Mayor says she wants Parks Commission dissolved

Mayor Debe Hollingsworth indicated Thursday that she will seek the abolishment of the Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Commission, which has encountered increasing public criticism since the Dec. 27. firing of Director Angela Parker.

“Let your aldermen know how you feel about that situation,” Hollingsworth told the West Pine Bluff Rotary Club during its Thursday meeting at the Pine Bluff Country Club, adding that the matter would soon be “coming before the city council.”

Dissolving the commission would require a 75-percent vote from the City Council, meaning six of the city’s eight aldermen would have to approve the decision.

Hollingsworth said that although the current problems within the Parks and Recreation Department started before her watch, “the buck stops with me.”

The commission’s three-member Personnel Committee voted unanimously on Dec. 27 to give Parker and Community Centers Director Laura Hildreth the option to resign or be fired in the wake of a $117,000 department shortfall. A local police investigation determined that no theft or misappropriation of funds had occurred in a failed after-school youth program under Hildreth’s charge.

The mayor seemed confident that the commission will eventually be dissolved in a council vote.

“But I can’t address how long it’ll be before it’s disbanded,” she told Rotarians.

Hollingsworth asked that citizens also relate their opinions on other issues to their council representatives.

“Let your aldermen know how you feel about reinstating the Civil Service Commission,” she said.

The mayor said she believes “our public safety personnel deserve a safety net, a neutral ground,” in which they’re free of political influence.

“Our police and firefighters have to have that kind of environment to thrive properly,” she said.

Hollingsworth said that under her charge, new data will be incorporated in the compiling of monthly crime reports.

“It will be done differently,” she said. “It will give a true picture of crime here.”

Hollingsworth had scoffed at crime statistics announced by former Police Chief Brenda Davis-Jones, who was fired by the new mayor on Tuesday.

How secure a person feels at a given time is a barometer that should be employed in gauging the community’s safety, Hollingworth has said. To help in that measurement, the mayor said, the city’s neighborhood watch programs will be undergoing enhancements.

“Public safety is the heartbeat of our community,” she said, adding that she’ll be working with the Jefferson County Landlord Association to help make neighborhoods safer.

Hollingsworth said she figures most citizens have already figured out that she’s not one to waste time.

“I believe in making informed decisions, but I don’t tarry,” she said. “We know what you want and we will act on it.”

The mayor said she will be supportive of small businesses by “streamlining” city procedures on creation and operation of firms. She’ll also work closely with The Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce, The Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County and The Economic Development Corporation of Jefferson County (more commonly known as the tax board) to recruit new businesses and industries.

She also touched on her plans of facilitating education offerings needed for preparing applicants for new jobs created here, and initiating a youth advisory committee.

On the topic of improving the city’s image, which she described as a “team effort,” she said “Jan. 3, 2013 is a great time to start” promoting the city and its people.

“When you hear something negative, tell them we’re making a new beginning,” she said.

Hollingsworth said she has been pleased by the positive responses she’s received from residents since she began her mayoral campaign nearly two years ago, and issued a challenge for citizens to “get involved” in the city’s revitalization effort.

“Do whatever you can to help,” she said, noting that whatever is done to aid any Pine Bluffian benefits all.

“Communicate,” she said. “Stay in touch with your aldermen and me. That will help us to move forward.”