After an executive session that lasted approximately 20 minutes Monday night, the Pine Bluff City Council took no action on a request by former Police Chief Brenda Davis-Jones to appeal her firing.
Alderman George Stepps, who made the motion to go into executive session, said after the council meeting that it would have taken six votes from the eight-member council to overturn the firing, and the six votes “were not there.”
Stepps said the lack of action by the council means that Davis-Jones can take whatever other steps she feels are necessary, including legal action.
Davis-Jones was fired by Mayor Debe Hollingsworth on Jan. 1, and replaced by Jeff Hubanks, who retired from the department in 2012 and was named chief on an interim basis while a search for a permanent chief is conducted.
Hollingsworth has said that search will not begin until the issue of residency requirements is settled.
City ordinances currently require the heads of all city departments to be residents of the city, but former mayors including Carl A. Redus Jr., who was defeated by Hollingsworth in the November general election, hired people who are not residents to hear various departments, including the city collector and director of animal control.
Hubanks is a resident of Cleveland County. A resolution seeking to have him removed from office failed at a previous council meeting, with four aldermen supporting the resolution and the other four opposing it.
Last week, during a meeting of the council’s Administration Committee, Stepps, who is chairman of the committee proposed a new ordinance that would require the chiefs of the police and fire departments to be city residents, while other current department heads would be permitted to retain their jobs, even if they live outside the city.
A second proposed ordinance, from Hollingsworth, would require that department heads who live outside the city limits must live in “sufficient proximity to perform the duties of the position without impediment and to the satisfaction of the mayor.”
Neither of those two proposals, or two alternative proposals offered by Assistant City Attorney Joe Childers, were considered by the council Monday night. Stepps said his proposal will be on the agenda for the next council meeting Feb. 18.
In other business and despite a plea from Alderman Steven Mays, the council rejected a resolution authorizing the acceptance of property at 1400 W. 4th Ave., that is currently owned by Richard Ratliff, and the setting aside of money to improve the property, by a vote of seven to one.
Addressing the council, Mays said “It won’t be easy to sell my vision,” and later “this city suffers a lack of vision.”
He proposed turning two smokestacks on the property and the building into the “University Greek Towers,” which he said “would create about 300 new businesses and about 6,000 new jobs in a five-year period.”
According to an assessment report on the property that Alderman Thelma Walker passed out to the other council members, the property had a 2010 market value of $12,900, with an assessed value of $2,590.
On another subject and at the request of the mayor, Hubanks outlined his plans for handling street vendors who are expected to be out in force selling baskets for Valentine’s Day.
He said the department has obtained a list of all vendors who have purchased permits, and those lists will be given to patrol officers so that the officers can know who is legally allowed to sell merchandise.
“We’re going to check to see if they’re in compliance and if they don’t have a permit, we’re going to ask them nicely to shut down until they can get a permit,” Hubanks said. “Just because we can write a ticket or make an arrest doesn’t mean that we’re going to. We’re going to give them time to get a permit.”
Hollingsworth said information on how to obtain permits will be available on the city’s website and Hubanks said that only if there are repeated problems “will we take action.
“This will level the playing field for the vendors and for our merchants, too,” Holllingsworth said.