Committee sends residency measure to City Council

The Pine Bluff City Council, which failed in a Jan. 22 meeting to adopt a resolution sponsored by Alderman George Stepps concerning local residency requirements for city department heads, may be considering a Stepps-sponsored ordinance on the matter in its Monday, Feb. 4, session.

The council’s administration committee voted Thursday to recommend the ordinance to the full council, but the measure isn’t guaranteed to be voted upon Monday. Stepps, the committee’s chairman, said his proposal will be “up for discussion” along with three other draft measures, including one suggested by Mayor Debe Hollingsworth.

Stepps’ latest legislation calls for the amending of two current ordinances on the issue to declare that current and future police and fire chiefs must reside within the city, but to excuse incumbent directors of other departments from the requirement. All departmental administrators appointed after the date of the amendment, if approved, would be required to be city residents “upon assuming” their posts and “during his or her term of service.” The continued residency would be “a condition of employment,” and failure to comply would be “grounds for dismissal.”

Committee member Alderman Lloyd Holcomb Jr., who voted against Stepps’ resolution, motioned for Stepps’ ordinance to be the panel’s recommendation to the full council. Stepps indicated agreement. The remaining committee member — Alderman Wayne Easterly — had business elsewhere and left before Holcomb’s motion, but not until stating favor for Hollingsworth’s proposal.

The mayor’s draft calls for amending the two existing ordinances for all mayor-appointed department heads — including the police and fire chiefs — to be Arkansas residents “upon assuming” and throughout “his or her term of service,” but within “sufficient proximity” of the city as determined by the mayor. The proposal also suggests that any directors appointed after March 1, 2013, may reside outside of the city only if they agree to have their salaries reduced by 5 percent, which would help offset tax monies the directors might pay as local residents.

The two remaining drafts to be considered by the council were offered by Assistant City Attorney Joe Childers.

A discussion before the vote was much more civil than one that occurred at the committee’s Jan. 18 meeting, but included some friction.

At one point, while Hollingsworth was speaking, Alderman Glen Brown disrupted her and began motioning with his arms and hands in attempting to stress a point on the city’s decade-long population loss. Hollingsworth sighed and became silent, prompting Stepps to intervene.

Stepps pointed out that he was chairing the meeting. Brown began verbalizing his opposition to Hollingsworth’s views, and Stepps interrupted him.

“Hold it, Glen, hold it,” Stepps said. “Let the mayor finish.”

Hollingsworth spoke on “quality of place” issues that she had previously mentioned, noting that cities nationwide have had to “open up” in relaxing or dropping residency requirements to attract “quality and qualified” personnel. Brown argued that white flight is destroying the city and if measures aren’t taken to combat the exodus, “We won’t have a town in 15 years.”

“Let’s put it in perspective,” Hollingsworth said. “How many people are we talking about here?”

“Twenty-six department heads,” Stepps said, “but our focus is the police and fire chiefs.”

Brown also had a brief exchange with audience member Kevin Reese after Reese questioned several elements of residency requirements. Brown accused Reese of attempting to somehow redirect the issue for self-favor. Reese asked Brown if he would favor residency requirements for teachers if imposed by local school districts. Brown, whose wife is a Little Rock teacher, didn’t respond.