The City of Pine Bluff’s Quality of Life and Animal Control divisions are in transition as city leaders finalize plans for their future.
Pine Bluff police officers formerly assigned to assist the divisions returned to roles in the police department earlier this week, roughly two weeks after the City Council voted to remove the divisions from police department supervision.
Former Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth vetoed the council votes on Dec. 28, but City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott deemed the vetoes invalid because more than five days had passed since the council’s Dec. 19 action. Hollingsworth believed that several days during which city hall was closed for the holidays did not apply to the veto deadline, but Arkansas Municipal League Director of Legal Services Mark Hayes said Hadden-Scott’s reading of state law was “unambiguous” in comments to the Commercial.
Quality of life, which handles the city’s code enforcement operations, is now operating under the Inspection and Zoning Department under director Mitzi Ruth, city officials said. Employees in animal control, which was restored to an independent city department, are currently working without a supervisor.
Code enforcement officer Eligha Lacy said police officers formerly assigned to quality of life returned to roles in the police department on Tuesday, and code enforcement officers met with Ruth for the first time Thursday morning. Ruth did not respond to messages left by the Commercial.
The transition has caused confusion because “we don’t know if we’re going or coming,” Lacy said, but employees continued to work as usual.
“We’re pretty much doing the same thing, just without the protection of the police department,” Lacy said. “We’re out canvassing the neighborhood, getting letters sent out to the citizens that aren’t in compliance with the ordinances.”
Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington said Thursday that she expected there to be an interim director for animal control in place by Monday. The city plans to hire a supervisor for quality of life or promote a current inspector to that position, she said.
Washington has asked Assistant Police Chief Ivan Whitfield for police to assist code enforcement officers if necessary.
“I’ve told them that if [code enforcement officers] have problems… they’re on standby,” she said.
Whitfield said code enforcement officers requested assistance once on Wednesday about towing an abandoned vehicle, but the call was not related to conflict with a property owner.
Finance Director Steve Miller said funding for the divisions will continue to be paid out of the police department’s budget until it could be transferred by a line-item budget amendment by the council. Washington expected the council to vote on a budget amendment at its first meeting in February.
Prior to 2013, animal control was an independent city department and code enforcement operated under the Inspection and Zoning Department. The council voted to transfer the departments under the police department after the election of Hollingsworth, who argued that having law enforcement backup would enable code enforcement and animal control officers to do their jobs more effectively and safely.
The council voted 7-1 in December to return the divisions to their previous arrangement, with supporters such as former Alderman George Stepps arguing it would be more beneficial to have the police officers on patrol. Hollingsworth has said she would like the council, which has three new members, and new Mayor Shirley Washington to weigh in on the matter on their own.
Washington and the council discussed the reorganization prior to their Jan. 3 meeting. Alderman Bill Brumett told The Commercial that the council could consider at a future meeting whether to keep the changes or to potentially hold a vote to repeal that change, restoring the departments to police department control.