Community development panel endorses promotion of interim director


The Pine Bluff City Council’s Community Development Committee is recommending that Economic and Community Development Department Interim Director Larry Matthews’ title be shortened to “director” and that he be afforded an appropriate salary.

Alderwoman Thelma Walker, who chairs the committee, and member Alderman Glen Brown gave their nods to a proposed resolution calling for the change at a Thursday afternoon meeting at the department. The remaining panelist, Alderman Charles Boyd, was absent.

The resolution is on Monday night’s city council meeting agenda.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Walker and Alderman George Stepps, notes Matthews’ 30 years of employment with the department. The measure directs that the “qualifying title” of “interim” be discontinued and that Matthews’ “salary and title should reflect his wealth of knowledge and ability to run the department” and “he should be recognized as the director.”

Former mayor Carl A. Redus Jr., during the last week of his administration, appointed Matthews as director. Current Mayor Debe Hollingsworth, who unseated Redus during November’s general election, retracted the promotion soon after taking the office on Jan. 1 but gave Matthews his interim status and said he should apply and would likely be “a good candidate” for the permanent post.

Even though Matthews’ promotion was negated, he did receive a salary increase for his added responsibilities, but it was not to the level of a director, Human Resources Director Vickie Conaway said. The previous director, Donald Sampson, retired in September 2012.

The department is still reeling from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s June contention that the local agency “improperly spent” $199,907.89 in HUD funds and failed to properly document an additional $279,161.23 in expenditures for the 2012 program year.

HUD said the city must repay the initial amount or have that sum cut from its 2013 funding. If documentation on the other matters is not provided, that amount would have to be repaid or forfeited from 2013 funds as well. A day after HUD’s disclosure, Hollingsworth told The Commercial that she had requested HUD’s audit.

During Thursday’s meeting, Matthews — responding to questioning from Evelyn Horton, Hollingsworth’s chief aide — said the department’s “goal” is to have its responses “all ready” for HUD and the mayor by “Aug. 10.”

The local department was originally ordered to reply to HUD’s documentation demands by July 5, but has sense been granted a time extension.

“I had had some concerns with the department, and I thought I needed to know where we are and where we’re going with community development,” Hollingsworth said when relating her urging of HUD to conduct its probe. “I had no idea what might be discovered, but felt that if some problems existed, we needed to bring them to the forefront, get them corrected and wipe the slate clean before moving forward. If problems aren’t fixed, they tend to become bigger and bigger.”

Hollingsworth has since said the audit’s findings are “an embarrassment to the good people of our city.” In regard to hiring a permanent director, the mayor now feels that’s “a consideration” that ought to be acted upon “only after HUD’s findings are resolved.”

“I won’t be satisfied until everything’s cleared,” she said of the investigation. “Our citizens deserve nothing less than having this corrected and then put behind us.”

Regardless of the council’s decision on Matthews’ title, Hollingsworth will maintain hiring and firing authority over chiefs of departments under the mayor’s command.

In other business at Thursday’s committee meeting, the panel received a report from University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Economic Research Development Corporation Director Henry Golatt, who spoke on affordable housing construction near the campus and other current and planned enhancements in the area.

He also addressed an ERDC micro-loan program, seeking the city’s renewed financial support of the effort. Asked to reveal the balance of the fund, Golatt glanced at a Commercial reporter and said that information was meant to be shared only with the committee and Horton.

The reporter interrupted the meeting and told Golatt, “If it’s the public’s money, it’s the public’s business.”

Golatt then stated the fund’s balance is at roughly $70,000.