The Pine Bluff City Council voted without dissent Tuesday on a proposal to redraw the boundaries for the city’s four wards as part of decennial redistricting.
There was no discussion during the meeting on the item, and after the vote Alderman Bill Brumett noted that all of the aldermen had sponsored the new ward map.
“I just want to point out that all of the aldermen signed off on this after the discussion at the previous meeting and I think that shows we’re all in accordance on this,” Brumett said, referring to reservations some aldermen initially had about the plan at a special-called council meeting Jan. 9 to discuss redistricting.
The plan was approved 7-0. Alderman Irene Holcomb did not vote because she was leading the meeting in the absence of Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr., who was in Washington, D.C., for a conference for mayors.
Jerre George, director of Southeast Arkansas Regional Planning, drafted the plan and presented it and another option to the council at the Jan. 9 meeting. George said the plan causes little change compared with the previous boundaries, but would equalize some population differences that have developed between the wards since the last redistricting in 1990.
Previously, Ward 2 contained 13,222 residents while Ward 4 had 12,975; Ward 3 included 11,797; and Ward 1 had 11,089.
The population figures associated with the map adopted by the council Tuesday are: 12,585 in Ward 2; 12,434 in Ward 1; 12,087 in Ward 4; and 11,977 in Ward 3. George has said the population deviation with the entire plan is less than 5 percent.
Under the change, the previous Ward 4 loses some areas to Wards 1 and 3. Ward 1 also consumes small portions of Wards 2 and 3. Ward 2 acquires limited areas from Ward 3.
All of the wards are majority black under the proposal. The respective counts of blacks, whites and others in each ward would be:
WARD 1 - 10,966; 1,155; 313
WARD 2 - 9,384; 2,740; 461
WARD 3 - 8,633; 2,971; 373
WARD 4 - 7,963; 3,623; 501
Debate about Mays’ phone calls
In other business, there was some debate Tuesday about a change Alderman Steven Mays said is unfairly directed at him to limit his abilities to serve his constituents.
Mays said that he tried to call a city inspector Tuesday about a complaint from one of his constituents — as he routinely does — only to be told that from now on, his calls must be directed to the mayor’s office.
Redus was not present, but his assistant, Ted Davis, said that is correct: that Mays should direct his calls to the mayor’s office or the supervisor of the department involved, rather than speaking directly to employees. Davis, however, disagreed that the policy targets Mays.
Mays has announced his intention to run for mayor in November. Redus has not officially announced whether he will seek re-election.
Davis said that employees have an agenda and tasks each day and do not need to be getting so many calls. He said the phone calls that Mays makes have often already been called in by others. He estimated that 15-20 calls will come in during a day about the same problem. Having all those calls go directly to employees creates a major problem, Davis said.
Mays said that is how he likes to go about the business of serving his constituents: having a hands-on role in getting their problems solved.
Davis argued that it is not Mays’ job, and said that all calls that come into the city offices through the proper channels are addressed.
“We serve every citizen in this community that calls in. Every one. Not one goes ignored,” Davis said.
Alderman Wayne Easterly said to Davis that the change in policy is obviously meant to target Mays. Davis disagreed.
Easterly said that legally, Mays should not be giving orders to city employees, but that he can ask questions.
Holcomb said that government needs to be accessible, and that if government were more accessible, members of the public wouldn’t feel the need to call their aldermen in an attempt to get something done. She said she has never been made to feel like she could not or should not call a city employee or department head about an issue, and questioned if the policy impedes Mays’ approach to his office.
“If government was a little more user-friendly, then they wouldn’t have to call the aldermen,” Holcomb said. “They call the aldermen because they think that they can get it done.”
Davis said that none of the other aldermen call “everyday, all day” about constituent complaints the way that Mays does.
“The way I handle my issues is I jump right on them,” Mays said, leafing through a notebook containing notes he had taken about constituent complaints and saying that if he has to go through the mayor’s office instead, it will slow his ability to help solve their problems.
“That’s not your job, Steve,” Davis said.
“I’m an alderman,” Mays said.
“It doesn’t matter about that,” Davis said.
In other business, the council:
• Approved 7-0 a $21,000 budget adjustment to replace the roof on the Saenger Theater and purchase insurance covering the roof work, with $5,000 coming from Old Town Theatre Centres Inc. and $16,000 in General Improvement Fund contributions from four area state legislators. The insurance cost is $500 of the total. With the addition of funds that have already been allocated toward the roof work, the total is estimated at about $36,000.
• Approved 7-0 an ordinance that amends the 2012 budget to add four items that were approved at the last minute by the council at its Jan. 3 meeting. The expenditures come out of revenue from the five-eighths-cent sales tax collected in 2011. They are: $43,000 to match a grant to finish remodeling the terminal at the airport; $59,872 for renovations at the Chester Hynes and Merrill community centers; $500,000 to replenish the 2011 contribution to the city’s reserve account; and $500,000 for the 2012 contribution to the city reserve account.
• Approved 7-0 a resolution that authorizes the mayor to allocate $27,650 of the $92,167 total 2011 Byrne Justice Assistance Grant to Jefferson County for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Public/Officer Safety Program. The two entities annually share the funds from the JAG program.
• And sent to committee three proposals from Alderman Steven Mays regarding the establishment or revival of commissions and committees with the goal of reducing crime: a Commission on Children and Youth, a Neighborhood Watch Advisory Committee and a group of city leaders to facilitate communication with the recently revived Crime Advisory Committee.