Pine Bluff election called into question

PINE BLUFF, Ark. (KTHV) - Allegations of a conspiracy to hijack the government of a central Arkansas city as the former mayor of Pine Bluff has filed to run in an election that some say should not exist. Current Pine Bluff mayor Debe Hollingsworth said Monday afternoon that she's confident that a judge will sort the whole thing out and that right now she's focused on meeting the needs of the city.

"We don't know what will happen from this point, but, the good thing is time is on our side," said Hollingsworth, inferring that the proposed election won't take place until November, if at all. "What's best for our city? And how do we move the city forward? And, if there is an election, how do we go about making it happen that will be the best for our city? And that part I don't know yet, I'm still thinking on it."

Hollingsworth delivered her State of the City address Monday evening and did not miss the opportunity to send a message to former mayor Carl Redus.

"I reflect back on the past 13 months as your mayor," she said during her speech, "and truly look forward to the next 3 years, did y'all catch that one?"

"I am [comfortable with her position] because when you've got the law on your side, that's a pretty strong case," added Hollingsworth. "When you look at a person that has filed and has determined that there's going to be an election, one person has said this, just one, it makes me wonder: what is the agenda here and do you have a self-serving agenda?"

Both a final court order and an official opinion of the Jefferson County prosecutor state that the next election for Pine Bluff mayor will happen in 2016. Nonetheless, the county Election Commission voted last week to hold a city election this year and Redus is the only person who has filed to run for mayor.

"There is a conspiracy to hijack Pine Bluff," said Jefferson County Election Commissioner Stuart Soffer. "They're all in it., I believe. It's well-planned, I got to give them credit, I give them a B-minus for planning, I really do, they had it together… I think conspiracy is a fair word, yeah, and hijack is an even fairer word."

"It's the law, it's what the law says," said Jefferson County Election Commission Chairman Ted Davis. Davis also served as Redus' chief of staff when Redus was mayor, a connection Soffer says should have prompted Davis to recuse himself from the issue.

"That's in my past, what other connection could there be?" said Davis. "I enjoyed that responsibility, I enjoyed having the opportunity to work for mayor Redus, it was a tremendous opportunity, it was an opportunity to contribute to this community which is my home and I enjoyed that so I don't see where there's a conflict."

"There is some ambiguity," added Davis. "There's some differences in opinion specifically the Municipal League and what has transpired between the judge's decision then I think that it needs to go to either our legislative body in the state or it needs to go to the Supreme Court… I've done my job, as the Election Commission we've done our job, it's not up to us anymore, whatever happens after this is up to someone else, we've done our job."

"The focus needs to be placed upon our Election Commission," said mayor Hollingsworth. "That should be a neutral, unbiased commission and here you've got the chairperson who was past administration's assistant."

"Ethics demand that commissioner Davis recuse himself," added Soffer. "How can you be the Chief of Staff for somebody for 8 years and have a vested interest in working his campaigns and then not recuse yourself? It's unethical."


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