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OPINION | EDITORIAL: Monday's fiasco easily avoidable

July 21, 2021 at 2:49 a.m.

A train wreck? A dumpster fire? Certainly a huge embarrassment. And altogether avoidable.

We are referring to the council melt down on Monday night at the Pine Bluff City Council meeting.

To get to this point, we have to go back many weeks ago when a search committee was narrowing a list of candidates for Pine Bluff police chief. The committee ended up with three people, but two were not considered options. So at the end of the group's work, one candidate stood: Robert Jones, police chief in a smallish town in Georgia.

He was brought to town and toured and quizzed and talked to and quizzed some more. He said God was guiding him here, and it wasn't about the money because what he's making there and what was being offered here were about the same. He presented well, had good answers to questions and he went home after developing an enthusiastic backing from many of those he met while here.

Soon after he left, Mayor Shirley Washington offered him the job. All was going well, until Jones asked for more money than was being offered. There was some shock at that, considering he had to know what the job paid. But it appeared that if the mayor was going to be able to bring him here, she was going to have to get the pay up or the chief's position.

As the council considered that request from the mayor, members could see that this was a good opportunity to include all police and fire employees in the conversation.

The conversations continued. Days and weeks went by. Proposals started to be developed. A committee meeting was held. Council members weighed in. Three options were offered. Police and fire organizations weighed in on which option they wanted.

All of that was pushed into the city council meeting on Monday night. There were three options, each being promoted by individual council members. The room was packed with police and fire officers. Which option would it be?

Then Alderman Ivan Whitfield spoke up and asked the question, something along the lines of "how are we paying for this?"

And amazingly, as it turned out, the city really can't pay for it. Even counting the hundreds of thousands of dollars the Pine Bluff gets from the gambling taxes on Saracen Casino Resort each year, there's not enough to go around.

As Alderman Bruce Lockett put it: "We don't have any of these proposals that the projected revenue is going to break even or above. All of them are going to be in the negative."

And what if there is a sudden need for money, Lockett asked, such as with the lawsuit with the county over jail space that could cost a quarter or half million dollars? That money, as well, would come out of casino revenue, he was told. Lockett then stated the obvious, that being that the council had "jumped the gun" on the subject of raises.

In the end, all proposals were abandoned, including the one that would increase the salary for a police chief.

The bottom line is that Monday's fiasco of a meeting should never have taken place. City leaders should not come together to finalize plans for a project and not know as precisely as possible if the project can be afforded. This subject in particular has, as we said, been discussed and hashed over for weeks. In all that time, did no one wonder about paying for it?

It is a positive that the brakes were employed before the car careened over the cliff. But it is breathtaking that the city got so near the precipice in the first place.

Surely we can do better than this would suggest.

Print Headline: Monday's fiascoeasily avoidable

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