By Tia Lyons
The El Dorado Historic District Commission reaffirmed its willingness to work with citizens in light of public backlash that was levied toward a former commissioner for comments that were directed at a local bank last month.
EHDC chairman Ken Bridges said Thursday that he had sent a letter of apology to First Financial Bank on behalf of the commission.
The letter was in response to a dressing-down former Commissioner Parks Hammond gave officials of First Financial Bank on Oct. 12.
Hammond admitted then that he intended to publicly admonish First Financial for submitting a post-Certificate of Appropriateness proposal for an ATM in Downtown El Dorado, which makes up the city’s commercial historic district.
The bank had installed the ATM in the area of Jefferson and Cedar in preparation for the grand opening of the Murphy Arts District in late September.
First Financial officials said the ATM was set up at the request of MAD, and the work was done on a tight timeline in advance of the grand opening celebration.
Certificates of Appropriateness are required for most exterior projects within the city’s commercial historic district — particularly projects that will alter the historical and architectural character of the district.
COAs must be approved by the historic district commission prior to the start of such a project to ensure that the work complies with the EHDC’s design guidelines for the district.
According to state law, COAs are required even if a city building permit is not.
On Oct. 12, Stewart Wilson and Melissa Jerry — senior vice-president of operations and executive vice-president/chief financial officer, respectively, of First Financial Bank — told commissioners the after-the-fact COA resulted from a misunderstanding.
Wilson and Jerry said they thought MAD had obtained the proper approvals, including a COA, for the project.
Hammond voiced his displeasure with the matter, saying he was “very upset that this comes up after (the ATM) was installed.”
Hammond, who had served on the commission for more than three years, had long been vocal about his consternation with receiving post-COA applications.
He told Wilson and Jerry on Oct. 12 that he would sign off on the COA for the ATM, adding, “We can’t punish you, other than publicly embarrassing you.”
Hammond later made a motion to approve the COA, but his comments did not go over well with many in the community, including city officials.
Four days later, Mayor Frank Hash notified Hammond that the El Dorado City Council planned to recall his appointment to the EHDC during the council’s next regular meeting.
Hash then advised Hammond that he had the option of resigning from the commission before the issue was added to the council’s agenda.
Hammond chose to resign, effective immediately.
Bridges did not attend the Oct. 12 EHDC meeting, and he addressed the situation Thursday.
“People have come here with all sorts of issues and all sorts of problems, and we have tried to work with them,” Bridges said.
“This commission is not in the business of public shaming. We’re in the business of public service. We welcome input from the public,” Bridges said.
With Hammond’s resignation, the commission is looking to fill two vacancies.
Commissioner John Benson Jr.’s term expires in December, and he has said that he does not plan to seek another term.
Elizabeth Eggleston, executive director of the EHDC, issued a reminder that the commission draws from certain disciplines — architects, property owners, historians, attorneys, real estate bankers, etc. — to round out its membership.
Historic district commissioners serve three-year terms.
Anyone who is interested in serving on the EHDC may request an application by calling the City Clerk’s office at 870-881-4877.
Commissioners heard about plans by BancorpSouth to erect a new sign for the ATM at its drive-through location at 101 E. Cedar.
Commissioner John Robbins, vice-president/mortgage loan officer at BancorpSouth, said the bank is making the public aware there is an ATM at the location, as well updating its signage there.
With the opening of MAD, Robbins said the bank is hoping to direct some foot traffic toward the ATM.
Robbins said the design and intended location of the sign have not yet been finalized, noting that the bank is waiting to hear back from its sign and marketing departments.
“We decided to bring it to your attention and let you know what our plans are,” he said, noting that bank officials will return next month with a formal COA request.
Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.