Stepps addresses residency requirement issue

Pine Bluff Alderman George Stepps said Friday that he wants “to set the record straight” on an ongoing controversy concerning required residency for the city’s 26 department heads.

“I feel that this is something I need to say,” Stepps remarked as he gave The Commercial a printed statement.

The disagreement on the issue began after Mayor Debe Hollingsworth hired police department retiree Jeff Hubanks as interim chief shortly after she took an oath of office on Jan. 1. Hubanks is a Cleveland County resident.

The council has failed to reach accord on the matter and rejected a proposal to replace existing and possibly conflicting residency guidance with a new ordinance.

“Newspaper accounts of the controversy as well as certain editorials would lead you to believe that I support the residency requirement for the purpose of blocking the current mayor from appointing the interim police chief to the position permanently,” Stepps wrote. “I assure you that these suggestions are not true.”

Stepps added that it’s the responsibility of the department administrators to “carry out and/or enforce city laws, ordinances and regulations as well as to supervise” over 500 municipal employees. “These 26 (administrative) positions represent more than a million dollars in salaries, all paid with tax dollars,” he said.

Stepps said he believes it’s not “in the best interest of the city” for its department heads to “govern this city” but “live in other cities or counties.”

Stepps said citizens should ask themselves the following questions:

• “Should your tax dollars be used to support department heads who do not live, shop, worship, vote, or their children attend school in this community?”

• “Does it make sense for us to pay department heads to oversee city business from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. in their official capacities but then leaving the city having no relationship with the community?”

• “Are department heads that are unwilling to live in this community fully committed to the best interest of this community?”

• “Do you want your tax dollars to provide a vehicle and gas for employees who do not live in the city?”

Stepps said he’s devoted to Pine Bluff, “not the interest of neighboring cities and counties,” and believes “our tax dollars should be spent here and the people who govern us should live here.”