Editor's Note, this version corrects a previous error regarding the funding source of the $400,000 for the Merrill Center as well as the resignation date of former Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Director April Layher.
The Pine Bluff City Council on Monday will hear a first reading of legislation to abolish the city's Parks and Recreation Commission, weeks after the parks department director resigned in controversy. The council will also consider resolutions to spend $400,000 of revenue from the city's 2011 five-eighths cent sales tax to renovate the Merrill Center, and to monitor expenditures of the tax. Voters passed the Go Forward Pine Bluff sales tax in June. The tax will start to be collected Oct. 1.
A related resolution would require the city finance director to monitor expenditures from the tax revenue. The finance director would be required to produce monthly and cumulative year-to-day reports on expenditures and present both to the council at its second regular meeting each month.
Another proposed ordinance up for a first reading would expand the mayor's authority to make expenditures of up to $20,000 for “non-professional services.” Another resolution would authorize the city collector and finance director to destroy records. Alderman Win Trafford's request to rezone a historic home at 4001 S. Cherry Street to operate a bed and breakfast will also receive a first reading.
The ordinance abolishing the Parks and Recreation Commission would place control of the department under the mayor.
“It is the belief of the city council that the administration of the city's parks and recreation facilities will be better handled by vesting in the mayor's office, at least temporarily, the overall supervision of the facilities and the personnel employed to exercise the care and control of the facilities,” the ordinance states.
Parks commission chairman Omar Allen has said he opposes the dissolution of the commission. Former parks department director April Layher resigned May 1, two weeks after the commission suspended her without pay for allegedly violating federal law by failing to pay overtime to two employees. Layher denied the accusation, and called the suspension “unjust and excessive.”
The commission hired interim parks department director Trudy Redus as the permanent director on July 10. Sixty people applied for the position, but none were interviewed. There are also questions by some parks commissioners about whether or not Redus' hiring is legal, since a vote to hire her was not taken in a public meeting setting, as required by state law. (Please the Commercial's top story in today's edition for further details on this issue).
The council will hear the first reading of a proposed ordinance amending the municipal code to add “non-professional services” to the list of things the mayor or her designees can purchase. Such purchases would require three “telephone quotes,” or quotes solicited by telephone, before being made. Currently, the mayor or her designees have the authority to spend up to $20,000 to purchase “supplies, apparatus, and materials.”
The council will also consider a request from the city collector and finance director to destroy “records in their respective departments which are outdated, superfluous, and no longer need to be maintained.” By law the council must approve destruction of city records.
Up for a first reading is a request by Alderman Win Trafford to rezone property containing a historic home known as the Greystone house. Trafford seeks to have the property rezoned from residential use to all the operation of a bed and breakfast. The request has drawn opposition from neighbors, including mayor's assistant Keidra Burrell, who are concerned about increased traffic, declines in property values and a double-standard for Trafford after another applicant's bid to re-open the nearby Eden Park Country Club was denied years ago.
The council will also consider a resolution to appoint Wil Jenkins to the Pine Bluff Civic Auditorium Complex Commission. Another resolution would approve an agreement between the Pine Bluff Police Department and Magnolia firearms dealer Blackwood Gun Works to swap the department's used handguns and confiscated weapons for new pistols.