Stepps offers possible quick fix to residency disagreement


Pine Bluff Alderman George Stepps said Thursday afternoon that if Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks obtains a Pine Bluff address and registers to vote here, “you won’t hear anything else from me about a residency requirement on him.”

Stepps — who along with Alderwoman Thelma Walker and Alderman Glen Brown filed a complaint on Tuesday against Mayor Debe Hollingsworth and asked Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter to determine if Hollingsworth should be charged with “malfeasance, misfeasance and/or nonfeasance” and possibly dismissed from office over the issue — said Hubanks could maintain his Cleveland County residence and “his choice of where he would stay at any given time would be his business.”

Reminded that former Interim Police Chief Collier Hill — who had a permanent residence in Arizona — did not register to vote when here, Stepps said the difference was that Hill “said from the beginning that he wasn’t interested in being the permanent chief.”

Hollingsworth has stated publicly that she wants to conduct a national search for a permanent chief, but if Hubanks is interested in the post she feels he’ll be “a good candidate.”

Hubanks is a retired PBPD lieutenant.

“The mayor has the authority to hire and fire police and fire chiefs,” Stepps said. “That’s the way it is and the way it would be if Jeff Hubanks gets a local address and registers to vote here. As long as we’re following the law, there won’t be a peep from me. I’ve heard that some folks have offered to help him get an apartment or house here. Perhaps he ought to take them up on that.”

Stepps repeated a Tuesday statement, saying he has no “animosity” or “personal agenda” against Hollingsworth, and added that he wants “to work with her to help improve the city.”

“I don’t have an immediate comment,” Hollingsworth said when told of Stepps’ suggestion on ending the nearly 80-day standoff.

On Thursday morning, Stepps presided over a meeting of the council’s three-member administration committee, which he chairs. Aldermen Wayne Easterly and Lloyd Holcomb Jr. are the panel’s other members. An ordinance sponsored by Alderman Bill Brumett — which calls for a repeal of residency requirements for city department heads as established in 2000 and which received its first reading at Monday night’s council meeting — was eventually forwarded to the full council with a recommendation that it be rejected, after Easterly had recommended its adoption.

Discussion among the committee members, joined by Hollingsworth and Walker, was lively at times. At one point, Holcomb said that he believes department heads should live within the city, but “the law” wasn’t followed during the administrations of former mayors Dutch King and Carl A. Redus Jr.

“The only way we’re going to solve this issue is for all eight council members and the mayor to sit down and talk,” Holcomb said. “We need to abolish the old measures and come up with a new ordinance.”

He later addressed points of contention concerning inconsistent enforcement of the 2000 ordinance.

“It doesn’t matter if it occurred under Mayor King, mayor Redus or Mayor Hollingsworth,” Holcomb said. “Wrong is wrong. But we can’t fight for the city because we’re too busy fighting each other. We need to get rid of this old ordinance and start over.”

Stepps’ voice began to rise. He told Holcomb, “You can say what you want,” and added, “I turned it over to the prosecuting attorney, but I won’t tell him what to do.”

After comparing the situation to several motorists disregarding a stop sign but only one or two being ticketed, Stepps said “The law is the law.”

Hollingsworth, saying she wanted “to set the record straight,” took issue with being accused of breaking local law. She said City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott initially said the mayor’s appointment of Hubanks was in accordance with city law, specifically a relaxed 2002 ordinance that dealt solely with uniformed police personnel and was said to have overridden the previous legislation. After Hubanks’ hiring, Hadden-Scott changed her opinion and declared that the 2000 ordinance ruled and Hubanks’ appointment is a policy violation.

Walker said that Hubanks has been victimized by the turmoil.

“This whole thing is unfair to Mr. Hubanks,” Walker said, “and it’s really no reflection on him. This has got to be resolved so we can move on.”

Saying she wants to aid Hollingsworth in establishing her administration, Walker told the mayor, “You can’t keep going in the same direction as your predecessor and be going in a new direction (as Hollingsworth pledged in her campaign). Redus isn’t here anymore and we can’t blame him.”

After additional exchanges among the various parties, Easterly intervened, “We’re not getting anywhere” and made his unsuccessful do-pass motion.

“Whatever occurs does not negate what’s already happened,” Walker then said. “It’s up to the PA.”

Stepps’ committee also decided to refer to the full council for possible amendment an ordinance calling for an increase in the membership of the parks and recreation commission from five to 11. Holcomb recommended that only two additional members be appointed instead of six.

The proposal — which also outlines various commission obligations — originally was given a unanimous do-pass recommendation by the public works committee

, which is chaired by Alderman Steven Mays and includes Brumett and Stepps. When it came before the council for its first reading, Stepps withdrew his favor.

Hollingsworth insists the changes are necessary so the commission can better function with its assorted committees. She said the financially troubled department is in need of deeper oversight.

Stepps, a former parks and recreation commissioner, said the panel has been operating with five members since its inception 42 years ago and needs to be given an opportunity to “show what it can do with new instruction it’s receiving.”

The mayor disagreed, saying desired parks and rec enhancements “will require more commissioners” to ensure proper development.

“If you continue to do the same thing, you’re going to get the same results,” she told Stepps.

Walker suggested that Parks and Recreation Director Angela Parker may not be capable of running the department alone, and that two co-directors may be needed. Stepps sided with Walker, saying, “If leadership fails, all parts of that program will have failures. It might be that she needs help.”

Hollingsworth said such a management realignment would be up to the parks and recreation commission.