Council committee's meeting format changing in response to complaint

The door to a civic complex conference room in which the Pine Bluff City Council’s Development and Planning Committee hears individual appeals of property condemnation matters will remain open in the future, Chief Inspector Mitzi Ruth said Thursday.

Ruth said the alteration is in response to a complaint filed by Ben Coleman Sr., a local developer who owns an unspecified number of rental properties. Coleman was not served notice to attend the committee’s most recent meeting last week, but showed up in a quest to obtain a repeated extension concerning some Linden Street housing he owns. Coleman said he has been awaiting some federal Department of Housing and Urban Development rental rehabilitation grant funds to bring the properties up to city codes.

Ruth, who said future committee sessions will also be open to anyone who desires to attend the one-on-one discussions instead of waiting in the adjacent council chambers, said that contentions on Coleman’s property in question date back to 2010. Coleman was seeking a six-month extension but was granted only a one-month extension.

Coleman, who declined to say how many properties with which he’s involved because he such information could jeopardize his “security,” said Thursday that he’s learned that the HUD funding “is on its way.”

Coleman said he complained to authorities about the closed-door meeting format because he wanted to be able to view the “injustices” committed by the committee in its actions. He said he wants to make certain that he receives the same “information and treatment” as others and accused the committee and inspection and zoning officials who make recommendations to the panel of selectively “picking winners and losers.”

Asked how many renovation extensions he’s received in the past, Coleman said he was uncertain but the number wasn’t extensive. He said he’s been in the rental business for more than 45 years.

Alderman Charles Boyd has served on the committee “six or seven years” and is its current chairman. He said its meetings have been conducted in their present format for about three years.

“No one else has ever complained,” said Boyd, who discounted Coleman’s opinion that the meetings are being “held in secrecy.”

“The meetings are recorded, the meeting tapes are available to anyone and The Commercial usually has a reporter there,” said Boyd. “There’s no secrecy involved.”

Ruth said one reason the sessions had been moved to the conference room was that when they were held in council chambers, people in waiting would sometimes disrupt the proceedings with questions or comments concerning their appeals while others were being considered. She said many have expressed favor of the more orderly setting offered by the present arrangement.

“It can get noisy in the council chambers, and we’ve closed the door (to the conference room) to keep the noise down for the individual appeals,” she said. “I’m told that the legality is that we have to have the door open to be accessible, so we’ll keep the door open and function the best that we can.”

Coleman said he isn’t seeking “special consideration” but has grown tired of being “harassed” by inspectors and having his properties vandalized “over a period of years.” He said he was angered when he recently telephoned Assistant City Attorney Joe Childers to discuss the frustrations and Childers “said he didn’t want to talk to me no more and hung up on me.”

“That’s true,” Childers said Thursday. “Mr. Coleman wasn’t listening to me. Our conversation was not leading to any resolution. He was not interested in my disagreeing with him. So I hung up.”

Coleman said that in spite of his troubles, he’s being treated “more fairly” by the administration of Mayor Debe Hollingsworth than the previous administration of Carl A. Redus Jr.