No vote was held Monday by the Pine Bluff City Council on either proposal to re-establish citizen-led panels to hear disciplinary appeals from uniformed city personnel after both were tabled by their sponsors.
One of the proposals was from Alderman Steven Mays and would re-established the Civil Service Commission, which was abolished in 2011 as part of a lawsuit settlement. Mays’ proposed ordinance outlines a seven-member board of Pine Bluff residents, with appointments made by the city council.
City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott passed out copies of the settlement agreement, reached in July 2011, which reads that the city “will not amend Ordinance No. 6359 (establishing the successor panel to the Civil Service Commission) during its first six months of existence and will not repeal Ordinance No. 6359 during its first 12 months of existence.”
Hadden-Scott advised the council that they could not adopt Mays’ proposal because it has only been eight months since the settlement was reached and its adoption would be in conflict with the settlement agreement.
Mays agreed to table his proposal until July 18, but said it would not be going away.
“This is too valuable to the citizens of Pine Bluff,” Mays said.
The second proposal was from Alderman Thelma Walker and would retain the current Review Committee but make significant changes to it, most notably changing the committee makeup from city employees to members of the public. Its makeup would be 10 members divided into two panels of five members each. Any decision reached must be agreed upon by the majority of the whole number of each panel.
Members would have to be Pine Bluff residents and be registered to vote. They would be eligible for reappointment to one succeeding term. Members would be appointed by members of the city council and the mayor, with each alderman appointing one member and the mayor appointing two members — all subject to confirmation by the council.
Walker’s proposal is worded as an amendment to the ordinance that established the Review Committee.
Walker said she tabled her proposal because she wanted to make a few changes to it and also because Hadden-Scott had contacted her about some issues with it that need to be addressed for legal reasons.
Speaking during the public comments portion before the council meeting, the Rev. Jesse Turner, director of Interested Citizens for Voter Registration, said he is considering starting a petition to have a vote put on the ballot to restore the power to hire and fire the police and fire chiefs to the Civil Service Commission rather than the mayor.
“Should either one of those pass, hopefully No. 1 (Mays’ proposal), … we would move with the community to try and get enough signatures to restore that authority of hiring and firing the police and fire chiefs back to the Civil Service Commission,” Turner said.
Turner said the change would allow the police and fire chiefs, as trained professionals, to do their jobs without the worry of having to answer to someone who is in a political office and is not necessarily trained in their field.
At a previous council meeting on March 5, a representative from the Arkansas Division of the Police Benevolent Association Inc. stated that the police professional organization supports the re-establishment of the Civil Service Commission.
The Police Benevolent Association opposed the abolition of the Civil Service Commission when the council originally voted to dissolve it in 2007. The association filed a lawsuit challenging the change, and a judge ordered that the commission could not be dissolved until the conclusion of the lawsuit, which occurred in July 2011.
Personnel matters are now handled by the leadership of the respective departments. To preside over appeals of disciplinary actions, the city council voted to establish a three-member Review Committee made up of an assistant city attorney selected by the city attorney, a department head and city employee who are selected at random for each case.
In other business, the council:
• Approved 8-0 a budget adjustment to carry over from the 2011 budget $705,292 in street department funds to the 2012 budget for street overlays and a shop roof replacement project. Of the funds, $40,000 will be spent on street overlays and $663,292 will go to the roof project, according to a document attached to the proposal in the council agenda packet. An additional $400,000 from the five-eighths-cent tax fund will be spent on street overlays.
• Approved 7-0 a resolution that honors Alderman Irene Holcomb for her 23 years serving on the City Council by renaming Third Avenue Neighborhood Park the Irene Holcomb Third Avenue Neighborhood Park. The item is sponsored by Walker. Holcomb did not vote.
• And approved 8-0 a resolution that charged one property owner the cost of correcting nuisances on their property as delinquent taxes.