Newly-elected Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth considered her first City Council meeting a success.
But during that first meeting, the council retired to executive session to review her first decision in office -- firing Police Chief Brenda Davis-Jones. It marked the second executive session in which the council reviewed the decision, after an emergency special meeting last Friday.
Hollingsworth hired Jeff Hubanks, a retired Pine Bluff lieutenant, to fill the Interim Police Chief position the same day she fired Davis-Jones.
Since then, questions have arisen about residency requirements in city ordinance, which requires department heads in city government to reside within the city limits of Pine Bluff.
No action was taken during the executive session, but Alderman George Stepps said the hire would be referred to the Administration Committee, which he chairs.
"We'll bring in counsel to review the ordinances and this personnel issue," he said. "We hope to do that very soon and we will notify the other members of the council and the media when we have that scheduled."
Firing of Police Chief
"She was terminated because she's a woman and because she's black," said a member of the crowd during the public comment section of the meeting.
Allegations race played a role in Davis-Jones termination and hiring her replacement were part of two public comment portions made to the council
"A panel of people who supported Debe Hollingsworth in her bid for mayor were selected to make up a panel to select the Interim Police Chief," said Sam Whitfield, father of Assistant Police Chief Ivan Whitfield. "Of the approximately six or seven candidates interviewed, all the candidates were white male. Ivan Whitfield, the highest ranking black officer in the department was not allowed to apply."
Mayor Hollingsworth would not give any definite reasons for showing Davis-Jones the door.
"Our viewers haven't been provided with reasons for her termination, can you provide those for us?" we asked Hollingsworth following the City Council meeting.
"With new leadership, we determined her services were no longer needed," Hollingsworth replied.
"But why is that?" we asked to follow up.
"Because her services were no longer needed," Hollingsworth reiterated.
"But was it an issue of not performing, not meeting standards?" we continued.
"Because her services were no longer needed. I've been advised that's all I can say at this time," she replied.
"Is that legal counsel advising you of that?" KARK asked. "Yes," she said.
Hiring Davis-Jones' Replacement
Hollingsworth also wouldn't answer whether anyone considered for the Interim Police Chief position was African American.
"Were any of those considered African American?" KARK asked, based on allegations made during the public comments.
"We had some applicants that were retired police officers. those were the ones we interviewed," she said.
"But were any of those individuals African American?" we asked.
"We had five applicants," she said.
"Why won't you answer the question of whether any of them were African American or not?" we asked again.
"Because it doesn't make any difference race doesn't make any difference. Race does not make a difference. We hire on qualifications only."
But Hollingsworth did address the issue of Whitfield not being considered for the job, if indirectly. When asked whether he had been allowed to apply Hollingsworth said, "We decided we wanted a retired officer to fill the interim position so that anyone presently employed at the department would have a chance to apply for the permanent position."
Despite dodging some bumps in the road tonight, Hollingsworth said she's committed to transparency and above-board operations as she starts off on her road as Pine Bluff Mayor.
"Absolutely. We plan to have conference calls every Tuesday morning with the media, following city council meetings," she said. "We've set up our first town hall schedule where citizens can come and talk to the Council and city leaders outside of the City Council meetings. We also plan on having a radio show to address citizen questions," she said.