2 Council measures on parks conflict


An ordinance up for its first reading and a resolution on the agenda of Monday’s 5:30 p.m. Pine Bluff City Council meeting are in conflict.

The measures concern the five-member parks and recreation commission. The proposed ordinance — co-sponsored by Aldermen Bill Brumett, Steven Mays and George Stepps — calls for several alterations to the commission’s oversight responsibilities and practices and an increase in panel membership to 11, more than double its current five.

Brumett, Mays and Stepps comprise the council’s public works committee, which on Feb. 20 — in a recommendation to the full council — unanimously endorsed the changes and a nine-month “grace period” to allow the controversial commission an opportunity to show it can satisfy council-mandated requirements.

The committee met to consider a request from Mayor Debe Hollingsworth that the commission be dissolved so parks and recreation could become a city department reporting directly to the mayor and council.

The Alderman Glen Brown-sponsored resolution, to be considered after the ordinance’s introduction, calls for the council to declare “its desire and intention” that the commission “continue in its present status as an autonomous, independent body, consisting of five members.” The resolution notes that the panel has consisted of five members since its 1970 inception, a number “which has proven sufficient to adequately manage and administer the parks and recreation facilities, programs and employees.”

“The city council has over the years wisely refused to interfere (with) the commission in its administration,” the resolution continues, and says that “attempting to micromanage the commission’s administration of said facilities and its relationship to its employees is inconsistent with its status as an independent body and contrary to state law.”

The commission’s primary strife involves a shortfall of more than $100,000 in its 2012 budget, with the amount representing overspending in a summer youth program. Commissioners Chris Blunt, Carson Fields, Jeff Pulliam and Abel White attended the committee meeting and no disagreement was stated to the desired changes posed by Hollingsworth and committee members.

Brumett had originally recommended disbanding the commission, and Stepps at one point said he felt the commission should be “left alone.” But the two compromised with Mays, who proposed the probationary period.

Mays scolded the commissioners, saying they had behaved “like the mayor and council don’t exist” and “need to stop all your bickering.” Stepps supported Mays’ admonishment of the commission. After acknowledging that he and Hollingsworth disagree at times, he defended her.

“I have never been disrespectful of the mayor and I would not allow anyone else to be in my presence,” said Stepps.

But at a Feb. 27 meeting, commission chairwoman Kami Hunt expressed displeasure with not having been notified of the committee session. Describing The Commercial’s report on the committee meeting as “incoherent,” she questioned Mays on what the nine-month recommendation “was about.” Mays responded that it hadn’t been his responsibility to inform Hunt of the committee meeting.

Hunt said the mayor, who told the committee that she wants the commission to ensure that parks and recreation employees are held accountable to a city workers’ handbook, should “outline differences” on worker guidance and report them to the commission. Hunt said there’s apparently “something missing” in the parks and recreation direction.

Upon Hunt’s request, Parks and Recreation Director Angela Parker agreed to provide commissioners with copies of employee evaluations. Hunt said she didn’t want the commission “to be accused again” of “not knowing what’s going on.”

Commissioner Abel White noted that only three council members had participated in the committee session and said he felt all council members should have been present if they felt the issue was important. Mays pointed out that the council committees have only three members.

Hunt last month sent a resignation letter to Hollingsworth, saying she was stepping down as chairwoman effective Feb. 28. But at the Tuesday commission meeting, Hunt said she was considering “rescinding” her resignation in view of “recent developments.”

Mays said Friday that Hunt’s resignation had been withdrawn and that he had been told by the city attorney’s office that since the mayor never officially acknowledged receipt and acceptance of the resignation, it was never official.

Mays was asked if his support for the commission had altered.

“I’m steadfast on increasing the number of commissioners,” he said. “We’re considering an increase to 11 and have an option to increase the membership in 15. We need to keep this commission going because we need the community’s involvement in parks and recreation decisions and operations. But we need more diverse leadership and direction with the commission.”

Brown said the ordinance won’t likely be receiving its third and final reading until the council’s April 1 meeting. “And from what I hear in the community, it won’t pass,” he said. “People are telling me they want it left like it is, that the commissioners are doing a fine job. I think the problem here is that the mayor wants to control everything, and it can’t be that way.”

In other business, the council will hear a third reading on an ordinance providing for the rezoning to R-4 residential of 3.5 acres on Sunset Drive west of Bryant Street.

Ordinances up for second readings call for:

• Amending current guidance regarding residency requirements for department heads and police personnel,

• Amending current guidance to provide for review by the council decisions of the planning commission granting applications for uses permitted on review, and

• Adopting the 2009 edition of the International Energy Conservation Code, ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA standards for building except low-rise residential structures, and the Arkansas Energy Code for New Buildings Construction Supplements and Amendments, 2011 edition.

An ordinance calling for approval of budget adjustments to the 2012 city budget during the year is slated for its first reading.

Additional resolutions call for:

• Encouraging the establishment of a Walter Ashley Motorcycle and Boat Show as an annual event to promote tourism and commerce, and pledging $30,000 in city monies as seed funds.

• Providing for placement of costs of correcting certain nuisances on tax books as delinquent taxes and collected as such.

An ordinance calling for the amendment of guidance pertaining to transient merchants was approved and recommended for adoption Friday by the public health and welfare committee. If allowed, it’ll be placed on Monday’s agenda for its first reading.

Prior to the council meeting, the public safety committee will meet at 4 p.m. The ordinance and resolutions and ways and means committees will meet at 5 p.m.