Debe Hollingsworth’s first action as Pine Bluff’s mayor — firing Police Chief Brenda Davis-Jones — may not have been as well-received by some city council members as it was among many voters who put her into office.
Within hours of being publicly sworn in late Tuesday morning, Hollingsworth made good on a campaign pledge to dismiss Davis-Jones.
“I had asked Mayor Hollingsworth if she could give Chief Davis-Jones a probationary period of three to six months, and I made that request as a person who loves Pine Bluff,” Third Ward Alderman Glen Brown said Wednesday. “The mayor could have made it just a 90-day probation. I just think they should have tried to get on the same page.”
Brown, who had twice opposed council no-confidence votes against Davis-Jones, said he believes the discord between Hollingsworth and the former chief may have resulted from “misunderstanding.”
“Frankly, I think the chief had been doing a good job in getting the crime rate down,” he added, saying Hollingsworth had not “trusted” Davis-Jones’ crime statistics.
“I told the mayor that you can’t tamper with that data,” Brown said. “That’s illegal. I just don’t think everybody understands how those crime stats work.”
Second Ward Alderman Wayne Easterly thinks Hollingsworth did “what she should have done.”
“She was elected with a mandate to do that,” Easterly said of the mayor’s decision. “Getting rid of Chief Davis-Jones was one of the main things citizens wanted.”
Easterly noted that he twice favored no-confidence votes against Davis-Jones, although neither of the council motions passed.
“I support the mayor’s decision, and the citizens support her, too,” Easterly said.
Fourth Ward Alderman Steven Mays didn’t have a “firm” opinion on the matter, saying he first wants to determine the “visions” of Hollingsworth and Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks and whether their plans correspond with “what is best for our citizens and the men and women of our police department.”
Mays said he intends to “have a talk” with Hollingsworth and a “business-friendly meeting” with Hubanks.
“I would like for them to show me a clear path on what they have in mind,” Mays said.
First Ward Alderwoman Thelma Walker also declined to voice an opinion on the firing.
“I figure at this point, (Davis-Jones) has gone through enough, so I have no comment,” Walker said.
Second Ward Alderman Charles Boyd said that while he wasn’t against the mayor exercising her authority, he would consider himself “more opposed to than supportive of” Davis-Jones’ dismissal. He said he would have liked for the mayor to have been “more open” with him on the matter.
“None of this was a major surprise, but the mayor didn’t share any information with (council members) on the new chief,” he said. “She had said she would communicate on this. I’m not upset with her, but I do wish she had kept her word.”
Third Ward Alderman Bill Brumett said Hubanks’ hiring has been met with “a lot and excitement and compliments” from “a large number of officers.”
Hollingsworth said Wednesday that the city will soon initiate a nationwide search for chief candidates and to fill any other open city jobs.
Brumett, who said he had long felt a change in leadership was needed at the police department, believes Hubanks could be a top candidate for a permanent appointment as chief.
“But I support a national search,” Brumett said. “We need to put together a field of the best candidates available.”