Wednesday, February 07, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Ready for reform?

Stop the presses! One house of the Arkansas legislature passed a bill this week to raise the standard of ethical conduct by lawmakers. The Senate approved a bill by Sen. Robert Thompson to bar legislators from becoming paid lobbyists for one year after they leave office. Shutting that revolving door, if even for only one year at a time, can restore a small measure of confidence in the integrity and independence of the lawmaking process. The halls at every legislative meeting are filled with ex-legislators who are representing interests that they served so dutifully when they were in office doing the people’s work. They are back using the connections, friendships and alliances built when they were lawmakers, but now in the direct service of special interests.

It does not stir confidence, and Sen. Thompson and his colleagues in the Senate recognized it. But in the House of Representatives, Speaker Benny Petrus quickly steered the bill into the Rules Committee, where good reform bills go to die. We can only hope that the committee gives the full membership a chance to vote for better government. Too bad that it is apt to be their only chance. Elsewhere, from New York to California, new governors and legislatures are embracing new regulations and restrictions on gifts to legislative and executive officials. So is Congress, to an uncertain degree. The wide network of corruption spawned by lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Republican Leader Tom DeLay was a big factor in the Democratic election sweep of 2006, and state capitols as well as Washington are trying to show that they listened and are going to stem the effect of money and favors on lawmaking and executive decisions.

Our former governor and now presidential contender was a poster child for public avarice. He took every gift he could get his hands on from any source, piling up more than $100,000 in gifts in a single year of his 10-year reign. The law was supposed to prohibit that, but it vaguely says that an officeholder may not accept gifts that are intended to reward him for performing his public duties, for which the taxpayers pay him adequately. But Gov. Huckabee could say that the gifts were the fruits of friendship and not payola, so there was no appearance of cronyism or favoritism.

Gov. Beebe says he finds it “appalling” that anyone, a governor or a legislator, would take a gift valued at more than $100 on the premise that the state Ethics Commission can’t prove that it was a payoff for something he did or would do. His take, Beebe said, is that neither he nor a member of the legislature should accept a gift valued at more than $100 from anyone but a family member or a friend of more than 25 years acquaintance. In his case, that would mean no gifts from anyone he didn’t know well in 1982, the year that he was elected to his first public office.

Then he should propose legislation that would do exactly that. Better still would be legislation that simply outlawed gifts altogether to public officials except from family and close friends. Not even a cup of coffee. Any denomination, whether it is $100 or $1, becomes subject to interpretation. The law would make it easy to just say no, which politicians argue that it is ungracious to do. When Dale Bumpers was governor, he returned every gift with a polite form letter. On leaving the governor’s office in 1975, Bumpers put on his coat and left everything else behind. Mike Huckabee left the bare walls. Everything else he claimed as his own.

No legislator is likely to offer such pristine reform as a stern no-gifts policy because some colleagues would feel their integrity was sullied, unless the governor showed the way. Beebe seems disinclined. When this session is over, some public-spirited group should sponsor initiated legislation to do that. Lawmakers need a little help in doing what most of them know is right.
—Ernie Dumas

EDITORIALS>>A good start on grocery tax

Gov. Beebe and leaders of the House of Representative struck a deal this week that will ensure a reduction in the state sales tax on groceries from 3 to 6 percent and thousands of low-income workers will get a modicum of income-tax relief as well.
That is about as good an outcome as anyone can expect of the legislature. The tax system, which has grown steadily more regressive for 30 years, will be just a little fairer — not as productive, but fairer.

Despite all the talk about eliminating or reducing the tax on groceries for the poor, cutting the tax will not do much for the truly poor. Nearly 600,000 of the poorest people receive food stamps and thus pay little sales tax on their foodstuffs.
But if the state is going to give broad tax relief to its people, which Gov. Beebe proclaimed this month as his goal, then reducing or removing the tax on groceries is about the most equitable way to do it. For 40 years, Arkansas has been in the perverse position of taxing the food of children, but not the food of chickens, hogs and cows, a perversity to which former Sen. Bud Canada loved to call attention.

House Speaker Benny Petrus preferred to give an income-tax break targeted only at low-income working families, and that will happen, too. Under Govs. Dale Bumpers and Bill Clinton, the legislature peeled from the tax rolls those whose family earnings left them below the federal poverty line. The law will be amended to raise the tax threshold to the current poverty level, almost $21,000 for a family of four.

That is a good step, although it would be better if the state enacted an earned income-tax credit that would reward the full-time work of the poorest families whose incomes are so low that they don’t have a tax liability. But let us not fail to acknowledge the good work of Gov. Beebe and the legislature because they did not achieve miracles. More tax cutting is in the works, for manufacturers and processors mainly, but probably for many other interests as well.

Beebe and the lawmakers should remind themselves of the peril that the slackened revenues from the tax changes in two or four years will compel a tax increase. And we know what that will be: a higher sales tax rate, which will victimize the very people whom this week’s good works helped.

SPORTS>>Rabbits keep pace for share of 4A-2 league title

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke boys got a big win Friday to keep pace with league leaders Marianna and Heber Springs. The Jackrabbits ran away from Bald Knob to take a 63-41 victory and improve to 12-2 in league play. They trail the two league leaders by one game, but play both of them at home this week.

The Lady Rabbits suffered an upset loss, falling 41-40 at home to the Lady Bulldogs. That puts the Lonoke ladies just one game ahead of Bald Knob and Mountain View with two games left on the schedule. The Jackrabbit boys jumped ahead early and never were threatened. While the effort and intensity were there for Lonoke, head coach Wes Swift wants to see a more focused intensity.“It was better,” Swift said. “We came out with good intensity and played hard, but we missed a lot of chippies that would have made it a lot easier. All the turnovers weren’t good either. I think that was a sign that we weren’t as sharp as we need to be.”

The Jackrabbits committed 20 turnovers, but forced many more than that and got several buckets off of defense. Lonoke picked up a total of 24 steals, and forced over 30 total turnovers. Lonoke led 23-16 at the end of one quarter. The paced dipped slightly in the second period as each team had trouble maintaining possession. Lonoke’s defense held the Bulldogs to just six points in the second frame and took a 35-22 lead into intermission.

The third quarter was played evenly, but Lonoke stretched it out in the fourth period. Applying pressure at the onset of the final frame, Lonoke took advantage of a few more steals and converted them into points to secure the victory. Swift said the defense was a team effort, but specifically commended junior guard Bradley Spencer. “We put Bradley on their best player and he did a good job,” Swift said. “He scored 19 on us over there, and we held him to six this time. That was mostly Bradley doing that because talked about not switching up on him. That was his man.”

Clarence Harris led Lonoke in scoring with 15 points while Spencer and Tyronne Dobbins added 13 each. Spencer also had eight rebounds and three steals. Dobbins added five steals while senior Brock Clement nabbed six steals to lead the team in that category. The Lady Jackrabbits lost their game at the free-throw line. Bald Knob’s defensive strategy was to pack the middle as tight as possible, and if the ball did go in for a shot, to foul. Lonoke responded by hitting 15 of 29 free throws in the game.

“That’s where it starts right there,” Lady Rabbit coach Nathan Morris said. “They were going to foul our big girls, that’s just what they were going to do. And our big girls went to the line and missed.” Lonoke’s guards didn’t shoot well from the field either, which aided the Lady Bulldog victory. With the middle packed in, the guards got open looks from mid-range, but struggled to knock them down. “Our guards are going to have to be more aggressive,” Morris said. “They’re going to have to shoot more, and shoot better. We’re basically getting free throws from the field, and we’re not hitting them.”

The score was 14-10 Lonoke at halftime, but Bald Knob tripled that total with 31 points in the second half. Most of that was due to the play of sophomore point guard Fhagen Altom. Altom penetrated much more in the second half and went to the line often. She finished with a game high 16 points on just three field goals. The rest of her points came at the line. The loss dropped the Lady Rabbits to 18-8 overall and 12-2 in league play.

The hosted Marianna last night, and will host Heber Springs to close the regular season on Friday. They need to win both to clinch an outright conference championship. “Bottom line is, when you’ve got a chance to close out an outright title at home, you need to get it done,” Morris said.

SPORTS>>Lady Panthers defeat Belles

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot teams played in different gyms on Friday for the first time since the start of the 7A-Central Conference season, but had results that reflect how most of the conference season has gone for each team. The Panthers let Little Rock Catholic win the second conference meeting between the two teams with a 60-50 decision, but the Lady Panthers shut down Mt. Saint Mary’s in the final half of the third quarter, taking a 62-51 win over the Belles, and putting themselves up to second place in the 7A-Central standings behind un-beaten North Little Rock.

The Lady Panthers needed strong performances from two of their shooters to take the win over MSM on Friday. Senior guard Maddie Helms and junior forward Lauren Walker scored 16 points each in the game. Walker’s points all came from the floor, while Helms scored seven of her points from the line. Cabot led 26-25 at half time, but had to withstand a strong rally from the Belles in the opening minutes of the second half. St. Saint Mary went up by four mid way through the period, but could not keep the momentum long enough to pad that lead. The final four minutes of the third belonged to the Lady Panthers, as 12 unanswered points from Cabot gave the lead back to them.

The Lady Panthers built the lead back up to 43-35 by the end of the third quarter, and was able to maintain the advantage for the final eight minutes. Along with 16 points from both Helms and Walker, Leah Watts added 11 points for the Lady Panthers. For MSM, Vicki Flynn led with 13 points and Meagan Uekman finished with 12 points. The win improves the Lady Panthers’ record to 17-4 overall and 7-2 in 7A-Conference play.

The Panthers have been fighting for the sixth and final playoff spot since the middle of the conference schedule, and Friday’s game was of little help. The Rockets only led by three at the half, but slowly pulled away in the final half to complete the conference sweep. Catholic took a 20-point lead at one stage of the fourth quarter, but the Panthers were able to cut it in half by the final buzzer. “We had about a three minute span in the third quarter where we didn’t make our free throws,” Cabot coach Jerry Bridges said. “They were hitting their shots on the other end, and we only got one of six at the line, and that’s just like three turnovers, really. We played well, and did a lot of things that we set out to do, but with this conference as tight as it is, you have to do those small things like free throws, or it will end up costing you, and it costs us. You take those three minutes away, and it could have been a two-point game, but that’s what I thought gave them the advantage.”
Alex Sharp led in scoring with 10 points. Shawn Trammell added seven points, and Sam Bates finished with six points. For Catholic, Jake Bequette led the way with 12 points. The loss gives the Panthers a 9-13 overall record and a conference record of 2-7.

The Cabot teams played at North Little Rock last night after Leader deadlines, and will host Little Rock Central inanother pair of 7A-Central games on Friday.

SPORTS>>Academy ladies win co-conference crown

Leader sportswriter

Harding Academy’s senior night wasn’t just a celebration of their contributions to the Wildcats and Lady Wildcats teams over the past few years, but a continuation of it, as four starting seniors for each of the HA teams led the way in big conference wins over local rival Pangburn Friday night at Harris gym. The Lady Wildcats had a surprisingly easy time against the Lady Tigers, winning 47-28 to earn a share of the 3A-2 conference championship with crosstown rival Riverview. Pangburn entered the week a game ahead of the two Searcy schools, but lost to both of them to finish conference play with an 11-3 mark.

Academy, 12-2, loses the tiebreaker with Riverview for the top seed in the district tournament, but is still recognized and conference co-champions. Seniors combined for 39 of the 47 points for the Lady Wildcats in the title-winning performance.
The Lady Wildcats put on one of their best defensive performances of the year when it counted the most, building up a 20-11 lead at halftime before plowing over the Lady Tigers in the third quarter with a 17-6 run in the frame to take control of the game before the final period even began.

Loghan Lowery helped Harding Academy out to the early advantage with a pair of three pointers in the first quarter, along with another three from point guard Taylor Pryor. Liz Ashley led the way for the Lady ‘Cats in the third quarter with six of her total eight points. Harding Academy was on the way to a 30-point lead midway through the final quarter with subs on the floor, but a series of late threes from Pangburn’s Kendra. Reaves padded the score slightly before game’s end. Reaves hit three times from behind the arc for all her total nine points.

“We came out with a purpose,” Lady Wildcats coach Darren Mathews said. “We wanted a share of the conference championship, and Pangburn stood in the way. Tonight, it was senior night, and our four seniors led in scoring. I told the girls they were battle tested now, and they’re ready to start the new season, which is the district tournament.”
Jennifer Kee led Harding Academy with 13 points, including three of four from the free throw line. Pryor and Lowery finished with nine points each, and Ashley added eight points for the Lady Wildcats.

Jennifer Kee led with 13 points. Loghan Lowery and Taylor Pryor both had nine, and Liz Ashley battled a 103 degree fever to finish with eight points for Harding Academy. The win gives Harding Academy a 18-4 overall record this season. The Wildcats also saw strong play from their seniors during their 60-51 come-from-behind win over the Tigers. A blistering run from HA senior post James Kee in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter would prove to be the difference maker in the game, giving the Wildcats the momentum for the remainder of the game.

The first score of the game didn’t occur until the 5:54 mark, when Pangburn’s Justin Williams landed a jumper for a 2-0 Tigers lead. Lance Carr put up HA’s first point with a free throw on the following possession, but Pangburn would rebound the back side resulting in a fade shot in the paint from Jeremy Hollingshead. Hollingshead would turn out to be the missing link between winning and losing for the Tigers on Friday. With him in the lineup, the Tigers held the game’s momentum for a solid performance on both ends of the court. Without him, Pangburn struggled to find good looks at the basket after a good 16 minutes of shooting during the first half.

Even Williams, who contributed 10 points in the first half alone would have trouble picking his way through the stingier HA defense. Pangburn did a good job of creating their own shooting zones in the first half with a number of fade jumpers around the lower perimeter. Hollingshead hit a pair of step-back shots during the first quarter, but converted to an assist ace in the second quarter with several good feeds to Williams for points.

Hollingshead went out with foul trouble after drawing two quick fouls under the Harding basket during the last minute of the third to give him four personals, and the Wildcats took advantage with their biggest run of the game. Hollingshead hit Pangburn’s final goal in the third with 1:22 left with a rebound and assist from Wes Jackson off a missed free throw from Hollingshead. He had hit the front end to put Pangburn up 37-34, but the grab and give from Jackson allowed Hollingshead to increase the advantage to five.

The Wildcats closed to within a single point by the end of the frame, and got a quick boost from James Kee in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to help HA take control. Kee rolled up six points in a matter of 15 seconds to take Harding Academy from a 41-38 deficit to a 44-41 lead by the 5:45 mark. Alex Beene gave the new lead a little padding moments later with a three-point basket, and two free throws from Luke Tribble at the 2:26 mark gave the Wildcats a 48-41 lead, completing the 10-0 run for Harding.

Hollingshead would return in the final two minutes for Pangburn, but the Wildcats had already secured a solid lead, and Tribble’s nine for 12 at the line in the final 2:26 did not allow the Tigers to play catch up. “I thought our guards looked good tonight,” Wildcats coach Rick Beene said. “I thought B.J. Roller was the player of the game for us. The seniors looked a little nervous with it being senior night, but B.J. stepped in kind of non chalant. James Kee played well, but we couldn’t keep him out of foul trouble.”

Tribble led in scoring with 24 points for Harding Academy. Beene added 18 points, and Kee finished with eight. The win improves HA’s record to in conference 8-6 and 12-10 overall. Harding Academy played at Izard County last night after Leader deadlines, and will host Des Arc Friday in preparation of next week’s district tournament at Riverview High.

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> Disabled vet celebrates successors

Butch Davis sat at a round table near the corner where the Singing Sergeants entertained in the big gym on Little Rock Air Force Base, which was honoring its top personnel at the annual awards banquet Saturday night. Davis is a Sherwood alderman and disabled Vietnam veteran who almost died in the summer of 1969 in a huge explosion that nearly wiped out his company. He was put on a rescue helicopter along with several dead soldiers heading for the morgue. He’d come to momentarily, hoping the chopper crew didn’t think he was dead.

He signed up for the Army when he was 16 — “I lied about my age,” he admits — and was 24 years old when he was hit, and he’s been in pain for 38 years. You can only imagine his injuries — almost his whole body was ripped up, and he seems disabled along much of his left side — but Davis never complains. He has a great attitude and likes to laugh and joke and help others.

He enjoyed the Saturday show — the Singing Sergeants, backed by a jazzy combo, sang American pop classics (Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies,” Harry Warren’s “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”), and when they did “America the Beautiful,” the audience stood up, and so did Davis, with some difficulty, and there was hardly a dry eye in the house. When the awards were announced, Davis was especially proud of Senior MSgt. Darren Hill, who is serving overseas and who was named first sergeant of the year.
Davis has known Hill for a long time, and Hill’s wife, Tammy and two young sons, Tyler and Aaron, accepted the award for him.

When Sgt. Davis was in Vietnam, he was about the same age as the people getting their awards Saturday night. Davis’ company was on patrol near Chulai in South Vietnam on July 12, 1969. They’d had frequent firefights with the Viet Cong and captured several of them that summer. “Four companies would take turns out in the field,” he recalls. “We’d find the Viet Cong and take them back to Chulai.”

He remembers one of his company commanders was from Arkansas, who’d split them up in separate groups, which Davis didn’t think was a good idea, but you’re not going to argue with a commanding officer. But Davis was still in one piece, and he was hoping he’d see his wife and son back home soon. Davis was supposed to leave Vietnam in a couple of days. He figured this would be his last patrol, only he didn’t know how right he would be about that.

The company’s orders were to stay clear of trees, where the VC planted explosives with detonators on the ground. Around 7 p.m. when it was still light outside, someone stepped on a detonator that was wired to explosives in a nearby tree. When it exploded, it killed six and injured 28 G.I.s, along with several South Vietnamese out on patrol with the Americans. “There were enough casualties to fill a couple of helicopters,” Davis remembers.

“When the bomb hit me, it felt like a bell over my head,” he continues. “I knew I was hit. It got my whole left side.” His injuries spread all over his body, including his spinal cord, which wasn’t severed, though. “I was one of the last flown out. I was worried they thought I was dead,” he says. Once he was in the helicopter, Davis was hoping the chopper crew would realize he was still alive. He’d open his eyes, then close them again.

“I couldn’t move,” Davis said. “I blacked out again for a while.” Fortunately, he woke up in a hospital, then was flown to another hospital in Japan. He received more treatment at the Veterans Hospital in Richmond, Va. Months of therapy followed. He was finally released in December 1969. “I still have shrapnel in my neck,” Davis says.

Despite his disability, Davis says, “I really enjoyed the military. I was going down the wrong path when I joined up.” He’s 62 years old now, and he considers himself fortunate, considering how many of his buddies didn’t come home. He’s been a Sherwood alderman for eight years and does more volunteer work than most people half his age. “I feel better than I’ve felt in years,” Davis says. “I’ve got to stay busy.” It’s been a long day, and he says, “I sure do feel tired.”

TOP STORY >>Beebe may close its court

Leader staff writer

Lawbreakers in the Beebe area may soon have to go to Searcy for their day in court. The Beebe City Council held a special meeting Friday night and gave the mayor and city attorney the go-ahead to investigate closing Beebe District Court which last year cost the city $70,000 more than the $100,000 it brought in. If the state legislature, which created the court, allows it to close, Searcy District Court would likely hear Beebe’s misdemeanor and traffic cases.

Before 1994 when the state started taking the money collected in city courts for the Administrative Justice Fund and then giving back some of it, Beebe’s court was not only self-sustaining, it also was a money maker for the city. Now, the Beebe City Council and Mayor Mike Robertson say it is a convenience that they no longer are willing to pay for, especially considering that they have no money to pave streets.

The decision to close would seem like an easy one, but Police Chief Don Inns pointed out that state troopers turn their traffic citations into the Beebe court because they are in the area. In fact, their tickets and tickets from Arkansas Game and Fish officers far outnumber the tickets that his officers write, which adds to the cost of running the court. Inns told the council that in January, his officers spent only four hours in court, which meets every week. On the plus side, the troopers are in the Beebe area, which is good for the city, Inns said. “If we say we aren’t going to take any more trooper tickets, will they be here as much?” Inns asked the council.

“We’re subsidizing cases that could be heard elsewhere,” the mayor said and warned the council that if city residents knew the extent of the subsidy, especially considering how it affects them, they would not like it. “I think if people knew that we were having to pay $60,000 for cases that are not our own, they’d be furious when they hit that pothole,” Robertson said.
Robertson said after the Friday night meeting that he doesn’t know when profit from the court started to decline or whether the decline has been steady since 1994. Paul Hill, the former city clerk, destroyed some records as allowed by state law, so the information is not available.

Robertson said this week that if the legislature approves closing the court, it probably will have to remain open until the end of 2008 when Judge Teresa Hughes’ term expires. The council is interested in closing the court only if doing so is best for the city, he said. And right now there are a lot of questions that need to be answered, including how much it will cost the city to send its cases to Searcy.

TOP STORY >>Glover sees win for grocery tax cut

Leader staff writer

Gov. Mike Beebe’s promise to reduce the state sales tax on groceries to 3 percent from 6 percent took a giant step forward Tuesday when the governor agreed to back increased income-tax exemptions and lower utility taxes for manufacturers.
That cleared the way for supporters of the competing earned-income credit bill to abandon it and embrace the grocery tax cuts. House Speaker Benny Petrus’ legislative package included the earned income-tax credits and the other cuts, but some insiders speculate he got what he set out for.

Managed and sponsored by Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, the Senate unanimously approved his grocery tax reduction last week, and the governor says he has enough votes to pass the bill in the House. State Rep. Kevin Anderson, R-Rogers, was the lead sponsor of Petrus’ earned income-tax credit bill, which passed 85-12 in the House Monday but it never has a chance in the senate.

Beebe and Petrus apparently worked out their deal in (presumably smoke-free) backrooms. The House passed part of Petrus’ package, a tax cut to increase from the current $6,000 to $10,000 the amount of retirement income that would be exempt from state tax. Reps. Will Bond and Sandra Prater, both of Jacksonville, are sponsors of the governor’s grocery tax cut. It would become active July 1. Glover said Petrus’ bills would have thrown Beebe’s budget out of balance. Glover said the grocery tax cut would diminish revenues about $130 million a year.


Bond is the lead sponsor of a bill to refer to a vote of the people a constitutional amendment allowing for a state lottery to fund college scholarships, vocational education and teacher bonuses. He said this week that there appears to be good support for the bill in both houses. House Joint Resolution 1005 is titled “Proposing an amendment to section 14 of Article 19 of the Arkansas Constitution to authorize the General assembly to establish a state lottery to help fund college scholarships and teacher bonuses in this state.”

The referendum will say all money would be spent for education and would supplement, not supplant, existing monies. He said several state agencies supported the bill and that Lt. Gov. Bill Halter helping push it. The lottery bill is filed and referred to the State Agencies Committee, which will hold hearings. If approved, it would refer the question to a vote of Arkansas residents.


Bond, a cosponsor of a bill intended to drive the payday lenders from the temple faces a tough fight. He said it was being amended to clarify that straight check cashing—a reasonable fee for cashing a paycheck, for instance—would not be threatened by the bill that would make usury in Arkansas a crime, punishable by fines of $300 per incident.

It would allow interest with a maximum annual interest rate of 17 percent. Opponents say payday lenders will always find a way to do business, so why not regulate them instead of outlaw them? Proponents say efforts to regulate them have been ineffective, with the foxes appointed to guard the hen houses.

TOP STORY >> As Air Force cuts staff, it spends more

Leader editor

Despite continued cuts in military personnel, a top Pentagon official told members of the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council Tuesday that the Jacksonville air base will see continued growth as C-130 pilot training will remain an important part of the nation’s defense strategy. “We will always need plenty of tactical mobility pilots,” said Roger M. Blanchard, Air Force assistant deputy chief of staff for personnel in Washington. “Little Rock Air Force Base will continue as the premier trainer of C-130 pilots.”

A major part of current Air Force strategy includes “recapitalization of equipment,” Blanchard said. “We were on a procurement holiday in the 1990s,” he said, although the Defense Department is spending more on acquisitions than it has in decades. While other bases are shutting down or downsizing, LRAFB will see several hundred additional airmen assigned here, along with eight more C-130s. Blanchard said that was a significant development as the Air Force continues significant reductions in personnel, soon dropping to 315,000, from a high of some 600,000 more than a decade ago.

Those personnel cuts are needed to buy additional airplanes and weapons systems. To pay for those purchases, a leaner, more mobile military machine is called for, Blanchard said, whose centerpiece is an expeditionary force that can reach anywhere in the world almost immediately.

In the war on terror, the military relies on “an interdependent effort,” where all the services depend on each other for support and backup. Critics say the Air Force is playing a lesser role in that war effort — even though air power toppled Saddam Hussein in a matter of days — but Blanchard pointed out that some 27,000 Air Force personnel, including several hundred from the Jacksonville air base, are deployed in the war on terror.

The Bush administration Monday submitted to Congress a 2008 military budget calling for $27 billion for new aircraft programs, including $1.58 billion for 13 more C-130J transport planes, one more than last year. Under the proposed budget, the Air Force would receive $110.7 billion in 2008, an increase of $6.2 billion. The Pentagon last year reversed a decision by former Defense Secretary Donald S. Rumsfeld to eliminate the C-130J program. The Air Force wants to buy 38 more C-130Js in the next five years. Little Rock Air Force Base has seven C-130Js and several more may be assigned here.

Defense spending has been growing every year since 1998, well beyond the inflation rate. Much of that spending is for the war in Iraq, but new planes and other hardware are in the pipeline. Blanchard emphasized capital spending as part of the military’s retooling for a new century. He said the choice was clear: Reduce the force and buy new airplanes, or fly 50-year-old planes. The military chose the former rather than the latter.

“The key to Little Rock’s success owes significantly to a partnership that exists between the community and the air base,” Blanchard said. “Recapitalization of our equipment is very important,” he continued. “We’re trying to find more efficient ways of doing business,” Blanchard said. “There’s no other military in the history of the world that could perform the mobility missions that the Air Force performs,” the deputy chief said. “Our Air Force is unique. It’s incomparable and unsurpassed in its success.”

OBITUARIES >> 2-07-07


Billy Dwain Pitchford, 52, of Austin passed away Feb. 4. He was born July 29, 1954 in Las Vegas, Nev. to Donna Pitchford of Austin and the late Billy Houston Pitchford. Survivors include his wife Dianna Pitchford of the home; two daughters, Shawna Branscum and husband Scott of Cabot and Michelle Stewart and husband Shawn of Beebe; one brother, Jim Pitchford and wife Donna of Austin; two sisters, Deb Pitchford of Austin and Judy Burnett and husband Jessie of Jacksonville; seven grandchildren, Nicole, Dusten, Stephan, Caleb, Jordan, Seth and Tayler, along with many other family members and friends.
A memorial service will be at 10 a.m., Wednesday, Feb. 7 at McArthur Assembly of God Church in Jacksonville with the Rev. Larry Burton officiating. Cash memorials may be made in “Bill’s” honor to McArthur Assembly of God 501-982-1136. Funeral arrangements are by Thomas Funeral Service of Cabot.


Mervyn Alfred Robinson, 80, of Ward died Feb. 3 the date which would have been his and Mrs. Robinson’s 56th wedding anniversary. He was born Jan. 17, 1927 in Coventry, England, to the late Fredrick William and Charlotte Bradshaw Robinson.
In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by his wife Frances May Glover Robinson and one sister, Doreen Sharpton.

He was a member of the English Army as a young man and was employed by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, for 42 years, after coming to the United States. He was also a member of the Board of Directors of the Air Museum and a member of the Masonic Lodge in Pennsylvania. He is survived by his son, Wayne Robinson and his wife Penny of Cabot; three brothers, Billy, Alan and Raymond Robinson and one sister, Margaret Cole, all of Texas; five grandchildren, Kellilyn Auryansen, Wayne Thomas Robinson, Tracey Burger, Sabrina Stewart and Samantha Stewart as well as one great grandson, Owen Michael Robinson.

Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7 at Our Savior Lutheran Church with Mark Eisold officiating. Funeral arrangements are by Cabot Funeral Home.


Rev. Andy A. Kerr, 78, of Little Rock passed away Feb. 1. He was born to the late Leslie N. and Goldie Kerr. He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Alice Moran Kerr of Little Rock; a son, Larry Kerr and wife Julie; daughters Charlotte “Casey” Starkey and husband Steve, and Tina Overton and husband Jerry; grandchildren, Clay Starkey and wife Belinda, Blake Starkey, Jesse Ware and Jason Overton and wife Katie.

He ministered to the people and was a servant to God for 52 years, most recently at Brownsville Baptist Church for over 17 years. He also served at Jacksonville Second Baptist Church for over 10 years, Archview Baptist for four years and a number of other Arkansas churches. He also served on the executive committee of Arkansas Baptist State Convention for one year as well as president of the retired ministers association of Arkansas for one year.

Services were Feb. 5 at Otter Creek Baptist Church in Little Rock with burial at Pinecrest Cemetery. The Rev. Elvis Smith, Rev. Jess Whitley and Rev. Robert McDaniel officiated the services. Funeral arrangements were by Boyd Funeral Home of Lonoke.
The family would like to thank Dr. Brad Baltz and his staff for all of their dedicated and outstanding service to Bro. Andy and his family during his association with them. Their care went above and beyond their call.


Ruth Marie Porter, 72, of Jacksonville passed away Feb. 1 in Little Rock. She was born July 30, 1934 in Platon, Mo., to the late Robert and Bessie Carter Willhite. She was also preceded in death by a son, Mike Porter and one brother. Survivors include her husband, Norris Porter; son Edward Norris and his wife Carolyn; four grandchildren, Jeffery, Allison, Jennifer and Ashley Porter and six brothers and sisters. Cremation arrangements were by Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home.


David D. White, 68, of Beebe died Feb. 3. He was the retired owner of the White Shell Gas Station in Beebe. He was a member of the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church of Beebe and a United States Navy veteran. He was preceded in death by his parents, Buster and Julia White; one brother, Amon White; two sisters, Icie Mae Wooten and Mary Hanna. He is survived by three sons; Mark, Randy, and Michael White all of Beebe and one daughter, Gina Conner of Beebe, also a brother, Earl White of Perryville and 10 grandchildren. Funeral services were Feb. 6 at Lighthouse Pentecostal Church with burial in Meadowbrook Memorial Gardens in Beebe. Funeral services were by Westbrook Funeral Home in Beebe.

TOP STORY >> Annual LRAFB banquet

Leader staff writer

Tammy Hill of Bryant and sons Tyler, 10, and Aaron, 6, accepted the award for First Sergeant of the Year on behalf of her deployed husband, Senior MSgt. Darren Hill, during Saturday night’s Little Rock Air Force Base’s annual awards banquet dubbed “2006: Airpower Arkansas.”

Sgt. Hill was one of 14 airmen, officers and civilian employees honored for their dedication and hard work at the base.
Nominees for the awards were introduced at the beginning of the evening. “One more roll,” a toast honoring POW/MIA persons, those killed in action, missing in action or prisoners of war, was made before dinner was served. The Singing Sergeants, the official chorus of the Air Force, were presented with “The Arkansas Traveler” plaque signed by Gov. Mike Beebe, after their performance.

Guest speaker was Chief MSgt. Steve Sullens, who served as Command Chief Master Sergeant of the 314th Airlift Wing from May 2003 to June 2004. After recognizing several of those in attendance, Sullens, who mixed seriousness with a sense of humor, began his speech about Noah and his Ark, beginning with “don’t miss the boat.”

“Are you one of those functional people who wants to be an airman, or airmen who want to be a functional people?” he asked. “We need to be airmen first and something else second.” He continued with several key points, such as “plan ahead, it wasn’t raining when the ark was built,” and “stay fit, you never know when you’re gonna be real old and somebody’s gonna ask you to do something.”

“If I know anything, it’s if we don’t win this war, my family and I cannot live free,” Sullens said. “We’ve taken it (freedom) for granted.” He concluded his speech by thanking “each and every one of you, where it’s one minute or 30 years” for service.
Sullens is the Chief of the Chiefs’ Group, Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower and Personnel, Headquarters Air Force, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. Following his speech, Sullens joined Brig. Gen. Kip Self and Chief MSgt. Brook McLean in presenting the night’s winners with their awards.

Award winners were:
Volunteer of the Year, Anita Urban, 314th Airlift Wing, Small Unit.
Non-appropriated Funds Employee of the Year, Category I, Samantha Healey, 314th Mission Support Group.
Non-Appropriated Funds Employee of the Year Category II, Lisa McGinley, 314th Mission Support Group.
Civilian of the Year Category I, Regina Penn, 314th Medical Group.
Civilian of the Year Category II, Bethry Becker, 314th Mission Support Group.
Ceremonial Guardsman of the Year, Senior Airman Michael Ligus Jr., 314th Maintenance Group.
Airman of the Year, Airman 1st Class David Hazzard, 314th Maintenance Group.
Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, Tech. Sgt. Gina Christman, 314th Mission Support Group.
Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, Master Sgt. Tundra Gatewood.
First Sergeant of the Year, Senior Master Sgt. Darren Hill, 314th Maintenance Group.
Company Grade Officer of the Year, Capt. Ryan Principi, 314th Mission Support Group.

TOP STORY >> Testimony raises doubts

Leader staff writer

A private investigator hired to help compile a case against former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell and his codefendants testified Tuesday in Cabot that he argued with prosecutors and quit when at least one charge against the chief didn’t meet his standard of corroboration. Glenn Rings, the investigator, said that upon leaving, he warned Lonoke County Prosecutor Lona McCastlain and her staff “please be objective.”

McCastlain said Tuesday that Rings was hired to find just such problems with the charges and that more evidence had been amassed pertaining to the case. Rings also opened the door for the defense to receive copies it had sought of videotapes of all of the state’s witness interviews. Rings testified that when he interviewed witness Ryan Childress, something triggered his suspicion, but he didn’t know what. Upon reviewing the videotaped interview, he discovered Childress carried two cell phones, leading him to wonder if Childress were an informant for some governmental agency.

Defense attorney Patrick Benca pounced on that statement, using it to reintroduce the question of whether or not the prosecution must provide videotapes to the defense. The prosecution had agreed to provide voice recordings of the same interviews, but Benca has asserted that sometimes there are important nonverbal clues, and Rings’ comment apparently tilted the argument in his favor.

Earlier in the pretrial hearing, Special Judge John Cole had signaled that at most, he would allow the defense to have limited access to excerpts from those witness-interview videotapes, just after each witness’ testimony. But shortly after Rings’ testimony, Cole told McCastlain, “I’m going to order you to turn over the videos.” Benca also asked for copies of all of Ring’s notes. “I’m entitled to anything impeachable, mitigating or exculpatory,” Benca told the judge. He argued that McCastlain must provide all transcripts, voice and video recordings of interviews with potential witnesses.

McCastlain argued that Benca was “being prejudicial for the sake of the media.” “Here I am, two weeks out from a four or six week trial, with 6,500 pages of documents, 5,000 pages of testimony,” argued Benca, and discovery evidence was trickling in. “My client faces 100 years in prison,” he said.

“If the court says turn them over, we will,” said McCastlain. “The state wants (the defendants) to have the fairest trial possible. (Benca) can have anything he wants.” Jury selection is set for Feb. 20 and the trial for Feb. 27. Campbell, his wife Kelly Harrison Campbell and bail bondsman Bobby Junior Cox are being tried on a variety of charges, all under the umbrella of running and participating in an ongoing criminal enterprise. The chief is charged with running an ongoing criminal enterprise and his wife and Cox with being members. Criminal enterprise convictions trigger longer sentences.

The Campbells are charged with various theft and drug charges. Kelly Campbell is also charged with having sex with inmates in her husband’s jail. Cox, Jay Campbell and bail bondsman Larry Norwood are charged with conspiring to manufacture methamphetamine.

Monday, February 05, 2007

SPORTS >>Abundant Life keeping up with the leaders

IN SHORT: The Owls came away with an easy victory on Tuesday night against Brinkley, but the girls lost going away.

Leader sports writer

Abundant Life split a pair of games on the road with Brinkley on Tuesday night. The Owls routed the Tigers 51-29, but the Lady Owls let a close one slip away in the final moments of the game, losing 56-63 after tying the game with just over a minute remaining.

The boys game was hardly dramatic, although comical due to a spirited Brinkley student section. A number of students dressed up like Abundant Life sub Tristan Williford, with shirts that said, ‘T-Dub,’ which is Williford’s nickname.

The section was chanting for Williford from the outset, and went ballistic whenever Owls coach Tim Ballard put him in early in the third quarter.

“I was shocked,” Ballard said. “When I first saw them, I thought it was strange that they had a player that was also named T-Dub, but when we went to the locker room for halftime, they were all trying to give him high fives, and some of them got autographs from him after the game.”

Ballard was confused as to why Williford had a fan club at an away game, but says the sophomore’s personality seems to draw people to him.

“When Des Arc didn’t show up for our game at the Lutheran tournament, someone came out of the stands and played him one on one,” Ballard said. “They kept score on the clock and everything, and Tristan won. They picked him up and carried him around on their shoulders and all of that. It’s strange. He’s a real straight-laced kid, he’s a bible-quiz champion, and he’s real quiet.”

Although Williford did not score against Brinkley, Ballard said the youngster had the time of his life with all of the attention. “He loved it.” Ballard said.

Despite the minor distraction, the Owls took control of the game early, and by the opening minutes of the quarter, had rushed out to a commanding 41-11 lead. Colby Woolverton and John Michael Fowler both scored 11 points before exiting the game in the third. Senior post Thomas Cheney added nine points for the Owls. The win improved Abundant Life’s record to 24-7 overall and 7-5 in the 3A-2 Conference.

The girls game was tied 56 all with less than two minutes remaining, but a quick basket for the Lady Tigers, followed by a turnover from the Lady Owls gave Brinkley the win.

Sophomore Hannah Pastor led the Lady Owls with 17 points. Candace Eudy added 15 points, and Central Baptist signee Sierra Durham finished with 14 points. The Lady Owls’ record is now 15-15 overall and 2-10 in conference.

Thursday night’s games with Barton were cancelled due to the weather. Abundant Life will play at Episcopal on Tuesday.

SPORTS >>History repeats at Searcy

IN SHORT: For the second straight year, the 6A-East game between the Red Devils and the Lions in Searcy was marred by questionable calls late in the contest.

Leader sports editor

In most basketball games across Arkansas, one team visits another and the kids in uniform get to settle the matter of winner and loser, but when Jacksonville visits Searcy’s “Jungle”, controversy seems to follow them through the door.

It’s typically the boys games that carry the bulk of it, and that was the case again in the Lions’ 64-63 overtime victory Tuesday night.

The controversy came to a head on the very last play of the game. Jacksonville senior Antwain Robinson entered the game during a timeout with seven seconds left as Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner was drawing up the last play.

Robinson ended up on the wrong side of the court from where the play dictated, with the ball in his hands with four seconds left.

He penetrated to the free-throw line, drew some contact, but as he went up for what may or may not have been the game-winning shot, a whistle blew and Robinson was called for a travel, giving Searcy the ball with one second remaining and consequently a big home win to improve to 4-3 in league play.

When Jacksonville played at Searcy last year, Joyner was ejected for storming the court and vehemently accusing an official of cheating his players. Joyner was later proved correct when an investigation revealed the official in question had been heard prior to the game saying he was going to do just that.

No such investigation is likely this time, and although Joyner was visibly upset, he kept his comments to himself.

“The kids played hard,” Joyner said. “That’s what we’re supposed to say, so that’s what I’m going to say. We could have shot free throws better and that would have made a difference, but you would at least like to see the kids that have played so hard get to decide the game. But that’s all I’m saying. My kids played hard, and the Searcy kids played hard. I’m taking nothing away from those Searcy kids.”

Searcy led throughout the first quarter, but Jacksonville took their first lead with 7:15 left in the second quarter when Kajuan Watson hit a three.

Watson and Searcy’s Matt Cramblett engaged in a duel throughout the game.

Watson went on to score 13 point in the second quarter, and Jacksonville held its lead, although never more than four points, until the overtime period.

The Red Devils led 52-48 with 1:35 remaining, but let the Lions hang in the game by missing free throws. The Red Devils made five of 10 free-throw attempts in the final 3:30 of the game.

Cramblett made it a two-point game with a bucket at the 1:23 mark, and Norvel Gabriel was fouled at the other end. He hit one of two to make it a three-point game, but Searcy’s Cody Wilmath hit a short jumper to make it 53-52 with :56 showing on the clock.

Searcy again fouled, and this time Terrell Eskridge hit one of two, paving the way for the game’s first controversial call.
Cramblett was fouled at the line while driving. His shot went up, but was blocked by Antwan Lockhart.

The basket was counted, although it appeared Cramblett was still on the floor. After a referee conference, it was ruled that Cramblett was in the act of shooting, and that Lockhart goal tended.

Cramblett missed the free throw, however, setting up a final attempt by the Red Devils.

Eskridge penetrated and got a good look, but his runner sailed long at the buzzer.

The overtime period was a thriller, with the two teams trading buckets like battleships’ salvos.

Searcy took its first lead since the first quarter when Cramblett penetrated for a layup to open the overtime. Eskridge answered with two foul shots, but the Red Devils didn’t get back on defense, and Justin Rowden got an easy layup on a run out to put the Lions back up.

Gabriel then tied it with a jumper in the lane with 2:46 left, Rowden answered 20 seconds later. Jacksonville got the lead back when sophomore guard Antonio Washington hit a driving runner and a subsequent free throw. Wilmath answered that to make it 62-61 with 1:57 on the clock.

Gabriel then missed a wide open look from about six feet, but teammate LaMarcus Trask got the offensive rebound and stickback to put the Red Devils up 63-62 with 1:10 on the clock.

Cramblett was then fouled and hit one of two to tie the game with 59 seconds left. Watson then missed a three and Searcy’s Caleb Taylor got the rebound. He was fouled with 11 seconds remaining in OT, and hit one of two. Jacksonville called timeout with seven seconds left to set up the final play that never materialized.

Searcy coach Roger Franks said all the free throws Jacksonville shot in the fourth quarter were by design.

“We felt like their big guys could hurt us, so we said during the timeout that if they got it down low to foul them,” Franks said. “We’d rather make them hit their free throws than give them looks right there next to the basket.”

Watson led all scorers with 25 points while Cramblett finished with 24.

The win lefts Searcy to 4-3 in the conference race while Jacksonville stumbled to 2-5.

All of last night’s games were canceled, so heading into the weekend, Forrest City leads the league at 7-0. Jonesboro is 6-1 and Searcy is third at 4-3.

Marion and Sylvan Hills are 3-4, Mountain Home and Jacksonville are 2-5 while West Memphis is in last place at 1-6.

The Red Devils still have to go to Marion, but will play six of their last seven conference games at home.

Searcy won the girls game 67-34 over an ever-increasingly depleted Lady Devil lineup.

Searcy’s Kallie Bartee led the way for the Lady Lions with 25 points. Kayla Medley added 15. Tarneshia Scott led Jacksonville with 16 while Marleka Bell added 12.

Searcy improved to 5-2 in league play and is tied with Mountain Home for second place. West Memphis leads the league at 7-0. Forrest City is 4-3 while Jonesboro is 3-4 and Marion is 2-5. Jacksonville is 1-6 while Sylvan Hills is 0-7.

SPORTS >>Catcher signs with Williams

IN SHORT: Beebe Lady Badgers senior catcher Sara Flenor commited to Williams Baptist College on Wednesday afternoon.

Leader sports writer

The signing of Beebe senior Sara Flenor to Williams Baptist College’s softball team on Wednesday afternoon turned into a community event, with the majority of the BHS student body, as well as the members of the Beebe Blast youth softball team on hand at the Badger Sports Arena to witness the All-State catcher sign her letter of intent to play softball for the Lady Eagles beginning in the spring of 2008.

Athletic director Jerry Jordan started things off with a short address to the audience about Flenor’s accomplishments as a Lady Badger, followed by assistant softball coach Billy Tucker. Tucker told the crowd that Sara was a prime example of one of his favorites quotes, “Success always looks easy to those who were never there when it was being earned,” referring to the summer days that she and her teammates practiced for over three hours in sweltering temperatures.

Teammates Laura Tucker and Bailey Thomas also spoke prior to the signing. Tucker called Sara “A wonderful person, a good Christian and a talented athlete.”

Flenor, a four-year starting catcher for the Lady Badgers, has earned All-Conference honors since her freshman year, with All-State nods her sophomore and junior years. She was named outstanding defensive player her freshman and sophomore years, and named to the All-Arkansas team her junior year.

Her batting average last year was .445, and doesn’t even include her accomplishments on the Beebe Blast summer team.
Flenor has been part of six state championship teams with the Blast in ASA and USSSA. In 2004, Flenor was part of the USSSA World Championship team and was named to the All-World team.

For head softball coach Terry Flenor, Wednesday was anything but a routine signing.

“I’m wearing my dad hat today,” Flenor said. “It’s our third signing since I’ve been coaching here. It’s always exciting to see a student get to continue their education, but as a parent, this is my first time to do this. She had the opportunity to go to several different schools, but when she went to Williams, she loved everything about it.”

First year Lady Eagles coach Eric Newell was on hand for the signing as well. Newell came to WBC from Fredericktown High School in Fredericktown, Missouri, where he led his team to a district championship in 2006 with a 15-8 record.

Newell says the acquisition of Flenor was a huge step in his future plans as Williams Baptist’s coach.

“It was her reputation that caught my eye,” Newell said. “I’m new to the area, and coaches around this area all spoke very highly of her. I followed those leads and came down here, and feel like I really got a diamond down here. She seems like a really great kid, a great Christian athlete. I look forward to seeing what she can do at the college level. I plan on building my program around Sara, and possibly some other players in this area.”

For Flenor, she says the decision to become a Lady Eagle was not a tough one at all.

“It’s small, and it’s a Christian atmosphere,” Flenor said. “It just felt like it was the right place for me.” Despite the excitement of her signing day, Flenor pointed out that she still has unfinished business as a Lady Badger, with her senior year of softball just around the corner.

“I hope that we can go back to state,” Flenor said. “We’ve been runner-up and semifinalist, but we’ve never won. I’m hoping we can do it this year; I’m excited about the chance to.”

SPORTS >>Cabot earns two big wins against Conway

IN SHORT: The Panthers and Lady Panthers edged out both Conway teams on Tuesday night for league home wins.

Leader sports writer

Both games were dramatic, and both ended up as big wins for Cabot teams Tuesday night against visiting Conway.

The Lady Panthers avenged an earlier loss to the Lady Wampus Cats with a 63-58 win that went down to the wire, and the boys closed out the night by breaking a six-game losing streak with a 50-46 win.

The girls game was tied at 55-55 with 1:50 to play in the game when Lady Panthers post player Shelby Ashcraft scored inside and drew the foul from Chelsea Sublett. Ashcraft hit the foul shot to put Cabot up by three, and then blocked a shot attempt by Sublett on the other side of the court that resulted in a jump ball, giving possession back to the Lady Panthers. Sublett fouled Ashcraft again, but this time, Ashcraft missed the one-and-one shot, and Shambree Maxfield pulled down the board for the Lady ‘Cats.

Conway put the ball in the hands of leading scorer Sidney Stewart, but Stewart was called for a charge as she went up for the shot, making contact with Ashcraft.

Rachel Glover appeared to have put the game away for Cabot with 45 seconds remaining when she hit both ends of a one-and-one that gave the Lady Panthers a 60-55 lead, but Katy Ashley Pauley quickly put it back to within two for Conway with a three pointer with 37 seconds left.

Glover almost got a five-second call on the inbound pass, but Cabot coach Carla Crowder called timeout before the call could be made, and the Lady Panthers retained possession. On the next in-bounds attempt, Chanel Irvin stole Glover’s pass and got the ball to Stewart, who went for the game-tying shot. The attempt fell short, and Sublett fouled Ashcraft while going up for the rebound. The sophomore missed the front end, but made the second attempt to give the Lady Panthers a 61-58 lead with 15 seconds left.

Stewart had one last shot to tie the game, but her flawless outside shooting from the first three quarters had faded, and Ashcraft came up with another board. Glover was fouled with six seconds remaining, and hit both shots to set the final margin.

“We were really proud to get that win,” Crowder said after the game. “The kids played hard. I think towards the end, we started rebounding better, that’s what you have to do to beat a good team like that.” The win ties the two teams for second place in the 7A-Central standings.

Senior Maddie Helms led the Lady Panthers in scoring with 16 points. Glover finished with 12 points, and Jamie Sterrenberg added 11 points for Cabot. Ashcraft, Lauren Walker and Leah Watts all added eight points for the Lady Panthers. Helms scored eight points in each half for an all-around solid performance, but most of Ashcraft’s contributions came late in the game after early foul trouble had her on the bench for most of the first three periods.

Stewart led all scorers for Conway with 24 points. The win improves the Lady Panthers’ record to 16-4 overall and 6-2 in conference.

The Panthers traded the lead back and forth with the Wampus Cats in the fourth quarter of the boys contest. Cabot had held the lead throughout the entire first half, going up by as much as nine points at the 3:06 mark of the second quarter at 19-10. The ‘Cats were able to cut into that deficit by the end of the frame to trail 22-18.

A goal from Ammon Martin with 2:36 left in the third quarter tied the game for Conway at 29-29, setting the stage for the fourth-quarter shootout.

Conway took its first lead of the game at the start of the frame with a three-point shot for a 32-31 advantage. Junior forward Sam Bates answered for Cabot with a layup that put the Panthers back up by one, but Terry Tidwell gave Conway the advantage once again at the 6:51 mark with a jumper for a 34-33 lead.

Senior post Alex Sharp tied the game with a foul shot at the 6:37 mark, but missed the back end, and Codell Selvy pulled down the rebound for Conway. Selvy then made a basket to give the Wampus Cats a 36-34 lead, and got another quick basket to increase the lead to four.

Justin Haas cut the deficit to two for Cabot with a backdoor shot assisted by Jacob Trammel. Sophomore Austin Johnson got the lead back for the Panthers moments later with a three pointer at the 4:14 mark that made the score 39-38, but the lead would change hands two more times in the next minute.

Adam Sterrenberg hit a basket to put the Panthers up by three, and Johnson made two free throws to put Cabot up by five, but Conway had one more weapon to contend with late. Martin had been relatively quiet offensively through the most of the game, but developed a hot hand from the outside in the final minute.

Martin hit a 32-footer with 1:01 left to cut the lead to two, but Sharp found the goal inside for Cabot on the ensuing possession to stretch the lead back out to four.

Sharpe’s goal would prove to be Conway’s biggest mistake down the stretch, leaving the 6’7” senior under the goal all alone as Trammell inbounded the ball on the left side following a foul. Sharp easily layed the ball in, to give the Panthers a two-score advantage for the first time in the quarter.

Johnson followed that with a steal on the inbounds, and hit the front end of his free throw opportunity. Haas added two more foul shots moments later for a 50-43 Cabot lead, but Martin nailed another tre to cut the advantage in half. With only six seconds remaining, Conway had to make something happen under its own goal on the inbound, but Sterrenberg eluded the Wampus Cats defenders and ran out the clock.

“I was concerned when we went down by four in the fourth,” Cabot coach Jerry Bridges said. “But we came back and made some plays. It was just a good team effort. We needed it. With those three losses we had by a total of four points, it’s been hard to come back and go to work every day like these boys have, and I’m proud of them.”

As the cheers and chants from the Panthers’ locker room got louder behind him, Bridges began to get emotional.
“This dressing room has not been fun lately,” Bridges said. “I take it all personal. I’m not a good loser, and I love those kids. But hearing them do that, that’s why it’s fun to coach.”

Sharp led Cabot with 15 points. Sterrenberg added 11 points, and Johnson finished with 10. For Conway, Martin led with 14 points. The win improves Cabot’s record to 9-12 overall and 2-6 in the 7A-Central Conference.

Cabot played on the road against Catholic and Mt. Saint Mary’s last night, and will travel to North Little Rock on Tuesday night.

EDITORIALS>>Go slow on tax breaks

At some point last year, the poor became fashionable again. It could have been when Mike Beebe, the Democratic candidate for governor, said he was going to give poor people a tax break on their groceries.

All the other candidates for governor joined in and promised even more of a grocery tax break, so after the election it seemed like a done deal. The condition of the poor had not been rising with the boats of the rich and even of the middle class, so since there was some slack between state tax receipts and government spending, help could be extended to the needy without jeopardizing state services.

Nearly a month into the legislative session, it is safe to predict that most of the working poor will get a little relief, either by the rollback of the state sales tax on groceries to 3 percent or an income tax credit for individuals earning up to $25,000 a year and couples earning up to $50,000.

Gov. Beebe’s proposal to halve the grocery tax sailed through the Senate 35-0 and will pass the House, too, if it can get out of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, which is problematical. The counter plan is House Speaker Benny Petrus’ proposal for an income tax credit of $75 per dependent for families under the income threshold.

Arkansas cannot afford to do both without cutting some services or forgoing any further aid to the public schools and colleges.

Cutting the sales tax on groceries will mainly be a middle-class benefit because most of the poor — the 750,000 or so Arkansans whose nutrition comes from food stamps and other government programs (including those in nursing homes) — don’t pay taxes on most of their foodstuff now.

If the state in a year or two must raise taxes again when revenues fall short, as happened the last time that taxes were cut, in 1997 and 1999, then the real poor will wind up worse off.

Petrus’ targeted income-tax cut will directly help hundreds of thousands of the working poor, but it has a major shortcoming itself. It is not fundable like the federal earned income-tax credit, so tens of thousands of the poorest workers, those earning too little to have much of an income-tax liability, will get no help. That ought to be changed.

But there is a worse problem. Riding on the crest of the wave of concern for the poor are a batch of other tax breaks far less worthy. If they are enacted, the state will find its help to education curtailed.

Having got most other purchases exempted from the sales tax in past legislative sessions, manufacturers want to exempt their electricity and gas purchases.

Now, if we really wanted to help poor people, all of them, exempting their utilities — electricity, gas and water — from the sales tax would make a difference. (Yes, we know that the very poor can apply to get a tax exemption on their light bills, but not many know to apply.) But to exempt steel mills and other producers from taxes that poor people have to pay seems, well, out of kilter.

Finally, the other tax bill for the “poor” that is making its way through the legislature, an increase in the non-Social Security retirement income exemption from $6,000 to $10,000, is no help to the genuinely poor. Its main beneficiaries will be those with high retirement incomes.

If all these tax bonanzas pass — more are on the way — the time will not be far away when the legislature will meet in emergency to find new money to protect services. And the poor won’t be spared.

EDITORIALS>>No more privacy

Generations of college freshmen had to read Aldous Huxley’s novel “Brave New World,” where over time the government had assembled the wherewithal to know everything about everybody. We have been speeding merrily along that path, lately by the exigence of terrorism. Sacrificing a few liberties for the sake of greater safety from terrorists or native criminals is supposed to be worth it.

The Arkansas legislature adds its part to the erosion of privacy from time to time. Now it is considering a bill that ought to frighten every Arkansan. It is a bill (SB 20) that advances the Bush administration’s policy of building a massive database on everyone’s prescription drugs. Sen. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith, is the sponsor.

Every time your druggist fills a prescription that is on the federal drug list schedules II, III and IV or any other prescription that the state Health Department might designate, he or she would have to report it to the Health Department, along with the name of the patient, the patient’s identification number, the pharmacist and the prescribing physician.

Government gumshoes would monitor your medicines to see if there are tipoff signs that you are engaged in some kind of illegal activity. Then they would give the police and other law-enforcement agencies access to your prescription files, all without the customary warrant.

And who else might get access to your medical records? You can trust your government never to give it to a commercial enterprise, can’t you?

Chances are that these are drugs that you or your children take regularly for all kinds of legitimate purposes: chronic pain, anxiety, depression, glaucoma, testosterone deficiency, obesity. The list goes on.

The idea is that by watching all of us very, very closely the state might spot a druggie who is shopping for doctors to build up a big supply of a drug that he could convert to illegal production of narcotics.

But the government does not need such overreaching power over all our lives to clamp down on the occasional abuser or illegal drug maker.

The futility of this little grab for government control is evidence that we can, indeed, be both safe and free if we will merely insist upon it.

EDITORIALS>>Can't kill off payday loans

Never have lamentations about the plight of the poor been so loud at the state Capitol, and we predict that never will so much harm be done in their name.

The clearest evidence is the working over given a good bill (HB 1036) to halt the depredations of the payday-lending industry, which typically charges poor people from 372 to 869 percent annualized interest on cash loans.

The bill repeals a section of the current law that allows the lenders to count interest charges as “fees” rather than interest, and it would fine a lender $300 each time it charges a person more than 17 percent interest, which is the maximum allowed by the Arkansas Constitution.

If you haven’t been in need of a payday loan, here is how it works: In a typical transaction, a worker writes the lender a check for $400 and the lender hands the worker $350 in cash and holds the check for 14 days.

If the person can’t pay off the loan in that time he writes the lender another check for $400, and the process can continue ad infinitum. The huge charges clearly violate the state Constitution under long-established doctrines of the Arkansas Supreme Court, but somehow no one seems able to get a definitive ruling from the court. So legislation is the best answer.

Rep. David Johnson, D-Little Rock, is the chief sponsor of the bill and 11 members — a bare majority — of the House Committee on Insurance and Commerce told Johnson they favored it, but he can’t get the committee to vote. By way of history, the Insurance and Commerce Committees of the House of Representatives have traditionally been the Bermuda Triangle where all consumer legislation gets lost. Industry-sensitive lawmakers crowd on to those committees.

At another hearing Wednesday, members worried that if the payday lenders were subjected to too much regulation or, God forbid, went out of business, poor people would have nowhere to turn to get some quick cash before their next paycheck. And it is expensive, they said, for a business to service these desperate people. (Most people with bank accounts also have a credit card, where a cash advance will cost only a small fraction of the payday lenders’ charge.)

Other legislators were opposed to the bill, or so they said, because it exempted pawnshops from the interest limits. Johnson said they were exempted because he did not have the strength to fight the pawnshops, too. The payday lenders are formidable enough. They contribute heavily to the campaign funds of legislators.

No legislator will come out and say that he is for protecting the privilege of the payday lenders to make big profits from capitalizing on the predicaments of the working poor. They always say they are fighting for the poor. So has it always been.

The head of an association fighting to outlaw the payday lenders’ practices was dismayed Wednesday at the trouble sponsors had even getting the bill out of committee. The case for acting is so compelling that he thought passing the bill would be easy. You will not go broke underestimating the General Assembly.

OBITUARIES >> 02-03-07

SharrelL Tate
Sharrell Tate (McClain), 61, of Hensley passed away on Monday, Jan. 29 at Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Little Rock.
She was born in Little Rock on July 11, 1945 to Luster V. Tate, Jr., and Bonnie Lyons Tate.  

She was employed with the Little Rock School District for 19 years and was loved, respected and cherished by her family and many friends.

She was preceded in death by her mother, Bonnie Lyons Tate and a sister, Alicia Tate McCroskey.
She is survived by her beloved sons, Daron McClain and wife Missy, and Phillip McClain and wife Mary; a sister, Debbie Watkins and husband Ron; a brother, Steve Tate and wife Robin; and eight grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 3 at First Baptist Church of Sherwood.  

Immediately following the ceremony, friends and family are invited back to her home for a celebration of her life. 
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Sharrell Tate memorial fund at any Metropolitan Bank.  

Vernon Mitchell
Vernon Lee Mitchell, 55, of Little Rock died Sunday, Jan. 28 in Little Rock.

He was born Aug. 12, 1951 in Poplar Bluff, Mo., to Floyd V. and Margie L. Swift Mitchell.  

Vernon was a member of the Army National Guard. He worked for Pulaski County School District for 26 years as student nutrition bakery district general manager.

He leaves behind his mother and father, Margie and Paul Mitchell of North Little Rock; a sister, Patti Bain and husband Kenneth of Vilonia; one brother, Ronnie Mitchell of North Little Rock; two daughters, Shannon McBroom and husband James of Pocahontas, and Natlie Adams and husband Gary of Conway.

Also eight grandchildren; two nieces; one nephew; two very special friends, Michael Harvey (his best friend and brother in life for 27 years) of Cabot and Connie Adams (a very dear friend for 26 years); a host of many other family members and a lot of friends.

All his family and friends knew him for his loving heart, his work ethic, his ability to make friends, and his loyalty to those that shared the same with him. 

He had a heart as big as the sky for children. He had a passion and first-class skill for hunting and fishing. Vernon was a humble, quit, articulate man. He was a man that could build and fix anything.

Vernon was a “great man.” His family and friends will miss him dearly and will never forget him.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 3 at Moore’s Funeral Home Chapel in Jacksonville with Rev. Dale Scott officiating. Interment will follow in Vilonia Cemetery.

Arrangements are by Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home.

James Jackson, Jr.
James Elemendorph Jackson, Jr., 57, passed away peacefully in his sleep on January 30.

He was born in Grenada, Miss., on November 10, 1949.

James was a retired Sherwood police officer of 15 years. He also served our country in the Army. He was an avid hunter and spent a lot of his spare time at his favorite home away from home in Clinton.

He was preceded in death by his parents, James and Mattie Lee Jackson, and a brother, Sonny Jackson, all of Grenada, Miss.
He leaves behind a loving family: a wife of 28 years, Sandra Jackson; one son, James E. Jackson, III; and a daughter, Amber Lee, all of Cabot; a daughter and son-in-law, Lisa and Bobby Childress of Houston, Miss.; one grandson, Tyler, also of Houston, Miss.; one brother and sister-in-law, Archie and Laura Jackson of Cabot; along with many cousins, aunts, uncles and friends who will miss him dearly.

Funeral services will be 1 pm Saturday, Feb. 3 at Zion Hill Baptist Church at the intersection of Hwy 89 and Hwy 107. Interment will be private. Arrangements are by Thomas Funeral Service in Cabot.

Hollis Yearber
Hollis Opal Yearber, 90, of Cabot died Wednesday, Jan. 31.

She was born May 23, 1916 in Red Bay, Ala., to the late Tom. F. and Elzada Long Cassaway.  

She was preceded in death by her husband, Hollis Monroe Yearber; sons, Raymond and Jerry Yearber; seven brothers and sisters; three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.  

Mrs. Yearber was a member of Stanfill Baptist Church.

Survivors include sons, Arlis Ray Yearber of Jacksonville, Edward Yearber and his wife Cathy of Cabot, Dale Yearber and his wife Debbie of Cabot, and Hoyt Yearber and his wife Charlotte of Flippen; seventeen grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3 at Stanfill Baptist Church with Rev. Gene Davis officiating. Interment will follow in Stanfill Cemetery. Funeral arrangements by Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home.

Florence Medelle
Florence Medelle, 96, of Cabot passed away Jan. 30.

She was born Aug. 28, 1910 in Tupper Lake, N. Y., to the late George and Paula Miner.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Harold in 1981; one son, Richard in 1986; her parents, and three brothers.

Survivors include one daughter, Eileen Terry and husband John of Cabot; two sons, Harold Medelle of Cabot, and Lee Medelle and wife Mary of Grand Saline, Texas; thirteen grandchildren, twelve great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.

A private mass will be held in Florida at a later date. Arrangements by Thomas Funeral Service in Cabot.

Maggie Hawks
Maggie Jane Hawks, 86, of Vilonia went peacefully to be with the Lord on Jan. 31.

Maggie was born Dec. 29, 1920 in Dover to Wade Hampton Elliott and Oza Florence Elliott.

She was preceded in death by her loving husband, Roy Hawks.

Maggie was best known as a loving mom and Mamaw.  

She is survived by her daughter, Sara Jane Chadwick of Vilonia, and her son, Eddie R. Hawks and wife Deborah of Vilonia.
Maggie was most proud of her six loving grandchildren: Kevin Hawks, Kristi Smith, Natalie Hawks, and Bryan and Jami Hawks all of Vilonia; Sarah Beth and Arthur Harvey, of Fort Worth, Texas; and Dee Anne West of Tennessee.

Maggie also loved all of her seven great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren. She leaves to cherish her memory one brother, J.D. Elliott of Texarkana, Texas, and one sister, Oza Bell Knox of Lonoke.

Maggie worked at Franklin Electric in Jacksonville until her retirement. She was a member of North Jacksonville Church of Christ. Maggie was a talented seamstress and loved gardening and quilting. Most of all Maggie loved worshipping the Lord.
Visitation will be from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3, at Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home.

Funeral services will be 2 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 4 at North Jacksonville Church of Christ with LeRoy Wood officiating. Burial will be at Chapel Hill Memorial Park. Arrangements by Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home.

James Moore
James Leroy Moore, 83, of Jacksonville died Thursday, Feb. 1.  

He was born August 28, 1923 in Lynnville, Ind., to the late James Earl and Sarah K. Young Moore. He was also preceded in death by two brothers.  

Moore was a retired chief warrant officer from the U.S. Air Force.  He was an avid gardener, artist and a great lover of music.
Survivors include his wife, Wanda Mae Moore of Jacksonville; a son, Michael Moore and his wife Alice of Kingston, Tenn.; a daughter, Marti Curtis of Jacksonville; a sister, Catherine Wilson of Lynnville, Ind.; three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Graveside services will be 1 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 4 in Chapel Hill Memorial Park in Jacksonville with Michael Moore officiating.
Arrangements are by Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home.

James Huskey
James W. Huskey, 55, of Jacksonville passed away Jan. 28.

He was born Sept. 6, 1951 in Aberdeen, Miss., to the late Delos and Sarah Huskey. He was preceded in death by his parents and one brother, Bobby Huskey.

Survivors include two daughters, Melissa Sullivan of Carlisle, and Jessica Huskey of Jacksonville; four grandchildren; one sister, Joyce Holcomb of Becker, Miss., and many other family members and friends.

Graveside services were Feb. 2 at Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery. Funeral arrangements were by Thomas Funeral Service.

EVENTS>>Winter 2007

Hospice home care volunteers are needed in the Beebe area. If you are interested in spending an hour or two a week with individuals by reading a book, making simple crafts, watching a movie or just sitting and visiting, Hospice Home Care patients could use your support and love.
Call Kim Black or Sherri Gillham at Hospice Home Care 501-279-7955. Training is provided at no cost. There will be a volunteer training session from 1 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Shepherd Center in Beebe.

The Youth of Cabot United Methodist Church has been selling tickets for smoked pork butts. The cost is $20  and they may be purchased through the church office.  The pork should be picked up immediately following the 8:30 a.m. and 10:50 a.m. worship services on Sunday. Proceeds from the sale will go toward Ozark Mission Project and youth retreat scholarships. For more information, contact Denise Wilson in the church office at 501-843-3541.

Simply Delicious Restaurant at North Pulaski High School is taking orders for Valentine Sweetheart cakes available in vanilla, chocolate and strawberry and iced with buttercream frosting for only $5 each.
Cakes can be personalized with a message with up to 12 letters.
To place an order stop by the restaurant during school hours or call 241-2260. The deadline to order is Feb. 9.

Rebsamen Medical Center is the site of a pilot project, Eden at Home. EAH, a collaborative effort between AARP Arkansas and The Eden Alternative, is a free workshop for care partner teams designed to improve the quality of life for all involved. The workshop is free and open to everyone. It begins Monday, Feb. 12 in the Education Building of Rebsamen Hospital. For registration information, dates and times contact Susan E. Jones, AARP Arkansas at 501-217-1628.

Central Arkansas Transit Authority is sponsoring an essay contest for seventh and eighth students in Pulaski County in celebration of the River Rail extension to the Clinton Presidential Library and Heifer International.
Winners of the contest will be recognized on Feb. 16 when city and county officials dedicate Phase II of River Rail service at the new streetcar stop located at World Avenue and Third Street. Cash awards will be given to students winning first, second and third places.
The title of the essay is “How Public Transportation Benefits My Community.” The deadline for students to submit essays is 5 p.m. Feb. 12. Entry forms and essay rules may be obtained by calling (501) 375-6717. Questions about the essay contest should be directed to Betty Wineland at (501) 375-6717.

The Jacksonville Chapter 1597 of National Active and Retired Federal Employees meets at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at Western Sizzlin’.

The Jacksonville Lions Club invites the public to bring a favorite Valentine and eat lunch with the Lions at noon Wednesday, Feb. 14 at the Foxwood Country Club. Jean Block, an attorney in the Arkansas Attorney General’s office, will speak on consumer protection issues and the growing problem of identity-theft crimes.

There will be two AARP driver safety programs offered in February. The first, a daytime class, will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21 at First Arkansas Bank and Trust, 600 W. Main Street, in Jacksonville. Call 985-4068 to register. The second, an evening class, will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22 at the Rebsamen Medical Center’s Health Education Building. To register call 988-4844 or 988-4553. The cost is $10 per person.

The Autism and Developmental Disabilities Support of Searcy will hold its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 13 at Simmons First Bank on Main Street in Searcy. Karan Burnette of Arkansas University Center on Disabilities, a program of UAMS Department of Pediatrics will speak. Anyone who has a child or knows of a child with developmental disabilities is welcome to attend. For more information, contact Suzanne Modlin at 593-5399, James at 593-3534 or email

The Miss Lonoke Pageant will be held March 3 but the deadline for entry is Friday, Feb. 16. Miss Arkansas Amber Bennett will be master of ceremonies and will entertain.  Applications are available at Lonoke Schools and Lil’ Hair Hut. For details, contact Janette Boyles at 676-0138 or Crystal Payne at 676-0434.  

TOP STORY >>Cabot home for armory

IN SHORT: Members of the 39th Brigade, F Company in Beebe will now be split between two locations.

Leader staff writer

Arkansas Army National Guard members from F Company, 39th Brigade Support Battalion, of the 39th Brigade Combat Team in Beebe, will now be calling Cabot home during their duty weekends as Cabot was identified as an ideal location for a new armory, now called readiness centers.

Capt. Chris Heathscott, state public affairs officer for the Arkansas National Guard, said five armories have been shut down throughout the state and they are now trying to relocate them closer to where the soldiers live.

“Cabot’s growth and their ability and willingness to support us moving an armory in drove our decision to move to Cabot,” Heathscott said.

According to Heathscott, Cabot officials are looking for land to donate for a permanent location.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said he and the Guard have met twice in the last month and presented several possible locations.
“We hope that of the ones shown, one will be acceptable,” Williams said.

Heathscott said the Guard’s goal is to have the new facility constructed by 2010, with a rough estimate of $5-6 million for construction, 75 percent of which is paid federally and the remaining 25 percent paid by the state.

The 80-man traditional unit (part-time soldiers) will be split between the Beebe and Cabot locations, making a parent and detachment unit, Heathscott said.

A minimum full-time staff works out of the temporary location the Guard is leasing at 103 Commerce Park Drive in the Cabot Commerce Center off Hwy. 367.

Once the guardsmen locate to Cabot, they will have three functions on drill weekends in support of the brigade as a whole, Heathscott said.

“They will provide a field feeding section (cooks), a distribution section (delivery of the beans and bullets), and a transportation section (the vehicles),” Heathscott said.

Heathscott added that F Company will offer a valuable asset to Cabot and the surrounding area, as the unit can be called up by the governor for state support at the request of a mayor or county judge.

TOP STORY >>Praise for new library plans

IN SHORT: Construction to begin sometime after May for Jacksonville’s new facility.

Leader staff writer

A park that houses a library is how officials with the architectural firm have described plans for the new Jacksonville library.

The plans, developed by W.E.R. Architects of Little Rock, were unveiled in Jacksonville recently and received praise from city officials and residents. But the earliest construction will actually start is May, according to Mayor Tommy Swaim.

“We’ve got a lot of paperwork to do yet,” said Mayor Tommy Swaim, “before construction can actually start.”

He said the city has to officially close an alleyway that runs through the acreage next to Walgreen’s that will become home to the new library. “The city council will have to approve an ordinance closing it,” he said.

The planning commission will also have to approve a preliminary plot plan, but even before that the mayor said the nearly three-acre lot might have to be replatted into one lot since it was purchased from a number of separate owners.

This was the second round for design plans. City officials and residents roundly rejected the design ideas presented last year. It was then decided to wait until the land was obtained before developing another design.

“I’d like for this to be a centerpiece for the downtown area,” Swaim has said, with amenities, including a park-like setting.
The new design calls for a secure outdoor space for outside activities, a large pavilion that can be used by area residents and groups, and a pond and plaza.

Architect David Sargent of W.E.R. predicts the pavilion and plaza area will become a popular site for weddings.

He went on to say that the landscape design allows for a mix of sunny and shaded areas, and even a possible interactive nature trail.

Sargent said the library will have a civic presence, “but it will clearly have a park atmosphere.”

Inside, the library will have more computers than the current Nixon Library located just west of the new site, more space for books and other items, along with a multi-purpose room that can accommodate a large number of children who participate in the library’s weekly story times and summer reading program.

Library manager Kate McKin-ney is excited that plans are progressing.

“We have just outgrown our space. We can’t get any more books without getting rid of other books,” McKinney said.
The plans also call for the 13,500-square-foot library to be expandable on multiple sides so it can grow with Jacksonville.
The new library will be about 4,000 square feet larger than the current city library built in 1969.

Swaim has said that the cost of the land has been paid for by private donations, leaving the $2.5 million collected in taxes for the project intact to cover the building costs.

In July 2004, Jacksonville residents approved a one-mill property tax increase to pay off $2.5 million in bonds to build the new library building.

Since that time the current library has suffered numerous roof leaks and was even closed for about a month as leaks damaged books, carpeting and other portions of the library.

While plans proceed for the new library, life continues at the current library.

Nixon Library is one of three libraries in the Central Arkansas Library System offering Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA).

Volunteers are at the library most Saturdays in February (Feb. 3, 10 and 24); March 3 and 17; and April 7 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

No appointment is necessary, but individuals should bring a copy of last year’s federal and state tax returns; picture identification; Social Security cards for self, spouse and dependents; copies of all W-2’s, 1099 forms, etc.; and copy of a check for direct deposit (for routing transit number and account number).

TOP STORY >>City, county are at odds over roads

IN SHORT: Competing plans discussed for a third interchange in Cabot as mayor pushes for a northern site, while others want it farther south.

Leader staff writer

As the first snow of the year was falling Wednesday evening, making Cabot streets impassable in places, county and city leaders met to discuss building new roads to handle the city’s increasing traffic.

Larry Odom, a county justice of the peace, presented the plan that came out of the county transportation committee appointed by Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman, and Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams talked briefly about the plan that he has been a part of for many years.

At issue is where to build a third interchange to handle some of the 27,000 cars a day that get off U.S. Hwy. 67-167 in Cabot. The mayor favors a north interchange tied to the railroad overpass that should be under construction this spring.

Odom wants it built between the two existing interchanges. And he would prefer that the new interchange be connected to the $7 million, mostly federally funded railroad overpass that Williams pushed through when he was a council member.

The assumption is that since there is no money to build even one interchange, it is highly unlikely that there will ever be any money for two. And the county committee wants to make sure that the public is aware of the two options.

The plan from the county committee also includes upgrading new roads and building new ones, including the road connecting Hwy. 5 to the new Wal-Mart. The county has spent about $750,000 to build the road. Williams is prepared to spend $250,000 to build a bridge over the ditch that separates the new road from the new store and to blacktop the road.

The county asked the city for help on the new road last year, but came away empty-handed.

The long-range traffic plan from the county committee came to light in 2006, when then-Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh, former Alderman David Polantz and State Rep. Susan Schulte, unlike all the other government officials in the area, refused to sign off on it.

It became a campaign issue in the Republican primary, when former Justice of the Peace Bill Pedersen, a candidate for mayor, touted it as a better plan than the one Williams supported.

But never before has the rhetoric been taken to a public forum. And when the more than two-hour meeting ended, both Williams and Odom said they had not been swayed, but they agreed that at least the meeting was a cordial one.

“It’s nice to come here and get a smile,” Odom said near the end of his presentation. “We got thrown out on our ear a couple of times (in 2006).”

Metroplan, the agency that funnels federal highway money to cities, says a north interchange together with the railroad overpass would take 4,000-5,000 cars out of downtown Cabot.

Odom said during the meeting that traffic counts from 2004 show that 7,500 cars use the Highway 89 interchange every day and a staggering 19,600 use the one at Highway 5.

“It’s a dead giveaway that we need a cloverleaf between those two,” Odom told the mixed group made up mostly of Cabot City Council members and Lonoke County Quorum Court members.

Williams doesn’t disagree that an interchange between the existing ones is needed. But he wants the north interchange first.
Williams worked for the railroad for 30 years, and he says the state would not agree to build an overpass, so the Polk Street railroad crossing could be closed unless it was part of an interchange.

Building an overpass alone will not help with traffic congestion, he said, but it will take all the school buses off the railroad, because the school district has promised that buses will use the overpass instead of crossing the tracks.

The overpass will connect Highway 367 to Highway 38. It will be built between Cabot and Austin.

Williams said building it closer to downtown would be disruptive and more expensive.

He also said the plan for the interchange to be built later that he supports is backed by studies and public hearings. It is the culmination of years of work mostly by himself and Alderman Ed Long.

“For me and Ed, it’s been an eight-year project,” the mayor said of the overpass and north interchange.

“These are just some ideas on a piece of paper. It’s not a study,” he said of the plan from the county committee, which Odom said met as a group only four or five times.

In between meetings, Odom plotted the city’s growth areas on maps.

Odom said during the meeting that he drove every new road and pig trail in Cabot and the surrounding area to find the growth areas. He also collected information on platted subdivisions.

And he took all his findings back to the committee, which helped with the traffic plan.

Troutman has asked the highway department for an official study that would, he hopes, substantiate the committee’s plan.

Odom says he believes the highway department will agree to it. In the meantime, Williams is planning what he is calling a traffic summit for Feb. 23, with Dan Flowers, the director of the highway department, and Carl Rosenbaum, the highway commissioner for the Cabot area, expected to attend.

“It’s the biggest thing to happen in Cabot in 20 years,” Williams said of getting a commitment from the two men to attend the meeting.

TOP STORY >>Council to settle drainage dispute

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville City Council has warded off a lawsuit by promising a disgruntled developer that a committee of aldermen and engineers will attempt to solve a flood problem in his subdivision.

“There’s enough blame to go all around,” Mayor Tommy Swaim said Thursday, “but I don’t think the city should have to pay the entire bill.”

At issue is a drainage problem between the Heritage Park subdivision and the new Graham Settlement subdivision.
Wally Nixon, the developer of Graham Settlement, said this is something the city should remedy. “I have buyers for the lots, but not with that ditch there,” he said.

Apparently what happened, according to the mayor and city’s public works director, is that the city went through the drainage ditch between the subdivisions and cleaned out the underbrush and the dumped leaves. This left an unsightly ditch that overflows and sends water onto the Graham Settlement lots, which are now being built.

The mayor said that the planning commission failed to make the developer fix the drainage problem at the beginning. Initially, the commission had wanted Nixon to run about 600 to 700 feet worth of pipe through the ditch to pump the water out of the area. Nixon, and his engineer, Tommy Bond, got the commission to compromise and offered to build a concrete swell at a bend in the ditch, but that apparently has not done the job.

“It is a design flaw that should have been corrected when the developer approached the commission,” the mayor said. “Over the years, we have spent about $4 million repairing or replacing poorly designed drainage throughout the city.”

Nixon countered that he didn’t feel it was his obligation to grant an easement for water from Heritage Park.

Once the commission approved the final plans for the subdivision in May 2006, the council gave the plans its blessing at its next meeting. A number of solutions were bandied about at the council meeting. Jay Whisker, serving in the capacity of city engineer, told the council that there are a number of solutions “depending on how much you want to spend.”

Nixon said, “I’m not sure what the solution is, but we are willing to be reasonable, but we do feel that that we are not the cause.” The question, according to the mayor is “what are we going to do and who’s going to pay for it. Everyone has got to share in the cost, as there’s enough blame to go around.” Nixon and the council agreed to have a committee research the problem and report back, possibly by the end of the month, with solutions.