Friday, January 03, 2014

TOP STORY >> 2013 IN REVIEW: Year ends with drama

(Editor’s note: This is the fourth of a five-part series looking back at 2013. It was compiled by Leader staff writer Rick Kron.)

Dastardly deeds, deserving deeds and district decisions delivered us into December. Among the dastardly was a saboteur who cut and damaged area electrical lines and grids. Among the deserving were numerous groups helping the less fortunate. And Jacksonville got the decision it wanted to form a new school district while Sherwood did not.


• Playing our song: Jacksonville residents formed an all-volunteer community orchestra with Christina Null, a lifelong Jacksonville resident, as its conductor.

• Community servant dies: Donald Hughes, a retired Air Force veteran and Sherwood’s 2012 Man of the Year, died at the age of 80.

• Sequestration hits base: About 355 Little Rock Air Force Base civilian employees were furloughed as sequestration tightened its grip on military expenditures. The government found enough money to end furloughs about two weeks later.

• Hiring vets: Former presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark, Medal of Honor winner Sgt. Dakota Meyer joined others at a town-hall meeting in Jacksonville pushing the need to hire veterans.

• More electrical hijinks: Attacks continued on the power grid between Cabot, Furlough and Keo, putting 10,000 Cabot residents in the dark for a few hours. The FBI raised its reward for information leading to an arrest from $20,000 to $25,000.

• Commission chair out: A week after a tumultuous Cabot Planning Commission meeting where he and audience members traded insults, chairman Ron Craig resigned.

• Strange bedfellows: Area liquor store owners and a confederation of about a dozen churches joined forces to battle efforts to expand alcohol sales in Jacksonville and parts of Sherwood, claiming crime will increase and saying there are better ways to attract businesses and jobs to the city.

• Veteran goes to Washington: Virgle Cook of Lonoke County was one of several veterans flown to Washington to visit the World War II memorial. He was prepared to storm the barricades in front of it because of the federal government shutdown, but the barricade was moved three days before his arrival.

• Hallmark festival: Cabot celebrated its recovery from the devastating 1978 tornado with its 35th CabotFest that featured crafts, food vendors, bands, dancers, entertainment and more.

• Grid saboteur caught: Jason Woodring, a pool maintenance man from Jacksonville, was arrested and charged in four attacks on area power lines that occurred over a six-week period.

• School bus hijacking: Bus driver Shelia Hart was honored for her calm demeanor and actions when her Pinewood Elementary school bus was hijacked in Jacksonville by 22-year old Nicholas J. Miller.

• Open congressional seat: Second District Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Little Rock) decided not to run for re-election after retired North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Henry Hays, a Democrat, decided to run for the seat. State Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) expressed interest in running for the seat even though he lives in the First District. But he decided against it.

• Coat drive: Austin resident Tracy O’Brien organized Cabot’s fourth annual coat drive, collecting a variety of clothes for needy children in the area.

• Jacksonville vs. Cabot: The two cities feuded over planning control and Cabot’s intention to eventually annex the area near Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 89 just south of the Pulaski County line. Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher was disappointed with Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert’s plans to incorporate the area.

• Afghan pilots: Two Afghan pilots became their country’s first C-130 pilots after completing flight training at Little Rock Air Force Base as the Afghanistan air force prepared to receive two C-130s from the U.S.

• Banning another breed: Cabot sought to ban the Spanish Alano dogs, which are closely related to pit bulls, from homes inside city limits.


• District can survive: In a sparsely attended open forum, Pulaski County Special School District interim superintendent Jerry Guess said the district could survive after an annual $20 million in state desegregation money is stopped. The state said the cut is likely soon.

• Court in court: A case between the Lonoke Quorum Court and the city of Lonoke made its way to the state Supreme Court. At issue was how much money the county must give the city to fund the district court. The high court ruled in the city’s favor. The county, hoping to get a different ruling, may resubmit the case to the court.

• Library sculpture: Plans were unveiled for an $80,000 sculpture display, created by a Monticello artist, to be placed near the entrance to the Jacksonville library. The Central Arkansas Library System said it will pay $32,000 of the cost if the city can raise $48,000.

• Fixing feral cats: Cabot’s Animal Control Director Mike Wheeler asked for a change in the city law to allow his department to capture thousands of feral cats, sterilize, vaccinate them and return them back to neighborhoods instead of killing them.

• Jacksonville spurned: The PCSSD presented a $220 million renovation and building plan to the state that did not include any of the $80 to $90 million in projects that are needed to repair Jacksonville schools.

• Budget cuts: A decline in tax collections and population forced Jacksonville to trim its planned 2014 budget so that expenses matched revenue. The city made the cuts without cutting any services by slashing many benefits available to city workers.

• Chicken country: Lonokians for Backyard Chickens urged the Lonoke City Council to overturn its 2003 ban against chickens and other poultry. The group wants to promote self-sufficiency and small-scale farming, but the council took no action.

• Desegregation deal stalls: A state plan to end $70 million in desegregation funding for three central Arkansas school districts, including PCSSD, hit a roadblock as civil rights attorney John Walker and the Joshua Intervenors, on the behalf of black students and their families, refused to sign off on the plan.

• Another term: Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert, finishing up his first term, announced that he would run for another four-year stint as the city’s leader.

• Paying for signatures: The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce decided to pay canvassers $2 per signature on the petition to expand liquor sales in the city, and Sherwood increased its door-to-door efforts to get its wet signatures.

• Dogs to die: Beebe tightened its ordinance against pit bulls and other vicious breeds by not allowing them to be adopted or taken by other rescue groups. The city said it would humanely euthanize them instead.

Sherwood spurned: A sentence in the state’s deal to end desegregation funding to PCSSD and two other school districts would prevent Sherwood from breaking away until PCSSD reaches unitary status and is no longer under federal monitoring.

• Economic director: After a six-month vacancy, the Sherwood chamber hires Barry Sellers, a Florida resident, to be the new economic development director.

• Good news for Jack-sonville: A federal judge ruled that Jacksonville could form an independent school district and for the city to proceed with its efforts. The judge also ruled in favor of a state funded plan to end the 31-year-old central Arkansas desegregation lawsuit.

• Lonoke County budget: The county quorum court passed a $6.7 million budget for 2014, about the same as the previous year.

• Settlement deadline set: U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. set Dec. 23 as the deadline for people to comment or object to the state’s desegregation settlement that he approved a week earlier.


• State plays Scrooge: A state law forced Cabot firefighters to move their annual boot drive from the streets to area parking lots, resulting in a 25 percent drop in donations. Firefighters use the funds to buy Christmas toys and food for area children.

• Sherwood heroes honored: Two Sherwood construction workers, Ben Hughes and Chris Smith, were honored for helping firefighters save a woman’s life during an apartment fire.

• Pearl Harbor remembered: James Atkinson, 87, of Jacksonville recalled the Dec. 7, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. He was 16 and living with his family just east of Pearl Harbor when the surprise attack occurred.

• Weather scuttles parades: Cold, wet, icy wintry weather postponed area Christmas parades and other Christmas events the first weekend in December, but most were reset for later in the month.

• Hot taco idea: Todd Mills, 41, who recently died of a brain tumor, was remembered as the inspiration for Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Taco that have earned the fast-food chain more than $1 billion in sales. Frito Lay had previously turned down the blockbuster idea.

• Storm closes schools: The same weather that canceled parades also closed schools in the area for up to two days. And, although there wasn’t much snow, there was enough ice to make travel unsafe.

• Holiday cheer boxes: The Cabot Christmas Alliance gathered enough food to prepare 1,000 boxes to help needy families in the area have food for the holidays.

• Ward passes budgets: The city of Ward passed a $1.39 million general fund budget for 2014 and a $2.7 million budget for water and sewer, both up slightly from the previous year.

• Modernization plan stays: A new $1 trillion plan to modernize C-130s survived federal budget cuts. It was seen as a boost for Little Rock Air Force Base.

• Beebe pay raises: The Beebe City Council approved a $4.6 million budget for 2014 that included a 3 percent raise for city workers.

• Sherwood budget up: Sherwood’s council approved a $20.4 million general budget for 2014, up about $500,000 from the previous year.

• Opposition to deseg deal: Sherwood filed an objection to the state’s plan to end the school desegregation case because the plan blocks Sherwood efforts to develop its own school district.

• Fatal ATM shooting: Jerome Kelley, 19, allegedly shot and killed Marcus Israel, 23, after Israel made a $20 withdrawal from a Jacksonville ATM. Kelley confessed to the shooting and two other robberies with a gun.