Saturday, November 01, 2008

SPORTS>> Falcons drop 8th straight

Special to The Leader

A strong first half didn’t roll over to the second half for North Pulaski Friday night at Mills stadium.

The Comets scored three touchdowns in the third quarter to pull away from the Falcons after leading just 16-13 at halftime.

“We came out and had a good third quarter,” Mills coach Patrick Russell said. “I told the guys at halftime that we had to go out there and perform. We couldn’t let North Pulaski hang around and stay close because they play hard and I knew they weren’t going to give up.”

The Comets took the opening kickoff of the third quarter and marched 65 yards on just six plays to start the scoring frenzy. Carries of 14 and 19 yards by Bentrell Cobbs along with a 27-yarder by Tim Stigall helped set up a short touchdown run by Zae Jones.

Both Stigall and Cobbs ran for over 100 yards in the game, with Stigall leading the way with 187 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Cobbs also passed for two touchdowns in the win – both to Patrick Johnny.

North Pulaski had the first score of the game when quarterback A.J. Allen found Arlando Hicks over the middle for a 36-yard touchdown pass. After Mills answered with Cobbs’ first touchdown of the night, the Falcons came back with a 79-yard touchdown run by Jerald Blair. Blair finished the game with 168 yards on the ground.

Two fumbles in the first half stalled drives by the Comets. North Pulaski helped out the Comets by being flagged for over 100 yards in penalties.

“The kids played hard,” North Pulaski coach Tony Bohannon said. “They had some bad breaks out there, but they played as hard as they have all year.”

The Falcons had some success through the air as Allen tossed completions to Hicks, Huston Regan, Adolphe Stephens and Daniel Thurman in the third quarter. Thurman’s catch was a 30-yard touchdown that was called back on a holding penalty.

North Pulaski’s final score came on a 22-yard run by Darius Washington that cut the score to 36-19 early in the fourth quarter. A long drive by the Comets that ended with a touchdown pass from Cobbs to Johnny with 4:30 left to play put the game away.

North Pulaski will play host to conference leading Monticello Thursday night for the season finale.

SPORTS>> Panthers have easy time of it in Van Buren

Special to The Leader

Once again, the turnover bug infected the Van Buren offense in 7A-Central play and Cabot took advantage.

The Panthers scored on all three Pointer turnovers in the first quarter, building a 35-point halftime advantage, en route to a
49-7 blowout win.

“Everything went right for us in the first half,” said Panther coach Mike Malham. “We get a quick turnover and a score. Our kids played well, but Van Buren struggled with turnovers and we took advantage.”

In five conference games, Van Buren has committed 14 turnovers and 20 for the entire season. Most of those turnovers have been converted into scores.

“(The turnovers) got them the momentum early and a team like Cabot doesn’t need to get momentum early,” said Pointer head coach Mike Lee. “Once they get ahead of you, its an uphill climb.”

Van Buren (2-7, 2-4 7A-Central) has not clinched a postseason berth yet. Thanks to Conway’s 10-7 upset of Russellville, the Wampus Cats can still take the last playoff spot with a win against Catholic and a Pointer loss at North Little Rock next week.

Cabot (8-1, 5-1) can win the 7A-Central next week with a win against Russellville while a loss could drop them to a third seed should Catholic beat Conway.

“We now can start thinking about Russellville,” said Malham. “It is a big game next week. We don’t have to worry about someone else’s. If we win, we know we are the one seed. If we lose, then we have to see where we end up.”

The turnovers started on the first play of the game when receiver Drew White, after catching a David Ostrander pass, was stripped of the ball and Joe Bryant recovered at the Pointer 24. Six plays later, fullback Michael James scored from the 1 for a 7-0 lead with 9:43 left in the opening quarter.

James scored three touchdowns and gained 95 yards in the first half. No Panther starter played in the second half.

On Van Buren’s next possession, Bryant intercepted Ostrander at the Panther 40. Three plays later, halfback Wesley Sowell found a seam and sprinted 41 yards for a touchdown at 7:38. Logan Spry’s kick made it 14-0.

After the Pointers went three-and-out, Cabot hit a big pass play when Seth Bloomberg hit Ben Wainwright for a 45-yard pass to the Pointer 7. James scored on the next play for a 21-0 lead.

The lead ballooned to 28-0 on a 53-yard interception return by Powell Bryant with 2:47 left in the opening quarter.

Cabot’s last first-half touchdown was a 1-yard run by James with 51 seconds left in the half.

The Panthers marched 69 yards in 11 plays.

Cabot played its reserves the entire second half on offense and got a pair of scores.

The Panthers rolled up 367 total yards, 322 of that on the ground.

Van Buren’s lone score came with 1:38 left in the game.

SPORTS>> Blue Devils dominating again

Special to The Leader

West Memphis entered Jan Crow Stadium virtually unchallenged in conference play, and left that way. The Blue Devils dismantled their Red Devil hosts 47-0 on senior night at JHS. Jacksonville had some success early in the game.

The Red Devils got the ball to start the game, picking up two first downs before punting. They then did something most teams haven’t been able to do this year, they held the Blue Devils on their first drive.

When Jacksonville got the ball back on its own 19, the Red Devils moved it across midfield before the drive stalled.

The Red Devils went with five receivers and no running backs, and executed everything except securing the ball. Passes were finding their marks and receivers were running open in space, but too many passes were dropped.

The West Memphis pass rush was a big worry for Jacksonville, but it didn’t come into play until the end of the second drive.

The timing of West Memphis’ first sack was especially bad because it came one snap after a holding penalty and set up third and 30. Two plays later, Jacksonville’s punt was blocked and the Blue Devils took over on the Jacksonville 29-yard line. It was all West Memphis from there.

Three plays later with just 32 seconds left in the first quarter, West Memphis scored to go up 7-0. Just 42 seconds after that, they scored again. Jacksonville’s Cory Bester fumbled the kickoff following the first touchdown to set the Blue Devils up at the Jacksonville 26. They initially went backwards with a 7-yard loss and an illegal procedure penalty. On second and 22, Blue Devil running back Mario James went 38 yards for the score with 11:50 left in the half.

The third score came on West Memphis’ only pass play of the game. Quarterback Robert Sorrell hit Joe Dove for 40 yards with 8:12 left in the half.

Jacksonville began to move the ball again trailing 21-0. The Red Devils drove from their own 20 to the West Memphis 14. A 35-yard pass from Logan Perry to Patrick Geans was the big play of the drive. It ended with consecutive sacks on third and fourth down that gave the visitors the ball on the Blue Devils 27.

They gave it right back on a fumble, but Jacksonville returned the favor with an interception three plays later. West Memphis got back on track on the next drive, marching 74 yards in three plays, 64 of those coming on two 32-yard runs by Michael Hayes. Alvin Nelson finished it with a 10-yard run that put the Blue Devils up by four scores with 2:35 left in the half.

Jacksonville got one first down on a pass interference call, but was forced to punt with less than a minute left in the half.

The punt snap was dropped and the Blue Devils took over at the Jacksonville 17. After another illegal procedure penalty, Kendall Gray went 22 yards with 22 seconds left. The extra point snap was flubbed, and the halftime score remained 34-0.

West Memphis got the ball to start the second half, and Hayes went 55 yards on the first play to put the mercy rule into effect.

The Blue Devils tacked on one more score with no time remaining after another Jacksonville fumble set them up at the Red Devil 25.

“They’re just a good football team,” Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley said. “They’re starting 22 seniors and they play like it.

We’re on the other side, starting a ton a sophomores. I thought we had our chances early in the game, we just didn’t secure the football. I thought our kids competed and fought hard all night. We still hold our destiny in our hands, a win puts us at home for a playoff game, so that’s our focus from this point.”

Jacksonville finished with 102 total yards while West Memphis tallied 441. Hayes led all yardage gainers with 173 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries.

A total of 13 different Blue Devil running backs carried the ball in the game.

West Memphis improved to 8-0-1 and 6-0 in conference while Jacksonville dropped to 4-5 overall and 3-3 inside the 6A-East. Jacksonville will travel to Marion next week. The Patriots lost 35-34 to Jonesboro Friday.

SPORTS>> Blue Devils dominating again

Special to The Leader

West Memphis entered Jan Crow Stadium virtually unchallenged in conference play, and left that way. The Blue Devils dismantled their Red Devil hosts 47-0 on senior night at JHS. Jacksonville had some success early in the game.

The Red Devils got the ball to start the game, picking up two first downs before punting. They then did something most teams haven’t been able to do this year, they held the Blue Devils on their first drive.

When Jacksonville got the ball back on its own 19, the Red Devils moved it across midfield before the drive stalled.

The Red Devils went with five receivers and no running backs, and executed everything except securing the ball. Passes were finding their marks and receivers were running open in space, but too many passes were dropped.

The West Memphis pass rush was a big worry for Jacksonville, but it didn’t come into play until the end of the second drive.

The timing of West Memphis’ first sack was especially bad because it came one snap after a holding penalty and set up third and 30. Two plays later, Jacksonville’s punt was blocked and the Blue Devils took over on the Jacksonville 29-yard line. It was all West Memphis from there.

Three plays later with just 32 seconds left in the first quarter, West Memphis scored to go up 7-0. Just 42 seconds after that, they scored again. Jacksonville’s Cory Bester fumbled the kickoff following the first touchdown to set the Blue Devils up at the Jacksonville 26. They initially went backwards with a 7-yard loss and an illegal procedure penalty. On second and 22, Blue Devil running back Mario James went 38 yards for the score with 11:50 left in the half.

The third score came on West Memphis’ only pass play of the game. Quarterback Robert Sorrell hit Joe Dove for 40 yards with 8:12 left in the half.

Jacksonville began to move the ball again trailing 21-0. The Red Devils drove from their own 20 to the West Memphis 14. A 35-yard pass from Logan Perry to Patrick Geans was the big play of the drive. It ended with consecutive sacks on third and fourth down that gave the visitors the ball on the Blue Devils 27.

They gave it right back on a fumble, but Jacksonville returned the favor with an interception three plays later. West Memphis got back on track on the next drive, marching 74 yards in three plays, 64 of those coming on two 32-yard runs by Michael Hayes. Alvin Nelson finished it with a 10-yard run that put the Blue Devils up by four scores with 2:35 left in the half.

Jacksonville got one first down on a pass interference call, but was forced to punt with less than a minute left in the half.

The punt snap was dropped and the Blue Devils took over at the Jacksonville 17. After another illegal procedure penalty, Kendall Gray went 22 yards with 22 seconds left. The extra point snap was flubbed, and the halftime score remained 34-0.

West Memphis got the ball to start the second half, and Hayes went 55 yards on the first play to put the mercy rule into effect.

The Blue Devils tacked on one more score with no time remaining after another Jacksonville fumble set them up at the Red Devil 25.

“They’re just a good football team,” Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley said. “They’re starting 22 seniors and they play like it.

We’re on the other side, starting a ton a sophomores. I thought we had our chances early in the game, we just didn’t secure the football. I thought our kids competed and fought hard all night. We still hold our destiny in our hands, a win puts us at home for a playoff game, so that’s our focus from this point.”

Jacksonville finished with 102 total yards while West Memphis tallied 441. Hayes led all yardage gainers with 173 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries.

A total of 13 different Blue Devil running backs carried the ball in the game.

West Memphis improved to 8-0-1 and 6-0 in conference while Jacksonville dropped to 4-5 overall and 3-3 inside the 6A-East. Jacksonville will travel to Marion next week. The Patriots lost 35-34 to Jonesboro Friday.

SPORTS>> Rabbits crowned

Leader sportswriter

STUTTGART – How tough is Lonoke’s defense? Just ask Ricebirds quarterback Zach Boleware.

The Jackrabbits picked off the junior twice in the first quarter, returning both for touchdowns and sacked him five times en route to a 41-22 win at Ned Moseley Stadium on Friday. The win clinched the 2-4A Conference championship for Lonoke (8-1, 6-0 conference).

“I’m thrilled to death for these guys,” Lonoke coach Jeff Jones said. “Our defense set the tone for us with those two big plays there in the first half. They did a great job of shutting down Boleware. We’ve preached to them all year about winning those one-on-one battles.”

The Lonoke defense held Stuttgart’s offense to a dismal 42 yards in the first half.

Brandon Smith lit up the Ricebirds (8-1, 5-1) on both sides of the football. He picked a Boleware pass at the 38 second mark of the opening quarter and returned it 50 yards to put Lonoke ahead 21-0. Smith scooped the ball out of the intended receiver’s hands and took it untouched for the score.

He did his damage on the offensive side of the ball in the second half with a pair of long touchdown runs to put the game out of reach. His first score was a 41-yard run on the second play of the third quarter to set the mercy rule in motion, and his second one was a 51-yard run up the middle to start the fourth quarter to put Lonoke up 41-8 with 9:52 left.

The Jackrabbits wasted little time claiming dominance, taking their first offensive play 63 yards for a score with a pass from senior quarterback Rollins Elam to a completely uncovered Clarence Harris. Harris ran a fly pattern up the middle, and had nothing but clean field when Elam hit him on the numbers. Sam King hit his first of five point-after attempts for an early 7-0 Lonoke lead.

The Ricebirds punted to end their first two possessions, but began to find space midway through the first quarter on the strength of Boleware and running back Corey Racy.

They marched down to the Lonoke 32-yard line before an illegal block moved them back 10 yards. Boleware looked for ace receiver Cody Burnett in the red zone, and Darius Scott read the pass all the way. Scott pulled down the pass and hit the left side for an 83-yard interception return with 2:27 still left in the first quarter to make it 14-0.

Smith’s pick and score came on the following Stuttgart possession, and the Ricebirds shot themselves in the foot once again before the first quarter ended on a fumble that was recovered by Todd Hobson.

Joel Harris got in the mix for the Jackrabbits’ final scoring drive of the first half with a pair of receptions. The second one was a 14-yard touchdown pass from Elam with 8:32 left in the second quarter to set the halftime margin.

The first Lonoke drive of the second half was all Smith, literally. Lonoke took possession at its own 34, and Smith quickly brought the ball into Stuttgart territory with a 25-yard run on first down. He then went untouched up the middle on the next play for a 41-yard touchdown. King added the extra-point to put Lonoke up 35-0, activating the mercy rule with 11:28 left in the third quarter.

“Brandon Smith is a football player,” Jones said. “He made plays on both sides. He’s done an outstanding job all year, and the best part is, he’s just a junior.”

The win marked the second straight over Stuttgart, and gave the Jackrabbits their first outright conference title since 2000.

“It’s definitely big,” Jones said. “It’s big for these kids, it’s big for the community and everyone that supports us.”

Elam was 8 of 16 passing for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Smith led the way on the ground with 127 of Lonokes’s 133 rushing yards, including a pair of touchdowns. Clarence Harris led all receivers with three receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown. Joel Harris added 36 yards and a touchdown on two catches. Lonoke had 277 yards of total offense and five first downs.

For Stuttgart, Boleware was 4 of 10 passing for 67 yards and two interceptions. He also had 27 yards rushing on 16 carries.

Racy had 10 carries for 60 yards and all three Ricebird scores. Stuttgart finished with 194 yards of total offense, 152 of which came in the second half.

Lonoke will end the regular season next week with a home game against Clinton. The Yellowjackets lost to Heber Springs 35-18 on Friday. Stuttgart will be the No. 2 seed out of the 2-4A Conference, and will end the regular season at Marianna Lee.

EDITORIAL >>When you vote Tuesday

It used to be that when the ballot was riddled with complicated or abstract initiatives the natural impulse of Arkansas voters was to vote “no” on everything so that you could be sure that you were helping to get rid of the bad ones.

Let us stipulate that it is always better to educate yourself on even the most trivial ballot issues than to vote reflexively against everything, but this year it would be an excusable exercise just to vote “no” down the line, against all three constitutional amendments, the single initiated act and the single act referred to the voters by the legislature. You would not be doing the least bit harm if you contributed to the defeat of every ballot issue.

Proposed Amendment 1, which would clean up some obsolete and offensive language in the Constitution dealing with elections, is all right. It would give the legislature some power to fix the qualifications of election officials. If it is ratified, no harm will be done to the body politic. If it fails, we are no worse off either. We have actually recommended its adoption and we stand by it. But it is not one of the consuming issues of our time. Yes, weakly.

Proposed Amendment 2 deserves defeat. It would require the legislature to begin to meet in regular session every year rather than every two years and limit every appropriation to a single year. Biennial budgeting still works well and contributes to frugality. Bringing lawmakers back to Little Rock every year will be costly and an invitation to mischief. It will be the beginning of a full-time professional legislature. Arkansas is light years away from needing that measure of attention. No.

Proposed Amendment 3 is the lottery amendment. It is the first relatively clean proposition to institute a state-run lottery in Arkansas (although it conceivably could open the door to casinos), and polls have always shown that most people would like to have one. The net proceeds would go to college scholarships, which gives some cover to those who need a moral premise to support a government-run numbers game.

Whatever its benefits, we think a lottery is bad government and a particularly regressive way to pay for any government activity, even a worthy one like promoting college education. For many who will buy tickets, it is a pastime and innocent leisure entertainment, but lotteries also are a tax on the neediest and weakest of us — those who will spend inordinately from their meager incomes in hopes of striking it rich and ending all their troubles. It reverses government’s role from being a tribune of its neediest citizens to their exploiter. No.

Initiated Act 1 would make it measurably harder for elected judges and child-welfare workers to find stable and caring homes for neglected and abused children by enforcing a permanent and universal ban on putting children into adoptive or foster homes where the adults do not have a marriage certificate. Judges, pediatricians, social workers and ministers have come out against the proposal and we think their advice is sound. No.

Referred Question No. 1 would authorize the state Natural Resources Commission to sink the state $300 million into debt to pay for various irrigation projects for rice farmers and others and other water projects. The mortgage would be repaid off the top of the state general fund, which is your income and sales taxes. The water and irrigation bonds would have first call on the state’s revenues for many years. Something tells us that this is not the time to create such an obligation, even if it were for the best of purposes. This one is not. No.

As for the general-election political races, we reprise our previous endorsements:
For Pulaski Circuit Judge: Cathi Compton. She has the edge in the breadth of her experience.

For Pulaski County Judge: Floyd G. “Buddy” Villines. Villines is a smart and capable man, although his blunders and miscalculations along with those of the quorum court the past three years mystify us. We still think he is superior to his opportunistic opponent. A tepid yes for another term for the judge.

TOP STORY > >Schools in trouble

Several area schools must improve under the federal No Child Left Behind Law, according to a list released Friday by the state Education Department.

The area schools include:

Pulaski County Special School District — Harris Elementary, Jacksonville Elementary, Boys and Girls Middle schools, Jacksonville High, North Pulaski High, Murrel Taylor Elementary, Northwood Middle School and Sylvan Hills High School.

Beebe Elementary, Beebe Junior High, Middle and Intermediate schools.

Cabot Junior High South and Middle School South and North.

Lonoke High, Primary, Elementary and Middle schools.

“The probability is very high that the number of schools placed on the list of schools in need of improvement will increase each year because the bar gets higher each year,” said Dr. Ken James, Arkansas Commissioner of Education.

TOP STORY > >Questions are raised about political signs

Leader staff writer

It’s a given that as long as name recognition increases the chances for getting elected, politicians will put up signs, and where there are signs, it is just as true that there will be contention and maybe even vandalism.

Cabot appears to have both this election season. Just ask Rick Prentice, a candidate for the city council whose 8-foot by 10-foot signs were snapped like twigs during last weekend’s wind and rain.

It probably was the wind that broke the uprights, Prentice said this week, sounding really sincere. However, it was peculiar, he said, that the signs just an arm’s length in front and back of his weren’t damaged at all.

But while Prentice says the campaign is nearly over and he is content to blame the wind for his trouble, former Alderman Odis Waymack has asked City Attorney Jim Taylor to look into the activities of Alderman Becky Lemaster who won his seat on the council two years ago.

Waymack’s sister Ann Gilliam is running against Lemaster, contends that Lemaster is breaking several laws with the trucks carrying campaign signs she has parked near the old Community Bank building that now belongs to the city.

In a letter dated Oct. 26, Waymack asked Taylor to find out if he was right.

“There are some questions I would like answered,” Waymack told Taylor.

“Is it legal to leave vehicles on city property with political signs?” Waymack asked.

“Why have the police not cited these vehicles for no license? One vehicle has a dealer plate on it. It is my understanding of the statute, Act 1929 of 2005, Rule 2005-7, that a dealer plate can only be used for transportation to and from work, demonstrating and transport and that it must be kept on the premises of the dealership during business hours unless it is being demonstrated, test driven or used as a loaner. Is this correct?

“Also, is it correct that the vehicle must have a sticker attached to the window displaying the warranty terms as required by 16 C.F.R. Part 455 to be considered a “motor vehicle for sale” and without such a sticker it would not be considered a “motor vehicle for sale” and would not qualify for a dealer plate.

“I am requesting you to forward the information to the correct authorities if the questions above warrant such notification.

“I would appreciate an immediate response on this subject since three of the vehicles have signs for elected officials giving them a strong advantage over their opponents who probably think like I do that you cannot campaign on city property except the hours voting is open,” he said.

Lemaster said she didn’t know there was a problem and if Waymack thought there was, he should have asked her.

“There’s nothing I’m doing wrong,” Lemaster said.

“As long as you’re the owner, you can use the vehicle for personal use,” she said.

The city attorney said he had looked into the matter and that there was nothing he could do about it.

“There are restrictions on the use of dealers’ tags,” he said. “But (Police Chief Jackie Davis said) it’s got to be rolling on the street for the police to do anything.”

State law does say that no one is allowed to campaign closer than 100 feet from the polling place, but the trucks in question are not violating that law, he said.

“The law is pretty wide open as long as they’re 100 feet away from the voting facility,” he said. “I haven’t found any law they’ve broken outright. It’s just politician against politician and it will all be over Tuesday.”

TOP STORY > >Cabot set to act on annexing ‘islands’

Leader staff writer

A public hearing on the annexation of almost 20 acres at Linda Lane and Campground Road that is surrounded by Cabot is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday at the city annex.

To take in the island will require only a vote of the city council.

Although the city council voted in June to postpone annexation of that property and annex all the “islands” at one time. That plan stalled. The council’s public works committee, in response to complaints from neighbors, voted in early October to proceed with the originally planned annexation and take the other areas in later.

The 20-acre island contains 10 acres where a mini-storage facility will be built. The 10 acres borders Krooked Kreek subdivision and residents there have appealed to the city to annex the property so city regulations about setbacks and screening may be applied.

The developer, Preston Robinson, has been amenable to the annexation in the past, but Jimmy Woosley who owns 7.5 acres of the balance of the property has said it is unfair to annex his without annexing the other islands.

The annexation will be the first inrecent history if not the first ever to be annexed over the objections of the property owners.

By state law, cities may annex an area that is surrounded on all sides without the permission of the people there.

Cities may also take territory through a petition of the property owners who want to be annexed and through elections where people in the area to be annexed and city residents get to vote on it.

In Cabot, most annexations have been through petitions by landowners with plans to build subdivisions who want those subdivisions located inside city limits for the utilities, and fire and police protection.

The Woosley property is on Linda Lane off Campground Road. There are two more located on the other side of Campground on Diederich Lane as well as two houses in front of Silver Streak subdivision, one house on First Street and the city sewer ponds.

Only the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission has said annexation is acceptable.

The pubic works committee said in October that it was necessary to go against the original council decision to take in all the islands at one time, but that the others would be annexed as soon as possible.

TOP STORY > > Turnout at torrid pace

Leader staff writer

By Thursday night Pulaski County had already set a record for early voters with more than 52,000 votes in, breaking the previous record by about 500 votes—and early voting continues through Monday.

“By the time early voting ends we expect 40 to 45 percent of the county voters to have voted,” said Pulaski County Clerk Pat O’Brien.

In the 2004 General Election early voting period, 51,621 ballots were cast, according to the Pulaski County Election Commission. “We could hit 70,000 this year,” O’Brien said.

As of 6 p.m. Friday, 62,955 voters had cast early ballots and the county had also received 5,009 absentee ballots for a total of 67,964 votes.

At the Jack Evans Senior Center in Sherwood, 5,396 votes were cast through Thursday and with Friday’s unofficial numbers, the total is close to 6,000.

At city hall in Jacksonville, 4,296 votes had been cast through Thursday evening, and Friday’s unofficial totals push that past 4,700.

“Voting is taking one to two hours at most of the polling places,” O’Brien said, and even though lines have been long, the county hasn’t seen any major voting problems. “We’ve had small things like a few paper jams, but that’s it,” O’Brien said.

In Lonoke County, which has about 34,000 registered voters, about 3,500, a little more than one-tenth, had already voted at noon on Tuesday. By Thursday that number had grown to 8,275, breaking down to 5,682 cast in Cabot and 2,593 in Lonoke.

The same was true in White County, which has about 46,000 registered voters. By noon Tuesday, 4,873 had voted, and by Thursday afternoon that number was at 7,515.

Officials there said 700 or more votes have been cast every day since the early voting started Oct. 20 but they expect more today when college students are home for the weekend and on Monday, when the procrastinators realize they have only one day left to take advantage of early voting.

Kent Walker, chairman of the Pulaski County Election Commission, said, “The interest level in early voting is unprecedented, both here and statewide. We are voting over 600 an hour countywide.”

Early voting continues at all satellite locations through 4 p.m. today, and then from 8 to 5 p.m. at the Pulaski County Regional Building in Little Rock and the court houses in Lonoke and Searcy for Lonoke and White counties.

Having so many people early vote, O’Brien said, would take some of the pressure of poll workers and machinery on Tuesday.

Even though Tuesday’s crowd may be smaller, O’Brien still recommends voters to cast their ballots mid morning or just right after lunch. “That way voters will avoid the after work rush,” he said.

Friday, October 31, 2008

TOP STORY > >Violations could put jail on hold

Leader senior staff writer

If Lonoke County officials were counting on Act 309 inmates to provide skilled labor—as they had said—to help affordably build the planned new county lockup, they need a good Plan B.

Sheriff Jim Roberson has sent all the 309s back to state prison following the revelation that one trustee had engaged in sex with two female prisoners and that another had gone with the sheriff to his home to assess or fix a personal car belonging to the sheriff’s daughter.

In a close vote, county residents in a May 20 referendum approved a one-year, one-cent countywide sales tax to pay for a new $5.5 million, 140-bed prison. One of the factors in holding down the cost and in selling the idea to voters was that the new jail would be built primarily by prisoners.

Collection of that tax begins this month by the state and will begin being returned to the county in December, according to County Judge Charlie Troutman.

Roberson said he’d still have prisoners tolabor on the project, just not necessarily skilled labor.

County Judge Charlie Troutman agreed. “We have people that can do the labor,” he said. “I’ve had a program that a certified deputy works people in the road department one day a week,” he said by way of example. “It’s worked out good.”

In the wake of the sexual incidents at the jail, Roberson said one employee had been fired and two reprimanded.

Many residents are wondering how Lonoke County could have violated the terms of the Act 309 agreement with the state so soon after somewhat similar transgressions at the city jail not only ended the city’s access to 309 inmates from the state Correction Department, but also led to the resignation, trial, conviction and imprisonment of former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell and his wife Kelly.

That investigation revealed a sprawling pattern of sex, theft, drugs, conspiracy to manufacture drugs and Jay Campbell was convicted on several charges including being the kingpin of a continuing criminal enterprise. He is serving a 40-year sentence, pending appeal. Kelly Campbell is serving 10 years.

Campbell reportedly had inmates build a sidewalk at his home and work on a boat motor and then Lonoke Mayor Thomas Privett had them hang Christmas decorations at his home.

By contrast, Roberson reported his problems with Lonoke County 309s quickly and voluntarily ended the program.

But an equally daunting problem may be how to build the new county jail without counting on Act 309 inmates to provide some skilled labor.

“The sheriff came to me and said he had to send one back for a sexual encounter,” Troutman said. “Then (Act 309 Program Director) Bill Terry came by. Then the sheriff told him, ‘When you leave take the other three with you,’ and I agreed,” Troutman said.

Prosecutor Lona McCastlain said she wasn’t considering prosecution of Roberson or anyone in regards to the incident.

She said the matter had not been forwarded to the State Police for investigation and that she believed there was no further action pending by the state Correction Department.

Correction Department spokesman Dina Tyler was out of the office and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Roberson said the matter came to light now because it had just been discussed at the state Correction Department board meeting, but added that he thought the timing might be political.

Roberson faces former deputy Steve Rich in Tuesday’s general election.

“The race just got a little closer than he anticipated,” Rich said this week.

He declined to comment other than to say, “If elected, I’ll try to get the 309s back. It’s free labor.”

TOP STORY > >Air Force grateful for city’s $5M gift

Leader Staff writer

Five years ago the dream of a new education center to serve both Little Rock Air Force Base and the local community was conceived. Friday, the city of Jacksonville presented a gift of $5 million to the Air Force, to help that dream become a reality.

Mayor Tommy Swaim presented an oversized check symbolic of the gift at the LRAFB Community Council meeting at the base.

Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, Air Mobility Command commander, accepted the donation on behalf of the Air Force, saying, “It will be put to good use.”

The Air Force will pay the remainder of the $14.8 million project in front of the air base.

Speaking of the city of Jacksonville, Lichte said, “You have a tremendous community, and it is very much respected throughout the Air Force. I want you to know what a great community this is – it has great communityspirit and spirit of friendship. You should be very proud of your community.”

Brig. Gen. Rowayne A. Schatz, 19th Airlift Wing commander, called the community’s level of support “unprecedented.”

“This is a big event; we are excited and honored. What a fantastic concept – a local community teaming with a major Air Force installation,” Schatz said.

Swaim said that some people have asked him why the city is giving away $5 million. He explained, “We are not giving away $5 million. We are investing $5 million in Little Rock Air Force Base, in the city of Jacksonville, and the state of Arkansas. We believe it will come back to us, pressed down, shaken together and running over.”

The $5 million, one of the largest single donations ever made to the Air Force, comes from a penny sales tax approved by Jacksonville voters five years ago. Because of the unique nature of the gift – a city donating such a huge sum to a military installation – the project was put on hold until the Air Force established a legal mechanism for the ransfer of the funds.

Meanwhile, the $5 million sat in a vault at a local bank. Finally, last month, the Air Force gave its approval to proceed.
Another $9.8 million needed to build the center comes from the Air Force. U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder proposed legislation in
Congress for the allocation, which was recently approved and signed by President Bush.

Swaim thanked Snyder for his faith in the concept from the start and his diligence in seeing the project through.

Snyder commended all the work by the city, Swaim and others to raise the funds.

“This is really an impressive kind of thing,” Snyder said. “I feel so much respect and admiration for the city of Jacksonville, Mayor Swaim. This really is an unusual situation and took a lot of work, to get this on the ballot, to get it passed, then to collect the money, which is now sitting in Larry Wilson’s bank,” he said with a chuckle. “Thank you, Mayor Swaim, the city of Jacksonville, and our men and women in uniform.”

Actually, the funds have been transferred to the military, allowing for the construction of the college campus in a few months.

The education center will provide classroom space for a wide variety of college-level programs, relieving the cramped quarters of the existing base education center. Airman, their families and civilians will be able to attend classes there.

Community advocates of the center have long seen it as a way to bring college education offerings to Jacksonville and the surrounding area.

The facility is to be located just outside the perimeter of the base, easing attendance by civilians. It will be adjacent to the base flag plaza at Vandenberg Boulevard and John Harden Drive.

Award of the construction contract may come in a few months. Completion of the project is tentatively scheduled for September 2010, according to James McKinnie, chief of the 19th Civil Engineering Squadron.

The original design was for an 81,500-square-foot building, large enough to close the existing education center.

While the project was on hold, rising prices for steel, asphalt, concrete and petroleum forced a downsizing of the building footprint. Plans are in flux, but the capacity will be around 50,000 square feet.

Costs will also go up because of the extra site work to stabilize expansive soils at the building site, which tests determined to be poor quality for construction.

Kinnie described the center as a “world-class learning environment” and “a win-win situation” for the air base and community.

Capacity in the new center’s classrooms and computer and science labs is now estimated at around 530 students. However, the smaller building size might mean that administrative offices likely will remain at the existing educational center, McKinnie said.

Cromwell Architects and Garver Engineers are designing the center, which meets Air Force standards for distance learning, video teleconferencing, and seminar needs. The building and landscaping, which will preserve as many trees as possible, will also meet the highest environmental standards, nearly to the “silver” level.

The unusual gift was not the first gift from the city of Jacksonville to the Air Force. In 1951, local residents raised the money necessary to buy the land to build the base.

“The citizens of Jacksonville helped start the base by raising $1 million to purchase the land,” Schatz said.

“Now they’re handing us a $5 million check to build the joint education center. The base is in need of a new educational facility for our airman and their families to further their education. Like always, our community partners are ready to support the men and women who defend our nation day in and day out.”

Senior writer John Hofheimer and Garrick Feldman of The Leader contributed to this report.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Vote no on lottery

Arkansas voters for the first time are offered a relatively clean proposition to start a state lottery, and it is very likely that they will take it. Polls for years have shown that most people, if not a large majority, would like to have a lottery, and the proposal pushed by Lt. Gov. Bill Halter would authorize a lottery without the deceptions and favoritism that have attended previous lottery campaigns.

The appeal of lotteries has never been mysterious. Lots of people want to play them for the pleasure of the gamble and the long chance that they will hit the jackpot and never have to work again. Others who may never buy a lottery ticket think it is a way to pay for government without taxes. Lotteries have been called a tax on stupidity, and to many that seems to be a better way to pay for government than taxing labor and entrepreneurial endeavor. Since the stupid are the principal beneficiaries of government (so the notion goes) let them pay for it.

Lotteries, however, never prove to be such manna. After states adopt lotteries, taxes go onward and, usually, upward as the need rises for government services — roads, schools, prisons, heightened law enforcement, health care. Lotteries never substitute for honest taxes, but hope springs eternal.

Proposed Amendment 3 would authorize the legislature to create an Arkansas lottery, and the net proceeds after prizes and the franchise gaming company’s ample take would fuel a college scholarship program. Halter estimates that it would produce $100 million a year. It would almost surely produce far less than that, but even if the net is only $25 million, that would help a lot of kids go to college.

It is a compelling argument for the lottery. Nearly all state lottery initiatives ride to victory on such appeals. It is public education, college scholarships or programs for the elderly — the worthiest tugs on human compassion. You just can’t be against it, although what typically happens is that state legislatures use the new revenue source to slacken existing support for the program. You may expect that the current substantial state investment in scholarships will find its way in the future to other needy programs. That is as it should be. (Yes, we know Amendment 3 purports to prevent it.)

You can’t be against a lottery for such noble purposes, but we are. We are for college scholarships, lots of them, and we don’t think there is a biblical injunction against gambling as the church crowd fighting Amendment 3 seems to believe. Maybe there is, but it should be a valuable guide for personal behavior and not a premise for lawmaking, as we have had occasion to observe on other issues in this election.

We are against Amendment 3 because it is government at its worst. Government should not be a nanny keeping its children on the straight and narrow moral path, but neither should it be the agent of their destruction. A lottery is a state-sponsored numbers racket. Some 20 percent of Americans are frequent players — all but five states have succumbed to the lottery siren call — and by far most of them are struggling people of low incomes. Not all (we confess to dropping a dollar or two ourselves in visiting other states) but most. Halter has insisted that lotteries are not regressive, and he cites sources provided by the gaming industry, but he is dead wrong as scores of studies and anyone’s casual observations can attest. Drop by the convenience store across the state line from Junction City, Ark., sometime and study the clientele. We have a well-to-do friend who makes the journey a few times every year to buy a fist of tickets for the thrill of it, but he is not typical.

Those 20 percent drop about $60 billion a year on lottery tickets. A lottery-playing household with a gross income under $13,000 a year spends an average of $645 a year on lottery, about 9 percent of its income. Like payday lenders and credit cards, the lottery preys upon the desperation of the neediest people who do not have 401(k)s to keep them secure.

Governments everywhere have to hawk their lottery products with increasing intensity and cleverness to keep the poor buying and the revenues flowing. Billboards tell people that they can build that great future with the lottery. Work, the unspoken message says, is the uncertain way.

Arkansas will be doing that in a few years, and it is a sight we contemplate with sadness.

TOP STORY > >A big payday for Sherwood: $660,000 check

Leader staff writer

With a unanimous vote Monday night Sherwood became $660,000 richer.

As soon as the city council approved an ordinance putting an end to the lawsuit between Sherwood and North Little Rock over who could provide Sherwood with electricity, city attorney Stephen Cobb presented the council with a $660,000 check from North Little Rock as part of the settlement.

“This has been a long ordeal,” said Alderman Becki Vassar, “and I’m delighted we have the opportunity tonight to settle it.”

Mayor Virginia Hillman agreed, “It’s been a long time coming. I’m glad to see an end to this.”

And just to make sure, Cobb reported that 10 minutes after Sherwood had approved the ordinance, North Little Rock did the same at its council meeting.

“Good thing,” Vassar quipped, “because we’re not giving the check back.”

The 19-page agreement be-tween the two cities states that North Little Rock would return franchise fees–$660,000—it had been holding for more than a year, and in return, North Little Rock would remain Sherwood’s main provider of electricity through July 1, 2015. At that time, Sherwood can choose what entity or utility it wants as its electric provider.

The settlement caps a lawsuit initiated more than five years ago when Sherwood decided to let First Electric be the electric provider to a new subdivision because the city felt First Electric offered better service and at the time substantially lower rates.

The rates between First Electric and North Little are now very similar.

North Little Rock in the suit claimed that since it had provided Sherwood with electricity for more than 60 years and had “expended substantial sums of money” to construct infrastructure and maintain facilities that it had a contract with Sherwood.

Sherwood agreed that North Little Rock had been the longtime provider, but since there was no written agreement between the two cities, Sherwood could shop elsewhere for electricity.

The lawsuit went to Pulaski County Court and in an order the judge declared that even though Sherwood could ask another entity to provide electricity it broke a contract with North Little Rock.

The broken contract meant Sherwood was on the hook for more than $2 million in franchise fees it would have had to return to North Little Rock.

But the order left a lot unclear for both cities and rather than appeal the decision both cities decided to work out an agreement.

In other council business:

The council took no action on an ordinance that allows Cypress Properties to construct their portion of Maryland Avenue in lieu of receiving at least a seven-year hiatus from building their portion of Hemphill Road.

“At our last council meeting,” the city attorney explained, “the council wanted more negotiations and communication between the city and the developer. We communicated a little, but then it went cold.”

Cobb continued, “We left the ordinance on the agenda in hopes that there would be some last minute communication to allow us to move forward. There wasn’t, so no action will be taken.”

The ordinance was an effort on the mayor’s part to try and complete Maryland Avenue to give the city another east-west corridor. But council members have felt that the developer should not be excused from completing Hemphill Road to give the city another north-south corridor. The mayor’s position is that the Maryland Avenue connection is more viable and important at this time.

The developer, according to city ordinances doesn’t have to complete either roadway until he starts to develop in those areas.

With a number of unsold lots in Sherwood, the developer has no current plans to develop the Maryland Avenue or Hemphill Road areas.

The council approved the first reading of an ordinance amending the city’s land use map, an ordinance amending the city’s master street plan and an ordinance amending the city’s zoning map to include future development in Gravel Ridge.

It takes three readings and subsequent approvals for an ordinance to become law. By only reading these ordinances once, the council gave residents another 30 days to give their input.

The maps are on display in city hall and should also be available for view on the city’s web site.

Aldermen approved resolutions condemning an abandoned mobile home at lot 355 of the Sunwood Mobile Home Court in the 300 block of Cherrie Avenue and a fire-damaged home at 10618 Rockbrook Drive. Both properties were declared a public nuisance and owners have 30 to bring the property into code or tear down or remove the structures.

The council also approved removal of Indianhead Cove from the city’s master street plan. City officials were surprised to discover that the parking lot of the apartments next to the Indianhead Baptist Church was actually earmarked to be a street.

This came to light during a potential sale of the property.

“It’s never been a street,” the city attorney said. “It’s a parking lot and will probably never be a street. There a building right there that the street would run into.”

The council voted to vacate its rights to the property and forgo any street designation in efforts to clear up the matter for the owners and potential buyers.

Alderman Marina Brooks announced that the city’s annual veteran’s memorial day event would be at 2 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 9 at the memorial at Sherwood Forest. Activities will include a reading of names of veterans on the bricks of the memorial, a Civil War reenactment, an honor guard and a possible C-130 flyover. There is no charge to attend the event.

Also on Friday the city will sponsor a Halloween carnival from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Sherwood Forest.

TOP STORY > >Council member avoids fine, cleans up business

Leader staff writer

Cabot Alderman Becky Lemaster has cleaned up her auto body shop at 2016 S. Second St. and will not have to pay the $400 fine attached to the citation for keeping a premise that was unsightly and unsanitary.

Larry Jegley, the Pulaski County prosecutor who was assigned to the case after Cabot City Attorney Jim Taylor recused, said Tuesday that the case was not heard this week as scheduled in Cabot District Court because code officer Richard Burt told him by fax that all the violations had been corrected.

“I’m going to draft an order for the judge to sign absolving her of any fines,” Jegley said.

Jegley called the resolution of the case a good one for the city, the Lemasters and their neighbors who complained about the unsightliness of the business.

Since Cabot District Judge Joe O’Bryan also recused, the case was heard by Jim Hamilton, a Pulaski County district judge.

Lemaster, who is running against two opponents for a second term on the Cabot City Council, has said publicity about the citation was politically motivated.

On Sept. 29, Jegley toured the business along with Becky and Roger Lemaster, their attorney, Paul Schmidt Jr., Burt and the judge, Lemaster was given until last Monday to correct the code violations that Burt pointed out.

Lemaster said that earlier the code citation was retaliation for questioning how Mayor Eddie Joe Williams runs the city and that Burt conducted himself unprofessionally and did not give proper notification before issuing the citation.

The mayor unequivocally de-nies Lemaster’s charges.

Any action against Lemaster was driven by complaints, he said.

Jegley praised Burt for the work on the Lemaster case.

“Mr. Burt was very professional and did a good job,” Jegley said. “I think the city can be proud because they’ve got a good one.”

Jegley said Burt will continue to watch the business to ensure it is maintained according to city code, but for all practical purposes, the case is closed.

TOP STORY > >Recession puts long-term road plans on hold

Leader senior staff writer

So uncertain is the state of the economy, gas and oil prices and consequently highway and other funding that the Metroplan board of directors Thursday voted to discontinue work on METRO 2035, a new long-range transportation plan, choosing instead to update the exiting long-range transportation plan, METRO 2030.

As the metropolitan planning agency for central Arkansas, Metroplan is required to have a long-range plan, according to Executive Director Jim McKenzie, but not necessarily 25 years out.

The Transportation Advisory Council, along with staff, recommended that the current plan—METRO 2030—be revisited to create, for lack of better term, METRO 2030.2. The revisited plan would focus on the issues in the short-term that would more directly affect current projects in the adopted plan.

That dovetails with Metroplan’s Operation Bottleneck, which in-volved the public in identifying problems with congestion and safety throughout Central Arkansas, many of which can be resolved fairly inexpensively.

The public input period is over, and the staff is dividing the problems up geographically and also according to difficulty and expense of addressing them, McKenzie said.

In recommending updating the old plan instead of making a new one, the Transportation Advisory Council members said unknowns about the level of federal program support and new program requirements under discussion in the surface transportation reauthorization debate, according to McKenzie.

It also takes into account the impact of higher gasoline prices on vehicle miles traveled and state and federal revenues. Green House gas regulations would likely impact the planning process.

Even if Central Arkansas manages to meet current ozone standards, the area will be out of compliance when the new standards finally take affect after current court challenges. That will affect the area’s ability to grow its highway system, among other things.

Not only do these uncertainties make it much more difficult to forecast the future out through 2035 with any level of certainty, extending the timeframe also generates a great deal of work on the part of the staff, McKenzie said. It would have to estimate the size of the surface transportation funds available, estimate the inflation of construction materials and also the affect of new ozone limits and regulations — and then do it again when there is more information.

McKenzie reported that the Congress was looking at a second stimulus program, which would have a significant public works element.

The focus would be on ready-to-go-to-bid projects for a quick economic boost; therefore, any entity that could invest its own funds in preliminary project engineering would have a better shot at getting funding from this source.

TOP STORY > >City to give $5M for new campus


Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim will present a $5 million check during a luncheon Friday at Little Rock Air Force Base as the city’s share of the cost of a new joint education center to be built near the front gate at the base.

The Air Force is paying $9.8 million as its share of the $14.8 million project, which will offer college-level classes to both military and civilian students.

Swaim will present the check to Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, commander of Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., during a luncheon of the Little Rock Air Base Community Council.

“Jacksonville citizens have a long history of financial support to the base,” Swaim said.

In the 1950s, Jacksonville leaders helped raise $1 million needed to purchase the land for the base, Swaim said. Many of them donated their property.

Jacksonville residents had approved a 1-cent sales tax in 2003 to raise $5 million for the education center.

The air base expects to award the construction contract in December or January and complete the project in September 2010, according to James McKinnie, chief of the 19th Civil Engineering Squadron.

The facility “will be larger scale and offer a variety of class,” McKinnie added.

The center offers a “world-class learning environment” while offering easier access for students and employees coming off the base, McKinnie said. “It’s a win-win situation.”

The air base has an education center, but access has been restricted since 9/11. The new joint education center will be more accessible to both students and faculty from several colleges and universities.

It took the federal government until last year to authorize its share and in the meantime, the cost of steel, asphalt, concrete and petroleum have risen dramatically, reducing the amount of building the Air Force and city will get for their buck.

The rising cost of construction materials means the building will be 50 percent smaller than originally anticipated.

At one time, the building was envisioned as an 81,000-square-foot structure adequate to provide all the space needed for several colleges to hold classes.

Even when the Jacksonville contribution is formally accepted, the building may be 44,000 square feet or less, McKinnie said.

He said the building could come in at about 35,000 square feet.

Soil testing also proved that the building site, roughly at the intersection of John Harden and Vandenberg Boulevard, had expansive soils, bad for building.

The net effect of that is to increase the cost of building the foundation, McKinnie said.

The engineering is about 50 percent done now, he added.

Current plans call for access to the building from John Harden, he said, but if there is enough money, a second drive off Vandenberg could be added.

McKinnie said the downsized version might not be large enough to accommodate all of the center’s needs.

He said it would be large enough for about 528 students in various classrooms, computer and science labs, but without much office space.

He said some of the college’s functions, particularly administrative, might still occur in one of the old joint-education center buildings, on the base behind the fence.

The new building also is designed to meet the LEED environmental standards, nearly to the “silver” level, McKinnie said.

He added the plan called for leaving as many trees on the wooded site as possible.

Senior writer John Hofheimer of The Leader contributed to this report.

TOP STORY > >New group set to take over hospital

Leader staff writer

North Metro Medical Center is nearing a deal that would ensure the continuation of essential medical services to Jacksonville and surrounding communities.

Today the hospital board of directors will possibly solidify terms of a long-term lease agreement with Allegiance Health Management, a Shreveport-based firm that specializes in rural health care. Negotiations in recent weeks have centered on the idea of Allegiance using part of the hospital facility to open a long-term acute care hospital, or LTACH as it is known in the health care industry.

Because the specialized services provided at an LTACH generally bring a comparatively higher rate of return for insurance reimbursements, the board sees such a unit as a way to shore up the hospital’s weak financial base. Then the hospital could stay open and continue to provide essential services, especially emergency care.

Also on the table are plans for opening an after-hours clinic. This would lighten the load on the emergency room for cases that require urgent but not critical care.

“We are close to a management agreement, with a potential final agreement when the board meets Wednesday,” hospital board member Mike Wilson said Monday. “The lawyers are drafting agreements for Allegiance to manage the hospital – hopefully to institute an LTACH, add new services, and improve hospital finances.”

An LTACH serves patients with complex medical problems, many of whom come directly from an intensive care unit and needing specialized, around-the-clock care. Patients who go to an LTACH have more complex medical problems and often require a ventilator. The average stay is 25 days.

Allegiance recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of its LTACH at the former Southwest Regional Medical Center in Little Rock, now owned by Baptist Health.

Allegiance leases the second floor of the hospital and is licensed for 40 beds; 20 are currently occupied.

Conditions treated at Al-legiance’s Little Rock LTACH include cardiac and multi-system failure, ventilator dependence, infectious, renal and respiratory diseases, malnutrition, complex wound care, re-constructive and long-term post-surgical care, and other medically complex needs, according to a press release.

Other LTACH’s in Arkansas include St. Vincent Select Specialty Hospital at Little Rock, Baptist Extended Care Hospital at Little Rock, Advanced Care Hospital at Searcy, Regency Hos-pital at Springdale, and Advance Care Hospital at Hot Springs, as well as at Fort Smith.

The mission of Allegiance Health Management is “to provide maximum assistance to rural and community healthcare facilities enabling them to prosper and succeed with their mission of providing for the diversified healthcare needs of their communities,” its Web site states. This is accomplished via “ownership assistance, consulting and management services, and acquisition of services.”

SPORTS>>Bears must shake off narrow loss to Billies

Leader sports editor

Taylor Pennington had just hauled in a pass to rally the Sylvan Hills Bears to within three points of first-place Monticello last Friday night when the bottom fell out.

Twelve seconds later, the Billies had re-established a comfortable margin after Grishen Mathews returned the ensuing kickoff 86 yards and the Bears never recovered in a 36-20 loss that dropped them into a third-place tie with White Hall in the 5A-Southeast.

“We had a ton of momentum and I thought we had a really good chance to win,” said Bear head coach Jim Withrow, whose team dropped to 4-4 overall, 3-2 in league play. “It seemed like we’d seized control of the game and had things going our way. But that’s why (Mathews) is a big-time player.”

Withrow said there may have been a miscommunication on the kickoff coverage and that the Bears were trying to kick away from Mathews.

Had the Bears completed the comeback from 17-0 down last Friday, they would today be tied for first place with the Billies and the Beebe Badgers. As it is, they now must get back to the business of securing one of the four playoff berths from the Southeast. Things figure to get a lot easier this Friday night when the Bears travel to 2-6 Little Rock McClellan, whose lone win in league play came on a last-minute touchdown against North Pulaski.

“They’re big up front,” Withrow said. “With the exception of North Pulaski, they’re probably the biggest team we’ll see up front in the conference. They’re getting their quarterback back this week. We’ve seen them on film and they can throw the ball deep, and their defense is not too bad.”

But, assuming the Bears can shake off the disappointment of the Monticello game, they should be able to take care of business on Friday. Withrow said he’s seen no lingering effect from the loss against one of the top teams in 5A.

“I think they were disappointed,” he said. “But we gave our best effort. We didn’t see total destruction (of the team’s confidence). I think they realize they still have work to do, and that we’re going to have to move on.”

Mostly, Sylvan Hills (4-4, 3-2) turned in another in a series of solid defensive performances against the Billies, limiting the potent, high-powered offense to just under 300 yards. There were areas in which the defense could have done better, Withrow said, primarily in defending the slot.

“For the most part, the kids executed the game plan pretty well,” he said. “We didn’t have room for mistakes and we had a couple that hurt us. We could have defended a couple of passes a little better. The last TD they scored was kind of a gift. They broke off a play on a counter.”

Offensively, the Bears found a balanced attack against a quick and physical Billie defense. Spears turned in one of his best games at quarterback, hitting 10 of 16 passes for three touchdowns and adding 62 yards on the ground. Lawrence Hodges ran for 53 yards.

Going against a big defensive front, Withrow opted to run out of the shotgun at times and with a two-tight-end set at others.

“Jordan ran the option well,” Withrow said. “He’s really starting to understand how to play the position and just looks a whole lot more comfortable in his execution.”

In addition to his touchdown pass to Pennington, Spears tossed two TD strikes to Ahmad Scott, who finished with four catches.

To some extent, the Bears control their own playoff destiny. Crossett and Mills are one game behind Sylvan Hills, but the Bears have wins over both. A win on Friday would secure at least a No. 4 slot. Win their final two and hope for a White Hall loss in one of its final two games and the Bears would finish second in the Southeast. White Hall hosts Beebe on Friday, and closes out at Mills.

But Sylvan Hills can’t afford to dwell on last week’s loss nor look ahead to a regular-season finale showdown at Beebe. And that’s not something Withrow is particularly concerned about.

“I hope we’re not looking past them,” he said. “If we didn’t learn with the White Hall deal (a 21-7 loss in the conference opener), I can’t think of a better lesson.”

SPORTS>>Panthers prepare for long trip west

Leader sportswriter

A long bus ride is in store for the Cabot Panthers this week when they make the trek to Blakemore Field in Van Buren to face a much-improved Pointers team on Friday.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Van Buren (2-6, 2-3 conf.) is coming off a big 28-10 win over Conway, while the Panthers (7-1, 4-1 conf.) outlasted Bryant in a 14-0 defensive struggle.

Both teams have much to play for with two games left in the regular season, for slightly different reasons. A win for Cabot this week would set up the likely 7A-Central Conference title game next week against Russellville, while an upset win for the
Pointers would not only move them up in the conferencestandings, but also provide a huge shot of confidence for first-year coach Mike Lee and company.

“We’re pretty excited about this one,” Lee said. “We don’t have a lot of big-type games like this one over here that often, so we’re excited about the opportunity. But if you look at Cabot on film, they’ll scare you to death.”

Van Buren is not loaded with weapons, but have a consistent quarterback in David Ostrander. The senior led the way against the Wampus Cat defense last week with 157 yards passing and an additional 83 yards on the ground. All four Pointer touchdowns came through the air.

“He’s very instinctive,” Lee said of Ostrander. “He’s already broken most of the school’s passing records, but we like to run with him too. We try to be multiple yet simplistic with everything we do on offense. We strive for balance.”

Only 30 yards separate the Pointers’ rushing and passing totals.

“It will be a good challenge for our defense,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “They do a lot of different things with their offense. They run with the option and spread it out, and it looks like they’re about 50-50 with what they do. Their quarterback does a good job. He throws well, runs well.

“It isn’t a lack of scoring for them. They’ve moved the ball and put points up all year. They have kind of a different look and do some things that we haven’t seen yet this year.”

The Van Buren team of the previous eight years might have been simply a warm up for Cabot on its way to face Russellville in Week 10, but Malham recognizes the Pointers as contenders this season, and also acknowledges that the Central Conference title is still very much in doubt.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen,” Malham said. “If we don’t win out these last two weeks, we could go down from a No. 2 to a No. 4, so we just have to be ready. Other than that, we have to wait two weeks until all the dust settles and see where everyone stands.”

The Cabot offense won’t be confused with Van Buren’s multiple attack, but quarterback Seth Bloomberg had a career night passing for the Panthers against Bryant. The junior completed 7 of 10 pass attempts for 90 yards, including one for a touchdown and another that was good for 35 yards to Justin Wortman, which set up the second Cabot touchdown of the night.

The predictability of the Cabot offense doesn’t give Lee much comfort, however.

“It’s the big ones beating their way through to make room for the little ones is what it is,” Lee said of the Cabot offense. “It doesn’t matter the situation, you just need to know they’re about to come downhill on you. Coach Malham is a little smarter than most of us. He’s adapted, which means you just can’t keep a bead on the base that they run because they throw a lot of other stuff in there too.”

While next week’s potentially title-clinching battle with Russellville is in the back of everyone’s mind, there’ll be no overlooking the Pointers this Friday.

“You look at them on film, and they’ve moved the ball well in every game they’ve played,” Malham said. “You can’t take anyone for granted or give any-one an easy touchdown. We hope they give us some easy scores, but they’ve really turned things around from the start of the season.

“They put up 28 last week against Conway, which is more than what we got.”

SPORTS>>Big, bad Blue Devils roll into town

Leader sports editor

Last Friday against Little Rock Parkview, it was missed opportunities. This Friday, when Jacksonville hosts top-ranked West Memphis, it may be a matter of just trying to find opportunities.

The 7-0-1 Blue Devils, 5-0 in the 6A-East, have received only one challenge all season, when West Helena played them to a 14-14 tie. There has been no fingernail biting since, as West Memphis has outscored its conference foes 332-55.

Kickoff is 7 p.m.

“This is the fastest West Memphis team I can remember,” said Red Devil head coach Mark Whatley, whose team squandered five chances inside Parkview territory last week in a 21-6 loss. “They present the same problems. They reload every year from their three feeder schools.”

For Jacksonville, it might be tempting to look past this one toward Marion in Week 10, a game which may well determinethe fourth seed from the East. Of course, they won’t do that.

“It’s one at a time, and you have to do the best you can,” Whatley said.

The scenario stacks up like this: The Red Devils (4-4, 3-2) hold a one-game lead over Mountain Home and Marion. The Patriots must travel to 6-2 Jonesboro this Friday. A Jacksonville win over Marion a week from Friday would give the Red Devils the nod over the Patriots for the No. 4 seed, no matter what happens this Friday night. Mountain Home hosts Parkview Friday and closes at Searcy.

But before the Red Devils can start thinking about the postseason, they’ll need to shore up some ongoing problems right now.

Last week, it was the failure to finish off drives. Six times the Red Devils traveled into Patriot territory. Five times – the last five of the night – they came away with nothing.

“That was the biggest thing last week,” Whatley said. “That just killed us. The defense gave us an opportunity to put some heat on them.”

The encouraging thing for Whatley was the way the offense moved at times. What was discouraging was that it relied way too much on the big play. In other words, there was a lot of inconsistent movement of the football – and very little on the ground.

Patrick Geans could find little running room, while backfield mate Keith Rodgers had some nice runs on his way to 43 yards on seven carries.

“We’ve got to give him the ball more,” Whatley said. “He’s a north and south runner and that’s what you need running out of the Spread.”

Sophomore quarterback Logan Perry turned in another solid performance, completing 19 of 34 passes for 203 yards. But he was sacked four times.

“On the whole, the line is doing a pretty good job,” Whatley said. “Sometimes those sacks are coverage sacks or it’s a back not picking up the blitz.”

When Perry did find time to throw, most often it was to Demetris Harris and Terrell Brown. Brown caught eight passes for 119 yards. Harris, who had no receptions at halftime, finished with five, but for just 48 yards.

The running game netted just 22 yards.

As good as the upstart Patriots have been, the challenge this Friday is going to be a whole lot stiffer. Despite not having its starting quarterback the past two weeks, the Blue Devils have not missed a beat. Last week, Robert Sorrell stepped in and actually added another dimension to a potent offense by completing 4 of 7 passes for 76 yards.

But West Memphis will once again be doing it mostly on the ground behind three or four runners, whose numbers are limited because the Blue Devils are winning by an average margin of 35 points.

The top backs are fullback Alvin Nelson, tailbacks Michael Hayes and J.C. Austin and wingback Mario James. All have touchdown runs of 47 yards or more and all are extremely fast.

That means Jacksonville must execute flawlessly on Friday and that’s something the Red Devils have not come close to doing this season on a consistent basis.

“It seems like about every three weeks we’re not executing the way we need to,” Whatley said. “If we don’t this Friday, it could get ugly in a hurry. They’re a very good football team, a very physical team.”

SPORTS>>Lady Bears’ net asset

Leader sportswriter

They say that only left-handed people are in their right minds. Sylvan Hills senior southpaw Courtney Luth is not only in her right mind, she’s a potent right-side hitter for the Lady Bears volleyball team, a position she’s held since her sophomore season.

The 5-foot, 10-inch Luth, who earned all-tournament honors in last year’s 6A state volleyball tournament, as well as conference honorable mention, confounds her opponents with her unique, effective style.

Her right arm raises up in position to strike, but is quickly replaced by her left arm delivering a crossing swing that usually hits its target and often catches her opponents off guard and out of position.

“I don’t even know what I do,” Luth said. “I remember hearing coaches after I get that first kill. They’ll go, ‘She’s left-handed,’ so they have to adjust. I guess it’s always been a big plus for me to be left-handed.”

Now as captain of the Lady Bears, she leads this year’s 5A-Southeast Conference championship winner into the 5A state tournament in Wynne, and looks to be a strong candidate for first team all conference honors in 2008.

Luth has played since age five, starting in the recreational leagues before moving up to the more elite junior-Olympic volleyball beginning her sophomore year. That’s also the same year she got the nod from Sylvan Hills head coach Harold Treadway as starter on the varsity team. Her junior Olympic endeavors began in Jacksonville, as a member of the Central Arkansas Juniors before moving to the Little Rock Juniors last year.

“Her outlook on volleyball is positive, because it’s real serious to her,” Treadway said. “But she has a positive outlook on life.

She’s always upbeat. Even after our roughest games, she comes in the next morning and has a smile on her face.”

As of now, however, there is surprisingly limited buzz for Luth (3.0 GPA) among college coaches. Lyon College has expressed interest, but Luth said that wherever she goes, she wants to keep playing, even if she has to walk on.

“I’m not really worried where I go, I just want to play volleyball,” she said. “That would make me work harder to prove myself.”

The Lady Bears earned a No. 2 seed out of the 6A-East Conference last year, but took a straight-games loss to Texarkana in the first round of the state tournament.

After losing All-State player Megan Gwatney and two other key seniors at the end of last season, Treadway hadbig shoes to fill in a number of positions. Although he had a proven talent in Luth, he had only two players with any varsity experience, making her presence on the court even more critical.

“People asked, ‘What are you going to do now?’ but I lose somebody every year,” Treadway said. “Some years, they contribute a little more than others. Next year, I hope somebody asks, ‘What are you going to do without Courtney?’ because she has been an important part.”

A coach can go one of two ways in planning for the season: Play a soft schedule and pick up some easy wins, or play a level about your talent and gain first-rate experience.

Treadway, facing a smaller and perhaps even saltier 5A Southeast Conference that included a fundamentally-sound Mills team, along with upstarts North Pulaski and Beebe, chose to take on the tough teams.

The Lady Bears suffered through a series of tough losses to start the season, and went into conference play with a 0-4 record.

“Sometimes it was stressful,” Luth confessed. “I would be standing on the floor in some of those early matches saying this is not how I imagined my senior year. It was very hard for me in the beginning, and I struggled a little bit.”

But the Lady Bears began to flourish when the conference schedule came around, and a season that started in frustration quickly turned around into a dream season. Sylvan Hills technically went unbeaten through the league when a loss to Mills was reversed due to an ineligible player.

Luth has many fans, but none as dedicated as her parents Todd and Kelly Luth. Todd is a big supporter who attends virtually all of her matches, and Kelly even serves as scorekeeper at SHHS home events. Older brother Cameron is currently enrolled at the University of Nebraska.

Luth also looks at the world of athletics from another perspective as sports editor of the yearbook, and also serves as entertainment editor of the school paper.

She will soon attend a journalism conference in St. Louis, though Luth is interested in physical therapy as a possible career.

Her part-time job is also sports-related at Sherwood Sports Complex baseball and softball facility, where she has chosen to dispense Gatorade and nachos from the concession stand rather than suit up.

“I played softball, soccer, track, basketball – I did all that,” Luth said. “But I was taught volleyball by a foreign exchange student I had when I was five years old, and it’s just always stuck with me. I love it. It’s amazing to be out there when you hit a ball, and it’s all on you. I love that feeling. I love volleyball.”

The Lady Bears met for one more practice on Monday afternoon before preparing to make the trip to Wynne yesterday for their first-round match with Paragould. If Luth was sweating the outcome, she certainly didn’t show it.

“I was up all night last night,” Luth said. “I played the whole match in my head. I do that a lot, where I’ll just sit there and play matches in my head, trying to think of new things to make us more successful. That’s all I think about. There’s no nerves. I’m so excited.”

Monday, October 27, 2008

EDITORIAL > > A good word for Acorn

When Wade Rathke, a lanky redheaded youngster from New Orleans, organized poor dwellers of east Little Rock to fight for better services from the city 35 years ago, none of us imagined that this latter-day Sampson would one day bring down the pillars of the world financial establishment and destroy American democracy.
But if you can believe John McCain and a coterie of right-wing publicists, that is what Rathke and his band of poor-people’s champions have been up to and with great success. They insinuated or outright charged that Rathke’s Acorn was the culprit in the collapse of the global banking system and that they were about to subvert the democracy by stealing millions of votes on election day, most likely for Barack Obama.
They wiped out the commercial and investment banks along with hedge funds and global insurance companies by pestering banks and the government mortgage companies to give more loans to undeserving black families and other denizens of low-income neighborhoods, and they are about to thwart the democratic process by infiltrating the polls with millions of faux voters with names like Mickey Mouse and Tony Romo.
It is a measure of the fantastic weirdness of the political season that such baloney gets any currency outside the paranoid journals of the demented right. But the Acorn banking and voting fraud stories consume Fox News and they have made their way into respectable prints like the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. You can catch the drift by reading Mike Masterson’s persistently perverse column in the Democrat Gazette.
Still it was a shock to see McCain, a normally level-headed but increasingly desperate candidate, claim in his final debate with Obama that Acorn was conspiring to destroy government by the people. Acorn, McCain said, was “on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history” and it “maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.”
The next day the Associated Press carried a story quoting unidentified sources as saying the FBI was investigating possible vote fraud by Acorn in several states. If that is so, the Justice Department is still using the justice system for political ends, which the current attorney general has sworn that he has ended. He probably has. There will be no prosecutions or convictions of vote fraud against Acorn.
Let’s take the two accusations separately.
After Rathke started Arkansas Community Organizations for Reform Now in Pulaski County, he branched out and started groups in other cities. Acorn has organizations in many large cities now. One of its objectives — maybe its central one — was to get banks to invest in poor neighborhoods like they do in affluent ones.
Congress provided a great tool in 1977 with the enactment of the Community Reinvestment Act, which encouraged commercial banks and thrifts to try to meet the needs of borrowers like potential homeowners in downtrodden parts of their cities. It was supposed to stop discriminatory lending practices in minority neighborhoods like redlining. The law was Acorn’s leverage in Little Rock, Chicago and many other cities and it is fair to say that over three decades it got home loans for tens of thousands of minority and low-income families who otherwise wouldn’t have got them.
Until 2001, the government aggressively enforced the act. A Federal Reserve report in 2000 concluded that lending under the act had been profitable for the banks and not overly risky. But the Bush administration stopped enforcing the act, and in 2003 his chief thrift regulator bragged that he was sharply scaling back the scope of the reinvestment act.
But now Acorn is somehow supposed to have bludgeoned the banks, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac under the Bush regime into tossing billions of loans to Acorn clients, who promptly defaulted. The real estate agents, the bankers and all the others who profited from the housing bubble and suddenly lax regulation were not to blame at all — it was Acorn. And, of course, President Bill Clinton, who wanted the government-sponsored mortgage companies to buy all these subprime loans. For that account, see the Democrat Gazette full-dress editorial last week. The banking crisis, it said, was Clinton’s fault, though it occurred eight years after he left office.
That is baloney, too, like Acorn’s villainy. The bad subprime loans that caused the banking crisis were made almost altogether by independent mortgage firms and bank affiliates that were not covered by the reinvestment law and had no reckoning whatever with Acorn or any of the people it fought for.
The voter fraud scandal is still more absurd. Acorn has been doing voter-registration drives for years, like both parties and many other interest groups. They hire people to go out and sign up people who are not registered to vote. They are required by law to turn in every registration form even if it looks phony on its face, like the famous Mickey Mouse application turned in — flagged as phony — by an Acorn affiliate. Registration groups are not allowed to pick and choose which forms they will submit, no matter the reason. It is up to voter registrars to determine which forms comply with the law.
Acorn’s procedure is to review all of the forms brought in by its solicitors and flag those that are suspicious in some way — a fictitious-looking name or address or the frequent omission of information. A few registrars have made an issue of some of the Acorn forms, even though Acorn had alerted them to the suspicion.
The Republican Party, the Democratic Party, church groups and others run into the same problems with registration affidavits. Thousands get thrown out. Bad ones sometimes get registered.
Even at that, it is not voter fraud unless someone actually shows up to vote under the fictitious name. There has never been a single prosecution of fraud for a person voting illegally with an Acorn-gathered registration, and the Republicans have been pushing federal prosecutors for years in Arkansas and elsewhere to go after Acorn, mainly for the publicity before elections.
No, our economy and our democracy are still safe from Wade Rathke and the other few shepherds of the poor. From the paladins of the rich, it is not so certain.