Wednesday, March 04, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Cleaning up mess at UCA

A little public humiliation can go a long way toward cleaning up bad government policy. The bidding war among universities for high-achieving high school graduates, financed largely by the tuition of ordinary youngsters, has been no secret for many years. Neither has been the backdoor largesse lavished on college presidents. But it took the fall of Lu Hardin, the freewheeling president of the University of Central Arkansas, and the embarrassing disclosures of his reckless grasping and spending to bring about a little reform.

It did not hurt that state Sen. Gilbert Baker of Conway, a friend, political ally and beneficiary of favors from the disgraced Hardin, was damaged in the process.

This week, the state House of Representatives approved a pair of bills by Baker to clean things up, if only a little. Though triggered by the mess at UCA, the bills would apply to all the state-supported universities and colleges. The presidents know whom they have to thank for the new clamps on their discretion, Lu Hardin. Hardin took a big payout on his contract and resigned as president of UCA last year after secretly cadging a $300,000 bonus from his board (he later gave it back) and admitting that he faked a memo from other administrators endorsing his bonus. Then the real lengths of his maladministration began to surface.

The University of Central Arkansas has been spending close to 35 percent of its tuition proceeds and unrestricted state funds on discretionary scholarships — not to students in need but to the children of connected people, including the offspring of UCA trustees, as well as to high-achieving high school students whom Hardin wanted to lure away from other colleges. Some of the other universities were doing it, too — the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and Arkansas Tech at Russellville in particular — but no school came close to matching UCA. It turned out that anyone who could get a line to Hardin directly or indirectly could get his kid a scholarship. Hardin is a lifelong politician — a former state senator, he hoped to go to the U. S. Senate — and favors are a politician’s currency.

Baker’s scholarship bill would bar universities from spending more than 25 percent of their tuition receipts and unrestricted funds on scholarships in 2012 and it would lower the ceiling to 20 percent the next year. Hardin had made a lot of commitments and they didn’t want to welsh on them.

Twenty percent is still far too high, well above what other institutions are doing. Rep. Bill Abernathy, D-Mena, identified the error in the practice. Most of the scholarships were going to youngsters whose parents could easily afford the tuition, and the money was coming from the tuition of kids who struggled to pay for college, often with college loans. It is reverse Robin Hood, Abernathy observed.

Baker’s other bill would require the state Department of Higher Education to post on its Web site the full compensation packages, not simply the appropriated salaries, of all college administrators earning $100,000 a year or more. After the scandal erupted last year, it was disclosed that while Hardin’s state-appropriated salary was about $200,000, his total compensation was $510,667, a little behind that of the president of the University of Arkansas five-campus system.

A little truth and transparency in the cloisters of academe won’t harm its mission at all. It is about time.

EDITORIAL >> Bingo tax attacked

What is it about Fort Smith and its love affair with bingo? Now its lawmakers are trying to repeal the little tax on bingo parlors that pays for the state to police the bingo operations. Not only that, they would give back most of the $1.1 million that has already been collected and pretty much stop regulating the bingo operators.

Two years ago, you will remember, Arkansas voters ratified a constitutional amendment legalizing bingo as long as it was conducted for charitable, not commercial, purposes. We have a strong suspicion that not all the bingo operations are charitable or solely religious affairs. The regulation is anemic to say the least.

Rep. Tracy Pennartz, D-Fort Smith, says the little tax and the minuscule regulation provided in the enabling legislation in 2007 are hamstringing the charitable work of the operators. He says state law-enforcement agencies could police bingo parlors without any extra money or extra duties. So the House of Representatives voted last week to repeal the tax and the Senate is apt to go along. The House is about to pass another Pennartz bill refunding $601,000 of the taxes.

Bingo is gambling, to which we have no stern moral aversion, but it needs regulating the same as casino and pari-mutuel wagering to see that it is honest and not commercially profitable. If it is commercially profitable, then the law needs to be changed to permit it and higher taxes imposed.

Governor Beebe said he could support a lower tax as long as the state continued to regulate the business but not repeal the tax completely. We hope he sticks to his guns.

TOP STORY >> Training for the unexpected

19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Approximately 225 airmen participated in an exercise at Little Rock Air Force Base Feb. 19 in which two exercise scenarios – an anti-hijacking and terrorist weapon of mass destruction hospital attack – were created to train service members for possible real-world situations.

The large scale exercise was one of four required emergency management exercises. The base is required four times yearly to exercise the airmen’s ability to respond to various attacks and natural disasters, said Maj. Adrienne Williams, 19th Airlift Wing chief of wing exercises and evaluations.

Airmen are able to train, practice their abilities and test themselves to prepare for real world scenarios through the exercises they experience. They are then able to find out in what areas they respond well and what areas they should practice in further.

Before the exercise kicked off, Williams explained a bit about the exercise and its importance to the training of the airmen.

“We want to train the way we’re going to fight. Each exercise is based on a different scenario and we have a list of items that we have to cover. This one focuses on terrorists, weapons of mass destruction and anti-hijacking whereas the next one might be a natural disaster,” said Williams.

This exercise was an opportunity for the base to work side-by-side with local fire, medical and law enforcement agencies to help strengthen operational processes.

According to Williams, during real world situations the base would work with these local agencies, so having the opportunity to train with them allows the base to understand how it can more effectively accomplish missions together as a team.

The airmen exercised with the FBI Special Weapons and Tactics team during this exercise. The base has not exercised with them since 1996, so this was a terrific opportunity for service members to work hand-in-hand with local law enforcement agencies. There was also support from Jacksonville Fire Department, Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services and the local hospitals, said Major Williams.

The firefighters were part of the first responder’s team along with Security Forces. Once they arrived they assessed the scene and started putting out fires and securing the area.

To prepare for the exercise, volunteers playing injured patients in the hospital attack assembled at Bldg. 430 where they were given patient tags and moulage – mock injuries for the purpose of training – by four exercise evaluation team members.

The patient tags identified the volunteers by their injuries and allowed them to have an alternate identity instead of using their actual ID cards. This was a way to ensure that the patients had the proper symptoms throughout the exercise so the medical personnel could properly treat them.

The evaluators prepared the volunteers for the exercise and then evaluated the performance of the responders throughout the exercise to make sure they used the proper procedures.

Master Sgt. Shannon Sandoval, 19th Medical Group medical services flight NCO in charge and an evaluator, explained the role of an evaluator while she applied moulage to the volunteers.

“We do the moulage and then we evaluate how the medical providers respond to the injuries and see if they are doing the appropriate medical care and have a true sense of urgency. Also, if they triage patients correctly and determine whether they have to be transported out or if they can take care of them in the facility,” she said.

The role of the players in the exercise was to simulate injuries after the attack and wait for medical personnel to treat their injuries. If the players weren’t treated in a timely manner their conditions would worsen and potentially result in death.

As Tech. Sgt. Raymond Riley, 19th Medical Support Squadron resource management NCO in charge, applied an abdomen laceration to the left side of a volunteer he explained why these exercises are conducted.

“[Exercises are used] to make sure the people we’re serving and everyone is ready to respond to these situations, as rare as they are. It gives people the opportunity [to learn from] a hands-on situation, as though they were really dealing with the injury,” said Riley.

“There’s a lot more injuries than in a normal exercise. We have a lot of players. (We’ve given moulage) facial lacerations, deep vein injuries, smoke inhalation and some impaled objects, such as bomb fragments,” said Tech. Sgt. Pete Johnson, 19th Aerospace Medicine Squadron bioenvironmental engineering assistant NCO in charge and an evaluator.

As Master Sgt. Sherri Dietrich, 19th Medical Group family-practice flight chief and an evaluator, simulated a leg laceration by putting wax on the leg of 2nd Lt. Casey Fallon, a 714th Training Squadron student, she explained that applying the make-up to the players in the exercise helped simulate real world injuries, making the exercise more realistic for everyone involved. Lieutenant Fallon added that it adds a more life-like touch, which in turn creates more motivation for the medical personnel to treat their symptoms.

According to Williams, the airmen showed their professionalism and teamwork with the community by their timely and skilled performance during the exercise.

“Little Rock Air Force Base successfully exercised the anti-hijacking scenario and terrorist hospital attack. Initiative and teamwork were prevalent throughout the exercise,” she said. “All received excellent training and community ties were strengthened.”

TOP STORY >> Seven candidates file for mayor

Leader executive editor

Seven candidates have filed to run in the May 12 special election for Jacksonville mayor to replace Tommy Swaim, who is retiring July 1 after running the city for 22 years.

Monday was the deadline for candidates to file for the race.

Swaim, who has held the office since 1987, will retire in the middle of his term.
The election will be held Tuesday, May 12. An expected run-off election would be held Tuesday, June 2.

Randy (Doc) Rhodd, who heads the Family Motorcycle Ministry, filed on Monday after he had enough valid signatures to qualify.

He tried to file last week, but he fell short of the 30 signatures of registered voters needed to get on the ballot.

The candidates must also sign a pledge that, among other things, says they have never been convicted of a felony.

The other candidates, who had filed previously, are realtor Beckie Brooks, aldermen Kenny Elliott and Gary Fletcher, developer Tommy Dupree, former Jacksonville Lieutenant Bill Shelley and Farm Bureau area manager Jody Urquhart.


Brooks believes “there are a number of issues that could renew and re-energize the citizens of Jacksonville.”

She wants the city to be “more user friendly.” Brooks supports phasing out the city’s one-cent hamburger tax.

Brooks also wants to eliminate the city’s privilege license, saying that “one should not have to pay a tax to do business in the city.”

Once a strong supporter of the Main Street overpass, Brooks now believes that “the opening of the Graham Road railroad crossing is crucial to revitalizing the southeastern section of Jacksonville, including Sunnyside Hills Addition.”

“This has hurt too many people,” she said, referring to the closing. “Having support in city hall would help the effort” to reopen the crossing.

“Citizens need to be more appreciative of government,” Brooks said, “and government, at the same time, should never forget that it works for and serves the public.”

Brooks supports an independent Jacksonville school district, as well as charter schools in the city. She wants more programs for the elderly, including citywide transportation to every neighborhood and assisting them in other ways so they live at home as long as possible.

She said she wants to maintain a strong relationship with Little Rock Air Force Base.

She was instrumental in the cleanup of the old Vertac chemical plant.

The owner of Beckie Brooks Real Estate Co., she has been in business in Jacksonville since 1975, first operating a business with her husband, Harold, and then as a local real estate agent.


Dupree, 71, says he’s at the point in his life when he could devote his time to being mayor.

He says infrastructure plans must be made right away so they can be funded as federal stimulus money becomes available.

Dupree, whose family helped settle Jacksonville, says his platform includes widening Hwy. 67/167 with interchange improvements; establishing a public safety commission with police, fire and emergency medical departments under it; encouraging expansion of the city along Hwy. 67/167, Hwy. 161 and Hwy. 294 through annexation; supporting creation of a north Pulaski County school district; working toward expansion and improvement of the Jacksonville park system, and continuing Keep Jacksonville Beautiful improvement projects.

His family settled in the area before the Civil War. On his grandmother’s side, they lived off Military Road before they moved to town. The Duprees on his grandfather’s side farmed near the area where the air base was later built.

Dupree, whose family owns a real estate investment firm, Dupree Co., helped develop Northlake subdivision.

He has been active in the Reed’s Bridge Preservation Society, which has restored the Civil War battlefield on South Hwy. 161 in Jacksonville.

The Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas has recognized Dupree with its Outstanding Service in Preservation Advocacy award for his work on the battlefield site.


Elliott, a Jacksonville native, said he is “getting a real good response to his candidacy” as he makes his way around town.

He will emphasize economic development, helping existing business and attracting new ones.

Elliott, 55, said he wants “the chamber and the city to work together to maintain a business-friendly atmosphere.”

He supports an independent school district for Jacksonville, which he believes would improve local schools.

Elliott is concerned about empty store fronts around the city, including those around the railroad tracks.

He said he wants to make improvements in the Sunnyside Addition, a low-income neighborhood with decaying housing and high crime rate.

In addition, he wants to clean up the city “and address the issue of aging housing.”
Elliott works for the Pulaski County Special School District, where he is coordinator of energy management.

He’d previously worked for Bond Consulting Engineers, where he was director of graphic services.

Elliott, who has represented Ward 1, Position 1 since 1996, has been active in the Arkansas Municipal League, where he serves on the executive team, and the National League of Cities, where he is on the information and technology committee.


Fletcher, 54, is a builder and, like all the candidates for mayor, he also favors an independent school district.

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.

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

He wants to see new housing 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.

Fletcher 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.


Rhodd, 46, said several people had asked him to run for mayor. “I’ve always had an interest in politics. I want to clean up this town and make it more respectful,” Rhodd said after he filed.

“I took a very close look at our city,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of problems. We have a serious drug problem. We’re getting a buildup of gangs. Companies are shutting their doors. We have domestic violence.”

“We need to work on bringing good jobs to the city,” Rhodd said. “We’ve done a good job revitalizing downtown. We need to do that for the whole town.”


Shelley, 57, who retired from the Jacksonville Police Department in 2007 after 30 years, says, “We’re a dying city. Our town has become dormant, while other cities around us are flourishing. We need to find out why.”

“We have vacant strip malls,” he continued. “We have empty buildings. We need to get new businesses.

Shelley, who moved to Jacksonville in 1963, says the city was once one of the fastest-growing in the state.

“I’d like to see us thrive again,” he said.

“Closing the Graham Road railroad crossing was a mistake,” Shelley said. “It’s killed businesses and a whole neighborhood.”

Shelley, who is now an investigator with the Beebe Police Department, says Jacksonville police should bring back the old Jump teams, which responded to crime problems all over the city.


Urquhart, 36, has worked with Jacksonville World Class Education to get the Pulaski County Special School District to clear the way for the city to have its own school district, and says that would remain a priority if he is elected mayor.

He is in his second term on the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce board and is its treasurer. He also wants to reopen the Graham Railroad crossing.

Urquhart says Jacksonville needs to create more jobs and exploit an advantageous environment for businesses in the city.

“Maintaining a strong relationship with Little Rock Air Force Base is vital,” says Urquhart, and part of his job as mayor would be “to ensure the federal government knows the city appreciates and values the base and the jobs it provides.”

In addition to jobs and schools, Urquhart said keeping North Metro Medical Center open will be a priority.

The candidate says he’s committed to devoting all his energies to his job as mayor and getting the city back on track.

Urquhart says he’s a cheerleader for Jacksonville and “encouraging civic pride is one of city hall’s most important jobs.”

TOP STORY >> Plea made at meeting to exempt $80M debt

Leader senior staff writer

Jacksonville school board member Bill Vasquez would exempt Jackson-ville from its share of a proposed $80 million debt to build a new Maumelle High School so his area could have its own district.

No action was taken Tuesday night at a Pulaski County Special School District board meeting as local residents pleaded with the board not to saddle them with more debt.

The meeting was called at the request of the Jacksonville World Class Education Association, which supports an independent district.

Will Bond, Daniel Gray and Bishop James Bolden told board members that there was no evidence to contradict testimony by the district’s own chief financial officer and superintendent that it could not afford the annual $5 million bond payments over 30 years to pay off that debt.

Ivory Tillman, a retired federal employee, told board members that the single-gender boys and girls middle schools in Jacksonville should not be combined without further study. Allow Jacksonville to make this decision once it has its own district, Tillman said.

Said Tillman, who arrived in a wheel chair, “If these old knees weren’t so bad, I’d get down on them and beg you.”

At its Feb. 10 meeting, the board voted 4-3 to float an $80 million second-lien bond for the Maumell high school and also to recombine the boys and girls schools.

Gray said that at a board workshop Feb. 6, Superintendent James Sharpe told the district it could afford to pay for an $80 million loan only for three to five years.

“Then on Feb. 10, the board voted to sell $80 million in bonds to pay for the Oak Grove/Maumelle High School,” Gray said.

“Now in a time of economic uncertainty is not a time to overextend ourselves,” Gray said. “It’s time to be prudent and conservative. We need to have assurance we can afford and that you’re not jeopardizing PCSSD or Jacksonville.”

Also attending in support of Jacksonville’s position were Mayor Tommy Swaim, banker Larry Wilson, state Rep. Jane English, state Rep. Mark Perry, Pulaski County Clerk Pat O’Brien and representatives from the air base.

Former board member Lou Manfredini spoke on behalf of the Sylvan Hills Middle School, which may have been kicked to the curb in favor of the new high school at Maumelle. Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman also attended in support of that school.

A special meeting called by patrons of Maumelle schools followed the Jacksonville meeting in defense of its school and the second-lien bond. Former board member Pam Roberts was expected to present evidence that the district could pay for the bond issue.

“The issuance of bonds is bad for Jacksonville and north Pulaski whether we’re in or out of the district,” said Bond, a former state representative. “If we’re in the district we’re paying for a building we have no use of. If we have our own district, it destroys any chance of passing a millage.”

Bond suggested the district pay for part of new schools and let the area in question raise the rest of the funds.

Bond asked what kind of cuts the board would make to pay its bonded indebtedness in the future. “What other buildings will you not build. Will teaching positions be cut?”
As for the Jacksonville Middle School issue, Bond said we’re not opposed to combining the middle school, but with proper planning.

Bolden, a former board member, said the district only recently emerged from strict state supervision for being in fiscal distress and it could find itself in the same situation.

Gray and Bond both said that declining enrollment — which costs the district roughly $5,000 per student lost ­­— the likely loss of $16 million a year in desegregation funding from the state and also the loss of revenues when Jacksonville finally gets its promised district made it unlikely that the district could afford the new debt.

Bond said the group had been unfairly accused of being against building new schools.

“We’re not against building schools,” Bond said before the meeting. “We are against being obligated on the debt. The divorce papers (separating a Jacksonville district from PCSSD) have already been signed. If (the board) wants to go forward without our being obligated, that’s what they should do.

“If they want to issue bonds and give us 15 percent of the proceeds to start our building campaign, fine, but there has to be some level of fairness in this process,” Bond said.

Bond said a couple being divorced did not sign a mortgage obligating both parties to a debt; the party getting the house took out the loan and paid the mortgage.

“There doesn’t seem to be a scenario under which going forward with a bond issue is good for the students of north Pulaski County. It also makes a future millage increase less likely,” Bond said.

“Why is Mr. Vasquez (who represents most of Jacksonville on the board) supportive of this at this time. It’s directly in conflict with all the children of north Pulaski County,” Bond said.

He said the building also should be competitively bid. He said it appeared that Baldwin Shell Construction had been anointed construction project manager, and the new Maumelle high school, only a year ago estimated at $45 million, is suddenly an $80 million project.

At the February meeting, the board consolidated the two single-gender Jacksonville middle schools despite the suggestion of the superintendent and the pleas of the Jacksonville World Class Education Association to leave such a decision to the eventual Jacksonville district.

Vasquez, who voted to consolidate in February in the face of evidence that both test scores and discipline had improved, said then that the schools still failed to make adequate yearly progress.

He failed to note that of 13 middle schools in the district, 12 similarly failed to make adequate progress.

But it was Vasquez, Jacksonville’s own representative, who cast the deciding vote.
“The success of the Jacksonville single-gender middle schools has created a positive attitude,” said Tillman.

“Test scores have improved and disciplinary problems have been reduced at no cost to the district. Letters of intent were sent home and 92 percent of the girls and 94 of the boys indicated they would return to their current schools. These numbers are a positive reflection of the desire of the community to maintain the gender division. The original purpose of the separation of the schools was to improve student achievement and discipline. Facts were presented to the board in the last meeting to validate that this goal has been accomplished and will continue to improve,” Tillman

Tillman listed other reasons not to consolidate the two middle schools.

– Facilities would need to be upgraded.

– The combined schools would have the highest poverty level in the district.

– It would require a lot of effort to redraw schedules for the two schools.

– The building abandoned by combining the schools will be an embarrassment and a security risk.

TOP STORY >> Legislators see tax cut on groceries

Leader senior staff writer

Signs are favorable for removing another penny from the state’s tax on groceries, one of Gov. Mike Beebe’s campaign promises, state Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, said this week.

Glover’s bill passed the Senate 34-1 and is currently in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, where prospects are good, according to state Rep. Walls McCrary, D-Lonoke. Glover has asked McCrary to manage that bill in the House.

The 86th General Assembly removed three cents of the six-cent grocery tax two years ago, fulfilling the first half of the governor’s promise.

But with the economy uncertain, Beebe has dialed back his target this year to cutting out another penny.

With revenue collections and projections in, McCrary said Tuesday that he expected the bill to get out of committee as early as late next week and to pass the House with an overwhelming majority.

McCrary said the bill already has 70 co-sponsors and needs only 51 votes to pass the House and become law with Beebe’s signature.

“Removing another penny from the grocery tax appears to be fiscally feasible according to the latest revenue collections and projections,” McCrary said.

Glover said he didn’t anticipate any problems.

Glover and McCrary also worked together to pass another piece of Beebe’s agenda two weeks ago.

They extended the authority of a highway bill through 2015 to issue grant anticipation revenue bonds totaling as much as $575 million to keep the state highway system in repair, Glover said.

Both houses passed a resolution to adjourn April 10 unless unexpected business or complications arise.

Glover said legislators are doing everything they can to keep operation of the lottery “above board, run right and to make sure every dime (above operating costs and payout) is left for scholarships.”

Glover also is sponsor of a bill to give towns, cities and counties some say in the licensing of gas drilling waste-disposal sites.

“I met with groups today representing that industry. We agreed on a bill that allows county judges to charge $5 a load over county roads,” he said. That money would be used to help offset additional wear on the roads.

“We’re still hoping to get some regulations, but we don’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg” the senator added.

Still, he said, “We think the citizens should be protected.”

Glover, a member of the Senate State Agencies Commit-tee, voted against the proposed Equal Rights Amendment on Tuesday.

The vote was 4-4, which killed the amendment.

“My phone calls are from women opposed,” Glover said, “and preachers opposed.”

He said there was no evidence that women were discriminated against in Arkansas.

He said the effort to switch from Electoral College voting to the popular vote wouldn’t have enough votes to get out of committee.

State Rep. Davy Carter, R-Cabot, said that was good, because the needs of a small state like Arkansas could easily get lost otherwise.

Carter, a first-year lawmaker, said, “Some things passed that I don’t care for, but in a democracy you move on.”

Carter said he would pull down his bill that would require random drug testing for those receiving benefits through the department of Human Services.

He said his bill is misunderstood, that he didn’t want to punish those with drug problems, but to identify and work with them. It would never have affected delivery of services to recipients, and especially not to their children.

He said he’d like to see continued funding of the drug court program.

“You can’t keep throwing people behind bars,” he said. “It’s a drag on society. People have to be productive.”

Carter has sponsored three bills that will be considered in the Revenue and Taxation Committee after more is known about the state’s finances.

One would increase the standard deduction from $2,000 to $2,500.

Another would encourage charitable donations by allowing $1.25 credit for each $1 donated and the last bill would exempt some funeral-related items, like caskets, from state sales tax.

TOP STORY >> City delays joining water group

Leader staff writer

Construction of the Lonoke White Water Project using money available through the economic stimulus package has hit a snag.

The Jacksonville Water Commission said last week that it could not sign a contract to buy water from the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority, – which would guarantee Greers Ferry Lake as a future water source for Jacksonville – until seeing some hard numbers on what that would cost.

The Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission also are reluctant to sign because as the contract is currently drafted the monthly cost would be $5.04 per meter or $45,360 a month even if no water was taken from the system.

And spokesman Bill Cypert said the Cabot commission says they are afraid the project might run over the estimated $62 million since they have not been allowed to see a copy of the project plans.

The project needs Cabot, Jacksonville and Vilonia, which make up 57 percent of the customer base.

Project engineer Tommy Bond said last week that getting all 12 members to sign contracts within 30 to 45 days is essential if the project is to move forward by June and be completed in 21 months.

The project is eligible for loans at 1 percent interest for 30 years because it is ready for construction. Only projects that are ready for construction are eligible for economic stimulus money because the purpose of the stimulus package is to put people to work now.

In addition to Jacksonville, Cabot and Vilonia, these cities and water associations are also part of the project: Grand Prairie, Beebe, Lonoke, Ward, McRae, North Pulaski, Furlow, Southwest White County Water Association and Austin.

“We can’t get the money until we get contracts signed,” Bond said. “There will be no payments until lines are completed and we started delivering water. But we have to be able to bid the job in June or sooner, and the money has to be spent in 21 months.

“This is the best deal we’ll ever have,” Bond said. “This is a chance to own and control the destiny of a water source.”

Commission consultant Kirby Rowland of Garver Engineers, advised commissioners to weigh carefully the pros and cons of joining Lonoke-White.

On the one hand, Jacksonville’s future water needs appear to be well taken care of until 2040 with projected flows from Central Arkansas Water sources. The rates for that water are considerably lower than rates talked about with Lonoke-White. Further, Jacksonville is already looking at several high-dollar capital improvement projects, and Lonoke-White would mean taking on another one.

On the other hand, there are security issues associated with any water system. In the case of CAW, the water comes a long distance and through lines attached to the I-430 Bridge from Little Rock to North Little Rock.

“The transmission lines – something could happen,” Rowland said.

Commissioner James Bolden said he was concerned about “a lot of what-ifs” and the fact that the newly revised five-year master plan for Jacksonville Water Works did not take Lonoke-White into account. “We need specifics,” he said.

Regarding the need to respond quickly to the opportunity coming federal stimulus funds, Commis-sioner Jack Danielson mused, “We have to have our bucket out there to catch some of it.”

As for water supply security, chairman Jim Peacock reflected, “Taking care of Little Rock Air Force Base – that’s very important. It is insurance more than anything else.”

The commission voted unanimously in favor of a motion by Mike Simpson, Jacksonville Water Works manager, to include the costs of participation in Lonoke-White in the current rate study.

The board also favored a recommendation by Danielson to look into the “legal logistics relatively quickly” of committing to buy from Lonoke-White in case the board wanted to go forward.

Leader staff writer Joan McCoy contributed to this report.

TOP STORY >> Plans go forward for track on old dump

Leader staff writer

There is no money in the coffers to pay for a 160-acre regional park that is supposed to be built at the old city dump in Cabot off Willie Ray Drive. But plans are moving forward for a bicycle racing track there that should be open by May.

Construction of the 1,200-foot long track shaped like a W or M is scheduled for March 28. It will cost $2,500 for the services of an expert on such tracks. The dirt, labor and heavy equipment will be provided by the city and Lonoke County, said Shawn Basinger, who first brought the idea for the track to Mayor Eddie Joe Williams while he was campaigning three years ago.

Williams took that idea and ran with it. He imagined a regional park with the availability of diverse activities – walking trails, pavilions, tent camping, an amphitheater – and he has promoted that vision since he first took office in 2007.

Working with former parks director Carroll Astin and the park commission, the vision became a $75,000 master plan produced by Carter Burgess.

For the most part, the programs offered by Cabot parks either pay for themselves or they are paid for by the various sports organizations that run them.

But there is no money for new construction. In fact, the city council approved paying about $200,000 extra to parks in 2008 to help cover cost overruns that are generally believed to be the result of poor management. A bookkeeper embezzled about $8,000. About $100,000 was withheld from employee paychecks and not remitted to the IRS. And the parks department books had not been audited as they should have been.

The Cabot Advertising and Promotion Commission, which oversees the 1.5 percent city hamburger tax which last year brought in more than $580,000, pays for new construction like the two-year-old community center and it paid for the master plan for the regional park that the commission said last week will have to be shelved indefinitely.

How the plan for the regional park will fit with the master plan for the existing park that is just in the beginning stages is unclear. Park commissioners said last week that they need to focus for the time being on improvements and programs that will produce revenue for the parks department.

Parks Director Larry Tarrant who has been on the job less than a year says he would like to build more baseball fields and a water park and add to the new community center so racquet ball could be offered. He also intends to add volleyball, youth wrestling and adult basketball to programs already offered at the center.

However, the mayor said this week that he wants to see the passive, regional park move forward. It is important to meet the needs of all the residents, he said. And lack of funds should not deter the parks system from continuing to grow.

“We can’t dry dock this ship,” the mayor said.

So who will pay for the regional park?

Williams said no one will pay for all of it. The plan by Carter Burgess is for a multi-stage, multi-million-dollar project that includes roads, water and sewer. Grants will hopefully pay for some of it, he said.

The National Bicycle League will pay the $2,500 for the construction of the hard-packed dirt bike track, Basinger said. And like the mayor’s plan for the rest of the park, Basinger said the five-acre bike park will be constructed in stages.

The track will be built followed by a gravel parking lot that will be paved later.

“Our hope was to get the track going and build around it as the funds come in,” Basinger said.

TOP STORY >> Leader marks its 22nd anniversary

The Leader starts its 23rd year today and has a $9.99 subscription special to mark the occasion.

Start a new subscription, or renew or extend your subscription today, and get 104 issues — Wednesdays and Saturdays — for just $9.99 a year, or less than 10 cents a paper, a savings of $40 off the newsstand price.

The Leader was founded 22 years ago today, on March 4, 1987. Much has changed in the last two decades, from the political landscape to the faltering economy, but The Leader remains committed to bringing you local news, sports and commentary that you won’t find anywhere else.

While daily newspapers are shutting down across the country or cutting back the days they publish, we at The Leader are convinced there’s a role for our kind of award-winning community journalism.

You don’t have to pay $150 a year to subscribe to The Leader. Instead, for the cost of a trip to McDonald’s, you get reporting that covers your local government, schools and their teams and tries to keep politicians honest. Because if we don’t keep a wary eye on them, who will?

We cover Metroplan, the Highway Department, future water supply, schools plans, fascinating people, police reports and more.

We bring you the Leader All-Stars twice a week: John Hofheimer, Joan McCoy, Nancy Dockter, Rick Kron, Eric Francis, Ernie Dumas, Jeffrey Smith, as well as Kelly Fenton and Jason King in sports.

Garrick Feldman still writes a column when he gets mad enough.

There’s more: Spotlight on Education highlights achievers in our local schools.

Also advertising specials from local businesses, valuable coupons, car deals, real estate values and more.

So subscribe today. Click on the link at the bottom right of our home page for info., or call 982-9421 or 941-5132.

SPORTS >> Red Devils earn top seed

Special to The Leader

Jacksonville heads into the playoffs riding a 12-game winning streak following wins over Mountain Home on Friday and Monday.

The Red Devils defeated Mountain Home 55-30 Friday night at the Devils’ Den and 61-30 in The Hangar at Mountain Home on Monday in a makeup game from earlier in the season. The two victories secured a 6A-East co-championship along with Little Rock Hall, but the Red Devils will be the No. 1 seed at the state tournament.

Jacksonville could have had a mercy-rule win on Friday, but shooting woes from the free-throw line prevented it from doing so. The Devils were just 11 of 33 from the line.

“That was a hard-fought game,” Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner said. “That’s the most aggressive team we’ve seen all year. We’ve been shooting free throws pretty well, but tonight was just one of those things. ”

The Red Devils may have had their problems at the line, but shots from beyond the perimeter were going down easily.

Five different Jacksonville players combined to make eight three-pointers, including four by junior shooting guard DeShone McClure.

“DeShone has been carrying our offense all year,” said Joyner. “He’s consistent and can do it inside or outside.”

McClure finished with 21 points and was the only Red Devil over 50 percent from the free-throw line, making 5 of 7.

LaQuinton Miles made the first shot of the game — a three-pointer — to start the contest with a 13-2 run.

A baseline floater by Raheem Appleby early in the second quarter gave Jacksonville an 18-7 lead that would stay in double digits for the remainder of the game.

Jacksonville outrebounded Mountain Home (2-24, 0-13) 36-20, including 16 offensive rebounds. Cortrell Eskridge scored seven points while pulling down 10 rebounds. Antonio Roy added another eight rebounds for the Red Devils.

“We did a good job fighting with those guys and getting rebounds, but they wouldn’t let us go up for the putback,” said Joyner. “Then when we went to the free throw line, we couldn’t make those.”

Jacksonville was scheduled to play the makeup game on Saturday, but more winter weather conditions forced the game to be moved to Monday.

Jacksonville didn’t have much trouble with the Bombers on Monday either, with most of the team seeing plenty of playing time. The Devils spread out the scoring with Miles leading the way with 13 points. Eskridge and McClure were right behind with 12 points each.

Jacksonville will play the winner of Jonesboro and Benton on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the state tournament in West Memphis.

SPORTS >> Falcons survive big scare from four-seed Cougars, move on

Leader sportswriter

ALMA – Survival is a key component to making it through the state tournament.
And survive is about all North Pulaski did in its first-round game with West Helena on Tuesday afternoon.

The Falcons hung on, despite the loss of guard Aaron Cooper in the final two minutes, for a 62-58 win at the 5A state tournament at Alma High School. North Pulaski (23-6) will play the winner of today’s game between Pulaski Academy and Central Arkansas Christian to-morrow at 8:30 p.m in the quarterfinal round.

“Every worst-case scenario that we talked about avoiding in the game happened,” said North Pulaski coach Raymond Cooper. “We told Aaron and Daquan (Bryant) that they have got to stay out of foul trouble early and let some things go in the first half. We spent the last few minutes with Aaron on the bench and Daquan with four. We talked about how we had to be active to the ball, and we didn’t do a very good job of that either.”

Bryant hit the final go-ahead basket for the Falcons with 32 seconds left to put North Pulaski up 59-58, then pulled down a defensive rebound when John Dismuke missed in the lane with 20 seconds remaining.

Bryant drew the foul, and hit both ends to give the Falcons a 61-58 lead. Dismuke missed a chance to tie with a three-pointer, and T.J. Green pulled down the final board and tacked on one more free throw.

The Falcons carried a slim 47-43 lead into the fourth quarter but that quickly evaporated in the lane at the hands of the larger and more physical Cougars. West Helena fought off an early 5-0 run by the Falcons to take a 55-54 lead at the 2:32 mark.

Then Cooper picked up his fifth foul with 1:55 remaining to send Dismuke to the line. He hit the back end to give the Cougars a 56-54 lead.

After a Bryant free throw, Kryron Ware drove inside to give the lead back to North Pulaski with 1:26 left. West Helena answered to go back up 58-57 before Bryant hit his game-winner with 31 seconds remaining.

North Pulaski’s only true swing of momentum of the game was in the opening minutes of the third quarter, when the Falcons went on an 11-0 run to go from a 31-24 deficit at halftime to a 35-31 lead by the 5:57 mark of the third. The Cougars quickly regrouped and responded with a three-point basket from Dismuke.

Jerald Blair moved the lead back to four with a trey before Justin Fitzgerald cut it to 38-36 at the 4:13 mark.

Christian Knight gave the Falcons their biggest lead of the second half with 2:11 left in the third quarter with a putback that made it 44-38, but West Helena closed out the period on a 5-1 run, and put Bryant and NP senior post Carlos Donley in foul trouble with four each.

Cooper picked up his fourth foul with 2:39 left in the third, and exited late in the fourth after trying to recover the ball after a steal by West Helena’s Dismuke.

North Pulaski paced itself to a 14-6 lead early. Cooper started the game with a trey, and hit his second three-pointer at the 2:01 mark for an eight-point NP advantage. The Cougars set the standard of outdueling the Falcons down the stretch of each quarter with a 5-0 run that made the score 14-11 heading into the second period.

Things fell apart for the Falcons with six turnovers in the second quarter. Timothy Kirby knotted it at 16 with 5:39 left in the half, and West Helena captured its first lead of the game with a pair of Kirby free throws less than 30 seconds later.

North Pulaski shot 23 of 51 from the floor for the game, while Central West Helena was 20 of 51.

Cooper led the Falcons with 24 points. Bryant added 12 points, nine rebounds and three assists. Gerald Blair had 10 points for North Pulaski.

For the Cougars, Fitzgerald led with 14 points.

SPORTS >> Bears sweep Beebe to gain No. 3 seed

Leader sports writer

The stats couldn’t have been any closer and neither could the final score.

In the end, Sylvan Hills had just enough to escape with a 35-34 win over Beebe on Friday at the SHHS gymnasium.

Beebe’s Zach Kersey drove for the potential winning basket as time expired, but the shot fell short and the Bears (13-13, 8-6) earned the No. 3 seed out of the 5A Southeast Conference. They will take on 5A East No. 2 seed Greene County Tech (22-6) tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. The Badgers ended up with the No. 4 seed, and had the task of taking on Class 5A’s top-ranked, East No. 1 seed Forrest City (19-8) last night after Leader deadlines.

“We expected it to end up that way. It should have been that way,” said Bears coach Kevin Davis. “I told (Beebe coach Brian Martin) that’s the way it should have been for both of us, because we’ve both had good seasons, and we’ve both battled.

“They’ve been so consistent, and our team has really grown up, so it was a good third-place battle there at the end. We could probably play seven of these, and they would all end up like this.”

The defensive struggle was never more apparent than in Kersey’s totals. A three-point basket at the 3:01 mark of the first quarter served as the standout guard’s only points in the game.

“Zach’s such a great player, but the thing is, when you’re that good, people know about you,” Davis said. “Harold Ward and Ahmad Scott are brothers, and I don’t know, maybe they talked about it last night at the dinner table or something, but we took turns using two pretty good athletes to defend him. We wanted to wear Zach down and make him have to run from those guys all night.”

The Badgers built the largest lead for either team at 30-26 to start the fourth quarter when Devonte Young drove for a basket at the 6:46 mark. Harold Ward quickly cut the lead to one with a three-point basket with 6:11 left to play. Freshman Archie Goodwin then made good in his second varsity appearance with a putback of a missed trey from Ward to give the Bears a 31-30 lead at the 5:12 mark.

Ward cashed in on a steal by Nick Zimmerman with 4:35 left to play with a lay-up that increased the Bears’ advantage to 33-30, and that was the last score for the next three-and-a-half minutes of the defensive struggle.

Will Scott finally broke the drought with 1:02 left to play to pull the Badgers to within one, but Zimmerman tacked on two free throws for Sylvan Hills to extend the lead to 35-32. Young cut it to one with 15 seconds left to play, and Beebe tried to take advantage of Goodwin’s inexperience by sending him to the line for a 1-and-1 with 12 seconds remaining.

That move paid off. Trey Smith pulled down the miss for Beebe, and got the ball to Kersey, who drove the lane for the potential game winner. His shot missed, and Ward pulled down the rebound, securing the win for the Bears.

The Badgers got their first lead of the game to start the second quarter when Smith hit two foul shots and Scott tacked on two more at the 6:38 mark to put Beebe up 11-10.

Senior forward Brett Defani extended the lead to three with a Kersey-assisted basket with 6:06 left in the half, but Zimmerman knotted it at 13-all with a three-point basket less than 10 seconds later.

Ross hit two free throws and Ahmad Scott added one more at the 1:05 mark to give the Bears an 18-15 lead, but Blake Hood cut it to one with an assist from Donte Myles to set the halftime score.

Ross led the Bears with nine points, seven rebounds and two steals. Ward chipped in seven points for Sylvan Hills. Anthony Forte led Beebe with 11 points. Smith finished with eight points.

Sylvan Hills made 13 of 37 field goals, compared to 13 of 34 for Beebe (16-9, 8-6), and outrebounded the Badgers 25-20. The Bears made 4 of 11 from behind the arc, while Beebe was only 1 of 7.

SPORTS >> Lady Badgers cruise past West Helena

Leader sportswriter

ALMA – The Southeast No. 1 seed had little worries in the first round of the 5A state tournament.

Beebe advanced to the second round of state for the first time during the Lora Jackson-era with a 58-35 blowout win over West Helena.

Beebe (19-8) will play the winner of today’s game between Hot Springs (SW No. 2) and Greenwood (W No. 3) tomorrow at 7 p.m.

Senior guard Ty O’Neill poured in 24 points, most of which came in a runaway first half. Beebe took a 27-11 lead at the break after holding the Cougarettes to only two points in the second quarter, and maintained that advantage through the second half.

“We did a good job of putting a little bit of pressure on them,” said Jackson, now in her eighth year at the Lady Badger helm. “That caused the walks, and we were able to get a hand on the ball and knock it away.

“I knew that they did not have much of a bench, and we talked about trying to attack them and get them in foul trouble early.”

After O’Neill controlled the first half offensively, Beebe enjoyed a more balanced attack in the second half. O’Neill still led the way in the third quarter with eight points, but Geneshia Edwards, Danna Jackson and Amanda Wheeler each scored from the floor.

Wheeler’s basket at the 5:38 mark stretched the lead to 31-13. Edwards followed that with a transition lay-up set up by a defensive rebound and outlet from O’Neill.

The Cougarettes made their comeback attempt in the final minute of the third quarter. Rashakeri Ivory drove inside for two with 54 seconds left in the period, followed by a putback by Kiera Ward to cut Beebe’s lead to 39-24.

Ward and Aungelique Sledge started out the fourth quarter with back-to-back baskets that pulled West Helena to within 41-28, but Sha Jackson responded with eight points in the final six minutes.

West Helena struggled in the clutches of the Lady Badgers’ 2-3 zone defense, which resulted in 13 first half turnovers.

O’Neill got off to a quick start for the Lady Badgers, scoring six points in the first three minutes. She converted Beebe’s first possession with a three-point basket at the 7:13 mark, and followed a jumper by West Helena’s Kiera Ward with a basket that was set up by a steal and assist by Edwards.

Her third basket at the 5:43 mark upped the lead to 7-2, and O’Neill finished off the quarter with another trey that gave the Lady Badgers a 13-9 lead heading into the second period.

Rushed shot selection hampered the Cougarettes throughout the second quarter, resulting in 1-of-12 shooting. Beebe made the most of the quick trips, and extended its lead to 21-9 by the 3:45 mark with a steal and coast-to-coast lay-up by O’Neill. West Helena also helped the Lady Badgers’ efforts by giving up seven turnovers in the period.

The Lady Badgers finished the game 23 of 47 from the floor and outrebounded West Helena 37-31. The Cougarettes turned it over 17 times.

O’Neill led the Lady Badgers with 24 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Jackson finished with 12 points and Edwards added 11 points. Renneker finished strong on the boards with six rebounds.

For West Helena, Ward led the way with 11 points and seven rebounds.

SPORTS >> A rough start for Red Devil baseball

Special to The Leader

Tuesday afternoon didn’t go as planned for Jacksonville in the Red Devil Classic.

The Red Devils fell 9-0 in five innings to the Greenbrier Panthers at Hickingbotham Field as the home team struggled offensively and on the mound.

Greenbrier needed only three hits to score all nine of its runs over the first two innings. Those hits were timely ones however, and went along with several Jacksonville walks.

Jacksonville ace Seth Tomboli ran into trouble early in the top of the first. Greenbrier put the first two batters on base with a single and a walk. Tomboli got the next two batters out with a pop-foul to first baseman Tommy Sanders and then a called third strike to the Panther cleanup hitter. Neither of the outs came easy as the count ran full both times.

A pair of walks after the outs forced in the first run of the game, followed by a grand slam that gave Greenbrier a quick 5-0 lead. A pop up to third ended the inning.

Terrell Brown led off the bottom of the first with a walk and eventually made his way to third, but was stranded there along with Caleb Mitchell on first. Mitchell was hit by a pitch.

Walks continued to plague the Red Devils in the top of the second. A walk to the first batter of the inning was followed by a sacrifice bunt by the leadoff hitter.
Greenbrier next six batters went home run, walk, single, walk, walk and a sacrifice fly that made the score 9-0. The sac fly came off of relief pitcher Jesse Harbin, who entered the game with a 2-0 count on the hitter.

Harbin was solid in relief, allowing just one walk and one hit over the final three innings.

Mike Harmon picked up Jacksonville’s first hit with a single up the middle in the bottom of the second. Jeffrey Tillman had the Red Devils’ only other hit, a single in the fourth inning.

Nick Rodriguez and Brown both reached base with walks in the fifth inning, but were left on base as a strikeout and groundout ended the game.

SPORTS >> Wildcat season comes to end in loss at state

Leader sports editor

Harding Academy did just about everything it needed to be in position to spring a first-round upset at the 3A state tournament on Tuesday afternoon.

Then, over the course of about five minutes to start the second half, the Wildcats missed a couple of easy shots inside and four straight free throws. That, combined with Mountain View’s renewed energy, was just enough for the No. 1 seed Yellowjackets to hold on for a 47-37 win over Harding Academy at the Riverview Activity Center.

“The first two or three minutes of the second half we knew were going to be important,” said Harding Academy coach Brad Francis. “(Mountain View) came out with a little more intensity than they did in the first half, which we knew they were going to do. We didn’t quite match that. And a team like that you have to match their intensity or even more than that. And I thought we did in the first half.”

The Wildcats used patience on offense and solid defense to hold a 14-12 lead at intermission over the 30-3 Yellowjackets. The pressure was suddenly squarely on Mountain View, and had the Wildcats been able to maintain their lead in the early going of the second half, it’s hard to say what might have happened.

But five Yellowjacket points over the first 54 seconds put them ahead and they never trailed again. By the time Ethan Gammill hit a three-pointer to push the Mountain View lead to 23-16, Harding Academy had missed three shots in close and four consecutive free throws.

“We had some shots that rattled out that might have made a difference,” Francis said. “And they have a lot of weapons. They shoot it well from the outside. They’ve got the big kid inside. They penetrate well. Their offense puts a lot of pressure on your defense.

“We had two people trying to keep it from the big kid and we always had one guy getting out on the kid with the ball.”

Seth Keese hit a leaner and Daniel Stevens drove the lane for a energy-infusing jam, but Gammill ended the quarter with another three to extend the lead to 29-20. Harding Academy’s last gasp came on Tate Benton’s three and Keese’s lay-up off a nifty pass from Benton that narrowed the gap to 31-25 with 5:15 left.

But big post man Aaron Farris began to take control on the blocks. His rebound basket made it 33-25 and it was never any closer than that the rest of the way.

Neither team shot it well in the first half, when the Wildcats made only 4 of 17 and the Yellowjackets converted only 4 of 16. Both teams warmed up in the second half, though the Wildcats could not keep pace with Mountain View’s 11-of-17 shooting, making 8 of 19 themselves.

“From an effort standpoint, it was one of those games where you couldn’t ask for more,” said Francis, whose team finished the season 15-12. “That’s been us all year, playing gritty.”

Stevens scored 15 points, pulled down seven rebounds and also had two assists and two steals. Keese added nine points, six rebounds and three steals. Zack Kirby chipped in eight points, but struggled to get any looks in the second half with Yellowjacket guard Dustin Caston hounding him around the court.

Caston led Mountain View with 14 points. Gammill added 13 and Farris 11. The Yellowjackets enjoyed a 27-19 rebounding edge.

For Harding Academy, it was a bittersweet ending to a season that began with a lot of question marks, especially with the loss of B.J. Roller to injury. That further diminished the Wildcats’ already-limited firepower, which consisted almost exclusively of senior Kirby and sophomores Keese and Stevens. Francis said it was a tribute to his seniors that the team had as much success as it had.

“I don’t think the kids will want to hear this, but we overachieved this year,” he said. “We had a couple of talented sophomores and that can sometimes lead to some animosity (among the seniors). But there was never any of that. We had seniors that were willing to take less minutes, less scoring to have success on the scoreboard.

“They didn’t care who or how we got it done.”

Monday, March 02, 2009

TOP STORY >> Zumwalt gets more toasts than roasts

Leader staff writer

In the 14 years of roasting and toasting city leaders the Jacksonville Senior Center has never had a roastee like Joan Zumwalt – a person just lucky to be alive to be roasted and toasted.

Her son Greg Jones told the audience of a strong-willed woman, with plenty of emphasis on the word strong and willed, with a toddler (Greg) leaving Okinawa.

When Zumwalt and her son reported to the plane which was to carry them back to the States from Okinawa, Zumwalt told a surprised sergeant that she was not getting on that plane. She insisted that the sergeant find another plane for her and her son. Her insistence, as it has throughout the years, paid off and the sergeant found a different flight leaving later.

Zumwalt and her son went to pick up a custom silver set that she was going to carry on the plane and returned to get on the new plane. She was met there by a teary-eyed sergeant, who informed her that the first plane that she was supposed to get on and insisted not boarding had crashed into a mountain and there were no survivors.

Lightening the mood, Greg then added that the really good news was that someday he’ll inherit that silver set.

On Thursday, Zumwalt was actually more toasted than roasted. It might have been because her daughter Kelli warned everyone early in the dinner, “My mom never goes to bed angry. She stays up and plots her revenge.”

The roasters at the event, a major fund-raiser for the senior center, included Mike McCreight, director of Pathfinder; Tracy French, CEO of Community Bank; Thea Hughes, director of the Jacksonville Wastewater Department; Rev. Wendell Dorman, longtime family friend and former pastor, and Mayor Tommy Swaim.

Hughes, the only woman on the roasting panel, told the more than 200 people at the dinner that she has known Zumwalt ever since she started at the wastewater department, and Zumwalt was on the wastewater commission. Zumwalt is now the chairman of that board.

“She’s an amazing woman who’s been taking everyone’s crap for 25 years,” Hughes joked, adding, “We call her the head stoolie.”

Hughes said she and Zumwalt are in a business dominated by males. “But she taught me how to be a lady, and still talk poop,” Hughes said.

She said Zumwalt has always approached her work on the sewer commission in the vein of “what is best for Jacksonville, never about her.” Hughes ended her roast and toast with a special plaque signed for Zumwalt by the employees of the wastewater department. The plaque? A gold-colored toilet seat.

McCreight lead off the event, reminding the audience that when Zumwalt and her husband McLyle got involved with Pathfinder 37 years ago, the organization had just one teacher and one aide helping six kids and was operating on a budget of $12,000.

Today, Pathfinder is a $35 million program with more than 1,000 employees and 135 vehicles helping hundreds of clients across the state. “Pathfinder would not be Pathfinder without Joan,” McCreight said.

McCreight said Zumwalt had such passion and vision for her causes that he felt he could make some predictions about what the future holds with Zumwalt leading the charge.

“I see her incorporating the national Easter Seals and Cerebral Palsy organization into Pathfinders. I see her convincing Walmart to open a pre-school development center in every Supercenter, and I see her relocating the air base, and then moving the military museum to where the air base was, and did I mention she’d keep all the base structures and members for the museum.” (You had to be there.)

McCreight also reminded the audience that Zumwalt owns and operates a very successful store “near the county line” and that Zumwalt was heartbroken when Anheuser Busch was sold to a foreign country. “I can see her buying Anheuser Bush back from that foreign country, but with one small change. Budweiser would be renamed Zumweiser, Queen of Beers,” he said.

Tracy French, who runs Community Bank, has known Zumwalt for “six years, seven months and 29 days.” That’s how long ago Zumwalt, who is on the bank’s board of directors, helped hire French to run the bank.

French called Zumwalt “the real deal.”

“She is talented and has vision,” French said. He told of how everyone thought there was no way she could get a plane for the military museum, “but then one Sunday morning, here came an F-15 down Main Street.”

French said rumors have it that she is after another plane for the museum. He even had a picture of it — Air Force One. “Don’t laugh, with Joan you never know,” he said.

The mayor had fun injecting City Attorney Bob Bamburg into the conversation. Bamburg is married to Zumwalt’s daughter Lisa. Swaim said a few years ago, Bamburg put a lot of thought in finding just the right birthday present for Zumwalt. “It was a good, but a different type of present,” the mayor said. “It was a shady cemetery plot.”

The next birthday came and Zumwalt didn’t get a card or a present from Bamburg and she just couldn’t understand. Finally she asked him why he hadn’t gotten her anything.

According to the mayor, Bamburg said, “Well, you didn’t use what I gave you last year.”

Swaim said Zumwalt has done a great job for the city. “She is willing to give whatever it takes every day,” he said.

EDITORIAL >> Beebe should accept help

Governor Beebe was undecided this week about whether to join a few other governors, mainly in the South, and turn away millions of dollars in new federal assistance to unemployed workers in Arkansas. Let us hope his indecision is short-lived. Why would a governor want to deny help to some 6,000 of the neediest of the jobless and to send all that economic activity to other states when it is needed here?

Mark Sanford, Sarah Palin, Haley Barbour and Rick Perry are turning away the federal stimulus money for their states because they are competing for the soul of the right wing of the Republican Party and a leg up on the presidential nomination in 2012. They need to show that they can be tough on whining workers and federal handouts even when the economy hangs on the cliff’s edge. That has never seemed to be Governor Beebe’s game. He is a pragmatist, not an ideologue. That is why he is the most effective governor in 30 years.

Part of President Obama’s stimulus program is extended unemployment insurance. The idea is that it would put cash into the pockets of the neediest people, who would spend it right away and stimulate the demand for goods and services. The country needs economic activity in the worst way, and what quicker way than put it in the hands of people who lost their jobs, often multiple jobs, but who do not qualify for jobless payments because they do not meet the crazyquilt rules that many states follow to deny benefits?

To qualify for the extra insurance, many states will have to adjust their eligibility rules. Eligibility is determined by a worker’s relatively recent job history. Arkansas and many other states, including nearly all Southern states, do not count a person’s wages in the current or preceding quarter in determining his or her eligibility. Only the person’s earnings in the previous four quarters are counted, so many low-wage workers who go from job to job and chronic part-time workers do not qualify. Neither do those who have only recently been hired and been laid off again or those who left their jobs voluntarily for compelling family reasons like a sick child, domestic violence or moving with a spouse. States would have to change their rules to make some of those people eligible.

A few governors say the expanded eligibility for unemployment would put a permanent burden on their states’ unemployment trust funds and might require an increase in the payroll tax sometime in the future. That apparently is what Beebe is studying.

Simple fairness — is anyone still for that? — dictates that the insurance program cover these people anyway, but if Governor Beebe and any of his executive office colleagues are troubled about the long-term effect on the trust fund and unemployment contributions, they can abort the liberalized rules when the recession fades away and the stimulus aid plays out. Governments do it all the time. Unemployment insurance rules have been altered temporarily in previous deep recessions — several hard-hit states did it last year — and then relaxed when the job market recovers.

If we know Mike Beebe, he will not stanch the flow of scores of millions of dollars into the stagnant Arkansas economy, nor will he deny a little sustenance to 6,000 troubled families. He will figure out a way to do it where the whole state benefits.

TOP STORY >> Guilty verdict in a shooting

Special to The Leader

Daud Amir Jones loved Meloney Graham. That one fact was not in dispute as he went on trial for her murder.

Almost everything else, however, was disputed by the prosecution and defense – especially Jones’ own version of events in Jacksonville from the night of April 20, 2008: That the fatal gunshot to the back of his pregnant girlfriend’s head was an accident, a misfire caused when he dropped a pistol he’d recently taken away from her while they were arguing.

In the end, the jury of seven women and five men didn’t accept his explanation, and they convicted Jones of one count of first-degree murder. Yet they didn’t opt for the maximum sentence of 40 years prosecutor Will Jones sought, or the 10-year minimum that public defender Bill Simpson urged for. Instead, they took the middle ground: 20 years, plus a five-year enhancement for using a handgun in the crime, to be served in the Arkansas Department of Correction. A second count of first-degree murder, for the death of the fetus, was set aside by the judge earlier in what was called a directed verdict.

As Judge Marion Humphrey read the jury’s sentence at midday on Thursday, Jones showed the same demeanor he had during a day and a half of testimony, including his own – calm, still, quiet, with no overt show of emotion.

There was no shortage of emotion for many who sat through – or took part in – the day and a half of testimony that started Tuesday afternoon. And as Jones was led away in handcuffs by a bailiff, there were quiet tears among both those who had come to support his case and those who had come to seek his conviction.


Although other people were in the house late on the night of April 20, nobody actually saw Jones shoot Graham. Both sides agreed on a general series of events.

In the garage of their Pike Avenue house, 31-year-old Jones had drunk four 20 or 24 oz. beers – “Hurricane High Gravity, 8.1 percent alcohol by volume,” he testified – and then gone to bed.

Graham, who was 25 and 17 weeks pregnant with Jones’ son, was angry because she believed he had been seeing other girls behind her back. She went into the bedroom, woke him up and they started arguing.

Two teenage friends of the couple who were in the house that night could testify to seeing that much. But after Lauren McMann retreated to the kitchen and Kevin Winston to the den, having swept up the couple’s infant son from the bedroom where Jones and Graham were arguing, they didn’t see what happened in the next few minutes.

The raised voices – mostly Graham’s – were heard for a few minutes, then the bedroom door opened and Graham was heard coming out into the hallway, followed by Jones. There, near the room where their 10-year-old daughter slept, Graham was heard to say to Jones, as McMann recalled: “If that makes you a better man, I don’t care. Shoot me.”

A single gunshot was heard. Then the sound of Graham’s body hitting the floor. Then the sound of Jones going back into the bedroom.

Winston – who recounted Graham’s last words as “I don’t care. Shoot me, shoot me” – said at that point he glanced back into the hallway and “saw her feet drop.” Then both he and McMann fled outside.

There McMann ran into neighbor David Garner, 18, who had been at the couple’s house earlier. He went into the house where he found Jones in the hall cradling Graham’s body.

He would testify that he asked what happened and Jones told him, “I don’t know,” and asked him to take his daughter out of the house and call the police.

Waking up the 10-year-old in the next room, Garner made sure to take her out through the kitchen, so she wouldn’t see her mother’s body on the hallway floor.

When the Jacksonville Police Department arrived minutes later, the first officer to enter the house – Officer Chris Gallluppo, a four-year veteran – tried to ascertain if the shooter was still in the vicinity. “Who did this?” he told the court he asked Jones, and said the man replied, “I did it.”

Hours later, at the Jacksonville Police Department, Jones gave a recorded statement in which he offered this series of events: Awakened by Graham slapping him on the face, he awoke to find she’d taken a silver .380 semi-automatic pistol out of the closet, where he kept it inside a holster, which in turn was inside a knitted sock.

On the recording, he indicated the gun was still in the sock, and Graham was waving it around but not pointing it at him. When she left the bedroom, he said, he followed her and took the gun away from her, and as he turned to take it back to the bedroom he dropped it and it fired. Not aware she had been hit, he picked it up, put it back in the bedroom closet, and came out to find Graham on the floor.

When he took the stand on Wednesday, Jones would contradict that statement by saying Graham had the gun out of the sock when they were in the bedroom, and after he took it from her in the hallway it was while he was trying to put it back in the sock that it fell, fired and she was struck.


The prosecution opened their case on Tuesday after lunch by calling Jacksonville police and experts from the state Crime Lab. Officers Galluppo and Cynthia Wilemon testified to what they found when they arrived at the scene, with Wilemon also stating she “heard the defendant say he shot her.” It was Wilemon who found the gun, loaded and with a round in the chamber, in the knit sock on the top shelf of the bedroom closet. Jamal Harkaday, a Sherwood police detective who was a Jacksonville officer at the time, processed and documented the crime scene, noting he found the empty holster on the bed “in plain view.”

Prosecutors Will Jones (no relation to defendant) and Kelly Ward tried to debunk Jones’ version of events by calling upon a firearms expert from the crime lab, Steve Hargis, who handled the inspection of the .380 semi-automatic pistol used in the shooting. Hargis testified that he struck the gun with a rubber mallet in several places to simulate a drop to the floor.

“It never fired when struck,” Hargis said.

In cross-examination, public defender Simpson asked why Hargis had not actually dropped the gun during the tests; to avoid damaging it, Hargis replied. Simpson asked Hargis if there was a chance that the gun could go off if dropped, to which Hargis replied yes, but “that would be a very slim chance.”

Dr. Frank Peretti, who performed the autopsy, testified that the wound made by the bullet was “a nice, round hole,” which he said indicated a straight-on entry. Challenged by Simpson as to whether such a wound could be from a bullet fired by a dropped gun, Peretti was adamant:

“If the gun was dropped, the entry wound would be different,” he said, because it was likely the angle of entry would not be straight-on. However, he also acknowledged that he could not predict the path of the bullet or position of Graham’s body at the time of the shooting.

The first day’s testimony concluded with a playing of the recorded statement Jones had made at police headquarters, overseen by Lt. Martin Cass.

Wednesday morning, the state presented perhaps its most compelling witness: 17-year-old Lauren McMann, who in the hallway before the trial began was stretched out on one of the benches, clearly nervous, being calmed by prosecutor Jones.

On the stand, clutching tissues and constantly dabbing at tears amid restrained sobs, McMann told the jury that her cousin Meloney Graham had been more like an older sister to her, someone she’d looked up to. She said she’d often lived with Graham and Jones.

McMann described being in the garage with Winston, then her boyfriend, and Graham after Jones had drunk his beers and headed for bed. They smoked some marijuana after he left, she said.

Jones had left his cell phone in the garage and when it rang, Graham suspected it was a girl calling for Jones. When a second call came, McMann said Graham convinced Winston to answer and pretend to be Jones; it was, indeed, a girl calling, and that upset Graham, who went into the house to confront her boyfriend.

Both McMann and Winston followed, but aside from his retrieving the baby from the bedroom they stayed out of the confrontation.

“I just looked at them, because I didn’t get into their business and they didn’t get into our business,” she told prosecutor Ward.

Breaking into sobs, she re-counted the next few minutes, with the raised voices, the steps in the hallway, Graham’s last words and the gunshot. After that, she fled the house because she was scared, McMann said.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Simpson asked if McMann had seen Graham shoot the gun before. As it turned out, from McMann’s testimony and that of others, it wasn’t uncommon for either of the two to have it out, maybe just holding it, leaving it on a table, or even shooting it. McMann said she’d seen Graham shoot it “on holidays and birthdays.”

He also pressed her on the kind of person Jones – “D” to his friends – was. “Is he a good person?” Simpson asked her.

“He was,” said McMann, in tears.

“Was?” asked Simpson.

“He’s not now because he killed my cousin!” she said, her voice breaking.

Then Simpson asked if he had seen Jones shoot her.

“No, but I heard it.”

“So you don’t know?” he prompted.

“No,” she said. “Nobody knows.”

The prosecution called Winston next, whose testimony largely echoed what McMann had said, though he added under Simpson’s cross-examination that when he ducked into the bedroom to get the baby, Jones still looked drunk. Winston also testified that he believed Jones loved Graham and was a good person.

“He paid the bills, he took care of his children,” he said.


With the jury out, Simpson promptly asked the judge to issue a directed verdict on the two murder counts, which would effectively clear his client of all charges.
A directed verdict is where the judge makes a finding of law, as opposed to a finding of fact, which is the jury’s job. Essentially, the judge declares the state has not made its case proving the defendant committed the offense with which he is charged – in this case, first-degree murder of a fetus.

Simpson’s argument was straightforward: There was no way to know if the fetus was still alive at the time of Graham’s murder, therefore there was no way to overcome reasonable doubt, the standard for conviction. Judge Humphrey initially ruled in favor of Simpson’s motion.

After the lunch break, however, the prosecution convinced Humphrey to let them reopen their case and have medical examiner Peretti offer additional testimony. He said his autopsy of the fetus revealed no indication it wasn’t alive at the time of the shooting.

That victory for the prosecution was short-lived, however, as Humphrey ultimately reissued his directed verdict on the fetal murder charge, taking it off the table.

The defense opened its case with Jones on the stand. A slender man with close-cropped hair and moustache, he had spent the first day and a half of the trial sitting between the two deputy public defenders, Christine Hendrickson and Brooke Thompson. He wore the same outfit each day: A black suit with a dark red shirt and black tie. Jones watched the proceedings quietly and with no outward sign of emotion.

On the stand, his demeanor didn’t change. He answered questions in a steady voice, mostly without hesitation, and never really displayed any concern for his situation – a man facing up to 40 years in prison.

Jones first recounted the story of his life: A Washington, D.C., native, he did much of his growing up in Maryland. That’s where he first met Graham, when she was a young teenager, several years his junior; they rarely parted after that. She gave birth to their first child, a daughter, at age 15, and shortly after that he moved in with her and her mother, Peggy Graham.

They first came to Arkansas a few years later when their second child, a boy, who needed a heart transplant. Their return to Maryland was brief, as the boy was sick again. They came back to Arkansas, but he died in 2007. The couple had another son afterward.

Altogether, they had lived with each other for 10 years, he said.

Under Simpson’s questioning, Jones recounted his side of the story; again, the salient details were almost identical to those of the prosecution’s witnesses up to the point where they shut the bedroom door as they argued. Again, as he had in the statement to police, he insisted it was an accident, that he dropped the gun and it went off.

But there were other inconsistencies. Where Winston had said Graham slapped him with her empty hand, Jones said that hand was already holding the gun – which he had told Jacksonville police was still in the knit sock. He also said he didn’t recall her saying anything like “shoot me” to him.

Several times during his testimony, he acknowledged that he was “responsible” for Graham’s death, and just as many times he insisted it was an accident.

On cross-examination, prosecutor Will Jones lit into the defendant over those contradictions, especially how his story changed from the taped statement. Was the gun in the knit sock when he took it from Graham? If so, where was the bullet hole from when it fired? When Daud Jones insisted he dropped the gun while trying to put it in the sock, the prosecutor pushed him to explain how, exactly, the bullet could have gone around or through him to hit Graham.

Jones replied that he had the gun to his side when he dropped it. The prosecutor also maintained that Graham would’ve been facing Jones while they argued and he walked way – did the misfired bullet somehow travel around her head and hit the back of her skull?

He also brought up the defendant’s calm demeanor, both in the courtroom and back on the night of the incident, when he was at the police department.

The prosecutor recalled the recorded statement on which Jones asked how Graham was, and the investigator replied she was dead:

Jones’ surprised response sounded a little too disingenuous for the prosecutor. And he pointed out that Jones had mentioned going to sleep in a room at the police department before his statement. Is that, the prosecutor asked, the behavior of a man who just hours before was cradling the woman he loved, the mother of his children, as she lay on the floor with a bullet wound?


The defense called three people to testify on Daud Jones’ behalf: David Garner, the friend who came in after the shooting and called police; Sheila Russell, Graham’s aunt and a neighbor across the street; and Peggy Graham, mother of the dead woman.

Next to McMann’s, Peggy Graham’s testimony was perhaps the most powerful of the trial.

She made it clear she believed the young man who had courted her daughter, who had grown up under her roof for so many years in Maryland, who had fathered her grandchildren, would not have intentionally killed Graham.

Asked by Simpson if Jones was a violent or nonviolent person, Peggy Graham said nonviolent. And when Simpson asked what she based that opinion on, she said, “On my being there.”

Visibly upset during her testimony, wiping tears and occasionally struggling for composure, Peggy Graham acknowledged that her daughter had called her on April 20 and said she was angry because of rumors Jones had been cheating on her.

She talked about going to stay with her father for a couple of weeks. She also said she had seen her daughter with a handgun once, though she’d never seen her shoot it.

When Will Jones stepped up to cross-examine her, Peggy Graham’s eyes narrowed; her dislike of him was palpable.

One exchange in particular highlighted that, after the prosecutor established she’d spoken with Daud Jones weekly since her daughter’s death.

“Everybody talks about what a loving, sweet person your daughter was,” Will Jones said. “So I guess in my mind, and I think the jury would have this question as well, why would you be here testifying on behalf of the person who ended her life, and telling other people not to testify [against him]?”

“First of all,” she snapped back, “he loved my daughter and he loved me. Secondly, he didn’t take her life. And I didn’t tell anybody not to talk to you. I don’t want to talk to you.”

Graham said she’d only told others — McMann and Garner – that they didn’t have to talk unless they were subpoenaed. She said she’d overheard prosecutor Jones talking to another witness, who had a cell phone on speaker, saying things about her that she found objectionable.

The prosecutor pressed on. “Were you asked to allow them” – again meaning McMann and Garner – “to come to our office and speak to us as well?”

“No, you asked to speak to me,” she snapped back. “You made me mad and I didn’t want to speak to you.”

And when he continued to say she tried to keep either McMann or Garner from testifying, she lashed out again.

“Why would I put bad thoughts in her [McMann’s] head” about Daud Jones, she asked.

That exchange ended Peggy Graham’s testimony, and the defense’s case. There was more than an hour for closing arguments – the prosecution again urging that “actions speak louder than words,” the defense reminding jurors of the state’s “high burden of proof” – and jury instructions, the judge allowed the jury to put off deliberation until Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m.

That deliberation didn’t take overly long. The verdict of guilty on the first-degree murder charge was delivered in about two hours.

After hearing the prosecution and defense urge them to apply, respectively, the maximum and minimum prison sentences, the jury deliberated another hour before returning, at 12:07 p.m., a midway sentence of 20 years.

With the handgun enhancement of five years and credit for 312 days already served, it amounted to more than 24 years total.

Before reading the sentence, the judge had admonished those in the courtroom that no outbursts would be tolerated – but there were no outbursts at all.

As the defendant was led away and the jurors filed out, the friends of both Meloney Graham and Daud Amir Jones, clustered in their respective camps, sniffled, wiped tears and spoke quietly, just as they had for the last two and a half days.

TOP STORY >> Stimulus funds kick off several projects here

Leader senior staff writer

Stimulus funds for “shovel-ready” central Arkansas road projects, previously estimated at $12.7 million, are now estimated at $14.2 million, increasing the likelihood—but not guaranteeing—that Graham Road in Jacksonville will be widened to four lanes in the near future.

The widening of Brockington Road in Sherwood has risen to the top tier—Class A Projects—and seems certain to receive the $4.6 million federal share, with another $1.2 million due from the city, its 20 percent.

Cabot interchange ramp improvements at Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 67/167 could be ready for obligated funds by May. That’s out of a different basket of money.

The stimulus bill allows federal funding to be up to 100 percent of a project instead of the usual 80 percent with a 20 percent match from the local government. But the Metroplan board of directors voted to stretch the stimulus funds by continuing to require the matching funds.

Overall, the $787 billion stimulus act contains $351 million for Arkansas roadways, including the $14.2 million for Central Arkansas.

The stimulus plan also includes about $10 million for Central Arkansas Transit Authority, including $5.6 million for 16 new buses to replace an aging fleet and 10 para transit vans, which would grow that fleet by two.

That could result in increased express bus service between Jacksonville and Little Rock, according to CATA director Betty Wineland, dependent in part on operating contributions from Jacksonville and Pulaski County.

The directors also approved the staff recommendation to fund all Class A projects, then Class B, and so on until the funds are exhausted.

Graham Road is ranked seventh of the seven projects, alone in Class E, because it’s not quite as ready for construction as the others—and one main reason for the infrastructure stimulus money is to move jobs along and put people to work.

In addition to the usual construction cost inflation, competition the boost in the number of highway projects that will suddenly start could drive prices up even further for labor materials and equipment. That makes it less likely that there would be money to fund the Graham Road widening.

The Brockington Road widening to four lanes is joined in the top tier, along with a railroad overpasses at Salem and on the South Loop south of Little Rock.

Funds can be fully obligated for those projects—as required by stimulus rules—within 12 months, as can funds for construction of a traffic roundabout on Pike Avenue in North Little Rock and the Little Maumelle pedestrian bridge.

Widening of Military Road in Benton County might be able to be fully obligated within 12 months.

No date has been published for when funds for the Graham Road widening could be obligated.

Despite the boost from the stimulus funds, the long-range outlook for highway funding is uncertain at best, the staff told the board.

The only continuing resolutions is at current levels, and they say that without raising federal gas taxes, there will not be an increase in available highway funds.

“Given the current state of politics as exhibited in the stimulus debate and the national economy, it is doubtful if the state Republicans would support any tax increase for any purpose at this time,” the staff wrote in a briefing to the directors.

Additionally, it is not clear that small metropolitan areas will continue to receive highway funds and it’s also unclear whether or not the Little Rock/North Little Rock/Conway metropolitan area would be considered small or large.

TOP STORY >> Congestion draws public comments

Leader senior staff writer

Operation Bottleneck, Metro-plan’s public-participation survey of traffic congestion and safety on Central Arkansas streets, roads and highways, drew more than 200 comments from residents of the Jacksonville, Cabot and Sherwood areas alone, and some draft results of the survey have just been released.

As might be anticipated along the Hwy. 67/167 corridor that runs through those three cities, many of the congestion problems are either on or associated with that highway.

As might be guessed, congestion and safety concerns frequently were identified at the same locations.

Fixes to the various problems will be grouped as relatively easy, like signs, paint or synchronizing traffic signals; short term, which would require more substantial fixes, such as road widening, and long-term fixes, which might include highway ramps or realignment of intersections.

Those distinctions were not made in a draft report released Wednesday.


Within Jacksonville city limits, 98 comments identified points of congestion and another 24 pointed out safety concerns, according to a draft report released this week.

About half of the congestion comments concerned either state Hwy. 67/167 or else I-440, with the highest incidence citing a “huge bottleneck and unsynchronized lights at Vandenberg Boulevard and First Street at John Harden, T.P. White or Loop Road.”

Possible solutions, easy to complex, include an interchange and corridor study, modification of frontage roads to one-way and modification of lane striping.


Residents suggested constructing a loop ramp for Vandenberg and airbase traffic off Hwy. 67/167, which would require modification to T.P. White and to the Lowe’s parking lot.

City officials could review signal coordination and implement advanced traffic control system along First Street.

Congestion at the Main Street and Hwy. 67/167 interchange is caused by too much merging traffic and a possible solution would be to widen Hwy. 67/167 and lengthen the merge lane and a study of reconfiguring the interchange.

Another congestion spot sited was the Main Street/James Street/Dupree Drive intersection, where a study is already underway looking at options.

Residents cited the Hwy. 67/167 interchange at Redmond Road as “very dangerous,” but the proposed widening of the highway should help.


They found the James Street overpass at Hwy. 67/167 too narrow. Possible solutions include addition of roundabouts on James Street at the on and off ramps and also the widening of the bridge in preparation of the widening of Hwy. 67/167. Also, the eventual modifications of frontage roads to one-way would be expected to help.

Other congestion points cited were the John Harden yield sign at the Vandenberg ramp, John Harden at Wal-Mart and also at JP Wright Loop Road at Linda Lane.

Safety concerns at the greater Vandenberg intersection could be largely solved through the same measures as the previously mentioned congestion at that spot.

Other safety concerns included a citywide lack of sidewalks, the five-lane section of First Street, the railroad crossing at J.P. Wright Loop Road and also Jacksonville Cutoff Road, where there is no room for pedestrians.


In Sherwood, most of the 51 comments about traffic congestion pertained either to commuting on Hwy 67/167, I-40 and I-30 or else along Brockington Road and Hwy. 107.

A flyover connecting Sherwood and Gravel Ridge with Hwy. 67/167 allows motorists to exit directly from the freeway/frontage road onto Brookswood/Brockington. As a result the widening of Brock-ington Road should start soon.

Congestion in that area is on Hwy. 107 to Kiehl, with design already completed on widening to a four-lane divided road.

Other problem spots were turning left from Indian Bay Drive onto Brockington, and also problems on Lantrip and Kiehl to Warden Road.

Hwy. 107 problems

Problems along Hwy. 107, the main route connecting Sherwood and north Pulaski County with North Little Rock and Little Rock, will be partially solved by widening Hwy. 107, currently underway, upgrading traffic signals and signal coordination, according to the Operation Bottleneck draft.

Other Sherwood congestion problems cited were at North Hills at Country Club, Wildwood at Country Club, Fairway at Five-Mile Creek and Warden Road north of Kiehl, where drivers are traveling the wrong direction.

Twenty-five safety concerns were cited, including at Hwy. 107 at Kiehl Avenue, Indian Bay Drive at Maryland, at Abundant Life School and Wal-mart and also on Kiehl, Country Club, Warden Road north of Kiehl, Powhattan at Warden Road, Jacksonville Cutoff and also citywide, a lack of sidewalks.


Responses from Cabot residents and commuters included not only congestion on Hwy. 67/167 and I-40, but within the city limits. Congestion points were identified along Hwy. 89, Hwy. 321, Hwy. 38 and Locust Street.

The report said most comments were related to the Hwy. 89 corridor, the intersection of Hwy 5, Hwy. 321 and Hwy. 367 and also the area near Cabot High School.

It identifies Hwy. 89 from Rockwood to Lincoln Street as one of the most congested segments in central Arkansas.

In 0.8 miles there are six signalized intersections resulting in congestion during peak travel time.

Suggestions include signal coordination, widening Hwy. 89 to four lanes with a raised median for access management. In the long term, Hwy. 89 west of Hwy. 67/167 is recommended for widening.

The interchange of Hwy. 67/167 and Hwy. 5 and the signaled intersections nearby are also major congestion points.

Hwy. 5 north of the interchange will be widened and the city and the Highway and Transportation Department have restriped the overpass for two northbound lanes and install a signal at Hwy. 5 and John Harden at Rockwood.

Signals are being retimed, but backups are still frequent during peak traffic, the report noted.


“Long-term improvements may include the reconstruction of this interchange, moving the Hwy. 321/367 ramp south and possible widening of Hwy. 321,” the report says. Other areas identified as congested include Locust Street from Hwy. 67/167 to Lincoln Street and also Magness Creek Drive near the elementary school.

Thirty-six safety concerns, including several along Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 321 were noted, as well as on Hwy. 38 at the Cabot High School and Middle School, where raised crosswalks, better lighting and flashing beacons may help.

Safety issues also were identified on Hwy. 367, Kerr Station Road, South First Street, Campground, Willow Drive, Locust Street, Shiloh subdivision and lack of cross-walks or sidewalks near all schools.