Friday, February 06, 2009

SPORTS>>Harris signs with Red Wolves

Leader sports writer

Jacksonville’s Demetrius Harris made it official on Wednesday morning, signing a letter of intent to play football for Arkansas State University.

Harris, a 6-foot, 6-inch wide receiver/safety was The Leader’s Defensive Player of the Year last fall after racking up 146 total tackles, picking off four passes and breaking up 12 others. Harris also recovered two fumbles, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

He was every bit as prolific on the offensive side, where he used his size and exceptional hands to haul in 47 passes totaling 738 yards and nine touchdowns.
The 220-pound Harris has 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash.

Harris, the son of Linda Harris, is also one of the basketball Red Devils’ top scorers and rebounders, helping lead Jacksonville to a 12-3 overall record.

SPORTS>>Déja vu at Panther Pavilion as Cabot wins another late

Leader sports editor

When post man Miles Monroe fouled out midway through the third period with Conway already up five points, the Panthers’ hopes of ending the Wampus Cats’ five-game winning streak against them dimmed significantly.

When the Cats converted Monroe’s technical foul into an eight-point lead one minute later, that streak seemed destined for six.

Even Cabot head coach Jerry Bridges admitted to a lapse of faith.

“I don’t have guys that are 6-8 to bring in for Miles off the bench,” Bridges said. “I didn’t know what (the game) was going to become at that point. You just have to move on. You can’t dwell on it.”

But for the second game in five days at the Panther Pavilion, the Cabot Panthers overcame the exact same deficit of 42-33 to win by the exact same score, 60-54, to finally bring the Cats’ frustrating streak to an end. Just as in Friday night’s 60-54 win over Russellville, Adam Sterrenberg was the key, though he got help from some unlikely sources down the stretch as Cabot improved to 5-2 in the 7A Central, 15-5 overall, and moved into a second-place tie with the Wampus Cats, a game behind first-place North Little Rock.

Sterrenberg matched his 29 points against Russellville, 11 of those in the final period. Against Russellville, Sterrenberg erupted for 22 points over the final four minutes and 55 seconds. In both games, Cabot trailed 42-33 in the second half.

Cabot began its comeback late in the third on Tuesday by turning up the defensive pressure and forcing eight Wampus Cat turnovers in the quarter.

“If you’re going to beat teams like Conway, you’re going to have to play some defense,” Bridges said. “It hasn’t been one of our strengths, but we’re getting better at it. We were trying to pinch them to keep them from getting to the gut on us. And in the first game, they beat us down court all night because we were lazy and slow getting back.”

The Panthers trailed 42-35 heading into the fourth period, but Austin Johnson, who added 14 points, narrowed that to four by making three free throws 11 seconds in.

Sterrenberg’s three from the left corner with seven minutes left whittled the Conway lead to 42-41. Cabot finally knotted the game on Jack Bridges’ three with 6:20 left, and claimed a 46-44 lead on two more Johnson free throws with 5:17 remaining.

Reserve Seth Bloomberg answered Conway’s tying basket with a rare three, but four consecutive Conway free throws put the ’Cats on top again at 50-49 with 3:09 left.

“Seth is ice,” Bridges said. “He’s a football player and a competitor. He loves to win and he’s going to give me everything he’s got. And Christian Armstrong came in and got some great rebounds. Gary (Clark) did a great job of filling that void in the middle defensively. (Alex) Baker took a charge or two. Jack hit a big three. Everybody stepped up and made key plays that helped us.”

Cabot trailed 52-50 when Sterrenberg went end to end for a lay-up, but Conway beat the Panthers down court on the inbounds pass for a bucket and a 54-52 lead at the 1:55 mark.

Sterrenberg provided more magic by hitting his fifth three of the game that put Cabot on top for good with 1:27 left.

Conway’s Kenyon McNeaill missed a six-footer in the lane and Cabot got possession on a scramble for the rebound. Sterrenberg hit one of two free throws with 29 seconds to extend the lead to 56-54. Sterrenberg then picked off an interior pass at the other end and hit two free throws with 16.8 seconds for a four-point lead. Bridges nailed two more free throws to set the final margin.

“That’s a big win,” Bridges said. “The schedule doesn’t favor us and we’re trying to get into that state tournament. We held serve at home and that’s what you have to do to have a chance.”

Cabot used a 13-0 run late in the first period to turn an 11-5 deficit into an 18-11 advantage after one period. Sterrenberg’s buzzer-beating three-pointer, the result of a long rebound in the corner, gave the Panthers a 27-25 halftime advantage.

“We wanted a game in the twenties at half,” Bridges said. “I thought we played a little fast at times. We can’t run with them, they’re too athletic. But once we got it knotted up, we were able to play more at our tempo.”

Cabot still led 29-27, but after falling behind 34-29, Monroe drew his fourth foul on the offensive end, then was hit with his fifth after drawing a technical arguing the call.

“Miles was as tickled as anybody that we got the win,” Bridges said. “Miles is emotional and emotions got the best of him. He’s going to learn from it. The important thing is we found a way to win.”

And the Panthers found a way to get Conway out of their heads.

“It’s become a good rivalry,” Bridges said. “They’ve had our numbers so it was really good to get that monkey off our backs. The home crowd and student body and the whole community was great for coming out. That made a big difference.”

The Panthers were able to overcome a 32-23 rebounding deficit by making 8 of 16 three-pointers and by committing four fewer turnovers than Conway. Johnson and Sterrenberg scored 43 of the Panthers’ 64 points, with Bridges adding five and Monroe and Baker chipping in four apiece. Sterrenberg added three assists and two steals.

Cabot visited Catholic last night in a game played after Leader deadlines.

SPORTS>>Falcons get defensive, stay perfect in conference

By Jason King
Leader sportswriter

High-powered offense has been the North Pulaski Falcons’ calling card this season, but that took a backseat to solid defensive play in Tuesday’s 68-47 home win over Beebe in 5A-Southeast Conference play.

The Falcons (16-5, 7-0) held Beebe (12-6, 4-3) without a field goal from the 1:23 mark of the first quarter until the 5:26 mark of the third quarter. A pair of free throws by Devonte Young in the final 30 seconds was the only thing the Badgers had to show for the second quarter.

The win keeps the Falcons perfect in league play and tied for first place with Little Rock McClellan in the conference standings, while Beebe, at 4-3, is now tied with Sylvan Hills and Mills for third.

“I thought defensively that was our best effort,” said North Pulaski coach Raymond Cooper. “There wasn’t a whole lot of gambling, it was just solid defense. We communicated better. We didn’t have the breakdowns, and then when we did have the breakdowns, we communicated and were able to recover. And so I’m really pleased with that.”

Despite the stellar defensive effort in the first half, the Falcons did not put the game away until they outscored Beebe 25-10 in the third quarter. Kyron Ware single-handedly outscored the Badgers with 11 points in that period, mostly off transition opportunities.

“I think that defense carried us, because we were really ragged offensively in the first half,” Cooper said. “They had a good game plan. They packed it in real tight, and we didn’t adjust to it there at first.

“I was thinking that we weren’t playing very good, and I looked up at the scoreboard and saw that they only had fourteen points, and that’s when I said I’m looking at the wrong thing. Because if we’re holding a team to only 14 points in a half, we’re doing some things right.”

It was point guard Joe Agee that kept the Falcons’ offense going early on, while Beebe enjoyed balanced scoring. Six Badgers found their way to the hoop in the first eight minutes, while Agee kept pace with a pair of three-point baskets and an inside jumper for eight of his 11 points in the game.

Zach Kersey finished with 17 points for the Badgers, but 11 of those came in the fourth quarter after North Pulaski had already put the game away. The senior shooting guard received plenty of attention from the Falcons in the first three periods, as they held Beebe’s dynamic scorer to only six points during that time.

“He’s the kind of kid that you’ve got to be aware of at all times,” Cooper said. “Because he’s got so much range. And then he’s deceptive because if you approach him wrong, he will put it on the floor and get to the basket.

“Even when we were rotating, we made sure if you were the next one, even if it wasn’t your guy, that you would leave your guy and get him. We wanted to run him off the three-point line and make him pass to someone that we were banking on wasn’t as good a shooter.”

Ware started the third quarter with a three-point shot that put the Falcons up 25-14, and extended the lead to 29-14 at the 5:43 mark when he scored off a steal and dish from Aaron Cooper.

He had two more inside shots before he capped the period off with a dunk, once again assisted by Cooper, which put the Falcons up 40-18.

Agee hit the last of his threes in the final two minutes, and Cooper got a steal that he took all the way to give North Pulaski a 47-24 lead at the end of three.

“My hat’s off to the kids,” Cooper said. “That’s the best we’ve stuck to a game plan all year long. The things we’ve talked about all season – they’re finally starting to get it.”

Ware led the Falcons with 18 points. Cooper joined Agee with 11 points and had four steals. T.J. Green led rebounding with 11 boards, while junior Duquan Bryant finished with six points and five rebounds.

For Beebe, Kersey led with 17 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Anthony Forte added eight points for the Badgers.


Senior guard Ty O’Neill led the way for the Lady Badgers with 23 points, including an 11-point outburst in the second quarter.

The Lady Falcons were outscored 20-9 in the decisive second quarter, and trailed 31-14 at halftime. Two North Pulaski players finished in double figures. Bianca Harper led with 22 points, with 15 from Laura Dortch.

Beebe sophomore post Danna Jackson added 16 points for a career best, and Amanda Wheeler finished with nine. Megan Martinez had eight points, including a 4-of-5 performance at the foul line for half of her points.

The Lady Badgers are 12-9 overall and 7-0 in the 5A-Southeast Conference, still tied for first with Sylvan Hills. The Lady Falcons fell to 1-6 in league play.

North Pulaski played at Mills last night, and will play at Sylvan Hills on Tuesday. Beebe hosted Crossett last night, and will be at McClellan on Friday.

SPORTS>>Red Devils out-muscle foe in key league win

Special to The Leader

The Jacksonville Red Devils broke a mid-season tie and now stand alone in second place in the 6A-East standing after beating West Memphis 63-53 Tuesday night in the Devils’ Den at Jacksonville High.

Jacksonville is now 5-1 in league play and one game behind league-leading Little Rock Hall, while West Memphis fell to 5-2.

West Memphis is one of the few teams this season to enjoy a height advantage over the Red Devils, but the Blue Devil big men couldn’t match Jacksonville in intensity. The Red Devils out-rebounded the taller Blue Devils 38-21.

Jacksonville senior forward Cortrell Eskridge picked up five rebounds in the first five minutes of the game before being taken out and given a rest. His substitute, Antonio Roy, was just as effective. Jacksonville’s four big men, Eskridge, Roy, and starters Demetrius Harris and Antwan Lockhart, combined for 32 of Jacksonville’s 38 rebounds.

“We’ve got four guys that are battling for minutes,” Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner said. “They battle like that against each other every day in practice. They’re just bringing that to the game.”

Jacksonville ran out to an early 7-0 lead. Eskridge started things off with a putback, followed by a three by junior DeShone McClure. When senior guard LaQuentin Miles hit a driving lay-up in traffic, West Memphis coach Larry Bray called time-out with 6:40 left in the first quarter to halt the home team’s momentum.

The time-out was a wise one. After the break, Jacksonville couldn’t find the rim. West Memphis wasn’t lighting up the scoreboard either, but the momentum was gone. Gradually, the Blue Devils worked their way back into the game, even tying the score at 12-12 with 18 seconds left in the opening period. Jacksonville senior guard Stan Appleby gave the Red Devils the lead for good when he hit a running 10-footer at the buzzer.

Roy made his presence known in the second quarter, picking up five rebounds, including two on the offensive end that resulted in second-chance baskets. Four of Jacksonville’s five two-point baskets in the second quarter came off offensive rebounds. Lockhart and Miles each got second-chance buckets. Eskridge scored on a spin move in the lane and McClure hit another of his four three-pointers as the Red Devils took a 31-26 lead into the break.

True to form for Jacksonville this season, the Red Devils came out strong in the third quarter and took control of the game. McClure hit two threes and Jacksonville added 12 more in the paint. The lead grew to as much as 17 before settling at 49-35 at the end of three.

Jacksonville’s struggles from the free-throw line emerged again in the final period as the Red Devils were unable to put the visitors away until late. Jacksonville was 10 of 16 from the charity stripe through three quarters, but hit just 6 of 16 in the final quarter when the Blue Devils began to foul to extend the game.

Jacksonville, though, continued to play tough defense and West Memphis found capitalizing on all the missed free throws a difficult task.

“We had our game plan and they had theirs, and they just put theirs together better than we did,” West Memphis head coach Larry Bray said. “We missed some close shots in the first quarter, but I think Jacksonville’s defense had something to do with that. I give them all the credit.”

West Memphis shot just 34 percent from the field, hitting 19 of 56 attempts. Jacksonville was just below 40 percent, hitting 21 of 53 attempts.

The Red Devils defense held the Blue Devil post duo of 6-foot-10 Anthony Borden and 6-7 B.J. Rossell to 20 points. The two have averaged a combined 37 points per game this season. Rossell led the way with 12 points for West Memphis.

McClure was Jacksonville’s leading scorer with 21 points. Miles added 15 while Eskridge chalked up 12 points, 12 rebounds, two steals, two blocks and two assists.

Jacksonville improved to 14-3 overall while West Memphis fell to 14-5.

“Really, I just thought the ball rolled our way early,” Joyner said. “The bounces went our way. That’s a good basketball team over there.”


The Lady Devils dropped their game to the perennial powerhouse West Memphis girls. West Memphis led 37-11 at halftime, and a 50-foot shot at the buzzer spared Jacksonville the mercy rule, pulling the Lady Devils to within 50-21 to start the fourth period.

Most of the fourth quarter was played with reserves, and Jacksonville out-scored their visitors 16-7 in the final frame to set the final margin.

Tyra Terry led Jacksonville with 11 points. West Memphis senior guard Simone Young led her team with 16 points while junior Shelby Fenter added 13.

Jacksonville falls to 5-11 overall and 1-5 in league play with the loss. West Memphis improved to 14-6 and 6-1.

SPORTS>>Lady Owls fall in rugged contest

Leader sports editor

It may have been a contest between two Christian schools, but no one was willing to turn the other cheek on Thursday night at Abundant Life gym.

In a game in which more bodies than shots fell, Conway Christian barely outmuscled Abundant Life to hold on for a 52-45 victory in the final 2-5A North regular season game. A total of 47 fouls were called and another 20 might have been. The teams combined to shoot 58 free throws.

“That was just a battle,” said Abundant Life coach Justin Moseley. “We showed a lot of heart hanging in there after we got in foul trouble. It’s hard to explain just how physical that was.”

In a sign of what was to come, a Conway Christian Lady Eagle was stitched up in the early going after busting open her chin on a tangle on the floor. The Lady Eagles employed a box-and-one on Lady Owl leading scorer Hannah Pastor, and to good effect. Pastor finished with 11 points, but spent most of the second and third quarters on the bench in foul trouble.

The loss pretty much guaranteed the Lady Owls a four seed at the district tournament at Conway St. Joe’s in two weeks as they finished 7-5 in league play and dropped to 22-11 overall.

Abundant Life was able to make only one field goal in the first half, but 15-of-16 free-throw shooting kept them within shouting distance at 27-17. The Lady Owls got few good looks in the half with Pastor being bottled up or on the bench, and launched a series of off-balance shots in traffic.

“We had a lot of frustrations,” Moseley said. “Maybe we didn’t get some calls we wanted to get or some scores we wanted to get, and then we were fouling out of frustration.”

Despite a 1-of-15 shooting performance in the first half, the Owls began to get back in it in the third period, when they made seven of their 11 field goals on the night. Making 7 of 10 shots in the quarter, the Lady Owls drew as close as they would get when Brittney Sharp’s lay-up with 45 seconds left whittled the lead to 38-34.

But Christian Demhertog, a thorn in Abundant Life’s side all night, hit her third three of the night to extend the lead to seven to start the final period. Conway Christian hit 9 of 12 free throws down the stretch to hold on and finish league play at 10-2.

It was the fourth game since Friday for the Lady Owls, and Moseley said his team suffered the effects of the schedule.

“They were tired even yesterday and I made it as light a practice as I could,” he said. “We really didn’t have much of a chance to prepare for (Conway Christian) because we played Friday, Monday and Tuesday. We worked on some things but we didn’t execute the things we worked on for the box-and-one.

“We did all the things we had to do to get back in it in the second half, but we had too big a hole and they hit their free throws.”

Carmyn Sharp led Abundant Life with 13 points and eight rebounds while Sydney Venus added 12 points. Sharp scored nine points and pulled down eight rebounds. The Lady Owls finished 11 of 38 from the field but missed all seven of their three-point attempts. They were 23 of 33 at the line.

The Lady Eagles made eight three-pointers and knocked down 12 of 25 free throws.


It was stat padders night for the Abundant Life boys, or would have been had Owl head coach Tim Ballard not substituted so freely and so often. Thirteen Owls scored in a game in which they scored 31 points in the first quarter.

Dane Lottner, Garrett South-erland and Dustin Keathley tied for high score honors with 12.

The Owls snagged 20 steals in the high-octane affair, while turning it over only six times themselves.

Often, they didn’t hold on to the ball long enough to turn it over, getting easy baskets inside or launching quick threes. Abundant Life shot over 50 percent (30 of 58) despite making only 7 of 26 three-pointers.

Christian used some on-target long-range shooting of its own to stay close early, making four threes in the first quarter. But after falling behind 16-13 Abundant Life launched a furious 23-3 run, aided by seven straight points by George Herring to put it out of reach. The Owls led 53-28 at the half.

Herring and Mike Stramiello added nine points each, while Cameron Slayton had eight. Terrell Ghant scored four points and dished out four assists.

The Owls finished the 5-2A North regular season unblemised at 12-0, 25-7 overall. They’ll take on Kirby on Friday and will open district play in the semifinals at St. Joe’s on Feb. 20.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

TOP STORY>>Toddler perishes in Lonoke trailer fire

A mobile-home fire claimed the life of a toddler in Lonoke County on Sunday.

The Lonoke Sheriff’s Office received a report of a trailer on fire around 4:30 a.m. at 6424 Mt. Tabor Road, near the intersection of South Oak Grove Road.

One man, two women and a 5-month-old baby were able to escape the mobile home alive. A 3-year-old boy died in the blaze.

One of the women was the victim’s mother. She and the other woman were burned on their wrists and hands.

The victim’s mother is a friend of the family and was staying at the home with her child.

“If anyone would like to help with monetary donations, contact the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Department,” the infant’s uncle Mike Jackson said.

The Lonoke Sheriff’s Department, the Tri-Community Fire Department and the Butlerville Fire Department responded to the fire.

The victim’s body was taken to the Arkansas State Crime Lab.

The cause of the fire was still undetermined Tuesday and the incident is under investigation.

According to the boy’s grandmother, there were smoke alarms inside the home. She lives next door to the now-destroyed trailer.

Lt. Jim Kulesa, spokesman for the Lonoke County Sheriff’s office, said the family is too upset over the loss to talk with investigators now, so they have not yet been interviewed about the cause of the fire and where the victim was at the time the blaze erupted.

Kulesa said that it is a possibility that the fire started in the kitchen, but the cause has not yet been determined. The family declined press interviews.

EDITORIAL>>Fallback plan on tobacco tax

You probably have been following the battle over the hearts and minds of the small band of Republicans in the Arkansas General Assembly. Tobacco companies and conservatives have mounted a grassroots campaign to dissuade the Republicans — eight in the Senate and 27 in the House of Representatives — from voting for the 56-cent-a-pack cigarette tax and higher taxes on smokeless tobacco. Republicans are supposed to send letters, emails and phone calls to the lawmakers and to generate pressure from county Republican chairmen, reminding the legislators that Republicans are supposed to be against taxes and more government.

Dick Armey, the former Republican leader of the U. S. House of Representatives and now a shill for the cigarette makers, was at the Capitol yesterday to deliver the message. The health group supporting the tobacco taxes tried to get Armey to debate a Little Rock physician on the tax while he was in town, but Armey demurred. Armey’s job is to travel the country to defeat tobacco taxes that state governments are contemplating, and he’s not going to share the microphone with do-gooders.

Though only roughly a fourth of the legislature, the Republicans find themselves in a powerful position. If they stick together, they can defeat the tax and the statewide trauma network and other medical programs that the tax would fund. Republicans are more than enough to defeat the tax in the House and one short in the Senate because the excise tax requires a three-fourths vote of each body.

One Republican in the House has signed on as a sponsor of the bill. A former executive director of the state Republican Party came out of the closet over the weekend as a supporter of the tax, but his motives looked a little suspicious because he lobbies for a hospital that would benefit indirectly from the tax.

The tobacco taxes and health programs look like an uphill climb despite the celebrated prowess of Governor Beebe in getting legislation passed and the strong support of the leaders of both houses. A few of the 28 Democratic senators and 73 Democratic representatives are holdouts, too. A few ran on no-tax platforms.

A majority ought to rule on all matters that do not affect individual rights, and that includes taxes. It will be a shame if 70 percent of a conservative legislature sees the need for a strong health policy but cannot achieve it.

There is an easy remedy, as we have suggested. Change the tax from an excise tax to a sales tax on the wholesale or retail value of the product. That would change the threshold from three-fourths to a simple majority and also insure a more stable revenue stream. When the tobacco companies raised prices to offset the loss of sales to smokers who kick the expensive habit or who die, the sales tax would keep the state’s revenue stream flowing. They should have the bill in reserve.

EDITORIAL>>Regulating behavior

Our libertarian impulses are triggered each time lawmakers want to criminalize innocent private behavior like not fastening seatbelts or driving while text messaging. Usually, the authors of such bills are conservative Republicans who otherwise talk about smaller and less intrusive government.

Usually we wind up seeing their point. So it is with the sponsors of bills that would outlaw electronic messaging by teenage drivers, who are involved in an extraordinary number of car wrecks. Rep. Allen Kerr of Little Rock, the sponsor of one of the bills that passed the House of Representatives, said making it unlawful to drive while using cell phones for people under the age of 18 would reduce traffic accidents and insurance rates. It would require drivers to use hands-free technology in their vehicles until they are 20 years old. Sen. Kim Hendren of Gravette has a similar but lighter bill in the Senate.

The light punishments in all the bills and the innocent nature of the misdeeds will not insure full compliance, but we have no doubt that it would help. Innocent is not harmless.

The question is, why restrict the law to teenagers? If you are going to make reckless behavior illegal, it ought to be illegal for adults as well.

Sen. Hendren and Rep. Ray Kidd of Jonesboro have introduced bills that would require drivers of any age to use hands-free technology when using wireless devices and would impose light penalties for violations. A Jonesboro physician offered some compelling testimony for the bills. His 27-year-old son committed suicide in December after agonizing for months over his role in the death of another young man. He was text messaging when his car struck the other’s. If it had been illegal, the doctor knew that his son would not have been messaging while he was at the wheel.

Yes, we know where this is headed: the nanny state, where a wise and righteous government regulates risky private behavior for your own good. What’s next: fines for eating Twinkies and Sugar Puffs?

But there is a line to be drawn. The state has a compelling interest in regulating private behavior that puts everyone else in harm’s way and imposes a high social cost. Wireless technology has created just such an instance.

TOP STORY>>Legislators see a close tax vote

Leader senior staff writer

Despite an appearance at the state Capitol on Tuesday by anti-tax crusader Dick Armey, the former U.S. House Majority Leader, Democrats in the Arkansas House of Representatives predict they will have the votes they need to fund a trauma center and other health program with a new 56-cent-a-pack cigarette tax increase.

Rep. Greg Reep, D-Warren, House sponsor, says he aims to present his bill today in the House Rules Committee, and with a favorable vote, it could go to the full House on Thursday.

On a strictly partisan count, Democrats would fall three votes shy of the 75 votes they need to pass the bill.

The tax will generate an estimated $88 million a year and an equal amount in federal matching funds.

It would update emergency rooms across Arkansas, help fund 59 community health centers, insure more children and open a satellite campus of UAMS in northwest Arkansas.

Gov. Mike Beebe and Speaker Robbie Wills have been working hard to round up the votes they need, says state Rep. Jane English, R-North Pulaski County, who op-poses the tax.

“But there is a strong bunch of people who have said no from the start,” English said.
She said Armey asked, “Is this good public policy?”

She disputed the characterization of Armey as a cigarette industry lobbyist, saying he came as an opponent of raising taxes and growing government.

Rep. Davy Carter, R-Cabot, also spoke at the morning rally.

“I think it’s going to be a very close vote,” Carter said.

“I hope our message convinces those on the fence. I suspect (it will pass or fail) by two or three votes,” Carter said. “The Speaker says he’s got 70 yeses.”

He said Armey was “an impressive guy. He’s been around for a long time.”

Carter is sponsoring a bill that would require random testing of those receiving benefits from the state Department of Human Services. Lonoke County has had problems with meth labs for many years.

Rep. Mark Perry, D-Jackson-ville, says the governor’s cigarette tax proposal seems to be gaining momentum.

He says the governor has proposed an impressive health initiative that includes not only the trauma center, but rural health care centers and help for rural fire departments.

Perry said he will vote for the cigarette and tobacco tax if that’s the only way to fund the governor’s proposal.

“I got my $575 million highway bill today,” said Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle. He and co-sponsor Sen. John Paul Capps, D-Searcy, successfully guided the governor’s bill to unanimous approval in the Senate.

The bill allows the governor to ask voters in 2011, 2013 or 2015 to approve the sale of a bond issue, the proceeds of which would be dedicated to repair and maintain the state highway system.

If the bond issue passes, then “we will not have to draw funds from the secondary road highway fund to be used on the interstate highway system,” according to Glover’s talking points.

No new taxes are required. The bonds would be retired by proceeds from a four-cent-a-gallon diesel tax. The authority to put the bond issues before voters expires in 2015.

TOP STORY>>Projects wait for stimulus funding

Leader senior staff writer

The widening of Graham Road, of Brockington Road and Cabot ramp improvements at the Hwy. 67/167-Hwy. 5 interchange all stand to benefit from passage of the economic stimulus package, according to Jim McKenzie, executive director of Metroplan.

Everything is speculation right now. One expert told Metroplan that predicting the amount of money that will be available in the final package was like trying to call the final score of a basketball game at halftime.

McKenzie likened it to a kaleidoscope with many moving parts, where a small change can alter the picture.

“We’ll know more by Presidents Day,” McKenzie said.

At the moment, Metroplan staff think Arkansas will receive about $372 million for highways, of which about $12.7 million could go to central Arkansas.

In the House version of the stimulus bill, about $30 billion will go to the nation’s highways.

One stimulus scenario would use the new money to widen Brockington Road, Cabot ramp improvements, a rail-grade separation in Salem near Benton and a Pike Avenue roundabout in North Little Rock.

That would free up about $6.2 million in Surface Transportation Program funds previous committed to those projects.

That money could be used to fund the Graham Road widening at Jacksonville, the Military Road project at Benton, and additional funding for the south loop project south of Little Rock.

Those jobs are “on a list of projects closest to ready to enable us to capture all the funds available,” McKenzie said. The stimulus package will set limits on how quickly the projects must start. That and the total amount of money available will help define which projects can be funded.

“We want to leverage the stimulus money,” he said.

The big-ticket items in central Arkansas, like the North Belt Freeway and the I-430/I-630 interchange, are nowhere near shovel ready and thus not eligible for any stimulus money at this point, McKenzie said.

It could all be a moot point if Congress doesn’t also fund the federal highway trust fund.

Transportation Weekly reported that the House bill would apportion the money among the states using the same distribution formula used for the regular fiscal year 2008 highway appropriation.

Fifty-five percent of that money would be allocated to the state highway departments of transportation, with the balance, 45 percent, subdivided in the same fashion as the surface transportation program.

That 45 percent would be divided with 62.5 percent of it allocated to individual areas within a state by population with the 37.5 percent remaining at the discretion of state departments of transportation.

TOP STORY>>Jacksonville to pick new mayor May 12

Leader staff writer

The residents of Jacksonville will elect a new mayor on May 12, unless the city council changes the date at its meeting Thursday night.

After more than 22 years of running the city, Mayor Tommy Swaim announced in mid-January that he was resigning as of July 1, citing a desire to spend more time with his family.

On Thursday, the council will approve the ordinance setting up a special election to replace Swaim. The winner of that election will serve out the remainder of Swaim’s current term to Dec. 31, 2010, and have the right to run for the office again.

According to the proposed ordinance, the filing period will run from Feb. 10 through noon March 12. All necessary paperwork must be filed with the Pulaski County clerk.

So far four people—Aldermen Kenny Elliot and Gary Fletcher, businessman Tommy Dupree and Randy (Doc) Rhodd of Motorcycle Ministries — have announced that they plan to seek Swaim’s seat.

If none of the candidates have a majority of the vote (50 percent, plus one vote), there will be a run-off on June 2 between the two candidates receiving the most votes.

The ordinance states that the “duly elected candidate, shall, upon proper certification, take the oath and office of the mayor on or about July 1.”

Swaim, who is in his 23rd year as mayor, said family played a major role in his decision. He told the council in January that he missed a lot of his children’s activities while mayor and didn’t want to do the same with his grandchildren.

“It was a hard decision to make, but the right one,” he said. “I’m comfortable with leaving. The city’s in good financial shape and has good employees.”

Also on the council agenda:

– The council will schedule a public hearing date to get input about raising water rates by at least one percent.

– Aldermen will decide whether or not to waive competitive bidding in the purchase of fire gear.

– The council will discuss and establish maintenance priorities to prevent structures from being condemned.

– Alderman Reedie Ray will be appointed to the city’s advertising and promotion commission, replacing Alderman Marshall Smith, who recently resigned after serving as the commission chairman for about four years.

TOP STORY>>Cabot upbeat on growth

Leader staff writer

The economic development committee of the Cabot Chamber of Commerce met last week to talk about the state of the city considering the economic downturn and concluded that
all things considered, Cabot is in good shape.

To make that conclusion more official, the committee will conduct a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats), said Mark Eisold, pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church and one of 12 members of the chamber’s board of directors. But he said there is little doubt that Cabot’s strength is its schools and that’s not likely to change. So even in a recession, Cabot should continue to prosper.

“Cabot is strong and we’re stable,” Eisold said. “Our stability is not based on industry. Our industry is education.

“I’m not saying Cabot is recession proof,” he said, adding that it is ironic that not having industry seemed like a disadvantage in the past. But now, it could be viewed as an advantage.

“We’re solidly based in education and we’ve got decades backing that up,” he said.

When the SWOT analysis is completed within two months, the economic-development committee will be in a better position to make plans for the future, he said.

Although it is generally believed that Cabot does not attract industry in part because it does not have the necessary infrastructure, the city’s growing population continues to attract new businesses to the area.

The area considered to have the most potential for commercial growth is Hwy. 5, but much of the area is outside Cabot city limits and its water is supplied by North Pulaski Water Users Association. The water lines are too small for adequate fire protection and there is no city sewer.

To make the potential for commercial growth a reality, the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission is negotiating with North Pulaski Water to buy its territory in Lonoke County, Tim Joyner, general manager of Cabot WaterWorks, said Friday.

The negotiations will include getting an appraisal of the value of the pipes in the ground and the value of the revenue from the customers in the area.

“We’ll work with North Pulaski about what they’re willing to sell us,” Joyner said. “Ideally, we would like everything in Lonoke County. We expect a lot of commercial development in the area.”

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Wil-liams, who is also a member of the economic-development committee, said he agrees that the city is stable because of the schools.

He agrees that Hwy. 5 will be the next commercial growth area if Cabot WaterWorks is successful in obtaining the territory controlled by North Pulaski Water. With good fire protection, water and sewer, the area could be a great benefit to the city in the future, he said.

TOP STORY>>Tobacco lobby sends Dr. Death from Texas

Leader editor-in-chief

Dick Armey of Texas, the former Republican majority leader in the House of Representatives who’s now a pitchman for Big Tobacco, came to Little Rock yesterday to lobby against raising the tax on tobacco.

Dr. Death has found a new calling after running his party off a cliff while he was in office.

He now heads an outfit called FreedomWorks, which is a front for the tobacco industry. Backers include an heir to the RJReynolds Tobacco fortune and UST, which makes smokeless tobacco.

This is an industry that kills off its customers. Nearly 5,000 Arkansans die from smoking-related deaths every year, or about $5 million a year in lost sales on the wholesale level. That’s why the tobacco companies oppose raising taxes — they need new smokers to replace the dead ones, but the industry has to keep prices low, or kids won’t pick up the habit.

It’s doubtful Armey, a former economics professor, can convince enough state legislators to kill the bill, which has the backing of Gov. Beebe. Do they want a Texan to lobby the legislature? No more than they would adopt the Longhorns as our new football mascot.

There’s one Arkansas lawmaker Armey will never convince to vote with the tobacco lobby. That’s Rep. Walls McCrary (D-Lonoke), whose parents died because of tobacco.

Like many legislators, he received a donation from a tobacco company during his campaign, but he sent the check back, McCrary said last week.

“When I was 29, my father died of lung cancer,” he told The Leader. “He came back from World War II and couldn’t kick the habit. Ten years later I lost mom to second-hand smoke. I wondered how long I was going to make it.”

The bill will go before a House committee on Wednesday and could be voted on before the full House on Thursday. It needs a three-fourths majority for passage, but as many as 10 Republicans are said to be supporting the bill, which would raise $87.8 million.

Richard Beardon, the former executive director of the Arkansas Republican Party and now a lobbyist for a Memphis hospital, and Rep. Rick Green, R-Van Buren, among other Republicans, threw their support behind the tax Monday, and others in his party will likely join them.

The tax would pay for trauma centers and other health-care programs.

The liquor industry should help establish the trauma centers with higher taxes on alcohol. Drunks cause most highway accidents, which require transportation to trauma centers. Higher taxes on gambling would also generate revenue for those programs.

Arkansas is following a national trend as state legislatures and Congress look for new revenues during hard times. Why not raise sin taxes on all aberrant behavior?

If passed, the tobacco tax would increase by 57 cents a pack to $1.15, or about the same as the national average. The national tax could go up another 56 cents a pack, bringing the cost of a pack of cigarettes to about $5, which sounds just about right.

The Mississippi House of Representatives recently raised the tax from 18 cents per pack to $1. The Senate approved a 49-cent increase, so they’ll hash out their differences and probably settle for 75 cents or more per pack.

The tobacco tax will reduce smoking and save thousands of lives, while increasing revenues because hardcore smokers cannot quit their addiction until they drop dead.

You raise the cigarette tax 10 percent, and almost as many people will kick the deadly habit. The cost of health care goes down, especially when hardcore smokers — with their heart and lung disease and a myriad of other problems — kick the bucket.

Dick Armey and the industry he represents want to hook kids by keeping taxes low. But people who’ve seen their loved ones die from cigarettes hope to discourage others from smoking by making it more expensive.

The tobacco industry is anti-life. Armey and his flunkies are the Pol Pots of American capitalism.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

SPORTS>>One-man wrecking crew

Leader sports writer

With one of the best point guards in the state able to control just about every Russellville possession, Cabot’s six- and eight-point deficits in the second half seemed a whole lot deeper on Friday night, while each of its own possessions seemed a whole lot more precious.

Fortunately, for the Panthers, Adam Sterrenberg turned desperation into gold, scoring 22 points over the final four minutes and 55 seconds of the game to lift Cabot to a much-needed 60-54 win at Panther Pavilion.

With first-place Con-way coming in (last night) and with the Panthers tied with the Cylcones at 3-2 entering the game, the importance of the win was not lost on head coach Jerry Bridges.

“It would have been a very tough loss with what lies ahead,” said Bridges, whose team improved to 14-5 overall, 4-2 in 7A-Central play. “We were very fortunate. We had every reason to lose that game and we found a way to win. Adam did what he’s capable of doing, but heck, all of kids did their jobs, too. We worked hard defensively to get back in it.”

In fact, the Panthers forced 12 second-half turnovers against a team that boasts one of the top point guards in A.J. Broadnax, who scored 18 points, including making 9 of 10 free throws in the second half to keep Cabot on the uphill climb almost the entire way.

Cabot trailed by nine points with 5:55 left in the contest when it began to make its move. Austin Johnson hit a three and 50 seconds later, Sterrenberg began his one-man Russellville wrecking party with a three to cut the lead to 42-39 at the 4:55 mark.

But Johnson’s quick miss of a three led to a fast-break bucket on the other end and the Cylcones were still in control at 47-39 with less than four minutes remaining.

Sterrenberg scored on a baseline reverse and Johnson hit one of two free throws. While Broadnax was making 5 of 6 free throws over the next 53 seconds, Sterrenberg hit a step-back three and a well-guarded pull-up three. He added a pair of free throws with 1:42 left to narrow the Cyclone lead all the way to a single point.

Broadnax finally missed a free throw and Sterrenberg gave Cabot its first lead of the second half with yet another pull-up three and the Panthers went on top 53-52 with a minute-and-a-half remaining.

Thirteen seconds later, Sterrenberg stepped in front of a pass on the sideline, got the steal and the foul and made two free throws, fouling out Broadnax in the process and extending the Cabot lead to 55-52. After Russellville scored in the lane, Sterrenberg made two more at the stripe with 46 seconds left as Cabot scored the game’s final five points. The Cyclones missed a three and a two on the other end and Cabot held on.

“I don’t think I’ve ever done anything like that before, maybe at the state tournament last year,” Sterrenberg said when asked to assess his fourth-quarter performance, which included 17 points over the final 2:20. “Coach told me he wanted the ball in my hand. I was kind of down and I started firing and a made a couple and started feeling it.”

Sterrenberg, who finished with 29 points after entering the final period with only seven, struggled all night just to get decent looks. When he did, they didn’t fall. Early anyway. He missed only one shot in his remarkable run when a lay-up rimmed out. He knocked down 4 of 4 from beyond the arc, 2 of 3 two-pointers and 6 of 6 at the line.

“They took it from us,” said Russellville head coach Joe Sitkowski. “We were guarding (Sterrenberg). My kids would come back to the bench and say, ‘What are we supposed to do?’”

Good ball movement led to three quick Cabot baskets and a 6-0 lead, but Russellville made three consecutive three-pointers and 6-5 post player Hunter Hawkins blocked four shots as the Cylcones began to turn up the defensive pressure. They led 27-25 at the half. Cabot continued to struggle offensively in a 4-point third quarter when it made only 2 of 10 shots.

Russellville’s largest lead of the game was nine points at the 5:55 mark. Bridges said even then his club didn’t panic.

“One time out, I told them, ‘Guys, there’s a lot of time left,’” he said. “We were pressing and I told them just to play basketball and let the game come to them. Man, those kids knew the importance of this game. I put our five seniors on the floor and told them, ‘It’s you now. You want to win this game; I’m going to go with you five.’”

Cabot outscored Russellville 31-19 in the final period. Johnson added 15 points and seven rebounds, while Miles Monroe had seven points and four boards. Cabot made 19 of 45 from the field, 6 of 20 from deep. They knocked down 16 of 22 from the stripe.

Russellville finished the game 17 of 38, including 5 of 17 from three. They made 15 of 18 free throws.

“We played with a little of this tonight,” Bridges said, pounding his heart with his palm. “That’s the only reason we won this game.”

SPORTS>>Sterrenberg outburst a reminder of why I got into this business

Leader sports editor

You’ve probably heard by now about Adam Sterrenberg’s remarkable one-man show last Friday night at Panther Pavilion. You’ve probably heard he scored 22 points in the fourth quarter to almost single-handedly help salvage Cabot’s season in a come-from-behind win over Russellville.

The story is only half true. Sterrenberg, the Arkansas State signee and all-around scorer, actually compiled those 22 points over a span of four minutes and 55 seconds. The final 17 of those came in the last two minutes and 20 seconds when the Panthers were rallying from a seven-point deficit for a critical home victory.

If you weren’t there — and with a raucous, near-capacity crowd on hand, there’s a good chance you were — you have no idea just how dynamic a performance Sterrenberg turned in. Crunching the numbers doesn’t do it justice, mainly because they’re so otherworldy as to be cartoon-like.

Twenty-two points over a five-minute span translates to 140 points in a full 32-minute game. Think that’s ridiculous? Try extrapolating 17 points in two minutes and 20 seconds into an entire game. That’ll net you 246 points.

Those numbers are too absurd to wrap your mind around so let’s do it this way. Let’s itemize Sterrenberg’s final four minutes and 55 seconds on Friday night. Cabot trailed 42-33 when Sterrenberg delivered an assist to Austin Johnson for a three-pointer to whittle the lead to six at the 5:45 mark. The rest, aside from a pair of Johnson free throws, was all Sterrenberg.

4:55 Pull-up three from the left of the circle (39-42 Russellville).

3:45 Baseline drive, reverse lay-up (41-47) … This came 10 seconds after Russellville’s breakaway basket that pushed the lead to eight and threatened to salt it away.

2:40 Lane drive, missed lay-up that went around and came out … his only miss during his run.

2:20 Answers two A.J. Broadnax free throws with a step-back three (45-49).

1:59 Pull-up three from left of the key (48-49).

1:42 Answers two Broadnax free throws with two of his own (50-51).

1:30 Pull-up three to give Cabot first lead since first period (53-52).

1:17 Steal and two free throws (55-52).

:46 Two free throws (57-54).

:02 Lay-up at buzzer (60-54).

Keep in mind that Sterrenberg had struggled all night from the field, struggled even to get any good looks with Broadnax often hounding him all over the court. And it wasn’t like any of his four threes in the final period were uncontested. None of them were, in fact.

“Our kids came up to me and said, ‘What do we do, Coach?’” Russellville head coach Joe Sitkowski said afterward. “What can you do? We guarded him.”

The Cyclones are blessed with an outstanding point guard in Broadnax. He allowed them to control every possession, making Russellville’s six- and eight-point leads throughout the second half seem more like 12- and 14-point cushions. Cabot needed a super-human performance. Sterrenberg provided it.

In my seven years of covering high school sports, I’ve been fortunate enough to witness some outings that have left me smiling and shaking my head, capable of saying nothing more than ‘Wow.’ I watched Abundant Life’s Dane Lottner light up Atkins in the final quarter of a regional game last February, saw Cabot’s Leah Watts rain down five straight threes over five-and-a-half minutes against Bentonville last March in the state tournament.

Less than two hours before Sterrenberg torched Russellville on Friday, Jenna Bailey had the crowd oohing and aahing when she re-entered the game late against the Lady Cyclones to squelch a comeback attempt. That, she did, by hitting three threes and a lay-up in the span of a minute and 20 seconds. (Memo: Check circumference of Panther Pavilion rims).

You see the Lebron Jameses and the Kobe Bryants of the world enter that rarefied realm once or twice a season, but it doesn’t have the same effect as watching one of your local players do it in person.

There have been nights in my career as a sportswriter when I’ve watched teams rack up twice as many turnovers as baskets, when out-of-position, pointless fouling prolonged an already endless game. There are nights, in other words, when I’ve questioned my career choice.

Then there are the nights like last Friday when I realize that, hey, this beats working.

SPORTS>>Badgers beat Mills, move into 3rd place

Leader sportswriter

Beebe’s best offensive player came up with the Badgers’ biggest defensive play of the night in a 58-57 win over Mills University Studies on Friday.

Zach Kersey’s 18 points led the way offensively for what was a balanced scoring game by the Badgers (12-5, 4-2 5A-Southeast), but his forced turnover in front of the Comets’ bench with four seconds left was the play that preserved the win for Beebe.

The final margin was set with 15 seconds remaining when Nick Hansbury hit a jumper to pull Mills to within one. Trey Smith then went to the line for the Badgers, but missed the front end of a one and one. Mills was setting up for one final shot when Kersey rushed in and tapped the ball off Chris Dobbins’ forearm out of bounds to give possession back to Beebe.

“That was big for us,” said Beebe coach Brian Martin. “We played well for most of the game, and I give Mills a lot of credit. They really spread their defense out and slowed us down a little bit. We were in a rhythm, and they made a good adjustment at halftime.”

The Badgers now sit alone in third place in the 5A-Southeast Conference standings, two games behind co-leaders North Pulaski and McClellan. Mills is tied with Sylvan Hills for fourth.

The Comets (11-7, 3-3) used their usual M.O. of tightening things up in the second half after giving up big numbers in the first. The Badgers rushed out to a 17-11 lead after one, and built their advantage further to 32-22 at halftime.

Beebe held Comets leading scorer Hansbury in check for the most part in the third quarter, but it was an eight-point performance by forward Montez Peterson in that time that sparked the Mills rally. The Comets shot only 10 of 30 in the first half, but hit 7 of 14 in the third quarter and 7 of 11 in the final period to go 24 of 55 for the game.

The Badgers shot 12 of 26 at the end of the first half, and 21 of 44 overall.

Mills’ considerable height advantage resulted in a 29-19 rebounding edge. The Badgers were 10 of 15 from the free throw line, while Mills went 6 of 13.

Mills came out on fire in the third quarter and scored on its first six possessions, including an 8-0 run mid-way through the period to cut the Badgers’ lead down to 38-33 at the 4:37 mark. Dobbins hit a three-pointer at the 1:36 mark to cut it to 44-40 heading into the final quarter.

“They were doing a good job of pushing the ball,” Martin said. “We had to stop that, because that got them in a rhythm, and that’s when they went on their run. That really fueled them for the second half.”

The sixth-man made its voice heard on Friday, as the Badger student section whooped it up late.

“Our student section has been great here of late,” Martin said. “I told the guys that if you win at home, the students will come. We’ve lost only two games at home this year. We like playing here. We feel comfortable here, and we want it to be tough to come here and leave with a ‘W’.”

Kersey went scoreless in the third quarter before finding his way back to the basket at the start of the fourth. He started out the period with a three-point basket that gave the Badgers a 47-40 lead, and hit his fourth and final trey of the night at the 3:21 mark on a no-look assist from Will Scott to put Beebe back up by four.

“You’ve got to win your games at home,” said Martin. “And hope to play well on the road, but you’ve got to defend your home court, so I was really elated to see that tonight.”

Kersey also added four assists to his team-high 18 points. Smith finished with 12 points and six assists, while Scott and Anthony Forte each added 10 points. Donte Myles led the Badgers in rebounding with seven boards.

SPORTS>>’Rabbits bounce back, hold off late Southside charge

Leader sportswriter

A win is a win, but for Lonoke coach Wes Swift, a close win on the road was exactly what his team needed.

The ’Rabbits held off a strong second-half rally by Southside Batesville for a 66-59 win on Friday. The Southerners trailed by as much as 23 points early in the third quarter before finding their rhythm mid-way through the period.

“That’s the first time we’ve won a game like that all year,” said Swift, whose team bounced back from a dismal home loss to Stuttgart and improved to 14-5 overall and 7-3 in the 2-4A Conference. “I was pleased with the way we played in the first half, but I warned them about letting up.”

While Stuttgart has all but clinched the 2-4A Conference title with a 9-1 record, the ’Rabbits sit alone in second with only four games left in league play.

Momentum appeared to stay with Lonoke to start the second half as it put up six straight points to go up 42-19. Southside answered with its own six-point run, and continued to nibble away at the deficit until it pulled to within 49-48 with three minutes left to play.

“We got inside time after time and couldn’t finish,” said Swift. “On their side, we had a hand in their face every time, and they couldn’t miss. I wish we could have come out in the third quarter and put them away; that’s been the only way we’ve won games up to this point is just blowing people out.

“But I was pleased how we turned it around once they got the momentum. We flipped the momentum back to our side, which is something we haven’t done all year.”

Sending the Southerners to the line was not an option for Lonoke. The hosts were 13 of 14 from the stripe in the second half, 14 of 17 for the game. Southside forward Mikey Fulcher also gave the ’Rabbit defense fits with his long-distance shots from the baseline.

An 8-0 run by the Jackrabbits late in the fourth quarter after they began to press Southside helped them pull out the tough win.

“We did a great job of pressing without fouling, especially on the road,” said Swift. “Our defense didn’t play totally bad in the second half. We were just letting their best players catch the ball instead of denying.”

Michael Howard led the Jackrabbits with 21 points. Pierre Smith added 18 for Lonoke.

Lonoke hosted Marianna last night, and will host Bald Knob on Friday.


Asiah Scribner led the way for the Lady Jackrabbits with 18 points, with 14 points from Ashleigh Himstedt, but it was not enough, as the Lady Southerners dominated the overtime period to hand Lonoke its second 2-4A Conference loss of the season.

Lonoke went up 47-45 with less than 30 seconds left in regulation before Kelly Jackson hit two free throws for Southside.

The Lady Jackrabbits (17-5, 8-2) are still in second place in the 2-4A standings, two games behind league-leading Bald Knob.

“It severely dampens our chance at a conference title,” said Lady Jackrabbits coach Nathan Morris. “We held our own destiny before, but now we’re down to winning out and needing help.”

Kelly Jackson led all scorers for Southside Batesville with 27 points. Cara Neighbors added 10 points for Lonoke.

SPORTS>>Ware steps up in Falcons’ rout of White Hall

Leader sportswriter

White Hall proved no match for North Pulaski on Friday, as the Falcons routed the Bulldogs 79-48 to keep their 5A-Southeast Conference record unblemished.

Junior forward Kyron Ware scored a career-high 25 points, including 6 of 7 at the foul line. Most of those points came in the third quarter, as North Pulaski pulled away and extended a slim five-point advantage at halftime.

“I knew he was capable,” Falcons coach Ray Cooper said of Ware. “It didn’t surprise me one bit. He’s too unselfish at times, and while everyone else was struggling, he seemed to be the only one in rhythm. We talked to him at halftime about staying aggressive, and that’s what he did. He got on a roll and played great in the second half.”

North Pulaski used its speed and depth in the second half, along with its stifling full-court press, to wear down the Bulldogs. Aaron Cooper and point guard Joe Agee drew in the White Hall defense with drives to the basket to give room for Ware.

“Overall, it was a good game,” said Cooper. “We shot terrible in the first half. We were putting up too many threes and missing. We talked about penetrating more in the second half.

“We pressed most of the half, and their guards finally started getting tired and made some mistakes.”

Duquan Bryant added 18 points for North Pulaski. The Falcons are 15-5 overall and 6-0 in the 5A-Southeast Conference, tied for first with Little Rock McClellan. Both are two games ahead of third-place Beebe at 4-2. Mills sits in fourth at 3-3.

Cooper has some confidence in his team’s chances at winning the league title at this point, but still many reservations.

“It means that we know what we have to do,” Cooper said. “We’ve seen everyone with the exception of McClellan that we have to make a game up with, but there’s not going to be any surprises. We know our opponents and they know us – it’s just a matter of getting it finished.”

Monday, February 02, 2009

TOP STORY>>Jacksonville to get small rate increase

Leader staff writer

A 1 percent rate increase for all Jacksonville Water Works customers will be in effect on February bills.

On Wednesday, the Jacksonville Board of Water Commissioners approved the rate increase in response to an increase enacted the first of January by Central Arkansas Water for all its wholesale customers, which includes Jacksonville Water Works. The last increase by CAW was in 2005.

The pass-through increase ap-plies to all residential and comm-ercial customers in and outside Jacksonville city limits; included are the Jacksonville utility’s wholesale customers – Cabot, Bayou Two, and Furlow.

Under its current agreement with CAW, Jacksonville Water Works purchases 2 million gallons of water a day in winter and 3 million gallons a day in summer. The rest is supplied by local wells.

Total output averages 4.9 million gallons a day. Commissioners also approved a 45 cent watershed protection fee to go into effect in May.

The fee is being levied by CAW to protect the region that drains into Lake Maumelle and Lake Winona, sources of water supplied by CAW.

The anticipated annual revenue of $900,000 would be used to fund the watershed management program and associated projects.

The actual rate increase by CAW for its wholesale customers was 5.6 percent. Further increases are planned by CAW — in 2010 and 7.8 percent in 2011 – to meet increasing production costs, according to Gary Pittman, chief financial officer for CAW.

In the last three years, the cost of fuel has risen 100 percent, electrical power by 30 percent, water treatment chemicals by 60 percent and iron pipe by 150 percent. For Jacksonville water ratepayers, the proposed increases will be a continuation of a series of four annual “in-house” rate increases by Jacksonville Water Works that started in 2005.

A rate study is under way to better assess all costs associated with providing water to Jacksonville’s retail and wholesale customers.

The study will conclude in March and will guide commissioners’ decisions on any future changes in rates. Under study are costs of daily operations and upgrades to the local utility infrastructure, as well as Jacksonville’s share in improvements to the CAW system.

By the year 2050, daily demand on the Jacksonville utility is projected to reach 7.5 million gallons a day.

Improvements to the local and larger CAW systems will cost Jacksonville Water Works an estimated $32 million. Short-term loans and bond issues will likely be sought to “spread out extra costs to get all the improvements needed,” said Mike Simpson, Jacksonville Water Works manager.

EDITORIAL>>Stimulus plan for schools

With the state treasury still relatively flush and unemployment running a little below national levels, Arkansas may not expect rich dividends from the giant economic stimulus package that Congress will enact in the next two weeks. It will provide a sizable booster to the economy through some traditional avenues like student aid, food stamps and extended unemployment, but the governor and the congressional delegation ought to seize the opportunity to do much more — if that opportunity has not passed.

One of the biggest objectives of President Obama’s stimulus plan is modernization of the public schools, and that is where Arkansas is perhaps neediest of all the states. Arkansas has $500 million or more of immediate needs for new, expanded and rehabilitated schools, all of it identified by a survey ordered by the courts in the Lake View school case. The state has dedicated hundreds of millions of surplus state funds for the improvements, but a major problem has been that most schools have been unable to produce their matching share of the construction costs.

Why couldn’t or shouldn’t the schools’ share come in the form of federal assistance? With the state matching it would provide a construction boom around the state that would create thousands of jobs at a federal cost that ought to be appealing to Washington. Nowhere, we would guess, would the president get more bang for the federal buck. That might require some tinkering with the statutes, but the legislature is in session with little of importance on the agenda.

Governor Beebe’s executive secretary said they had urged the state’s senators and congressmen to make the case to the administration that Arkansas should not be shoved to the margins because its treasury and job market are not as decimated as Michigan, California or Ohio or nearby states like Mississippi. Arkansas’ desperate problems with education infrastructure ought to make that case easy.

In the old days, Arkansas would have been in particularly perilous straits with pork barrel since it gave the new president one of the worst clobberings in the nation. We can be thankful that Lyndon B. Johnson is not still president. Those slights were not forgotten. But this president says that political rewards and punishment will not be part of his policy, and the evidence so far suggests that deeds will follow words.

We have a fearful suspicion also that while economic doom has been slow to reach Arkansas, the worst is yet to come. By summer, the cupboard at the state Capitol may be as bare as those of the big manufacturing states. No one can predict that now, so the governor and our congressional delegation, which is not a powerhouse, will have to make the case eloquently for the state now. There may not be another stimulus program.

TOP STORY>>Col. Otey: It’s a homecoming

Col. Gregory S. Otey took command of the 19th Airlift Wing from Brig. Gen. Rowayne A. Schatz Jr. at Little Rock Air Force Base on Wednesday during a ceremony attended by Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott III, commander of the 18th Air Force at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

“It is an honor, and I am very humbled to stand before you today as the commander of the 19th Airlift Wing. This is truly like coming home for the Otey family,” said the colonel, who was a weapons officer at the C-130 Weapons School at the air base from 1995 through 1997.

“I’m not saying I will not task you with multiple deployments and hard work,” Otey said at the ceremony held inside Hangar 276. “When I ask a lot of you, I owe you a lot. I owe you the resources and the training to accomplish the mission. I owe you and your family support when you prepare to deploy, while you’re deployed, and upon your return.”

Otey takes over the premier C-130 training and combat center whose mission is critical to America’s mission around the world, Scott said.

Scott also noted the contributions the air base has made to Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The base has sent several C-130s and hundreds of airmen in support of both wars.

The delivery of supplies and personnel on C-130s has reduced the use of truck convoys in Iraq, keeping U.S. soldiers away from roadside bombs.

Scott praised Schatz’s “record of excellence,” adding that “under General Schatz’s leadership, the 19th (Airlift) Wing’s dedication and commitment has remained nothing less than impressive.

“Just under two years ago, Team Little Rock welcomed Brig. Gen. Rowayne A. Schatz, Jr. and his family to the Rock…the home of the C-130 Center of Excellence and the largest C-130 fleet in the world,” Scott said.

“Under General Schatz’s leadership, the 19th [Airlift] Wing’s dedication and commitment has remained nothing less than impressive.”

“We must win today’s fight while preparing for the future. That is exactly what Little Rock has done and continues to do. Your leadership will be critical to this success. This is an awesome responsibility and it rests with you,” Scott added.

Schatz has been promoted to the Pentagon, where he will be deputy director of joint operations. This is the largest deputy directorate on the staff, with responsibility for nuclear weapons, surveillance, reconnaissance, information operations, cyber warfare and for maintaining command and control for the national military command center.

The Air Force Expeditionary Center at Fort Dix, N.J., that Otey had previously commanded is the Air Force’s Center of Excellence for advanced expeditionary combat support training and education. The center houses the Mobility Operations School, Expeditionary Operations School and the Expeditionary Center Resources Directorate.

Otey is a 1987 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and earned his pilot’s wings in 1989.

Otey, a Bronze Star recipient, is a command pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours in military aircraft including the C-130E and the state of the art C-130J.

Among 11 other awards, Otey received the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal with four oak leaf clusters.

Schatz took command of the 314th Airlift Wing in May 2007, just as construction of privatized base housing under American Eagle Communities ground to a halt, and he leaves just as Hunt-Pinnacle LLC takes over the contract and resurrects construction of base housing.

Schatz was presented with the Legion of Merit for his service to Little Rock Air Force Base, which included securing more than $28.7 million in construction projects.

They included two $10 million appropriations for the joint education center financed in partnership with the city of Jacksonville, as well as funding for fitness, sports and wellness centers, and family housing.

Schatz said, “Kim and I have been in many communities, but the community support here is second to none. We’ll leave here with a big chunk taken out of our hearts. It’s been a privilege to serve you.”

Leader senior writer John Hofheimer and the Combat Air-lifter newspaper contributed to this report.

TOP STORY>>State is making land purchase a top priority

Leader staff writer

Buying North Belt right-of-way land in Sherwood near Brockington Road is “priority one,” according to the state Highway Department.

“We had hoped to have it wrapped up by the end of January,” said David Niles, spokesman with the Highway Department, on Friday, “but it looks like it’ll be next week now. It is on the top of our list of priorities.”

The state has about $4 million to buy right-of-way for the proposed North Belt route from Hwy. 67/167 through Sherwood over to Hwy. 107.

The $4 million 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.

The Sherwood City Council effectively put the state Highway Department on notice last week when aldermen delayed approving again the master street plan for another month.

Alderman Charlie Harmon recommended the delay. “I’m of the opinion that we should continue to table this until we see movement,” he said.

Harmon was afraid that approval would allow the state to slow its efforts in making the necessary right-of-way purchases.

Alderman Becki Vassar called that area of Hwy. 107 and Brockington Road a major growth area for the city. “We need to allow it to grow, but we also need the North Belt. I want both. If 30 days will help, then by all means lets table this.”

Once the city officially places the approved route on the master plan then it will no longer be able to hold back developers who want to build in or near the right-of-way of the proposed bypass.

When the city’s planning commission approves these projects—and there are at least two developers pounding to get approval—it starts the clock ticking, giving the state one year to buy or at least make an offer to purchase the right-of-ways in those subdivisions.

If the year goes by with no movement from the state, then developers can build in the right-of-way, which could alter, delay or kill the North Belt.

Niles said the state has been negotiating with the owners of the two parcels the highway department needs near Brockington Road but was unable to work out an agreement. That led to an outside appraisal being done. Niles said the department was that appraisal and it is going through a final review.

“We hope to have it completed quickly,” he said.

The proposed North Belt cuts a 200-foot chunk across the proposed 63-acre Brockington Crossing, located just north of Brockington Road and west of Hwy. 107. That right-of-way purchase the state hopes to wrap up in about a week.

The other two development companies—Deere Properties and 107-Oakdale, LLC--are wanting to build to the east of Hwy. 107.

In fact at the January Sherwood planning commission meeting, developer Steve Deere said, “The North Belt will be a detriment to Sherwood.”

Deere, who wants to develop the 586-acre Oakdale North Addition, just west of Hwy. 107, believes the state is holding him and other developers hostage by not going in and buying up the property it needs for the freeway.

Deere has been told that property acquisition could be 10 years away. “How long am I expected to wait?” he asked the commission.

In the late 1990s, Sherwood developers, tired of waiting for the state to move ahead with plans for the North Belt freeway, built a subdivision smack in the middle of the approved route, causing what has turned out to be at least a 10-year delay of the project.

The proposed I-440 route cuts Deere’s development almost in half from east to west. “Not only does it take 66 acres for the freeway, it landlocks about 150 acres in the northern half of the subdivision, according to David Jones with Marlar Engineering.

“There’s no provisions from the state for grade separations and we would need two of them to be able to develop that section,” Jones explained.

Deere says that the proposed route renders most of his property useless for development.

Former city engineer Michael Clayton, representing the developer of Miller’s Crossroads, Phase II, is more adamant than Deere. He believes the state has already had more than a year to purchase the property in Miller’s Crossroads.

“It’s been well over a year since the Mehlberger Firm submitted plans on this 48-acre parcel of land,” Clayton said. He added that the plans do show the old corridor for the North Belt, and that’s the one currently on the master street plan.

In other council business:

– Aldermen condemned a commercial structure at 7300 Hwy. 107 known as North Hills Shopping Center and a residential structure at 7225 Jacksonville Cut Off Road as public nuisances. The owners have 30 days to bring the structures up to code or the city will make arrangements to tear the buildings down.

– The council approved a 2009 budget of $1.73 million for the wastewater department, up from $995,505 in 2008. The $650,000 increase covers sewer improvement work required by the state and will be funded by an approved sales tax.

– The council revised the boundaries of the Gravel Ridge land it annexed last year, kicking loose about 68 acres of land near the southern end of Jacksonville’s Northlake subdivision. Most of that land will become part of a lake for that subdivision and eventually be annexed into Jacksonville.

TOP STORY>>Schools have leaky roofs

Leader staff writer

Leaky roofs at Cato Elementary School and Northwood Middle School are slated for repairs, say officials at Pulaski County Special School District.

The district will ask for bids within four weeks and work should begin in the spring to replace the roof over the west addition at Cato. For now, temporary patches have stopped the leaks in the hall affecting a few classrooms in the back of the Cato school building, said Jerry Holder, a school facilities official for the district.

“A couple of classrooms, you had to have umbrellas, but James Warren (PCSSD facilities supervisor) has been very supportive and worked real hard to do anything he can,” said Danny Gilliland, PCSSD board member, Zone 5.

Gilliland lauded district officials for sending out crews to Cato after rains to dry and clean moldy carpets and to try to patch roof leaks.

“Whenever Cato called, they’d be out there immediately,” he said.

At Northwood, an internal gutter under the roof will be sealed to stop leaks into the library. Past repairs were effective for awhile, but rains are again creating mold, ruining books, and saturating the carpet in some parts of the library, according to parents and school personnel.

“Every time you get a hard rain, you lose books,” said Northwood principal Veronica Perkins. “Along the back wall, it is going to get very wet, and have water squishing under your feet.”

“There is a leak, and it has been put on our list of things to be done as soon as we get a break in the weather,” said Holder.

The roofs at both schools have been leak-prone because of their low pitch, which causes water to collect and seep through any opening.

The original building at Cato was built in three phases. The roof over the original section was replaced a few years ago. The roof over the third section does not leak, but to be prepared, the district is exploring costs for its replacement.

The new roof on the west addition will be a plastic membrane, “kind of like a swimming pool liner,” Holder said. It is guaranteed to last 15 years.

Northwood’s faulty roof has a long history of causing water to accumulate in light fixtures and ceiling panels to sag, some say. Now retired Northwood maintenance supervisor Mike Steele, worked at the school when it opened in 1980 until 2004. He recalls that the metal roof leaked wherever there is a change in pitch, seams, or cuts to insert a fan or vent.

“It has leaked from day one,” Steele said, adding that the district repeatedly sent maintenance crews to patch the roof. That would help some, but the problem has never gone away entirely.

“I believe it needs some professional help,” Steele said. “It is beyond the scope of what the maintenance crews can do.”

Warren said budget constraints make it impossible to fix everything at once at every facility in the district. According to one study by the state, he said, all the needed repairs would cost the district $300 million.

“That is a lot of repairs, and I don’t get but a very small amount of money each year to make repairs,” Warren said. “If we don’t pass the millage and get the correct amount of money to fix all the things that need to be fixed, we will continue to put Band-Aids on buildings.”

Leaky roofs are an ongoing issue for the district, Gilliland said. Even the new Chenal Elementary School has some roof leaks, he noted.

“That is a brand new school, and its roof leaks. I was just shocked. You’d be hard pressed to find one without leaks. They (the district) are always working on trying to get them done.”

TOP STORY>>Tobacco tax gets mixed reaction from lawmakers

Leader senior staff writer

Everyone seems to favor the Level I trauma system Gov. Mike Beebe is promoting, but the notion of increasing cigarette taxes to pay for it has its detractors.

The governor has proposed a 56-cent-a-pack increase in the state tax on cigarettes and new taxes require approval by 75 percent of each body of the General Assembly, a rigorous standard to meet.

Combined with a proposed 61-cent-a-pack increase in federal cigarette taxes to fund the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, smokers could be paying an additional $1.17 a pack.

The current cost of a pack of cigarettes at one discount outlet is $3.89, so smokers could be paying $5.06 a pack. Cigarette industry lobbyists have come to town, although none of the area representatives say they were contacted by the lobbyists.

Locally, Bill Bevis and Joe Bell are registered as industry lobbyists.

It will be more difficult to approve the state increase with the federal increase looming, according to state Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle. But Glover says he completely supports the governor’s initiative.

Those opposed to the cigarette tax are taking “a normal blocking pattern,” said one observer. “Get Republicans and a few anti-tax rural Democrats,” and the issue isn’t likely to get the necessary votes.

Like the General Assembly as a whole, local delegates are split on the issue.

State Sen. John Paul Capps, D-Searcy, like Glover, favors funding the trauma system through the increased cigarette tax.

Among the local representatives, however, two Republicans oppose the tax increase, two Democrats are still making up their minds and one Democrat supports the tax, saying, “I’ve seen the devastation of smoking personally.”

Like many legislators, state Rep. Walls McCrary, D-Lonoke, received a donation from a tobacco company during the campaign. “I sent the check back,” McCrary said Thursday.

“When I was 29 my father died of lung cancer,” he said. “He came back from World War II and couldn’t kick the habit. Ten years later I lost mom to second-hand smoke. I wondered how long I was going to make it.”

But passing the tax, “it’s going to be really hard to do,” McCrary said. “The Governor and speaker (state Rep. Robbie Wills, D-Conway) are working real hard. It’s going to be real close, but to me it’s the right thing to do.”

“I’m still doing a lot of studying,” said state Rep. Mark Perry, D-Jacksonville. “I haven’t made a decision one way or another. I like the trauma center system as far as the service, but how to fund it is still undecided.”

During the campaign, Perry received a $250 donation from Reynolds American, as did many other legislators. He said that wouldn’t affect his vote and that he wasn’t aware of the tobacco lobby hosting any hospitality rooms for after session drinks and eats.

State Rep. Jane English, R-north Pulaski County, called the trauma center a great idea but “I’m totally against any new taxes. Arkansas is the 13th-highest taxed state.

English insisted that the system could be paid for out of the $300 million state surplus.

Tax proponents say that’s one-time money, not suitable for ongoing expenses.

“Most of the people in this district get up, pay their bills, pay their way and they are not looking for a lot of people to take care of them,” English said.

She promised not to raise taxes during her campaign.

“I’m against it,” said state Rep. Davy Carter, R-Cabot. “Not when there’s a $300 million surplus, 85,000 people out of work with 6.2 percent unemployment (in Arkansas.) Raising taxes is a bad idea.

“I don’t smoke and my family doesn’t smoke,” Carter said “I have no smoker empathy, but it seems a little unfair to me.

“I’d like to have a doctor (living in) everybody’s house, but you have to pay for this stuff,” he insisted.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” said Rep. Jim Nickels, D-Sherwood. “I see the merit on both sides. It’s a regressive tax, hitting a small group of Arkansans to benefit a lot more. I see the health-related things that could be funded.”

Nickels said he had received a lot of e-mails and phone calls favoring the tax as well as those against it. “It’s cut and paste, the same message,” he said, “or I get a little pink slip (from the switchboard) saying no cigarette tax.”

Glover said he heard there were some out-of-town cigarette lobbyists in town about a week ago but no one contacted him.

Glover said that the threat of a higher federal cigarette tax could make it harder to pass the Arkansas tax increase.

“The governor keeps saying it’s going to be a tough fight,” said Capps, “but a lot of members I’ve talked to, I find a lot of support.”

“This governor is real popular. When a governor is strongly for an issue, it has a lot of weight,” Capps said.

“I’m not a tax-happy guy,” he continued, “but I think in the final analysis, I’m going to vote for it. I strongly feel we need the trauma center.”

Capps said he always votes as if he won’t run for re-election, and this time it’s true. Term limits will prohibit him from running again for the state Senate or to be a state representative.

“Somebody is working the smokers,” said state Rep. Gregg Reep, D-Warren. “They are doing (automated) calls, and if you say you don’t want the cigarette tax, they patch the calls through (to the state Legislature switchboard).”

Reep, who is the primary sponsor of the cigarette tax bill in the House, says supportive people are calling and sending emails.

He said he hadn’t seen overt lobbying by the cigarette and smokeless tobacco people.
Reep says he’s got about 28 co-sponsors for his bill and probably 50 representatives or more who have said they favored the bill.

“I am cautiously optimistic,” Reep said. He expects that the governor will get out into the corridors and talk to the senators and representatives. “He’s very committed to it.

“Tobacco is the best source to generate the kind of income we need,” he said.

TOP STORY>>Jacksonville mayoral race more crowded

Leader executive editor

Saying the passion for governing has long been absent from city hall, veteran Jacksonville Alderman Gary Fletcher has announced he is running for mayor.

Mayor Tommy Swaim told the city council two weeks ago that he would resign July 1 with 18 months left in his term. The council will set the date next week for a special election.

Kenny Elliott, another longtime alderman, has also said he is running for mayor, as has Randy (Doc) Rhodd of Motorcyle Ministry. Banker Donny Farmer is also said to be considering a race.

Fletcher, who has been on the city council for 30 years, says he’s ready to become mayor.

“I want to bring passion to the job,” said Fletcher, who is 54. “We’ve lost that passion when it comes to running the city.

“I want to bring back the human factor to government,” Fletcher said in an interview. “We need to make some changes. We need someone with fresh ideas. We need someone with passion, energy and vision and try to inspire others.”

Fletcher said he believes in the three R’s to move forward — “re-identify ourselves, reinvest in ourselves and rejuvenate the community.”

He said his platform includes annexing land to Jacksonville wherever possible, improving housing, reducing crime, reinvigorating downtown, ensuring the future of the city’s hospital, bringing new industry to the city, rehabilitating the Sunnyside neighborhood and considering reopening the Graham Road railroad crossing, whose closing has divided the city.

He also supports an independent school district for Jacksonville and more investment in the city’s infrastructure. He’s hoping the federal economic-stimulus plan will help pay for improvements in the city.

“I will appoint a citizens advisory board on where the people want to go,” Fletcher said.

“I’ve always been interested in politics. I went to my first city council meeting when I was 17, when John Harden was mayor. I ran for alderman when I was 19 in 1974 and in 1976 and lost both times, but I won in 1978 and have been on the council ever since.”

Fletcher, who is a homebuilder, ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1982 and 1986. He has been re-elected to the city council 14 times.

Fletcher wants to see new housing to replace the city’s older homes, which attract more renters than the new ones. About half the city’s residential properties are rented.

The candidate says the city’s industrial zone in underutilized.

“We have the best industrial area,” Fletcher said. “Industry is still interested in staying in the U.S. The city needs to pick up the ball in the recruiting area.”

He said he’s concerned about the new management at North Metro Medical Center. Allegiance Health of Shreveport, La., has signed a long-term contract to manage the troubled hospital.

“The contract with Allegiance may not be the solution to our problem,” Fletcher said.

He was born in Little Rock and moved to Jacksonville with his family in 1968. He was the first Jacksonville Jaycee to join at the age of 18 and was named Jaycee of the year in 1975. He is also a former president of the Jaycees.

Fletcher was also named Out-standing Young Man of America in 1976 and 1984, Noteworthy American Leader, Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year, and Arkansas Home-builder of the Year.

He is an active member of Second Baptist Church of Jacksonville and has a diploma in Christian ministry from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.
Fletcher is married to the former Glenda Kyzer, and they have two children, Ray and Autumn, and five grandchildren.

“I’m not going to run my campaign on negatives,” Fletcher said. “Jacksonville was the fastest-growing community in the state in the 1960s and 1970s. We’d like to see it come back.”