Pine Bluff’s hopes for jobs creation hinge on attracting new businesses and industries, which won’t be achieved without the city undergoing an image overhaul, Mayor Debe Hollingsworth believes.
Hollingsworth, speaking at Monday night’s town hall meeting at the Pine Bluff Convention Center, said such an effort will require persistence, consistency and a team effort.
The mayor said she and other elected city officials are busy “looking for a right fit” in bringing in a new employer, but success is contingent on individual citizens collectively dedicating themselves to improving Pine Bluff’s reputation from that of being afflicted by high crime, educational woes and other problems.
“It’s about how we think of our city and portray it,” she said. “It has to start in each of us. We need to unite to form a united front, and continue a march forward until we move our city forward.
“I believe we will again be the thriving city we have been in the past,” she said while drawing applause. “It’s going to happen.”
Hollingsworth garnered vocal support from several audience members, prompting her to add that local residents shouldn’t allow anyone to remark negatively about the city without a challenge.
“And that includes ourselves,” she said, noting that it makes a bad impression on others when persons downgrade their home city.
The audience also warmly received a presentation from animal control, which only recently was absorbed into the police department.
Police Lt. Michael Jenkins, who oversees the facility, related that dog and cat adoption rates have lately increased by 50 percent. Animal Control Officer Hodges Stewart displayed a small dog awaiting a home.
Hollingsworth asked if anyone at the meeting might care to adopt the puppy and then jokingly proclaimed that Alderman George Stepps, who was attending his first town hall gathering, had indicated he would. Stewart carried the dog to Stepps, who was seated at the head table with Hollingsworth and council members Bill Brumett, Lloyd Holcomb Jr., Steven Mays and Thelma Walker, also attending a town hall meeting for the first time.
Stepps was shaking his head and chuckling before reaching out to pet the puppy as his fellow aldermen, Hollingsworth and audience members laughed with approval. Stewart then returned the dog to its cage.
Afterward, a spectator thanked Stepps and Walker for their participation.
Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks briefly discussed the status of a proposed relocation of the police department’s patrol division to either the former Army Reserve/National Guard Armory near Townsend Park and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, or The Pines shopping mall. Hollingsworth said the possibility of manning both facilities as well as other substations is still being “investigated.”
Meanwhile, several citizens expressed support for cutting back closing time at several public bars and private alcohol-serving clubs from 5 to 1 a.m.
In response to questioning, Hollingsworth said the city had been granted a two-month extension on federal Housing and Urban Development Department demands concerning misappropriations of HUD funds within the city’s community development department. HUD is seeking reimbursement of up to nearly $480,000, dependent in part on delivery of specific documentation. Originally, HUD was allowing just 30 days.
Meanwhile, the mayor said, an internal city probe into the matter is continuing.