Torch passed, new path illuminated

The people of Pine Bluff have chosen a new course. With the landslide election of local businesswoman Debe Hollingsworth to the office of mayor, our community has made clear its demand for a different vision. In the spirit of giving her a fair chance to demonstrate her mayoral mettle, we offer a few suggestions for success.

First, and foremost, we admonish the new chief executive to regard the city’s woes not as single, isolated issues but rather as problems that are inexorably interconnected. In other words, plugging one hole at a time won’t work.

Systemic troubles require systematic solutions. Crime, failing schools, poor economic performance, and bad housing stock are all interrelated. You cannot effectively fix one without having plans for the other.

At times, it may seem as if we have asked her to not only walk the high wire, but to also juggle, balance a chair and carry a stack of dishes on top of the chair. We don’t ask because we want to watch additional failure. We voted with great confidence. Accordingly, we have high expectations.

Chief among those expectations is openness. The city has grown tired of mayoral reclusiveness and opacity. We are weary of department heads who dodge the media, and rely on sacrificial subordinates to craft their media presence. Any department head not ready to fully embrace a new era of scrutiny and transparency should deeply reflect on their professional tenure.

Collateral to this new openness, we ask for an new age of inclusiveness. Insular politics, drawn for the benefit of a select few is what got us to our present malaise. The new administration must now be one for all people.

In swinging wide the doors of city hall, Hollingsworth will doubtless be required to strain some old relationships and challenge new ones. Being mayor is as much about pulling from one side as it is pushing the other. As has been often said in this campaign season — Everybody is for change, just as long as somebody else has to do it. That should end now.

The first area of change we expect is for Hollingsworth to lead the city council away from well-ensconced bad habits. The worst of these is the predominant tendency to govern from emotion and gut feelings. While not all of our council members are susceptible, enough have demonstrated this proclivity that it is a serious problem.

Instead of the present government by emotion, we suggest something radical: government by evidence and best practices. There are tens of thousands of other cities in America. Many have faced similar issues to those now confronting our home town. We should learn from them.

Corollary to that, the disciplines of public administration, economics, criminal justice other social sciences can be used as real tools to craft evidenced-based policy. The time for folksy whim is passed. The day of professional city management is at hand.

As a check on this new management, we call upon the incoming mayor to inaugurate new (and revive a few abandoned) mechanisms of accountability. Hollingsworth, as a former Civil Service commissioner knows the value of that hastily disbanded body.

None of this is going to be easy. No remedy will be instantaneous. We expect no miracles. We expect honesty, integrity, open-mindedness, transparency, rationality, fairness and prudence. We will afford a brief honeymoon to get acclimated, but soon thereafter, sleeves must be rolled up and the people’s business attended. Congratulations to Hollingsworth. Let the work begin.