Several Pine Bluff alderman echoed Mayor Debe Hollingsworth on Wednesday in suggesting an air of possible compromise gives a fresh fragrance to a disagreement on residency requirements for city department heads.
The issue stalled somewhat Tuesday night when the council split 4-4 on an Alderman George Stepps-sponsored resolution that called for four non-resident administrators to immediately move into the city or be terminated.
The council’s administration committee — chaired by Stepps and including Aldermen Wayne Easterly and Lloyd Holcomb Jr. — will now resume discussions on the matter and may make a recommendation to the full council.
Alderman Steven Mays, who opposed the resolution along with Easterly, Holcomb and senior Alderman Bill Brumett, believes the committee and council can reach agreement despite individual differences.
“We need a round table discussion with the mayor to formulate a reasonable ordinance to help solve this issue,” he said. “We need to draw the line and bring the two existing residency requirement ordinances together and start from scratch to make them into one. I personally think that if we’re going to require department heads to live in the city, all city employees should be required to do the same.”
Mays and Holcomb drew some public criticism for their votes on Stepps’ measure, but remain steadfast in their decisions.
“I feel that I did what I should have done,” said Mays. “It was the right decision at the right time for our citizens, to keep people together and not divided. We need to move forward together. I understand some things were done wrong in the past and that we need to make sure that we’re doing things right now. But we don’t need an ordinance for just one person. And we don’t need to focus just on the past but also on the future.”
Holcomb believes he was correct in how he voted.
“I’m convinced I did the right thing for the people whose jobs were at risk,” Holcomb said, referring to Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks, City Collector Albert Ridgell, Animal Shelter Director Brandon Southerland and Inspection and Zoning Director Robert Tucker. “But I do feel the police and fire chiefs should live within the city.”
Holomb said he felt “nothing was settled” at the council meet, but he believes a door is open to conciliation.
“We need new legislation to grandfather in those department heads hired in previous administrations,” he said. “But we need to get on with this. I pray that we can get this all worked out by next month, and we can if we work together.”
Hollingsworth agrees in part with Holcomb’s assessment, but rates Tuesday night’s outcome as a “win-win situation,” especially for those who she said were in danger of becoming unemployed. She said she was “relieved” that the matter was addressed in an “open setting.”
“I felt it was necessary for us to have that type of dialogue,” she said. “I think the discussion was most helpful in getting some obvious baggage out of our way so we can now discuss what’s best for our city. Now the administration committee can get down to business again and determine our best course of action in having a single law that would help and not hinder us.”
The mayor said she would also like to see the issue “brought to rest” by February. “I won’t proceed on a search for a permanent police chief until this issue is resolved,” she said.
Alderman Charles Boyd — who joined Stepps and Alderman Glen Brown and Alderwoman Thelma Walker in favoring Stepps’ proposal — said he would have “hated” for “their jobs” to come to such a rapid end as the resolution would have directed, and that’s why he suggested that Ridgell, Southerland and Tucker be granted a six-month grace period to decide if they would move here or resign. But he firmly believes the police and fire chiefs should reside here.
“As it wound up, nothing really changed,” he said. “Now we’re just waiting for a transition or just to let it ride. I’m eager to see what Mr. Stepps and the administration committee bring to the council.”
Brown said Hollingsworth “needs to understand that she’s still out of compliance” with city law and forcing the council to also be in violation, adding that the mayor “should respect the opinions of the city attorney (Althea Hadden-Scott) and the Arkansas Municipal League.”
Hadden-Scott’s believes the city should follow the 2000 ordinance on residency restrictions for all department administrators rather than the 2002 ordinance focusing solely on police officers.
“But I don’t mean to poke at the mayor,” he said. “She needs to be able to get herself established, and I understand that.”
He further indicated a willingness to cooperate. “There might be some special provisions we could do with the law that governs this,” he said.