Wednesday, December 30, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Arkansas gets a nice break

Senator Blanche Lincoln has many things to answer for in the great health-insurance imbroglio of 2009, but one of them is not her failure to bring home the pork for Arkansas. The Republicans seeking her seat and the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, razzed her for voting for insurance reform last week without demanding special benefits for her home state like Senator Ben Nelson did for Nebraska.

Tuesday, the state’s big newspaper joined the chorus. Why, oh why, cried the Arkansas Democrat- Gazette, did she not demand extra cash for some benefit or a special project somewhere in Arkansas as a condition for supporting the bill? The people of Arkansas ought to demand answers from her, the paper’s editorial page said in fake piety.

Put another way, why did Senator Lincoln insist on being principled when a few others practiced the grimiest kind of politics? She can point out that she succeeded in getting more favorable treatment for small businesses, but of course the favor helped businesses in all 50 states, not just Arkansas.

The better answer is that Arkansas didn’t need special treatment. The bill that emerged from the Senate treats Arkansas better than any other state. Senator Lincoln just cannot claim to have been responsible for it.

We don’t know what will finally come out of the conference between the two houses this winter, but the central provisions of both the Senate and House bills are a godsend to Arkansas. No state is apt to have the net cash inflow as Arkansas when the provisions are fully implemented.

Here is why: Arkansans will pay fewer taxes per capita to pay for the health-care overhaul than nearly every other state, and Arkansans will qualify for more and larger government subsidies for private health insurance and a higher percentage of low-income adults in Arkansas will qualify for Medicaid, the government insurance program, than any other state. The rest of the country, especially rich states like New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin, will be subsidizing Arkansas with their tax dollars.

This requires some explanation. If the Senate version prevails, the principal source of income for the benefit programs will be an increase of 0.9 percent in the Medicare payroll tax for single taxpayers earning more than $200,000 a year and couples earning more than $250,000. Very few Arkansans will be paying that little tax although to hear the TV ads and Republican broadsides, everyone in Arkansas will be paying through the nose.

Up to certain income levels, individuals and small businesses that buy private insurance through the new government exchange will qualify under both bills for some government help. Since Arkansas has a much higher quotient of people under the income thresholds, more people will qualify for the assistance and for larger sums than nearly every state.

But the biggest bonanza is Medicaid. The Senate bill would extend Medicaid insurance to adults up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line and the House bill up to 150 percent. Only Alabama comes even close to realizing the enormous benefit that Arkansas will see from the Medicaid expansion.

Every state provides some Medicaid coverage to poor parents of children in the Medicaid program, but Arkansas provides it to fewer. Only parents up to 17 percent of the poverty line and no childless adults qualify for Medicaid in Arkansas. Other states already provide insurance for adults earning from 24 percent of poverty (Alabama) to 200 percent of poverty or more (Minnesota, Maine, Wisconsin, New Jersey, the District of Columbia).

Since other states already do what the bill would do or come close and pay up to half the costs themselves, the Medicaid expansion will bring little new cash into the states.

By week’s end, states like California, Wisconsin and New Jersey were complaining that they were not happy sending their tax dollars to states like Arkansas that had done so little for the poor themselves.

Well, we were just too poor to do it ourselves, or thought we were. Besides, Arkansas put its limited resources into insuring medical care for children and the elderly. We didn’t have anything left for the working poor or we had higher priorities.

Whatever passes this winter — and something assuredly will — in three or four years lots of cash will be sloshing through the medical institutions in this state and that will help us all, from the neediest to the richest.

Senator Lincoln, Senator Pryor and the two Democratic congressmen who have joined the cause cannot claim personal credit, but they need to offer no apologies either.

TOP STORY >> Flooded resident demands answers

Beebe Windwood resident Anita Seymore holds the flood certificate to her home showing the house was not in a flood zone and flood insurance wasn’t needed.

By JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer

While Beebe residents were unwrapping Christmas presents, many people in the Windwood subdivision were ripping out carpets and base boards while trying to salvage furniture from the swampy floodwater.

By Monday, mounds of soggy carpet and recliners were piled by the driveways of homes on Tori Lane and Birchwood Drive. Dumpsters were brought in for residents to throw away debris and water-logged home furnishings.

Arnold Felbermayer lives at 1039 Tori Lane with his wife, Shelly, and son, Drew.

“We got really, really close, within an inch of water coming into the house around Thanksgiving. This time I had five inches of water. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. It could have been a lot worse. It did not go over the electrical outlets,” Felbermayer said.

His son Drew said, “Every six or seven seconds there was a thud at the front door. It was the water knocking.”

Felbermayer said Tamara Jenkins of the Office of Emergency Management of White County came by his home on Sunday. The Red Cross asked if they needed food, clothing or immediate shelter.

He said, “I give kudos to the city. They did all they could to help. They informed us what to do and who to call.

“Everybody in the neighborhood needs to push the city government to work with the railroad and solve the (flooding) problem,” he said.

“It’s a matter of how long people are going to put up with it. Personally, I don’t want to move. I love my house, this place and Beebe a lot.”

Felbermayer moved to Beebe from North Little Rock four years ago. He said the move was great for his family.

“If it happens again, we will move, probably out of town,” he said.

Felbermayer did not have flood insurance. The family didn’t know when they bought their house in 2005 that the area was in a flood plain.

Anita Seymore of 1011 Tori Lane was standing outside talking with her husband and neighbor Shane Smith on Monday.

“We feel someone should be held accountable for selling us these houses under false pretenses,” she said.

Some residents were required to have flood insurance when they bought their houses, while other neighbors were told they were not in the flood zone.

“I have my flood certificate showing ‘property is not in special flood area.’

“I feel basically ripped off, because when we bought in ‘05 we were lied to,” Seymore said.

“We do not have heat because the (HVAC) unit was underwater,” she said. “Now we’re having to use space heaters which is especially dangerous with two kids.”

Shane Smith, the homeowner at 1009 Tori Lane, said, “There are a lot of things to worry about, but you should not have to worry about a flood, especially on Christmas.

“My then-wife and I bought the house in 2000. The area wasn’t developed like it is now. A lot of these houses were built in the last five years,” Smith said.

He said there’s always been a question whether it was in a flood zone or not.

“On the paperwork there was a question, ‘Is this property in a flood zone? The box was marked no,” Smith said.

“We refinanced in ’06 with Arkansas Federal Credit Union. They required us to carry flood insurance, because they told us we’re indeed in a flood zone. Thankfully, I got it. I am waiting for the adjuster.”

On Christmas Eve, the floodwater was up to 10 inches in his house and 16 inches in the garage. Around 10:30 p.m. he started unplugging appliances. By 11 p.m. the Beebe Fire Department came and rescued him. Emergency crews brought a row boat right up to the garage door. He left with a small suitcase and a few personal items, with his cat in a pet carrier and his dog in his arms.

“They were unhappy, but at that point I was getting them out of there,” he said.
Smith is staying with his parents during the cleanup process.

He said the flood brought his neighbors closer together. They talk with each other about who should be at the homes and what their vehicles look like. The Beebe Police Department was patrolling the neighborhood this week. Smith said they had a lot of “passers-by.”

“This has been a humbling experience,” Smith said.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

TOP STORY >> NLR gift balances Sherwood budget

By NANCY DOCKTER
Leader staff writer

A text message from one city hall to another conveyed the news that North Little Rock would be giving Sherwood a gift of $470,000 in electric utility revenues. Both councils met Monday night, and word of the gift came as the Sherwood meeting was coming to a close. It was all the council needed to act on the one remaining item on the agenda, the proposed 2010 general-fund budget.

The $18.36 million budget – 4.4 percent less than the amount approved for 2009 – passed unanimously to a smattering of applause.

“This is the first general fund budget in several years that no reserve funds were committed,” said Mayor Virginia Hillman after the vote. “Thank you, North Little Rock.”

North Little Rock Mayor PatHays proposed the transfer of North Little Rock Electric revenue funds to Sherwood as part of his 2010 budget. The amount equals 10 percent of the $4.7 million in additional electric utility revenues North Little Rock will use this coming year to meet expenses. Hays reasoned that since 13 percent of the utility’s customers live in Sherwood, then Sherwood also ought to get a share of the revenues to help out in this tough economic time. The North Little Rock City Council went along with his idea.

Also approved were the 2010 budgets for the street fund ($1.59 million), wastewater utility ($1.28 million), police drug fund ($10,023) and the advertising and promotions commission ($576,000).

The council voted unanimously to create five new positions to staff the city-owned golf course, The Greens at North Hills. The positions and salaries are as follows: full-time golf pro ($36,667), full-time park maintenance generalist ($24,750), full-time park maintenance worker ($18,920), full-time pro shop cashier ($18,920) and part-time park maintenance worker ($9,975).

Funding will begin in February and is included in the 2010 city budget. Salaries, taxes and benefits for the new positions will cost $147,948.

During budget discussions in the fall, Mayor Hillman and the city budget committee agreed that a hiring freeze was necessary to balance next year’s budget. When asked about that this week, Hillman said, “The thing about it is, when it (the golf course) opens in the spring, it is going to have to be staffed correctly. I acknowledge that we are going to have to have new people, but it couldn’t come at a worse time.”

About the new positions, Alder-man Becki Vassar, who is also chair of the city’s personnel committee, said, “We should have done this months ago, back in the spring,” when other positions for the golf course were approved, “but we failed to see the need at the time.”

What may be the first of several annual wastewater rate increases was approved unanimously by the council. The new rate, applicable to all residential, commercial and industrial customers, will be $3 per 100 cubic feet. The minimum charge will be $12. Bills will be based on a customer’s winter water-usage average. Currently, the rate is $1.69 per 100 cubic feet.

When the new rate goes into effect Jan. 1, it will be the first increase since 1996. For the last several years, the utility has dipped into reserves to pay for operations and maintenance.

City engineer Ellen Norvell has warned city managers that big-dollar sewer system improvements in the next few years will draw down reserves. The city must begin implementing a plan to replenish those funds so that the money will be there when future repairs are needed.

The increase will only put the utility “at break even,” Alderman Charles Harmon pointed out. “It will take additional increases to begin to replenish the reserve fund.”

About the need for the rate increase, Alderman Kevin Lilly, who serves on the city’s sewer committee, said, “We can’t continue to operate the system at a deficit. A rate increase is our only option.”

“Prior to this, we were at about the 13th percentile – one of the lowest in the state,” Hillman said regarding the increase.

The new ordinance also includes provisions to penalize industrial customers for discharges that exceed legal limits for biochemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids, pH range, fats, oils and greases, cadmium, chromium, copper, cyanide, lead, mercury, nickel, silver, zinc, arsenic, selenium, boron and molybdenum.

The charges shall be based on sample test results of the utility and apply to non-residential customers whose daily discharges equal or exceed 25,000 gallons of wastewater or may contain restricted toxins or pollutants.

Other council business included refinements of several ordinances to better conform to current practices or improve enforcement. Revisions to an existing ordinance regulating pawnshops will help the police track stolen goods received by pawnshops and other lenders.

“It is just to tweak it so we can enforce it better in a timely manner,” said Police Chief Kelvin Nicholson.

The ordinance applies to about seven Sherwood businesses. They will be required to update electronic records on received property every five days, reducing the number of “skipped numbers and lost tickets,” Nicholson said.

Changes to the ordinance regarding residency requirements for the advertising and promotions commission now formalize what is already allowed – that one not need to be a Sherwood resident. The ordinance requires that to serve on the commission, a person must be a member of the tourism industry and reside in Pulaski County.

The council passed resolutions to reappoint restaurant owner Danny Gilliland to the advertising and promotions commission and to appoint Joffrey Clark, who works for Regions Insurance Group, to the city’s retirement board. Hillman is stepping down from the board to make room for Clark.

“Now two people with financial expertise” are on the board, Hillman said, which is what is needed for the body to tackle some tough issues in the coming year.

The council approved a resolution enabling the city to go forward with an application to the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism for a grant of up to $100,000. The money could be used at The Greens at North Little Rock for youth golf programs as well as maintenance or improvements.

“I feel we will be successful in getting at least a portion of the grant,” Hillman said.

In order to meet federal requirements, the council passed four ordinances that will make it possible for Gallery Support Innovations, a Sherwood firm, to qualify for a grant from the Arkansas Community and Economic Development Program. The $50,000 grant will pay for software and is expected to add 10 new jobs at the firm which produces interior hardware for corporate and commercial aircraft.

TOP STORY >> Looking back at April, May, June

COMPILED BY RICK KRON

These snippets are from some of the major news stories that appeared in The Leader between April and June. This is the second of a four-part series, which looks back at the news of 2009.

APRIL

• None of the Defense Department’s $7.4 billion share of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was slated for military construction at Little Rock Air Force Base, but the base was in line for $12.7 million worth of facilities sustainment, restoration and modernization projects.

About $8.8 million of that is earmarked for repairing and maintaining the airfield apron, $856,000 to repair Hangar 224, $1,6 million to repair or install two anti-terrorism vehicle barriers, $604,000 to repair 6th Street/Arnold Drive, $431,000 to repair fire detection system in Building 1020 and install or repair a sprinkler system for that building and $409,000 to repair the fire detection system and install or repair the sprinkler in Building 1024.

• Bill Halter, the Arkansas lieutenant governor who stepped out of the traditional role of his office to push through a state lottery to fund college scholarships, told Beebe residents in April why he made the effort. “It’s not at all about having a lottery,” Halter said. “It’s always been about funding scholarships. The lottery is merely a funding mechanism.”

Halter spoke during a breakfast organized by the Beebe Economic Development Commission, saying there is a correlation between economic development and education.

• A freeway frontage road connecting Cabot to Austin was completed in April.

The new road connects Willie Ray Drive in Cabot to Earnie Davis Road in Austin.

The estimated cost to the mile long connection between Cabot and Austin is about $600,000, all of it paid by the county. The new road was expected to ease congestion at the Hwy. 89 interchange in Cabot because residents in the Briarwood area can get on the freeway at Austin.

• A north Pulaski County volunteer firefighter was jailed after he confessed to setting two fires to area churches.

Merl White of Cabot, 25, was charged with two counts of arson. He confessed to setting fire to North Jacksonville Missionary Baptist Church, as well as setting another fire at an abandoned church on Cleland Road.

• A suspect was charged in the first murder in Beebe in more than 17 years.

Jeffery Likes, 39, was charged with one count of capital murder in the death of his mother, Nancy Wiggs, 59. The mother and son lived together at 401 Lee Lane in the Fetcher addition.

Likes was arrested in Missouri by members of the Kansas City Police Department’s fugitive division, then brought back to Arkansas.

• After seven years on the school desegregation case, U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson told lawyers for the central Arkansas school districts that he was recusing from further involvement. Both the North Little Rock School District and the Pulaski County Special School District had petitioned Wilson for unitary status, but the judge refused to begin hearing those motions until the appeals court ruled on the Little Rock case.

District Judge Brian Miller was assigned the case.

• The Jacksonville Towers apartment complex, rising high into the city’s skyline, held its 30th anniversary as residents and city officials gathered to celebrate the occasion. “This building is a marker for our community. It is one of the best-kept and maintained senior housing facilities in the county. It is a standing memorial to those who had it built,” then-Mayor Tommy Swaim said.

• Senior Airman Sharilyn Cotton Lopez, 28, sidestepped prison time by pleading guilty to permitting the abuse that resulted in the death of her 2-year-old son, Jaden, in 2007.

She faced up to 20 years in prison for permitting child abuse, a Class B felony. Instead, she received five-years probation.

Her husband, Ausensio Lopez, was the child’s caretaker, while Lopez worked full time at the air base.

• Little Rock Air Force Base Military Health Services sent an appeal letter to the city asking that something be worked out to keep physicians at the Jacksonville Medical Clinic. Many of the doctors were looking at leaving after rents were doubled.

• Gov. Mike Beebe drew a near-record crowd as featured speaker at the 35th annual Ward Chamber of Commerce banquet and then showed that he can be a good sport when he played along with Mayor Art Brooke’s pretense of taking a phone call from President Obama during the governor’s introduction.

• The Jacksonville Water Commission unanimously approved a series of rate increases that will affect all ratepayers over the next four years. The first 13 percent increase went into effect immediately after council approval. Proposed for 2010 is another 13 percent hike, followed by another 13 percent increase in 2011 and an 8 percent increase in 2012.

• A lawsuit was filed by a Sherwood developer who was upset that the planned North Belt Freeway would split his property in half. The suit could delay or even kill the project.

Attorney Hal Kemp has filed suit on behalf of Steve Deere and the Sherwood Land Company after the planning commission turned down Deere’s plans for the 586-acre Oakdale North Addition, which includes 573 single-family homes, 156 townhouses and 312 apartment units.

• Sherwood City Council voted to settle a lawsuit with a former ambulance service, AET, for $350,000. “I don’t think any of us wanted to do it. I didn’t want to do it, but I didn’t see any other option,” said Alderman Sheila Sulcer after the council voted to settle.

The city’s insurance company, which had already paid out $125,000 in attorney’s fees to fight the suit, paid $125,000 toward the settlement, leaving the city with an expense of $225,000.

• George Biggs, longtime Jacksonville Parks and Recreation director, resigned after city officials learned that he was a convicted felon, and over the last year and a half, had carried on an extramarital affair during work hours.

This all happened after Biggs, who is married, pushed down his girlfriend in the community center parking lot.

On June 21, 1991, a jury found Biggs guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the shooting death of a man he believed was romantically involved with his wife, from whom he was separated. Biggs was 29. He was sentenced to five years in the Texas Department of Correction and fined $10,000. He served less than six months in prison and completed the remainder of his sentence on parole.

• Members of the Reed’s Bridge Historical Society asked the Jacksonville Advertising and Promotion Commission for financial help to buy two replica cannons for the battlefield park. The group would eventually like to see 20 cannons placed up and down Hwy. 161 and in the 400-plus acres marked as the site of Reed’s Bridge battlefield.

• Arkansas schools will be receiving up to $569.9 million over the next six months as part of President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and about $18 million of that will filter down to local school districts.

Pulaski County Special School District is slated to get about $12.4 million, Cabot will see $2.19 million, Searcy will get about $2 million, Beebe will get $1.3 million and Lonoke is to receive $1.03 million.

The districts will get about 65 percent of the funding this spring and summer and the remaining part will be doled out in the fall.

• The Cabot School Board approved the purchase of the former Funtastik building, which will house the Alternative Learning Environment (ALE) and Academic Center of Excellence (ACE), the district’s charter school.

For $1.285 million, the district is paying about $64.89 per square foot for the 19,800-square-foot building – a price that “we never thought we could get and will allow us to put both under one roof,” said district Superintendent Tony Thurman.



Jacksonville’s Lighthouse Charter Academy students were selected by a lottery in April by Laura Peeples, left, and board president Keri Urquhart.

• Approximately 250 people attended the first Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School lottery at the community center.

The lottery determined who got into the new school this fall.

There were 344 spots available. A lottery will most likely be held next year to fill the kindergarten spots.

• Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman spent a Saturday in April chained in public. Not as a form of punishment by the city council, but as an awareness and fundraiser ploy sponsored by the city’s animal services.

Hillman, along with two animal services employees, two police officers, members of the Mayor’s Youth Council and others were chained to dog houses, trees and spikes in front of the municipal center on Kiehl Avenue to remind residents that chaining of animals is cruel, dangerous and illegal in the city.

• The largest landfill in the state was set to grow even larger. The owner of Jacksonville’s landfill has begun developing a 144-acre expansion site adjacent to its 25-year-old dump, which still has room left to dump more trash.

The mound that drivers see as they enter Jacksonville is not yet at capacity.

“It’s not filled to final grade,” David Conrad, an engineer for the Two Pine landfill, said. There are about 100,000 yards of dumping room left, which he estimated to be equivalent to two months of use. But the company needed to be ready for when capacity was reached.

• Heavy rain caused flooding problems in parts of White and Lonoke counties. Several homes in Cabot were flooded, damaging garages and carpeting.

“About half the county was flooded,” Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman said.

• More than 150 people crowded into the chamber council to hear representatives from ETC Engineering explain their plan for Sherwood’s 16 city parks.

Even though the audience made suggestions to improve many of the park plans and ideas, the vast majority were there to hear about park number 16, the 206-acre North Hills Golf Course property, which the engineering group said the best use of the land was to become a golf course again.

MAY

• Cabot developer and real estate agent Bill O’Brien was roasted and toasted at the Cabot Scholarship Foundation’s 14th annual fundraiser.

This year the scholarship foundation gave out 38 scholarships, totaling $37,350, to Cabot High School seniors and those students were recognized and applauded at the banquet, which was held at the school’s cafeteria.

• “Hee Haw” star Lulu Roman performed a little bit country, a lot of comedy and a lot of Christian music and devotion at Cabot High School.

Roman, along with her manager Terry Dorsey, local sensation Kirby Shelby, and Cabot’s very own Hallelujah Harmony Quartet, put on a laidback 90-minute quality family show.

• Planning and preparation for the four-laning of Brockington Road in Sherwood between Kiehl and Maryland avenues is about 90 percent competed and the state Highway and Transportation Department expects to pay for it largely from stimulus funds, Sherwood officials were told in May.

The Brockington Road job is one of four stimulus plan projects and two alternates that could be launched for bid by the end of this calendar year.

The widening of Brockington Road will receive $4.6 million in stimulus money with another $1.2 million due from the city.

• More than 16 months after it went into operation, the new sewer-treatment plant in Cabot was dedicated in May.

When all the work was completed, including the $13.8 million for building the plant and the $1.4 million for removing the old plant, paving, landscaping and fencing, the project cost $15.2 million. City voters are paying for the plant with a one-cent sales tax.

• The Lonoke City Council agreed to a land swap that would allow Lonoke County to build a new jail in the industrial park north of I-40. Construction on that jail, which could be large enough to hold 140 prisoners, could begin in about six months, according to County Judge Charlie Troutman.

• Arkansas Reclamation Company that has been dumping natural gas waste at the Jacksonville landfill was cited for several violations by the state’s environmental agency, including failure to report oil spills and inadequate preparation for them.

Concerns of soil contamination at the plant were also raised.

The Beebe company treated waste generated from natural gas drilling. The company entered into a settlement agreement with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

• Lonoke County officials applied for disaster-area status with the state. Roads in Lonoke County and Cabot had been damaged by heavy May rains and officials hoped to meet the damage threshold of about $106,000 that will secure the state disaster-area status.

• A Jacksonville death-row inmate, who went on a crime spree in the late 1980s and early 1990s, killing at least one woman and raping two others and is suspected of killing two other women, lost an appeal before the state’s highest court.

The Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of Ledell Lee, 43, who was sentenced to die for the Feb. 9, 1993, beating and strangling death of Debra Reese, 26, who lived in the Sunnyside Addition, where Lee had attacked several other women.

• Lt. Col. Ronald McDaniel, 189th Maintenance Group commander, reached a milestone for both himself, the 189th Airlift Wing and the Arkansas Air National Guard in May. McDaniel was promoted to colonel and became the first African American to pin on colonel’s eagles in the 189th Airlift Wing and the second African American in the Arkansas Air National Guard.

• Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, commander of Air Mobility Command, delivered the 13th of 16 C-130J Super Hercules assigned to the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base. The aircraft was assigned to the 41st Airlift Squadron, the first active-duty combat C-130J squadron in the U.S. Air Force.

• After the votes were counted in the May 12 mayoral race, two candidates – Aldermen Gary Fletcher and Kenny Elliott – were left standing and faced each other in a June 2 runoff.

• Wheel of Fortune featured Cabot resident and puzzle-solving extraordinaire Allison Osterberg. Although Osterberg’s winnings were modest, she said it was thrilling to appear on the show. Osterberg works as a paralegal and is a longtime member of Cabot Junior Auxiliary.

• At the Pulaski County Special School District, besieged with substandard buildings and only recently dismissed from state fiscal-distress oversight, a trusted employee was charged with embezzling $100,000 or more over the past decade.

On May 15, Saline County sheriff’s deputies arrested James Diemer, 48, the district’s maintenance supervisor, and charged him with theft by receiving.

Diemer told investigators that he used PCSSD open-purchase orders to buy things he would sell or trade for Hydrocodone or Oxycontin, to which he said he was addicted.

• The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce presented Kris Allen with a key to the city on May 7, when he returned to the state for his hometown celebration.

During an appearance at Riverfest Amphitheater the next day, Allen seemed overwhelmed by the number of fans that turned out. “I feel like I have the best fans in the world,” he told the crowd. Two weeks later he was declared the American Idol winner.

• Eight Cabot schools were recognized for implementing changes to their technology programs when compared to other schools nationally. The Washington-based research project, Speak Up, surveyed students, parents, teachers and administrators to find out how schools can improve especially in the area of technology.

Out of the 200 chosen, Cabot Middle School South, Eastside Elementary School, Magness Creek Elementary, Northside Elementary School, Southside Elementary School, Stagecoach Elementary, Ward Central Elementary and Westside Elementary School were recognized. They were the only schools in Arkansas to be named Speak Up Top 200 schools.

• About 13 inches of rain hit central Arkansas in May, making it the third-wettest May since record keeping started in the state back in 1879.

Most of the rain came during five major storms. The first hit May 1-3, then May 5-6, May 8-11, May 12-16 and May 23-25.

• “I think we now have a golf course,” said Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman after the city council voted in late May to spend $300,000 from the general fund to start reconstructing the 105-acre North Hills Golf Course.

The council also approved spending another $104,000 to hire a golf course superintendent, a full-time general laborer and two part-time golf course laborers.

JUNE

• A Jacksonville man was one of three arrested by the state police in connection with the escape of two convicted killers from the Arkansas Department of Correction’s Cummins Unit at Grady.

Michael Stephenson, 50, was arrested, along with Deanna Davison and Ryan McKinney, both of North Little Rock. All three were charged with a felony count of furnishing an implement of escape for leaving a 2003 Hyundai Sonata in the prison parking lot for the escapees to use in their getaway.

The two escapees were Jeffery Grinder, 32, and Calvin Adams, 39.

Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson pinned down an alligator near Ward in June to prevent it from hurting area residents. The alligator was relocated to a safer location by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

• What do you do when you see an alligator about to cross the road?

Faced with that question one evening in June, Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson, a former rodeo performer, lassoed the animal and jumped on its back like it was one of the bucking broncs or bulls he rode in his younger days.

Then while the sheriff held the gator’s mouth, one of the 20 or so motorists who had stopped to watch the unusual sight taped it closed.

Officials with the Game and Fish Commission relocated the five-foot female alligator.


Army Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula, second from left, sits with his family in June after he came home from the hospital, where he received treatment after being shot three times at an Army recruitment center in Little Rock. His buddy, Pvt. William Long, 23, of Conway, did not survive the surprise attack.

• Army Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula survived being shot three times by a homegrown terrorist. His buddy, Pvt. William Long, 23, of Conway, was not so lucky.

Ezeagwula, 18, a Jacksonville graduate and former Red Devils football player, survived by playing dead after he was shot. He spent three days in the hospital and still has shrapnel in his body.

Ezeagwula and Long were standing outside the recruiting station in Ashley Square Shopping Center near Rodney Parham Road when a dark pickup approached them as they took a smoke break.

The driver, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, 24, aka Carlos Leon Bledsoe, reached for a cheap Chinese semiautomatic rifle and started firing.

• Alderman Gary Fletcher defeated Alderman Kenny Elliott by 225 votes in their June 2 runoff to replace retiring Mayor Tommy Swaim on July 1.

• Jacksonville City Council agreed to spend a portion of the $1 million it had earmarked for Gravel Ridge improvement if that neighboring community had agreed to be annexed by Jacksonville instead of Sherwood.

Aldermen agreed to spend about $350,000 of that money on three road-related projects to make them “shovel ready” in case federal stimulus money becomes available. The allocation was as follows: $195,335 for the engineering study needed to get the Oneida bridge project ready to go, $53,000 for the Emma Street extension engineering study and $96,000 to get the West Main Street project ready to go.

• By early June, Arkansas had joined the list of states with confirmed H1N1 flu (swine flu) cases. As of June 5, there were nine confirmed and probable cases of swine flu in Arkansas, two of which were reported to be in Pulaski County. The highest number of cases was in Wisconsin (2,217) and the highest number of deaths in New York (8). There were 27 reported deaths nationwide by June 5.

• Six drug dealers in Beebe were arrested after the 58 pounds of marijuana they were expecting to receive was seized in a Conway raid.

White County sheriff’s detectives received a tip from the Conway Police Department that it would be delivered to three different addresses in Beebe. Beebe and Searcy police helped in the drug bust.

• A Jacksonville teenager is going to prison for up to 53 years after accepting a plea bargain in Faulkner County Circuit Court.

Kendrick Price, 18, pleaded guilty to taking part in a 2008 carjacking and abduction of a woman outside the Walmart Supercenter in Conway.

• Work started in June on a new animal shelter in Ward. It was slated to be finished by the fall.

Pinnacle Structures donated the new building. It is 1,200 square feet with 600 feet of shaded overhang.

The new shelter will be located off Hwy. 367 near the baseball fields on city-owned property.

TOP STORY >> Rescue teams answer calls in worst flooding

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

The flooding that resulted from heavy rain the evening of Dec. 23 and all day Christmas Eve will go on record as the worst in recent history.

“I’ve been here since I was six years old, and this is the worst flood I’ve seen in Lonoke County,” said 45-year-old Bobby Graham, assistant chief for the Mountain Springs Volunteer Fire Department.

Jacksonville Fire Capt. Joe Bratton said it was the busiest Christmas he had ever worked. His crew got the first call about 7 a.m. and didn’t stop responding to flooding calls until after 8 p.m., a span of more than 13 hours.

Mountain Springs rescued five residents and four dogs from Grayhawk Circle, where floodwater was about five feet deep early in the morning on Christmas Eve. The South Bend Fire and Rescue Department and the Cabot Fire Department, which brought boats, assisted Mountain Springs.

Lt. Hubert Chapman of the South Bend Fire Department said he has lived in the area since 1955 and has never seen such flooding.

The worst area was on West Hwy. 236, where water was four-to five-feet deep in the roadway and even deeper in the houses, Chapman said. His department responded to 38 calls for rescue from vehicles trapped in high water and assisted six families with safely leaving their homes.

One rescue occurred Sunday evening after water pushed one van off West Hwy. 236.

Other problem areas included Graham Road, Kerr Station Road, South Kerr Road and the area around Gentry, Rifle and Shotgun lanes.

“We are grateful that the waters in our area are finally receding and we plan to be available if any of the departments south of us need any help as the waters travel downstream,” Chapman said.

South Bend had 23 of its 36 firefighters involved in rescues over a 96-hour period.

Capt. Tim Kuykendall spoke about one rescue, a handicapped man who was trapped in his vehicle. At 12:53 p.m. Saturday the department was paged by the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office.

Kuykendall and Assistant Chief Dwayne James responded to a call at Kerr Station Road on the Hwy. 294 side. They rescued a 17-year-old who was on the roof of his flooded car. While they were standing there, Kuykendall said it appeared that someone was walking in the water.

“James and I conferred with each other. We went in the boat down Kerr Station to Billy Lane. We found a bucket floating in the water.”

Then firefighters spotted a Kia minivan on the roadway in three-and-half-feet of water.

“We pulled up to the vehicle. We found a disabled gentleman, approximately 55 years old. The gentleman was slumped over the steering wheel barely conscious. He had a Zippo lighter that he was pecking at the window, trying to get someone’s attention. He never saw us there,” Kuykendall said.

He said the man had been in the water for at least 45 minutes. He had no cell phone or any other way to contact emergency personnel. According to Kuykendall, the handicapped man was trying to leave the rising water at his home off Kerr Station Road.

“We knew we couldn’t get the patient out of the vehicle because he was handicapped. Hypothermia had already set in,” Kuykendall said.

The firefighters decided to get the department’s six-by-six vehicle, a two-and-a-half ton cargo transporter, to the scene. It was at another call involving a submerged vehicle. The 6x6 resembles a large forestry truck. It stands five-feet tall with six wheels and has six-wheel drive.

Kuykendall continued, “We hooked the six-by-six with a winch to the front of the vehicle and pulled the vehicle 300 yards to dry land. We put him in our rescue vehicle (an ambulance-style vehicle with a covered payload area and heat) until MEMS arrived on scene.

“Something pointed us to that vehicle, it was something out of the blue,” Kuykendall said.

Kuykendall said there were so many vehicles on Kerr Station that emergency crews had to maneuver their boat to get past them.

Most of the rescues were from drivers who drove around barricades.

The district also helped the Mountain Springs and Cabot Fire Departments rescue several families from their homes in the Greyhawk Circle area of Cabot.

Sgt. Branden Hampton of the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office said when a driver goes around a barricade they would be cited, but since there was a state of emergency, drivers were taken to jail.

The beanfield stretch on Hwy. 67/167 between Redmond Road and the entrance to I-440 in Jacksonville was completely submerged both north and southbound until Saturday, when it was re-opened by the state Highway Department.

Residents in Jacksonville’s Taramount neighborhood were unable to reach their homes, although a few made it to the cut-off in boats.

The entrance to Northlake from Main Street was blocked by floodwater, and about a dozen residents from Taramount parked along Jacksonville Cut-off and hiked through a resident’s yard who had left the gate open for them.

The Jacksonville Fire Department responded to three separate calls of people trapped in floating cars on West Main Street.

Bratton said the biggest problem the department had was getting around because traffic was so backed up everywhere after Hwy. 67/167 was closed down.

A home across from Reed’s Bridge and trailers were flooded on South Hwy. 161.

The stretch of Hwy. 31 from Beebe to Lonoke was flooded and about 30 homes were affected there. Floodwater also closed Hwy. 31 from Hwy. 305 at Floyd to Hwy. 5.

Sylvia Smith, one of the owners of Smith Wrecker in Cabot, said Monday that she had seen ice storms that caused as many motorists to go off the roadways, but in 20 years, she had never seen water cause this much trouble.

“I had three drivers working nonstop,” she said. “I had some boys who went swimming several times (connecting the wench to stalled vehicles), and they said it was cold.”

Smith said her drivers had towed about 30 vehicles.

“We had some that were actually swept off the road and some that died in the road,” she said. “We had some where people drove around the barriers.”

After spending three days moving livestock and pets from his 70-acre hobby farm to higher ground, Dean White, chief deputy at the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office, said he hopes 2009 was a freak year and 2010 will be more like those he is accustomed to.

Bayou Meto is usually at five feet, he said. On Monday, it was at 26.33 feet and rising.

He said the water completely surrounded his house, and if it rose 13 more inches, then it would be inside.

“I moved here in 1995, and it had never flooded like that before. But water has been up to my house three times this year,” he said. “It wasn’t too bad in May because it was warm and the water was so clear you could see fish in it. Now it’s cold and muddy and you have to break ice when you walk through it.”

So far, his only real losses have been the cattle feeders that have floated off, he said. But his neighbors who raise winter wheat and minnows have fared far worse.

The second time White’s home was surrounded by water was from the rain that fell Oct. 30.

Some residents of Beebe’s Windwood subdivision have not recovered from that flood that filled half a dozen homes. Those same homes and half a dozen more were flooded Christmas Eve after the swamp behind them backed up again.

Mayor Mike Robertson was among the rescuers who took residents out of the flooded area by boat.

The floodwater also washed out a railroad trestle and stopped the trains from running through Beebe for two days.

Milton McCullar, head of Beebe’s street department and the city’s floodplain administrator, said several of the houses weren’t covered by flood insurance, so how the owners will pay for the damage is unclear.

To aid in cleanup, the city has brought in large dumpsters for the furniture that was ruined.

White County Judge Michael Lincoln said flooding around Georgetown near the Little Red River was not as bad as anticipated, but Lake Barnett flooded, which is unusual. The lake came out of its boundaries and washed over Hwy. 31 and over the bridge at Gravel Hill, he said.

The county also lost two 80-year-old one-lane bridges near McRae in the Vinity community, he said.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams reported “minimal damage” in Cabot. Williams said recent drainage projects kept water out of houses.

Lt. Jim Kulesa, spokesman for the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office, said Monday that the volunteer fire departments that helped with the evacuations and rescues are heroes who don’t get the recognition they deserve.

“These guys are volunteers. They don’t get paid,” Kulesa said.

Leader staff writers Eileen Feldman and Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.

TOP STORY >> Flood devastates homes

A storage facility on Jacksonville Cutoff was flooded on Christmas. The cutoff was impassable until early this week.
.
West Main Street going into the Taramount subdivision in Jacksonville was flooded for much of the weekend.

By EILEEN FELDMAN
and ALIYA FELDMAN
Leader staff writers

Many area residents were still recovering from October’s floods when the rain started pouring down on Christmas Eve.

Christmas 2009 will go down in history for several families who had already suffered a lot of damage to their homes from flooding just two months ago.

Adylyn and Glenn Figley moved to higher ground in the same trailer park on Old Tom Box Road in north Pulaski County after a brand-new trailer they were living in had been ruined. A trailer they were renting is now also damaged from flooding that started on Christmas Eve.

The Figleys aren’t the only ones who have had problems from the 81 inches of rain that Arkansas received this year.

Harold Ford awoke sometime around 2 a.m. Christmas morning and while walking by his solarium noticed his Valentine Road house south of Jacksonville was surrounded by water.

“It was frightening,” Ford said. “I never would have thought it would come in the house.”

He and his wife Ruthie began to gather a few of their things, shut off their electricity and gas and, around 5 a.m., they were rescued by boat by members of the East Pulaski Volunteer Fire Department with assistance from the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office and the Jacksonville Fire Department. “We didn’t have time, they rushed in with boats,” he said.

Ford said the Dick Jeter Community off Valentine Road just south of Jacksonville has about 250 residents in about 100 homes belonging mostly to elderly folks. “The water came up so fast on Christmas, we just weren’t expecting it,” said Ford.

He had two-and-a-half feet of water in one part of his house, a bi-level built in 1959. There were three inches of water in the upper level. He’s worried he’ll lose two freezers full of food since his power is out. “We can’t go back in now,” Ford said.

Ford has been talking to the Red Cross and the Department of Emergency Management, trying to get some kind of aid and a survey of the damage. He’s also talked to Sherman Smith of the county’s road and bridge department and is expecting some declaration of disaster.

Ford and his wife, who’ve lived in the area for 35 years, are staying in Jacksonville with Ruthie’s sister, who lives in the new subdivision behind Dupree Park. The subdivision didn’t flood, although Dupree Lake flowed over Redmond Road, closing it until Saturday afternoon.

Bill Moses of Jacksonville heard from FEMA two weeks ago that he wouldn’t qualify for assistance, even though almost a foot of water had entered his home in October.

“Today is the first day I can get back in the house,” Moses said on Monday.

He left his house on Hwy. 161 at 11 a.m. Thursday to go shopping. When he returned five hours later, 16 inches of floodwater was in the house.

He said he only had time to grab a few things before he knew he had to leave the house. It was too late for his computer, TV, three couches, wood floors and more damage he cared to think about.

By Christmas, 33 inches of water had entered his home, he said.

He spent the holiday with friends in Lonoke. He could hear water in his muffler as his truck trudged down Hwy. 161 in the downpour. “When I was getting out of here, I barely got the truck out,” he said.

This is the third time this year that Moses’ property flooded.

He blames the Jacksonville landfill.

“(The) dump is the reason the highway flooded,” he said.

In May, floodwaters reached his house but didn’t get in. But on Oct. 29, Moses says eight inches of water covered his den and ruined his wood floors. He had recently taken them up and left the concrete foundation bare when Thursday’s flood came.

When he came back from Christmas Eve shopping, water was “coming in an inch a minute,” he said.

He said his house never flooded before this year. “I’m 300 feet from the creek,” he said, adding that the dump is 115 feet away.

He thinks the flood-relief channels around the dump aren’t sufficient to contain the amount of rain that fell in Jacksonville recently.

“It knocks out all that water and throws it on me,” he said.

He estimates that his house has suffered $15,000 to $20,000 worth of damage from the Christmas flood.

Moses is an unemployed Vietnam veteran and doesn’t understand why the government won’t help him pay to repair damage to his house that occurred during October’s floods.

He says he’ll appeal to FEMA again for help with the most-recent round of damage.

The Figleys were unable to enter Jacksonville because Maddox Road was closed from the flooding. They headed to a Sherwood motel for shelter.

There was six to seven feet of water surrounding their trailer park, Figley said. Many of the trailers that flooded in October, forcing residents to be evacuated by the fire department, flooded again.

“Strangers helped on Christmas Eve with money. Friends brought dinner,” Adylyn Figley said. “Churches have been praying for us, and we’re just hanging in there.”

Their trailer flooded with about three inches.

“We rented a mobile home a little higher up in the park that we’d been living in since Nov. 9,” she said.

“When we left, (water) was at the top step” of their porch, she added.

Luckily, there isn’t any damage to their belongings because they had time to get everything off of the floor.

They lost a brand new trailer to flooding in October, for which insurance has compensated them.

Figley said the couple planned to close on a new house in Ward in mid-January, but the mortgage company is working with them so that they can move in sooner.

She’s still hopeful, despite the two floods she’s been in this year.

“God’s been good to us,” she said.

SPORTS >> Group effort propels Lady Jackrabbits


Emily Howell goes up for a shot in Lonoke’s victory over Carlisle at Beebe.


By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

The Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits advanced to the semifinal round of the Beebe Christmas Classic with a mercy-ruled 58-29 victory over cross-county rival Carlisle on Monday afternoon at Badger Sports Arena.

The Lady Jackrabbits (8-5) used their entire bench during the rout and triggered the sportsmanship/timing rule with a 30-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter.

“It’s always good to get our feet back under us after Christmas break,” said Lady Jackrabbits coach Nathan Morris, who was pleased his team didn’t let down with the big lead.

“More than anything, I was happy that we came out and played hard in the second half, because it’s easy to do that, and they didn’t let up,” Morris said. “We stayed on and we executed well. Offensively we executed well and we played pretty solid defense.”

Lonoke held Carlisle to six points in the first quarter and five in the second to take a 32-11 lead at halftime and then kept the pressure up in the final two quarters.

The Lady Jackrabbits used 14 players and nine made it on to the scoreboard at some point.

“You never know when you’re going to have to have those folks down the stretch,” Morris said. “Their role might be limited; their role might be more minutes. If the starters do their job and get up on top of somebody early, we’ll put them in a little earlier.

“You never know; you might be an ankle injury away from having to use one of them.”

Junior shooting guard Cara Neighbors got in on the action in the fourth quarter after sitting out most of a month recovering from wrist surgery.

It did not take long for Neighbors to shake off the rust as she scored eight of the Lady Jackrabbits’ 10 points in the final period.

“I wouldn’t have done that if the kid had not been practicing,” Morris said. “She’s been going at about 85 percent in all of our contact stuff. We were fortunate enough we could get her into the doctor and get her in there and released — just a little bit of rust.”

After a slow start, things picked up for the Lady Jackrabbits in the final minute of the first quarter.

Asiah Scribner scored inside to make it 9-3 Lonoke, but Whitney Thrift answered for the Lady Bison (5-4) with a three-point basket. Lonoke reserve Emily Smith closed out the quarter for the Lady ’Rabbits with a pair of free throws and a putback that gave Lonoke a 13-7 lead heading into the second quarter.

Lonoke turned up the defensive pressure to open the second quarter, which resulted in a 7-0 run. Ashleigh Himstedt scored on two straight jumpers, followed by a free throw by younger sister Anna Himstedt and a basket by Scribner with 5:32 left to give the Lady Jackrabbits a 20-6 lead.

The elder Himstedt struck again with 5:06 left in the half to increase Lonoke’s lead to 22-8. She also scored on a Scribner steal and assist seconds later and drew a foul and completed the three-point play to put the Lady Jackrabbits up 25-8.

She went on to lead Lonoke with 14 points. Scribner finished with 11.

Ashleigh Himstedt got her next score unassisted when she stole a Carlisle pass at midcourt and drove for a lay-up to make it 28-8 with 2:38 left in the half. Smith then hit two free throws to extend the lead to 30-8.

Jessica McCallie finally ended Lonoke’s second 7-0 run of the period with a pair of free throws with 2:09 left before Emily Howell closed out the half for the Lady Jackrabbits with a putback of her miss with 1:49 left to make it 32-10.

SPORTS >> Breakdown in lane is costly to Lonoke

Storm Beeler attempts a jumper for the Lonoke Jackrabbits against Carlisle.


By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Lonoke’s comeback stalled, but what a comeback it was.

The Jackrabbits cut a 15-point deficit to two in the final minute before Carlisle pulled out a 62-58 victory in the first round of the Beebe Christmas Classic at Badger Arena on Monday.

Keonta Murray gave the Bison the victory when he hit a pair of free throws in the closing seconds. Lonoke’s comeback stalled in the lane with 10 seconds left when Tarrale Watson’s layup landed just off and Carlisle pulled down the rebound and then drew the foul.

“We can’t look at the missed layup at the end as making or breaking our game,” Lonoke coach Dean Campbell said. “We didn’t play very well in the first half at all and we dug ourselves a hole. We used a lot of energy coming back, and when you come up short like that, it is a little heartbreaking.

“But I told the guys that if you’re not afraid to lose, then you can win some games and come back in some games that maybe you shouldn’t.”

The Jackrabbits trailed by 15 with just over three minutes left before starting their rally.

Carlisle was premature in playing keep away with 3:18 still to go.

The resurgent Jackrabbits defense forced Malcolm Murray to dribble out of bounds, and an inside shot by T.J. Scott cut it to 57-52. Storm Beeler then made it a one-score game with a three-pointer.

D.J. Love scored for Carlisle on a putback and Scott answered, and the teams traded free throws to push the score to 60-58.

Carlisle missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and Dixon pulled down the rebound for the Jackrabbits.

Carlisle pressured Lonoke into a number of forced passes, many of which found their way out of bounds. A number of other frantic passes were picked up by the Bison and converted into easy transition points.

“That comes with young, inexperienced players not taking time to catch it and look,” Campbell said. “Instead just catching and going right away. As pressure comes, we’re trying to get used to handling that pressure, and try to make good passes and be patient. And that goes along with experience.”

The Bison got their initial lead with solid offensive play by Love at the end of the first quarter. Love hit a three-pointer and then took an assist from Malcolm Murray for a crowd-approved dunk with 56 seconds left in the quarter.

That gave Carlisle a 17-13 lead, and another Love basket extended the advantage to seven.

The Bison (6-1) went on an 8-1 run to end the first half and built their lead to 38-24.

Love went on to lead the Bison with 17 points, while Chris Larkin and Keonta Murray were close behind with 16 each.

Lonoke (1-4) struggled with turnovers most of the game, but the Jackrabbits (1-4) became the aggressors in the final period.

Darius Scott fueled much of Lonoke’s comeback in the second half with 11 of his team-high 17 points in the third quarter.

Scott’s run in the third began with a three-pointer with 4:51 left in the period and also included an old-fashioned three-point play with 3:37 left.

The loss put the Jackrabbits in the consolation bracket, but Campbell believes he has the ingredients for a potent team as the players gain experience.

“I think we’ve got a good mix,” Campbell said. “We have some kids who can shoot and some who are getting stronger physically.

“We’re not heavy one way or the other. The more we play and the more comfortable we get with each other, the more we will know who can do what.”

SPORTS >> Colts win gamble on imperfection

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

I had wanted to use this space for a nice end-of-year column full of inaccuracies and smarmy clich├ęs, like what the big-time sports columnists write.

But then, on Sunday evening, I logged on to my favorite social networking site and opened my fat mouth about the cowardly Indianapolis Colts, and Facebook swiftly became In Your Face-book.

Since I’m not going to miss 2009 all that much, for a whole list of reasons that includes the recent weather, I’d rather skip the sentimentality and keep the debate going.

What do you say? Let’s send out the year with fireworks instead of champagne.

A few of my long-distance friends, including one expatriate Buffalo Bills fan living in Indianapolis, took issue with me for calling out the Colts over their decision to sacrifice a perfect season rather than risk their star players (i.e. Peyton Manning) in a “meaningless” regular-season game.

With Manning, who has passed for 4,405 yards and 33 touchdowns on the sideline for most of the second half Sunday, the Colts, who had clinched every possible playoff advantage, lost a 15-10 lead and were beaten 29-15 by the New York Jets.

The Colts fell to 14-1, gave the Jets a leg up to the playoffs and snarled things for several other teams.

And there, once again, went the chance to see something special in the NFL.

The league, with its explosive graphics and hyperbolic announcers, keeps telling us we’re watching the best sport in the world and just when we start to believe it, one of its best teams blows its chance to do something spectacular and just dares to be good.

I’m already on record as saying I wanted to see a perfect team win the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1972 Miami Dolphins went 16-0. With the modern, expanded schedule, the Colts, had they gone all the way, would have been the first team to finish 19-0.

But with his team leading by five, first-year coach Jim Caldwell pulled Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai to preserve them for the postseason run and the Jets rallied.

I’m not irrational. I get it. You lose a lot of money and prestige if you don’t win the big one, and you aren’t going to win it if you get key players hurt. You could be the Icarus of pro football, crashing to the ground with your wings aflame because you dared to touch the sun.

But what if everyone thought that way?

What if NASA held back Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin from walking on the moon because they were thinking about the long-term future of the space program?

What if Eisenhower decided not to go for it in Normandy because the weather reports were bad and he didn’t want to risk lives or his own military career?

You have to gamble to be great.

The space program gambled the lives of it astronauts and billions of dollars in the name of exploration and to capture the awe and imagination of the entire world.

Eisenhower gambled the lives of thousands of young men in order to free thousands more innocents who were living, or dying, under the tyranny of a few.

Are these extreme examples? After all we’re just talking about a silly game.

But that’s my point.

If you can’t take a risk and gamble to be great in a silly game, when can you?

There is a Super Bowl champion every year, but, as the creaky-kneed veterans of the 1972 Dolphins like to point out, there aren’t that many perfect teams.

Disappointed Colts fans booed their team Sunday, and I don’t condone such disloyalty, but I understand how they feel. So do the Colts.

“I probably would have booed too,” center Jeff Saturday said. “I don’t blame them. They pay to come see us win games and we didn’t get it done.”

My Bills-loving friend in Indianapolis said the Colts’ fans need to keep their eyes on the “prize” which, presumably, is the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

That sounds a lot to me like the great line from Peter Gent’s dark and disturbing pro football novel “North Dallas Forty.”

“Every time I call it a game you call it a business,” a player screams at a coach after a tough loss. “And every time I call it a business, you call it a game.”

Sure the prize is the Super Bowl championship, but I submit the prize is also that bonus money (winning players got $83,000 each last year), that contract negotiation leverage, those commercial endorsements and that big bump in a team’s merchandising revenues.

Those are nice things for the players, coaches, front office personnel and owners, but what do the fans get?

The fans get good, but not great. They get 18-1, if they’re lucky.

Oh well, we didn’t want those moon rocks anyway.

SPORTS >> Red Devils gave fans run to remember

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

Free throws won Jacksonville its first state basketball championship on March 14, but there was nothing free about them.

The Red Devils and hero guard Deshone McClure earned every shot.

McClure sank 2 of 3 free throws with 1.2 seconds left to lift the Red Devils to a 63-62 victory over Little Rock Hall at Summit Arena in Hot Springs. The team’s 6A championship is The Leader’s top sports story of 2009.

Jacksonville won its final 15 games of the season and avenged a regular-season loss to Hall in January. The rematch in the final was a thriller that would satisfy fans of just about any program with perhaps the exception of Hall.

“These guys showed a lot of heart,” Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner said.

Jacksonville rushed to an 11-1 lead, but the score was 15-14 Hall by the end of the first quarter. Jacksonville took a 27-26 lead at halftime and outscored Hall 18-10 in the third quarter to make it 45-36.

Stanley Appleby scored seven straight points to give the Red Devils their biggest lead, 52-39, midway through the fourth quarter. But the Warriors’ pressure defense began to have an effect against the turnover-prone Red Devils, who lost the ball 24 times during the game leading to 28 points by Hall.

Hall’s A.J. Walton had made two free throws for the 62-61 lead with 7.8 seconds left as the Warriors came completely back from their 13-point deficit.

But McClure, now a senior, split two defenders and got to the top of the three-point line to launch his last-second shot that missed. But David Rivers, behind McClure and reaching over, was called for the foul that sent McClure to the line for his game-winners.

“Coach told me to get the ball and don’t stop,” McClure said. “I almost lost it and I almost passed it, but Coach told me to go and don’t stop. If we’re going to lose, we’re going to lose it because of me.”

Instead, McClure won the game and the most valuable player award for his heroics and 17 points.

“I had to do it for my teammates — I had to,” said McClure, who made his first free throw, missed the second and put the Red Devils ahead to stay with his third. “After I missed that one I was thinking that I couldn’t miss another one or we’re going into overtime. I knew if we went into overtime that it was going to be a battle, so I had to hit it.”

Joyner said overtime, with Walton still on the court for Hall, would not have been a savory prospect. Walton, now at Baylor, scored a game-high 24 points, 15 over the final 5:48.

“He’s got no quit in him and he almost single-handedly carried his team to a state title,” Joyner said.

But Joyner and the Red Devils countered with a group effort.

Demetrius Harris was 9 of 14 for 20 points with 10 rebounds; Appleby had his solo run to give Jacksonville its biggest lead and his brother Raheem also contributed points; Cortrell Eskridge and Darrius Morant had two key assists apiece; Antonio Roy had seven rebounds and Antwan Lockhart made all of his three shots, including a dunk, while adding three rebounds and a block.

It was a satisfying championship because it was the Red Devils’ first, but it was also pleasing to Joyner after his team’s struggles the previous season. Jacksonville opened 3-9 but reached the state tournament, only to lose in the quarterfinals.

“We had a lot of infighting, a lot of things we were trying to work through personally,” Joyner said. “But for the most part, all year, these kids have given it up for each other. They respect each other and they’ve grown closer as teammates.

“But they’re still competitive. They want you to stop this guy, they want you to get up there and get this rebound. And they’ll get up in each other’s face and tell each other. And there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you handle it the right way.”

Clearly, the Red Devils did.


LONOKE FOOTBALL

The Lonoke Jackrabbits overame a 2-3 start to reach their first state championship game since 1994.

The Jackrabbits had to win 3 of 4 playoff games on the road and gambled on two intentional safeties in a playoff victory at Warren just to get to Little Rock and War Memorial Stadium, the site of the championship.

Senior running back Brandon Smith, The Leader offensive player of the year, rushed for 1,953 yards and 24 touchdowns while senior quarterback Michael Nelson emerged as a threat to run and throw.

The storybook run ended one victory short as the Jackrabbits drew private school power Shiloh Christian in the championship.

The Saints roughed up the Jackrabbits 56-20 to win their sixth title, but the loss didn’t do much to mar the season for Lonoke.

“It was still fun for us,” Smith said. “We enjoyed ourselves. We were just happy to be one of the last two teams competing for a state championship.”

LAMAR LEGALITY

A court case involving Lamar’s eligibility delayed the 3A football playoffs by one week and kept Harding Academy on ice for three because of the first-round bye the Wildcats earned for winning the 2-3A Conference.

Lamar initially had to forfeit five of its six victories because it used an ineligible player, but an injunction granted by Fifth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Gordon McCain overturned the decision and returned the victories to Lamar.

As a result of the delay, the 3A championship game had to be moved to Conway’s Estes Stadium because of scheduled renovations at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

As it turned out, Harding Academy wouldn’t have earned a trip to either venue as it suffered its first loss in the semifinals at Fountain Lake.

Lamar was also a playoff casualty.


PRIME TIME

Cabot and Jacksonville met at Cabot’s Panther Stadium on Sept. 1 in the state’s first high school football game to be broadcast on commercial television.

It was the latest installment of the “Backyard Brawl” between the next-door rivals and anyone who couldn’t make the game had a chance to tune in.

A crew of 20, with two trucks, seven cameras and 3,000 feet of cable, decked out Panther Stadium for the broadcast on KARZ-TV Channel 42, sister station to KARK-TV Channel 4 in Little Rock.

“I think there’s been some cable access kind of stuff,” KARK assistant news director Jeff Whatley said. “But this is the first time on commercial television.”

Whatley is the brother to Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley, but the family relationship had nothing to do with the selection of Jacksonville-Cabot as the premiere matchup.

“We just know this was a good rivalry,” Jeff Whatley said.

Though renovated over the years, Panther Stadium still needed a rented generator to help handle the power needs of KARK’s production and microwave trucks.

Concerns over a possible dip in attendance at the 5,000-seat stadium were offset by a guarantee of $500 to each team.

But a near capacity crowd showed up to see Cabot beat Jacksonville 35-6 in the non-conference season-opener.


FALCONS FALTER

While Jacksonville was on its way to a 6A state basketball championship, crosstown rival North Pulaski was coming up short in its bid to be the 5A state champion.

It might have been impressive to some that the city of Jacksonville produced two state final qualifiers, but that was far from satisfying to North Pulaski, which was beaten 39-34 by Greene Co. Tech.

The Falcons shot just 19 percent (11 of 57), though Kyron Ware was a bright spot with 19 points.

Behind Ware, the Falcons rallied from a 24-13 deficit with 3:47 left in the third quarter to within 24-23 with 12 seconds to go in the period.

But North Pulaski missed all five of its fourth-quarter three-point attempts.

“Of course it was our goal to win it,” North Pulaski coach Raymond Cooper said after his team finished the year 25-7. “But they have nothing to be ashamed of. I’m just as proud of them as I could be.”




THIRD SETBACK

Getting to a state championship game once is quite a feat.

Getting there three times would have to be considered something special, except after their third straight trip the Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits still went home without the winner’s trophy as Shiloh Christian won 51-45 on March 12.

Lonoke became the seventh Arkansas girls team to go to the final three straight years.

Only two other teams, the Greenland girls and the Harrison boys, reached three consecutive championships and lost them all.

This year’s setback came largely because of Shiloh Christian power forward Megan Herbert, who had 26 points, 14 in the fourth quarter.

Lonoke led 37-35 after a basket by Ashleigh Himstedt with 3:25 to go, but Lonoke was already in foul trouble and Herbert took over and put her team ahead to stay with a layup with 2:05 left.

“All I know that we can do is dig, scratch, claw and fight to come back,” Lonoke coach Nathan Morris said.

Monday, December 28, 2009

TOP STORY >> Who’ll stop the rain?


A car is submerged on Hwy. 67/167 between Jacksonville and Cabot on Thursday in the biggest downpour on record.

By JOAN McCOY and JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writers

After a record-setting, two-day deluge that dumped some nine inches of rain, area residents found some relief just before Christmas when the rain stopped, at least temporarily.

Sections of Hwy. 67/167 were closed on Christmas.

Widespread flooding affected the entire three county area.

The beanfield stretch between Redmond Road and the entrance to I-440 in Jacksonville was completely submerged both north and southbound until Saturday when it was reopened by the Highway and Traffic Department.

Residents in Taramount were unable to reach their homes although a few made it to the cutoff in boats. The entrance to Northlake from Main Street was blocked by floodwaters and about a dozen residents from Taramount parked along the cutoff and hiked through a resident's yard who had kindly left the gate open for them.

A home across from Reed's Bridge and trailers were flooded.

The stretch of Hwy. 31 from Beebe to Lonoke was flooded and about 30 homes were affected there. Floodwaters also closed Hwy. 31 from Hwy. 305 at Floyd to Hwy. 5.

Lt. Jim Kulesa of the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office said there were several reports of flooding of roadways in the county.

A woman and her baby were in a vehicle on Carson Bridge Road in Lonoke County, when her vehicle hydroplaned and became stuck on part of the road that collapsed.

The woman and her child were not injured and were rescued, Kulesa said. There were numerous reports of vehicles stalled in water.

Kulesa said the worst flooding was in the southern part of the county. However, Cocklebur Road in Ward was underwater Thursday as were parts of Hwy. 31 and Hwy. 319 from Lewisburg Road to Hwy. 5.

The Sheriff’s Office also received reports of residents who called to say they were unable to leave their homes. There are also a number roads that are still not passable. It’s been the wettest year on record — 81.5 inches so far.

Five homes in the Grayhawk area outside the Cabot city limits were evacuated at 3 a.m. Thursday. Capt. Dwayne Boswell of the Cabot Fire Department said the department assisted the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Department, the South Bend Volunteer Fire Department and the Mountain Springs Volun-teer Fire Department.

The Cabot Fire Department and the South Bend Volunteer Fire Department used two flat-bottom boats in the rescue.

“We took the boats to the front door and took them to dry ground,” Boswell said.
Kulesa said the sheriff “is asking residents to remain home and use extreme caution if you must leave your residence.

He said “the highest risk will be tonight” — Chrismas night — “during darkness when people will attempt to travel to friends and family homes for the holiday. This is when the roadways will be the most hazardous due to the darkness.

“If you must travel, let someone know when you are leaving and what route you plan to take. Don’t just rely on a cell phone,” the lieutenant said.

LESS FLOODING

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said Thursday morning that even though streets flooded all over the city, fewer homes were flooded, so the recently completed drainage projects are a success.

Williams said he was out late into the night, as were Aldermen Ed Long and Eddie Cook, Public Works Director Jerrel Maxwell and Dan Willhite, head of the street department, keeping an eye on the flooding.

Drainage work kept water out of houses in Autumnwood, and Campground and Diedrich, Williams said, but sandbags were brought in to keep houses in the Highlands dry.

The main problem there was the sod that was put down to cover the raw dirt from the drainage work. The rain washed it off and into the drainage grates on the street, the mayor said.

The sandbags kept the water out of houses, but simply uncovering the grates helped more, he said.

“The water is killing us, but Autumnwood is a great success story,” said Cook, a candidate for mayor.

Cook said the amount of rainfall wasn’t really the problem; the deluge Wednesday evening was. The rain fell so fast, the city drainage system couldn’t contain it all. But being out and watching where the water flowed will help to improve the system, he said.

“It’s one thing to sit around and look at elevation maps but it’s another to get out and actually watch where it flows,” he said.

At 9 a.m., Maxwell was parked at the intersection of Kerr Station and Candlewood, his truck a barrier to stop traffic onto Candlewood, where a deep ditch was not discernable from the street.

So many streets were flooded that all the barricades had been used, he said. As the water ran down in some areas the barricades were being moved to the locations where they were most needed.

Road closings on Christmas Eve in Cabot included Candlewood Circle at Kerr Station Road, South Rockwood Road, Mountain Springs Road near Hwy. 5, South First Street and North Willie Ray Drive at Four Mile Creek.

Jacksonville Police Department spokesman April Kiser said the following roads were closed because of flooding — Hwy. 67-167 north and south between the 13 and 17 mile markers; Ellis Street; John Hardin Drive to the north city limits; West Main Street to North Lake; North First at Maddox Road; Hwy. 161 and S. Second St.; Hwy. 161 at the old railroad overpass viaduct; Redmond Road from James to Park, West Main at Jessica just east of Harris Road and Oneida to West Main.

Kiser said Dupree Park is also closed because it is “completely flooded. It’s looking pretty bad.”

ROADS CLOSED

Tracey Perkins, spokesman for the Pulaski County Road Department, said county roads that are barricaded because of heavy rains and flooding include Peters Road (one barricade); Centennial Road (four barricades); Hatcher Road (two barricades); Lena Lane (two barricades); Kellogg Acres Road (two barricades); Republican at Batesville Pike (two barricades); Maddox at Tom Box Road (two barricades); Maddox at Madru (two barricades); Maddox at Toneyville (two barricades); Batesville Pike at Fortson Road; Rixie Road (two barricades); Kellogg Acres Road at the bridge (one barricade); Batesville Pike at Bridge Creek (two barricades); Jacksonville Conway Road (two barricades); Fortson Road, four barricades, and Bethel at Jacksonville Conway Road (one barricade).

At mid-morning Thursday, city officials in Beebe reported minimal problems such as water over Railroad Street and drainage problems at Mississippi and Main. The real trouble was expected Thursday afternoon where houses that flooded in late October in the Windwood subdivision were expected to flood again from the swamp that would fill from the heavy rain.

White County Judge Michael Lincoln said Thursday afternoon that flooding was a problem county-wide.

“I haven’t heard of anyone trapped and unable to get out,” Lincoln said, “but we’ve got roads covered with water and bridges covered with water and it’s still coming down.

Lincoln said his biggest concern was the area around Griffithville, West Point and Georgetown near the Little Red River. The river was already at near flood stage when the rain started because the Corps of Engineers was releasing water from Greers Ferry Lake, he said, adding that the end of the rain won’t mean the end to the threat of flooding for that area.

Lincoln said assessment and repair of damage to the roads won’t start until Monday.

TOP STORY >> Looking back at first three months

Compiled By RICK KRON

After culling through 104 issues and more than 2,100 pages of newsprint to determine The Leader’s top 12 stories for 2009, there was still so much news left that it was decided to take a month-by-month look back. These snippets are from some of the major news stories that appeared in The Leader between January and March.

JANUARY

• The man charged in Jacksonville’s first murder of 2008 was sentenced in early January to 40 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. Derrick Alan Cox, 26, stabbed and beat William Ramsey, 22, of 520-D Stonewall Drive, to death in March 2008. They were neighbors.

• The Sherwood Fire Board narrowed down its search for a full-time fire chief to three candidates, but the longtime current chief, Frank Hill, was not among the candidates. The fire department is not a municipal department but a fire protection district department under the control of the county judge, who appoints a five-member board to oversee its operations. Most of the firefighters are part time and volunteers.

• By late January, Sherwood’s wastewater treatment plants rectified most of the problems that so upset the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality last year that the agency slapped the city with a hefty fine and consent order.

The one outstanding violation was the condition of the levees around the lagoons. The lagoons are old and do not meet today’s tougher standards for wastewater treatment. Repairs will be expensive.

• Harold S. Longs, 54, of 516 Beverly St., in Jacksonville, was accused in a Bernie Madoff-style scheme, taking investors for more than $755,000.

Longs was indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of securities fraud and 18 counts of wire fraud.

The charges stem from Longs’ two-year operation of a securities investment scheme carried out through his company, Your Money Worth.


• Knight’s Super Foods was named business of the year at Cabot’s 49th annual chamber banquet. It was the first time the grocery store received the award. Pastor Mark Eisold was named chamber member of the year. Eisold leads the congregation of Our Savior Lutheran Church.

• Eleven Jacksonville High School students, plus their instructor and two chaperones, received VIP tickets to attend President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Pulaski County Clerk Pat O’Brien of Jacksonville, who was the first elected official in central Arkansas to openly support Obama, also attended the inauguration.

• Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim, who held that position for 22 years, announced that he would resign. Swaim announced that even though he was just midway through his sixth four-year term, he would be stepping down July 1.

• New sidewalks at Northwood Middle School finally gave students with physical disabilities playground and outside access. Parent Reginald Ford spearheaded the drive for the sidewalks.

• Howard H. Neal Jr.’s capital murder conviction was upheld by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The 26-year-old Jacksonville man was convicted in December 2007 of the Oct. 23, 2005, death of a 5-year-old girl in Jacksonville. Neal stabbed the girl, Jasmine Peeples, more than 100 times before suffocating her and keeping the police away in a 50-minute standoff.

After receiving a life-without-parole sentence in circuit court, Neal appealed to the state Supreme Court.

• The Pulaski County Special School District board voted to keep James Sharpe as the district’s superintendent, but did not extend his contract. Sharpe’s contract had been a point of contention with the board, which had discussed and voted on whether or not to fire him several times in late 2008.

• The Beebe School Board extended Superintendent Dr. Belinda Shook’s contract for an additional year to June 2012, but she refused to accept a pay raise. Shook asked that her salary of $117,292 stay the same. “I feel like I’m being paid a fair salary,” she said.

• An Air Force staff sergeant stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for his part in a 2005 brutal gang initiation of an Army sergeant, who died from his injuries. At the time, both men were stationed in Germany.
Staff Sgt. Jerome Jones, 25, will serve two years in prison, have his rank reduced to airman basic, and receive a dishonorable discharge for his part in the death of Army Sgt. Juwan Johnson and convictions on a host of other charges.

• Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz, the 19th Airlift Wing commander, under whose command Little Rock Air Force Base was successfully reorganized and who was a strong voice for getting a failed effort for base housing privatization restarted, was reassigned to the joint staff at the Pentagon, where he serves as deputy director for global operations.

Col. Gregory S. Otey, the former Air Force Expeditionary Center vice commander at Fort Dix, N.J., took over command of the 19th Airlift Wing from departing Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz.

• An ice storm in early January put the brakes on travel as more than 200 interstate and highway accidents were reported in a 16-hour period. Even those responding to the accidents ended up in accidents. The Jacksonville Fire Department had a fire truck and an ambulance slide into the median and a state trooper’s vehicle slid into a fire truck.

• The finishing touches on the Cabot sewer treatment plant that opened Dec. 15, 2007, to meet the needs of the growing city were finally completed. The $12 million plant, which was part of a $16.5 million bond issue for wastewater, took a year to build.

• Jacksonville residents got the word that native Kris Allen, who auditioned in Louisville, Ky., for the eighth season of American Idol, would be on the show.

• Leaky roofs at Cato Elementary School and Northwood Middle School were slated for repairs. Pulaski County Special School District officials said work would begin in the spring. Temporary patches have stopped the leaks.


• A dog at the Jacksonville Animal Shelter found a new home, and First Arkansas Bank and Trust found a new mascot as Cash, a one-year-old-yellow Labrador retriever, was adopted by the bank and is the new face of First Arkansas Bank and Trust.

• Buying North Belt right-of-way land in Sherwood near Brockington Road is “priority one,” the state Highway Department said in January. The state has about $4 million to buy right-of-way for the proposed North Belt from Hwy. 67/167 through Sherwood over to Hwy. 107. The money won’t buy all the land the state needs for the bypass that has been on the books since the late 1940s, but it will help move the project forward.

FEBRUARY

• The Jacksonville city council set May 12 as the day the city will elect a new mayor and June 2 for any runoff.

• A tragic early morning house fire claimed the life of a toddler in Lonoke County.
The Lonoke Sheriff’s Office received a report of an early morning house fire at 6424 Mount Tabor Road near the intersection of South Oak Grove Road.

An adult male, two adult females and a 5-month-old child were able to get out of the mobile home, but a 3-year old boy died in the blaze.

• Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman signed a contract with the Sherwood Fire Department providing it with about $800,000 for the year. She will also sign a $125,000-plus contract with the Gravel Ridge Fire Department. The Sherwood money makes sure that the city has fire protection 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

• The owners of Tecboys, a Cabot-based Internet company that lost its city business license in 2006, were sentenced in circuit court on six felony theft charges for not delivering scooters to customers. But they will not spend any time in prison.

Eddie Williams, 56, and Connie Williams, 53, were sentenced to 10 years in prison, suspended, and five years supervised probation. They also were ordered to pay restitution of $8,159.06 at the rate of $300 a month beginning Feb. 2. There was nothing in Special Judge John Cole’s ruling that would prevent the couple from continuing to sell on the Internet.

• Bill Vasquez, who represents most of Jacksonville on the Pulaski County Special School District Board, led the way Tuesday on a 4-3 vote to recombine the boys and girls middle schools in Jacksonville next year, saying neither school had made adequate yearly progress.

Vasquez’s argument was false and misleading, Mike Nellums, principal of the boy’s school, said.

• A national publication and a Little Rock marketing firm whose search for the fastest-growing communities in the nation has led to the realization that in Arkansas, Cabot is the “boom town.”

The Gadberry Group named Cabot the third fastest-growing city in the state behind Lowell in the Rogers-Springdale area and Maumelle. The boomtown designation is the result of a survey BusinessWeek.com conducted in association with the Gadberry Group, which considered such factors as continual population growth over the past 10 years and the whopping 83 percent increase in household income, which is now estimated at $98,555.

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said he was pleased with the recognition and confident that the city would continue to flourish.

• The Jacksonville City Council unveiled a 65-inch television screen and seven computer monitors as part of an update to the council’s chambers. “City hall is 19 years old and this brings us more into the 21st century,” said City Administrator Jay Whisker.

• An attorney for the developers of the 586-acre Oakdale North Addition told the Sherwood Planning Commission that not approving his client’s project would put the city in “financial peril.”

The commission had delayed approving the project for at least three months because the city had not approved the latest revisions to the master street plan.

The attorney, Hal Kemp, contended that the city requiring the developer to block off a corridor in his development for the North Belt loop, which may or may not get built, is actually a ploy to squash any rise in the fair market value of the property.

• Entergy announced a plan to build a substation and two high voltage transmission lines near the railroad track in Cabot, which could mean more to the city than just the assurance of enough electricity to accommodate growth.

The project will connect the two existing high-voltage lines at the new substation.

The huge components of the project are too big and heavy to be delivered by truck. They will come by rail and that will require the construction of a railroad spur that could be used to attract industry to the area.

• A partially buried box of cremated human remains was found Tuesday near a church cemetery in Furlow. Lt. Jim Kulesa, with the Lonoke Sheriff’s Department, said an individual told deputies that he found a box in a hole in the woods. The individual looked in the box and it appeared to be filled with cremated remains.

• The Cabot City Council passed a resolution asking the Arkansas Highway Department to install a traffic signal at Hwy. 367 and Locust Street, where traffic is expected to increase after a new railroad overpass opens in the spring. The traffic signal would be mostly federally funded and would not likely be started until 2010, Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said.

• Sherwood police and other authorities spent a day digging up what looked like a grave in the woods near Gravel Ridge only to find rocks. It was reported that the possible grave might have contained the body of Darla Harper, a 25-year-old Gravel Ridge woman who went missing in March 1986.

• Projects in Sherwood, Cabot and Jacksonville were put on the short list in February for how $14.2 million in federal stimulus money for local projects will be spent. Metroplan, the regional planning agency, had produced a tentative list of “shovel-ready” projects in central Arkansas before the federal stimulus bill was finalized.

• Even though the park study that Sherwood has paid for is about three months away from completion, the parks and recreation committee decided that the 106-acre North Hills Country Club and defunct golf course needed to be revamped into a working golf course.

The committee, according to Alderman Ken Rankin, decided that the property would be an 18-hole golf course with work to begin immediately.

“Why are we having a park study done if we are not going to wait for it or look at it?” questioned Mayor Virginia Hillman.

• Waste Management of Arkansas presented two checks to Jacksonville. The chamber received $5,000 for its projects and the city received $25,000 to be used for college scholarships.

• The Lonoke School Board unanimously agreed to submit an application to the Arkansas Department of Education to issue as much as $2.8 million in second-lien bonds for demolition and construction of parts of the high school. The district requested partnership funding with the state to demolish four buildings, the science building, the main wing east, the main wing west and the band building, about 40,000 square feet.

• Officials with the $62 million Lonoke-White Water Project to bring water from Greers Ferry Lake to the central part of the state which has been in the planning stages for about 15 years got word that the project could be funded from the almost $800 billion economic stimulus package approved earlier this month and under construction by June because it is “shovel-ready.”

• It was announced in late February that Pulaski County could house an additional 100 prisoners in the detention center starting in March, thanks to a unanimous $1.3 million appropriation the quorum court made, bringing the total capacity to 980 inmates.

When the county begins collecting another $15 per case in court fees by July, it can hold another 75 prisoners, bringing the total to 1,055.

• Jacksonville’s Daud Amir Jones was sentenced to 20 years in prison, plus a five-year enhancement for using a handgun, for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Meloney Graham, at their Pike Avenue residence,

• Local businesswoman and the chief motivator behind the success of Pathfinders, Joan Zumwalt, was roasted and toasted at the senior center’s annual fund-raising dinner in late February.

• Stimulus funds for “shovel-ready” central Arkansas road projects, previously estimated at $12.7 million, grew to $14.2 million, increasing the likelihood-but not guaranteeing-that Graham Road in Jacksonville would be widened to four lanes in the near future. The widening of Brockington Road in Sherwood has risen to the top tier and seemed certain to receive the $4.6 million federal share, with another $1.2 million due from the city.

Overall, the $787 billion stimulus act contains $351 million for Arkansas roadways.

MARCH

• Austin’s new police chief said he was grateful for his six years at the Jacksonville Police Department, which he calls “one of the topnotch police departments in the state.” But he’s happy to be back in Austin where he grew up and where he started work as a part time police officer eight years ago.

John Staley, 29, moved into his new position March 16, taking over from interim Police Chief Woody McEuen, who replaced former Chief J.J. Martin when he left in January to head the public safety department at ASU-Beebe.

• Seven candidates filed before the deadline to run in the May 12 special election for Jacksonville mayor to replace retiring Tommy Swaim. The candidates included Randy (Doc) Rhodd, who heads the Family Motorcycle Ministry, realtor Beckie Brooks, Aldermen Kenny Elliott and Gary Fletcher, developer Tommy Dupree, former Jacksonville police officer Bill Shelley and Farm Bureau area manager Jody Urquhart. Shelley dropped out shortly after filing.

• Jacksonville can look forward to an additional $73,103 in federal community development block grant money in 2009. A regular appropriation of about $269,000 is also expected. The new money is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – also known as the stimulus package – signed into law by President Obama on Feb. 17.

• All 596 C-130s in the Air Force-including all 68 C-130J models-are being inspected here and abroad for cracks in the wing joint barrel nuts.

Roughly 20 percent of those aircraft are based at Little Rock Air Force Base. None of the planes here have been grounded while they’re inspected and repaired.

“Our number one thing is to make sure that it is safe in the air for our mission,” Col. Greg Otey, 19th Airlift Wing commander at LRAFB, said. “Some of it could be aging, but we’re checking all C-130s.”

There are 13 nuts per wing, and it will take about four hours per plane, roughly a couple days, to make the repairs.

• Ronald Dean Charles, 31, of Jacksonville lacked the mental capacity to help in his own defense and was sent to the State Hospital until further notice for treatment and further evaluation.

Capital murder charges had been filed in Faulkner County against Charles and Troy Allen Crook, 29, also of Jacksonville, in deaths of two cousins near Vilonia last April.


• Jacksonville sold its old library building and land to the First United Methodist Church for about $350,000.

The church had shared a common parking lot with the library for more than 40 years.

The city’s new $4.8 million library, about two blocks west on Main Street and on the other side of the street, opened Feb. 14, replacing the city’s oldest library.

The new 13,500-square-foot facility is one of 12 libraries in the Central Arkansas Library System.

• Pulaski County Special School District board member Bill Vasquez, who represents Jacksonville, broke ranks with the usual four-person voting bloc, as the board approved a resolution that could let Jacksonville-area school patrons off the hook for their share of the $80 million second-lien construction bond for a school in Maumelle. Jacksonville only gets a pass if it can be done legally and only if it gets its own school district.


• An architect’s drawing of the $8.2 million future home of the Arkansas National Guard’s F-Company, of the 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s Brigade Support Battalion was unveiled in Cabot.

The 35,000-square-foot armory, officially called a readiness center, will be built off Arkansas Hwy. 367. It will have a classroom large enough to hold 100 soldiers and kitchen large enough to serve 350. It also will have a 5,800-square-foot drill hall and maintenance and storage areas for vehicles and equipment.

• Sherwood’s planning commission said no to a major residential development after the project had been tabled for months as the commission waited for the council to adopt the new master street plan showing the latest location of the planned North Belt Loop.

Developer Steve Deere and others working on the project which would have added more than 1,000 homes to the city insisted that they did not have to show the North Belt on their plans. The commission insisted that city ordinances said that all planned roads, highways and interstates needed to be shown on the plans.

• Two Pulaski-Lonoke corridors will get new asphalt paid for with federal economic stimulus funds totaling $2.75 million. They are among 103 road and bridge improvements approved statewide in March by the Arkansas Highway Commission, bringing $351.5 million into the state economy as authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2001 (ARRA). President Obama signed into the act into law Feb. 17.

For repairs to the nine-mile stretch of Hwy. 165 between I-440 and Hwy. 386, $2 million in stimulus funds is allocated. For repairs to 2.8 miles of Hwy. 70 running from the Pulaski County line east into Lonoke County, $750,000 is allocated.

• The Cabot School Board unanimously approved construction of a 32-classroom facility for the Mountain Springs Elementary School. The school will be the district’s ninth elementary school. The 78,641-square-foot building will cost about $7.3 million.

• Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams went to Washington in March looking for $19.5 million to build the proposed north interchange and came back with a promise of help getting $3 million to $5 million for engineering and right-of-way acquisition.

It’s not what he hoped for, but the mayor says it’s a good start.

Williams said the interchange promise came from Cong. Marion Berry (D-Gillett) who said he would include a special appropriation to start the project in the next five-year highway-spending plan, which will be developed in the fall.

• After an internal investigation into an oversized buyout check issued to its former superintendent, James Sharpe, who was fired in early March, the Pulaski County Special School District accepted the resignation of Larry O’Briant, its chief financial officer.

Interim Superintendent Robert McGill said O’Briant was helpful and forthcoming during the investigation, and McGill said he appreciated O’Briant’s years of service to the district.

Sharpe received a check for about $79,000 more than the flat sum of $185,000 the board approved in his buyout March 11.

• In March, physicians at the Jacksonville Medical Clinic looked to leave the facility next door to North Metro Medical Center, where they have practiced for more than 10 years because of the rent being doubled. The move was just one option being considered by the doctors, but their rent was lowered and they stayed.

They were eyeing clinic space in Sherwood.