Friday, November 20, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Sen. Lincoln in spotlight

This is the day of reckoning for Sen. Blanche Lincoln, when she ever so briefly is the most important person in America.

If she votes with her party this evening, the United States Senate will most likely spend the next month debating, amending and finally passing a bill to expand the nation’s health-insurance system to nearly everyone but illegal aliens.

If she votes instead with the Republicans, who want there to be no serious health-care reform if the Democrats and President Obama are going to get the credit, the momentum will be halted and the issue will be thrown into an election year when nothing consequential will be done.

Unwittingly or not, Senator Lincoln got herself into this predicament, where all the forces on every side of this biblical campaign are focusing their artillery on her delicate form.

Although she has professed to be an ardent champion of reforming the health system, she has waffled each time that opponents raise an objection.

Today, the Republicans will raise parliamentary obstacles to the Senate’s taking up health reform, and it will take a supermajority of 60 votes to override them and begin the long, arduous job of fashioning a bill that can win a majority of the votes.

But the Republican leadership, along with the insurance industry and its corporate allies, say that the Senate must not take up the legislation at all because the process will end some day with a bill that they will not like.

So they will invoke a quaint old Senate rule that allows them to block consideration of the bill forever with a filibuster.

Except for Senator Lincoln and perhaps Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, all 58 Democrats and the two independents are expected to vote to thwart the filibuster and begin work on the bill, although a few might in the end vote against the bill if it is not shaped to meet their objections.

Opponents have spent a small fortune in the Arkansas media markets to persuade Lincoln that she should vote against cloture and block consideration of a health bill or else face dire political consequences.

The editorial page of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette has been their herald, warning its readers Wednesday that a Lincoln vote to prevent a filibuster would be a sneaky way of foisting a terrible health-care law on the people of her state. Filibustering health reform to death is a good thing, the paper says.

For the eight years of Republican Washington, the Democrat-Gazette thought filibusters were terrible because they were sometimes threatened by Democrats.

The editor regularly resurrected the words of statesmen who said filibusters should never be used to prevent majority rule but only to slow a hasty vote. But now it praises a parliamentary maneuver that proposes not to lengthen debate but to prevent any debate.

Whatever her view of and her vote on the legislation that finally emerges in the next month or so, Senator Lincoln owes it to her constituents and to the country to let representative democracy work.

Rarely in all our history has a filibuster been employed to prevent the passage of legislation supported by a majority of the members of Congress and the American people.

Four years ago, in one of many editorials against real or threatened Democratic filibusters, the Democrat-Gazette opined that “the purpose of extended debate in the U. S. Senate should be to reach a reasoned decision after proper deliberation” but that filibusters were going to be used instead to prevent a decision from being reached at all. That was bad then; apparently it is good now.

It’s even more striking that the Democrat-Gazette’s editorial page promotes leaving cost controls out of health care without noting that expensive employee-benefits coverage, along with declining newspaper profits, contributed to layoffs of dozens of its newsroom staff.

Two Senate committees and three House committees have worked on health legislation for nearly a year. No legislative issue in the past 40 years has been debated so heatedly and so extensively.

All the competing proposals have been analyzed, argued, amended and finally audited by government and private agencies for their fiscal and human impacts.

The majority leader has meshed the two Senate committee bills, one of which Lincoln worked on and embraced, and he now proposes that the full Senate — all 100 of its members — begin work on a bill.

If Senator Lincoln joins today with a sizable majority of the Senate to invoke cloture, many battles and torrents of debate still lie ahead followed by weeks of conference deliberations with the House of Representatives and then a final debate and voting in both houses.. A legislator voting to legislate. Imagine that.

Those like the Democrat-Gazette who say that Senator Lincoln betrays her state if she doesn’t stand firmly with the minority are wrong. She will be voting to address, by her own account, the most pressing problem in America. It will be a vote for civility and, yes, for democracy.

TOP STORY>> Cabot woman collects coats for needy

Tracy O’Bryan of Cabot, here with her daughters, Erin (left), Katie and Shannon, encourages donations of coats and other items to help keep the homeless warm this winter. Items can be dropped off at many locations in Cabot. 


Leader editor

A Cabot woman is working to make sure children and adults who need coats this winter will get them.

Tracy O’Bryan plans to donate to the Union Rescue Mission coats and other items that will help keep the homeless warm. 

“This is my first time to truly organize a coat drive in Cabot,” O’Bryan said. “My motivation is the thought of anyone going without a warm coat, or a pair of gloves or mittens on a winter day.”

O’Bryan saw a feature on TV about Union Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter in Little Rock.

“I thought to myself, ‘Wow, people in Cabot would love to get involved in something like that I bet,’” she said. 

“Cabot is known for great people who are giving…and are always anxious to lend a helping hand to their neighbors.”

 Her religion also inspired her to help with the coat drive. 

“I am a Christian and believe that God teaches us to reach out to the needy and help in any way that we can,” she said. 

She also believes that young people may not be getting a message about the importance of caring for people who need help. 

“Another true motivation for me is (my) three daughters, (who are) 16, 13 and 11,” she said. “I see more and more in their generation (with) the lack of empathy and sincere caring for people who are less fortunate than they are.”

 “Operation Rescue” is the name of the coat drive run by Union Rescue Mission that O’Bryan is helping.

Rescue mission workers give coats, blankets, hot soup and coffee to homeless people on the streets who refuse to go to their shelter. 

“Wintertime is especially dangerous for folks to go without coats, gloves, hats or blankets to stay warm,” O’Bryan said. 

“I would like to see our community pull together and try to help make a difference of even a small kind for these folks.”

The drive will run through the second week of February. In addition to donations of coats in good, clean condition, the drive will take gloves, mittens, scarves, hats and blankets.

O’Bryan will soon be contacting schools and possibly some churches to be drop-off locations. In the meantime, donations can be dropped off at both Sandy’s Cleaners locations, Pine Street Animal Clinic, Cabot Handy Hardware, CJ’s Deli, Kroger, Budget Self Storage and Bo Bevis’ Insurance. 

O’Bryan can also be contacted at 501-744-8516 to arrange for pick up of coats and other items.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Lottery exceeds all expectations

The Arkansas Lottery Commission announced yesterday the addition of several new games. Arkansans can’t get enough of them: Coming soon will be another multi-state lottery, Mega Millions, where your odds of winning are one in 175 million, slightly less than Powerball, where the odds are one in 146 million.

Still, folks like those kinds of odds, which are slightly better than your chances of walking on the moon one day. Or as mathematician Doug Arnold puts it, “You have a seven times higher chance of being killed in a car accident if you drive one mile to the store for a ticket and one mile back home than you do of winning this Powerball jackpot.”

All right, so chances are you won’t become a millionaire buying lottery tickets, but there will be exciting drawings four nights a week.

Sure, a great deal of money will go for college scholarships, although millions are getting sucked out of the local economy.

Think of how much furniture, shoes and groceries $500 million would buy. Most of the money spent on Powerball and Mega Millions won’t even recirculate in Arkansas. Millions will go to the states that have these lottery games.

The Arkansas Lottery Commission is making so much money — income is likely to exceed original projections from $400 million to $500 million a year — we’re just waiting for chairman Ray Thornton to commission statues to Lieut. Gov. Bill Halter, who convinced voters to approve the lottery amendment last year, and to lottery director Ernie Passailaigue, the genius behind the games.

We knew lottery fever was catching when we noticed people who are living from paycheck to paycheck — or no paycheck at all — drive to their nearest convenience store for a pocketful of tickets.

Passailaigue says they’re all contributing to the state economy. Let’s hope they’re not forgetting to buy milk for the kids while they’re there.

EDITORIAL >> PCSSD must obey the law

The public’s business ought to be conducted in public.

It seems obvious to all but some of those who conduct the public’s business.

That includes Tim Clark, school board president of the Pulaski County Special School District board, some of his fellow board members and the board’s lawyer.

It’s laid out in specifics by the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. Not the Freedom of Information Suggestion or the Freedom of Information Good Idea or the Freedom of Information Wontcha Please. It’s a law, and violators may be fined, jailed or both.

That’s apparently of little concern to the PCSSD board.

It continues to meet illegally in executive session, flaunting the section of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act pertaining to executive sessions.

Having read, but apparently not understood, either the wording or the intent of the law, Clark continues to believe that if he invokes the magic word “personnel,” that the board members may then meet in secret, talk about anything they wish and emerge without ever saying what they said or did.

Some school board members have confirmed that they routinely violate the provisions of the FOI Act in executive session.

The Freedom of Information Act basically allows the board to meet in executive session to consider hiring Joe Schmo, firing Joe or disciplining him.

It may not meet to consider whether or not to cut custodial jobs, add assistant principals, to expand a search for a superintendent or to talk about a union contract, even if Joe Schmo is a custodian, an assistant principal, a candidate for superintendent or a union member.

As far as we can tell, the district’s attorney, Jay Bequette, has yet to give the board an opinion it doesn’t want to hear and to our knowledge has never answered a query about going into executive session by opining that it can’t.

Here’s what the law says, in part, about executive sessions:

(c)(1) Executive sessions will be permitted only for the purpose of considering employment, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining, or resignation of any public officer or employee. The specific purpose of the executive session shall be announced in public before going into executive session.

(3) Executive sessions must never be called for the purpose of defeating the reason or the spirit of this chapter.

Any person who negligently violates any of the provisions of this chapter shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine of not more than two hundred dollars ($200) or thirty (30) days in jail, or both, or a sentence of appropriate public service or education, or both.

Representatives of every newspaper that regularly cover the PCSSD school board have challenged the board’s executive sessions, most of them frequently.

It’s time for the board to obey the law or be sued.

TOP STORY >> Vicious killer, child rapist face revenge

Leader executive editor

The young thug who killed a popular TV personality, and the old evangelist who assaulted girls as young as 8 and 10 were both sentenced last week and will stay behind bars for the rest of their lives.

The only way murderer Curtis Lavelle Vance and the child molester Tony Alamo will ever leave prison will be in the back of a hearse stretched out in pine coffins.

Vance, 29, escaped the death penalty and received a life sentence, almost all of it to be served in solitary confinement for his own protection. Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley had sought the death penalty for the vicious beating death of Anne Pressly. But he says putting Vance in a small cell 23 hours a day is close enough to the death penalty, maybe even worse.

Jegley told us that people who complain that the death penalty is cruel-and-unusual punishment are wrong.

“What’s cruel and unusual is the toll a crime like this exacts on the victims’ families,” the prosecutor said.

Alamo, 75, was sentenced to 175 years in federal prison for molesting child brides. That sentence was well received among former members of Alamo’s church. One of them told us, “I think it’s fabulous that justice finally got served. Shame on the
Arkansas police for taking about 15 years too long, though. I wrote a letter to the Fort Smith Police Department in 1999 about all this.”

Both defendants were defiant after the verdicts, which were announced a day apart. Vance shouted after the verdict, “It’s a corrupt system.”

Alamo has compared himself to Jesus, who was also wrongly convicted, he said, after a jury found Alamo guilty of five counts of taking underage girls across state lines.

Vance beat his young victim with a piece of lumber as she struggled with her attacker in her bed in the middle of the night after he barged into her Little Rock home last fall.

Pressly, 26, the KATV anchor whose face he disfigured almost beyond recognition, was clinging to life when her mother came to check on her around 4 a.m.

Patti Cannady, her mother, tried to put a towel on Anne’s face, and she moaned in pain.

Jegley said, “She was in agony for three hours” after Vance had left her for dead.

A doctor testified that she couldn’t tell if Pressly was a man or a woman when the victim arrived in the emergency room.

Jegley said he has received letters from white supremacists vowing revenge against Vance. But the prosecutor said that’s out of his hands now that the murderer is in the state prison system.

Jegley thinks Vance probably raped several women before he assaulted Pressly, but Vance will be tried for raping just one woman in his native Marianna, which could get him another life sentence. It was that assault that connected Vance to the Pressly murder.

Alamo, 75, could become one of the oldest prisoners in the federal system. But he looks gaunt and defeated, despite his occasional outbursts of bravado, and he will likely die before he becomes an expensive burden on the prison system. (It could cost the taxpayers more than $1 million if Vance lives into old age.)

Alamo served a prison sentence in the 1990s and restarted his ministry at Fouke in southwest Arkansas, where he had a fancy home and entertained children, just like Michael Jackson did in Neverland, except the late singer liked little boys, while the preacher molested little girls.

The self-styled evangelist probably became obsessed with young girls after the death of his wife Susan, whose body he displayed for months in hopes of seeing her resurrected.

Alamo is as crazy as Vance, whose mother, Jacqueline Vance Burnett, saved her son from the death chamber when she testified she was an abusive mother and a former prostitute and drug addict who bought drugs with welfare checks meant for her fatherless children.

She spent time in prison for burglary, forgery and theft. She had slammed her son against a brick wall when she was high on crack, probably causing him brain damage, she claimed.

Jegley doesn’t believe Vance is retarded or brain damaged. “He tried to blame it on his mother, but a lot of people had difficult childhoods, and some of them grew up to be presidents.”

Prison will be no picnic for Vance or Alamo. For the few hours a week he’ll leave his cage, Vance could find himself approached by a couple of white thugs with a blunt instrument or two. And Alamo must have heard what often happens to child molesters in prison.

TOP STORY >> Cabot council passes budget without raises

Leader staff writer

It took the Cabot City Council only about a minute Monday night to approve the budget for 2010 without cost-of-living adjustments for elected officials.

Several residents were on hand to hear the unanimous vote that was taken with no discussion and only brief comment from Alderman Eddie Cook, chairman of the budget and personnel committee, who called Mayor Eddie Joe Williams’ $9.2 million budget “one of the easiest I’ve come across.”

Cook had contemplated calling a committee meeting immediately before the council meeting to discuss removing a 3 percent increase for the mayor, city attorney, clerk-treasurer and eight city council members.

No meeting was called, but the matter was apparently resolved beforehand.

Cook said last week that he had received several calls from residents who said that since Social Security recipients aren’t getting a cost-of-living adjustment for 2010, Cabot’s elected officials shouldn’t either.

The increases would have cost-the-city $8,410. Without the increases, salaries for the mayor, city attorney and clerk treasurer will hold at $86,955, $73,310 and $53,941 respectively. Council members’ salaries will remain at $7,923.

The proposed $9.2 million budget, up from $8.8 million for 2009, includes $200,000 for street repair, $50,000 for sidewalks, $50,000 to update the façade of city hall, $54,000 for a new roof on the old bank building next to city hall that the city now owns, and cost-of-living raises and performance-based raises for employees.

Tax revenue is stable and the end-of-year carryover is projected at $300,000.

Additionally, the city has $2.5 million in savings. The mayor said last week that city finances are sounder than they have been in many years and the $8,410 for cost-of-living adjustments for elected officials was affordable.

In other business, the council heard from Charles Hembree, director of field operations with Sudden Link Communications, who said cable rates are going up $2.47 per month.

Hembree said most of the increase will pay for the rising cost of programming. But he said a $4 million system upgrade is in progress that will make the system fully digital and give customers Internet service that is faster than any “for miles around.”

Alderman Ed Long told Hembree that he turned in his cable box when he learned about the increase. He said the hike would be a burden on many elderly residents who don’t need or want the expanded services.

“You’re not going to convince me that anything about this is right,” Long said.

The mayor had worked with Long a decade ago trying to hold cable costs down, but he learned the city has no control over its cost. He challenged Hembree to use Cabot as an experiment where special packages are offered to elderly residents.

Hembree made no promises except to carry the request to his superiors.

TOP STORY >> Cabot students to perform ‘Aladdin Jr.’

The cast of Cabot High School’s production of Disney’s ‘Aladdin Jr.’ gathers during dress rehearsal on Monday evening.

Leader staff writer

The curtain goes up at 7 p.m. Saturday on the Cabot High School theater’s production of “Disney’s Aladdin Jr.” at the Fine Arts Center.

Tickets are $5 and can be reserved by calling 501-259-1305 or purchased at the box office beginning at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

The fall musical is being produced with the help of 290 students from Theater II, theater dance, stagecraft and drama camp classes.

Director Ashley Tarvin said, “We started a new class last year, Theater II Performance, which allows our dedicated and talented students to produce a fall musical as well as in the spring.”

“Many of our actors are majoring in theater in college and an additional production gives them even more experience for their résumé. In the end they love spending time on stage and we have a ball rehearsing and preparing for the show. Our theater department is like a second family.”

“It is a children’s show geared towards a younger audience. I would encourage parents to bring their kids,” student director Cassie Adams said.

Adams said, “It is almost like the Disney (animated) version but shortened for time.”

The play runs 90 minutes.

Of being director of the play, Adams said, “It’s not like directing your peers. It is directing your best friends.”

Vocal coach Marby Addison said the hard job is having the actors sing, hitting their notes on pitch.

Starring in the production is Tyler Kirk as Aladdin, Navy Sanford as Jasmine, Wade Osterberg as Genie and Justin Blankenship as Jafar.

Sarah Ring is cast as Iago, Brad Puder as Sultan, Caleb Ruminer as Razoul. Bailey Jo Rhodes as the Magic Carpet.

Also in the play is Aaron Burnside as the Baker, Kelsey McNeilly as the Singing Matron, Taylor Burrington as a royal guard and Prince Formerly Known as the Artist, Jay Turpin as Prince Baba Ganoush, Caleb Ruminer as Prince Dahdu Rhan-Rhan.

The citizens of Agrabah are Amanda Moran, Kirstin Bell, Kara Hoover, Kristen Smart, Porsche Jackson, Candace Nel-son, Emily Simpson and Amy Roy.

The narrators and harems are Larrissa Garvin, Payton Overturf, Karissa Ploense, Katie Launius and Theresa De la Paz.

The story of Aladdin takes place in Agrabah, the City of Enchantment where residents are waiting for the arrival of the royal family. They will soon learn who Princess Jasmine is going to marry.

The Sultan shows Jasmine the possible princes he has gathered for her.

But Jasmine doesn’t want to marry any of the men. She wants to decide who she weds and when. When the opportunity arises she slips out and meets bread thief Aladdin. Together they plan to escape to the marketplace.

Aladdin is arrested by guards but Jasmine orders them to let Aladdin go. The guards tell the Princess to meet with Jafar about the freeing of Aladdin.

Meanwhile Jafar has written a new paragraph to an old order that the princess has to marry him if she doesn’t chose a husband before tomorrow. Jafar will also inherit the power and privileges of the Sultan.

Guards throw Aladdin into a cave full of junk. He finds a lamp with writing on it. To read the writing Aladdin rubs the lamp and a Genie appears. The Genie lets Aladdin have three wishes. Aladdin decides to be a prince and gain Jasmine’s love. Poof!

Aladdin is now a Prince Ali.

As a prince, Aladdin returns to the palace to speak with the Sultan about marrying Jasmine. She however is against a forced marriage. Aladdin continues to woo the princess.

Jasmine and Prince Ali are going to marry, until there is trouble with Jafar.

Jafar reveals that Prince Ali is really Aladdin. Jafar proclaims he must be Jasmine’s husband and the next sultan.

Jafar has possession of the magic lamp and wishes Genie to be the most powerful genie in the world. Jafar is now in the lamp.

How will Aladdin use his one last wish?

TOP STORY >> Second ruling on Campbell may be sought

Leader senior staff writer

The state Attorney General’s Office may ask the Arkansas Supreme Court to rehear its recent decision overturning the convictions of former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell, Chief Deputy Attorney General Justin Allen said Tuesday.

“A final decision has not been made,” Allen said.

Campbell was convicted in 2007 on an array of charges ranging from theft by receiving to being the kingpin in a continuing criminal enterprise—a charge created to combat organized crime—and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Campbell has served 31 months and would have been eligible for parole at the end of 10 years.

The Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday notified Dist. 23 Prosecutor Will Feland that it could file a petition for rehearing with the Supreme Court in the Campbell case. It has until Monday to do so.

Feland said his office would continue reviewing the Campbell file. The transcript of the file was so large it required a rented truck to transport it.

Regardless of what the attorney general’s office does, “We’re not going to slow down,” Feland said Tuesday. “We’re trying to determine what’s left to try.”

Such a request for a rehearing is routine, although not done in every case, Allen said.

The Supreme Court overturned the Campbell convictions unanimously, Allen said, so it was not likely that it would reverse itself.

But the Attorney General’s Office could press the issue to clarify the issues surrounding the charge of continuing criminal enterprises, a crime rarely pro-secuted in the state.

“Even if we don’t necessarily expect a reversal, it may be done to get an idea (how the court views continuing criminal-enterprise charges),” Allen said.

Campbell’s appeal attorneys, Jim Simpson and Martin Kasten of Friday Eldridge Clark, would have an additional seven days to respond to the challenge, according to Allen. “We continue to believe (the Supreme Court) decided it the correct way the first time,” said Kasten. “It does appear the court’s original decision was consistent with precedent on both evidentiary-type issues.”

Allen said if his office does ask for a rehearing, the court would probably decide the matter before the end of the year.

“The likelihood of success is very low,” Allen said.

“My understanding is that all convictions were overturned,” he said. “It was certainly a victory for Mr. Campbell.”

Regardless, Feland’s office would still be free to retry Campbell on at least some of the charges.

In addition to finding insufficient evidence to support a continuing criminal enterprise, the Supreme Court ruled that his trial should have been separated from that of his wife and that there was no probable cause for the search of the Campbell residence that turned up much of the prosecution’s evidence.

Campbell’s wife, Kelly Harrison Campbell, is appealing her convictions in the state Court of Appeals, where oral arguments are expected in January, according to her attorneys.

Should her appeal fail, she then expects to be eligible for parole in about 10 months, according to Dina Tyler, spokesperson for the state Correction Department.

TOP STORY >> FBI, ATF arrest Cabot man

Leader staff writer

A Cabot man was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand, last week on federal charges involving bookmaking, distribution of illegal drugs and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with an alleged kickback scheme involving a North Little Rock alderman and a contractor.

George Wylie Thompson, 64, lived in the modest Oak Meadows subdivision in the central part of Cabot when police received a courtesy call from the Federal Bureau of Investigation last spring, informing them that they were working in Cabot.

Thompson also is charged with one count as a felon in possession of 147 firearms, one count as a felon in possession of 88 sets of ammunition (more than 80,000 rounds, mostly .22) and one count of aiding and abetting in the commission of marriage fraud to avoid immigration laws.

The indictment, handed down by a grand jury in early October, was sealed until Thompson was apprehended.

Whether any of Thompson’s alleged crimes were committed in Cabot is unclear.

In a press release Monday, Jane W. Duke, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, said the investigation is ongoing and more arrests are expected in the public corruption part of the case.

Since news broke about the case, Ward 3 Alderman Cary Gaines has been identified as the North Little Rock alderman under investigation. The contractor has not been identified.

Gaines was first elected to the North Little Rock City Council in 1992 and served a four-year term. He was part of a scandal involving the Arkansas Sheriffs Association, where he worked during that first term on the council and was not re-elected until 2007.

A North Little Rock alderman, who asked not to be identified said he recalls that after Gaines got back on the council he started pushing to replace concrete contractor Tom Brooks, but no change was made.

The alderman said he had known for about a month that the FBI was investigating a council member but didn’t know for certain Gaines was that council member until this week.

Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Browne of the FBI said in the news release, “The allegations of public corruption contained in this indictment are among the most serious, and fall within the FBI’s No. 1 criminal investigative priority.”

According to information contained in the 26-page indictment that covers Thompson’s alleged illegal activities, starting in October 2008 with the bookmaking charges and ending May 12 when the guns, ammunition and illegal silencers were confiscated, Thompson was convicted previously on two separate charges of intent to sell drugs.

Also contained in the document are recorded conversations between Thompson, the alderman now identified as Gaines and the contractor (called Vendor B in the indictment) who wanted to work for North Little Rock.

Those conversations indicated that Gaines and the contractor were in debt to Thompson and intended to get the money to pay those debts from North Little Rock. What is not clear from the indictment is who was wearing the wire.

The indictment alleges: “Alderman A (Gaines) agreed to attempt to facilitate the awarding of North Little Rock contracts to Thompson’s chosen vendor, Vendor B, so that Alderman A and Vendor B could work off their debts to Thompson. In return, Vendor B agreed to kick back to both Thompson and Alderman A a portion of the proceeds from that contract.

“Initially, the scheme involved awarding a North Little Rock city concrete contract to Vendor B. However, when they experienced delays in the bidding process for the concrete contract, the object of the scheme turned to awarding a North Little Rock city landscaping project to Vendor B.

The same kickback arrangement, whereby Vendor B would pay Alderman A and Thompson a portion of the proceeds, applied to the landscaping project,” the indictment said.

According to information provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the maximum statutory penalty for being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition is not more than 10 years imprisonment, not more than a $250,000 fine, or both, and not more than three years of supervised release.

The maximum statutory penalty for possessing illegal silencers is not more than 10 years imprisonment, not more than a $10,000 fine, or both, and not more than three years of supervised release.

The maximum statutory penalties for each offense of operating an illegal gambling business, conspiring to do the same, and aiding and abetting in the commission of marriage fraud are not more than five years imprisonment, not more than a $250,000 fine, or both, and not more than three years of supervised release for each offense.

The maximum statutory penalty for conspiring to commit wire fraud is not more than 20 years imprisonment, not more than a $250,000 fine, or both, and not more than three years of supervised release.

The maximum penalties for possessing with intent to deliver more than 500 grams of cocaine and conspiring to do the same is not less than five years and not more than 40 years imprisonment, a fine of not more than $2 million, and not more than five years of supervised release for each offense.

The maximum penalty for using a communication device in a drug crime is not more than four years, not more than a $250,000 fine, and not more than one year of supervised release.

The case was also investigated by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura G. Hoey.

SPORTS >> Delay ends, 3A to start first round a week late

Leader sportswriter

Game on.

The Class 3A state playoffs will begin this Friday following a one-week delay caused by a legal wrangle involving Lamar High School.

The first round did not go on as planned last Friday when the Arkansas Activities Association announced an indefinite suspension after a court order reinstated Lamar, which the AAA had previously disqualified from appearing in the postseason because it had used an ineligible player.

An order to reinstate Lamar by Fifth Circuit Court Judge Gordon McCain last Thursday will be upheld, and the Warriors will reclaim their No. 2 seed in the first round with a home game against Parkers Chapel, the No. 4 seed from the 7-3A Conference.

As a result, Harding Academy will have a second straight off-week. The Wildcats, who went unbeaten during the regular season to earn the top playoff seed in the 2-3A Conference, received a first-round bye and are awaiting the first-round results to learn their opponent.

“I think the overwhelming thing that came out of this was that all of the other schools followed the rules, and we didn’t want to not let those kids take part,” AAA executive director Lance Taylor said. “A local judge makes a decision that affects who plays on the road and who plays at home, and even knocks one team out of the playoffs that followed the rules.

“We’re still disappointed with the ruling, but we didn’t want to penalize all of those schools that abided by the rules that they put in place.”

Taylor also said that the AAA’s legal course of action is still pending.

“I don’t think this is over,” Taylor said. “We have 525 member schools from middle schools to high schools who all follow the same set of rules. They are the ones that set the rules, not us. They make the rules for themselves.

“We’re still examining our options. It’s all still up in the air and everything is still pending.”

The games scheduled for last week will be played Friday, and there is a new date and location for the state championship game.

The title game was originally scheduled for Dec. 11 at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. But the stadium has a contract with a construction company to begin renovation of the pressbox to double its size and add a floor.

The 3A championship will now take place at Estes Stadium at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway on Dec. 18 at 7 p.m.

“Their athletic director, Brad Teague, was gracious enough to allow us to use their facilities,” Taylor said. “The construction company under contract with War Memorial has only so many days open to get in there and get the work done. War Memorial contacted us over a year-and-a-half ago for us to set the dates so they could get everything organized.”

Lamar went 6-1 in conference this season to earn its No. 2 seed, but the AAA ruled Lamar forfeited five of those victories after it was discovered one of its players moved from the Russellville school district while his parents still owned a residence in Russellville.

McCain ordered a reversal of that decision and reinstatement of Lamar to the playoffs because of what he called “extreme and unusual circumstance,” regarding alleged threats to Blaid Estes, a 6-1, 180-pound sophomore starting defensive, while Estes was attending school in Russellville.

For Harding Academy head coach Roddy Mote and his unbeaten Wildcats, the news Monday ended a weekend of anxiety. Next week, Harding Academy will play a home game against the winner of this week’s opening round game between Yellville-Summit and Cave City.

“I think our kids were excited to know that the playoffs were going to start,” Mote said. “We know that we have a game ahead of us now. There was a little anxiety in terms of people talking about the worst-case scenario, and with all of us small schools, it starts to come into play and affect other sports.

“You knew that if they didn’t come to a decision soon, that with the holidays coming up and other sports going on, that it likely wasn’t going to happen.”

SPORTS >> Manning-Brady debate more entertaining if unresolved

Leader sportswriter

Rivalry of the decade? You’d better believe it.

Sunday night’s matchup between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts could even be tagged as the latest installment of the rivalry of the century, seeing as how we’re only a decade into the 2000s.

And it’s the rivalry of the decade, or century, for one reason and one reason only: Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning.

Granted, it was a poor call in the late going by Patriots coach Bill Belichick — one of the best X’s and O’s guy in the history of the game — that allowed Manning and the Colts to storm back from a 17-point deficit and claim a 35-34 victory and remain unbeaten through nine weeks.

But the showdown between the two marquee quarterbacks lived up to everyone’s expectations in the end.

The neatest thing about the Manning-Brady clash leading up to the game was that all of the other angles that would have been played up under normal circumstances went by the wayside. New England needed a victory to stay in the hunt for home-field advantage in the playoffs while Indianapolis’ 8-0 record was on the line.

But the pre-game talk was mostly debate over which of the two was the better quarterback, which is like asking an 8-year-old whether he prefers double chocolate or caramel-fudge ice cream. And to further complicate the debate, Brady had the better night numbers-wise while Manning pulled off yet another of his classic comebacks.

The game turned out especially sweet for all of those Belichick haters out there who got to snicker at the result of his questionable decision to go for it on fourth and 2 at his own 28 while holding a 34-28 lead with 2:08 left in the game.

The play fell short and gave Manning and company all they needed to orchestrate the dramatic, winning drive, and the TV cameras caught all the looks of disbelief from Belichick on the sideline to satisfy even the most rabid Bill-basher.

I personally do not fall into that category, but I have to admit it’s sometimes entertaining to observe his pouty demeanor in post-game press conferences after such losses.

The guy is a bad sport, no doubt about it. But to give credit where it is due, Belichick has made far more brilliant calls over the years than the fourth-down call on Sunday.

It was a poor decision, though. So poor I began to look for members of the old Searcy High School football coaching staff — the one that posted three victories in four years — on the Patriots’ sideline.

And while that call dominated most of the post-game talk, the Manning/Brady element was still the essence of the game.

For me, the fun is not trying to address who is better. They are hands down the best two in the game right now, and two of the all-time best.

Maybe a case could also be made for Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisburger, but I think many of us view Big Ben as more of a working-class hero type. Plus, he was shut out of the end zone by the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, something that most certainly would not have happened to Brady or Manning.

The fun for me is in the comparisons.

Each has his go-to guy, which is the norm for any great quarterback.

For Manning, it’s heady and deceptive veteran receiver Reggie Wayne. For Brady, it’s Randy Moss, pound-for-pound one of the all-time best at the receiver position. Both quarterbacks make great use of their tight ends downfield and in the flat, and neither can scramble out of the pocket under heavy pressure to save his life.

Then there are the differences, such as Brady’s cool, poker-faced demeanor compared to Manning’s more frantic approach.

Manning’s snap cadence can overpower the most hostile and roaring crowd, and his five to seven quick pumps before releasing the ball can wear you out just watching. Brady can barely be heard even if the crowd is near silent, and he holds the ball back until the last possible moment before launching.

There are more subtle differences ranging from how each sets up the play-action to the number of times each licks the fingers on his throwing hand prior to a snap. Brady wins that one, by the way.

The only real letdown of the Brady-Manning rivalry is that we will probably never see it played out in a Super Bowl; the AFC championship game is as far as it can go, unless one of the quarterbacks gets traded to NFC teams Detroit or Tampa Bay at some point.

Come to think of it, maybe we should just stick to enjoying it as a conference rivalry.

SPORTS >> Surging Lonoke faces Warren

Lonoke fullback Morgan Linton drags tacklers as he fights for yardage in last week’s playoff victory over Clarksville.

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke Jackrabbits certainly put up the points in their first-round, 4A playoff victory over Clarksville on Friday night.

But the buzz in the days that followed surrounded the defense.

And why not? Defensive back Todd Hobson alone set up two touchdowns with a pair of first-half interceptions in the 48-21 victory at James B. Abraham Field.

“Oh it’s great to win at home,” Hobson said. “Especially in a home playoff game with everyone watching us. It’s great.”

Hobson was just part of a defensive effort in which the Jackrabbits came up with four interceptions overall — Justin Smith and Gary Spears grabbed the other two — while Smith recovered a fumble and Ricky Manning sacked Clarksville quarterback Trey Shucker.

“Our advantage I think is our secondary,” coach Doug Bost said. “These guys have been playing our coverage, three, four years now. They understand it, they know what to look for and, yeah, they’re stepping up and taking some interceptions away.”

Without the offense cashing in, of course, the defensive plays would have been moot.

Standout running back Brandon Smith, who already has a scholarshipoffer from Henderson State, scored on runs of 5, 70 and 65 yards while catching a conversion pass, all in the first half.

One of Hobson’s first-half interceptions led to his 16-yard touchdown reception and he added a 7-yard scoring catch later in the first half, which ended with Lonoke, of the 4A-2 Conference, holding a 42-7 lead that enacted the sportsmanship-timing rule that runs the clock almost continually.

“We knew it was going to be tough getting picks but we knew we could do it,” Hobson said.
Brandon Smith finished with 172 yards on 10 carries and quarterback Michael Nelson had a 6-yard scoring run as well as his two touchdown passes and fullback Morgan Linton got into the act with a 3-yard touchdown run in the second half.

“The quarterback’s taking a lot better care of the ball,” Hobson said. “Not forcing things and taking what the defense gives him so it’s good for us.”

The victory leads Lonoke (8-3) to its second-round playoff at Warren, a team it beat handily, 47-7, at Lonoke last year. Warren beat Clinton 38-13 in the Lumberjacks’ first-round playoff game last week.
Warren (7-4), of the 4A-8 Conference, is averaging 26.3 points a game and giving up 19.8.

“It’s a totally different team,” Bost said. “When you bring back three starters on offense it’s a totally different team. We know we’ve got our work cut out for us. They’ve ruled 4A football for a whole decade now so it’s going to be tough.

“They’ve got speed, no secret. They’re going to chuck it and go run under it.”

Lonoke has won five straight games after an uncertain, 2-3 start that included a three-game losing streak.

“Those three games, we know we turned the ball over way too many times,” Bost said of the 14 turnovers the Jackrabbits committed during their skid. “We had key people hurt. We just kind of went back to basics; some things we did the first week of August that you really don’t work on late in the year but we just felt like we needed to.

“The kids have responded well. Offensive-wise, as long as you can protect the football I think good things can happen for you.”

The highlight of the Jackrabbits’ winning streak was a 39-27 victory over 2-4A rival Stuttgart on Oct. 30 that improved Lonoke’s chances at earning last week’s first-round home game.

“We knew if we could beat the Ricebirds we could get the third seed and have a home one and it probably would be our only one, you know that,” Bost said. “We got it, we got a big win, good crowd, good momentum heading into the next week.”

Brandon Smith, hoping to land a major college scholarship, is up to 1,368 yards and Nelson has 1,728 passing yards to help the Jackrabbits to their average 399.2 yards per game.

“I think we just got our heads up,” said Hobson, the leading receiver Friday with four receptions for 51 yards and his two touchdowns. “We didn’t let those three losses get us down and we’re playing a lot better.”

It is the first season as head coach for Bost, who has spent more than a decade in the Lonoke system and moved up from the junior high ranks.

“I’ve been here 14 years, I know the kids. I knew what they could do,” Bost said. “We first put this spread in when these guys were ninth-graders. It was new for me when I learned it. They learned it. They’ve really picked up on it.”

Though familiar with the program, it’s a different world as head coach, Bost said.

“There’s a lot more responsibility and a lot more overseeing a whole program like that,” Bost said. “But kids that work hard make it a whole lot easier.”

SPORTS >> Playoff bracket matches Cabot, Conway again

Cabot fullback Spencer Smith (3) gets a carry in the regular-season game with Conway, this week’s playoff opponent.

Leader sports editor

Cabot fans sick of seeing Springdale Har-Ber in the first game of the playoffs should be happy with this week’s opponent.

Cabot coach Mike Malham may be a little worried, but fans should be happy.

After being knocked out of the postseason two consecutive years by Har-Ber, Cabot — the 7A-Central Conference champion with a first-round bye — has drawn a rematch with regular-season opponent Conway.

The Panthers play host to the Wampus Cats, who beat Fayetteville 45-42 in the first round of the playoffs, at Panther Stadium on Friday night.

“We played them about seven weeks ago and they are definitely much better,” Malham said of Conway. “They hadn’t played but about four seniors this season so all those young kids that have been playing, they had a whole year. They had 11 games.”

Cabot beat Conway 38-21 at Panther Stadium on Sept. 25.

“We’re going to have to play awful well,” Malham said. “They’re not the same team we played seven weeks ago and we struggled with them in that game. That wasn’t an easy game.”

In the regular season matchup, Cabot took a 31-7 lead in the second half but Conway, in hurry-up mode most of the last two quarters, scored the final two touchdowns to leave Malham wiping sweat off his brow and saying he was glad the Panthers had caught the Wampus Cats early in the season and not later down the line.

Later comes Friday.

“They weren’t favored,” Malham said of Conway’s victory over Fayetteville. “But when you’re playing a five and a four seed you can’t get any closer. The four seed obviously had the home-field advantage, if there is an advantage there, but both teams moved the ball pretty good.”

The key to the Wampus Cats’ offense is versatile quarterback Xavier Acklin, who rushed for 173 yards and one touchdown and passed for 140 yards and another score in the regular season game at Cabot.

“They spread it out, go two-back shotgun. They’re in the shotgun all the time,” Malham said. “They do a lot of that wildcat stuff. They’ll go empty. He’ll throw or run.

“Acklin, if he can’t find anything he’ll start scrambling and that may be when he’s most dangerous. The last two weeks he’s had over 400 yards of offense.”

Cabot earned the most important share of the 7A-Central with a 26-24 victory at Russellville on Nov. 5. The Panthers’ only regular-season loss was to Bryant on Oct. 23, but North Little Rock beat Bryant the following week, which left Cabot holding all the essential tiebreakers.

The first-round bye was valuable to the Panthers primarily because fullback/linebacker Michael James and fullback Spencer Smith have been battling ankle injuries and could be seen limping on and off the field as they replaced each other at Russellville.

James also missed the first part of the year with a shoulder injury he suffered in preseason practice.

“Hopefully we got some ankles in shape and some shoulders and, hopefully, we’ll be ready to play,” Malham said.

The Panthers took Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday off during their bye week and hit the weight room on Monday and Friday. Last week featured more of a normal practice schedule, except Cabot had Friday free.

Malham said he didn’t expect any rustiness issues after the week off.

“Timing,” he said. “You don’t want to go stale but we practiced as much as we did in a regular game week last week. In fact, probably longer than in a regular game week. I don’t think there’s going to be a problem there. Hopefully the rest helped us.”
Malham shouldn’t have to worry about his players, especially his seniors who haven’t won a playoff game in two previous postseason trips, being focused.

“If we can count the bye as a win we can say we won one,” Malham said.

“We won two, last year and this year. They’ve been to the playoffs but they haven’t come up with a playoff victory. Hopefully they understand this is their last go around.”

SPORTS >> Panther pair has postseason possibilities

Panthers’ Michael James can break 7A career yardage record.

Linebacker Spencer Neumann is near Cabot career tackles mark.

Leader sports editor

The second season has given a pair of Cabot Panthers a second chance to knock off some records.

Senior fullback Michael James is on pace to become the all-time leading rusher in 7A as Cabot plays host to Conway in the second round of the state playoffs at Panther Stadium on Friday night.

Cabot, with a share of the 7A-Central Conference championship, had a first-round bye while Conway beat Fayetteville 45-42 last week.

James has a solid chance to surpass Fort Smith Southside’s Daniel McGee, who had 3,696 career yards from 2006-08, but the record seemed in doubt earlier in the year as James missed significant action because of shoulder and ankle injuries. But with recent big games, like the 168-yard night he had in the 7A-Central clincher at Russellville, James is at 3,402 yards and needs 195 to surpass McGee.

“I know at the beginning of the season I had to get, like, 600 yards,” James said. “I missed most of the season so I don’t know.”

“He’s been pretty resilient,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “I can’t remember him being hurt the first two years, carrying as many times as he did. He just had some bad luck this year. But there’s no reason to hold him back now. It’s do or die. It was hard to keep him out when he was hurt.”

On the other side of the ball, senior linebacker Spencer Neumann is poised to break the school tackles record of 307 and is just four short of surpassing the mark held by Steve Owen.

“He’s the brains and the leader,” Malham said of Neumann. “He’s been doing it, calling signals. He’s a very smart kid, 3.8 student. He leads by example and calls the defense. I hate to play without him.”

Malham can be forgiven if he has gotten comfortable with the sight of Neumann at the strong side spot in Cabot’s 5-2 defense. Neumann had 100 tackles as a sophomore, 114 as a junior and posted a career-high 20 in last year’s second-round playoff game with Springdale Har-Ber.

“Next year will be kind of odd without him on the field,” Malham said. “He makes great plays. He makes plays the average linebacker doesn’t make.”

Malham had originally planned to use James and Neumann on both offense and defense, putting James at linebacker, where he hadn’t played since ninth-grade, and getting Neumann into the backfield rotation. It has worked out that way, more or less, in the long run now that James is as close to full strength as he is going to get.

Malham is planning to start James at weakside linebacker and fullback, but will give James all the rest he can. Spencer Smith, the workhorse at fullback this year with 998 yards, will start at halfback and slide into the fullback spot when James gets a break.

“Smith has done a great job and I’m glad we’ve got him,” Malham said. “He’s right at a 1,000-yard season.”

Malham was reminded of the 42 carries and 134 yards Smith gained while taking a beating in the 21-16 victory at Little Rock Catholic on Oct. 2. Smith averaged just 3.2 yards a carry against a Rockets defense geared against the run, but he had to endure the grind because James was out.

“It would have been nice to have them both that night to split up those carries,” Malham said.

Malham got his ideal situation in the Nov. 5 conference clincher at Russellville, when James started and gained a season-high yardage total while being spelled by Smith.

“I think he had about 26 carries and Smith had 13,” Malham said. “That position had close to 40 carries. James had about 170 yards and had a good night and hopefully he’ll have another good night this coming Friday.

“If the fullback position is not getting those yards it’s going to be a long night.”

Fortunately, Malham hasn’t had to worry about finding someone to fill in for Neumann, who has also helped out on special teams and been offered a scholarship by Central Arkansas.

“He’s just a good athlete. Starting for three years,” Malham said. “And he also plays some offense. He spot plays on offense here and there. In our spread set he’s one of our wideouts and he’s just another one of those backs that I need.”

Neumann could likely knock off the tackles record Friday night while James could come close to reaching 3,597 yards but will probably need one more game.

Of course playoff victories are what it’s all about, especially for a group of Panthers seniors that has never had postseason success.

Two years ago, Cabot lost in the first round of the playoffs at Har-Ber, then got a bye last year and lost again to Har-Ber in the second round at home.

“State championship man, I want it bad. We’re going for it,” James said. “Whoever we’re playing better watch out. We’re going to tear it up.”