In his Elegies, the Roman poet, Sextus Properitus, penned, “Always toward absent lovers love’s tide stronger flows.”
A couple of millennia later, an author identified only as “Miss Stickland” authored a piece for an 1832 edition of The Pocket Magazine of Classic and Polite Literature in which she rephrased the sentiment as, “‘Tis absence, however, that makes the heart grow fonder.”
Perhaps in matters of love this maxim holds true. In politics such musings do not apply. Those assembled for Monday night’s town hall meeting at the Pine Bluff Convention Center can attest to some notable absences. In particular, three members of the Pine Bluff City Council — George Stepps, Glenn Brown and Thelma Walker — didn’t feel obliged to attend.
While we’re sure that they will offer reasons as to why they could not be present, their collective absence seems awfully coincidental to the fact that these three council members have each vociferously criticized or otherwise challenged key elements of Mayor Debe Hollingsworth’s “new direction” for the city.
The five council member who did deign to be present — Bill Brumett, Wayne Easterly, Charles Boyd, Steven Mays and Lloyd Holcomb — enthusiastically participated, answered questions and appeared engaged with the proceedings.
Did they necessarily agree or follow lock-step behind Hollingsworth? No, nor should they. Their presence was not tantamount to assent.
It bears mentioning that nearly every single city department head was in attendance. Interim Chief of Police Jeff Hubanks gave a brief presentation on his philosophy of policing and his plans for systematically assailing crime in our city.
The assembled public did not shrink from asking pointed questions — many of which reminded us that the firm hand of police work need not be tendered with an iron fist. One wonders what kinds of questions the three missing council members might have been asked.
Several city officials dared to give out their home and cellphone numbers, their email addresses and to make offers of availability and access. It’s almost as if they acknowledged who is working for whom. These small acts, just in themselves, reflect a different tone than we have seen in the past. They speak to a spirit of collaboration and receptiveness. They symbolize a change from government being done to the people in favor of government being done with and for the people.
None of these positive developments should be taken as blindness to the fact of widespread crime, economic malaise and a paucity of resources for our young people. Each of these three lapses was also well-covered in the meeting.
In a welcome about-face from many preceding administrations, the present one seems to own the grimness of certain conditions, even while working for a better future. While this may seem like an unimportant semantic distinction, it symbolizes an attachment to the realities of life in Pine Bluff — which most of us do not have the luxury to avoid.
As to the broader luxuries of avoidance, we owe it to ourselves to ask why Stepps, Brown and Walker didn’t attend the town hall meeting. They don’t have to like the mayor. They don’t have to agree with her. But showing up and hearing what’s on the public’s mind would certainly help the three represent those who elected them. Maybe it was just a mix-up and they’ll be available for next month’s get-together. It’s on March 11 if they’d like to put it on their calendar.