A Pine Bluff alderman whose proposed ordinance to require city department heads to live within city limits says he may wait to next year to bring the issue back after it’s expected to get a mayoral veto Thursday. The ordinance, sponsored by Ward 4 Alderman Steven Mays, passed 5-3 this week. Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth has promised to veto it.
Mays says he believes the ordinance is a step toward creating a positive attitude among leaders in a place that’s faced a declining population in recent years.
“If [department heads] live in the city, that would be a way of going forward, carrying everything upstream,” Mays says. “We’ll have their revenue and their bodies in the city limits. And we have to start somewhere on our way back uphill. The only reason we’re in decline is because of the leadership we’ve had over the years.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city had a population of about 55,000 in 2000. In 2014, the city had a population of about 45,000.
The ordinance allows any current department heads who live outside the municipal limits to retain their jobs. The rule would only apply to new hires. The ordinance would take effect on the first day of 2017, if it survives a veto. Six city council votes are needed to override the veto.
Mayor Hollingsworth says she opposes the recent ordinance in part because it limits the number of qualified for potential job openings.
“When you think about each city and what city government provides to the citizens—we provide a service to the citizens. And we wan the most qualified people for that particular service,” she says.
But Mays says if all department heads lived in the city, they would care more for it.
“A city is somewhere you’re supposed to love and raise a family and work in,” he says. “And I just feel we need 100 percent out of them.”
Hollingsworth says she has a veto document drafted and plans to issue it Friday morning. She is leaving office at the end of the year, after losing a Democratic primary to Shirley Washington in March.
Last year, Mays sponsored an ordinance requiring all city employees live within city limits. That measure failed. In defending her plan to issue a veto on the ordinance passed Monday, Hollingsworth also points to an ordinance passed in 2013 requiring all city employees to within 12 miles of the city corporation limits. She says it is evidence that Pine Bluff officials and employees can have some interest in the locale beyond simply receiving a paycheck.
Mays says he’ll likely not bring the ordinance back for a vote at the council’s next meeting on October 6. He says he’d rather bring the issue back up next year under the city’s new leadership.
KUAR has requested an official list of home addresses of Pine Bluff department heads, after conflicting statements from Mays and Hollingsworth on the exact number of those living within city limits.