Solving the stalemate between the mayor and members of the Pine Bluff City Council on residency requirements for department heads was a major topic during the monthly Coffee with the Chiefs program Tuesday at First Assembly of God Church.
Senior Alderman Bill Brumett was the speaker and said the prosecuting attorney and an attorney for the Arkansas Municipal League have both said the problem needs to be fixed.
“Last night (during the city council meeting) I tried to clean up the problem but it was voted down,” Brumett said.
He had sponsored an ordinance that would have repealed the ordinance that requires department heads to live in the city limits but his proposal failed by a vote of six to two.
Later in the day, Brumett said in a telephone interview that he believes the council is “closer than ever to a compromise” on the divisive issue.
“I’m hopeful that the council can meet with the mayor, discuss it and come up with something that we can all live with,” Brumett said. “I want resolution. I believe we can work this out.”
Brumett said he doesn’t see a real obstacle to a settlement.
“I would like to get this behind us soon,” he said.
Mayor Debe Hollingsworth also attended the Coffee with the Chiefs meeting Tuesday.
“The residency requirement is a serious issue because public safety is the heartbeat of our community and it’s a responsibility I take seriously,” Hollingsworth said. “Give me the tools necessary to hire the most qualified person for the job, regardless of whether they live two miles from the city limits or five miles from the city limits. Don’t lock the city in.”
Hollingsworth said that with the current requirement, “we’re only hurting ourself.”
Former Pine Bluff mayor and current Jefferson County Judge Dutch King, who also attended the meeting, agreed with Hollingsworth.
“I’ve run a business all my life and I look to hire the best qualified people I can, regardless of race, color or creed,” King said.
King said that Hollingsworth “was elected by a landslide.”
“There were nine candidates and the fact that there was no run-off was unheard of,” King said. “People need to stand up and do what’s right.”
On another subject, Brumett, who also serves on the advertising and promotion commission that administers the so-called “hamburger tax” on prepared foods and hotel stays said the $1.5 million collected annually goes in large part to support the convention center. Brumett said certain businesses in town are still not paying the city the tax, which they collect from customers.
Brumett specifically mentioned Domino’s Pizza, which he said owed more than $60,000; Huddle House —“since the new leadership took over, they haven’t paid a dime;” and the Lil Steakhouse on Olive Street.
“That’s the same guys that owned Y-Not’s on West 28th Avenue and didn’t pay the taxes collected there,” Brumett said.
He said the city has been working with the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and businesses have to be current on tax payments to renew liquor licenses.
Brumett said he was “appalled at the aldermen who voted no” to a Hollingsworth proposal to spend some of the five-eights cent sales tax increase to make improvements to the Merrill Center.
The mayor had proposed using some of the money that has been set aside for bonds for a new community center, and Brumett said the former mayor “spent $1.5 million and nobody said a word.”
He said while the proposed new center will be primarily for senior citizens and young adults and the current Chester Community Center is primarily being used by young children, “The Merrill Center is where the 13 to 16 year olds go to play basketball.”
Brumett also said, “I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been about the future of this city.”