Saturday, October 25, 2008

SPORTS>>Lady Bears take top seed into state tourney

Leader sportswriter

The Sylvan Hills Lady Bears went undefeated on their way to winning the 5A-East Conference championship. They took a 10-7 overall record and a 10-0 conference record to earn the No. 1 seed for next week’s 5A state tournament at Wynne. They will take on East No.4 seed Paragould at noon Wednesday.

The Lady Bears had lost to league foe Mills, but the Lady Comets were forced to give up a number of match wins due to having an ineligible player for the first half of the conference season. Sylvan Hills, along with North Pulaski, were both given wins over Mills, who had gone 5-0 up to that point.

The rematch against Mills was the Lady Bears’ chance to prove they deserved the crown, and they didn’t disappoint in a 3-0 sweep, including a blistering 25-5 clubbing in Game 1.

“I didn’t tell the girls that we had been given that win back,” Lady Bears coach Harold Treadway said. “I wanted them to go in there thinking that we still needed that win. We probably went out there and played the best we have all year.”

Sylvan Hills’ closest competition for the title down the stretch was North Pulaski, with the second meeting between the two teams to be played at the Falcons’ Nest. The Lady Falcons had suffered their second setback to Mills, which made it impossible for them to overtake SH for the title even with a win, but once again, it was information they would find out after the fact.

“I already had the championship plaque in my bag,” Treadway said. “We had a little bit of luck with our conference season, but we were very pleased with how things turned out.”

Senior leadership has made the difference down the stretch for the Lady Bears. Senior hitter Courtney Luth and middle blocker Kaci Willis performed consistently during the conference season. Treadway also praised Ashley Johnson, setter Nicole Goff and
Brooke Hoffman for their performance throughout the year.

“Lately everyone on the team has been playing really consistent,” Treadway said. “Brooke and Kaci went in and took over during that final match with North Pulaski.”

The Lady Bears went into last year’s tournament at Benton as a highly-touted No. 2 seed, but came home much sooner than expected with a crushing loss to Texarkana in straight games. Treadway doesn’t seem to think that same letdown will occur this year, but he is weary of the Lady Rams.

“My first comment to them at the first practice this year was how long of an off-season it had been for me, because it ended on such a bitter note,” Treadway said. “We didn’t play well, and I mean it was a total team effort to play that badly. I think that was a lesson to everyone not to go in thinking you have it all wrapped up because you’re the top seed. We have three seniors that played quite a bit of varsity last year, and I think they will pick it up some to avoid having to going through that again.”

The North Pulaski Lady Falcons finished second in the 5A-Southeast Conference. They will face East No. 3 seed Greene County Tech in the first round at 6 p.m.

The No. 3 Beebe Lady Badgers will take on host Wynne, the runners-up out of the 5A-East, on Tuesday at 4 p.m.


The Jacksonville Lady Red Devils squeaked into the postseason with a No. 5 seeding out of the 6A-East Conference. The Lady Red Devils now sit at 10-11, and finished their East campaign 5-7.

They will play South No. 4 seed Sheridan on Tuesday at noon in Mountain Home in the first round of the 6A state tournament.

It is a respectable showing for a team and coach still adjusting to each other. Head Lady Devil Justine Rial is not even a complete year out of college herself, and is leading Jacksonville to its second consecutive playoff appearance in only her first season as a coach and administrator.

“It’s been overwhelming at times,” Rial said. “And there are some things that I would do differently. I don’t think I would get an ‘A,’ but I don’t think I would get an ‘F’ either. Everything has gotten better from the beginning of the year up to now, every aspect of it.”

Jacksonville is led up front by junior all-sport threat Jessica Lanier, along with seniors Tyra Terry and Paula Burr. Bailee Herlacher starts at setter for the Lady Red Devils, with help from Chastity Robinson. Senior libero Raven Pickett leads the defensive backcourt for the Lady Red Devils.

“I think us not having a match until Tuesday will help us,” said Rial, whose Lady Devils had to finish the season with series of long-distance road matches. “I think we can be really good. We have good potential, and most of the teams in this tournament are very beatable.

The Cabot Lady Panthers finished with a 9-5 record in the 7A-Central Conference, enough to clinch the No. 5 seed for Next Week’s 7A state tournament at Springdale Har-Ber. Cabot will take on West No. 5 seed Fayetteville at 4 p.m. Tuesday. The winner of that match will face West Conference champs Bentonville, which received a first round bye. The finals for the 7A state tournament will be held at Conway on Saturday at 11 a.m.

The Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits are the No. 4 seed out of the 4A-Central region. The Lady ’Rabbits will play Northwest No. 1 seed Shiloh Christian on Tuesday at 4 p.m. in the first round of the 4A State tournament at Westside Consolidated.

SPORTS>>Wildcats get back on track, halt Riverview’s win streak

Special to The Leader

Approximately two miles separate the campuses of Harding Academy and Riverview High Schools. On Friday night at the Raiders’ home field, the 47-7 victory for the Harding Academy Wildcats made it appear the schools’ football programs are much farther apart.

Riverview, a first-year program, saw its record evened at 4-4 overall. The Raiders, who had won three in a row, dropped to 3-2 in league play.

The Wildcats, 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the 3A-2 Conference, led just 14-7 at halftime before returning two interceptions for touchdowns in the opening minutes of the second half. Without running an offensive play, Harding Academy had stretched its lead to 28-7 and the Raiders never recovered.

Under tremendous pressure, Riverview quarterback Grafton Harrell threw one ball up for grabs and another was released as he was being hit. The first was returned 40 yards by James Dillard for a score. On their next possession, the Raiders marched to the HA 22, aided by Harrell’s 26-yard run, before Jimmie Harper picked off an errant pass and outran everyone 85 yards for a 28-7 lead with 7:58 to go.

Harrell, a junior, injured his ribs on the play and did not return. In his absence, the Wildcats put the game completely out of reach.

“Their pressure on our quarterback was definitely the difference in the game,” Riverview coach Stuart Hill said afterward. “Every passing team Harding Academy plays, they’ve been able to get good pressure on the quarterback. We worked on it; we knew they were going to do it. We just couldn’t stop it.”

Hill said more would be known on Saturday about Harrell’s condition, but it was likely he would be ready for next Friday when the Raiders travel to Barton. Harding Academy came out quickly on offense, opening the game with a 5-play, 70-yard drive highlighted by a 24-yard completion from Matt Lincoln to Tate Benton that set up a 39-yard screen pass to Ty Finley for the score. Lincoln then hit Braxton Bennett on a 2-point pass for an 8-0 lead.
After a quick three-and-out for the Raiders, Harding Academy went right back to work, marching 67 yards in 12 plays.

Lincoln’s 10-yard pass to Dillard in the right corner of the end zone pushed the lead to 14-0 with 4:23 left in the opening quarter.

Lincoln, an all-state selection at quarterback last season, started for the first time this year at quarterback while sophomore starter Seth Keese nursed an ankle injury. Harding Academy coach Roddy Mote said the decision for Keese to sit was dictated by the Wildcats’ playoff plans.

“He has a bad ankle and we need to get people well for the playoffs,” Mote said. “We’re fortunate to have someone of Lincoln’s caliber to come in a do a great job the way he did.”

Lincoln, who has nursed a separated shoulder most of the season, normally starts at wideout. He completed 18-of-22 passes for 183 yards in the first half alone and finished 22-of-27 for 254 yards and 4 touchdowns. Nine different receivers caught passes for the Wildcats, led by Finley’s 6 catches for 69 yards.

After Harding Academy staked itself to the early 14-0 lead, Riverview came up with an answer. Harrell, who has topped 200 yards rushing in two different games this season, scampered nine yards on a 3rd-and-1 from the Riverview 49. Four plays later, Harrell connected with Zach Feagin for 14 yards on 4th-and-7 to keep the drive alive. On 3rd-and-10 from the Harding Academy 25, Harrell hit Ben Overstreet for 11 yards, setting up Harrell’s 14-yard touchdown run. Jared Dillard’s kick pulled Riverview to within 14-7 with 23 seconds left in the opening quarter.

The teams traded possessions before the Wildcats drove to the Riverview six in the closing seconds before the half. Lincoln fumbled at the 6, though, and the Raiders’ Chase Hunton came away with the recovery.

“We executed pretty well early,” Mote said. “After that, we had some penalties and turnovers that killed some drives. I thought we were in control the whole way, though.”

After the Wildcats returned the two interceptions for touchdowns and the ailing Harrell found a seat on the Raiders’ sideline, Braxton Bennett intercepted Jared Dillard’s pass to set up a 34-yard touchdown pass from Lincoln to Tyler Gentry. A quick Riverview punt led to the Wildcats’ most time-consuming drive of the night. Harding Academy drove 72 yards in 11 plays before Lincoln hit Corey Guymon with a 5-yard TD pass that pushed the lead to 41-7 after Zach Medley’s PAT.

Harding Academy tacked on a late TD run by Will Hardin, who went 20 yards with 46 seconds remaining.

Riverview managed just 182 total yards. Harrell finished 4-of-17 passing for 47 yards and ran for 73 yards on 11 carries.

Harding Academy rolled up 420 total yards. Hardin, who played just the final two possessions, led all rushers with 81 yards on 8 carries.

Hill avoided any moral victories to be found in the Raiders’ 14-7 halftime deficit.

“It’s nice that we were able to play a top-5 team for a half,” Hill said. “But, we’re always looking to see if we’re improving. At times, we can see how far we’ve come … but at other times, we realize we still have a long way to go.”

The Wildcats clinched their fifth consecutive playoff berth with the victory. The Wildcats travel to meet Brinkley next Friday.
Riverview travels to Barton for a game that likely will determine the third- and fourth-seed from the conference in the state playoffs.

SPORTS>>Devils miss chances, fall to Parkview

Leader sports editor

It was a night of futility for an otherwise game Jacksonville Red Devil football team at War Eagle Stadium on Friday night.
The Red Devils marched inside Parkview territory six times but cashed in only one of those opportunities and fell to the upstart Patriots 21-6.

“We did what we thought we had to do to win the ball game,” said Red Devil head coach Mark Whatley. “But if you don’t get it in the end zone, it’s all for nothing. We’ve got to learn to finish the fight. It’s a physical ball game and we’ve got to do a better job of finishing the fight.”

Parkview had plenty of fight and plenty of finish on Friday, getting 176 yards and two touchdowns from tailback Chris Giles, who accounted for more than half of the Patriots’ 353 total yards. Giles also had a reception for 13 yards.

The loss dropped the Red Devils to 3-2 in the 6A-East, a game behind 4-1 Parkview, which is enjoying its best season in years. The Pats’ lone loss this season came by a single point to Jonesboro.

Senior receiver Terrell Brown followed up his 4-touchdown performance last Friday night with another standout showing against Parkview, hauling in eight receptions for 119 yards.

“He’s had big games three weeks in a row,” Whatley said. “He’s really playing like you expect your seniors to play.”

But the Jacksonville running game mostly was non-existent. Patrick Geans was held in check with only 17 yards on eight carries. Keith Rodgers showed some flash with 43 yards on seven carries. But with quarterback Logan Perry getting sacked four times, the Red Devils could manage only 22 yards on 23 carries.

“We need to be a little more consistent (with pass protection),” Whatley said. “I don’t know if it was the offensive line or our backs weren’t picking up their blitz. We’ll have to look at the film to see.”

Jacksonville took the early lead. Demetris Harris picked off a fourth-down pass to thwart a promising opening drive by the Patriots and Perry marched the Devils down the field with three completions to Brown covering 56 yards. On the 11th play of the drive, Perry snuck across from a yard out.

A razzle-dazzle reverse on the extra-point try failed and Jacksonville lead 6-0 six seconds into the second quarter.

It took the Patriots only two minutes and five plays to claim the lead for good when they marched 57 yards. A 30-yard scamper to the 11 by Chris McClendon set up big Dominic “Choo-choo” Lucas for a 5-yard touchdown with 9:46 left in the half. The extra point gave Parkview a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, despite several deep threats by the Red Devils the rest of the way.

Nick Nowden’s interception of a Benjamin Anderson pass and 47-yard return to the Patriot 29 with 2 seconds left in the half gave the Red Devils a final shot before intermission. Interference in the end zone gave them yet another try from the 14. Perry hit Brown in the left flat, but Brown couldn’t shake free and was wrapped up at the 11 as time expired.

In the third period, the Devil defense stiffened and turned the Pats over on downs after they reached the Jacksonville 29. The Red Devils began another promising drive, with Rodgers finding a seam for 18 yards to the Pat 36. An intentional grounding put Jacksonville in a third-and-30 hole, from which it almost escaped when Brown took a tunnel screen 22 yards.

But a fourth down pass fell incomplete.

Parkview then needed two Giles’ runs to cover 65 yards. His 43-yard untouched touchdown run put Parkview up 14-6 with less than a minute remaining in the third period.

The Red Devils began a march which reached the Patriot 30. But Perry’s pass was picked off by Blake Vines, who returned it 47 yards to the Jacksonville 30. Four plays later and Parkview had surged to a 21-6 lead on Giles’ 6-yard run.

Jacksonville’s last gasp came on its next drive. Demetris Harris, who was held without a pass in the first half, grabbed a 22-yarder from Perry to set the Devils up on the 29. The Devils had a first down on the 16, but two sacks and an incompletion finished off the drive and Jacksonville.

“The defense played well enough for us to win tonight, no doubt about it,” Whatley said.

Harris finished with five catches for 48 yards. Perry went 19 of 34 for 203 yards with one interception. Jacksonville tallied 231 total yards.

The Red Devils, now 4-4 overall, host top-ranked West Memphis next Friday.

SPORTS>>Badgers put clamps on Mills in easy win

Leader sports editor

Beebe head coach John Shannon thinks that just maybe his Badgers have put the 41-14 Homecoming loss to Monticello two weeks ago behind them.

The Badgers appeared to, anyway, after playing what Shannon called their best game of the season in shutting down Mills 31-6 on Friday night at “Bro” Erwin Stadium.

“Yeah, I think it was the best on both sides of ball all year,” said Shannon, whose Badgers scored the first four times they had the ball and improved to 6-2 overall, 4-1 in the 5A-Southeast. “We had our best week of practice and the kids were really focused.”

Sammy Williams led the offensive assault with 134 yards on 29 carries. His 12-yard touchdown run put the Badgers up 7-0 with 2:59 left in the opening period.

The Beebe defense, which allowed a sometimes high-powered Mills offense only 59 total yards, had its only letdown of the game on the ensuing Comet possession. Mills’ score narrowed the lead to 7-6 four seconds into the second period, but Victor
Howell blocked the extra point to preserve the lead.

Williams scored from 13 yards with 5:14 left in the half, and Brandon Pursell scored from 10 yards out with 33 seconds remaining as Beebe took a 21-6 lead into the locker room.

With 6:10 left in the third, quarterback Roger Glaude scored from four yards, and Glaude added a 21-yard field goal in the final period to set the final margin.

In addition to Williams’ total, Pursell added 61 yards on 12 carries. Luke Gardner had 43 on 10 and Glaude carried eight times for 35 yards.

“Our dive play worked as well as it has all season,” Shannon said of the success Gardner and Pursell enjoyed. “The option worked early and really loosened things up.”

As for that Monticello fiasco, Shannon said it may be time to put it to rest.

“We played 3 ½ good quarters last week and four good quarters this week,” he said. “I think we got that bad taste out of our mouth. But it’s no easier next week.”

Beebe travels to White Hall for a 7 p.m. kickoff.

SPORTS>>Rabbits go to ground in win

Special to The Leader

Lonoke’s running game was so good on Friday night that the Rabbits didn’t have to pass out of the Spread in a 56-12 pasting of the Marianna Trojans.

The Jackrabbits ran the ball 31 times for 393 yards and six touchdowns against an overmatched Marianna defense.

“We thought we would be able to run the ball against them, but not like that,” Lonoke coach Jeff Jones said. “We saw some things on film during the week and once we got going they never really had an answer.”

The Jackrabbits improved to 5-0 in the 2-4A Conference, 7-1 overall. Lonoke struck first when Clarence Harris capitalized on a Terrell Washington interception. Harris scored from five yards out to give the Rabbits a 7-0 four minutes into the first quarter.

Marianna came right back with an answer as Elias Harris tossed a 15-yard touchdown pass to DeMarcus Price.

That was just about the last positive for the Trojans as Lonoke scored 42 unanswered points to control of the game from that point.

“It was really a team effort tonight,” Jones said. “There was no one standout player. Everybody did their job.”

Harris was the only Jackrabbit with multiple touchdowns. Harris had a six-yard scoring run in the second quarter and caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Rollins Elam in the third quarter.

Morgan Linton, Brandon Smith, Eric Graydon, Wes Plummer and Trenton Spencer all scored for Lonoke. Graydon and Spencer scored on 76- and 55-yard runs, respectively. Plummer scored on a 26-yard pass from Logan Dewhitt.

Defensively, Lonoke held the Trojans to 97 yards on the ground and 95 yards through the air.

The victory sets up a showdown with undefeated Stuttgart next Friday at Stuttgart.

“Stuttgart has a good offense and can give our defense a lot of problems. We’ve just got to keep pushing forward and trying to get better,” said Jones. “We still need to improve our tackling and fundamentals.”

SPORTS>> Long kickoff return deflates Bears

Leader sportswriter

The comeback that might have been for Sylvan Hills was quickly squashed by an 86-yard kickoff return and the Bears fell 36-20 to Monticello on Friday night at Bill Blackwood Field.

The Bears (4-4, 3-2 conf.) had just cut what was a 16-point lead at halftime to 23-20 on a pair of touchdown passes from Jordan Spears. It was a complete momentum turnaround from the first two quarters of play, until Brishen Mathews jetted down the middle of the field untouched to deflate Hillside on its homecoming.

“What got us was that kickoff return,” Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow said. “When that happened, it changed the game, because we needed to score twice with eight minutes to go. It put us in a situation we didn’t want to be in. We had to do whatever we had to do to win, and we had much rather gone with split backs and got down the field with play action, but we couldn’t do that in (12) minutes.”

The SH defense held its ground in the second half after the Billies racked up 240 yards on them in the first half. The Bears held them to only three first downs in the second half, the third coming on the exclamation touchdown drive for Monticello in the final minute.

“(We) gave up some big plays in the first half,” Withrow said. “It was like we weren’t ready to play. Then, in the second half, they came out and played real well. I thought we outplayed them in the second half, but the big plays are what we needed to stay away from. Without that kick return when it was 23-20, I would have liked to played it out from there.”

The Sylvan Hills offense breathed new life into the game to start the third quarter. Spears and company marched 66 yards in six plays to start the half, with Spears finding Ahmad Scott on a 20-yard touchdown pass at the 9:53 mark. Tanner Janssen added the point-after to make it 23-14.

Monticello (6-2, 5-0 conf.) went three and out on its ensuing drive, which set up another Bears scoring drive starting at their own 35.

It took 14 plays to cross the goal line this time, including a wild play that began with Juliean Broner snagging a Spears pass on third and 22 at the Billie 32-yard line. Broner rumbled close to the first-down marker, but a Monticello defender knocked the ball loose. It rolled downfield seven yards before Scott finally managed to chase it down and fall on it just before the Billie defenders got to it to keep the drive alive.

Spears took advantage and converted again, finding senior receiver Taylor Pennington on a 10-yard pass with 12 seconds left until the end of the third quarter. Janssen was wide on the point after try, and the score stayed 23-20, but not for long.

“I told my defensive coordinator, ‘I apologize for putting your defense back out there.’” Monticello head coach Van Paschal said of Mathews’ game-changing kick return. “He said, ‘No problem, we’ll take it.’ If not, you see where we were at, I mean, it was just nip and tuck. Hopefully we’ll learn from this and know that you have to play four quarters of football every time you step out on the field no matter who you play.”

The Billies got off to an early lead when a botched punt by Sylvan Hills on its first possession gave Monticello the ball at the 8.

The Bears forced Monticello to settle for three on that drive, but a 31-yard touchdown pass from reserve quarterback Joe Carmichael to Mathews in the final 30 seconds of the first quarter made it 10-0.

Carmical called his own number with 6:20 left in the half on a 1-yard sneak for the Billies third score of the night to make it 17-0.

The Bears finally found an answer with 3:51 left in the second quarter when Spears hit Scott for his first of two touchdown receptions.

But Monticello answered with 37 seconds left in the half on a 2-yard run by Trey Hawkins to carry a 23-7 lead into the locker room.

Spears was 10 of 16 passing for 116 yards and three touchdowns. He also had 14 carries for 62 yards. Lawrence Hodges added 53 yards on seven carries. The Bears finished with 255 yards total offense. They had 13 first downs.

The Billies ended up with 293 total yards.

The Bears take on McClellan next Friday.

SPORTS>> Panthers stifle Bryant

Special to The Leader

Bryant’s best drive was its first, but it came up empty. Cabot didn’t blow the doors down on offense either, but the Panthers did enough to earn a 14-0 victory Friday night over the visiting Hornets and stay in the race for a 7A-Central conference championship.

The Cabot defense dominated the second half, especially at the line, while the offense scored once in each half to get the win.

“I thought coming into tonight that this was the best team we’ve faced all year,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “They may not have the speed of some other teams, but they’ve got some good athletes and they play hard. They made it hard on us tonight.”
Cabot made it even harder on Bryant. Hornet quarterback Jimi Easterling was carried off the field late in the opening drive and didn’t return. Easterling’s injury came on the 15th play of the drive. Running back Chris Rycraw got five more yards on third and eight to set up a 20-yard field goal attempt, which was no good.

That drive went 72 yards. The Hornets gained just 61 yards the rest of the game, including just four total yards in the second half.

“Losing their quarterback definitely hurt them,” Malham said. “That opening drive ate up seven minutes off the clock. They got down there and we finally held them and they missed that field goal. That was big.”
Cabot didn’t pounce offensively after the big defensive stop. In fact, the two teams traded two three-play drives each before the Panthers finally put some offense together.

The Panthers went 85 yards for the score on their third drive after coming out of the Dead T. Cabot split two wide to one side with one running back and often included the tight end in the pass routes. Four eligible receivers is not a common practice for Cabot, but they stayed in the formation throughout the drive. Quarterback Seth Bloomberg went four-for-four passing on the drive. The last completion went for 8 yards to Hunter Hess and set up first and goal at the 1-yard line. From there, fullback Michael James scored with 4:31 left in the second quarter to put Cabot up for good.

Bryant put together a 50-yard drive and got to the Cabot 38-yard line before a sack by Jay Turpin created third and 16 and effectively disrupted Bryant’s momentum.

The sack at the end of the first half was a foreshadowing of the entire second half. A half that saw Bryant run 12 plays in four drives. That’s four, three-and-out series that totaled four yards for the whole half. Cabot’s front four of Turpin, Kyle Deblock, T.J. Bertrand and Cody Myers bulldozed Bryant’s offensive line the entire half, getting three more sacks along the way.

Rycraw, who had 58 yards on his first 11 carries, finished with 22 carries for 77 yards. He rushed four times for nine yards in the second half.

“Our defense did a great job in the second half,” Malham said. “(Rycraw) is a great running back. Boy the first drive we couldn’t find him, but we put a clamp on him in the second half. We got good pressure on the quarterback. It probably helped that they didn’t have their starting quarterback, but our defense was probably part of the reason they couldn’t get anything.”

Cabot’s offense sputtered to start the second half, and 36 yards on 11 plays for naught on its second drive. Finally, again on the third possession of the half, the Panthers put it together and marched 69 yards for a score.

The drive was kept alive by the passing game. The Panthers went back to the Dead T in the second half, but pulled out more spread formation at times. One of those times just after a rash of penalties threatened to stall the drive. Facing third and 18 from the Bryant 40, Bloomberg rolled left and found receiver Justin Wortman open downfield for a 35-yard pick-up to make it first and goal. Halfback Wesley Sowell picked up four on first down, and James punched it in from the 1 to give the Panthers some cushion.

Bloomberg led Cabot offensively. He rushed twice for nine yards, and completed seven of 10 pass attempts for 90 yards.

James carried 26 times for 84 yards and Wortman was the game’s leading receiver with two catches for 52 yards. Cabot finished with 231 total yards.

The Panthers improve to 7-1 overall and 4-1 in conference play. They stay a game behind undefeated Russellville, who beat Catholic 17-10 last night. Cabot travels to Van Buren next week. Bryant fell to 5-3 and 2-3 in league play. They will host North Little Rock.

Friday, October 24, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Vote no on Act 1

From the Salem Witch Trials forward, America’s wonderful history has taught us from time to time that it is a terrible mistake to make law from narrow religious doctrine. Initiated Act 1, which is on the Arkansas ballot, will be another such mistake if voters ratify it.

The Arkansas Family Council, whose angry agenda targets gay and lesbian people for punishment, put the proposal on the ballot. It would prevent judges and child welfare people from ever allowing an unmarried couple to adopt a child or serve as custodial parents for neglected and abused children.

Denying unmarried couples the pleasure of rearing needy children is one thing. It is questionable whether they have a constitutional right under the equal-protection clause to raise children on the same basis as married couples. But punishing children is quite another matter, and that is what Initiated Act 1 would do.

The Family Council thinks that God does not like gay people or unmarried couples and doesn’t want them around children. We are not sure of God’s feelings about human sexual proclivities, but we do remember the Redeemer’s keen interest in the welfare of children.

Who has not by now had their fill of horrible news about children left in the state’s care by abusive, neglectful or absent parents? More than 3,700 are in the state’s custody on any given day but there are so few ready and able parents to take custody of them that only about 1,100 are in foster homes. The rest are warehoused in group homes and shuttled from one unhappy place to another. Every few months, a death or a prosecution for severe abuse is reported. Arkansas has one of the highest rates of transfer of these poor children in the country.

Initiated Act 1 would perpetuate the situation and make it even worse by rigidly restricting the ability of judges to find the best home for the children.

This all started with a foster-care board appointed by former Gov. Mike Huckabee. It adopted the Family Council’s agenda of eliminating gay couples from serving as foster parents even if there was no better option or any other option at all. The Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously struck down the rule but the Department of Human Services has kept it in practice and expanded it to bar any couple that is not legally married for whatever reason — until last week. Child-welfare officials, pediatricians, social workers and others pleaded with the department to end the practice so that more sorrowful children could get into caring homes. Gov. Beebe finally had enough. He let the department know that its only standard should be what is best for the children.

But if Initiated Act 1 passes, those narrow restrictions will be the law again.

Thirteen retired judges, including three former chief justices, signed a statement opposing Act 1. They had had to deal personally with the heart-rending cases of these unhappy children, for whom the chances of having a loving home are so sparse and growing ever sparser.

Here is what the judges wrote: “The choices available to neglected and abused children and to the judges who must find homes for them are already tragically limited by the children’s circumstances. Instead of imposing a blanket rule that would apply to every case, the needs of these children and the best means of satisfying their needs, should be left to elected judges to decide on a case-by-case basis.”

The state ought to do more for these children, but at the moment defeating Initiated Act 1, as the judges suggested, is the best we can we do for them.

TOP STORY > >Toxic chemicals worry counties

Leader senior staff writer

Some Lonoke and Prairie county residents say their counties will get the torn-up roads and chemicals in groundwater, but none of the benefits when toxic mud from gas drilling in the Fayetteville Shale is dumped in their rural neighborhood.

They feel like a dry county that gets the roadside beer cans while a neighboring wet county gets the revenues from alcohol sales.

In a special meeting Tuesday night, the Lonoke County Quorum Court joined the Prairie County Court and unanimously approved a resolution encouraging the state Department of Environmental Quality to deny a permit for the dumping of the mud on Prairie County farmland.

In part, the resolution says that permit requirements are “insufficient in its preconditions and protections for protecting groundwater” and that there had been insufficient analysis of current facilities.

The permit applicants are Charles Waters, who owns the land, and two Cabot residents, Bill Baldwin and Karlos Herd.

Cherie Spence Dulany, a Lonoke County resident who lives near the site, told the quorum court that by the time the dump site is completely built out, including acreage across the road in Lonoke County, there could be 120 trucks a day, seven days a week. That’s one truck every 12 minutes, according Leon Miles, who lives in the area. Miles is former superintendent of the Carlisle School District and assistant superintendent at Cabot.

Arsenic, lead, mercury and chloride are among the chemicals that ADEQ would have to test for, Miles noted. If the salt gets into the wells used to pump irrigation water for rice and other crops, it will be destructive for area farmers, he said.

“Ground water in this area is important for farming and minnow farming,” Miles said. The dumping ponds and area where the waste will be spread is in the drainage of the Wattensaw Bayou, which in turn drains into the White River and the White River Wildlife Management Area, he said.

“It looks like they’ll come in off Hwy. 12 in Lonoke County, dump the waste and come back empty in Prairie County,” Miles said. He said weight limits in Prairie County would force the loaded trucks to come in over a chip-seal road in Lonoke, past 24 houses, a ball park and three school bus routes in the two counties. “We’re concerned about the safety of our citizens,” he said. Friday was the final day for public comments before ADEQ makes its decision.

Sam Ledbettor of the McMath Wood law firm in Little Rock was finishing his comments for ADEQ Friday morning. Miles said he had used the state Freedom of Information Act to get reports of numerous violations at 13 other similar disposal sites in the state.

TOP STORY > >Taxes are theme in Dist. 42

Leader staff writer

Reducing taxes is central to the platform of both candidates seeking office in the state House of Representatives’ District 43 – Republican Steve Meckfessel and Democrat Jim Nickels, both of Sherwood.

The seat is being vacated by Rep. Jeff Wood, who is term-limited.
Meckfessel, 40, is a small-business owner, in partnership as a builder and owner of rental properties. He said that his experience since 1990 as a business person has been “discouraging” from a tax standpoint. “Overtaxed,” he decided to run for office to “create and leave a legacy” for his 5-year-old son, so that Arkansas is more hospitable to business. He wants to help craft a comprehensive package that would include a reduced state income tax, and elimination of taxes on food, manufacturing and utilities. He believes the lost revenue to the state would easily be replaced by economic growth stimulated by the cuts.

“It has proved itself over and over again—the money remaining in the market generates more tax revenue for the state through more jobs,” Meckfessel said.

Another priority for Meckfessel is recruitment of more business and industry to Arkansas.

“I would like to see Arkansas be more business friendly to outside industry as a base to create more jobs and revenue,” he said.

Nickels, 61, would also like to change the state tax structure, with the elimination of the grocery tax and some protections to older citizens, so that they are not paying property taxes on their homes that are disproportionately higher than market values. As a result of the burst real estate bubble, property values are already coming down in some areas of the state, Nickels said, and adjustments in taxes would help retirees on fixed incomes.

Nickels is interested in more affordable health insurance for the public sector. Currently, public entities – city and county governments, school districts and universities and other agencies – buy independently or via a pool from an affiliated organization such as the Municipal League. It is “just common sense,” Nickels said, that consolidated, a state-coordinated effort with a much larger pool of insured would bring about better rates.

Nickels teaches business law at the UALR’s College of Business and has a part-time law practice, specializing in employee discrimination. He said that he decided to run for office because he is “at the stage in life that I feel I can devote time and the experience and education I’ve gained over the years so that I can deal with a lot public policy issues that the state is facing.”

TOP STORY > >Villines,Wyrick trade barbs

Leader staff writer

Republican Phil Wyrick is making the perpetually troubled county jail and the quality of Central Arkansas’ water supply top issues in his campaign to unseat Pulaski County Judge F.G. “Buddy” Villines.

Democrat incumbent Villines, who has been the county judge since 1991, contends that Wyrick is making unfair accusations about his record and leadership. He says that he has a solid plan to increase jail bed space and protect Lake Maumelle, the source of drinking water for two thirds of the nearly half million people living in the Little Rock metropolitan area.

Wyrick says that Villines has been too slow to take action on the Lake Maumelle Watershed Management Plan, which was unanimously adopted by the Central Arkansas Water Commission in Feb- ruary 2007. He faults Villines for not pushing the quorum court to do the same and adopt the recommendations set forth in the plan. He contends that the pristine lake is imperiled, without regulations to curb money-hungry developers who don’t care about water quality.

“This is the moment. If we don’t act, the opportunity will be lost forever,” Wyrick maintains.

The quorum court’s adoption of the watershed-management plan would be “meaningless,” says Villines, because the plan is only a set of recommendations with no provisions for regulation or enforcement. That takes the action of government entities, which must formulate subdivision ordinances, and then craft a land- use plan as a basis for zoning ordinances.

When watershed management was being researched and the report written a few years ago, Villines says, “Nobody asked [the county government] about enforcements, but we lack the human infrastructure to make it happen. Without that, it is a false promise. My opponent doesn’t explain how he would do that, but I know something about zoning. I was the city of Little Rock’s first zoning-enforcement officer while attending night law school, and I have taken courses in land-use law.”

A subdivision ordinance for the Lake Maumelle watershed, Villines says, is now ready for review by the quorum court and planning commission, after more than a year of work by the staffs of the county government and Central Arkansas Water.

“This will provide immediate protections by setting scientific standards for how you develop property – for things like runoff, absorption rates and development on slope,” Villines said.

Jonathan Long, CAW’s watershed administrator, confirmed that the draft ordinance is now completed.

“We finally have a draft ordinance that we are relatively comfortable with,” Long said.

“The water commission feels it will protect water quality as the plan intended it to be. They support the staff in what they’ve done.”

Long said that a similar ordinance-development plan is just starting with the government of Saline County, which includes part of the Lake Maumelle watershed.

Long emphasized that formal adoption and enforcement have not yet occurred, and that the draft is but a “good first step.” He expressed some regret that the ordinance will not contain everything he wished for, but is pleased that it would bar surface releases of waste water into the lake, a critical safeguard for water quality. This would prohibit discharges of water from “mini” treatment facilities located in the watershed. Instead, untreated or treated water would be routed out of the watershed to another wastewater system.

“Central Arkansas doesn’t realize what a valuable resource Lake Maumelle is,” Long continued. “It is a textbook pristine drinking reservoir with no surface discharges, and we want to protect that.”

Wyrick also faults Villines for the chronic shortage of beds at the county jail and calls a collapsed roof at the jail last spring that required closure of a wing (now reopened) “a lack of attention to detail” on Villines’ part, “a reflection on how this county government has taken care of things.”

He faults Villines for allowing county government agencies to use up a $12 million surplus that existed when he took office. He says he would veto budgets to control spending if he were county judge.

Wyrick says Villines’ priorities are wrong, and that if elected his priorities will be public safety, fire protection, road-maintenance and repairs and garbage pickup.

“Things like the Big Dam Bridge are wonderful things that enhance our community, but that should not be at the expense of public health and public safety,” Wyrick said.

Villines says he deserves another term because “we have done a lot of things to create a community where people want to live, work, and play,” and that is essential for economic development.

As for the jail crowding, Villines vows there will be 240 to 250 beds added to the jail next year, and that crime prevention efforts will be stepped up.

Both he and Wyrick agree that crime is a problem that communities “can’t just build their way out of.”

As for the depleted surplus, Villines said $3.5 million was used to open the new jail constructed during his tenure. But because there was no sales tax to fund operations, the surplus was drained as revenues just could not keep pace with the ever-growing demand for beds.

He allows that he should have perhaps at times taken a firmer lead in reigning in spending, but points out that he does not have the authority of a “strong mayor,” as some constituents believe.

To the idea of vetoing a proposed budget as a way to accomplish that, Villines remarked, “Veto the whole budget? And close the jail? Would you do that? That is just not politically realistic, with 15 quorum court members, all lobbied by the 24 agency heads.”

Wyrick says that he feels for law enforcement officers who are fed up with trying to keep criminals off the street.

“These guys are in a bind, and non-violent crime is soaring – there is no place to lock up – “only catch and release,” he said. He says he would need two terms – four years in all – to solve the jail crowding problem, “or you don’t need me anymore.”

Wyrick served three terms in the state House of Representatives, one term in the state Senate, and for more than 30 years has been a small business owner in cattle farming and bathroom-fixture manufacturing.

He served five years as the head of the Livestock and Poultry Commission under Gov. Mike Huckabee. He attended Ouachita Baptist University and University of Arkansas-Fayetteville and majored in speech and political science. He lives in Mabelvale.

TOP STORY > >Cabot to see higher budget in ’09

Leader staff writer

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams introduced his $8.4 million budget for 2009, up from $7.8 million in 2008, to four of the city’s eight aldermen Thursday night, saying budgets should be tied to a vision for the future.

With that in mind, he proposed setting aside $77,250 for a new fire station, $60,000 for a new fire truck, which will be added to the $60,000 set aside in 2008, and $350,852 to start a city-operated garbage and trash service if bids from the private sector come in next month higher than he thinks residents should pay.

“We cannot let ourselves be at the mercy of garbage collection bidders,” the mayor said. He explained that his proposal could help hold that bidding down.

“We don’t really want to be in the garbage business but we don’t want to pay bigger bills either,” he said.

The proposed budget also includes across the board 4.8 percent pay raises for most employees and an additional $100,000 for the parks, bringing the total to $350,000. That is the same amount the council approved this year to help cover expenses after running the new community center proved to be more costly than anticipated.

Alderman Eddie Cook, chairman of the Cabot Advertising and Promotion Commission, which helps fund parks, said the council understands the challenges faced by parks. But he said there must be good communication between the city and parks, which is run by an autonomous commission.

Alderman Ed Long agreed, saying he wants to see the budget for parks so he will know how the $350,000 will be spent.

Scandals, including embezzlement by a bookkeeper and non-payment of $200,000 for federal income taxes withheld from employees’ paychecks, kept parks in the news this year and were the reason for an ongoing investigation by the state police.

Larry Tarrant, hired as director in the spring, assured the aldermen that he would keep them in the loop about the parks, but warned that memberships at the community center is down because of the downturn in the economy.

The proposed budget also includes $10,000 to pay part of the estimated $30,000-$40,000 to move the dispatchers at the police station into a more isolated part of the building.

Williams told council members, “It’s a security issue and we may come back and ask for more.”

But Alderman Ed Long said it would be better to put all the money in upfront and then reimburse the general fund if the grants come through that Police Chief Jackie Davis hopes will help pay for the project.

Long praised the animal shelter that has been under new management for much of the year and is also now the headquarters for code enforcement.

Jason Ellerbee, head of animal control and code enforcement, has made many improvements there including assigning cleaning and animal care to community-service workers sentenced to work off fines for misdemeanor offenses.

“We don’t have a dog pound anymore,” Long said. “We have an animal shelter.”

He encouraged those present for the budget meeting to see for themselves. “Go look at it. He’s doing a remarkable job.”

TOP STORY > >Talks on schools stalled

Leader senior staff writer

“I don’t want to slam hope,” state Rep. Will Bond said Friday of efforts to settle the desegregation agreement, “but the state has put forward a reasonable offer to wind the case down and no substantial effort has been made by the districts to wind it up.”

Pulaski County Special School District, North Little Rock School District and Little Rock School District are parties to the 1989 desegregation agreement. The pact has cost the state about $60 million a year in additional funding and has cast a shadow over all aspects of district operations.

The Little Rock School District has been declared unitary — desegregated — but the Joshua Intervenors have challenged that designation by U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson and the case has languished before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Bond said he is 90 percent to 95 percent sure that Wilson’s ruling will be upheld, and he believes the appeal will be settled by year’s end.

Meanwhile, “the whole case is stalled out,” Bond said.

Judge Wilson has said he would not hold additional hearings until that case is settled, Bond said.

“It’s affecting negotiation for a settle ment. Nobody feels the sense of urgency we would like them to feel, either to get this litigated or settled.”

Bond said Act 395 of 2007 offers financial incentives in the form of as much as $250,000 in attorneys’ fees if it’s settled by Dec. 31.

“I thought it was a generous offer and a reasonable way to conclude the case,” Bond said, “but I don’t know if we’ve had a good faith effort on the districts’ part.

“The idea was to have a carrot-and-stick approach. Out of the three, Pulaski County is the most sincere in wanting to wrap this up, but it’s going to take all three districts and the intervenors.”

State assistance isn’t going to go on forever, he said. “I think they feel it’s an entitlement that will continue as long as they want,” he said of the desegregation funding.

“I think this is incentivized improperly. If the districts don’t get out of the desegregation agreement, they keep getting money.

If they do, the money gets cut off.”

Bond said he believed all three districts were “Legally compliant and unitary.”

Failure to resolve the desegregation case doesn’t preclude Jacksonville from having its own district, he said.

Jacksonville’s most recent attempt was turned back when the PCSSD went to court to block a vote on the issue, but earlier this year, the board unanimously endorsed the idea of a stand-alone Jacksonville district.

“The whole idea of the desegregation agreement was to create equal opportunity for African- American students. What’s in the best interest of all students in our area is for Jacksonville to have its own district. They’ll have improved buildings almost immediately,” he said.

Meanwhile, Asst. Attorney Gen. Scott P. Richardson has sent a letter to the three districts calling their proposals unacceptable on several counts including the proposal that the districts continue to split $70 million a year for seven years during the phase-out of state funding.

“I was disappointed in the tenor and tone (of the letter)” said Sam Jones, PCSSD’s attorney for desegregation matters. “I don’t know why they have to posture. It’s just politics.

“We are working on a refined analysis of what we’ve been spending the money for and how we will adjust to the loss of the money and what programs are necessary to continue to be funded during and after the phase- out,” Jones said.

“Folks in Jacksonville have a stake in the outcome of the negotiations,” he said. “They’ll receive the pro-rata share of settlement.”

The Pulaski district is working hard to try to negotiate an arrangement satisfactory to the state, according to Jones. “My job is to listen, make suggestions and bring the best deal we can get … to the board and see if they agree.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

TOP STORY > >City has few negatives in recent survey

Leader staff writer

Most Jacksonville residents give the city a B grade according to the results of a telephone survey conducted by Opinion Research Associates.

The most recognizable aspect of Jacksonville is the Little Rock Air Force Base and most people would come to town to visit the military museum, according to the survey.

The survey shows that 51 percent of residents would grade Jacksonville a B, another 15 percent give the city an A, while only 2 percent of residents rate the city an F.

The survey, commissioned by the Sells Advertising Agency which was hired by the Jacksonville Advertising and Promotion Commission to help promote and market the city, also surveyed Pulaski County residents outside of Jacksonville and state residents outside of Pulaski County.

Statewide, 51 percent of those surveyed thought Jacksonville was a good place to live or visit, while 74 percent in the county thought likewise. Only 2 percent of statewide residents and 1 percent of county residents said they were not impressed by Jacksonville.

“Your negatives are very, very low,” Mike Sells told the commission at a meeting Monday night. “And that’s a good thing. It’s easier to convince people you are good if you don’t have to convince you’re not bad,” he said.

The survey also showed that a large chunk of people in the county and statewide have no opinion or knowledge of Jacksonville.
Statewide, 40 percent had no opinion; in the county that dropped to 13 percent.

“That’s also good news,” Sells said. “It means, especially at the state level, that we have a blank canvas we can paint.”

When state residents were asked what was the first thing that came to their minds when they heard the word Jacksonville, nearly half had no response or no idea, but 34 percent said the air base, while 2 percent thought of the air show and another 2 percent recognized the city for its car dealerships.

Out of the county residents surveyed, 51 percent said the air base, while 18 percent offered no opinion, 5 percent mentioned the car dealerships, 2 percent said the air show, 1 percent mentioned the Vertac/dioxin problems that plagued the city nearly 20 years ago, and 1 percent thought of the Unique Furniture ads.

One-third of state residents said they had been shopping in Jacksonville in the past six months, and 91 percent said shopping in Jacksonville was a good experience.

Nearly half the county residents surveyed had shopped recently in Jacksonville, and 90 percent had good experiences in the city.

A vast majority of state and county residents surveyed were not aware of the quality of hotels, food or activities in the city.
“More than 80 percent of those statewide residents had no idea of local hotel accommodations, 70 percent didn’t know about the restaurants and 85 percent couldn’t think of activities to do in Jacksonville,” he said.

At the county level, 66 percent didn’t know about the hotels, 50 percent didn’t know about the restaurants and 63 percent didn’t know about the activities.

“That’s the clean slate we are talking about,” Sells said, and it gives the ad agency an opportunity to mold the public’s opinion.
When state and county residents were asked if a state-of-the art community center, the aquatic park or the military museum would make them more likely to visit, the military museum took top honors.

Nearly 30 percent of state and county residents said they would visit because of the museum.

“I’m just so glad to hear that, and that falls in line with our steady increase of visitors,” said Joan Zumwalt, with the group that runs the museum.

The city’s water park sparked the interest of 17 percent of state residents and 22 percent of county residents.

The community center ran almost the same, peaking the interest of 17 percent of state residents and 20 percent of county residents.

Of the Jacksonville residents surveyed, 49 percent ranked the city’s hotels as good or excellent, 62 percent ranked the restaurants as good to excellent and 46 percent said the availability of activities was good to excellent.

But still 2 percent of the city residents surveyed gave the city an F. What did they find fault with?

According to the individual surveys, the most important thing Jacksonville could do to improve life for its residents is to bring in more jobs, and not just more jobs, but better jobs.

This was followed by suggestions to get better schools, fix up schools or get its own school district.

The ad agency and commission will use the findings to help develop a plan to better market the city.

For survey results, Opinion Research Associates called 200 city residents, 200 county residents who did not live in the city and 200 state residents who did not live in the county.

The survey had a margin of error of 7.1 percent.

TOP STORY > >Hunker down in hard times

Leader staff writer

Carefree spending is out, frugality is in. That is the mindset among average folks around town as they hunker down for uncertain times ahead. Those most strapped for cash are cutting back on essentials or looking to the local food bank and pawn shop to make ends meet. Some are making plans to garden to save on food costs.

“To me it is terrible – I don’t get much of anything anymore; it’s too expensive,” says Harold Newman of Lonoke. “They are trying to bail the stock market out; one day it’s good, the next day, bad. Who knows what is going to happen tomorrow. They are bailing out the rich folks, but who is going to bail the taxpayers out? They’re doing nothing for the working people. We’re right where we were before this happened.”

Newman, who once did maintenance and construc tion work but is now retired, says growing some of his food “helps out a lot” with the grocery bills.

He is still enjoying this year’s Crowder and purple-hull peas and plans for another garden next spring. He hopes to further cut food costs by getting a deer this hunting season.

Robbie Reeves of north Pulaski County is also thinking about a garden and meanwhile stocking up on store-bought food, just in case there are local shortages. She considers herself and her husband, David, among the lucky ones – “not one of those Wall Street folks” – and feels for friends and family who have seen retirement account values plummet recently.

To ride out possible rough times head, the Reeves are all about being debt-free with as few expenses as possible. Their advice to their three grown children is no frivolous spending, pay off the credit cards and mortgage.

“Get out of debt – don’t let anything hold you down,” Reeves said. “We’ve cut back on spending everywhere we could to save money.”

Eliminating their home phone line was an easy step that saved the family $80 a month. “We hardly ever used it, anyway,” Reeves said.

Crystal Morgan of Jacksonville says that she is “totally spending a lot less” and now deprives herself of indulgences such as a special lotion. “I am pretty much just doing the basics – going to work and coming home.”

Shanara Young-Cox had been a stay-at-home mom until recently, but her husband’s line of work is one of those hit hardest by the economic downturn – selling cars. So she had to take a part-time job, something she regrets having to do, since it means time away from their 9-month-old son.

She is looking ahead to better times by furthering her college education.

Meanwhile, she “minimizes trips to the store – I try do all at one time” – and economizes with WIC vouchers for baby formula and less-expensive selections. Now, she buys more turkey than beef and store and generic brands instead of name brands.

“At one point, I never would have thought I’d do that, but it does help,” Young-Cox said.

It is a little early yet to be seeing any significant impact on his business, says Mike Luter, the owner of Medicine Shoppe in Jacksonville. But Karen Adams, who works at the pharmacy, says that she “hears people say that they’ve had to cut back to afford their drugs.”

A few doors away, at Jackson Square Antique Gallery, a 50 percent-off sale in jewelry was under way, but sales in furniture were up.

“We’ve experienced a slowdown like everyone has,” said owner Jack Riggs. “People are looking for the best buy and are being more prudent in their buying. Furniture continues to move; people have to have it. But luxury items – glassware, jewelry – are really off.”

“We’ve come back before. I can’t help but believe we’ll come back again,” Riggs said. “We’re going to recover. That’s the American way. Everything will work out.”

Perhaps the best gauge of economic stress in the community has been happenings at a local pawn shop.

Long before recent upheavals in the stock market, consumer behavior was changing at Jacksonville Pawn and Loan as everyday necessities got more expensive. Not just the poor and unemployed come there for quick cash. The store’s owner talked about recent trends, a man sharply attired in a military uniform came in to get an item out of hock. Soon after, a woman in a business suit driving a shiny SUV with an Eddie Bauer logo entered the store with a piece of gold jewelry in hand.

Larry, who prefers to keep his last name private for security reasons, says he’s seen big changes in his business as folks struggle to make ends meet. Like storeowner Riggs, he is encountering more bargain hunters for certain items that shoppers in better times would buy new – high-dollar plasma televisions, for example. And, more folks are bringing in their computers to pawn, he noted, and more than half who’ve pawned items are late getting them back.

So the store is full and Larry’s cash flow has slowed, forcing him to go to the bank for working capital, something he did not do once last year. He tries to cut customers some slack on what they owe. He understands times are tough. What goes around comes around, he says.

“I have always been real liberal with people. Gas prices are down now, but they have already hurt a lot of people who have to drive to work in Little Rock. In the last two months, I have had more people come in asking for $5 or $10, but with nothing to pawn, than I have had in the last four or five years. I am better off than a lot of people, but it could happen to me.”

Around the corner at the Care Channel thrift store, business has picked up, as “more and more people are looking for bargains,” said Peggy Ness, director of volunteers and operations. Also rising are requests for food assistance from the organization’s food pantry. Donations from Arkansas Rice Depot are down, so the organization is buying more of what it gives away.

“I see a really big need out there,” Ness said.

TOP STORY > >Banks here doing well, says state supervisor

Leader senior staff writer

Even amidst bankruptcies, bailouts and fire sales of some of the legendary names in banking—Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers, for instance—commercial banks in Arkansas are doing well, state Bank Commissioner Candace A. Franks told Jacksonville Rotarians on Monday.

She said that these were challenging times, even for the locally owned and regulated commercial banks, with decreased profitability.

“We’re not immune from the decelerating economy and lack of confidence,” Franks said, but Arkansas-based banks held relatively few sub-prime mortgages.

Local banking concerns are more about Main Street than Wall Street, she said.

“Looking ahead, a slowing economy and lack of credit likely will continue to negatively impact commercial real estate activity,” she said, citing the National Association of Realtors.

Franks said that nationally, the Federal Insurance Deposit Corp. was monitoring 117 problem institutions as of June 30—an increase of 41 since the end of 2007, but a small fraction of the 1,430 problem institutions at the end of 1991, when the banking industry was in a period of pronounced crises.

The only Arkansas bank that failed this year was ANB Financial in northwest Arkansas, which was not regulated by the state.

“Fortunately, most commercial banks in Arkansas remain well managed and well capitalized, and in a strong position to withstand a downturn in the business cycle,” Franks said.

Arkansas-based financial institutions have more than $41 billion in deposits, she said.

Nationwide, the number of commercial banks has declined steadily over the last 20 years, dropping nearly 50 percent from 13,419 to 7,203.

While the number of banks has decreased, the number of offices, including branches, has more than doubled.

Deposits in Arkansas banks have increased 4.46 percent annually since 1998, but over the last 12 month, deosits decreased for the first time over that period.

As of June, deposits in Jack-sonville banks totaled $316 million, $278 million of that in Arkansas-based banks.

The growth rate in deposits in Jacksonville in the last 10 years is 4.84 percent, slightly higher than the statewide rate.
Since 1998, there has been a $4 billion increase in Pulaski County deposits.

That was the largest increase, followed by Benton and Washington counties, which combined for a $3.2 billion increase, she said.

For the 12-month period ending June 2008, 12,782 people or businesses filed for bankruptcy in the state.

That’s up slightly from the preceding year, but roughly half the number before Congress passed a law making it more difficult for individuals to declare bankruptcy.

By way of comparison, the number of business bankruptcies is in the same range now as it was before the new law was passed—ranging from 335 per year to 429.

Arkansas has the ninth highest rate of personal bankruptcy, 4.36 per 1,000 population compared to a U.S. average of 3.07 bankruptcies per 1,000 people.

TOP STORY > >Cabot puts limits on building plans

Leader staff writer

The Cabot City Council passed an ordinance Monday night requiring developers to follow through with commercial construction plans approved by the city within one year or go back before the planning commission for approval again.

Alderman Becky Lemaster voted against the ordinance saying large businesses such as Wal-Mart might need longer to begin construction after the site plans are approved. She said site plans should be good for two years, not six months with extensions possible with only review by the staff at Cabot Public Works.

She questioned giving the staff that authority without first approving the criteria they should follow.

Lemaster said she checked with other cities around Cabot and 18 months was standard.

“It just seems to me we’re trying to run off big business,” she said.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams assured her that the city wants new businesses. But he said site plans are approved based on the capacity of streets, water and sewer available at the time of that approval. If construction is delayed that capacity could be diminished to the point that the project is no longer feasible.

Williams also said that capacity is allocated when a project is approved, so it is possible that the city might eventually turn down projects because the capacity had been allocated to a project that was never constructed.

Ron Craig, planning commission chairman, explained it this way: “We’re just trying to make sure these things don’t just sit there and code change and everything and then they build it,” he said.

The ordinance also had the blessing of Jim von Tungeln, the city planner who said in a memo to the council’s public works committee that the six-month sunset with a possible six-month extension was reasonable.

“The site plan represents the final step before a building permit is requested,” von Tungeln said. “There should be no reason to anticipate further delay absent unavoidable events such as natural or man-made disasters.”

The vote to pass the ordinance was 5-1.

Aldermen Ken Williams and Tom Armstrong, who is in Florida for treatments for a brain tumor, did not attend the meeting.

The mayor read a letter from Armstrong explaining his absence.

“The outlook for full recovery is great and I am expecting just that,” Armstrong wrote. “I have also been assured that this will not require me to stop working or interfere with my ability to continue to serve the city of Cabot. I am feeling great and expect to continue to feel great….In the meantime, my campaign goes on.”

Armstrong’s challenger for his seat on the city council is former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh.

In other business, the council approved a voluntary annexation of 59 acres on Hwy. 5 but would not approve a sidewalk-waiver request for a commercial development at the corner of Dakota and Home Depot Drives.

The council also approved at the request of the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission the condemnation of 14 easements needed for upgrades to the city sewer system.

TOP STORY > >No new school for Austin

Leader staff writer

Members of Cabot School Board’s building and grounds committee decided Monday that Austin was not the best location for a new elementary building to take part of the load off Magness Creek Elementary — but neither was the acreage they were considering in Greystone.

However, the Austin location was too good to pass up, so the committee said the school district should buy the land for later use and look for a better site for the new school somewhere near Hwy. 5.

James and Dorothy Fulton, the owners of the Austin site, have agreed to sell the land for $10,000 an acre, and if the school district does not use it, they will buy it back for the same price.

Jack King and Bill Minton, the owners of the property at Greystone, had also offered to sell for $10,000 an acre.

Although Dr. Tony Thurman, school superintendent, was not willing to discuss possible sites for the new school after the Monday morning meeting, it was clear that the staff had sites in mind. He promised board members that he would have information about those sites by Monday afternoon.

Jim Dalton, assistant superintendent, said they have prospects, but they will have to talk to engineers who can tell them whether water and sewer is available and whether the topography is suitable for a school.

The district needs 16 acres to build an elementary school for about 500 students. Thurman told the committee that Austin was not the best location for that school now. The housing slump has not kept the district from growing and people will continue to move to Cabot for the schools. Enrollment is up 368 from this time in 2007, from 9,186 to 9,554.

Thurman recommended buying 18 acres instead of 16 so the district would also have the option of building a middle school there later.

“It may not be our next school but it’s too good a location to pass up for a school,” Thurman said.

The Cabot School District is made up of three cities in Lonoke County and the land surrounding them. Austin, which is growing since several subdivisions have been built there, is the only city without a school.

But when the building and grounds meeting ended Monday, Austin Mayor Bernie Chamberlain had not given up on the possibility of building the new school there.
Chamberlain said discussion during the meeting implied that without a breakdown of what age children live in what areas, it isn’t possible to know where the best location would be. The school district intends to hire someone who can operate a complicated computer program to provide the answers. But for now, all Chamberlain said she is sure of is that there was some talk of Greystone residents not being willing to drive five miles to a school in Austin.

“My families don’t like to drive five miles either,” she said.

TOP STORY > >Voting is heavy in early turnout

Leader senior staff writer

Election officials in both Pulaski and Lonoke counties said Tuesday that turnout in early voting was heavy.

In Pulaski County, 10,650 people had cast ballots by Tuesday evening. 7,050 of those on Monday, the first day. In addition, 2,124 absentee ballots were cast.

In Lonoke County, 284 people voted at the courthouse on Monday, with another 464 voting at Cabot, according to a spokesman in the county clerk’s office. An estimated 225 more had voted by 4 p.m. in Lonoke on Tuesday.

My mid-afternoon Tuesday about 1,000 of White County’s 46,000 registered voters had voted early at the courthouse in Searcy instead of waiting in line on Election Day.

Although only the second day of early voting, White County officials said it was going well. About 700 voted on Monday.

In Pulaski County, voting at the City and County Building across from the County Courthouse went smoothly, with 18 machines available, according to Election Commission Director Susan Inman.

In Jacksonville on Monday, voters stood for 90 minutes in lines that snaked around the City Hall corridors, waiting a turn at one of the touch screen voting machines.

“Voting has been heavy, fast and furious and we’re excited that so many are taking the opportunity to vote early,” Inman said.

“The first day is always a (rough) time—we’re working our way into the groove. It’s much smoother today at all our locations,” she said.

Each remote Pulaski County voting site had five voting machines, but one of those five didn’t work at Jacksonville. The paper roll was jamming in that machine, Inman said.

“We had to get a tech out there,” said Inman. It was the internal printer, used to create a backup paper trail, that was malfunctioning.

Come January, for the first time since George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in 1988, someone other than a Bush or a Clinton will occupy the White House.

The hotly contested race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain in the midst of perhaps the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression is expected to drive that record turnout.

Local races between Buddy Villines, the incumbent, and Phil Wyrick for Pulaski County Judge, and between Doc Holladay and Patrick Mulligan for Pulaski County Sheriff will also stimulate turnout.

In Lonoke County, Republican Cassandra Pitts is challenging County Clerk Dawn Porterfield, the Democratic incumbent, and Republican Denise Brown is challenging Circuit Clerk Democrat Deborah Oglesby, the incumbent.

Sheriff Jim Roberson, a Republican, is being challenged by former deputy Steve Rich, a Democrat.

Joan McCoy and Rick Kron contributed to this report.

EDITORIAL >>Cathi Compton for circuit judge

Voters have to fly blindly in the selection of trial and appellate judges in Arkansas. Candidates for judge are not supposed to talk about their views on legal issues for fear that it might color or prejudge a decision they may have to make on the bench. Voters are left to decide on the basis of yard signs, slogans and clever or silly commercials.

A good premise on which to choose, although by no means the only one, is experience. In the race for Eleventh Division Circuit Court in Pulaski County, that tilts the choice to Cathi Compton. Her opponent is Melinda Gilbert, a lawyer with some years of experience herself.

Compton has many years of experience in all phases of litigation that confronts a circuit judge. She has handled civil and criminal litigation and pro-bono legal work. She chaired the first Arkansas Public Defender Commission.

Our considered judgment is that Cathi Compton is best prepared for the job.

EDITORIAL >>Propositions explained

The ballot that you pick up on election day or during the early voting period carries three propositions generously referred to you by the General Assembly that will seem as opaque as a bond indenture. One of them sort of is.

Two of the three propositions are complicated and highly controversial, though little has been said in the public prints about any of them. There will be slight opportunity in the voting booth to divine exactly what they do because the popular names and ballot titles are shortened versions of the actual proposals and are largely unfathomable.

So we proceed to tell you what proposed Amendments 1 and 2 and Referred Question 1 would do and our own judgment about what you should do with them. We recommend adoption of proposed Amendment 1, the simple proposition, and defeat of the other two. They are far-reaching enough that they at least deserve thoughtful consideration. (See full text of propositions on p. 14A.)

Amendment 1 would do little more than clean up the old Constitution in a few places by eliminating some ancient language dealing with elections that are now either pointless, long since abrogated or confusing. For example, it would delete old language barring “idiots” and “insane” people from voting and references to the old voting age of 21. It would give the legislature authority to prescribe the qualifications of people who work as election officials. There seem to be no clinkers in it.

You can safely vote “aye.”

Amendment 2 would make a big change. It would direct the legislature to meet every year in regular session, not every two years as the case is now. The legislature would have to adopt appropriations for every state agency every year. Now the legislature meets in odd-numbered years and adopts budgets for each of the two following years for each state program.

The annual budget sessions would be costly, an invitation to mischief and, more to the point, needless. Biennial budgeting still works well. Sure, there are instances in which fiscal emergencies are not foreseen two years ahead and the legislature must return to fix a budget for the second year of the biennium. But the state has dealt with those situations for many years by special sessions, which the governor may call at any time. There is no evidence that this practice has cost Arkansas a dime in federal matching revenues or impaired any state service.

The amendment’s adoption would introduce us to a full-time professional legislature for the first time. Arkansas’ affairs are not so complicated and grave that we need full-time lawmaking. Someday maybe, but not 2009.

If the amendment simply provided more flexibility in meeting times than the old Constitution provides, we could support it. Vote against this one.

Referred Question 1 would let the state Natural Resources Commission borrow $300 million for water projects, up to $100 million of which could be used for irrigation work to help rice farmers in the Grand Prairie, whose farming practices have depleted the water aquifer.

That debt should not be a trifling thing to you, the taxpayer. The debt would be repaid from your sales and income taxes for the next 35 years — off the top each year before a dime is paid to the public schools, colleges or the other essential state services. The proponents say the debt would be repaid from receipts generated by the water projects, but there would have to be substantial payments from general revenues. A previous water bond issue is taking $6 million a year from the general fund.
It is not a good time for the state to be borrowing $300 million. Think twice before voting for Referred Question 1.

SPORTS>>Billies to put Bears’ 3-game streak to test

Leader sports editor

Two teams that started the season off in the exact wrong direction but which have since made dramatic U-turns will battle for first place on Friday night at Bill Blackwood Field when Sylvan Hills hosts Monticello for a 7 p.m. kickoff.

The Billies (5-2) defied the preseason hype and promptly started off 0-2, then scrapped their experiment with the Spread and returned to head coach Van Paschal’s signature Double Wing attack. The result: Five consecutive wins and a 4-0 start to the 5A-Southeast race.

The Bears lost three straight after a season-opening win, and struggled to settle on an offensive scheme through those first four weeks. After a dismal 21-7 loss to White Hall to open league play, head coach Jim Withrow made his own alterations in the offense. Scrapping the shotgun and focusing on a split-back offense around the potent duo of running backs Lawrence Hodges and Juliean Broner, the Bears (4-3) are winners of their past three games and 3-1 in the conference.

The Billies served notice of their resurrection two weeks ago with a stunningly easy 41-14 win over Beebe. Sylvan Hills’ rise has come about more quietly, their most impressive win coming on the road at Crossett on Tanner Janssen’s last-second 27-yard field goal.

Withrow heaps lots of praise on the No. 5 Billies, but with his Bears playing as well as they have all year, he likes his chances this Friday.

“I don’t care who we’re playing, we have a chance to win,” he said. “Heck, we’ve got MORE than a chance to win. We have to take care of the ball, can’t have penalties. There’s not a lot of room for mistakes.

“But we figure (Monticello) is in the same boat. There’s not a lot of room for mistakes for them, either.”

The Billies are big and fast on both sides of the ball. On offense, it all centers around quarterback Ty Ferrell, who Withrow calls the best athlete in the conference. But Ferrell, who has been plagued by an ankle injury all season, re-injured it in the Billies’ win over White Hall last week and is questionable for Friday’s game.

How good is Ferrell? He merely rushed for 209 yards against a stout Beebe defense … on a bum ankle. But his potential absence hardly allows Withrow to breathe any easier, what with backup quarterback Joe Carmichael in the wings. Carmichael was the Monticello signal caller through the first two games of the season when the Billies ran out of the Spread.

“I’ve never seen a team with two quarterbacks as good as those two,” Withrow said. “We were watching the film (from the White Hall game) and I didn’t even really notice he was the backup until he started throwing the ball. We thought, golly, he throws it well, too. I think maybe what they lose in speed (with Ferrell out) they gain in throwing. And they don’t lose a lot of speed. Carmichael is a really good athlete.”

Paschal agrees that the Billies don’t lose a lot with Carmichael at the helm.

“He’s a good, solid quarterback and a 4.0 (GPA) kid,” he said. “He’s a big kid and plays defensive end for us. He’s been quarterbacking here since he was in ninth grade.”

But the uncertainty makes Withrow’s defensive scheming that much more difficult against a team that isn’t only defined by its quarterbacks. They have a slate of big, solid running backs, led by Cedric Leonard, Lance Ridgell, Trey Hawkins and more.

“To be honest with you, I’d rather get to their third quarterback,” Withrow said with a laugh when asked whether he’d rather face Ferrell or Carmichael. “It’s hard to know what to prepare for so you have to prepare for both. You have to prepare for about 35 different scenarios.”

But the Sylvan Hills defense has held its own against just about everybody this season, including in early season tussles with 7A powers Cabot and North Little Rock.

“They are very quick on defense,” Paschal said. “They move well laterally.”

And the Bears are as healthy on that side of the ball as they’ve been all season. Linebacker Michael Robinson is back in stride after missing the first three weeks of the season. Both he and Nick Brewer are getting stronger each week, Withrow said, despite continuing to play with lingering injuries. Quarterback Jordan Spears is expected to play after suffering a knee bruise in the second quarter last week.

Broner and Hodges had big games for the third consecutive week. Broner rushed for 150 yards while Hodges added 76.

“Their running backs impress me,” Paschal said. “They don’t go down easy and their quarterback is pretty heady.”

Hooten’s has made the Billies a 9-point favorite, as predicted by Withrow.

“We’ll probably be big underdogs,” he said. “But I can tell you, in this field house, nobody thinks we’re underdogs at all. We’re playing with a lot of momentum and confidence.

“This is a big game. Number one, it’s homecoming. Two, we’ve won three in a row. And three, we’re playing for first place. If we can win this week, we can really set ourselves up for some good things.”

SPORTS>>Devils back in thick of playoff race after winning two straight

Leader sportswriter

Serious playoff implications rest on this week’s game between Jacksonville and Little Rock Parkview. The two teams are currently in a 3-way tie for the No. 2 seed in the 6A-East Conference. The Red Devils and Patriots, along with Jonesboro, all have 3-1 league records heading into Week 8.

Kickoff at War Eagle Stadium in Little Rock (J.A. Fair) is set for 7 p.m.

The Patriots have flourished under the tutelage of second-year coach William Hardiman. Hardiman’s first year at the school resulted in a 2-8 record, but they have far exceeded preseason expectations in 2008 with a 6-1 record this year. Their only loss of the year was to Jonesboro in a 47-46 heartbreaker to open the conference season.

“We learned a lot from playing on the road,” Hardiman said. “We’ve taken every game as a learning experience. We also have a well-organized offseason program. Another thing is that the kids believe overall in what we’re doing. When you have kids that believe the way ours do, that’s something that we needed.”

Hardiman looks for the game to be won in the trenches, particularly when the Pats have the ball. He noted the impressiveness of the Jacksonville defensive line, and its ability to move quickly to the ball.

He is also aware of the ability of the Red Devils’ offense to move the ballboth on the ground and through the air.

“Jacksonville will present a lot of problems,” Hardiman said. “I think their running game will set up their passing game. Taking away the run will be the big challenge for us. If we can slow down the run, it will also help us manage their passing game.”

The Patriots’ mostly underclassmen offensive backfield, led by junior quarterback Benjamin Anderson, has generated an average of 28 points per game. Hardiman expressed a little disappointment in Anderson’s performance over the last two weeks.

“My expectations are always higher for my quarterback a little more than the other kids anyway,” Hardiman said. “But he’s been doing a great job.”

Running back Chris Giles and receiver Blake Vines are two potent weapons who the Red Devil defense will have to contend with.

Giles scored both touchdowns last week for Parkview during a 14-12 win over Little Rock Hall that came down to a last-second field goal that was blocked by the Patriots.

“They’re putting up big numbers,” said Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley. “Their quarterback and running back are hard to contain. They have big-play capabilities. We’ve got to find ways to contain them, especially when they have a shorter field.”

The Red Devil defense has been key over the past two weeks. It was Corey Bester that made the biggest stops two weeks ago at Hall, and Terrell Brown stepped up last Friday in a 40-16 win over Searcy. The Lions hung around into the third quarter until Brown returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns, as well as scoring two TDs on the offensive side. Jacksonville’s defense produced three touchdowns off Lion turnovers.

“It’s that time of the year,” Whatley said. “If you’re going to be successful, that kind of thing has to happen. If you just have one big gun out there making plays, it’s not very comforting.”

The Red Devils amassed 473 yards of total offense last week. Sophomore quarterback Logan Perry had a big night through the air, completing 17 0f 26 pass attempts for 346 yards and two touchdowns. Senior receiver Demetris Harris caught six of those passes for 154 yards.

“Demetris used to be a part of our program before he went to Jacksonville,” Hardiman said. “He’s a good athlete, and I know he’s going to want to do well against his old school.”

SPORTS>>Panther eye still on league title

Leader sportswriter

A team expected to dominate in the 7A-Central Conference this year now finds itself in a genuine dogfight. Cabot currently shares the No. 2 spot in the league standings with Catholic High heading into Week 8 of the high school football season.

The Panthers (6-1, 3-1 conf.) will host Bryant (2-5, 2-2) this Friday at Panther Stadium with opening kickoff set for 7 p.m.

The Rockets handed Cabot its only loss of the season in a 35-28 shootout in Week 5, but fell themselves to North Little Rock in an upset last week for its first league loss. Russellville currently sits atop the league standings with a 4-0 record, while Catholic and Cabot share 3-1 records. Catholic and Russellville will also square off this Friday.

Bryant and North Little Rock both have 2-2 conference records currently, which puts five of the eight conference teams still in the hunt for a title with three weeks left in the regular season.

“We’ve got a chance to stay right behind Russellville and Catholic,” Panthers coach Mike Malham said. “We’ve got to win to stay afloat. Bryant is as good as anyone in the conference. They’ve lost a couple, but they’ve been by a combined six points. So that just goes to show that every week in this conference is going to be a dogfight.”

The Hornets evened out their conference record last week witha 34-7 blowout win over struggling Conway. Bryant controlled the contest by scoring four first-half touchdowns, while the Hornet defense held Conway to under 75 yards of total offense, keeping the Wampus Cats on their own side of the 50-yard line until the final five minutes.

Running back Chris Rycraw led the way for the Hornets with 61 yards on 22 carries, as well as four TD runs.

“They’ve allowed the fewest amount of points as anyone else in the conference,” Malham said. “They’re always hard nosed, especially on defense. This will be the toughest test to date for our offensive line.

“As far as their offense, they do a lot of different things. They can run Spread or I, and their running back averages over 100 yards a game.”

It will be the third spread opponent the Panthers have faced since beginning the conference schedule. Catholic’s spread attack juiced the Panther defense for a season-high 35 points. Definite improvement was shown two weeks ago in a wild win over North Little Rock, giving Malham confidence that their ability to defend the pass will be a key on Friday.

“We’re just trying to do what we do better,” Malham said. “The better athletes you have, the more effective your passing game will be. When we played Catholic, we had not seen that kind of attack. We got a lot more pressure on North Little Rock, so I think we can be pretty good defensively against Bryant. If it stays a low-scoring ballgame, we’ll be all right. If it’s high scoring, we could be in trouble.”

Last week’s win over Central was a time-of-possession masterpiece for Malham and the Panthers. Cabot had the ball for almost 32 minutes of the game, and held the Tigers to only 29 offensive plays the entire game. Cabot, meanwhile, ran a whopping 77.

“That’s something we’ve been doing for 28 years now,” Malham said. “Hopefully, it’s something we can do for 28 more years.

The longer we have it, the longer their offense sits on the sideline and grows old. If we can keep it long enough, maybe they’ll grow old and die – who knows.”

In addition to pounding it on the ground against the Tigers, the Panthers threw the ball effectively as well. Good blocking up front allowed junior quarterback Seth Bloomberg to complete 8 of 11 passes for 68 yards. Junior fullback Michael James had another 100-plus game, running 25 times for 104 yards and a pair of scores.

“We’ve gone pretty good at the line for the last few weeks,” Malham said. “They’ve blocked good, and we haven’t turned the ball over much, so that means we haven’t been helping out the other team.”