Friday, January 06, 2006

EDITORIAL >> Arkansans need Bond

The state House of Representatives will assemble Monday in person or by proxy to settle on a speaker for the 2007-08 biennium, an issue that until the turn of the century would have engaged almost no one outside that chamber. We might have cheered on the local boy for the puerile reason that, well, he’s our boy. It was worth about as much as having a local youngster chosen for Boys’ Nation.

Speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives was a title that carried some prestige but little power. The job was rotated every two years among the longest-serving and most agreeable legislators. The speaker exercised virtually no leverage over public policy or the passage of legislation except on the rare occasions where he could use the chair to aid one side or the other in a heated parliamentary struggle. Committee chairmanships and virtually every vestige of influence in the House were functions largely of seniority. Serious lawmakers often did not want the job because it was confining.

Term limits, which began to toll in both houses of the General Assembly about the turn of the century, ended seniority and its spoils, which is about the only good thing to come out of that ill-considered change. Now the speaker of the House is by far the most important job in the legislature, and who occupies that chair is of moment to all of us. That became conspicuously evident last spring when Speaker Bill Stovall, D-Quitman, blocked the passage of legislation that would have left central Arkansas’ pristine public water supply at the mercy of private developers. The speaker now designates committee jobs, steers bills into the right committee and exercises influence similar to that of the majority leader in the federal model.

So community pride is beside the point in the election Monday between Rep. Will Bond of Jacksonville and Rep. Benny Petrus of Stuttgart, both Democrats. Were he elected under the old system we would be compelled to give Will Bond a figurative pat on the back. But this is indeed serious business and the whole state’s interests are at stake in his election. Voters in neither this community nor the state, alas, have any say in the choice. The election will reflect the intramural politics of the House of Representatives. But the votes of other House members from these latitudes will be crucial in what by all accounts is a close race.

Benny Petrus is the exemplar of a familiar kind of logrolling legislator who gathers power by coziness with corporate interests and deploys it to their benefit. During legislative sessions Petrus has maintained a hospitality suite financed by lobbyists, where lawmakers may come for free food and spirits and schmoozing with those seeking government favor. Although he had no opponent in his last campaign in 2004, Petrus soaked up $70,000 in election gifts. He guided part of the largesse into the campaigns of other legislators, even Republicans.

It is exactly that free-spending culture of lobbying and legislative backrubbing that has scandalized Washington and brought down Speaker Tom DeLay of Texas, who used his own huge lobbyist-stuffed purse and his K Street connections with Jack Abramoff and others to corrupt Republican congressmen and win special government favors for private interests.

But clearly that culture and the obligations that it has produced have made Benny Petrus a contender for the speakership of the Arkansas House. Even legislators who tend toward the progressive, professional and bipartisan lawmaking of Will Bond feel obligations to a benefactor.

Reporting on the speaker’s race last week, Warwick Sabin, an editor at the Arkansas Times, said the vote Monday “will determine whether the legislature is run like a responsible governing institution or an unprogressive instrument of corporate interest.”

Let us hope that the prick of conscience allows enough of our good public servants to revoke their Faustian bargains and elect Will Bond.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

EDITORIAL >> Convene special session


Solemn pronouncements by Gov. Mike Huckabee generally leave one with two impulses, cheering and scoffing. So it was with the governor’s disclosure last week that he had set certain conditions that will have to be met before he will call the General Assembly into session to deal with the school crisis.

Every one of his conditions represents a good idea that would introduce a greater measure of efficiency and accountability to public education. But they need not be conditions for calling lawmakers to Little Rock to satisfy the Arkansas Supreme Court’s order to put the public schools on a constitutional basis, immediately. It is not even remotely possible that legislators, who are in repose until January 2007 or until he calls them into special session, can meet his conditions — not before they are even assembled.

Huckabee suggested again that it might not be necessary for the legislature to meet this year. If he believes that, he needs to read the Supreme Court’s very clear decision. It said the schools need to be funded at a level that will enable them to have constitutional programs this school year, 2005-06. The legislature might conclude, based on an analysis of programs and budgets this year, that schools are funded at precisely the right level this year, but that cannot be done unless the lawmakers actually meet and vote. The overwhelming proof at evidentiary hearings before the Supreme Court’s masters last fall was that the money was inadequate.

So the legislature must assemble, and it must make a few decisions right away. As the court itself said, the governor and the legislature have the evidence they need to make those decisions. The court said the legislature in 2005 flouted its own law, which said it would meet the needs of the public schools before it adopted the state budget every two years and that it would fund school needs first, a good education being the only mandated state service in the Constitution. The legislature did not make the needs determination and it gave the public schools, alone among all the services of government, no cost-of-living increase. It also found that the state came nowhere close to providing enough money for schools to bring their facilities to an adequate level.

Huckabee said that before calling a legislative session he wanted a study of the cost of adequate schools finished. But that study is not due until September and it will deal with the needs from July 1, 2007, until June 30, 2009. The legislature is under mandate to fix the funding this year. Here is a little formula that we bet will meet constitutional muster. Add a CPI quotient, about 3.5 percent, to this year’s and next year’s state foundation aid.

No higher taxes would be needed. Tax collections are running $100 million or more above the budgeted spending of all of state government this year and that sum would fund the school needs the next two years with some left over. The already fat surplus and the smaller sums that would be left after the schools’ funding over the two years could supplement the legislature’s meager appropriation for public school construction and repairs. The latter would not be enough obviously to bring the schools up to par (roughly $2 billion, according to a legislative study), but it would be a good start. The legislature could put a statewide school bond issue on the ballot at the general election to meet that need once and for all.

But we may cavil too much with the governor’s words. All his ideas are thoughtful and bold: more consolidation of tiny rural schools, stricter and more detailed accounting of spending by every school district, a statewide salary scale for administrators, consolidated administration (one superintendent per county perhaps), an audit of school district fund balances, a close up-to-date evaluation of the capital needs of the schools, and an advisory committee of honored classroom teachers who might tell legislators and the governor what is wrong that superintendents and consultants aren’t telling them.

Getting the word from actual educators is an especially good idea. Something tells us that we would get an earful about No Child Left Behind and the obsession with standardized tests. The public needs to hear it, and we don’t think the teachers will mind telling them. Huckabee wants to keep their advice secret. Bad idea.

None of those proposals are essential to addressing the court’s mandate, but the governor may want to go further and have a good and comprehensive session on education, like Gov. Bill Clinton’s in 1983 and like the one Huckabee called in 2003-04, both after similar Supreme Court mandates.

The season does not seem especially propitious politically — Huckabee is running for president and legislators are worrying about political opponents — but, hey, Huckabee is the political genius, not us.

If he thinks he can whip these nervous politicians into line for some real reforms like consolidation, we are for him.



Ocy Pearl Bucher, 97, passed away Dec. 31, 2005 at Cabot Manor Nursing and Rehab Center in Cabot. Ocy was born Sept. 28, 1908 in Brooklyn, Mo., to the late Isaac Talton and Laura Jane Edson Williams.
Ocy graduated from Ridgeway High School, Ridgeway, Mo.
She professed her commitment to God at an early age and became a member of Ridgeway Methodist Church in Ridgeway, Mo. On July 26, 1930 she was united in marriage to Lloyd S. Jones of Eagleville community until his death in 1943. Ocy Moved to Kansas City, Mo., in 1944 and worked at Gay Gibson Dress Factory until her retirement in 1973. On Nov. 8, 1948 she and Phillip B. Bucher were married in Kansas City, Mo. Ocy was preceded in death by her parents, both husbands, sisters; Jewell Nelson, Ruby Burnette and Opal Foutch as well as one brother, Kenneth Williams.
She is survived by two children, Robert L. Jones and wife, Carolyn, of Kansas City, Mo., and Dawnna J. Huitt and husband, Roger, of Lonoke. Her surviving sister is Arlynn Strait and husband, Bob of Moses Lake, Wash.; two brothers, Dean Williams and wife, Maxine of Ridgeway, Mo., and Russell Wil-liams and wife, Kathleen of Gilman City, Mo. Ocy was blessed with 10 grandchildren, 21 great grandchildren and 10 great-great grandchildren.
Many nieces, nephews and other friends and family also survive her.
Ocy was a union steward for the Ladies’ Garment Union for many years and always took her job very seriously.
She also was affiliated with the American Business Women Associ-ation, and her association with these organizations gave her the opportunity to travel.
She was an avid swimmer and sports fan and remained loyal to the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals teams. Always young-at-heart, full of opinions and advice, she will be remembered by many friends, family and associates.
Ocy’s preference was cremation and Moore’s Funeral Home in Cabot is assisting with her last wishes.
There will be no services in Arkansas, and the family has requested no flowers.
Those who would like to honor her memory may make a donation to: South Bend United Methodist Church, Youth Fund, Treasurer, 140 McDonald Drive, Lonoke, Ark. 72086.


Helen Louise Howell Holcomb, 87, of Austin, died Sunday, Jan. 1. She was preceded in death by her husbands, Woodrow W. Hughes and Ernie Holcomb, her son, John H. Hughes, and her parents, Hardy and Oma Howell. She is survived by her grandchildren, Tiffany Dodson and her husband Donny of Austin and David N. Hughes of Jackson-ville, and her great-grandchildren, Madison, Whitney and Matthew Dodson.
Graveside service will be at 2 p.m. today at Oak Grove Cemetery, Lonoke County. Arrangements are by West-brook Funeral Home.


Franna Emery Johnson, 50, of Benton died Dec. 27 in an automobile accident in Judsonia.
She was of the Church of Christ faith, and worked as a former longtime loan officer for First Security Bank and was a recent loan assistant for Summit Bank of Benton. She was a 1973 graduate of Grubbs High School.
She was the daughter of Marvin Emery Sr. and Mary Bowen Emery.
She is survived by her husband, Matthew Johnson; two daughters, Amy Jewell of Searcy and Brooke Johnson of Little Rock; two sons, Chad Johnson of Bradford and Brad and his wife Gina Jewell of Searcy; a sister, Sharon Smith of Bradford; a brother, Marvin Emery Jr. of Beebe, and three grandchildren, Brennan Hulsey, Greenly Jewell and Eliza-beth Jewell; as well as a number of nieces and nephews.
Funeral services were held Friday at Possum Grape Church of Christ with minister Shane Otts and pastor Brian Moore officiating.
Interment was at Heard Ceme-tery in Bradford.
Arrangements by Powell Fun-eral Home of Bald Knob-Judsonia.

TOP STORY >> Town could get theater

Leader managing editor

Could a multi-screen movie theater be coming to Jacksonville?
The Leader has learned that a 10-screen cinema is in the works for the city, possibly being planned for the north side of Jackson Square Shopping Center on South James, next to Knight’s Super Foods.

“All I can say is there are always companies that are looking around doing cost analysis to see if the city is a good choice for various businesses,” chamber of commerce director Bonita Rownd said.

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim said, “There have been some inquiries and there is some land under consideration.”
A representative with General Properties, Inc., in North Little Rock told The Leader last week that the company “is working with some people on something, but there isn’t any kind of deal yet.”

When asked what property was being referred to, the representative confirmed Jackson Square Shopping Center, which General Properties owns.

Based in Memphis, Malco Theatres, which has cinemas in Jonesboro, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Springdale, Rogers, Blythe-ville and Monticello, is possibly the company that is in ongoing negotiations to build a location here.

When contacted by The Leader regarding possible plans of opening a location in Jacksonville, Karen Scott of Malco responded, “We do not comment on unannounced projects.”

If a theater for Jacksonville becomes a reality, it will be the first since The Flick I and II cinema closed its doors in the early 1990s. The two-screen theater was open in the Jacksonville Shopping Center on Main Street for many years.
It turned into a second-run movie theater in the late 1980s and closed a short time later.

“It’s my understanding that the Flick started suffering when all the movie screens started opening in the McCain Mall area,” Rownd said.

SPORTS >> Carlisle, Tech win tourney in Beebe

Leader sports writer

Several area teams took part in the First Security Bank/White County Medical Center Christmas Classic in Beebe last week. All five teams representing White County came away with at least one win in the tourney, with the Riverview Lady Raiders and Harding Academy Lady Wildcats both winning two out of their three games.

The Carlisle girls upped their record to 14-1 on the season on their way to winning the tournament championship over the Greene County Tech Lady Hornets 44-31, while the Greene County Tech boys team won their finals appearance over CAC 50-35 Thursday night.

The host teams got off to a solid start in the tournament, with the Beebe boys beating Newport, while the Lady Badgers got past the Southside girls in overtime.

The girls team faced top-seeded Carlisle in the second round, falling to the Lady Bison 57-43. The Lady Badgers faced Harding Academy on Thursday to determine third overall in the tourney, as the Lady Wildcats took the win over Beebe 42-30. Ashley Watkins was the high scorer for the Lady Badgers in the game with 10 points.

The boys team fell in their semi-final game as well, as the CAC Mustangs rolled on to the tournament final with a 60-45 win over Beebe. The Badgers faced Drew Central in the third-place game on Thursday, with the Pirates taking the win 68-57. Charlie Spakes led Beebe in scoring with 12 points, while Eric Griffith also hit double-digits for Beebe with 10 points.

The Harding boys also went 1-2 in the tournament, with an opening-round loss to CAC. The Wildcats got their only win of the week in the opening consolation game against Batesville Southside, beating the Rebels 68-62. The win put Harding Academy into the consolation finals, with the Bison pulling out the win over the Wildcats 65-60. Alex Beene led the Wildcats with 18 points, while brother Nick Beene scored 13 points.

The Harding girls fared the best of all the local entries, coming within one point of the tournament finals. After a convincing first-round win over the Drew girls, the Lady Wildcats dropped a heartbreaker to Greene County Tech 39-38.

Harding had to settle for playing in the third-place game, where they handily beat Beebe 42-30. Jessica Stevens led the Lady Wildcats with 10 points against the Lady Badgers.

The Riverview Lady Raiders won both of their consolation games on Wednesday and Thursday after a first-round loss to eventual tournament winners Carlisle.

Riverview bounced back with a 50-33 win over Newport on Wednesday, before rounding out the tournament with a consolation-finals win over Batesville Southside 53-40. Kori Meachum led Riverview with 24 points.

SPORTS >> Cabot girls take Goblin title

Leader sports writer

The Cabot Lady Panthers made their third consecutive trip to the finals of an invitational tournament this season when they faced Harrison in the championship game of the Lendel Thomas Classic last Friday. Only this time, they won.

The Lady Panthers watched their opponents rally late in the game in their two previous final appearances. Morril-ton came back to overtake them in the RAPA finals, while CAC got the go-ahead basket in the final minute of the Ortho tourney to beat Cabot.

No such rally would occur in this game, as the Lady Panthers won decisively over the Lady Goblins 74-61. The win gives Cabot its first tournament championship in three finals appearances this season.

The Lady Panthers led 35-26 at the half, and didn’t look back for the remainder of the game. Kim Sitzmann led all scorers in the game with 31 points, the second-highest scoring game of the year for the future UALR Lady Trojan. Lauren Daniels had 15 for Cabot, while Maddie Helms and Leah Watts each had eight for the Lady Panthers.

Cabot’s strongest challenge in the tourney was a rematch with cross-county rival Lonoke. The Lady Jackrabbits beat Cabot in their first meeting in mid-December, a game that took two overtimes to decide.

The two teams went past regulation once again in the Lendel semis, but it was Cabot who came out on top this time, narrowly defeating the Lady ‘Rabbits 54-53 and ending Lonoke’s unbeaten streak at 12 games.

Jamie Sterrenberg got the Lady Panthers rolling early, scoring 13 of her total 17 points in the half. Cabot looked to have control of the game after one half, leading Lonoke 35-23.

The Lady ‘Rabbits responded in the second half, outscoring the Lady Panthers by 12 to tie the game at 48-48 at the end of regulation, sending the game into overtime for the second straight time in a meeting between the two.

Kim Sitzmann hit 3 of 4 free throws in the overtime period to secure another trip to the finals for Cabot.
Maddie Helms was the second-highest scorer for the Lady Panthers in the game with 14 points, while Sitzmann was close behind with 12 points.

Leah Watts added six points for Cabot, while sophomore starter Rachel Glover had three points and JV standout Lauren Walker had two points in the game. Jenny Evans led the Lady Jackrabbits with 22 points, while Calisha Kirk added 14 points for Lonoke.

The three wins to claim the tournament championship im-proved the Lady Panthers’ overall season record to 11-3, as they prepare for the start of the AAAAA-East conference season this week. Cabot will start their conference season on the road at West Memphis Friday night, with the junior varsity girls starting at 4:45 p.m.

NEIGHBORS >> Cabot Police Department; An inside look

Leader staff writer

To protect and serve a growing population of nearly 20,000 residents, the Cabot Police Department is developing new operating procedures, improving technology and adding personnel.

“As Cabot spreads out, we’ve made four patrol districts to keep officers in certain parts of the city to respond faster,” said Sgt. Dewayne Roper, public information officer for the Cabot Police Department.

Metroplan, a federally mandated metropolitan planning organization, estimates Cabot’s population at 19,967 which is 30.8 percent larger than it was when the 2000 census gave the city an official population of 15,261. Cabot currently has 34 patrol officers and plans to ask the city council for three more in 2006.

Improved communications have made emergency re-sponse throughout Cabot quicker and more organized. In July 2005, the Cabot Police Department got connected to the Computer Aided Dispatch to link the police department to the area’s 911 dispatch centers, firefighters and ambulance services.

The program should be able to provide monthly statistical reports on crime trends such as what type of crime occurs in what part of town and when.

The biggest problem the department faces is traffic jams around Hwy. 89 and Second Street around the police department itself.
“We work a lot of vehicle accidents because of our traffic situation, but I think the straightening (of Hwy. 89) will help traffic flow and benefit us in being able to get in and out of the station,” Roper said.

Sgt. Brent Lucas has been with the Cabot Police Depart-ment for more than 11 years. He says being a policeman is just something he’s always wanted to do.

“Just being able to help people and the satisfaction of knowing you did something for someone is the best part of a police officer,” Lucas said.
The Cabot Police Department has four officers that work in Cabot schools to educate students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Officer Yvonne Kackley teaches the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) curriculum at Cabot Middle School South during the fall semester and at Cabot Middle School North during the spring semester.

Cabot Police Officer David Thrush serves as the resource officer at Cabot High School, Officer Michael Reeves serves as the resource officer at Cabot Junior High North and Officer Rick Stone serves as the resource officer at Cabot Junior High South.
School resource officers can be beneficial to a community in two ways.

First, the officers keep the students safe at school. Second, students can advise the officers on criminal activities in their neighborhoods or even their own homes.

“Most of the time Cabot is a pretty quiet town,” Roper said.

EDITORIAL >> Rename Arkansas?

In the old days it was considered graceless to name government projects for the boss. Such honors were bestowed rarely and posthumously or at least after the leader’s career was over.

At the end of his 12 years as Supreme Leader of Arkansas, in 1966, Gov. Orval E. Faubus arranged, so it was said, for a new state mental health facility that would perch on the hill above West Markham Street in Little Rock to be named the Orval E. Faubus Administrative and Intensive Treatment Center. Faubus disclaimed putting any pressure on the State Hospital Board to name the building after him. But he need not have bothered.

He had appointed friends to every position on the board.
Gov. Huckabee, in his 10th year as governor, enjoys the same rare privilege. He is the third governor, after Faubus and Bill Clinton, to fill every honorary appointment in all of state government, and it is paying off in the nomenclature of government facilities. Last week, the Game and Fish Commission dedicated a new 11-acre pond in a park in Hope, which happens to be the governor’s home town.

His friends on the Game and Fish Commission named the little body of water, which was developed at a cost of $520,000 of the taxpayers’ money, the Mike and Janet Huckabee Lake. Huckabee had supported a sales tax increase that provided the funds for the little impoundment.
The commissioners told the couple about their plans to name the water after them, and the Huckabees said they did not mind at all.
Appointment to a 10-year-term on the Game and Fish Commission is one of the great dispensations at the governor’s disposal. The appointments are highly sought and hugely appreciated.

Already, the commission has named a nature center at Pine Bluff after Huckabee, and next year another nature center at Fort Smith will be named for Mrs. Huckabee. Other Huckabee appointees named a new building at the Arkansas School for the Blind for Huckabee. We predict that there will be more. The state Highway Commission will surely name a stretch of interstate for him. Defeat of the Huckabee-backed $250 million college-building bond issues three weeks ago may have kept his name off a campus facade or two.

Except for Huckabee and Faubus, Arkansas governors have not had their names stuck on government buildings or other taxpayer-financed state facilities. An exception would be the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, but the name was applied by the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees, none of whose members he appointed, 22 years after he left the governor’s office and for his work as a U. S. senator in bringing tens of millions of grants to the university for agricultural research.
The name was applied as Bumpers was retiring from the Senate.

As governor for four years, Bumpers directed the biggest building program in the state’s history at universities, trade schools, state parks and medical facilities. He discouraged universities and agencies from naming any after him.

When the University of Arkansas wanted to name its College of Arts and Sciences after its most famous alumnus, former Senator J. William Fulbright, long after defeat had ended his political career, Fulbright objected, saying that the school would be beset by all the controversies surrounding his long career in national life.

A delegation finally persuaded him to relent, although he disagreed with them that his illustrious name would lend important prestige to the institution. It has.

How times have changed. No one any longer considers it graceless or impudent for government minions to name taxpayer-financed facilities for the leader. It is merely one of the fruits of the vast patronage given a governor who has served so much longer than the average political leader and who is still climbing, or hopes to climb.

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> Staffers see too many relatives die

Several Leader staffers lost their relatives during the holidays, two of them killed in car wrecks, while another relative died suddenly from a heart attack.

As we were talking about the unusually high number of sudden deaths in The Leader family, word came that the 93-year-old mother of bluesman Charlie Musselwhite was strangled in Memphis during a home break-in. Musselwhite’s father died a few days later in a nursing home.

Christy Hendricks, who is an editor at The Leader, lost her aunt Franna Johnson of Benton when she was killed early last week in a car accident on Hwy. 67/167 north of Searcy. Johnson, who was 50, was buried Friday.

Gregg DeFrance, 50, of Searcy, had rear-ended two vehicles on the highway, including the Jeep that Mrs. Johnson was riding in with her husband, Matthew, 47, and two granddaughters, Greenley Jewell, 4, and Elizabeth Jewell, 1, both of Searcy.

Franna Johnson was ejected from the Jeep, along with Greenley, after it overturned several times on an embankment.
Franna was pronounced dead at the scene. Greenley was hardly hurt. Her sister and grandfather, who remained in the Jeep, had more serious injuries. They were all hospitalized overnight and then released.

Christy Hendricks says, “I think what I’ll remember most about my aunt Franna is her smile. She had a good smile, and I rarely saw her without one. I can’t remember one time when I saw her that she didn’t mention every one of her children, not just her two — Amy and Brad — but her two step-children also, Chad and Brooke. She was crazy over her grandchildren.

“Every time I saw her and my uncle Matt together they were happy. She was a good person, and you could see that just by looking at her. She was a tiny woman but she didn’t have to say one word for you to know she was in the room. She had presence. And a good heart.”
Mrs. Johnson wore a seat belt, but she was apparently ejected from the Jeep because she was a small woman.
DeFrance, the driver who caused the accident, was ticketed for reckless driving and no proof of insurance.

Matt Robinson, an account executive at The Leader, attended a memorial service for his cousin in Houston over the weekend after he was killed in a work-related accident early last week.

Robert Norton, 29, had been repairing a telephone line near an intersection when his Southwest-ern Bell truck was hit by a driver who had run a red light as the truck was leaving the repair site.

Norton was ejected from the truck and run over. He and his wife, Tina, had three children. Jan. 1 was the couple’s 12th wedding anniversary.
“He was always outgoing,” Robinson recalls. “He loved life and his family.”
Charges have been filed against the driver for running the red light.

Magen Henderson of Beebe, who is the daughter-in-law of John Henderson, The Leader’s sales manager, lost her cousin from Russellville on Christmas Eve. Matt Moore, who was only 30, had a heart attack while doing some household chores.

“They last spoke to each other the week before, making plans to see each other for the holidays,” John Henderson told us.
Staff writer Joan McCoy’s cousin, Danny Coe, 51, died of a heart attack just before New Year’s Eve.

“He was a big teddy bear,” she said. “He hugged everybody. He was an incredibly sweet man. He’s a big loss. At the funeral, they said they’d never seen so many grown men cry.”

A death that does not involve The Leader family, but is just as shocking, is the senseless murder of Ruth Maxine Musselwhite, who was strangled in her Memphis home last month.

Her body was found Dec. 19. Quinton Burks, a 24-year-old neighbor, has been charged with first-degree murder and burglary. He had allegedly stolen her jewelry and automobile. The car was later recovered and its theft linked to Burks.
Mrs. Musselwhite’s husband, Charles, Sr., 88, died in a nursing home last Wednesday.

“Why do bad things happen to good people?” said blues great Charlie Musselwhite after the terrible news about his parents.
As B.B. King wails, “How blue can you get?”

It’s been a sad holiday for many people. Hope yours was better.

TOP STORY >> Specialist could get axe

Leader staff writer

Beebe economic development director Marjorie Arm-strong found out before Christmas that she might not have a job this year.
Beebe Alderman Janice Petray says she wanted to do away with Armstrong’s job last year during budget time but held off out of respect for those who opposed her, in-cluding the mayor and the economic development commission.

But this year, with the proposed annexation that would have allowed the city to grow de-feated at the polls, Petray sees no reason to keep an economic developer, especially considering that the city doesn’t have enough money to budget street maintenance.

Cutting the job Armstrong has held for three years would free up about $70,000. That may not be enough to make many re-pairs, but it would be a good start to-wards saving for those repairs, Petray says.

Economic development is a good idea that Beebe simply isn’t ready for, Petray said. Its streets are dirty and need to be repaired.

“People won’t even move here under these conditions,” Petray said. “We have no money in the street fund whatsoever and we haven’t in years. It would be nice if we had money and could do everything we want to, but we’re at the point that we need to prioritize.”
But Armstrong’s supporters are rallying behind her to make sure she keeps her job.

Last year at this time, members of the Beebe Economic Develop-ment Commission attended a council meeting after they learned that plans to not fund Armstrong’s job were in the works.

Jim Wooten, commission chairman, praised Armstrong’s accomplishments: building a Web site for the city’s new development plan, starting a community leadership training program and regaining the city’s status as an ACE community.
But so far, her attempts to attract even a major restaurant to the area have been fruitless.

“I think Marjorie has tried hard, but right now I don’t think we’re in any position for much development,” Petray said.
Wooten says that what everyone needs to remember is that economic development doesn’t happen overnight.
“Economic development is a long-term effort,” Wooten said. “It takes a long time to see tangible results.”

Although the city council voted unanimously more than three years ago to create an economic development commission and hire an economic director, the only money that has been put into economic development is Armstrong’s salary and bene its and office space at city hall.

It the council takes that away, the commission will be left with no one to take care of the details of economic development and the dream for a better Beebe might not survive, Wooten said.

The council meeting last month, when Petray announced her plan to find money for streets by doing away with Armstrong’s job, was an explosive one.

Mayor Donald Ward was a strong proponent of creating the position and was angered by talk of ending it.

The council must pass a budget by Feb. 1, so Armstrong says she probably has a job at least until that time. Whether she gets to keep it will depend upon how much influence her supporters have over the council.

Wooten said like last year, the commission intends to make sure the council knows how important it is that Armstrong stays.

TOP STORY >> Female police officers are in full force

Leader staff writer

Nearly a quarter of the Jack-sonville Police Department’s force is female, more than any other local city, with 16 of the department’s 80 officers being women.

But other area cities are catching up.

“I wanted to be a police officer since I was little,” said Jacksonville officer Cobie Loftis, who said the worst part of her job is seeing how crime impacts children, which often makes her cherish her daughter Jodie, 10.

“Jodie doesn’t worry about my work. She wants to be a police officer when she grows up,” Loftis said.
For many women, like Jacksonville K-9 Officer Regina Boyd, becoming a police officer has been a goal since childhood. Her father worked for the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Depart-ment and as an officer in Ward, Austin and Cabot.

“I enjoy the excitement of it,” Boyd said. “It’s rewarding to see the outcome of getting the bad guys off the street.”
Boyd says her daughter, Tara, 13, is more interested in sports right now than becoming a third-generation police officer. Appreciation of athletics also runs in the Boyd family.

“I hunt, fish, ride horses and Tara’s on a traveling softball team so we spend lots of time together,” Boyd said.
Det. Kimberly Lett enjoys the excitement of working for the department.

“I like the adrenaline rush, kicking in doors to serve narcotics search warrants,” Lett said.
About a tenth of the Sherwood Police Departments’ 56 officers are women. According to Lt. Cheryl Will-iams, the department just hired its seventh female officer, Angel Wil-liams, who will be entering the police academy next week.

“We’re very proud of all our female officers,” said Williams, who has served on the Sherwood police force for the past 20 years.
Fellow female police officer, Sgt. Berny Russell, has 17 years on the force.

Other female officers in Sher-wood include Pam Hopkins, who serves as the resource officer at Sylvan Hills High School and Heather Cone, who works with the department’s Community Orien-ted Policing program.

There are also three female patrol officers including Miriam Carlisle, Jamie Spence and Beverly Hughes.
The Cabot Police Department has a force of 34 patrol officers and hired its fourth female officer, Kathryn Carpenter, on Dec. 16.
Female officers get the same respect as their male counterparts on the city streets according to Sgt. Dwayne Roper, public information officer for the Cabot Police Depart-ment. “A suspect is just as likely to ‘burr-up’ to a male officer as a female officer,” Roper said.

The Lonoke Police Department has two female officers, Cathy Stivers and Barbara Ferraro. The only female police officer on the Beebe police force is Freda Calla-han.

TOP STORY >> Water works is in business

Leader staff writer

Cabot Water Works, the new name for the water and sewer departments that are now separated from the city and in the hands of an autonomous commission, opened this week with no problems.

“We’re up and running and doing business,” Tim Joyner, general manager of Cabot Water Works, said three days into the venture that was overwhelmingly approved by city voters more than a year ago.

Although the council has not divvied up the equipment in the public works department so, for example, the street department couldn’t try to claim a dirt mover paid for by water or sewer or those departments couldn’t claim a truck owned by the street department, Joyner said there have been no disputes over ownership.

The only real surprise was the two new employees with water maintenance that Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh hired last week, shortly before the commission took control.

Joyner said he would keep both of them since they did fill positions that were vacant.

Peggy Moss, human resources director for the city, said the equipment operator position had been vacant since Nov. 5, but the crewman position had been vacant only since Dec. 24.

Stumbaugh said there has been a high turnover in water and wastewater over the past year and some employees transferred to other departments before the takeover. The water department was down two equipment operators before he hired one last week.
“I just hated to leave them short-handed,” he said.

As expected, the city has not turned over the bank accounts for water and wastewater but did deposit operating funds in new accounts set up by Cabot Water Works.

The commission had hoped the city would turn over the existing accounts, but Dale Walker, the city’s finance director, said as soon as the bank statement comes in and Clerk-Treasurer Marva Verkler reconciles it, the balance in the accounts, not the accounts, will be turned over.
That everything went smoothly was not a surprise.

The commission learned last week that Joyner was ready for the Jan. 1 transition from city to commission control.
Commission member Don Keesee quizzed Joyner during the Thursday meeting called to develop a strategy for getting council approval of all the measures necessary in the takeover that no problems were expected.

“Can we take service calls? Can we make payroll? Can we buy gas for trucks? Can we fix a flat tire? Are we ready?” Keesee asked.
“We’re ready,” Joyner ans-wered. “I don’t see any problem.” Then with tongue in cheek, he added, “In fact, we got two more employees today.”
The commission and council still must agree on warranty deeds on the real estate and ownership of the equipment.

They also do not yet have control of the various contracts for water and sewer construction projects that are ongoing. But Keesee said during the meeting that he believes their attorney, Tad Bohannon, and City Attorney Clint McGue will be able to work out the details of that issue.

One of the measures the commission wants the council to agree to is a cooperation agreement which says essentially that the commission and city will work together to ensure that each ends up with what they are entitled to.

When the details of all the outstanding business will be worked out is unknown, because no date has been set for the commission and council to sit down together, but the council has said the separation will be completed by the end of January.

TOP STORY >> Budget is still issue to county officials

Leader staff writer

Although Pulaski County substations at Gravel Ridge and McAlmont have lost five road deputies between them because of budget cuts, Justice of the Peace Bob Johnson of Jacksonville says the only way he could support any new tax would be to address area law enforcement problems across the board.

Johnson, a Republican, said the county needs $24 million to $25 million a year to not only open the required number of jail beds and hire back jailers and deputies, but also to get people arrested, through the courts, into drug rehabilitation programs and to do intervention on the front end to keep people off drugs and out of the system.

Johnson said that a one-eighth or one-quarter-cent county sales tax increase could fund all the needed improvements, not just more jail beds and more deputies.

“We go to look at the long term,” Johnson said. “Can we do something real about crime? I’d support it if we could do something to stop these meth-heads. We have some crime issues that are severe.”

Johnson said the courts are backed up, the county coroner has ceded much of his responsibility to the state crime lab, which has reportedly been backed up two years in processing some evidence.

The county had to cut about $7 million from the $40 million worth of non-designated revenues for this year in order to balance the budget. Before the cuts, the county was slated to pick up about $19 million of the $22 million expense of running the jail, even though about 75 percent of those incarcerated in it are from Little Rock or North Little Rock.

“We ended up with two fewer deputies in each of the six districts,” said John Rehrauer, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office. Gravel Ridge and McAlmont will have eight road deputies, not including supervisors, Rehrauer said.

“I don’t think there’s any question that there will be slower response and prioritizing of calls,” he said. “If it’s not an emergency, it’ll take longer to get there.”

“The feedback from the field is that they are running from call to call,” he added.
The Pulaski County Detention Center, which was reduced from 1,125 beds last year to 800 before settling at 880-bed capacity, is full now and will be full from now on, he said. The additional 80 beds became available when the cites within the county, including Jacksonville, Sherwood, Little Rock and North Little Rock, agreed to kick in one-time money to help. The facility is the only real lockup in the county.

Johnson said he supports the idea of a citizens task force to determine what is needed for the jail and law enforcement and how to fund it on a permanent basis.

“I don’t want to get involved in something without any teeth,” Johnson said. “This task force forming itself is good — the citizens that care trying to do something about the problem.”

TOP STORY >> Zoning hearing attracts crowd

Leader staff writer

Residents of Sun Terrace subdivision in Cabot will have to wait one more month for a decision from the planning commission about whether property on their side of Hwy. 89 will be rezoned from residential to commercial.

At the request of the developers and over loud objections from 120 or so residents, the planning commission took no action on the requested rezoning Tuesday night to allow developers time to put together a proposal for a planned unit development (PUD), which is essentially a rezoning request and site plan rolled into one.

The city council refused to act on the proposed rezoning during its December meeting after about 100 residents showed up to protest any commercial development on their side of Hwy. 89, across from Wal-Mart.

Residents also were strongly opposed to an entrance into the proposed 11-acre commercial subdivision off Rockwood, the only entrance into their subdivision.

The commission had already voted in December to recommend the rezoning to the council, but aldermen sent the rezoning back to the commission with the instructions that they wanted to see it as a PUD.

“It’s going to be hard to get a rezone of this magnitude without it,” Ron Craig, commission chairman, told the developers Tuesday night. “Unanswered questions make people nervous and make people scared. They make this commission nervous and scared.”

The developers told the commission that they didn’t comply with the council’s request because they believed they couldn’t. Since they intend to develop only one lot of the multi-lot subdivision themselves, they would have no control over what happened on the other lots, they said.
After discussing the problem with the commission, they decided that a PUD is possible and asked for time to design it.

If the commission had simply turned down the rezoning request as it was presented, the developers could not ask again for 12 months.
“Vote no and let’s go home,” one man called out.

The commission’s decision to grant the request to postpone their decision for one month drew jeers from the crowd.
“You didn’t do your job,” a man standing against the wall said.

“Y’all want to do a better job, y’all are welcome to come up here,” Craig shot back.
Matt Bell and John Moore, who plan to develop the property if it is rezoned, have scheduled a meeting with Sun Terrace residents at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the courtroom across from the council chambers in the city annex building.

A flyer about the meeting says the developers intend to be completely open about all plans for the 11.15 acres at the northwest corner of Hwy. 89 and Rockwood. That plan would improve traffic flow on Rockwood, the developers say.

TOP STORY >> Wildfires, Could they happen here?

Leader staff writers

Are wildfires like those spreading through Oklahoma and Texas possible in central Arkansas?
Yes, say local fire officials.

“And it’s getting worse every day,” said assistant fire chief Mark Mahan with the Sylvan Hills Fire Department.
The dry conditions, along with record-setting high temperatures, have caused the National Weather Service to issue a warning that “a high risk of accidental wildfires will exist across Arkansas over the next five to seven days.”

“It’s a tinderbox,” said Gene Johnson, who sometimes works a 12-hour shift at his day job, then gets summoned with other members of the South Bend Volunteer Fire Depart-ment to put out grass and woods fires escaped from burn barrels and leaf piles.

“Low humidity, wind, dry grass — that’s a recipe for disaster, Johnson said. “Humidity is in the teens. Anytime it’s below 60 percent, that’s serious.”

Johnson said he spent much of the holidays driving around the area telling people to put out fires in their burn barrels and leaf piles.
“We had about 15 fires in two days,” Johnson said, referring to the Christmas weekend, when people took advantage of time off to do chores such as burning debris and leaves.

Jacksonville’s fire department has already responded to numerous grass fires in the past week.

“The only thing saving us,” ex-plained Capt. Joe Bratton, “is the lack of large areas of brush within the city. But the county has a number of areas and we’ve already responded at least twice helping them control larger brush fires.”

Central Arkansas counties, along with three-fourths of the state, are under a burn ban as a combination of dry and warm weather makes the local landscape very combustible.

Dry conditions prompted Cabot Fire Chief Phil Robinson to issue a burn ban for the city more than a week ago.
“We’ve been out extinguishing fires ever since,” Robinson said.

“We’re nice about it. We give residents the chance to put their fire out or we can do it for them.”
Most of the calls have been Cabot residents burning brush and piles of leaves, Robinson said.

“With the way the wind was blowing (Monday), a spark from a cigarette thrown out of a car window is all it would have took to cause a fire,” Robinson said.

“Residents must heed the burn ban,” Mahan said. “We’ve got a lot of construction going on and a number of developers are clearing land and want to burn, but they will just have to wait.”

Even though cigarette butts are to blame for a number of the area’s small fires, especially in the highway medians, Mahan says barrel burning is even more dangerous.

“It takes just one ember,” he said.
Mahan, who is also the fire chief of a small department near Conway, said that department battled a brush fire over the weekend. “We nearly lost two houses, all because of someone burning a cardboard box in a barrel,” he said.

According to the National Wea-ther Service, most of Pulaski and White counties are suffering severe drought conditions, while Lonoke County is under a moderate drought. Robinson said it would take a significant amount of rainfall in Cabot for him to lift the burn ban.
“It would take several heavy rains to get down under the leaves to really soak the grass and ground good,” Robinson said.
Jim Grant, with the state forestry commission, said, “We’ve got burn bans in 54 counties.”

With two exceptions, everything west of an imaginary line running from Fulton County south to Ashley County is in high fire danger, while everything east generally is designated “moderate fire danger,” he said. The exceptions are White County, which has a high fire danger and Lonoke County, which has moderate fire danger.

Those designations are based on formulas that take into consideration the amount of moisture in fire fuel, the number of days since it last rained, the amount of moisture in the ground, the number of days since a fire and the number of recent fires, according to Grant. The fuel moisture content is gauged by putting standardized sticks out in the weather, then weighing them, he said. Grant said winds in the three-to-six mph range were of little concern, but that winds of 15 mph gusting to 30 can inflame a fire, and push it ahead, and on Monday the National Weather Service issued red flag warnings because of high winds. Windy days are possible again later in the week.

“I saw a report of this woman in Oklahoma, 10 minutes after she first smelled smoke, her house was engulfed,” Robinson said. “That’s how bad those fires are.”

That’s what concerns Bratton.
“We are all worried about how quick a wildfire can threaten a home,” he said Tuesday shortly after the department received another brush fire call.