Rivals explain goals representing 3rd Ward

Tonight, the 3rd Ward runoff election will likely determine the fate of candidates Glen Brown Sr., the incumbent, and William Fells.

In an exclusive interview with The Commercial's editor Byron Tate, the candidates outlined why they are the preferred choice for the position.

Brown emphasized his experience and strength and noted that his opponent is young and lacking experience. He also mentioned that his opponent recently moved to the 3rd Ward.

Fells outlined his priorities if elected, including improving the quality of life in Pine Bluff. He stressed the need for a municipal "clean team" with weekday operations as a key component of his plan.

He also said he would work with the mayor and Street Department to identify potholes and things that need to be repaired. "There's also a lot of outdated street signage and a lot of neighborhoods and all they have are those stone concrete markers that are faded out," said Fells. "They're leaning over. That's all they have for street signage and it's almost impossible to navigate."

Brown called Fells "a recorder," implying that Fells had repeated himself throughout the entire campaign season.

"He's programmed to say the same thing," said Brown. "He doesn't have any ideas because he doesn't have anything he's done."

In the interview, the candidates engaged in a discussion on several topics, including crime prevention, community outreach, and Go Forward Pine Bluff.

Brown, who has opposed Go Forward Pine Bluff since its inception, voiced concerns that the group aims to usurp the city government and take control, leaving the City Council with diminished authority.

"That was my belief and that's actually what happened," he said. "I have not seen one building, one statue of nothing that will say this is where your $30 million has gone.

Brown also expressed his disapproval of how the organization spent the tax dollars.

"Go Forward don't come back to see us. They just spend the money the way they want to spend it," said Brown. "That's superseding municipal government so from the inception again I knew that it was illegal."

Brown asserts that an attorney general's opinion backs his claim.

Additionally, he thinks supporters of the group influenced two candidates to run against him, comparing their approach with the one used against former council member Ivan Whitfield.

"If all holds true, he'll be the yes man for this group," said Brown about Fells, with Brown going on to question why Fells left a good-paying job working for the mayor to run for City Council.

"He's been pushed by those people and especially those people that want this private group," stated Brown. "Nobody knows him. He's 25 years old and he hasn't done anything."

In response, Fells said he felt called to run for the City Council. "I believe that there are some things that I could do on the council," said Fells. "Before I shared my decision with anyone, the only people I discussed my decision with was my family. ... No one asked me to run for this office and I'm definitely not going to be working for anybody but the people of the 3rd Ward."

Fells said leaving the mayor's office was a financial sacrifice but that making the move shows his commitment to serve the community. "I believe that it's not about what I can gain from this position; it's about what I can do to work for the people of the 3rd Ward to make sure that Pine Bluff is gaining something," said Fells, who added that he is an independent voice. "This isn't about me."

Despite knowing inner-city operations, Fells said he would not divulge private discussions. However, he acknowledges some concerns, particularly regarding the 2017 sales tax initiative that was passed to support Go Forward projects.

"I believe that whoever was in charge of the city of Pine Bluff in 2017, if the people said they wanted something it was their responsibility to make sure that that was delivered so everybody on the City Council and in the mayor's office should have been supporting the people's will," said Fells. "That's what we did now as we came closer towards the time. When it was time to come back up for a vote there were certain concerns that I did have."

Fells gave examples, one being that the first special election in May to extend the Go Forward-sponsored tax was held too soon because there were many Go Forward projects that had not yet been completed.

"I think that if you're going to be going before the public asking for a renewal of a sales tax, you have to have a bit more tangible accomplishments in order to gain their trust," he said. "I also just believe there needed to be more community outreach before we put this on the ballot like let's look back at the first seven years, what did we like, what did we not like, what are the things that we want to keep and where are some of those things that we don't want to keep."

The meetings organized by GFPB in each ward were not well-attended, according to Fells. Ideally, he would have preferred a more extensive community outreach effort before the initiative was placed back on the ballot.

"It would have had greater buy-in from the public," Fells said. "And then, of course, I believe that you know with the Urban Renewal situation that happened with the financial misconduct, I believe that that was very wounding to public trust."

Fells was referring to the alleged embezzlement of close to $700,000 from the Urban Renewal Agency. Two men were charged. One, Maurice Taggart, was shot to death at his home in late August. Another man, Rodrick Morris of Houston, who also was charged in the case, has a trial date in May.

Fells advocated for a collective effort in Pine Bluff to address several issues. These include road repairs, park improvements, and police recruitment and retention.

Brown emphasized the importance of recreational outlets for youth. He also called for transparency in the use of tax dollars if a tax increase is considered. Taxpayers should be informed about the allocation of funds and how they are being utilized, according to Brown.

Fells said he believes that regardless of the differences between him and his opponent, everyone desires clean and safe neighborhoods and opportunities.

"I believe that there are some things that the council can address in its capacity to make that a reality for more people," he said. "I just hope to have the community support in this endeavor."

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