So much of Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth’s first 10 months in office has been spent fighting history. Specifically it’s been spent fighting the bad habits and dysfunction ensconced by mayoral regimes past. The recent dust-up over the second termination of former City Collector Albert Ridgell is little more than one more push back from those who would have the city stay mired in the sins of the past.
Even a casual observer would have to concede the deep rift between Hollingsworth and Ridgell. The chasm emanates from multiple sources — not the least of which is the apparent special protection some on the city council have afforded Ridgell. The fact that his name seems to keep popping up as various city council members come under investigation for alleged unethical acts certainly suggests as much.
Then there’s the special consideration Ridgell was afforded by former Mayor Carl Redus, Jr. Unlike all other city department heads, Ridgell was allowed to start work at 8:30 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. Putatively, this arrangement permitted Ridgell to take his child to school before coming to work. This arrangement was also in deference to the fact that Ridgell chooses to live in Little Rock.
Again, this is a matter that set him apart from other department heads — so much so that the people of Pine Bluff had to endure months of city council nonsense regarding residency requirements for the chief of police.
For all his special allowances and protections, Ridgell still managed to be routinely late to work. As recently reported by the Commercial, Ridgell’s termination form, signed by Hollingsworth and Human Resources Director Vickie Conaway, states that Ridgell arrived for work at 8:50 a.m. the day of his dismissal, nearly an hour after his scheduled 8 a.m. start time. According to city records, Ridgell was advised that his agreement with Redus would no longer be recognized. In response, Ridgell was approximately 80 minutes late the next day.
Of course, some city council members could hardly let the ink dry on Ridgell’s termination letter before they interloped upon the situation. After Ridgell’s first termination the council voted 6-2 to reinstate him. Of this turn it is worthy to note that two of the voting members, George Stepps and Thelma Walker refused to recuse themselves — even though their alleged ethics violations involve Ridgell.
Save for the common sense of council members Bill Brumett, Wayne Easterly and Lloyd Holcomb, Jr., this bit of political farce would have replayed itself again. And perhaps again and again. Fortunately, Holcomb’s reevaluation of the facts prompted him to do the right thing.
Predictably, some on the council deride all of this as a symptom of the continuing “racial divide.” Given that there is only one mayor; but eight city council members, when such a divide occurs, we know which contingent bears the blame. Those who allegedly want progress in such matters cannot continue looking backward while demanding a march forward.
Is it not possible that Ridgell — who as a department head serves solely at the pleasure of the mayor — was fired because he chose not to come to work when directed; and when challenged on that fact, subsequently chose to become insubordinate? That’s certainly what the evidence suggests.
For the “zillionth” time we are obliged to remind the council that “special rules for special people” is a recipe for disaster. It doesn’t matter that these self-proclaimed entitlements have been the standard of conduct in regimes past. The past is past. If you can’t get over that fact, maybe the city council isn’t the best use of your “talents.”