Hollingsworth: Won’t apologize for mission trip

Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth said Wednesday that she doesn’t feel she should apologize to anyone for being away from her job and out of the country last week while helping with a Christian missionary effort in Honduras.

“If anyone has a problem with that, it’s their problem,” said Hollingsworth, who along with her husband, Jack Hollingsworth, has made a mission trip to Honduras annually for several years. “It’s always a pleasure to be able to help less fortunate persons, especially in a country where the poverty is much worse than most here could probably imagine. But it’s not a pleasure trip when you consider our accommodations. We sleep in tents with no electricity. We do have generator-powered fans, but the temperature at night is still in the 90s. Sweating makes the excessive heat more tolerable.

“Living conditions there for most are miserable,” she continued, “but we wouldn’t trade even a single hour of enduring that while helping people there for a full week of relaxing in a pool or staying in an air-conditioned luxury hotel here. There’s nothing more meaningful or fulfilling than giving of yourself to help people who are often unable to help themselves. Jack and I are going back next year, and we don’t really care if anyone objects.”

The mayor, who said she regularly does mission chores within the city and Jefferson County, was primarily responding to comments made Tuesday by Alderwoman Thelma Walker, who said Hollingsworth had work here that needed to be done during her absence.

“I don’t have anything against mission trips, but she’s been mayor just six months and doesn’t even know how to do that job yet,” Walker said of Hollingsworth. “She needs to be here learning to do the job she was elected to and is being paid for.”

On Wednesday, Alderman Glen Brown said the purpose of Hollingsworth’s leave wasn’t an issue, but her “vacation” raised some concerns.

“I don’t know how you get a week off after just six months on the job,” he said. “You’re supposed to be in a (city) job for a year before you can even take a vacation. Maybe she made some sort of arrangements to where her time off last week will be retro to her future time, I don’t know. However she wants to spend her vacation is up to her, but I think she needs to follow the same rules everyone else has to.”

Brown said he’s more displeased by the mayor’s “lack of communication.”

“If she’s close enough to the council, she needs to inform them that she’s going to be out,” he said. “I was not informed by her or her administrative assistant (Evelyn Horton) that she was going to be out. I don’t know if anybody knew about it until after she was gone, but that’s something that we ought to get notice on. We need to be kept informed.”

Walker facetiously asked a reporter, “Who’s in charge when the mayor’s away?”

“I am, by position,” Alderman Bill Brumett said Wednesday. “The senior council member takes over as acting mayor in the mayor’s absence, and I’m currently the senior council member. When the previous mayor was away, senior Alderwoman Irene Holcomb acted in his place. You probably remember that she presided over some council meetings in his absence, and even worked at his desk for a few days. That’s the procedure, for the senior council member to step up.”

Brumett said he was advised of the mayor’s mission trip plans before she left for Honduras. He said he was told that while she would not be able to have direct telephone connections there, she could be contacted through her children.

“I told Mrs. Horton to get in touch with me if anything came up, but I didn’t anticipate there would be any problems while the mayor was away,” Brumett said. “I really don’t see why this should be such a big deal for anyone. Seven of our eight council members worked through periods when Mayor (Carl A.) Redus (Jr.) was away. This isn’t anything new.”

Alderman Lloyd Holcomb Jr. is in his first term and entered office along with Hollingsworth in January.

Brumett said that a mayor here is not bound by any prescribed work schedule.

“He or she doesn’t even have to enter the mayor’s office, as far as I’m aware,” he said. “There are no established rules on when a mayor must be present. Mayors are elected leaders, not city employees.”

Meanwhile, Brumett said he admires Hollingsworth for her Christian outreach.

“I take pride in the fact that we have a mayor who’s taking care of her prior obligations in serving others,” he said. “She and her husband start planning for their next mission trip as soon as their latest one ends. They’re doing mission work in a poor, poor country — it’s not like they’re vacationing at a resort.”

Hollingsworth said she would welcome the participation of council members or anyone else who might like to join her on future Honduras mission trips.

“We would love to have them to come along and help,” she said. “I can guarantee that anyone who gets involved will find that the experience will be a challenge with the heat and poverty they’ll encounter, but you’ll realize just how much value you truly have when you see the difference you can make in the lives of others just by caring and sharing, lending a hand and giving hope. Every time we go and come back, we realize that no matter what problems Pine Bluff may have, there’s so much here for which we should be thankful.”