An ordinance adopted by the Pine Bluff City Council in 2002 negates 2000 legislation on the question of a local residency requirement for Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks, Mayor Debe Hollingsworth believes.
The earlier measure, addressed by seven of the eight city council members in Friday’s Commercial, states that departments heads — including police and fire chiefs — may not serve unless they’re city residents continuously “during the term” of their service. The older ordinance says that the department leaders’ failure to reside within the city “shall constitute grounds for termination.”
The Commercial has learned that Hubanks, appointed by Hollingsworth after she terminated former Police Chief Brenda Davis-Jones on Jan. 1, is among at least six current department administrators residing elsewhere.
“The older ordinance has been ignored in the past and now we’re having to deal with it,” Hollingsworth said Friday afternoon.
The 2002 ordinance states that “notwithstanding any other city ordinance or resolution” police department applicants and current uniformed officers “shall not be subjected or required to meet a residency requirement” other than to establish residency within the state “no later than 30 days” after hiring and maintain state residency during their employment.
Each officer, the latter ordinance continues, shall be responsible for establishing residency at a “sufficiently proximate” location “as to allow him to report for duty on time to work his shift and be able to respond promptly” in an emergency. “An officer who fails to report to duty when scheduled or promptly when so summoned may be disciplined in accordance” with departmental policy, the measure concludes.
Hollingsworth said that according to her research, “notwithstanding” translates into “in spite of,” as “in spite of other legislation.” She said former Police Chief John Howell and Interim Chief Collier Hill were hired under the 2002 ordinance.
“But I understand that the council’s administration committee will be considering the residency matter in a meeting on Tuesday and possibly making a recommendation to the full council,” said Hollingsworth. “It’s up to us, up to the city council. We’ll have to make a decision on which ordinance will be recognized or if we’ll combine the two ordinances into a new one, perhaps by eliminating one and keeping the other and amending it.”
The committee meeting, scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at the city council chambers at the civic center, will be open to the public.
Hollingsworth said she believes council members are “sensitive” to the issue and, like her, want to “create a win-win situation for everybody” in their decision.
“I think it says a lot that so many of the council members have expressed concern about the effects a mandated move might have on our six non-resident department heads and their families,” said the mayor. “And I agree with that thinking. We’re talking about people, six families whose livelihoods hinge on which way the pendulum swings in this. We need to be careful and thoughtful with our decision. We need to consider all proponents. I think this will be a major decision that could have far-reaching impact on our city.”
Hollingsworth said that just as the world has become seemingly smaller with technology and integrated economy, regions are also smaller.
“What I mean by that is that commuting is a way of life anymore,” she said. “People commute daily to and from jobs. We have residents who work elsewhere, and I’m sure they would be displeased if the shoe was on the other foot and their employers told them they would have to leave Pine Bluff and relocate near their work sites to keep their jobs. I’m not sure Pine Bluff wouldn’t hurt itself if some of its city employees were made to feel locked in. We need to employ the best people we can recruit, the most qualified people, and try not to dictate to them too much beyond their professional responsibilities.
“I’m not sure residency requirements wouldn’t take away from any city’s quality of place for families,” she continued. “Spouses and children should be given consideration. I understand arguments about our tax base, but we have to weigh the human factor as well. I don’t believe that a person’s worth or job proficiency could truly be defined or measured by his or her address.”
Whatever the council committee may recommend, Hollingsworth is hopeful the council will expedite its action on the matter.
“We need to get our search for a permanent chief under way, but this needs to be resolved first,” she said. “We don’t need controversy. We need clarity. I want the public and the council to know that when I made the decision to appoint Jeff Hubanks, we abided by the most recent law on our books. Whatever differences we may have, I know that the council members and I are on the same page when it comes to wanting to do what’s best for our city and our citizens.
“We’ll work this out.”