A proposed ordinance to establish a reduction in force policy for the city of Pine Bluff failed to get the votes needed for adoption Monday during a short meeting of the Pine Bluff City Council, losing four votes against to three for.
Alderman Bruce Lockett, who sponsored the ordinance, said it was modeled after a policy adopted by the Arkansas State Department of Finance and Administration and would create procedures to be used if the city's finances drop to the point that a reduction in force is necessary. He also said the policy could reduce the possibility of lawsuits.
“If there is a reduction in force because there are no funds, why would there be a lawsuit?” Alderman Glen Brown Jr. asked.
Alderman Win Trafford pointed to a section of the proposal that would pay employees whose jobs are eliminated by a reduction in force between $800 and $1,600 severance pay, depending on their seniority.
“We're saying that we have to cut them because we don't have the money to pay them, but we're also saying we're going to pay them severance pay,” Trafford said. “We don't need to tie ourselves down this way.”
Lockett argued that the city employee handbook contains a reference to a reduction in force policy, but there is not one. He said if a policy is not adopted, the reference should be taken out of the handbook.
He also contended that with the city continuing to lose population (and tax revenue), a major reduction in force may be necessary three to five years from now and his proposal would set out specific procedures should that happen.
“One of the problems with Pine Bluff is that we wait for the fire to start before putting it out,” Lockett said. “This would only kick in if the words workforce reduction were used.”
“You're creating an ordinance off a word?” Brown Jr. said.
Lockett, Alderwoman Thelma Walker and Alderman Steven Mays voted for the proposal while aldermen Bill Brumett, Brown Jr., Trafford and Lloyd Holcomb voted no. Alderman Donald Hatchett, who has been ill for several months, was absent. Mayor Shirley Washington said she had seen Hatchett and he was beginning to move around some and hoped to be back soon.
An addition to the Monday agenda appointing Wanda V. Neal to the Pine Bluff Aviation Commission was adopted without dissent.
Before the meeting began, Walker pulled a proposed ordinance increasing the clothing allowance for police officers and firefighters from $600 annually to $800. Like the reduction in force policy, that ordinance was up for a third and final reading.
The proposed ordinance did not contain a funding source and last week, Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant proposed moving $28,000 from the salaries account to the clothing allowance account to cover the funds needed for the police department. The money had been previously budgeted for the Community Liaison Officer position which Sergeant said would not be filled this year.
With the ordinance being pulled, a budget adjustment to move the funds was also pulled.