way or out past UAPB a short distance to be out of the city limits as some folks just like a little more elbow room that they can find in the middle of town. And we want to bar those residents from working for the city?
Again, the goal that the three are shooting for has merit, but forcing residency does not seem fair, reasonable or doable.
If we want to attract growth and prosperity, we need to tackle genuine issues — issues that have heft and merit. There are ways to woo new people to Pine Bluff, but most of them take more intestinal fortitude than we seem to be able to muster.
This residency issue has been put to bed once; we should leave it be.