By Ray King

After meeting remotely by Zoom since April, the Pine Bluff City Council will be returning to the Convention Center for their first meeting in June.

During a joint meeting of the council’s Public Safety and Public Health and Welfare Committees Wednesday, Council Member Ivan Whitfield said that since City Hall has reopened and the employees are back to work, “it would be in the best interest of the employees and the public” if the meetings were again held in public.

Council Member Win Trafford agreed, saying that it will be while before meetings can return to the council chambers but going back to the convention center, where two meetings were held in March, will allow the public to attend.

Committee meetings will continue to be done by Zoom for the present time.

Trafford, who serves as Chairman of the Public Safety Committee brought up two resolutions dealing with an incentive program for first responders and a recruitment and internship program for first responders.

On Monday, a resolution combining the two was pulled until they could be separated and revisio8ns could be made to the program to allow Go Forward Pine Bluff to act as a facilitator for the program. Previously, the Community Development Department administered the program and $10,000 was set aside to pay costs incurred by the department. Under the revision, Go Forward Pine Bluff will perform the service at no charge to the city.

During discussion, Whitfield said he had mixed feelings about the incentive program, which will provide up to $10,000 for the police and firefighters to purchase a home in Pine Bluff or $5,000 for repairs to a home already owned by police or firefighters.

Whitfield said he felt like it was “passing the buck on a city responsibility to other people.”

The third member of the committee, Council Member Joni Alexander said she had no problem with the plan and said the money, which is already included in the 2020 city budget comes from the 2017 Go Forward Sales tax.

“It’s not their (Go Forward Pine Bluff) money,” she said. “I’m ready to go ahead, get this voted on and move on.”

Both resolutions will be sent to the Full Council for their June 1 meeting with no recommendation from the committee.

In his report, Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant said the department has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for $174,985 as part of COVID Virus Emergency Funding. Those funds will be used for P.P.E. (Personal Protection Equipment). He also said that the Office of Professional Standards is now taking precautionary measures to allow testing for police officers to resume.