Wednesday, October 04, 2006

OBITUARIES >> 10-04-06


Carolyn Yarbrough Huttig, 70, of Cabot went to be with the Lord Monday, Oct. 2.

She was born August 30, 1936, in Memphis, Tenn., to David W. and Marguerite Hartsfield Yarbrough. Huttig was a retired substitute teacher and a member of First United Methodist Church.

She was an artist who enjoyed painting, playing Mah Jong and was a member of the Wayside Garden Club. She was very involved in volunteer work. She was an outstanding member of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, having served as president of the Cosmos Club, of the Forrest City District, and the General Federation of Women’s Club of Arkansas. She was a member of the National Association of Women Highway Safety Leaders, the American Security Council and on the Foreign Policy Honor Roll.

She was preceded in death by her husband, William Huttig, and sons Richard Webb and Jack Webb. She is survived by two sons, Brant Huttig of Bartlett, Tenn., and William Jessie Huttig of Cabot; two daughters, Melanie Armstrong and husband Tom of Cabot, and Melinda Bear and husband Steve of North Little Rock; nine grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; one brother, David M. Yarbrough of Mobile, Ala.; and one sister, Dr. Karen M. Yarbrough of Hattiesburg, Miss.

Family will receive friends from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5 at Westbrook Funeral Home in Beebe. Graveside service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, Oct. 6, at Mt. Vernon Cemetery in Forrest City.


Mark Swetman, 56, of Beebe died Sunday, Oct. 1. He was born Sept. 6, 1950, in Chicago, Ill., to Harry and Clare Swetman. He was a wonderful husband and a great Dad.

In addition to his parents, he is survived by his wife, Roe, and his son, Sheldon, both of Beebe; one sister, Mary Jo Garcia; and two brothers, Paul Swetman and J.R. Swetman, all of Albequerque, N.M. Family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5 at Westbrook Funeral Home in Beebe. Memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6 at Westbrook Funeral Home.


Fitnat Bates, 41, of Cabot departed this life on Friday, Sept. 29. She was born on December 20, 1964 in Izmir, Turkey.
Fitnat was a devoted wife, caring mother, and beloved by all with whom she came in contact. She is survived by her sons, Umut and Baris Engin, her husband, Daniel Bates and many friends and relatives around the world.

Her strong and tolerant personality was shaped by her devotion to the Islamic faith. Services will be held in Izmir, Turkey. Arrangements are by Roller-Chenal Funeral Home in Little Rock.


Perry M. Wright, 74, of Jacksonville passed away on Sept. 29. He was born Jan. 7, 1932. He was retired from Davis Rubber Company after 40 years.

He is survived by two nieces, Dana Kohrs of Cabot and Mary Kilpatrick of Ward; one nephew, Coy Wright of New York; a sister-in-law, Sadie Wright of Cabot; two special cousins, Edna Brock-inton of Cabot and A.C. Carmical of Spring, Texas.
The family wishes to extend a special thanks to the staff at Woodland Hills Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for their loving care.

A graveside service was held Oct. 2, at Harmony Cemetery, Hwy. 89 in Faulkner County, with the Rev. Melburn Hill officiating.
Arrangements were by North Little Rock Funeral Home, 1921 Main Street.

SPORTS >>Lonoke looking to climb above .500

Leader sportswriter

Lonoke will try for two conference wins in a row on Friday night when they host Southside Batesville in the third game of the season for the 4A-2 Conference. The Jackrabbits are coming off a huge win over Bald Knob on the road last week, and are looking for the momentum to continue.

The ‘Rabbits homecoming will pit them against an upstart Southerners team which has struggled in their first year of existence. Southside started its football record with a win over Jonesboro Westside in week one, and lost a close heartbreaker to Salem in week three. The start of the 4A-2 Conference schedule has not been as kind to the Southerners, however, losing in shutouts to Stuttgart 56-0 and last week to the Newport Greyhounds 47-0.

Last week’s loss to Newport saw Southside’s offense, led by quarterback Dean Rawlings, move the ball respectably down the field, but a breakdown in the interior prevented them from sealing the deal for a score. Rawlings completed 17 of his 34 pass attempts for a total of 100 yards in the contest, but being sacked nine times by the Greyhounds defense did not help his cause, pushing the Southerners back a total of 72 yards.

Lonoke has struggled offensively for much of the early going this season, but finally got the spread running in high gear last week against Bald Knob. The ‘Rabbits put up an astounding 61 points against a Bulldogs defense that had previously only given up an average of 17.5 points per game through its first four games, including a 40-6 loss to Highland in week three.
Although the Jackrabbits carry a record of 2-3 into Friday’s game, the margins of victory versus the margins of defeat for Lonoke are quite vast. All three losses for the ‘Rabbits add up to a total of 14 points difference between themselves and their competitors. The margin of victory in their wins over North Pulaski and Bald Knob, however, is a whopping 62 points.
Head coach Jeff Jones says his team’s performance last week against the Bulldogs was a dramatic improvement over the first month. Those improvements were visible on both sides of the football.

“I was really excited about how our quarterback responded last week,” Jones said. “Our offense did an outstanding job with the pass, it gave me a lot of confidence in our passing game, before then I didn’t have much confidence in it.” Jones says that along with a solid performance from junior QB Alex Cash, the ‘Rabbit defense stepped up on Friday as well.

“I was also excited about our defense,” Jones said. “They turned it up another notch last week. Hopefully we can keep improving from week to week and play solid football.” As far as the conference race goes, Jones says starting out in the hole with a loss to Heber Springs has made going for the conference title a long shot, but still achievable.

“Right now, we feel like we control our own destiny,” Jones said. “Losing that first game to Heber was obviously a big blow to us, and we still feel like our backs are to the wall. We just have to worry about ourselves and take each game as it comes; we definitely can’t let another one get away from us.”

The Jackrabbits and Southerners will square off at Abraham Field in Lonoke this Friday with opening kickoff at 7:30 p.m.

SPORTS >>Red Devils aren't listening to negativity

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville and Sylvan Hills meet up this Friday in Sherwood, and both teams feel their backs are against the wall.
Sylvan Hills, who celebrates its homecoming before the game, is 0-2 while Jacksonville is 1-1, but the Red Devils feel they need this game just as much as the Bears. The Red Devils have managed just one offensive touchdown since conference play started. The offense was kept off the scoreboard last week against Jonesboro.

Figuring out why the offense isn’t clicking is the number-one task for Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley. “I’ve been mulling it over more than anybody,” Whatley said. Some of the confusion comes from the fact that the front line was the biggest question mark heading into the season. The skill positions were stocked with speed and talent and were of no concern. In the last few weeks, however, the line has done an adequate job, but the results aren’t there.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Whatley said. “I don’t know if there’s one thing you can point at. We just haven’t made plays. Big plays, routine plays, we haven’t made them for a number of reasons.”

While there may be many factors going into why the offense has struggled, Whatley plans to address one thing first and foremost. “I’m not sure some of us aren’t pressing a little bit,” Whatley said. “We aren’t enjoying ourselves and that’s what this is all about. At the beginning of the year we were doing that. We were running and throwing and catching and just having a good time. We need to get back to that.”

Lack of confidence is also a concern for Whatley, but he thinks it’s a false emotion running through the team. “You could say that’s a concern,” Whatley said. “You get to listening to the negative and it can have an effect on you. I tell the kids I’m not listening to that crap. I know what these kids are capable of. I’ve seen it and still believe in ‘em.”

Sylvan Hills confronts the Red Devils with a whole different set of hurdles for the team to overcome. One strength in particular worries Whatley. Speed, speed and more speed,” Whatley said of Sylvan Hills. “They’re a very talented and very scary football team. The defense is going to fly around and you’re not going to outrun them. We’re going to have to establish drives, which we’re not doing, and play smart defense.”

Composure in the face of adversity is another concern for the head Red Devil. There were a few cases in which cooler heads didn’t prevail against Jonesboro when things went badly. Whatley knows Sylvan Hills will have some moments this week, and that his players will have to deal with it. He also believes that situation will work itself out if the team can have fun and play with confidence.

“I think this football team will respond. I still believe in ‘em. I enjoy getting up and going to work for them every day. We’ve now got to believe in one another and have faith in what we’re capable of.”

SPORTS >>Jackets are healthy for Beebe game

Leader sportswriter

Last year, Wynne handed Beebe its first conference loss of the season in the previous AAAA-East league. This year heading into Friday’s game, both teams are once again undefeated through the first two weeks of 5A-East action.

The Yellowjackets find themselves as the favorites once again this year, despite being the visitors at rowdy Bro Erwin Field. Wynne coach Don Campbell says that even with longtime rival Batesville looming for his squad next week, their only focus right now is on getting by the Badgers.

“Focusing on this week is not a problem for us,” Campbell said. “We have taken it one week at a time since the start of the season, and there’s no reason to quit that approach now.” The Yellowjackets have looked strong the last three weeks after starting their season off with a brutal non conference schedule and a beat up team.

The season opened with losses to powerhouses Marion and Jonesboro, with a win over Forrest City completing their non-league games. Campbell says the tough games early gave his team a good feel for how things would be once conference play started. “We knew what kind of team we had when we went up against them,” Campbell said. “We played some pretty good football teams right off the bat, and played them pretty well.”

Campbell also noted that after having several players banged up with injuries in the early going, including workhorse running back Terrence Boykin, they have all reported back healthy, giving the team added depth halfway through the season when many squads begin to lose depth.

“We’re in better shape now than we’ve been all year,” Campbell said. “It seems like we were crippled up from the git-go, but we’ve got them all back now, they should be ready to go. “Boykin missed a game; our linebacker Byron, he was out for a while. We’ve got both of them back now. Johnson had a concussion two weeks ago, but he should be back.”

Beebe picked right back up where they left off last year, finding ways to pull out wins in the fourth quarter after trailing much of the game. Despite some internal quarrels, the squad has pulled together as a team and mounted its seemingly trademarked comebacks in all four wins this season.

The Badgers have had an opportunity to display some of their younger talent in the first half of the season. With a stout opponent such as Wynne, it will be interesting to see if head coach Cam Prock and the Beebe coaching staff choose experience over promise, or roll the dice with what has seemed to work fairly well during the first five games.
The Yellowjackets will visit Bro Erwin Field this Friday for the 5A-East showdown, with opening kickoff a 7:30 p.m.

SPORTS >>Cabot facing biggest test

Leader sports editor

Cabot’s football team prevented a losing streak from begining last week, but just barely. The Panthers escaped last week with a one-point overtime win over Little Rock Catholic. Now they are preparing for a team that is absolutely rolling, or charging, as the case may be. North Little Rock High School’s Charging Wildcats come to Panther Stadium this Friday with plans on crashing homecoming at Cabot High.

The Wildcats are 4-1 and on a four-game winning streak. Their most recent win was a rout of Conway, a team that beat Cabot a week earlier. Cabot head coach Mike Malham is still confident. “Let’s see, Conway beat us by 16, they beat Conway 45-8, that’s 37. 37+16: Give us 53 points and bet the house,” Malham said. “I think we can probably hold the ball long enough to keep ‘em from scoring 50.”

Malham, of course, was joking, but he knows his team will have to improve from the last two weeks in order to defeat one of the hottest teams in the state. “Our offense has kind of sputtered the last couple of weeks,” Malham said. “The first three weeks we played a lot better, but the competition is getting tougher too. We’re going to have to be patient, hope we can pound on them a little and try to find a way to make first downs. It’ll be the biggest challenge we’ve faced.”

North Little Rock lost to Texarkana in week one. The 17 points allowed in that game was the most all season. The Wildcats then defeated Fair despite 13 penalties and four turnovers. Since the game against Fair, NLR has dominated. Sylvan Hills, Russellville and Conway have all been readily dismantled.

The offensive struggled through the first two weeks while the defense was stout. Since then, the defense has remained stout while the offense has reeled off two huge games in a row. North Little Rock coach Bryan Hutson has been pleased with his team’s progress.

“Slowly but surely the offense is coming along,” Huston said modestly. “Since Texarkana we’ve scored 28, 28, 30 and 45, but our defense scored twice on Conway. Still, we’re starting to do some things on offense that you like to see.” The Wildcats just pummeled a team that beat Cabot, but Hutson says his team isn’t concerned about that. “That’ doesn’t mean anything to us,” Hutson said. “Conway is a good team and things just snowballed on them. The same thing happened to Cabot the week before. It was a seven-point game right before the half. Cabot gets a bad punt snap, and then they hit a long pass and it’s 23-7. Those things don’t matter now. It’s all about matchups.”

Hutson just doesn’t know how his team will match up with the Panthers. “It’s hard to say,” Hutson said. “They run an offense that you just don’t see hardly ever. You know what’s coming, you just have to stop it. Our defense has played really well so far. You just have to make sure of your assignments every play. They’re passing more this year too and that adds some pressure to you. You have to take care of business and not forget stuff. They’ll lull to sleep and then hit one over the top on you.”

Over the top is one of Malham’s big concerns for his team as well. A pair of receivers have been a big factor for the Wildcats’ in the last two games. “They’ve got some good athletes over there,” Malham said. “That Moncrief kid on the edge, and the Dunn kind that was here in the eighth grade. They’ve got a good quarterback, there’s just a lot of weapons you have to be ready for.”

Despite the passing threat, North Little Rock is a run-oriented team, and the fact that the running game has been improving the last few weeks gives Hutson and the Wildcats some confidence. “We’ve been able to move the ball on the ground well enough that teams are having to bring people in and leave us with isolated coverage outside. And we’ve been able to hit a few big plays the past few games, so that’s good to see.”

Malham believes his team matches up well in size with North Little Rock, but his team will be at a disadvantage at depth. North Little doesn’t play a single starter on both sides of the ball. The recent heat won’t help Cabot if it remains through the week. “I sure hope it cools down because we played four or five both ways last week,” Malham said. “We’re going to be worn out if we have to do that in this kind of heat.”

More than their dangerous weapons on offense, and more than mother nature, Malham is worried about the Wildcats’ defense. It hasn’t given up more than one touchdown in a game since week one.

“That defense has been playing good, they haven’t been giving up much at all,” Malham said. “We’re going to have to find a way to move the ball. We’ve punted quite a few times the last couple of weeks and we hadn’t punted much at all before that. We’ve just got to move the ball and we sure can’t put it on the ground. If we start turning it over it’s going to be a long night. If we can move the ball, hold onto it, limit their chances, I think we can hang with ‘em and maybe pull the thing out in the fourth quarter.”

EDITORIAL>>Speaker Hastert should resign

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, widely criticized for doing nothing about Rep. Mark Foley after learning of the Florida Republican’s sexually suggestive correspondence with teenage pages, asked the FBI Monday to start a criminal investigation of Foley. Conservative critics said it was a little late.

Indeed it is. Hastert should have done that months ago, when other Republican congressmen say they reported the messages to him. Instead, he told Republican Leader John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, that he already had heard about the problem and that he had “taken care of it.” At least that is Boehner’s insistent claim. Hastert says he does not remember ever hearing about Foley’s conduct from Boehner or anyone else until Foley resigned last Friday ahead of media revelations about emails and text messages to several boys who were serving as congressional pages.

Hastert’s reluctance is understandable, if inexcusable. Three high-ranking Republican congressmen, starting with Majority Leader Tom DeLay, have resigned recently in the midst of bribery and influence-peddling investigations, which endangered other Republicans running for election this fall. Hastert and other leading Republicans implicated in the coverup wanted to protect Republicans from still another debacle just before the midterm elections. Control of the House was at stake.

He now has what he dreaded. Hastert’s craven attitude and that of other leaders who knew of Foley’s conduct and simply kicked it up to Hastert, reflect the crisis in American government: politics and power come ahead of everything else, including the welfare of children.

The right-wing Washington Times called for Hastert to resign. That would be a start toward redemption. It might even help his party hold power. That is the argument that might persuade him.

EDITORIAL>>Perspective on illegals

The campaign template for every Republican candidate for public office in America this year is supposed to include a plan to stop immigration. Polls show that immigrants are the route to office in 2006, a far better draw than even gay marriage. So Asa Hutchinson, the Republican nominee for governor, is not navigating new waters with his promises to get tough on immigrants who do not have legal papers. We just wish he would be more thoughtful, and practical.

His get-tough plan is to “strengthen the partnership” between Arkansas and federal government agencies on immigration, stop releasing people whom police suspect are aliens when they are stopped for such things as traffic violations, make it harder to hire illegal immigrants and “create more secure identity documents.”

It has never been clear what actions by state employees the plan will require if he is elected governor, but he has embroidered a bit on a couple of the points. For example, he said he would stop the state government from continuing to hire illegal aliens, and yesterday the state Republican Party attacked Mike Beebe for not joining Hutchinson in that vow, implying that Beebe would populate state offices and highway crews with illegals. But if that is a problem, should Hutchinson not be challenging Gov. Huckabee, not Beebe? Huckabee, who is speaking at Hutchinson fundraisers, should be asked why he puts undocumented aliens on the payroll, if he is doing that.

Hutchinson’s central issue is the State Police. Hutchinson wants troopers to start enforcing federal immigration laws because the federal Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration Service do not. The State Police does not really want that job because the troopers are already stretched thin enforcing state laws. The Arkansas Legislature, by a one-vote margin, passed a law 18 months ago requiring the State Police to collaborate with federal authorities to catch and return illegal immigrants. The director of the agency finally came around to say it would be OK, but the police have done little since then to comply. To get certified to make immigration arrests, the troopers must undergo extensive training on federal immigration laws and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to get certified. Hutchinson said that as governor he will see that they get that training.

Florida and Alabama actually did that a couple of years ago. They have arrested only a handful of migrant workers. The reason is that arresting, detaining, identifying and returning illegal foreign workers is messy, complicated and time-consuming.

Arkansas’ overworked police can do little to reverse the traffic of illegal workers from Mexico and other Latin countries unless they abandon other enforcement work or greatly strengthen their forces and outlay. And Hutchinson should be careful of the precedent. What is next? Will state law-enforcement officers enforce the federal tax code and environmental laws, where federal enforcement is notoriously lax? Hutchinson’s last job at Homeland Security was to enforce federal immigration and drug laws, and he has been extensively criticized for failing at it.

Let us hold the president of the United States accountable for enforcing laws that are peculiarly a federal responsibility and try to do well at enforcing our own laws. The feds can raid the country club kitchens, chicken-processing plants and tomato patches and our little band of troopers can patrol the roadways and enforce our own criminal statutes. That is job enough.

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> First school since 1970s a possibility

Attorney Gen. Mike Beebe wants to build the first new school in Jacksonville in 30 years, and he thinks he can fund it with the state’s surplus, although that’s vanishing about as fast as last decade’s federal surplus. Still, Beebe told us he’ll commit a quarter billion dollars for school-facility improvements statewide if he’s elected governor — not that either gubernatorial candidate has much choice: The state Supreme Court has told the Legislature it must replace our crumbling schools.
“It’s there,” Beebe told us, referring to the surplus. “Let’s put it to good use.”

Beebe has taken a leading role on education issues for decades, first as an influential legislator and then as attorney general.
Beebe is involved in negotiations about the future of the Pulaski County school districts now under court supervision to desegregate. They’ve been under federal supervision for so long, most white students have fled to Cabot, Beebe and elsewhere. (See article, p. 1A.)

You’d have a hard time finding two school districts side by side that are as different as Pulaski County and Cabot. One is stagnant while the other keeps growing and building shimmering new schools. Cabot School Superintendent Frank Holman did a fine job a couple of weeks ago telling patrons how much money the district has spent on textbooks this year ($1 million) and how much money it will spend to rebuild one of its junior high schools that recently burned down ($15 million).
While Cabot builds a new school every couple of years and spends millions on textbooks, people in Jacksonville are wondering why they haven’t seen a new school in their town in 30 years.

Many of them want to form their own independent district and raise enough money for new schools. But that could take years, and some Jacksonville residents are thinking about asking philanthropists to help pay for new public schools since the district says it’s too broke to build schools in the Jacksonville area (but not in other parts of the district).

Why would private donors pay for new schools? They might get their names on the school building and help kids get a better education. That’s how desperate folks are in Jacksonville. Beebe is hoping the desegregation case will be resolved and then Jacksonville might one day go out on its own and manage its own destiny like neighboring Cabot and Beebe.

(By the way, candidate Beebe, who lives in Searcy, and the town of Beebe are not related. Somebody with that name settled in the area before the attorney general’s family moved into White County.) Jacksonville needs new middle schools and a new high school, perhaps with the help of private donors who could help match state funding — although state law would have to be changed before that can happen.

Jacksonville could finally see some progress if the state, after prodding from the Arkansas Supreme Court, finally raises standards for its public schools all across the state and spends all that surplus on our kids and on school construction instead of pork.

That would also be good news for Little Rock Air Force Base, where Arnold Drive Elementary School could use some serious repairs. Sure, half of that surplus will vanish if the state eliminates the sales tax on groceries — which is why Beebe wants to do that more gradually, while Asa Hutchinson, his Republican opponent, would get rid of it right away — but while there’s a chance to help our schools, let’s not blow it after the election season is over.

TOP STORY >>Jacksonville may get its own school district

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville could have its own school district as early as the 2008-2009 school year, according to a local legislator who said bills to ease the way are being drafted. But nothing is guaranteed.

Two separate legislative committees are drafting bills that could release all three school district partners from the terms of the $58 million-a-year desegregation agreement and could clear the way for a separate Jacksonville school district, while assuring the continued existence of the Pulaski County Special School District, according to state Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville.

PCSSD, North Little Rock and Little Rock school districts are bound by the terms of the existing desegregation agreement.
“Our intent is to have a bill ready for consideration when the new General Assembly convenes in January,” Bond said. Bond, a member of the Desegregation Litigation Oversight subcommittee, said proponents of a Jacksonville district are using as a roadmap the elements of U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson’s ruling in summer 2004, which prevented Jacksonville from voting to form its own district.

One of Wilson’s findings was that the state must first conduct a feasibility study to assure the court that changing district boundaries and creating a new district would not harm the area’s desegregation efforts. That’s why Bond put special language in the state Education Department budget last year requiring the feasibility study.

The state hired William Gordon Associates of Saluda, N.C., to study realignment of the three public school districts in Pulaski County – Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special– which are inextricably joined by a 20-year-old school desegregation agreement.

The Gordon Associates’ study concluded that the three existing districts should each petition for unitary school status and release from the desegregation agreement, and that Jacksonville should form the fourth district.
The nearly yearlong study recommended that Jacksonville should have its own district, consisting of 13 schools that are currently in the PCSSD.
Jacksonville has tried at least twice since the mid-70s to form its own school district. The consultants said a Jacksonville district would be “more likely to address the educational needs of students attending schools north of the Arkansas River.”
In looking at a Jacksonville school district, the consultants said that the district would have a student population of slightly more than 6,900 students, of which 55 percent would be white, 40 percent black and 5 percent other minorities.

Five of the 13 county schools to be moved to the new district were in “need of extensive renovation or replacement.” The new district would have nearly 500 teachers and would need 26 building administrators and a central office of 19 to 27 administrators.

Critics of the plan say ending the desegregation agreement wouldn’t result in saving the state much of the $58 million it chips in to help the desegregation efforts, Bond said, but he noted that Don Stewart, deputy commissioner of the state Education Department, says the savings would be about $48 million.

“I don’t know if this will overcome (Judge Wilson’s) objections,” Bond said. “I know that the experts have recommended that Jackson-ville school district be created. I know we need new facilities and our kids are being shorted by the PCSSD. Gordon found five schools in the district needed immediate replacement, and four of those were in the Jacksonville area.”

Bond said the legislature should consider retaining Gordon group again to evaluate and testify that all districts are unitary.
The consulting team looked at the feasibility of dividing up PCSSD among four districts including North Little Rock and Little Rock and two proposed districts: Jacksonville and a district south of the Arkansas River. Gordon Associates recommended four districts—the three in existence plus Jacksonville.

PCSSD has about 18,000 students, North Little Rock has about 12,000 and Little Rock has 24,000. Another part of the group’s final report will be finding a way for the districts to be released from the court-ordered school desegregation agreement since each has met most or all of its conditions. Gordon Associates is also charged with presenting a plan to get the districts off unitary school status—that is, released from the agreement and separated.

TOP STORY >>Vote to decide annexation

Leader staff writer

With Election Day only a few weeks away, a group of hopefuls met in Beebe last Thursday night for a strategy session on a second attempt to double the city’s geographical size through annexation. Included in the group were representatives from the city council, the chamber of commerce, the water commission, the city’s economic director, the planning commission and members of the business community.

Essentially, the group has decided to limit its efforts to selling the annexation to the people already inside the city limits.
The first annexation attempt during a special election last summer was a close 382 to 346 with the majority of Beebe voters supporting it. The hope now is that with a bigger turnout in a November election coupled with an effort to win support of city dwellers will make city voters approve it this time.

Marjorie Armstrong, the city’s economic director, along with Leonard Fort, the city code enforcement officer, have been trying to raise $3,000 to pay for mailing brochures about the annexation to 1,600 homes and for signs promoting it. So far they have raised $2,700, so part of the discussion Thursday night was about who else they could ask for money. All the banks have donated to the cause, Armstrong said, as have some of the real estate businesses.

Herman Blackmon, who has been politically active for about one year and is running for the city council, told the group that since he has been campaigning, he has learned that the elderly people in town are the ones who vote, and what they want to see in Beebe is a hospital.

Others want a community center much like those they see in other cities. “If we can get the people inside the city limits to understand that we’re willing to address those issues, the turnout will be a lot better,” Blackmon said. Another selling point for annexation is that a larger population and room for commercial development could eventually make it possible for Beebe residents to shop without leaving home.

John Hayes, chairman of the water commission, said much of the opposition from residents of the proposed annexed areas was because of Beebe water. The water doesn’t taste good and they don’t want it. The proposed annexed area is served by Southwest White County Water Association, which gets its water from the Little Red River through Searcy.

Hayes said Beebe’s well water does not compare favorably, but the looping of water lines that is now underway in the city should make the water taste better. But there should be no immediate concern about Beebe taking over SOWCO water lines, he said. The water commission can’t afford it.

SOWCO hasn’t expressed a willingness to sell and the city ordinance placing the annexation on the ballot doesn’t promise water as one of the services the city will provide. Promised are the services of fire and police departments and garbage collection. The area to be annexed has not changed since the last attempt. It would still double the city’s size, square up its borders and add about 600 new residents.

But some of the proposed zoning has changed. Last summer, all the land along Highway 64 that wasn’t already commercial was to come into the city as residential, with owners having an opportunity to rezone after the annexation.

Some on the council, especially Mike Robertson, the only candidate for mayor, and Janice Petray, wanted the Highway 64 frontage to come in as commercial to keep down controversy later when property owners tried to rezone. To get the full support of the council and to appease property owners in the proposed area of annexation who don’t want to be zoned commercial, the planning commission recommended and the council agreed to bring in the undeveloped property along Highway 64 as far as Davidson Road as commercial and the developed land as residential, unless it is obviously commercial now.

From Davidson Road to the first big curve on Highway 64, where the proposed annexation ends, would be residential.

TOP STORY >>Agency flunks review

Leader staff writer

Following a less-than-flattering federal review of its management practices, Jacksonville Housing Authority’s score of 21 out of a 30 possible score has dropped down to 14. “That brings them down to a substandard component in management operations,” said Patricia Campbell, spokesperson for the U.S. Housing and Urban Development.

Based on the recent HUD review, the current score reflects the management operations scoring process for fiscal year 2005, according to Campbell. There are four components—management, physical, financial and resident service—in the Public Housing Authority Scoring process. A maximum score for the management, physical and financial is 30, according to HUD’s website. Resident service/satisfaction scoring tops out at 10. JHA oversees the day-to-day operation of the Max Howell Place apartment complex and disbursements of rent vouchers to low-income families and individuals. This summer, JHA saw a mass exodus of its officials while under scrutiny by a federal review team.

JHA executive director Virginia Simmons resigned from her post after 14 years. A HUD report alleges she admitted to fraud.
In mid-June, the federal agency asked for contracts and work orders for more than $132,000 spent by the housing authority.
HUD officials wanted to scrutinize all contracts and purchase orders and asked that they be pulled and made available for June 28.

On June 27, a JHA employee informed HUD that Simmons had directed her to create four contracts and to call contractors to come to the office and sign the contracts. On the same day, Simmons “admitted to Mr. Jesse Westover, public housing director at the Little Rock field office, that she had falsely reported program obligation under the FY 2003 Capital Fund Program on Sept. 15, 2005 in the amount of $132,788.11,” according to the HUD review document.

HUD officials concluded these actions were taken by the JHA executive director in an attempt to document evidence to support contracts had been legitimately entered into before the obligation deadline of Sept. 16, 2005, which, in fact, did not happen. That made the authority ineligble for the grant.

Jimmy Durham, newly ap-pointed chairman of the JHA board, says he wants an aggressive director, citing the “greatest failure” is not going after the numerous grants available to the local public housing authority. The HUD review team also pointed out possible flaws ranging from personnel policy not being followed in a disciplinary action to a security officer allegedly seldom seen on the premises.

The security officer is paid a salary, according to the document, “whether he reviews background reports or not.”
After intervening to pull JHA out of its slump, HUD officials want to see improvements right away. “They’re (HUD) in the process of negotiating with the housing authority for a memorandum of agreement,” HUD spokesperson Campbell told The Leader.

Although not accused of any wrongdoing, board members Ferrell Gray, Robert Colford and Robert Whatley stepped down after Simmons left, leaving only Fred West, its chairman, who soon quit as well. Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim stepped in by assisting the city council in appointing new commissioners — Durham, Mike Wilkinson, Marilyn Canon and Jon Johnson — to the JHA board.

A fifth board member must still be selected, but for now, these four new commissioners face the challenge of revamping the JHA’s management operations. At the first meeting of a newly appointed JHA board , Mary Boyd, interim director for the beleaguered public housing authority who quit at the meeting, said that HUD officials—Johnny Wooley, Sandra King and Corey Grant—would now be involved in the agency’s operation.

“Those are the three actually working to get it back up to snuff,” Boyd told commissioners. At the same meeting, improving JHA led to discussions about more resident involvement, updating the computer system, HUD training for the new commissioners and selecting an executive director who will seek out available grant funding.

Management operations include the handling of a public housing authority’s capital funds, vacant unit turnaround, work orders, annual inspections of units and systems, and security. The authority’s goal is “to assist in delivery of services at the public housing level while promoting trust in the public housing system among public housing agencies, public housing residents, HUD and the general public by providing a tool for effectively and fairly measuring the performance of each public housing authority,” the website reads.

The authority not only hands out rewards for high performances but also has penalties for poor performers.

TOP STORY >>Rezoning is passed in Cabot for office

Leader staff writer

Many of the same Cabot residents who successfully fought a commercial rezoning across from Wal-Mart earlier this year turned out last night for a planning commission meeting where a small part of that land was up for rezoning again.

Over their protests, the planning commission approved the rezoning request 4-2 and it will be sent to the city council later this month for final approval. If the council also approves the rezoning, construction of a Crye-Leike real estate office can begin as soon as the city approves a site plan.

The property that could be rezoned is 1.3 acres in the middle of an 11.5 -acre tract owned by Mike Smith. The council refused in February to rezone the whole tract after the residents organized to fight it. The would-be developers promised buffers between the commercial and residential developments and improvements to streets to im-prove the traffic flow, but the residents said they were concerned about increased traffic on Highway 89. They didn’t want the driveway to a commercial development using Rockwood, and they were generally opposed to what they believe is encroachment into their neighborhood.

Seven months later, they haven’t changed their minds, and they are convinced that if the city rezones 1.3 acres for Smith, the rest will eventually follow. “We have been a neighborhood,” Bill Staggs told the commission. “We have lived a quality of life we enjoy, many of us for more than 20 years. And we feel like that is being taken away from us.

“Are you going to stop here, or is it going to continue acre by acre until you get the whole 11 acres?” he asked. According to a city ordinance, a rezoning request can’t be made twice in the same year unless there is a substantial change in the request. The city council agreed in September that taking off 10 acres was a substantial change and that the commission could hear the request again.

Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh said he was concerned that the planning that was being done for the larger tract is not feasible for smaller parcels and that the development would be less controlled than it could have been. Gerald Garner, one of the residents, told the commission that some of the residents might be willing to support the rezoning if the developer would agree to put the driveway in the middle of the 11.5 acres so it could be shared with other businesses as the tract develops to keep the traffic off Rockwood.

But from the planning commission’s perspective, that agreement would be between the residents and the developer because with such a small parcel, a planned development like the one in the works earlier this year is not possible. “How can you vote tonight when you don’t even know where the street is going?” asked resident Janet Henry.

Ron Craig, commission chairman, pointed out that the rezoning comes first and then the site plan is approved. Although the commission sometimes knows when it recommends rezoning property what type of business is going in, that information is not usually part of the rezoning request. Craig said the residents were mistaken if they believed the commission could tell them what other businesses might eventually locate in their area if the rezoning for the real estate office is approved. It was a reasonable assumption that Smith would eventually try to rezone all 11.5 acres, he said, but no one knows what businesses will move in.

The rezoning will be on the agenda of the Oct. 16 city council meeting.

TOP STORY >>Education center on fund list

Leader staff writer

“Having a college in your hometown is a major, major deal,” Jacksonville attorney Mike Wilson said Monday of the news that funding is committed for a new Community/Air Base Education Center at Little Rock Air Force Base. Jacksonville has set aside its $5 million share of the costs, generated from a sales tax increase, and the Air Force’s $10 million share is on the verge of complete authorization and appropriation, according to the office of Cong. Vic Snyder, D-Little Rock.

The city tax included money for a swimming pool complex and for a police and fire training facility. “This Defense Authorization bill (earmarks) funding for the center,” said Jennifer Holman, spokesman Snyder. “Next, funding is expected be appropriated in the lame duck session (after November general elections),” she said. “In the House, the center will be in the Military Quality of Life Appropriations bill and in the Senate it will be in the Military Construction bill.”

Snyder, on the House Armed Services Committee, and senators Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln have been staunch supporters of the project, according to Wilson. “It is evidence of the commitment of the people in this area to education and higher education in particular,” said Wilson. Wilson and Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim are co-chairmen of the Community/Community Education Center.

An institution of higher learning in Jacksonville “would be a huge benefit for our citizens—to have access for classes close to home.” “As far as know, this is the only community in the United States that has done such a thing,” Wilson said. “It’s sort of a continuation of the effort of local people to support the Air Force Base, that began with the founding (50 years ago) of Little Rock Air Force Base. “We’ve got to create the bones of a framework for future operations (of the education center),” he said. “We’re going to need an advisory committee or board of trustees to advise the mayor and the installation commander,” he added.

“The joint education center has been a phenomenal project,” said Capt. David Faggard, of the 314th Air Education Wing’s Strategic Information Office. “It really shows the solidarity between (Little Rock Air Force Base) and Jacksonville.”

Six institutions that already hold classes at the existing center have signed on to offer classes at the new center, including Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University of Daytona Beach, Fla.; Park University of Parkville, Mo.; Southern Illinois University of Carbondale, Ill.; Webster University of St. Louis, Mo.; University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University-Beebe.

Study programs include computer science, allied health, aeronautical management, criminal justice, social psychology, industrial technology, business, human relations and public administration. Priority for class space is active-duty military, retired military, Department of Defense employees and then civilians. More than 1,045 military and 275 civilian personnel are enrolled in educational programs at the air base.

The education center, originally designed as an 82,000 square-foot facility, has been “skinnied down” to about 50,000 square feet, according to Nancy Shefflette, director of ASU-Beebe’s Little Rock Air Force Base center. Shefflette, who was on Swaim’s advisory council regarding the Air Base Education Center, said, “We’re in a better position than we’ve ever been. One of the key factors pushing this along is that the city of Jacksonville had raised its $5 million.”

She said First Arkansas Bank and Trust president Larry Wilson was working out the details on how to move the city’s money so it could be legally and appropriately spent on the project by the Air Force. She said that was based upon the $9.8 million that the Air Force is expected to have for the facility.

Assuming that Jacksonville’s $5 million is added to the pot, the size of the facility may again approach the 82,000 sq. ft. figure, she said. If the center ends up with the larger footprint, it is possible that there will be space for classes from other schools as well, Shefflette said.