Albert Ridgell will resume duties as Pine Bluff city collector next week after the city council voted 6-0 Friday to override his July 31 termination by Mayor Debe Hollingsworth.
After a 62-minute executive session, Alderman George Stepps motioned for Ridgell’s reinstatement to his former post, which he had held since June 2007. Alderman Glen Brown seconded the motion and then joined Stepps and Aldermen Charles Boyd, Lloyd Holcomb Jr. and Steven Mays and Alderwoman Thelma Walker in providing the necessary six votes to supersede the mayor’s decision.
Aldermen Bill Brumett and Wayne Easterly were absent.
The mayor said that “by early next week,” she would provide a statement outlining her reasons for terminating Ridgell. Hollingsworth said her complaints are “well-documented.”
“I think it was a personal thing,” Walker said of the dismissal, adding that Ridgell “had taken abuse for quite a while” from Hollingsworth.
“I can’t say what her reasons were for firing him.”
Walker did reference some computer programming issues, however, saying, “Albert’s not a programmer.”
Walker said that “correspondence between the mayor, (Finance Director) Steve Miller and (internal auditor) Gina Devers” — with Ridgell being “left out” — contributed to Ridgell’s termination.
“I think he was disrespected,” Walker said of Ridgell, whom she praised as being “innovative.” She was also critical of Devers being named by Hollingsworth as acting city collector during Ridgell’s absence.
Walker said she won’t be holding any “grudges” against the mayor over Ridgell’s firing and doesn’t “lack confidence” in the mayor’s administrative abilities, but is glad the council can provide oversight on Hollingsworth’s actions.
“This is the path these six council members have chosen,” the mayor said after returning to her office. “It’s not the best path, in my opinion. I would like for them to understand that the city collector’s office provides a specific, critical service to the city, and the buck stops with me when that service is not proficient, efficient, sufficient or accountable.
“We need to remember that the council is the city’s legislative body, and the mayor represents the executive branch,” she continued. “The two functions shouldn’t intercede. When they do, the buck may not always stop with me or just with me. Suddenly, the council can become liable. I will respect their vote, but if and when repercussions occur, they may well be judged as the responsible entity.”
After the meeting, Walker was asked if she had considered recusing herself from voting because of a situation involving her son, restaurant owner Stanley Walker, and Ridgell, who in his job was tasked with collecting “hamburger tax” revenues from local food merchants. Stanley Walker, who owns Aisha’s Fish and Chicken at 1106 West 16th Avenue, was figured in June to owe up to $5,000 in back taxes but was still operating his restaurant although his city business license had been revoked.
Stanley Walker has since paid roughly $550 in taxes, reportedly to cover the past 12 months. Walker’s business permit was renewed last month.
Thelma Walker said she never considered recusing herself.
“There is no conflict of interest,” said the alderwoman, a member of the advertising and promotions commission. “None at all. My son is a hardworking businessman and will take care of his business. I had no reason to recuse myself.”
Walker said she was “insulted” when a Commercial reporter asked her if a “racial division” exists or is developing among council members and the mayor. Walker said she believes her record indicates she is “not racial.”
“Maybe you should ask the white aldermen the same thing,” she said, adding that Brumett “has never voted against” Hollingsworth. Brumett and Easterly are the lone white aldermen.