Council’s conscience suddenly ignited

For more than a decade, the city government of Pine Bluff has been locked in a series of grudge matches, the only “release” from which has been a series of scandals, investigations and prosecutions. The metaphor of trying to put out a campfire with a can of gasoline comes to mind. Sadly, as Yogi Berra clumsily observed, “it’s déjà vu all over again.”

While there have been a few hopeful changes — most of which were brought about by the last election, some bad old habits just won’t die. Rather than focus on what might benefit the people they represent, certain members of the city council are content to engage in an impotent deadlock.

The imaginary crisis of the moment has been manufactured by city council member George Stepps with assistance from fellow council members Thelma Walker and Glen Brown. In their self-serving fantasy, Mayor Debe Hollingsworth’s appointment of Jeff Hubanks as interim chief of police is counter to local residency restrictions for city department heads.

All the while protesting that he doesn’t have “a personal agenda against the mayor” Stepps’ actions have only become emboldened. His triumvirate has even gone so far as to demand criminal prosecution of Hollingsworth over what they claim is a violation of the aforementioned ordinance. There’s only one problem: there’s no agreement as to which of the three conflicting city ordinances actually governs at this moment.

City Attorney Althea Hadden who, putatively could have — should have — been able to easily resolve the matter, has instead made things worse by an apparent reversal of her initial opinion in the matter. Ironically, an exhaustive knowledge of local laws is the one central criterion for a city attorney.

Of course her reversal is only one of many. When former mayor Carl Redus, Jr. engaged in exactly the same kind of practices with regard to the department heads of his era, the Three Amigos of Dissent were mute. So why now? What changed? What burning bush of good government suddenly, conveniently lit their consciences?

Thankfully, Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter decided Friday that he would not prosecute the mayor —as Stepps, Walker and Brown would have liked — because city ordinances conflict and — surprise, they haven’t been followed in the past.

In continuing another bold tradition of local government, council member Glen Brown ably demonstrated his proclivities at Monday’s council meeting. In a painfully protracted discussion — centered largely on the basic mechanisms of municipal bonds — Brown asked how information regarding bond funds for park renovations had been distributed, because he wasn’t aware of the details. Setting aside the fact that Brown would have voted on the issuance of said bonds in the first place, his current brevity of detail is alarming.

Hollingsworth attempted to explain that the details were included in the minutes from several meetings, each of which Brown would have — again — voted to accept. Even so, Brown stated that he doesn’t read minutes, and would prefer to be updated during the meetings.

We’d prefer that our well-paid city council members do their homework before voting on things. Relatedly, we also prefer that council members actually understand what bonds are, how they work, and what their issuance portends for city finances.

End the end, the enterprise of good government is largely a matter of well-chosen words — be they erudite public address, competent debate or wisely crafted laws. The lower one’s facility for effective communication, the lower one’s capacity to govern effectively. The more one removes oneself from the flow of relevant information, the more one renders himself irrelevant from the business of government.

As such, we feel there is a word with which the voters of Pine Bluff should become familiar: kakistocracy. The term is Greek in origin. The second half “-cracy” is familiar. It means “to rule.” The first half, “kakisto-” should be. It is the superlative form of the word “kakos” — the Greek term for “bad.”