Friday, August 08, 2008

EDITORIAL >>The quality of mercy

Charity and forgiveness, those eternal qualities that form the underpinnings of our religion and our personal relations, get tested as well every day in the public precincts. In what measure does the government distribute them to those who run amok in small and big ways: the north Arkansas physician who chose to sterilize a disabled woman without her knowledge to save her some day from a life-threatening pregnancy, the unlettered farmhand who got mad over his firing and killed his boss 16 years ago, the poor and illiterate truck driver who kept coming back to drive Osama bin Laden on his appointed rounds after learning of some of his heinous deeds?

And Lu Hardin, the almost universally loved president of the University of Central Arkansas, who also faced his board on the same day as the others this week after a string of forced admissions humiliated the board and the institution he served. The first three seem to have got off rather lightly, although the farmhand may still be put to death if Gov. Beebe rejects the Parole Board’s recommendation of clemency and Salim Hamdan may not consider more than five years in solitary in the Guant├ínamo brig to be light punishment for chauffeuring a madman.

All of them said they were deeply sorry for what they did, and none was more contrite than President Hardin, who repeated his anguish after every revelation. The tribunals that heard the pleas of the other transgressors considered there to be extenuating circumstances or else that redemption was real and not faked.

Hardin will get off lightly as well, it is clear enough. He is a generous and forgiving man himself and, after all, nothing he did — all the efforts to arrange huge bonuses for himself in violation of the law — contributed to anyone’s death or even physical pain. The university’s board of trustees met to consider whether to extend Hardin’s contract when it expires next month in light of all that has come to light since the May board meeting when the board secretly gave him an illegal $300,000 bonus.

The chairman arranged for a string of admirers, including some of the city’s leading citizens, to come and testify about Hardin’s fine qualities. We have shared some of that admiration.

Barbara Anderson, one of the school’s vice presidents and one of those whose names Hardin attached to a memo recommending illegal steps to secretly raise his pay every year, uttered the consummate appeal: We have all sinned.

“He stumbled in front of the state,” Anderson said. “Most of us get to stumble in private.”

That is true, but we should not forget that Hardin tried valiantly to keep it all very, very private. And when the board and the school’s faculty and students extend official forgiveness next month, as they almost certainly will, they also should not forget or try to diminish exactly what he did. After giving the board false information about administrative compensation and the law, he lied — wait, make that misled everyone — about having received the raise. The action violated at least three laws and arguably another. When one unhappy board member released a sheaf of documents, Hardin had to admit that a confidential memo to the board allegedly authored by three subordinate administrators, including Anderson, actually was his own work. He attributed the recommendations, including unlawful steps to raise his pay, to them without their knowledge.

Hardin regretted that deception, too. Hardin will get to keep the job that he has often performed so well with no penalty except his personal sorrow. The example of charity in his case will be remembered, but it will be hard to follow. Some kid will falsify his history theme and discover swifter justice.

TOP STORY > >Austin hopes to be chosen for new school

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

The Cabot School Board is expected to decide the location of an $11.3 million elementary school by Oct. 1, and Austin is one of four locations being considered.

Almost a decade ago when the Cabot School District was looking for land to build an elementary school, residents and city officials made it clear they wanted it in Austin.

The town would grow if they had a school for young children, they said. Houses are built near schools and businesses are built near houses. But the school was built in the Magness Creek subdivision on the west side of Cabot.

Then last year, Stagecoach Elementary opened on the east side of Cabot.

Now city officials in Austin have a different argument. Austin is growing with hundreds of new homes either built, under construction or planned.

The children are already there, so Austin needs an elementary school.

To make that point clear to the school board that will decide on the location of the school needed to give relief to Magness Creek Elementary and Northside Elementary, the city will present the school board with a petition signed by 200 Austin residents.

Dr. Tony Thurman, superintendent of Cabot School District, attended the July meeting of Austin City Council but did not speak except to assure Mayor Bernie Chamberlain that school district officials are very aware that Austin wants the new school.

“We’ve got a lot of kids now and the parents don’t want to have to drive all over everywhere to get them to school,” Chamberlain said this week in a phone interview.

“Ward has one, and Cabot has how many?” she said. “Now that we have the children, it’s our turn.”

There are eight elementary schools in the Cabot School District with the following enrollments: Central, 369; Eastside, 501; Westside, 428; Northside, 453; Southside, 444; Magness Creek, 535; Stagecoach, 515; and Ward Central, 542.

Assistant Supt. Jim Dalton said the optimum number of students in each school is 450 to 500.

The schools on the east side of the district were becoming overcrowded until Stagecoach opened, he said.

Now another school is needed on the west side of the district, and the property the district is looking at in Austin would meet the district’s need.

Dalton would not disclose the locations of the other properties being considered, but he did verify that he has spoken many times with Chamberlain about 16 acres located near the city’s new fire station on W. Main or Ed Haymes Road as it was known before it was annexed into the city.

Chamberlain is visiting family members in Pennsylvania this week, and Dalton said he had assured her no decision would be made until she returns next week.

The property in Austin the school district is considering buying is owned by James and Dorothy Fulton and is not part of a subdivision.

Dorothy Fulton said she had heard nothing from the school district since spring, when the district approached them about the possibility of selling.

TOP STORY > >Jacksonville, Metroplan to meet on bottlenecks

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Jacksonville city administrator Jay Whisker has asked Metroplan assistant director Richard McGee to hold a public meeting in Jacksonville on tra-ffic bottlenecks and congestion.

McGee announced at the July Metroplan board meeting that the agency would arrange for some public meetings.

Whisker said Jacksonville would have requested a meeting in the city anyway, but that a letter from a local developer caused immediate action.

Judith Beale, a general partner in Dupree Brothers, which has plans to turn the old “bean field” into a multi-use development, wrote to Whisker, McGee and others requesting the meeting.

Metroplan wants to identify points of congestion as part of its next long-range transportation plan, according to McGee.

He said information gathering and public input would occur after school is back in session, because that changes the traffic patterns. They also want to identify places where safety is an issue, McGee said.

Toward that end, Beale has also asked for traffic-accident data between Kiehl Avenue and Vandenberg Boulevard for the years 2005—2007.

“Because of the congestion levels and severe accident problems experienced almost on a daily basis through Jacksonville on Highway 67/167, I believe the residents of Jacksonville deserve as many town hall meetings and workshops as can possibly be held during September,” Beale wrote.

Identifying problems is the first step toward solving them, McGee said, and while some might take many millions of dollars in an era when highway and road funds are scarce, others might involve only synchronizing traffic lights or asking employers along a certain stretch of road to stagger their shift hours.

McGee said Thursday that Metroplan would wait until it’s determined how many meeting requests it receives before setting a schedule.

The meetings will be held in September, he said. Then the public will have a couple of weeks to respond before staff presents recommendations to the board, McGee said.

It also will include congestion issues related to transit and bike routes and related safety issues.

TOP STORY > >Sherwood gets closer to buying golf course

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Sherwood hopes to close on the North Hills golf course Aug. 29, and in the meantime it has signed an eight-page legal document that allows city crews onto the property before that time to start mowing and cleaning up the 106-acre property.

Lee Ann Jennings with Twin City Bank reported to the city’s facilities board Thursday that the bank was processing the paperwork necessary for the city to secure up to $6.1 million, and she said it was the bank’s intention to have everything in place well before the closing date.

Linda Napper, chairperson of the facilities board, said it would be borrowing $5 million, plus closing costs, from the bank.
The $5 million figure was reached in settlement in late July between Sherwood, which had condemned the acreage, and the owners of the property, Club Properties.

The agreement, which was approved by the Sherwood City Council in July, said the city would pay $5 million for the property, plus appropriate fees, and in turn, Club Properties will drop all lawsuits against Sherwood. The financing from Twin City Bank is considered to be short term as the city, through the facilities board, looks at longer term financing possibly through a bond issue.

The bank financing will be for three years at a fixed rate of 6.5 percent amortized over a 25-year period, meaning the monthly payments on $6.1 million would be about $41,000. Besides getting the loan update from Twin City Bank, the public-facilities board at the meeting Thursday also decided to have Stephens Inc. serve as the financial adviser through the short-term loan and help secure long-term financing.

“They’ve earned enough money off of us for us to impose on them,” board member Jack Wilson said.

The board has received statements of qualifications from Stephens, as well as Morgan Keegan and Crews and Associates.

“Any of the three are very qualified and any one of them would do a great job,” said Wilson.

Stephens is not guaranteed the bond issue. “There may not even be one,” Linda Napper, board chairman said. “It depends what the council ends up doing with the property.”

But the board will use Stephens’ expertise in advisory capacity. “There’ll be no payments to the firm unless a bond is issued,” Napper said.

The council won’t make any firm decisions on the use of the green space until a master parks study is completed later this year. The study is taking a look at all Sherwood parks, possibilities for the North Hills acreage and future parks in the Gravel Ridge area.

Alderman Becki Vassar said, “We so desperately need to keep the North Hills property as green space, not housing. There’s only so much green space available, and we need to preserve this special place for generations to come.”

“I’m glad that we have a resolution,” said Mayor Virginia Hillman after the July council meetings, “and it will be a very nice place, but I’m still very concerned about the financial liability.”

The ordinance approved by the council authorizes the settlement of the litigation for $5 million, plus “ ancillary expenses of closing, including sums and fees required for financing and title insurance and closing service.” The ordinance says payments will be made within 45 days.

The ordinance also states that the property “should be preserved as a public park, including green space, and for other public purposes to be developed, including without limitations—parks, recreational facilities, hiking and biking trails and other purposes for the betterment of the city.”

Stuart Hankins, attorney for the owners of the golf course, issued this statement after the two sides agreed to the settlement, “Club Properties, Inc. confirms that it has agreed to accept the sum of $5,000,000 in return for the conclusion of the state court condemnation case and the dismissal of the federal court civil rights case subject to the city’s ability to complete its financing arrangements.”

Hankins went on to say, “While the principals of Club Properties, Inc. are not particularly happy about this resolution, they believe that it is in their best interests to bring an end to this expensive and time-consuming litigation process.”

Sherwood, which condemned the property earlier this year through eminent domain, would have been in court this week and next week to haggle over the fair market value of the property, but the agreement makes that trial moot.

The city has had the property appraised at $2.2 million, but the owners have a $5.5 million appraisal and had a valid offer of $5.1 million before the city put a building moratorium on the property in May 2007.

A new appraisal was finished the end of July for Twin City Bank, and the bank should receive that appraisal next week as it continues to process the loan paperwork.

Club Properties also had a federal lawsuit against the city for the building moratorium placed on the property by the city, which was a catalyst in a $5.1 million deal the owners had with a developer falling apart. The judge put that trial on hold, pending the outcome of the condemnation trial. Club Properties, according to the agreement, will now drop that suit.

Current plans call for the city to pay the facilities board through franchise fees the city collects from various utilities.

Last year, the city collected $481,000 in franchise fees. It will need up to $468,000 a year to cover the cost of the bank note.

Franchise fees collected from North Little Rock Electric are currently frozen and a point of contention in a lawsuit between Sherwood, North Little Rock and First Electric. All three parties are working on a settlement of that lawsuit that would free up those franchise fees for Sherwood’s use.

TOP STORY > >Teachers, drivers to lose status at meeting

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Unless someone has changed his mind, it’s likely that both the teachers’ union and the support staff union could be decertified as bargaining agents when the Pulaski County Special School District meets in regular session Tuesday.

Also on the agenda is a proposal to endorse the idea of a standalone school district for Jacksonville and north Pulaski County.

Bill Vasquez, Jacksonville’s representative on the board, has put forward a recommendation to create a Jacksonville school district, contingent upon PCSSD achieving unitary status from the court or as part of a settlement involving the other districts, the attorney general’s office and the state Education Department.

The proposal says a separate district would meet the educational needs in the Jacksonville area “while consolidating the remainder of PCSSD into a more efficient unit.”

With only days remaining until classes begin Aug. 18, the district and Pulaski Association of Support Staff have not agreed on a new contract, and union sup porters have hinted that decertification could result in a strike.

PASS was decertified after a strike in 2004 and recertified July 10, 2007.

The Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers currently is in the second year of a three-year contract, so decertification would not take effect until June 30, 2009, according to the agenda proposal.

Board president Charlie Wood of Sherwood has taken an aggressive stand against both unions and said he would never sign off on a contract longer than five pages.

Likely to join Wood in voting to decertifying the unions are Danny Gilliland, who represents parts of Jacksonville and north Pulaski county; Pam Roberts, who represents Maumelle and west Little Rock, and Shana Chapman, who represents west Little Rock.

Likely to oppose any such move are Gwen Williams, who represents the McAlmont area, Mildred Tatum, who represents south Pulaski County, and also Vasquez.

Two previous attempts this year at decertification were unsuccessful or were deferred over parliamentary questions, but it appears that union opponents may have their ducks in a row this time.

PASS had been seeking a 3.6 percent increase in pay plus longevity increases while the district negotiators have offered 1.6 percent pay increase.

Wood and Roberts have said with large cuts in desegregation aid likely looming, the district was not in a position to grant large pay increases or to sign new multi-year contracts.

The teachers typically negotiate a three-year contract and PASS was asking for a three-year contract.

If the district were released from the 20-year-old school desegregation agreement, the state would phase out the $16 million in annual desegregation support PCSSD receives.

The teachers and support staff have said they bore much of the brunt of cutbacks while the district struggled to get off fiscal-distress designation and state Education Department scrutiny and now its time to increase pay.

TOP STORY > >State Police probe drags on

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

The investigation into Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman’s use of county employees, equipment and materials to chip seal the parking area of a service station that his family owns has been ongoing for about a year, according to Lonoke County Prosecutor Lona McCastlain, and she said Thursday that she wished the State Police would conclude that investigation.

She speculated that Troutman would also like to have the matter resolved.

State Police spokesman Bill Sadler confirmed that the state has been investigating for at least several months the alleged misuse of county paving equipment.

At the tail end of the July Lonoke County Quorum Court meeting, J.P. Bill “Pete” Pedersen asked Troutman whether or not he had used county materials, employees and equipment to chip seal a parking area of a service station his family members own at the junction of state Hwy. 31 and state Hwy. 38.

Troutman said he had done so because the county had used the property as a storage and staging area for some area roadwork.

He said he had sent his son an invoice and the county had been reimbursed.

“I thought State Police inves-tigator David Moss would have interviewed me by now,” said Judge Troutman, “since I was the chief culprit.”

“I’d like to see them finish this up and be done with it,” he added.

Troutman said investigators were interviewing witnesses to determine whether or not he had chip sealed the drive, he said, but that was a waste of time.

“I’ve already said I did it. I’ve never had any intention to defraud or hide anything,” he insisted.

Pedersen said the judge’s action was a violation of section 14-14-1202 of the Arkansas Counties Compliance Guide and constitutes a misdemeanor that could cost the judge up to $1,000 and his job as well.

If a county judge dies or leaves office, the governor would name a replacement to serve out the balance of his term, according to Matt DeCample, spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe.

Pedersen said that he believed that the property was owned by Judge Troutman, his son Toby and his wife Jodie Troutman, but the judge said Thursday that he had never owned the property.

Pedersen alleges that the company then sold the station at a nice profit.

Not so, said Jodie Troutman, who is the judge’s daughter-in-law and a member of the Lonoke County Quorum Court.

“The store is still owned by Toby and Jodie Troutman, personally, and I have yet to see the nice profit,” she said.

The judge said the county had used his son’s property around the county as staging sites several times since 2001, always without compensation until the incident in question.

“There’s been a lot of accusations made, some of them pretty careless,” the judge said.

“We’ll ride it on out,” he said. “It’s just Lonoke County politics.”

TOP STORY > >Crime is lower in smaller towns

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Lonoke is one of the safest cities in the area to live in based on 2007 crime statistics compiled by the Arkansas Crime Information Center.

Sherwood, Cabot, Ward and Beebe are statistically tied and just a little worse than Lonoke.

Jacksonville had the highest crime rate of the six area cities that the ACIC provided information for.

The ACIC plans to have the 2007 information on its Web site by the end of the year, but because city police departments use two different methods to report crime to the state agency, the ACIC must convert all the information to one method before posting it.

Looking at what the state classifies as violent crimes—murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault—Jacksonville had nine violent incidents per 1,000 population.

Sherwood, Cabot, Ward and Beebe each came in at five violent incidents per thousand, while Lonoke was at four incidents per thousand.

Jacksonville suffered through one of its worse murder rates in years in 2007 with five homicides. Sherwood reported one, as did Cabot.

On Thursday, Xzavier Arthur Butler, 28, of Jacksonville was sentenced to 195 years in prison for killing two men and wounding another in a local motel last September.

In 2007, Jacksonville reported 25 rapes, while Lonoke had three. Cabot listed nine rapes, Sherwood had seven, Ward had three and Beebe had one.

Jacksonville also had the largest number or robberies at 57, followed by Sherwood at 16, Lonoke and Beebe at 5, Cabot at three and Ward at one.

The aggravated-assault numbers were also highest in Jacksonville, with 200 reported in 2007. Cabot had 87 aggravated assaults, with Sherwood close behind at 85. Beebe had 19 aggravated assaults, Ward had 12 and Lonoke 10.

Using the summary method of reporting, Jacksonville also listed 1,625 property crimes for 2007, which included 360 burglaries, 1,146 thefts, 109 motor vehicle thefts and 10 arsons.

The other five cities used the national incident-based method of reporting crimes.

In its report to the state, Sherwood listed 2,009 incidents, including 129 simple assaults, 146 cases of intimidation, two arsons, 106 burglaries (breaking and entering), two pick-pocket cases, five purse snatchers, 49 shoplifters, 221 thefts, 68 stolen vehicles, 172 cases of vandalism, 351 drug-related cases and 51 weapons violations.

Cabot listed 1,931 total offenses, including 187 simple assaults, 169 cases of intimidation, two arsons, 252 burglaries (breaking and entering), one pick-pocket incident, 12 purse snatchers, 25 shoplifting reports, 140 thefts, 38 stolen vehicles, 181 cases of vandalism, 168 drug-related charges and 14 weapons violations.

Beebe listed 863 total offenses, including 92 simple assaults, 91 cases of intimidation, three arsons, 109 burglaries (breaking and entering), two pick- pocket incidents, seven shoplifting reports, 84 thefts, 14 stolen motor vehicles, 76 cases of vandalism, 47 drug related charges and three weapons violations.

Lonoke listed 511 incidents, including 70 simple assaults, 38 cases of intimidation, one arson, 84 burglaries (breaking and entering), one shoplifter, two purse snatchers, 52 thefts, four stolen vehicles, 47 cases of vandalism, 33 drug-related cases and two weapons violations.

Ward listed 345 offenses, including 33 simple assaults, 32 intimidation cases, 26 burglaries (breaking and entering), 14 thefts, six stolen vehicles, 36 cases of vandalism, 89 drug-related cases and three weapons violations.

SPORTS>>AAA rejects proposals to re-merge top classifications

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

The governing body of the Arkansas Activities Association rejected a proposal to group 6A and 7A athletic programs together into more geographically-centered conferences on Tuesday.

The proposal, presented by Conway Athletic Director Buzz Bolding in regards to 6A and 7A football, received 60.4 percent of the required 67 percent of votes needed to pass, despite receiving an overwhelming 18-0 pass recommendation from the AAA board of directors earlier this summer.

The new arrangement would have cut down on travel costs and travel time for many schools, but it also would have made all 32 teams in the two classifications playoff-eligible with 16-team postseason brackets for each of the 7A and 6A classifications. Seeding would have been determined by the AAA.

Although the plan was rejected, officials at the Arkansas Activities Association maintain that combining classifications is “still a possible solution.”

Proposals and results of voting were as follows:

Proposal 2: 6A & 7A Conferencing: Failed – For 6A and 7A schools the AAA Board shall assign 4 conferences consisting of 6A and/or 7A schools with 8 schools per conference for regular season conference play in high school volleyball, basketball, soccer, baseball and softball. Conference assignments in these sports will be determined by the AAA using geographical considerations to reduce travel expenses and travel time as much as possible for regular season play.

Conference schools with volleyball, basketball, soccer, baseball and/or softball teams must complete the round-robin schedule in the conference assigned by the AAA to qualify for state tournament play.

At the end of the regular season, all schools with volleyball, basketball, soccer, softball and baseball teams will qualify for either the 6A or 7A state tournament and be placed in a 16-team state tournament play-off bracket or system.

Schools will compete in the 6A or 7A state tournament in volleyball, basketball, soccer, baseball and softball based on AAA classification-enrollment numbers that are used for all other sports.

Play-off seeding procedures for the 6A and 7A state tournaments in volleyball, basketball, soccer, baseball and softball will be determined by the AAA. All other sports other than volleyball, basketball, soccer, baseball and softball will compete within the AAA assigned 6A or 7A classification following current AAA scheduling and play-off rules. (For – 5, Against – 39)

Proposal 5: 6A Football Classification: Failed – The largest 32 schools. For football-only Class 6A schools shall compete for championship in two divisions. (For – 99, Against 65, required 2/3 vote).

SPORTS>>Strong finish makes this summer special for Sherwood golfer

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

It has been a breakout summer for Nick Zimmerman.

The 17-year-old Sherwood resident will finish the golf season with a third-place ranking in the Arkansas State Golf Association youth-league standings, racking up three tournament wins along the way.

Inconsistency during the first three tournaments of the year put Zimmerman a bit behind, but his win in the 16-year-old bracket at the Bruce Jenkins Memorial on June 11 at Rebsamen Park was the beginning of a career summer for the two-sport standout.

He finished a respectable 12th in the youth standings in 2007, but added size from a year ago is the main reason Zimmerman attributes to his climb up the standings.

“I’ve had it coming,” Zimmerman said. “Over the winter, I grew a lot, and I began hitting the ball a little further and a little better. I had a good chance of winning player of the year, it just didn’t work out.”

His win in the Jenkins Memorial was followed by a victory in the Ben I. Mayo Junior Stroke Hardscrabble at FortSmith in mid-July. It didn’t come easy, as Zimmerman had to outlast Cabot standout and two-time ASGA Junior Player of the Year Nicklaus Benton. Zimmerman beat Benton with a birdie on the first playoff hole.

The Mayo tourney was good for his confidence, but Zimmerman said his win in the Mountain Valley Junior Stroke state championship was a career moment. The tourney at Pine Bluff in late July is considered one of the most prestigious around the state. Not only did Zimmerman win, he dominated, carrying a 7-stroke lead into the final day.

“It was just perfect the way it turned out,” Zimmerman said. “I played as good as I ever had in that one. I had a 7-shot lead going into that final day, and didn’t have a single bogey that day, so it was quite an accomplishment for me.”

Zimmerman, who is also a starter for the Sylvan Hills Bears basketball team, attended school at Immaculate Conception until his freshman year. He spent one year at North Little Rock before transferring to Hillside for his sophomore year.

The goal for Zimmerman right now is to follow his older brother Mitch into the UALR golf program. Mitch also was a two-sport star at Sylvan Hills. Football was Mitch’s other sport. Nick will be a freshman at UALR this season, and Trojan golf coach Wyn Norwood has already expressed interest in him.

His classroom work has also been solid, with a 3.5 GPA. His ACT scores are not to his satisfaction yet, but he plans on improving them before next spring. Zimmerman wants to enter the pharmacy field once he completes his basics at college.

Zimmerman enjoys all outdoor activities, including hunting and fishing. He hunts everything from duck to deer; with his biggest kill coming last winter when he bagged an 8-point buck.

Zimmerman said he wants to fully enjoy his final year in high school before the more demanding world of college begins.

Among activities he says he is looking forward to as a senior include ‘rolling the juniors,’ which is a light-hearted hazing tradition at Hillside, senior skip day, or what Zimmerman terms senior skip week for the ’09 class, and, of course, graduation itself.

“The last few weeks, Sylvan Hills High School is probably going to see its share of senior pranks,” Zimmerman joked. “But don’t quote me on that. All in all, (Sylvan Hills) has been a pretty good fit for me. It’s not too big, and it’s not too small. I just grew up playing both sports, and started playing them in high school as well.”

SPORTS>>Coach likes 2008 Falcons

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

Thursday morning’s cool, damp weather was a godsend for the players, but maybe not so much for the coaches.

“It got a little sloppy,” North Pulaski head coach Tony Bohannon said of day 4 of the Falcons’ summer two-a-days at North Pulaski High School. “It was cool and raining and we were afraid the heavy thunderstorms were moving in so we got everything done in the morning.”

Forty-five players reported for summer practice when the Falcons opened the 2008 campaign under scorching skies and near-100 degree temperatures on Monday, launching one of the most hopeful seasons of Bohannon’s 7-year stint.

“I feel good about this season,” said Bohannon, who has eight starters returning on both sides of the ball and players back from a junior varsity team that went 4-1 last year. “This is the best overall group I’ve had since I’ve been here as far as the number and the quality of the number. It looks bright.”

Still, Bohannon is trying to keep a lid on any undue optimism, given that depth will once again be an issue.

“We won’t have a lot of depth,” he said. “We’ll have a depth chart of course. But we’ll find out more as we work with these kids and find out who’ll play mostly JV and who will be our backups.

“But we think we’ve got some sophomores that are really going to step up and help us out.”

The Falcons will return to a strict T-formation offense after flirting with a more pass-heavy I-formation in 2007, when the
Falcons snapped a 32-game losing streak but still finished 1-9.

“We tried to throw the ball a little more last year,” Bohannon said. “But the change won’t be that drastic this year. The terminology will be a little different and coach (Rich) Rodgers will be our new offensive coordinator.

“But we’ve talked about it before: The ‘T’ is the ‘T’ is the ‘T.’ We’ll run more of the veer type like I’ve run before.”

Anthony Allen for now seems the lock for starting quarterback. Though Bohannon said Allen would be the team’s best receiver, he needs him behind center. Bohannon calls Allen a heady player who knows how to make reads on options.

“He’s just a super kid,” he said. “He does everything you ask. I wouldn’t trade him for the world.”

If there is a franchise player on the team, it would have to be Jerald Blair, who Bohannon calls “the real deal.” Blair is a speedy wide receiver and safety, who led the team in tackles last year, picked off three passes and returned several kickoffs for touchdowns. Bohannon said that withthe offense getting away from the pass this year, he’ll find other ways to use Blair.

“We’ve got to get the ball in his hands,” he said. “We can put him at wideout and at running back. We’ve even looked at him some at quarterback in the spring. He can really go.”

Bohannon said if there is one area of concern on offense, it’s at center, where the Falcons are struggling to replace graduated Caleb Phillips. The sophomore that Bohannon was counting on to take Phillips’ place has decided not to come out for the team.

Still, with 6-9, 330 pound Division-I prospect Cliff Copeland at tackle, and another 300-plus pound tackle possibly joining the team, the line could be solid. Bohannon said he is trying out a pair of prospects at center.

Defensively, the Falcons are making slight moderations as well, moving from a 4-man front to a 5-2.

“Defensively, the concern is learning new techniques and getting a handle on the Option,” Bohannon said. “Our new conference (the 5A-Southesast) is going to be more of a running conference than last year. It will be a whole lot easier to cover the run than it is those teams that run misdirection with the passes off of it.”

The Falcons opened summer football by participating in the Pulaski Robinson 7-on-7 tournament in June, but spent the rest of the month and all of July in the weight room working on strength and conditioning. Several others attended camps, though none went to the Razorback camp this year as they have done in years past.

“In the past, that’s where we always went,” Bohannon said. “Coach Rogers and I always worked at that camp, but they changed the way they did things up there when (Houston Nutt) left. My understanding is they’re bringing in college coaches to work it now.”
North Pulaski will participate in a scrimmage at Pulaski Robinson on Aug. 25 before officially opening the season at Searcy on Sept. 5.

SPORTS>> Jackrabbit turnout high

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

No surprises so far.

Respectable numbers and a ton of returning starters highlighted the first week of practice for the Lonoke Jackrabbits. The Jackrabbits began two-a-days on Monday, with three days of practices in shorts before adding pads on Thursday.

A total of 51 players turned out for the fall camp, which was the number expected by head coach Jeff Jones and the LHS football staff. The class numbers break up pretty even, with 16 seniors, 19 juniors and 16 sophomores.

“Everyone is back that we expected to be back,” Jones said. “We’re holding at that number, so that’s pretty good numbers for Lonoke.”

Although Monday was the first official day of practice, the Jackrabbits have been busy preparing most of the summer, with weight training for the linemen, along with team running and reviews of fundamentals.

“We were in decent condition going in,” Jones said, “because of all the summer work we put in. We had a great weight room turnout. We also did football technique and fundamentals two days a week, as well as running.

“We also went to 7-on-7 tournaments during the summer, and went to one team camp at Springdale, so we felt like we were in great shape coming in.”

Lonoke picked back up on that theme on Monday. Being ahead of the game conditioning-wise meant there was ample time to focus on individual strengths and weaknesses, something Jones said will be beneficial down the road.

“We had two great days Monday and Tuesday,” Jones said. “We did a lot of fundamentals as well as conditioning, and we did a lot of individual work. It was a really good start to our fall camp.”

With a total of 17 returning starters (9 offense/8 defense), the Jackrabbits are a preseason favorite to win the 2-4A Conference by statewide publication Hooten’s Arkansas Football.

Jones said that it’s not just the numbers, experience and depth his team will be relying on this season, but a more aggressive mindset as well.

“The guys that we expected to hit hard came out and hit hard,” Jones said. “We’re not near where we need to be, but at this early point in the season, we’re making the daily progress that we need to. We really have been working on our physicality, that’s one thing we’ve been trying to up since I came here.

“I think we’re going to be the type of physical football team that we want this year.”

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

TOP STORY > >Mourners upset at deputies for arrest at funeral

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Kim Hall slipped back into central Arkansas to attend the funeral of her cousins, but she left the service in handcuffs, according to Sheriff Jim Roberson.

Lonoke residents Bryan Keith Green, 11, and his aunt, Rebecca Pack, 42, died in a one-car accident on I-40 July 26 and passengers Kimberly “Bryanne” Green of Lonoke and Stephane Hill of Conway were taken to Stuttgart Hospital.

Bryan Green was Kimberly’s brother.

Hall, who had pleaded guilty to theft of financial identity and fraud, a Class D felony, fled to Canada at the time.

Roberson said his office re-ceived a tip that Hall would be back in the area for the funeral and made arrangements to arrest her.

Roberson said his officers waited through the funeral and viewing, then discreetly arrested Hall before she could leave. She had been seated by a door.

“What was also sad and more than sad, just totally unbelievable, was to have been witness to the Lonoke County Sheriff’s department placing a family member in handcuffs and placing them under arrest before this child had even been laid to rest,” wrote one woman in an unsigned letter to The Leader.

Roberson said Hall was arrested at the service because deputies didn’t want to take a chance of her slipping away and out of the country again.

Hall was arrested without incident and has been transported to the Diagnostic Unit of the state Correction Department, according to Roberson.

The service was held July 31 at Griffin Leggett Rest Hills Funeral Home and Memorial Park, 7724 Landers Road in North Little Rock.

The accident occurred westbound on I-40 in a 2004 Chevy Tahoe, driven by Pack, who drove off the highway and back on, turning clockwise and overturning on the north shoulder, according to the narrative in the police report.

The Tahoe then crossed over a fence before coming to rest on the north side of I-40 right-side up and facing eastbound.

All four occupants were ejected from the vehicle, according to the report.

TOP STORY > >Beebe cautious on sharing

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Even as emergency workers labored nearby in the hot sun to control an ammonia leak at Coleman Heat Treating, Gov. Mike Beebe spoke Friday at the Jacksonville Community Center, thanking state wildlife officers and their families for their contributions to state residents and visitors.

“You signed up for and are trained for this and provide the service,” Beebe told them, “but your families have not trained for this. They are the ones who stay home and take care of you and support you and worry about you.”

Beebe told wildlife officers what they already knew—a lot of people don’t recognize their work as law-enforcement, but when they encounter someone, it’s nearly certain that person is armed.

Beebe’s remarks came on the heels of the announcement last week that the state Game and Fish Commission had leased 11,500 acres of public wildlife lands for $29.5 million to Chesapeake Energy Company for exploration and production of natural gas.

Chesapeake Energy is the company that has flooded the airwaves with a self-congratulatory fake news program singing the praises of its own operations and effects on the community.

Speculation already has begun over how to best spend that windfall and the approximately 20 percent royalty that the state will collect from the natural gas extracted from the Fayetteville Shale far below the surface.

The Game and Fish Commis sion supports its activities directly from a statewide sales tax and holds that all the lease and royalty money should go to Game and Fish activities.

Beebe has said he believes the commission should receive some of the money, but that the state Department of Environmental Quality should receive enough to monitor and make sure that the exploration and production activities in those wildlife management areas don’t disturb the environment.

Exploration will require building roads, large amounts of fresh water, holding ponds for water after it’s injected into the wells and presumably construction of pipes to carry off the gas.

Critics have accused the gas companies of ripping up the state’s infractructure.

A state sales tax increase in 1997 earmarked 45 percent of the proceeds forever to the Game and Fish Commission.
Mining and drilling revenues have always gone into the general fund in the past.

But the commission says Amendment 35 to the state Constitution exempts them from turning over their lease money and royalties.

If the revenues did go to the state general fund, some money could go toward the state’s public schools and highways, both of which have needs far in excess of revenues.

“We’re staying out of that discussion right now,” said Beebe’s spokesman Matt DeCample.

“Legislators may bring that up,” he added.

TOP STORY > >IRS owed $97,350 by Cabot

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

The Cabot Parks Department owes the Internal Revenue Service $97,350.54 in federal taxes that were withheld from employees’ paychecks but not paid during the last quarter of 2006 and all of 2007.

That amount does not include the $45,000 in penalties the IRS could charge the department for not paying employees’ federal taxes, or the $13,000 that parks has paid the state in recent months for taxes held out of employees’ paychecks but not remitted on time.

Sarah Michelle Rye, a bookkeeper for parks fired in mid-2007, who was arrested this year after she admitted to embezzling $8,063.44, was in charge of the books until she was dismissed, but not for the last two quarters of 2007.

Larry Tarrant, who was hired as parks director in April, said this week during a phone interview about the missing money that he doesn’t know how it happened, but he assumes the State Police investigation that started about the same time he became director will provide the answers.

“When I took over, I started getting letters from the IRS,” Tarrant said. “I can’t explain it because I wasn’t in charge.”

Lonoke County Prosecutor Lona McCastlain called for the State Police investigation in January after Rye admitted to embezzling money from parks by writing herself duplicate paychecks over a two-year period.

Rye was sentenced in circuit court April 9 to five year’s probation, three of which are supervised.

At the end of the five years, she may petition the court to have her criminal record sealed.

Carroll Astin, director of the parks department for 10 years, resigned in April, saying he had been a public servant most of his adult life and it was time to move on to the private sector.

If the State Police investigation shows that Rye is connected to the failure to remit the taxes and she is found guilty of other felony charges, she would lose her ability to petition the court to have her record sealed.

Presumably the investigation will also show who didn’t remit the tax after Rye left parks.

Questioned by Lt. Scott Steely on Jan. 17, Rye said she wrote herself 19 duplicate paychecks in 2005 totaling $3,987.22 and 12 duplicate paychecks in 2006 totaling $4,076.22.

Those figures indicate that Rye’s take-home pay increased $120 a paycheck from 2005 to 2006. Sources say police began their investigation after an audit of the park books for 2006 showed the discrepancy in the payroll.

Parks was over budget $100,000 in 2007, and the city council voted in January to pay that amount to help parks start the year.

Now Tarrant says he will have to find the money to pay the IRS almost $100,000 in back taxes, but he hopes the $45,000 in penalties will be waived.

As for the possibility of getting behind again, Tarrant says, “I guarantee you it’s getting paid now.”

TOP STORY > >Wreck raises questions

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

A wreck last month at the intersection of Dewitt Henry and Pecan in Beebe in which no ticket was issued is causing problems in the police department because Janice Petray, the driver considered responsible for the rear-end collision, is a member of the city council who is reportedly dating a police officer. According to reports by witnesses, she appeared to be under the influence of alcohol, but she denies it.

Mayor Mike Robertson has in-structed Police Chief Wayne Ballew to get to the bottom of the matter. The two ranking officers involved have already been demoted to patrol officer, in part because of the incident, and other action is possible.

“Wayne is going to have to decide if he’s going to do an internal investigation and we’re going to have to talk about it more,” the mayor said.

Statements made the day after the wreck show discrepancies that must be addressed, Robertson said.

“It looks like everybody is trying to brush it aside,” he said. “When you have a council member dating a police officer, the public is going to scrutinize it.”

Robertson said he has told Ballew, “It is what it is. Investigate and if it looks bad, it is bad.”

Petray, who is serving her sixth year on the city council, told Patrol Officer Michael Wolford after the wreck at about 9 p.m. July 23 that she was stopped at the traffic light and that when the light turned green the pickup she rear-ended did not move forward.

Petray was driving a red convertible, 2004 Honda S20 when she struck the silver 2007 Toyota Tundra pickup driven by Mallory Davis of Beebe. Davis’ pickup traveled 145 feet after the impact.

Wolford did not give Petray a ticket for the wreck, but he wrote in a statement the next day, after Chief Ballew saw discrepancies in the accident report, that Petray appeared to be drinking.

“I felt during my investigation of the accident that I was unable to do my job due to my superiors (Cpl. Tony Bryant and Sgt. Steve Benton) convincing me that Ms. Petray was fine and that she was sitting still at the stop light when I knew she wasn’t,” Wolford wrote in his statement.

Benton was supposed to be off-duty but decided to go the scene of the wreck.

“I feel that I was unable to do my job due to the circumstances. I was persuaded to make decisions I normally would not if I was by myself,” Wolford continued.

“My investigation revealed that Ms. Petray had struck the back of Ms. Davis’ vehicle. Ms. Davis had been sitting at the red light.

The light turned green and she proceeded to go through the light when Ms. Petray strikes her in the rear. I believe that the accident was caused due to Ms. Petray being under the influence of a controlled substance.”

Wolford said Petray an-nounced immediately after the wreck that she was a city council member and that she was dating Sgt. Benton.

David Nelson, a firefighter and part-time police officer, who also was at the scene, said he smelled alcohol when he spoke to Petray.

Lt. Eddie Cullum, who took statements from witnesses on July 24, said in his statement that Richie Mahoney, who towed Petray’s car, told him that although he didn’t smell alcohol on Petray, she appeared to be “under the influence.”

The two ranking officers did not make written statements.

Petray denies that she had been drinking.

“I was yard working and cleaning my kitchen all day and I was hungry for a Mazzio’s salad,” she said.

Filing for the city council starts today and Petray says she intends to run for a fourth term.

“I’m 49 years old and I’ve never been in an accident,” Petray said. “I’ve never even been stopped for a traffic violation.”

Petray says that because of her lack of personal knowledge about traffic stops, she didn’t realize that her accident was not handled by the book.

“If I need a ticket, I’ll be glad to pay it. I didn’t know I had done anything wrong,” she said.

Petray also told this reporter Tuesday evening that the air bag in her car was activated, and when she got out of the car, it made her feel uncomfortable and unsteady on her feet.

That may be one reason people around her thought she was intoxicated.

Petray, who is recently divorced from former Beebe Mayor Phil Petray, also said she is no longer dating Benton.

“I have visited with Steve this summer,” she said. “We’ve grilled out and gone to the movie. I’m not seeing him right now.”

Petray says she is sorry for the trouble the accident has caused all the officers involved.

“I love Beebe. I wouldn’t do anything to hurt it,” she said.

Chief Ballew said the incident has sullied the good reputation he is trying to build for the department, and that he started his investigation immediately after realizing that it was possible the situation had been mishandled.

He wasn’t there, so he doesn’t know if Petray was drinking or not, he said. But he has told all his officers that no one gets special treatment. And he is certain that if she appeared to have been drinking, she should have been tested.

“I will not tolerate it,” he said. “I don’t care who you are. You’re not going to drink and drive.”

Officer Wolford was the first on the scene of the accident. Bryant came to assist and then Benton was called.

Ballew said Benton was off-duty and there was no reason for him to have been there.

However, Assistant Chief Ron Lewis was on duty and should have been called since a council member was involved.

TOP STORY > >Hot weather fuels fan use,Precautions

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

The White County Aging Program in Searcy has been giving away fans since June when temperatures started to climb.

“Our drivers who deliver meals will notice that it’s hot inside some of the houses and take fans on their next delivery,” said Debbie Nantze.

The program serves about 10,000 White County residents who are 60 years or older. Nantze said even though many have air conditioning, they won’t turn it on for fear of running up their electric bill. So far, about 60 fans have been provided for the elderly and more are available.

Nantze said the office at 2200 E. Moore, down the street from Berryhill Park, also is a cooling center from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Anyone who needs a place to get out of the heat is welcome, she said, and tea and lemonade are served.

“We’ve been doing it since the temperature hit 100 degrees,” she said. “We had quite a few last week.”

School starts in two weeks and that means junior high and senior high football teams have started practicing twice a day, “two-a-days,” as they say.

John Shannon, head football coach at Beebe, said those practices don’t stop because of the heat, but he does take all necessary precautions to make sure the players are not injured.

“Water is accessible anytime they need water,” Shannon said. “We have frequent 10-minute breaks for Gatorade. We’ve got a trainer on hand and even if a player thinks he’s alright, if there’s any doubt, we are on the side of caution.”

At the Beebe Senior Center on Apple Street, volunteer Faith Olivo says bingo draws the elderly in where they are safe from the heat for several hours a day. The year-old program has about 25 regular clients and is growing. While they are there, Olivo says they warn them to stay out of the heat.

They also call the elderly to check on them, she said.

In Cabot, Parks Director Larry Tarrant says that at $3 a day for admission, “The pool is the place to be when it’s this hot.”

And both pools, the indoor pool at the community center on Hwy. 38 and the outdoor pool on Richie Road, are doing a brisk business.

Cherry Godwin at the Cabot Senior Citizen Center said 16 elderly area residents came to the center for lunch on Monday.Usually that number is closer to 10 or 12, she said, so the heat might have brought them in.

Often, the elderly with air conditioning are reluctant to turn it on because of the cost, she said.So she encourages them to come to the center for lunch so they can save enough on their groceries to be able to afford to at least turn the air on low.

Ward Mayor Art Brooke said the city has call list of elderly residents who are checked on a couple of times a week. So far all are well even in the heat, he said.

While it’s hot, the work schedule for many city workers is from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., he said.

When possible, inside work is scheduled for the hottest part of the day.

TOP STORY > >Hospital to close birth unit

By NANCY DOCKTER
Leader staff writer

Expectant mothers who had planned to have their babies delivered at North Metro Medical Center after Sept. 30 have been told that they need to make other arrangements or have labor induced, because the hospital’s obstetrics unit is closing.

Horizons for Women clinic, which is located down the street from the hospital, has sent a letter to its obstetrics patients announcing the discontinued service. With one physician retiring and another considering getting out of delivering babies because of the high cost of malpractice insurance, the demands of around-the-clock on-call coverage at the hospital is too much for the remaining two physicians in the group, explained Margie Litton, office manager for Horizons for Women.

The hope was that the hospital could step in with another physician or two to fill the gap, but given the current financial difficulties that the medical center is facing, that has not been forthcoming.

“We’re kind of left with one or two doctors bearing the brunt of it and have asked for help from the hospital, but they have been unable or unwilling to provide,” Litton said. “It is a sad situation.”

The discontinued service may affect up to 125 patients who may have to find another doctor for the delivery. Litton said that it is uncertain if the obstetricians will make arrangements to deliver elsewhere, but that they are trying to assist patients in the sudden change.

“We are trying. The doctors are talking to each patient,” Litton said. A good number are Medicaid patients, however, who may have trouble working through the snarls of governmental red tape in time for their baby’s arrival.

“The average Medicaid patient gets lost in the system, with the volumes and volumes of cases,” Litton said.

IMPACT OF FINANCIAL DIFFICULTIES

Medical center chief executive officer Scott Landrum says that at this time, the hospital’s position is that “there is no scheduled closing” of the birthing clinic, and that hospital administration is “evaluating” strategies for keeping the clinic open.

The clinic will remain open and continue providing gynecological care.

This pending change in services is a milestone for the community hospital which has served Jacksonville and surrounding areas since 1962. It is also a sign of the financial difficulties that the hospital leadership is currently grappling with.

Hospital administrators nonetheless insist that the community can count on the medical center remaining open and that the financial picture at North Metro has actually improved in the last year. “We’ve improved greatly – much better than 2007,” said Cal Brummund, interim chief financial officer for North Metro Medical Center, in an interview Monday.

Brummund refused to say how long the hospital has been operating at a loss or the amount the hospital is losing annually, saying he did not see the point of “publicizing the degree of our losses.”

“Losses are in the past and we would rather not focus on the past, but the future,” Brummund said. “We are seeking our niche for how to remain open and evolve. We are committed to serving the community.”

Brummund maintains that the hospital administration had no part in the decision to close the obstetrics unit. Rather, the five obstetricians made that call, presumably because of the decline in deliveries there, fewer now than two per day on average. In fiscal year 2006-07, 505 babies were born at North Metro; in 2007-08, the number was down to 448, according to hospital administration.

“The OB physicians are totally independent, and we, the hospital, are servants to the physicians, if you will,” explained Brummund. “We make sure that they have everything available that they and their patients need, but if the physicians quit delivering, we do too, because they’re the ones that bring the babies.”

Other hospital departments have seen an increase in patient visits in the last year, according to hospital data. A comparison of the first 11 months of the 2007-08 fiscal year, which ended June 30, with the same time period for 2006-07, showed an 8.3 percent increase in visits to the emergency room from 1,788 per month to 1,936 per month. Outpatient services comparing the same time periods, showed a 2.9 percent increase in visits from 3,543 per month to 3,645 per month.

BOTTOM LINE REALITIES

The hospital’s administrators say the facility is in financial straits because of its poor rate of return on total patient charges. According to 2007 data provided by the hospital, 63.3 percent of all patient charges are written off as uncompensated. That means for every dollar billed the rate of return is 36.7 cents.

Landrum says the current rate of return is unacceptably low and says the basic issue is the proportion of persons served by North Metro who use government insurance rather than private (or commercial) insurance. According to 2007 data provided by the hospital, its patient payer mix is 24 percent privately insured, 47 percent Medicare, 9 percent Medicaid, 11 percent Tricare, and 9 percent self-pay.

Actually, the North Metro profile comes very close to that of Arkansas as a whole.

The average rate of return for hospitals statewide is 39.9 percent according to the Arkansas Hospital Association. The patient mix for hospitals statewide is 25.1 percent privately insured, 44.3 percent Medicare, 20.4 percent Medicaid, 6.5 percent self-pay, with other government programs and unknown sources of support comprising 3.8 percent.

Landrum would like North Metro to bring the rate of return to over 50 cents on the dollar, which was where it was 10 years ago.

Paul Cunningham, senior vice president for the Arkansas Hospital Association, thinks that might be unrealistic in today’s market.

“Generally, there are not many people collecting 40 percent of what they bill,” Cunningham said. “It would be out of the ordinary to collect that much of your billed charges.”

The bulk of the 63 percent in uncompensated charges for both North Metro and other Arkansas hospitals is what insurers refuse to pay. Only a small proportion is due to inability to collect from patients. In the last year, North Metro wrote off 10 percent of total patient charges as uncollectible – 1.7 percent charity care and 8.3 percent bad debt.

Charity care consists of services for which the hospital provides without expectation of payment. Bad debt is bills for which the patient cannot pay or will not pay.

Hospitals statewide similarly report a small proportion of uncovered charges due to uncollected debt – 7.7 percent total in 2006, according to the Arkansas Hospital Association. That figure has remained fairly constant from 1999 to 2006, ranging from a low of 7.2 percent in 1999 to a high of 8.6 percent in 1995.

Because of the high proportion of uncompensated charges, hospitals in general would operate in the red if they had to depend only on patient payments to cover costs.

THE NATIONAL PICTURE

Profitability can be understood in terms of three types of margin, according to a study by the American Hospital Association.

Patient service margin reflects profitability after a hospital deducts its written-off charges and cost of services from what monies were actually collected. On average, U.S. hospitals report a patient service margin of -1.97 percent, and Arkansas hospitals report a -0.18 percent patient service margin.

Operating margin reflects profitability after calculating other sources of revenue that hospitals depend on to offset losses and make ends meet. They include revenues from the cafeteria, gift shop and parking. This revenue pushes the most hospitals into the black. Hospitals nationally have a 3.94 percent operating margin. Arkansas hospitals have a 3.31 percent operating margin.

Other revenues further strengthen a hospital’s bottom line. These may include contributions, tax appropriations, rental space income and investments. These funds contribute to what is termed revenue margin, which is 5.72 nationally and 4.99 percent in Arkansas.

North Metro’s Brummund has refused to divulge any profit-and-loss specifics for the medical center or even discuss in general terms how long the hospital has been operating at a loss. Those in the profession of hospital management are in “a very tough business,” he says, one made difficult by the federal government’s ever-tightening of insurance reimbursement rates.

“The basic answer is that the rate of inflation is increasing, especially for medicine, while your government is trying to control its budget,” Brummund said. “The two don’t go together. Every year we get a little farther behind.”

Litton, who has worked for Horizons for Women 23 years, summed up the travails of health care finances this way:
“Everyone is caught in the world of managed care. We thought it was going to come in and save us, but instead it shot us in the foot. Everyone is trying to get down to Medicare fee schedules.

“You look at your end-of-day accounting reports and think you are doing pretty good, that you’ll have a lot rolling in, but actually you write off as much as you get paid.”

CHANGE IS COMING

Brummund prefers to emphasize the efforts the hospital’s board of directors is making to improve North Metro’s financial standing.

“We have a very committed board that is determined to find services to provide the hospital with a stable platform financially,” Brummund said. “Patience is the name of the game at this point.”

Landrum this week echoed the same sentiment. In 30 to 60 days, he says that he hopes to announce an agreement with one of two “hospital companies” being courted by the hospital board and administration as potential “partners” of North Metro Medical Center.
“It looks really good,” Landrum says. “With that, we hope to have a niche change, a change in our menu of services.”
Whether or not the change in services includes obstetrics remains to be seen.

EDITORIAL >>Critics never serve

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette must surely win a Pulitzer Prize or one of the other gaudy journalism awards for exposing the Army’s early release of Maj. Paul Suskie, who volunteered but did not have to serve all of his second tour in the war zones.

In the judgment of the editor of the state’s largest newspaper, Suskie’s premature departure from the Iraq combat zone was the most important news in the world Sunday morning.

It led the paper’s front page and consumed 100 inches of newsprint.

Suskie returned this week to his job as chairman of the state Public Service Commission. He had barely assumed the job last year when he answered the call of the Army for a Judge Advocate General officer with the 39th Infantry Brigade in Iraq. Army lawyers apparently are hard to come by. Although he had already served a tour in Afghanistan, Suskie volunteered for another year’s duty and went off in January.

His commanding officer signed papers last month to cut his tour short. The newspaper described it as special treatment and a violation of military regulations, though the commander who signed the order said it was not uncommon for JAG officers because the Army hoped to encourage more Paul Suskies by truncating their assignments and rotating them home.

The newspaper said some soldiers who were denied early leave were sore when they heard that a JAG officer got to go home before his tour was over.

They may have some peeve about favoritism, but it needs to be said for Suskie that any honorable service on the killing streets of Iraq is done at momentous personal sacrifice and is worthy of our gratitude rather than censure.

In the prints of the metropolitan paper, however, no good deed shall go unpunished.

EDITORIAL >>Critics never serve

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette must surely win a Pulitzer Prize or one of the other gaudy journalism awards for exposing the Army’s early release of Maj. Paul Suskie, who volunteered but did not have to serve all of his second tour in the war zones.

In the judgment of the editor of the state’s largest newspaper, Suskie’s premature departure from the Iraq combat zone was the most important news in the world Sunday morning.

It led the paper’s front page and consumed 100 inches of newsprint.

Suskie returned this week to his job as chairman of the state Public Service Commission. He had barely assumed the job last year when he answered the call of the Army for a Judge Advocate General officer with the 39th Infantry Brigade in Iraq. Army lawyers apparently are hard to come by. Although he had already served a tour in Afghanistan, Suskie volunteered for another year’s duty and went off in January.

His commanding officer signed papers last month to cut his tour short. The newspaper described it as special treatment and a violation of military regulations, though the commander who signed the order said it was not uncommon for JAG officers because the Army hoped to encourage more Paul Suskies by truncating their assignments and rotating them home.

The newspaper said some soldiers who were denied early leave were sore when they heard that a JAG officer got to go home before his tour was over.

They may have some peeve about favoritism, but it needs to be said for Suskie that any honorable service on the killing streets of Iraq is done at momentous personal sacrifice and is worthy of our gratitude rather than censure.

In the prints of the metropolitan paper, however, no good deed shall go unpunished.

EDITORIAL >>Natural gas will cost more

If you have been distressed about $4-a-gallon gasoline in this torrid summer, the state Public Service Commission wants you to know that the other shoe will fall this winter: monthly heating bills in the stratosphere. And please do not blame the commission for letting them soar. It can do absolutely nothing about them.

Despite the self-serving, don’t-blame-us nature of the commission’s unusual news release last week forecasting record natural gas bills, it ought to be appreciated. The agency recommended that people start now to prepare for the winter by finding ways to make their dwellings and businesses more efficient. Insulation, window caulking and heating tune-ups will shave a little from the monthly bills, and levelized billing will reduce the price shock from a frigid January.

Last winter was bad enough, and it was not a particularly chilly season. Natural gas soared from something over $5 a thousand cubic feet (mcf) to more than $7. Natural gas prices are impossible to predict with any accuracy, but the PSC projects prices to average nearly $12 per mcf this winter. That would mean that a homeowner in this area who burned 100 ccf (one hundred cubic feet) a month would see a monthly bill of more than $161, which would be about a 25 percent increase over last winter.

Gas approached $14 per mcf on the New York Mercantile Exchange not long ago. Gas prices roughly track crude oil prices and they are back down to high atmospheric levels at the moment, but they are expected to rise again with the demands of the heating season.

They could well exceed the PSC’s sub-$12 forecast. When you get a humongous gas bill, it might pacify you to think about the good people in the gas-rich shale north of us and the exploration companies that thanks to a bull market for energy will be doing very well.

The gas company — Center Point Energy, in our case — passes the gas-purchase and transportation costs directly to customers, supposedly without a markup. Its profits come from the base monthly charges, which are about a fourth of your bill. The PSC regulates those charges but, as it took pains to point out, not the gas and pipeline costs. So, it implies, don’t call the commission to complain about your abnormal gas bill unless you detect something fishy. They are separated on your bill.
But the government can do a few things to ease the emergencies from a drastic rise in energy costs. The PSC can see to it that the gas-distribution companies have a lenient and humane cut-off policy for delinquent homeowners and renters.

The federal government, which has been rescuing mammoth financial institutions, needs to be ready to rescue the very poor and the elderly from the hardships of a bad winter.

Democrats are pushing for a second stimulus package to reinvigorate the slumping economy, and it should include a sharp increase in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps the poor and elderly pay their bills and avoid cutoffs. President Bush has never liked the program, but its strongest backers are Republicans from the frozen north, like Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.

The formula for distributing the money favors the northern climes, but we have many more who are needy and energy costs show no favorites.

SPORTS>> Rhinos’ offense falls flat in loss to Nashville

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Oscar Malone has sung the praises of his defense all summer, but the Arkansas Rhinos head coach is ready to rearrange the chorus when it comes to offense.

The Rhinos lost to the Nashville Storm 19-12 on Saturday at Red Devil Field in a defensive battle in which Arkansas managed only 74 yards of total offense.

Three unanswered touchdowns by the Storm from the end of the first half on allowed them to keep their No. 1 ranking in the North America Football League. The win also kept them atop the Tennessee Valley Conference standings.

“We just couldn’t get any chemistry with our offense,” Malone said. “Both defenses did a great job; both of them had great pressure all night. I was proud of our defense. (The Storm) average 52 points a game, so for us to hold them to only 19 is a pretty good accomplishment.”

Malone said the loss of standout running back Brannon Metcalf has thrown a wrench into the Rhinos’ entire scheme. Metcalf went down with an ankle injury during Arkansas’ loss to Memphis two weeks ago.

“We’re going to have to find an identity on offense,” Malone said. “We may have to change our philosophy on being a power running team. We’re going to work on our offensive package before we play Clarksville on (Aug. 16), so there’s a possibility that we may put the ball in the air a little more with some screens and play action. We also want to look for those quick hitters up the middle.”

The Rhinos held the momentum for most of the first half. Quarterback Jeremiah Crouch snuck in from one yard out midway through the first quarter for the first score. The drive was set up on a forced fumble by defensive end Brandon Mitchell that was recovered by Jeff Ridgle at the Nashville 17-yard line.

The Rhinos’ defense came up big again in the second quarter when safety Ben Witcher intercepted a pass from Storm QB and former Rhino Ty Fortes deep in Arkansas territory. Witcher returned the pick to the Rhinos’ 35, and the offense went to work again.

The drive stalled once they got in Nashville territory, but kicker Garrett Morgan extended the lead with a 47-yard field goal to make it 10-0. Forte made sure that the Storm didn’t enter the intermission scoreless, however, with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Roger Moore just before the half as the Rhinos took a 10-7 lead into halftime.

Both defenses dominated the third quarter, but the Storm took over the lead at the start of the fourth quarter with their second touchdown drive. That made it 13-10, but a blocked extra-point attempt by Sam Witchell led to two points for the Rhinos when Chris Johnson scooped up the loose ball and took it 93 yards for the conversion, pulling the Rhinos back to within a single point at 13-12.

Nashville put up an insurance score later on in the final quarter, and a turnover by the Rhinos in the final minute sealed the deal.

The Rhinos are now 2-2 on the season, and in danger of not qualifying for the NAFL postseason. The process of choosing teams for the playoffs is similar to the BCS ranking system, and Malone says more offensive points are desperately needed at this stage.

The defense has kept numbers low, giving up an average of only seven points a game, but an 11.2 PPG average by the offense is not what former Razorback Malone was looking for.

“We can’t lose anymore games for one thing,” Malone said. “When we play Nashville again, we really need to beat them by at least eight points. I was pleased that we went to the wire with the number one team in the league, and I was also pleased that the fans stuck it out in the heat and stayed for the duration.”

Crouch completed 5 of 12 pass attempts for 43 yards and had one rushing touchdown, while Gerrell Marshall carried the ball six times for 24 yards.

Enrico Williams led the defense with nine tackles, while Trey Smith added eight.

The Rhinos will be back in action on Aug. 16 when they host the Clarksville Knights at Red Devil Field.

SPORTS>> Scorching heat greets Red Devils

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Close to 65 potential Red Devils braved the August heat for the first morning of football two-a-days at Jacksonville High School on Monday.

The bulk of the first session that ran from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. was spent finalizing paperwork, but coach Mark Whatley and his staff did get to time players in the 40-yard dash, along with testing linemen on the weight bench.

They finished up their first session at Jan Crow Stadium with a 12-minute run to test everyone’s level of conditioning.

The Red Devils’ participation in summer 7 on 7 football was limited, but Jacksonville did host a pair of camps over the past two Thursdays with Vilonia and Little Rock Catholic.

Whatley said participation in the two camps should help shorten the learning curve this month.

“We’ve had a pretty good turnout over the summer in the weight room, especially the younger guys,” Whatley said.

“We’ve got a good starting point. The team camps this past month helped us a bunch. We feel like in knowing what to do we are a little ahead of the game.

“We’ve got to get back and get better with our technique, and go back and start coaching the little bitty things that make the difference. You know, the hand placement, steps with our feet, head placement, where you’re supposed to be — all the parts that go into executing a football play. This bunch knows the scheme pretty well; we just have to get a lot better at executing it.”

Whatley said there seemed to be more progress this summer over his previous three years as head Devil, despite the lack of 7 on 7 play.

“We didn’t do as much 7 on 7 as we have in the past two or three years,” Whatley said. “A lot of it was because we wanted to do our team camp stuff. I hope we got quite a bit out of that. Plus, we do a lot of 7 on 7 on our own. We just didn’t go to any tournaments this time. We feel like we we’re further along mentally, but we’re no where near where we need to be technique-wise.”

Just as it is every year, the heat is a concern for Whatley and the coaching staff. With heat indices in excess of 115 degrees expected this week, longtime trainer Jason Cates could be the most valuable member of the JHS staff, he said.

“That’s something that’s always a concern,” Whatley said. “Fortunately, we have Jason Cates and he does a remarkable job with keeping the kids hydrated and educated on what’s going on.

“He met with them for 45 minutes to an hour this morning just on how to take care of themselves and how to communicate. We certainly don’t want to lose anyone.

“Hopefully, we’ll monitor that. We have them weighed before and after practice, and we’ll make sure that we’re monitoring how much weight loss is actually taking place due to the heat, and provide as much fluids as we possibly can.”

The Red Devils will practice every morning from 8 a.m. until 11:30 a.m., and will get together again in the afternoon from 4 to 5. Today will be the last day of non-pad practice, with helmets and shoulder pads making their first appearance on the field on Thursday morning.

SPORTS>> American Legion deserves better from state media

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

And so another long, long Arkansas American Legion season comes to a close.

It ended officially last night with the senior championship game between Fayetteville and Jonesboro. Only the regionals and nationals remain.

For fans in the immediate area, it ended one night earlier with Sylvan Hills’ loss to Fayetteville on the penultimate day of the season.

Legion baseball almost is treated as an afterthought by the media around the state. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette inexcusably doesn’t cover it at all. Even the senior state tournament this past weekend received only cursory coverage: An obligatory, space-filling, seemingly random photo and scores from the previous day. Whether or not the statewide paper chose to send a writer out to the title game yesterday is anyone’s guess. I’d be surprised if they did.

What the Democrat-Gazette covered instead was bass fishing and mixed martial arts. They provided start-to-finish coverage of the national junior soccer tournament the previous week, which is as it should be, I suppose. Yet not one team in that tourney hailed from the state of Arkansas.

All nine American Legion teams in the state tournament this weekend at Burns Park were Arkansas teams. Three were from the Little Rock/North Little Rock metro area and another three were from towns within 60 miles of the Capitol city.

And yet, if I saw another media member these past four days, I wasn’t aware of it.

The television stations tend to ignore it just about as thoroughly, which is also a shame. Because, say what you want about the rigors of two-a-days during August football, the Legion boys sacrifice just about as much themselves, both physically and, given the strain of playing as many as 50 games in 60 days and as many as seven over five days in the tournament, mentally as well.

What I witnessed this past weekend at Vince DeSalvo Field at Burns Park was nothing short of amazing. With temperatures soaring toward 100 and heat indices well beyond that, these young men endured some real hardships. On Saturday, when the mercury climbed to 99, Little Rock Blue played two 9-inning games – one lasted nearly four hours.

Blue not only endured, they persevered, rallying from five runs down late in their second game of the day to take a lead in the eighth inning, only to lose it in the ninth and get eliminated. I would have thought human nature might have taken over late in that elimination game and Blue might have quickly and quietly played out the final two innings and rushed home to couches and air conditioners.
They did not.

And such fortitude was on display throughout the first four days of the tournament. What can you say about a pair of teams that take the field at 11:30 p.m. — as Bryant and Fayetteville did on Saturday night? They didn’t finish until two in the morning.

On Monday afternoon at 5 p.m., with temperatures pushing 105 and a heat index adding 10 more degrees to that, the Sylvan Hills Bruins took the field looking into the face of a tall, steep, shadeless mountain. To win state, they had to win two that day, and two more on Tuesday. And against the best competition in the state.

The Bruins dispatched Fort Smith with relative ease in the first game, but a fresh Fayetteville club – comprised not only of players from the 3-time defending state high school champions, but Springdale and Har-Ber as well, and whose lineup most likely includes some future Razorbacks – proved too much, especially when Bruin ace D.J. Baxendale had to come out with a sore elbow after four innings. Baxendale had fanned 11 at that point, but still trailed 2-1.

What was heartening to watch was the continued effort the Bruins put forth late in a game that appeared all but over when the Dodgers took a 9-1 lead into the eighth. There was Clint Thornton smacking a 2-out double and stealing third base, and there were Mark Turpin and Justin Treece running full speed to their positions after the inning ended.

All of this, plus the fact that baseball is still America’s top sport, would seem to demand better media coverage, especially when we reach state tournament time.

American Legion baseball is a godsend for community newspapers like ours during the slack summer season when sports stories are hard to find. That’s just one of the reasons I appreciate it, no matter how late into the night some of those early-July games run.

Coaches — many of whom work full-time jobs during the day — devote most of their summer to American Legion and the players, who otherwise might be lounging around a pool, fishing at a nearby lake or home watching music videos, are spending two-thirds of their vacation time at the ball park.

They deserve a whole lot better than what they’re getting.

SPORTS>> Bruins settle for third

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

The clock struck midnight on Sylvan Hills’ season a few minutes before 11 on Monday night — six hours after the Bruins’ took the field at Burns Park.

After staying alive with an easy 9-0 win over Fort Smith behind a 3-hitter from Ross Bogard, the Bruins fell to Fayetteville later in the evening and their season came up one win short of the American Legion senior state title game.

“It was a good season,” said Sylvan Hills head coach Mike Bromley. “The kids advanced and did well. We had a shot to win it, but we didn’t do what it took, so we ended up third.”

Jonesboro played Fayetteville late Tuesday for the championship.

The Bruins were facing an uphill battle after dropping a second-round game to Jonesboro on Saturday to fall into the loser’s bracket. That left Sylvan Hills looking at five games over three days against the best in the state.

The Bruins were right in the Fayetteville game early with D.J. Baxendale fanning 11 batters over four innings. But a first-inning error and a little bad luck had the Dodgers on top 2-0.

Sylvan Hills narrowed that gap to 2-1 with singles by Clint Thornton and Nathan Eller in the fifth, but things fell apart when Baxendale, suffering from a sore elbow, exited the game in the bottom of the fifth and Fayetteville responded with five runs to open up a 7-1 lead.

Even then, the Bruins appeared to have some life, but wasted a 1-out, bases-loaded opportunity in the seventh. It was the story of the night for Sylvan Hills, which stranded nine and had seven runners in scoring position with less than two outs and didn’t score any of them.

The fatigue of playing their fifth game in four days appeared to be a factor in a couple of first-inning miscues. Colton West drew a leadoff walk and went to second on a wild pitch. Chase Huchingson dropped a bunt down the first-base line but second baseman Matt Rugger was late covering first and Baxendale’s throw went down the right-field line as West scored.

Blake Roberts then chopped a 2-2 pitch over Garrett Eller at first for a run-scoring double. Baxendale got the next two on strikes to end the inning and begin a remarkable streak of seven straight strikeouts. The final 11 outs Baxendale recorded in the game were strikeouts as well as 11 of the 12 outs he recorded.

But Baxendale, who injured his elbow in throwing a complete game, 17-strikeout, 2-hitter against North Little Rock in the zone tournament last week, couldn’t make it out for the fifth.

Brandon Chastain entered and allowed five hits and five runs in the fifth. The Dodgers hit a couple of balls hard off Chastain, but also got a 2-run Baltimore-chop double from Andrew Thames and a bloop single over second that brought in two more.

Meanwhile, the Bruins were wasting precious opportunities. Mark Turpin walked and reached second with one out in the first. Rugger reached second with one out in the third and Baxendale reached third with no outs in the fourth after singling and going to third on a throwing error.

None scored. Baxendale tried to catch Fayetteville hurler Kyle Sargent unaware by taking off for home as the ball was returned from the catcher. But Sargent gunned him down.

Sylvan Hills finally broke through in the fifth when Thornton singled, stole second and scored on Eller’s single to center. Cody Cormier looped a 1-out single down the right- field line to put Eller on third. But Eller was thrown out trying to get back to the bag on Justin Treece’s sharp grounder to short.

Singles by Eller, Cormier and Treece loaded the bases with one out in the seventh, but again the Bruins came up empty.

Fayetteville finished with 11 hits and received six walks and a hit batsman. The Bruins managed eight hits, with six of those coming from the bottom of the order. Thornton, Eller and Cormier had two singles each.

Earlier in the evening, Ross Bogard delivered a single, double and home run to go along with a complete-game gem in Sylvan Hills’ 9-0 win over Fort Smith. Bogard allowed only three hits for the Bruins’ third 3-hitter of the tournament. Eller opened with a 3-hitter on Friday against Little Rock Blue and Chris Eastham tossed one on Sunday in a win over North Little Rock.

“Eastham’s been throwing good for us all year,” Bromley said. “Eller’s been doing a good job closing for us. And Bogard threw two good games — one in the district and one here. We knew we had some depth pitching.”

On Monday, Sylvan Hills got a 2-run double by Baxendale and a 2-run homer by Bogard to open up a 5-0 lead in the third against Fort Smith, then cruised to the easy victory. The Bruins belted 13 hits, including three each by Bogard and Baxendale.

Each drove in three runs.

Bogard struck out five, walked one and hit four.

JONESBORO 6, SYLVAN HILLS 4

On Saturday, the Bruins fell into the loser’s bracket in a loss to Jonesboro. Sylvan Hills managed just four hits, but nearly pulled it out with the help of wildness from Jonesboro pitching.

Jonesboro scored unearned runs in the first and second to take a 2-0 lead before a Cormier single and four consecutive walks tied it in the bottom half.

But a pair of home runs off Sylvan Hills starter Blaine Sims put Jonesboro back out in front, 5-2, and three singles made it 6-2 in the seventh.

Three walks, a hit batsman and Thornton’s sacrifice fly made it 6-4, but that was as close as the Bruins could get.

SYLVAN HILLS 6, NORTH LITTLE ROCK 1

Chris Eastham tossed a 3-hitter and Treece homered and scored three times as the Bruins eliminated the host team.

The Colts got two of their three hits with one out in the first when they scored their only run. The Bruins tied it with a 2-out rally in the third on Turpin’s single and stolen base and Bogard’s run-scoring single. Baxendale’s double in the fifth put the Bruins on top and Treece’s solo home run leading off the seventh made it 3-1.

Doubles by Eller and Turpin led to a 3-run eighth and Eastham finished it off with a 1-2-3 ninth.