Committee to consider residency requirements

The Pine Bluff City Council’s Administration Committee will meet at 2:30 p.m. today to discuss residency requirements for city department heads. The controversy has arisen since Mayor Debe Hollingsworth’s appointment of Jeff Hubanks as interim police chief after her Jan. 1 firing of former Chief Brenda Davis-Jones.

The meeting, to be held in the council chambers of the civic center, is open to the public.

Among the issues to be discussed will be two apparently conflicting ordinances and the question of whether an ordinance requiring city department heads to live within the city should apply to interim administrators or only to permanent directors. Also to be considered is the non-resident status of five other current department leaders.

The other city administrators living elsewhere are Gail Blackerby, Larry Reynolds, Albert Ridgell, Brandon Southerland and Robert Tucker of the cemetery, transit, collector, animal control, and inspection and zoning departments, respectively. Blackerby and Reynolds said they were employed before the adoption of a 2000 ordinance addressing department heads, including the police and fire chiefs, and are therefore “grandfathered” and not governed by the measure. The ordinance states that department heads must reside within the city.

A 2002 ordinance addresses only uniformed police personnel, and Hollingsworth believes it negates the earlier measure for Hubanks, who resides “10.2 miles” outside of Pine Bluff in Cleveland County. The latter ordinance declares only that officers must reside within the state but be able to meet their work schedules and report promptly to an emergency.

Ridgell reportedly lives in Pulaski County while Tucker resides in Redfield and Southerland lives “just outside of White Hall” near the intersection of highways 104 and 270. Ridgell declined comment and Tucker did not return a telephone call, but Hubanks and Southerland stated their views on the issue.

Hubanks said he’s not “keeping up” with the “discussion” about his place of residency, saying the mayor and council rank “above me.” He said he remains “focused on my job performance” and is “confident” that “the elected leaders will collectively decide on what’s best for our city.”

“When the matter is settled, I’ll be notified and follow the mayor’s directives,” he said.

The residency requirement for police officers when Hubanks first joined the department 28 years ago was simply within 12 miles of the city. Hubanks retired from the department last year as a lieutenant with 27 years of service.

Southerland said he went to work for the city in 20o6 and was already residing in the house he now occupies with his wife and four children.

“I was already buying it then, and I never knew about a requirement to live in Pine Bluff,” he said. “I guess I could have moved to Pine Bluff if I had had to, but we had settled into our home. We’ve still got a mortgage, and having to move now would be a major upheaval for us.”

Southerland said his travel time from his house to work is nine minutes.

“It takes me longer to get to Walmart than it does to the animal shelter,” he said.

The administration committee is chaired by Alderman George Stepps, who is third in seniority among council members. Others on the panel include senior Alderman Bill Brumett and freshman Alderman Lloyd A. Holcomb Jr. The three are charged with making a recommendation to the full council.

Hollingsworth said the council will “have to make a decision on which ordinance will be recognized or if we’ll combine the two ordinances into a new one, perhaps by eliminating one and keeping the other and amending it.”

She said she believes council members are “sensitive” to the issue and — like her — want to “create a win-win situation for everybody in their decision.”

Pushing what she termed the “human factor” in the body’s decision-making process, the mayor said, “I don’t believe that a person’s worth or job proficiency could truly be defined or measured by his or her address.”

Brumett said he would like to see the 2000 measure “removed” from the city’s code of ordinances.

“We need to be fair with everyone,” he said. ” There’s already been some precedents set.

“We haven’t been enforcing the ordinance, so why is it so critical that we start doing so now?” he continued. “I think we need to be reasonable and realistic.”

Stepps, concentrating primarily on the older ordinance, said he thinks the dilemma can be “resolved fairly quickly.”

“We just need to determine in which direction we’re going to proceed,” he said. “We need to determine if we’ll going to enforce (the 2000 ordinance) or not. I think it needs to be enforced on interim and permanent department heads. I haven’t looked at what other department heads will be involved, but we need to get this settled and get it done right. It may not be easy, but we have to deal with it.”