City & County

Accused of tax lies, Clark County justice fires back at NAACP leader

NAACP President Bruce Bell addresses members of the Clark County Quorum Court in this photo taken in April 2023. Pictured facing Bell, from left, are justices Vanilla Hannah, B.J. Johns and Jimmy King. | Phelps

NAACP President Bruce Bell told members of the Clark County Quorum Court Monday evening that they were lying about the nature of the county’s economic development tax

By JOE MAY | The Southern Standard

Bell said that, in 2021, the quorum court developed guidelines for the Economic Development Corporation of Clark County, which is supported by the tax. Later, he said new guidelines were developed that Bell has said on previous occasions left out small business owners, favoring instead larger industries or other such businesses.

“I feel sorry for the county residents who believed in small business and who believed the court two years ago,” he said.

With regard to those who have said it would be unconstitutional for the tax to be distributed to small businesses, Bell said, “I haven’t seen a piece of paper from any court judge, so I think you’re lying to the people of Clark County about the tax.”

“I don’t think anyone on this court intentionally lied about this issue.”

— Clark County Judge Troy Tucker

While the court moved to the next item of business following Bell’s speech without comment, Justice Vanilla Hannah, as the meeting was near its conclusion, said she would like Bell to return at the next with some “simple points” as to what the EDCCC is doing that is illegal.

Noting that Bell had called justices liars, Hannah said she was speaking up because she disagreed. She challenged Bell to return with clear and concise proof of wrongdoing by the court.

“We need the EDCCC,” Hannah said. “We don’t know how to handle multi-million dollar deals.”

Bell attempted to answer, but was silent after County Judge Troy Tucker told him he did not have the floor. The judge said justices “had every right to be offended by being called liars … I don’t think anyone on this court intentionally lied about this issue.”

Tucker noted that Bell “has the right to be heard,” but stated that the EDCCC “is the envy of every county without an economic development tax.” For more information, Tucker recommended that justices look over an email sent by EDCCC CEO Shelley Short that explained the issue further. In that email, Short wrote “…the intention of the Alliance and EDCCC is to work with businesses of all types to facilitate their growth in Clark County. We are, however, bound by the provisions and restrictions in the Arkansas Constitution and the Public Corporations Act. This is not subject to our interpretation but rather is a matter of law that must be addressed at the legislative level or statewide ballot initiative. In Ordinance 2021-22, the Clark County Quorum Court directs the EDCCC to distribute funds consistent with the law. That is what we are trying to do, and it will never be my intention to break or skirt the law regardless of pressures to do so.”

In other business, the court:

• Heard County Agent Cindy Ham say that there are 180 4-H members in the county.

• Heard Treasurer Karen Arnold say the county’s economic development tax brought in $193,480.61 while the county’s sales tax was $386,969.93.

• Passed an amendment to the personnel policy at the motion of Justice Michael Ankton and Andrea Angle.

• Placed on its first reading an ordinance by Scott that would further clarify the EDCCC guidelines.

• Passed an ordinance allowing the county to go into debt to purchase road equipment at the motion of Justices Zach Bledsoe and Wayne Baumgardner.

• Heard Tucker say the last day to register to participate in the county’s Large Item Pickup is October 20.