Council’s gathering takes a testy turn

An informal Friday meeting of the Pine Bluff City Council was designed in part to help aldermen determine how they and Mayor Debe Hollingsworth might “communicate more effectively to better serve each other and the city.”

Perhaps a second effort is needed, because the first flubbed.

The meeting — held in the civic center’s council chambers — lasted just 50 minutes but featured plenty of fireworks, not only among the officials but also from an audience of about 50 persons.

The city officials — minus absent Alderman Wayne Easterly — were to hold a roundtable discussion regarding more effective communication and the following questions:

• “How can we work together to benefit the city?”

• “How may the mayor’s office assist you as elected officials to unify our city?”

• “How may the city council members assist the mayor in creating a more positive light for Pine Bluff?”

The exchange began reasonably well but took a sharp downturn when Alderman Glen Brown, who arrived several minutes late, began to “whisper” to his neighbor — Alderwoman Thelma Walker — while Hollingsworth had the floor and was speaking. The mayor promptly challenged Brown, who quickly lost his temper and began contesting her.

Hollingsworth hammered her gavel and told Brown he was “out of order.” Brown protested, telling the mayor, “I’m not going to put up with that.” Brown went on to say that he’s “not a kid in a classroom” and “not in jail.” He said that other council members speak to one another during meetings and indicated that he’s being singled out for criticism.

An audience member began shouting.

“Please,” the mayor told the man, warning, “We’re going to stop right here.” The meeting was not to have included public comments.

“It’s rude for anyone to talk when someone else has the floor,” the mayor said. Brown responded by loudly commenting toward audience members, but other council members rapidly quieted him.

Alderman George Stepps chided the mayor, saying, “Some of what (Brown) said is not out of order. It’s an attitude thing.”

Hollingsworth had earlier stated that she intended for future council meetings to be conducted under Roberts Rules of Order, as previously approved by the body. She said she is obtaining a volunteer parliamentarian and sergeant-at-arms to help regulate the gatherings.

A spectator told the panel that he was familiar with the protocol and began accusing the mayor of improperly directing the meeting. He was pointing a finger at the mayor as his voice began rising. Hollingsworth pounded her gavel again and told the man, “I won’t allow aggressive behavior. It won’t be tolerated.”

The mayor said that future violators of that policy — whether council members, observers or “commenters” — will be “removed” from meetings.

“This is the first warning,” she said. “This is the verbal warning.”

“I’m not going to be treated like you’re my boss,” Brown told Hollingsworth. “I don’t want anybody telling me that I can’t talk.”

Brown compared himself to Martin Luther King Jr., saying that he’s carrying on King’s quest for civil rights. Brown said his efforts are for “others” as well as “myself.”

Walker addressed senior Alderman Bill Brumett, saying retired senior Alderwoman Irene Holcomb “kept order without being a dictator and that’s how it should be.” Walker told Brumett that if he’s advising Hollingsworth, “You need to inform her in that way.”

Walker added that she wants control of council meetings to be handled “according to the law.”

Several council members expressed a joint desire to meet in informal fashion without public attendance. There was also talk of such a session without media presence as well.

Brumett said the council had previously held “team building” summits and the media had agreed to forgo coverage.

“I would like to do that again,” he said.