Council lacks votes to express ‘no confidence’ in police chief

A resolution that would have expressed “no confidence” in Police Chief Brenda Davis-Jones failed Monday when the Pine Bluff City Council split 4-4 on the issue and the mayor did not cast a vote.

But two aldermen who voted against expressing no confidence in the chief also told Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. they expect him to address the mounting displeasure with Davis-Jones’ leadership and questions that remain unanswered about allegations made against her publicly by the assistant police chief last month.

“I share Ms. Holcomb’s concerns,” Alderman George Stepps said, referring to comments made by Alderman Irene Holcomb that Redus should be more open and communicative with the aldermen. “The reason I didn’t vote yes is that I want to come to you and have some dialog with you before we come out here and vote, and I think it’s going to be important that you listen to what we have to say, because it could have very well went 6-2 tonight, and I think that it would have been if it hadn’t have been that some of us felt like that maybe we still might have a chance to dialog with you concerning this situation in hope that we get it rectified.”

Redus said he is always open to dialog.

Holcomb said she voted against the item because she wanted to give Redus and the chief the benefit of the doubt that they would be able to improve things without it resorting to a no-confidence vote.

“The arrogance that you showed tonight showed me a few things,” Holcomb said, referring to an angry reaction she got from Redus after she said that some department heads do not feel like they have to communicate with the council or respect anyone but the mayor, and she feels that is an attitude that has spread because of the mayor’s behavior.

Voting in favor of the no-confidence vote were the proposal’s two sponsors — Aldermen Wayne Easterly and Thelma Walker — and Aldermen Bill Brumett and Steven Mays. Voting against the item were Aldermen Holcomb, Charles Boyd, Glen Brown and Stepps.

Easterly’s comments garnered applause from an audience that was vocal and responsive throughout the meeting.

“This is about doing what’s right for the city of Pine Bluff and the police officers that serve this city,” Easterly said. “There are things that are going on that are unprofessional, they are not as they should be, and that’s the reason this legislation was brought forward because there needs to be something done, and there needs to be something done now. … If you do what’s right, you’ll vote for this, for the rank and file officers and for the citizens of Pine Bluff.”

Redus said that Davis-Jones could not be in attendance because of pre-planned time off to spend spring break with her children. A message left on her city cell phone Monday evening was not returned. Contacted last week about the proposed no-confidence vote, Davis-Jones said she had no comment.

Redus spoke in favor of the job Davis-Jones has done since Redus hired her in June 2010. The audience responded with jeers and laughter, particularly to Redus’ statement that crime is down, that she was hired because she was the best person for the job and that it was partly thanks to her work that Pine Bluff is in a pattern of growth.

Redus said manpower is at full staff, the department is better equipped, is getting more grants, started the AmeriCorps program and increased the number of female officers hired.

“So as manager and mayor, I don’t understand when you say that the chief’s not doing the job,” Redus said. “I don’t manage on accusations. I manage on productivity and end results. The end result that I see that’s taken place within our police department is better service to this community than we’ve had in quite some time.”

Redus acknowledged the increase in homicides that occurred in 2011 as compared to 2010.

“But homicides can’t always be placed — the type that we are having — at the foot of the police department,” Redus said, adding that many of the homicide suspects and victims knew each other.

The police department is not perfect, he said, but neither is any other department, and the city is constantly striving to improve. Redus asked the council to continue to support the chief and her command staff.

One person clapped at the conclusion of Redus’ comments.

Brumett asked Redus if there has been any kind of formal response from Davis-Jones about the accusations leveled against her last month by Assistant Police Chief Ivan Whitfield. Davis-Jones fired Whitfield in February, but the firing was overturned by the council. Whitfield accused Davis-Jones in a letter to the council of retaliating against him for refusing to identify a source who had provided him with information that reflected unfavorably about Davis-Jones’ alleged boyfriend.

“Those accusations were found to be untrue,” Redus said.

Brumett asked if there was some sort of documentation that could be provided to the council.

“Research that was done by internal affairs on that situation, those accusations were found to be untrue,” Redus said.

“Those accusations all are untrue?” Brumett said.

“Whether it was all of them, I can’t say to that, but that was just what you said: accusations,” Redus said.

Brumett said he has asked for this previously and would still like to know what the chief’s answers are to the accusations and have them provided as a document to the council. Redus said he would have it done.

Holcomb said the unanswered questions are very disturbing to the public.

“I think if there had been more dialog from the chief to the council members this would have never come up, if there had been more dialog period, not only with her but with other department heads, because under your administration they’re under the school of thought, and make these statements, the council has nothing to do with what I do, I work for Carl Redus,” Holcomb said, with several aldermen making signs of agreement.

Redus interrupted Holcomb and told her that no one had said that.

“I absolutely think it’s disrespectful for you to sit there and make a comment of that nature,” Redus said, raising his voice. “If there is, you tell me who that individual is, ask that individual to come and make that comment publicly. … As a senior council member, you are making a very, very disparaging remark.”

“Your attitude is wrong, mayor,” Holcomb said.

“No, I’m telling you, no one has said that,” Redus said.

“I have tried to talk to you about her,” Holcomb said, adding that she has also attempted to talk to him about communication with department heads in general.

Later in the meeting, Holcomb told Redus that he and Davis-Jones should be more open to the council, communicate with them, include them in decisions and not alienate them.

“The way you were talking to me, I could have easily said, well, she can go, and that would have been a fifth vote, but I think you should be a little more cognizant of the fact that you alienate the council and don’t make it inclusive. You tell us nothing, you hide things, you can’t even go to the — in all my career (of more than 20 years on the council) I have never gone to the finance office, [and had the response] ‘You can’t get this information unless the mayor says,’” Holcomb said, before adding that Redus’ dismissive attitude toward the council is spilling over into the way many of the department heads are now also treating the aldermen.

“You treat your legislative body like we’re idiots,” Holcomb said.

Redus disagreed with Holcomb’s statements about employees wanting to run things by the mayor’s office before releasing them.

“Every piece of information in this city is transparent and open,” Redus said, going on to state that the city complies with the state Freedom of Information Act. “We make it a habit of not making anything difficult for people.”

Redus told Holcomb that if she ever encounters the problem again, to call his office and he will have the employee comply with the information request.

“The last thing I need to do is micromanage,” Redus said, the rest of his statement drowned out by laughter from the audience.

Mays also commented on both Davis-Jones and department heads in general.

“I’ve talked to a lot of officers, and what I’ve seen on the inside, you brought her here from Georgia and you’re running the department pretty much for her,” Mays said. “A lot of times, when she speaks, it seems like you scripted it, you told her just what to say.”

Redus said Mays was wrong.

“I’ve noticed a lot of disgruntled officers and things like that, and I feel like if you just let her run the department the way that she was brought here to do, I think that she could do a better job. As a matter of fact, a lot of different department heads are saying that.”

Brown said he didn’t feel like a piece of legislation against an individual was the best way to address the issue, that there are better ways to go about it.

Boyd said that when you call for someone’s removal, the evidence should be more clear as to why that is necessary.

Redus made a comment to the effect that the opposition to Davis-Jones was simply an attempt for some of the aldermen to capitalize on her unpopularity during an election year.

Walker — who, along with Mays, is running for mayor — said the proposal was not about capitalizing on anything.

“I see what other people see, people in the department and the people that are in the street. It’s not anything that’s being capitalized on. Anybody can see it. You don’t, but everybody does,” Walker said.