Mayor isn’t budging on bar closing issue

Despite some objections and opposition, Mayor Debe Hollingsworth isn’t budging on her contention that the city’s private clubs and alcoholic beverage-serving commercial establishments within Pine Bluff should close at 1 a.m. so that police officers can better focus on neighborhood patrols.

At Monday night’s city council meeting, an ordinance outlining the earlier closings received its second reading. The reading followed a public comment period in which Jefferson County District 10 Justice of the Peace Lloyd Franklin II urged council members to reject the measure.

Franklin, who said he was considering opening such an establishment on Main Street, related that he had recently polled students at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff on the proposal, which was originated by Hollingsworth. Franklin said students were opposed to an earlier closing as the city lacked other activities for persons of their age group.

On Tuesday, Hollingsworth said she continues to receive telephone calls and visits from residents backing her cause. She said a group of ministers have pledged to make its support public before the Aug. 5 council meeting, when the ordinance is slated for a third and final reading before a vote.

“I know I’m on the right path,” she said. “People want the crime rate here to be reduced, and I think this is one of the ways that can be accomplished.”

During a council public safety committee meeting and a town hall gathering, Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks has displayed charts on increased trouble reports and traffic incidents at bars and clubs between the hours of 2 and 4 a.m. He said calls to the police department from the establishments double during that time.

The notion of an earlier closing has been publicly criticized by Alderman George Stepps and Alderwoman Thelma Walker. Walker contends that the action might lead to more “house parties,” disrupting neighborhoods. Stepps said abbreviated hours could result in lost jobs.

Efforts to contact owners or managers of several local establishments for comments Wednesday night were unsuccessful.