This is in response to the article in the Commercial on Friday, March 22, 2013, and the Editorial on Sunday, March 24, 2013.
Does it strike anyone else as odd that after six council meetings, two special council meetings and three administration committee meetings that Mayor Debe Hollingsworth decided to blame the City Attorney for this residency fiasco. Does anyone believe that Mayor Debe Hollingsworth would have neglected to inform the council and the citizens that “The City Attorney” subsequently changed her mind, after advising her that she could hire Chief Hubanks. Seriously???!!!! I’m no psychologist, but human nature dictates that Mayor Debe Hollingsworth would have “set the record straight” three months ago, if there was any truth to her statement. So much for “transparency.” However, her statement comes on the heels of the complaint which was lodged against her with the prosecuting attorneys office. Conveniently, she blames me, the City Attorney, after almost three months of discussion on the residency issue.
For the record: On Dec. 26, 2012, Mayor Debe Hollingsworth asked me to be present for the termination of the previous police chief on Jan. 1, 2013, at 2 p.m. She stated that she wanted legal counsel to be present as a precaution. I agreed.
On Jan. 1, 2013, after the termination, Mayor Hollingsworth stated that she wanted to meet with me on another issue. First, she asked me whether there was an ordinance that required her to appoint the assistant chief of police to the position of interim police chief. I told her that the job description for the assistant chief requires him to act as the chief in his/her absence. However, I advised her she was not required to appoint the assistant chief.
Her next question concerned the statute that authorizes the city council to override her appointment of the police chief. I provided Mayor Hollingsworth with a copy of the relevant statute and discussed the process. At the end of our discussion, I told her to let me know whether I could be of further assistance. I informed her that I was headed to Jacksonville to visit my parents. I left City Hall at approximately 3:30 p.m.
I arrived in Jacksonville at approximately 5 p.m. While enjoying my dinner, I saw a news broadcast that showed footage of the departure of the previous chief and the appointment of the interim chief. I was surprised that I wasn’t extended the simple courtesy of being apprised of her selection for interim chief, nor the swearing-in ceremony, which took place a couple of hours after I departed from City Hall. I had to learn of this on the evening news.
SHE NEVER TOLD ME THAT SHE INTENDED TO HIRE CHIEF JEFF HUBANKS.
SHE NEVER ASKED ANY QUESTIONS REGARDING THE APPOINTMENT OF CHIEF HUBANKS.
The next morning, Jan. 2, 2013, as I was preparing for work, I received a telephone call from Alderwoman Thelma Walker. She asked me to pull the ordinance regarding the residency requirements for department heads and chiefs of fire and police departments. She advised me that Chief Hubanks did not live within the city limits, which was contrary to the ordinance. I printed off a copy of the ordinance and headed to work.
On my way to work, I received a call from Mark Hayes, Arkansas Municipal League attorney, inquiring about whether there was existing legislation that required the mayor to appoint the assistant chief to interim chief. I told him that I had spoken to the mayor about it on the previous day. I reiterated that no such ordinance existed. Since I had him on the line, I shared Alderwoman Walker’s concern about the interim chief’s residency. I told him that I had to confirm that he did not live in the city. He told me to communicate this issue to the mayor immediately, which I did. (Calls can be verified from my phone records.)
When I addressed this issue with Mayor Hollingsworth, she told me that she checked a state law that only required the police chief to have a valid driver’s license and live in the state of Arkansas. I told her that the law is broad. However, municipalities can draft legislation to fit individual jurisdictions.
Eventually, I met with the mayor, Evelyn Horton and Ben Trevino about two existing ordinances regarding residency. (PBCO section 2-123 and 21-30) After a lengthy discussion, I told her that the appointment of the interim police chief was contrary to the city’s residency requirement. Later that same day, she requested that Assistant City Attorney Joe Childers and I meet with her and her staff to further discuss the residency issue. Mark Hayes attended this meeting via speaker phone. At that time, Mr. Hayes advised that “arguments can be made for both (pieces of legislation), but the residency requirement will likely prevail, if it were to be litigated.” He continued by suggesting that the ordinance be repealed, modified or enforced. (This concludes the discussions through Jan. 2, 2013.)
Now, three months later she claims that I, the city attorney, advised her that I subsequently changed my mind after initially telling her that she could hire Chief Hubanks. Why not reveal it at the first council meeting; or the second; or the sixth? BECAUSE IT IS A LIE!!!!
For the past two years, I have diligently worked to earn the confidence of city employees, elected officials and citizens of Pine Bluff who seek legal advice on city matters. I routinely research each issue and exhaust all resources in an effort to provide sound legal advice. I resent this misrepresentation by Mayor Debe Hollingsworth. Moreover, I stand ready to address any questions at the next council meeting, if afforded the opportunity or if further clarification is needed.
I believe Debe (Mayor) was chided by the Commercial editor for her “misstep” when she wasn’t forthcoming about the reason she dismissed one of the city’s department heads. However, it appears that she has quickly graduated to A TOTAL DISREGARD FOR THE TRUTH!
• • •
Althea Hadden-Scott is the city attorney for the city of Pine Bluff.