Friday, January 07, 2011

TOP STORY > >2010 Annexation flops, Cabot gets letter, LRAFB soars

Compiled by Leader staff writer Rick Kron

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


 A disgruntled county resident, upset with Jacksonville’s proposed annexation, was arrested at the city’s citizen-concerns committee meeting.

Charles Kent, 52, of 6011 Peters Rd., was escorted out of the meeting, arrested and charged with disorderly conduct shortly after the meeting began.

Alderman Marshall Smith, chairman of the committee, which is a mix of city officials and residents of the area being considered for annexation, said Kent just wouldn’t sit down after rambling about his rights, the lack of committee minutes and the committee’s failure to follow Robert’s Rules of Order.

When Smith tried to proceed with the meeting, Kent said he had the floor. “And I’m not yielding the floor.”

Kent continued to talk over Public Works Director Jim Oakley, who was there to discuss some concerns raised by the residents in the 3.84 square mile area the city wants to annex.

 A cardboard envelope addressed to the Cabot mayor that arrived in the mail in early October contained a ledger that is believed to be the earliest written history of the city of Cabot.

The ledger, with a starting date of Oct. 2, 1886, documents the beginning of a farm cooperative in Sylvania called the Wheel Trade Union, or simply the Wheel, with meetings later moved to Cabot.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, who called the press to witness the presentation of the ledger to Mike Polston, curator of the Museum of American History at Cabot, said he knew a woman from Virginia was sending some old documents, but he was astounded by the contents of the package.

 The Pulaski County Spe-cial School District has held Jacksonville-area schools hostage for too long and should be allowed to form their own school district, state Sen. Bobby Glover said in an October letter to state Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell.

As chairman of the state Joint Legislative Audit Committee, Glover has had a front-row seat for meetings where PCSSD personnel and board members were grilled about the abundance of fraud, malfeasance, theft of property, illegal charges, illegal contracts and failed oversight that cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars—maybe more–over the past three years.

“I want (the state) to take it over and allow Jacksonville to have its own school system,” Glover said.

“Because of the long history of abuse and neglect to some portions of the PCSSD, it is my recommendation that the Jacksonville-north Pulaski county area be allowed to form their own school district separate and apart from the PCSSD,” Glover wrote Kimbrell.

 Arnold Drive Elementary’s fifth-graders are the best in the state in math according to the latest report by the University of Arkansas Office of Education Policy.

Arnold Drive is also only one of four Arkansas schools to be recognized nationally as a 2010 Blue Ribbon School for academic achievement. Only 304 schools received the award nationwide.

Cabot and Searcy schools also received high marks as the university delved into the 2009-2010 Benchmark scores, looking at grade levels and regions.

At the fourth-grade level, Stagecoach Elementary was in an eight-way tie for ninth best in the state with 97 percent of its 94 fourth-graders scoring proficient or advanced.

At the fifth-grade level, Arnold Drive was only one of three schools in the state to have all of its students score proficient or advanced in math. Overall, Arnold Drive had one of the best Benchmark scores in the state.

Arnold Drive fourth-graders ranked sixth best in the state with 96 percent of its students scoring proficient or advanced in literacy. Tied with Arnold Drive was Lisa Academy North located on the Sherwood/North Little Rock border.

Combining both the math and literacy Benchmark scores, Arnold Drive fourth-graders finished sixth-best in the state at 96 percent proficient or better. Tied for sixth with Arnold Drive is Cabot’s Stagecoach Elementary.

 Two Laotian women charged with running a house of prostitution in Cabot’s upscale Greystone subdivision were convicted in district court in October. A North Little Rock man charged with using their services was acquitted.

Cabot District Judge Joe O’Bryan listened to about six hours of testimony put on by the prosecution before giving his verdict. The defendants – AE Samontry, 33, Pornpiemon Phouangmany, 40, and Jerry Richard, 46, – did not testify.

The women were each fined $590 and given 30-day suspended jail sentences providing there are no more offenses. All the charges were misdemeanor.

The evidence against the women included a black book with names of men believed to be clients, a sheet of paper containing prices, pictures of scantily clad women taken from a computer that were identical to those on an Internet site advertising adult entertainment, and a packing slip for 1,000 condoms.

 A lawsuit was filed in October to stop Jacksonville’s efforts to bring 3.84 square miles north of the city limits into the city.

The suit, by Dr. John Daugherty and his wife Partne, asked the court to declare the city ordinance authorizing the annexation unconstitutional prior to the start of the Nov. 2 voting.

As an alternative, the plaintiffs asked that if the vote proceeds before the case is settled that the secretary of state not count the votes or have them decertified.

The Daughertys claimed, among other things, that the city was trying to illegally annex land “which is owned, managed, regulated and otherwise controlled by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

 The Pulaski County Special School District board unanimously recognized the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers at their October meeting, and union members who had packed the board room sprang to their feet applauding, whooping and laughing, ending two years of contentious efforts by the board to decertify the union.

A moment later, the scene was repeated with unanimous recognition of the Pulaski Association of Support Staff.

The board approved resumption of contract negotiations with both PACT and PASS.

 Beautiful weather and jaw-dropping performances by the world-famous U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds attracted about 225,000 guests to “Thunder Over the Rock,” the base’s air show and open house.

This October air show featured nearly 5 1/2 hours of flying demonstrations, which also included world-class acts such as the U.S. Army Golden Knights and Canadian SkyHawks’ parachute teams; Tora, Tora, Tora WWII re-enactment of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; Disabled American Veterans B-25 demonstration, Shockwave jet truck; Air Force A-10 Warthog; Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier and Navy FA-18 Super Hornet jet demonstrations; and a capabilities exercise of the base’s own C-130s from the 19th, 314th and 189th Airlift Wings. The 11 Little Rock C-130s airdropped equipment and nearly 400 Army paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division.

 Both Sherwood and Lonoke had problems with their 2009 financial reports, according to information released by the state legislative audit division in October.

In Sherwood, the district court was unable to account for “or identify $118,384 remaining in the bank with receipts issued for cases not yet adjudicated and payments made on all unpaid time accounts,” deputy legislative auditor June Barron wrote in a Sept. 30, 2010 letter to the city.

The annual state audit indicated that the offices of the mayor and police chief “were in substantial compliance,” but the clerk/treasurer’s office and the district court’s hot-check division was not. The audit noted that the city’s fixed-asset listing did not reflect accurate control totals for beginning balances, additions, deletions and ending balances by departments as required by state law.

The audit noted that the hot-check division of the district court did not always make accurate and timely settlements of merchant restitution as required by state law.

In Lonoke, auditors found problems or concerns with the mayor, the district court clerk and the police chief.

The auditor was completed earlier this summer.

In the mayor’s office, bids were not solicited for $79,676 worth of mosquito chemicals. State law requires bids on any purchase over $20,000.

In the district court, an ending balance of $20,798 in the court’s bank account was not accounted for or identified with receipts issued for cases not yet adjudicated.

In the police department, there was a shortage of $1,588. Auditors found receipts totaling $1,160 not deposited and $428 in checks deposited but did not have receipts.

The individuals responsible were not identified in the report, but two city employees reimbursed the city $1,260, leaving $328 unaccounted for.

 Gene Sullivan was so like a new dad at the groundbreaking for the first Bayou Meto Basin Project pump station in October that he should have passed out cigars.

The baby in this case—a $614 million irrigation, flood control and wildlife-management project—was first authorized by Congress about 60 years ago and the gestation period for “the most important thing that’s happened in Lonoke County for a long time” had been about two decades, according to Sullivan, the executive director.

“This will be the jewel for Lonoke County,” said Sen. Glover.

In time, as water becomes less abundant, others from around the country are expected to come see the Bayou Meto Basin Project.

The project will reverse the depletion of the aquifer and will irrigate more than 300,000 acres of Lonoke County farmland.

While there was plenty of credit to spread around, Sullivan praised Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Gov. Mike Beebe for putting together about $60 million in state and federal money to finally make the project a reality.

 In a relatively quiet October meeting, the Jacksonville council made about a half dozen changes to an ordinance overseeing the area planned for annexation and then passed the ordinance.

All nine aldermen said yes, except for Bob Stroud, who abstained as a way to protest the actions of the people in the proposed area set for annexation. “I just don’t like the way they have come into the city and spread lies and rumors, and their actions towards us,” he complained. “We are bending over backwards for them.”

The ordinance would not go into effect, even though parts of it affected the city as a whole, unless the residents voted for the annexation in the Nov. 2 general election.

 The Cabot man connected to the New York mafia who was indicted for a multitude of crimes more than a year ago was convicted in federal court, along with a Colombo Family street boss on three of those charges.

George Wylie Thompson, 65, of Cabot, and Ralph Francis Deleo, 67, of Somerville near Boston, Mass., faced sentences of up to 40 years in prison and fines of up to $2 million for conspiracy to possess with intent to deliver and sentences of up to 40 years and fines of up to $2 million for possession with intent to deliver. They also face sentences of up to four years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 for using a communication device in a drug crime.

At this point in October, Alderman Cary Gaines still faced charges of public corruption for attempting to fix bids on public-works projects. Thompson faced charges of illegal weapon possession and former North Little Rock Alderman Sam Baggett faced charges of selling a weapon to known felon (Thompson) and then lying about it to federal agents. Gaines also is charged with lying to federal agents.

The Thompson-Baggett trial was set for Dec. 7. The Thompson-Gaines trial was set for Feb. 1, 2011.

 It took months but Sherwood finally passed an updated property-maintenance code and nuisance ordinance, but not without a round of heated discussions over abandoned cars and horses.

As Aldermen Charles Harmon and Sheila Sulcer debated abandoned cars and horses, Alderman Becki Vassar admitted that the new law will need to be “tweaked and wiggle room” added as time goes on. “We want to give people a chance to enjoy their yards, but we shouldn’t have to tell repeat offenders time and time again to cut their grass,” Vassar said.

But it wasn’t grass that had Sulcer worried, it was abandoned cars. She was concerned that allowing residents to leave their cars in a state of despair and even on blocks for 90 days was an excessive amount of time.

Harmon replied that people have always worked on their cars in Sherwood and that “we were getting too nosy and too nitpicking.”

The ordinance covered exterior property areas, exterior and interior of structures, lighting, ventilation, occupancy limitations, plumbing and fixture requirements, mechanical and electrical requirements and fire safety.

 Two of the men involved in a late October altercation following the forum for Cabot mayoral candidates have been charged with the misdemeanor offense of disorderly conduct.

Sgt. Brent Lucas, spokesman for the Cabot Police Department, described the incident as a shoving match and said no charges would be filed unless those involved pursued it.

Former Cabot Alderman Odis Waymack, named one of two victims on the incident report filed by police and Jack McNally, a candidate for Lonoke County assessor who is called the suspect on the report, apparently took Lucas’ statement as a recommendation.

Waymack filed an affidavit for McNally’s arrest. The next day McNally filed an affidavit for Waymack’s arrest.

Both McNally and Waymack turned themselves in to Cabot police. They were released on their own recognizance providing there was no further contact between the two. The maximum fine either will pay if convicted is $265.

H.L. Lang, 63, the Lonoke County justice of the peace who was named as the second victim on the incident report, said that he would like to pursue felony charges against McNally. Lang said in his statement to police that McNally hit him in the chest. He told The Leader that the blow aggravated his hernia so that even turning over in bed or coughing was painful.

A state law allows felony charges to be filed against anyone who strikes and injures a person who is 60 years or older.


 LRAFB offered the Pulaski County Special School District 77 acres upon which to build one or more new schools, according to Bob Oldham, spokesman for the 19th Air Mobility Wing, and could be in the running for school construction money.

Separately, but not unrelated, the base and district are under consideration by the Air Force for a grant to build a new elementary school, according to school district officials.

“Whatever gives us maximum opportunity to provide new facilities, we’re going to explore,” PCSSD Superintendent Charles Hopson said.

The 77 acres was occupied by surplus base housing slated for demolition, Oldham said. Arnold Drive Elementary, a decrepit PCSSD school, is currently located on the base.

The facility is questionable, but the school has been winning state and national honors for academic improvement.

 Jacksonville’s bid to capture about four square miles to the north of the city and a small section to the south failed.

Voters said no to the effort to annex the two areas by a five-point margin, 52 to 47 percent.

The unofficial vote totals showed 2,656 votes against the annexation and 2,392 for it. Residents of both the city and the proposed annexed areas were allowed to vote on the issue. More than 2,000 city residents voted against the annexation.

“The people have spoken,” Mayor Gary Fletcher said. “We were going to spend a half-million dollars a year in that community, but the people spoke and said they didn’t want it.”

The mayor said his vision for Jacksonville hasn’t changed. “We have to grow and go forward and bring in the businesses and retail that the people want.”

The mayor commended those who pushed the anti-annexation message. “They worked hard to get their view out there,” he said.

The northern section the city wanted along Hwy. 67/167 included 297 separate parcels of land—2,454 acres or about 3.84 square miles. The southern section, off Hwy. 161, that the city wanted included 79 parcels of land on 232 acres, or about 0.36 square mile.

 In Jacksonville, Mayor Gary Fletcher faced no opposition to his re-election on Nov. 2, but Sherwood and Cabot would see mayoral run-offs.

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman led in the three-way race for her post, but couldn’t keep her total vote over the required 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off.

She faced second-place finisher, Alderman Sheila Sulcer, and beat her in a run-off in late November.

In the race for Cabot mayor, former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh shot out to an early lead, but faded at the end, falling to second place behind Bill Cypert in the three-way race. The two squared off in a run-off with Cypert winning.

 In a three-way race for Cabot’s Ward 3, Position 1, Richard Cannon came out on top with 1,572 votes, followed by Wendell Gibson with 1,493 votes and Angie Armstrong Hoschouer with 1,486—at least on election night. But after all the absentee ballots were counted, Hoschouer moved past Gibson and faced Cannon in a run-off. Hoschouer defeated Cannon in the runoff, taking over the seat held by her father, Tom Armstrong.

 Republicans made a sweep in Lonoke County. Doug Erwin became the first Republican Lonoke County judge in at least 50 years, and Republicans hold an 8-5 majority in the Lonoke County Quorum Court as well.

With 58 percent of the votes, Erwin beat four-term incumbent County Judge Charlie Troutman in the general election.

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, a Republican, won his bid for state senator, state Rep. Davy Carter, a Republican, was re-elected and Republican Rick Crawford won election to Congress, replacing the retiring Marion Berry.

“This is the first time since Reconstruction we have a Republican congressman (in the First District),” said Republican Randy Minton, a former state representative.

“With 44 Republican House members and 14 state senators, it’s going to be a different day in the state legislature,” Minton added.

 Without much fanfare, the Jacksonville City Council approved the sale of its city hospital in November for about $8.3 million.

The hospital was sold to Allegiance Health Management of Louisiana, which has managed the hospital since January 2009.

The $8.3 million will go mostly toward paying off bond debt that the city incurred operating the hospital.

“We’ve still got to work out some financial details,” Mike Schimming, chief executive office of the hospital, said after the council meeting.

He added that the only change patients and visitors will see will be improvements. “Once the sale is finalized, Allegiance will start renovation work on the first floor,” said Schimming.

Allegiance took over management of the hospital in January 2009 with the option to purchase it. The health-management group was able to curb the losses and even post a small profit recently.

 The Beebe alderman who was arrested on Election Day for removing his opponent’s campaign signs said he would take a leave of absence from the council through the end of the year.

Alderman Les Cossey said in a letter addressed to Beebe residents, Mayor Robertson and the city council that he does “Not wish to have the publicity of this incident cast a negative light on our city.”

But Cossey’s statement also cited health problems that require treatment in the “coming weeks.”

Cossey said that he would not conduct any city business during his absence.

   Jacksonville was hit with a slew of graffiti in November, including a local church.

Jacksonville Baptist Temple, located at 520 Marshall Road, reported vandals spray painted the words “white power,” racial slurs and stars on church vehicles. The front doors of the church and on two buildings on the property were also spray painted. The church was also burglarized.

Jacksonville Baptist Temple Pastor Ted Patterson has led the 135-member church for 16 years. “We have not had an incident before,” he said.

“We do not feel it was racially motivated, but obviously motivated by some young person. Was it against Jacksonville Baptist Temple, Christianity, or the fact of where we are, I don’t have the answer,” Patterson said.

 The Lonoke-White Public Water Authority voted in mid-November to move ahead with a $55 million project to bring water from Greers Ferry Lake to the central part of the state without Cabot, one of the largest of its 11 members.

Woody Bryant, project manager, said the United States Department of Agriculture, which was providing most of the funding, wanted to move ahead with the project with the eight members who had signed contracts: Jacksonville, North Pulaski Waterworks, Vilonia, Grand Prairie, Beebe, Ward, Austin and Furlow.

Cabot, Lonoke and McRae had not signed.

The project will cost everyone a little more without Cabot, Bryant said, but everyone was aware of that and Vilonia, Austin and Beebe had already agreed to pay a little more to get the project under way.

 “We are losing our World War II vets at an alarming rate and we have only one World War I vet left in the United States,” said Alderman Butch Davis, a veteran himself.

Davis was one of the people working hard to put together Sherwood’s first ever Veteran’s Day parade.

The mile-long parade had about 20 to 25 official participants. “And we had lots of people who just want to walk in it next to the veterans to show their support, ” Davis said.

Davis said the idea for the parade started a few years ago when the mayor mentioned it might be a good idea, and then Zach Griffin, who has been a patient at the VA Hospital, met with Davis and the mayor and asked what he could do to start a veterans outreach program in the city, and all three decided the parade would be a good start.

Davis said Griffin has the insight of being a patient in the military system and brings that experience with him when he helps others assimilate back into the community.

“The parade was a great opportunity to bring all of our vets back together,” explained Davis.

 A Pulaski County Special School District official may have cut some corners when he suspended about 50 Jacksonville High School students for cutting class or tardiness.

To combat growing absenteeism and tardiness that threatened order at the school, administrator Karl Brown suspended 47 or 49 students in mid-November until their parents met with him, according to Brown, director on special assignment to the school—suspensions that may not have always followed the student handbook.

“It has been a challenge to get this school under control. Sometimes in the process of getting it under control, we may miss a step here or there,” Brown said.

“What I told every parent, next time their child is tardy, we will call them,” Brown said. “The (next time) they will receive a two-day suspension.”

“They weren’t following the policy or the student handbook,” said Brenda Bowles, assistant superintendent for equity and pupil services.

“You can’t just take everybody,” she said. “You must look at it case-by-case.”

She said teachers were adjusting to a new coding system, and that could have caused false reports of tardiness.

Brown said many of the students were not first sent to detention or in-school suspension, but “due process was not violated. Due process is telling students what was wrong, then giving consequences.”

 After nearly a decade of membership in the Lonoke-White Water Association, the Lonoke City Council has decided it couldn’t afford the $170,000-a-year assessment to pay for the intake pumps and water treatment at Greers Ferry Lake and for transmission lines.

The entire project is estimated to cost about $45 million.

“For right now, we couldn’t afford the cost,” said Lonoke Alderman Wendell Walker.

It also appears that Lonoke won’t need water from Greers Ferry Lake—the town’s own wells are 450 feet deep, sitting in 300 feet of water,” Walker said.

“I talked to the Elders Brothers at Carlisle—they drilled the last two wells we got,” Walker said.

They gave Walker a 2001-2005 U.S. Geologic Survey map that showed the water table was actually rising in Lonoke County, unlike many other areas.

Jacksonville had committed to about 23 percent of the cost and eventually of the association’s water storage at Greers Ferry. Other area communities that have approved contracts with the water association include Austin, Beebe, Furlow, Grand Prairie/Bayou 2, north Pulaski County, Vilonia and Ward.

 Cabot Alderman Tom Armstrong, 63, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in September of 2008 after he passed out while driving, and passed away in November. Although his prognosis was not good, he ran for a fourth two-year term on the city council, defeating former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh, who had left office two years earlier to run for Congress.

While he was undergoing treatment in Florida, Armstrong’s friends and family campaigned on his behalf.

He attended council meetings sporadically during 2009 and not at all in 2010. Sometimes, Mayor Eddie Joe Williams would give updates on his condition, usually somewhat hopeful, but insiders always said he was struggling.

“I’ll say this about Tom Armstrong,” said the mayor, “He was always a gentleman. He always set a high standard for us to go by.”

Armstrong never spoke ill of anyone, even those who berated him, the mayor said, and he was good at weeding out important issues from those that were irrelevant.

Armstrong’s daughter, Angie Armstrong Hoschouer, won her dad’s Ward 3, Position 1 seat on the council in a runoff against Richard Cannon.

 Superintendent Charles Hopson led a PCSSD delegation of eight on a sponsored, weeklong trip to China, the first step toward a program to teach Mandarin Chinese to some district students.

Detractors brought word of the China trip to the public before the district could craft its announcement, according to PCSSD spokeswoman Deb Rouse, claiming that it would be costly to the district and was not a proper use of district resources.

“We’re really excited about this,” Roush said. “It’s a good thing.”

The program brings American school officials to China to see the culture and the education system there, and then helps match them up with Chinese teachers.

Currently, nine Arkansas school districts have Chinese teachers teaching Mandarin to students in their districts.

Of the skepticism, Hopson said, “I think because of the experiences of the past, people are just suspicious and they probably have a right to be. As an instructional leader, it’s part of trying to put the district at an advantage.”

 The Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission, which has always been a somewhat reluctant participant in the Lonoke-White Water Project, voted unanimously to withdraw from the project.

Gary Walker, commission vice chairman, made the motion to pull out saying the project was not economically viable for Cabot.

Walker said he had never seen the Lonoke-White Project as anything more than a backup supply, a sort of insurance policy. But at a cost of $290,000 a year to participate, it was an insurance policy that costs more than it is worth.

Until 2023, Cabot will be able to take 3 million gallons a day from its wells located between Beebe and Lonoke. And for a long-term supply, Cabot is under contract to take up to 9 million gallons a day from Central Arkansas Water, enough estimated to last until 2070.

This is the second time Cabot has withdrawn from the Lonoke- White Project. The city was one of the original participants but pulled out about 10 years ago in favor of buying water from CAW, which had formed with the merging of the water departments in Little Rock and North Little Rock.

 The Sherwood golf course—The Greens At North Hills—was exceeding expectations by the end of November.

According to a report that Alderman Charlie Harmon gave the city council, the golf course was expected to bring in $500,000 for the year. But it had already brought in $551,800 just in greens fees. Meeting room rentals has generated another $36,242.

“It’s just doing wonderful,” said Harmon, chairman of the parks and recreation committee. “And we are receiving wonderful comments about the course.”

The city’s public facilities board holds the $7 million note on the golf course and the city will make monthly payments until the bonds are paid off.

When the bonds were issued, about $5.5 million went to pay off the short-term note the board acquired to purchase the golf course and another $900,000 was put in reserve to repair and update the golf course’s irrigation system.


 With a large number of people looking for work, the prospect of landing a position at the new Goodwill store in Cabot brought 180 job seekers with resumes in hand in early December.

Goodwill had 34 openings for an assistant store manager, retail sales associates and donation attendants. The positions were for both full-time and part-time employment. The average wage started out at $8 an hour. Newly hired employees worked on preparing the old Goody’s building on 204 S. Rockwood Drive to open for the grand opening set for the end of the month.

Goodwill will be a resource to find more than a hidden treasure. Within two months of opening, a career-services center will be set up inside the store. Job coaches will help anyone learn how to write a resume, brush up on their interview skills and how to properly dress for an interview. A computer lab will be at the center to teach Microsoft programs.

 In December, Jacksonville passed a 2011 general-fund budget of about $18.9 million, Sherwood approved a $19.1 million budget, Cabot passed a $9.7 million budget, while Beebe okayed a $4 million budget for 2011 and Austin approved a general fund budget of $894,650.

 Pat O’Brien’s two-year effort to digitalize courthouse records in the Pulaski County clerk’s office came to an end in December.

In a brief ruling, the Arkansas Supreme Court sided with 17 Pulaski County circuit judges who had ordered O’Brien to stop shredding paper documents at the courthouse as part of his project to move the papers into an electronic form.

O’Brien, whose term as Pulaski County circuit clerk ended Dec. 31, asked the Arkansas high court to first set aside the judges’ order, at least temporarily, and, second, to hold a hearing at which O’Brien could make oral arguments.

The court expedited its consideration of the issue, then without comment rejected both of O’Brien’s requests.

O’Brien, of Jacksonville, said he was disappointed the court didn’t address his question: Whether he, as circuit clerk, or the circuit judges controlled the records.

The judges – some individually, all as a group – said they weren’t opposed to digitalizing the files, or to destroying the paper documents, but wanted to make sure the electronic system was operating efficiently before any more shredding was done.

As more counties and courts across the state transfer paper documents into digital files, conflicts similar to what O’Brien and the Pulaski County judges faced are possible, O’Brien said. “The main issue remains the same.”

O’Brien could have run for re-election to his clerk’s post but instead chose to run for secretary of state. He lost that race Nov. 2 to Mark Martin of Prairie Grove (Washington County), a Republican member of the state House of Representatives.

 The Jacksonville Christmas parade had a scary moment when a young girl was run over by a trailer.

Jacksonville Fire Capt. Bob Thornton said the girl either jumped off or fell off the float and was attempting to get back on the single-axle trailer.

She was transported by Jacksonville emergency medical services to Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

“She was released later the same day without significant injuries,” Thornton said.

 This year’s Little Rock Air Force Base air show took top honors at the international air show convention in Las Vegas.

The Air Force Thunderbirds, which headlined the air show in October, named LRAFB’s biennial show the best in the nation.

Annabelle Davis, executive secretary of the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council, spread the news to council members after the announcement was made.

“This is a big deal,” she said. “This is huge.”

The air show, “Thunder Over the Rock,” drew around 225,000 people Oct. 9-10.

The Army Golden Knights parachute team also appeared at the air show.

Other attractions included several C-130s, the Super Hornet, Canadian Skyhawks, Otto the Helicopter, Mike Rinker and “Pink Floyd,” Shockwave Jet Truck, Alabama Boys and “Tora, Tora, Tora” World War II fighter planes and others.

 After numerous attempts to get Jacksonville to step in and save the Foxwood Country Club, the longtime owner, Ted Belden, closed down the facility Dec.20.

The move put about 20 employees out of work.

The closing also put a hold, at least temporarily, on the formation of a Foxwood Property Owner’s Association geared toward keeping the facility open.

“I think the city benefits from having a golf course, but I’ve put several hundred-thousand dollars into improvements into the facility and it’s time for others to step up,” Belden said.

Belden bought the 165-acre club and golf course outright in 1989.

He said the property is up for sale and is being marketed in golf course trade magazines. “If the residents and the city decide a golf course is not the best use for the property, then it’ll be used for something else. It’ll strictly be a business decision,” Belden said.

 Jacksonville elementary and middle school students could be attending classes in new, conjoined buildings at the site of the existing middle school by 2013, part of an ambitious $181.5 million district-wide construction, closure and consolidation plan proposed by Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent Charles Hopson.

Hopson and Derek Scott, the district’s executive director of operations, asked the board for permission to explore the ambitious and controversial plan in meetings with school patrons across the district.

Board member Gwen Williams wasted no time in telling Scott and Hopson that she would work against their plan to close Harris, Scott and College Station Elementary schools and bring them together under one new roof.

Every time the district wants to close schools, it starts with Harris, the historic black school that is the center of the McAlmont community in Williams’ district. “You’re going to close a historic black school. You’re going to shut my community down. That is our community center. That is where we meet.”

The district has no money to build new schools and will barely break even this year, according to Chief Financial Officer Anita Farver. So the three options are to save enough to pay off building bonds, ask voters to raise taxes or the status quo, in which the district struggles with old schools, continues to lose students and eventually is insolvent.

“Doing nothing is not an option,” said Hopson.

The average PCSSD school building is 41 years old and in deplorable condition, Hopson said. The students and the patrons deserve better.

 George Wylie Thompson of Cabot will remain in federal custody and Sam Baggett resigned his seat on the North Little Rock City Council in the wake of their recent convictions on federal firearms charges.

A jury deliberated about five hours before returning with guilty verdicts on all eight charges against Thompson and on three of the six counts against Baggett. The trial opened Dec. 7 in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson.

Thompson, 65, has been in federal custody since his arrest in 2009 in Bangkok, Thailand. Deemed a flight risk by the government, he remains in federal custody. Among the charges he was convicted of: being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, possession of unregistered silencers, operating an illegal gambling business, and aiding and abetting marriage fraud.

The total maximum penalty for those convictions normally is 45 years in prison and fines of up to $1.5 million, but Thompson – because of three prior felony convictions – faces life in prison.

Baggett, 58, was convicted of conspiracy to dispose of ammunition to a felon, making false statements to federal agents and aiding and abetting a felon in the possession of a firearm. He faces total maximum penalties of 20 years in prison and $750,000 in fines. 

Baggett, who was elected to the council in 2008, is free on bond.

Thompson was convicted in 1989 and 2003 on drug charges and served time for those convictions. In October, he was convicted in federal court in Little Rock on another drug charge. He faces another federal trial in Little Rock sometime this year on charges that he conspired with former North Little Rock Alderman Cary Gaines to rig bids on city contracts. Gaines pleaded guilty to that scheme and testified against Thompson and Baggett. He has yet to be sentenced.

 Despite loud, unintelligible voices leaking from an executive session discussing Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent Charles Hopson’s contract at the end of a special board meeting in mid-December, the board emerged, taking no action to fire Hopson, who they hired just six months ago.

New school board member Gloria Lawrence, who had sent harsh e-mails to the superintendent and at least some board members, questioning Hopson’s morals and making remarks some construed as having racial overtones, said she had over-reacted to the recent Legislative Audit findings that included concerns over the superintendent’s moving expenses. She said she made her comments before reading the audit or the superintendent’s contract.

“His job is not in jeopardy,” she said after the meeting. “I have confidence in his leadership. He’s taking the district in the right direction.”

She said a conversation with former school board member Danny Gililland had assuaged her worries and helped her understand the situation more fully.

School board president Bill Vasquez was quoted in a published report saying that Hopson’s job wasn’t in jeopardy. Some of the board members, particularly those elected with union help, seemed antagonistic toward the superintendent and his cabinet.

n “They are really good people. The cream of the crop,” said Jeff Eischenseer, a spokesman with Conestoga, “and we are doing everything e can to help.”

Eischenseer was referring to the 45 employees who will lose their jobs around Feb. 8 when Conestoga closes down its Jacksonville plant, along with one in Mountain View.

“At one time, we had several hundred working in Jacksonville,” Eischenseer said, “but as the housing market slumped and the orders for cabinets fell, we had a number of layoffs until now we are down to about 45.”

Eischenseer said the company plans to mothball the plant until a buyer can be found, but doesn’t expect that to happen soon. “The market just isn’t there.”

The announcement was made in late December.

 The year ended with two fatal freak accidents.

Vanda Johnson, 62, of Sherwood was crossing the southbound lanes of Hwy. 67/167 near the I-440 exit when she was struck and killed by a van driven by Phillop Lee, 21, of 305 Stonewall Dr., Jacksonville. She had crossed the busy highway earlier to check on family members who had been in an accident. They were fine.

Johnson was killed as she tried to cross the southbound lanes of the highway supposedly under orders from the state trooper who had arrived on scene to investigate the accident her grandchildren were involved in.

Family members filed a complaint with the state police and the department is reviewing the circumstances.

The same week, a Jacksonville man died in a work-related accident at Welspun Pipes manufacturing plant in Little Rock.

Frederick Bogar, 61, of 701 Poplar St., and William Durham, 38, of North Little Rock were working to cap pipe when two 19,000-pound pipes fell on them. Bogar was crushed by the falling pipes and Durham was seriously injured and trapped.

The Pulaski County coroner said Bogar suffered crushing and chest injuries that caused him to suffocate.

Durham was taken to Baptist Medical Center in Little Rock by helicopter for treatment.

 Finishing touches were put on the new $14.6 million Jacksonville-Little Rock Air Force Base Joint Education Center in December for its opening this month when Webster University held its first classes there.

In the coming weeks, the rest of the six colleges and universities that held classes and ran programs in the old, inadequate former dorms on the base will start their classes in the new structure, according to Nancy Shefflette, director of Arkansas State University-Beebe’s program at the base.

The Joint Education Center is on Little Rock Air Force Base property, but outside the security fence in order to be more accessible to Jacksonville-area residents, who approved a sales tax for a year to raise $5 million for the project.

The formal grand opening is set for Feb. 1.

 Two things that state Sen. John Paul Capps loves–other than his family, of course–are radio and helping people.

After 44 years, he’ll find himself out of a job representing the people of Searcy, Beebe, north Pulaski County and the Jacksonville area in Dist. 29, so the 76-year-old Capps said he’ll still do what he can to help out.

Area residents will lose about three-quarters of a century of able representation in January when term limits struck down Capps and his Lonoke County counterpart, Sen. Bobby Glover, in one fell swoop. They’re both Democrats.

Capps will be replaced by Rep. Jonathan Dismang of Beebe, Glover by Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, both Republicans.

Capps served 36 years in the state House of Representatives, serving as speaker of the House, and another eight years in the state Senate.

Capps served under nine governors.

 Sherwood Police Chief Kel Nicholson announced at the Sherwood City Council meeting at the end of December that he was stepping down, but not going away.

Nicholson, 47, who has had some health issues and is just getting back to 100 percent, had been the chief for almost seven years.

Nicholson said he and Capt. Jim Bedwell, 56, who headed the detectives and warrants division, would be switching jobs.

Nicholson, a 24-year veteran of the Sherwood police force, said he wants to spend more time with his 13-year-old daughter, his wife and working with middle school students at his church. His wife, Angela, is the city’s clerk and treasurer.

“I love this city, the officers and this department too much to leave it,” he said.

n The same council meeting where Nicholson announced his resignation was the last one for Alderman Becki Vassar, who was the first woman, and longest-serving, on the Sherwood council.

“They were not happy to have me to begin with,” Vassar said. That was back in 1977.

“Even though you had to live in your ward, the whole city voted on each alderman back then, so you had to cover a lot more ground.”

In 1986, she got off the council to run for mayor in a race that had some similarities to the recent mayoral race.

“It started off as a three-way race and ended up in a runoff between myself and Jack Evans, who at that time, was a one-term incumbent,” Vassar said. “I lost 60-40, but if everyone who said they voted for me actually did, I probably should have won.”

Vassar ran for city council again in 1989, won and was sworn back in January 1990, representing Ward 1, Position 1. She gave up that seat at the end of December.