Fresh faces renew hope

The most recent monthly town hall meeting led by Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth was remarkable for a number of reasons. Moreover, it was remarkable for positive reasons. This turn represents a very pleasant departure from the needlessly adversarial tone that has marked so much of the last six months.

To begin, Hollingsworth bade the audience to defend the city against detractors. This is something we’ve long suggested. When we leave the city’s image and reputation to outsiders, we shouldn’t be surprised when it’s less than rosy. We must take an active role in crafting how the world views us.

“It’s about how we think of our city and portray it. It has to start in each of us. We need to unite to form a united front, and continue a march forward until we move our city forward,” Hollingsworth told the assembled crowd.

The meeting was also positive because the new head of the Animal Control department, Pine Bluff Police Lt. Michael Jenkins, shared some positive news about the herculean task he has inherited. Jenkins told the audience that adoptions at the shelter had increased by 50 percent. We know that doesn’t happen by accident.

We hope that Jenkins will be given the authority and the resources to rectify decades of poor management and substandard facilities. To that end we have three small bits of advice: officer training; improved facilities; customer service. We wish Jenkins well in his new endeavor.

We also noted that many citizens at Monday night’s meeting voiced their support for a measure requiring earlier closure of bars and private alcohol-serving clubs. The police have already shown that later closing time produces an excess resource burden — with the call rate doubling and sometimes tripling after 1 a.m. (We’ve heard more than one mom say that nothing good happens after midnight.)

While an earlier closing may have negative consequences for a few business owners, the later closing times have negative consequences for the rest of us. We hope the city council will act in the best interests of the majority, even if the business owners are more vocal.

The meeting also bore witness to a couple of unpleasant realities: the ongoing debate as to new facilities for the Pine Bluff Police Department; and the continuing saga of the misappropriated HUD funds. With a little grace both of these situations can be quickly resolved.

Lastly, we want to make a special note of two fresh faces at Monday’s meeting: City council members George Stepps and Thelma Walker. Along with Glen Brown, Stepps and Walker had declined to participate in all of the previous town hall meetings held this year. We are very happy that Stepps and Walker have seen the light on this issue. They are to be commended for putting aside factional differences with the mayor.

We believe it is important that all of the city council members attend these meetings. Perhaps no great revelations will come of it, but it should do them good to be reminded that they represent real, flesh and blood people — people who may have opinions and concerns that differ from theirs.

As such, we are glad that they chose to attend. We hope that they will continue to do so. If nothing else, their presence signals a willingness to receive direct feedback from those who they represent.

Why Brown refuses to get with the program continues to mystify us. We imagine that his constituents are equally baffled. Distant as the next election seems, this refusal will doubtless exact a political price.

While things are far from wine and roses here in River City, we take meetings such as these as a sign of positive things to come. There is much work to be done, but this kind of unity makes a good start.