Stepps resolution demands compliance with 2000 ordinance

The Pine Bluff City Council’s Administration Committee will meet at 2:30 p.m. Friday in the council chambers at the civic complex to discuss apparently conflicting ordinances on residency requirements for Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks. But Alderman George Stepps, chairman of the three-member committee, has already made up his mind on the matter.

Stepps, the council’s third-ranking member in seniority, is sponsoring a resolution on the agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting. The measure — which is non-binding as a resolution — calls for “directing that all city directors, including the chief of police, immediately comply with city residency requirements for department heads” as stated in Ordinance No. 5863, which was adopted in January 2000 but hasn’t been enforced. An ordinance, if adopted, is recognized as law enacted by a municipal government.

Stepps differs with Mayor Debe Hollingsworth, who believes the old legislation was negated by a June 2002 ordinance (No. 6021) that states that police department applicants and current uniformed officers “shall be required to establish residency” within the state “no later than 30 days after day of hire and maintain” such residency “while employed.”

“I’m going by what the ordinance says,” Stepps said in referencing the initial ordinance. “I’m either going to be a lawmaker or a lawbreaker, and I’m not going to break the law.”

Asked if he thought the 2002 measure wasn’t inclusive of an interim or permanent police chief, Stepps replied, “No. The chief is not included in the wording of that ordinance.”

Stepps said he’ll listen to comments from the committee members — fellow aldermen Bill Brummett and Lloyd A. Holcomb Jr. — and anyone else who wishes to speak at today’s public meeting, but his position on the issue is “firm.”

“I won’t change my mind,” he said.

Brumett, the senior alderman, said he was “disappointed” by Stepps’ actions.

“He has a right to do whatever he thinks is correct,” Brumett said of Stepps, “but I was hoping we could have a discussion and then come to some sort of a decision and make a recommendation to the full council before any sort of legislation was written, let alone placed on the agenda.

“I won’t be supporting Mr. Stepps’ resolution as he has presented it,” Brumett added.

Holcomb, the only freshman alderman, has declined comment on the issue, saying he needed to research the matter before formulating a decision. The committee was to have met Tuesday afternoon, but inclement weather forced a rescheduling.

In addition to Hubanks, whose home is in Cleveland County, other non-resident department administrators include Gail Blackerby, Larry Reynolds, Albert Ridgell, Brandon Southerland and Robert Tucker of the cemetery, transit, collector, animal control, and inspection and zoning departments, respectively. Blackerby and Reynolds contend they’re immune from a residency requirement because they were employed before the enactment of the 2000 ordinance.

Tucker, who resides in Redfield, has not returned a call for comment. Ridgell, reportedly a Pulaski County resident, spoke with a Commercial reporter but declined comment on the issue. Southerland, who lives “just outside of White Hall,” said he was never told of a residency requirement when he was appointed to his administrative post by former mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. Southerland, his wife and four children reside in a house they began making mortgage payments on seven years ago, and he said that “having to move now would be a major upheaval for us.”

Hubanks said he’s focusing on his job duties and remains “confident” that “the elected leaders will collectively decide on what’s best for our city.”

He said that whatever decision is made, “I’ll be notified and follow the mayor’s directives.”

Hollingsworth, who was not available for comment Thursday, said previously that the “human factor” needs to be a consideration in the council’s decision-making process. She pointed out that various factors can play a part in an individual’s selection of a place of residence.

“I don’t believe that a person’s worth or job proficiency could truly be defined or measured by his or her address,” Hollingsworth said.