Council rejects funding for armory enhancements


After helping lead recent efforts to land a police presence in a former military armory on the city’s north side, Alderwoman Thelma Walker changed direction at Monday night’s Pine Bluff City Council meeting.

Walker led a successful charge that resulted in the blocking of a budget adjustment needed to finance armory enhancements that would have aided in the placement of police officers and offices at the facility. A motion to approve the funding failed 5-3, with Aldermen Bill Brumett, Wayne Easterly and Steven Mays casting yeas and Walker being joined in opposition by Aldermen Charles Boyd, Glen Brown, Lloyd Holcomb Jr. and George Stepps.

In a ways and means committee meeting and during the full council session, Walker asserted that police department allocations toward the armory would be “illegal” in the wake of Mayor Debe Hollingsworth’s June 18 veto of an ordinance calling for the agency’s patrol division to be moved to the facility. A subsequent effort to override the veto failed when only five of a necessary council members voted to overturn the veto.

Monday night, Walker insisted that planning on armory improvements that had already been commenced under Hollingsworth’s watch was improper and the mayor hadn’t adhered to proper procedure in the matter. Hollingsworth disagreed. Walker, who urged the council to disapprove the transaction, said the council should have had say-so in the enhancements.

While Easterly shook his head, Stepps said that the armory’s “designation” would have to be determined by the council. Easterly argued that other public safety-employed buildings are not specified as such by the panel.

Walker said the mayor might be acting in a “hasty” manner and that such matters perhaps should wait until a new permanent police chief is on the job. Hollingsworth has estimated that a permanent successor to former police chief Brenda Davis-Jones could be working by December.

In other business, the council approved an ordinance and three resolutions. Two ordinances received second readings and another drew an initial reading.

The endorsed ordinance authorized a short-term financing agreement with Simmons First National Bank on the purchase of five automobiles for the police department. The total amount to be financed is $121,683 at the best interest rate available at the time the agreement is executed.

The adopted resolutions:

• Declared certain houses, buildings and/or other structures as nuisances and ordered their abatement;

• Declared September to be Small Business Appreciation Month as a means of supporting small businesses and encouraging citizens to shop locally; and

• Encouraged the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to undertake a cleanup of state-owned Lake Saracen and enact steps in preventing unlawful dumping into the lake, and asked citizens to take part in the effort.

Walker, who in recent meetings has spoken sharply to Hollingsworth, asked if the mayor “is going to enforce” the Lake Saracen measure. Hollingsworth asked for an explanation of Walker’s remarks, and Holcomb momentarily intervened before Walker said she didn’t want the mayor to “forget” the resolution. Hollingsworth said she would carry out the legislation, which calls for her to “partner” with AG&FC and associated agencies in the effort.

Ordinances drawing second readings call for:

• Providing for the rezoning of just under four-tenths of an acre at the southwest corner of the intersection of South Cherry Street and West 42nd Avenue; and

• Adding to the 2014 and subsequent annual budgets a line item for council members to be reimbursed for travel expenses.

The ordinance netting a first reading calls for a relaxation of current ordinances regarding event centers during the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s annual homecoming week.