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Change of planners: Little Rock Planning Commission has five new faces and a sixth on the way.

The maintenance staff at Little Rock City Hall may need to install a revolving door for the Little Rock Planning Commission.

Five new faces have appeared on the 11-member panel during the past eight months.

Four commissioners resigned for various reasons.

Another will leave after serving the maximum of two consecutive three-year terms.

Jerilyn Nicholson, the senior member of the Planning Commission, hasn't seen such turnover since she was appointed in 1980.

"We've had an incredible amount of change caused by a mixture of normal attrition and unfortunate circumstances," says Nicholson, who represents the Little Rock School District on the commission. "We need to be able to bring the new people up to speed fast, especially with the turnover we've had."

A sixth commissioner, Walter Riddick III, is not seeking reappointment because of the time demands of his new job. In September, Riddick became a deputy prosecuting attorney with the 6th Judicial District Drug Task Force.

Even though his term on the commission is up, Riddick will continue to serve until the Little Rock Board of Directors names a replacement.

"We serve until a successor is ... appointed," says Riddick, a member of the U.S. Army Reserve. "... Six years is enough for me. That's actually five years if you count the five months I was overseas in Operation Desert Storm and the four months on active duty in 1989."

The most recent changes occurred Nov. 19 when the city board appointed two new members and reappointed John McDaniel and Kathleen Oleson to second terms.

McDaniel is the commission's vice chairman. If tradition is followed, he is in line to become the next chairman.

Planning Commission chairmen preside over meetings and appoint members to the commission's Plans Committee and Subdivision Committee.

A new chairman will be selected at the commission's Dec. 3 meeting.

New members of the commission are Jim VonTungeln of Hutchinson & Associates Inc., a financial consulting and investment services firm, and Emmett Willis Jr. of The Willis Group Inc., a real estate company.

VonTungeln is taking the seat that was held by Fred Perkins, an architect with Roark Perkins & Perry. Perkins is the outgoing chairman. He served on the commission from 1985-91.

Willis was chosen to serve out the unexpired term of Rose Collins, a former executive secretary at Twin City Bank of North Little Rock. She resigned in August with one year remaining in her second term to move to Hot Springs. Willis is to serve through next November.

Three other commissioners handed in their resignations earlier this year.

Time constraints and poor attendance led to the resignations of Stephen Leek, a certified public accountant with Miller Leek & Co., and Connie Whitfield, formerly a case manager with the Community Organization for Poverty Elimination.

Their terms weren't up until November 1993.

Leek was replaced by Ramsey Ball, a real estate broker with AMR Real Estate Inc., and Whitfield was replaced by Diane Chachere, manager of corporate telecommunications with Southwestern Bell Telephone Co.

George Wells, a partner in the commercial real estate development firm Flake Tabor Tucker Wells and Kelley Inc., resigned in the middle of his first term because of health problems.

Bill Putnam of Putnam Realty Inc. was appointed to fill out the remainder of Wells' term, which also expires in November 1993.

Health problems of a different sort affected Chachere. First, her mother died following a lengthy illness. Then, her 19-year-old daughter was critically injured in an Oct. 7 drive-by shooting.

The tragedies caused Chachere to miss several commission meetings. Her unusual circumstances, however, prompted city directors to allow Chachere to remain on the commission.

Joe Selz, president of Selz Realty Co., and Brad Walker, owner of Walker Real Estate, are the two remaining members of the commission. Both are serving their first terms (1990-92).

The Newest Faces

The newest members, VonTungeln and Willis, have yet to attend their first commission meeting.

VonTungeln, a 48-year-old Pine Bluff native, has lived in Little Rock since 1971 and has served on the City Beautiful Commission since 1987.

He has a bachelor's degree in architecture from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and a master's degree in public administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

"I've always had an interest in serving the community," VonTungeln says. "... I'm very interested in growth for the city. I love the city and think it has an exciting future ... I want to be a part of that."

VonTungeln worked 16 years as an urban planning consultant before going into the securities business with Shearson Lehman Brothers Inc. He then joined three co-workers from Shearson Lehman to form Hutchinson & Associates.

Willis, a 30-year-old Little Rock native, studied business while attending Philander Smith College at Little Rock and UALR. He is a board member of Little Rock's Downtown Kiwanis Club and has worked eight years in the real estate business.

"I watched how the growth of Little Rock is progressing, and I wanted to assist in the process," Willis says. "I also want to learn a lot more about the structure |of city government~ and the city's goals and vision."

Chachere is the only member appointed this year without real estate connections.

The addition of VonTungeln, Willis, Ball and Putnam caused one commissioner to wonder if the commission has too many "real estate people."

The commissioner who made the comment has a real estate background himself.

Nicholson is aware of such concerns but wonders if the perception of a commission loaded with so-called "pro-development" forces necessarily translates into "anti-neighborhood" votes.

"Some of the best and most fair-minded commissioners I've had the pleasure to work with have been real estate people," Nicholson says. "I'm not really worried that the perspective of the commission will become unbalanced."

No Takers

The nine-member Little Rock Board of Adjustment has been a traditional training ground for Planning Commission members.

Chachere was serving on the Board of Adjustment when she accepted an appointment to the Planning Commission. Chachere was named to the board in 1988 to replace McDaniel, who had moved onto the Planning Commission.

Charlie Withrow of Arkansas Sign & Neon Co. was appointed to serve out Chachere's board term, which expires in February.

Jeff Hathaway of The Hathaway Group replaced Jim Mitchell of The Hathaway Group. The remaining members of the Board of Adjustment and their terms are:

* Cynthia Gremillion, an architect at Gremillion Alderman (1987-93).

* John Borchert, a certified public accountant (1990-93).

* Robert Brown, a vice president at Development Consultants Inc. (1990-94).

* Rex Crane, president of Crane Construction Co. (1987-93).

* Ronald Pierce, an engineer at Garver & Garver (1986-92).

* Tom Rystrom, partner in Irwin Bentley & Rystom Management Co. (1989-92).

* Eugene Terry, an architect with The Wilcox Group (1989-94).

None of the remaining board members were interested in an appointment to the Planning Commission when the last four slots came open this year.

"I talked with all of them ... and none of them were excited about going from one meeting a month to attending two or three," says Richard Wood, manager of the city's subdivision and zoning division.

The time commitment required by the Planning Commission is large, which makes such reluctance understandable.

"If you go to all the commission meetings and committee meetings, you're going to wind up giving several days a month," Nicholson says. "Some people just can't do that and hold down a normal job."

Those who do participate are major contributors in shaping Little Rock.
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Author:Waldon, George
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 25, 1991
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