Mayor’s vote spells defeat for Walker’s ordinance

Mayor Debe Hollingsworth sealed the fate of a proposed amendment to a current ordinance on rules concerning scrap metal purchases by dealers and recyclers here when she broke a 4-4 tie with a nay at Tuesday night’s Pine Bluff City Council meeting.

The proposal, sponsored by Alderwoman Thelma Walker, called for strengthening the city’s guidance on operation and reporting requirements of scrap or junk dealers and recyclers in an effort to combat an increase in the theft and sale of copper and other metals. It would have required dealers to provide to the police department a monthly electronic report on specific purchases.

Dealers who failed to comply or knowingly provided false information would have faced possible misdemeanor charges with convictions carrying respective jail sentences and fines, or both, of up to 180 days and $1,000. But during a discussion before the vote, Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks said the monthly reports wouldn’t be helpful because law enforcement agencies already can electronically check dealers’ purchase transactions at any time.

Hollingsworth, after pointing out that the city’s existing legislation compared closely to state standards, said again that “all city resources should be exhausted” in a crackdown on copper and metal thefts before “putting additional demands on taxpaying businesses and individuals.”

he mayor was specifically referring to Beaver Johnson, owner of Johnson’s Recycling Center, who spoke out against Walker’s proposal.

Walker and Aldermen Glen Brown, Lloyd Holcomb Jr. and George Stepps voiced support for the measure, while Aldermen Charles Boyd, Bill Brumett, Wayne Easterly and Stephen Mays opposed it.

“I’ll vote against it,” Hollingsworth said in ending the deadlock.

Hubanks said that he has a plan on improving enforcement of the city’s current guidance on the theft and trade of copper and other scrap, and asked for a 90-day test period “to see if I can have an impact.”

Two other council decisions resulted in split votes.

The panel reached a 4-4 impasse on an appeal of a planning commission denial of a request for development of an indoor storage facility, electronics shop and single-family residence at a former nursing home at West 36th Avenue and Fir Street. Hollingsworth declined to vote, allowing the appeal to fail for lack of a majority count.

Easterly and Mays cast the lone nods on a Mays-sponsored ordinance calling for amending current city guidance on speed breakers or bumps. The measure was rejected 6-2.

The appeal consumed nearly 90 minutes and drew a number of public comments as well as opinions from council members. Stepps was displeased that the planning commission had not issued a reason for its disapproval. Regional planner Jerre George and city inspection and zoning specialist LaKishia Hill both recommended the commission’s approval of the request.

Stepps said the commission has typically followed George’s and Hill’s findings, and he was unaware why commissioners decided differently on this occasion.

In other business, the council unanimously approved five resolutions, which:

• Authorized the mayor to apply for an Arkansas Historic Preservation Commission grant and authorized the city’s match,

• Adopted design guidelines for the downtown historic district,

• Appropriated $12,800 in bond issue funds for signal light improvements at the intersections of University Avenue and Pullen and Fluker Streets,

• Saluted local black history authors Donna Cunningham and Jimmy Cunningham Jr., and

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

An ordinance calling for the rezoning of a 3.5-acre site on Sunset Lane west of Bryant Street received its second reading. Ordinances receiving their first readings called for:

• Amending current legislation on residency requirements for city department leaders,

• Amending current legislation to provide for review by the council of planning commission decisions granting applications for uses permitted on review, and

• Adopting several international and state energy codes for building guidance.