Wednesday, December 31, 2008

TOP STORY > > Toddler survives vicious dog attack

Leader staff writer

A 3-year-old girl was almost killed Sunday by a dog her family considered adopting as a pet. According to Jacksonville animal control officers, it is a miracle that the little girl survived. The attack could also have been prevented, officers speculate.
Jennifer Young, the victim’s mother, explained how her daughter, Grace, was mauled by the dog at the family home on Bailey Street in Jacksonville. The Young family was thinking of adopting the dog, an Akita, from a close family friend, Mary Ronnau of Jacksonville
Jennifer’s husband, Richard, let the Akita play with his two daughters and the family’s two dogs with the hope of giving the animal a happy home, but the well-intentioned meeting soon went bad.
The Akita attacked the child in the backyard of her parents’ home, apparently out of view of her father. The attack may have lasted two minutes, according to a family friend who witnessed the attack.
It took three people to free the toddler from the dog. Her father and friends rushed her to North Metro Medical Center, where doctors transferred her to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock by ambulance.
Grace underwent reconstructive surgery for more than an hour, according to Jennifer Young. She said Grace may have to have plastic surgery and she fears that scarring will leave the child traumatized.
She wants Jacksonville to categorize Akitas as vicious animals along with pit bulls, “so nobody else has to see what I saw.”
Grace’s mother said the first thing she asked to do when she got home was play with her Lab, Cinco.
“Doctors said that if the bite had been a hair closer to the jugular, she would be dead. This is the worse case I’ve ever handled,” Cheryl Wood, the animal control officer who handled this case said.
The Akita was euthanized Tues-day morning. On Monday night, the dog explored the front offices of the Jacksonville Animal Shelter with the enthusiasm of a puppy, enjoying doggie treats and playing with staff members at the shelter, a mood that Grace did not get to see.
The incident may not have come without warning. Ronnau, the Akita’s owner, claims to have been bitten by her other dog, also an Akita. She went to North Metro to have her wounds treated, but the animal shelter may not have been informed.
“We reported the incident to proper authorities,” said Amy Arnone, North Metro’s public relations spokeswoman. Arnone would not divulge who was informed of the first biting incident.
“We cannot find any record that (Ronnau) was bitten,” said April Kiser, spokeswoman for the Jacksonville Police Department.
“Bite cases have to be reported to the city at all times,” Hedy Limke, director of the Jacksonville Animal Shelter, said.
Notification of the first incident could have alerted animal control to the potential danger posed by Ronnau’s dogs, and Grace may have been spared, she said.
Had the prior incident been investigated, Grace may not have been attacked, said Limke. It would have served as a warning that Ronnau’s dogs posed a risk.
“Forty percent of dogs in the city are not socialized. They don’t know how to act with people and have the potential to bite,” Limke said.
Limke calls these unsocialized dogs “backyard dogs,” animals left alone without proper care and affection and are potentially dangerous.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Getting help for Arkansas

Arkansas rarely gets to show the rest of the country its dust, especially in economic performance, but it happens when the country falls into recession. Employment and consumer spending tend not to decline as steeply or as quickly in Arkansas as in the industrial states, partly because Arkansas has about the puniest manufacturing base in the country and little to lose when the demand for consumer products subsides. Except for food and fiber, we don’t make many of those products in Arkansas.

But the difference between Arkansas and the country as a whole has never been so distinct as in the current downturn. Most state governments are cutting services sharply and pleading with the federal government for assistance while Arkansas continues to experience healthy state revenues month after month. One reason is that Governor Beebe budgeted so frugally in 2007 and again in the executive budget he has filed for 2009-12. So can’t we feel self-satisfied and maybe even a little superior as the new administration ponders how the national government can help states like California, New York and Ohio?

Or, though less needy at the moment, should we demand Arkansas’ per-capita share of the stimulus/bailout money that is being readied for the new Congress on Jan. 20? If the package is in the range of $700 billion, which is likely, Arkansas’ contingent share would be about $7 billion, which is roughly the size of the whole state budget for a year.

Arkansas could build a lot of roads, bridges, schools and prisons and provide a lot of medical care for $7 billion. That would provide quite a jolt to employment and spending.

Don’t get your hopes up. Arkansas will not get that much help — not even close — and maybe it should not. Unemployment runs considerably below the national average, and the pain from this yearlong recession is not nearly as evident as it is in Ohio and Michigan, where unemployment early in 2009 may hit double digits, though there is evidence that the trough lies ahead for Arkansas, perhaps by early spring.
But Governor Beebe and our congressional delegation can make a persuasive case that the needs actually are greater in this still poor state. Arkansas has been in a recession for far longer than most of the nation. Indeed, it has never been out of a recession since 1837. Arkansas is doing all right only in relation to Arkansas in 2007, or 2000, or 1984. The unemployment rate measures only the people actively looking for work and not finding it, not those who have long since abandoned the job market or accepted part-time and piecemeal labor. Arkansas is not slashing public services like California only because it never provided many of the human services that are taken for granted in more prosperous regions.

Its school buildings are more dilapidated, its highways rougher and more dangerous, its health services stingier, its incarceration rate higher and its prisons more crowded, its college-going and graduation rates lower, its family income levels lower than most of the states except those immediately to our south. Nowhere in America is there greater need for an economic stimulus.

The governor and our delegates need to make that case, though Arkansas’ voice is likely to be faint in the cacophony in Washington, and not merely because the economic signals in Arkansas appear superficially to be so strong. Nearly alone among the states, Arkansas went defiantly against the Democratic trend in the 2008 election, giving the Democratic candidate an even weaker vote than in the previous two presidential cycles. That should not count in the reckoning of needs and perhaps it won’t. The new president seems unusually averse to punishing his critics and those who simply disagree.

The legislature, which assembles a week before the inauguration, should get Arkansas’ house in order by clearing away the obstacles to federal assistance to infrastructure improvements, including public school buildings. Communities all over the state that have been unable to produce the matching funds for state school construction grants should be able to move instantly to claim federal assistance for their match. The state Highway Commission says it has a raft of highway and bridge projects ready for contract.

President-elect Obama is supposed to be considering liberalizing the matching formula for Medicaid to help states with rising caseloads and declining tax receipts. Because it has such a high population of poor, Arkansas already has one of the most favorable matching rates in the country — nearly 75 percent federal — but within 18 months it will find itself needy. Senator Blanche Lincoln, who is on the Senate Finance Committee and its health subcommittee, may be particularly helpful in seeing that any formula relief does not skip Arkansas and other states with high federal matching rates.

Now is the time that we miss an experienced and powerful congressional delegation. Let us hope that Lincoln, Mark Pryor and our lusterless House delegation can rise to the occasion.

TOP STORY > >Sherwood moves to upgrade sewer

Leader staff writer

The Sherwood City Council on Tuesday set in motion a process to bring the city’s wastewater utility back into compliance with federal and state regulations – and keep it there or face more onerous fines.

The council unanimously ap-proved the sewer committee’s recommendation to hire Crist Engineering, a Little Rock-based firm, to help craft a plan for repairs, renovations, and routine maintenance to the city’s sewer lines and two sewage treatment plants.

The firm will be paid up to $133,453 for services that include creation of a wastewater system master plan for improvements that will ensure compliance and build for future needs. The city presently does not have such a plan.

What triggered the council’s action was a consent order from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, which goes into effect Jan. 9. For seven pages, it details violations at the city’s two sewer treatment facilities, some of which date back to 2005. Violations included repeated releases of treated wastewater into neighboring streams with fecal coliform bacteria and ammonia nitrogen levels far in excess of allowed limits. Both substances can do harm to the public and environment health.

When the violations continued, inspectors from the ADEQ and EPA paid a visit to the plants in November 2007 to see what the problems were. They were not happy with what they discovered in the way of improper operations and malfunctioning equipment. A few months later, the ADEQ fined the city of Sherwood $23,300 – since reduced to $15,500 – and then followed through with a consent order to ensure compliance within 18 months.

Oversight of the sewer treatment system is a responsibility of the city engineer, who at the time was Michael Clayton. He resigned 11 months ago. Ellen Norvell replaced him last June.

Since the summer, wastewater releases have met water quality standards. Some of the more complex, costly problems will await the engineer’s recommendations.

Aldermen expressed consternation at the news of the consent order and had plenty of questions for city engineer Norvell and two water enforcement administrators from the ADEQ, Anne Roberts and Cindy Garner. They wanted some perspective on the seriousness of the violations.

Roberts explained that while consent orders are not that uncommon for Arkansas municipalities, for the number of violations at the Sherwood facilities that went unaddressed for so long, “that is significant.

“With existence of repeat violations, a big flag goes up,” she went on. “The inspection definitely was the impetus for the order, but you were already on our radar screen because of the effluent violations.”

Garner added that the ADEQ has been pleased with Norvell’s and Mayor Virginia Hillman’s response to the consent order.

“You have got the right attitude. We have gotten cooperation from the city and feel like the city is on track to compliance. If we hadn’t gotten that feeling, we wouldn’t have reduced the fine.”

“None of us knew any of this existed,” Ward 4 Alderman Steve Fender told Roberts and Garner.

“Now that we are aware we have some problems we are not going to be ambivalent about fixing them,” Fender said.

Alluding to former engineer Clayton’s administration, Ward 3 Alderman Sheila Sulcer remarked, “We’re all surprised by this; why wasn’t it corrected at that point?”

Mayor Virginia Hillman replied, “To be honest with you, it wasn’t acknowledged.”

Ward 1 Alderman Lex “Butch” Davis said, “I’ve been quite blissfully ignorant and now the bottom has fallen out.” He and Ward 1 Alderman Charley Harmon called for regular council meeting updates from Norvell about progress to meet the consent order.

From Jan. 9, the city will have 30 days to submit a proposed schedule to ADEQ for all renovations to the sewer system. Norvell estimates it will take about eight months to complete a master plan. Representatives from the ADEQ reassured the council that the city would be given a reasonable amount of time to develop a plan and implement it.

“We want you to get the work done in a reasonable time, but we are lenient where we can be,” Garner said.

Norvell lauded the hard work of the seven-person wastewater crew, which is responsible for operation of the two treatment facilities as well as sewer line maintenance.

Yesterday, they responded to seven calls for “stoppages,” she said. She urged the council to think about increasing the staff.

TOP STORY > >New bill tightens disposal permits

Leader senior staff writer

A month after Department of Environmental Quality Director Teresa Marks closed down two area shale gas waste-disposal sites, state Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, has drafted legislation that would give towns, cities and counties a say for the first time in the permitting process.

Glover says he will introduce his bill when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 12.

Marks issued an emergency order Dec. 3 requiring Central Arkansas Disposal site, just outside Searcy, and Fayetteville Shale Land Farms near Carlisle to stop accepting fluids for disposal until further notice, citing numerous violations.

“They do have a truck-washing operation there,” Marks said, but were dumping the drilling wastes at approved landfills for now.

“There have been instances where the permitting rules have not been followed,” Marks said. “That gives us cause for concern.

We’re seeing if permit parameters are tight enough, (or if we need to) put in new language.”

Not far from Carlisle, Prairie County Land Farms LLC has applied for a permit. That site is literally across the road from Lonoke County on a road that has school bus and other traffic and is too close to a bayou, say area opponents of that operation.

At full operation, there would be a truck arriving on that road every 12 minutes to unload the waste.

They have hired veteran environmental attorney Sam Ledbettor, a former lawmaker, to represent them in opposing that landfill, which has not yet received a permit.

“A municipality or a county doesn’t have any say at all over what’s going to be done,” Glover said Tuesday. “In the Crossroads community, the roads are real, real narrow. The county surfaces the roads with nothing but a seal coat.”

He said the trucks, which run 24 hours a day, seven days a week tear up the roads and create a traffic hazard.”

“The quorum courts don’t have any say whatsoever and in some areas what they are dumping is contaminated,” he said.


It gives the ADEQ until Jan. 1, 2010 to adopt rules providing standards “for the proper disposal of drilling fluids, produced waters or other wastes associated with the exploration, development, or production of crude oil, natural gas, or geothermal energy.”

Glover’s bill would require approval by the town, city or county in which the disposal site was located, and authorizes those entities to withhold approval if the disposal site would “unduly interfere with the use of a pubic road, facility, business or residence or endangers a member of public, causes undue damage to a public road, creates a public nuisance or “harms the general welfare.”

In Lonoke County, where fish food has become prohibitively expensive, some fish farmers have left that business and some are considering the lucrative alternative of becoming dumpsites for the water, chemicals, oil, diesel and other waste from shale gas extraction.

There are 13 permitted land farms operating in the state, Marks said.

At Fayetteville Shale Land farms, ADEQ found oil in the staging pond where drilling fluids are stored before being spread on the land. The permit prohibits disposal of oil-tainted water and other oil-based fluids at these sites.

They also found that operators had applied drilling fluids within 100 feet of White Oak branch and water samples from the creek showed a significantly higher level downstream than upstream.

State Sen. John Paul Capps, D-Searcy, said he hadn’t seen Glover’s bill and couldn’t comment other than to say the environment must be protected, but that a lot of good was coming to local landowners, White and Searcy counties and also to the state in the form of gas severance taxes.

“I hope this doesn’t become a political issue,” he said. “Drilling companies want a clean record,” Capps said. “(Glover’s) trying to make sure that local people have some say in the location (of these disposal sites).”

Capps said this would be the first regular session of the General Assembly since the drilling and exploration began in earnest.

“We’ll gather up all the things that need adjusting and see what needs to be done in one big omnibus bill,” Capps said.

“We want to be safe, but we don’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg,” said Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman.

He said safety and wear and tear on county roads were major considerations.

TOP STORY > >Murders, storms, gas prices

Compiled by Rick Kron
Leader staff writer

Too many murders and too many tornadoes and storms darkened 2008, but on the more joyous end of the spectrum after too many years of hard work, Jacksonville’s efforts to operate its own school district cleared major hurdles and most area payday lending companies closed after too many people paid too much in interest for too long of a time.

And if you ask the residents of Gravel Ridge, there were too many votes on annexing that community.

These are the top stories of 2008 as decided by the staff of The Leader.


Jacksonville had eight homicides (six have been cleared or solved) during the year, while Sherwood had two, Cabot had two (both solved or cleared) and even Ward had one. But the two murders that attracted the most attention were not in any of those cities.

Jacksonville resident, businessman and politician William A. “Bill” Gwatney, 48, was shot and killed in Little Rock and a Sherwood couple was found murdered in Festus, Mo., at the hands of a serial killer.

State Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney was shot several times in the upper torso and head about noon Aug. 13, while at work at his party headquarters in Little Rock by a man he apparently didn’t know and was pronounced dead about four hours later at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Gwatney’s assailant, Timothy Dale Johnson of Searcy, who had been fired earlier that day from his job at a Target store, then fled, after pointing a gun at a worker at the nearby Arkansas Baptist Convention Headquarters, telling him he had lost his job.

Johnson got into a blue pickup truck and led law enforcement officials on a 30-minute chase to Sheridan (Grant County) where he died in an exchange of gunfire with officers from at least three jurisdictions.

The homicide case was quietly closed in late November without offering an explanation of why the attack occurred.

“I wish there was a conclusion, but there wasn’t,” said Lt. Terry Hastings, a spokesman for the Little Rock Police Department.

“There’s really no answer as to why he did it.”

The bloody bodies of Jill and Tom Estes, both 52, of Sherwood, were found June 30 behind a dumpster at a gas station in Festus, Ill., not far from the Comfort Inn where the couple had spent the night. Jill Estes worked as para-professional at Tolleson Elementary in Jacksonville, helping special-education students. She has been with the Pulaski County Special School District since 2001, working first at Oakbrooke Elementary in Sherwood and then at Tolleson. Her husband Tom worked for the Union Pacific railroad.

According to police reports, the Esteses checked into the Comfort Inn in Festus, a small community about 35 miles southwest of St. Louis, and attended a graduation party in nearby Florissant. Hotel guests found the Esteses’ two small dogs, covered in blood, wandering in the hotel parking lot. The dogs were unharmed and the couple’s 2007 Corvette untouched, but the couple was nowhere in sight.

The bodies were later found behind a trash bin at the gas station not far from the hotel.

The man charged in the double homicide, Nicholas Sheley, 28, of Sterling, Ill., is also wanted in the deaths of at least five other people.


The local area was hit by waves of tornadoes and hurricane remnants during the year.

Strong winds blew across the state in late January leaving thousands without electricity and causing fires that destroyed several buildings at Fort Chaffee near Fort Smith.

In Lonoke, as darkness approached, rescuers were cutting limbs and parts of a house with chainsaws in Lonoke where a woman, pinned to her bed by a huge fallen oak tree, was believed dead, according to Mayor Wayne McGee.

The tree was uprooted by the same straight-line winds that played havoc throughout the area, downing electrical lines, uprooting trees and damaging structures throughout several counties including Lonoke and north Pulaski.

James Thompson, spokesman for Entergy in Little Rock, said 40,000 customers lost power across the state including 2,900 in Jacksonville, 1,700 in Cabot and 1,800 in Beebe. First Electric Cooperative in Jacksonville reported 2,816 local customers out and 13,565 across all five districts of the cooperative. Besides rural Jacksonville customers, First Electric serves customers in
Lonoke, rural Cabot, Ward, Austin and in White County.

No major problems were reported locally as severe thunderstorms moved through central Arkansas in early February, but before the storms arrived they generated a number of tornadoes to the west and north, causing at least three deaths in Atkins.

The statewide storms also disrupted voting in the state’s presidential election and cut the power to Pulaski County’s office building, preventing election officials from tabulating the results of the Jacksonville-Gravel Ridge annexation vote.

The storm threat caused Cabot school officials to stop and cancel the high school basketball game being played in Cabot. The girls’ game was stopped at halftime and the boys’ game never started as officials cleared the gym at Cabot High School about 7 p.m.

Dan Daugherty, a spokesman for Entergy Arkansas, said the storms blanked out power for about 43,000 of its customers, including 300 in the Jacksonville area.

Severe weather sirens went off twice in Gravel Ridge. Sounding at 6:47 p.m. and again at 6:59.

Wind, rain and tornadoes cut a path of damage in early April through Sherwood, Gravel Ridge and Cabot. Sherwood’s sports complex suffered severe damage and remained closed for most of the remainder of the year.

“Overwhelming,” is how Sherwood’s Parks and Recreation Director Sonny Janssen described the damage to city’s sports complex the morning after an EF-2 tornado roared through the area.

The tornado also caused about $750,000 worth of damage to Sylvan Hills High School, forcing seniors to temporarily move to the Bill Harmon Recreation Center.

The storm also damaged Sylvan Hills Middle School and elementary school. Classes were cancelled there for one day, as well as Northwood Middle School and Cato Elementary, both in northern Pulaski County, because of flooding.

Cabot and Lonoke schools were also closed for a day because of damage and power outages. Cabot High School got hit the worst.

“It was our worst situation. Even with power, the high school would not have been open because there was so much damage,” school superintendent Tony Thurman said. Part of the roof on the new two-story high school structure was peeled back during the storm, he said. It was patched during in preparation for classes that week.

A week later, another wave of storms dumped 1.74 inches of rain at Little Rock Air Force Base and left the entire base without electricity for four hours.

From 11:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. the base’s electricity, provided by Entergy, was out because of minor damage to the base’s government-owned and maintained base switch substation and power lines that crossed and arced, according to the 314th Civil Engineer Squadron.

During the outage, 35 permanent backup generators kicked on. Five mobile generators were run to support base facilities such as the dining hall, since the outage occurred during lunch hours.

Other mobile generators were used at the front gatehouse, base filling station; pump house (Bldg. 1378) and liquid fuels pumping station.

Power remained out in one part of housing until 5 p.m. because a transformer box that had flooded and several fuses had blown.

In early May, two tornadoes hit Lonoke communities.

Officials from the National Weather Service say one tornado laid a path of destruction more than 40 miles long, extending from Grant County, through southeast Saline and southern Pulaski counties to within five miles of Lonoke.

The EF-2 tornado packed winds up to 135 miles-per-hour and caused damage in Keo and Pettus in Lonoke County.

At least five power transmission towers were damaged in Lonoke County.

Another tornado, rated EF-1 and packing winds up to 110 mph, hit Carlisle.

According to storm surveyors, the tornado began one mile west southwest of Carlisle, went through the town and ended 1.6 miles east northeast of the town.

The total path length of the tornado was 2.6 miles and up to 200 yards wide.

Hurricane Ike made its mark on Cabot in early September as one of the feeder bands spawned a tornado near South First Street, destroying a mini-storage building, damaging the roofs of an apartment complex and knocking out windows at a shopping center.

The National Weather Service confirmed an EF-1 tornado hit Cabot and traveled two-thirds of a mile.


The rural community of Gravel Ridge became Sherwood after a multitude of public meetings and three annexation votes.

The first vote came in January and included residents of Jacksonville and Gravel Ridge. The question was should Gravel Ridge become part of Jacksonville and the vote said yes.

Then about a month later residents of Sherwood and Gravel Ridge voted. The question was should Gravel Ridge become part of Sherwood and the vote said yes.

That led to a third election of just Gravel Ridge residents in April. The question in that election was should Gravel Ridge become part of Sherwood or Jacksonville.

“Leave us alone,” was the preferred sentiment of the rural community, but not a ballot choice. The vote went Sherwood’s way and by May, Gravel Ridge was part of Sherwood. The vote brought to an end a four-month effort by both Jacksonville and

Sherwood to annex the 2,500-acre community of 3,500.

According the Pulaski County Election Commission, 632 residents, or 74 percent, voted to join Sherwood, while 221, or 26 percent, voted to become part of Jacksonville.

“We are so excited to have our neighbors in Gravel Ridge joining us,” said Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hill-man.

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim said, “The residents had the wonderful opportunity to voice their opinion and sided with Sherwood. We’ll just move on.”


It’s taken more than a year of public hearings, council meetings and lawsuits, but Sherwood now owns 106 acres of green space formerly known as the North Hills Country Club.

What it will do with the property won’t be decided until a master parks study is completed sometime in February 2009. But in the meantime, the city’s advertising and promotion commission has coughed up $100,000 to renovate the clubhouse for city use, meetings and rentals. The city had a volunteer clean up in early September of the old golf course and the parks department is keeping the weeds and undergrowth under control, but is not maintaining the property as a golf course at this time.

The purchase of the 106-acre, defunct golf course with all the related fees, was set in late August at $5.35 million.

Sherwood’s public facilities board got the money on a three-year loan from Twin City Bank and is leasing it for $29,000 a month.

At the Aug. 28 council meeting, the aldermen and the mayor signed the necessary paperwork to put two lawsuits related to the golf course purchase behind them.

Sonny Jannsen, the parks and recreation director, told the council that he has had crews out bush-hogging the fairways. “It was almost a hay field out there,” he said.

The purchase price was decided after the city had condemned and taken the property to prevent its sale to developers who had plans to turn the acreage into a residential subdivision.


After a multi-year battle by the state and other organizations to close payday lending firms because of their high interest rate and preying on those in financially-stressed situations, the war may just about be won.

As of the first of the year, Jacksonville will have only one remaining payday lender as such businesses shutter their doors or pull up stakes.

Payday lenders typically make small loans, perhaps $300 for a fee of $50, but on an annualized basis, such interest is more than 300 percent, far in excess of the state’s usury cap of 17 percent.

Borrowers can get caught in a cycle of debt, able to pay off old loans only by taking out new ones.

It’s too bad for the lenders, who would no doubt have been reaping a windfall Christmas bonanza in the face of a shrinking economy, but it’s great news for the consumer, who must now find alternatives to such predatory lenders and will avoid the debt trap they represent, according to Hank Klein, founder of Arkansans Against Abusive Payday Lenders.

On Dec. 3, Peggy Matson, director of the regulating agency, sent a letter to all remaining licensed payday lenders notifying them that the Arkansas Supreme Court had found the so-called Check Casher’s Act unconstitutional.

At the beginning of the year, there were 275 payday lenders operating in the state. After the Attorney General’s Office sent cease-and desist-orders to many of them, that number fell to 139 and then to 80, according to Klein, a consumer activist who turned his focus on payday predatory lenders in the state.

That’s because the state Attorney General’s office, the state Supreme Court, the military, the Federal Insurance Deposit Corporation and even the once-disinterested regulator of payday lenders have piled setback after setback on the companies.

This time last year, Jacksonville had five such lenders, but three shut down in this fall alone, two of those since the beginning of the month.

The only remaining payday lender in Jacksonville is First American Cash Advance, located on Loop Road next to the Subway shop.

There also is a check-cashing-only shop on Main Street between Delores Flowers and the main branch of First Arkansas Bank and Trust.

Payday lenders also have closed or are closing in Sherwood, Cabot and Lonoke.

C. Cosby Hodges had two stores remaining in Jacksonville, but they stopped initiating new loans in late December and remain open until the first of the year only to collect on loans already out.

There are still about 45 check cashing store around the state.


From January through September gasoline prices in the area, in the state, and all across the nation skyrocketed over the $4 mark. In Jacksonville, the highest recorded was $4.04 for a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline. The highest price in the area was at the Hwy.31/38 Grocery in Ward at $4.59 a gallon in mid-September on the heels of hurricanes hitting the Gulf coast.

Gas at the time was selling at most area stations for $3.89. That particular station, among others, caught the eye of the attorney general’s office for possible price gouging, but it was later exonerated.

The high gas prices had area officials looking at shortening or staggering work weeks and scrambling to revise the fuel consumption budgets.

From those peaks, gas prices fell even faster than they had risen, hitting a low of $1.27 at a pair of Sherwood stations and $1.29 at a pair of Cabot stations in late December.


Cheers erupted from supporters of a stand-alone Jacksonville school district in September in the Pulaski County Special School District boardroom as the board unanimously approved a resolution favoring creation of such a district.

The approved resolution calls for petitioning the state board of education for a Jacksonville/North Pulaski district once the three conjoined districts are declared unitary by the federal courts. Little Rock has already achieved that status, leaving North Little Rock and PCSSD to become unitary.

The resolution favoring the district doesn’t force any action, but is an expression of the will of the board—the first time in decades of denial that PCSSD has gone on record as agreeing in principle with the concept of a Jacksonville/north Pulaski County district.

Carving a Jacksonville district out of PCSSD can be done without hurting the county district, according to a report commissioned by the Jacksonville Education Foundation.

A proposed Jacksonville-area district is feasible and presents no insurmountable financial impediments to either district, the study said.

Currently, Jacksonville is the largest city in the state without its own school district, according to Rep. Will Bond. It has an active duty military base demanding improvement and, the proposed district would have about 6,000 students, making it immediately one of the 15 largest in the state.

Three studies have been conducted since 2002 that support formation of the new district, according to Bond, with the latest saying it’s a win-win for the kids. PCSSD will have more to spend and Jacksonville will have a great opportunity to improve facilities immediately.

The proposed Jacksonville district would include Arnold Drive Elementary, Bayou Meto Elementary, Homer Adkins Pre-K, Jacksonville Elementary, Murrell Taylor Elementary and Pinewood Elementary.

Also, Tolleson Elementary, Warren Dupree Elementary, Jacksonville Boys Middle School, Jacksonville Girls Middle School, North Pulaski High School and Jacksonville High School would be in the district.


In January, the buzz was about a multitude of positive changes including a new name, going from Rebsamen Medical Center to North Metro Medical Center.

But the bottom line was the city-owned hospital was losing money.

By July rumors were persistent that North Metro Regional Medical Center was on the verge of closing. Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim, who also serves as chairman of the hospital’s board of directors, issued a statement saying emphatically that the facility would remain open.

Scott Landrum, the medical center’s CEO, also denied that there was any truth to the talk around town and among hospital employees that the city-owned hospital, which has served the greater Jacksonville community since the 1960s, was going to shut its doors, despite persistent financial troubles.

Landrum said that one critical question up for review by the board is whether the hospital should continue as an acute-care provider, as it has done historically, or become a “specialty hospital.”

A month later came word that the hospital’s obstetrics unit was closing.

Expectant mothers who had planned to have their babies delivered at North Metro Medical Center after Sept. 30 were told that they need to make other arrangements or have labor induced, because the hospital’s obstetrics unit was closing.

With one physician retiring and another considering getting out of deliveries because of the high cost of malpractice insurance, the demands of around-the-clock, on-call coverage at the hospital was too much for the remaining two physicians in the group, explained Margie Litton, office manager for Horizons for Women. The hope was that the hospital could step in with another physician or two to fill the gap, but given the financial difficulties that the medical center is facing, that was not forthcoming.

All the time the city was looking for someone to lease the hospital.

In late September, the city council authorized the mayor to negotiate a lease with Allegiance Health Management of Shreveport, La.

Due to an economic downturn, that agreement fell through and another was negotiated and signed in late December leasing the hospital to Allegiance and giving the firm first option to buy the hospital.

“This has been an effort to maintain an acute-care hospital in the city of Jacksonville,” said the mayor.

“We can not continue to maintain a hospital,” the mayor told the council at its Dec. 4 meeting. “North Metro is losing $400,000 a month,” he said.

Swaim said Allegiance has plans to consolidate aspects of its operations that are in other leased locations to North Metro and believes it can make the hospital profitable within about six months.

Swaim said the city had tried to make deals with Baptist and St. Vincent, but neither submitted proposals. He said Baptist has reported recent losses of $17 million and St. Vincent is $3 million in the red.


Throughout the year, the newest of the C-130 fleet, the C-130Js, were flown into Little Rock Air Force Base, making the base their new home. The influx of the C-130Js assured that the base will continue to have a major role in future military and Air Force plans.

With more C-130Js on the way, Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz said the future looks bright at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Currently, the new 19th Airlift Wing has 13 state-of-the-art C-130Js and is slated to receive three more over the next six to nine months, according to Schatz, who is base commander and commander of the 19th Airlift Wing.

Schatz said that starting in about 2012, the wing should start receiving more C-130Js, “a second squad’s worth,” he said. That would, in time, be an additional 12 C-130Js.

“That’s the current budget and the current long range defense program,” the general said.

The 314th Airlift Wing has another seven C-130Js that it uses to train all U.S. military crews flying or maintaining that plane, as well as crews from allies around the world.

Despite tough economic times likely to have the military looking at belt tightening, “there is broad-based support throughout the Air Force and other joint services and special operations command for the C-130J,” he said.

The general said the C-130J has proven itself in the theater of war. “We have several of them right now deployed in the Southeast Asia theater. They are performing very well and exceeding expectations with their extra power, range and additional capacity with two extra pallet positions,” the general said. “It’s the C-130 of choice.”


The idea of remodeling and privatizing Little Rock Air Force Base housing was stalled most of the year with American Eagle abandoning the project in the middle of 2007. The military didn’t come up with a replacement company until the end of the year.

In fact when representatives of the new firm, Hunt-Pinnacle, toured the housing area recently they found shells of new homes and concrete slabs that American Eagle abandoned mid-build 18 months ago.

The yards were in need of bush hogging, doorless garages stood open and empty, and construction wrap slapped against water-swelled chipboard sheathing, a suburban ghost town awaiting the bulldozer.

Hunt-Pinnacle is a partnership between Hunt—a company that has built 67,000 military housing units — and Pinnacle, a 30-year-old property management company that manages more than 175,000 units nationwide, including 15,000 military units on 20 different installations.

In 2003, American Eagle Communities won an Air Force privatization contract to demolish about 500 homes, build 468 new housing units and remodel 732.

But by May 2007, when the bankers pulled the plug on American Eagle for nonperformance, only 25 homes had been completed, another 25 started and perhaps 50 concrete slabs poured. Subcontractors and suppliers were owed millions of dollars at Little Rock and three other Air Force bases where American Eagle had won privatization contracts.

Under the new name of The Landings at Little Rock, Hunt-Pinnacle will finish out 10 of those housing starts and tear down the balance, including the slabs, which don’t confirm to the new developer’s blueprints.

TOP STORY > >Hospital deal sealed

Leader staff writer

After months of negotiations, a deal has been sealed assuring the continued existence of North Metro Medical Center as an acute-care center for Jacksonville and surrounding areas for the next four years. On Monday, the hospital board of directors and Allegiance Health Management of Shreveport signed an agreement for a takeover of the hospital administration New Year’s Day with the option to buy the facility from the city at the end of four years.

Mayor Tommy Swaim, who also serves as chairman of the hospital board of directors, said he would sleep better now that the deal is settled. He and members of the board have been working almost daily since August to iron out the details of an agreement with Allegiance.

“It is a very positive thing for the community, but it has been a difficult process; so many things had to be worked out, had to be right,” Swaim said. “We’re very pleased with the result.”

When asked the share of revenues Allegiance would get in return for running the hospital, Swaim would only say, “a whole lot less than the other management company.” Quorum Health Resources, based in Brentwood, Tenn., has managed the hospital since 1983. Scott Landrum, who was brought in as chief executive officer in 2007 by Quorum, will remain as CEO. The current directors of nursing and support services will also be retained.

Under Allegiance, the hospital will keep its ER and existing medical and surgical services. Prospects are uncertain about opening of an after-hours clinic. In negotiations with Allegiance, the board had lobbied for a clinic as part of the deal in order to provide urgent but non-emergency care and relieve the hospital’s overloaded emergency room.

“An after-hours clinic has been discussed at length, and there are plans to start a clinic. I just don’t know how soon,” Swaim said.

Allegiance will continue and expand services it already provides at North Metro, which include a geriatric psychiatry unit, an intensive outpatient program, behavioral health care and home health and physical rehabilitation. The company has a good track record of attracting customers to the hospital, Swaim said.

“They are not strangers to us. We have already used their services, and they have done a good job,” Swaim said.

Allegiance will also establish a long-term acute-care hospital at North Metro as part of its plan to return the hospital to profitability.

An LTACH provides care to patients with complex medical needs that usually require a ventilator. Many come directly from a hospital intensive-care unit and need the same focused around-the-clock attention. The average stay at an LTACH is 25 days.

Allegiance recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of an LTACH it operates at the former Southwest Hospital in Little Rock. Cardiac and multi-system failure, ventilator dependence, infectious, renal and respiratory diseases, malnutrition, complex wounds and post-surgical healing are among conditions treated there.

Swaim is optimistic that the hospital’s financial health under Allegiance will be restored, having observed how the organization researched prospects at North Metro.

“Allegiance is taking a chance; they made many visits, talked to employees, looked at the books. I am confident they can make it a profitable operation,” Swaim said.

The last year that the hospital operated in the black was 2003-04, when it closed the fiscal year the end of June with a $652,000 profit.

The next year, net income slipped to the other side of the ledger with a $98,000 loss. In 2006-07, losses jumped to $3 million.

The 2007-08 fiscal year closed out with a net loss of $2.38 million. Since then, the net loss ranged as high as $400,000 each month.

The hospital was able to pay its bills by drawing on reserve funds put away during better times.

Meanwhile, its board of directors searched for a solution to the persistently slumping revenues and had hopes of a purchase or lease deal to come through with Allegiance.

But existing bond debt of more than $10 million used for renovations at the nonprofit facility was not something Allegiance, a for-profit entity, could take on.

The hospital will remain a private, nonprofit entity. If Allegiance eventually purchases the facility, it would become a corporate, for-profit entity. Allegiance would pay the appraised price or existing bond debt, whichever is more.

“Whether we own the building or they own the building doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is as long as we keep a hospital that provides the services we need, we’re happy,” Swaim said.

SPORTS>>Badgers knock off Riverview

Leader sportswriter

The host team finally made it to the finals of its own Christmas Classic.

The Beebe Badgers relied on a balanced offensive performance, led by senior shooting guard Zach Kersey’s 21 points in a 60-51 win over Riverview on Monday night during the semifinal round at Badger Sports Arena.

The Raiders (10-6) matched Beebe (5-3) point for point during the last three periods, but were never able to make up for the quick start by the Badgers in the opening quarter. Beebe went up 18-9 in the first eight minutes and never looked back.

“We didn’t have to get ready for Riverviewbecause our kids and their kids know each other,” Badgers coach Brian Martin said. “I didn’t really have to try and get to them to get them up. Both teams were ready to play. There are a lot of friendships, and I knew our kids would be ready to play.

“We came out early and established our tempo, the way we wanted to play. Give credit to Riverview for trying to get us out of what we were trying to do there late. But our guys persevered and made some free throws at the end and did a good job.”

The Badgers faced 4A powerhouse and local rival Lonoke in last night’s championship game.

“Lonoke’s very good,” Martin said. “They’re not defending state champs for no reason. Coach (Wes) Swift does a good job.

They’re going to be a really tough challenge for us. We’re looking forward to it. For the first time in a long time, our guys get to know what if feels like to be in a championship game. Lonoke’s going to be a tough team for us to try and beat, but we’re looking forward to it.”

Added pressure on Kersey by Riverview prevented him from having good looks in the second and fourth quarters, but what he wasn’t able to produce on the floor, he got from the foul line. Kersey added four points in the second quarter from the stripe, and four more down the stretch for an 8-of-10 performance.

He was not the exception for Beebe at the line. In all, the Badgers went 24 of 31 from the stripe for the night, and 15 of 18 in the fourth quarter when Riverview began to foul in order to stop the clock.

The Raiders made their biggest run at the beginning of the third quarter. Jordan Perry started the second half off with a three pointer that made it 31-24 Beebe, and Taylor Smith then made it a 5-point game with a steal and coast-to-coast lay-up.

Kersey had a hot hand in the first five minutes of the game, putting up seven quick points, including one three pointer. That hot hand returned for the final three minutes of the third quarter, as Kersey put away two more from behind the arc. His final trey of the night was a set play on an inbound just as time expired to put the Badgers up 43-31 heading into the final period.

Riverview super sub D.J. Teague did his best to lead the charge for the Raiders, scoring eight of his team-high 14 points in the fourth quarter. Beebe held the remaining Raiders to single digits. Cameron Angerman and Smith each finished with nine.

Teague also led in rebounding for Riverview with 12 boards for a double-double. He also had three blocked shots.

Regardless of Tuesday night’s outcome against the fast and furious Jackrabbits, the Badgers appear to be for real this year.

Martin said the improvements began to show the week before Christmas in a close loss to 7A Cabot.

“Over the past three games, starting with the Cabot game, we’ve improved,” Martin said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do, particularly in the press offense, but we’re improving which is exactly what I wanted to see at this time of year, right before conference.”

Kersey also led the team in rebounding with seven. Point guard Will Scott added 12 points, five rebounds and two steals, with 11 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots by Donte Myles.

For Riverview, Smith had seven rebounds and three blocked shots to go along with his nine points.

The Badgers narrowly won the rebounding battle 31-29, while the Raiders came out ahead in turnovers, with only nine compared to 13 for Beebe.


Tyler Colvin led the Raiders with 15 points and three steals in their opening-round win over White Hall on Saturday.

Teague came off the bench for 14 points and seven rebounds as Riverview scorched the nets for 28-of-50 shooting, including 7 of 18 from deep.

The Raiders broke open a close game with a 15-0 run early in the second period to shake a pesky Bulldog team that led 15-13. Riverview opened up a 39-19 halftime lead.

Taylor Smith scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Cameron Angerman added 10 points and three steals.

Jordan Perry scored his nine points on three three-pointers. He also dished out four assists.

SPORTS>>Lady ’Rabbits spring another surprise victory

Leader sportswriter

If back-to-back trips to the 4A state finals hasn’t put Nathan Morris’ Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits on the map by now, their giant-killing ways in the early part of the 2008-09 season are bound to.

The latest victim was defending 7A state champion Conway, which felt the impact of a 27-point, eight-rebound, three-steal performance by sophomore shooting guard Cara Neighbors in a 48-37 win for the Lady Jackrabbits on Monday afternoon in the semifinal round of the Gillam Farms Holiday Classic at Beebe.

The win over the Lady Wampus Cats (8-3) was the second for Lonoke (9-3) over a 7A school this season after a win over Fort Smith Southside in anearlier tournament. The Lady ’Rab’s also downed 6A powerhouse Little Rock Parkview to advance to the finals of the RAPA tournament last month.

“Conway never gave up,” said Lady ’Rabbits coach Nathan Morris. “They started getting a little tougher, a little harder. I think a couple of times, we watched some balls come off the rim that maybe we shouldn’t have, but luckily, we had a good enough lead.

“We started playing a little bit better down the stretch. I think we realized that it wasn’t over yet.”

Lonoke got another big test in last night’s championship game, as it took on unbeaten Star City. The 14-0 Lady Bulldogs downed host Beebe in the other semi game on Monday to advance.

The Lady Jackrabbits took advantage of the absence of dominant 6-3 Conway post Na’Dra Robertson. That resulted in a 29-26 advantage on the boards for Lonoke, as Neighbors and junior post Asiah Scribner each pulled down eight boards.

The Lady Jackrabbits patiently worked their way to a slim 22-18 lead at the intermission, but Neighbors began to blow the hinges off in the third quarter. It served as her most productive period with nine points, and four more points from Scribner on the low block helped lift Lonoke to a 37-23 lead by the 1:18 mark.

“She can score,” Morris said of Neighbors. “She just can flat score. Her defense is what’s getting a lot better. She played great defense the first two minutes of the game and stayed out of foul trouble. I’m more proud of that from than the points tonight.

She did a great job of staying out of foul trouble. It’s not typical, but in the past, we haven’t had typical sophomores around here either. We’ve had some pretty good ones.”

It became a game of keep-away for the Lady ’Rabbits in the fourth quarter. Neighbors and point guard Michaela Brown took turns dribbling through defenders, as the speed of the duo was able to negate the full-court pressure of Conway.

Defensive pressure by Lonoke took its toll on the Lady Wampus Cats. No Conway scorer finished with more than eight points, as Jasmine Wilkins and Taylor Gault shared that honor, and only three other scored at all in the struggle. That pressure also helped generate 15 Conway turnovers for the Lady Jackrabbits, who only had eight giveaways of their own.

Junior Ashleigh Himstedt led the way for Lonoke with 20 points on Saturday in a 64-45 win over Carlisle in the first round.

Scribner turned in her fourth double-double performance of the year with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and also added two steals and two assists. Neighbors finished with 13 points, and Emily Shoemaker added eight in the dominant win for Lonoke.

Lonoke maintained a 10-point lead throughout the first half before widening the margin slightly further during the final two periods.

Monie Cohen and Whitney Thrift led the way for the Lady Bison with 15 points each.

SPORTS>>Falcons pull away in 2nd half to beat Marianna-Lee

Leader sports editor

It may have been four days after Christmas, but Aaron Cooper was still in a giving mood.

The junior North Pulaski point guard, a dead-eye, long-range shooter, showed there’s much more to his game than shooting threes on Monday afternoon in the opening round of the Heaven’s Best tournament at Little Rock Hall, dishing out 10 assists in the Falcons’ 70-52 victory over Marianna-Lee.

“That’s one thing we wanted to do was to not have to have him score because he is our point guard,” said North Pulaski head coach Ray Cooper, who is also Aaron’s father. “When we’ve got guys like T.J. (Green) and Daquan (Bryant) and Kyron (Ware) who can make plays and finish, he can trust them. Because other teams are going to lock in on him and try to take the ball out of his hands.

“If they’re going to double him and he can get 10 assists, he’s hurting them just as much as if he was scoring points. He’s got a big smile on his face. He’d rather have more assists than points.”

Cooper added eight points, but it was Bryant who was the big beneficiary of his unselfishness, taking repeated feeds from Cooper to score 19 points. Ray Cooper was also thrilled with the play of Green, the junior playmaker who is just now getting back after getting hit by a car two years ago. Green skied for 10 rebounds and scored 12 points, most on nifty drives into the paint.

“TJ is the ‘X’ factor for us,” Cooper said. “I’ve been on him for two weeks and he finally came out and did what he’s capable of doing. He can take a lot of pressure off this team. He’s the best athlete on this team. And getting him to come out every night and play with that kind of effort is what we have to have out of him.”

North Pulaski improved to 8-3 and took on Pulaski Academy in a quarterfinal match-up yesterday after Leader deadlines.

The Falcons and the Trojans traded leads throughout a sloppy and frenetic first half, when each team committed 12 turnovers.

Though the Falcons led 38-35 at intermission and scored six fewer second-half points, Cooper was much happier with the play in the final 16 minutes.

“The game was so helter-skelter in the first half,” he said. “That was partly due to the layoff. There were a lot of bobbled balls and it was ugly to watch.

“We wanted to settle down in the second half, not necessarily to slow the pace down but look to get better shots. We did a better job of that in second half.”

After handing out assists on just five of their 14 baskets in the first half, the Falcons assisted on nine of their 14 second-half buckets. Cooper had seven of his 10 assists after intermission.

Though North Pulaski raced to leads of 12-5 and 18-10, it couldn’t shake the athletic Trojans, who used four rebound baskets in the first half to trail by only three at intermission. They were within a point with 13:45 left in the game. But Bryant and Ware each scored to set off a 13-2 run and stake the Falcons to a comfortable 53-41 lead with 10:23 left.

Marianna got as close as 10, but a 14-footer by Christian Knight, a bucket inside by Bryant and two more inside by Carlos Donley extended the lead to 64-47 with 4:46 left and the Falcons cruised from there.

While the Trojans were cutting their turnovers down from 12 in the opening half to just four in the second half, they suffered from woeful shooting, making only 7 of 34 in the second half and missing all 13 of their three-point attempts. On the night, they connected only 2 of 23 from beyond the arc.

The Falcons, who also got 16 points and five rebounds from Ware, made 28 of 57 from the field and out-rebounded the Trojans by 15 in the second half to enjoy an overall 47-32 advantage. Knight and Brian Coulson each had six boards. Darius Washington came off the bench to snag three steals.

SPORTS>>Jacksonville girls reach finals with pair of wins

Special to The Leader

The Lady Red Devils had a fairly easy time in their first-round game of the Red Devil Classic Saturday afternoon, at least for the final three quarters.

Jacksonville had a rough start and found itself trailing Pine Bluff Dollarway 11-10 after one quarter, but came back with a vengeance in the second quarter en route to a 48-30 victory over the Lady Cardinals.

Jacksonville followed that up with an even easier semifinal win, beating Robinson 73-44 to move into the championship game against West Memphis. That game was played after Leader deadlines on Tuesday.

The deciding second period on Saturday saw Jacksonville outscore its counterpart 14-2 to take an 11-point advantage into intermission. Senior guard Tyra Terry led the onslaught with junior Crystal Washington and sophomore Ebony Ghoshon getting in on the action as well. Dollarway simply couldn’t handle Jacksonville’s aggressive defense in the second quarter, frequently coughing the ball up, turnovers that the Lady Devil guards turned into points.

Jacksonville backed off the pressure in the third quarter and extended its lead to a modest 35-22, but turned it back on early in the fourth to take control of the game. The lead grew to as much as 22 before settling on the final score.

Terry led all scorers with 15 points while Washington added nine and Ghoshon seven.

Apollonia Sims led Jack-sonville with 22 points against Robinson on Monday. Jessica Lanier added 16 and Chyna Davis 14.

SPORTS>>Lady Badgers sink charities in first-round win

Leader sports editor

The Beebe Lady Badgers found themselves in more of a battle than they had probably bargained for when they opened the Christmas Classic against Harding Academy on Saturday night.

The Lady Wildcats got inside against the taller Lady Badgers to take leads of 11-6 and 14-10. But Beebe finally turned up the defensive pressure, knocked down 20 of 23 free throws and eventually pulled away for a 53-46 win.

“(Beebe coach Lora Jackson) and I both agreed it looked like a game right out of Christmas break,” said Harding Academy head coach Rusty Garner. “The focus was not very sharp, the intensity was poor. I thought we outplayed them in a lot of ways, but two monster things like free throws and rebounds made the difference.”

Beebe’s two guards, Ty O’Neill with 11 boards and Sha Jackson with nine, nearly out-rebounded the entire Harding Academy team as the Lady Badgers finished with a 33-24 advantage. O’Neill also scored 21 points and snagged three steals.

“We outrebounded their guards by four,” Garner said. “Let’s not even get into their big people. If their guards are going to have 20 rebounds, we’re in trouble.”

It was Beebe that was in trouble in the early going as point guard Taylor Mote hit a pair of three-pointers and Ariel English and Anna Bangs each scored twice inside and the Lady Wildcats led 14-10 after one quarter.

Beebe got untracked early in the second period to reel off nine consecutive points and never trailed again.

Molly Koch’s drive and dish to Megan Pack got Harding Academy to within three, but Audre Renneker hit a momentum-killing

three in the final minute to give Beebe a 23-17 lead at intermission.
“Once Beebe took control, they never gave it back,” Garner said. “We were fighting the rest of the night.”

But the 3A Lady Wildcats did keep fighting, even when O’Neill’s spin basket in the lane pushed the lead to 27-19 midway through the third period.

Three-pointers by McKenzie Miller and Mote over a 21-second span drew the Academy to within two at the 5:10 mark, but O’Neill hit a tough pull-up 8-footer and Beebe got three straight rebound baskets — two by Jackson — to take a 35-30 lead after three.

Harding Academy’s final gasp came on Miller’s three from the left wing 15 seconds into the final period that narrowed the deficit to 35-33.

“Then Beebe comes down and takes a bad shot, got the rebound and got fouled,” Garner said.

Amanda Wheeler hit both free throws and O’Neill scored six consecutive points. Another rebound bucket and free throw by Jackson surged the Beebe lead to 46-33 with 3:04 left.

“We needed a stop and we were trying to force the issue,” Garner said. “Ty misses a tough shot but (Jackson) comes flying in and sticks it back. That just killed us.”

Even down 13, Harding Academy wasn’t quite dead. Koch and English scored and Miller got a steal and lay-up to bring the deficit to 46-39 with 1:43 left. Miller hit another three-pointer to answer O’Neill’s two free throws to narrow the gap to six.

But Beebe hit its final four charities — 10 of 11 in the fourth period — to preserve the victory.

“We felt like we could come in here and compete,” Garner said. “But I thought Beebe did a great job of keeping us from getting anything on the inside and keeping us from getting any penetration.

“Their size bothered us. We couldn’t pass with any rhythm because they’re so long. Rhythm is good for shooting and good for movement and we just couldn’t get any.”

Beebe overcame its 1-of-9 performance from beyond the arc with its torrid free-throw shooting, while Harding Academy, which shot a respectable 17 of 39 from the field and 6 of 15 from three, made only 6 of 14 from the stripe.

Beebe used 11 steals to force 17 Lady Wildcat turnovers. Bree Fuller didn’t score but played havoc all night with four steals.

O’Neill was the only Lady Badger in double figures. Renneker added seven points and two steals, while Jackson had six points to go with her nine boards.

Mote led Harding Academy with 12 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals. Miller had 11 points, all in the second half. English and Anna Bangs added nine apiece.

SPORTS>> Red Devils roll Rockets

Special to The Leader

A game of runs ended with a good one for the home team Saturday afternoon in Jacksonville. The hosting Red Devils held the Catholic Rockets without a field goal and to just one point in the fourth quarter of a 53-42 victory.

It was the final answer in a game that had seen each team make two big runs. Jacksonville’s, though, came at the end of each half when it counted most.

The Red Devils (7-2) started sluggish and fell behindearly. Catholic out-rebounded Jacksonville 11-5 in the first half and led by as much as seven points late in the second quarter. That’s when Jacksonville turned up the intensity. Trailing 25-18 with three minutes left in the half, Jacksonville scored the final nine points of the half to go into intermission with a 27-25 lead, its first lead of the game.

Playing without three key players who were gone for the holidays, Jacksonville got a lift from an unexpected source to kick start the second quarter surge.

Richard Johnson came off the bench and got two quick steals, a key rebound, an assist and a three pointer.

“If we talk about anybody in this game we have to talk about little Richard,” Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner said of his reserve guard. “We got both of our point guards out for this game and we weren’t getting in any kind of rhythm. He came in and gave us a big boost. He hadn’t played any varsity up to this point and he stepped it up when his number was called.”

The Red Devils picked up right where they left off to start the third. The run reached 14 unanswered points and Jacksonville’s lead grew to 32-25, but Catholic came right back and dominated the last six minutes of the third quarter.

The Rockets closed the period with a 16-4 run and took a 41-35 lead into the fourth quarter.

From there it was all Jackson-ville. The Red Devils began pressuring defensively everywhere on the court, and Catholic obliged with five turnovers in the final quarter. The Rockets took only eight shots in the fourth quarter and missed them all. Meanwhile the Red Devil inside combination of Demetrius Harris and Cortrell Eskridge took over the game. Eskridge scored all eight of his points in the fourth quarter and added three rebounds and two assists to his totals. Harris led the team with 13 points and eight boards.

Despite the poor start on the boards, Jacksonville finished with a 21-15 advantage on the glass.

“We didn’t really talk about rebounding at halftime, we just talked about playing with more intensity,” Joyner said. “We’ve been a second-half team all season. We hadn’t really come out and played well in the first half at all this year. That’s something we’ve got to address because in this conference, you’re not going to get away with that. You’re going to be out of it by the time you decide to start playing if you wait until the second half in this league.”

Jacksonville forced 16 Catholic turnovers, and despite being without a point guard, committed just six turnovers in the game.

Monday, December 29, 2008

TOP STORY > > Board installation slated

Leader staff writer

The Cabot Chamber of Com-merce will hold its annual banquet at 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 9 at the Cabot High School cafeteria.
The chamber will install new officers and four new board members of its 12-member board of directors for next year.
John C. Thompson with Bank of the Ozarks will be the new president, replacing Pat Hagge, with Metropolitan National Bank, who will take the role of non-voting member of the board. Amy Ross with Lenders Title Company will be the new vice president and president-elect.
The vice president and treasurer for 2009 will be chosen during the December board meeting. The new board members will serve from 2009 through 2011. They are Wayne Cullins, Don Wilkins, Corey Williams and Patrick Sinclair.
Cullins is a retired chief master sergeant with the Arkansas Air National Guard. He serves as the treasurer of the David D. Terry chapter of the Air Force Association and State Air Force Association.
He is also on the board of directors for the Arkansas National Guard Museum of Camp Robinson. He is a member of the Cabot American Legion, Cabot. He is an active member and deacon at First Baptist Church in Cabot.
Wilkins has been with Action Safe and Lock for 34 years. He serves on the Cabot Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors committee and has been involved with the chamber for three years.
Williams is a vice president in commercial lending at Community Bank. He graduated from Arkansas State University with a degree in marketing management and began his banking career in 1998.
He is serving a two-year interim term on the Cabot Chamber of Commerce board of directors. He is a member of the Cabot Rotary Club and is a Sunday school teacher in the youth department of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church. Sinclair has a State Farm Insurance agency. He has lived in Cabot for 10 years.
Williams is an active member in the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council and active at First Baptist Church. He is a former Cabot Chamber of Commerce board member, serving from 2003-2005.

TOP STORY > > Commission sets $810,000 budget

Leader staff writer

As the Jacksonville Advertising and Promotion Commission recently approved its 2009 budget of $810,000, it continued to see positive food and hotel tax collections trends.
After voting to cut requested amounts from the Sweet Land of Liberty Patriotic Spectacular and Keep Jacksonville Beautiful, the commission settled on a projected budget of $810,000 of which half, by ordinance, goes to the city’s parks and recreation department.
Angie Mitchell, with the Patriotic Spectacular, had asked the commission to fund the annual July fireworks and show to the tune of $25,500. In 2008, the commission gave the event $15,000 to use.
Mitchell had explained to the commissioners that the more the city gave the event, the less it took in through private and corporate donations, and with less donations, it needed more help from the city. She also told commissioners that the event wanted to increase the size, and therefore the cost, of its fireworks show. Commissioners acknowledged the importance and popularity of the event, but balked at increasing the funding by $10,000 over last year, compromising at $5,000.
The Keep Jacksonville Beautiful group had asked for $28,000 in 2009 to continue funding its landscape programs, plus to pay for sculptures and murals. The commission felt that, with the current economic outlook, it was not prudent to spend money on sculptures. Commissioner Bob Stroud, who is also a member of Keep Jacksonville Beautiful, said the group is not at a point yet to purchase sculptures or hire artists, but it was something that it wanted to do in the coming years.
The commission opted to take out the sculpture portion of the group’s funding request and approve giving Keep Jacksonville Beautiful $8,000 for 2009.
The commission’s approved 2009 budget earmarks $401,801 for the parks and recreation department, $150,000 to the Sells Agency to market and promote Jacksonville, $57,000 to the military museum, $20,000 for the Patriotic Spectacular, $15,000 for the city’s annual Wing Ding festival, $4,800 to the Reed’s Bridge Historical Society for the purchase of pamphlets and signs, and $8,000 to Keep Jacksonville Beautiful.
Another $23,250 is for administrative costs, $5,600 is designated for advertising rental of the city’s billboard on Hwy. 67/167 and slightly more than $2,000 for various professional conferences and trade shows, leaving about $60,000 undesignated for various activities, events or projects that come before the commission during the year.
The commission, by ordinance, may help fund activities or events that promote Jacksonville as a place to visit or live.
At the same commission meeting, Finance Director Paul Mushrush said the two-cent prepared-foods tax, also known as the hamburger tax, continued to show strong numbers. For October, the latest figures available, city restaurants and other food outlets had a table income of $3.02 million, resulting in tax collections of $61,418.
The tax has been collected since October 2007. That month, tax receipts were at $2.89 million. Since February taxable receipts have been over $3 million each month.
Taxable receipts from the two-cent motel-room tax were $451,010 in October, resulting in tax collections of $9,020, the best October in the four-year history of the tax. That compares to tax receipts of just $291,357 in October 2007. Mushrush said the air base open house helped fill the area hotels in October.

TOP STORY > > Officers give holiday shopping spree

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 16 helped make this Christmas merrier for 29 Jacksonville school students in need. Jacksonville police officers and department staff members took the youngsters shopping for Christmas gifts last Saturday morning at the Walmart Supercenter.
The event “Christmas with our Law Enforcement Friends” was previously called the “Shop with a Cop” program. The shopping day has been an annual yuletide tradition with the police department since 1992. After shopping with members of the police department, the children were treated to a free breakfast donated by McDonald’s.
During the shopping trip, each child was given $100 to spend on Christmas gifts. The money for the shopping day came from police lodge monthly dues, donations and fundraisers.
“It is very exciting to see the children’s faces, their expressions and the hugs from them,” April Kiser, public information officer for the Jacksonville Police Department, said.
The officers took the children around the store as their siblings and parents followed along. The first stop for many was the toy aisles or the electronic department. Dolls were a popular choice for girls. Boys tended to go for video games.
The children picked out a gift for themselves and then used the rest of the money for presents to give to their families.
Shopping carts migrated to other parts of the store as the youngsters visited the clothing areas. At the clothing department, the young shoppers tried on new wardrobes or chose outfits for their siblings. Sisters Nakeeda Wade and Marquisha Powell went to the jewelry department after shopping for clothes, then to the cosmetics aisle for gifts.
Caleb Woodside said he liked shopping with the police. He used some of the money towards presents for his cousin and brothers.
Some of the young shoppers had a budget planned. The calculators soon came out as the children tried to stretch the most out of their Christmas spending money by comparing prices.
“This is a dream, because I always wanted to spend a $100 at Walmart,” Tatiana Jackson said.
Marcia Powell, a parent whose children were shopping, said, “I thought it was nice and generous for the officers to pay for the kids’ Christmas. If it wasn’t for them, there wouldn’t be a Christmas.”
“I think it is wonderful that they help out a whole lot of families in need. Thanks to the police department, the kids are going to have a wonderful Christmas. It was a blessing,” Tashenia Burnett, a parent, said.

Friday, December 26, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Complaining won’t help

Mike Huckabee has a fresh complaint about the way the media covered his campaign for president. It turns out that Huckabee resented people referring to him as “a former pastor.” He is convinced that they did that to “minimizalize” his career in political office dealing with serious issues of government. Oh, he was just a Baptist preacher so what would he know about running the country?

What next? Will Sen. John McCain denounce the people who kept referring to him as a former prisoner of war? McCain was a United States congressman and senator longer than he was a POW. Huckabee told a crowd at the Clinton School last week that he was a lieutenant governor and governor longer than he was a pastor although to be factual the lieutenant governor is a ceremonial office whose occupant does not deal substantively with the issues of governance. He was governor for 10 ½ years and a pastor for 12 years but a worker in the ministry for longer.

Huckabee was defined as a presidential candidate by his assertion of religious leadership and McCain by his courageous triumph over his long captivity in Vietnam. Such success as both men had in the presidential campaign in 2008 owes directly to admiration of both men for those life experiences and their skillful exploitation of the past.

Throughout the campaign, Huckabee was guest pastor at churches in primary states. It was a staple of his campaign. He organized fellow evangelical preachers, which became a pivotal part of his effort in the caucuses in Iowa and in the early primary states.

Before the Iowa caucuses in January, Huckabee rallied evangelical ministers, who led the big turnout of worshippers who gave him the big victory that catapulted him to the top tier of candidates. It was called the Renewal Project and it funded a pastors’ convention at Des Moines before the caucuses. The Renewal Project did the same during the next few weeks, in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Texas. He rounded up the support of big TV evangelists and worked to turn pastoral gatherings into Huckabee rallies and fund-raisers.

Frequently throughout the campaign, Huckabee made references to his faith and to his work as a pastor, which he said brought him into personal contact with all the social pathologies that confront the country. In his Iowa campaign, his TV commercials carried the words “Christian leader” beneath his picture and a glowing cross behind him (unintentional, he said).

Actually, in the debates, in news stories and in TV and radio broadcasts, Huckabee was almost never referred to as a former preacher and then only after mentioning his considerable years as a governor. It was mentioned about as often as Barack Obama’s early career as a community organizer and it clearly had a far bigger role in Huckabee’s success than Senator Obama’s few years as an organizer in Chicago’s poor neighborhoods had in his nomination and election.

But Governor Huckabee was only hinting at his real point. He faltered because he could never expand his appeal much beyond the evangelicals who thought his ministry of conservative churches and his embrace of the churches’ social doctrines was the core of who he was. That failure cannot be laid at the door of the media for occasionally mentioning that he was a preacher, but to the narrow dimension of his own campaign.

He is deeply engaged in running again in 2012, thus his new book and his book-signing tour of early caucus and primary states: Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida. He needs to shed his image as a one-dimensional evangelical while holding the loyalty of the base that he built so well. That will be hard to do, particularly with Gov. Sarah Palin cutting deeply into his conservative church constituency.

Talking knowledgeably and rationally about the real issues confronting the country will do it. Complaining about deeds that never occurred won’t.

TOP STORY > >It’s the year of the blues, or how blue can you get?

Leader editor-in-chief

This has been a tough year for almost everyone, and things could get worse in 2009. Times are bad, or in the words of the immortal bluesman B.B. King, “How Blue Can You Get?”

More than ever, this is the right time to listen to the blues, which poor black farmers created more than a century ago while they toiled the land on both sides of the Mississippi River.

You’d have to include Howlin’ Wolf (Chester Burnett) on anyone’s list of top blues recordings. Although he was born in Mississippi, he farmed for more than a decade north of Parkin in Cross County and made his earliest records in Memphis and West Memphis. (See list below.)

Congress declared 2003 the year of the blues, but let’s declare 2008 another blues year. To mark yet another milestone, here’s a list of our favorite blues recordings: Charley Patton: “Complete Recordings, 1929-1934” (JSP). The son of a black woman who worked on a plantation and probably a white landowner or overseer, Patton was also part Indian. Out of this mixed racial background, he created amazing music that evoked the hardships of Delta life: He growls about poverty, floods, droughts, boll weevils, troubles with the law and women. “Pony Blues” and “High Water Everywhere” are the epitome of the genre. His guitar playing influenced generations of other bluesmen: Son House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and many others.

Patton lived for a time on a plantation near Lula, Miss., just across the river from Helena. The late critic Robert Palmer, a Little Rock native, said Patton “is among the important musicians 20th Century America has produced” and ranked him with Louis Armstrong and Elvis Presley.

Although much of the music was transferred from scratchy 78s, Patton is indispensable. The inexpensive five-CD boxed set — it’s available online for under $30, or about $6 a CD — also includes other early Delta blues artists. Besides Son House, there’s seminal music by Henry Sims, Willie Brown, Louise Johnson and others.

Muddy Waters’ “The Complete Plantation Recordings: The Historic 1941-1942 Library of Congress Field Recordings,” with photos of Muddy’s cabin and notes by blues scholar Mary Katherine Aldin.

These are Muddy Waters’ first records, made on Stovall Plantation near Clarksdale, Miss., and in front of the train depot in town. He soon left on a train for Chicago. He made historic records there for the Chess brothers, who helped preserve Delta blues by recording Muddy, Howling Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson and others.

Muddy Waters' Chicago recordings are available on “The Best of Muddy Waters” with Don Bronstein’s striking closeup profile of Muddy, and “Trouble No More,” a collection of his earliest Aristocrat and Chess singles. Covering the same period are two collections, “Rollin’ Stone: The Golden Anniversary Collection” and “The Complete Chess Masters, Volume 2, 1952-58.” The second, from Hip-O Records, is attractively packed with a booklet that contains several rare photos and another essay by Mary Katherine Aldin. This is essential music, as important as any in the American canon.

Robert Johnson, who absorbed the blues while growing up near Tunica and created his own style before his untimely death at the age of 27 in 1938, is considered by many, especially by British rockers who copied his music, as the most important blues artist of all time. His “Complete Recordings,” a two-volume CD set, helped fuel the blues revival, although I prefer his two “King of the Delta Blues” LPs reissued by Columbia for about $10 each. The LPs sound better — he’s more youthful than on the CDs, which sound like they were transferred from tapes played at the wrong speed. Johnson was in his mid-20s when he made his records in San Antonio and Dallas, and he does sound like a much younger man on the LPs. (A new Japanese CD package is supposed to correct the problems with the complete recordings, which sold about a million copies on CD.)

Johnson’s early death has been told many times: He was probably poisoned in a juke joint near Greenwood, Miss., by a jealous husband. Johnson is said to be buried in a small church cemetery outside town and it is worth going there if you love the blues. (You could stop at the nearby Viking factory and see if they’ll sell you a display-model stove at a discount.)

Howlin’ Wolf was a part-time musician who was farming in eastern Arkansas when he was discovered after the Second World War by Sam Phillips of Sun Records. Phillips recalled, “When I heard Howlin’ Wolf, I said, ‘This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.’”

Wolf’s earliest recordings appear on two CDs, “Memphis Days” Vol. I and Vol. II, which include his complete Sun recordings with several alternate takes. They were sold to Chess in Chicago and the Bihari brothers in Los Angeles, who released them on their own labels.

The brothers were Hungarians who had been in the jukebox and record business on the West Coast, although one of them set up an operation in Memphis and often recorded in Arkansas.

The Biharis also recorded the Wolf in West Memphis. Those re-cords appear on “Howling Wolf Sings the Blues.” His “Moaning the Moonlight/Rocking Chair” CD from Chess is also essential. You might also consider the three-CD “Chess Box,” if you like this kind of rough, gruff music, and who doesn’t?

Wolf modeled himself after Charley Patton, who taught him the blues back in the 30s at Dockery Plantation near Drew, Miss. (where the quarterback Archie Manning, the father of the Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Peyton and Eli, was born).

B.B. King, the biggest blues star of all time — one of the few who became a millionaire and who is still performing at the age of 83 — did his best work, in my opinion, back in the 1950s and early 1960s, when he recorded for the Bihari brothers. B.B. thought they were the best at recording blues and considers his “My Kind of Blues” on the Biharis’ Modern label his favorite record, which has been reissued on the British Ace label.

His “RPM Hits, 1951-1957,” also from the Biharis, has been beautifully remastered by Ace and contains some of his most important numbers, including “Three O’Clock Blues,” “You Upset Me, Baby,” “Every Day I Have the Blues,” “Sweet Little Angel,”
“Troubles, Troubles” and much more. This is the work of an artist at the peak of his powers.

The harmonica player Little Walter Jacobs also recorded for Chess and is considered the greatest blues harp player of them all. His “Best of Little Walter” is terrific, but so is everything he did for Chess, although as a singer he was just so-so. (Of the many harp players, George Harmonica Smith, who was born in Helena, sang the best, although Junior Wells, from West Memphis, and Sonny Boy Williamson II weren’t far behind.)

Otis Rush is one of the greatest blues artists alive, although, sadly, he stopped performing after a recent stroke. We caught him in Helena a few months before he fell ill. But almost everything he’s recorded is worth hearing. His “Classic Cobra Recordings,” made in the late 1950s, was an astonishing debut and is as impressive as ever. You get the feeling Eric Clapton has worn this record out.

John Lee Hooker’s “Legendary Modern Recordings” also belongs on any Top 10 list. According to Muddy Waters — they were born in neighboring Mississippi counties — the original boogie man looked and sounded more African than any of the top bluesmen. His beat helped create rock-and-roll.

Rounding out our Top 10 list: “Bessie Smith: The Collection” and Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying.” Just hearing their music will help make your blues go away.

(Next: Beyond the pantheon — 10 more recommendations.)

TOP STORY > >High school dropout rates considered crisis

Leader staff writer

By any reckoning, the high school dropout rate in Arkansas constitutes a crisis, and the Arkan-sas Department of Education has resolved to tackle the problem, which impacts lives of individuals, as well as communities, the state, and the nation as a whole.

In Arkansas, 68.7 percent of all students graduate, a rate slightly below the national average. For those without a diploma or GED, earning potential will be reduced almost $10,000 a year and almost a half million dollars in a lifetime. Their health will be imperiled by more chronic disease, and their length of life eclipsed by an average of nine years.

The impacts of not graduating high school extend far beyond the life of the individual. The 7,000 kids who drop out of U.S. high schools each day will be more likely to rely on public assistance, need more health care, and be more prone to anti-social or criminal activity.

A one-day summit last week hosted by the Arkansas Department of Education launched the Arkansas Greater Gradua-tion Project, an initiative devoted to reducing dropout rates and part of a national alliance started by retired General Colin Powell.
Representatives of 14 school districts with some of the worst graduation rates, as well as business and community leaders, parents, and students, were invited to the meeting to learn about the seriousness of the problem and the need to work together to solve it. The hope is that the 14 districts will become regional hubs for engaging all districts statewide in dropout reduction efforts.

Among the 14 districts were the three Pulaski County districts – Pulaski County Special, Little Rock and North Little Rock, all of which have graduation rates below the state average. Gov. Mike Beebe opened the event by urging everyone to collaborate to solve what is a complex, community problem, not just something to be left to the schools to deal with.

“Schools can’t be responsible for every aspect of a child’s wellbeing and upbringing,” Beebe said. “We need to bring as many players together as possible – the bankers, the judges, and civic leaders. And parents. They have to step up and do their part.

Everybody has a stake in this issue.”

State education commissioner Ken James told the group that the days are over when someone could make a decent living and amass wealth with just a high school education.

The number of Arkansans who finish college must drastically improve or the state will be left behind economically, he warned. Nationally, 27 percent of the population age 25 and older has a four-year degree. In Arkansas, the rate is 18.7 percent, the lowest in the nation. Among developed nations, the college graduation rate is 55 percent.

“That is one statistic we need to change if we are going to continue to grow,” James said.

He urged educators to talk to youth to understand why they leave school. According to one national survey, young adults said that they were not challenged in high school, and should – and could have – worked harder.

“They said they were much more prone to apply themselves with vigor if they had a teacher who cared and knew the subject matter,” James said.

State Chamber of Commerce president Randy Zook was explicit about what businesses expect in entry-level workers and how well public schools are doing in preparing students for the work force.

“Are your customers happy? In a word – ‘No.’ Customers are not happy with the product you are producing,” Zook said.

Businesses are looking for four things, he continued: reasonable math skills, not calculus, just the basics; the ability to read instructions; the ability to find and interpret information – and the willingness to show up for work every day.

Zook knows of an east Arkansas manufacturer who could create more than 200 good-paying jobs, but can’t find enough dependable workers.

“Attendance is horrific, so he is unwilling to make the commitment.”

Increasing graduation rates will take dedication, time and personal involvement in the lives of individual students.

“It will take hand-to-hand combat, one teacher persuading one student at a time,” Zook said.

Forrest City School District, which put a dropout reduction program in motion last year, was showcased at the event. A coalition of educators, community and business leaders and parents was formed to keep kids in school in the 3,700-student district, which was identified by the state as academically distressed.

A big motivator, it turns out, was challenging students to meet criteria of the Arkansas Scholars program. Those who made the grade were honored by the local chamber of commerce and they get a “Smart Core” seal on their diploma.

“This helped catch kids who were falling between the cracks, not necessarily the top 10 percent,” said Tara Thomason, director of communications for Forrest City Schools. “Now they are more likely to go to community college.”

Zook agreed that the Smart Core curriculum that does not skimp on course requirements in English, science, math, and social science is a must for today’s entry-level worker.

“If you don’t have a Smart Core high school diploma, good luck,” he said.

The Arkansas Greater Grad-uation Project is made possible by a grant from America’s Promise Alliance, an organization dedicated to the wellbeing of youth, as well as a $100,000 grant from A&T Arkansas and a $15,000 grant from State Farm Insurance.

The AT&T grant comes from a national AT&T Foundation program that has committed $100 million by 2011 to improve high school graduation rates and workforce readiness across the country.

TOP STORY > >Overpass won’t open until ’09

Leader staff writer

The new railroad overpass in Cabot that was supposed to open in November and then in December will actually open about the first of March. And that new date is a definite maybe.

The delay was caused by a problem with culverts, city officials say.

The $7.2 million overpass will connect Hwy. 38 to Hwy. 367. On the Hwy. 38 end, the road needs to be widened, but the weather has not cooperated, so now the estimated completion date has been set for 60 days from the first of the year.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said this week that he would like for the overpass to be ready by the time students are back in school following the spring break.

Williams said he has met with school officials and it shouldn’t be a difficult transition for most if not all the buses that cross the railroad track about 100 times a day, to use the overpass instead.

The overpass, which has been in the works for a decade, has always been Williams’ project. He worked on it with Alderman Ed Long when they were on the city council together. At that time, the mayor worked for the railroad, and he said he saw near misses at the Polk Street crossing that will close when the overpass opens.

“I’ll tell you this,” the mayor said Friday, “I’ll be there when they open it.”

In addition to keeping buses off the railroad track, the overpass is the first phase of a $20 million north interchange connecting U.S. 67/167 to Hwy. 367 that the mayor also hopes will be built within a few years.

“You have to have an overpass before you can have a north interchange,” he said. “That’s done. Now it’s time to move on to the next step,” the mayor said after an appreciation dinner for the Highway Commission in November.

“Somebody’s going to get it. It might as well be Cabot. We’re here. We’re committed. We’re not asking for a handout; we’re asking for a hand up,” he said.

In the meantime, the mayor is widening Locust Street to get it ready for the increased traffic load that he believes will be dumped there when the railroad overpass opens.

The overpass and Locust Street will become the new bypass for traffic congestion downtown, he said.

TOP STORY > >So long to area payday lenders

Leader senior staff writer

As of the first of the year, Jacksonville will have only one remaining payday lender as such businesses shutter their doors or pull up stakes.

Payday lenders typically make small loans, perhaps $300 for a fee of $50, but on an annualized basis, such interest is more than 300 percent, far in excess of the state’s usury cap of 17 percent.

Borrowers can get caught in a cycle of debt, able to pay off old loans only by taking out new ones.

It’s too bad for the lenders, who would no doubt have been reaping a windfall Christmas bonanza in the face of a shrinking economy, but it’s great news for the consumer, who must now find alternatives to such predatory lenders and will avoid the debt trap they represent, according to Hank Klein, founder of Arkansans Against Abusive Payday Lenders.

On Dec. 3, Peggy Matson, director of the regulating agency, sent a letter to all remaining licensed payday lenders notifying them that the Arkansas Supreme Court had found the so-called Check Casher’s Act unconstitutional. She ordered them to return their licenses and released them from the necessity of keeping a $20,000 per store bond in the bank, Klein said.

“I’m feeling great,” Klein said, “Feeling ecstatic.”

“I always felt it was unconstitutional and the court affirmed that belief Feb. 6.”

As for the remaining payday lenders, Klein said, (the attorney general) has made it very clear he wants to drive every one of them out of the state.

At the beginning of the year, there were 275 payday lenders operating in the state. After the Attorney General’s Office sent cease-and desist-orders to many of them, that number fell to 139 and then to 80, according to Klein, a consumer activist who turned his focus on payday predatory lenders in the state.

That’s because the state attorney general’s office, the state Supreme Court, the military, the Federal Insurance Deposit Corporation and even the once-disinterested regulator of payday lenders have piled setback after setback on the companies.

This time last year Jacksonville had five such lenders, but three shut down this fall alone, two of those since the beginning of the month.

The only remaining payday lender in Jacksonville is First American Cash Advance, located on Loop Road next to the Subway shop.

There also is a check-cashing-only shop on Main Street between Double R Florist and Subway.

Payday lenders also have closed or are closing in Sherwood, Cabot and Lonoke.

C. Cosby Hodges had two stores remaining in Jacksonville, but they stopped initiating new loans in late December and remain open until the first of the year only to collect on loans already out.

“As far as I know, my stores in Jacksonville are still open.Check with me after Christmas,” Hodges said in a voice-mail response Tuesday.

Hodges of Fort Smith, and his partner, Robert Srygley of Fayetteville own 53 such stores in Arkansas, which they claim to operate under a South Dakota charter and are thus not subject to the Arkansas interest limitations.

If they are in fact closing all 53, that would leave only 27 payday stores in the state, Klein said.

First American Cash Advance, a Delaware corporation, owns the other 27 stores.

On Dec. 3, Matson, director of the state Board of Collection Agencies—the governing agency for payday lenders—sent a letter to all remaining licensed payday lenders notifying them that the Supreme Court had found the so-called check-casher’s act unconstitutional.

She ordered them to return their licenses and released them from the necessity of keeping $20,000 per store in the bank, Klein said.

There are still about 45 check- cashing stores around the state.