Friday, May 26, 2006

TOP STORY >> Long school-bus rides problems for students

Leader staff writer

IN SHORT >> Commutes taking an hour or more are often the norm for many Arkansas students.

Long rides on buses are inevitable for students who live in rural areas and there are no limits on the length of time children spend riding to and from school in Arkansas, but some parents and educators complain that overly long rides can affect academic performance.

“Parents complain every day about the length of the bus rides,” said Johnny White, transportation and athletic director for the Cabot School District. The Cabot School District has 85 bus routes for its 8,200 students.

“We cover 200 square miles in our district and we try to keep all the routes to about an hour,” White explained.

Superintendent Belinda Shook of the Beebe School Dis-trict told The Leader she felt the district was fortunate when it merged with the McRae School District last year because that district was just five miles away. After converting McRae’s campus into a middle school for fifth- and sixth-graders last summer, middle-school students now arrive at the Beebe campus and then board shuttle buses for a brief commute to the McRae campus, she said.

“I don’t think any of our bus routes are exceedingly long,” Shook said.

The district has a total of 31 bus routes for the district’s 2,900 students. The longest route is 36 miles one way.

According to Betty Stringfel-low, director of transportation for Pulaski County Special School District, the longest ride of any of the 273 routes in the 729-square-mile area is an hour and 28 minutes. There are more than 17,000 students enrolled in PCSSD.

“Our longest bus routes are to the magnet or TAG (Talented and Gifted) schools and parents don’t complain because they know those bus rides are going to be a little longer than normal,” Stringfellow said.

In the Lonoke School District, there are 18 bus routes for 1,838 students. The longest commute is an hour and half, about the same length Paron High School students in Saline County face next fall.

Paron School District was annexed into the Bryant School District in 2004. Last month, the Bryant School Board voted to close Paron High School because of financial concerns.

Parents of Paron High School students are asking a judge to bar closing the school claiming excessive time on a bus would violate some students’ right to equal educational opportunities under the state constitution.

The lawsuit against the state board of education claims long bus rides hurt academic performance.

Doug Eaton, director of public school facilities and transportation for Arkansas, said relocation is one option for rural residents concerned about lengthy bus rides.

“If they don’t like to ride the bus, move closer to the school,” Eaton said.

“I think anybody would be extremely, extremely hard pressed to be able to draw a parallel between a child’s inability to read and write and how long they’ve sat on a bus,” Eaton said.

A state department of education study on isolated schools is expected to be finished in 2007. The study was mandated by the Legislature last year.

“A statement like (Eaton’s) is similar to saying if kids in poor Delta school districts don’t like the education they’re getting, they ought to move to Little Rock,” said Chris Heller, attorney for the Paron patrons.

Eaton’s boss, Education Com-missioner Ken James, said the issue does not have such an easy solution.

“There are always going to be issues with respect to transportation,” James said.

“People don’t live in a magic box and they never will.”

The director of the National Association for Pupil Transporta-tion (NAPT) said bus ride limits are almost exclusively a local issue.

“Sort of the industry rule of thumb is you try to limit bus rides to an hour, maximum,” NAPT director Michael Martin said.

“But by the same token, in states where there are tremendously rural districts, often those times can be much longer than that.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson has said he would seek “reasonable standards” for school bus rides as governor. Hutchinson’s Democratic opponent, Attorney General Mike Beebe, said the isolated-schools study should offer guidelines for transportation times.

Rod McKnight of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services cited numerous studies that suggest a correlation between long bus rides and student achievement, though he said even those conclusions have conditions.

“It’s quick to come back and say, yeah, you may lose some educational time, but the consensus was there’s not a lot people could do about it,” McKnight said.

West Virginia asks school districts to limit bus rides for elementary students to 30 minutes and high schoolers to one hour, but an official there said the regulation is rarely enforced.

Kansas encourages districts to limit bus rides to less than an hour. Until 1993, South Carolina required rides of no longer than one hour and 15 minutes.

The regulation was removed when officials attempted to make it part of state law, said South Carolina Director of Transportation Donald Tudor. No statute was implemented, he said.

“We know our (rule) is not going to happen from time to time,” said Debbie Romine, a transportation safety consultant in Kansas.

“We have lots of gravel. Arkansas probably does, too, and Arkansas probably has a lot more windy roads than we do.”
States surrounding Arkansas do not limit the length of school bus rides. Texas and Okla-homa officials said several bus routes in those states are longer than 90 minutes.

Even in the nation’s most isolated state, Alaska, there are no restrictions on bus trip lengths.

“We leave it to the local school board to determine length of ridership,” said Alaska Department of Education spokesman Eddy Jean.

Plaintiffs in the Paron suit contend the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has already set a standard for bus rides of not more than 45 minutes one way.

Eaton, a former Little Rock School District official, said the federal case was related to desegregation efforts in Little Rock and should have no bearing on the Paron case.

Aaron Sadler of the Arkansas News Bureau contributed to this story.

TOP STORY >> Road improvements on tap for Sherwood

Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: Two major road widenings are intended to help rapidly
growing Sherwood alleviate some rush-hour congestion.

The city of Sherwood can begin buying right-of-way for the long-awaited widening of Brockington Road between Kiehl Avenue and Hwy. 107, Mayor Bill Harmon told the Sherwood City Council this week.

The first segment goes from Mary-land Avenue north to Hwy. 107. The second segment, not yet funded, will run from Kiehl to Maryland. Even as the city prepared to begin the job, the state Highway Department held a public hearing Tuesday evening on its plan to four-lane Hwy. 107 from Bear Paw Drive to Brockington Road, where the two projects will intersect.

“That’s not exactly controversial,” said Highway Department spokesman Randy Ort of the Hwy. 107 widening.

“There’s a limited number of property owners, and (the highway) is already widened to the south and underway to the north,” he said. “Everybody knew it was coming.”

The widening to four lanes will be about 1.6 miles long and cost an estimated $7.5 million, according to Martin Cruce, highway design engineer.

The project could be let for bids early in summer of 2007 and be completed within two years.


The entire Brockington Road widening between Kiehl and Hwy. 107 is about 1.9 miles long.

The segment between Maryland and Hwy. 107 is about 1.2 miles long and will have four travel lanes and a raised median.
The .8-mile segment from Kiehl to Maryland will be four travel lanes plus a continuous two-way, left-turn lane down the middle, Ort said.

Current traffic along the route is 14,807 vehicles a day, according to a state Highway Department spokes-man, expected to increase 50 percent over the next 20 years.

Harmon said the city had money allocated for the first phase of the project.

The federal government will fund 80 percent of the project. Of the remaining 20 percent, Sherwood will pay 40 percent and Pulaski County 60 percent.

The project originally was estimated at $6 million to $7 million, but construction costs have increased as much as 40 percent since then, according to Jim McKenzie, executive director of Metroplan.

As the local metropolitan planning organization, Metroplan must approve of the plan.

“Our board is committed to the whole project,” said McKenzie, but there are a bunch of other projects in the pipeline as well. When Congress passed the Highway Reauthorization Bill, it included “smoke and mirrors,” he said. At most, 86 percent of what was authorized will be funded.

“The first projects to get there will get the money,” he said.

The state Highway Department reviewed the plans and “We’ll be the ones to award the contract and prided construction oversight,” said Ort.

“We don’t show any target (construction) dates right now,” Ort said.

TOP STORY >> Tax would boost size of county jail

Leader staff writer

In addition to considering an ambitious jail- expansion program funded by a new sales tax, the Pulaski County Public Safety Task Force is studying the feasibility of reorganizing policing to merge county deputies with North Little Rock police north of the Arkansas River, and with the Little Rock police south of the river.

In a report to the task force, which met Wednes-day night at Sherwood’s Bill Harmon Recreation Center, Pulaski County Comptroller Ron Quillin, considered staffing levels for the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office, taking into account not only salaries and benefits but health insurance premiums and holiday pay as well.

The task force members seem inclined to propose a quarter-penny county tax increase dedicated to the county jail which would double the capacity of the existing county detention center from 880 inmates to 1,778 in five years or less, depending on the type of financing.

Sherwood Mayor Bill Harmon said he favored short-term financing that might cost a little more at first but which would allow faster realization of the new prison space and saving interest in the long run.

According to Quillin’s findings, merging deputies with patrolmen north of the river at current levels would require the county toraise its pay, increasing benefits and salaries for 41 deputies and officers from about $1.8 million to about $2.5 million—an increase of about $620,000 a year.

South of the river, to merge deputies with Little Rock police would increase the salaries and benefits of 45 lawmen from about $2 million to $2.7 million, an increase of about $760,000.

Combined, it could cost the county an additional $1.4 million a year.

Committee chairman Judge Buddy Villines, noting the ever-increasing cost of energy, suggested considering geothermal heating and cooling as an upfront construction cost that could save a lot of money in the long run.

Glen Shwartz, a long-time advocate of legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana, testified that the county would need fewer jail beds if marijuana were decriminalized and if other relatively minor drug offenders were ticketed or rehabilitated instead of locked up.

A breakdown of prisoners in the county lockup on May 16 showed six out of 1,292 incarcerated solely for possession of marijuana.

Shwartz also charged that enforcing drug laws was racist, bad policy and contributed to “a growing contempt of the rule of law.”

Community activist Jim Lynch added that fewer jail beds would be needed if the community locked up only people it is afraid of, not people it’s mad at.

Villines said it would require a two-thirds majority of the quorum court to place a sales-tax increase on the ballot. Revenues from the quarter-cent sales tax would generate about $17 million in 2007 and increase by about 4 percent per year after that, according to Quillin.

Of that, $16.15 million would be available by state law to be budgeted.

The proposed time line shows full collection of the tax by January 2007, along with the opening of 250 minimum-security beds in a work- release center, with no capital costs.

A 192-bed minimum-security barracks would be designed by August 2007 and completed a year later and ready to open in September 2008 at a cost of $4.5 million.

Repair of the old jail would start in September 2008 and open in January 2009 at an estimated cost of $1.57 million, mostly for fixing the mechanical systems and the roof.

Construction of a new 296-bed medium and maximum-security pod would begin in January 2009 and be opened in January 2010 at a cost of $16.5 million.

TOP STORY >> Glitches didn't hit everyone in primary

Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: White County’s vote counting went off with hardly a hitch, while Lonoke County still struggled at week’s end to start counting the ballots. That’s because one county had the funds to prepare for the primary, while the other lacked funds and resources to conduct this week’s voting properly.

The primary in White County came off almost without a hitch, while in Lonoke County, voters and candidates alike are still waiting to see who won. The main reason for the disparity in neighboring counties is a simple one – money.

White County took the entire $272,155 grant it received from the state to buy equipment, added $58,145 to it and bought all new electronic voting machines to take the place of the old paper-ballot machines. So on election night the only ballots that had to be scanned were the absentee ballots.

Lonoke County took half of its grant and bought approximately 40 electronic voting machines for this election, and election commissioners plan to buy the rest over the next two or three years.

While White County election commissioners were talking Tues-day night about how well the new machines were received by voters, Lonoke County election officials were trying to figure out what went wrong. The answer from Larry Clarke, the Republican member of the three-member Lonoke County election commission: The new scanner for the old paper ballots wasn’t programmed to look for every race, so it didn’t see every race.

“We had roughly $300,000 to buy machines, but that wouldn’t have been enough to outfit the whole county, so we opted to install just the ADA-required one (electronic) machine per polling place,” Clarke said. “If we had outfitted like White County, it would have cost $400,000, and the county doesn’t have the money.”

But even if both counties had spent the same amount on new electronic voting machines, county officials say if the equipment had arrived earlier, the technical problems likely could have been minimized. And both counties lay the blame on Secretary of State Charlie Daniels, who didn’t order it sooner.

“The secretary of state was looking at two or three companies, and he couldn’t figure out which one to buy,” said White County Judge Bob Parish. By the time he had decided on Elec-tion Systems & Software and the equipment arrived, there wasn’t time to make sure it was working right.

“The contract for voting equipment didn’t go out until last fall,” Clarke said. “In my opinion, it should have gone out well before that.”

Both ES&S and the secretary of state Wednesday issued statements about the Election Day snafus.

“Despite issues we are still addressing to finalize the tabulation of some results, in general, yesterday was a positive day—2,500 new iVotronic touch-screen machines functioned extremely well – as the polls opened, during voting, and in the tabulation of results,” ES&S wrote. “Based on feedback we’ve received, voters had a good experience with the new system; and poll-worker-related challenges were limited to what we would expect in a first-time use. In several counties where officials used the new system, results were tabulated in record time – in Boone County, for example, results were reported about an hour after the polls closed last evening. This is a solid start to Secretary of State Daniels’ plans to implement the new system, statewide.

“Since we were chosen as the state’s election partner, our goal has been to work with Secretary of State Daniels to vastly improve the election process, and to offer all Arkan-sas voters an enhanced voting experience. Though we believe yesterday’s election was a solid first step, we also recognize there are changes we have to make going forward.

“In that regard, we do have confidence in our Arkansas team. How-ever, we also know that we can always improve the service we provide. We are already in discussions with Secretary of State Daniels and his staff about how we can make the process even better for the upcoming run off and the November election.”

“Secretary of State Charlie Daniels remains very pleased with the overall performance of the state’s new touch-screen voting system,” said the press release from his office.

“As is the case in any election — but particularly in an election like this where several types of voting technology were used — issues are going to arise. This was a monumental change in technology, and the secretary of state’s office expected a certain number of issues related to first-time use of new equipment or the marrying of different types of machines.
“To that end, no matter how well most counties performed, Secretary Daniels and his staff are gravely concerned with tabulation problems, particularly in Lonoke, Phillips and Pulaski counties. The issues experienced by Phillips and Pulaski counties are in regard to old optical scanners that were not programmed adequately to count the paper ballots used in the election. In Lonoke County, programming errors also oc-curred with the new optical scan tabulator. Secretary Daniels is holding the vendor solely responsible for not communicating with the state and with county officials on the programming problems they were having.” While Arkansas overall saw a generally successful election yesterday, the errors and delays in these three counties in particular are inexcusable. Secretary Daniels made that very clear to Election Systems & Software today.

TOP STORY >> Lonoke County could start count today

Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: Software failure leaves candidates and voters in suspense and in the dark.

For the fourth night, Lonoke County office seekers and voters went to bed Friday without knowing who won, lost or must compete in a runoff, the ballots locked up in the courthouse while a software company scrambled to properly program the optical-ballot scanner.

If all goes well—and it hasn’t yet—the Lonoke County Election Commission will begin counting votes at 7:30 a.m. Satur-day, according to commission chairperson Jean McCanliss, who confided it might be more like 10 a.m.

That’s more than 84 hours after the polls closed Tuesday evening.

Election watchers realized early in the count election night that the optical scanner reading the paper ballots was im-properly programmed, counting only countywide votes and some local votes.

Specifically, how could more than 120 Ward I Cabot Republicans vote for one of three sheriff candidates, but only 28 Republicans in that ward vote for a mayoral candidate?

A “repaired” program installed by Electronic Systems and Software, the vendor for both the hardware and the software, Thursday still didn’t work.

“It had a glitch,” said County Clerk Prudie Perceful.

When the company failed to make good on its promise to have a corrected program and a company technician to install and test it Friday afternoon, McCanliss sent the politicians, workers and watchers assembled at the courthouse for a hoped-for vote count home until Saturday morning.

McCanliss and fellow Democratic commissioner Al Martin held out hope until then that they could count votes Friday, but the lone Republican commissioner, Larry Clarke, expressed skepticism since early Friday that ES&S would make good on its word in time to run the ballots Friday night.

ES&S has publicly taken responsibility for this and a series of other Arkansas voting problems, saying in part, “We sincerely regret the delay and are working to get the last remaining votes counted and results reported as quickly as possible.”
County Judge Charlie Trout-man said that if the scanner didn’t work properly Saturday morning, the ballots should be hand counted over the weekend.

Arkansas counties are supposed to have early voting for primary runoff elections beginning seven days after the primary—a tight squeeze under the best of circumstances, according to Janet Harris, deputy secretary of state.

“If (Lonoke election officials) don’t start Tuesday, they won’t be the only county,” said Harris. “Some are still waiting for absentee ballots from overseas. Others won’t have their ballots back from the printer.”

“Historically, counties have had trouble with the primary runoff because of the short time,” she said. “Counties have 10 days to certify election results,” she said, but runoff voting begins in seven days.

“They just have to begin as early as practical,” said Harris.

“I feel so sorry for the candidates,” said Perceful, presiding over her last election season as county clerk before retirement. “They don’t know if they won, whether they are in runoffs. We’re all in limbo.”

Even if votes are successfully counted Saturday, either by machine or hand, that’s not much time for a printer to prepare a variety of different ballots to include local runoffs.

The state’s contract with ES&S is worth $15.9 million, but so far the company has been paid only $3.9 million, according to Harris.

“There are deliverables that they must meet, and they get paid a percentage when they meet them,” said Harris. “One of those is a successful primary election.”

She said her office had contracted for an independent review of the election with a North Carolina company. Earlier in the day, Clarke said the scanner program had been de-bugged in Omaha and that a technician was en route from Phillips County to test the scanner.

A successful test, witnessed by the commission and by local politicians, could have resulted in a Friday night count.

OBITUARIES >> 05-27-06

Elmer Shubert

Elmer Derward Shubert, 87, of Cabot passed away Friday. He was born April 19, 1919 in Mt. Pleasant to the late Carl Carroll and Mary Frances Carmichael Shubert.  

Mr. Shubert was a lifelong member of Mt. Pleasant Mission-ary Baptist Church.  

He was a Petty Officer First Class in the Navy from 1938 to 1945.  

He served in the South Pacific during the Sec-ond World War and was an honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Va.  

Mr. Shubert was preceded in death by his parents; his wife, A. Aleene Chancey Shubert, as well as two sisters, Dorothy Brannon and Elzera Gwin.  

He is survived by his children, Dwight Shubert of North Little Rock and Kathy Ragar of Cabot; a sister, Maude Brannon of Cabot; two grandchildren, Heather Wag-ner of Monticello and Dr. Brent Ragar of Boston, Mass. He is also survived by a niece, Barbara Raley of Sherwood, and four nephews, Thomas Brannon of Cabot, Vernon Brannon of Cabot, Wayne Brannon of Jacksonville and Kenny Gwin of San Diego.

The family will receive friends from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday. Funeral services will be Sunday at 2 p.m. in the chapel of Cabot Funeral Home. Burial will follow at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery.  

Arrangements are by Cabot Moore’s Funeral Home.

Jimmy Elliott

Jimmy Elliott, 69, of Hum-phrey passed on May 20.

Preceding him in death were his parents, Robert and Bessie Elliott; two brothers, Bobby and Bill Elliott, and a sister, Martha Francis Davis. Survivors include three sisters, Joyce Larkin of Hazen, Betty Nick of Greenbrier and Jean Crossett of Texas, and a brother, Starlin Elliott of Humphrey.

Graveside services will be at 3 p.m. Saturday at Frazier Cemetery in Humphrey. Arrangements by Thomas Funeral Service.

David Phillips

David M. Phillips, 61, of Lonoke died May 25. He was born Oct. 4, 1944 at Delhi, La., to Leon and Joanie Phillips. He enjoyed fishing, hunting, bowling and cooking. He worked for Union Pacific Railroad for eight years and was an electrician for 27 years with IBEW Local 516 at Jonesboro. He was devoted to his job and his local brothers.

He was preceded in death by two daughters, Michelle Lea Phillips and Dava Lynn Phillips; his parents and his brother, Emmett Phillips.

David is survived by his daughters, Connie Ann Halbrook of Little Rock and Kim Phillips of Gravel Ridge; three sisters, Sandra Crowe of Clinton, Miss., Lenora Johnson of Beebe and Mary Cunningham of Lonoke; five grandchildren, a great grandchild and an abundance of nieces, nephews and friends.

Family will receive friends from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Westbrook Funeral Home, Beebe. Funeral will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at Westbrook Funeral Home with burial in Meadowbrook Memorial Gardens, Beebe.

Friends are invited to the home of Larry and Lenora Johnson, 707 N. Orange St., Beebe, following services.

Vernon Parker

Vernon Clarence Parker, 72, of Jacksonville passed away May 25 in Jacksonville. He was born Oct. 29, 1933, in Harvey, Ill., to the late Clarence and Clara Urhammer Parker.

He was preceded in death by his parents and two sisters, Nona and Thelma. He was a Protestant and attended the Little Rock Air Force Base Chapel.  He is survived by his loving wife, Neva Dell Parker of the home.

Funeral services will be 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at Moore’s Jackson-ville Funeral Home Chapel with Chaplain Tony Wade officiating. Interment will follow at Arkansas Memorial Gardens in North Little Rock. Visitation will be 5-7 p.m. at the funeral home.  

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.

Funeral arrangements are under direction of Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home (501) 982-2136.

SATURDAY EDITORIAL >> Stay tuned for runoffs

We still don’t have results from Lonoke County and a few other areas of Arkansas, which is a disgrace both to the candidates and the people who voted for them.

Except for local snafus, it’s agreed that statewide, the most boring and inconsequential Arkansas primary in more than a century is history, and now we prepare for one that is sure to be even more pepless, the runoffs.

Democrats still have to nominate a candidate for three statewide offices — attorney general, lieutenant governor and treasurer — although two of the offices are among the most useless jobs in all of government. Here and there across the state, Republicans or Democrats still must choose between two candidates for a state legislative position or a county office.
A shortage of lively or even live races for state offices and the traditionally fought-over local offices dampened turnout everywhere except, as far as we can tell, a legislative district in central Little Rock and the whole county of Benton in northwest Arkansas, where Republicans were excited about a local extremist who was running for lieutenant governor.

Elsewhere, people had to be reminded that it was election day and that there was a summons to their civic responsibility.
We are not sure of all the reasons for the ennui. The arrival of a true two-party system is one. In the old days everything had to be settled in the Democratic primary but now there is powerful impetus in both parties to keep down primary opposition so that the party’s anointed can go unfettered and unharmed into the general election. That is what happened in the governor’s race.

Term limits has ended the lively competition for legislative seats every two years. Once someone wins a term in the Senate or House of Representatives, the rest of the ambitious in the district cool their heels until the lawmaker’s allotted terms — six years for representatives and eight for senators — expire. Incumbents tend to get by free until then except in the few highly competitive districts.

And fewer and fewer people are seeking office. Term limits, remember, were supposed to stimulate the democracy, not deaden it.

Still, the commonwealth and the public welfare have something at stake in even this little primary, and the consequences are worth trudging to the polls again next month when the ballots are set. We hope the new voting equipment — more accurately, the people who operate it — will be up to it. We may be thankful in that way that the turnout was so poor Tuesday, or else we might have had violence at the polls as in the old days.

Democrats have one important task: nominating a candidate for attorney general. Two of the three candidates, all competent and reasonably progressive, will go at each other again, this time more aggressively, we imagine. Our choice remains Paul Suskie, the North Little Rock city attorney, who conducted a most dignified campaign. State Rep. Dustin McDaniel of Jonesboro, charismatic and well-financed, was and remains the frontrunner. Our problem remains his stalwart advocacy of a law that robs every school in Arkansas to help big land developers like the one who pumped money into his campaign. Every teacher and every parent of a public school child should demand an accounting from him for that.

Bill Halter of North Little Rock, the brainy former Clinton administrator, is running for lieutenant governor against state Sen. Tim Wooldridge of Paragould. There is no reason anyone should care who is lieutenant governor — it is the only job among 50,000 in state government where no service is affected and no one inconvenienced a whit if the holder decides to stay at home any day of the year, or every day.

But these men want that dubious honor and we follow the race because three times in the past 75 years the office has proved to be the right place at the right time. The governor did not complete his term, for different reasons, and the lieutenant governor got to hold the state’s highest office without having been elected to it. Halter and Wooldridge — and the Republican candidate, Jim Holt — hope that happens to them. We hope it doesn’t, but we must pay attention in case it does.

Our favorite continues to be Halter because he is bright and talented even if he is capable occasionally of the silly. He favors a state lottery, a popular but foolish idea that will not help the schools or the elderly, as Halter and its champions maintain. Barring further aberrations, we intend to mark our ballot for him again, if we can remember when the day comes. But we have a couple of weeks for him to change our mind.

SPORTS >> Jacksonville senior shows big and overactive heart

Leader sports editor

IN SHORT: JHS softballer Whitney Conrade overcame multiple physical setbacks.

There’s a lot to be said about any high-school student-athlete that gets a scholarship to continue his or her sport in college.

There’s a lot more to be said about one who overcame knee injuries and heart surgery to get one.

Jacksonville shortstop Whitney Conrade recently signed with Williams Baptist College in Walnut Ridge, opting to sign early rather than waiting to see what else came along.

Conrade was loyal to WBC coach Angie Burnside, who was the first college coach to show interest in her, the first to offer her a scholarship, and the one who drove to multiple Jacksonville games to see her play.

“All that really meant a lot to me,” Conrade said.

“She didn’t have to drive two-and-a-half hours to watch us play North Little Rock, but she did and that meant something to me.”

Conrade has received some interest from UCA, Ouchita Baptist and Hendrix, but none have come forward with a scholarship offer. It may have been different if they had seen the game Burnside saw when she watched Conrade play for the first time in Jonesboro.

Conrade blasted two pitches out of the park that day, and Burnside wasted no time telling Conrade she wanted her to play for WBC.

“She didn’t actually offer me right then and there, but she told me she wanted me to play for her,” Conrade said. “She just had to go back and check her budget to see what she could offer me.”

Just two days later the call came, and the offer was made.

Conrade thought it over for several weeks, and finally made her decision shortly after the Lady Devils lost to Fayetteville in the semifinals of the state tournament.

“I sort of already knew what I wanted to do, I just didn’t say anything because I was thinking about waiting to see if any of the others offered anything,” Con-rade said. “But I really knew I wanted to play for Williams, so I made my decision.”

The shortstop/catcher, who can also pitch, made All-Conference as a freshman and sophomore at North Pulaski. After transferring to Jacksonville, she made All-Conference and All-State her junior and senior seasons.

In her senior campaign, she hit .411 with three home runs, four triples and had an .805 on-base percentage.
And she’s not just a softball player. She’s also receiving an academic scholarship from Williams Baptist.

Despite all the accolades, Jacksonville High School coach Phil Bradley felt she ended her high school career one accolade short of what she deserved.

“She should have been on the All-Star team,” Bradley said. “Those girls from our conference, from Mountain Home and Jonesboro that they took in front of her, Whitney can play circles around them.

Fortunately for her it worked out ok because she already had a scholarship, but there’s no reason that I can see why she’s not playing in that game. She’s one of the best players in the state.”

Bradley isn’t just impressed with Conrade’s ability to play, he says she is one of the most dedicated players he has coached.
Conrade overcame a knee injury last year, and this year came back from heart surgery in February. The same day of the operation, Conrade was at the practice field as an observer.

“She was back that day, and she was practicing with us again in a week,” Bradley said.

Conrade didn’t understand her coach’s apprehension.
“I just wanted to be out there playing,” Conrade said. “Coach (Tanya) Ganey kept telling me to take it easy, and I didn’t have to be out there so soon, but I was determined to get back out there.”

Conrade began suffering from spells of increased heart rate and dizziness during volleyball season, but repeated doctor visits found nothing wrong.

Finally, in February, doctors detected too much electricity running through her heart, causing the sudden spikes in pulse rate. Corrupt cells were forming extra pathways for the electricity to flow through.

So she went through a procedure called a heart ablation.

The surgeon raised her pulse to 200+ beats per minute to identify the problem cells, and froze them. The procedure was simple, but potentially very dangerous.

Conrade made it through cleanly.

“I was a pretty sore in my leg where they went in, but once that was gone I was ready to play,” Conrade said.

The Lady Red Devils had a great season, and became the first Jacksonville fastpitch team to advance to the final four of the state tournament. There they suffered their most disappointing loss, 6-4 to eventual state champion Fayetteville, a game in which all six of the Lady Bulldog runs were unearned.

“That was a big, big disappointment, but we still had a good season. We won 23 games and we set a school record by making the final four. And it was fun. I’m really going to miss my teammates and coaches.”

Conrade is now trying to find a team to play with this summer, but 18-under teams are few, and the ones that are around are full.

“I really want to play, but if I can’t, I’m still going to work out and practice with my dad,” Conrade said. “I’ve got to make sure I’m in shape and ready to play when I get to college.”

WBC has a fledgling softball program that showed vast improvement last season when it went 6-9 in conference and 20-30 overall.

That record had many more wins than the previous year, under the direction of first-year coach Angie Burnside.
Conrade will join Jacksonville graduate Justine Rial on the Lady Eagles’ roster next year, and looks forward to helping build a strong program.

“I saw them play and they weren’t bad,” Conrade said. “They are improving and they showed a lot of improvement this year. I really like coach Burnside and I can’t wait to get there.”

Conrade can play anywhere on the field.

Her favorite position is behind the plate, but she has a team-first attitude that she hopes will get her early playing time.
“I know that I’m not going to start every game,” Conrade said. “I just want to play and coach Burnside says I will.
“I love catching because I’m in on every play of the whole game, but I’ll play anywhere the team needs me. It doesn’t matter to me where they put me, I just want to be on the field.”

SPORTS >> Gwatney shares opening twin bill

Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: The Jacksonville class A American Legion team opened the season with a split against Sheridan.

Gwatney Chevrolet split a double header with the Sheridan Yellowjackets to open the A American Legion season Thursday at Dupree Park. The Yellowjackets took game one 7-3 in six innings, but Jack-sonville rallied back in the nightcap to take a 9-3 win.

Gwatney used four different pitchers in the opener, and three different players took to the mound in game two.
“We were trying to pitch all of them tonight,” Jack-sonville coach Bob Hickingbotham said. “We have four games over the next four days, so we wanted to give everyone a chance to go out there. Everybody did a pretty good job tonight; we still have a lot of time to get better.”

Game one was closely contested until the top of the sixth inning, when Jacksonville let a 3-1 deficit grow to a 7-1 lead by the end of Sheridan’s turn. Gwatney made some of that up in the bottom of the sixth with a pair of runs, but time was called after the inning, giving the Yellowjackets the win.

The Chevy boys looked like a different team in the second game, taking an early 3-0 lead after one inning, and adding five more runs in the second inning to take a commanding 8-0 lead.

While Jacksonville looked a little sluggish towards the end of the opener, it was Sheridan who played flat in game two, allowing Gwatney to score almost at will through the first two innings.

Jacksonville’s first score of the evening came off a solo home run from Brian Thurman in the bottom of the second inning. Thurman jacked it over the left -field wall to tie the game at 1-1. Sheridan added a pair of runs in the fourth inning before taking control of the contest in the sixth.

Of the five different pitchers that took turns during the two games for Jacksonville, Clayton Fenton looked the most polished. During three innings in game one and two innings in game two, Fenton gave up two hits, two walks and struck out six batters. Thurman, Cameron Hood, Jason Regnas and Tommy Sanders also had time at the mound for Gwatney in the twin bill in preparation for this weekend’s Memorial Day tournament at Burns Park.

Jacksonville started the second game off with a vengeance, loading the bases with the first three batters. A fielding error on a shot to left field from Adrian Baker allowed the first run to score, followed by a long fly ball to center from Thurman that scored Shane Graham and Hood. Thurman went for the triple, but got tagged sliding into third for the second out of the inning.

Gwatney loaded the bases once again in the bottom of the second to begin another scoring session. Errors cost Sheridan dearly in the opening innings. A fielding error on a Shane Graham hit scored another run before a double from Hood scored Josh Graham and Adam Ussery. The next run came when Shane Graham made it in off a single to left from Baker, giving Jacksonville a 7-1 lead.

Hood added the final run of the inning off another Yellowjacket error. Thurman struck out for what would have been the second out of the inning, but charged to first after a passed ball on strike three. Instead of trying to make the play at first, Sheridan catcher Austin Davis tried to get the play at third, but overthrew the base, allowing Hood to score.
Ussery scored the final run of the game on a passed ball in the bottom of the fifth, just before time was called for the game to set the final margin at 9-3.

Jacksonville finished game two with nine runs, 10 hits and four errors. Gwatney Chevrolet will be in action this weekend at the Memorial Day tournament at Burns Park. Bracket play began last night, and will run through Monday.

SPORTS >> Seventeen locals on rosters of '06 all-stars

Leader sports editor

IN SHORT: Local athletes make up a long list of the 2006 All-Star teams. A total of 17 athletes from The Leader coverage area will be on hand next month.

Now that the high-school year is over, and all the sports that go along with it are complete, all of the 2006 All-Stars have been named and are set to head to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville June 20 to take part in the Arkansas Activities Association’s All-Star Week.

Out of the 200 or so athletes, all graduated seniors, to be invited to the camp, 17 were from within The Leader coverage area.

Local teams sent more soccer players to the northwest corner of the state than any other sport.

Six local futbol’ players will be on hand in June, including North Pulaski’s Michael Buzzitta and Rachel Hamilton. They will be joined by Searcy duo Aaron Baker and Angie Branch. Cabot’s Anthony Byrnes and Sylvan Hills’ Sarah Stevens will also be among the honored guests.

All six of the players will compete for the East All-Star team. The girls will be coached by Leah Coleman of Mountain Home. Her assistants will be Doug Maxwell of Bryant and Ron Teat of Valley View.

The boys will be led by Jonesboro coach Jeremy Moore. He will be helped by Robert Irons of Conway and T.J. Slough of Greenbrier.

Five football players were selected by the East coaching staff. Jacksonville do-everything player Lavar Neely will exhibit his skills carrying the ball. He’ll likely line up at wide receiver, and could catch a pass or two from Harding Academy quarterback Zach Tribble. So could Sylvan Hills tight-end/defensive lineman Raefe Jenkins. Jenkins will be joined by teammate T.J. Finton, who was another do-it-all type player for the Bears. Searcy kicker Tanner Gibbs rounds out the local lineup.

Those boys also get the distinguishing honor of playing the last game that Barton’s legendary coach Frank McCellan will ever coach. McCellan coached his last season as the head Bear this year. His Barton teams went five regular seasons without a loss, and won four straight state championships in the late 80s and early 90s. They were finally beaten in the state championship game in 1991, ending what is still a national record of 65 consecutive wins over nearly five complete seasons.
The honor of coaching with McCellan next month goes to Stuttgart’s Bobby Bol-ding, Mountain Home’s Shane Patrick, Clay Wiggins, Eric Hend-erson and Jim Slain.

They will have an uphill battle, however. This year’s West All-Star team has been said to be one of the most talented ever assembled for the mid-summer classic.

Two boys and two girls were selected for basketball. Both boys come from Searcy schools and both have signed Division 1 scholarships. Searcy High’s Chris Brown will see his last high-school action next month before heading off to Wichita State. River-view’s Cory Cooperwood will play for Northwestern St. Both teams won NCAA tournament games this year. Wichita State was favored in their win, while Northwestern St. pulled off one of the most exciting wins of the tournament when, as a 14 seed, they beat third-seeded Iowa.
They will be coached by Blytheville’s David Hixson. His assistants include Jonesboro’s Barry Pruitt, Dollarway’s Ellis Berry, Dion Real and Al Williams.

The ladies that will team for the East have also signed Division I schollies, but much more locally. Cabot guard-forward Kim Sitz-mann will test her skills against her class’ best before moving on to Little Rock to play for UALR.

Lonoke’s Meaghan Kelleybrew will be a freshman on University of Central Arkansas’ first-ever Division I team. Kelleybrew was part of UCA’s first DI signing class as the program moves up from DII and into the Southland Conference next season.
The East girls staff includes Dell Leonard, Darryle Long, Steve Quattlebaum, Bobby Lewallen and John Hutchcraft.

Kelleybrew’s classmate at Lonoke and teammate on the basketball team, Crystal Tompkins, won’t join her on the hardcourt at Bud Walton Arena, but will be on hand at Barnhill Arena to play for the East volleyball team.

She won’t have any teammates with her, but Lonoke coach Laura Park was selected to assist Mountain Home’s Laura Newth on the East coaching staff. Marion’s Lisa Beasley will also coach the East.

Sylvan Hills southpaw Ashur Tolliver, and Searcy’s Scott Hudgins will be at Baum Stadium for the East All-Star baseball team. They will be under the direction of Walnut Ridge coach Derek Bramlett. Across the way, Abundant Life coach Wes Johnson will head of the West squad.

Players report to Fayetteville Sunday, June 18. Games begin Tuesday with a baseball doubleheader and the boys and girls soccer games.

Softball and volleyball take place Wednesday. Boys and girls basketball games will be Thursday and the football game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium concludes the week at 7 p.m. Friday.

SPORTS >> Cabot wins in strong opener

Leader sports writer

IN SHORT: Home Depot American Legion team defeats Bryant 6-1 in Cabot’s home opener on Wednesday night.

The Cabot AAA Home Depot team started out its 2006 American Legion campaign strong with a 6-1 win over the Bryant Black-sox Wednesday night at the Conrade Sports Complex in Cabot. Cabot did most of its damage early on, scoring four runs in the opening inning before adding its final two the following inning.

Justin Haas got the win at the mound for Cabot, allowing only two hits and one walk in four innings before being relieved by Colin Fuller for the remainder. Fuller started out a little shaky, allowing two hits and a walk right away before a fielding error scored the only Bryant run of the night. The big right hander settled down after that, only allowing one more hit in the final two innings while striking out three.

“We’ve got a lineup that can score runs quick,” first-year Cabot coach Andy Runyan said. “My only complaint is that we came out hot and scored six runs, then we just kind of sat on those six runs for the rest of the game. We knew our starter wouldn’t go all the way this early in the season, but I thought Haas did a good job for the four innings he threw and Colin did a good job in his three.”

Members of American Legion Post 71 were on hand for the opening ceremonies, and post commander Doug George threw out the opening pitch to kick off the season.

Haas sent Bryant three and out to start off the game, forcing two pop ups to right field and a pop up to left.
Cabot then proceeded to go through its entire lineup in the bottom of the first.

Lead off batter Corey Wade reached first courtesy of a walk from starting Bryant pitcher Tanner Zuber, but was out at second one batter later when Drew Burks hit into a fielder’s choice.

A single to left field from Fuller advanced Burks to third, and he scored shortly thereafter on a passed ball at the plate.
Chriss Gross joined Fuller on the diamond with another walk from Zuber, and an RBI double to deep center from Sam Bates sent Fuller home and Gross to third.

A third walk for Daryl Murphy loaded the bases for Cabot before a grounder down the first-base line from Shane Burgan scored Gross and Bates.

Zuber finally got the third out of the inning with a strikeout on Logan Lucas, but Cabot already had everything it needed to seal the win.

Cabot added two more runs in the bottom of the second, starting with Wade reaching on an error. Wade stole second while Fuller was at the plate, and an RBI ground-rule double for Fuller drove Wade in. Bates came away with a double to score Fuller, giving Cabot a 6-0 lead after two.

Bryant scored its only run of the game in the top of the fifth inning. With two outs and the bases loaded, Justin Wells hit into a fielder’s choice. Cabot shortstop Bates made the toss to second baseman Justin Free, but Free was not able to come up with it in time to make the out, allowing Ryan Wilson to score. The run would set the final margin of the game at 6-1.
Bryant made its second pitching change of the game in the bottom of the sixth inning. Alex Kehrees replaced first relief pitcher Aarron Davidson after Davidson replaced Zuber in the bottom of the third inning, and closed out the game with two strikeouts and forcing a pop-up to second base from Fuller.

Cabot finished the game with six runs, six hits and two errors. Bryant had one run, five hits and three errors in the contest.
Sam Bates was 2 for 3 for Cabot with two doubles and two RBIs. Colin Fuller finished 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI.
Cabot will travel to Stuttgart on Saturday for a AAA double- header starting at 1 p.m.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006



Merle Nixon Elliott, 101, of Jacksonville, passed away May 23 in Jacksonville.  She was born on Oct. 9, 1905, in Greenbrier to the late Ada M. and Pernecy “Harvey” Nixon. Also preceding her in death, her husband James Bryant Elliott; son, Royce Elliott; two sisters and four brothers. She is survived by her daughter, Joy Elliott of Jacksonville, two grandchildren, James P. Elliott and his wife Sandy, Anthony Elliott, daughter-in-law, Mary Nell Elliott all of Jacksonville; great-grandchildren, Stephanie and Philip Elliott both of Jacksonville.
Funeral services will be 2 p.m. Thursday at Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home Chapel.  Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. today at the funeral home. The family extends a special thank you to Odyssey Hospice, Dr. Mitzi Washington, Cindy Jeffers and Betty Jackson. Funeral arrangements under the direction of Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home.


Harley E. Keister, Sr., 97, of Jacksonville, died May 22 in Little Rock. He was born Nov. 2, 1908, in Ohio to the late George and Elizabeth Pearl Bolick Keister.  He was also preceded in death by his wife, Marie Clair Keister, infant son, Harold, six brothers, and one sister.  Harley served in WW II in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Wildcat.  
Survivors include his children; Cecil Keister of Jacksonville, Harley “Sonny” Keister, Jr. of Jacksonville, Clarence Keister of Rogers, Hazel Wylie of Cabot, Patsy Hall of Jacksonville and Faye Little of North Little Rock, sister, Mary Davison of North Little Rock, brother, John Keister of Jacksonville, 15 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren. Graveside services will be 10 a.m., today.  Interment will follow at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. Arrangements by Moore’s Jack-sonville Funeral Home.  


Mary Emma Knapp, 80, of Jacksonville, went to be with the Lord on May 19 in North Little Rock.  She was born Aug. 30, 1925, in Centerville, Iowa to Ross and Ruby Walker McElderry.  
She was a member of Maddox Road Baptist Church. Her father, her husband, Robert E. Knapp, a brother Jerry McElderry of Des Moines, Iowa, precede her in death.
Survivors include her mother, Ruby L. McElderry; son Doyle Wayne Knapp and his wife Diana, two brothers; Robert McElderry and his wife Elizabeth of Jacksonville, and Bernard McElderry of Moses Lake; two sisters, Marge Dullard of Jacksonville, and Beaulah A. Story, and her husband Ray of Shell Knob, Mo.; five grandchildren, Kathy Knapp of Rochester, Mass., Wayne and Jeffrey Knapp of Fall River, Mass., and Christopher and Benjamin Knapp of Rochester Mass., many nieces and nephews. Services were held Monday at Moore’s Funeral Home Chapel in Jacksonville. Interment will follow at Stanfield Cemetery. Arrange-ments under the direction of Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home.


David Charles “Chuck” Vincent, 43, of McRae, went to be with the Lord on May 19. He is survived by his mother, Sue Bevill Vincent of McRae, a brother, Martin and wife April of Beebe, three sisters, Rebecca Goodman, Donna Kennedy and husband David of Searcy, Julie Shelby and husband Michael of Senatobia, Miss., and six nieces, four nephews and one grandniece.
He was preceded in death by his father, Robert Vincent and a brother Jordon Vincent. Funeral services were held Tuesday at Westbrook Funeral Home, Beebe with burial in Antioch Cemetery.


Barbara E. “Bobbie” Hefner, passed away May 20. She was born June 30, 1932.
She was a Presbyterian by faith. Surviving her are her three sons Ray and wife Karen of Beebe, Lynn and wife Lynn of Cabot, Keith and wife Missy of Van Buren; eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her husband, Dueward, and infant daughter, Judy Ann. Graveside services were held Tuesday at Antioch Cemetery. Memorials may be made to the American Diabetes Associa-tion, 212 National Resources Drive, Little Rock, Ark. 72205.

SAT 5-20-6 EDITORIAL >> Formicola in GOP primary

Republicans have slim hopes of electing a congressman in the Second District this year, but they can produce a serious dialogue about the good of the country. In a season that does not promise much for the party, that can be a small triumph.

But that will depend upon Republicans electing Tom Formicola in the primary. Formicola, a health care executive at Sherwood, has a single Republican opponent, Andy Mayberry of East End in southern Pulaski County. Mayberry has been running for office for six years and he announced for the seat of U. S. Rep. Vic Snyder in 2005, which gave him a leg up on Formicola, who entered the race only two months ago.

Mayberry is a one-issue candidate — it’s abortion, of course — but his real hope is that his name will associate him in people’s memories with the popular Andy Griffith Show, which depicts lovable characters in the nostalgic town of Mayberry. But voters in the end will take substance over fluff.

Formicola offers the former.

He can speak thoughtfully about the real issues, the nation’s health crisis, its deteriorating fiscal condition, war and national security. Mayberry can talk about abortion.

The candidate will face one of the most thoughtful and principled officeholders of our era, Vic Snyder, and the Republicans should nominate someone who can at least engage him on that high plane.

Our hunch is that Tom Formicola can do that and Andy Mayberry cannot.

SAT 5-20-6 EDITORIAL >> Retain Sen. Capps

Local voters will face a long list of candidates in next Tuesday’s Democratic and Republican primaries, from quorum court members to attorney general, from sheriff to lieutenant governor. We’ve tried to profile most of them in a series of news articles and have endorsed many of them.

Today we endorse Sen. Paul Capps of Searcy, a veteran legislator who faces Gene Mason of Jacksonville in the Democratic primary in Dist. 29. Capps’ political career goes back to the 1960s, having risen to House Speaker before term limits forced almost every legislator into retirement.

But Capps came back four years ago, when he ran a spirited campaign against Rep. Pat Bond, D-Jacksonville, for the Senate seat left vacant by the outgoing Bill Gwatney, D-Jacksonville, who also was term-limited.

Capps is allowed one more term, and we see no reason to turn him out of office. He knows the intricacies of law-making and has represented the area well. A conscientious legislator, he’s not too happy with the pork-barrel projects lawmakers send their districts at budget time, nor is he pleased with the state’s easy reliance on sales taxes that burden the poor the most.
It’s unlikely Capps will cut out pork and lower sales taxes, but at least he’s a conscience in the Senate and could serve as a guide for younger lawmakers learning the ropes.

Mason is bright, an energetic letter-writer to this newspaper and a part-time teacher. He might have a better chance at winning in four years when he faces a less formidable candidate who is not the incumbent.

There are several other candidates who deserve our endorsement, but, frankly, it’s not easy making endorsements for local offices: Many of the candidates are our friends and neighbors who are running against qualified candidates equally deserving of holding office. In fact, it’s amazing that citizen-politicians make the sacrifice of public service for very little pay, and what they get in return is mostly headaches. And yet, they make a difference in their communities, and may the best of them win.

WED 5-24-6 EDITORIAL >> Good Mike

No sooner are the spiteful words out than there is a sighting of the good Mike Huckabee, the progressive executive who is looking out for the long-term public interest. You know, the one whom the extremists of his party call a flaming liberal.
It was on his monthly television show on public television. Maybe it is the influence of that rational venue, but the governor often turns thoughtful and magnanimous on the show. He was talking about the large natural gas deposits — the so-called “Fayetteville Shale” (see page 7A) — that have been discovered stretching from the Boston Mountains to at least Prairie County. Agents are combing the land to get mineral leases, and there is talk of royalty wealth and vast production.

The legislature, Huckabee said, should raise the severance tax on natural gas so that the public might get some lasting benefit from the speculation and production. Now, he did not volunteer to handle it himself, at a special session, say, but it is something his successor ought to do. Critics will say that it’s just like him — sure, leave the tough work for someone else when he could have sponsored the legislation at any of the legislative sessions the past two years — but that is not entirely fair. He has actually taken on some pretty risky issues, like school consolidation and banning smoking in workplaces.

Arkansas has always been the weakest state when it comes to wringing taxes from those who exploit its finite mineral resources. Of all the natural-gas producing states, Arkansas is the only one that does not materially tax the gas that is taken from its soil and transported to factories and homes across the country. The tax rate is three-tenths of a penny on each thousand cubic feet of gas, which is nothing more than a nuisance. Texas and Oklahoma charge hundreds of times more.

It is not a matter of needing more money. As Huckabee suggests, the state could lower some other taxes to offset it. But it should be a bedrock policy that the state will recoup for the people and for posterity some small recompense for the taking of natural resources that once exploited can never be reclaimed. Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Wyo-ming and Alaska, where the governments are famous for kowtowing to the big energy interests, stood with the public interest long enough to insist upon that small bit of accountability. And it has stood their children in good stead. Those states have funneled billions of dollars into education and kept other taxes low as a result of severance taxes.

WED 5-24-6 EDITORIAL >> Bad, bad Huckster

Fourteen years into his public career, Gov. Huckabee still has the thinnest skin in politics. He detests criticism, and the steps that he takes to mute it are most often what get him into trouble. He cuts off access to a doughty weekly newspaper that dogs his every official slip. When something begins to smell in his administration, he brings the records of it into his office so that he can claim that it is off limits to the public and the media. The records become a part of the governor’s “working papers,” which are exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

Monday, the latter ploy got him sued, by none other than his favorite newspaper and most persistent admirer, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. The paper had little choice if it was to uphold the honor of the trade, although editor Griffin Smith grieved publicly that his paper had to sue the governor. He would have liked to work things out with Mr. Huckabee, he said.

But the governor’s stance on freedom of information had reached the ridiculous, and grave issues are at stake. One of his friends and appointees to the state Board of Parole, Larry Zeno, resigned last week after an internal investigation of alleged misbehavior. Huckabee had the investigative report (his spokesman says it was only an “inquiry,” which she says is something less than an “investigation”) brought into his office and he refuses to divulge either it or Zeno’s resignation letter. He says there were uncorroborated allegations and that he saw nothing in the report that would cause him to ask for Zeno’s resignation.

The matter could very well be harmless. No one knows. The Arkansas Times reported that the same board member was investigated a year ago for a compromising situation in which he left the impression with some people that he was willing to trade a clemency recommendation for an inmate for a bargain price on a diamond ring.

It is the very nature of representative government that the public is entitled to review such matters and evaluate whether their officials — in this case, the governor as well as the parole commissioner — did the right thing. Huckabee said it was no one’s business but his.

The legal issues are fairly stark, which is why we believe the governor will surrender these documents before trial or reach some accommodation that will cause the newspaper to abandon its petition to the court. The courts are apt to say very clearly that the working-papers doctrine that the governor employs so often is bogus. And then he will not be able to pull the trick again.

The working-papers exemption in the FOI act was intended to give the governor unwatched access to advice from his own staff members on policy questions. Huckabee has stretched that to include any document that happens to come physically into his office. His troubles have come when those documents, like his office emails on antismoking legislation before the recent special legislative session, get into the clutches of other government agencies. Then reporters or anyone else can get them. But generally the governor and his staff are very good at keeping secrets. Huckabee’s attorney also claims a privilege for the Zeno documents because it involves a personnel matter. But even those are subject to public disclosure if it involves a matter of public interest. This clearly is that. Let us hope that the governor and the newspaper stick to their guns for the few weeks that it will take for the courts to settle this vital issue once and forever.

SPORTS >> Red Devils hit first day of spring hard

Leader sports editor

There wasn’t much game-type action, but there were some licks dished out at Jacksonville High School Monday afternoon. The Red Devils finally got out for their first day of spring football practice in full pads Monday, and did so with good energy.
“They got out there and buzzed around and banged into each other pretty good for day one,” Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley said. “We did mostly drill work, starting on the basics. We started over really trying to get the young kids caught up, but the energy was good.”

The defense, as expected, did most of the hitting drills. The offensive line and running backs got in on the action as well.
“We got the offensive backs out there working on blitz pick-up and stuck there noses in there pretty good,” Whatley said. “I was pleased with that. They turned it up a little bit.”

There were 69 Red Devils dressed out Monday, and 28 were sophomores to be. Those sophomores did well according to Whatley.

“They picked up on things pretty quick,” Whatley said. “We’ve had ‘em out here working with them in the offseason, and they seem to be coming along.”

The second day saw a little bit of 7-on-7 live action with the offense working against the defense, but the real scrimmaging likely won’t start until Thursday.

If all goes well, there could be a red-white type game at the end of the week.

“We’re just going to have to see how it goes,” Whatley said. “We’re not going to plan one in advance like last year. We’re just going to wait and see how we do this week, and make sure everybody gets through it without any injuries.”

Starting quarterback Daniel Hubbard entered spring drills still slowed somewhat by a broken leg he suffered in the season finale last year at Springdale.

He was limited on day one, but he did the things he was allowed to do well. “We’re being careful with Daniel and that leg,” Whatley said. “He’s got that rod in it, but he moved around a little bit and threw the ball really well. He’s going to get there, we’re just taking it easy for the time being.”

Hubbard, 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, leads a decent-sized group of returning starters that Whatley has been very pleased with so far. There were a lot of starters off last year’s playoff team that recently graduated, but Whatley is very comfortable with the starters that are returning this year.

“That bunch of seniors stepped right in and didn’t miss a beat. That’s a good group and we hope to get some good leadership on this team from them. They’re starting out pretty good.”

A few of the key returners are obvious projected starters, but most of the holes left by graduated seniors haven’t been claimed by anyone yet. The staff believes it will have more answers in that regard at the end of the week.
One key area of concern is backup quarterback.

“We’re definitely looking for someone that can step in there if something happens,” Whatley said.

SPORTS >> Jackrabbits green but practicing hard

Leader sports writer

The Lonoke Jackrabbits had their second day of spring practice in pads on Monday afternoon after a late start last Friday. The ‘Rabbits chose to wait until Friday due to several players being involved with the state track meet last Wednesday at Dardanelle.

The spring practices have been the first opportunity for new head coach Jeff Jones to see his team work out in full pads. The new head ‘Rabbit has liked what he has seen so far in the opening days of spring workouts.

“I appreciate the effort from these guys,” Jones said. “We have a young bunch, not many of them have seen a lot of time on Friday nights. They have all showed up hungry, and they are giving it everything they’ve got.”

The majority of Monday’s practice was spent with the team split up into two groups practicing in opposite directions on the practice field. One squad worked on running plays, while the other went through a series of passing drills. After a brief rest, the coaching staff put the whole team back into one unit and ran a combination of running and passing drills together.
Jones is confident that the team will adapt to the new style of offense he is bringing in. Although two days is not enough time for a complete evaluation, he says he has no doubts in the team’s abilities.

“They’ll get the hang of this,” Jones said. “They are all excited and ready to go. You always have the next guy waiting in line to be the next starter and get his turn. “Ideally, we want to leave these practices with an idea of who’s going to be where. We want to know which guys are going to work in what positions.”

Although the ‘Rabbits have been a run-oriented team traditionally, Jones hopes to use more of the spread formation in the offense. That is not to say they will not go to the ground at all. In fact, much of the early practices have focused on gaining yards on the ground.

“These practices are kind of an introduction to the offense,” Jones said. “We have been trying to get them used to this type of offense and to concentrate on our running game. Everything has gone pretty well so far, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
The Jackrabbits plan on working through the rest of the week before school dismisses for the summer.

The break will not be long, however, as Jones says the team will begin 7-on-7 summer football on June 5.

Lonoke will participate in the Monday night passing league, and expect to enter a number of 7-on-7 tournaments before the start of two-a-days on July 31.

With several of the starting skill position players from the ’05 team graduating this past week, it will be interesting to see who comes to the forefront for the upcoming season.

Last year, backup quarterback Josh Martin saw playing time in a number of the late-season games, and Duane Hood showed promise at the tailback position as a backup to Walter Ellis.

The ‘Rabbits will also move into a new conference this season. Lonoke will be a part of the 2AAAA Conference, which will include Heber Springs, Marianna, Mountain View, Stuttgart, Newport and Batesville Southside. Only Bald Knob will join the ‘Rabbits from the former 6AAA Conference in the new league.

NEIGHBORS >> Class of 2006

By Melissa Tucker
Leader staff writer

Badgers, Panthers, Jackrabbits and Lions, oh my!

Cabot, Beebe and Lonoke high schools held their graduations on Friday night, while Searcy High School held its on May 13.
Beebe’s and Lonoke’s were held on the school football fields, while Cabot’s was at Alltel Arena.

One-hundred and sixty-one seniors graduated from Beebe High School. Dr. Belinda Shook, superintendent of the Beebe School District, gave the welcome address.

Valedictorian Tiffany Bullard gave a speech titled “The Unforgiving Minute.” Salutatorian Jacob Burns’ speech was called “Continuing the Quest.” The two were also named as Highest Honor Students.

Other honor students from Beebe High School are Kayla Renee Brown, Kayla Christine Cooper, Spencer Ray Davis, Amy Christine Evans, Lara Ann Foreman, Brandin Matthew Gibbons, Ryan Joseph Lee Goodman, Dustin Lee Lavender, Brittney Lynn Lercher, Christipher Morrissey, Kathryn Elizabeth Quick, Caleb Heath Price, Hailey Marie Pruitt, Heather Lynn Reid, Juli Renee Sowell, John Andrew Webb and Ashley Nicole Yingling.

A student who has a 3.25 to a 3.99 grade point average in a core curriculum is considered a graduate with honors. Those with 4.0 GPA or above graduate with highest honors, according to counselor Carla Choate.

At Cabot High School’s graduation, 482 seniors were listed as graduates. Valedictorian Tyler Bartels and salutatorian James Ryan Madding spoke at the commencement ceremony.

The school’s Air Force Junior ROTC presented the colors before the ceremony began.

Cabot had 88 honor graduates in the class of 2006. They are: Jason Aist, Brittany Allison, Nicholas Amis, Lauren Bailey, Tyler Bartels, Jessica Beaulieu, Melissa Bishop, Daniel Bizzell, Brian Bopp, Jonathan Boyd, Jennifer Bradley, Billie Branscum, Camron Browning, Cara Coker, Jessica Cowart, Kayla Cox, Melissa Curtis, Lauren Daniels, Christina DeClerk, Emily Dixon, Tiffany Duhamel, Amanda Ehlers, Mika Emerson, Tisha Flud, Matthew Ford, Heather Forester, Kevin Frey, Daniel Gates and Bettye George.

Other honor graduates are Michael Gertsch, Chad Glover, Stephanie Hamm, Christi Hankins, Lauren Harrington, Jessica Hazeslip, Loni Hefner, Jason Hill, Jonathan Hill, Lauren Hopkins, Megan Houston, Cody Jackson, Jessica Jervis, Courtney Jones, Mary Jones, Kari Kihal, Katie Knox, William Kruse, Joshua Lieblong, Danielle Lovellette, Michael Lowry, James Madding, Shelli Mann, Brian Martinez, Brittany Matthews, Mallory Morgan, Seth Murdoch, Anthony Nelson and Kara Patterson.

Also named as honor graduates are Ashley Payne, Kristen Phelps, Madeline Phillips, Jolene Pitt, Ashlee Powell, Colton Roberts, Sarah Roberts, Candace Rodman, Christopher Rodriguez, Raney Rogers, Andy Roller, Taylor Self, Brady Sharp, Michael Sherer, Melissa Simmons, Kimberly Sitzmann and Jeanette Thompson.

Honor graduates also included Seth Thomson, Tyler Troutman, Joseph Tyree, Samantha Walker, Shannon Walker, Jessica Walton, Whitney Watkins, Brent Weeks, Cody Wilson, Abby Wisniewski and Brett Yother.

Lonoke High School graduated 128 students including two exchange students – one from France and one from Spain.
Valedictorian Charlotte Amelia Muse and salutatorian Ashley Lauren Lynch spoke at the event. Muse was also selected as a “Highest Honor” student. Other honor students, earning a grade point average of 3.50 for 3 1/2 years, were Neill Fletcher Bennett, Matthew David Bryant, Whitney Paige Burgess, Samuel Tanner Burks, Sterling Douglas Burns, John Ryan Cater, Clay David Chambless, Walter Thomas Ellis, Meaghen Deyan Kelleybrew, Frank Nicholas Kraus, Jr., Ashley Lauren Lynch, Leigh Erin McAlister, Nicole Danielle McCoy, Matthew James Miller, Billy Duane Paschal, Jr., Andrew Seth Pennington, Landon Bryce Pool, Nathaniel Wesley Russell, Jasmine Lasha Scott, Lindsey Marie Skinner, Lydia Faye Skinner, Kristy Nicole Smith and Rebecca Lynn Thompson.

Searcy High School graduated 192 seniors on May 13.
Valedictorian was Marisa Kaitlyn Smith, and salutatorian was Lindley Ann Moore. Honor graduates were Elyssa Jean Doom, Kayla Renee Anderson, Veronika Pavlovna Polskaya, Amber Fay Murphy, Logan Allen McLain, Mary Cathryn Reeves, Lauren O’Neal Wiseman, Savannah Leigh Adams, Hannah Ashley Davis, Maeve Nicole Kamerman, Kyle Alan Bruxvoort, Rhianna Lachelle Richards, Ashley Nicole Powell, Estrellita Jasmin Goss, Josiah Mark Letchworth, Keith Allen Hatfield, Meagan Denae Celsor, Lindsey Nicole Walker, Gary Morgan Overstreet, Rebekah Dianne Pasley, Skye Rochelle Phillips, Ryan Michael Hoyle, Allyson Rhenee Gladden, Hannah Elizabeth Woods, Heather Danielle Holden, Robert Scott Hudgins, Earl James Stracener and David Elliott Baird.

TOP STORY >> Keep up guard, victim’s mother warns students

Leader staff writer

Beth Holloway Twitty, the mother of Natalee Holloway, an Alabama high school graduate who vanished almost a year ago while on a trip in Aruba, told The Leader Tuesday the release of a 10th suspect in her daughter’s disappearance was “another disappointment.”

Twitty, a speech teacher from Birmingham, Ala., was in Cabot speaking to several hundred Cabot High School students about the importance of keeping their guard up while traveling abroad. The day before, she spoke at Lonoke High School.

“We picked this time of year because a lot of juniors and seniors will be traveling this summer,” said Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson, who coordinated Twitty’s local speaking engagements.

She has spoken to about 10,000 students in 12 states in recent weeks.

Twitty told the students the last time she saw her daughter alive was May 26, when she drove Natalee to the airport.
“She was so happy and excited,” Twitty said.

Natalee Holloway, 18, went missing last May, during a graduation trip to the small island with 124 of her Mountain Brook High School, Ala., classmates. The last time anyone saw Natalee, she was leaving Carlos’ n Charlie’s, a popular tourist bar and grill in Oranjestad, Aruba, at 1:30 a.m. May 30 with Joran van der Sloot, 17, Deepak Kalpoe, 21, and Satish Kalpoe, 18, in Deepak’s gray Honda.

“Natalee had a false sense of security with her many friends there. She was too confident and she felt safe and she let her guard down for a moment and in that moment she was kidnapped, raped and most likely murdered,” Twitty said.
Twitty learned of her daughter’s disappearance on May 31 when the travel agent called to tell her Natalee had missed her return flight from the Dutch Caribbean island. Twitty, her husband George Joe Twitty, along with several other concerned parents boarded a plane and arrived in Aruba at 11 p.m. May 31 where they found Natalee’s passport, neatly packed luggage, and mobile phone in her hotel room.

Her mother told students if the phone had international calling activated, Natalee might have been able to call for help.
“Natalee’s international calling wasn’t activated. That weighs heavily on my heart when I remember her hotel room,” Twitty said.

The Twittys and hundreds of volunteers spent a month in Aruba searching for Natalee everywhere, including the island’s crack houses and brothels. It was 10 days before anyone was taken into custody for questioning.

“Those 10 days gave the suspects time to clean up, corroborate their stories and hire lawyers,” Twitty said.
She was optimistic several times in the past year that the case would be solved, but her hopes were dashed when police on the Caribbean island later released other potential suspects. The most recent suspect had been working as a card dealer in an Aruba casino at the time of Natalee’s disappearance. Identified only as Guido W. by authorities, he was taken into custody in Holland.

As part of her International Safe Travels Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to provide safety information to travelers, Twitty urged students traveling overseas to be aware of their surroundings and keep up with friends.
“You are responsible for your own safety,” she said.

“It’s been almost a year now since living every parent’s worst nightmare,” she said. “I don’t know what happened to Natalee, I don’t know where she is, I don’t know whether she is alive or not. It doesn’t look good,” Twitty said.

“I can’t make you understand the emptiness I feel when I wake up every single morning. I can’t describe to you the pain of walking past her bedroom door every day. I pray that your parents will never experience my pain,” Twitty told the students following a short film paying tribute to Natalee.

The film showed graduation photos of Natalee set to the song “Natalee, Where Are You Now?” written by Erika Harvey of Nashville, Tenn.

“I want the kids to walk away with a heightened sense of personal safety awareness,” Twitty told The Leader.

“We want to show them that there are challenges and consequences that they could face should they be a victim of a crime in a foreign country.”

For more information visit

Arkansas News Bureau contributed to this report.

TOP STORY >> Independents to fill local ballots in fall

Leader staff writer

Voters in Cabot, Beebe, Ward and Austin should not be alarmed over the apparent lack of candidates for public office. Although Tuesday’s primary in Cabot had only a few candidates and the others had none, the ballots will be full in November after all the independent candidates have filed for office between July 20 and August 9.

In Cabot, all the incumbents on the city council ran as independents two years ago, and although a council ordinance allowed them to run as party candidates this year, none did. The only party candidates are Republicans running in open races. Jimmy Taylor is running for city attorney, now filled by Clint McGue, who was appointed and has not announced if he will run.

Alderman Patrick Hutton’s announcement for the Lonoke County Quorum Court created a vacancy that could be filled by a Republican, since two filed for the seat, but there is no guarantee of that because the council refused to pass an ordinance requiring independent candidates to file for office by the day before the primary.

Former City Attorney Ken Williams, who resigned from office, has filed for the Ward 2, Position 2 seat on the council held by Jerry Stephens, who is not running again. Teri Miessner has filed for the Ward 3, Position 2 seat held by Bob Duke, who is retiring, but both candidates could pick up opposition when filing begins for independents in July.

The seemingly routine ordinance that would have required all candidates to file before the primary failed in December with a 4-3 vote.

Without it, there is nothing to prevent party candidates who lose in the primary from filing as independents and running in the general election despite their loss.

In Beebe, all the candidates run as independents and file for office beginning in July. Alderman Mike Robertson, who was mayor eight years ago, is the only announced candidate for mayor.

In Ward, all the candidates run as independents, but the city council passed an ordinance in December requiring that all candidates file by the day before the primary.

Four candidates have filed for mayor: Art Brooke, the incumbent; Alderman Donnie Rouse; former Police Chief Jerry “Buford” McClendon and Bill Boyd.

For the city council, Ginger Tarno, the incumbent, and Don Harris have filed for Ward 1, Position 1. Marrice Jackson, the incumbent, and John Harris have filed for Ward 1, Position 2.

Glenn Walden, the incumbent, has no opposition in Ward 2, Position 1. Don Howard has no opposition for the Ward 2, Position 2 seat now held by Rouse. Charles Gastineau is unopposed for his Ward 3, Position 1 seat. Jeff Shaver, the incumbent, is opposed by former Recorder-Treasurer Murriel Seymour for Ward 3, Position 2.

All Austin candidates run as independents and file between July 20 and August 9.

TOP STORY >> Garrett, Capps, primary victors

Leader staff writer

The three-way race in the Democratic primary for White County sheriff was a close one for Pat Garrett, who is seeking a fourth term in office, but when all the votes were finally counted at just past 11 p.m. Tuesday, he was ahead with just under 51 percent of the votes.

Although this is Garrett’s fourth race, it is his first as a Democrat. He switched parties this year, saying the Re-publicans no longer gave him the support he needed.

The unofficial results of the race were Garrett, 2,958, Corey Simmons, 855, and Alan Roberson, 1,995.

Sen. John Paul Capps (D-Searcy) easily won re-election in Dist. 29, beating Gene Mason, 3,054 to 417 in White County. Preliminary results in north Pulaski County, which is also in Dist. 29, showed Capps with 562 votes to Mason’s 220 votes.
Garrett was reportedly at home with friends most of the evening, but he arrived at the courthouse just after the results were in.

“I feel absolutely outstanding,” Garrett said about the outcome of the election. “All my opponents threw everything they had at me. Now I’m ready to start my campaign for November.”

Garrett will face Ricky Shourd, a Republican, in the November election.

Maj. Kyle Stokes, the third in command at the sheriff’s department, and a candidate for White County judge in the Republican primary, did not fare as well as his boss. He lost to Michael Lincoln, 1,453 to 964.

The loss was Stokes’ third, and he said he would not run for office again.

“I took three swings. Now it’s time for someone else to step up to the plate,” he said.

Lincoln, a newcomer to White County politics, said he believes the administrative skills he has honed in 10 years as executive director of Camp Wildwood and before that with 13 years in public education make him a viable candidate for county judge.
“I’m honest and I’m fair and I’m a good consensus builder,” he said.

In November, he will face independent candidate Dennis Gillam and Waylon Heathscott, who won over Barth Grayson in the Democratic primary, 3,292 to 2,345.

Grayson, in his fifth race for county judge, conceded his loss to Heathscott after 85 of the county’s 92 precincts had been counted.

Heathscott, the current county treasurer and a former White County judge, says he believes he can beat Gillam and Lincoln if he has Grayson’s help.

“I sure need Mr. Grayson’s people,” Heathscott said. I sure need their help.”

Grayson said he believed he lost because he didn’t go door to door enough during his campaign. He hadn’t pressed for support from enough people.

Asked if he would throw his support to Heathscott, Grayson’s response was a definite maybe.

“I probably will because of the Democratic tie,” he said. “I’m deep into that party. Of course, I’ve got ties to Dennis, too. We’re both blackberry growers.”

Grayson, who owns several small newspapers, in addition to a few acres of blackberries, says he learned about the county by covering it, and he really wants to serve in public office.

Asked if he would run for county judge again, Grayson answered, “I’ll never say never.”

The only primary election for the White County Quorum Court was won by Democrat Layne “Boss” Vaughn, the longtime JP in District 8.

He defeated challenger Bob Barnum, 493 to 259.

TOP STORY >> Pulaski County software troubles

Leader staff writer

Longtime law enforcement veteran Doc Holladay of Little Rock appeared to have pummeled fellow lawmen H.L. Hutton of Jacksonville in the Democratic primary race for Pulaski County sheriff.

But that’s with only 4 percent of the votes in at 1 a.m. Wednesday.

If the trend holds, Holladay will square off against Republican DeWayne Graham of Sher-wood, a former television newsman, in November for the sheriff’s job.

The outcome for District 10 justice of the peace seemingly will have to wait until the run-off election on June 13. Neither incumbent, the Rev. Robert Green Sr., nor former incumbent Johnie L. Mass, both of North Little Rock, look like they will garner the necessary 50 percent of the vote in the three-man race and will face each other again. William Ginocchio of Little Rock, with the lowest vote total of the three, appears to be out of the race.

In the sheriff’s race, with just five precincts reporting by 1 a.m. Wednesday, Holladay garnered 81 percent, or 9,271 votes to Hutton’s 18 percent, or 2,161 votes.

Holladay campaigned on his extensive administrative and command experience. He said that was what set him apart from Hutton. Holladay has handled personnel issues that a sheriff will have to contend with and has commanded the largest municipal patrol, detective and narcotics units in the state.

“I’ve been in law-enforcement all my adult life,” said the Little Rock resident recently. “I’m capable and qualified.”
Holladay has worked in the professional standards unit of the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department since June 2004.
Before that, Holladay was the Little Rock Police Department’s public information officer.

Holladay said a top priority would be to identify a dedicated funding source to maintain the county jail and to keep the county from cutting other law-enforcement needs.

“We need to increase the enforcement and investigative functions,” he said. “We need to improve the technology. We need in-car cameras and a larger narcotics squad.

“Everybody is talking about problems in the jail, but the backbone is the patrol function.” Holladay has 33 years of law-enforcement experience.

He served Little Rock Police Department as commander of the downtown patrol division, commander of special investigations divisions, acting assistant chief of police and is a certified law enforcement instructor.

Holladay is a graduate of Fuller High School and holds an associate’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He also is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, the U.S. Secret Service Dignitary Protection School and the International Association of Chiefs of Police Critical Incident Management.

Holladay’s opponent, Jack-sonville resident Hutton, 49, spent the last 12 years working with the current sheriff, Randy Johnson, who opted not to run for re-election.


In the District 10 justice of the peace race, newcomer Ginocchio couldn’t make it past either of the veterans, Green and Mass, who both happen to be neighbors.

With five precincts reporting, Ginocchio had received 97 votes, or 20 percent, while Green had 192 votes, or 39.5 percent, and Mass had 197 votes, or 40.5 percent.

District 10 includes parts of Jacksonville, McAlmont, Sherwood, Rixey, Brushy Island and North Little Rock.
Barring a wildly successful independent candidate, the winner of the Democratic run-off in June will be the next justice of the peace. No Republicans filed for the position.

Green, 44, drives a Central Arkansas Transit Authority bus for a living and pastors First Corinthians Baptist Church in North Little Rock. “I’ve worked, pastored and lived in District 10 all my life,” Green said.

Green is a 1979 graduate of Jacksonville High School and drove a school bus for seven years before going to work for CATA. He has served two two-year terms on the quorum court and his wife has served two terms.

Mass just turned 78, but says he has no aches and no pains. After losing to Green by 23 votes two years ago, he said he would never run again, but changed his mind.

Mass retired after 37 years in the Air Force and has served on many boards, commissions and panels.

Leader staff writer John Hofheimer contributed to this article.

TOP STORY >> Lonoke counting in disarray

Leader staff writers

Saying “the numbers on this (tote) board aren’t worth spit,” Lonoke County Election Commissioner Larry Clarke announced at about 1 a.m. Wednesday that the optical scanner was incorrectly programmed and that it could be days until the results of the Lonoke County primary election are known.

Pulaski County was having the same problems and had only released about 4 percent of the vote, but commissioners and board members took off their ties and rolled up their sleeves and planned to stay until the count was verified, according to Susan Inman with the election commission.

“We’ll be lucky to recount this week,” Clarke said of the Lonoke County problems.

He said ES&S, the contractor for the voting machines, scanners and their programming, told him minutes earlier that the company would try to reprogram the disk today.

“We’ll have to run them all over. It will take all tomorrow (Wednesday) to reprogram the scanner for the 190 ballot styles,” Clarke said.

Then they must be tested. After the election commission is satisfied that the programming is correct, then a recount will begin.

The 35 people still assembled lat at night at the courthouse shook their heads or groused. One challenged Clarke, and said maybe ES&S should be the election commission and suggested a hand count.
“Hand counting is not an option,” Clarke said.

Clarke credited Lonoke County Prosecuting Attorney Lona McCastlain with the discovery that the ballots were being incorrectly scanned.

Cabot mayoral candidates in Ward 1 got only 28 votes in the Republican primary, while the scanner recorded 121 votes split between the Republican sheriff candidates.

Clarke said the scanner seemed to be picking up all countywide races but recording only some votes in the local races for mayors, aldermen and justices of the peace.

Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman said, “I’ve never seen anything like it, but this problem was occurring in some other counties as well.”

Pulaski County’s Inman said her crew was verifying the results by hand. She said the problem, like in Lonoke, was with the optical scanner program. She explained that the cumulative totals and end reports generated by the new software couldn’t be trusted.

“We are having to pull the tapes and double check the vote counts and make sure the right votes go to the right candidate,” Inman said.

“We are doing our job,” she said, making sure of the vote.

Inman said even the representatives of the software company who were on hand at the courthouse Tuesday night and Wednesday morning were “shocked and surprised as anyone” with the problems.

Inman emphasized that the election commission would “not blindly trust” the information provided by the software.
“We are responsible and will not post any results that could be incorrect,” she said.

Monday, May 22, 2006

EDITORIAL >> The Leader's candidate choices

We have endorsed these candidates who face opponents in Tuesday’s primaries:

Attorney general — Paul Suskie, Democrat.

Lieutenant governor — Bill Halter, Democrat. Chuck Banks, Republican.

Supreme Court — Donald Corbin, Pos. 2. Wendell Griffen, Pos. 5.

Senate Dist. 29 — John Paul Capps.

Second Dist. U.S. House of Rep. — Tom Formicola.

EDITORIAL >> Formicola in GOP primary

Republicans have slim hopes of electing a congressman in the Second District this year, but they can produce a serious dialogue about the good of the country. In a season that does not promise much for the party, that can be a small triumph.

But that will depend upon Republicans electing Tom Formicola in the primary. Formicola, a health care executive at Sherwood, has a single Republican opponent, Andy Mayberry of East End in southern Pulaski County. Mayberry has been running for office for six years and he announced for the seat of U. S. Rep. Vic Snyder in 2005, which gave him a leg up on Formicola, who entered the race only two months ago.

Mayberry is a one-issue candidate — it’s abortion, of course — but his real hope is that his name will associate him in people’s memories with the popular Andy Griffith Show, which depicts lovable characters in the nostalgic town of Mayberry. But voters in the end will take substance over fluff.

Formicola offers the former.

He can speak thoughtfully about the real issues, the nation’s health crisis, its deteriorating fiscal condition, war and national security. Mayberry can talk about abortion.

The candidate will face one of the most thoughtful and principled officeholders of our era, Vic Snyder, and the Republicans should nominate someone who can at least engage him on that high plane.
Our hunch is that Tom Formicola can do that and Andy Mayberry cannot.


Local voters will face a long list of candidates in next Tuesday’s Democratic and Republican primaries, from quorum court members to attorney general, from sheriff to lieutenant governor. We’ve tried to profile most of them in a series of news articles and have endorsed many of them.

Today we endorse Sen. Paul Capps of Searcy, a veteran legislator who faces Gene Mason of Jacksonville in the Democratic primary in Dist. 29. Capps’ political career goes back to the 1960s, having risen to House Speaker before term limits forced almost every legislator into retirement.

But Capps came back four years ago, when he ran a spirited campaign against Rep. Pat Bond, D-Jacksonville, for the Senate seat left vacant by the outgoing Bill Gwatney, D-Jacksonville, who also was term-limited.

Capps is allowed one more term, and we see no reason to turn him out of office. He knows the intricacies of law-making and has represented the area well. A conscientious legislator, he’s not too happy with the pork-barrel projects lawmakers send their districts at budget time, nor is he pleased with the state’s easy reliance on sales taxes that burden the poor the most.
It’s unlikely Capps will cut out pork and lower sales taxes, but at least he’s a conscience in the Senate and could serve as a guide for younger lawmakers learning the ropes.

Mason is bright, an energetic letter-writer to this newspaper and a part-time teacher. He might have a better chance at winning in four years when he faces a less formidable candidate who is not the incumbent.

There are several other candidates who deserve our endorsement, but, frankly, it’s not easy making endorsements for local offices: Many of the candidates are our friends and neighbors who are running against qualified candidates equally deserving of holding office. In fact, it’s amazing that citizen-politicians make the sacrifice of public service for very little pay, and what they get in return is mostly headaches. And yet, they make a difference in their communities, and may the best of them win.

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> Searchers confirm our report

Leader publisher

Hunters and nature lovers can now come and go as they please in the Big Woods of eastern Arkansas, as the search for the rare ivory-billed woodpecker is on summer vacation.

As we reported here on April 22, the search for the woodpecker is on hiatus until fall, according to those in charge of the recovery effort. Journalists received confirmation of our report during a tele-conference call Thursday.

Several groups involved in the search also confirmed the obvious: The fabled bird is definitely not hiding out in the Bayou DeView near Brinkley, as earlier sightings seemed to indicate.

“There is no resident pair in the Bayou DeView,” said Ken Rosen-berg of the Cornell Lab of Orni-thology, who co-chairs the biologists’ working group involved in the recovery effort.

"There have been no additional sightings since last year,” he added, which either confirms the theory that the bird was never in the Bayou DeView or has flown away.

But that area includes just 72,000 acres, or 13 percent of the wildlife refuge. Searchers have not ruled out the possibility that the bird has moved somewhere else in the 550,000-acre White River Wildlife Refuge.

There is also that grainy video that appears to show the bird in flight in the bayou, which prompted me to ask the people involved in the search if they still think the video shows the ivory-bill, long believed to have been extinct.

“We still stand behind the video,” responded Rosenberg , as reporters from the New York Times, Atlanta Journal-Consti-tution, Kansas City Star, Arkansas Times, Reuters and other media outlets listened in on their phones.

Several scientists think the video, shot by David Luneau of UALR, actually shows the more common pileated woodpecker, but people who have led the search insist it’s the ivory-bill.

“The criticism has forced us to search harder,” Rosenberg told reporters during the tele-conference call. “We’ve answered our critics. We believe it’s the ivory-bill.”

“We believe it’s the ivory-bill,” echoed team leader Jon Andrew of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

They believe it’s the woodpecker because the video appears to show the top of the bird’s black-and-white wings and its undulating flight pattern as it took off from the trunk of a tupelo tree where it had been perched.

Several sound recordings have also captured the bird’s unique kent call and double taps. Some of the searchers think they heard the kent call and double taps, but those sounds are easy to confuse with other birds, or even trucks rumbling along nearby I-40.

But the bird has left the bayou, probably moving deeper into the woods on account of hundreds of people encroaching on its fragile territory.

Cornell University has spent $1 million, most of it donated, looking for the woodpecker. Federal agencies have also donated several hundred thousand dollars in grants and in-kind services.

“We’re disappointed,” Cornell’s Rosenberg said. “We put a lot of effort into it. We have a lot of hope there might be a pair in the White River area.”

Much work remains to be done, but only a skeleton-crew will return next fall. So the search could go on for decades and spread out into neighboring states, and even into the Caribbean.

“We’d love to go to Cuba,” said one of the ornithologists.

The rest of us are sticking to the Big Woods, with half-a-million acres to explore. That’s enough hiking for a lifetime.
See you there next fall.