Saturday, March 22, 2008

TOP STORY > >Golf course hearing set for Monday

Leader staff writer

The Sherwood City Council could decide Monday if a petition asking to send the issue of condemning the North Hills golf course to a public vote goes forward.

Based on a 1978 city ordinance, the council must hold a public hearing on any referendum petition and it will do so at its 7 p.m. council meeting at the police department building Monday.

The ordinance states that the council shall “hear all who wish to be heard on the question” and then verify if the petition has enough valid signatures. The council will then decide if the petition is a dead issue or goes forward for a public vote. The council decision is final unless someone sues over the decision within 30 days.

About 30 Sherwood residents have been circulating petitions to force a public vote on the condemnation of the North Hills golf course property.

In January, the city council voted to condemn and take control of the defunct 106-acre North Hills County Club, and the official condemnation paperwork was filed in February.

Using the condemnation power of eminent domain allowed the city to take possession of the property immediately and then the fair market price is determined in court at a later date.

Appraisals vary from a city-funded study that said the land, as a golf course, was worth $2.2 million, to the county tax rolls which has the property appraised at more than $3 to a one-time firm offer of $5.1 million to an owner-funded appraisal of $5.5 million.

Whatever amount the court decides on will be funded through the city’s facilities board which would go out and get the loan for the court-determined cost, which may also include the current owner’s expenses and legal fees, and the city would make monthly payments on that amount.

Slightly more than 1, 200 valid signatures are needed for the referendum. The petition calls for the condemnation ordinance to be taken to the “people of Sherwood” so that residents can approve or reject the idea. The petition calls for the vote to occur “at the earliest date possible” this year.

When the petition was due, organizers asked the city for 10 more days to continue gathering signatures, citing an attorney general’s opinion that allows for more time. The city refused.

“Our group of concerned citizens are attempting to allow the voters of Sherwood to decide the fate of the former North Hills Country Club property,” said Julann Carney, one of the petition organizers. “The public should be given a voice on this volatile issue instead a handful of politicians whose votes left us with the perception that their motivations were not above board,” she said.

Alderman Charlie Harmon made it clear at the January council meeting that a public vote was unnecessary and it usurped the powers and duties of the council.

“We make these tough decisions and are elected by the people to make them. We would go broke if we held special elections all the time,” he said.

Carney said, “Since the condemnation action was voted on by the council, the only avenue to affect change in this issue is to allow voters to approve or deny condemnation of the property.”

Also on the Sherwood council agenda:

Two ordinances to rezone property. The first will rezone 404 E. Kiehl Ave. from R-1 (residential) to C-3 (commercial). The second ordinance would rezone 10219 Hwy. 107 from R-1 to R-1 conditional use.

The council will also hear reports from the advertising and promotion commission, the civil service commission, the parks and recreation committee, sewer committee and the personnel committee.

The council will also consider a resolution to to select an engineer for street or drainage projects.

TOP STORY > >Restaurant will be first in Ward to sell liquor

Leader staff writer

Fourteen months after his initial application was denied, Winthrop Ray Knight, owner of Dude’s Place in Ward, received his liquor permit for his new restaurant.

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Appeals Board granted the private club liquor license to Knight on Wednesday, after he went before the five-member board’s public hearing to appeal their Jan. 18, 2006 decision. He walked out two hours later with their approval.

“I’m relieved,” Knight said Thurs-day. “It’s been a lot of hard work these past three years.”

By law, only private clubs are allowed to serve alcohol in a dry area, hence the reason Knight applied for an ABC license.

Knight said the restaurant he plans to start building in the next two to three months is the only restaurant in Lonoke County to have a liquor license.

“I think the board saw it would be good for the community; the biggest reason, I think, was because of the growth in the area,” he said.

A family-oriented, relaxed-atmo sphere restaurant, Knight said it would not be your average restaurant, and he plans to visit restaurants out of state for design ideas.

“I think we’ll not only draw local residents, but also people from Beebe, Des Arc and Lonoke. We’ll have good food, not just alcohol,” Knight explained.

Although he’s still working out ideas for his new venture, Knight said he will own the restaurant and has sought a liquor license on his own.

“I want the community to know that this is not associated in any way with Knight’s (grocery store),” Knight said.

Both Lonoke County and Ward city officials were also present at the ABC hearing to voice their opinions regarding the alcohol license. The city has 30 days to appeal ABC’s decision.

“It was very apparent that some city officials had really misled the public,” Knight said, adding he understood the comments made by Ward Police Chief Charlie Martin and Sheriff Jim Roberson and their point of view.

Martin said he is concerned about the trouble that could come from people getting intoxicated, but also because of traffic congestion and the lack of police personnel.

“It’s located right there at a busy intersection, the four-way stop of Highways 38 and 319, and the traffic gets congested sometimes,” Martin said. “A problem I have is lack of personnel. I’ve got one person on patrol and if they get tied up with a call and have to transport someone to Lonoke (county jail), I’ve got no one on patrol and my city’s wide open,” Martin said.

According to Knight, the ABC board brought up an interesting point about the handful of country clubs in Lonoke County.

“They said any time a restaurant applies for a liquor license there’s protest, but when it’s a country club, there’s not any
protest,” Knight said.

“I think it’s a valid point that not everyone can or wants to join a country club, but just wants an alcohol-serving restaurant,” he said.

Ward aldermen unanimously agreed last December, and reaffirmed their opposition at the March city council meeting, that they did not approve of having a public club in Ward.

The council has also passed an ordinance establishing the rules and regulations for the operation of private clubs within the city limits.

The ABC board received a copy of the ordinance, but it was not provided to the board by Ward city officials.

“I gave the ordinance to the board,” Knight said. “The city didn’t present it to them.”

TOP STORY > >Floods imperil many areas

Leader senior staff writer

White County was declared a disaster area Friday and the White County Office of Emergency Management has been sending people door-to-door in the Georgetown and Nemo Landing areas, issuing a voluntary evacuation order, according to Tamara Jenkins, coordinator.

She said old timers know what to expect but that newcomers to the area could be trapped in the homes, unaware of likely flooding.

White County is one of 35 counties that Gov. Beebe has declared disaster areas after a three-day storm dropped as much as 12 inches of rain in parts of the state.

No homes or lives are in danger in White County at this time, Jenkins said, but Hwy. 36 East near Barnett Lake where the White River comes up through the fields in flooding is expected to be impassable by late Saturday night.

Jenkins said the river was expected to crest at 24 feet at Georgetown.

“Residents say that’s usually when it floods and becomes impassible,” she said.

Residents, particularly those with medical issues, should relocate west of Georgetown.

“The only road in or out will be flooded,” she said. “It’s going to be like Gilligan’s Island.”

She said residents planning to stay should stock up on bottled water, groceries and medications.

Jenkins said most people in the affected area get their water from wells and that a
boil order could be issued. Most also depend upon septic tanks.

“We have verbally declared ourselves a disaster area,” said County Judge Michael Lincoln. “A huge amount of water is coming down the White River through Batesville. Mountain View’s got it pretty hard.”

Lincoln said 15 or 20 roads already had been flooded or closed, but that no residents had been isolated by the waters.

He said the last major flooding occurred about 10 years ago.

Members of the sheriff’s office, the state police and state Game and Fish Commission are trained for swift-water rescue, if it is needed.

“I don’t anticipate that water will get into people’s homes, he said.

Other cities in the local area dodged the worst of the three-day rainstorm that dropped as much as a foot of rain in some areas of the state. Locally about 2.5 inches of rain fell between Monday afternoon and Wednesday evening—about five inches short of the one-day record of 7.01 inches which fell Nov. 18, 1988.

“We’ve had some flooding,” said Ward Mayor Art Brooke, “but no water in homes.”

He said that water has drained off the streets. “It’s moving good and went out of the city. There was a little flooding on Boone Road.”

He said the city could improve the drainage for the next deluge. “When the bayous or creeks are full, there’s nowhere for the water to go,” he lamented.

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said flooding problems were less serious this week than in the past because the city has made improvements to reduce flooding.

“We had a phenomenal a-mount of water,” Williams said on Wednesday.

But unlike in previous downpours, Cabot is bringing flooding under control.

“We’re rerouting water damage, so we’re mitigating flooding,” the mayor said.

In Jacksonville, the Bayou Meto has flooded pushing waters high on both sides of Hwy. 67/167 south of the city, but the water didn’t get high enough to flood over the highway. City officials also said parts of Dupree Park flooded.

In Sherwood, fire department officials said there was some minor street flooding and a few cars stalled trying to cross flooded roads.

In Beebe, several streets were flooded Tuesday night, according to Patrol Sergeant Steve Benton, but the water has receded and all roads are open now. He said he knew of no damage to any homes.

It’s wet enough in Lonoke County to keep the farmers out of the fields for another week or so, according to County Judge Charlie Troutman, but “We haven’t had anything unusual. We haven’t closed a road yet.”

“It don’t take these old roads long to dry out,” he said.

He said Lonoke had no problems compared “to what they got up north.”

Overall, the emergency ma-nagement department estimates the state’s flood damage is in the millions. But disaster officials are waiting for the water to recede to get a better assessment of the damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure.

Beebe said the damage could amount to more than the destruction left by the February tornadoes.

At the National Weather Serv-ice, hydrologist Steve Bays said most of the flooding will end this weekend on the upper reaches of the rivers, while the lower reaches will continue to rise or remain high into the middle of next week.

The 26 counties declared disaster areas Thursday by the governor include Baxter, Benton, Boone, Carroll, Clay, Crawford, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Hot Spring, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Johnson, Lawrence, Logan, Madison, Marion, Nevada, Newton, Randolph, Scott, Searcy, Sharp, Stone and Washington.

On Friday, the governor added Conway, Craighead, Faulkner, Howard, Pope, Van Buren, White, Woodruff, and Yell counties to the list of state disaster areas due to damage caused by heavy rains and flooding that began Monday.

This brought the total number of declared counties to 35.

TOP STORY > >Tax vote lets Cabot seek site for school

Leader staff writer

The Cabot School Board is making plans for the district’s ninth elementary school, one of several construction projects that are moving forward after patrons approved a 3.9 mills increase March 11, bringing Cabot’s total to 39.9 mills.

The school board will take a bus tour April 2 to check potential locations for land to build the district’s newest elementary school. Construction for the estimated $11.4 million elementary is scheduled to begin in March 2009, just months before construction of Cabot Junior High North is scheduled for completion.

The new elementary will be located somewhere on the northwest side of Cabot to help reduce the student populations at Magness Creek and Ward Central Elementary Schools.

“Those are our largest elementary schools and the area in which we are still experiencing the most growth,” Superintendent Dr. Tony Thurman said.

The district is working with the city and county to find a suitable location for the new campus, including traffic concerns, utility connections focusing on water and sewer service, as well as cost, the superintendent said.

“We need to make certain that the location is centralized to accommodate our most heavily populated areas while keeping in mind future growth potential,” he explained.

At a meeting of the buildings and grounds committee Wednesday, the committee reviewed a timeline for the district’s nine projects that have been approved by the state with the earliest construction projects beginning in May.

Of the nine projects that have been approved, four – installing heating and air conditioning units at the elementary schools, a new roof on Eastside Elementary, adding classrooms at Westside Elementary, and paving Stagecoach from the school driveway to Campground Road – will begin immediately, Thurman said.

The heating and air conditioning units will be installed in the physical-education facilities of all elementary schools except Magness Creek and Stagecoach, the only two elementaries already equipped with HVAC units.

The project, at a cost of $600,000, is scheduled to begin in May and be completed by October.

The reroof of Eastside Ele-mentary, a $200,000 project, will begin in June and be finished in August when school resumes.
Constructing four classrooms at Westside Elementary School will begin in July. This project, at a cost of $700,000, will be complete in June 2009.

Asphalting work at Stagecoach Elementary will begin in May and be complete by the start of the new school year.
The $11.6 million Cabot Junior High North should be completed in August 2009.

About 30 percent of the 134,000 square-foot campus’ concrete slab is complete, Assistant Superintendent Jim Dalton said during Tuesday’s school board meeting. Red steel will be seen going up after a few more pours, he said.

The new JHN will be rebuilt on the hill with facilities capable of holding 1,200 students. There will be 51,850 square feet of classrooms to meet the new building standards, increasing the classroom size by 100 square feet.

The design utilizes current parking and buildings. The vocational building, multi-purpose building and physical-education building were left intact after an electrical fire destroyed the rest of the eight-year-old school in 2006.

Once JHN is completed and those students are moved off the high school campus, major construction will begin on the high school’s new cafeteria/health, physical education and recreation (HPER) building.

“We discussed in detail the problems with starting construction on the cafeteria/HPER before Junior High North was completed. Basically, with architect time lines, we can’t start the major construction until the summer of 2009,” Thurman said.

“This is really good since we need to move the seventh, eighth and ninth graders off the campus before beginning such a major project in the center of the campus,” he said.

In the meantime, Thurman said some minor adjustments might be made for the estimated $13 million facility before next summer.

“We may do some minor dirt work, but we are going to avoid bring heavy machinery into that campus with the junior high students occupying the primary staging areas,” he said.

The district is completing specifications for the cafeteria/HPER building and still have at least six months of architectural work before they could begin the bidding process, Thurman said.

“We want to make sure that we have the most cost effective facilities that will meet our needs for many years,” he added.
Other Cabot projects that have been approved by the state include installing accessible bleachers at the stadium under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in March 2009, remodeling the high school media building for ROTC in June 2009, and remodeling the old high school cafeteria to accommodate the agriculture department in June 2011.

Projects awaiting state approval include installing HVAC units in campus kitchens, estimated to begin in June 2009; updating the science labs at Cabot Junior High South, slated for July 2009, and constructing a permanent charter-school facility, scheduled for August 2009.

TOP STORY > >Aldermen question Sherwood land-feud sincerity

Leader staff writer

With the third and final vote coming up to decide if Gravel Ridge will become part of Jacksonville or Sherwood, Jacksonville aldermen Bob Stroud and Gary Fletcher took time to try to set a few things straight at the council meeting Thursday night.

“There have been some half truths and innuendoes spread around or printed on the annexation issue that I need to address,” Stroud said.

“First, it’s been said and printed that Jacksonville went after Gravel Ridge first. That’s a half-truth. We did go after Gravel Ridge first, but only after we got the word that Sherwood wanted to annex just the commercial strip on Highway 107 and not the whole community. We’ve always wanted everyone,” Stroud said.

“I also don’t like that it has been insinuated that Jacksonville had something to do with that negative phone survey in Sherwood. I don’t know who was behind it, but I can guarantee that Jacksonville had nothing to do with it,” Stroud insisted.

Finally he lamented he was distressed that a sister city that has worked so closely with Jacksonville in the past has said so many negative things.

Fletcher was equally disheartened.

“It’s a shame that one city has to win and the other loses on this issue,” he said.

Fletcher told the council he contacted one of the leading Sherwood aldermen before the holidays to see if a compromise could be worked out. “I never heard back,” he said.

“It seems that they don’t want to work out something for the betterment of the area. It’s a shame that we can’t sit down and work out something,” he added. “The aftermath of this will last a long time.”

Gravel Ridge residents will vote April 1 to decide whether they’ll be taken in by Jacksonville or Sherwood. Both cities already had elections approving the annexation of Gravel Ridge.

In other council business:

Aldermen accepted the 2007 consolidated annual performance and evaluation report from the city’s Community Deve-lopment Block Grant office. Al-derman Reedie Ray commended Theresa Watkins, head of the program. “For what little money you have to work with, you and your staff have done a wonderful job,” he said.

Mayor Tommy Swaim added it’s getting harder and harder to run the CDBG program. “The federal funds get cut a little bit more every year,” he said.

In 2007, the program received $279,496 aimed at improving neighborhood conditions for the very low to low-income households.

In his monthly report to the council, Fire Chief John Vanderhoof said his department responded to 133 rescue calls, 44 still alarms, nine general alarms and had 220 ambulance runs in February.

Estimated fire loss for the city in February was $11,001, while fire savings, based upon the quick response of the department, was estimated at $35,000.

Police Chief Robert Baker, said in his monthly report, the department responded to 3,059 complaint calls in February and made 290 arrests. More than $82,000 worth of items was stolen during February, while $20,828 worth of items was recovered.

The monthly engineering report showed that the city issued 24 building permits and 16 business licenses during February. The engineering department also conducted more than 200 inspections and mailed 146 letters to residents and business owners for have excessive trash on their property.

The council approved the fire department’s request to purchase new turnout equipment for firefighters. Each set will cost slightly more than $2,000.

The council also approved rezoning a portion of land off Hamilton Street from R-7 to R-3 (multi-unit residential).

Public Works Director Jim Oakley, in his monthly animal shelter report, told the council that the shelter took in 149 dogs and 41 cats during February. The shelter was able to return 32 dogs and one cat to their owners, while adopting out 71 dogs and 11 cats. Twelve cats and 34 dogs were euthanized.

Also six animal bites were reported during the month, but only one of the animals, a Rottweiler, was declared dangerous. The dog broke through a fence and attacked a man.

TOP STORY > >Guard to get revamped C-130

Leader staff writer

Arkansas Air National Guard airmen at Little Rock Air Force Base had a sneak peak at the Arkansas Air National Guard’s newest plane — the C-130 AMP — when it arrived Friday at the base for a show-and-tell session. AMP stands for avionics modernization program.

The C-130 AMP on display is a 1980s-era C-130H2.5 that has received upgraded avionics in the cockpit by Boeing, the plane’s manufacturer. The Air Force will upgrade more than 200 1980s-era C-130s with the technology.

The Arkansas ANG’s 189th Airlift Wing will be the schoolhouse that teaches aircrews how to fly the C-130 AMP.

The 189th AW expects to have a simulator certified ready for use in December 2009 and receive its first AMP in 2010.

Instructors and the initial crews are to be trained around July 2010. The aircraft at Little Rock AFB will be for training purposes.

The 189th AW will be certified as the AMP formal training unit around 2013.

Boeing was awarded the contract for the C130 AMP in 2001 and is the sole source to manufacture 26 avionics upgrade kits.

Eleven of those kits will be installed by Boeing and 15 will be installed by the Air Force. The kits will take the analog displays from the C130H2.5 and upgrade to digital high- tech displays. This will allow pilots to use the displays while flying, making flights safer.

Pilots will not have to look around for the buttons they need because everything will be right at their fingertips, according to Deborah VanNierop with Boeing communications.

The AMP has a modern digital glass cockpit featuring six multi-function displays plays, pilot and co-pilot wide-field of view headup displays, two communication and navigation-control panels and night-vision imaging system compliance.

The plane’s advanced digital avionics offers superior vision, which allows for smaller crews and eliminates the navigator.

Boeing is waiting on the go-ahead from the Air Force to begin installation of the kits.

The C-130 AMP that landed yesterday flew from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to Louisville, Ky., before heading to Little Rock AFB. While in Louisville, the plane went through a head-to-tail inspection, known as an isochoronal inspection. The aircraft
will be returning to Edwards AFB over the weekend.

“We’re excited to see what will eventually be one of our newest C-130s,” said Col. Jim Summers, 189th Airlift Wing commander. “We’ll eventually have nine C-130 AMP aircraft on our ramp.”

Mark Angelo, Boeing’s C-130 AMP deputy program manager, said, “We are pleased to be here with members of the Arkansas Air National Guard. We are working together applying AMP to shape the future of the C-130.”

“Boeing’s AMP ensures the affordable long-term combat relevance of the C-130 Hercules for years to come,” he added.

With the return of the H2.5 to the Air Force test center at Edwards Air Force Base, Boeing has two C-130 AMP aircraft at the test facility. A third aircraft, H3, is undergoing modifications and upgrades at Boeing Support Systems’ San Antonio, Texas, facility.

“Working with the 189th has been a real pleasure,” said VanNierop, the Boeing spokesperson. “We’re looking forward to getting the first aircraft out there and getting them a functional squadron up and running.”

Friday, March 21, 2008

SPORTS >>Lady Badgers keep rolling with sweep

Leader sportswriter

Beebe senior pitcher Ashley Watkins continued her early domination as the Lady Badgers shut out Greene County Tech, 4-0 and 1-0 on Thursday.

The Lady Eagles came into the 5A-East Conference twin bill with a ton of momentum, after sweeping perennial powerhouse Wynne one week earlier.

Watkins was working toward a perfect game through four innings in the nightcap, but gave up a walk in the top of the fifth inning and an infield hit in the top of the sixth.

Freshman Megan Harris relieved Watkins in the top of the fifth inning of game one. She gave up a pair of hits in the fifth inning, but was able to close out strong by retiring the final six Lady Eagle batters in order.

“I think we had one error tonight,” Lady Badgers coach Terry Flenor said. “We just feel like every time if we’re going to get good pitching, and we have good defense, we’re going to be in every game.”

GCT reliever Jordan Gardener also had a strong night on the mound, but it was starting ace Heather Green’s early struggles that put the Lady Eagles in trouble.

Green gave up two walks and a hit in the first inning of game one. Chelsea Sanders’ single to left drovein Tucker to stake the Lady Badgers to the early lead.

Green settled down for the second inning, but the bottom of the third inning proved to be her undoing. The Lady Badgers went through their entire lineup, picking up two hits and cashing in on three walks and a GCT error.

Harris drove in the final run of the first game for the Lady Badgers with a blooper to centerfield that allowed courtesy runner Amanda Wheeler to cross the plate to set the game’s final margin.

“The first pitcher was their number one, and she’s a pretty hard thrower,” Flenor said. “We were working pretty good against her; our timing was good, and then this other girl was throwing a lot slower. To her credit, we never did adjust.

“We hit a few line drives in that last game in the fifth and sixth inning, but we didn’t hit many hard balls off her. It was just a matter of us not being able to time her pitches.”

Tucker started the second game for Beebe with a bunt single and eventually scored when she slid safely in under the tag after Bass’ bunt.

The Lady Badgers threatened for more, but the Tech third baseman turned a nifty double play on Sanders’ grounder.

Watkins’ flawless game two ended when she walked a GCT sub in the top of the fifth, but catcher Sanders threw her out trying to steal.

Mallory Green was the only batter to get a hit off Watkins the entire night with a bunt in the top of the sixth inning, but she, too, was gunned down by Sanders.

Flenor said Watkins’ strong performance was on cue with her other early season performances.

“She’s pitched all of our varsity games so far,” Flenor said. “She’s allowed a few more hits than this in our first two games, but she still hasn’t given up an earned run.”

Sanders led the way for Beebe offensively in game one, going 1-of-3 with two RBI. Harris was 1-of-3 with an RBI.
Tucker went 2-of-3 in the nightcap, and Watkins was 1-of-3 with an RBI.

Watkins took the win in both games, and dealt out 13 strikeouts for the evening. Harris struck out two while allowing two hits.

The win improve the Lady Badgers to 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the 5A-East Conference. GCT fell to 5-3-1 overall and 2-2 in conference.

SPORTS >>Bears take 2 two from Jonesboro

Leader sportswriter

Sylvan Hills started its 6A-East Conference campaign strong on Thursday at Kevin McReynolds Field, sweeping league rival Jonesboro, 10-0 and 5-4.

Hillside run-ruled the Golden Hurricane in the opener behind a home run and five RBI by D.J. Baxendale, but had to hold off a strong Jonesboro rally in the bottom of the seventh inning of the nightcap.

“The second game was a completely different ballgame altogether,” Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton said. “It was a game of blown opportunities. It’s good anytime you can get two wins in conference, but it was touch and go there for a while.”

The Hurricane entered the seventh inning of game two trailing 5-3, and quickly put their first batters on with singles. A passed ball made it 5-4, but Ole Miss signee Hunter Miller made the play of the game to preserve the win when he threw out the potential game-tying run trying to score from second on a base hit.

The game ended on a grounder to short as the Bears improved to 8-4 overall and 2-0 in the conference.

The Bears took the early lead with a run in the top of the first inning, but the Hurricane came back with a pair of runs in the bottom half.

Sylvan Hills answered with two runsin the third and another in the fourth that gave them a 4-2 lead.

Sylvan Hills reliever Jake Chambers took to the mound for the Bears in the seventh inning. Hunter Miller started and got the win before giving way to Chris Daulton in the fifth inning.

The opener was much easier for the Bears. They started off with four runs in the bottom of the first inning, and added another in the third before putting it out of reach in the fifth inning with five more.

D.J. Baxendale dominated for Sylvan Hills. The former Abundant Life standout hurler gave up only one hit through five innings while striking out eight batters. Offensively, he went 3-of-3 with five RBI, including a two-run home run in the bottom of the fifth following singles by Clint Thornton and Mark Turpin.

Nathan Eller had two hits in the opener, while Thornton added two in the nightcap.

Miller took the win in game two after pitching the first four innings.

The addition of former AL players Chambers and Baxendale gives the Bears even more depth than in recent years, and Tipton says he plans on utilizing it.

“D.J. pitched a really good game for us,” Tipton said. “He’s had some struggles, to be honest, but he really come through for us (Thursday.) Chambers has been playing quite a bit of outfield for us, and has helped us out a lot.”

The third former Owl, Justin Treece, has not seen action yet this year due to a broken hand.

“We need to swing the bat better overall as a team, “ Tipton said. “That’s the main thing holding us back right now. Clint Thornton is the one that’s really swinging the bat for us right now. The last three games, he has hit really well.”

The Bears will travel to Mountain Home on Tuesday for another East doubleheader against the Bombers.

SPORTS >>Panthers show off prowess on mat

Leader sports editor

When L.J. Tarrant squared off in the championship match at the state wrestling tournament last Saturday in Little Rock, it wasn’t just the No. 1 seed he was battling, but bad memories from his first bout with the guy, as well.

Back on Jan. 19, Tarrant, Cabot’s senior heavyweight, lasted all of 53 seconds against Nick Stewart before the 250-pound nose guard on the Tiger football team pinned him.

From that moment forward, Tarrant and the Cabot coaches focused all their energy on a potential rematch with Stewart at the Arkansas State Wrestling Tournament at the Jack Stephens Center last weekend.

That focus and that energy paid off in a third-round pin for Tarrant over Stewart, as the first-year wrestler captured the heavyweight state title 1:10 seconds into the final round.

Tarrant was one of three Cabot wrestlers to take home state titles in the school’s first year of competitive wrestling. Ninth grader Chavin Scales won at the 103-pound division, while junior Cody Ealy finished off an undefeated season by winning the 125-pound title.

“Compliments to all three of them,” said Cabot coach Brandon Jay, whose Panthers took fifth overall. “These guys are all used to team sports. Having to get out there in front of everybody, having to go six minutes in their first year of wrestling and come out with a state championship is just unbelievable.

“It’s remarkable what they accomplished. ”

While it is indeed true that Scales and Tarrant hadnever wrestled before the season officially began in January, Ealy was a veteran of the mat, having wrestled for the past six seasons in Wisconsin. Ealy moved to Cabot a week into the wrestling season and had little trouble putting his experience to good use. He posted a perfect 16-0 record, and was never challenged.

“The best thing about him is he doesn’t panic,” Jay said. “He slows everything down and gets the position he wants. The kids we have in their first year try to get everything as fast as they can. Cody’ll try it, but if it doesn’t work, he’ll set it up the way he wants.”

Ealy, the top seed at state, cruised through the tournament last weekend, posting four pins in four matches. His title victory over third-seeded Adam Irons of Bentonville took only three minutes, 15 seconds.

“I told Cody, next year these kids are going to be better,” Jay said. “I expect undefeated with him again, because he knows so much, but we need to polish him up on a few things.”


For Scales, the soft-spoken freshman, who entered the tourney as the No. 2 seed, the road to the title came nearly as easy.

The only difficult thing was making his weight. Scales had wrestled at 112 pounds all year, losing only one time to the eventual 112-pound state champion, but opted to drop weight to enter the 103-pound division.

“We knew no one could handle him, strength-wise at that weight,” Jay said.

Still, it wasn’t easy getting there. Scales weighed 111 on Thursday, and had less than 24 hours to shave six pounds to get to the required 105.

“We fought until the last hour to get there,” Jay said. “He had to sacrifice a lot. We ran him on Thursday night and got him to 108. We ran again on Friday and finally got there.”

Scales said the first two matches were mostly a breeze.

“I knew how those guys wrestled, so I pinned them real quick,” he said. “Then I watched a guy from Har-ber beat Tanner Mann of Central, who was one of my toughest opponents this year. That made me all nervous and everything.”

But Scales shook off those nerves and got a pin to reach the finals. He had to settle for a 14-7 decision over top seed Jon Reasoner of Russellville in a match he nearly lost in the second round.

“He almost pinned me in the second round,” Scales said. “He brought my leg up and pulled my head underneath me. I started kicking out because I didn’t want to lose. I finally got control of the match in the third round.”

Jay said Scales’ escape from that near-pin was typical of his success this season. Other than Ealy, Jay added, Scales probably has the best mat presence of all his teammates, and that he can get out of a lot of moves just with his power.

“He’s not up to Cody’s technique level, but if you watch him, you’d think he’d been wrestling three or four years. He knows what he’s doing out there, and he knows how to get out of a bad situation.”


As much as Tarrant and Jay had been gearing toward Stewart the past two months, it was his semifinal match that was the one that gave him the most trouble. Tarrant escaped that match with Mountain Home’s Coty Cox with a narrow 3-2 decision.

“He was a really big guy,” said Tarrant, who will play football for Harding University this fall. “He was hard to take down so at the end, I was just trying to do smart wrestling. It was 2-2 going into the third round and I got an escape [for the winning point].”

That set up the rematch with Stewart, who Tarrant said might just have gone into the match overconfident, given their first meeting and the fact that Stewart had easily pinned everybody in the early rounds. But Jay said he noticed something different even before the title bout began.

“I looked at him right before he got on the mat, and I knew something was going to happen,” Jay said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be a 53-second [pin] again.”

Tarrant said he thought Stewart going unchallenged through the first three rounds probably worked to his advantage. By the time they reached the second round, Tarrant said, Stewart was beginning to tire.

Something else that worked to Tarrant’s advantage, he said, was the loss he suffered two weeks earlier in the CAC meet — his only other loss of the season. He had a bad ankle that day, and had already wrestled earlier, but neither he nor Jay were making any excuses.

“I wrestled stupid that night,” he admits. “I just wasn’t thinking right. But I really think that could have been a plus and got my attention.”


As happy as Jay is with all three of his champions, he seems most impressed by Tarrant’s feat, coming as it did against his former vanquisher in a sport that is largely a matter of mental toughness.

“You think about L.J. getting beat by Nick in 53 seconds and the thought process that he had to go through right before he got on that mat again,” Jay said. “He’s probably thinking: ‘This guy has whooped me, and it wasn’t even a close one. This guy manhandled me the last time.’

“And it’s not like football, where there’s 10 other guys out there with you. Everybody’s looking at you; it’s just you and another guy. That’s got to be a lot of mental draining. He definitely had some pressure.”

All three agree that the sport requires enormous mental fortitude. Scales admits that the first time he got on the mat in an actual match, it was the hardest thing he’d ever done. Especially, he added, when the guy you’re going up against has experience, and many of the state’s wrestlers already had a year under their belts.

“He can work you down, but you just have to push yourself,” Scales said.

Scales also said he had his doubts early on when he realized just how much conditioning was required. He freely admitted he had second thoughts.

“Big time,” he said. “But it seems worth it now. On match days, I couldn’t wait until school was over, I was so excited.”

Ealy, who would know better than anybody, agreed that mental conditioning was every bit as important as physical stamina.

“You give up that early takedown and you go down 2-0, you got it in your mind that you’re down and you have to come back,”

Ealy said. “You can’t panic. You’ve got to stay calm and be confident. If you lose that confidence, you’re going to lose that match.”

That is not to underestimate the grueling physical nature of the sport. Six minutes may not sound like a lot of time, Jay said of the three two-minute round matches, but it can drain you quickly.

“One thing about our kids,” he said, “I thought they were stronger and in better condition than any kids in the state. The third period, our guys were walking around and jumping. Their kids had their hands on their knees. They were tired.

“But our guys had to do a lot of hard work to get there.”

SPORTS >>Bryant pounds Panthers

Leader sports editor

BRYANT — If the Cabot Panthers are looking for good news, it may be that the schedule is about to get a whole lot easier.

But the bad news of two consecutive run-rule losses to open 7A- Conference play probably overrides the fact that the two toughest teams in the league are behind the Panthers.

Cabot followed a 10-0 loss at North Little Rock on March 13 with an 11-1 loss in five innings at Bryant on Thursday. The Panthers fell to 0-2 in league play, 7-3 overall.

“This was bad, but we didn’t just totally give it to them,” said Cabot head coach Jay Fitch, searching for another silver lining after his Panthers played error-free in the field against Bryant. They committed five errors in the NLR loss. “I’ve had some rear-end whippings, before — and they whipped us — but we didn’t give it away.”

Though the Panthers didn’t commit an error in the field on Thursday, they were guilty of some base-running miscues and were otherwise victimized by the arm of Bryant catcher Kaleb Jobe, who threw out two would-be stealers. The Panthers also lost a pinch runner to a pickoff to start the game.

“We thought we could run on that kid a little better,” Fitch said of Jobe. “But we had a couple of miscues and you can’t do that against the Bryants, the Conways and the North Little Rocks. You’ve got to play a great game.”

Cabot was also victimized by a pair of two-run homers by David Guarno. The first of those opened up a 5-0 Bryant lead in the third. The second came two innings later and extended the Hornet lead to 7-1.

The Panthers couldn’t score in the first, despite placing three on base and opening the game with singles by Powell Bryant and Matt Evans. After a pickoff at first base, the Panthers got runners to second and third on a walk and a wild pitch.

But Matthew Turner’s bid to stake Cabotto an early lead was snuffed out when he lined out hard to right.

“We get runners at second and third and we hit a ball right to their right fielder,” Fitch said. “If that ball gets down, that may change the complexion of the game.”

In a nearly identical situation in the bottom of the inning, Bryant did get the ball to fall in. Jordan Knight’s soft two-out single down the right field line scored two to give Bryant an early 3-0 lead.

Ben Wainright got Cabot off to a promising start in the second with his single to left, but he was gunned down by Jobe at second base. Cabot scored its only run on Sam Bates’ rocket double to the fence in straightaway center and Wainright’s RBI-single in the fourth.

Bryant ended the game by adding four more runs after Guarno’s homer in the fifth.

Evans took the loss for Cabot after allowing eight hits and six earned runs over four innings. He walked four and struck out four.

“My little sophomore I threw is a dandy,” Fitch said of Evans. “But he had a little trouble getting his off-speed over, and he fell behind in the count a lot. You just can’t fall behind.”

Cabot had some success against Bryant hurler Tyler Sawyer, collecting seven hits, including two apiece by Evans and Wainright.

“Our confidence is a little shaken right now,” said Fitch, whose Panthers played yesterday in the second round of the Pine Bluff Tournament. (The Bryant game counted as a first-round tournament game as well as a 7A-Conference game). “We started off with the top two teams in the conference. You go into it knowing that, and you should remember that. But you still want to play good against the best, and we haven’t played good two times.

“I told the kids, the only thing I know to do is go back to work. They’re hard workers and things will start going our way, hopefully.”

Cabot returns to conference action after spring break when it host Pine Bluff.

“Our conference takes the top six teams, so we have to come back and get things going after the break,” Fitch said. “Those are going to be games we’ve got to win.”



Wednesday, March 19, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Still no room in Pulaski jail

Pulaski County government sure enough has cleaned up its act and may be ready to repair the shambles it made of the correctional system that is supposed to provide a little safety to a quarter-million people. But politics is going to hold it at bay a while longer and the imperiled citizenry will just have to wait.

All of that was clear from the second review of county finances by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s task force and the county’s reaction. Let us all be grateful to the university for taking its community-service role seriously and helping the county government restore some minimal competence. It finished 2007 with an actual surplus, a reversal of years of deficit spending that led to closing much of the jail.

Now it would be nice if the county accepted the proffered help of Dr. Charles Hathaway, the former UALR chancellor who headed the task force, in two other areas. The county, he said, should figure out how it got that $4.7 million surplus — from revenue growth or from operational economies. It’s important because that should determine what the county should do with it, specifically whether it can put that money into jail repairs or operations. The county got into its mess by casually spending reserves on operations until suddenly it had to do something drastic like shutting down part of the jail.

And it surely should take up the chancellor’s offer to have UALR’s MBAs train the members of the quorum court on the basics of government finance, how to read financial reports and audits. The justices of the peace, good-hearted souls all of them, were collectively over their heads dealing with a mammoth operation where finances were overmatched against needs and demands for services. They were not helped by having to depend on the advice of a grifter who somehow got the job of comptroller, the county’s chief financial officer. He is now in the penitentiary.

It was in the midst of all that two years ago that the county went to the voters with a proposal to raise the county sales tax to repair and expand the county jail and hire the people to run it. The voters were having none of it. They weren’t going to turn over even more millions of their taxes to these keystone cops. Some of the distrust was misplaced: the anger over spending $12 million on the pedestrian bridge over the Arkansas River. That was all transportation money, mostly federal, and it could not have been spent on the jail or general county government.

The UALR people said the county was ready to get back to operating a jail that will meet the community’s overpowering needs, which will take millions more in operating funds in addition to the capital needs that Sheriff Doc Holladay (we hope and trust) has solved. Much of the jail work will be done from money that will be borrowed based on massive savings from energy efficiencies in county buildings. But no one has even a vague notion of how the jail can be ramped up to capacity without a new source of money — a tax increase, to put it bluntly. A countywide sales tax of one-eighth or one-quarter percent would do it.

County Judge Buddy Villines said the county wasn’t ready to go to the voters again, yet. The public will have to evince some confidence in the county and demand it, he said. We would guess that the judge and the quorum court will hear the mating call after the party primaries this spring and perhaps after the general election in the fall. Villines faces opponents in his own party and in the fall, so he will be reluctant to face the polls as the man who wants to raise taxes. Quorum court members, most of them, will have the same reluctance.

It is too bad, really, because it simply delays for another year the day when the criminals who now run free heedless of any likely punishment will be behind bars and learning the lesson, at least some of them, that crime doesn’t pay. Now it demonstrably does.

TOP STORY > >SBus driver gets trial postponed

Leader staff writer

Unbeknownst to the prosecution or defense, an onboard video tape and electronic record of bus speed, braking and other information is available in the case of a former Cabot school bus driver who allegedly tried to transport students home from a debate match in Little Rock while she was drunk.

Little Rock Traffic Judge Vic Flemming continued the trial of Robin Gail Clark, 46, to an unspecified date to allow both sides to subpoena and review the tape and electronic data, according to Teresa Belew, executive director of Arkansas Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Belew was on hand to monitor the event.

The tape has been under lock at the office of the Cabot school administration, according to Superintendent Tony Thurman.

“We told the police about it the night it happened,” Thurman said. But no one ever contacted the district for the records.

“All our buses have video tapes and a record of speed and braking, and whether warning lights were activated,” Thurman said.

“Both sides have subpoenaed copies of the tape.”

“We knew the court date was today,” he said. “We were calling to find out why no one was subpoenaed, not even the teacher involved or the principal.”

“I called myself, trying to get information. We had two people dressed for court today and we would have sent them down without a subpoena,” Thurman said. “We are very frustrated.”

The Cabot students were attending a tournament at Central and were being picked up to go home around 9:30 p.m. when teachers and other drivers noticed Clark’s erratic behavior.

A teacher decided not to allow the driver to transport any of the students and the bus remained parked at LRCH, according to a release from the Cabot School District. “Students were on the bus, but the teacher had already made the decision to not allow the driver to leave the scene. She (the teacher) contacted the police before the bus left Central High School,” Thurman said.

A Little Rock police officer was called and performed a field sobriety test on Clark.

A district administrator transported the students back to Cabot.

Clark was taken into custody.

Once at the jail, Clark became increasingly angry and threatened to sue and “have jobs” of everyone involved, the report reads.
She blew a .073 on the Breathalyzer machine and then grabbed the ticket and attempted to destroy it.

Clark reportedly has two past DWIs, one in 1997 and another in 2001. A background check had not returned any problems with her record when she was hired in August, Thurman said at the time of the incident.

Clark was suspended and submitted her resignation in the immediate wake of the incident.

TOP STORY > >Stores that offer adult themes get restricted

Leader staff writer

Because the only way to discourage sexually oriented businesses from opening inside city limits was to establish the guidelines that would allow them there, the Cabot City Council passed an ordinance Monday night setting licensing requirements and regulations for such establishments as adult bookstores, movie theaters and hotels that rent rooms by the hour and make available pornographic movies.

The ordinance, which passed the council unanimously among the seven members present, requires licensing of the businesses as well as the employees of the businesses and routine police inspections. The businesses must close between midnight and 6 a.m.

Loitering at such establishments is prohibited and employees must enforce the prohibition. Employees charged with enforcing the prohibition against loitering who fail to carry out their duties may be charged with a misdemeanor, fined up to $1,000 and jailed for up to one year.

Sexually oriented businesses will not be allowed to erect fences that obstruct the visibility of their parking lots.

The 19-page document, sponsored by the fire and police committee and the public works committee, has been reviewed for almost a year. When discussion about the ordinance started last year, council members did not hesitate to say that the intent of the ordinance setting parameters for the businesses was to keep them out.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams thanked council members for their work on the ordinance Monday night.

“I think it preserves our quality of life in Cabot,” he said.

In other business, the council passed an ordinance that allows property owners with five acres or more to build larger accessory buildings than have been allowed in the past, providing plans for such buildings are first approved by the planning commission.

The council also approved a special-use permit that will allow a 120-foot cellular phone tower to be erected in a mini-storage business on the corner of Hwy. 89 South and Countrywood, a residential neighborhood. Residents objected to the tower when it first went before the planning commission three months ago, but not when it was approved recently. And none attended the Monday night council meeting.

However, the council chamber was filled with residents of Southern Comfort subdivision near Cabot Middle School South. The residents were concerned that houses with heated and cooled spaces of less than 1,700 square feet would be built there and devalue their homes that were 1,900 to 2,500 square feet not counting garages.

Many of the residents were in the military and would need to sell their homes. Since the market is already in a decline, their property values would crash if smaller homes were built in their neighborhoods, they said.

The mayor and council were sympathetic but couldn’t give the residents what they wanted, a moratorium on the issuance of building permits for small homes.

They told the residents to get a good lawyer and ask the court for a temporary injunction until the matter is sorted out. The size of houses is part of the bill of assurance for subdivisions and the court, not the council, is the enforcer.

TOP STORY > >Berry wants better health care

Leader staff writer

On the average, one working-aged Arkansan dies every day needlessly for lack of health insurance, according to a report issued last week by Families USA, a national health-advocacy group.

The Democratic Congress has worked to block Bush administration efforts to further reduce the number of Americans with health insurance coverage, according to Cong. Marion Berry, who joined Families USA director Ron Pollack on a press teleconference Thursday.

“Healthcare access should not be a privilege but something everyone can depend upon,” Berry said.

What’s unique about the Families USA study is not the national numbers, which have been reported before, but the breaking down of those numbers by state.

Although Arkansas is a small state, it has a disproportionately high death rate because so many Arkansans lack health care, said Pollack.

In 2006, an estimated 390 Arkansans aged 25-64 died for lack of health insurance, according to Pollack. That’s approximately one a day and twice on Sunday.

That year, there were 1,435,000 Arkansans in that age range, and nearly a quarter of them were uninsured.

“Uninsured Arkansans are sicker and die sooner than their insured counterparts,” Pollack said.

Between 2000 and 2006, 2,400 people died in the U.S. for lack of insurance, he said—twice as many who died from homicide. Two studies showed that among working-aged people, the mortality rate is 25 percent higher among those without health insurance, pretty much across the spectrum of causes of death, Pollack said.

“The study is quite predictable,” Berry said. “You don’t have to be all broke out in brilliance to know that people without coverage are much more likely to let illness go too long and lose a life.”

“We know how to fix this,” said Berry. “Our budget resolution this year gets us headed in the right direction. We know how to pay for this when we stop being so generous to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries.”

Berry said the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SHCIPS), which was cut back this year by the Bush administration, is a template for expanding health insurance opportunities, with families paying part or all of the costs.

Because nearly all U.S. residents are insured after the age 65 by Medicare, and many younger people are insured through programs like ARKids, Medicaid or are on family or college insurance plans, the predominance of insured are in that 25-64 age range.

The total number of Arkansans without health insurance is 520,000, according to Debra Pate, communications specialist with the Fay W. Boozman School of Public Health in Little Rock. Of those, 378,000 are between 19 and 65 years old, she said.

Under Gov. Mike Beebe and State Health Director Dr. Joe Thompson, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement convened an Arkansas Health Insurance Expansion Roundtable, Pate said. They have implemented the Arkansas Health Networks to help small businesses get health insurance for their employees with a health-care benefits package that includes six physician visits a year and other benefits.

The roundtable, which is a group of 31 experts from around the state, will soon have its third meeting, Pate said, and hopes to have a proposal to address the problem in time for the 2009 legislative session.

“The conclusion of all this,” said Pollack, “is that lack of adequate health care and insurance condemns many Arkansans to an early death.”

Families USA is a nonprofit health advocacy group that gets almost 100 percent of its funding from foundations. The largest donors among them are three foundations long known for health and public health philanthropy. They are the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies.

TOP STORY > >Cabot district to see school construction

Leader staff writer

The 3.9 millage increase approved by Cabot voters on Tuesday will allow the school district to move forward with $50.5 million in construction projects. The district will sell $22.8 million in bonds — Cabot’s share of construction costs after matching state aid — for the 15 proposed projects.

Out of almost 2,300 votes cast Tuesday, residents approved the millage increase 1,190-1,086, with just 104 more votes to spare.

“We will meet with our construction crews immediately and develop a time line for implementation of all projects,” Superintendent Dr. Tony Thurman said. “We need to establish an immediate timeline with our construction crews and architect and begin the process of finalizing drawings, advertising for bids and starting construction,” he said.

Thurman said the timeline will be based on factors such as availability of subcontractors, what work can be done with school in session, and how many projects can be active in the district at one time.

“We want to move quickly as well as strategically,” he said.

The next step for the Cabot district now that it has 39.9 mills is to start work finalizing the location for the next elementary school, to be located somewhere on the west side of the district, and to begin improvements to the district’s infrastructure.
One of the first of the listed 15 projects to be completed will be the rebuilding of Cabot Junior High North, lost to an electrical fire in August 2006. Junior High North will be ready in August 2009, Thurman said.

He said many patrons have repeatedly asked him about the efficiency of the Cabot district.

“Our teachers are used efficiently and do a great job,” he said. “We will continue to staff strategically and efficiently while doing our best to provide much needed support for classroom teachers.”

Even with the millage increase, Cabot remains the lowest school millage rate in Lonoke County and places Cabot at the average millage rate of the 10 largest school districts in the state. Cabot is currently the seventh largest district in Arkansas.

Other planned construction projects include 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 additionalsecondary 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; $600,000 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 (ADA) improvements/accessibility.

The cost to homeowners for the 3.9 mills is based on the home’s assessed property value. Taxes are based on 20 percent of the assessed property value with one mill being equal to 1/10 of one cent — .001 in decimal form.

For example, a home assigned a value of $100,000 has an assessed value of $20,000 (20 percent). One mill on this home would cost $20 ($20,000 multiplied by .001).

On a $100,000 home, 3.9 mills would cost an additional $78 a year; broken down, 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 > >Lenders ordered shut or be sued

Leader senior staff writer

Attorney Gen. Dustin McDaniel Tuesday mailed cease-and-desist orders to 156 payday lending outlets, eight of them local.
McDaniel ordered the lenders to stop making the high-interest loans and to stop collecting payments on the loans they already have out.

“Make no mistake, this letter is not a magic wand or a silver bullet,” McDaniel said. “These businesses will not disappear overnight. Some will restructure themselves in an attempt to avoid our law. Some operate without a license, making them harder to find. Some will fold, and some will fight us in court. The truth is that this will be a long and difficult effort. However, it is the right thing to do.”

The makers of small, usurious loans have proven quite resilient, morphing into new guises when frustrated legally in the past, and they have lobbied successfully, persuading key lawmakers to bottle up initiatives in committee that might otherwise have legislated them out of existence.


“It’s a great day in Arkansas for consumers,” said Hank Klein, a founder of Arkansans Against Abusive Payday Lending. “I think the attorney general is certainly taking a great stand there. This helps a lot of consumers caught in a trap.

Klein said that the lenders were unlikely to goquietly. “They didn’t in North Carolina and didn’t in Georgia, but the handwriting is on the wall and the attorney general said he would sue them (if they don’t stop.)

“It’s wrong, against the (state) Constitution, and I’m very happy Dustin McDaniel agrees and has taken this strong stand.”
McDaniel said his office, already stretched thin by its responsibilities, is prepared for a massive legal undertaking, spending thousands of hours to deal with the negotiations and inevitable legal challenges.

Typically, payday lenders advance loans of say $300 for two weeks with a payback of $350, which is an annual yearly percentage of more than 300 percent in a state that has a 17 percent usury cap.

McDaniel said that just to pay back the original $300 loan could cost borrowers thousands of dollars in fees and interest.

According to a 2005 study by the Center for Responsible Lending, it is estimated that payday lenders cost Arkansas consumers $25 million in fees and excessive interest each year, the attorney general said.


Letters were sent to 30 offices of Advance America, including one in Jacksonville and one in Searcy. Also in Searcy, Payday Now received notice. Also sent cease-and-desist letters were Cash Mart, Inc. in Gravel Ridge; Cash Now of Arkansas, LLC of Cabot and Cash Now of Arkansas of Sherwood. Another Sherwood store, Partners Check Service, was sent a letter. Simpson’s Buy and Sell, LLC of Lonoke was sent a letter.

“I signed these letters yesterday and they were placed in the mail this morning,” McDaniel said.

On the strength of a pair of state Supreme Court rulings over the last three months, McDaniel said, “To the extent that these 156 businesses may have relied upon licensure under the Arkansas Check-Cashers Act of 1999 as a defense against claims of usury and unconscionable trade practices. I believe . . . the practice of charging hard-working consumers 300 percent and up on short-term loans is illegal and immoral.”


In the last two months, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued two opinions regarding “payday” lending operations that are licensed to do business by the State of Arkansas, and in each case, the court found that the practice is unconscionable and deceptive, in addition to being prohibited by the Arkansas Constitution.

“While we have been investigating these practices for some time, these rulings were the impetus for the action we have begun today,” McDaniel said.

The Arkansas Board of Col-lection Agencies has licensed these 156 payday lenders. The board’s executive director, Peggy Matson, was out of town this week and unavailable for comment.

McDaniel’s office in the past few months resolved lawsuits against nine payday lenders that resulted in those lenders leaving the state and will eventually result in consumers recovering $1 million in restitution and also not having to pay back $5 million in outstanding loans.


The payday lenders issued a statement after McDaniel’s press conference and defended their lending practices.
Cheney Pruett, president of the Arkansas Financial Services Association, said, “We respect the office and responsibilities held by the attorney general of Arkansas. However, the demand for the payday advance industry exists because we offer our customers a product that is more transparent and less expensive than the alternatives.

“The hard reality is that many hard-working, well-informed Arkansans sometimes fall short of cash between paydays. Efforts to prohibit or limit the supply of products in this market hurt consumers.

“Arkansans choose payday lending because it costs less than paying bank and merchant overdraft fees and late payment fees on credit cards and utilities, and is preferable to costs and fees or losing collateral to pawn shops. Across the country where consumer choice for payday advances has been limited, other fees have risen, bankruptcies have increased, competition in the marketplace has been reduced, and many consumers have been driven to the Internet or off-shore for higher priced payday advances.

“Singling out one source of consumer credit, when other choices are actually more expensive, does not resolve the need or demand for the product in the marketplace.”

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

SPORTS >>Senior took charge of young Devils

Special to the Leader

“Conflicted,” “strained” and “out of place” are not terms normally associated with an All-State basketball player.

But that’s how Jacksonville point guard Terrell Eskridge felt at times while leading the Red Devils as a floor general the past two seasons — two of the best seasons for Jacksonville in the past dozen years.

That success came in large part because Eskridge was able to bury those feelings and replace them with leadership, humility and toughness.

This season, the team finished only 14-14, but that was after a 3-9 start. It ended with a trip to the quarterfinals this season, one year after the Red Devils reached the semis.

Eskridge never planned on being in Jacksonville, or even playing basketball. He was happy attending Little Rock Central and being an observer. One day that all changed — against his will. During his sophomore year, his mother, who had legal custody even though he lived with his father, transferred him to Jacksonville to be nearer to her.

“I didn’t want to come here,” Eskridge said. “I cried and I got mad. She actually finally said I could go back, but Central wouldn’t take me back after I transferred.”

While Eskridge still isn’t sure that was all for the best, he is now glad she made him play basketball. He played mostly junior varsity point guard his sophomore year, but stepped into the starting role last season. He was the only non-senior to play a major role on that team, and was the only senior to play a major role this year.

The drastic change in roles, Eskridge admits, wasn’t an easy transition. He ended up doing things this year, he said, he swore he would never do.

“When I was an underclassman I didn’t like it when the seniors would yell at me,” Eskridge said. “I wasn’t ever going to do that. I said that tomyself. But you get here and you realize that sometimes you have to. They’re so young you have to do things to get their attention. I didn’t do it for a long time, but when we got to 3-9 I knew something wasn’t working, so I had to try something else.”

Eskridge said his teammates didn’t take it well at first, but soon things began to click and the team became a force in the 6A-East Conference.

Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner credits his only senior with helping get the team on the same page.

“They all had that same kind of laid-back attitude, not much outward emotion,” Joyner said. “They were all playing, but everybody on this team was sort of functioning in their own little world. Terrell knew he had to start saying something. He took some flack, some persecution because they didn’t like it when he started getting in some people’s butts vocally.

“I stopped doing it because I had done it and it wasn’t working,” Joyner added. “As coaches, there was nothing else we could do. That team had to make some changes and it was going to have to be the team that did it. Terrell was the main one that took it on his shoulders to start making that happen.”

Terrell’s younger brother, junior Cortrell Eskridge, and Corey Graham were also approached by Joyner and began taking leadership roles, but the one that did most of the talking was Terrell.

“I had one teammate who wanted to fight me,” Eskridge said. “It just made him mad that I yelled at him or whatever. It settled down pretty quick, but they didn’t like it at all at first.”

Joyner also said Eskridge was usually right when he began correcting players in practice.

“Terrell is a student of the game,” Joyner said. “When he told someone something on the court, I always backed him up because he was just trying to tell them what was going to help them win.”

Last year Eskridge made All-Conference. This year he was named to the All-Conference and All-State teams. He was selected to play in the All-Metro game that took place last night at Hall High School. He was also named to the All-Tournament teams in the Red Devil Classic and the Wampus Cat Invitational in Conway.

He aspires to play college ball, but as yet hasn’t received any offers. That’s not to say no one is interested. He has been contacted by Lewis and Clark Community College, Belmont Uni-versity in Nashville, the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, and UA-Pine Bluff.

Eskridge likes Bel-mont the most out of those schools, but said he isn’t going to be picky.

“Nobody has offer-ed me a scholarship yet,” Eskridge said. “Whoever does, that’s where I’m going.”

He plans to study physical education and become a coach because of the advice of someone he admires greatly.

“Coach Joyner said he thinks I’d be a good coach,” Eskridge said. “I don’t know why, but I’m going to listen to him. He’s done a lot for me.”

SPORTS >>Lady Devils rally to beat Sylvan Hills

Leader sportswriter

Sylvan Hills was two outs away from revenge, but a single by junior Paula Burr in the top of the seventh inning started a six-run rally for Jacksonville at Sherwood Sports Complex on Monday.

The Lady Red Devils struggled offensively from the second inning on, but took advantage of their last chance to overcome a 4-2 deficit and sweep their 6A-East rivals for the year with an 8-4 win.

After Burr’s shot down the third base line, freshman Alexis Oakley lined a ball off SH third baseman Lindsey Ogden’s glove. That sent the ball down into left field by the fence, and by the time the Lady Bears had retrieved the ball, Burr was safely home, and Oakley was at third.

Chyna Davis brought in Oakley on a fielder’s choice gone wrong for the Lady Bears to tie the game, and Tyler Pickett put the Lady Red Devils out front with a double into centerfield that scored Davis and Bailee Herlacher.

“The difference in a week ago and today is that we didn’t move our runners a week ago, and today we did,” Jacksonville head coach Tanya Ganey said. “What can I say? I mean, I can’t be any more proud of a group of young ladies. They could have given up, but they didn’t. That’s what you call refusing to lose right there, and that’s what champions are made of.”

Jacksonville took the initial lead with two runs in the top of the first, and it took the Lady Bears a while to respond. The switch at the mound from Hannah Scott to Morgan Uekman in the top of the second inning held off the Lady Devils offensively, but the Sylvan Hills bats didn’t begin fully connecting until the bottom of the fourth inning.

Uekman grounded to right field for a single to start the inning for Sylvan Hills, followed by an error and a hit batsman. The Lady Bears tied the game when Lindsey Ogden scored on a passed ball.

Freshmen hitters Pickett, Davis and Riley Zink all came up big for Jacksonville on Monday, but Ganey said that was only part of a tremendous team effort.

“I don’t want to take anything away from our younger players,” Ganey said. “But there were six innings before that. We had times where another freshman stepped up. A junior stepped up with a bunt and moved some players. There’s something that everybody out there did to help us win the ballgame, even the people on the bench, and the way they were cheering.”

Pickett’s game-winning RBI in the seventh was the second big freshman hit of the inning. However, it was sophomore Lanier who put the exclamation point on the game when she grounded a single into center field to drive in the final two runs of the evening.

Lanier’s first RBI came in the first inning. Herlacher scored the first run when she came in on a passed ball while Lanier was at the plate. Lanier reached on an error, which allowed Jennifer Bock to score.

Jacksonville finished the game with eight runs, eight hits and three errors. Oakley led with a 2-of-3 performance, including a triple and a RBI. Lanier was 1-of-3 with three RBI, and Pickett was 1-of-4 with two RBI. Lanier took the win at the mound, recording eight strikeouts and a walk.

Sylvan Hills finished with two hits — one each by Uekman and Brittany Arnold. The Lady Bears had three errors.

Jacksonville improved to 2-0 in the 6A-East, and will host Mountain Home in a double header at Dupree Park on Thursday.

SPORTS >>Cabot wrestlers earn 5th

Leader sports editor

Cabot made a sterling debut in high school wrestling this season, earning an overall fifth-place finish at the Class 5-6-7A Arkansas State Wrestling Tournament at the Jack Stephens Center last weekend.

Leading the way were three Panthers who won their weight divisions — Chavin Scales in the 103-pound class, Cody Ealy (125) and L.J. Tarrant (275).

Bentonville won the team event with 284 points, beating out Little Rock Central, Fayetteville and Little Rock Catholic. Cabot scored 156 points.

Searcy, also in its first season of wrestling, finished eighth, while Sylvan Hills, Beebe, North Pulaski and Jacksonville finished 13th through 16th, respectively, in the 19-team event.

Scales beat Jon Reasoner of Russellville, 14-7, while Tarrant pinned the No. 1 seed, Nick Stewart of Bentonville at the 5:10 mark. Ealy pinned Bentonville’s Adam Irons at the 3:15 mark in his title bout.

Dan Willingham of Searcy was narrowly out-pointed, 13-11, in his championship bout in the 135-pound class, while Cabot’s Luis Pena (119) lost in the title match to finish second.

Searcy’s Nate Waldrip (119) earned a third-place finish by scoring a 5-2 decision.

David Day of Beebe (152) pinned Jacksonville’s Zack Finney to take third. Finney earned fourth.

Tate House (130) of Cabot took fourth, losing in the third-place match on a pin. Fellow Panther Seth Bell (145) lost 15-11 in the third-place match to earn fourth.

Patrick Onuigbo (215) of Sylvan Hills took home fifth place with a pin, while teammate Michael Robinson (171) settled for sixth.

Searcy’s E.J. Bailey (160) finished fifth with a pin, while Jake Todd of Cabot (189) and Devonte Mills (103) of Searcy finished sixth.