Arrested development — Police divisions’ move awaits decision by city council

A proposed move of two police department divisions from the Pine Bluff Civic Center’s Joe Thomas Public Safety Building has been handcuffed while the city council awaits a joint recommendation of the public safety and pubic works committees on a new location.

The panels reviewed recommendations from a project review team as presented by Mizan Rahman prior to the Sept. 17 council meeting, but no decisions were made in a nearly two-hour session that featured some sharp criticisms and harsh questions that Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. said surprised him.

“I was taken aback that Mr. Rahman and his team were treated as they were when they had taken much time to study the matter and narrowed down the options,” Redus said Friday in his office, noting that the departmental “face lift” was included in the voter-approved $1.3-million bond issue in February 2011. Rahman, president of ETC Engineers Inc. of Little Rock, manages the city’s bond projects.

“He has a tremendous reputation of being a wonderful engineer,” Redus said of Rahman.

In February 2012, Police Chief Brenda Davis-Jones toured the A.W. Nelson Building across East 10th and 11th avenues from the civic center and said she thought it might be the best facility for a move. But when speaking during the committees’ joint committee this month, she said that “for the money,” the department currently “can’t afford anything but the NAPA Building” at 1100 Main St., which Rahman recommended.

Other relocation options for the patrol and detective divisions as presented at the meeting included the city-owned 1101 Building at 1101 Main Street or new construction.

Redus also favors the NAPA Building, saying it offers “a better price performance.”

“I would like to see a Main Street presence for the police department,” said the mayor. “The downtown district is the heart and soul of Pine Bluff, like in any city. We’re trying to bring it back, because the first thing people look at when they come into a city is its downtown area.”

There are differing opinions on Rahman’s recommendation, however.

Alderwoman Irene Holcomb asked why Rahman and his team had found no “cons” and only “pros” for the facility.

“It can’t be perfect,” she said.

“My job is to give you facts and figures,” Rahman said. “It’s my thinking alone.”

“You should do what you’re instructed to do,” Holcomb said, to which Rahman told her, “You’re free to give cons.”

After Davis-Jones made an analogy in which she basically said everyone wants a Cadillac but might have to settle for a Ford, she outlined some particulars on the NAPA Building. Holcomb responed, “I don’t like people to insult my integrity or my intelligence.”

Moments later, Holcomb said, “I say what I want to say (as a council member). If what I think wasn’t relevant, I wouldn’t be here.”

Larry Matthews of the city’s economic and community development department told the committees that a decision needed to be made quickly because of “a two-year time frame.”

“I don’t appreciate being talked down to,” Holcomb said.

Alderman Bill Brumett said he’s an engineer by trade and accused Rahman of “comparing apples with cantaloupes” and added, “You guys have slanted this whole deal” when reviewing an assessment’s figures on existing and new square-footage costs on the three buildings.

Both Brumett and Holcomb had simmered by the end of the committees’ meeting, but neither elaborated on their feelings.

“The Nelson Building would have 10,000 square feet that we wouldn’t be utilizing,” Redus said Friday. He said that facility would best serve the city as a downtown location for a possible incoming business or industry that would add to the city’s tax base.

“I want the best for the citizens of Pine Bluff,” he said. “There’s nothing for me to gain personally by either of the options. My job is to make the best decisions in utilizing tax-payer dollars. I don’t determine needs and requirements. That’s up to the project team.”

Redus said Rahman and his team will be meeting with the committees again prior to the full council’s Oct. 1 session so that the panels might be able to agree on a recommendation.