Friday, December 05, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Rescue sought for hospital

Jacksonville can no longer afford to operate its own hospital, which is losing more than $400,000 a month, a staggering amount that includes millions of dollars written off for charity care and equals about a third of North Metro Medical Center’s monthly payroll.

A deep recession, increased competition and falling revenues have pushed North Metro toward the brink. The city-owned hospital can no longer sustain such losses, and it’s hoped a private company might turn North Metro around. As we’ve reported for weeks, the city is negotiating a sale or lease agreement with Allegiance Health Management of Shreveport, La., which plans to turn North Metro into a niche hospital focusing on specialized care while still promising to keep the emergency room open.

The city council Thursday voted to negotiate the best terms for a sale with the for-profit group. If Allegiance succeeds, it will mean continued care for residents who have depended on North Metro and its predecessor, Rebsamen Medical Center, for 50 years to heal their wounds, repair their hearts, deliver their babies and much more.

As a cost-cutting measure, many of those services are no longer available at North Metro — partly because of rising costs, but mostly because of intense competition from nearby hospitals and reduced reimbursements from the federal government and insurance companies — not to mention the thousands of uninsured patients who receive care but have no way of paying their bills.

Unfortunately, a deal with Allegiance is not guaranteed. A tight credit market could end negotiations, or the city might have to sell for a lot less than it has invested in the hospital.

It is surprising, then, that city officials had not prepared for a rainy-day scenario that would have ensured the hospital’s survival with a sales tax that would have raised millions of dollars and kept the facility in local hands.

Jacksonville has funded several projects with sales taxes, including a new library, water park and joint-education center in front of the air base. But we would have thought saving the hospital would have been a top priority for the city, especially since the air base depends on North Metro to provide medical care to its young airmen and their families.

Keeping a well-equipped, modern emergency room in Jacksonville should be viewed as a necessity. North Metro is the first point of service for emergencies from Little Rock Air Force Base but also for vehicle- and other accidents on the Hwy. 67-167 corridor, not to mention injuries, life-threatening allergic reactions and cardiovascular events occurring north of Jacksonville. True emergencies must be kept in mind, coupled with the fact that neither Lonoke County nor Prairie County have hospitals. And in a true emergency, time is of the utmost importance.

Two larger hospitals are just to the south of Jacksonville, but in a true emergency, precious minutes can be lost in transportation and patient outcome can be compromised. A topnotch emergency room, which Allegiance says it is prepared to provide, could stabilize patients before sending them on to larger hospitals for more intensive critical care.

When the board hired North Metro’s current CEO, Scott Landrum, it hoped he would improve the hospital’s bottom line. With Landrum came a new name for the hospital, improved public image and improvements to the facility and services. But it was a case of too little, too late. And the name change led to confusion among some community residents.

When the hospital shut down its obstetrical wing, some saw that as the beginning of the end.

The hospital board feels that part of North Metro’s problem is that residents have a choice of hospitals within a reasonable geographic range. But in an emergency, no one in their right mind would choose to compromise their condition by a long transport.

Landrum is on the right track, but improving one’s image is not accomplished overnight, and more than just image, the hospital must deliver the quality of care the community deserves.

The hospital must be saved.

TOP STORY > >Pearl Harbor survivor tells of ’41 attack

Leader editor-in-chief

(This column about the late McLyle Zumwalt first appeared here on Dec. 9, 1989 and is reprinted to mark the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.)

Most people think of retired Col. McLyle Zumwalt as one of the organizers of Pathfinders, which trains the developmentally and physically disabled in Jacksonville.

Many people remember him as the commander of Little Rock Air Force Base from 1966 to 1970, when he retired to go into business and helped build Pathfinders into the largest private organization of its kind in the state.

But even those who know him well probably don’t realize how much he accomplished in the military.

He trained bombing crews and commanded several bases, but it might astonish you to discover that he played a role in the nation’s atomic program.

In 1945, while he was assigned near Albuquerque, N.M., he provided air support for the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

While attached to the Manhattan Project, Zumwalt worked with Gen. Leslie Richard Groves, who headed the atomic program and kept the temperamental scientists in line.

Zumwalt met most of them: J. Robert Oppenheimer, the genius who was torn over the awesome power he was about to unleash; Dr. Edward Teller, the hard-charging Hungarian immigrant who later developed the H-bomb and had no qualms about it (and was the driving force behind Star Wars, which terrified the Soviets and eventually led to their downfall), and scores of other scientists who rallied around Gen. Groves and got the job done.

America had made its mind up to win the war, and nothing less than unconditional surrender was acceptable. That happened just over three years after America’s humiliation at Pearl Harbor, when the Axis powers seemed invincible.

Zumwalt is a Pearl Harbor survivor, and he spoke at the state Capitol marking the anniversary of that attack when America was caught off guard and yet quickly recovered and marshaled all of its resources to defeat two great totalitarian powers.

Since the Capitol rally was organized by the group Arkansas Peace Through Strength, the Pearl Harbor Day Remembrance had a clear message: America must not leave itself defenseless.

“We were unprepared to go to war at the time,” Zumwalt told us. “We were trying to build a fighting force in the Pacific and in the U.S., and if the Japanese had destroyed our carrier fleet, they would have had control of the Pacific.”

That didn’t happen.

“We were rebuilding as fast as we could come up with the equipment,” Zumwalt said. “Pearl Harbor solidified every American.”

The U.S. was caught off guard, but the devastation that was Pearl Harbor did not please the admiral who had organized the surprise attack.
“He said, ‘I’m afraid we’ve awakened a sleeping giant,’” Zumwalt recalled.

It was just before 8 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, at Hickman Field outside Pearl Harbor when 2nd Lieut. Zumwalt, 22, saw the first Japanese plane approach the airfield and drop torpedo bombs on the flight line below.

More than 360 other planes followed in two waves over a two-hour period. Zumwalt, who had been in his apartment when he noticed the first plane approaching, immediately ran to the air strip and saw airmen dying all around him.

There had been extra guards on duty to prevent sabotage on the ground.

“The thing that made it so devastating is that we had reinforced sabotage alert,” Zumwalt said. “We had more airmen there. The aircraft were parked so we could get maximum security.”

Instead, the planes were sitting ducks as the Japanese continued their ferocious bombing.

“They strafed us from almost plane level, and they left us when they ran out of ammunition,” Zumwalt said. “The base commander was trying to save planes and was caught on the ramp, and the only protection he had was how close he got to the pavement.”

Zumwalt went on, “I was the officer guard for a week prior to Sunday, and I got acquainted with most of the men. Most of the security people were lost in the first attack. I knew most of those boys.

“The flight line was the worst place to be,” Zumwalt continued. “You’re trying to function for two hours moving the airplanes and moving the wounded, but the Japanese kept coming. They were hitting all their targets. They lifted the roof off a large maintenance depot. We lost 188 planes and 63 were damaged. We had 30 planes left.”

Out in the harbor, the destruction was just as terrible. Four battleships were sunk and others damaged. Thousands of servicemen were dead and wounded.

“We only had one B-17 left,” Zumwalt said.

There were a few more of the less sophisticated B-18s left.

“The next day, we took off. I flew out in a B-18, which had three .30-caliber guns you cranked up manually,” he said, giving you an idea how much catching up the country had to do.

Eventually, the fighting forces caught up with the enemy and delivered stunning blows in the Battle of Midway and Wake Island and Guadalcanal, where Zumwalt saw action.

“We had broken the Japanese code,” he said, “and we were able to be alerted that they were approaching. We didn’t know exactly when and where, but we knew they were coming.”

Things had changed since Pearl Harbor, but its lessons are no less valuable than they were in 1941. Just ask the survivors.

TOP STORY > >Sewer repairs could cost city millions

Leader staff writer

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has lost its patience with the city of Sherwood. According to state inspection reports by the ADEQ dating back to at least 2004, discharges of pollutants from the city’s two sewer treatment facilities are at unacceptably high levels.

City engineer Ellen Norvell inherited the problem when she was hired a few months ago.

On Thursday, at a specially convened meeting of the city council, she laid out the timeline for getting the plants back in compliance with the state, a project that could cost the city between $2 million and $7 million.

State inspectors lost their patience in December 2007, when they made a visit to the treatment facilities and found that problems cited in 2004 had been ignored. Improper maintenance of the levees and unacceptably high levels of pollutants in treated waters discharged from the plants into neighboring waterways are the major concerns, Norvell explained.

As she spoke, she held up a state report showing a long list of the troubling substances that put Sherwood out of compliance with state and federal regulations.

The ADEQ fined Sherwood $23,300, but Norvell was able to get the amount reduced to $15,500.

Norvell does not know how long the city plants have been out of compliance, other than the fact that inspectors in 2007 referenced 2004 citations.

The ADEQ is formally lowering the boom with publication on Dec. 12 of a consent order, with an effective date of Jan. 9, Norvell said. From that day, the city will have 30 days to submit a master plan to ADEQ outlining its plan for addressing problems with the waste water system.

In anticipation of that, Norvell, at the upcoming Sherwood City Council meeting, will recommend Crist Engineering of Little Rock to evaluate the entire waste water system and craft a plan to rehab the plants.

“We need to know if the system is adequate, and it has got to have a detailed schedule to get ADEQ’s blessing – a complete evaluation of the sewer lines,” Norvell said. “We have got to get ADEQ’s confidence back up that we are taking this consent order seriously.”

Norvell hopes that ADEQ will allow the city some latitude in how quickly the repairs are made.

“We hope to stretch them out over several years,” she said. “We want to be sure we do what is needed and not have to make the repairs more than once, but that is our goal. We don’t want to be responsible for polluting.”

Officials sounded optimistic that funds could be found to pay for the improvements, but agreed that Sherwood residents might have to help shoulder some of the cost. No one at the meeting could recall the last rate increase for sewerage treatment.

The conclusion was that it was a decade or more ago.

TOP STORY > >Canadians join local exercise

Leader senior staff writer

Two men wearing the traditional Arab Dishdashah and headpiece wandered casually up to a checkpoint manned by armed U.S. and Canadian guards at an air installation. The two engaged the guards in conversation for a few moments until suddenly there was a loud explosion, killing the two and crippling one sentry.

The sounds of gunfire erupted from two different tree lines as a handful of attackers tried to overrun a small air base with a Canadian C-130 parked on the tarmac.

So went day four of the five-day joint readiness training exercise dubbed Exercise Green Flag. All the rifle rounds were blanks
in the Air Force’s version of laser tag.

The 34th Combat Training Squadron is hosting 100 Canadian airmen, including four six-man C-130 crews, from 8 Wing, deployed from Trenton, Ontario, through Sat-urday at the base. The exercise is with the 50th, 53rd and 61st Airlift Squadrons, all part of the 19th Airlift Wing.

About 300 Little Rock airmen, including four planes and five-man crews, joined their Canadian comrades in the air mobility portion of the training underway with the U.S. Army at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La.

The Army usually has between 1,500 and 5,000 soldiers involved in their joint training exercises and the Canadian and U.S. air forces will transport soldiers or material as required by the exercise.

The C-130s could be called upon to land and offload its cargo, to make a parachute drop of it or to land, keep moving and roll the cargo pallets out the back door before taking off.

“We do these exercises 10 times a year,” said Lt. Col. Ashley Salter, director of operations for the 34th Training Wing.

It’s generally done in conjunction with the Army and with C-130 airlift wings from Canada, England or Germany, he said.

Maj. Bradley Wintrup said when his crews return from this exercise, they will be ready for deployment to Afghanistan.

“We do this once a year upon invitation,” he said.

Salter said the exercises give experience to junior commanders or senior co-pilots so they get their first five “combat” missions under their belts before being sent into a war zone.

He said that much of the crew training is done now in simulators, but that the exercises in real planes under combat-like conditions help build situational awareness and combat experience. The trainers from the 34th Training Wing will evaluate the exercises and grade the airmen.

TOP STORY > >City approves plan to sell hospital

Leader staff writer

North Metro, Jacksonville’s city-owned hospital, is losing $400,000 a month, Mayor Tommy Swaim told the city council Thursday.

“We can not continue to maintain a hospital,” he said, which is why the council approved leasing the facility back in October to Allegiance Health Management, but the city is having trouble locking the lease in because of the falling bond market.

So the mayor asked the council’s approval to give Allegiance the option to buy the hospital. “There’s no guarantee that they will buy it right away or even after a few years,” but it will help seal the lease, he said.

“It may not be the best deal, but it’s the only one we could find,” the mayor said. “This will keep the hospital here.”

Back in October the board of directors of North Metro Medical Center signed a letter of intent to begin negotiations with Allegiance Health Management about leasing the hospital facility. As negotiations continued, the hospital has fallen deeper in debt, losing more than $400,000 in October and again in November. (See editorial, p. 6A.)

When Allegiance decides to purchase the hospital, it will either pay the appraised price or the amount the hospital is in debt, which ever is greater, according to the mayor.

“This is an effort to maintain an acute-care hospital in the city of Jacksonville,” said Swaim, who is also the chairman of the hospital’s board of directors.

Local attorney Mike Wilson, who is also on the board, told the council that no matter what, the hospital would continue to operate a walk-in clinic.

The agreement with Allegiance calls for all major aspects of the hospital–the emergency room, outpatient care and surgeries–to continue. The mayor said Allegiance has plans to consolidate aspects of its operations that are in other leased locations to North Metro and believes it can make the hospital profitable within about six months.

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

From fiscal year 2006 (ending June 30) to FY 2007, North Metro’s annual net loss increased from $804,000 to $3 million, according to a recent Arkansas Business report. For FY 2007, the hospital had a 3.45 percent negative return on total billed charges and a $4.8 million loss in uncompensated care billed to insurers, out of a total $46.8 million billed. The report is based on data from Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield provided by hospitals.

In 2007, the hospital hired a new CEO, Scott Landrum, in hopes of improving the bottom line. With his administration has come a new name for the hospital, an advertising campaign and improvements to the facility and services.

Swaim said part of North Metro’s problem is that most residents in the area have a choice of hospitals within reasonable range. “But we are committed to have a hospital in our city. It’s just a question of whether we own it or a private company does,” he said.

The hospital has about 500 employees and an annual payroll of around $18 million, which translates into millions more going into the local economy, the mayor told the council.

The resolution approved unanimously by the council Thursday states that the city would prefer a long-term lease, but that “doing so is financially unfeasible in these economic authorized the mayor and city clerk to negotiate at favorable terms with a qualified medical facility operations group an option to purchase.”

The mayor assured the council that the city would have first option to buy back the hospital if Allegiance buys it and then decides later to sell. “We will have first right of refusal,” Swaim said.

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.”

(Leader staff writer Nancy Dockter contributed to this article.)

SPORTS>> Lady Owls move into tourney finals by beating England

Leader sports editor

BENTON — The Abundant Life girls reached the finals of the Bill Gibbs Memorial tournament with a 59-51 win over England on Thursday night at Benton Harmony Grove.

Hannah Pastor led the way for the Lady Owls (13-4) with 28 points, while Brittany Sharp added 18.

It was the Lady Owls’ second win of the year over England and propelled them into the finals against Perryville today at 5:30.

Abundant Life opened tournament play by beating Mt. Vernon 54-31. The Lady Owls used a stifling defense early to race to a 10-0 lead and were never challenged after opening up a 28-12 advantage at intermission.

Pastor scored 16 and Sharp add-ed 13. Sydney Venus had seven, while Andrea Venus and Carmyn Sharp scored six each. Erin Williamson chipped in five.

On Tuesday night, Abundant Life improved to 1-1 in conference play with a 60-31 win over White County Central, shutting out the Lady Bears 23-0 in the third period to put it away. Pastor had 19 while Brittany Sharp added 17.

SPORTS>> Former Cabot star shines in UALR victory

UALR sports information

The Arkansas-Little Rock women’s basketball team avenged a first-round WNIT loss last season with a 66-44 victory over Southern Miss Wednesday at the Jack Stephens Center. Junior Kim Sitzmann recorded a career high of 28 points including a season high five three-pointers.

“I thought it was our best defensive effort,” said head coach Joe Foley. “I thought Ariel [Rolfe] did a great job on the point guard, so that they couldn’t get into their offensive. Marian [Kursh] did a good job on the post as a freshman.”

Sitzmann went 8-of-13 from the field while recording four rebounds and a team high five steals. Anshel Cooper recorded her sixth straight double-digit scoring game with 14 and led the team with a season high seven rebounds.

Asriel Rolfe recorded a season high nine assists and also knocked down five points, while Chastity Reed knocked down six points and brought down six rebounds.

The first half opened with each team scoring five points with UALR’s scoring coming from Sitzmann and Southern Miss’s coming from Pauline Love.

Back-to-back jumpers by Cooper and Marian Kursh gave UALR a 9-5 lead. The Golden Eagles answered with four consecutive points to tie the score with 14:13 until the half.

Over the next two-and-a-half minutes, Southern Miss out scored the Trojans six to five to take their first lead of the game at the 11:55 mark on a jumper by Stephanie Helgeson.

After a three-pointer by Sitzmann followed by a free throw by Candace Rucker for USM, UALR knocked down five straight points with a three-pointer by Sitzmann and a jumper by Reed to extend the Trojans’ lead to 22-16.

The Trojans out scored the Golden Eagles ten to eight over the next six minutes holding a 32-24 lead with 2:58 until the half.

Over the final 1:48 of the half, UALR held Southern Miss scoreless while recording eight points to bring the score to 40-24 at the half.

Southern Miss opened the second half with five straight points from Love to cut the advantage to 11. The Trojans scored their first field goals at the 15:35 as Cooper scored back-to-back jumpers.

Both teams exchanged points with UALR holding a 13 point advantage. With 9:32 on the clock, the Trojans recorded four straight free throws by Cooper and Sitzmann for a 50-33 lead.

UALR held the advantage over the next three minutes scoring seven points with three coming from free throws.

UALR continues basketball action tonight as they host No. 17 Oklahoma State for Pack the Jack Night. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. with the first 1,000 fans receiving free t-shirts.

SPORTS>> Falcons roll Senators

Leader sportswriter

North Pulaski’s quick hands helped the Falcons to a 79-60 win over Robinson on Tuesday night at the Falcons’ Nest.

North Pulaski snagged 14 steals and forced 26 turnovers overall, and the Falcons’ superior depth kept them unblemished at 5-0 through the early season.

The underlying theme of the game was speed versus speed, with both teams running up-tempo offenses and pressing on the defensive end.

That turned out heavily in the Falcons’ favor.

The Senators (2-3) had no answer for the NP junior duo of Aaron Cooper and DuQuan Bryant. Cooper led the Falcons in scoring with 20 points, while Bryant led everything else, including adding nine boards and four steals to go along with his 15 points.

“We knew we were similar teams,” said North Pulaski coach Raymond Cooper. “We like to pressure and run when we need to.

We’ve been working on using pressure without gambling. Sometimes when you gamble with using pressure you can give up some easy baskets.

“We wanted our guys to be fresh in the second half – that’s where we got most of their turnovers. We had some lapses here and there, but for the most part, I thought our guys did a good job. Our guys came in off the bench and had a good night as well.”

Defensively, the Falcons sealed off Robinson’s only consistent first-half scorer in post player Dashun Fleming. Fleming led the Senators with 13 points, 11 of which came in the first half.

After building a 19-10 lead through the first quarter, the Falcons pushed their lead to double digits at the start of the next frame when Cooper hit the back end of a two-shot foul that was set up with a steal and dish from guard Joe Agee. Cooper extended that lead further over the next 2:30 with three straight three-pointers.

His first trey came at the 7:06 mark to put North Pulaski up 23-12, his second, assisted by Jerald Blair, gave the Falcons a 12-point lead following a basket by Joe T forward Jon Stewart, and the final one followed a putback by Kyron Ware with 4:26 left in the first half for a 31-16 North Pulaski lead.

The outside game didn’t hold up for North Pulaski, but its control of the glass allowed a number of second-chance shots.

Junior T.J. Green picked up the slack on the boards when subbing for Bryant, and finished with 11 points of his own, including a pair of crowd-approved dunks in the final minute of the fourth quarter.

“T.J. is a guy that has really come on for us,” Cooper said. “He missed his ninth-grade year because of an accident, but he is very athletic, and is still learning how to play. We’ve got to get him up to the level of playing hard all the time, but once he does that, his athleticism should take over, and he could have some really big nights.

“Kyron has been stepping up, and he’s also improving all the time,” Cooper added.

Robinson had a 5-0 run at the 4:26 mark to cut the deficit to 67-52, but an and-one opportunity for Cooper at the 3:16 mark ended the brief swing as quickly as it began.

Ware extended the lead from there with three straight jumpers to give North Pulaski a 75-54 lead with 1:11 left to play.

Ware finished with 12 points, three rebounds and a steal. Colson added nine points and a block, and Bryan Colson had eight points and three rebounds. Cooper had three steals, two rebounds and two assists to go along with his game-high 20 points.

SPORTS>> Defense propels Cabot into finals

Leader sports editor

Cabot proved something on Thursday night in the semifinals of the Searcy Bank Classic.

You can shut down their all state guard Adam Sterrenberg and still lose decisively.

Abundant Life learned that lesson when it used the combination of Michael Steele and Mike Stramiello to limit Sterrenberg, an Arkansas State signee, to 15 points. But the Owls couldn’t find an answer for post man Miles Monroe, who hit them from inside and out on his way to 19 points as Cabot reached the tournament finals with a 58-48 win.

“You pick your poison with them,” said Abundant Life coach Tim Ballard, whose Owls fell to 11-6. “Steele was glued to (Sterrenberg) all night. I told them before the game, Sterrenberg is so special, let’s make everybody else beat us.”

Cabot improved to 4-0 despite shooting poorly from the field and despite a second-half lapse that had head coach Jerry Bridges a little less than thrilled.

“I thought our shot selection during a three-minute stretch in the second half was terrible,” he said. “And we got lax on defense. That drives me crazy. But we got a win over a good team and we showed some good flashes.”

The Panthers struggled to a 23-of-67 shooting night, making just 2 of 16 from beyond the arc. But they were able to overcome that chilly performance by turning the ball over only eight times, by outrebounding Abundant Life 44-39 and by playing great defense on the other end. The Owls shot under 33 percent, making 15 of 47 overall, including just 4 of 23 in the first half.

Cabot used an extended 1-3-1 trap zone and challenged the Owls’ passes throughout the night. Abundant Life had 16 turnovers and made only 3 of 18 from three-point range.

“We can’t recreate that size in practice,” Ballard said. “I almost gave our guys whiffle ball bats with gloves on them in practice because Cabot is so long they almost have their fingers touching out there.”

Dane Lottner, playing on the high post, mostly had to create his own looks, and finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds.

“Coach Ballard has a very good group,” Bridges said. “They’re going to make a lot of noise in 2A. Lottner is a really good ball player and does a lot of good things.”

One of those things, besides scoring, is rebounding. Lottner skied for a game-high 11 boards and also blocked a shot. Cabot, meanwhile, showed off its balance for the second straight game in the tournament. Five players grabbed six rebounds or more, led by Gary Clark’s nine boards.

The game began with a furious pace and pretty much kept it up throughout. Abundant Life got three of its four first-half baskets in the first three-and-a-half minutes of the contest and was within two points. The Owls would get only one more field goal over the next 13 minutes.

Monroe hit a couple of mid-range baseline jumpers, then capped off a 17-7 run with a 12-footer as Cabot began to take control. Abundant Life hung around by making 7 of 9 free throws in the second quarter, but it collected no field goals and trailed 38-19 at intermission.

“I challenged them in the locker room to try to win the second half,” Ballard said. “I told them not to try to get all 19 points back at once.”

The lead grew to as many as 22 before the Owls’ 7-0 run, which included a crowd-rousing alley-oop pass from Steele to Lottner for a jam, got Abundant Life within 55-39. Dustin Keathley’s lay-up along the baseline, George Herring’s putback and Steele’s three with 1:50 left drew the Owls to within 56-46, and they had a chance to get even closer after a missed Cabot free throw.

But Clark’s two charities with 34 seconds sealed it as Cabot moved on to the finals to take on last night’s Conway-Wynne winner at 7:30 tonight.

Austin Johnson added nine points, six assists and seven rebounds while Alex Baker had seven points. Jack Bridges had only three points, but dished out five assists and grabbed six rebounds.

After Lottner’s 19, Steele added 11. Stramiello had six. Garrett Southerland scored four points and grabbed seven rebounds.

“We’re getting better defensively, which was a concern coming into this year,” Bridges said. “These boys have some goals. But sometimes we get too comfortable and we have to stress to them you can’t get comfortable especially against a good team.”

Abundant Life takes on the Conway-Wynne loser today at 4:30.

SPORTS>> Lady Devils fall short

Leader sports editor

Considering the Jacksonville Lady Red Devils were without one of their starters and playing undefeated Marion, there was little reason they should have been as close as they were at the end. Especially considering Jacksonville played so poorly on the offensive end in the first half.

But somehow the Lady Devils found themselves with the lead with two minutes to go. Marion, though, took advantage of a defensive breakdown, then hit its final six free throws to edge Jacksonville 49-44 on Wednesday night in the semifinals of the Mills Invitational.

“I thought our offensive execution was terrible and still, you look up at the score and we’re only down six or eight,” said Jacksonville head coach Katrina Mimms. “And then we took the lead.”

The Lady Red Devils committed 29 turnovers in the game and a flurry of them early in the second period nearly did them in completely. The Lady Patriots (5-0) turned five steals into six consecutive buckets over a two-minute, 51-second span to give them their biggest lead of the night at 19-6.

During that span, Jacksonville’s post player Jessica Lanier was on the bench, saddled with two fouls. She missed eight minutes of the first half. Sherice Randell helped Jacksonville begin to get back in the game with a three-pointer and a 14-footer along the baseline. A rebound basket by Lanier and two free throws by Tyra Terry had the Lady Devils within 24-18 at intermission.

Jacksonville turned up the defensive pressure in the second half, and three consecutive buckets by Terry gave Jacksonville its first lead of the night at 28-26 midway through the third period.

Marion responded with an 11-0 run behind four straight buckets by Bree Ware, and claimed a seven- point lead near the end of the third period.

Once again, though, the Lady Devils refused to go away, and Randell tied the game at 39 with a six-footer along the baseline with 2:43 left. Her three-pointer from the left of the circle put Jacksonville ahead 42-41 with 2:10 left.

But Marion took advantage of a defensive lapse on its next possession and scored inside to take the lead for good. Randell’s pull-up 10-footer with 1:26 left drew Jacksonville within 45-44, but it was the Lady Devils’ final points and Marion closed it out with six straight free throws by Ware, who had all 15 of her points over the final 12:25 of the game.

The Lady Devils (2-2) were playing without Apollonia Sims, who was out with an injury. They were led by Terry’s 16 points and two assists. Randell added 14 points and three steals and Lanier had six points and eight rebounds. Crystal Washington and Brittany Smith each snagged three steals as the Lady Devils’ forced 22 turnovers, 11 on steals.

Jacksonville shot the ball well at 17 of 35, but between the turnovers and a 32-21 rebounding shortfall, got off 13 fewer shots than Marion.

“We didn’t do anything we needed to do, offensively,” Mimms said. “We need to go back and look at the film and show them how to be patient, reverse the ball and get the next open shot. We created havoc on defense, but we rushed things ourselves. It looked like we were in a hurry.”

Jacksonville plays in the third-place game this morning at 10.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

TOP STORY > >Bayou Meto canoe trail starts next summer

Leader staff writer

Canoeists looking for gentle waters to explore in central Arkansas have a flat water trail on the Bayou Meto to look forward to.
The Arkansas Stream Team chapter at North Pulaski High School has set its sights on the two-mile stretch of the bayou running from Hwy. 67/167 to Hwy. 161 by Reed’s Bridge as a worthy community project and a way to improve their GPS tracking skills.
Mike Stanley, president of the central Arkansas chapter of the Arkansas Canoe Club, says the bayou will offer a canoeing experience not widely available in the state. It will also be well-suited for those not highly skilled at manning a canoe.
“Flat water paddlers are at a little bit of a disadvantage because there are not a lot of slow-moving canoe trails established,” Stanley said.
“This one will be close to Little Rock with easy access at both ends and a shuttle that is a short drive. There won’t be a lot of safety issues; a life jacket will be just fine.”
The bayou won’t be safely navigable until it is cleared of logjams and other debris, which could take until next summer.
The project kicks off this Tuesday when NPHS EAST lab students – also members of the Stream Team – will scope out the area under direction of their teacher, Julia Leonard. Their objective is to use GPS technology to create maps of the bayou, including one that identifies waterway obstructions.
The trail-development project is a collaboration of the NPHS Stream Team, along with the city of Jacksonville, Keep Jacksonville Beautiful, and the Arkansas Canoe Club.
A Boy Scout troop has shown interest in identifying and labeling trees and other plants along the banks of the bayou.
Once the weather warms in the spring, the plan is for volunteers in waders and armed with chain saws to begin clearing hazardous obstructions from the waterway, guided by the map created by the students.
Future plans include construction of access ramps at the end points of the trail as well as mid-way, a short walk from Dupree Park.
A walking trail along the shore of the bayou is also part of the plans. All of that must await the city’s acquisition of grant money. Public works director Jimmy Oakley is looking into that, but he already sent a crew to rough-out the course for the future trail.
Ron Newport, executive director of Keep Jacksonville Beautiful, tried out the trail course recently.
“It was very scenic, very peaceful, very nice,” Newport said.
Clearing obstructions from the stream will also improve the Bayou Meto effectiveness in flood control, Newport noted.
He envisions the project as the start of a larger effort to improve other sections of the Bayou Meto to the east and west of Jacksonville.
“Many schools have Stream Teams so this may generate some enthusiasm,” Newport said.
The Arkansas Canoe Club is lending a hand to the effort with volunteers, canoes, and other equipment once the cleanup gets under way. Members have also offered their expertise with right-of-way acquisition, design of ramps, depth markers and other canoe trail issues.
The Arkansas Stream Team is a program of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission dedicated to river, stream, and bayou conservation. It offers opportunities for citizens to cleanup and stabilize stream banks and other water quality and habitat protection efforts.
The head of the meandering Bayou Meto is located northwest of Jacksonville, just over the border in Faulkner County. South of Jacksonville, the stream continues to the southeast until it flows into the Arkansas River near Gillett.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

EDITORIAL > > A nation in recession

Here’s a shocking development. The National Bureau of Economic Research, the collection of economists who declare the lineaments of economic recessions in the United States, said Monday that the country is officially in a recession and pinpointed December 2007 as its beginning.
Wall Street swooned at the news and by the end of the day stocks had lost 8 percent of their value. The Dow fell 680 points, the third biggest one-day drop in history.
The rest of the country took the news in stride. Who needed these eggheads to formally declare a recession? Was anything ever more obvious?
The economy stopped creating jobs in July 2007 and began shedding them at a fast pace in January — a total of nearly 1.2 million the first 10 months of the year, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, and perhaps 2 million by the time President Bush leaves office.
For most of the country, it has felt like a recession for longer than that, though not so much in Arkansas until recently. Forever in the economic shade, Arkansas is last to bloom and last to fade.
The egghead economists also warned that the worst lies ahead or, if it gets no worse, we at least will endure a long siege of the current malaise.
Why did the bureau wait a year to tell us? These pronouncements always occur well after the fact because they are based on an analysis of aggregate business data over an extended period. Still, a year? Cynics wonder if they waited until after the election so that it would not affect the voting.
It would, of course, have made absolutely no difference. George W. Bush now is the first president since Dwight Eisenhower to have two recessions on his watch (the first March-November 2001), but who cares to count?
It serves as one effective political antidote. Conservative commentators, led by Rush Limbaugh and Fox TV’s Sean Hannity, started calling it “the Obama recession” the day after the election. “The Obama recession is in full swing, ladies and gentlemen,” Limbaugh declared on Nov. 6. Investors everywhere are frightened at the prospect of an Obama presidency, he explained.
There is blame to go around for our desperation, but Sen. Barack Obama bears none of it, yet. Putting the nation, and the world, back on track is a mighty task and he will be judged quickly and maybe unfairly on how well he does it.
The world awaits his wisdom. It is a terrible burden. He asked for it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Let’s save our car makers

Taxpayers have never had less reason to be sanguine, having seen scores of billions of their dollars disappear unaccountably into the maw of two corrupt Middle East governments that the United States had installed by arms and hundreds of billions more pledged to rescue financial institutions that had played recklessly with the nation’s credit system. So why should taxpayers be philosophical about lending still another $34 billion to prodigal automakers who say they are too broke to go on?

If the money were reserved only for the deserving, all of that money would still be in the treasury and Congress would not be entertaining the idea of bailing out Detroit. But we are all in the breach now. None of us will be immune to the pain if the American automobile industry perishes. Congress should demand a detailed plan from the manufacturers for restructuring the industry to meet the demands of consumers and to operate with greater efficiency, but in the end the government must preserve the bedrock of American manufacturing.

In faraway Arkansas, which for years has tried and failed to join the ranks of the automaking states, we would not be untouched by the collapse of the domestic carmakers. Among the 3 or 4 million jobs that would be shed as the closures ricocheted through the economy are thousands in Arkansas. Some 70 Arkansas companies manufacture and supply parts to the automakers. Companies all across the country make vehicle parts; Detroit merely assembles the vehicles. The annual revenues of Arkansas companies that supply parts directly to the automakers or products indirectly related to car production approach $100 million. The freight companies headquartered in Arkansas, like Arkansas Best and P.A.M. Transport, would be hard hit.

There would be some satisfaction in letting General Motors, Ford and Chrysler take bankruptcy, as some, notably the losing presidential aspirant Mitt Romney, have suggested. Romney said they could then restructure and follow a different path, shedding union-won wages and fringe benefits along the way. Maybe, but how does a giant like GM recapitalize from bankruptcy, especially in the current credit crisis? Even if they emerged from bankruptcy, they could not regain their market share at home or abroad. It would still be an economic disaster of huge proportions for the United States.

Gen. Wesley Clark, the former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, offered another reason to rescue the companies in an op-ed article last week in The New York Times. “Aiding the American automobile industry is not only an economic imperative, but also an international security imperative,” the retired Arkansas general wrote.

He recalled President Eisenhower’s observation that it was America’s economy, not its military, that ultimately won World War II because the automakers, sitting atop a vast pyramid of tool makers, steel fabricators and component manufacturers, became the arsenal of democracy by producing the hardware that made the American military invincible. The same was true of the Persian Gulf wars. The United States may need the domestic automakers again.

There also is the reassurance of history. After the first oil crisis in 1979, Chrysler was going under and pleaded for a $1 billion bailout. President Jimmy Carter worked out a deal to guarantee $1.5 billion in bank loans. Chrysler revived, restructured and paid off the loans in four years. The U. S. treasury actually wound up making money from Chrysler stock warrants.

If Congress pledges the $34 billion in some form which the Big 3 requested Tuesday, we have to remember that we are not protecting their executives and investors or even the union laborers who have been so harshly scorned in the debate but, in the end, ourselves.

TOP STORY > >Lonoke GOP does well, hopes for U.S. rebound

Leader staff writer

Whether it was the war, the economy or the racial and cultural diversity of the country that led to the victory that will send a Democrat to the White House in January to work with a predominantly Democratic Congress, local Republicans remain upbeat about the future of their party.

Sen. John McCain easily carried Lonoke County and much of the state. County Republicans control the sheriff’s office, Cabot mayor’s office and city council and kept House Dist. 48 seat in the Republican column.

Though many political commentators say the future of the GOP is dismal, Lonoke County Republicans say they are certain the party will make a comeback nationally if party leaders return to the conservative platform of Ronald Reagan that made it strong.

“It’s pretty evident to me that the national party got away from the roots of conservatism that Ronald Reagan established in the late ’70s and early ’80s,” said former state Rep. Randy Minton of Ward. “There was no conservative message.”

“They call it a big defeat,” Minton added. “I think the time was right for a Democrat to win because of the war, because of the economy.”

But McCain was not a true conservative, Minton said. He received the Republican nomination because he had paid his dues and because he had the support of Republican “elitists” who don’t support a conservative platform against abortion and for limited government, personal liberties and lower taxes, Minton said.

And since McCain didn’t have a strong conservative platform, he didn’t energize the conservative Republicans who could have helped him win, Minton said.

“We’ve got to take back our party leadership from town to town, county to county, state to state and try to take it back at the national level,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s enough of us left or not.”

“It’s the economy,” said Tim Lemons, an engineer who won a seat on the Lonoke County Quorum Court during the Republican primary in May.

“People tend to vote with their pocketbooks,” he said. “If the economy hadn’t been so dismal over the past three or four months, people wouldn’t have turned away from the Republican Party the way they did.

“They’ll come back. It’s just a matter of time,” he said.

Cary Hobbs, a member of the Lonoke County Republican Committee who serves on the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission, agrees that McCain lost the election because he didn’t have the support of conservative Republicans. And he didn’t have their support because he voted too often with the Democrats.

“We didn’t have a candidate with a conservative message,” Hobbs said. “If you’re going to a conservative, be a conservative.”
McCain lost because “Obama presented himself better and voters wanted to be a part of something new,” he said.

Eddie Joe Williams, the Republican mayor of Cabot who ran afoul of the Lonoke County Re-publican Committee in 2007 by refusing to veto a council vote to hold independent elections for city offices, said that although he considers himself a conservative, he believes that most Americans are “middle-of-the-road kind of people” who are much more interested in the price of gas and other necessities than gay marriages and abortions.

No doubt many Americans have been unhappy with President George Bush, he said. But that doesn’t mean the Republican Party won’t survive.

“Politics is like the economy,” the mayor said. “It comes and goes. But right now, it is still alive and well in Cabot, Arkansas.”

TOP STORY > >Preacher’s jail ministry is real

Leader editor-in-chief

It doesn’t look like Tony Alamo, the self-styled evangelist and accused child molester, will be home for the holidays.

Alamo is in a Texarkana jail, awaiting trial for transporting underage girls across state lines for immoral purposes.

Facing multiple rape and abuse charges, Alamo, 74, could end up spending the rest of his life behind bars, although that wouldn’t be so bad, since he could then run his outreach program for inmates without leaving the prison compound.

Talk about close to home.

Alamo is no stranger to prisons as he served four years for tax evasion in the 1990s.

He’s been floundering ever since his wife, Susan, passed away back in the 1980s. They both exploited their followers for decades, through their Susan and Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, which started out in Los Angeles and in 1975 moved to western Arkansas, where land was cheap and labor was free.

They made their followers work for room and board, and it looks like many of them have been sexually and physically abused.

He admits only that he’s known several young women in the biblical sense who have become his wives, and he should not be prosecuted for his religious beliefs.

Alamo is also charged with beating youngsters at his compound in Fouke in Miller County. It was there that authorities last summer removed several children and placed them in state custody after receiving disturbing reports that they were abused by
Alamo and his henchmen.

Alamo fled before he could be arrested, but the aging Lothario was soon caught at a motel in Flagstaff, Ariz., with an underage girl, although he has bragged about several other conquests, claiming all along that his motives have been purely religious because, as he told a judge last week, the Bible has instructed him to marry young girls.

Tony has been “married” — in his mind, anyway — several times and seems to have trouble remembering the names of all his “wives,” which could be his best defense strategy: He’s getting old and forgetful and should be let go because of mental incompetence.

If anybody can get Tony Alamo off the hook and out of jail, it’s his ace criminal attorney, John Wesley Hall of Little Rock, who has been telling the media his client is just an ordinary guy who has taken on several young wives, although not simultaneously, because the Bible told him to.

But if a jury doesn’t buy into that argument, it’s the Big House into his 80s for the disgraced preacher. And no conjugal visits.

TOP STORY > >Jacksonville workers to get pay raises

Leader staff writer

On Thursday, the Jacksonville City Council will put the finishing touches on an $18.6 million general operating budget for 2009, about 4 percent more than the current budget.

The council will also discuss buying a half-an-acre of land for the Reed’s Bridge Historical Society. The price of that land, $57,000, sparked controversy at a council meeting last month.

The meeting will start at 7 p.m. at city hall.

The proposed 2009 general fund budget includes a pay raise for city employees (the mayor will announce the exact percentage at the meeting), the purchase of up to 10 police cars and the purchase of a $285,000 fire truck pumper.

Aldermen have spent the last two weeks reviewing the 31-page budget proposal which not only allocates $18.6 million for the general fund, but also $2.7 million for the street fund, up about $700,000 from this year; $1.3 million for the sanitation fund, up about $20,000, and $1 million, up about $90,000, for the medical emergency services fund.

Close to two-thirds, or 62.8 percent, of the expected revenue for the $18.6 million general fund, is projected to come in through sales taxes, followed by intergovernmental funds at 10.8 percent, operating transfers at 6.2 percent, utility franchise fees at 5.8 percent, revered fund balance will make up 3.5 percent of the revenue, 3.5 percent will come from charges for services, fines at 3 percent, property taxes at 2.3 percent and other sources will provide 2.1 percent of the income.

Most of the expense for the city, 64 percent, will be to fund public safety—police, fire, the 911 communications center and animal shelter, followed by public works at 23 percent, general government expenses at 10 percent and the judicial branch needs 3 percent of the revenue.

In all areas, salaries and wages will swallow up about half the city’s revenue, at 46.6 percent, contractual services will cost 17.7 percent, retirement contributions will take up 11.4 percent of the budget, capital outlay at 8.7 percent, health insurance at 7.8 percent, supplies and materials at 4.2 percent and other benefits eat up the remaining 3.7 percent of the budget.

The request to buy the half-acre site and 1,430-square-foot house off Hwy. 161 for expansion of the Reed’s Bridge Battlefield Site came up at the Nov. 6 council meeting and the suggested price stirred up enough controversy to have any decision tabled.

Alderman Bob Stroud asked for a show of hands from members of the city council that had visited and viewed the property. A number had and all agreed with Stroud that it was rundown and in very poor shape, yet the owner was asking $57,000 for the property. Stroud said the city didn’t have the luxury of throwing money away like that.

The city has helped the historical society make land purchases before, but in the past the council felt the asking price was reasonable. This time it didn’t.

Tommy Dupree, with the society, said that in 2004 the society, which maintains the battlefield site, had appraisals performed on several properties that they were interested in trying to acquire and the property owners were interested in selling.

He related that the bulk of those properties have been purchased, saying that this is the last appraisal of the ones performed in 2004. Dupree said that the 2004 appraisal of this property was $32,000.

But the owner said that was too low and got his own appraisal of $57,000.

Stroud called the property a pig in a poke and buying it for that amount would be foolish. In fact, Stroud was disappointed that the property is not on the condemnation list.

He said that while he supports the concept of Dupree’s group, he does not feel that this is a reasonable price given the poor condition of the property.

TOP STORY > >Sharpe, others barely hold on to PCSSD jobs

Leader senior staff writer

Displaced Clinton and Crystal Hill Elementary School students should be back in their regular classrooms after Christmas and with the same superintendent.

The school board of the Pulaski County Special School District authorized $390,000 worth of immediate repairs on the structural trusses of the roofs of those schools.

The two schools were closed in November on Superintendent James Sharpe’s order because of roof safety concerns raised by a regularly scheduled inspection. Clinton students are attending school at North Little Rock First Assembly of God, Crystal Hill students in portable buildings at Maumelle Middle School.

By a single vote Monday night, Sharpe survived a teacher’s union effort to have him fired immediately. The union felt he left students in unsafe buildings for too long after the roof problems were found by engineers.


Still employed but chastened, Sharpe declined to say after the meeting whether or not he felt vindicated by the vote.

Sharpe first heard of the problem Oct. 13, but didn’t move students out of the buildings until Nov. 7 (Crystal Hill) and Nov. 14 (Clinton), according to an independent investigation.

In the interim, the administrators had local architects and structural engineers review the original report by Wiss, Janey, Elstner Associates.

The problem concerned wooden roof trusses buckled, cracked and bowed by liquid fire retardant.

The Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and three board members sympathetic to the union have tried to fire him at two previous meetings, saying he moved too slowly.

The union executive board held a unanimous vote of “no confidence” in Sharpe last month.


Those three school board members, Gwen Williams, Bill Vasquez and Tim Clark, also wanted to consider firing three other administrators in connection with the engineering report on trusses, but board president Mildred Tatum was adamant that the school board only had the authority to hire and fire the superintendent.

The other administrators in question were chief financial officer Larry O’Briant, director of plant planning Jerry Holder and James Warren, executive director of support services.

Emerging from executive session 90 minutes later, Clark said, “Madam president, I move to terminate Superintendent James Sharpe’s employment from the Pulaski County Special School District effective immediately for just cause and I’d like a roll call vote.”

Williams seconded the motion.

Clark, Vasquesz and Williams generally vote as a block and each voted to terminate Sharpe. Shana Chaplin, Danny Gilliland and Charlie Wood generally vote together, usually in opposition to union wishes. That made Tatum the swing vote Monday night.


“The motion fails,” Tatum said. Those on the north side of the room — administrators and supporters stood, applauded and celebrated.

Tatum said of the union members who sat on the south side of the meeting room, “They left and they were mad at me.”

Tatum said later that it was “heated” during the executive session. “I stuck to my guns,” she said. Tatum said Sharpe acted in a responsible and timely fashion “as soon as he got notice” of the roof situation at the two schools.

Sharpe hired Dave Floyd, retired director of the Arkansas Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation, to investigate the timeline regarding the roof and notification.

WJE has inspected the trusses every few years since the problem was first discovered in 1998. In the 2008 report, WJE wrote that it could not “certify that the roof structures are safe for snow or wind loads until repairs are made and bridging between trusses installed.”


Floyd’s investigation showed that WJE engineers’ 2008 report first arrived at the district Sept. 29, received by Holder.

Oct. 6 — Holder requests additional copies.

Oct. 7 — Holder receives those copies

Oct. 8 -— Holder forwards copies to Warren and O’Briant.

Oct. 13 — O’Briant discusses report with Sharpe—first indication that Sharpe knew of problem.

Oct. 13 — They decided to ask structural engineers for Witsell Evans Rasco architects to review report.

Oct. 15 — WER and Crafton Tull Sparks engineers begin report review.

Oct. 29 — CTS reports to WER architects. WER requests meeting with PCSSD.

Nov. 6 — WER meets with PCSSD

Nov. 7 — PCSSD administrators meet. Sharpe closes Crystal Hill Elementary.

Nov. 14 — Sharp closes Clinton Elementary.


The board unanimously voted to proceed with repair of the two roofs immediately, with roof replacements slated to occur in stages over the next three summers.

The immediate cost of the repairs is $390,000 — $220,000 for Crystal Hill and $170,000 for Clinton.

The roof replacements are estimated to cost about $8 million, but the board agreed with the construction, engineering and architectural professionals to postpone that until the summers, while they figure out how to pay for them.

Replacement work will begin at Crystal Hill in summer 2009 and be completed summer 2010, while replacement of the Clinton roof will begin in summer 2010 and be completed summer 2011.

O’Briant said the repairs and replacement would postpone at least some of the other facilities improvements already on the district’s 10-year master plan.

TOP STORY > >Coroners overworked

Leader staff writer

Fatalities from motorcycle wrecks, freak accidents and suicides have increased the workload for Lonoke County Coroner Sherry Stracener, who says for reasons that are unexplained, she has worked more deaths in 2008 than in any other year.

From January through October, Stracener said she worked 12 suicides and that number doesn’t include those who died in Pulaski County after they were transported to hospitals there.

In that same time period, there were 11 traffic deaths, five of them in Cabot in a two-month period.

Sgt. Brent Lucas, spokesman for the Cabot Police Department, points out that before the beginning of the school year, there were no traffic-related deaths in Cabot for 2008, and then they came back-to-back beginning with a motorcycle-pedestrian collision in a crosswalk on Hwy. 38 and ending with a rollover accident near Walmart.

“It’s not the traffic volume,” Lucas said. “That has been steady for a couple of years. I think it’s just been a fluke.”

Stracener, who has served as county coroner for more than a decade, said her investigations into the suicides lead her to believe that the economy and personal relationships gone awry were contributing factors to most.

“It was the economy and family problems,” she said. “People can’t pay their bills, or with the teenagers, it was girlfriend or boyfriend problems.”

But Stracener isn’t called out only for wrecks and suicides; she goes out for all unattended deaths, such as nursing home deaths and hospice deaths, about 300 a year.

The paperwork is almost overwhelming, she said. And that paperwork is all stored in her home or in sheds. Although the coroner is an elected county official, Stracener has no office except at her home. And except for the part-time secretary that was included in the 2009 Lonoke County budget and the contract help for times when she is not available that was included in the 2008 and 2009 budgets, she works alone. And she does it all for about $20,000 a year, plus benefits.

But where she is not alone is in her frustration over the lack of understanding the public and other elected officials have for the work she does. Garland County Coroner Stuart Smedley, treasurer of the Arkansas Coroners Association, said like
Stracener, he wants them all to know that a coroner is the only county official who is always on call.

“It’s a time-consuming job if it’s done right,” Smedley said. “We live in a CSI (crime scene investigation) world. People see that on television and they expect me to know what I’m doing. To do it correctly, it is more than a full-time job. We are the only elected officials who work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

In county government, there are salary tiers, he said. The county judge and county sheriff are the highest paid and make about the same. They are followed by the clerks, treasurer and collectors, who make about the same.

“And then there’s the coroner, and in most counties, it is almost sad what they make,” Smedley said. “In some counties, they make as little as $3,000 a year.”

Although county quorum courts could raise the pay, most have felt it was not necessary, said Pope County Coroner Leonard Krout, president of the Arkansas Coroners Association. An entry in the handbook provided by the Arkansas Association of Counties defines the position as part-time.

The coroners association has changed that definition. Krout said it will take a change in state law to require counties to pay county coroners at least as much as they pay county clerks, assessors, treasurers and other middle-tier elected officials.

Until coroners are paid a living wage, many will be untrained and unprepared for the work they are expected to do, Krout said.

Dr. Gene Shelby, the former Garland County coroner who now serves as state representative in House Dist. 25, is trying to pass a bill to increase salaries, Krout said.

The mantra among coroners who want the pay to fit the work is “you can’t serve two masters.” If coroners must work at other jobs to make a living, they will and their work as coroner will suffer. They won’t attend classes on crime-scene investigations.

They won’t learn to take into considerations the medications a person was using to determine a likely cause of their death.

In Arkansas, the only requirement to be a coroner is to be an adult and receive more than 50 percent of the votes in a county election. But Krout said if a state law required counties to pay coroners as much as other elected officials, those counties would have a right to expect their coroners to get the training they need for their jobs.

“Coroners need to learn how to investigate deaths,” he said.

SPORTS>>Lady Lions cruise past Fair

Leader sports editor

When Shantel Neely went down with a season-ending ACL injury a couple of weeks ago against Pine Bluff, things might have gone south for the Searcy Lady Lions.

She was, after all, their floor general and the only senior among their starters. But, as much as they miss her, they seem to be thriving without her, at least in the first three games since she went down.

The Lady Lions showed impressive teamwork and pinpoint passing in easily handling J.A. Fair, 68-41, on Monday night in the opening round of the Searcy Bank Classic at the Lions’ Den. Of their 26 field goals, 17 were assisted and many came off fast-break buckets and dump downs to post player Lauren Harrison, who led the Lady Lions with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Searcy will take on Wynne in the second round on Thursday night at 8:30.

“When Shantel went down, we had to bring in some sophomores,” said Searcy head coach Michelle Birdsong, whose team improved to 5-2. “With Shantel, we’d throw her the ball and get out of her way. But we’re passing the ball a lot more. That takes a lot of pressure off not having just one player to do that because we don’t have another Shantel on our team.”

The Lady Lions were also dynamos on the defensive end, snagging 14 steals and forcing the Lady War Eagles into 21 turnovers.

Kristen Celsor, who scored six points, had four steals and a block. Harrison and Caleigh Woodruff each had three steals and Searcy cashed many of those into easy transition baskets.

“I tell you what, we’re getting better every game,” Birdsong said. “They’re fun to watch. I’d say it’s not typical of our teams, becausenormally we come down and pass the ball twice and shoot it. But there was one time tonight when we passed it about 15 times. But then we get a shot inside.”

Though the Lady Lions were playing a lot of sophomores, they looked like veterans who knew exactly where their teammates were going to be at all times. Elliott Scarbrough, in particular, delivered some nifty passes and led the way with five assists.

She also scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds.

Another sophomore, Lindsey Hanshew, ran the point and handed out four assists while scoring 10 points. Classmate Chelsey Butler came off the bench to deliver eight points, three rebounds, two steals, a block and an assist.

Fair’s only weapon was a dynamic one in senior guard Al’Shley Jones, whose range on the court seemed limitless. She hit three three-pointers from deep over the first four minutes of the game and had five overall in leading the way with 22 points. The Lady War Eagles relied almost exclusively on long-range shooting, launching 35 shots from beyond the arc and making six of them. The Lady Lions limited Fair to 14 of 51 shooting.

Searcy, meanwhile, shot a solid 26 of 59 from the field, 3 of 11 from deep.

With Jones nailing threes early, Fair actually led this one 9-6 midway through the first period. But Hanshew’s court-length pass to Scarbrough for a breakaway bucket put Searcy up for good as Searcy went on a 12-3 run to close out the opening period with an 18-12 lead.

The Lady Lions extended that run to 23-3 by scoring the first 11 points of the second period. Celsor scored on a fast break and Hanshew nailed a three to make it 29-12. Two buckets inside by Harrison had the rout on at 33-14.

“We haven’t been pressured a whole lot since Shantel went down,” Birdsong said. “But I’m really happy with what I’ve seen.

We’ve been playing three sophomores, three juniors and maybe a senior or two. The first game without (Neely) we weren’t used to it and were getting pressured and didn’t handle it too well.

“Then the next two games we were pressed and did a good job of spreading the floor.”

SPORTS>>Cabot gets easy win over Trojans in first round of Searcy tourney

Leader sports editor

Jerry Bridges remembers Cabot’s dismal showing in last year’s Searcy Bank Classic and so, he says, does his team.

The Panthers played as though they wanted to erase the memories of that 7th-place showing by opening the 2008 Classic with a thoroughly dominating 61-36 win over a pretty good Hot Springs team.

“We came out of break last year and we were just terrible,” said Bridges, whose team improved to 3-0 and will take on Abundant Life in the tournament semifinals on Thursday night at 7 p.m. “Last year, we didn’t do very well here and these kids were a little embarrassed. They care about what other people think.”

The Panthers got 23 points, three steals and two assists from all-state guard Adam Sterrenberg. Though he was the only Cabot player in double figures, the Panthers showed plenty of balance with six players scoring four or more points.

The Panthers trailed just once in the contest after Hot Springs hit the first of three first-half three-pointers 46 seconds into the game to take a 3-2 lead. It was one of only four field goals in the first half by Hot Springs, which had only one two-point basket before intermission.

It took a while for Sterrenberg to get going but once he did, he couldn’t be stopped. His steal and lay-in was his first points of the night and came at the 3:27 mark of the first period to put Cabot up 11-6.

Sterrenberg took off midway through the second quarter, hitting a pull-up 14-footer and a three from the top of the circle to open up a 19-8 Cabot lead.

The Panther defense was stifling all night as the Trojans struggled to find an offensive rhythm. They finished the night making just 10 of 36 shots and only 4 of 17 threes.

Miles Monroe, who scored only two of his eight points in the first half, hit a base line shot, followed by a Sterrenberg steal and lay-up and another three and the rout was on. Jack Bridges put the exclamation point on the second-quarter eruption by hitting a three as Cabot led 29-13 at the half.

From there, it was just a matter of naming the final score. Sterrenberg kept the crowd tuned in with a spectacular play midway through the third period. The Arkansas State signee got a steal, drove toward the basket, dribbled behind his back to shed a defender and finished it off with a reverse lay-up.

“He’s just one of the best players in the state, that’s all you can say,” Bridges said.

Jack Bridges hit his third three-pointer of the night to open up a 50-24 Cabot lead after three quarters.

Monroe, who grabbed eight rebounds and dished out three assists, got it going on the offensive end in the final period, when he scored three baskets over a period of a minute and a half.

“Miles rebounded and did a great job,” Bridges said. “And I thought Gary Clark did a great job on No. 52, who was one of their best scorers. He pushed him out and we just had a great team effort all the way around. (Hot Springs) is a good team, a lot better than they showed. They’ll be in the middle of 5A this year.”

In addition to Sterrenberg’s 23 points, Bridges had nine points and two assists, Monroe had eight points and Austin Johnson and Alex Baker had six each. Johnson also had two assists and two steals. Baker had an assist and a pair of steals as Cabot finished with 11 steals and 14 assists. Clark scored four points and grabbed seven rebounds.

The Panthers hit 24 of 49 shots, including 5 of 13 threes.

SPORTS>>Abundant Life routs Mt. Home

Leader sports editor

Abundant Life head coach Tim Ballard is the first to admit that his team’s strength is, first and foremost, its offensive prowess.

But he wasn’t complaining after the Owls turned in a stellar defensive effort on Monday night in beating 6A Mountain Home, 48-31, in the first round of the Searcy Bank Classic at Searcy High School.

The Owls, who struggled offensively against the Bombers, snagged 15 steals and mostly thwarted Mountain Home’s offensive game plan.

“We chart deflections, and we had 10 touches on passes in the first half,” Ballard said. “Those teams that try to move the ball around fast, we try to disrupt them. I thought we kind of kept them from getting into any type of rhythm.”

The Owls will take on Cabot Thursday night in the tourney semifinals. So far this season, Class 2A Abundant Life has handed losses to 5A Oak Grove and 6A Mountain Home.

“We’re here (at this tournament) just because we want to be great in our conference and region,” Ballard said. “We pulled out of a smaller tournament and I told (the Bank Classic) tournament director, when he askedme, that we’ll come get our heads handed to us three games in a row because there’s only so much you can recreate in practice in terms of physical play. I’m sure we have a head-thumping coming, but we want to see exactly where our game is.”

Against Mountain Home, their game was almost all on the defensive end, though post player Garrett Southerland knocked down three three-pointers in a game in which the Owls shot just 34 percent.

“Garrett is the best shooter on the team,” Ballard said. “A lot of people forget about our 6-5 awkward guy out top. But he will bury it if you leave him alone. He shoots 75 percent from three in practice.

“With us, you think about Dane, you think about Steele, but if you forget about (Southerland), he’ll make you pay.”

George Herring, Michael Stramiello, Terrell Ghant, Michael Steele and Dane Lottner ball-hawked the Bombers furiously.

Stramiello had four steals, while Lottner and Ghant grabbed three each.

Lottner, who led Abundant Life with 14 points, didn’t get on the board until he hit a turnaround 8-footer in the lane with two minutes left in the opening period to give the Owls a 12-7 lead. Mountain Home led only one time in the game, 2-0, a minute and 15 seconds in. The Owls cashed six first-quarter steals into a 15-9 lead after one.

Three consecutive buckets by Lottner to close out the half, including a fine baseline drive with three seconds left, propelled the Owls to a 24-16 halftime lead.

The Bombers misfired repeatedly from long range, though one of their two threes (out of 22 attempts) cut the lead to five early in the second half. Southerland answered with his third three of the game, and Herring and Steele added threes to push the Owls’ lead to 39-23 after three periods. Mountain Home was never closer than 14 after that.

“We didn’t shoot it real well,” Ballard said. “But our guys have to adjust to how physical the play in 6 and 7A is. It took us a while to get adjusted. We thought we’d score more points on our end. But it worked out where we had a big enough lead to kind of slow it down a little.”

The pace of the game was just what Abundant Life likes as Mountain Home launched a lot of quick, mostly errant shots, allowing the Owls to get in transition. While Mountain Home was struggling to a woeful 12-of-47 performance from the field, the Owls hit 6 of 16 from beyond the arc to finish 15 of 44 overall. They also outrebounded the Bombers in the second half to finish with a nine carom advantage.

“(Herring) led us in rebounding,” Ballard said of his senior guard. “He’s playing with a lot of heart.”

Herring had eight boards to go along with seven points, two steals and an assist. Southerland had nine points and two blocks, while Steele added eight points, five rebounds and two steals. Ghant dished out five assists. Stramiello had six points to go along with two assists and two steals.

SPORTS>>Lady Devils down Mills

Leader sportswriter

Senior guard Tyra Terry was like a one-woman wrecking crew on Monday night.

The Jacksonville Lady Red Devils got their first on-court win of the season 68-38 against the host Mills Lady Comets at the Galaxy during the first round of the Mills Invitational.

Terry led the Lady Devils (2-1) in every stat except for blocks, which went to junior post Jessica Lanier with three. Terry turned in a double-double performance, with 16 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks.

Mills (0-3) rallied from a 30-12 deficit late in the first half to trail 33-21 at the half before Terry’s three-point basket to start the third quarter set the tone for a dominant second half for Jacksonville.

“It was good to get that first win on the court,” said Lady Red Devils coach Katrina Mimms. “I thought we improved on some of the things we struggled with in our opener, and we executed better with our quick-hitter plays.”

The biggest difference for Jacksonville came at the charity stripe. After watching a chance to win their opener against Benton slip away due to poor free throw shooting, the Lady Devils turned it around against Mills with a 15-of-26 performance at the line, including 3 of 4 for Appolonia Sims to make up part of her 13 points.

“Free throws were the difference in the game (against Benton),” Mimms said. “We worked on it a little in practice. What we did seemed to work for us. We saw some good things tonight.”

The mercy-rule didn’t occur until the final minute when softball star sub Jennifer Bock set the final margin off an assist from Lanier, although the Lady Red Devils were up 49-26 at the 2:37 mark of the third quarter when Mimms called off the dogs.

The second-team, led by Ebony Ghoshon’s seven points and three rebounds, held the Lady Comets in check until they went on a 6-2 run midway through the final period.

Sherice Randell had a solid night across the board with nine points, eight rebounds and two assists.

Terry got off to a quick start for Jacksonville when she took the opening tip for a score, and set up her teammates with some good assists, including a pair of back door passes. The first was to a wide-open Sims at the 7:13 mark of the second quarter for a 22-12 Lady Red Devil lead, and her second to Ghoshon in the final seconds of the first half.

“That’s what we wanted her to do. That’s what we need her to do every night,” Mimms said. “She’s our leader – that’s what she’s supposed to do. The more she does that and realizes that she can do it, the better off we’re going to be.”

Lanier added six points, four rebounds and three blocked shots. Tyquia Robinson had five points. Brittany Smith had two points and three rebounds and Chyna Davis had two points and a steal.

For Mills, Jasmine Perkins led the way with 15 points, nine of which came on three pointers.

Next up for the Lady Red Devils will be Marion, a 63-36 first-round winner over Monticello in today’s second round. Mills will host the Lady Billies in the consolation bracket.