Thursday, December 30, 2010

EDITORIAL >Affordable insurance



Except in a handful of states, only a few people who have been denied health insurance by insurance companies have enrolled in the new federally subsidized plans that are written for them. 

Opponents of the new health-insurance law say that it proves that there never was much need for the comprehensive law that tries to make health insurance available to everyone by 2014.

But that is clearly not the case, as Arkansas’ own experience with the emergency coverage shows. Even with the federal help, the high-risk policies are still far too expensive for most people who have been denied insurance. The state Insurance Department, which regulates the program, needs to lower the premiums sharply even if it means that it will have to cap the number of enrollees and deny coverage to thousands who would not otherwise be eligible.

The most universally popular aspect of the law was its prohibition against insurance companies denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, people who contracted enduring diseases and people who discovered congenital illnesses. The only critic we ever heard about was our former governor, Mike Huckabee, who said we should feel no sympathy for people who can’t get insurance because they are victims of their own unhealthy lifestyles.

Huckabee presumably is still insured, although hundreds of thousands of people with his disease, diabetes, are denied coverage because of it. Insurance companies do not want to insure people who are apt to have major medical expenses for the rest of their lives, and who can blame them? Insurance companies are profitable businesses, not charities.

The new law will guarantee coverage for everyone in 2014 and at the same premiums as everyone else. It is a linchpin of the law because it is tied to the mandate that everyone who can afford it, purchase a health policy, usually with federal help. Insurance companies say that they cannot afford to cover people with lasting sicknesses like heart trouble, cancer and diabetes unless they also are assured a large body of policyholders who are not certain to have expensive treatments. If Republicans succeed in getting the U. S. Supreme Court to strike down the mandatory insurance, Congress would have to come back and repeal the guaranteed protection for those with pre-existing conditions.

That’s where the current dilemma comes in. Congress set aside $5 billion to help the states insure the millions of people with pre-existing conditions until Jan. 1, 2014, when they will be able to buy insurance on the same terms as everyone else. Arkansas’ share is $46 million, which is spread over 3 ½ years. Expecting a big demand, the Insurance Department calculated how much it could subsidize each person’s premiums so that the money would not run out before 2014. It obviously anticipated too many enrollees.

Arkansas is one of the states that already had a high-risk pool for such people, but the premiums were so expensive that only people with high incomes could afford them. Now, even with the federal subsidy figured by the Insurance Department, the premium cost to the individual is still too high for the amount of coverage. The annual deductible is $1,000, the premiums run to about $7,000 for many, and the sizable copays and limitations on benefits just make it unappealing.

Also, few people know about the plan, and the negative coverage of the health law in many parts of the country, particularly in Arkansas, deter many people from getting involved with it. They have heard about death panels and stories that the government would dictate what doctor and hospital you must go to and the treatment you get, none of which are true.

But the cost is the big deterrent. The Insurance Department’s super caution is understandable, but it must use the federal money to lower the premiums sufficiently to get needy people to participate, even if it means capping the program far ahead of the 2014 threshold for universal coverage and denying many the coverage they need.

TOP STORY > >Triple-digit heat wave and ice-cream trucks

This is the third of a five-part series looking back at 2010. The first four parts will take a quarterly trip through the year, followed by the Leader’s top 10 stories of the year.

July

At a special meeting in early July, the Sherwood City Council finally relented and voted to allow ice-cream trucks to service the city.

It was 10-year-old Jenna Steele of Sherwood who took up the ice-cream truck cause several months ago. She put in a call to Mayor Virginia Hillman inquiring about why there were no ice- cream trucks in Sherwood. Before this foray into local activism, Steele had never spoken to Hillman or attended a city council meeting. After the vote, Steele got up and marched straight up to Alderman Charles Harmon to thank him for introducing the ordinance that won unanimous favor.

“I feel great,” Steele said with a big smile.

Prior to the vote, Sherwood was the only city in Pulaski County with a ban on ice-cream trucks.

 Jacksonville’s Recycling Edu-cation Park was selected by the Arkansas Recycling Coalition to receive the 2010 award for Recycling Education Program of the Year. Even though the announcement was made in July, the award was not presented until September at the ARC annual awards luncheon.

 A one-stop center in Cabot where area residents may apply for unemployment, get help finding jobs they are already trained for or get the training they need to find jobs opened on the top floor of the old Bank of Cabot in July.

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams was so pleased about the center opening that he called a press conference to talk about it. “We’ve never experienced state agencies in Cabot like we have now,” the mayor said.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” he added.

 Rizelle Aaron, a candidate for the Jacksonville mayoral race, dropped out, leaving Mayor Gary Fletcher unopposed.

A statement on his Aaron 4 Mayor Facebook page shortly before the page was taken down said, “It is with deep regret that I will withdraw from the mayor’s race due to health concerns. Thank you for your overwhelming support. I know we would have won.”

In a separate e-mail sent to The Leader, he stated, “Due to medical reasons diagnosed last week, I was advised by my doctor that the stress of this campaign will delay and hinder the recovery process.”

Tim Ballard, the former principal and boys basketball coach of Abundant Life School, faced six sexual-assault charges stemming from his relationship with students that could put him behind bars for 130 years.

According to Terry Ball, with the prosecuting attorney’s office, Ballard was facing one count of first-degree sexual assault, a Class A felony, which could net Ballard six to 30 years in prison.

Ballard was also facing five counts of second-degree sexual assault, a Class B felony, punishable by five to 20 years in prison on each count.

His trial starts Jan. 5.
 The Jacksonville City Council agreed to spend slightly more than $1 million to revamp two major intersections.

Aldermen agreed to a trimmed-down redesign of the James-Main-Dupree downtown intersection and a roundabout to solve backup and speeding problems at Main Street and Harris Road.

The $512,000 plan for the downtown intersection, which is currently being put into place, included trees, greenery, new fluted street lights, brick-lined crosswalks, a pedestrian light, sidewalks, a rebuilt retaining wall and the removal of old wooden telephone poles.

A roundabout, which will cost up to $590,000, was recommended to solve the traffic problems at Harris and Main, especially when North Pulaski High School and Tolleson Elementary are in session.

The city has a bottleneck problem at this intersection especially when school is in session. “We have to safely keep traffic moving,” Whisker said.

Ryan Dean, 30, was appointed new principal of Jacksonville’s Lighthouse Charter School.

Dean replaced Nigena Wash-ington, who returned to her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.

Dean had five years experience in education. He taught grades 9 through 12 at the private Flint Hill School in Fairfax County, Va., and for four years was a secondary teacher and administrator at Community Charter School in Cambridge, Mass.

The Pulaski County Special School District Board, at an emergency meeting, approved agreements to settle complaints by two district employees with pay-offs totaling up to $275,000.

After the board meeting, Superintendent Charles Hopson said that he felt that it was “more expedient” to settle the two lawsuits out of court, but that he wants the district and board to chart a new course in personnel relations.

The board voted to pay $200,000 by the end of the month to Donna Humphries, a counselor at Sherwood Elementary School. Humphries filed a complaint in 2006 and an amended complaint in 2007, both in U.S. District Court, alleging that she had been a victim of discrimination and breach of contract.

The board voted to pay Mike Nellums $50,000 – a “personal payment” in the terms of the settlement agreement – as well as up to $25,000 for attorney’s fees to settle his complaint against the district arising from an investigation of his performance while principal of Jacksonville Boys Middle School, and the former Superintendent Rob McGill’s recommendation that he be fired. The district will also pay Nellums’ taxes on the $50,000.

Within two weeks, the board rescinded its settlement with Humphries and that case is now in court.
 Eddie Thomas Buchy, 29, of Ward pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter in connection with the beating death in jail of Jerry Luker, and also to one count of hindering apprehension.

Lonoke Circuit Judge Phillip Whiteacre sentenced Buchy to two consecutive terms of 108 months in prison. That’s 18 years minus credit for the 186 days he’s already served.

He was sentenced as a habitual criminal.

Buchy, David Chad Lane, 32, of Cabot and Wesley May Minnie, 22, of Cabot, all were charged with second-degree murder in connection with Luker’s death following an alleged fight in a Lonoke County Jail bathroom.

Lane pled guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 months in prison. Lane allegedly knocked Luker to the floor, where he struck his head and never recovered.

Minnie pleaded guilty later in July to a reduced charge of hindering apprehension and was sentenced to five years in the Department of Corrections.

Minnie was already an inmate at the Cummins Unit, where he was serving a five-year sentence for crimes including sexual indecency with a child, residential burglary, possession of drug paraphernalia, theft of property, breaking and entering, theft by receiving, failure to register and probation revocation.

PCSSD officials spent part of July conferring with attorneys and pondering options after a judge ruled that the district had violated state law in its efforts to cut off the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers as the collective bargaining agent for district teachers and do away with existing personnel policies and teacher contracts.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox responded to two related lawsuits, one filed by PACT and a class-action suit by five teachers on behalf of all PCSSD certified personnel. The suits challenged actions by the PCSSD school board to replace the union with a committee made up of teachers and administrators and institute a new set of personnel policies and teacher contracts.

Fox found there “was no just and reasonable cause for the PCSSD board’s vote on May 17, 2010, to terminate the plaintiffs’ contracts.”

While Fox ruled that the district, by state law, has the authority to terminate recognition of the union, but “the vote of April 20, 2010, is declared null and void, and the professionally negotiated agreement remains in effect between the parties.”

Fox ordered both sides to participate in mediation to work out the terms of the contract and other differences and to reach a resolution. All school board members, PACT officers and members of the newly formed personnel policies committee were ordered to take part.
 Northwood Middle School failed to meet accreditation standards for the third year in a row, giving the state the option to close the school.

Sylvan Hills High School was in its second year of accreditation probation in a report released by the state education department in July.

Six other schools in the Jacksonville-Sherwood area, most of the schools in Beebe and two in Cabot had problems with their accreditation, according to the annual state report.

In the Pulaski County Special School District, Sherwood, Cato, Arnold Drive and Murrell Taylor elementary schools and North Pulaski High School were cited for problems with meeting all the accreditation standards. Jacksonville High School was placed on probationary status.

In Beebe, every school except the Badger Academy and the Beebe Early Childhood program were cited for problems.

In Cabot, the high school and Cabot Middle School North were cited for problems.

 A letter, dated July 12, from state fair manager Ralph Shoptaw to Jill Jones, who works for Saline County, said, “This is to advise you that the Arkansas Livestock Show Association has narrowed its search for a suitable site for a new fair complex to an area generally defined by I-40, I-440, Wooten Road and the Pulaski County line and adjacent property. Your proposed sites don’t fall within these parameters.”

An analysis of the suitability of three Jacksonville sites as a location for the state fair had already started.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said that the letter is encouragement that the fair will eventually be relocated to the Jacksonville area.

 The 189th Airlift Wing of the Arkansas National Guard received the last of three C-130s with avionics-modernization program kits from Boeing, as that company gears up for initial production of 20 more AMPs to update and upgrade C-130Hs.

The avionics kits cost about one-tenth of a new C-130J, which sell for $80 million, giving the older planes many of the same features as the new models.

The C-130 AMP cockpit emulates the C-130J models in many ways, including a fully integrated, night-vision-goggle-compatible, digital-glass cockpit and new digital avionics that increase situational awareness and enhance safety.
 Col. Greg Otey, former commander of Little Rock Air Force Base, was headed to the Pentagon as senior Air Force planner in Joint Chief’s of Staff and National Security Council matters.

Otey, who was also commander of the base’s 19th Airlift Wing, formally handed over both commands to Col. Michael Minihan in August.

Minihan was the vice commander of the 60th Air Mobility Wing at Travis Air Force Base, California.

Since Otey took command in January 2009, privatization of base housing finally got headed in the right direction with new partners Hunt-Pinnacle.

The previous privatization effort, American Eagle, was a dismal failure, but Hunt-Pinnacle bought the housing contract.

“The Joint Education Center broke ground,” he said. “That’s huge.”

The new Base Exchange opened and Congress appropriated the money for a new security building.

 Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman met with county mayors and their representatives in July and said the new $6 million detention center was on schedule to open in February or March.

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, cited the expense and concerns about liability. He would expected to use it as a 12-hour holding facility while getting prisoners to the new 140-bed Lonoke lockup.

Williams said Cabot would pay the county to hold its prisoners.

He asked how the county would pay the cost of operating the new, larger detention center.

“That’s a good question,” Troutman said. “We’ve got to create some revenue out of that jail.”

 The Beebe School Board approved the sale of $3.6 million in direct-pay qualified school construction bonds, a type of second-lien bonds. The interest rate of 5.23 percent on the construction bonds was subsidized by the federal government with stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The bond money was used to pay a portion of the new $7.5 million career and technical center under construction at the high school.

 Without admitting responsibility, the city of Cabot settled a wrongful-death suit filed in October 2009 after a Little Rock man hanged himself in the city jail in September 2008.

The family of Donnie Isom, 26, was asking $450,000. The city offered $50,000, but after a day of negotiation on July 15, a $256,000 settlement was reached.

The suit alleged that the city was liable for Isom’s death after he was locked up for being drunk and disorderly because those he came into contact with after his arrest were so poorly trained that they didn’t stop him from hanging himself with the blanket they gave him.

“They started with a figure and they worked down and we worked up,” Cabot City Attorney Jim Taylor said of the daylong settlement conference that kept the city from having to go to trial in September and possibly spending more than the amount of the settlement.

The $256,000 was paid by the Arkansas Municipal League, which carries the city’s liability insurance.

Lonoke School District decided in July that all ninth-graders would use hand-held computers—modified smart phones, actually—to receive their assignments in core classes, do research on the Web, work on their homework and turn it in to their teachers for feedback and grades, according to Superintendent John Tackett.

Many students in rural school districts like Lonoke don’t have regular access to computers, Tackett says, but new software from GoKnow Mobile Learning Environment changes all that.

“It’s all about kids having access,” says Tackett, who is always looking for teaching and diagnostic tools to help Lonoke students succeed.

The phones do not have voice, text or e-mail capabilities.

“If we don’t take a leap, we’ll be left behind,” Tackett said.

 Against a backdrop of confusion and rancor surrounding the battle between the Pulaski County Special School District’s Board and its teachers’ union, board member Bill Vasquez, in July, asked the state to dissolve that board.

Vasquez said he had written state Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell three times asking him to dissolve the board, and had written to his predecessor, Ken James, to do the same.

Education Department spokesman Julia Thompson said no such letters had been received but she said Vasquez had met with Kimbrell to discuss general concerns regarding PCSSD.

Under certain conditions, the state board has the authority to dissolve a school board, according to Thompson, but those relate to academic shortcomings, financial or facilities problems or accreditation.

August

 A sweltering heat wave hit the area the end of July and continued into August with the thermometer hitting triple digits about eight days in a row.

As of Aug. 1 the summer heat average was ahead of the all-time record set back in 1954.

Nationwide, the average number of heat-related deaths is 162 per year. In Arkansas, through July, there had been five deaths attributed to the heat.

The first 100-degree day in almost two years came July 15 (there were none in all of 2009). Since then, there were seven other 100-degree plus days in July, add that to the August heat and the area had seen 21 days of 100 degrees or more this summer.

 Less than three weeks before the first day of classes, Jacksonville High School’s new principal, June Haynie, left a letter of retirement/resignation on Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent Charles Hopson’s desk.

Haynie had only been on the job for three weeks when she announced she had decided to resign.

Bobby Pruitt, a longtime assistant principal at Jacksonville High School, moved up to serve as interim principal.

Karl Brown was also assigned over the summer to the high school from Hopson’s office. “He’s a director on special assignment from my office to provide oversight.” Hopson said.

Brown was assigned to provide the central office perspective, instead of having the central office support off site, Hopson said.

It was the largest crowd at a Jacksonville City Council meeting in about 10 years. Not since Walmart wanted to build a supercenter in the city had an idea attracted such opposition.

The idea presented at the August meeting was to extend the city limits north and northwest, adding about 3.8 square miles to the city, and adding another 0.36 square mile to the southeastern edge of the city.

Most of the 100-plus people in attendance were against the annexation, and most particularly the northern segment.

The council took no action and no ordinance was even prepared. But aldermen did listen for almost three hours.

Nick Gray, who operated a business in the northern acreage that Jacksonville wanted to bring into the city, said, “I’m already paying sales tax, property tax, Social Security tax, this tax and that tax, and now you want more!”

He then turned his pants pockets inside out flinging two pennies towards the aldermen. “Shame on you for wanting me to make you money. Leave us alone.”

That was the sentiment voiced by most of the speakers.

“We don’t want your rules. We bought land out here to get away from your rules,” said Partne Daugherty.

Ralph Pridmore said his family had been paying taxes on his 100 acres for 100 years. “And now you want it. I have a problem with that.”

Voters rejected the city’s annexation plan in November’s general election.

 Cabot’s newest school, Mountain Springs Elementary, opened Aug. 19.

It is the first school in the state to teach math and social studies without textbooks. Teachers instead prepared and shared lessons on computers. All of the city’s other elementary schools will implement the digital plans next year.

Mountain Springs Elementary is Cabot’s ninth elementary school.

The district says it is saving money by purchasing educational software rather than purchasing textbooks. Each classroom has a SMART Board, an interactive blackboard; a SMART Slate, a portable digital tablet with a pen that displays handwriting on an interactive whiteboard; a desktop computer, a document camera, TurningPoint individual digital handheld keypads for students to answer questions and display results instantly, and a Flip Camera, a handheld video camcorder.
 Unlike Jacksonville and Cabot, which opted to go with a commercial company, CodeRed, to notify residents via telephone or e-mail of emergencies, Sherwood decided in August to go with a free system provided by the state.

The system, AlertExpress, is operated by the Arkansas Crime Information Center, and available to all law enforcement agencies and they may offer it to local cities or counties as long as they maintain control.

“It can be used to notify city residents of important or emergency information or used by law enforcement agencies internally to stay in contact with other departments such as fire or paramedics or SWAT,” said Rick Stallings, ACIC field services manager.

While CodeRed has the ability to send out storm warnings, the AlertExpress system isn’t geared for that.

“But it is great for missing-children alerts, chemical-spill notification and other important messages,” Sherwood Police Chief Kel Nicholson said.

With provisional approval of the Arkansas Board of Education in August, organizers moved forward crafting a plan to open a charter school at Little Rock Air Force Base by the end of next summer.

State education commissioners voted 4-2 in favor of three amendments of the current charter of Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School, which included opening a satellite school in an existing facility on base.

Mike Ronan, chief executive officer for Lighthouse Academies, Inc., said that the 28,000-square-foot facility, constructed in 2009 to house Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School, was filled to capacity with a waiting list of more than 500 students. Of those, more than 100 are for grades 6 and 7. The school added seventh grade this fall and will add another grade each year until grade 12 is reached.

The base school will house sixth-, seventh- and eighth- graders.

The school would be the first charter school in Arkansas located on a military base.

 A thunderstorm that rolled through Pulaski and Lonoke counties Aug. 10 averaged about 100 lightning strikes every four minutes and started at least two house fires.

CS and Z Fire Department responded to a house fire caused by a lightning strike off Poppy Lane, near Kerr Station, just outside Cabot.

South Bend, Ward, Cabot and Tri Community fire departments also sent tankers and firefighters to help battle the fire.

Sherwood firefighters re-sponded to three possible lightning strikes.

 The bell schedule, or start time, for PCSSD schools became a major issue in August.

The new schedule would have lengthened the school day by 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon. Some students were to get on a bus as early as 6 a.m. with the new schedule.

A few weeks later, the district reversed the schedule, giving elementary students the later start time, while middle- and high-school students’ start times were earlier.

The revised schedule came after parents and teachers opposed the plan.

 A Beebe man was charged with capital murder in the death of a Greenbrier woman.

Ronald Adrean Britton, 34, was arrested near El Paso.

Lt. Matt Rice, a detective with the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Department, said a relative found the body of Michelle Asher, 26, in the backyard at 16D Fox Run in Greenbrier, where she lived alone. Her neck and throat had been stabbed several times.

 The Museum of American History, at 208 N. 1st St. in Cabot, opened in late August.

The award-winning, student-founded museum, owned by the school district, went into storage in 2003 when the building where it was housed on the high school campus was razed to make way for the new high school. It moved to its current location in 2008. The museum’s collection includes more than 5,000 artifacts, photographs and documents including a large collection from Bill Clinton’s campaign for president.

 Jacksonville Towers retirement community won a $1.8 million grant from U.S. Housing and Urban Development to pay for energy-efficient renovations in August. The funds were included in the Recovery Act to help reduce energy costs.

Jacksonville Towers was set to get new air-conditioning units, faucets, toilets, windows and geothermal insulation.

 Col. C.K. Hyde in late August turned over command of the 314th Air Education and Training Wing to Col. Mark Czelusta.

Hyde, the commander of the 314th, was choked up at the end of his address to the troops, saying, “Families, your support has made a…big difference to the airmen behind you.”

Hyde left to become deputy director of intelligence, operations and nuclear integration for flying training at Randolph Air Force Base.

Czelusta, a command pilot with more than 3,100 hours at the stick, most recently commanded the 386th Expeditionary Operations Group in Southwest Asia in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. His major achievements include selection as the Fifth Air Force Mobility Tactician of the Year.

He returned to Little Rock Air Force Base, where he commanded the 463 Operations Support Squadron. While in command, that unit won the 2005 and 2006 Air Mobility Command Outstanding Operations Support Squadron of the Year award.

 With a balanced budget, about $7 million in reserve and minimal debt, Jacksonville received praise from the accounting firm that completed an independent audit of the city’s 2009 finances.

Gerald Clark, with McAlister and Associates, said that despite challenging times, Jacksonville was in good condition and the audit found no major problems. The city had been honored 12 years in a row for its accurate financial reporting.

Highlights of the 138-page report show that the city’s assets exceed its liabilities by almost $53 million even though the city saw a rise in unemployment and a drop in tax collections in 2009.

 The Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission voted to accept several acres of Jacksonville’s water district into Cabot’s water district.

The 36-acre tract was south of Cabot. The owner of the property intended to annex into Cabot and wanted Cabot water.

The Jacksonville Water Commission had released the area to Cabot.

September

 Two new cannons were dedicated at Reed’s Bridge Civil War battlefield site on Hwy. 161 in Jacksonville. The replica cannons are located on opposite sides of the Bayou Meto. The cannons were made in Virginia.

About a week later, the battlefield was the site of a re-enactment event.

The two-day event commemorated the fight on Aug. 27, 1863, between Union and Confederate soldiers 147 years ago.

Soldiers held drills before the battle; there was even a Civil War style wedding.

More than a thousand people attended.

n Pulaski County School Board member Gwen Williams was accused in September of taking a bribe from a sidewalk contractor, but the contractor couldn’t be found.

There were doubts about the existence of Ricky Weathers, the contractor who made the bribery accusation and delivered the evidence to school board members and the media.

Investigators wondered why the alleged accuser didn’t go to them first.

“The objective was not to have an independent investigation but to generate buzz in the press,” one prosecutor said.

All board members, except Williams, received a letter and two recordings that apparently show Williams taking a $100 bribe.

The allegation came in the wake of a May 14 Legislative Audit Division report that stated the district overpaid its superintendent, improperly re-imbursed Williams and other board members for expenses and failed to catch the theft of nearly $500,000 in equipment. The auditors also questioned overtime payments in the district’s maintenance department and raised an allegation of misappropriated activity funds at Jacksonville High School.

 Arkansas was one of only four states in the nation not facing budget shortfalls for the fiscal calendar year, Gov. Mike Beebe told Sherwood Chamber of Commerce members Thursday in a de facto campaign speech.

Without mentioning or alluding to his November general-election challenge from Republican Jim Keet, the governor’s accent on good things happening in the state and the occasional use of the first-person singular, taking some credit, were clues that it was an election season.

Also, a recent education study found the state in the top 10 for improvements, he said.

“We’ve done our job,” Beebe told the chamber members. “Don’t quit now. Get back to work.”

He said no generation had been in a better position to change the national view of Arkansas as a poor back-woods state.

“It’s not, ‘Thank God for Mississippi’ anymore,” he said. “We’re finally taking the position where we need to be in the front of the pack.”

 “We’ve got a deceased gentleman behind the building,” Jacksonville Police Capt. Kenny Boyd said in early September.

The body of a black male, later identified as Daniel Harris, 23, had been beaten. It is the city’s only murder of the year.

About a week later, police arrested Alonzo Watson, 20, and charged him with second-degree murder.

 A committee of five aldermen and five county residents worked together to make the annexation of 3.8 square miles north of Jacksonville into the city a smooth transaction–provided it passed in the Nov. 2 general election, which it didn’t.

Because the city was trying to take in the land, the state required an election. City residents and those living in the affected areas may vote. Many residents in the northern section made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with the city.

Those concerns led to the formation of a citizen’s committee by the council to review concerns, work out compromises and have ordinances in place before the election that allow the residents of the affected area to maintain their rural lifestyle.

 Jacksonville reaped more than $4.6 million in federal and state grants, and most didn’t ask the city to chip in any funding.

Some had already been awarded, while others were being processed, Jim Durham, the director of administration told the city council in September. He said, “Once we start writing them and getting them we want to write more grants and get even more money.”

The largest grant already awarded is $496,657 for the city to build a safe room at the new police and fire training facility on Marshall Road.

The largest grant was $1.5 million for economic development of the Wooten Road area. This will be used to purchase and develop properties off Hwy. 161 near I-440 where the city would like the state fair to relocate.

 For the second year in a row, Arnold Drive Elementary was named one of the top 20 schools in the state by the University of Arkansas.

It was the only school from Pulaski County Special School District to make the list.

Cabot had two schools on the top-20 list of elementary schools and Searcy had two on the middle school list.

Arnold Drive, which is listed eighth on this year’s top-20 list actually finished in a six-way tie for third place with 95 percent of its students scoring proficient or advanced in both the 2009-2010 math and literacy Benchmarks scores.

Cabot had two elementary schools in the top 20, Magness Creek Elementary, which was also on the list the year before, and Stagecoach Elementary.

Magness Creek was listed as 17th on the list, but was actually in a three-way tie for fifth best as 93 percent of its students were proficient or advanced on both math and literacy exams.

Stagecoach, with 92 percent of its students scoring proficient or advanced, made the list for the first time at number 20, but was actually in a two-way tie for sixth.

 Once again, Pulaski County Special School District’s eighth-day enrollment count declined, although not as dramatically as in some previous years. And once again, Cabot school enrollment increased, topping 10,300.

This year’s total in PCSSD was 16,792 students, down from 16,915 in 2009. That’s a loss of 123 students.

Cabot’s enrollment had been on the rise since school started. It was 9,904 on the first day and 10,069 a few days later.

Beebe’s enrollment of 3,310 is essentially the same as in 2009.

 A new southbound exit ramp at the Hwy. 5 interchange in Cabot opened about three weeks ahead of schedule.

It was built, said Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman, “in half the time and for half the money.”

The original cost estimate was about $1 million but the actual cost was $414,046 not counting the $60,000 the county paid Larry Odom for the 1.59 acres where it was built.

“Maybe it will save some lives and I certainly hope it will,” Troutman said.

“The most dangerous intersection in Lonoke County has been made safer,” Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said.

 The state Legislative Audit Committee had another showdown with the PCSSD school board and warned the board to straighten out its finances.

More checks and balances were established by Superintendent Charles Hopson to eliminate improper reimbursements to board members and others. School board member Bill Vasquez of Jacksonville said the audit committee was exaggerating problems in the district, which prompted Sen. Bobby Glover (D-Carlisle), the committee chairman, to say, “I don’t appreciate your criticizing the Legislative Audit Committee for doing its job. We’ll continue to call you in and stay on top of it.”

The committee threatened to subpoena board members who didn’t attend after being instructed to do so.

“I don’t think they have their act together,” said Sen. John Paul Capps (D-Searcy).

Arnold Drive Elementary School was one of just four Arkansas schools designated Sept. 9 as a Blue Ribbon School by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

The announcement came hot on the heels of the announcement by the University of Arkansas that Arnold Drive was the third-highest achieving elementary school in the state.

“We’re in third place including charter and magnet schools,” Principal Julie Davenport said of the recognition by the University of Arkansas. “We have some very strong teachers who have been here quite a long time, and some new.”

Nationally, 304 schools received the designation as 2010 Blue Ribbon Schools for academic achievement. The four in Arkansas all were elementary schools, and only Arnold Drive was in central Arkansas.

 Two of the three Jack-sonville-area PCSSD school board members led a fight in September to prevent the Jacksonville Education Foundation from resuming talks with Pulaski County Special School District officials aimed at paving the way for formation of a new Jacksonville-north Pulaski County school district as soon as legally possible.

The board in 2008 approved the move in principle and later approved boundaries for the district, then shut off discussion until after a ruling on the district’s unitary status. The case has been before District Judge Brian Miller for months.

Representing the foundation, attorney Patrick Wilson told the board it was time to repeal its year-old resolution suspending negotiation toward detachment of just such a district from PCSSD.

The board, admittedly tired of what it perceived as in-your-face tactics by the Jacksonville district supporters, cut off further discussions “until Pulaski County Special School District is declared unitary.”

Jacksonville school board member Bill Vasquez called Wilson’s request political, then got political himself. Gwen Williams, the other Jacksonville-area board member, also voted against reopening discussions.

Vasquez said only 20 percent of the people of Jacksonville really want their own district and the rest just want “clean, safe, good schools.”

 A 72-year-old teacher’s aide from Cabot Junior High South was charged with third-degree assault for slapping a 13-year-old special-education student.

The arrest report for Hubert D. Bugher said a tape of the incident showed Bugher backhanding the boy across the mouth. The report said the boy told the school-resource officer that he was complaining about doing his work and Bugher told him to “Shut up.” The boy replied, “Your momma” and Bugher struck him.

The incident took place in the hallway. The boy had no noticeable injury and stayed in school for the day. After principal Scott Jennings turned the matter over to the school-resource officer, Bugher turned in his resignation and left.

Bugher turned himself in to police on Sept. 15.

He has since pleaded guilty and agreed to attend anger-management classes.

As the cost of Pulaski County’s 20-year-old desegregation agreement neared $1 billion, a group of frustrated Jacksonville residents petitioned state Education Department Director Tom Kimbrell in September to reorganize the county’s schools, create an independent Jacksonville-north Pulaski County school district or do something.

The two-page letter to Kimbrell and members of the state board of education said a state of emergency exists and “your assistance will be appreciated,” but it stopped short of asking the board to take over the Pulaski County Special School District or to create a new, standalone district. It did not ask any specific remedy.

The letter, supported by several documents and a half-inch-thick stack of petitions with about 2,000 signatures favoring a standalone district, asked Kimbrell and the board of education to do something, according to state Rep. Mark Perry, who said he hand delivered the bound petition to Kimbrell’s office, and that copies also were mailed to the nine-member state board of education.

 Cabot School Board approved a $69.3 million operating budget for the 2010-2011 school year, up from $67.4 million last year.

The budget included an anticipated carryover of $6.1 million to start the 2011-2012 school year. Tina Wiley, district comptroller, said the carryover was important because the first money from the state doesn’t come in until the end of August and the district needed money for salaries and other expenses until then.

The budget did not yet include salary increases although Dr. Tony Thurman, school superintendent, said those are coming.

Wiley said for the past two years, the district has given pay raises that added $1,000 to the base pay of all teachers. Classified staff such as custodians and cafeteria workers received pay increases of 30 cents an hour for an overall increase of $378 to $600 depending upon hours worked.

The eight-page budget the board passed was not broken down to show expenditures such as individual salaries.

 Gloria Lawrence of Sher-wood and Tom Stuthard of Jacksonville, both supported by the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and the Pulaski Association of Support Staff, replaced incumbent union supporters Charlie Wood and Danny Gililland in PCSSD school board elections.

Both Lawrence and Stuthard said they were very clear about their roles as policy makers, said Superintendent Charles Hopson.

“Both were very supportive of the direction we’re taking the district,” he added, and “have a very positive reaction toward the appointments I’ve made.”

TOP STORY > >Big growth in Beebe

By Joan McCoy
Leader staff writer

The census results expected by spring will likely show that Beebe has grown by 2,000 to around 7,000, a population that is perhaps too large for the all-volunteer fire department that has protected residents both inside and outside city limits for many years.

In recent years, the city council has started getting ready for the growth by hiring a full-time fire chief and assistant chief. Now, the council has added the fire department’s first full-time fire academy-trained firefighter.

“It’s been a long road but we’re getting there,” Fire Chief William Nick said of the new hire approved by the council on Dec. 20.

Hunter Collie will be paid $10.50 an hour and he will work 24 hours on and 48 hours off.

The city sent him to school in Camden after he joined the volunteer fire department and proved his loyalty by frequently staffing the fire station at night.

In other business, the council hired Cabot lawyer Brent Walker as city attorney.

City attorney is actually an elected position, but since no one has run for the office in many years, the council is free to hire from outside Beebe.

Walker has worked for the city for about a year since the council voted to fire Mark Derrick, saying he had too much to do to take care of Beebe.

The council also voted to allow Waste Management to provide large garbage bins on wheels to all Beebe residents and charge rental fees of $1.75 every month on their water bills.

Adding the bins is an attempt to keep city streets cleaner, said Clerk-Treasurer Carol Crump-Westergren.

The company will replace damaged bins, she said.

TOP STORY > >Trainers laid off at air base

By John Hofheimer
Leader senior staff writer

Ten long-term Lockheed Martin employees who have helped run and maintain the flight simulators and classes at Little Rock Air Force Base’s C-130 schoolhouse are out of a job as of the last day of the year, along with another 13 temporary hires, a Lockheed spokesman said Thursday.

While that’s bad news for 23 area residents and their families at Christmastime, it’s fewer layoffs than scuttlebutt—and the original plan—called for, according to Ken Ross, Lockheed Martin Global Training and Logistics spokesman.

The program in question is the C-130 Aircrew Training System (ATS) II for older C-130s, according to Ross.

Lockheed had planned to lay off as many as 43 long-term employees, but the Air Force made changes in the contract Lockheed won in November.

“The Department of Defense is looking for ways to be more affordable,” Ross said. “How do we make sure we are providing the best service? How do we take the best care of our employees?

“Unfortunately, 10 are being laid off. If there are further changes, that could go back up. They have incredible talent, but if we don’t have work for them....

“A month ago, shortly after getting the ($270 million, eight-year optional) contract, we notified 43 people of the possibility of layoff,” Ross said.

Since then, the government has identified “other pieces of work” it wanted done within the program, meaning that at least 20 of those long-term employees will keep their jobs.

Lockheed Martin, with its Canadian subcontractor CAE, won the “re-compete” contract about a month ago, but the contract called for “some changes in the scope of work,” and required fewer than the 180 people servicing the simulator training contract until now, Ross said.

The contract calls for Lockheed Martin to maintain the simulators and update the courseware as pilots return for retraining on updated aircraft.

According to a Lockheed Martin’s website, the C-130 ATS program provides “an effective and comprehensive academic and simulation-training program for C-130 weapons-system aircrews and maintenance personnel.”

The schoolhouse at LRAFB is the Pentagon’s C-130 training center for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

Graduates are mission-qualified and can then report to operational units in the Air Mobility Command and Air Combat Command.

Lockheed Martin provides instruction in ground-based academic and simulator lessons with roughly 150 skilled instructors.

The average number of students trained is close to 12,000 students annually.

Training includes all crew positions, refresher courses, cockpit-resource management (initial and recurring), instrument refresher courses and the instructor-preparatory course.

A full training system support center supports operations and maintenance, research and development engineering tasks.

The C-130 ATS contract also includes a security program, an environmental health and safety program, a scheduling office, student-publications library and learning center operations.

SPORTS>>Episcopal outlasts Lonoke boys

By Jason King
Leader sportswriter

Lonoke answered two early runs by Little Rock Episcopal before the Wildcats rallied down the stretch for a 67-43 victory over the Jackrabbits on Wednesday in the consolation round of the Beebe Holiday Classic at Badger Sports Arena.

The Jackrabbits (3-7) led for the first three minutes before Episcopal, backed by an 18-point outing by guard/forward Jalen Lacey, took over and led the rest of the way.

Lacey added five rebounds and three steals as Episcopal forced 18 turnovers, 12 in the first half.

Episcopal held every Lonoke player to fewer than 10 points, although Darius Scott, Dra Offord and Tarrale Watson came close with eight each.

Episcopal went on an 11-0 run to go up 11-3 in the first quarter before Lonoke pulled within 13-12 at the end of the period.

The Wildcats led 26-19 with 3:49 left in the first half only to see Lonoke’s bench spark another run that tied it at 26 a minute later. But their 10-0 run to start the second half went unanswered, as the Jackrabbit offense scored just six points in the third.

“I don’t know if fatigue has something to do with it,” Lonoke coach Dean Campbell said. “You hate to use those as excuses. There was a poster in the locker room we were looking at yesterday that said, ‘When the legs go, the heart and mind soon follow,’ and it’s true.

“We kind of allowed that to happen. We gave them a little bit when we started to get tired.”

The Jackrabbits opened the tournament with a Tuesday loss to Star City, and the loss to Episcopal the next day relegated them to a seventh-place matchup against Warren on Thursday.

Offord checked into the game just past the midpoint of the first quarter and made a three-pointer with 2:28 left in the period to cut it to 11-6. He took an assist from Storm Beeler and made an inside basket to pull Lonoke within 11-8 and then got a halfcourt steal and made a layup to cut the deficit to one.

Episcopal’s fast attack made long possessions impossible, as Lacey opened the second quarter with a three-pointer with 7:10 left in the half and he made a pair of free throws on the Wildcats’ next possession to give them a 20-12 lead.

Rico Bryant made three free throws with 6:27 left in the first half and Brandon Russell cut it to 20-17 with a steal and layup.

Watson wrapped two baskets around a three pointer by Russell to tie the game at 26 with 2:33 left in the first half. Russell, Watson and Bryant, all reserves, scored all of Lonoke’s 14, second-quarter points.

“Some of the younger guys, after they get to sit there and watch how things are going and what they need to do, they have a little bit of an advantage because they know how the defense is playing,” Campbell said. Lacey ran the offense more than he looked to score for Episcopal in the second half. He passed to post player Jacob Rowell, who scored six of his 10 points in the third quarter. Jackson Rawling kept applying the pressure in the final period and scored six of his 10 points. Geoffery Winning had nine points for Episcopal.

“We’ll make a run, and then we’ll relax and allow them to make another run,” Campbell said. “Whether we relax defensively or take quick shots on offense, it creates a snowball effect. I thought we did some good things today.”

SPORTS>>Wildcats make play in clutch

By Todd Traub
Leader sports editor

Harding Academy coach Brad Francis and senior Daniel Stevens were on the same page Wednesday night, which was a good thing for the Wildcats.

Stevens drove for the winning layup in the closing seconds as Harding Academy beat Star City 65-63 in the semifinals of the Beebe Holiday Classic at Badger Arena on Wednesday.

“It’s tough for any team to lose that game,” Francis said. “Both teams did some good things.”

With the score tied at 63, Stevens drew a charge and Sheldon Prater’s fifth foul to give Harding Academy possession with 8 seconds left. The Wildcats passed twice in the backcourt to get the ball to Stevens near the centerline, and he read the defense and Francis’ mind, as he split two defenders and charged in for his winning score.

“Our plan was to get it to halfcourt and call timeout,” Francis said. “And he got it going and I was just saying ‘Go, go, go,’ and hoping he was thinking the same thing and of course he was.”

Star City had just 1.9 seconds to get off a desperation three-pointer that fell far short as Harding Academy advanced to Thursday’s final against host Beebe.

“We feel like we have five guys on the floor that can all handle the ball which really helps us in that situation,” Francis said. “We work on that quite a bit because we see quite a bit of pressure.”

The biggest lead was 20-9 when Harding Academy’s Seth Keese made a three-pointer with 1:06 left in the first quarter. Otherwise it was a close game with six ties.

Star City led just twice, 61-60 when Corey Hellums scored with 2:07 left and 63-61 when Damar Reed hit a jumper from the high post with 50 seconds to go.

Harding Academy’s Marshal Price tied it with two free throws with 44 seconds remaining and, after calling timeout with 34.6 seconds left, Star City bled the clock down to 8 seconds before Prater committed his offensive foul that set up Stevens’ heroics.

“Daniel’s a senior; he’s our leader,” Francis said. “We wouldn’t have wanted it in anybody else’s hands right there. He did like a senior did and made a good decision and finished. He drew the charge that got us the ball back so he was big for us tonight in a lot of ways, a lot of places.”

Reed made a three-pointer to tie it 57-57 with 3:17 left but Keese responded with a three-pointer. Prater made two free throws to pull Star City within 60-59 with 2:38 to go and Harding Academy then gave the ball away on an over-and-back call leading to Hellums’ first go-ahead basket.

Harding Academy (8-2) led 42-33 when Stevens got a rebound and a putback with just over four minutes left in the third quarter. But Star City battled back to within 47-44 when Jemiel Thompson scored early in the fourth quarter and the Bulldogs stayed within six points the rest of the way.

“We had a couple of good runs and we never could just get over the hump and put them away,” Francis said. “They just kept battling and battling and hitting big shot after big shot.”

Will Francis led Harding Academy with 20 points, Lane Dailey scored 12 and Keese had 11. Stevens scored eight points, half on free throws.

Francis praised Keese, Harding Academy’s quarterback and the Leader offensive football player of the year. Keese missed last season after injuring his knee in a football playoff game and appeared to be back on the court with a vengeance.

“He’s just a physical presence,” Francis said. “He hits big shots, he’s strong, gets rebounds. I thought his presence just in the game, I’m not sure what his numbers were but his presence out there did well.”

Francis said it’s nice to have Keese back after playing without him last year.

“Lane Daily had to play so many minutes last year. He’s physically gotten a lot stronger and now both those guys don’t have to play quite so many minutes every night and Seth is just a competitor. He’s been in those situations whether it’s football or basketball, he thrives on competition and you can’t coach that.”

SPORTS>>Harding Academy spreads out points

By Jason King

Leader sportswriter

Scoring by committee lifted the Harding Academy Lady Wildcats to a 50-24 victory over Little Rock Episcopal in the consolation round of the Beebe Holiday Classic at Badger Sports Arena on Wednesday.

Junior guard Lynley Crowell scored 10 of her game-high 13 points in the first quarter before drawing extra attention from the Episcopal defense.

That gave opportunities to senior point guard Molly Koch, who chipped in with 11 points, including her only three-pointer with 4:03 left in the third quarter to give Harding Academy (4-7) a 36-13 lead.

“We were still not as good offensively as we would like to be,” Harding Academy coach Rusty Garner said.

“But our better defense allowed us some breathing room, let us relax a little bit. We wanted to make that a focus today, and they did a good job, I thought.”

Harding Academy held Episcopal to just two points in the second quarter while piling on 10 of its own for a 29-9 halftime lead. Harding Academy continued to spread the ball and the scoring around after halftime.

Several Harding Academy players contributed in the second half.

Senior post player Hannah Matthews scored a pair of inside baskets in the third quarter as part of her six-point performance, while Kristen Lester went 3 for 3 at the free-throw line and made two field goals for seven points.

Tory Mote went 4 for 4 at the free-throw line in the first quarter and added a basket for her six points.

“We feel like we have four guards who can shoot it — four guards who can score on any night,” Garner said. “Here lately, Lynley has really been shooting the basketball well. She had an eight, three-point game a couple of games ago.

“When people get attention, it opens things up. There’s not a giant number on the board, but some decent numbers scattered throughout.”

Taylor Barton, Episcopal’s only consistent scoring threat, tried to get her team back in the game in the third quarter, but despite her effort, which included a three-pointer and two free throws, Harding Academy outscored Episcopal 14-9 in the quarter.

Barton led Episcopal with 12 points.

Harding Academy controlled the pace on the floor mostly through a halfcourt press that generated its share of turnovers, but more often caused panic in Episcopal that resulted in forced passes and lobbed shots.

McKenzie Miller helped Harding Academy control the inside with several defensive rebounds that limited Episcopal’s second-chance shots.

Harding Academy lost to Clarksville in the first round Tuesday. The victory over Episcopal put it in the fifth-place game against Lonoke on Thursday.

Harding Academy is considerably smaller than in years past and has had mixed results early, but Garner said the years of work together through junior high to the varsity level have helped the players stay competitive through off-court difficulties.

“We’re still trying to figure it out,” Garner said.

“We’ve had some — we’ll call it adversity — family deaths and illnesses, other things going on around us. We’ve already played four games where we were missing a starter or two starters. What we already know is that we’ve got a group of kids who are going to work hard and work well together.

“We’ve got to shoot it well to succeed. We’re not very big, and we’ve got to have shots fall to be in ballgames.”

SPORTS>>Badgers at home for final, holiday

By Todd Traub

Leader sports editor

The Beebe Badgers might get used to playing in tournament championships.

Beebe advanced to its third final in three tournaments as it beat Brookland 46-30 on the home court in the semifinals of the Beebe Holiday Classic at Badger Arena.

Beebe trailed just once in the opening seconds, led 16-9 at halftime and outscored Brookland 21-4 in the third quarter.

It was another solid outing for the Badgers (9-2), under first-year coach Ryan Marshall, who won the Greenbrier tournament and lost to Little Rock Christian in the final at Morrilton.

“Obviously being here at our home court it feels great,” Marshall said. “It’s good that we’re building on things.”

Marshall, Beebe’s third coach in four seasons, is trying to build continuity and the Badgers appear to be responding with their tournament success.

“The kids enjoy playing and it’s a good time to play because they’re out of school,” Marshall said. “It gives them something to do and they don’t have their everyday routine.”

Beebe opened the second half with a free throw from Brade James to start a 14-0 run fueled by eight Brookland turnovers. The run included a three-pointer by Zac May, a dunk by Dayton Scott off a Devonte Young miss and a steal and layup by Young.

“We talked about pushing the ball a little more and also we picked them up full court,” Marshall said about his team’s defensive switch. “We got out of our halfcourt man and just kind of turned the tempo up a little bit. We got after it and then they made some turnovers and that created some easy looks for us.”

The tempo change was most important after a first half in which Marshall felt Beebe played into Brookland’s hands.

“I told them coming in that Brookland was going to play pretty good defense and they put themselves in good situations,” Marshall said. “They were patient with the ball in the first half against us; we played defense quite a bit there at stretches.”

Brookland finally scored when Jared Smith made a basket with 2:16 left in the third quarter but Jared Gowen came back with an inside basket followed by May’s turnaround jumper and a score by Scott for the final points of the quarter.

Brookland’s only other points in the period came on Dustin Stout’s bank shot with 1:38 left.

For Marshall, the second half was a chance to put in plenty of reserves and rest his starters heading into Thursday’s final.

“Tomorrow will be our sixth game in 12 days so that was a big key for us resting some guys,” Marshall said.

“Our point guard, Devonte, and Brandon Fuller, we’ve got some guys doing a lot of things for us so I felt like if we could get their legs under them a little bit it would be a big deal for tomorrow.”

The game also gave Marshall a chance to evaluate his talent heading for the start of 5A-East play on Jan. 7.

“We talked about that at half a little bit with some of the kids,” Marshall said.

“They’ve got to build some trust with our coaching staff that we know we can put them in there. We’ve got that coming up Jan. 7 going to Blytheville and, too, not only confidence for that but next year, we’ve only got two seniors.”

Despite the relatively low score, Beebe got points from 10 different players.

Scott led Beebe with 13 points and Young scored 11. Ty Still scored 12 points to lead Brookland.

SPORTS>>England turns loose defense to beat Beebe

By Todd Traub

Leader sports editor

If it were wrestling, the England girls would get points for a reversal.

As it is, they got the points they needed to overtake Beebe in a 61-55, semifinal victory in the Beebe Holiday Classic at Badger Arena on Wednesday.

England put together a run spanning the second and third quarters to erase a 13-point deficit and broke open a give-and-take second half to pull away to a 60-49 lead in the final minute.

“We’ve been down four or five times this year before,” England coach David Mackey said after his team qualified for Thursday’s final. “And I think just with that mentality, knowing that we were down last night against a very good Lonoke team. We were able to battle back.”

Beebe led 35-22 when leading scorer Jamie Jackson capped an 18-2 run with a turnaround jumper in the lane with 2:47 to go in the first half.

Leading scorer Janeka Watkins made a seemingly harmless free throw for England with 1:15 left, but the lone point started an 18-0 run that ended when Watkins made another free throw for the 40-35 lead with 4:42 left in the third quarter.

“I knew when we got it back in to five there before halftime we still had a little momentum even though it was halftime,” Mackey said. “It really helped us getting a little breather right there, our legs were getting a little weak.

“We’ve been down four or five times this year, double digits, down 15, 16 points and we’ve been able to pull it off so experience really helped us.”

Beebe committed six turnovers against the press during England’s run, and finally broke the spell when Jackson hit a layup to cut it to 40-37.

“We turned it over,” Beebe coach Lora Jackson said. “You can’t turn the ball over against teams like that. They’re going to score.”

Jamie Jackson made a three-pointer to tie it seconds later, and it was no more than a three-point game until England’s Jameka Watkins converted a three-point play for the 53-47 lead with 5:38 left in the game.

“I really emphasized when we were in at the half getting on the floor,” Mackey said. “We dove on the floor four or five times in the second half and really turned it up with our defensive effort on the front and backcourt there and I thought that was really a change for us.

“We turned it over because of their pressure but we also turned it over just to be turning it over,” Lora Jackson said.

A 7-2 run gave England (13-3) its biggest lead, but it may have been a long scoreless stretch that helped clinch it for the Lady Lions.

After grabbing a turnover with 4:04 left, England was able to hold the ball, missing free throws twice but getting the rebound, and ran the clock down to 2:20.

“I thought when they did match up man to man that we could take them off the dribble or go to the line and get a free throw,” Mackey said.

Another Beebe turnover on a jump ball gave England possession with 1:54 left. The Lady Lions failed to score and Jamie Jackson hit a layup for Beebe to cut it to 53-49 with 1:42 left.

But time was against the Lady Badgers as Janeka Watkins made a layup for England off a long outlet pass and added a free throw thanks to a foul by Shelbie Thomas.

A turnover led to Jasmine Taylor’s rebound and putback that made it 58-49, and Aria Dunbar hit a layup for the 60-49 lead, England’s biggest, with 56 seconds to go.

Jamie Jackson led Beebe with 30 points and Shaylin Young scored 11.

Janeka Watkins scored 25 points for England and Jameka Watkins and Dunbar had 16 each.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

EDITORIAL >>Huckabee vs. Barbour

Hoping to fortify his credentials as the next Southern hope for the Republican Party, our neighboring governor, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, gave an extensive interview this month to the Weekly Standard, the conservative Washington journal that catapulted Sarah Palin into the national limelight and did so much for Texas Governor George W. Bush.

The story was to set the table for Haley’s announcement early in the new year that he would be a candidate for president in 2012. He has been everywhere across the South this year helping Republicans and burnishing his name. Arkansans will remember his coming to Little Rock in June to embrace Jim Keet at Keet’s kickoff fundraiser for governor. Keet praised Barbour’s leadership and Barbour touted Keet as the state’s next governor. You may remember how that turned out.

After the glowing Weekly Standard article about the rich Mississippian, we can say this about his presidential prospects: Haley Barbour is no Mike Huckabee.

Huckabee has been stricken with foot-in-mouth disease more than almost any major politician around, but it usually came about when he tried to be funny or clever. He would never have committed the faux pas that Barbour did in his Weekly Standard interview.

Huckabee grew up in the South in the same era as Barbour, when the walls of segregation were crumbling under judicial and congressional mandates. Hope, Ark., by all accounts, was not as bad as Yazoo City, Miss., but Huckabee has never defended white supremacy or the political leadership of that era. He has, actually, often been quite eloquent and we think earnest in condemning the efforts by political leaders and the social order to prevent equal justice for African-Americans. We remember his well-spoken words at the 40th anniversary of the desegregation of Central High School at Little Rock.

Not Haley Barbour. He told his interviewer that things were not nearly as bleak for blacks in Mississippi back in the ‘50s and ‘60s as people made it seem, and he had special praise for the White Citizens Councils, the white-supremacy organization that sprang up in Mississippi in the 1950s to resist the integration of schools, business and other institutions. He said the business leaders of his community came together as the Citizens Council and headed off a revival of the Ku Klux Klan.

That much was true. The White Citizens Councils were to be a country club KKK. They would eschew violence by using economic and political reprisals to save segregation. They didn’t wear robes and identified themselves openly. But the Citizens Council’s organizing manifesto stated its aims rather clearly: The Southern institution of segregation was to be protected at all costs short of violence, and if that did not work the Council could not be blamed if people then had to resort to violence.

Many will remember the Citizens Councils in Arkansas, led by Jim Johnson, Amis Guthridge, Rev. Wesley Pruden and Dr. Malcolm Taylor. They were not exactly community leaders, as Barbour described the men in his hometown, although Johnson would be elected to the Arkansas Supreme Court and would be the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor in 1966 and later the Republican Party’s nominee for chief justice of the Supreme Court.

We remember the halcyon moments of the Capital Citizens Council, which was the Pulaski County branch headed by Guthridge, a Little Rock lawyer. When the “freedom riders” from eastern colleges were arriving in Mississippi in the summer of 1962 to conduct freedom schools and to get blacks registered to vote, the Citizens Council started its “Reverse Freedom Rides.” Guthridge and Rev. Pruden would call a news conference at the Trailways Bus Station in Little Rock, where one of them would give bus tokens and a ten-dollar bill to a black mother and her eight or ten children and put them on a bus to Hyannis Port, Mass., which was the home of President John F. Kennedy. A grinning Guthridge then would make a flowery tongue-in-cheek speech about how the Citizens Council was sending this wonderful family to the Kennedy compound, where they would be accepted, taken to the country club and given a glorious future. The media stopped coming after two such events.

To his evident surprise, Gov. Barbour’s praise of the white supremacists in his hometown was the part of the article that got attention. Seeing his presidential hopes vanishing, he issued a statement this week saying he did not mean to praise the citizens councils. They were wrong and segregation was wrong, he said. Actually, what he said was that the Yazoo Citizens Council members were not “saints.” But he did say that it was a “painful” era, particularly for blacks who were “persecuted.” He might have added, “and murdered.” It was not far from Yazoo City and during Barbour’s formative years that Medgar Evers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael H. Schwerner and Emmett Till met their deaths at the hands of community leaders. In every instance, community leaders rallied around the murderers. Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy visiting his grandmother, was tortured, murdered and thrown into the Pearl River for being rumored to have whistled at a white woman.

Whatever his faults, Mike Huckabee was never an apologist for apartheid. He is still the GOP’s Southern hope for 2012—if it has one.

TOP STORY > >Senior center given funding for safe room

By Garrick Feldman
Leader executive editor

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher had some good news and bad news after he returned to work this week after a holiday break.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has announced a $409,979 grant to build a safe room at the Jacksonville Senior Center on Victory Circle, which will serve as a shelter in emergencies.

The bad news is that the old siren at the 911 center on Harris Road is not working and may not be repaired for up to six weeks.

The siren has stopped working because of stripped gears, Fletcher said, and it may be February before they’re up and running.

He urged residents to sign up for the city’s CodeRed emergency service, which notifies residents by phone if there’s a tornado or another emergency.

Many cities have done away with sirens and are using automated alert systems. But he said the city has only 4,000 registrants and urged those who haven’t signed up for the free program to do so immediately.

Residents can register their home or cell phone numbers at www.cityofjacksonville.net, or by calling 982-3146 or 982-6071.

“We can’t notify you of an emergency if your phone number is not registered,” the mayor pointed out. “Many people don’t have land lines and are not registered. They can register their cell phone numbers.”

The city’s matching fund for the senior-center safe room is $136,659, bringing the total cost of the project to $546,638.

The 2,200-square-foot room will be added on to the senior center and could be completed as soon as next year.

The room will have an automatic door, so it will open whenever people go there in emergencies, Fletcher said.

The city is building another safe room at the new 911 emergency center at the site of the old Vertac chemical plant on Marshall Road.

TOP STORY > >Mayor-elect Cypert set to lead in Cabot

By Joan McCoy
Leader staff writer

Although he won’t be the mayor of Cabot until he is sworn in at the county courthouse in Lonoke at 8 a.m. Jan. 1, Bill Cypert is already spending at least half of each day at Cabot City Hall.

Cypert said Monday that Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, the area’s new state senator, leaves the city in good financial condition, so there are no pressing matters that need his attention, only long-term goals such as improving drainage and traffic.

He has said he will not change any department heads, but there are changes coming in his office. Working with Brian Higgins, the city’s human-resources director, Cypert has changed the job descriptions of the operations director and assistant to the mayor.

Those positions will be called director of operations, and operations and administrative assistant. Both new positions come with more responsibilities and the latter comes with a pay increase of about $5,000 a year.

Cypert said both positions will require more computer skills than have been required in the past. And the director of operations will be a senior-level executive who will work directly with the heads of fire, police and public works.

“The mayor’s job is now a 24/7 job,” Cypert said. “I needed someone to delegate some of the responsibilities to.”

The position of operations director was filled temporarily when Karen Davis left the city to become the assistant to the school superintendent. Williams advertised the position in the fall but said he would allow the incoming mayor to fill it.

When the mayor’s assistant transferred to the clerk-treasurer’s office, that left a second vacancy in the mayor’s office. Cypert said Monday that since he had changed the job description for the operations director, he asked Higgins to advertise that position again along with the operations and administrative assistant position.

The deadline for submitting applications was Thursday. Cypert said by the end of this week, he would look over 75 applications for director of operations and 35 applications for operations and administrative assistant and choose his new employees.

The director of operations position pays $39,171 to $58,756. The operations and administrative assistant position pays $22,608 to $33,912.

Since being elected in a runoff with former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh in late November, Cypert has familiarized himself with the city’s policies and practices so he will be ready to go to work next week.

He also has resigned as director of music for Mountain Springs Baptist Church, and his resignation as secretary and spokesman for the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission is effective Jan. 1.

“Make no mistake about it; I’m excited about being mayor,” Cypert said. “Looking forward to it.”

TOP STORY > >Trophies, milestones and PCSSD problems

This is the second of a five-part series looking back at 2010. The first four parts will take a quarterly trip through the year, followed by The Leader’s top 10 stories of the year.

Elections and more elections, stormy weather, as well as good news for Little Rock Air Force Base and not so good news for the Pulaski County Special School District dominated the second quarter of the year.

Here is a month-by-month look at April through June 2010.

April

Jacksonville’s and central Arkan-sas’ support of Little Rock Air Force Base has been no secret throughout the Air Force, and in its first year of eligibility, the city and surrounding area were awarded the Abilene Trophy for best civic community support in the Air Mobility Command.

The Abilene Trophy, established in 1998 by the Military Relations Committee of the Abilene, Texas, chamber of commerce, is awarded annually to the most supportive community in Air Mobility Command.

“It is with great pride and enthusiasm that I have the privilege of announcing that you won this year’s Abilene Trophy—the best community in all of AMC!” base commander Col. Greg Otey wrote in an e-mail to community-council members.

It took a decade of dreaming, a year of work and $50,000 but Jacksonville got a new updated website in April.

The Web address is www.cityofjacksonville.net.

“What I love about this website is it is interactive,” Mayor Gary Fletcher said. Citizens can correspond with city officials. If they’ve got a pothole or a barking dog in the middle of the night they can communicate directly.”

Country-music icon Lee Greenwood, who wrote and sings “God Bless the USA” and has made more than 20 albums over 30 years, visited Cabot in April and performed a short concert in support of Princella Smith, a Republican candidate for the congressional seat held by retiring Democrat Marion Berry.

Smith lost in the primary to Rick Crawford who eventually won the congressional seat.

A Jacksonville High School teacher who filed a citizen’s complaint with the prosecuting attorney’s office on a ninth-grade student was suspended with pay.

Darrell W. Brown, 33, of Sherwood, filed a police report and a complaint with the prosecutor after he felt the school’s assistant principal did nothing to sufficiently support him.

In the complaint, Brown said the student, a female, became agitated, cursed Brown and told him to get out of her face or she would “whip my ***.”

The complaint also said the student continued to be hostile and that he felt threatened by her. He said the assistant principal “refused to do anything.”

Eventually Brown resigned from teaching and joined the Jim Holt campaign. Holt was running for lieutenant governor.

Officials broke ground for the new $33 million Sylvan Hills Middle School at 10001 Johnson Ave., off Hwy. 107, near the Kiehl Avenue intersection.

The 189,975-square-foot school will replace the current
Sylvan Hills Middle School, which is almost 50 years old.

A state assessment of public-school facilities identified it as PCSSD’s most dilapidated middle school.

It will open in the fall next year and will serve up to 1,200 sixth- through eighth-graders.

About 30 members of Little Rock Air Force Base’s 50th Airlift Squadron left in April for their deployment to Joint Base Balad, Iraq, to fly C-130 combat airlift missions supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

North Pulaski High School students rallied together in April to ask the Pulaski County Special School District and the school board to reconsider its decision not to renew literature teacher Elizabeth Lanius’ contract to teach for the 2010-2011 school year.

Students circulated a petition and gathered signatures, which were presented at the North Pulaski Parent Teacher Student Association board meeting.

Enrollment at North Pulaski High School had dropped, which means fewer teachers were needed.

According to assistant principal Chris Jones, Lanius was being let go because she had the least amount of seniority.

The students’ efforts failed, Lanius’ contract was not renewed.

Census workers started knocking on doors in area cities asking people if they had returned their forms. Arkansas fared worse than the national average when it came to mailing in the census forms.

Nationally, through April, 64 percent of people returned the forms. This compared to 72 percent in 2000. The Arkansas average was at 61 percent compared to 68 percent in 2000.

Among the local counties, Lonoke had the best rate of return, while Pulaski has the worst.

In hopes of hiring a new superintendent before the contract of the interim chief ran out June 30, the PCSSD school board voted to reconsider Charles Hopson, an Arkansas native with Jacksonville roots, who was among four finalists for the post.

“He is an outstanding candidate. I had nothing but kudos for him,” school board member Bill Vasquez of Jacksonville said about Hopson when the board interviewed him several months ago.

Hopson was later hired by the board to be the district’s superintendent.

In the continuing battle between the district and the teacher’s union, The Pulaski Association of Classroom Teach-ers was reinstated as the bargaining agent for teachers in the Pulaski County Special School District, based on a ruling from Circuit Judge Timothy D. Fox.

Fox ruled that the board had the authority to terminate the union’s standing as bargaining agent, but did not follow the state law.

Fox declared the board’s decision “null and void.”

Research completed by a Little Rock marketing firm hired by the Cabot Advertising and Promotion Commission showed that Cabot was a great place to live because of the school system, but it was lacking in the areas of shopping, dining and recreation.

“As expected, our school system and the family-friendly personality of our community received very high marks,” said Bob Seibert, president of Cabot’s Advertising and Promotions Committee.

The return of The Memphis Flea Market to central Arkansas after a five-year absence was a tremendous success, according to Sandy Hembree, the market’s general manager.

The two-day monthly flea market drew 12,000 people to its new location in the old Walmart building, 612 J.P. Wright Loop Road, in Jacksonville.

Austin was the safest place in the local area to live, reporting no violent crimes in the annual FBI crime report.

Jacksonville, on the other hand, had the most violent crimes in sheer numbers and per capita.

The 2010 FBI report covered crimes that occurred in 2008.

Jacksonville had 286 violent crimes, including four murders in 2008. It had none in 2009, but the FBI is still compiling information from that year. The only other city in the area to have a murder in 2008 was Ward.

Violent crimes include murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

The commission that runs Cabot WaterWorks approved the purchase of the last 7 million gallons-a-day water allocation available in Lake DeGray to ensure that Cabot has water for its residents into the next century.

Lake DeGray had a total allocation of 152 million gallons a day, most of which is held by Central Arkansas Water.

Cabot WaterWorks will be able to store water in the lake for a price of $455,000 and an annual maintenance fee of $4,000.

“This is not an agreement to buy water. You’re buying a jug to hold water,” said Tad Bohannon, the commission’s attorney.

It was a homecoming for Charles L. Hopson when he was named PCSSD superintendent. The Arkansas native started his career with the district and was a deputy superintendent for Portland, Ore., schools.

Hopson said immediately after the board vote, “I am deeply honored and humbled to be elected superintendent of a district where I started my teaching career. The vote in solidarity symbolizes that the time is now for the district to move forward in reconciliation and healing for the needs of the students.”

He said he is “in it for the long haul.”

A Lonoke County jury awarded Randall Snider and 15 other area rice farmers nearly $50 million in actual and punitive damages.

It took the jury just two hours and five minutes to find that Bayer CropScience was negligent in safeguarding the rice crop from its experiments with genetically modified rice in and around 2000.

Some of the rice crop in Arkansas and elsewhere was contaminated by the unapproved, experimental genetically modified rice strain. It was just a trace of contamination–.06 percent–but it was sufficient to crash the market for Arkansas’ long-grain rice.

The defendant, Bayer CropScience, said it would appeal the ruling.

A foul smell emanating from Sherwood’s north wastewater treatment facility one weekend in April was so intense that some residents were threatening to file a class-action suit or move away. Utility managers blamed a hot spell and northerly wind for the stench that for several days kept folks inside with the windows down.

Cabot High School television broadcasting and video production teacher Chuck Massey was on the hot seat during the 15th annual Cabot Scholarship Foundation roast and toast banquet at the Junior High North Cafeteria.

The foundation’s dinner honored 51 Cabot High School seniors who received scholarships totaling $51,000.

Pulaski County Special School District’s new superintendent, Charles Hopson, said he intended to make Jacksonville schools a priority of his administration.

“The Jacksonville area is a high priority for me,” Hopson said.

Conditions “that threaten the safety and health of students” not only are a barrier to learning, but are tantamount to a “civil-rights violation,” Hopson said.

May

The 19th Airlift Wing received an “excellent” grade in its unit-compliance inspection from the Air Mobility Command inspector general team.

The wing earned six best practices and 32 team and 48 individual awards during he inspection.

More than 80 inspectors looked at programs and processes across the base to ensure day-to-day compliance with executive orders, Department of Defense directives, and Air Force and major command instructions.

Col. Greg Otey, then 19th AW commander, said the hard work and preparation of every team member had a tremendous impact on the excellent rating.

“I could not be prouder. Thank you… those are the most powerful words we have, and I don’t say it enough. Thank you for who you are, for what you do and for your families because they work with us too,” he said.

Following “a tussle” at a political function, Lonoke police arrested Alderman Pat Howell for disorderly conduct, public intoxication and resisting arrest.

“They had to physically tussle with him and had to pepper spray him,” before taking him into custody and putting him in a holding cell until releasing him, the police chief said.

“We told him he needed to leave or be arrested, and he said ‘arrest me,’” Wilson said.

“I lost my temper,” said Howell at the time, “but I was not drunk.

“I wish that whole situation had ended up differently. I regret that it happened.”

The Jacksonville Farmers Market opened under the newly constructed pavilion located next door to the Jacksonville Community Center.

The 2,000-square-foot, open-air pavilion made of brick and steel cost the city $186,000.

Using data provided by PCSSD and with assistance from local real estate broker, Dan Gray, students in Tracie Rushing’s Advanced Placement Government class, found that schools in Jacksonville received only about 2 percent ($3.26 million) of $181.4 million allocated for new school construction and renovations from 2000 through 2011.

Storms hit the area in early May including a tornado whose path stretched from Lonoke to Beebe. Many Lonoke County residents spent days cutting trees and patching roofs after the tornado hit.

Doris Szafranski said at the time, “We had 13 people in the storm shelter last night. We just barely made it in. No sooner than we got the door shut it came. It sounded like a vacuum and an airplane. Everyone’s ears were popping. I’ve never experienced anything like that.”

A Lonoke County sheriff’s deputy was in his driveway tracking the storm when it passed over, picking up the front end of the patrol car and slamming it to the ground.

David Chad Lane pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, and Circuit Judge Phillip Whiteaker sentenced him to 20 years in prison in the death of fellow inmate Jerry Dale Luker, stemming from a fight Oct. 19, 2009 at the Lonoke County Jail.

Whiteaker gave Lane credit for 120 days already served and ordered him to pay $240 in fees and court costs within 90 days of his release from prison.

He was sentenced as a habitual offender, so instead of first parole eligibility in about three years, Lane must serve about nine years before becoming eligible.

“I’d have rather seen him get the death penalty,” said the victim’s father, Jerry Luker, “but I guess it’s better than having a long drawn-out trial and leave it up to 12 people.”

Jacksonville High School seniors, who spent most of their May prom in the basement of the Clinton Library in Little Rock because of severe weather, got a redo.

A number of parents joined together with the school to give the students another night of dancing, this time it at the Jacksonville Senior Center.

The original prom was peppered with rain and severe weather, and students were ushered into the basement.

Price Eubanks, a senior, was very disappointed the first prom night ended. “We’d been looking forward to our prom for four years. It was supposed to be the night of our lives, but we spent it in the basement. It was a bummer.”

Nine different vendors brought a wide variety of products to the Cabot Farmers’ Market when it opened at its new, more visible location in May on the parking lot of First Security Bank in downtown Cabot. Vendors brought cabbage, lettuce, peas, brown and green eggs, honey, handmade jewelry, handmade knives and strawberries.

A wall-signing ceremony was held at the National Guard armory in Cabot, even though the $10 million facility was nowhere near finished.

Workers from Nabholz Con-struction Co., which is building the armory, representatives from the Arkansas National Guard, Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, two city council members and other project supporters gathered to sign the wall that divides the armory in two before it is covered in rocks.

“It’s symbolic,” the mayor said. “It’s sort of a time capsule of all the people working on it and the people supporting it.”

The Cabot armory, located on Hwy. 367, will be completed in the spring.

The PCSSD school board voted down contracts for district teachers and support staff.

On separate motions made by Bill Vasquez to approve the teachers’ and support staff’s contracts, board members Danny Gilliland, Mildred Tatum and Charlie Wood and school board president Tim Clark voted no. Vasquez, Sandra Sawyer and Gwen Williams voted yes.

Two women and one man were arrested in mid-May in Greystone, Cabot’s golf course subdivision, for allegedly being involved in the practice of what is euphemistically called the world’s oldest profession.

The man believed to be in charge of the alleged house of prostitution was in Dallas with the third female resident of the home when the arrests were made.

The arrests were made following a two-day investigation that began when neighbors complained to the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Department about excessive traffic at the residence.

The sheriff said investigators waited outside the house for two days and interviewed the “johns” as they emerged, but no detective went inside to talk to the women during the investigation or solicited the services they allegedly offered for sale.

Deputies siezed $3,000 in cash from the home, $500 in a safety deposit box, computers and a “little black book” with names of clients.

An investigation by the state into the finances of Pulaski County Special School District over a six-year period unearthed a wide range of abuses, including fraud, theft, missing funds, improper reimbursements, overpayments, misappropriations, and generally careless business practices, resulting in losses totaling at least $500,000.

Highlights of the investigation were presented at a meeting of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee at the state Capitol.

The “limited scope review” focused on aspects of the district’s financial operations – the buyout settlement with former Superintendent James Sharpe after his resignation March 11, 2009, school board members’ travel-expense reimbursements and central office oversight of expenditures.

Acting Superintendent Rob McGill and PCSSD School Board president Tim Clark last year requested that the Division of Legislative Audit for the state conduct the investigation because they suspected district accounting practices were not sound.

The investigation resulted in criminal charges against two employees and a civil case to recoup funds the district says is owed by Sharpe.

Primary elections were held in May and although there were few surprises, the results did result in some runoffs.

Two-term Sen. Blanche Lincoln ended up in a runoff against Lieut. Gov. Bill Halter in the Democratic primary.

The Democrats also end with a runoff in the race for Rep. Vic Snyder’s Dist. 2 congressional seat. The Democrats had a runoff for the race to occupy retiring Rep. Marion Berry’s Dist. 1 seat. The same was true for the Republicans vying for the Dist. 3 seat, which was being vacated by Rep. John Boozman, who eventually won Lincoln’s seat.

The Democrats also had a runoff for state land commissioner.

Thieves broke into the new building for Hope’s Closet and Pantry in Cabot and took 1,600 pounds of food that had been collected from a recent Stamp Out Hunger food drive. A dryer, tools, a large amount of baby clothes and a generator were also taken.

Hope’s Closet is a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to the needy and the hungry in northern Lonoke County and the Beebe area.

Hope’s Closet volunteer Kelly Coughlin said, “Everything they took, we would have given it to them. It makes me really angry. If they were in need, I wouldn’t be upset, but to take all that stuff was greedy and dishonest.”

The Beebe Chamber of Commerce director Ruth Couch was honored with the Lifetime Service Award at the chamber’s annual banquet at the ASU-Beebe University CafĂ©.

Couch said she was totally astonished with the award.

“It makes me feel rewarded for the things that I’ve done, the fun things and the things that were more difficult,” she said.

The Educator of the Year Award went to kindergarten and first-grade counselor Jamie Burns of Beebe Early Childhood School.

The Citizen of the Year Award was presented to Penny Parchman, Beebe’s Angel Tree program organizer.

A petition in support of a separate Jacksonville school district circulated.

The petition, part of attorney Ben Rice’s ongoing effort to wrest control of Jacksonville and north Pulaski County schools from the troubled Pulaski County Special School District, picked up 640 names in front of the Jacksonville Walmart in just one day.

The petition was just to demonstrate the mood of area residents, who believe Cabot’s growth has been at the expense of Jacksonville and related to Jacksonville’s decrepit school buildings and association with PCSSD.

During the time that Cabot has experienced a 40 percent increase in school enrollment, Jacksonville enrollment has declined 23 percent, Rice said. “People are voting with their feet,” he added.

An effort to allow ice- cream trucks to once again chug through the streets of Sherwood was defeated 5-2. The mobile ice- cream sales have been banned since 1968. At the heart of a vote by Sherwood City Council were two fundamental American values – keeping our children safe versus the right of children to pursue their happiness, in this case, in the form of buying ice cream from a street-side vendor on a hot summer day.

Only Aldermen Becki Vassar and Butch Davis voted for the measure. Later, pleas from children caused the council to reverse its vote and ice-cream trucks are back in town.

The Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club entered a new era of local management, which city officials believed would improve program offerings for youth who come there after school and during the summer.

The club, founded in the late 1960s, on May 15 severed ties with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Arkansas, in order to have greater control over how financial resources are used and what programs are offered.

The club’s building, which is owned and maintained by the city of Jacksonville, is now under direction of the Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department.

The hazardous Hwy. 167 Main Street overpass may be replaced a year earlier than currently scheduled, thanks to Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher’s plea for help at the May Metroplan meeting.

A state Highway and Trans-portation Department spokesman called the change possible and agreed to meet with city officials.

The guardrail with nine concrete supports has been knocked out several times, which is a danger to pedestrians below.

“The overpass is 50 years old and supported in part by a piece of wood,” Fletcher told the group. “School children walk under that overpass.”

Highway workers needed to repair the guardrail four times before April.

June

Without fanfare—and apparently without the written notification required by law from the parole board --former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell, 50, was paroled and released from prison. His wife Kelly Campbell was granted parole and expected to be free and reunited with her husband by early July.

The Campbells were tried together and convicted in April 2007 in a sprawling six-week trial that included tales of sex with prisoners, theft of drugs from friends, continuing criminal enterprise charges and manufacture of methamphetamine.

Campbell was originally sentenced to 40 years in prison, but on Nov. 5, the state Supreme Court overturned Jay Campbell’s convictions and remanded the case back to Lonoke County Circuit Court.

Both Campbells will still have to work community-service hours, and submit to periodic drug testing.

The air-traffic control tower at Little Rock Air Force Base was named the best in the Air Force in June.

The 19th Operations Support Squadron air-traffic-control tower team earned the Air Force-level D. Ray Hardin air-traffic-control facility of the year award.
The annual air-traffic control and airfield management award winners were announced during the airfield-operations conference awards dinner in Las Vegas.

A former Beebe resident who killed his father in 2009 pleaded guilty in a circuit court in Searcy and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Christopher S. Clark, 44, apologized to his mother, sister and brother for stabbing Billy Joe Clark, 75, to death on Nov. 7, 2009 but he didn’t offer an explanation for his action.

Clark also pleaded guilty to felony theft of property for taking his father’s truck from his home at 305 N. Hickory St.

With Cabot High School principal Zanya Clarkson retiring, the Cabot school board promoted Junior High South’s principal Henry Hawkins to the high school position. “When you have someone in-house who you know can do a job and has a passion for what he does, we feel that is the direction we should go,” Superintendent Dr. Tony Thurman said.

A June PCSSD school board meeting — where educators celebrated leaps in scores on Benchmark exams in both literacy and math that exceeded state averages, as well as more than $11 million in college scholarships to graduating seniors — was marred by angry outbursts over the board decision to end recognition of the union.

During the public-comment period, a parent of a Sylvan Hills Middle School student speaking out against board actions in recent months and costs of associated legal services was cut short by school board president Tim Clark. Parent Dawn Jackson told the board that she was “very unhappy” that the board’s decision in December – and again in April – to end recognition of the Pulaski County Association of Classroom Teachers was “costing the district tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.”

Jackson said her efforts recently to communicate with Clark about the reason for the board’s decision were unsatisfactory.

“I am sick about this money being spent needlessly,” Jackson said as she headed to her seat. “Teachers don’t want to be in a lawsuit, but they are backed into a corner.”

PACT president Marty Nix, next to speak in a public comment period, told Clark, “Grow up,” adding that his treatment of Jackson was the reason why the teachers were in a lawsuit.

Nix was escorted by security from the board meeting room.

In the primary runoff, Sen. Blanche Lincoln beat back a strong challenge from Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.

In other state runoff races, Jacksonville’s Pat O’Brien, currently the Pulaski County Clerk, defeated challenger Mark Wilcox to get the Democratic nod in the secretary of state race.

Chad Causey, Cong. Marion Berry’s former chief of staff, and Tim Wooldridge, a former state senator, battled it out. with Causey coming out on top for the Democratic nod for the District 1 representative race.

Democratic State Sen. Joyce Elliott and Speaker of the House Robbie Wills were the top two vote getters in the May primary with Elliott besting Wills by 12 percentage points, but in the run-off it was closer as Elliott bested Wills, 54 percent to 46 percent.

The USDA designated Lonoke, Faulkner, Mississippi and Woodruff counties as primary agriculture disaster counties in the wake of storms, hail and tornadoes that occurred between April 23 and May 4. Farmers in those and 16 adjoining counties were therefore eligible for crop- production loss assistance, members of the state’s congressional delegation announced in June.

The C-130s from Little Rock Air Force Base assigned to Afghanistan and Iraq helped replace 20,000 truck convoys in May, which set a record.

Through the efforts of these airmen, the C-130s are a safer means of transportation for all branches of the military in combat zones.

“Twenty-thousand (vehicles) was significant because each and every vehicle we took off IED-laden roads in Iraq and Afghanistan lowered the risk to soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines on the ground performing convoy duty,” said Col. David Kasberg, 19th Operations Group commander at Little Rock Air Force Base. “By airlifting cargo and passengers, we also took a target away from the enemy, which undermines their information-operations campaign.”

The Joint Education Center had a 50 percent construction- completion “walk-through” in June and was on schedule for occupancy January 2011.

The 46,239-square-foot facility is being built adjacent to Little Rock Air Force Base with $9.9 million in federal funds and another $5 million raised through a sales tax approved by Jacksonville voters.

The new facility will replace the existing Joint Education Center located on base, which became difficult to access after base security tightened following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

A former Pulaski County Special School District employee was sentenced in June to 18 months in prison for stealing about $500,000 from the district to support his drug habit.

U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson also placed James Diemer, 49, the district’s ex-maintenance supervisor, on three-years supervised probation after his prison term.

Saline County sheriff’s deputies arrested Diemer May 15, 2009.

He pleaded guilty in January to theft of property from a government entity that received federal funds.

Diemer, a PCSSD employee since 1999, admitted to investigators of defrauding the district “from day one” of becoming supervisor of mechanical systems “because he knew no one was looking.”

Charles Hopson, incoming PCSSD superintendent, in an effort to improve conditions at Jacksonville High School, has plans to do a “deep cleaning” at the school as well as make changes in the school’s leadership.

In a June letter to Jacksonville school patrons, Hopson said that Kenneth Clark, who had been principal at the high school for six years, would be reassigned.

Jacksonville High School was entering its seventh year on the list of schools in the state identified as being in academic distress. “Under the No Child Left Behind law, federal sanctions take place if you do not make annual yearly progress with various subgroups,” Hopson said.

The contract was signed and a down payment made in June for two studies that would hone in on the economic potential of three sites near Jacksonville that could become home to the state fair.

Makin Consulting, the Min-nesota-based firm hired to do the studies, was expected to have answers to the question, what are the costs and benefits of the huge undertaking of building a new fairgrounds at a new location – specifically, southeast of Jacksonville — by the end of the year.

State fair director Ralph Shoptaw says that none of the original 19 sites offered for consideration had been ruled out, but that “we want to focus on that particular area and not necessarily any particular site, but that area which includes the Jacksonville site.”

By the “Jacksonville site,” Shoptaw meant the 450 acres that Jacksonville city and business leaders are in the process of acquiring – either through out-right purchase or eminent domain – to then donate for use as new fairgrounds. To the south are the two sites also under consideration: a 827-acre parcel owned by Davidson Ranch, and 632 acres, with three owners, bordered by Ink Bayou and I-440. According to an engineering study by Thomas Engineering, those two sites are priced at $2.85 million and $2.48 million, respectively.

Restructuring of C-130 training at Little Rock Air Force Base, currently in the planning phase, seemed to fit hand in glove with the Pentagon’s decision in June to upgrade “legacy” C-130Hs with the avionics-modernization program.

A site-activation taskforce team was on base to begin working out reorganization details, even as Boeing announced Air Force approval to begin low-rate initial production of 20 AMP kits.

Upon completion of a longer contract, yet to be awarded, 221 C-130Hs will have been updated with digital, computerized cockpits with standardized state-of-the-art avionics, navigation and communication on par with those of the new C-130J airlifters.

The cost of those kits in 2007 was about $14 million per aircraft, according to Boeing spokesman Mike Harris, but by the 69th plane, the cost should be down to about $7 million, he said.

By way of comparison, a new C-130J, which the AMP cockpit emulates in many ways, costs about $85 million per plane, according to Harris.

The AMP is designed to bring the old C-130s into the 21st Century, with digital technology and with standardization. Currently, there are 30 variants of the C-130 cockpit, and installation of the AMP kits will make them identical to pilots and aircrews and make them closely resemble the cockpit of the new C-130J.

Cabot businessman Roger Lemaster was found guilty in circuit court of raping a child and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Although more than a dozen witnesses were sworn in at the beginning of the one-day trial, only three testified – the victim, the police officer she first told her story to and Lemaster’s mother-in-law, who testified for him.

The Leader was named the best large weekly in the state for the third year in a row by the Arkansas Press Association in June.

The newspaper garnered 22 awards, including five first-place plaques.

The family-owned newspaper — which has been covering Jacksonville, Sherwood, Cabot and Lonoke County, as well as White County, for more than 23 years — took first place in community coverage, editorial writing, best sports page, top sports news story and general excellence.

Interim Superintendent Rob McGill left PCSSD at the end of June after 16 months in that position and took $87,601 in accrued vacation, holiday and sick leave with him.

Most of those days were earned as a teacher or principal during his 16 years in the district, days that would have been paid at the rate of $75 a day had he not been elevated to interim superintendent in March 2009, after the school board bought out the contract of former superintendent, James Sharp.

Instead, he was paid at a rate of $614 a day.

School board president Tim Clark said that particularly now, when the district is under scrutiny from the state Bureau of Legislative Audit for mismanagement and poor financial oversight, it would be important to make sure the right rate was being applied to the correct number of days, as provided for in McGill’s contract.

“I asked (Chief Financial Officer) Anita Farver to double and triple check with (district lawyer) Jay Bequette,” Clark said.

McGill said that he had submitted the bill for those hours to Farver and that $87,601 “sounded about right.”

n The city-owned golf course, The Greens at North Hills, made a strong showing in income generation, it was announced at the monthly meeting of the Sherwood City Council.

Revenue from club memberships and greens fees to date amount to $254,621, and revenue from facilities rentals are $20,105, for a total of $274,726, Alderman Charles Harmon announced. “That was beyond anything we expected.”

The golf course opened for its first season in April, two years after the city took the private North Hills Country Club by eminent domain, paying $5.5 million, in an effort to preserve the historic, 106-acre course for public use rather than see it become a mix of commercial and residential development.

“If we continue at this pace for the golf season, we will exceed expectations,” predicted Harmon after the meeting. The course is open all year.

The course had already exceeded this year’s goal of 100 memberships with 118 purchased so far. Annual memberships range in price from $1,020 to $2,400.

The annual operating budget for the golf course is $1.3 million.