Wednesday, April 13, 2005

EDITORIAL>> Gathering at the trough

Tax-increment financing, the commercial developer’s fantasy, has given new meaning to the term “feeding frenzy.” Since the legislature moved to put teeth into the constitutional amendment that allowed the creation of the TIF districts, developers in every booming city in Arkansas have put on the feed bag.

Arkansas Business recounts plans by the city of Paragould to create a TIF district to build a new movie theater complex.

The three Malco theaters up there seem not to have kept pace with moviegoers’ needs, so your schools at Jacksonville, Cabot, Beebe — wherever — will hand over some of their local property tax money for the next 25 years to enhance the moviegoing experience of the people in Greene County.

They will surrender the money, that is, if Gov. Huckabee signs the new TIF legislation into law.

That seems now to be foregone. One of the big proponents and beneficiaries of the TIF law is Bruce Burrow, a major developer who wants to use it to build shopping malls. His real estate company also has a hand in the Paragould development.

Burrow, a major supporter of the governor, serves on the state Economic Development Commission under appointment by Huckabee, and his wife is a Huckabee appointee to the state Board of Education.

With the critical support of Jonesboro lawmakers, the bill specifying how cities can take advantage of the TIF option sailed through the legislature in its final days. The House of Representatives put the finishing touches on it Tuesday by a vote of 74-16.

TIF works this way: A city council or a county quorum court creates a special development district and issues bonds to pay for improvements paving the way for a shopping mall, restaurants, an office building or, in Paragould’s case, a theater complex.

Revenues from property taxes in the district will then be frozen for the life of the bonds, typically 25 years, and all the year-to-year growth in tax receipts from rising real estate values and new property will be siphoned from the schools and libraries to pay off the bonds.

The bill exempts certain tax recipients — community colleges and police and firemen’s pension funds, notably — from losing their rising tax receipts.
There is special perversity to this special-interest act. The original premise of TIF, when it was presented to voters in 2002, was that it would stimulate economic development in depressed communities.

The local schools might suffer flat revenues for a year or two, the theory went, but the economic growth from the investment would erase the deficit soon enough.

It really made little sense then but it turns out to have precisely the opposite effect.

No one should be surprised that the only places where TIF is being proposed are the prosperous cities, where there is a ready and even booming market for investment. So the big users at the outset will be Rogers, Fayetteville, Bentonville, Jonesboro, Paragould and perhaps North Little Rock, which wants to make it easy for an out-of-state sporting goods giant to build in the wetlands off Interstate 40 and drive out existing merchants, who won’t get the big public subsidy.

Yet the poor regions — the starved school districts of the Delta and south Arkansas — will get to pay for the improvements.

They are the schools that the Arkansas Supreme Court says the state is obliged to help if it is to meet its obligation under the state Constitution to provide a good and equal education to every child.

Owing to the strange twists of our Constitution, the money coming out of a local school’s budget to pay for the local development will be reimbursed from the state Public School Fund.

It means that every school child in Arkansas and every property owner will be tapped to subsidize the developers’ dreams.

Do we have a great government or what?

SPORTS>> Lady Devils on two game losing streak

IN SHORT: Jacksonville softball team loses to Searcy and Greenbrier last week. It was the team’s first back-to-back losses this season.

By Ray Benton
Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Lady Red Devils are now in the midst of a losing streak after dropping their second game in a row Friday to class AAAA powerhouse Greenbrier.
The Lady Devils handed the Lady Panthers their first loss of the season a week earlier in the Harrison tournament, but fell 3-1 Friday at Greenbrier.

“Amanda Burgess did a great job pitching and we didn’t have any errors,” Greenbrier coach Tommy Reed said. “You feel like you give yourself a chance to win when you get both of those things.”

Greenbrier took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Leadoff hitter Jan McCollum was hit by a Jessica Bock pitch and scored on the next at bat when Shannon Pickard doubled off the wall in left-centerfield.

It became a pitchers’ duel after that, with Jacksonville getting the only run over the next four innings.

That run came in the top of the third when freshman Lady Devil Taylor Norsworthy doubled to drive in Jacksonville’s only run of the game.

Greenbrier scored the game-winning runs in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Burgess singled to start things off, but it appeared that Jacksonville would thwart the threat. With two outs, however, Amy Allen doubled to drive in Burgess for the winning run. The Lady Panthers added an unearned run on the next at bat when a line drive into left field bounced off the outfielder’s glove to score Allen.

The loss to Greenbrier comes on the heels of a shocking, 10-inning loss to big underdog Searcy in a AAAAA-East conference game. The Lady Lions scored four runs in the bottom of the 10th inning to prevail 5-4 after Jacksonville had taken a 4-1 lead.

Searcy was Jacksonville’s first victim of the season. In that game, Bock threw a perfect game over seven innings and struck out 19 of the 21 batters she faced.
That wasn’t the case last week, as Searcy picked up five base hits and took advantage of a few Lady Devil mistakes to get the upset victory.

“That was a huge win for us,” Searcy coach Mike McCain said. “It puts us right back in the playoff race and really may have given us an upper hand.”

Jacksonville, Cabot and West Memphis all have one conference loss and stand tied at the top of the league standings.

Searcy, Mountain Home and Jonesboro are battling for the final playoff spot while Forrest City has just one win, it coming against winless Sylvan Hills.

The Lady Lions are now 5-2 in league play and 6-7 overall.

Jacksonville’s losses dropped the Lady Devils to 9-3 on the season.

The Lady Devils’ next game is a conference doubleheader at Mountain Home.

Jacksonville will host its annual Lady Devil Classic this weekend, which features several of the state’s top teams from around the state in all classifications.

SPORTS>> Lady Badgers battle swarm

IN SHORT: Beebe High School’s softball team beat Sheridan in a non-conference game last Friday, moves to within one game of a 20-win season at 19-4.

By Ray Benton
Leader sports editor

The Beebe Lady Badgers faced a sawrm of Yellowjackets last week, and ended it by beating the swarm from Sheridan Friday night outside of conference play. The Beebe ladies defeated the Sheridan Lady Yellowjackets 8-3 on a slightly soggy field in Sheridan.

The win Friday followed a conference doubleheader split with the Wynne Lady Yellowjackets on Tuesday at home.

Lady Badger leadoff hitter Brandi Burkhalter got only one hit in five at bats, but reached base three times and scored three runs.

The sophomore Burkhalter’s base rap came on the first at bat of the day. She singled to left field and moved to second on a base hit by freshman Emily Bass. Senior Crystal Robinson moved the runners up with a fly out. That set up a two-RBI base hit by freshman Chelsea Sanders.

Beebe made it 4-0 in the next inning after putting Sheridan down in order in the bottom of the first.

Sophomore Sara Flenor and freshman Bailey Thomas singled to leadoff the inning. Senior Heather Stroud and freshman Mykia Cox followed with two more singles with Cox’s hit scoring Flenor.

Three batters later, Robinson singled to drive in the final run of the inning.
Neither team scored in the third, but Beebe extended its lead to 6-0 in the top of the fourth with two more runs.

Again it was the two leadoff hitters that scored, but this time with a little help from Sheridan. Burkhalter reached on an error at first base while Bass got on via a mistake at second. That set up another RBI single by Robinson that scored Burkhalter. Two batters later Flenor got another base hit that scored Bass to extend Beebe’s margin to plus 6.

Trailing 6-0, the home team finally got on the board with a single run in the bottom of the fourth, but the Lady Badgers kept scoring in the fifth.

Cox walked to start things off and Burkhalter got on due to an error by the Lady Yellowjacket pitcher. Bass was hit by a pitch and Robinson walked to drive in one run.

The final run came two batters later on a base hit by sophomore Callie Mahoney.

Sheridan got two more hits and two more runs in the sixth inning, but never seriously threatened the Lady Badgers.

Beebe compiled 12 base hits, but left a dozen base runners stranded over the course of the game. Sheridan was held to just three hits over seven innings by Robinson.

The senior hurler also went 2 for 3 at the plate and drove in two runs. Sanders went 2 for 4 and also had two RBIs.

Mahoney and Flenor each had two hits and an RBI while Cox, Burkhalter and Bass each had one base hit in the contest.

The win lifts the Lady Badgers to 19-4 overall on the season. They played a conference doubleheader last night against Paragould after Leader deadlines, and will play another non-conference game at Lonoke Thursday. Look for details from both of those games in Saturday’s edition of the Leader.

OBITUARIES>> April 13, 2005

Col. LaVaun “Buddy” M. James, 84, of North Little Rock passed away April 8. He was born in Belleville to William and Katie Payne James. He was a member of the First United Methodist Church in Jacksonville. He retired as a property and fiscal officer for the Arkansas National Guard in 1980. He was a World War II Army Air Corps veteran, served as deputy brigade commander of 39thInfantry Brigade and was a member of the Arkansas Field Trial Hall of Fame. His photo hangs in the Field Trial Hall of Fame in Grand Junction, Tenn.

He is survived by his wife, Betty Jo James of North Little Rock; a son, Larry James of Jonesboro; three sisters, Violet Roberts of Dardanelle, Velda Seese of Buffalo, N.Y., and Viva Oakes of Pensacola, Fla.; two grandsons, Seth James and Sloan James, and a great-grandson, Rush James.

Funeral services will be 11 a.m. Wednesday at the First United Methodist Church with Rev. David Fleming officiating. A graveside service will be held at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Brearly Cemetery in Dardanelle. Memorials may be made to the American Heart Association or the First United Methodist Church of Jacksonville. Arrangements by Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home.
Norman Jeffery

Norman Joe Jeffery, 54, of Romance died April 10. Survivors are sons Aaron Standfield, Josh and wife Deanna Jeffery; daughter Kayle and husband Clint Kelly; grandson Levi Kelly; brother, Rick Cook and niece Megan. Visitation is 6-8 p.m. Thursday at Westbrook Funeral Home, Beebe. Funeral is at 11 a.m. Friday at Westbrook Funeral Home, with burial in Meadowbrook Memorial Gardens.

Linda Jenkins, 64, died April 10. She is survived by her husband, Robert Jenkins; a son, Amos Owen Jenkins of Lonoke; a daughter, Robbie Wakefield and her husband, Ricky of Carlisle; four grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; three brothers, T.O. Ford, Jr. of Lonoke, William Ford of Arizona and Daniel Ford of Pine Bluff; three sisters, Josephine Cotton and Joyce Marie Bevil of Helena and Betty Jean Reynolds of Texas; numerous nieces, nephews, great nieces and great nephews.

Graveside services will be 10 a.m. Wednesday at Old Carlisle Cemetery, arrangements by Boyd Funeral Home, Lonoke.

Rachel Marie Paul, 21, of Texarkana, formerly of Cabot. Taken too soon in her prime, on March 29, a band of angels escorted Rachel Marie Paul to rest in God’s arms and to join with Jesus Christ and the following beloved late family members: her sister, Alicia Marie Garner, her beloved Uncle Donald Wesley Noll and her cherished grandmother, Golda Orene Davis.

She was also joined one hour later by her cat “Angel.”

Rachel was born July 3, 1983 in Bellflower, Calif., to Stephanie Ann Garner. She was a 2001 graduate from Cabot High School.
Rachel was a volunteer cheerleader coach for Cabot Youth Pee Wee football for three years. She loved Taekwondo and was a second degree black belt. She was very athletic and she enjoyed swimming and was one of the first of just a few African American female members on the Cabot Panther track team.

Rachel leaves behind to cherish her memory, her mother, Stephanie Ann Paul of the home, great aunt Barbara Davis, great uncle Johnny, great aunt and uncle Vic and Linda Davis, cousins Cindy, Johnny, Dru and Alicia and their families of California.

She also leaves behind members of her extended family, including her second mother, Michalle Moss and her husband Russell and their children, Stephen and Caleb of Cabot; another second mother Carmen Mason and children Jarred and Luis of California; Jason Dwayne Absher of North Little Rock who was just like the brother she never had since the age of 7; sister of her heart Crystal Caldwell, goddaughter Jayden, Morgan Carver, Nikki and Terry and Terry and Gary and several other friends who are too numerous to mention.

The family would like to express a special thanks to the nurses and doctors at Baylor University Medical Center for their loving care during her two liver transplant surgeries, several rejections and her foray into the field of experimental rejection medications.
Further, the family would like to offer a warm and sincere thanks to Serenity Hospice for the exceptional care they provided for Rachel in her last days. Memorial services will be held 2 p.m. Saturday at Living Waters Church in Cabot with Rev. James Charlton officiating.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Twice Blessed, 2732 Gaston Ave., Suite 119, Dallas, Texas 75246. Arrangements are by Thomas Funeral Service.

R.L. Price, 76, of Jacksonville, passed away April 10. He was born Dec. 10, 1928 in Bonham, Texas, to Rowland and Hudie Bramlett Price. He was a member of the Second Baptist Church in Jackson-ville. He was a veteran of the Korean War and retired from the Air Force after 22 years of service. He was a life member of the VFW Post 4548 and the Jacksonville Senior Citizens Center.

He was preceded in death by his parents, sisters, Hattie, Ruby and Annie and brothers, William and Delbert. He is survived by his children, Vickie Word of Evansville, Ind., Lydia Schmidt of Coon Rapids, Minn., Charles Price of Jacksonville and James Price of North Little Rock; nine grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

Memorial services will be 5 p.m. Wednesday at Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home Chapel with Rev. Ron Raines officiating. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Diabetes Association, P.O. Box 1132, Fairfax, Va. 22038-1132.

Arrangements by Moore’s Jack-sonville Funeral Home.

Lonnie L. Cox, 78, of Searcy, died April 11. He was a retired building contractor, a Navy veteran and a Baptist. He is survived by his wife, Mary L. Cox of Searcy; two sons, Ron Cox of Butlerville and Don Cox of Hale, Missouri; three daughters, Jeanette Martindale of Waverly, Mo., Anita Singer and Linda Judy, both of Hale, Mo.i; three stepchildren, Patricia Warner of House Springs, Mo., Lynne Prenzel of Collinsville, Ill. and Jay Rivera of California; 17 grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; two brothers, Odis Cox of Searcy and M. L. Cox of Paragould; and numerous nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, Shade and Mary Jane Cox; a sister, Marie Bedwell and a brother, James Cox. Family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Westbrook Funeral Home, Beebe.

Funeral will be 2 p.m. Thursday at Westbrook Funeral Home, with burial in Lebanon Cemetery.

Michael Wayne “Pinky” Pennington passed away April 8. He was born May 24, 1957.
He was preceded in death by his mother, Bonnie Pennington and brother, Gene Pennington. He leaves behind two children he adored, Chase Michael Pennington and Malissa Sue Pennington both of Lonoke; his father and stepmother, Muriel and Jean Pennington; a sister and a brother-in-law, Beth and Kerry Jacks; a niece and nephew he adored Kara and Preston Jacks of Lonoke and his wife Rhonda Swaffar of Little Rock. The family will be receiving friends from 6 to 8 p.m. at West Academy in Lonoke. Memorial services will be 9:30 a.m. Thursday at Boyd Funeral Home in Lonoke.

Several consider running for mayor in Cabot in ’06

IN SHORT: As Stumbaugh considers a race for Congress, former Mayor Allman and others ponder a mayoral race.

Leader staff writer

The race for Cabot mayor in 2006 could prove interesting if all the politicians who say they are being asked to run actually do.

According to coffeeshop talk, the former mayor and at least two others are possible candidates against Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh. But so far, no one has announced, not even the mayor.

At press time, Stumbaugh was working on a press release about a possible candidacy for Congress against Marion Berry, but he said as soon as he announces for any office, (mayor or Congress), Federal Communications Commission rules will prohibit him from speaking on the radio unless his opponent is given equal time.

So which one is he running for? He isn’t saying.

Former Mayor Joe Allman also isn’t saying much either just yet.

“I haven’t made up my mind, but I have had a lot of encouragement to run,” Allman said last week.

Allman says he’s concerned that the sidewalk project started during his administration has not kept going. He’s concerned about drainage and about the fund for the railroad overpass that has not been added to since Stumbaugh took office.

The overpass will cost about $5 million with the city being responsible for about $1 million.

The council is working on a plan to finance the city’s part but if the project moves forward as anticipated, the state will need the full amount later this year.

Allman also has been mentioned as a possible candidate for city council to replace longtime Alderman Bob Duke, who says he doesn’t intend to run again.

“I feel like 30 years is enough,” Duke said Tuesday.

“I feel like some of the younger generation can do a better job than I can. I’ll finish out this term and then hang it up.”

So will Allman take that path rather than try to win back the office he lost to Stumbaugh more than two years ago?

“I haven’t made my mind up about that,” he said.

Former Alderman Eddie Joe Williams doesn’t hesitate to talk about his intentions, especially since the Leader reminded its readers last month that he actually announced shortly after Stumbaugh took office.

“I’m running,” Williams said Tuesday.

Williams, who worked toward getting the railroad overpass on the highway department schedule for construction, addressed the council recently to spur them into attempting to fund it three years ahead of schedule.

If the federal money is available this year instead of in 2008, the city shouldn’t let the opportunity slip by, Williams said.
Alderman David Polantz, serving his fifth term on the city council, has taken a leading role in recent years. Currently, he is the chairman of several council committees.

He has asked the council to put before voters a millage increase to pay for the overpass and to help pay for the community center, which is under-funded by $1.2 million.

Once a political ally of the mayor, the two have been at odds lately, and Stumbaugh says Polantz intends to run for his job.

“I’m praying about it,” Polantz said. “I’ll decide in the fall. It’s a very big decision.”

TOP STORY>> Legislators put schools in tight spot

IN SHORT: Senators approve facilities bill, but many districts are unhappy, will file lawsuits.

Leader staff writer

In a school board meeting Tuesday night, Cabot Superinten-dent Frank Holman said his district would lose $630,988 in incentive funding and $188,060 in general facility funding from the state over the next 10 years.

But the news was not all bleak. “We’re going to get 62 percent of our future educational facilities funded. I think it can work. We’re a growing district,” Holman said.

Kieth Williams, superintendent of Beebe Public Schools, said Tuesday, “This coming year will be a difficult year for public schools because there will be no additional funding to pay for a litany of unfunded mandates from the legislators for staffing and program requirements.”

State schools are facing $168 million in new costs and unfunded mandates generated this legislative session. In addition, the facilities funding bill, which passed the Senate Tuesday afternoon 29-3, will alter the way districts are getting state assistance and many districts worry it won’t be enough. Some have threatened to go to court over the funding issue.

“Finances are a major challenge for any public school superintendent. Even though the emphasis is on student achievement, superintendents can’t separate themselves from the issues surrounding funding,” Williams said.

The state will now rank its 253 school districts from richest to poorest and will provide building subsidies for future facilities construction and improvements. For example, Wealthier districts in areas with high property values will receive less subsidized funding.

Pre-January 2005 facilities assistance and incentive funding will be phased out over a ten-year period.

The money from both phased-out funding formulas will be re-distributed to districts through the Educational Facilities Partnership Fund Account.

“I think everybody was just resigned to the fact that’s the best we’re going to get in facility funding in regards to existing debt,” said Sen. Shane Broadway.

“Some wanted it one way and some wanted it another and we just had to meet somewhere in the middle,” Broadway said.

The House passed Broadway’s education adequacy bill Tuesday afternoon with 79 for and 21 against.

“Sen. Broadway and myself, we’re elated. The work we’re doing is going to be really good in the long run,” said Rep. Jodie Mahony of El Dorado.

The foundation funding for the 2006-07 school year in Broadway’s bill is $5,497 per student. Last year it was $5,400 per student. For the year 2005-2006, it will remain at $5,400.

“Schools will lose money if they lose students and that’s fair,” Mahony said.

The 84th General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Educational Adequacy adopted the Educational Adequacy Report in August 2003.
Each General Assembly is required to reassess the educational adequacy in Arkansas and recommend changes to maintain it as an ongoing priority for the state.

The report recommended spending $847 million to bring education in all Arkansas school districts up to an adequate standard back in 2003.

“Next year, we’re going to focus on teacher salaries. There’s a big discrepancy statewide. Schools in Springdale are starting teachers at $44,000 a year. The state average is $27,000. Something will have to be done,” Mahony said.

TOP STORY>>Teachers want cuts elsewhere

IN SHORT>> PCSSD board is divided over reductions that must be made in order to balance the district’s budget.

Leader staff writer

Under the duress of not only financial distress but emotional distress, frustrations boiled over at Tuesday night’s Pulaski County Special School District board meeting, with teachers and administrators nominating each other to bear the brunt of cuts to balance the budget and satisfy the state.

Freezing teacher salaries would save $3.4 million, more than a third of the $9 million in savings proposed by Superintendent Donald Henderson and his cabinet, cuts intended to pull the district out of the precipitous three-year financial plunge that has drawn scrutiny from the state Department of Education and a designation as one of 11 Arkansas school districts in financial distress.

That didn’t include another $1 million in proposed savings from cutting seven gifted and talented teachers, and 12.5 elementary and secondary counselors.

The Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers (PACT), countered with a proposal that would cut the number of principals and assistants district wide from the current allocation of 51 to the state mandated minimum of seven for a $3 million savings.

Failure to turn around the school’s financial situation could result in forced consolidation. The state Education Department could force a superintendent to give up control or could suspend and replace the school board.

Making $9 million worth of cuts would leave the district with a projected fund balance of about $10 million at the end of the 2005-2006 school year instead of a projected deficiency of about $5.3 million, according to John Archetko, interim assistant superintendent for business.

As Archetko listed 27 categories for reductions and Henderson explained that only the southwestern part of the district would keep its home school counselors as required by the desegregation agreement, Bishop James Bolden III, Jacksonville’s representative loudly interrupted.

“I understand about the desegregation, but we’ve got kids that need help.”

“The children are suffering,” Bolden said, his rising voice shaking with apparent emotion.

“If it seems like I’m frustrated, I am,” he said, taking off his glasses and slapping his hand on the table.

“I appreciate the teachers, but sometimes we can’t afford raises.” He said he objected to keeping the counselors at the southwest schools, but not in Jacksonville or at Harris. “If you’re going to cut, cut across the board,” he said.

The floodgates opened, and all board members in turn expressed their frustrations.

Board president Mildred Tatum — whose district includes those southwest schools—assured Bolden that no action would be taken until the special April 20 board meeting.

Board member Carol Burgett put some of the district’s financial blame on the state legislature and Congress for unfunded mandates, including the so-called No-Child-Left-Behind mandate.

Past board president Jeff Shaneyfelt, still on the board, assured her that the legislature provided the district with an additional $13 million last year, which the district spent.

“This is a tragic situation. We had a $20 million fund balance three years ago,” he said. He then blamed poor management by the board, including himself.

“I predicted three years ago we would have this catastrophe,” Shaneyfelt said.

Board member Pam Roberts said that increasing tension had grown over the past few years between teachers and administrators.
“This is being used,” she said, “and the kids get caught in the middle.”

“Everybody is going to take some cuts,” she said.

Board member Don Baker said the Chinese character for a crises was the same as the character for an opportunity and urged the board to look on the financial distress designation as an opportunity.

Deen Minton, PACT president, said salary negotiations are due to begin this week and the district wouldn’t be conceding increases in pay and benefits, at least now.

She presented the association’s ideas for saving money and coming out of financial distress as well as a number of questions about the administration’s proposed cuts.

Shaneyfelt, a CPA, has long forecast financial woes as the district gave teacher raises, complied with unfunded mandates and looted money originally earmarked for school construction and improvement projects.

“I’ve been saying all along that I don’t think we’ve had a real handle on our budget,” he said in a Tuesday afternoon interview.

“This is probably the third time in three years we’ve gone through major cuts,” said Shaneyfelt. “Each time, phones light up like a Christmas tree. We’ve peeled down to the core and we’re getting down to the blood.”

FROM THE PUBLISHER>>Molesters go too far, eventually get caught


Pedophiles are in the news these days. Maybe there aren’t more of them out there, it’s just that more children are speaking out and prosecutors are handing down more indictments.

These cases usually boil down to a child making an accusation against an adult, and adults on a jury would rather believe one of their own sitting in a suit at the defense table than accept the world of a child, who has no reason to lie but has come forward because she can no longer keep the hurt inside and told someone what happened that night when she stayed over at a friend’s house while a guy started “wrestling” with her in their den.

Adults have abused children from the beginning of time and got away with their crimes because for too long their behavior wasn’t even considered criminal.

Kids are defenseless against adult predators, who think they can beat and threaten and molest children and make all kinds of excuses if they’re charged with a crime: It was all innocent “horseplay,” they were just “wrestling” and there’s nothing wrong with picking up a child by the crotch because that’s how they pick up their grandchildren.

They not only violate children sexually, they threaten them with more violence if they tell adults what happened.

The predators are often stepparents who think nothing of violating a child who is not their own. A few years ago, we wrote about a monster who raped his stepdaughter almost daily while his wife was at work.

The little girl was too scared to tell her mother. It wasn’t until years later that her teachers realized she was an abused child and offered to help her.

She finally told her story, and her stepfather was charged with rape and is still in prison.

He had been tried several years earlier for fondling a little girl who was spending the night with his stepdaughter, but there wasn’t much evidence against him, and the jury let him off so he could rape his stepdaughter for a decade or more.

Almost every day we hear reports of abusive men taking advantage of children. Some get long prison sentences, others plead guilty and get reduced sentences, while others get off. But even those who go free eventually get caught because they’re serial abusers, although they’ll hurt many more kids before they’re sent to prison.

The human mind is capable of all kinds of depravity that most people can’t even imagine. But as more cases of abuse are reported, we’ll tell our readers about the problem in our communities and warn predators that they, too, could go to trial and serve long prison sentences.

In other words, they’d better watch out.

TOP STORY>> Sheriff fights abusers with limited funds

IN SHORT>> Rural White County is seeing a rising number of sex offenders.

Leader staff writer

Living out in the country in the nation’s Bible Belt isn’t as safe as it used to be. Just ask White County Sheriff Pat Garrett. He is keeping a close eye on sex offenders in White County while struggling to combat potential sexual predators.

Garrett said when he began policing in White County in 1994, he would be surprised if there were more than 40,000 people in the county. Now there’s over 70,000 and some of them are sexual offenders.

“I just asked the quorum court for money for an additional person dedicated to sex crimes investigation but they said no,” Garrett said.
“I’m doing the best with what I got.”

Drug abuse in White County, particularly methamphetamine abuse, is “absolutely” one of the leading factors in sex crimes, says Garrett.

Meth users describe an increase in libido while on the drug, but a decrease in sexual function. That, paired with the physical agitation, can lead to violent sexual behavior with drug use.

Garrett credits social awareness and concerned people getting the victims of sex offenders the help they need. All registered sex offenders in Arkansas are required to submit to assessment by the sex offender screening and risk assessment program coordinated by the Ark-ansas Department of Correction. Each offender is assigned a risk level based on the results of the assessment.

Based on information obtained from the risk assessment process, offenders are assigned the following levels: Level 1 — low risk; Level 2 — moderate risk; Level 3 — high risk, and Level 4 — sexually violent predator. Offenders failing to submit to assessment are assigned default Risk Level 3.

As part of the Sex Offender Registration Act of 1997, the Arkansas Crime Information Center lists Level 3 and 4 sex offenders on its Web site, including those who commit crimes against children.

Last week in White County, two men were sentenced in separate cases to five years each for soliciting sex from teenagers over the Internet in 2004.

The 14-year-old girls the men chatted with online were, in fact, detectives from the White County Sheriff’s Department. The detectives visit chat rooms, hoping to catch an online predator by posing as their favorite prey, teens.

TOP STORY>> Predators in our midst

IN SHORT: After several high-profile cases, communities worry about their children, but prosecutors are taking a tough stance against sex offenders, many of whom are serving long sentences.

Leader staff writer

This area has had several high-profile sexual-abuse cases in recent years.

The best known was the case of Boy Scout leader Jack Walls III, who is serving several life sentences after he abused dozens of young men, drove one to suicide, and had another kill his parents and sister to cover up the scandal.

Heath Stocks, the young man who shot his parents and sister in 1997, and Walls are both serving life prison sentences, while Wade Knox, the abuse victim who later committed suicide, was recently honored with the opening of a child advocacy center in Lonoke which bears his name.

Last week, a Jacksonville man was sentenced to 30 years in prison when he pled guilty to raping a seven-year-old boy, raising the high area total of sex convictions by one more.

Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey sentenced Robert Leon Brooks, 43, on April 5. He will serve the full 30-year term because of a previous conviction.

Brooks was convicted of rape in 1985 and was sentenced to 20 years, but was released in 1997.

There are less dramatic cases, but Lonoke County prosecutors have had their hands full going after alleged pedophiles. At least two trials have been postponed because of concerns that the same jury hearing disturbing testimony in these cases will get nauseous and vote for convictions.

The Arkansas Department of Correction currently houses 48 sex offenders from Lonoke County, 50 from Pulaski County, and 37 from White County.

Two of those include Walls III and Larry Wayne Stephens, the trigger-case for a motion to recuse that was filed against Lonoke County Circuit Judge Lance Hanshaw.

Walls was convicted of six counts of rape in 1997 and is serving three life sentences and three 40-year terms.
He was charged with only six counts of rape because of the statute of limitations, but some believe he may have abused up to 150 young men before he was stopped.

The first incident allegedly happened when Walls, then 22, showed a Playboy magazine to a 12-year-old boy in 1968 and asked for sex. According to a web site, the boy turned him down and told people about the incident, leading to his being fired from his job and being sent to Vietnam.

He was stopped for the last time when a victim forced him to confess at gunpoint in 1997. The investigation that followed uncovered 60 recent victims.

Stephens was convicted of rape, kidnapping, terroristic threatening in the first degree, and domestic battery in the third degree.
A motion to recuse was filed after Hanshaw went against the jury’s recommendation of 86 years in consecutive sentences to only 40 years in concurrent sentences. Hanshaw said he didn’t think the jury understood the difference between consecutive and concurrent after the recommendation was made.

Stevens, a 10-time felon, beat his girlfriend in the head with a Mason jar and choked her until she lost consciousness. When she awoke, he continued beating her with the Mason jar, yelling at her to admit she had cheated on him.

Stephens finally ripped all her clothes off and raped her. He threatened to kill her and said he could make it look like an accidental fire, the affidavit said. The woman escaped by jumping through a window. She then ran to a neighbor’s house and called the police.
He had previous convictions dating from 1989 to 2001, including sexual abuse in the first degree, possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, fleeing, two counts of commercial burglary, impairing a vital public facility, tampering with physical evidence, and two counts of theft of property.

Two upcoming cases include a former ASU-Beebe employee accused of child Internet pornography and a former Ward man accused of abusing his young grandchildren. Jerry Don McCabe, 46, of Austin, was arrested Jan. 7 after a tip was given by Missouri authorities.

He had been chatting with a Diamond, Mo., officer he thought was a 13-year-old girl when he left a chat service. He returned to the chat program and broadcast himself nude to “cindy64840” for about 20 minutes. He returned to her on three of the next four days before the Lonoke Sheriff’s Department confiscated his computer to find child Internet porn.

His pretrial date was set for May 24 with jury trial dates set for May 25-26. Albert Hays, 58, formerly of Ward, now in Bonita Springs, Fla., was arrested Feb. 1, 2004 for rape.

The state alleged that between Jan. 1995 and Dec. 31, 1997, Hays engaged in sexual contact with two grandsons who were less than 14 years of age.

His pretrial date was set for May 24 with jury trial dates set for June 1 and 2.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

OPINION>> Win Paul vs. Asa


For the first time in 16 years, Arkansas seems guaranteed of a real primary contest for governor in 2006 and, as it was in 1990, it will be between Republicans. More than a year before the traditional filing period, Lt. Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller and Asa Hutchinson announced that they would seek the Republican nomination.

Primary contests for governor once were the province of the Democratic Party, but there has not been a real challenge in the Democratic primary since 1982, when Bill Clinton defeated Jim Guy Tucker and Joe Purcell, two of the party’s biggest vote-getters, to begin his comeback. In the five elections since then, the Democratic nominee was anointed long before the filing began.

This time, Attorney General Mike Beebe is the presumptive nominee, although he has done nothing more than merely hint that he would run.

It is easy to affix epochal meaning to the circumstances. One theory: The Republican Party has finally matured and replaced the Democrats as the party with energy, and the Democratic Party has run out of promising political figures.

Here is a notion that is at least as persuasive: It is the Republican Party that faces a crisis, a struggle for its soul. While some Democrats think their party would be better off and its nominee stronger if there were a vigorous primary fight for the nomination, they should not envy the GOP the dilemma it faces in Hutchinson and Rockefeller.

The Republicans had what they thought was an embarrassment of riches in 1990, when Sheffield Nelson, the handsome gas company executive, and U. S. Rep. Tommy Robinson both switched parties to run for governor, but it turned out to be merely an embarrassment.

The party, helped by a crossover vote by Democrats, picked Nelson, and Gov. Bill Clinton crushed him in the general election when details of the Arkoma gas scandal dribbled out, with Robinson’s assistance. Nelson had helped his friend Jerry Jones collect a fortune and the Dallas Cowboys franchise at the expense of Arkansas natural gas customers.

The party recovered quickly from the bitter personal rivalry that betrayed it in 1990. While the personal animosity may be absent in the Rockefeller-Hutchinson race, at least for now, the divisions may be visceral and subterranean, and even harder to turn into victory.

Hutchinson, who resigned as deputy secretary for Homeland Security after he was twice turned down by President Bush for the top job, has made two statewide races — for the Senate in 1986 and for attorney general in 1990 — and suffered sizable defeats both times. Rockefeller won both his statewide races. His moderate image, the legacy of good will from his father’s rising historical standing and his strength among traditionally Democratic-voting African-Americans stands him in good stead in a statewide contest.

All of those advantages are virtually useless to Rockefeller in a Republican primary with Hutchinson.

Unless there is a sea change in voting habits in 2006, the primary will be largely decided in three northwest Arkansas counties — Benton, Sebastian and Washington — where Hutchinson spent his youth and early political career and which elected him to Con-gress three times in the late 1990s.

It also is the seat of a Republican ideology that Rockefeller’s daddy marginalized 40 years ago: fiercely against taxes and social action, abortion, immigrants, public services for the poor and for a closer alliance of government and gospel.
Rockefeller’s strengths (except his wealth, maybe) will not help him there.

If he is to win many votes there, Rockefeller may have to repudiate much of his father’s legacy, of which he almost certainly will be reminded: higher taxes especially on the wealthy, opposition to the death penalty, authorship of the state minimum wage, greater spending on public education, government-protected rights for all minorities and an end to bigotry in all its forms.
In his first test, in the days after his announcement, Rockefeller said he was reversing his position on abortion. He now favors the government banning all abortions except when the life or health of the mother is imperiled, still slightly to the left of Hutchinson.

In a meeting with Benton County people not long ago, Rockefeller said rich people were overtaxed. (His daddy in 1969 would have had them paying a marginal rate of 12 percent, not 5, in state income taxes.) With every capitulation, Rockefeller moves his party with him further from the center of gravity, where the current governor successfully has made his home.
After much of that, the party may find its chances growing slimmer.

The qualities that make Hutchinson the favorite in the Republican primary make him a distinct underdog against Beebe, or whoever, in the general election. And Hutchinson’s indecision about whether he is an Arkansan is not his major problem.
He seems to run afoul of the Constitution’s residency requirement to be governor because he moved his voter registration to Virginia in 2002 after joining the Bush administration.

The courts have been expansive in interpreting residency requirements.

Home is where the heart is, and regardless of where a person lives the courts have looked for expressions of intent. One is the voting home. Why Hutchinson would have moved his vote to Virginia is a mystery. Men usually do it to avoid the state personal income tax when they have a multimillion-dollar windfall. But challenging Hutchinson’s standing to run won’t be legally or politically winnable.

No, his problem is not where but how he lives.

He chose to cash in on his government service in the time-honored way, joining a Washington law firm — not to practice law but to exploit his connections with the admi-nistration to steer corporate clients to government contracts.

Meantime, Hutchinson's protege Ron Fields, the former Fort Smith prosecutor, is on a forced leave of absence from his job at Homeland Security while the FBI investigates his alleged drug dealing and a conspiracy to murder a woman. That could be more serious than having a tractor run over a gravestone, the issue that defeated the elder Winthrop Rockefeller in his first race for governor in 1964.

Then there is the matter of Hutchinson trying to remove fellow Arkansan Bill Clinton from the presidency. As a prosecutor of Clinton before the Senate, Hutchinson handled some of the dirtier aspects of the Republican campaign to convict the president of high crimes and misdemeanors over his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky.

Hutchinson’s good standing as a Clinton hater will help in the primary fight in northwest Arkansas but he’ll need a cleaner resume in the general election.

EDITORIAL>> Our sorry legislature

It is the nature of the Arkansas General Assembly, which does the state’s business once every two years, that it will end in frenzy and confusion, although ordinarily the lawmakers wrap it up not with accusations but with congratulations, whether they are merited or not. This time, the sense of failure and the scent of scandal are everywhere palpable.

And why not? The legislature defaulted on its first sworn duty, which was to put Arkansas’ public education system in order. It had taken a few laudable steps to do that a year ago, goaded by an order of the Supreme Court that it comply with the state Constitution’s mandate that the state provide a suitable, efficient and equal education for all the state’s children. Assured that the 2005 legislature would complete the task, the Supreme Court closed the long-running Lake View school case.

On Wednesday, David Matthews of Lowell, the former legislator and school litigator who had praised the ‘04 legislature before the Supreme Court, lectured senators on their manifest failure. He said he had expected better of them. He will petition the Supreme Court to revive the lawsuit and hold the legislature accountable for reneging on its commitments. The school litigation, which has beleaguered the state and called attention to our demoralizing failures with our children for 25 years, now yawns before us again.

Next year was to be the great leap forward, but the budget thrown together this week allows no increase in the per-pupil spending by schools for 2006, the most resounding failure in living memory. Even the minimalist budget depends upon unlikely scenarios to produce revenues. Someone believes in the rosy economic future perpetually claimed by the Bush administration. By the middle of the fiscal cycle, the state will find that it cannot sustain even the budget that the legislature adopted. It granted too many tax breaks for special interests before the grab-bagging became so embarrassing that the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee last week finally called a halt. The legislature ended the income tax surcharge and refused to extend the tax on wealthy estates, going along with President Bush’s reward to the nation’s wealthy.

Arkansas has levied a tax on great inheritances since 1909. In the past 10 years the tax has added more than $400 million to the treasury, nearly all of it from huge estates. From now on, not a dime. Working people will pick up the slack.

Schools will be cheated indirectly by other miscalculations of this legislature.

Unless the courts stop them, local governments will transfer millions of dollars of taxes levied for the schools to projects to help developers who want to build shopping malls and other commercial districts. This week, the legislature perfected legislation that will take $20 million or so a year in perpetuity from the state’s general fund if a mega-industry needs it. The money would come primarily from education budgets.

But the most glaring default was the legislature’s decision to devote no more than $119 million to school construction. It will offer that much in matching state grants to school districts the next two years, and it made no provision for there ever being anything more. The Supreme Court said the state had to provide equal school facilities for all children, and a legislative study showed that more than $2 billion would be needed to bring decrepit schools across the state up to par.

The state in three months will have a $240 million surplus that it could spend as a down payment on that obligation. But at week’s end legislators were near blows on how much of that sum they would divide among themselves to hand out locally to cement their re-elections.

Here is how dismal the scene was at week’s end: The good guys were insisting that not a dime more than $38 million be stolen from the schools for personal pork-barrel projects while the greedheads were insisting on lots more.

That qualifies for leadership in the term-limited legislature of 2005.