Alderman wants prosecutor to intervene over residency dispute


Pine Bluff Alderman George Stepps said he will deliver a complaint today to Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter, asking that Hunter review a letter of explanation and “attached documents” and then “proceed with the proper action against Mayor Debbie (sic) Hollingsworth for conduct constituting malfeasance, misfeasance and/or nonfeasance in office.”

According to Arkansas Code 14-42-109, a mayor who “shall willfully and knowingly fail, refuse, or neglect to execute, or cause to be executed, any of the laws or ordinances within their jurisdiction, shall be deemed guilty of nonfeasance in office.” After a conviction in circuit court on the accusation, the city council could enact an ordinance to remove the mayor from office. The governor would then appoint a mayor to serve until the next regular election.

Stepps announced his intention during Monday night’s Pine Bluff City Council meeting when he was asked by Hollingsworth to report on the administration committee, which he chairs. He said his actions were prompted by an on-going stalemate concerning residency requirements for city department heads, particularly Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks.

Hubanks was appointed by Hollingsworth shortly after she took office on Jan. 1 and fired then-Chief Brenda Davis-Jones. Hubanks, a PBPD retiree, resides in Cleveland County. Stepps’ complaint states that Hubanks lives in Lincoln County.

Alderwoman Thelma Walker spoke about the complaint with reporters, saying that Hollingsworth had violated state law by purposely disregarding council-mandated guidelines on residency requirements. Walker was asked to specify what legislation the mayor had been accused of bypassing. Walker said it was Ordinance 5863, which was adopted in January 2000 and calls for all city directors — including the police chief — to reside within the city.

After saying an aim of the complaint is to have the mayor “follow the law,” Walker was asked if she and her fellow council members might also be charged with malfeasance, misfeasance and/or nonfeasance since the measure hadn’t been enforced in recent years, neither during their watch nor the administration of Hollingsworth’s predecessor, mayor Carl A. Redus Jr.

“No,” replied Walker, who was then asked to explain her position. “No one said we would not obey it,” she said, suggesting that Hollingsworth had indicated intentions not to follow the law.

Walker, who finished third in November’s mayoral race behind runner-up Redus, said, “Now we’re moving in a different direction,” which she added was a reason she campaigned for the mayor’s chair.

“Mayor Redus paid the price for what he did,” she said.

The letter from Stepps did not possess a signature but had lined spaces for up to eight signatures. It also noted that copies of the letter and accompanying documents were being provided to City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott.

A “Factual Basis of Complaint” states that before and after Hollingsworth’s appointment of Hubanks, she was informed that any appointee must meet the residency requirements listed in Ordinance 5863, but “continued to refuse to follow the law and to ignore the law which is currently on the books.”

Further listed within the “Factual Basis” is an assertion that the mayor had disregarded an opinion from Hadden-Scott that the ordinance in question is valid, and that the Arkansas Municipal League has advised Hollingsworth that the ordinance is law “until such time as it is amended or repealed.” It also reads that Stepps and Alderman Glen Brown had “specifically stated” that the mayor must abide by the ordinance, and her continued refusal to do so is a “violation of her oath of office” and constitutes “malfeasance, misfeasance and/or nonfeasance.”

The paper lists six “exhibits” as evidence and notes that Hollingsworth “has made it publicly known via media that she will veto any legislation which maintains that department heads, including the chief of police and fire chief, must live within the city limits as the present ordinance reads.”

Approached outside her office after the council meeting, Hollingsworth was asked to comment. She declined, saying she hadn’t seen the complaint or accompanying paperwork. Shown what had been supplied to the media, she glanced over it and said she would not comment until today.

“I need to digest all of this,” she said.