Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth vetoed ordinances Wednesday that would remove the Animal Control and Quality of Life divisions from the Pine Bluff Police Department, but there is some question whether or not the veto is valid.
This development follows a Pine Bluff City Council vote of 7-1 at a meeting on Monday, Dec. 19, that removed these divisions from the police department’s control, ending a two-year period in which code enforcement decisions were backed by law enforcement. Alderman Bill Brumett was the lone alderman to vote against these measures.
City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott deemed the veto invalid Wednesday in accordance with Arkansas law. She cited A.C.A. §14-43-504 (d)(1)(A): “A mayor may veto within five days, Sundays excepted, after the action of the city council thereon, any ordinance, resolution, or order adopted or made by the council, or any part thereof, which in his or her judgment is contrary to the public interest.”
Hollingsworth said she vetoed these ordinances because “there was never any concrete or factual information to back up the claims. If there is an issue within either department, I have not heard of one. If the council thinks there is one, the council members should bring it to us.”
Hadden-Scott gave an analysis of the aforementioned law, stating: “A strict reading of the statute ‘excepts Sundays,’ for the purpose of counting the five days, which literally means that the mayor’s veto should have been filed, not later than Saturday, December 24, 2016. Since City Hall is normally closed on Saturdays, it is conceivable that it may have been permissible for the mayor to file her veto on the ‘next business day’: December 27, 2016; as is legally recognized and practiced with numerous official filings.
“However, under the present facts, I will not address that issue, because the mayor’s veto was not filed until the day after the ‘next business day,’ December 28, 2016. Thus, even when read in the light most favorable to the mayor, the mayor failed to observe the formalities required for a veto under the above-recited statute.”
Pine Bluff municipal offices were closed Thursday, Dec. 22; Friday, Dec. 23; and Monday, Dec. 26, in observance of the Christmas holiday. It was unclear Wednesday whether or not those days would count toward the five-day deadline. Also unclear was which arm of government makes the definitive determination on the matter and whether or not the veto is valid.
Regarding the issue, Arkansas Municipal League Director of Legal Services Mark Hayes said that “Althea’s reading of the law is unambiguous. … The issue will be placed squarely on Mayor-elect Shirley Washington and the new council. Do they even want those ordinances or do they want to repeal them? The new council will have to make a decision one way or another. They will repeal or not repeal the ordinances. Shirley Washington will have to address the two ordinances.”
Hollingsworth contended the police department is functioning well running the two agencies. As a result, she opposes the proposed removal of the two divisions.
“Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Hollingsworth said. “Because you have an issue, you want to get rid of the department? It means you logically address the issue and make it better. When they start a sentence with ‘I think’ or ‘I feel’, it is not based on facts.”
Hollingsworth added she believes Mayor-elect Washington and the newly elected City Council members “should have an opportunity to review and research the best practices for both of these divisional changes and make their decisions.”
The council will see the addition of Bruce Lockett, who beat incumbent George Stepps; Win Trafford, who beat incumbent Glen Brown Sr.; and Donald Hatchett, who defeated Shelia Moon. Hatchett will succeed incumbent Charles Boyd, who did not seek re-election.
They will join incumbents Thelma Walker, Glen Brown Jr., Steven Mays, Brumett and Lloyd Holcomb Jr.
Hollingsworth opposes aldermen making decisions based on feelings. She said she feels her hair does not always look great but that does not prevent her from going to City Hall.