Residency measure passes as mayor casts deciding vote

Mayor Debe Hollingsworth cast a tie-breaking vote at Monday night’s Pine Bluff City Council meeting, lifting a compromise ordinance on residency requirements for city department heads to approval.

The decision capped a controversy that ignited just over five months ago, when the mayor — within hours of being sworn in Jan. 1 — terminated former Police Chief Brenda Davis-Jones and named retired Pine Bluff Police Department Lt. Jeff Hubanks as interim chief. Hubanks resides in neighboring Cleveland County.

Hollingsworth soon after sought to abolish two existing — and conflicting — ordinances outlining residency restrictions for the city’s department heads, but the issue had since been the source of disagreement, often heated.

The new measure, sponsored by Alderman Steven Mays, repeals previous ordinances and resolutions and stipulates that new administrators must reside within 12 miles of the city limits. Meanwhile, existing permanent and interim department heads are grandfathered from any restriction.

Mays’ bill also defines an “interim appointee” as one whose service cannot exceed one calendar year in duration. The ordinance states that interim leaders can be hired to permanent positions.

Joining Mays in supporting the change were Aldermen Bill Brumett, Wayne Easterly and Lloyd Holcomb Jr. Aldermen Charles Boyd, Glen Brown and George Stepps and Alderwoman Thelma Walker were opposed, setting the stage for Hollingsworth’s determining nod.

Immediately after the meeting, Hollingsworth expressed relief that the issue had at long last been resolved. She said that beginning “Tuesday morning,” she’ll initiate a national recruiting effort to find applicants for the permanent police chief job. The mayor has previously stated that she believes Hubanks would be “an outstanding candidate.”

Hollingsworth said she’ll be searching for a “highly qualified person.” She added that she didn’t want to estimate a time on completing her search and hiring a permanent chief.

“I want to find the best person for the job and see him or her begin their duties in as short a time as possible, but I don’t want to have an unrealistic or unmanageable time restraint,” she said. “I want this to be done right. Our citizens deserve the best and so do our police officers.”

The mayor said she’s “happy” that the residency squabble is apparently “in the past.”

“I didn’t expect so much controversy,” she said. “Now we can hopefully move on to other business. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”