Hunter won’t pursue charges against mayor

Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter said in a Friday letter that he will not charge Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth with “malfeasance, misfeasance and/or nonfeasance in office,” as requested by three members of the Pine Bluff City Council.

Alderman George Stepps delivered a written complaint to Hunter on Tuesday, alleging that the first-term mayor has failed to “follow or enforce” local Ordinance 5863, which was enacted by the council in 2000 and outlines residency requirements for city department heads.

The basis of Stepps’ complaint — also signed by Alderman Glen Brown and Alderwoman Thelma Walker — was the Jan. 1 hiring of Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks, who resides in Cleveland County. Brown, Stepps and Walker were seeking Hollingsworth’s removal from office.

“I decline to prosecute Mayor Hollingsworth regarding this issue for several reasons,” Hunter’s letter reads. “First, since the passage of Ordinance No. 5863, three department heads have been hired that lived outside the city of Pine Bluff and two are still employed by the city and continue to live outside the city. This ordinance has not been enforced for at least eight years, if not longer.

“Second, an ordinance was passed in 2002 that allows uniformed police and fire department employees to live outside the city limits of Pine Bluff notwithstanding any ordinances to the contrary; the police chief and the fire chief are uniformed employees. Since the passage of the 2002 ordinance, the city has hired a police chief and an interim police chief (other than Hubanks) that have resided outside the city limits. Reasonable minds could disagree on whether the 2000 ordinance or the 2002 ordinance applies to the chief of police.

“Third, a prosecuting attorney should not prosecute under Arkansas Code Section 14-42-109 unless the nonfeasance by the mayor is clear and can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and neither of these prerequisites exist in this case.”

After adding that he “will not prosecute a nonfeasance case that is based on city laws that have a history of not being enforced and are subject to different interpretations,” the prosecutor closed his remarks with blunt advice to aldermen: “The city council should resolve the residency issue by enacting new legislation that addresses the inconsistencies in the existing ordinances.”

“I think he’s just trying to cop out of the situation,” Brown said of Hunter’s decision. “He shouldn’t try to get out of it. The law is the law, and the prosecutor should get on it and enforce the law. The prosecuting attorney was too quick on this.”

When asked why he thought Hunter might seek to “cop out,” Brown said, “I’ll hold reservations for that. He’s an elected official, too. But I will say that when you’re a prosecuting attorney, you can’t just prosecute what you want.”

Brown further expressed his dissatisfaction by saying he believes the mayor and council ought to follow the advice of City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott, who — after initially saying the 2002 legislation ruled in this matter — changed her mind and stated an opinion that the 2000 ordinance trumped the other.

“We’ve got a good city attorney and we need to follow what she says,” Brown said. “If we’re not going to do what she says is right, then why do we have her working for the city?”

Brown said Hunter’s decision causes him to “worry about” the city’s future.

“If we continue to allow our department heads’ money to leave our town, it will do away with our tax base,” Brown said.

“I know he made the decision based on what he felt was the right thing to do,” Stepps said of Hunter.

Walker declined to comment.

Hollingsworth said that she’s “in total agreement” with Hunter.

“He spoke clearly and decisively,” she said of the prosecutor. “I appreciate his candor in saying the council has to come together and do what’s right. That’s the point that I and some others have been trying to make since this controversy started almost three months ago.”

Hunter was out of his office and didn’t return a message.