Override effort falls one vote short

A Pine Bluff City Council vote to override Mayor Debe Hollingsworth’s June 18 veto of an ordinance calling for the relocation of the police department’s patrol division to a former Army Reserve/National Guard armory near Townsend Park fell short Monday night, but by the end of the evening Hollingsworth’s effort to have the unit moved to The Pines shopping mall had also dissipated.

An override would have required six votes. Only five council members — Aldermen Glen Brown, Charles Boyd, Lloyd Holcomb Jr. and George Stepps and Alderwoman Thelma Walker — favored the override. Aldermen Bill Brumett, Wayne Easterly and Steven Mays were opposed.

Mays was a co-sponsor of the armory ordinance, and drew some criticism from several of his counterparts for resisting an override. Brown accused Mays of “betraying” his Fourth Ward constituents. Stepps called Mays “wishy-washy.” Mays stood his ground and told his detractors, “I’m my own man.”

Brown said Hollingsworth’s veto was an insult to the council and city. He said five council members elected by voters as their representatives had supported the move to the armory building, which was given to the city by the Army.

Walker bemoaned the veto as well. Before the override vote, Walker suggested that the mayor should retract her veto. Hollingsworth did not respond.

City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott interjected that the veto could be erased only by a vote.

Easterly and Brumett took exception to Brown’s and Walker’s contention that the mayor’s veto had constituted an affront.

Directing the statement at Brown and Walker, Easterly said, “You’re insulting the intelligence of everyone else up here.”

Brumett, the senior alderman, said he has now served under four mayors, and previous vetoes have occurred during his council career.

“A veto is not disrespectful,” Brumett said, explaining the action is simply a tool a mayor can utilize to pursue his or own agenda in what they perceive to be best for the city. He said a veto does not deny an override opportunity.

Meanwhile, a proposed resolution to authorize the mayor to negotiate a lease agreement with The Pines on space to house the patrol division was pulled from the agenda, but that didn’t prevent some backlash toward it.

Brumett said the measure was put on the calendar for the July 15 meeting so that it can be “re-evaluated” in the meantime. He said Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks wants to consider “some possibilities” of placing the patrol division within the civic enter complex and may “come up with some new proposals” for police presence at the former armory as well as the mall.

When Mays said he had spoken with Hollingsworth about an idea to establish substations at those and possibly several other locations, Stepps and Walker voiced their displeasure with Mays for not having addressed the matter with them.

Stepps showed a video that contained information on why the armory would be a better choice than The Pines to house the patrol division. Brumett said the video had several inaccuracies, but didn’t elaborate.

Stepps contends that the public has been misinformed on the armory’s condition, saying the building does contain a relatively new air “chiller” and is in “excellent condition.” He said comments on the facility needing enhancements totaling around $700,000 to be fit for police department occupancy are untrue, and he believes the building can be upgraded for no more than $150,000.

But the armory’s quality took a hit when Mitzi Ruth, the inspection and zoning department’s chief inspector, announced at Hollingworth’s request that a report received Monday confirmed that the building contains asbestos, a cancer-causing material that can be expensive to remove. Walker downplayed the issue, saying asbestos isn’t harmful unless it’s disturbed.

The Pines’ offer to the city includes free rent on a 5,800-square foot space for the first three years of a five-year agreement. The rent for the final two years would be “less than $1,000” a month. The city would be responsible for about $1,600 in monthly utility costs, but maintenance, insurance and cooling and heating systems would be provided by the mall.