Saturday, March 15, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Minority stops fair tax on gas

Gov. Beebe’s dilemma over the severance tax illustrates better than anything the ruinous effect of a particularly perverse section of our state Constitution that was adopted at the threshold of the Great Depression.

That provision requires a three-fourths vote in each house of the legislature to raise a tax that existed that year, 1934. Any fresh tax after that, like sales and a variety of other consumer taxes, could be levied and increased by a simple majority vote. It meant that a small minority of lawmakers in either house could block a tax for which there was a wide public consensus.

This describes perfectly the situation in which we find ourselves in the spring of 2008. Funding for highways, roads and streets has been shrinking but Beebe’s widely acclaimed and endorsed plan to restart the road building and maintenance program with severance taxes on natural gas is apt to be held hostage by a tiny group of legislators, mostly but not all Republicans.
Nine of the 35 senators or 26 of the 100 House members can block it.

A tiny segment of lawmakers who are subservient to the commercial gas interests have blocked a severance tax for 60 years. Arkansas is the only gas-producing state in the country that does not collect compensation from gas producers for exploiting a vanishing natural resource.

Oh, we collect three-tenths of a penny per thousand cubic feet, a mere annoyance for production companies that barely raises enough money to cover the administrative costs of collecting the tax. Arkansas collects a real severance tax on other natural resources. Oil, for example, has long been taxed at 5 percent of its market value at the wellhead, which is what Beebe now proposes for natural gas.

Beebe, a legendary deal-maker in a long legislative career, announced this week that he had made a deal with the major gas interests, including the four big exploration companies in the Fayetteville shale, on a 5 percent tax. It includes huge concessions to the producers.

The tax would be nonexistent or negligible until a producer and its partners recovered the full costs of exploration at each well. In other words, the tax would kick in when nothing but profits on the gas flow lay ahead.

Arkansas consumers have never been confronted with such a bonanza. They will have a $100-million-a-year building and maintenance program for highways, roads and streets — maybe much more — and they will bear none of the cost. The severance taxes cannot be passed on to homeowners and businesses through higher gas rates. If the severance tax fails, gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees will have to be raised. That will almost certainly come in the 2009 legislative session.

Republicans hold 25 seats in the House of Representatives and eight in the Senate, one short of enough to block the severance tax in each house. The chairmen of both houses’ tax committees, Republicans, said they would oppose the tax if Beebe calls a special session at the end of the month. So did the Republican leader of the House and the chairman of the state Republican Party. But Republicans will not vote as a phalanx. Two Republican senators said the case for the tax was so compelling that they could not oppose it. Others may follow.

Rep. Johnny Key, the House minority leader, laid out the entire case against the tax: The big gas producers, he says, would leave the state or drastically cut back their drilling if the state levies the tax and that would deprive people of hundreds or perhaps thousands of new jobs.

But the argument is nonsensical. Not even the gas companies themselves raise it. Why would they cut back on exploration in Arkansas with a 5 percent tax when they have been drilling with frenzy in the shale formations of Texas and Oklahoma, which have severance tax rates of 7.5 percent and 7 percent respectively? They were drilling in the Barnett shale of Texas when gas prices were half what they are now, $9 a thousand cubic feet and rising.

Does it make sense that a company that is in business to make a profit would stop drilling wells if the state starts collecting a tax that would reduce the company’s annual profit on a high-producing well from $950,000 down to $920,000? That would be the approximate effect of the tax.

The only thing that will curtail or slow exploration in the Fayetteville shale is a collapse of the economy and of the demand for natural gas. A 5 percent severance tax or even the 7 percent in Sheffield Nelson’s initiated proposal would have no effect on it. (Note to Republicans: Nelson is a member in good standing, a former state GOP chairman and national committeeman.)

If the Republican naysayers and Sen. Bob Johnson, the leader of the Democratic brotherhood in the Senate, think gasoline taxes and car licenses are a better way to build roads, they should be honest and tell us.

TOP STORY > >PCSSD trying to do better

Leader staff writer

Pulaski County Special School District is working hard to get several of its schools off a list that nobody wants to be on.
Nearly a dozen Arkansas school districts have not made adequate yearly progress, including Pulaski County Special School District, according to the Department of Education.

The PCSSD has 17 individual schools on the improvement list.

Landing on the “district improvement list,” means too many students in the district didn’t score proficient or advanced on the state benchmark exams.

Jacksonville and Sherwood schools are part of the Pulaski County Special School District.

The district is in its first year of improvement, explained Julie Thompson, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Education.

Because it is on its list, the district must show that it is spending at least 10 percent of its Title One money on professional development to improve the knowledge, class management and teaching strategies of the district’s teachers. This 10-percent has to be above what it normally spends on professional staff development.

“The district is also required to develop and implement a plan to improve student performance on the benchmark exams,” explained Thompson. “That plan should be in place by next school year.”

All students in the state are required to be on grade level, meaning that they score proficient or advanced on the benchmark exams, by the end of the 2013-2014 school year. To reach that goal, districts need to increase the number of students scoring adequate or proficient each year. Gains of less than that means the district did not make adequate yearly progress.

That progress has to be made across the board as well as among several subgroups.

County schools in the Jacksonville and Sherwood area that are on the school improvement list include:

Jacksonville Elementary is on the improvement list for the second year in a row.

Jacksonville Middle School-girls campus is on the list for the third year in a row. For the 2006-2007 school year, its economically disadvantaged students didn’t make enough progress in math and students with disabilities didn’t make enough progress in math or literacy.

Sylvan Hills Middle School has been on the needs improvement list for five years now. Its students with disabilities didn’t make enough improvement last year in math or literacy.

Jacksonville High School is in on the list for the fourth year. Its combined population didn’t score well enough in math or literacy; neither did the African American students or the economically disadvantaged. Caucasian students and those with disabilities failed to make the grade in math.

Sylvan Hills High School is in its third year of school improvement. Last year, its African Americans students and those with disabilities failed to make enough progress in math or literacy. Also the school’s combined population didn’t do well enough in literacy.

North Pulaski High School which is in year four of school improvement had the same problem areas as Sylvan Hills High School, plus its students with disabilities didn’t score well enough in math.

Oakbrooke Elementary, in its first year of school improvement, had weaknesses in math with its African American and economically disadvantaged students.

Northwood Middle School has been on the list for four years now. Its students with disabilities didn’t score well enough in math or literacy last year.

Murrell Taylor Elementary is in year three of school improvement and made adequate progress last year, but a school doesn’t get off the list until it shows progress for two straight years.

Other districts besides PCSSD on the state improvement list include Little Rock, North Little Rock, Fordyce, McGehee, Dollarway, Osceola, Brinkley, Clarendon, Fort Smith and Hughes School District.

TOP STORY > >Treasurer angry over 2006 audit

Leader staff writer

Armed with copies of past audits, Cabot Clerk-Treasurer Marva Verkler went before a committee of city council members Tuesday night and tried to convince them that the 2006 audit that has been called the worst in the city’s history was not her fault.

Beside Verkler sat former Alder-man Odis Waymack, who had tried unsuccessfully in August 2004 to give her back the financial duties the council stripped from her more than a year earlier. Waymack voted to give Verkler’s duties to a finance director but later became her ally in what amounted to a cold war between her office and the office of former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh.

Waymack attended the meeting to talk to the committee about how Verkler had been shut out of financial matters and was therefore not to blame for the bad report.

But with only two committee members present for the meeting, the battle that Verkler had prepared for did not materialize. Eddie Cook, committee chairman, even appeared sympathetic about her problems, especially the friction between her office and the mayor’s, which included the finance director.

“I screamed. I hollered. I did everything I knew to do and no one would listen. People were banned from talking to me,” Verkler said of the time when she did not oversee city finances.

“You’ve got the best excuse I know for everything that has happened in the past years,” Cook said.

The budget committee learned last month that the city books for 2006 were so out of balance that the state auditor was unable to verify them.

Verkler, who got her duties back when Eddie Joe Williams became mayor in January 2007, accepts no responsibility for any bad marks against the city books while she was not in charge. She also told Cook and Alderman Becky Lemaster that the 2007 audit would likely not be as good as previous years when she was in control because she is only now solving problems.

Walker, who was laid off about six months after Williams took office, is suing Williams for job discrimination. Walker filed in federal court Feb. 15. His motion to appoint counsel was denied the next week, so he will represent himself before Judge William R. Wilson, Jr.

Williams received his notification of the lawsuit by certified mail Friday.

There is no allegation that money is missing, only that the books are incomprehensible.

These are some of the findings of the 2006 audit: “The city converted to a new accounting system in July 2006. The beginning general fund account balances reported in the new accounting system were different from the ending balances reported in the previous accounting system, and these differences in the financial records were not reconciled.

“Also, the General Fund financial records omitted cash and investments in the amounts of $82,112 and $205,863, respectively, receipts and disbursements in the amounts of $301,699 and $278,064, respectively, due to the failure of the city to record investment and loan activity.

“The other funds in the aggregate financial records contained misstatements for cash and investments in the amounts of $19,528 and $30,379, respectively, primarily due to the lack of record-keeping for investments.

The other funds in the aggregate financial records also contained misstatements for receipts and disbursements in the amounts of $220,807 and $2,164,236, respectively, due to the city not recording receipt and disbursement activity in the debt service construction funds.”

“There should have been somebody going behind somebody checking something,” Verkler told Cook and Lemaster Tuesday evening.

TOP STORY > >Two cities go canvassing for votes in Gravel Ridge

Leader staff writer

All 10 precincts, including the two in Gravel Ridge, voted Tuesday for Gravel Ridge to become part of Sherwood.
The total vote in Tuesday’s special election was 1,764 for annexation and 386 against annexation.

But the yes vote doesn’t mean Gravel Ridge will become part of Sherwood because Jacksonville, which also wants the rural community, voted for annexation Feb.5.

With both elections resulting in a yes vote for annexation, another election has been scheduled for April 1. Just Gravel Ridge residents will be able to vote in that election. Even if Gravel Ridge residents did not vote in the first two annexation elections, they can still vote April 1 as long as they are registered.

At the Kellogg Valley voting site in Gravel Ridge, the vote favored annexing into Sherwood with 105 for and 37 against. In comparison, in the Feb. 5 vote of Jacksonville and Gravel Ridge residents, only 19 residents voted to join Jacksonville, while 178 vote against Jacksonville.

At the other Gravel Ridge site, First Baptist Church of Gravel Ridge, 339 residents voted for annexing into Sherwood, while 146 were against it. In the Feb. 5 vote, 355 residents were for annexing into Jacksonville and 608 were against it.

Jacksonville officials believe that because their vote was first they receive the most wrath from Gravel Ridge residents who at three public meetings said they just wanted to be left alone.

The officials also think Gravel Ridge voters went for Sherwood to ensure that there would be a third election that leaves out Sherwood and Jacksonville residents.

Jay Whisker, city administrator for Jacksonville, said the mayor and other city officials have been planning strategy for the April 1 vote. “We need to get the word out that Jacksonville is the best choice for Gravel Ridge, and we will be doing that in several ways,” Whisker said. “We look forward to getting our message across in both written and person-to-person form,” he said.

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman said, “We are most excited about the vote totals at the Gravel Ridge sites. We are going to continue to work to get the word out that we are the best fit. We’ll do mailers and go door-to-door.”

Here is a breakdown of the other eight precincts in Tuesday’s election:

Sylvan Hills United Methodist Church—82 for, 13 against

Brockington Nazarene Church—202 for, 32 against

Jack Evans Senior Center—180 for, 31 against

Sylvan Hills Community Church—60 for, 12 against

First Baptist of Sher-wood—197 for, 25 against

Cornerstone Church—65 for, 8 against

Indianhead Baptist—265 for, 49 against

Sherwood Youth Center —269 for, 33 against

TOP STORY > >JPD chief decides it’s time to retire

Leader staff writer

After more than 30 years with the Jacksonville Police Department, and the last four as chief, Robert Baker is retiring. His last day will be March 28.

“I just felt it was time,” he said.

So far more than a dozen individuals have applied for Baker’s job. “We hope to start interviewing next week,” said Jill Fourqurean, the city’s human resources director. “We are hoping not to have much of a gap between the chief’s departure and the new person starting. But our emphasis is on getting the right person.”

Baker was ap-pointed chief in Feb. 2004. It was his second try for the job. He had applied two years earlier, but the city decided to go outside of the department and hire a retired Air Force officer, Wayne Ruthven. Ruthven was chief less than two years before deciding to move on.

As chief, Baker heads a department with a $6 million budget and 88 fulltime employees, including 69 sworn officers.
Baker plans to stay in the area and devote more time to his family and his two hobbies—astronomy and genealogy. “As much as I love those two, I don’t expect to stay out of work long,” Baker said.

The chief joined the city’s force back in 1977 and before he was an official officer, he spent six months as an auxiliary officer.
So how did a young man from Litchfield, Minn., end up on the Jacksonville police force? “Uncle Sam,” Baker said. “I served four years in the Air Force, and Little Rock Air Force Base was my last stop, and I just stayed.”

Baker said he believes he is leaving a well-run department that is more professional than it once was.

“Our officers are working diligently every day to solve, stop and prevent crime. Our CID (criminal investigative division) is doing a superb job,” the chief said.

What’s been the most important advancement since he’s been chief? “I like to think it’s the hiring of quality people,” Baker said, “and the promoting of deserving people.”

The chief, who is divorced and has one son, looks forward to tracing his heritage. So far he’s found out that he’s not related to anyone famous yet, and luckily no one infamous. “I come from down-home, good-hearted farmers,” he said.

Baker, who is also an amateur astronomer, is active with the Central Arkansas Astronomical Society and would like to do more in that arena, too.

Who the new chief will be is a decision for the mayor, Baker explained, “but I’ve offered to help in any way I can.”

TOP STORY > >Group:District should be split

Leader senior staff writer

Lightning tore across the heavens and the skies opened up Thursday night moments after attorney Ben Rice presented Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent James Sharpe with a petition requesting a special board meeting to consider a resolution in favor of forming a stand-alone Jacksonville school district.

The resolution, presented at Jacksonville High School, said, in part, “Be it resolved by the PCSSD board of directors that the Arkansas State Board of Education is hereby authorized and directed to take such steps as might be necessary to allow the creation of a new school district in the Jacksonville area, by detachment from the PCSSD.”

The proposed new school district includes all areas in the attendance zones of Jacksonville High School and North Pulaski High School.

Rice’s resolution says state law provides a framework for detachment to form a separate district and that the proposed Jacksonville-area district apparently meets those requirements.

It also cites the presence of Little Rock Air Force Base in the area and other factors as special circumstances that “suggest a strong need for that area to operate its own school district.”

Rice said state law requires such a meeting to be called upon the request of 50 or more district patrons. His petitions bore the signatures of about 250 residents, he said, and suggested April 15 as the special meeting date.

Sharpe said Friday that he hadn’t known in advance that Rice’s petition was coming but that he would send it to school board president Charlie Wood.

“He will make the decision,” said Sharpe.

The real importance of a PCSSD resolution in favor of a stand-alone district would be that it not only reinforced Jacksonville’s desire for its own district, but that it showed that the board no longer opposed the idea, Rice said Friday.

Sharpe hosted an hour-long superintendent’s coffee at the Jacksonville High School cafeteria, which moved without break into a two-hour strategic planning session, complete with pads on easels and notes taped to the wall.

Consultant Charles Cummings will facilitate such planning sessions, one in each zone, then compile them into a report for consideration by the board and administration.

There was confusion among some of the approximately 100 people who attended as to what meetings were being held and when, but about 45 minutes into the strategic planning session, Rice arose and broke in long enough to present the petitions to Sharpe.

Rice and Reedie Ray, a former school board president, first met about three months ago to move the process along of getting a separate Jacksonville district, he said.

U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson previously ruled that Jacksonville residents could not hold a scheduled vote on the issue of a stand-alone Jacksonville-area district, upholding a suit by the PCSSD and saying the districts must achieve unitary status and be released from the desegregation agreement before Jacksonville could be considered for its own district.

The Little Rock district has been declared unitary, and both North Little Rock and PCSSD have petitioned for unitary status, but Wilson has put those petitions on hold until the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals rules on a challenge of the Little Rock unitary declarations by the Joshua Interveners. Oral arguments were held this week in that case.

Rice said even if the PCSSD school board passes his resolution, it would probably not be implemented until Wilson’s ruling on unitary status.

“Wilson could rule on all three districts,” Rice said. “I would hope he would include something in his ruling about a Jacksonville district.”


Maj. Craig Heathscott/Special to The Leader

CAMP SHELBY, Miss. – As they passed through the gates at Camp Shelby in January, the soldiers of Arkansas’ 39th Infantry Brigade combat team were immediately reminded they were headed for Iraq.

The first set of barracks, row after row of long buildings made of simple gray cinderblock, was surrounded by concertina wire with the only access point controlled by a guard shack. The sign declared this base Camp Victory, which is just one of the places the 39th’s Bowie Brigade will call home for the next year as part of their mobilization in Iraq.

This sense of realism—commonly referred to as theater immersion training—places the Bowie Brigade in an environment similar to Iraq or Afghanistan. While at Camp Shelby, these soldiers live in forward operating bases, interact with real Iraqis, patrol and work in villages or towns built based on what they will see in theater. They will do all this with the fog of war surrounding them as they train—which impresses even the combat veterans of the group.

“It’s very realistic training, and at the same time, it gives the ‘Joe’ a good sense of how your mind works in combat with so many actions taking place at one time,” said Matthew Dedman of Sherwood, a combat veteran from the previous deployment.

“It’s very real training, and we’ll benefit greatly from it.

“For the most part, the trainers here are very knowledgeable, yet receptive of our prior experiences. Instead of, ‘listen to this, do it this way’ they listen to suggestions, comments,” said Dedman.

“This is some of the most realistic training I’ve ever seen in the Army,” said Master Sgt. Phillip Powers, observer controller and combat veteran. “The training is up-to-date with what is happening in Iraq today and it changes constantly in order to keep pace with Iraq,” Powers said. “These soldiers will leave here fully prepared to do their mission, do it well and come home safe.”


In many ways, Camp Shelby is a small taste of Hollywood, and when the cameras are rolling it’s hard to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not real.

One after another, a seemingly endless line of soldiers appear out of the cloud of white smoke and engulf the objective — a two-story building in Al Jaffar, Iraq. They do so hurriedly while dodging bullets from a well-hidden, and well-aimed, sniper approximately 200 meters away. Unfortunately, all the bullets don’t get “dodged” and a couple soldiers go down.

“He’s been hit, he’s been hit! We’ve gotta get him outta there now! Cover me!” shouts a fellow soldier while racing to help his peer under a barrage of gunfire from his team providing protection for the rescue.

The soldier moves quickly and drags one of the wounded across the gravel by the nape of his collar to safety. He calls for a medic as small arms fire can be heard from seemingly every direction. In another heroic act, a second soldier is pulled to safety behind an armored humvee, now safe from the onslaught of bullets. Two explosions just outside the compound only add to the confusion as the Iraqi citizens inside begin to scream in fear. Their inability to fully comprehend the soldier’s language only makes them shout even louder in their native tongue — Arabic.

More smoke, more confusion, more yelling; yet, the soldiers, continue with their mission driven by adrenaline despite even more casualties — both American and Iraqi — inside the building they’ve just occupied.

This training will provide them the intuition they need to be successful.

Amidst the chaos, soldiers are seen making split-second decisions — some good, some bad. Nonetheless, they continue the fight without hesitation. Once the compound is secure, the soldiers thoroughly begin searching the Iraqi citizens — women search women, men search men. Every movement is cautious, every search is thorough and each step in the process is taken with the aid of an interpreter, just another of many obstacles the American soldier must overcome.

“Don’t move! I said don’t move!” shouts a young sergeant as he firsts tries to communicate with the Iraqi and then quickly realizes he needs the aide of the interpreter. “Tell him I said to be still! I don’t want him to move until I tell him he can.”

One after another, the occupants of the compound are methodically searched for weapons. Finally, the soldiers find the target of their search — a wanted terrorist. It’s time to move out.

The area is filled with more gunfire as those guarding the perimeter fire back. Now, a soldier lobs a smoke grenade to prepare for the departure. It’s now time to move the Iraqis, friend and foe, out of the compound and away to safety. A quick shout into a radio, and the race is on to safety through a thick cloud of billowing smoke similar to that in which they entered this make-believe combat zone. More gunfire, more split-second decisions and more Soldiers wounded. It all takes place in a matter of seconds with the final scene being a soldier being dragged to safety.

And just as a producer would stand and shout, “Cut!” the observer controller calls an end to the exercise, “Index, index, index!” The action ends, and now, the real learning begins.


Soldiers go in one direction and the civilian role players go the other once timeout, or index, is called. The troops gather around their trainers to discuss what went well and what went not so well — commonly referred to as a “hotwash.” During these sessions, soldiers learn from mistakes by discussing them within the group.

The learning environment is as intense as the real-world action itself with the sound of gunfire, smell of smoke, loud Arabic chants or screams and the blood-pumping excitement that is consistent in theater-immersion training. It’s this realism that the 39th Brigade soldiers seem to appreciate most as they near the end of their training here.

Training at Camp Shelby is based on the same model which made the Arkansas leadership so confident it could teach its own soldiers from October to January in “our own backyard” in preparation for the mission in Iraq — combat veterans. Combat veterans serve as an enabler for the “train-as-you-fight” mentality. The experience of the staff here, along with the realistic training environment help interject another level of realism into the training.

As combat veterans, these observer controllers are confident in their teachings as the training is anything but stagnant — it changes as the enemy changes. The situations, scenarios and threats are constantly evolving and match what is occurring in theater. In addition to experience ‘fighting the fight,’ these combat veterans actually accompany deploying leaders on recons to the theater before their training at Camp Shelby ever begins. This allows them the opportunity to fine-tune or adjust their training as necessary.


As in the real-world, Iraqi citizens are often in the line of site on the linear battlefield that soldiers face in Iraq. This is the reason such emphasis is placed on interacting with civilian role players in the training.

Bottom line, all Iraqi people are not our enemy. And, in many cases, combat veterans can often be overheard telling younger troops to stop and listen to the Iraqi people—a point the instructors are strongly emphasizing.

The role players serving as Iraqi citizens are made up of college students, local citizens of surrounding communities as well as some Iraqi citizens.

In most cases, the Iraqis still have families living in Iraq and don’t like to be photographed. They fear the photos might end up in the media and their families put at risk.

“I am supporting my family in Iraq,” said one of the Iraqis who requested anonymity. “By helping American soldiers, I help my family in Iraq. We make this real for their training. And I like to help the soldiers get ready for what it is like in my country. We want to help the American soldier, because they are helping Iraq to be a better place.”

And as actors on a set, these role players serve in a multitude of roles, from angry citizens to those trying to point out the location of a recently planted improvised explosive device.

A primary role that is benefiting the soldier is that of interpreter since communication is a major obstacle on the battlefield. During the training scenarios, interpreters assist in the communications process.

Nonetheless, soldiers are still required to participate in language skills training in order to learn some basic Arabic words and phrases.


Almost two months into its collective training, the 39th Brigade continues to march toward its objective — Iraq.
The Bowie Brigade will continue its realistic training scenarios through mid-March, when it flies to Iraq.

But the real test is the Army training evaluation program, which determines if the brigade is prepared to go to combat.

Each of the five battalions—1/206th Field Artillery, 1/153rd Infantry, 2/153rd Infantry, 217th Brigade Support Battalion and 1/151 Calvary — as well as the Brigade Headquarters element will participate in the evaluation before leaving Camp Shelby.

SPORTS >>Red Devils blow past Fair,14-0

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville blasted J.A. Fair in a 14-0 rout on Tuesday at Hickingbotham Field at Dupree Park. The Red Devils racked up 11 hits, and benefited from three errors by Fair during the run-ruled game.

The game was left over from the rain-cancelled Red Devil Classic. The War Eagles suffered an 11-0 loss in their first game at Dupree, and Jacksonville wasn’t any kinder. Terrell Brown started things off for the Red Devils by scoring the opening run in the bottom of the first inning, followed by Patrick Castleberry, Caleb Mitchell, Cameron Hood and Jason Regnas. That gave Jacksonville a 5-0 lead at the end of one, but the Red Devil bats were just getting warmed up.

Those five batters repeated their performances in the bottom of the second inning. Brown once again led the charge from the top of the lineup, and Hood blasted the game’s only home run of the contest from the cleanup position.

Michael Harmon came in to make the score 11-0 for the Red Devils, followed by JacobAbrahamson and Tyler Wisdom.

Standout junior Brown scored the final run for Jacksonville to end the game.

Castleberry was 3-of-3 with two doubles for the Red Devils. Mitchell was 2-of-3, and Hood was 1-of-2 with a home run. Regnas and Brown were both 1-of-1.

Jacksonville took on Russellville last night at Dupree Park after Leader deadlines.

SPORTS >>Jacksonville hangs on

Leader sportswriter

The Jacksonville Lady Red Devils held off their biggest league rivals on Tuesday for a 1-0 win over Sylvan Hills at Dupree Park.

The Lady Bears made a serious bid to overtake Jacksonville in the top of the sixth inning when they loaded the bases with only one out, but sophomore pitcher Jessica Lanier and the Lady Devils found a way out of the sticky situation to hold on for the opening 6A-East game of the season.

The top of the sixth inning started out just like the previous five for the Lady Devil defense, as Lindsay Ogden hit into an unassisted play at first. Melissa Hobby then got the Lady Bears’ first hit of the afternoon with a grounder into centerfield.

Hollie Sifford went off third, and hit into what looked to be a fielder’s choice, but the throw from first to second was too high, and Hobby made it safely at second. That put the winning run at first with Sifford.

Hannah Scott then laid down a perfect bunt to load the bases with just one out.

But Lanier escaped the jam when she got Nicole Goff to pop into a double play back to the mound. Lanier threw to third to catch Hobby for the third out.

Arnold got one more hit for Sylvan Hills in the top of the seventh with a blooper over third base, but it was not enough. Lanier struck out Evans for the final out of the game to secure the win.

The Lady Red Devils are in the process of a large rebuilding period after returning only two starters from last year. Head coach Tanya Ganey said that Lanier and the rest of the Lady Red Devil players have some big shoes to fill, but she looks for them to do it in their own way.

“We’ve had four pitchers over the years,” Ganey said. “And everyone one of them have been different in their own way. They have all been dominant in their own way, and Jessica is no exception.

“She does things a lot different than the ones that came before her, but she has a good style, and a lot of support from the dugout cheering her on.”

Freshman Tyler Pickett had the most productive day at the plate for the Lady Red Devils, going 3-for-3 with three singles. She also helped set up the lone run of the contest when she singled to advance Alana Whatley in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Whatley reached on a walk, and eventually came in on a fielder’s choice from freshman Alexis Owens.

With only two returning starters, and Taylor Norsworthy serving as the team’s only senior, Ganey said the early efforts of her young squad have been solid. Last week’s 2-1 loss on the road against White Hall went down to the wire, with the Lady
Bulldogs pulling out the win in the bottom of the seventh.

“We’ve played two ball games, and we’ve been in both of them,” Ganey said. “The overall team effort has been phenomenal. (Sylvan Hills) had the bases loaded on us, and we found a way to get out of it.

“The girls started moving to their spots a lot better when we got in trouble, and that’s a good sign. That’s our first win in conference. We’re 1-0 now in our conference, and that’s all that matters.”

SPORTS >>Falcons shake off rough start

Leader sports editor

Head coach Robbie Walker might have known his North Pulaski Falcons weren’t on the top of their game when his first batter made a base-running error.

Shortly thereafter, the defense began to kick it around and the Falcons found themselves down 3-0 to a Little Rock Hall team comprised almost exclusively of freshmen and sophomores.

But the Falcon hitters finally began to time the painfully slow offerings of the Little Rock Hall starter and eventually pulled away for a 7-3 win on Tuesday at Dupree Park.

“Hall had just got their basketball players back from the state tournament and their coach decided not to throw their best pitcher,” Walker said. “Their first two pitchers were throwing around 60-65 miles per hour and we were way out in front.

“In the third inning, we started taking advantage of the field being wet and started hitting.”

A.J. Allen went 3-of-4 with a pair of doubles, an RBI and two runs scored. Freshman Zach Roman was 2-of-2 and also scored twice as North Pulaski improved to 3-4.

Allen led off the bottom of the first with a soaring double to the fence in centerfield. But he was easily cut down trying to stretch it into a triple. By the time the Falcons collected their second hit, they were in a 3-0 hole, thanks mostly to some shoddy defense.

The first Warrior run came around in the third inning via a walk, two stolen bases and a throwing error to third base by catcher Daniel Thurman.

“[Third baseman Roman] probably should have knocked that down,” Walker said. “That wasn’t all that bad a throw. But that was his first time playing third base and he also went 2-of-2. He’s going to be a good little ball player, along with two other freshmen, Alex Lister and Chris Williams.”

The Warriors began a two-out rally later in the inning on two singles, a throwing error on a pickoff attempt, and a misplayed double to left as Hall took a 3-0 lead.

North Pulaski batters started showing patience against the soft-throwing Hall starter in the third. Though Brandon Davis lined out to left to open the frame, Roman lined a single to right and came around on Allen’s second double of the game.

Williams’ bunt single scored the aggressive Roman all the way from second. Thurman followed with an RBI double to center to knot it at 3. Thurman reached third on a passed ball and scored on a balk. Alex Lister later delivered an RBI single to give NP a 5-3 lead.

The Falcons padded the lead on singles by Roman and Allen with one out in the fourth. Roman later scored on a throwing error by the catcher, while Allen trotted across on a passed ball to make it 7-3.

Other than Will-iams’ bunt single, the Falcons struggled bunting on Tuesday. Bunting, Walker said, will play a big factor in his team’s fortunes this season.

“We’ve got some kids that can bunt,” he said. “We’ve worked on that all year. I’ve told them, if you want to play for me you have to be able to bunt. We’re going to have to play small ball this year.”

North Pulaski totaled nine hits, while Falcon pitching limited the Warriors to just four.

Steven Swaggerty pitched the first two innings. Alex Lister pitched two-thirds of an inning in the second before Eric Oldnettle came in to record the third out. Oldnettle picked up the win.

Trevor Gray pitched the sixth, and Williams the seventh for North Pulaski.

SPORTS >>Cabot endures rough league opener in loss

Leader sports editor

Already trailing 7-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning and having collected just one hit, the Cabot Panthers might have been wondering how it could get worse.

Matt Evans found out a couple of pitches later when Daniel Short’s grounder to the Cabot shortstop hit the seam of the infield, took a wicked hop and plunked Evans squarely on the chin.

Just a case of adding injury to insult. North Little Rock went on to run-rule the Panthers, 10-0, in the 7A-Central Conference opener for both teams.

“We made a couple of errors early, got tight and it just snowballed,” said Panther head coach Jay Fitch. “That happens sometimes. But, yeah, that’s definitely a game you want to put behind you.”

Cabot (7-2, 0-1) committed five errors in the contest, including three in the first inning that helped dig them a 4-0 hole after

Kell Crain reached on an error leading off, and scored after consecutive singles by Clark Sims and Brian Bryles. The Panthers appeared as though they might escape with minimal damage after second baseman Trey Rosel turned a 4-6-3 double play that scored Sims to make it 2-0.

But another error was followed by Short’s sinking RBI-triple to right field that went off the glove of a diving Drew Burks. Cabot starter Sean Clarkson got what should have been an inning-ending strikeout on David Stracener, but the pitch was wild and got past catcher Ben Wainright, allowingShort to score and put Cabot up 4-0 after an inning.

With Kyle Thompson in full command, that would prove plenty of run support. Thompson allowed just one hit over five innings — a solid single to right by Jackson Chism in the third. The Panthers had only three base runners. All three were stranded at second base.

“Thompson had command,” Fitch said. “But when you get that early lead as a pitcher, you can relax a bit. You don’t have to be quite as fine. He came right at us and did a great job.”

What’s frightening for conference opponents is Thompson isn’t even the Wildcats’ ace. Hunter Benton is returning from arm surgery.

“Thompson isn’t a bad No. 2,” Fitch said with a laugh. “[NLR] is going to be good. Their center fielder [Bryles] is probably the best athlete in our conference. They’re saying he has the potential to be drafted. And they’ve got a lot to go with him.

“We knew we’d have to play great. We didn’t and they handed it to us.”

NLR plated three more in the second inning on two singles, a double, a walk and another error. It might have been worse except for Rosels’ nifty backhanded snag of a grounder to record the first out.

Crain’s blast over the wall in left-center leading off the fourth chased Clarkson and gave NLR (6-1, 1-0) an 8-0 lead. Josh Brown came on in relief. He allowed a walk to the first batter he faced, but Wainright gunned the runner down trying to steal.

It ended in the fifth when Thompson reached on Cabot’s fifth error of the game followed by Short’s bad-hop single off Evans’ chin. Stracener doubled and Short came home with the mercy-rule run on a fielder’s choice to end it.

“That’s happened to us twice,” said Fitch of Cabot’s defense. “The first five games, we committed three errors. In our other loss against Sylvan Hills, we made six errors. So it’s snowballed on me twice.

“We’re a little bit young in a few areas. My third baseman is just coming back from basketball. So we’re in a little bit of a transition. But, still, we’re a lot better than what we showed defensively.”

Fitch said that, overall, he wasn’t displeased with Clarkson’s performance on the mound.

“Sean isn’t a kid that can make a lot of mistakes because he doesn’t throw real hard,” Fitch said. “He has to be inside, outside and he did that decent. I just wonder, if we play defense, does the complexion of the game change?”

As for Evans, he’ll be fine, Fitch said. He was treated for several minutes in the infield and played the rest of the game.

“He’s a great athlete and he’s just a sophomore,” Fitch said. “He’s going to be fun the next few years.

“He was right there in position. But I told the kids, when you play bad, that’s the kind of stuff you get — crappy hops. The game punishes you for not playing it right.”

NLR picked up nine hits. Five of their runs were unearned.

SPORTS >>Lady Devils fall to SH

Leader sportswriter

Sylvan Hills junior forward Ashley English sliced her way through the Jacksonville Lady Red Devils’ defense for four goals on Thursday night at Bill Blackwood Field in a 6-0 win, improving the Lady Bears’ record to 3-2 and 2-2 in the 6A East Conference.

English struck early and often for the Lady Bears, putting her first goal on the board two minutes in with a shot from the left side. She followed that with a goal at the 25-minute mark with a straight ahead shot that gave Sylvan Hills a 2-0 lead at intermission.

“Our defense was able to keep the ball in front of them,” Sylvan Hills coach Jerry Peters said. “And we kept (Jacksonville) from making a counter attack. Offensively, we were able to move the ball in and out with triangle passes, and got it to our strikers.”
English gave way to teammates Jessica Pfeil and Hannah Harris late in the match, but not before racking up two more goals in the opening minutes of the second half. Her third goal was a breakaway in the second minute of the half, and her final goal at the 25:55 mark put it all but out of reach for the Lady Devils.

“I was pleased with how the team responded to Jacksonville tonight,” Peters said. “They were able to handle the ball and control it, and keep it away from Jacksonville’s players. Our goalkeeper also came up big for us when we needed her to.”

Jacksonville’s looks were limited in the first half, but the Lady Devils began to find their way into SH territory more in the second half. The Lady Red Devils lined up a couple of opportunities after intermission, but Lady Bears goalkeeper Hailey Norris thwarted the few attempts that came her way.

Peters said the team still has some inexperience on the wing, but added that he thought their strength in the middle will help them. While Jonesboro and Searcy look to dominate the league once again in ’08, he said his team can finish in the top half.

“We know we want to be a three seed; that’s what our goal is,” Peters said. “If we can get past Marion, and secure a win Monday against Mountain Home, those two games are huge for us. Those are our last two matches before spring break; I would love to go into spring break with those confidence builders for our team.”

Pfeil added another goal at the 20-minute mark with a nifty fake to the leftside, and Harris put an exclamation point on the game five minutes later with an assisted goal. The match was called due to bad weather in the final 15 minutes.

“We have several quality players up the middle,” Peters said. “Our defender, our sweeper, our stopper, our mid-fielder, and our center forward. After that, our talent level for understanding soccer drops off dramatically. So the idea that we had was to try and play the ball to our ball handlers. If we’re strong in the middle, and the girls on our wings, they are starting to learn and come along. I’m pleased with the progress I’m seeing from our girls that are still learning the game.”

Jacksonville goalkeeper Alexis Lennartz stopped a number of breakaway attempts and side shots by English and the SH offense, but repeated trips into the scoring zone by the Lady Bears proved to be too much. Lady Devils coach Tammy Lennartz said the team has good potential in their defender trio of Suzanne Burchette, Stacey Lennartz and Tiffany McNerlin, but said that it is communication, not mechanics, that is holding them back.

“We have to work on our communication,” Lennartz said. “Probably half of our team has never touched a soccer ball before this season. We’ve got the talent; we just have to make it click. They are a great group of girls, and we are proud of every one of them. We just have to get them to talk to one another on the field.”

The loss drops Jacksonville to 0-5.

The Lady Bears will host Mountain Home on Monday, while Jacksonville will host defending 6A champion Searcy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

TOP STORY > >Gwatney, O’Brien head for Democratic convention

Leader senior staff writer

Two Jacksonville men are among the 47 Arkansas delegates headed to the national Democratic convention in Denver this August, one committed to Barack Obama, the other having endorsed Hillary Clinton.

Pulaski County Clerk Pat O’Brien is an Obama delegate.

Bill Gwatney, who owns Gwatney Chevrolet and is chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, has endorsed Clinton.

Republicans have not yet elected their delegates, but all 34 are expected to be committed to John McCain at the Republican National Convention, Sept. 1-4 at St. Paul, Minn. McCain has wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination.

Karen Ray, the executive director of the Arkansas Republican Party, said the congressional-level Arkansas Republican delegates would be chosen May 3, with the at-large candidates chosen June 14. She said no candidates were seeking to be delegates from the Jacksonville or Sherwood area, but that several people from the Cabot area had expressed an interest.

“The process is the same as it has been in the past,” said O’Brien Tuesday. “But this is the first time in recent memory that the delegate selection process has mattered in Arkansas.”

He said the presidential primary was usually in May, and the Democratic presidential nomination is generally decided by then.

O’Brien campaigned in Iowa and Texas for Obama and Saturday was elected the sole Obama delegate from among pledged party leaders and elected officials.

Darinda Sharp, the party’s communications director, said that Gwatney remained neutral through the presidential primary, but since Democratic voters in the state overwhelmingly endorsed Clinton, he has said she’ll get his vote at the convention. The
Democrats will send 47 delegates, 39 of them either pledged to Clinton or else having endorsed her, according to Sharp.

Among the 22 congressional district-level delegates, Clinton has 17, Obama 5.

Among the eight at-large delegates, Clinton has six, Obama 2.

Five pledged party leaders and elected officials are Clinton delegates. They are Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, Atty. Gen. Dustin McDaniel,
Secretary of State Charlie Daniels and Treasurer Martha Shoffner.

O’Brien is the sole Obama delegate among the pledged party leaders and elected officials. In an election Saturday at the state
meeting, O’Brien defeated state Sen. Linda Chesterfield for that distinction.

The unpledged party leaders and elected officials are unofficially known as super delegates.

Of the unpledged party leaders and elected officials, only state Lands Commissioner Mark Wilcox and Democratic National Committee vice chairman Lottie Shackelford have not made an endorsement, according to Sharp.

In addition to Gwatney, those who have endorsed the former Arkansas First Lady are Gov. Mike Beebe, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Sen. Mark Pryor, Cong. Marion Berry, Cong. Vic Snyder, Cong. Mike Ross, Arkansas Party Vice Chairman Karla Bradley, Democratic Na-tional Committeeman Don Bea-vers, and Democratic National Committeewoman Martha Dixon.

TOP STORY > >Hillary is still alive in race for president

I’m going to stick my neck out and predict former Gov. Mike Huckabee will not be Hillary Clinton’s running mate.

He won’t even be Sen. John McCain’s running mate. Not even McCain knows his choice for vice president — he’s been too busy steeling himself against insults from the far right — but his running mate will probably be a younger politician from a big state, maybe from the Northeast, with a lot more electoral votes than our wonderful little state could give McCain. Mitt Romney, perhaps? (McCain will be 72 next January, which would make him the oldest president on inauguration day.)

You want more predictions? Hillary will get just enough delegates to win the Democratic nomination and will anoint Sen. Barack Obama as her running mate, and he will accept.

But why would he settle for the second spot, if he’s the frontrunner?

Obama is ahead with about 130 delegates, but even with Mississippi in his win column, there are still some key states ahead, while many more superdelegates will stick with Hillary right up to the convention.

Say it’s a tie in Denver: Surely the Clintons will broker a deal in their favor. Obama says, not very convincingly, that he’s not running for vice president — not yet, he isn’t — but for a young freshman senator, it’s an offer he can’t refuse in August.

The top spot could be his in four to eight years.

Even after losing Mississippi, she’s well ahead in Pennsylvania, which votes next month and has 158 delegates.

The Democratic National Committee could allow another round of voting in Florida and Michigan or assign the two candidates the number of delegates in line with the popular vote there. The results were voided because the two states held their primaries too early in violation of DNC rules. Clinton won the popular vote in Florida and Michigan, so she could get as many as 192 delegates against Obama’s 72, according to some estimates.

That would pull her even with Obama. She has about 70 more superdelegates than Obama, and that should secure her nomination. Obama could lead a floor fight and accuse the Clintons of stealing the nomination, but that could ruin the Democrats’ chances in the fall. Obama will settle for No. 2 instead of losing everything.

Of course you can throw this scenario out the window if Obama marches triumphantly into the Democratic convention and looks for a running mate who didn’t insult him during the campaign.

Bill Clinton will keep campaigning for his wife. In Mississippi, he talked southern, the way he does in black churches but not before white groups.

It’s an amazing gift: He sounds like a Yankee when he’s with white folks north of the Mason-Dixon line. In Arkansas, he has sort of a mid-south accent. Call it the Hot Springs drawl. But when he’s in the Delta, it’s like “Gone with the Wind” in high-definition DVD.

Even Mike Huckabee played down his southern roots during the primaries.

Now that’s he’s out of the running, he’ll be busy making speeches this fall and preparing for another presidential race in 2012 in case John McCain loses.

Perhaps Wayne Dumond, Gene Fields and other felons he helped pardon will be long forgotten by then, but if Huckabee challenges Sen. Blanche Lincoln two years from now, she might mention them in passing.

After all, a candidate should run on his record.

TOP STORY > >Several races will be hotly contested

Leader staff writer

Open seats in the judicial districts in White and Lonoke counties will make those races interesting for the first time in several years, but the races for White County judge and Lonoke County sheriff, each with four candidates, also are sure to garner much attention.

Other races to watch include House Dist. 48, where former state Rep. Randy Minton of Ward, is running against Davy Carter of Cabot in the Republican primary.

In House Dist. 49, Kieth Williams of Beebe will run against Johnny Wheetley of Judsonia in the Democratic primary. The winner will face Republican Jonathan Dismang in November.

In White County, Circuit Judge Bill Mills, 17th Judicial District, is not running for reelection. Mark Derrick, the city attorney in Beebe, and Tom Hughes, former district court judge in Beebe, have both filed for the position and will be on the ballot for the election in May, which will include candidates for the preferential primary and the non-partisan judicial positions.

White County Judge Michael Lincoln will have to spend much of his second year in office trying to hold on to his job. Although Lincoln has no Republican opponent, the Democratic primary will decide whether he will face Dennis Gillam or Barth Grayson in November. Independent Valentine Huffman also has announced his candidacy for the office and will likely be on the November ballot.

In Lonoke County, the an-nouncement that Circuit Judge Lance Hanshaw, 23rd Judicial District, Division 1, would not run again meant that two of the three divisions in the court were open.

Circuit Judge Barbara Elmore, appointed to Division 3 when it was created last July, is running for Hanshaw’s position. Hanshaw’s son-in-law, Sandy Huckabee, is running unopposed for Division 3.

Lonoke County Prosecutor Lona McCastlain is running against Circuit Judge Phillip Whiteaker for Division 2. And Chuck Graham, assistant prosecutor, is running against Elmore for Division 1.

Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson will face John W. Staley in the Republican primary. The Democratic primary will decide whether Sam Chamberlain or Steve Rich will be on the November ballot for sheriff.

Except for the county judge, only three offices in White County have more than one candidate. For the quorum court in Dist. 2, Larry Fisher and Bobby Burns will face each other in the Republican primary.

In the Democratic primary, Horace Taylor and Cathy (Fisher) Foster are running for JP Dist. 1 and Jimmy L. House and Julius Odom are running for JP Dist. 5.

But in Lonoke County, except for the county judge, who is unopposed, most elected officials will have opposition either in the primary or the general election.

County Clerk Dawn Porterfield, a Democrat, will face Cassandra Pitts, a Republican, and Circuit Court Clerk Deborah Oglesby, a

Democrat, will face Susan Denise Brown, a Republican, in November.

On the Lonoke County Quorum Court, these races will be on the ballot for the May Republican primary: Dist. 2, Jannette Minton against Larry Ridgeway; Dist. 3, Larry Odom against Lisa F. Shotts; Dist. 4, Donna Pedersen against Tim Lemons; Dist. 6,

Alexis Malham against Harry Roderick.

These quorum court races will be on the ballot for the Democratic primary: Adam Sims against Robert I. Depriest III, Dist. 7; Roger Dale Lynch against Richard Kyzer, Dist. 8; Wes Clement, Ronald L. Evans and Bill Ryker, Dist. 10.

In November, Republican Lynn Weeks Clark, Dist. 5, will face Democrat Barry Weathers; and Republican Mark Edward, Dist. 13, will face Democrat Kenny Ridgeway.

Democrat Henry “H.L.” Lang will become a new member of the quorum court without opposition. Lang will serve Dist. 12. Unopposed for their seats on the quorum court are Jody Grisham Troutman, Dist. 1; Robert Morey, Dist. 9 and Mike Dolan, Dist. 11.

Coroner Sherry Stracener, Tax Collector Patricia McCallie and Treasurer Karol Depriest also are unopposed.

TOP STORY > >Major battle for judge

Leader senior staff writer

Dissatisfaction with the current 880-bed Pulaski County Detention Center has spilled over into both the Democratic primary and November general election races for county judge.

County Judge Buddy Villines, 60, who is seeking his sixth two-year term, is being challenged in the May Democratic primary for the second consecutive time by Buddy York, 70, a bail bondsman. In the November general election, the winner will face Phil Wyrick, 58, a businessman, former legislator and head of the state Livestock and Poultry Commission.

York, a bail bondsman for 30 years, says he would “cut off some of the fat from all of the departments,” to fund expansion of the jail’s capacity.

“We need 1,400-1,500 beds, but we built an 1,100-bed jail, and we ought to house 1,100,” he said. “They want to tax people more money. They told us ‘give us a quarter- cent sales tax and you’ll never have to worry about the criminals being on the street,’” said York. “It’s not even 20 years later and they are begging for more money.”

Wyrick says it will take four years to fix the jail problem and that if he can’t fix it by then, he’ll step down.

He said the study by Dr. Charles Hathaway found that people of the county lacked confidence in the county government. That’s why they turned thumbs down on a bond issue intended to finance jail expansion.

Wyrick said that after former Pulaski County Comptroller Quillin admitted embezzling county funds, there should have been a full audit. He said Quillin was “sitting at the right hand of the current county judge.”

Running as a Republican in a county where all countywide offices are held by Democrats, Wyrick said winning wouldn’t be easy.

“I’m not naive, this is a tough situation, a Democratic county,” said Wyrick. “But we’re talking about competency, not about gay rights, abortion or the war in Iraq. I want to get the county on a good financial ground. If I can’t do it in four years, that’s enough.”

“We’re making lots of headway,” said Villines. “I’ve warned for years about an impending financial crises looming. I’ve implemented things to make us financially stable. We’re repairing the old jail and hiring architects to draw another 200-bed facility. We’re looking for funds to operate it.”

Of his critics and opponents, he said, “They are going to try to make this a one-issue election. Neither one of them has ever done it—manage something as complex as county government.

“We’ve gone to the cities and the voters (looking for money to expand the jail), and we’ve not been successful,” the judge said. “If they have some way to bring a ship of gold in, let them bring it in. It costs a lot of money to run a jail.”

The other countywide contest will be in the November general election, where first-term Sheriff Doc Holladay, a Democrat, faces a challenge from Patrick Mulligan of North Little Rock.

TOP STORY > >Increasing taxes gets approval in Cabot

Leader staff writer

Patrons of the Cabot School District approved a 3.9 debt-service mills increase in Tuesday’s special election, bringing Cabot to a total of 39.9 mills.

A total of 2,276 votes were cast – 1,190 for the tax increase and 1,086 against.

The approval of the millage increase will allow the district to obtain more than $50 million in building projects and upgrades at a cost of $22 million thanks to the state facilities partnership program.

“I’m very relieved, excited and thankful to our patrons, faculty and staff,” Superintendent Dr. Tony Thurman said after the close vote. “This has been a challenging three months making sure that patrons and staff members understood the critical financial situation of the district. I want to especially thank our staff members for their patience and support these last seven months. It has been challenging, but we’ll do this together as a team.”

Although it was a closer outcome compared to the 2002 millage election – a total of 1,100 votes, 700 for and 400 against six years ago – Thurman was thankful for everyone for casting a vote yesterday.

“I appreciate those who voted either way because they care about the school system. It is the objective of the board of education, faculty and staff for our district to be the most exemplary system in the state of Arkansas,” he said.

“The board members and I understand fully that our patrons expect us to be financially accountable and ensure district funds are allocated efficiently for the maximum benefit for our students,” he added.

Thurman said he had heard complaints from Ward and Austin area residents about the lack of polling sites in those areas, but he said that decision was made by the Lonoke County Election Commission and not the district.

“Any of our valued patrons upset should contact the commission and request that sites be open in all areas for future elections,” he said.

With the increase, Cabot’s total millage rate is now 39.9 mills, remaining the lowest school millage rate in Lonoke County and placing Cabot at the average millage rate of the top 10 largest school districts in the state. Cabot is currently the seventh largest district in Arkansas.

The district has 15 building projects planned using the funds gained from the millage increase.

In the list of projects is $2.5 million to pay the district’s share of costs to rebuild Junior High North, which will be ready in 2009.

Also planned are a $13 million cafeteria/HPER (gym) at Cabot High School; a proposed elementary school on the west side of the district at an estimated cost of $11.4 million; $7.3 million in additional secondary classrooms; a total of $8.1 million in renovations on the high school’s auditorium, science building and agriculture building; a $2.3 million science addition at Junior High South; $0.6 million to add heat and air conditioning units to school cafeterias – the only cafeterias currently with heat and air are Stagecoach and Magness Creek Elementary schools.

The list also includes $1.8 million to install heat and air conditioning units in activity buildings around the district; $200,000 for a new roof at Eastside Elementary School; $700,000 to add on to Westside Elementary School; $2 million for a permanent charter school facility; $200,000 for a student area/amphitheater at CHS, and $400,000 for Americans with Disabilities Act improvements/accessibility.

On a $100,000 home, 3.9 mills would cost an additional $78 a year. That’s $6.50 a month – less than a quarter a day. Owners of a $50,000 home would pay $39 more a year or $3.25 a month; a $150,000 home – an additional $117 a year or $9.75 a month; a $200,000 home — $156 more a year or $13 a month.

TOP STORY > >Gravel Ridge leans toward Sherwood

Leader staff writer

Gravel Ridge voters, by a 2-to-1 margin, favor annexation with Sherwood, but it will take one more election to close the deal.

Overall, Sherwood and Gravel Ridge voters said yes to annexation Tuesday by a large margin. With all precincts in, the unofficial vote totals from all 10 precincts were 1,764, or 82 percent, for annexation and 386, or 18 percent, against.

The early voting numbers set the tone for the vote as 381 residents cast their vote before Tuesday and 326, or 86 percent, were for annexation, while 54, or 14 percent, were against.

“We are very, very pleased,” said Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman. “Even in Gravel Ridge, the vote was two-to-one in our favor,” she said.

But this doesn’t mean Gravel Ridge becomes part of Sherwood just yet. It means one more election on the issue next month in Gravel Ridge, which will decide its future.

Jacksonville and Gravel Ridge voters approved the idea of annexing Gravel Ridge into Jacksonville on Feb. 5 by a 3,342 to 1,752—but two-thirds of Gravel Ridge said no —just the reverse of Tuesday’s voting.

But that yes vote didn’t mean Gravel Ridge was going to be swallowed up by Jacksonville because Sherwood had also laid claim to the rural community.

Now with both elections approving the annexation, residents of Gravel Ridge will get their say April 1. On that date only Gravel Ridge residents will go to the polls and the question on the ballot will simply be: do they want to be part of Jacksonville or Sherwood?

Whichever city comes out on top in that election will get the 2,500-acre community of about 3,500 residents.

“We are excited with the outcome, and now the real work starts to get Gravel Ridge residents to vote for us once more,” Hillman said.

In the Feb. 5 election, 4,711 Jacksonville residents voted, and 2,958, or 63 percent, favored bringing Gravel Ridge into the city, while 1,182 Gravel Ridge residents voted and only 384, or 32 percent, favored annexation.

After that Feb. 5 election, Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim said, “We are excited about the numbers.” Jacksonville Alderman Kenny Elliott added, “Now we’ve got to get to work to convince those other Gravel Ridge voters that we are best for them.”

Hillman, who canceled her trip to the National League of Cities meeting in Washington for the vote, said, “This is a great vote for us. The feedback from both Sherwood and Gravel Ridge residents has been very positive. We can offer Gravel Ridge lower taxes and better services.”

EDITORIAL >>Bill will save kids like Jack

For a day, Sen. Mark Pryor has made believers of us all. Pryor is the consummate come-let-us-reason-together politician, which the cynics among us have delighted in reviling, but last Thursday, Pryor passed far-reaching regulatory legislation to protect consumers from dangerous products. He did it by marshaling overwhelming bipartisan support like no one has seen on Capitol Hill in at least a generation.

The tough consumer bill -— which should be named after the Jacksonville toddler who nearly died after playing with a hazardous toy — passed 79 to 13 and will end lead-laced toys and give a rearmed consumer-safety agency and state attorneys general hefty new enforcement power. The White House and manufacturers don’t like much of the bill, especially the part that shields industry whistle-blowers from reprisal, but President Bush is not likely to veto the bill that will emerge from a conference with the House of Representatives.

Mattel five months ago recalled more than 20 million products that were coated with lead or contained dangerous magnets. A month later, several children in Australia fell into comas after consuming parts of a toy that contained a chemical that metabolized into a substance used as a date-rape drug. The toy was marketed in the United States and had sickened several children, including Jack Esses of Jacksonville.

The senator had brought with him to Washington the mother of one the victims of a dangerous toy who had nearly died from acute poisoning. Shelby Esses, the wife of an airman at Little Rock Air Force Base, received international publicity last fall, when her son Jack passed out after swallowing AquaDots, a Chinese toy that contained the date-rape drug gamma-hydroxybutyric acid.

Fortunately, Jack survived the ordeal, but Pryor wants to make sure other children will not die while playing with dangerous toys because of lax federal supervision.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission had become a toothless watchdog with fewer than half the employees it had in 1980 and meager laboratory facilities and technical capacity. Pryor’s bill would raise the budget from $63 million to $106 million, upgrade its testing facilities and sharply raise the maximum fines that can be levied on companies that do not report product dangers immediately.

Lead will be banned from all children’s products, not just toys, and new toys will have to be tested by independent laboratories. We thought the government would never act although consumer and environmental groups have been finding lead in hundreds of children’s products and the deaths and illnesses piled up.

The Bush administration’s eternal hostility to the government’s acting as a watchdog over business and the need to get a supermajority for controversial legislation in the Senate made tough consumer legislation unlikely. But Pryor’s dogged but gentle persistence and his dexterous management of amendments and Senate procedure brought more than half the Senate’s
Republicans on board, which is quite an accomplishment.

Sometimes it’s easy to dismiss Pryor as a lightweight who shuns controversy, but he has reached out to Republicans before — including his joining the Gang of 14 in a compromise on federal judgeships that ended gridlock in the Senate — and it is in that spirit of bipartisanship that Pryor shepherded through his product-safety bill.

His success in Washington helps explain why he drew no Republican opposition this year as he runs for a second term, although he’ll face a Green Party candidate in November.

When he was Arkansas attorney general, we were not overly impressed with Pryor’s ardor for consumers. He gave a leg up to the payday lenders, whose unconstitutional deprivations are just now being curtailed by the courts. He made up for it last week. Maybe there is something to the post-partisanship mantra that we hear from Sen. Barack Obama, the leading Democratic candidate for president.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

SPORTS >>NP bounces back, beats Monticello

Leader sports editor

MONTICELLO — Even short-handed, North Pulaski’s soccer teams had little trouble against Monticello on Monday evening.
Ellen Weld scored twice in the Lady Falcons’ 7-0 win, while Greg West scored four times in the boys 6-2 victory. The girls improved to 3-2-1, while the boys are now 4-3.

“I was happy with the performance since we had so many kids out,” North Pulaski coach Tony Buzzitta said. Nine players from both teams were away at a band function, including two starters for the Lady Falcons and three from the boys team. “We got to play a lot of young players who hadn’t been in before.”

Brittany Hettinger and Tara Taykowski each scored for North Pulaski to stake the Lady Falcons to a 2-0 lead.

A Monticello defender made it 3-0 when she knocked the ball in her own goal on a clearing attempt. NP led 4-0 at the half after Brandi Glover’s goal.

Weld scored the next two goals after intermission and Stephanie Alvis capped the scoring.

The boys fell behind just a minute into the game, but Cole Tucker tied it a minute later offan assist from West. West then reeled off three straight goals to put NP up 4-1 at the half. His first was unassisted, and Evan Weld and Cole Tucker delivered assists on the next two.

Tucker padded the lead in the second half and, after a Monticello goal, West took the ball through the defense to finish off the scoring.

Last Thursday, Central Arkansas Christian took advantage of a 30 mile-per-hour tailwind in the first half to score five goals and hold on for a 5-1 win.

“They’re a very good team,” said Buzzitta. “They’ve been to the state semifinals three years in a row.”

West scored North Pulaski’s goal on an assist from Mathew Ingersoll. NP fell to 3-3.

“We just couldn’t get the ball out of our end in the first half, and CAC recognized that and played really aggressive. They just kept cheating up closer and closer.

“To be honest with you, I was proud of the way our kids fought though it. We could have had our heads down, but we played well in the second half against their starters.”

North Pulaski opens conference play at Paragould on Thursday.

SPORTS >>West to play for Huntsville

Leader sportswriter

North Pulaski senior Greg West will take the next step in his soccer career at the University of Alabama at Huntsville next season.

West signed his letter of intent to play for the Division II school on Tuesday afternoon at the NPHS library in front of family, friends and faculty.

West has led the Falcons to four victories so far in the 2008 as NP’s standout forward. He leads the team with 20 goals, and has scored at least once in all eight Falcon varsity matches this spring.

West has not yet had a chance to visit the UAH campus, but has stayed in close contact with Chargers coaches Carlos Peterson and Richard Morton.

“I sent tapes out to a lot of different schools,” West said. “But they are the only ones who stayed with me. I talked to them almost every week on the phone. I’m ready. How I do as a freshman depends on whether or not I get a full ride.”

West’s scholarship goes halfway towards tuition, but an impressive showing during his first year as a Charger could land him a full-paid ride.

West said the coaches at Huntsville were impressed by his speed, and that Morton called stated his “pace was dangerous.”

West is excited for his shot at the next level, but is also geared up for one more conference season with the ever-improving Falcons. He was not afraid to make a bold prediction.

“We will win conference this year,” West said. “I know we will. I would be very surprised, and very upset, if we don’t.”

SPORTS >>Cabot runner Carpenter signs with Lamar

Leader sportswriter

Emily Carpenter will soon be a Lady Cardinal at Lamar University in Beaumont, Tex., after signing a scholarship with the Division I program on Monday afternoon at Panther Pavilion in front of friends and faculty.

Lamar has a rich tradition in athletics, as a member of the Southland Conference since the league founded in 1963. It is also one of four non-football schools in the 12-school league, with a higher emphasis on its track-and-field/cross country endeavors.

Carpenter had offers from the University of Memphis, UALR and Missouri State, but said that Lamar’s medical program, combined with the academic focus of her future teammates were two major factors in her decision.

“Plus, I just like Texas,” Carpenter said. “I don’t know why, I just do.”

Carpenter has been selected as first-team All-Conference for two years running, leading the Lady Panthers cross country team to a conference title last fall, while earning a No. 1 individual ranking along the way. She took the fastest individual time at the conference meet last September with a winning time of 19:42.67. She also won the 3200-meter run at the 7A-Central track meet in Russellville last spring.

Look for a full-length feature on Cabot’s newest DI signee in an upcoming edition of The Leader.

SPORTS >>2nd state meet gets underway

Leader sports editor

Brandon Jay isn’t afraid to put the pressure of expectations on Cody Ealy.

Ealy, who moved to Cabot from Wisconsin just before wrestling season began, will be among 50 area wrestlers — including 13
Panthers — vying for state titles this weekend at the Class 5-6-7 state wrestling meet.

Matches begin on Friday afternoon and conclude on Saturday evening at the Jack Stephens Center on the campus of Arkansas-Little Rock.

Ealy is listed among 13 Gold Star wrestlers who will take to the mat this weekend. A Gold Starwrestler is one who has a record of 10-0 or better. Dan Willingham of Searcy is the other area Gold Star wrestler.

Jay, the Panther wrestling coach, calls Ealy, who has racked up an 11-0 record at the 125-pound division, heads and shoulders above every one else.

“It was real lucky on our part that he moved in right after football and picked it right up,” Jay said. “He just has lots of experience. When he gets on the mat, he knows exactly what he’s doing and has all the moves down.

“We have to get him to polish his techniques a little. But his mat presence, well, if he doesn’t win state, it would be real surprising. No one’s even come close to pinning him or pointing him.”

Jacksonville, North Pulaski, Sylvan Hills, Beebe and Searcy will also be represented at the state meet.

Searcy also has 12 wrestlers among the 14 weight divisions, led by Gold Star wrestler Dan Willingham, who will put his 13-0 record on the line.

After those two schools, North Pulaski is next with 10 wrestlers, while Beebe and Sylvan Hills will send six apiece. Jacksonville has three.

North Pulaski coach Tony Mongno has a pair of wrestlers he’s pinning his hopes on, and one of those is his daughter Moriah Mongno, who has put together an 8-3 record at the 103-pound division. Mogno thinks Moriah may be the only girls represented at the meet, though he says he knows of other girls around the state who competed during the regular season.

“Her strength is, she’s just a technical wrestler,” he said.

“Obviously, she’s not going to be as strong as the others, but she’s ahead of some of the other wrestlers by leaps and bounds when it comes to technique.

“They don’t know how to react to her. She’s an unorthodox wrestler, but she makes it work for her.”

Jonathan Buzzitta may have the best chance of all the Falcons to place this weekend. Buzzitta is seeded fifth in the 119-pound division and has put together a 7-1 record. His biggest strength, Buzzitta said, is his attitude.

“He’s just a diehard,” Mongno said. “He will never accept a bad position. His physical conditioning is also a strength, but that attitude he has is a huge part of this sport. You can’t teach it.”

Mongno puts Ryan Clark (145), Xavier Brown (160), Zac Roberts (171) and Jacob Sowell (135) among other Falcons who could shine on Saturday.

While North Pulaski doesn’t field a large enough team to threaten for a team title, such is not the case for Cabot. Jay said it may be a long shot, especially with one of the weight divisions empty due to injury, but he’s hardly counting them out. And he’s using a little psychology to the mix.

“They saw some story that said Little Rock Central, Fayetteville and Bentonville would be battling it out for No. 1,” Jay said. “And they never mentioned our guys. All of [Cabot’s wrestlers] have more experience. We think they’re a lot mentally tougher because of football, and they know how to work.

“That kind of ticked them off. I told them, ‘No one even cares about you.’”

Ninth-grader Chavin Scales in the 112-pound division is another wrestler Jay is high on, saying he has incredible mat presence. Technique-wise, Jay added, it’s hard to tell Scales is a ninth grader.

“And there’s no one stronger at 119,” he said. “He squats 255 and is just loaded with muscle. He’s very aggressive.”

L.J. Tarrant (275) lost his only match this year to the top seed at state, Nick Stewart of Bentonville. Jay said he thinks Tarrant has a chance this weekend.

“We don’t like to make excuses, but when L.J. lost to him, he was probably only around 70 percent,” Jay said.

“L.J. had just wrestled a JV match and had a sprained ankle. We expect him to go far this weekend.”

Others Jay thinks could make some noise for Cabot are 140-pounder Mitch Leonard, who he calls “one of the strongest at that weight in the state,” and ninth grader Seth Bell, who is moving down to 145 from 152 and has compiled a 10-2 record.

“We have a real young team,” Jay said. “I expect a lot of these guys to be phenomenal as seniors. I think we’re still two years away from competing for [a state title] every single year.”

Though Searcy figures not to contend for a state title this year, the Lions have one of the better wrestlers in Willingham. He is the son of two-time Oklahoma State All-American wrestler Randy Willingham.

Willingham is seeded No. 2 in the 135-pound division behind Fayetteville’s Cappy Leaf, but Searcy coach Mike Bush likes Willingham’s chances.

“He comes from a talent-rich wrestling family,” Bush said. “He grew up with it. He definitely has a chance.”

Bush also has two freshman who have shined in Searcy’s first year of wrestling. Jonathan Apple is undefeated, including a win over Mountain Home, when he wrestled up at the 112 division. He also has a win against Cabot and is 8-0.

Freshman Aaron Sweet is 11-3 at the 171-pound division. Another youngster, sophomore, John Reid, has impressed Bush. Reid is 11-3 at the 215 division.

“He’s probably a long shot,” Bush said. “He’s not as aggressive as he needs to be, but he finds a way to win.
“We’re really excited to get up there and see how we can do.”

SPORTS >>Cabot holds off Badgers

Leader sportswriter

Cabot relied on solid pitching and defense for six innings, but needed a little luck closing the deal on Monday at Gilliam Fields.

Panther pitching allowed only one hit, then held off a Beebe rally in the bottom of the seventh inning to take a 3-1 win in non-conference play, in a game that served as a league warm-up for both teams.

The Badgers’ rally began with a Cabot error, followed by a single into shallow center by Chris Blundell that put the tying run in scoring position. A passed ball on strike three to Wes Armstrong set the confusing finale in motion.

Armstrong was automatically out with Blundell occupying first, but sprinted toward the bag at the encouragement of the crowd behind him. That resulted in a high throw to second base by catcher Shayne Burgan, which was picked up by senior outfielder Jeremy Wilson.

Blundell quickly made his way to second base, but the Badger courtesy runner stayed in place. By the time he finally moved toward third, Wilson had run the ball in from the outfield and tagged him out between second and third to record the second out.

Burgan ended the game by picking off a Beebe runner at second base.

The win went to starting sophomore pitcher Matt Evans, who improved to 3-0 as a starter. Evans went four innings, with senior Sean Clarkson coming in from left field to close for the Panthers.

“That was our top-two guysthat we threw tonight,” Panthers coach Jay Fitch said. “We didn’t give up very much; they got that blooper to center, and that’s about it. I thought our senior Sean Clarkson did a good job of coming in and throwing strikes.

Our pitching was definitely the highlight of the game for us.”

Evans’ four-inning stint resulted in four strikeouts, two walks and one run, and Clarkson’s entry onto the mound in the fifth started out just as strong, pitching a three-up, three-down inning.

“Evans is learning to put more velocity into his pitches,” Fitch said. “He still has some work to do on his off-speed, but his capabilities at the mound keep improving.”

The Panthers looked good early offensively, scoring two runs in the first inning, and adding their final run in the top of the second inning off a double by Powell Bryant that drove in Jackson Chism.

Chism reached on a single to left field, stole second and went to third on Trey Rosel’s groundout.

Bryant got Cabot started early, reaching on an infield single leading off the first. He gave Cabot a 1-0 lead on Evans’ double to left. Evans eventually came around on a throwing error.

Senior Sam Bates, who is coming off a recent trip to the 7A state basketball playoffs, found his baseball legs quickly in his first game back on the diamond, belting a double off Zach Kersey.

Kersey found his bearings after the second inning and made it through the fourth inning, before Griffin Glaude relieved him.

Glaude allowed one hit in two innings before Blundell closed out the game for the Badgers.

“I wasn’t real pleased with the way we hit,” Fitch said. “Some of them looked good the first couple of trips, but we looked lost at the plate during some of our later attempts. We’re still inconsistent with our batting. Hopefully, it is something that we can improve on before we start our conference games later on this week.”

Beebe’s only run in the game came in the second inning. Blundell led off the inning with a walk from Evans, and eventually scored on Williams’ ground out.

Bryant and Evans both finished 2-for-3 with a double, and Matthew Turner added a pair of singles for another 2-for-3 performance to lead Cabot. Blundell recorded Beebe’s only hit in the bottom of the seventh inning.

The Panthers improved to 6-1 on the year with the win. Cabot will start conference play tomorrow at North Little Rock. Beebe began league play with a doubleheader at Greene County Tech last night after Leader deadlines.