Despite objections from several members of the Pine Bluff City Council Monday, legislation dealing with political signs and allowing Mayor Shirley Washington to negotiate an agreement with the Urban Renewal Agency were approved.

Despite objections from several members of the Pine Bluff City Council Monday, legislation dealing with political signs and allowing Mayor Shirley Washington to negotiate an agreement with the Urban Renewal Agency were approved.

Council members also reappointed Jimmy Dill to the Urban Renewal Agency Board and approved three resolutions dealing with renovations of the Merrill Center.

Regarding political signs, the council voted 6-2 to adopt an ordinance that amends a previous ordinance on temporary signs by removing an exemption allowing political signs to be used without buying a permit. The amendment also changed the time frame for such signs from a total of 21 days before the election to 21 business days.

The ordinance was up for only a third reading but a majority of the council voted to suspend the rules and read it three times, and then add an emergency clause.

Council members Steven Mays and Bruce Lockett opposed the proposed ordinance, as did former Council Member Glen Brown Sr., who spoke before the meeting in public comments. Brown, who is a candidate for Ward 3 in the March Democratic Primary said that before the ordinance was adopted, signs could be displayed up to 45 days before an election and there was never a problem. He also objected to paying a fee for a shorter time limit to display the signs.

“I see this as going backwards,” Brown said.

Lockett questioned the fact that the ordinance exempts real estate signs but not political signs. By way of explanation, Assistant City Attorney Joe Childers said real estate signs do not refer to a specific event or time frame while political signs do.

Mays plans to introduce an amendment to that ordinance which would change the time limit to 60 days rather than 21 business days.

A resolution authorizing the Mayor to enter an agreement with Urban Renewal was approved 5-3 with Council Member Ivan Whitfield joining Mays and Lockett in voting no.

“I have a problem with this piece of legislation,” Whitfield said, adding that when he thinks of Urban Renewal, he thinks about “building up, not tearing down.”

Whitfield said he thought code enforcement should do the job of tearing down (condemned structures) and “Urban Renewal should do more than just tear down. I don't like the structure of this.”

He also cited the City of Jonesboro where he said Urban Renewal works with the housing authority on improving that city.

“Jonesboro didn'[t have as much blight as we do,” Washington said. “We've got to try and clean up the area and then have developers come in. Our goal is to do what Joesboro has done.”

The legislation which was approved will allow Urban Renewal to work in the Urban Renewal area to reduce blight which Washington said will free up Code Enforcement to work outside that area.

Lockett said he opposed the legislation because “I don't believe public agencies should go into the demolition business.”

On the reappointment of Dill, who is currently chairman of the Urban Renewal Agency Board, Whitfield joined Mays in casting the only no votes. Whitfield said he “had a problem continuing to appoint the same people” and felt “the council needs to look at projects in the neighborhoods. We can't do it all downtown.”

Much of the work Urban Renewal has done to this point has been in the downtown area and Washington said that focus will change as the process moves forward.

“I feel it's not a good idea to change at this point,” Washington said.

Three resolutions dealing with the Merrill Center won unanimous approval Monday.

The first of those authorized the Mayor to execute a contract with Reed Architectural Services for architectural services on the renovation work. The firm will be paid $72,840.

A second resolution will allow the Mayor to sign a contract with Environmental Protection Services for asbestos abatement at the Merrill Center. The company will be paid $25,300.

Finally, a resolution allowing the Mayor to sign a contract with Flynco, Inc., to perform the construction work on the renovation in return for a fee of $778,000. According to a tabulation form attached to the resolution, Flynco submitted the lowest of five bids that were received on the project. The renovations will begin this month.