School board member takes issue with bank CEO’s opinion


I wanted to share a few thoughts in response to your editorial on Sunday, April 27, 2014.

We are all aware that as a local news gathering organization, you have the opportunity to express your thoughts in the form of editorials. Although many of the citizens of Pine Bluff might not agree with your published opinions/conclusions, society has accepted that editorials are a right of the newspaper industry. As the sole owner of the newspaper, you are not required to get out in the community and talk to my neighbors or citizens in my elected school zone. You simply have the option of making a statement that is distributed throughout the community. Yet when we speak of the community, all of these people count too.

I was asked by a member of your staff about my opinions regarding the school board’s recent decision to separate the job of athletic director and head football coach. Just like we’ve done hundreds of times before, we (the board) made a decision as a governing body.

However, this time, a segment of Jefferson County’s population, many of whom don’t even live within the city limits of Pine Bluff, objected to that decision. Several anonymous individuals even called and blatantly used racial overtones to threaten and make disparaging remarks about members of the school board. In other words, they lacked the courage to attend a board meeting and express their rights as taxpayers within this public school district.

I would imagine that these same people very seldom visit the schools in the Pine Bluff School District, (a visitor log-in sheet at each school could confirm as much), and I would also question what level of financial or material support they have provided over the last five years to the Pine Bluff Public Schools.

Yet, for one board decision, we are publicly disparaged by several of the city’s more prominent businessmen. Our judgment is questioned and we receive a personal letter from the CEO of a large banking institution. What bothers me is not the personal letter, but the writer himself leads one to believe that the bank and all of its customers (of which several hundred are my neighbors) support Mr. Makris’ position.

Many of my neighbors bank at Simmons and were stunned and surprised by the CEO’s actions. They told me that even though the bank officials might have personal opinions, they didn’t have the right to use the “community’s bank as their bully stick.” They stated that the letter by the bank’s CEO gave the blank impression that Mr. Makris spoke for every Simmons bank customer in the Pine Bluff School District and many of my neighbors (and those who elected me to serve on the public school board) assure me that he was not speaking for them.

Yes, I do take exception to that type of behavior, especially by an organization’s CEO that should represent “all the members of the community his bank serves …, especially the people up and around 13th Avenue here in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

I would hope that our city’s banking and financial institutional leaders don’t just choose to get involved when their favorite cause is on the line. That would be a poor reflection of their real commitment to quality schools within the city limits of Pine Bluff. Not the city limits of White Hall or Sheridan, but of Pine Bluff.

As elected board members, we don’t have a choice not to represent the zones we live in and many of my neighbors support the decisions I made regarding the AD position. Mr. Makris obviously believes that the customers of Simmons Bank, who live within the city of Pine Bluff, support his position or he would have written us a personal letter from his home address and not from the top floor of Simmons Bank. Unfortunately, those every day customers that I spoke to don’t share Mr. Makris’ sentiments, nor do they have an office in the tallest building in the city. They simply cash and deposit their weekly earnings in the institution he directs.

I hope that in the future, the CEOs of the local banks will take an interest in all the decisions that affect student success and the total school programs in the Pine Bluff School District. An overwhelming interest in what the school board does with the head football coach/athletic director’s position and not much else sends a terrible message to the community. I’ll bet the 4,000 plus students who don’t play football and their parents and all those Pine Bluff citizens would really appreciate how much he cares about something other than whether the athletic director’s position in the Pine Bluff Schools is filled by the local bank director’s favorite or a solid math teacher.

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Harold Jackson is a member of the Pine Bluff School Board.