Residency issue to be discussed by council Friday

The Pine Bluff City Council will meet in a called session at 2 p.m. Friday to discuss a possible compromise on an ongoing controversy concerning residency requirements for city department heads. The meeting will be held in the civic center’s council chambers and is open to the public.

The disagreement is now in its fourth month and began after Mayor Debe Hollingsworth appointed Jeff Hubanks as interim police chief on Jan. 1, hours after receiving her public oath of office. Several council members have argued that Hubanks can’t legally serve in the post because an ordinance adopted in 2000 mandates that department administrators reside in the city and Hubanks has a Cleveland County address.

On Monday night, the council followed racial lines in voting against a proposed repeal of the old guidance — which aldermen agree hasn’t been consistently enforced since its passage — and any current, conflicting legislation in favor of a new ordinance that called for broadening an authorized residency area to statewide.

Aldermen Glen Brown, George Stepps and Thelma Walker had recently asked that Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter consider charging Hollingsworth with nonfeasance in office because of her refusal to abide by and enforce the old ordinance, which she feels was superseded by a latter, relaxed bill addressing residency constraints on uniformed police officers.

Hollingsworth would have been removed from office if convicted of nonfeasance, but Hunter declined to pursue any legal action against her, instead advising the council that it should devise new legislation to solve its problems on the matter.

Arkansas Municipal League attorney Mark Hayes has also similarly instructed the aldermen.