Commissioner Bios


Bryan Barnhouse

Bryan is committed to helping advance his adopted state of Arkansas through the creation of economic development opportunities. As Vice President of the Arkansas Research Alliance, he connects the state’s rich scientific and research communities at Arkansas universities and the state’s only FDA lab, the National Center for Toxicological Research, to foster economic value. Bryan served as Director of Economic Development for the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, where he helped create prosperity in the Arkansas Delta through the recruitment of new industries and the expansion of existing businesses. Prior to that, he was the International Project Manager for Asia at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC), the official global business development agency for the State of Arkansas. He oversaw programs on foreign direct investment recruitment and trade opportunities with Asia. He joined AEDC as the Community Development Consultant for Northwest Arkansas. Before relocating to Arkansas, Bryan worked at the International City/County Management Association in Washington, D.C., coordinating federal business development and managing military and technology projects.

As a nine-year member and former Chair of the Little Rock Sister Cities Commission, he helps cultivate relationships and partnerships between Little Rock and cities around the world, particularly with Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, for which he serves as the commission co-liaison.

Bryan holds a Master of Public Administration and Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from the University of Southern California. He resides in downtown Little Rock with his wife, Jennifer, and their two rescue dogs.


Kelley Bass

Kelley serves as Chief Executive Officer at the Museum of Discovery, Arkansas’ premier family museum with a mission to ignite a passion for science, technology, engineering, arts and math in a dynamic, interactive environment. He leads a staff of 35 and is responsible for all operations at the museum.

Under Kelley’s leadership, the Museum of Discovery has had its most successful years in terms of attendance and financial performance in its 91-year history. The museum was named Non-Profit Organization of the Year in the Arkansas Business of the Year Awards in 2014, and Kelley in 2016 was named Non-Profit Executive of the Year in the same competition.

Before coming to the museum in December 2012, Kelley served as assistant dean for external affairs for the Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology (EIT) at UALR. Previously, Kelley spent nine years as senior vice president of corporate communications for Acxiom Corporation, working directly for the company’s senior leadership team. Before joining Acxiom in 1999, Kelley spent 18 years in the newspaper business as a multi-award-winning reporter, columnist and editor at the Arkansas Gazette, Springfield News-Leader and Arkansas Times.


Melanie Berman

Melanie Berman works at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Office. She is currently serving as the Program Director of the Arkansas Procurement Assistance Center (APAC), working with local small businesses and partner organizations to ensure the overall economic well-being of the State of Arkansas.

Melanie holds a graduate degree in Public Administration and undergraduate degree in Communications. She has lived in multiple countries, including Spain, Israel, Russia, Mexico, Japan, and Madagascar. Melanie has served as a Peace Corps volunteer and an AmeriCorps volunteer. She has a strong passion for serving her community as displayed by her commitment to public service.

She currently serves as the Vice-Chairperson of the Little Rock Sister Cities Commission and as the co-liaison to Hanam City, South Korea. Melanie chaperoned the Mayor’s Youth Leadership student group to Hanam City, South Korea in 2015 and 2016.


Robert Coon

Robert is the Managing Partner at Impact Management Group (IMG). He is a registered lobbyist, representing clients before the Arkansas General Assembly, Executive Branch, and state agencies.  Robert also develops strategic communications campaigns and oversees grassroots, media, and digital outreach services for IMG’s public policy and issue advocacy clients.  He has advised clients in a variety of industry sectors including energy, healthcare, technology, telecommunications, financial services, labor and agriculture.

Prior to joining IMG, Robert was an Account Manager at the DCI Group, a full-service public and government affairs firm in Washington, D.C. While at DCI, he managed public affairs campaigns for clients of all sizes, including Fortune 500 corporations, small and medium-sized companies, trade associations, and non-profit organizations.

In March of 2008, Robert was appointed to the Arkansas Service Commission by Governor Mike Beebe and was reappointed in 2009 and in 2012.  He served as Chairman of the Commission during the 2010 calendar year.  That same year, Arkansas Business included Robert on its “40 Under 40” list, which highlights up and coming business and political leaders from across Arkansas.  In January of 2011, Robert was appointed to the Little Rock Sister Cities Commission by Mayor Mark Stodola.  He led the Commission as Chairman from 2014 to 2016 and currently serves as a co-liaison to Hanam, South Korea.

In 2016, Robert was appointed to the Governor’s Advisory Commission on National Service and Volunteerism by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and was appointed to the Arkansas District Export Council by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.

A native of Greenville, South Carolina, Robert graduated summa cum laude from Presbyterian College (Clinton, SC) with a Bachelor of Science degree with Honors in both Business Administration and Political Science. He and his wife Lindsay are members of Fellowship Bible Church. They live in Little Rock with their two daughters, Lucy and Sally, and one son, Sam.


Ellen Gray


Deneen Hill

Deneen Hill is a native of Haiti, Missouri and relocated to Little Rock, Arkansas with her family as a young girl.

Shortly after graduating high school, she left for California and spent several years working in Beverly Hills, California, while attending Barclays School of Business. After finishing her academic studies in California, Deneen returned to Arkansas to start her career in international banking. She worked for several years in international trade and finance before accepting a request to help start an intercity private school.

Over the course of her long and varied career, Deneen has worked in education, sales management, and finance, while also pursuing other passions, such as interior design, health and fitness, sewing, and jewelry-making.

One of Deneen's latest passions is volunteering at Little Rock Central High School, her alma mater. She has enjoyed helping young at-risk girls realize their true potential and focus on bettering themselves for their future.

Deneen has served on the Governor's Board of Abstinence Education, where she was responsible for reviewing grants submitted by non-profit organizations state-wide, and on the committee for the American Girl Fashion Show at the Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute (CARTI). She currently serves on the board of the Arkansas Fashion School and was recently appointed to the Little Rock Sister Cities Commission.

Deneen and her former husband have three adult children, Lesley, Jonathan, and Ashley. Most recently, she has kept busy by a new addition to the family in Bella, a West Highland White Terrier.



Jill McIlroy

For the past eight years, Jill has worked for Arkansas Children’s, the only pediatric hospital system in the state. Jill was recently promoted to executive director of Philanthropy leading the charge to raise philanthropic investments for Arkansas Children’s Inc. Jill most recently focused her fundraising efforts in Northwest Arkansas where one the nation’s newest pediatric hospitals, Arkansas Children’s Northwest, opened in February 2018.   

A native of Arkansas, Jill received her B.A. in International Relations and Global Studies from Hendrix College. Jill is active with the Arkansas Charitable Gift Planning Council, Association for Healthcare Philanthropy and Association of Fundraising Professionals. She also serves as a commissioner on the Little Rock Sister Cities Commission. In her spare time, Jill enjoys running, fishing and hanging out with her family



Brandon Morris

Brandon Morris serves as director - public affairs at Union Pacific Railroad. He is responsible for the development and implementation of Union Pacific's strategy and policy for state government affairs, community relations, public partnerships and philanthropic programs in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Morris serves as the chairman of the Arkansas Railroad Association and the Oklahoma Railroad Association.

Prior to joining Union Pacific in 2014, Morris served as public information officer at the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM). From 2008 to 2013, he worked for SAIC and served as the public affairs and outreach liaison for the Pine Bluff Chemical Agent Disposal Facility on the U.S. Army Pine Bluff Arsenal.

Morris holds a Bachelor of Science - Journalism from Arkansas State University - Jonesboro and a Masters of Public Administration from Webster University. He serves on the Arkansas State University Alumni Association board of directors and is involved with the Arkansas Chapter of Public Relations Society of America. Morris is also Accredited in Public Relations and Military Communication (APR+M). In 2016, he was recognized by Arkansas Business on their 20 in their 20s: New Influentials list.


Denver Peacock

Denver brings more than 20 years of experience to The Peacock Group, the public affairs and public relations firm he founded in 2014. He previously worked for nearly 12 years at CJRW, the Mid-South’s largest independent full-service communications agency. While there, he served on the company’s leadership team, including as senior vice president and a member of the board of directors. Prior to CJRW, Denver provided political, communications and logistical support for The Prince of Wales Foundation, Clinton Foundation, Napster and others. He also worked on two presidential campaigns and served in The White House during the Clinton Administration. In total, Denver has traveled to more than 95 countries and all 50 U.S. states. 

A licensed attorney, Denver earned his undergraduate degree with honors at Ouachita Baptist University and his law degree with honors from the University of Arkansas School of Law. He is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and International Association of Business Communicators. He serves on the advisory boards for the UAMS College of Public Health and Arkansas’ Independent Colleges & Universities; as an assembly delegate for PRSA Arkansas; and as a commissioner with the Little Rock Sister Cities Commission. He is a former board member for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas, Rotary Club of Little Rock and IABC Arkansas. He is a graduate of the Delta Leadership Institute Executive Academy and a member of the Delta Leadership Network. He is the co-founder of Hoops for Kids Sake, the annual bipartisan legislative charity basketball game between the Arkansas House and Arkansas Senate. Originally from McCrory, he is married to Melissa Bragg Peacock and has two children, Presley and Hudson.


Melanie Scott

Professor Melanie Scott was recently appointed to the Little Rock Sister Cities Commission. Professor Scott is a native of Kansas City, Missouri and relocated to Little Rock, Arkansas with her husband (Lester Scott) in the Spring of 2017.

Professor Scott spent 32 years at Kansas City Kansas Community College (KCKCC) in academic teaching and institutional leadership before retiring in 2014. Professor Scott was Inducted into the Mid America Education Hall of Fame in 2016.

Professor Scott was the Co-Founder and Director of the Intercultural Center and a Professor in the Social and Behavioral Science Division. During her tenure at KCKCC, Professor Scott contributed to the academic institution and the local communities in a myriad of capacities. Professor Scott spearheaded programs and guidelines to promote and enhance diversity education among administration, faculty, staff, students and the community of Wyandotte County. In addition, Professor Scott coordinated programs in civil rights, affirmative hiring practices, multicultural education, and Service Learning with ESL and International students.

Professor Scott engaged in international travel to West Africa (Senegal & Gambia), North Africa (Cairo & Alexandria), Middle East (Israel & Jordan), India (New Delhi & Punjab), China (Beijing), Brazil (Fortaleza), Mexico and the Caribbean. She also hosted and mentored exchange teachers and students from Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Colombia, Brazil, Ethiopia, and Kenya.

Professor Scott has worked to improve the quality of life for all members of society through education, particularly by dispelling biases against often marginalized populations.


Ashvin Vibhakar

Dr. Ashvin P. Vibhakar, CFA, has been an Executive Sponsor and a Senior Advisor of the Future of Finance initiative since September 2012 at CFA Institute. The Future of Finance initiative is a long-term global effort to shape a trustworthy, forward-thinking financial industry that better serves society. The initiative aims to provide the tools to motivate and empower the world of finance to commit to fairness, improved understanding, and personal integrity.

Dr. Vibhakar joined CFA Institute in 2007 as managing director, Asia-Pacific Operations. He was based in Hong Kong and was responsible for developing and implementing various operating strategies in the Asia Pacific region, including society relations, employer and university outreach candidate recruitment and support, and member services.

Previously, Dr. Vibhakar was director of the Institute for Economic Advancement in the College of Business Administration at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR). His distinguished career included numerous academic roles, including Dean of the College of Business Administration at UALR. He has held several board positions.

To assume his position working with CFA Institute, Dr. Vibhakar resigned from his role as an elected member of the Board of Governors of CFA Institute, a role in which he also served on committees for Audit and Risk and External Relations and Volunteer Involvement. He also served in a number of other volunteer capacities including Governors Economic Advisory Council, Board member of various non-profits and taking the lead role for the strategic economic development plan for the city of Little Rock under Mayor Jim Daily. He was a member of Little Rock Arvest Bank board prior to leaving for his role in Hong Kong.

Dr. Vibhakar received his PhD in finance from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, his M.B.A from Central Missouri State University, and his Bachelor of Electrical Engineering from M.S. University of Baroda, India.


Robert Zeiler

Robert received his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1994 from Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. He was employed for 5+ years by Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) as a technology and management consultant.

In 1999, he formed UtiliComm, Inc., a Birmingham, Alabama-based company that provided engineering consulting and specialized horizontal directional drilling services to customers in the utility and communications industries. After selling UtiliComm, Inc. in 2006, Robert attended the University of Arkansas, where he obtained an M.B.A. with emphasis in Finance.

In 2008, he joined Chesapeake Energy’s Little Rock Corporate Development team where he assisted with Government Affairs and Public Relations initiatives. Following Chesapeake’s sale in 2011 of the Fayetteville Shale assets, Robert transitioned to BHP Billiton. He joined New Prospect Company in April 2013 and focuses on maintaining and growing relationships with oil & gas exploration & production customers in the Mid-Continent region of the United States.

Robert serves as a co-liaison to Little Rock's sister city Caxias do Sul, Brazil.