Vote follows racial lines in residency repeal defeat

Pine Bluff’s City Council split along racial lines Monday night in its latest action concerning conflicting residency requirement legislation for municipal department heads.

The council’s six black members — Charles Boyd, Glen Brown, Lloyd Holcomb, Steven Mays, George Stepps and Thelma Walker — opposed a repeal of Ordinance 5893 of 2000, which mandated that department leaders live within the city. Favoring the repeal and a new statewide residency blanket were the two white aldermen, sponsor Bill Brumett and Wayne Easterly.

As has been the case since the beginning of the controversy, which dates back to Mayor Debe Hollingsworth’s Jan. 1 appointment of Cleveland County resident Jeff Hubanks as interim police chief, discussions on the matter were sometimes testy.

In an unexpected outburst, Holcomb — a minister — unleashed his frustrations. Typically soft-spoken, Holcomb had been silent during a lengthy debate. As Hollingsworth urged a wrap-up of comments and a vote on Brumett’s bill, Holcomb requested and received permission to speak.

Qualifying that he believed the police and fire chiefs should reside here, he nevertheless expressed his dismay with the ongoing disagreement, likening the back-and-forth fray to a game of “pingpong.”

Challenging earlier claims of white flight by Brown, Holcomb’s voice began a steady rise as he said, “You can’t make people live here.” He then stunned the audience of about 75 persons by nearly shouting that the arguments “don’t make any damn sense.”

After declaring that the council “needs to abolish” current guidance with a compromise on fresh standards, he drew a round of applause when he said, “I’m sick of this foolishness” and complained about having to struggle to hear meeting dialogue because he’s “got to listen” to Brown talking “in my ear” during the sessions.

“This is not about black and white people,” Holcomb continued. “We need each other.”

He said once aldermen “get past this,” they’ll be “where we need to be as a council.”

Holcomb said he would not apologize for any of his remarks.

Mays, who said he was “willing to compromise on a distance” from their duty posts that department administrators might be able to live but isn’t able to accept the statewide expansion, echoed Holcomb in saying, “We’ve got to learn to listen to one another.”

Walker asked several questions on what criteria, if any, were considered by Hollingsworth in her process of hiring an interim police chief. Walker pointed out that one possible candidate had served as PBPD’s deputy chief while Hubanks is a retired lieutenant. Walker said she wasn’t “necessarily” speaking of current Deputy Chief Ivan Whitfield, who originally said he didn’t want to be chief but then stated that he felt he had been “disrespected” by the mayor when she failed to asked him if he wanted to serve in the post in an interim capacity.

Walker also cast doubt on Hollingsworth’s local residency when she served on the now-defunct civil service commission. Saying that the mayor and her husband, former alderman Jack Hollingsworth, had actually lived in Memphis for several years, Walker said the two were “non-continuous residents” of Pine Bluff.

Hollingsworth replied that she and her husband had had dual residences here and in Memphis, but she “paid taxes” in Pine Bluff.