Barbs fly at council meeting


The debate got personal at Monday’s Pine Bluff City Council meeting as the council voted down three of Alderman Steven Mays’ proposals to establish or revive citizen-led initiatives to reduce crime.

Mays was explaining his proposal to establish an ecumenical advisory council for crime prevention consisting of 16 local pastors who could recommend crime-prevention strategies to the council.

Alderman Thelma Walker asked if the proposed board would duplicate the efforts of the Crime Advisory Commission the council voted to revive at the last council meeting. Mays said it would be similar, but the more people who can get involved in such groups, the better.

“We’re looked at as one of the worst cities in the state, we need to have everything going that we can,” Mays said.

Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr., raising his voice, asked Mays who tells him these things?

“I frankly wonder why you serve on this commission, on this board, to be perfectly honest with you. We are not looked at as one of the worst cities in this state, first of all,” Redus said.

Mays said he was trying to clean up the city’s image.

“You’d do a lot by cleaning up your mind,” Redus said.

“What I’m trying to do, is us working together, trying to solve the problems of crime and violence and trying to rebuild our image before the state of Arkansas, mayor. You hear the same things I hear,” Mays said.

“No I don’t hear anything that you hear, nor do I believe the things that you believe,” Redus said.

Mays has officially announced his intent to run for mayor in 2012. Redus has not officially announced whether he will seek re-election.

Mays’ proposed ecumenical council was voted down, with Alderman Glen Brown, Alderman Charles Boyd and Alderman George Stepps voting against it. Mays, Alderman Irene Holcomb and Alderman Thelma Walker voted for it. Alderman Wayne Easterly and Alderman Bill Brumett were absent.

Mays also proposed reestablishing a youth commission, which is already a part of city code but has fallen into disuse. Mays said the goal would be to engage local youth in city government and encourage them to develop ideas for reducing crime and violence. Walker, Stepps and Brown asked whose responsibility it would be at city hall to oversee the group. Redus said the item needed to go to committee for evaluation.

Holcomb, who is the longest-serving member of the council, said that when the group was still functioning, it was overseen by the mayor’s assistant.

“I think we may be making too much out of this,” Holcomb said, urging the council to just name someone to be over the group.

“This is simple,” Mays said.

Stepps, Boyd and Brown voted no, causing the item to fail for a lack of a fifth vote. Mays, Holcomb and Walker voted yes.

Mays also proposed a Neighborhood Watch Steering Committee, which would have been a citywide organizing group made up of a member of each of the Neighborhood Watch groups across town. Mays said the goal was to coordinate efforts between the groups.

Pine Bluff Police Department Assistant Chief Ivan Whitfield said that the Neighborhood Watch Program has a coordinator who can serve in that role. Mays and Holcomb voted for it. Brown, Boyd, Stepps and Walker voted against it.

Mays has brought many proposed pieces of legislation before the council since starting his term in January, but few have been adopted. He and Redus have frequently disagreed during council meetings, but their exchanges have not risen to the level of those on Monday.

Mays urged his fellow council members Monday not to vote down his proposals to address crime just because they were coming from him. He refused suggestions to send the items to committee, saying that would be quitting, and he doesn’t quit.

Redus said Monday and has said in the past that Mays’ items and all proposals should go to committee before coming before the full council for a vote. Holcomb has responded in the past that some proposals are allowed to go through the council without going through the proper committee channels with no problem, while others are not, and that the difference frequently hinges on who is behind the proposal.

The Crime Advisory Commission legislation that the council approved on Dec. 5 did not go through a committee discussion. It was brought in late, added to the agenda, read three times and enacted immediately because of an emergency clause — all at the same meeting. Redus said during the Ordinances and Resolutions Committee meeting at the time that the item should be completed that night so that the council would have something to show the public at a town hall meeting later that week.

Other Business

In other business, the council:

• Approved 5-1 a resolution to make Vickie Conaway director of the Human Resources Department rather than interim director, the position she has held for many years. The council went into a 15-minute executive session to discuss the item, which has been discussed in executive session by the council two previous times. Alderman Glen Brown voted against it.

• Approved 5-1 a $46,950 budget adjustment for the Police Department, including: $8,000 for an awards and appreciation banquet, $8,000 for uniform reimbursements, $5,000 to purchase radar equipment, $5,000 for the crime tip reward fund and to move $20,950 in monies that have been received from insurance reimbursements for damaged police vehicles to the the appropriate budget line item. In a letter attached to the proposal, Davis-Jones states that the uniform fund needs to be replenished because of officers leaving during the year who had already spent their uniform allowance before leaving. Mays voted against the item, expressing concern about the expense of the $8,000 figure for the banquet.

• Approved 6-0 a resolution urging the Pine Bluff School District to donate the former Sam Taylor Elementary School building to the city so that it can be used as a police facility.

• Approved 5-1 a $204,900 budget adjustment for several items in the Economic and Community Development Department budget. The main item is $176,088 from the sale of two houses that the city rebuilt and sold. The funds will be put back into the federally funded HOME account that they originally came from so that they can be used on similar future projects, department director Donald Sampson has said. Mays voted against the item.

• Approved 6-0 a $12,500 budget adjustment to provide a grant to Juvenile Court. The funds come from the five-eighths-cent sales tax.

• Approved 6-0 a resolution authorizing the city to accept donated property adjoining the Lake Saracen Walking Trail from the Burroughs Smart Trust through Richard Metcalf. Redus said the land is off of West Pullen Avenue near Brumps Bayou.

• Approved 6-0 a $3,553 budget adjustment to shift the salaries in the city Finance Department after a series of personnel changes. The funding comes from within the department.

• Approved 6-0 a $1,200 budget adjustment to shift some line items in the Inspection and Zoning Department to provide for more money for gas and permit taxes.

• Approved 5-1 a $650 budget adjustment to provide more money for gas in the Animal Control Department. Mays voted no because the money was proposed in the same budget adjustment that included extra pay for assistant to the mayor Ted Davis for overseeing the department on an interim basis.

• Approved 6-0 a $200 budget adjustment shifting line items within the city clerk’s budget to provide more money for publishing.

• Approved 5-1 a resolution condemning 23 properties and ordering their demolition. Mays did not vote in favor of the item because the list included structures owned by a company that he said he felt should receive an extension on the amount of time they have to fix up the properties because they do that professionally and have completed projects successfully in the past. Stepps argued that the company representatives should have come to the proper meeting where people have the opportunity to appeal properties being put on the condemnation list.

• And read an ordinance adopting the 2012 city budget once and placed it on the calendar for a reading at the next council meeting.