In keeping with the annual NCAA national basketball tournament, one might tag Friday’s called session of Pine Bluff’s City Council as “March Madness.”
The panel was given a pep talk of sorts by Arkansas Municipal League attorney Mark Hayes, who said the aldermen had an opportunity to “set a new course” for the city by “working together” to ensure forward momentum with a repeal of current conflicting legislation on residency requirements for department heads in favor of new clearer legislation. Hayes cautioned that failing to provide clarity on the issue that could lead to costly lawsuits.
The council rejected a third and final reading on a repeal ordinance sponsored by Alderman Bill Brumett, so the measure couldn’t even be discussed before a possible vote. It likely will be on the agenda for the council’s next regular meeting, scheduled for April 1. The legislation was reviewed Thursday by the council’s administration committee, which sent it to the full council with a recommendation for rejection. The bill was earlier given a do-pass nod from the public works committee.
The ordinance received its first reading at Monday’s regular council meeting.
In Friday’s called gathering, business started with a quorum of only five aldermen present. Alderwoman Thelma Walker and Alderman Glen Brown were tardy, and Alderman Charles Boyd was out of the city. No one opposed giving the ordinance a second reading, but its advancement stalled when Aldermen Steven Mays and George Stepps resisted a third. Moments later, Brown and Walker arrived.
With no opportunity for discussion by the panel at that point, Hayes began offering his guidance.
Hayes said that although Pine Bluff possesses a gifted city attorney in Althea Hadden-Scott, he also serves the municipality since it is an AML member. Addressing the existing residency requirement legislation, he urged council members to “take a proactive stance as policymakers” by eliminating the guidance.
“As your lawyer, I’m telling you — please fix it,” he said, noting that he was “profoundly uncomfortable” being “in front of the media.”
After commenting on the clearly “emotional” aspects of the residency requirement debate, Hayes cautioned against bypassing new legislation in favor of maintaining the old, which he described as “the kind of thing lawyers like to sink their teeth into.”
Brown argued that because the current law is “on the books,” it must be enforced with “no excuses.” Then, offering to assist Hayes on making a point, Brown added, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
Alderman Lloyd Holcomb Jr. apparently summarized the feelings of many within an audience of about 70 persons, drawing applause when he expressed his frustration over the continuing conflict.
“Instead of fighting among ourselves, we need to be fighting for this city,” he said. “What we do now will impact the next generation 10 or 20 years from now.”
After the meeting, Mayor Debe Hollingsworth was obviously flustered.
“Mark Hayes has told us what our course of action should be in doing the right thing for our city,” she said. “I always try to be a positive person, but I have to say that by the actions of some council members today it’s painfully apparent that putting our city first isn’t the primary agenda of all of our council members. We need to get on the same page of working together for the city’s benefit. Personal agendas shouldn’t have any place in our city’s government.”
On Friday’s only other business item, the council firmly rebuffed a Hollingsworth resolution appropriating $650,000 in set-aside funds from the 2011-approved five-eighths cent sales toward an architect’s assessment for renovation of baseball fields at Townsend Park and improvements to the Merrill Center. The resolution was read and discussed Monday night before being tabled for additional considerations.
The disparity on this item focuses on whether the monies, if transferred, might delay or impede a proposed multipurpose center, for which a bond issue has yet to occur. Voting against the measure were Brown, Holcomb, Mays, Stepps and Walker. Brumett and Alderman Wayne Easterly supported it.
In stating his opposition, Brown accused the mayor of breaking her campaign pledge of transparency in her administration, saying she “isn’t sharing information.”
Hollingsworth countered that the information Brown was referencing is emailed to council members as it becomes available. Brown, who said Monday night that he doesn’t read meeting minutes and prefers to be updated on such matters in meetings, responded by telling the mayor that it’s not his “job” to “sit at a computer and read” emails.
Brown drew laughter when he later asked if Friday’s gathering was a council meeting.