Friday, January 08, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Take these taxes and...

What typically happens to reports of government-sponsored citizen study commissions is that their findings get headlines for a few days and then are bound and stored in the state archives and forgotten. Make room on the shelf for the report of the Arkansas Blue Ribbon Committee on Highway Finance.

The committee will not formally report to the governor and the legislature until its final meeting next week, but its major recommendations seemed apparent this week. It will suggest imposing a fresh excise tax on the wholesale price of motor fuels and indexing the current motor-fuel taxes every year to inflation in highway construction. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that those were the funding measures most favored by the citizen committee members. Sen. John Paul Capps (D-Searcy) is the committee chairman, and it also includes former Rep. Mike Wilson of Jacksonville.

The state Highway Commission says it needs a huge increase in highway funds to maintain the current system and meet the changing traffic demands, including completion of the North Belt freeway, which would cost $200 million, as was reported here last weekend. (Let’s see, when did the Highway Commission NOT need a huge increase in funds? Our memory only goes back 70 years.)

Let’s admit that there is a problem. As vehicles become more and more fuel efficient — President Obama’s new fleet-efficiency standards will raise the mileage of vehicles even more dramatically over the next dozen years — the taxes that the state collects for each mile traveled on the roads keep declining. Traffic is increasing and the cost of road-building and maintenance is increasing but road-building money is dwindling. It’s a nightmare for highway agencies but a beautiful scenario for motorists who pay fewer and fewer taxes per mile — at least until the roads and bridges crumble.

But the Arkansas legislature is not going to pass new fuel taxes — not at the truncated fiscal session next month, and not at the big regular session in 2011. Not, at least, unless the economy comes roaring back and oil prices collapse, and probably not even under those conditions.

It takes three-fourths of the members of both houses of the legislature to raise motor-fuel taxes under the perverse constitutional amendment ratified during the Great Depression. No Republican is allowed now to vote for a tax of any kind because he or she will be drummed out of the party. Since the party now owns a fourth or more of the seats in both houses and probably will increase their numbers this year, that factor alone disposes of the idea of raising highway taxes in the foreseeable future. A sizable quotient of Democrats will vote no, too.

So the nimble citizens on the Blue Ribbon Committee have produced a couple of wrinkles that might get the taxes enacted by a simple majority of both houses. An excise tax on the wholesale rather than the retail price of gasoline would feel the same to consumers but it might be considered an entirely new tax rather than a tax increase and thus not subject to the three-fourths requirement.

The same argument might hold with indexing gasoline taxes to rising (or falling) construction costs. The argument would be that it was not an increase in the tax rate but merely a new formula for calculating the tax rate. The tax rate, you see, could go down as well as up if the country hit a deflationary period.

The parliamentarians of the House and Senate will accept those legal arguments and the courts might, too, after the inevitable lawsuits. But motorists will not. No matter which way the tax rate is calculated, the numbers in the little windows at the pump are the same.

We happen to think the new taxes would be just. We demand smooth, safe and convenient highways and they must be paid for somehow. User taxes are the fairest way. But most motorists and now most legislators will take lots of convincing. Governor Beebe has already indicated that he probably won’t take on the task of selling it.

We thought they had found a better and more politically pleasing way to do it in 2008 when Sheffield Nelson, the old gas man, proposed an initiated act raising the severance tax on natural gas from infinitesimal to 7 percent of the wellhead price. It would raise revenue for highway maintenance and building.

But when Governor Beebe took the idea to the legislature, he had to satisfy the big gas producers to get the three-fourths vote in both houses. Many lawmakers were not going to vote against the interests of the gas companies. So the act created such huge exemptions for the producers and royalty owners that the 5 percent tax raises very little revenue. The money will pick up a little in a couple of years, but it will be a pittance.

That is the politics of highway funding. It will get no better and probably considerably more perilous in the next two years.

Take this study off the shelf in about five years. People will be mad enough by then to want some action.

Until then, don’t expect any major highway improvements, certainly not the extension of the North Belt Loop this decade — although we do remember legislators from north Pulaski County promising us more than two decades ago that a gasoline tax increase would pay for the North Belt Loop. It didn’t even pay for half of it. The cost has more than tripled since then.

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville library’s monthly schedule

The Esther Dewitt Nixon Library in Jacksonville is starting the new year with a slew of events in January.

Among them will be free income-tax assistance, by VITA, on Saturdays starting at the end of January in the meeting room.

Other January events are as follows:

Hot tea tasting at 10 a.m. today. In recognition of National Hot Tea Month, there will be a sampling of some of the tastiest teas around.

Encore and database training, using laptops, is set for 9:30 a.m. Monday. A class of up to five participants will learn how to use CALS electronic resources. Registration is required.

Tyke Tales, storytime for ages 3 to 5, will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday Jan. 13, 20 and 27.

Book Bunch, an after-school storytime for children ages 6 to 8, will be held at 4 p.m. on Wednesdays on Jan. 13, 20 and 27.

A knit and crochet class will be held at noon, Thursday. Bring a bag lunch and current crochet project.

Merry Moppets, storytime fun with toddlers 18 to 36 months, is set for 10:30 a.m. Fridays on Jan. 15, 22 and 29. Advance registration is required.

Teen Time — College Night is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19. There will be information on college and free application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, for high school seniors.

Book Chat, where participants will discuss books read over the past month, is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21.

A crochet class will be at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23. Beginners of all ages are welcome. Registration is required.

Personal Defense Self-Awareness is set for 2 p.m. Monday, Jan. 25. In recognition of Personal Defense Self-Awareness Month, a member of the North Little Rock Police Department will be presenting a workshop on security awareness and defense primarily for women.

Book Club Divas will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26. Copies of the book, “Outer Banks” by Anne Rivers Siddons are available at the front desk.

The library is located at 703 W. Main St. in Jacksonville.

TOP STORY >> City council clarifies parking regulations

Leader staff writer

After four months of debate. which included two boisterous public hearings, the Jacksonville council in November approved a nuisance abatement ordinance to help clean up the city.

During the debates, the ordinance was cut in about half and numerous changes were made. But it was soon discovered it needed more tweaking, so the ordinance was amended at the council meeting Thursday night.

The council revamped the street parking aspect of the ordinance to help better define who was in violation. “The ordinance was not meant to cause problems for the visitors who park on the street,” explained Mayor Gary Fletcher. “The amendment will differentiate between visitor parking and residents that use the street as a permanent or regular parking space.”

The city doesn’t want residents parking on the street as it creates a safety hazard, but many people cited after the ordinance first came out were just visitors.

The approved amendment says “no person shall abandon or leave any motor vehicle, attended or unattended, upon any public property or public right of way or within three feet thereof.” Simply put, vehicles can’t park on the street, sidewalk or up against the street.

The amendment allows for an exception “where a person utilizes the street or public right of way immediately adjacent to his or her residence or that of another for the purposes of visiting/entering said residence for a temporary purpose.”

However, the vehicle still can’t block or impede the flow of traffic. Anyone parking in the street, visitor or not, on a regular basis will be cited.

They may have their vehicles towed or impounded if they are not willing to move them from public streets or rights of way after being asked by code- enforcement or law-enforcement officers.

In other council business:

The council voted to accept a bid of $145,500 to build the Farmer’s Market Pavilion south of the community center. The bid by Samco Construction of Cabot was not the lowest bidder, but actually the third lowest.

The council opted not to go with the $127,490 bid by Tru-Star Properties because the company left off $22,000 worth of materials needed to complete the job. The company offered to still honor their bid price, but it was felt that it was not fair to ask a contactor to work without breaking even.

The second-lowest bidder was Key Construction of Magnolia at $142,000, but the firm’s completion time was 180 days longer than the requirements. The company said it could do it in shorter time, but modifying the bid could lead to legal challenges.

In his monthly report, City Engineer Jay Whisker told the council that the engineering department issued 13 building permits and six business licenses during December. The department also performed 192 inspections and wrote 120 warning letters to residents or business owners for yard or structural concerns.

Public Works Director Jim Oakley, in his monthly report, said the animal shelter received 114 dogs and 39 cats during December. Shelter officials were able to adopt 54 dogs and 22 cats, return 29 dogs and one cat to owners and had to euthanize 24 dogs and 33 cats.

Two bite cases were reported during December. A cat bit a shelter worker during an escape attempt and had to be euthanized.

And a shepherd mix bit a lady cutting through the dog’s yard . The dog is in quarantine.

The council appointed Leroy Akridge and Joe Cummings to the Board of Adjustment, Eric McCleary to the Planning Commission and Mike Traylor to the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Alderman Bill Howard and Chad Young were reappointed to the Planning Commission.

TOP STORY >> Vicious freeze is set to move out

Leader staff writer

From the wettest year on record to some of the coldest days the area has seen since 1996, the weather has been a hot topic.

But single-digit freezing cold will give way to temperatures in the mid-50s by Thursday.

A low of 10 degrees Friday morning was a record-setter and today’s single-digit reading of about 8 degrees will be close to setting a record, but those mornings don’t compare to the 5 degrees on Feb. 5, 1996.

Along with a forecast of warmer weather, meaning at or above normal temperatures for the start of the week, rain is also mentioned for Thursday through the rest of the week.

And rain, and lots of it, was the word for 2009. With more than 80 inches of rain in the local area, the year became the wettest since record-keeping started in 1882.

In fact, 18 reporting sites in the state reported 80 or more inches of rain for the year compared to just three in 2008. Two sites
last year reached 90 inches, and Leola (Grant County) had 100.05 inches.

The months with the most rain were May (wettest on record), July (third wettest), September (second wettest), October (wettest) and December (unofficially the wettest).

Rainfall was the most impressive in October, with 10 to more than 20 inches common across the state. It was the wettest month since January 1937.

In December, a powerful winter storm brought blizzard conditions from the Plains into the upper Midwest just before Christmas. In Arkansas it meant more rain. Some spots measured more than 11 inches of precipitation from the 22nd through the 25th.

But the year’s largest winter event, according to the National Weather Service, unfolded on Jan. 26 and lasted for three to four days.

A paralyzing ice storm across the northern counties left behind 1 to 2 inches of freezing rain and sleet...and locally more. At least 350,000 customers were left without power and 30,000 utility poles were downed or snapped.

As many as 18 fatalities were reported across the state.

Besides the wet weather, 2009 was an active tornado year. During the year, 45 tornadoes were counted across Arkansas. In a normal year, there are 26 tornadoes

Of last year’s tornadoes, 37 were rated EF0 or EF1, five tornadoes were EF2, and three tornadoes were given an EF3 rating.

The tornadoes caused three deaths and 42 injuries.

Looking back at 2009, January was the coolest January since 2003 even though it did hit 77 degrees on the third.

It went from a cool January to a warm February, as February became the warmest February in central Arkansas since 2005.

March was only the second March since 2003 that saw any snowfall.

May was the coolest May since 2002, the wettest on record.

June was the 10th warmest on record and twice it hit 99 degrees during the month, the warmest June temperatures since 2005.

But the heat wave reversed in July as it turned out to be the coolest since 1968 and the 12th coolest on record. A low temperature of 63 degrees on the 18th was the coolest July temperature in five years. July was also the wettest July since 1891.

August was the coolest August in five years and the first August since 2004 without a 100-degree reading.

October turned out to be the coolest since 1987, the 10th coolest on record and had fewer 80-degree days than any other October. It was the wettest October ever and the wettest month since January 1937.

November turned warm and dry. It was the warmest November since 2005 and the driest since 1999.

It was the coolest December since December 2000 and the wettest December since 1987.

Overall 2009 turned out to be the wettest year on record and the coolest since 2003.

State crop losses, because of the weather, have been estimated at more than $300 million.

TOP STORY >> Air base wins conservation award

From left, Ken Coley, Arkansas Forestry Commission assistant director; Col. Kirk Lear, 314th Airlift Wing vice commander; Alana Myers, Child Development Center director; Janet Carson, University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service master gardener coordinator, and Col. Michael Zick, 19th Airlift Wing vice commander; plant a tree during the base’s Arbor Day ceremony. Arbor Day, which celebrates the beauty and utility of trees, was first observed in 1885, the creation of a Nebraska pioneer, Sterling Morton.

The Natural State’s largest military base was recently recognized by Air Mobility Command for its excellent environmental stewardship.

The base’s 19th Civil Engineer Squadron’s Natural Resources Element won the command’s 2009 General Thomas D. White Natural Resources Conservation Award in the small base category.

“Little Rock Air Force Base personnel and all of our state and federal environmental partners can take great pride in winning this award. It takes a lot of people from many different agencies working together to make all of our different natural resources programs work,” said James Popham, 19th CES natural resources manager.

The base has a very active natural-resources program overseeing 6,100-plus acres of diverse habitat, terrain, flora and fauna — of which about 3,000 acres are wooded. The program manages all aspects of natural resources including urban and commercial forests, fish and wildlife, streams, lakes, wetlands, and floodplains, endangered species, hunting and fishing, and even geological resources.

“All this diversity adds to the health of the base’s ecosystems and provides base personnel with a great opportunity to enjoy the outdoors right in their backyards,” Popham said.

The base hunting program is used to control the 400-plus deer herd while providing recreation for hunters with little cost to the Air Force.

Keeping the deer population under control helps reduce the tick infestation, maintain a healthy deer herd, and reduce the chance a deer will get hit by an airplane on the runway or by a car on the main base, Popham said.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission gave the base 250 “Unrestricted Weapons” doe tags to support this population control.

The two base lakes are managed for recreational fishing as well as an endangered species, the interior least tern. The AGFC routinely stocks the base lakes with catfish and rainbow trout in support of recreational fishing and helps deliver minnows to stock for the interior least terns.

The interior least terns were discovered in 2006 feeding at the base lakes and ponds. In 2007, the birds were discovered using the top of Building 450 as a safe- haven when the Arkansas River was too flooded for them to nest on the sand bars.

The base now works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and AGFC to protect and support the largest interior least tern nesting colony in the state.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials said the base’s discovery and efforts to protect the least terns nests are very significant for the Arkansas River population.

“The base was the first to report and identify rooftop nesting of the interior least terns in Arkansas. Our knowledge of the species, its behavior, and requirements for recovery has increased substantially due to the base’s discovery and assistance,” said Lindsey Lewis of the Fish and Wildlife Service. “Without the base’s findings and efforts, we would have no knowledge of rooftop nesting, the actual annual population numbers or actual recruitment success that is occurring.”

This year also marks the base’s 16th year as a Tree City USA. The base has also been recognized by the Arkansas Forestry Commission for its active urban forestry program.

The urban forest on base is worth over a million dollars for storm-water runoff control and the removal of air pollutants, Popham said.

“Our Tree City USA recognition shows we have an ongoing plan to care for our urban trees. We try to protect our trees during construction projects starting with the design process. We saved many big trees from construction including the sixth-largest post oak in the state located next to the base housing Welcome Center,” Popham said.

The base has an active commercial forest program and the timber is sold and that money is used to make improvements to other base forest areas.

The base recently teamed with the Army Corps of Engineers to harvest more than 50 acres of commercial timber.

About 10 of those acres were located where the new joint-education center is being built at the corner of Vandenberg Boulevard and Hwy. 67/167.

The project saved the base at least $50,000 in land-clearing costs.

The base will now compete for an Air Force-level award which honors Gen. Thomas D. White, Air Force chief of staff from 1957 to 1961. He charted the course for Air Force environmental programs.

The purpose of the award is to promote excellence in every aspect of Air Force natural-resources conservation programs and is designed to recognize efforts of Air Force installations for conservation of natural resources.

(Reprinted from the Combat Airlifter, the Little Rock Air Force Base newspaper.)

TOP STORY >> County officials: Bayou Meto flooding is fact of life

Leader staff writer

Dick Jeter community homeowners whose property flooded on Christmas Day learned this week that fixing the Bayou Meto is not going to be part of the solution to their woes.

The community is southeast of Jacksonville in an unincorporated area in the vicinity of Valentine and Wooten roads.

About 12 homes in the area were flooded as a result of the heavy rains that started on Dec. 23. Other residents have reported damage to septic tanks and vehicles, as well as pollution to their property as a result of septic tank overflows.

There may be some financial relief in the way of low-interest loans to help property owners pay for repairs. That will be up to FEMA to decide. It could take months before any help does come.

Sherman Smith, a county engineer who met at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church on Monday night with 40 homeowners to discuss ways to mitigate future flooding, said that cleaning out culverts and trapping beavers were feasible strategies, but that an overhaul of the bayou, a protected wetland, was not.

“The days of dredging by the Army Corps of Engineers are over because of environmental regulations,” said Smith, the director of Pulaski County Public Works Department. “The Bayou Meto has to be left natural. You can’t clean it out or channel it.”

The group was meeting with county officials to air their grievances about the floodwater that swept across their community, which is in a floodplain.

What they had to say echoed a long-standing sentiment that the county government is neglectful of the area and in doing its part to manage the floodplain where the Dick Jeter Community is located.

Several individuals at the meeting expressed frustration, saying that their repeated past requests for the county’s assistance in maintaining culverts had gone unheeded.

“We have a legitimate problem,” said Frank Hood. “I’ve been three years trying to contact peoples about the culverts. When we approach you all, we want you to help us.”

Harold Ford, another area resident, said he “gives credit where credit is due,” regarding the county’s regular mowing along roadways and in the neighborhood park. But that cleanup from illegal dumping which has clogged drainage ditches is where the community could really use the county’s help.

Barbara Richard, director of roads and bridges for the county, told the group that her department is shorthanded and that if the community would supply the labor for cleaning out the culverts, the county would haul off the trash and widen the ditches.

Most of the area residents are of retirement age.

“There are a lot of culverts in the county that are inadequate – we know that – but we don’t have enough labor to pull the trash out,” Richard said. “Someone needs to organize that.”

Justice of the Peace Robert Green offered to speak with County Judge Buddy Villines about use of county jail inmates to assist a cleanup.

“But don’t complain about inmates around your house,” Green said.

Green said a similar cleanup had been done in the McAlmont area and that flooding had not been a problem on Christmas Day.

Hood said that there are two dams that have been constructed across the Ink Bayou that may be hampering the flow of water.

He asked Smith to find out who built them and that those individuals be required to remove them or monitor them during times of heavy rains.

“Who keeps tabs on all of this?” Hood asked. “Why is it there are two dams in there, I don’t know. Somebody needs to be responsible for that, if they put a dam in there.”

Smith promised to investigate, but said after the meeting that the county has no jurisdiction on water abatement issues below the level of a 100-year flood.

If community residents want the dams removed, they would have to sue the individuals who installed them.


What the county should have done, did do, or didn’t do in the past may be water over the dam. However, the harm done to the Dick Jeter community as a result of the Christmas flood does now have the attention of the county public works.

Smith said this week that efforts are under way to get drainage ditches and culverts in the area up to standard so that runoff from future storms will flow as efficiently as possible as it moves southeast toward the Arkansas River.

Crews are “looking for bottlenecks and installing and enlarging culverts,” as well as securing easements from property owners in order to make improvements where needed, Smith said.

Fifteen to 20 beaver traps have been set in waterways along Republican, Southeastern and Valentine roads, but no beavers have yet been caught because the water is still too high, said Richard, whose office dedicates three workers to trapping beavers in unincorporated areas in the county.

“They trap them first and then go in by boat and break up the dams,” Richard said.


Home and business owners as well as renters in areas affected by floods may be eligible for federal assistance in the way of low-interest loans.

The first step will be assessments beginning next week in all counties in Arkansas that have been declared disaster areas.

Smith said that FEMA representatives will include the Dick Jeter community among areas assessed in Pulaski County. That process will take about a week.

Recommendations for areas to qualify for either individual assistance, as well as public assistance (for roads, bridges, debris clean-up), will then be forwarded to the governor for approval.

The ultimate decision-maker will be the president.

“That could take a week or several weeks,” said Kim Pease, a public information officer for FEMA.

The money funding individual-assistance loans will come from the national Small Business Administration’s disaster-loan program.

Disaster loans up to $200,000 are available to homeowners to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate.

Homeowners and renters are eligible for up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property.

Businesses of any size and private, nonprofit organizations may borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory and other business assets.

The Small Business Administration can also lend additional funds to homeowners and businesses to help with the cost of making improvements that protect against, prevent or minimize the same type of disaster damage from occurring in the future.


Lifelong residents of the Dick Jeter community say the Christmas flood was the worst in their memories.

Some thought for sure it had to be a 100-year flood.

Mary Nash, whose house filled with water in the flood, said, “It has never been like this.” She will be 72 this year.

“That doesn’t make it a 100-year flood,” Smith said. “What occurred was probably a 65- or 70-year flood.”

Flood designations are not only critical to insurance rates, but in determining what kind of disaster assistance an individual or community may qualify for.

A 100-year flood is one that has the probability of occurring every 100 years.

In FEMA’s book, that is quantified in feet that the floodwater is anticipated to rise in a specific geographic area, called a base water elevation. That is calculated using computer modeling and data from hydrologic studies of flow rates in waterways in specific geographic areas.

“Those studies cost $10,000 per mile,” Smith said.

In the case of the Dick Jeter community, the 100-year base flood elevation is 243 feet above sea level.

Smith says that surveyors in the area during the Christmas flood found the floodwater peaked just below that.

“The highest point shot out there was 241.6 feet,” Smith said.

TOP STORY >> Probe starts into officials’ ‘retirements’

Leader senior staff writer

Two Lonoke County officials caught double-dipping — drawing their salary and state retirement — claim at least three county officials knew when they “retired” last year, although a legislative committee is looking into the matter.

Assessor Jerry Adams and Treasurer Karol DePriest — each of whom now draws both the salary for their constitutional office and simultaneously state retirement benefits — say they were advised they could step down for three months and then draw two paychecks.

But they’re willing to return their retirement money if they did anything wrong, even though their attorney says everything was done above board.

They were so quiet about their retirements last summer and about their resuming their offices three months later that the quorum court members were unaware of their retirements. Adams and DePriest continued to attend meetings and apparently attended to business in their official capacities.

They are two of about 10 city or county officials across the state receiving pay and retirement pay, according to Jerry Wills, attorney for the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System (APERS), which administers the state retirement program.

Those who are serving in office while drawing state retirement say they had been told that not drawing a paycheck for three months constituted resigning, making them eligible for retirement benefits.

Eddie Jones, executive director of the Arkansas Association of Counties, testified Friday at a hearing of the state Legislative Audit Committee that county officials were told last year that they could trigger retirement benefits by going off the payroll for 90 days. That’s according to Denise Hoggard, attorney for Adams, DePriest and most of the others in question.

According to Hoggard, Jones said he heard APERS retirement coordinator Pam Stroud give that information to people at a meeting of the Association of County Executives.

Retiring under APERS rules is not the same thing as vacating the office, Hoggard added.

DePriest and Adams earn $48,500 a year. APERS retirement runs between 45 percent and 52 percent, meaning they would draw about $21,800 a year from the retirement fund.

Adams declined comment, referring questions to his attorney. DePriest did the same, although she did say they hadn’t done anything wrong and that at least three county officials knew what they were doing — County clerk Dawn Porterfield, who signs the paychecks, county judge Charlie Troutman and county attorney Jeff Sykes.

The two are prepared to return the retirement checks or do whatever is required to satisfy APERS, according to Hoggard, but these officials did what they believed in good faith. They followed what APERS was saying were the rules, he insisted.

“Double dipping is a negative term without justification,” Hoggard said. “They are elected officials who, according to statute, had a right to retire, then go back into position. Double dipping sounds like something wrong.”

DePriest said she and Adams believed that termination was simply going off the payroll for at least three months.

“County elected officials were being told at association of counties that termination was off the payroll,” she said.

“Some time later the attorney general’s opinion disagreed,” she said. “Now they are saying the rules are changing and they’ve done something wrong. They want to follow the law and the rules.”

The state Legislative Audit Committee met with APERS officials, including executive director Gail Stone, for about two hours Friday, trying to sort through facts and issues and determine what needs to be done.

Typically, when a county official resigns or retires during an elected term, the county quorum court declares a vacancy, the county judge recommends one or more replacements and the governor appoints a replacement, who is not eligible to run for the office at the next election.

But apparently none of the quorum court members knew they had resigned and, in fact, both appeared to fulfill their duties during the three months they did not draw salary, according to Troutman.

“We’ve been waiting since June, since the attorney general’s office came out with the opinion,” DePriest said. “If we did something wrong, they need to tell us how to fix it.”

DePriest stopped drawing pay on April 9 and returned to the payroll on July 16, Hoggard said, and Adams stopped drawing pay on March 12 and returned to the payroll on June 18.

Hoggard says state statute now says it requires 180 days off to be terminated. The new definition says that termination means that the employment relationship has been brought to an end and no longer exists in any form.

State Sen. Bobby Glover (D-Carlisle), who represents Lonoke County and who attended the meeting, asked, “The big question is, when they actually terminated their positions to draw retirement, is that a permanent termination or do they have the authority to go back into their office?

“I foresee that this matter will be a legal question before it’s over with,” Glover said.

Troutman said he was only marginally concerned because, “it cost the county not one single cent.”

He said as far as he knew, DePriest and Adams were the only Lonoke County employees who had resigned and kept working.

“I don’t know if the law is broken or if they got bad advice,” said quorum court member Mark Edwards. “Common sense would say that if you retire from your post, you have to retire and leave that post. It only makes sense to me that if you did retire, the governor would have to appoint someone to fill your term and you wouldn’t be eligible to run again. I don’t know as a quorum court if we can do anything or if we should do anything. I wish the attorney general would say.”

“They are elected officials,” said quorum court member Mike Dolan. “We have little if any control over them. But it doesn’t put them in a pretty light.”

“We have looked at every county and municipal official employee who has retired (in recent years),” said Wills, the APERS lawyer. He said concerns, if any, are limited to fewer than 10 of 480 who have retired since about 2000. “Most never returned to work.

“If we make the determination that they didn’t properly terminate employment — if they continued working, kept the office keys or an official car — we’re required to terminate their current payments until there is proper termination.”

He said taking back payment could have negative consequences to taxpayers. “We’d have to give them back credit for the additional time they served in office, in some cases several years and that could result in even higher benefits upon actual retirement,” Wills said.

Wills would not comment on individual cases, but in general, he said, the APERS director, he and an internal auditor will review “suspect individuals.” Stone, the director, will decide. “If appropriate, we’ll cut off benefits until retirement. We may also make demand on benefits that have been paid,” Wills said.

“To ensure the integrity of our results, a team of (legislative auditors) will come behind the work we’ve done,” Wills said.

“I don’t think anyone did this with an evil heart,” he said, although the attorney general’s opinion may have changed that feeling by the public.

SPORTS >> Good Neighbors aids Lonoke girls

Cara Neighbors led Lonoke with 20 points in the Lady ’Rabbits’ latest victory.


Leader sports editor

Whatever poison Stuttgart chose against the Lonoke girls Tuesday night, it was lethal.

The Lady Ricebirds put their defensive focus on Lady Jackrabbits senior and UALR signee Asiah Scribner, which only released Cara Neighbors to do the damage in Lonoke’s 52-48 victory at Lonoke.

Neighbors, who missed several non-conference games as she recovered from wrist surgery, led Lonoke with 20 points to help the Lady Jackrabbits take the lead in the second quarter and hold on the rest of the game.

“She’s led us scoring,” Lonoke coach Nathan Morris said. “That’s the one that’s been out with the surgery. She’s led us in scoring four straight games since she got back.

“She’s been doing what she has to do, the other ones are continuing to do what they have to do.”

Neighbors helped illustrate a problem teams have when facing Lonoke (11-5, 3-0 2-4A Conference). Focus on one player defensively, and another can take her place.

“They’ve got to pick their poison,” Morris said. “We’ve got a couple kids that can play.”

Scribner got loose in the fourth quarter to score seven points and finish with 15 and Ashleigh Himstedt, who scored Lonoke’s final five points of the first half to break a 20-20 tie, finished with 13.

Gang up Scribner, Morris said, and you have to contend with Neighbors, Himstedt or Michaela Brown.

“They were double-teaming her in there,” Morris said of Scribner. “You’ve got a kid like that, you’re throwing her a lot of respect. She doesn’t have to outscore everybody. She’s got everybody double-teaming her.

“Neighbors starts shooting the ball out on the floor. Himstedt and Brown, that opened that up and we went out there in the second half.”

Lonoke took its biggest lead, 32-23, when Himstedt made a three-pointer from the right wing with 4:30 left in the third quarter.

Neighbors matched the margin, 39-30, when she made a nine-footer with 7:24 left in the game and Himstedt put Lonoke up by nine again when she made a three-pointer from the left corner for the 44-35 lead with 5:24 to go.

Stuttgart fought back to within 46-43 when Kayla Robinson drew a foul from Himstedt and made both free throws with 1:54 left.

But Scribner made a left-handed layup, got a rebound, a foul and made a free throw to push Lonoke’s lead to 49-43 with 51.3 seconds left. Two more free throws by Brown made it 50-45 with 23.5 seconds left, helping the Lady Jackrabbits to survive Kynsha Geans’ three-pointer with 13.3 second to go.

“We talk to the kids all the time; to win a conference title you’ve got to win the home games,” Morris said. “That’s so important. Then you’ve got to win the ones you’re supposed to on the road.

“Certainly we would have liked to finish a little better, but we got the job done against a very good Stuttgart team.”

Morris, hoping to lead his team to its fourth straight state final appearance and first championship in that stretch, was unhappy with his team’s aggressiveness against Stuttgart’s zone in the first half.

“I don’t know if we’re in very good shape right now,” he said. “I think that’s got to get better; I think it will get better. Yeah, we need to be a little bit more aggressive when they’re packed in the zone. We’ve got kids that can score. They need to get loose and score.”

Another area of concern was free-throw shooting. Lonoke was 13 for 23 and made just four of 11 in the fourth quarter.

“We definitely have got to work on free throws,” Morris said. “Can somebody send me a book and I’ll try to figure it out.”

SPORTS >> Sylvan Hills girls show no signs of rust, power to victory behind press

Lady Bear guard Lindsay Smith drives to the basket.


Leader sportswriter

The start of the 5A-Southeast Conference season amounted to a light workout for the Sylvan Hills Lady Bears in a 50-21 victory over Little Rock McClellan on Tuesday.

Visiting McClellan struggled offensively and defensively, and the Lady Bears (7-4, 1-0) capitalized from the outset with a stifling full-court press that led to a number of transition scores in the first half.

It was the first game for Sylvan Hills in nearly a month, but the Lady Bears showed little rust from the tip-off until the end of the third quarter, when they slowed their offensive attack to spare the Lady Lions from the sportsmanship/timing rule until late in the fourth quarter.

Lady Bears forward Ashley Johnson outscored the Lady Lions in the first quarter with six points, and matched them in the next period with seven to account for all of her game-high 13 points.

That helped Sylvan Hills build a 33-12 lead at halftime and make the second half mostly a formality.

“We talked about coming out in the first quarter and establishing the tempo,” Lady Bears coach Bee Rodden said. “We wanted to create some turnovers and get some shots in transition.”

Senior Dee Dee Lewis also scored six points in the opening quarter, but most of hers came from the free-throw line. Lewis went 4 of 4 at the line and added a basket late in the first period as the Lady Bears jumped out 16-5 atthe end of the first quarter.

“We knew they were going to come out in a 2-3 zone,” Rodden said. “They did, and we tried to get as many transition shots as we could and pull down some quick defensive rebounds. We wanted to score before they spread out in the big old zone.”

McClellan did not get many looks at the basket in the first eight minutes. That was because of Sylvan Hills’ full-court pressure.

The Lady Bears used their quickness to trap, which led to turnovers and rushed shots from the Lady Lions who have lost players to ineligibility.

“It was a good way to come back from the break,” Rodden said. “Our last game was Dec. 11, so they came out and made a big impact. We’ve gone from having 11 kids to nine, but the main five out there on the court are experienced players. They all got to play a lot last year.”

Johnson and Lewis slowed their shooting attacks in the second half, but senior transfer Lindsay Smith took over to score most of her nine points.

While the offensive pace slowed in the second half, Sylvan Hills continued to stifle McClellan defensively.

The Lady Bears held the Lady Lions to five points in the third quarter while putting up 12 of their own, extending their lead to 45-17 with eight minutes still to play. They finally triggered the mercy-rule status with a substitute-heavy squad in the final three minutes.

Terica Kendrick finished with seven points for the Lady Bears while Kashina Wright and Ashley Evans each had four.

While overall depth could be an issue for Rodden this season, she said having a dependable addition in Smith should go a long way.

“All of our starters played last year except for Lindsay Smith,” Rodden said. “But she had a really good camp during the summer, and we’re expecting good things.”

The Lady Bears played at Monticello on Friday night and will host White Hall next Friday.

SPORTS >> ’Rabbits edge Ricebirds

T.J. Scott is one of Lonoke’s contributing sophomores.


Leader sports editor

The Lonoke Jackrabbits proved winning is great medicine for growing pains Tuesday night.

With three sophomores in critical roles, the Jackrabbits battled back from a nine-point, third-quarter deficit to beat rival Stuttgart 46-44 in a 2-4A Conference game at Lonoke.

“You don’t want to jump the gun, but we’re starting to grow up a little bit,” Lonoke coach Dean Campbell said.

Darius Scott hit a pull-up jumper in the lane with 40.1 seconds left to give Lonoke a 45-44 lead, and after a series of Stuttgart misses and offensive rebounds, Chad Dixon made one of two free throws for the Jackrabbits with 9.4 seconds left for the final margin.

Lonoke still wasn’t out of the woods, as Stuttgart’s Charles Coleman rebounded Dixon’s missed free throw with time to score, but Glenn King missed a three-pointer and Devonte Ice missed the follow-up before Dixon could grab the rebound and lock it up.

“There were points where we did get caught watching their offensive rebounds late, within a minute down there,” Campbell said. “I don’t want to keep going back to it, but those are all things that young, inexperienced teams do. That’s what you’re going to get. We get stretches where we do it and stretches where we don’t.”

The Jackrabbits struggled to contend with the Ricebirds’ traps and double and triple teams that forced multiple turnovers in the first half as Stuttgart took a 21-17 halftime lead.

But with sophomores C.J Whitehead, Tarrale Watson and T.J. Scott on the floor at key times in the second half, the Jackrabbits fought back after Stuttgart took a 26-17 lead with 5:19 left in the third quarter.

“For us to be able to take the pressure they were giving and fight through and get a win after being down, I’m pretty proud of them,” Campbell said. “I looked up one time and we had three sophomores out there in the heat of it when we needed stops, when we needed good possessions on offense.”

Mike James tied it at 28 with a layup with 35 seconds left in the third quarter, but the Ricebirds pulled away again, taking a 35-28lead when Darrell Horner made a three-pointer with 6:21 left in the game.

Whitehead made two free throws to get Lonoke within 37-35 with 5:21 left, then dribbled behind his back and hit James for an open layup to tie at 37. T.J. Scott’s leaner tied it again at 39, and Storm Beeler made a jumper from the high post to give Lonoke its first lead since early in the second quarter, 43-42, with 1:43 left.

King made a jumper from the free-throw line with 49 seconds left to give Stuttgart its final lead.

Darius Scott, a 5-10 junior, led Lonoke (4-4, 1-1) with 16 points and Beeler, a 5-10 junior, added 10. The two were members of Lonoke’s state runner-up football team, as is reserve Michael Nelson, the quarterback.

Lonoke’s march through the football postseason forced the Jackrabbits to postpone their basketball game with DeWitt, leading them to play three games, two at home, in the coming week.

Campbell said as long as another Lonoke program was having success, it was worth the wait.

“And those kids, hopefully, carry winning from one program over to another and I think it goes back in the other direction as well,” Campbell said.

Campbell said the difference in Tuesday’s second half, compared to the first, was that his players remembered what had been discussed before the game.

“Just simple things we talked about with being a young team,” he said. “We forget what we talked about and what we just went over.

“There were gaps that we didn’t go hit. We were staying away. There were some gaps that we really focused on. Just catching and what we call peeking at the rim. That helps to slow us down a little bit.”

The highlight of the first half may have been when Darius Scott lost the ball after crossing center court with time running out, picked it up and made a desperation three-pointer from near the right sideline as time expired in the first quarter to give Lonoke a 12-8 lead.

But Stuttgart outscored Lonoke 13-5 in the second quarter to take its halftime lead.

SPORTS >> Mascot heads to big sty in the sky

Leader sports editor

Anyone hoping for a good start to 2010 had to be stunned at the tragic news reported out of Fayetteville this week.

Tusk, the Arkansas Razorbacks’ real, porcine mascot, was found dead in his pen at his farm home outside of Dardanelle. He was seven years old.

Tsk tsk, poor Tusk. Alas, pork Yorick.

Tusk, whose given name was Tusk II, was born Aug. 12, 2002 and served as Arkansas’ mascot from 2005 until his final appearance at Saturday’s Liberty Bowl game in Memphis a week ago.

The football Razorbacks went 35-28 during Tusk’s tenure.

Tusk was apparently a gentle fellow who would eat grapes from the hands of fans.

He was laid to rest Monday at the Stokes family farm in Dardanelle, where he stayed when not making his many appearances in Fayetteville and elsewhere.

Fans wishing to leave a message for the Stokes family or a remembrance of Tusk may follow the link on or leave a Facebook message at Tusk Razorback Mascot.

Contributions to the live mascot program can be sent in Tusk’s memory to Tusk Fund c/0 The Razorback Foundation, 1295 Razorback Road, Suite A, Fayetteville, Ark, 72701.

Natural causes were cited in the university news release from Fayetteville that announced Tusk’s passing, and sources said the specific cause was a heart attack.

I suppose Tusk’s death proves bacon is bad for you, especially if your whole body is bacon.

One smarty-pants I know suggested Tusk died from all the excitement of the Liberty Bowl. He went on to suggest Tusk succumbed to shock when erratic grid-Hogs kicker Alex Tejada nailed the game-winner in the 20-17, overtime victory over East Carolina.

Another clever-trousers put forth the theory Tusk died from fear after seeing the 7-8 hardwood-Hogs play at basketball.

“Was he afraid of clowns?” The jokester asked.

One nice young woman unintentionally got to the root of Tusk’s apparent problem.

“Bless his heart,” she said.

Someone else suggested Tusk suffered the same fate that befalls so many celebrities, an unfortunate mixture of drugs and alcohol.

All joking aside — no strike that, there is plenty of joking to come — there are many questions surrounding not only Tusk’s death, but also questions as to why he was installed as the Hogs’ mascot in the first place.

Understand first that Tusk was a Russian boar, not even a real razorback. Come on, a Russkie? As the premiere mascot in a patriotic red state like Arkansas?

I suppose Tusk advocated socialized medicine too. Or at least Medicare.

Maybe Tusk was a mole, sent from a former Soviet Union clinging to its Cold War ethos to bring down our mighty football-industrial complex from the inside. Maybe some patriot decided to stop him.

Or maybe Tusk’s death was the work of a serial mascot killer. After all, Tusk wasn’t the first in the SEC to snuff it during the just-concluded football season.

The most recent incarnation of the Georgia Bulldogs’ mascot, the live bulldog named Uga VII, checked out Nov. 19 at age four.

Cause of death was also reported to be heart ailments.

Come on, the dog had an air-conditioned house and more handlers than coach Mark Richt has assistants.

And if it’s foul play, you have to look to the only fowls in the SEC, the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Maybe that cocky coach Steve Spurrier was ticked off his Gamecocks laid an egg in the Bowl while Arkansas and Georgia won their bowl games.

Except Uga died before Georgia beat Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl, so Spurrier may be lacking a motive after all.

So let’s move on to an examination of the shady, mascot line of succession at Arkansas.

Tusk succeeded his father, Tusk I, and is survived by his brother, Tusk III, who will assume mascot duties at Arkansas.

I thought we frowned on that kind of nepotism in this country. Well, except for the Kennedys, the Pryors, the Bushes, the Clintons and Bobby and Patrick Knight.

Anyway, it smells, because as some fans have pointed out, now would be a great time to install a real razorback as mascot, or at least a true, Arkansas feral hog.

My friend Matt here at The Leader had the perfect candidate. For weeks, his remote game cam tracked the comings and goings of a huge feral hog at Matt’s deer feeding station in south Arkansas.

Except Matt is a hunter, and he shared his eventual success with some of his co-workers in a delicious ham and bean concoction on New Year’s Eve.

Oh well, around here we’re usually consumed by the Hogs, so it was a nice change of pace.

SPORTS >> Lions overwhelm Bears

Senior Demetric Gross, above, looks for an open teammate against a LR McClellan press.


Leader sportswriter

Sylvan Hills’ 9-2 record leading up to Tuesday night’s matchup with Little Rock McClellan was proof the young but talented Bears squad was capable of competing with anyone on a given night.

But the Lions’ merciless thumping of the Bears in a 76-45 victory proved experience and good size, not to mention deadeye shooting, still rule the court most nights.

McClellan (12-2, 1-0 5A-Southeast) put up 11 quick points before Sylvan Hills (9-3, 0-1) scored any during the 5A-Southeast game at Sylvan Hills High School.

The Lions also put their superior depth on display with solid contributions from the bench. A total of 11 McClellan players found their way on to the scoreboard, while the Bears struggled with the McClellan press and the Lions’ overall defensive intensity.

The Lions keyed on sophomore standout Archie Goodwin most of the night. The 6-3 Bears forward still led Sylvan Hills with 17 points, but most of that came from his 13-of-15 performance at the free-throw line.

Goodwin’s only field-goal makes were a pair of hard-fought inside jumpers in the middle of the first quarter.

Goodwin’s back-to-back jumpers gave the Bears their first points with 5:45 left in the first quarter.

The Lions jumped to their 11-0 lead with big shots from Tevin Hammond and Marcus Jordan. Hammond scored 23 first-half points while Jordan backed him up with 11 points through the first two quarters.

Free throws by Bears sophomore post Devin Pearson and Goodwin helped Sylvan Hills pull to within 17-8. Ahmad Scott made a layup with 1:28 left in the quarter to make it 19-10 and making Scott just the second Bears player to score a field goal.

Sylvan Hills pulled within 20-14 with 45 seconds left in the quarter when Demetric Gross made a basket, but McClellan hit a three-pointer in the final 20 seconds to increase its lead to nine, and Hammond and company continued to push the Bears in the next frame.

Hammond dominated the second quarter for the Lions. The speedy and accurate guard hit two straight field goals to put McClellan up 29-16 with 4:50 left in the half, and he extended the lead with a pair of three-pointers in the final two minutes to make it 43-24.

He added one more three-pointer with 20 seconds left in the half while Goodwin closed out the quarter for the Bears with a pair of free throws that cut the halftime margin to 51-30.

The Bears continued to struggle from the floor in the second half. Larry Ziegler and Pearson scored goals in the third quarter, but everyone else came up empty as the Lions extended their lead.

Rhakeem Brown did the inside work for McClellan with a putback at the 2:28 mark, followed by a dunk after a Sylvan Hills’ turnover that made it 66-36. He also scored on another putback with 1:28 left in the third.

The Lions ended the third quarter as they did the previous two with a long three-pointer that gave them a 72-38 lead.

Hammond led McClellan with 23 points, while Brown and Crandon Isac each added nine. Gross finished with nine points for Sylvan Hills.

The Bears played at Monticello on Friday night and will return home next Friday to host White Hall.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Costly golf clubs

Jacksonville just said no to a deal that would essentially have given it a fully functional golf course for just $200,000 a year because it could not or would not justify the expense.

Jacksonville Alderman Bill Howard said that a municipal magazine recently published an article about how cities are unloading money-draining golf courses for more mundane things like fire and police protection and employee raises and health benefits.

In Sherwood, the 106-acre North Hills golf course is costing the city around $25,000 a month.

On top of that, the city budgeted $300,000 for maintenance last year, hired a golf course superintendent at a salary of $54,000, plus a rent-free home valued at more than $200,000, and additional ground and equipment laborers.

This year’s golf course budget includes another $300,000 for maintenance, and more money for more employees—$147,948 for five employees after the hiring freeze was announced.

With all that Sherwood has invested in The Greens at North Hills, its acreage needs to turn some green or the city’s financial ledger will run red.

EDITORIAL >> State income keeps falling

Living in the economic backwaters has its good points and its bad points. When, in 2007, the country fell into the worst recession since the Great Depression, the misery index steepened on the seaboards and in the industrial Midwest and high-growth meccas like Nevada, Florida and Arizona. Governments found themselves strapped for the revenues to continue services.

As with economic downturns historically, things were not so bad in Arkansas, or at least not so much worse than they always were. We didn’t have an industrial base to contract and most of Arkansas had lain outside the great housing bubble.

Foreclosure notices were making the big newspapers a little richer, but it was nothing like California, the desert resorts, south Florida or even Cleveland. Our state government continued to run budget surpluses well into 2008, and unemployment at its peak barely topped 7 percent, roughly half what it was in our sister lottery state of South Carolina over on the coast.

But, as always, the misery was just late coming, and it is apt to linger after the good times rebound in the glitzier precincts, which we hope but have little faith will begin shortly.

The state fiscal agency ladled out the bad news yesterday. Government revenues have been falling sharply, a little worse every month, and December was very bad. The report reflected taxes on commerce only through November, not the Christmas season, so there likely is more bad news directly ahead. The state will have to tighten its belt again, for the second time this fiscal year. Our fiscal system requires it so that government does not finish the year in the red. There almost certainly will have to be some reductions in state services unless Governor Beebe throws more of the state’s dwindling fund balances into the breach.

In a few weeks, the legislature will be returning for its first-ever fiscal session and the lawmakers and the governor will have to determine whether the state’s budget priorities need to change in light of the declining revenue outlook. There should be no significant change. Public education is already guaranteed priority funding. We would hope that services to the neediest like indigent medical care would be sustained at whatever cost. Colleges and universities will take a hit in the fiscal year starting this fall even if budget priorities remain fixed, and lawmakers may decide that the institutions can stand a bigger hit. Beebe and the legislators will undoubtedly consider the considerable infusion of college aid through the lottery next fall and decide that the institutions can handle the hard times better than more vulnerable constituents of state aid. If you have college-bound youngsters, you can count on another tuition increase next fall, which can be covered for most of you by the fattened scholarships.

The lottery, after all, played a not insignificant part in the revenue decline, along with the new sales tax exemptions passed by the legislature in 2007. If people spend more than $400 million on lottery tickets this year, that is $400 million that will not be spent on goods and services that are subject to sales and excise taxes. Income taxes on lottery winnings will not make up the difference.

The adjustments need not be terribly wrenching. Just pray that it gets no worse.

TOP STORY >> Weather safety tips from Red Cross

The Red Cross offers several suggestions to help stay safe during winter storms.

Tips for staying safe at home:

Be careful with candles – do not use candles for lighting if the power goes out. Use flashlights only.

Don’t use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside your home, basement or garage. Locate units away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.

Prevent frozen pipes — when the weather is very cold outside, open cabinet doors to let warm air circulate around water pipes.

Let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe — even at a trickle — helps prevent pipes from freezing because the temperature of the water running through it is above freezing. Keep the thermostat set to a consistent temperature.

Never use a stove or oven to heat your home.

If you plan on using a fireplace to stay warm, keep a glass or metal fire screen around the fireplace and never leave a lit fire unattended.

If using a space heater, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to safely use the heater. Place it on a level, hard, nonflammable surface. Turn the space heater off when you leave the room or go to sleep. Keep children and pets away from your space heater and do not use it to dry wet clothing.

Avoid overloading electrical outlets.

Check on your animals and make sure that their access to food and water is not blocked by snow drifts, ice or other obstacles. If possible, bring them indoors.

Tips for protecting yourself while outdoors and traveling:

Walk carefully on snowy, icy sidewalks and stairs.

If you shovel snow, be extremely careful. Take frequent breaks, stay hydrated and avoid overexertion.

Minimize travel whenever possible. If travel is necessary keep a disaster-supplies kit with extra food and blankets in your vehicle.

Avoid driving when conditions include sleet, freezing rain or drizzle, snow or dense fog.

Winterize your vehicle and keep the gas tank full. A full tank will keep the fuel line from freezing.

TOP STORY >> Cabot slips to sixth in boomtown rankings

Leader staff writer

Cabot has lost its boomtown designation to Maumelle, a suburb of Little Rock that should soon get its own high school.

Cabot was called the state’s boomtown almost a year ago by a Little Rock company that provides marketing information to large retailers nationwide. At that time, Cabot was the third fastest-growing city in the state, but its continual growth in population over a 10-year period and 83-percent increase in household income over that same period had reached $98,555, an impressive number by most standards.

But this year, that same company, the Gadberry Group, says Cabot is sixth for growth in the state behind Maumelle, Bryant, Conway, Centerton and Lowell, and ahead of Rogers, Bentonville and Fayetteville.

The report, released Monday, says the number of households in Maumelle grew by 85 percent from 2000 to 2009.

It also found the average household income rose by nearly $28,000 to $100,701.

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said Tuesday morning that he isn’t concerned that his city has moved down in ranking. Cabot is still doing well and building is on the rise since the stock of available houses has been sold down.

And perhaps more importantly, smaller homes for young families are again being built in Cabot. For at least five years the 1,200- to 1,400-square-foot houses have been built in Ward and Austin where land was less expensive.

The high cost of land in Cabot was a deterrent to building starter homes. Instead, it has been used for many years as building sites for the homes of officers from Little Rock Air Force Base, who, like the Little Rock transplants who also have moved to Cabot by the thousands, were looking for good public schools for their children.

Those with jobs that paid less moved to Ward and Austin, which are also part of the Cabot School District.

But Williams said he is hopeful that the new subdivision of starter homes that is already under construction in Cabot is a sign of things to come, and that landowners are beginning to realize that they will have to lower their prices if they want their land to sell to developers.

TOP STORY >> Looking back at the final months of 2009


The Jacksonville Sewer Commission got the city council’s blessings to proceed with obtaining more than $18.2 million in bonds for repairs and expansion, with the promise that it would not mean a rate increase.

The commission plans to spend $5.1 million on rehabilitation and repairs, $3.9 million on additions and expansion of the system; $4.4 million to pay off old loans, $1 million for sewer work at the proposed new state fairgrounds site and $700,000 in debt service and administrative costs.

Larry Gaddis with Crist Engineers said the city had about 175 miles of underground sewers that were about 70 years old and difficult to maintain.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher aimed to clean up Jacksonville by passing a 33-page nuisance-abatement ordinance.

But the idea was met with public concern and resistance.

A Cabot businessman who was also voted 2008 man of the year for the Lonoke County Republican Committee was arrested on a rape charge and has since pleaded not guilty by reason of mental defect.

Roger Lemaster, 54, husband of former Cabot Alderman Becky Lemaster, was arrested Sept. 21 and released from the county jail Sept. 22 on a $50,000 bond. Court records show he filed for divorce that same day on the grounds of general indignities.

The streets of Cabot received a sprucing up as 264 people came out during the fall Cabot Cleanup to pick up litter along the roads before visitors arrived for Cabotfest.

Cabot City Beautiful president Matt Webber said, “We filled a 30-yard dumpster up a half and three quarters. We were able to cover more routes because of the number of people.”

The Arkansas Fallen Firefighters Memorial statue called Cabot home for a week during October as it was a centerpiece for the annual Cabotfest.

The 6,000-pound, 11.6-foot tall statue was displayed at the First Security bank parking lot on 205 W. Pine St., then moved onto the street for Cabotfest.

The statue’s permanent home will be at the state Capitol. The statue has been transported to different locations around the state to bring awareness and to raise money for the memorial.

Arkansas received, in October, its first allotment of the H1N1 “swine” influenza Avaccine — 17,000 doses — that was reserved for children, a group at greater risk for severe illness if they contract the virus. The initial shipment, which was in nasal mist form, was used at statewide school immunization clinics.

The vaccines were free.

Since the new strain of the type A influenza virus emerged last spring, 600 deaths in the United States, including seven in Arkansas, have been attributed to it.

Sherwood Detective Beverly Hughes went back to work days after the city’s Civil Service Commission overturned her July firing.

“She’s back on the same shift, the same u-nit and even the same car,” said Sherwood Police Chief Kel Nicholson, who fired Hughes for insubordination.

Hughes returned to work with all of her benefits and back pay, but that may not be the end of the case. She has since settled her federal discrimination lawsuit with the city.

The city of Ward officially opened its new dog park.

Dog owners can let their pets run leash-free in the 136-feet by 42-feet chain-link fenced park. The park is located behind city hall at 405 Hickory St. Construction of the dog park cost around $600.

Friends of Ward Shelter president Janice Holden said, “the park makes for better dogs in the community. They are exercised, socialized and better behaved.”

Four Jacksonville apartments in the Willow Bend complex were left gutted and roofless after a fire, which was ignited by a methamphetamine lab.

Apparently the fire was ignited when a makeshift meth lab exploded in Apt. 33.

The tenant of Apt. 33 hurriedly awoke her neighbor telling her that the building was on fire and fled in her car before police and firefighters arrived.

A 9-year-old girl along with her parents and another person escaped a fiery meth lab explosion at a home in the Sunnyside addition of Jacksonville.

Amanda Randall said she and her daughter were sleeping on the couch in the living room while Donald Randall and Deborah Christian, 37, of 126 South Eastern Ave., were in the back bedroom making methamphetamine using the “shake-and-bake” method.

A neighbor told police she was awakened by her children, who said there was someone knocking on the door. Amanda Randall told her that she and her daughter were asleep in the living room when she heard a loud noise, woke up and saw that the house was on fire.

Jacksonville hired Rickey Hayes of Retail Attractions in Owasso, Okla., to help bring retail businesses and restaurants to Jacksonville.

In just six years as economic development director for Owasso, Okla., Rickey Hayes doubled the city’s sales tax base and add new commercial construction totaling more than 4.2 million square feet with over a quarter of a billion dollars in total value.That impressive record is the main reason that the Jacksonville city council agreed with the mayor to spend $20,000 to hire Hayes’ company for the remainder of the year. Hayes’ contract was later extended for all of 2010.

After more than a year of trying, Cabot finally passed a new animal control ordinance.

The ordinance, which limits the number of dogs and cats per household to four in any combination, was approved unanimously.

In addition to limiting the number of dogs and cats, the ordinance bans selling or giving away animals in parking lots, parks, flea markets or any other outside area. The ban does not apply to humane societies, animal control agencies or nonprofit agencies sponsoring pet adoptions that have obtained approval from the head of Cabot Animal Control.

The ordinance includes a $30 fee for relinquishing unwanted pets. The fee is reduced to $15 for residents taking care of strays who provide a current newspaper clipping to show they have tried to find the owner.

The Lonoke Farm Bureau honored Jim Malone and his family as farm family of the year. The Malones pioneered several areas of fish farming in Arkansas and the U.S. and survived yet another round of floods earlier this year.

Accepting the award were Jim Malone and his wife Louise and Beverley Jones and her husband Bobby. Malone and Jones are brother and sister.

Jim Malone Sr. started with 20 acres in 1951 and today his children run the farm with 2,000 acres of ponds.

“It’s been a very difficult year for us,” Jim Malone said. “We are deeply grateful and very humble and appreciate (the honor) and will never forget,” he said.

Cabot’s top students, its National Merit Semifinalists and AP Scholars, were recognized during the October board meeting.

In 2009, 147 Arkansas high school seniors were named National Merit Semifinalists.

Seven from Cabot included Spencer Sharp, Justin Blankenship, Grace Coggins, Katie Van Druff, Emily Foltz, Courtney Anderson and Hannah Norton.

Cabot’s AP Scholars included Josh McIntyre, Spencer Sharp, Justin Blankenship, Brendon Tucker, Taylor Burrington, Paula Shepard, Grace Coggins, Emily Foltz, Kelsey Loraditch, Rachel Best, Laken Harrington, Thomas Medak, Gary Newman and Courtney Anderson.

Longtime Ward Alderman Ginger Tarno resigned, saying ill health prevented her from doing her job as well as she wanted to.

Tarno has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

Tarno, who was appointed to the council about 12 years ago and won every election since, grew up in Ward.

She said every decision she made as a member of the city council was for the people.

“I tried to treat the city like I’d like to be treated,” she said.

The family of a man who hanged himself last year in the Cabot jail has filed suit in federal court against the city, mayor, police chief, several named officers and 10 others called John Does for his death, saying it should have been prevented.

Donnie Lee Isom was arrested Sept. 8, 2008 for public intoxication and disorderly conduct after a disturbance at Steeple Chase Apartments. Isom was booked into the jail and about 30 minutes after being placed in a cell, he was found lying between two bunks with a blanket around his neck.

A state police investigation that included viewing the surveillance tapes in the jail cleared the city of any wrongdoing. But the suit says the city caused Isom’s death through multiple failures in training and personnel actions.

The Arkansas Congressional delegation announced that Cabot WaterWorks would receive $500,000 to help pay for the installation of a gravity sewer to increase capacity for continued development of residential and commercial property.

Cabot WaterWorks applied for stimulus funding for the estimated $8 to $9 million improvement project in the spring and learned soon afterward that the money would not be forthcoming. However, WaterWorks officials were told then that more stimulus money might be available in 2010.

Central Arkansas ended up with more than 11 inches of rain in October, making it the third wettest October on record, and putting the year on track to be the wettest year ever (which it turned out to be).

The very wet October came on the heels of a very wet September.

Four area fire departments using boats and other rescue equipment evacuated about a dozen people from a trailer park off Tom Box Road in north Pulaski County when heavy rains hit the area again.

Also, a number of people had to be rescued from the roofs of their floating cars at Hwy. 161 and the railroad overpass and another person was pulled to safety as their car continued to float away on Jacksonville Cutoff near Main Street.

The Ward Fire Department ran rescue missions as the rain fell, pulling one family from a car that had stalled in four feet of water on Hwy. 319 and Lewisburg Road, and saving dogs in the city’s animal control kennels off Hwy. 367.

Ward Police Chief Charlie Martin said firefighters waded in water up to their armpits to get the dogs to safety.

Union Pacific was reluctant to reopen the Graham Railroad crossing, but the city was equally persistent in its efforts to get it open.

“We will knock down any obstacle they throw at us,” said City Administrator Jim Durham.

The city responded to an Oct. 8 letter from Union Pacific, in which Charles Felkins, manager of special projects, industry and public, wrote that the “city and UP agreed that the at-grade crossing at Graham Road would be closed upon completion of the overpass project.”

In his Oct. 15 response to the railroad, Mayor Gary Fletcher wrote that the area was negatively affected by the closure and has suffered tremendously.

The North Pulaski High School band completed a rewarding marching season bringing home multiple awards in October.

Trombonist Nikki Mullen, a 12th grader, said of the competitions, “There is a lot of energy and excitement before you get on the field. It is there throughout the performance. I feel I am on a natural high of happiness. You’re doing what you love.”

“We try to make a name for our school. We take pride,” said drum major Erica Frost.

The North Pulaski High School band has 117 members.

After operating at a loss for four years, North Metro Medical Center posted a profit three months in a row. Hospital board members credited measures implemented since Allegiance Health Management took over daily operations 11 months ago.

“It is still a tough economic fight,” but with “cost-cutting measures and careful attention to income and expenses, we’ve been able to turn the ship around, somewhat,” hospital board chair Mike Wilson said.

The last year that the hospital operated in the black was 2003-04, when it closed the fiscal year with a $652,000 positive balance. The next year, net income slipped to the other side of the ledger with a $98,000 loss. In 2006-07, losses jumped to $3 million. The 2007-08 fiscal year closed out with a net loss of $2.38 million. Since then, the net loss has reached as high as $400,000 each month.

Messages of sympathy and love poured into Pulaski Technical College for Johnny Dollar, 53, of Jacksonville, who was killed when he was struck by an ambulance as he tried to remove an injured dog from a busy highway just north of Conway.

Dollar was a popular professor of theology and history at Pulaski Tech and worked there for the past 16 years. In those early Pulaski Tech days, he was also reporter for area newspapers like the Jacksonville News covering government meetings and sports.

His wife Susan, who is on the Jacksonville Planning Commission, also teaches part time at Pulaski Tech. They had twin daughters, Charlotte and Lauralee.

Occupants of nine households on Bronco Lane in Sherwood struggled to put their lives back together after flood waters from Woodruff Creek forced them to flee their homes, when almost four inches of rain fell within a five-hour period.

Residents affected by the flood watched as city workers loaded garbage trucks with their belongings, which had been reduced to rubbish by rushing water that swept through their houses.

The low-lying stretch of Bronco Lane is in a flood plane. It has a history of flooding, but long-time residents there say this time was the worst they had ever experienced. The monsoon-like rains ran off ground already saturated from recent downpours, quickly filling the creek – actually a narrow, concrete culvert – behind their homes which overflowed its banks into their yards.

The state Supreme Court reversed former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell’s convictions for running a continuing criminal enterprise and a slew of burglary, theft, drug and drug manufacturing charges and remanded the case back to Lonoke County Circuit Court, but not before Campbell served 31 months of a 40-year sentence.

He has since been released on bond, awaiting trial for drugs and theft.

Parents, teachers and staff, along with community leaders, helped dedicate Jacksonville’s new charter school — the first new school built in the city in almost three decades.

“Thank you, Jacksonville, for letting us move into our new home,” principal Nigena Livingston said during the dedication ceremony. “This is the school that was built for a better tomorrow.”

Students moved into the Lighthouse Academy, 251 N. First St., from temporary quarters at Second Baptist Church.

Construction of the $4 million school got off to a late start in March, in part due to spring rains, followed by frequent torrential downpours through October.

A disgruntled worker at a Jacksonville daycare set fire to her classroom with 16 youngsters napping or resting, and was arrested on 17 charges.

Jacksonville police arrested Darlene Ann Kostyk, 24, of Jacksonville on one count of arson and 16 counts of endangering the welfare of a minor in connection with a fire at Kareer Kids daycare in November.

The arson charge is a misdemeanor, but each of the child endangerment charges is a felony.

Site preparation began on the long-awaited $10.6 million Joint Education Center at Little Rock Air Force Base with an official groundbreaking ceremony.

The contractor, W.G. Yates and Sons Construction of Philadelphia, Miss., are building the new cooperative college at the corner of Vandenberg Boulevard and John Harden Drive.

The Air Force’s contribution is $9.8 million and Jacksonville’s is $5 million, raised by local residents who approved a dedicated tax for the purpose in 2003.

Jacksonville adopted a revised nuisance abatement ordinance. The city council at its regular monthly meeting unanimously approved the amended code without so much as a comment or complaint from any council member or citizens in attendance.

The ordinance covers everything from the per person square footage requirements for bedrooms to weed control to parking and storage of vehicles.

“It just does a better job of bringing it all together so that it is easier to understand and enforce,” Mayor Gary Fletcher said.

A McRae man was charged with capital murder in the death of his father whose body was found in his Beebe home.

Beebe Chief of Police Wayne Ballew said Billy Joe Clark, 75, 305 N. Hickory St., was found murdered and a short time later Christopher S. Clark, 43, of McRae, was in police custody.

For the lottery player on the go, Bill’s Sales, Rental and More in Ward started to offer drive-through service in November.

Building owner Bill Boyd transformed the rustic wooden garage built in 1945 at 312 Elm St. into a one-stop lottery center. Boyd also rents U-Haul trucks and trailers on the side.

The double-door garage is a place where lottery players do not have to step out of their vehicle to purchase scratch-off cards, Powerball tickets or claim winnings.

Jacksonville was awarded $53,191 to build the second phase of a hiking and bicycle trail to the Bayou Meto.

“It’s been a year or so since I applied for those funds,” Jimmy Oakley, Jacksonville’s public works director, said. He said he hadn’t yet heard from the Arkansas Highway Commission, which awarded the funding, but he was happy to learn the money would soon be awarded.

“Phase two will go around the back of the lake,” Oakley said about the Bayou Meto Creek Trail, “so people can go fishing there.” The trail will also be for walking, he said.

Sherwood’s Trail of Lights went green. In order to cut down on the electrical power needed for its humongous Christmas display now in its eighth year, the city of Sherwood invested in LED (light emitting diode) light bulbs.

The dazzling display at Sherwood Forest had 92 displays.

More than $5,000 was used to buy 6,000 red, green, white and amber LED light bulbs.

The LED bulbs, though costlier, use only a twelfth of the electricity, require fewer power outlets and are made of durable plastic that is resistant to fading and breakage.

A Cabot man was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand, on a multitude of federal charges, including bookmaking, distribution of illegal drugs and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with an alleged kickback scheme also 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 got a courtesy call from the Federal Bureau of Investigation last spring, informing them that they were working in Cabot.

The new Jacksonville Pathfinder preschool building was dedicated in December.

The 38,000-square-foot, one-story building is located adjacent to the Reynolds Building, the main facility on the Pathfinder campus at 2400 W. Main St.

The new building, with its 188-individual capacity, has alleviated the preschool’s waiting list, with room to spare. Current enrollment is about 135.

The Cabot School District announced plans to buy 25.8 acres adjacent to Junior High North for $462,000 for a new ninth-grade school.

The district has talked for some time about separating ninth graders and since the two junior high schools are near capacity, now is the time to do it, the board decided.

Jacksonville has the best site and has made the best offer to move the state fair from Little Rock, according to the official in charge of the prestigious program.

Ralph Shoptaw, the general manager of the Arkansas Livestock Show Association, called Jacksonville’s offer to give the association 430 acres of land in southeast Jacksonville “very attractive.”

He told The Leader during a visit to Jacksonville that the site off Hwy. 161 South near Hwy. 67/167 and the North Belt Freeway was the best he’s seen from among 19 that were submitted.

A committee will make a decision in the coming months. After a site is chosen, the new fairgrounds could cost up to $150 million and could be completed in three to five years, Shoptaw said.

A decade-long dream became a reality with the groundbreaking of a $10 million armory in Cabot.

“This is truly a great day for the Arkansas Na-tional Guard, but it’s and even greater day for Cabot,” Adjutant Gen. William Wofford said. The economic impact to the area should be about $1 million a year, he said.

“This is the biggest and best thing that has happened in Cabot in many years,” Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said.

Tempers flared at a Pulaski County Special School District meeting in December when the board voted to decertify both the teachers union and the support staff union.

This caused the teachers union to call for a one day walkout in which about half the district teachers participated. The union also sued the district over the decertification.

The board, in return, hired about 20 long term substitutes in case the teacher’s go on strike again. The new hires are costing the district close to $500,000.

The board also voted unanimously to table a motion that would have authorized a second-lien bond sale of as much as $2 million for construction of a new elementary school on Little Rock Air Force Base to replace both Arnold Drive and Tolleson elementary schools.

Acting Superintendent Rob McGill and Chief Financial Officer Anita Farver told the board that they didn’t believe the district had enough money to give raises to teachers and build the new school.

After 15 years of trying every which way to expand the old jail or build a new one, Lonoke County officials were smiling, slapping backs and shaking hands after a Cabot company was the apparent low bidder for a new 142-bed jail.

“I never dreamed we’d be able to build everything with the money we had,” said Tim Lemons, a Cabot engineer and Quorum Court member.

“It’s a wonderful day for the county,” said Odom. “A 15-year battle with a whole lot of effort with a whole lot of people — especially the voters who approved the sales tax,” Odom said.

GAG Builders of Cabot bid about $5.48 million to build the 35,000-square-foot building, including lockup, offices, a courtroom big enough for a jury trial and the 911 dispatch office.

County residents voted for a one-year, one-penny sales tax dedicated to jail construction. Collection of that tax stopped Sept. 30, and it raised nearly $6.25 million.

The good news, announced at a December state highway commission meeting, was that making Hwy. 67/167 into a six-lane from Redmond to Kiehl Avenue was a definite and slated for bid letting in April. The bad news was that reconfiguring the Vandenberg Boulevard intersection and a host of other road improvements that Jacksonville motorists and city planners wanted are not going to happen anytime soon.

“We do not have any money – not today; we are committed through 2013,” Carl Rosenbaum, head of the Arkansas Highway Commission, told citizens at a meeting hosted by the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

State Police investigated a two-time unsuccessful candidate for the Lonoke County Clerk’s Office in connection with the misappropriation of $67,244 from the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office.

The funds were found to be missing during a routine audit by the state Bureau of Legislative Audit, which sent copies of its findings to the prosecutor and county officials and reported its findings to the state Legislative Audit Committee.

“Sheriff’s Office Book-keeper Cassandra Pitts, custodian of bond and fine funds, was responsible for the receipting, depositing and recording process for these funds,” according to the report, authored by June M. Barron, deputy legislative auditor.

“Ms. Pitts, whose employment terminated Oct. 29, 2009, was custodian of misappropriated funds totaling $67,224.”

Flooding around Christmas closed numerous roads in Jacksonville, Cabot, Sherwood and Pulaski County, including broad stretches of Hwy. 67/167.

I-30 near Bryant was closed for several hours because of flooding and rain-related accidents.

While the I-30 closure may have affected the most holiday travelers, other highways, county roads and city streets were closed in scores of sites around Arkansas including Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 67/167 between Jacksonville and Cabot and Hwy. 11 southeast of Searcy.

Numerous homes were flooded and rescue boats had to be used in a number of places to move residents to safety. Valentine Road residents were evacuated and homes were flooded near Reed’s Bridge.

South Bend Fire Department had 23 of their 36 firefighters involved in rescues over a 96-hour period. The department responded to 38 calls from motorists trapped in their vehicles due to high water and helped six families evacuate from their flooded homes in Lonoke and Pulaski counties.

Pulaski, Lonoke, White and Prairie counties were declared disaster areas by Gov. Mike Beebe on Jan. 4.

There’ll be no financial partnership between Jacksonville and the Foxwood Country Club in 2010, as the city doesn’t have the money to even consider it.

Any future partnership depends on the committee receiving answers to its many legal questions about the partnership.

When the 13-member group first met to consider Ted Belden’s idea of the city becoming a partner in Foxwood Country Club for an annual infusion of $200,000, the committee was told by the chairman that it was legal. But the city attorney was not at that meeting to give any details or answer other questions.

As the questions mounted, the group’s chairman, Alderman Kenny Elliott, said he would get answers. But at the next meeting there was no city attorney and no answers.