Friday, December 19, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Scholarships and the lottery

Gov. Mike Beebe and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, between whom no love is lost, are already scrapping over what to do with the tens of millions of dollars annually that will be collected by the state lottery when tickets start being sold in 2010. Theirs is a senseless argument that legislators should ignore when they craft the implementing lottery law this winter.

Halter may claim the moral privilege because he wrote and pushed the lottery amendment to adoption while Beebe opposed it, but that shouldn’t give Halter special prerogative in designing the law. The practical situation is that lawmakers love the governor and most of them do not care for the lieutenant governor, even in the Senate where Halter presides, but Beebe’s ideas should be put to the test just as rigorously as Halter’s.

The lottery’s net proceeds must be used for college scholarships, and the amendment requires the state to continue its current financial efforts, which amounts to about $115 million annually at the public colleges and universities. Halter says the lottery will produce $100 million to $120 million annually, but the state Department of Finance and Administration says it will produce no more than $50 million. For that, we must wait and see.

Beebe’s and Halter’s essential disagreement is whether the lottery proceeds should be deposited in the current scholarship system or, as Halter wants, an entirely separate program. The biggest of some 21 different scholarship programs run by the state is the Academic Challenge Scholarship, which is available to every youngster whose family is not affluent enough to pay the tuition, who has completed the college-preparatory core curriculum, who earns at least a 2.75 grade point in high school and who scores at least 19 on the ACT. (That, by the way, is a very low score.)

Beebe is right that the state should not run competing scholarship programs but he is wrong in insisting that the current programs are well run. They aren’t. Now, millions of dollars a year in scholarship funds are going begging, which has built up a surplus of $52 million. Halter says it is not because there are not needy youngsters who want to go to college but because the state’s criteria are so baffling and cumbersome that people don’t apply for the scholarships. He wants one or two simple criteria that every youngster, parent and high school counselor understands. He suggests a simple 2.5 grade point but no ACT score requirement and an easy threshold of family need.

We think that makes sense, although we might quarrel with a grade-point requirement rather than an ACT score that suggests that the youngster can do college work. Grade-point averages in Arkansas high schools are notoriously imprecise measures of either achievement or capacity to do scholarly work.

So Beebe’s and Halter’s ideas ought to be meshed. There should be one need-based scholarship program available to every youngster in Arkansas who meets one simple criterion, whether it be grade-point average or college-entrance test score.

There could be additional standards for older adults who want to return to college on a scholarship.

Beyond that, Halter spelled out some standards that he would like to see in the implementing law to insure that the lottery is operated with maximum transparency and accountability. The state enters a perilous domain when it embraces any form of gambling as a government enterprise. It is fraught with opportunities for fraud, favoritism and simple dishonesty with the participating public. The public should know every financial detail of the operation, including the odds that every ticket buyer faces.

If the government is going to run a numbers racket, it must be done with as much probity as humanly possible, and the good ends of the operation, a college education for all who want it, must be accomplished as simply as possible. And the egos of competing politicians need not be obliged to do it right.

TOP STORY > >City to help renters after foreclosure

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville City Council voted Thursday night to help out about 14 tenants who have been told they need to be out of Manor House Apartments by the first of the year.

The apartment complex at 1705 S. Redmond Road is in foreclosure and receivership because the owners haven’t been paying bills the tenants have endured water shut-offs, heat turned off and no electricity.

City Administrator Jay Whisker has been working with Fannie Mae officials and others to keep the utilities on and try to make an arrangement to let the remaining tenants stay on after Jan. 1.

Mayor Tommy Swaim said many of the apartment residents have already moved and found other places, but many of the ones remaining are financially strapped, and have been told they have no chance of getting any of their security deposits back from the apartment management to help them pay deposits on new places.

Theresa Watson, director of the city’s community development block grant, told the city council that about 10 of the 14 tenants qualify under CDBG requirements for some assistance.

“We’ve not done this before,” the mayor said, and at the urging of Alderman Gary Fletcher, made it clear that this was a one time deal.

Whisker told the council that the owners of the apartment complex are deployed and turned over the complex to another individual who turned it over to a third party. Water is included in the rent, but no one connected with the apartment ownership has been paying the water bill, which forced the Jacksonville Water Department to turn it off recently.

“We got it back on, but it looks like it will be turned off again the first of January,” Whisker said.

The council authorized Watson to work with the remaining tenants to try and help them find new places and to assist them with deposits.

The council told Watson she could spend up to $4,000 in emergency funds to aid the tenants.

TOP STORY > >Arkansan key player in machine

Leader editor-in-chief

Back in the 1950s, the Chicago political machine picked a young black lawyer who was born in Blytheville to run for the state House of Representatives after reapportionment gave the city an additional district.

His name was Cecil Partee, who had moved north to attend Northwestern University Law School, graduating in 1946, five years ahead of Dale Bumpers, an amazing accomplishment for a black man from Arkansas whose father was a cotton grader back home.

Partee got himself elected to the Illinois House and later to the Illinois Senate and eventually became its president. He was later Chicago treasurer and Cook County prosecutor. He died in 1994 at the age of 73, having done very well as a key participant in a political machine that handed out jobs and contracts and took kickbacks for every human activity, from fixing speeding tickets to issuing driver’s licenses to anybody who couldn’t pass the exam to paying off building inspectors so they’d look the other way.

City workers openly gave the machine 5 percent of their salaries, creating an enormous slush fund that even let the mob skim from the top. Politicians kept shoe boxes in their closets stuffed with cash because there was so much of it.

Partee’s rise in state politics under the Daley machine made way for other black politicians whose roots were in the South — first- and second-generation northerners who still felt southern decades after they or their families had left Dixie.

They competed with other ethnics for patronage jobs, public-works contracts and power and prestige. Some got caught, like Gov. Rod Blagojevich and about half the Chicago City Council, but most keep their heads down and share in the spoils, out of view of law-enforcement officials.

The ethnic stew that is the main dish of Illinois politics — from Richard Daley (both of them) to Barack Obama, from Jesse Jackson (both of them) to Ram Emanuel, from Michael Bilandic to Harold Washington, from Roman Pucinski to Abner Mikva, from the convicted Dan Rostenkowski to the disgraced Rod Blagojevich, from the felon Dan Walker to the imprisoned George Ryan — why, the state has offered opportunities to ambitious people from every ethnic group since before the great Chicago fire.

Only those from outside Chicago would snigger at a name like Blagojevich — a Serb American whose neighborhood is as much a part of the political mix as the areas populated by Polish Americans, Jewish Americans, Irish Americans and now presumably Arab Americans, Asian Americans, Mexican Americans and groups you may never have heard of.

The faces change, but the rules of the game are the same.

Illinois is not the most corrupt state — according to the New York Times, Florida has sent more politicians to prison than any other state (Arkansas ranks in the bottom third, as it usually does when it comes to rankings).

Blagojevich will leave office and maybe go to jail. He’d be the third Illinois governor in recent memory to serve time in the slammer, but most politicians, of course, will escape prosecution.

Like Cecil Partee, you get in the middle of the action but away from the spotlight where a prosecutor may be watching.

TOP STORY > >Cabot eatery serving liquor

Leader staff writer

“We got it. Free memberships available at the door,” reads the cryptic sign that went up outside Fat Daddy’s on Hwy. 367 in Cabot Wednesday afternoon.

Designed to adhere to the letter of the law that says no advertising is allowed, the sign tells customers of the six-month-old restaurant known for its Delta-raised catfish and deep-fried dill pickles that they can now have beer and wine with their meals.

“It” is the private club liquor license the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board issued Wednesday that allows the restaurant to serve alcohol in a dry county.

And although many who see the sign likely don’t understand it, at least 1,000 area residents do, because they signed the petition that restaurant owners Kevin and Karen Elrod took with them to the ABC Board.

Fat Daddy’s is the second restaurant in Cabot to be approved for a license to sell alcohol. Kopan, a relatively new restaurant serving sushi as well as other Japanese and Korean foods, got its license in October. Although Mayor Eddie Joe Williams and some church leaders opposed that application, Kopan owners had the signatures of more than 1,000 customers who supported it.

Until those two licenses were approved, only members of Cabot’s two country clubs could buy alcoholic beverages with their meals.

The mayor and Cabot Police Chief Jackie Davis attended the Wednesday meeting of the ABC Board to speak against Fat Daddy’s application.

The mayor told the board that even without restaurants serving alcohol in Cabot, sobriety checkpoints net so many drunk drivers that they can only stay open about two hours before the jail is full and all the police officers are occupied with paperwork.

But Elrod says the state laws that he must comply with won’t let him serve alcohol without food. And in his opinion, the sobriety checkpoints are catching drunks leaving bars in Little Rock, not diners who wanted a beer or wine with their steak or fish.

With the exception of a handful of country clubs, selling alcoholic beverages in Lonoke County has been illegal for more than seven decades, but changes made in recent years to state liquor laws to promote tourism and economic development now allow restaurants open to the public to sell alcohol even in the dry counties. So far, three restaurants have been approved in

Lonoke County and one more has applied.
In addition to Kopan and Fat Daddy’s, a liquor license has been granted to a planned restaurant in Ward, contingent on its actually being built.

That license has been appealed to circuit court in Pulaski County. Also in Cabot, Deer Creek Grill, which also has not been built, has applied for a license.

The wet/dry issue was decided in Lonoke County on Dec. 14, 1937 by the majority of 1,160 voters who turned out for the special election. Of that number, 328 voted to continue selling alcohol, and 832 voted to ban it.

By state law, for voters to have a say in the matter today would require a petition containing the verified signatures of 38 percent of the county’s registered voters. Since Lonoke County has 36,534 registered voters, 13,883 signatures would be needed to get the issue on the ballot in November 2010.

That number is so great in Lonoke County as well as the other dry counties that make up about half the state that taking the issue to a vote today would be nearly impossible. But instead of upholding the wishes of the majority who voted much of the state dry decades ago, those who are opposed to public restaurants getting private club liquor licenses say state lawmakers have found a way to subvert county law.

“Do you think Chile’s in Jacksonville is a private club?” asks Barry Ammon, a businessman from Ward who, through the Citizens for Sound Government, is fighting the liquor license issued to Win Knight for the restaurant he plans to build in Ward.

“The law has been subverted or perverted to help private business,” Ammon said.

The Citizens for Sound Govern-ment is a group whose membership changes with the issues they are dealing with, but always includes former state Rep. Randy Minton, who is known for his conservative values. The group is part of the beginnings of a coalition of organizations from across the state that is calling the changes in the state liquor laws unconstitutional. And, according to Ammon those changes are “so convoluted that they defy interpretation by the average person.”

In Cabot last week, representatives from groups from DeQueen, Jonesboro, Conway and Heber Springs, who feel like Ammon, argued that the new state laws are a way to get around county voters.

“What we’re trying to do is put together a coalition statewide, be-cause we don’t feel like we’re going to get anywhere with the ABC Board,” Ammon said.

The board grants licenses to restaurant owners who have filled out the forms correctly, he said. Although the law places restrictions on the restaurants, such as requiring customers to show membership cards before they are served, there is no evidence that the law is enforced, he said.

Mayor Williams agrees that enforcement is lax. “I’ve been to some of those restaurants and they don’t ask me for identification. They show me the wine list,” he said.

And like Ammons he says the changes in the liquor laws are drafted in such a way that communities can’t fight them, so at the very least they should be enforced.

“All I’m asking is for them to enforce the laws they’ve enacted,” he said.

Two days into running a Cabot eatery with a license to sell liquor, Kevin Elrod said business is good and he is following all the rules. Like the sign says, memberships are free. With his system, customers get a card with a stub. The customer keeps half and Fat Daddy’s keeps half and customers must sign in and show their cards at the door.

The restaurant closes at 9 p.m., and since he won’t serve alcohol without food, his customers shouldn’t be driving home drunk, he said.

Judging from the number of customers who signed his petition, Elrod says there is a demand with restaurants that serve alcohol.

“Colton’s is here in town but to get a steak, we go to Little Rock. The guys want a beer with their steaks and their wives like a glass of wine,” he said.

Elrod, who like most residents moved to Cabot for the schools, said he thinks Cabot people should spend their money at home.

“I’m not trying to push any morals on anyone; I’m just trying to keep people in town,” he said.

TOP STORY > >Educator: schools can teach better

Leader senior staff writer

The time to ensure that children will succeed in school and graduate is when they are toddlers and even earlier, not when they arrive in high school with bad attitudes, low expectations and few math, language or coping skills, an acclaimed educator told officials Wednesday from the Pulaski County Special School District and a dozen other districts with dismal graduation rates.
Pat Cooper, who earned his stripes as former superintendent of the McComb, Miss., School District, cites Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs when he says that children who arrive in kindergarten healthy and fit with good vocabularies and resulting self-esteem will succeed in class and won’t often become discipline problems.

Cooper says he has years of data to support his contention.

“You’ve got to do everything for all children that you do for yours,” he said to the teachers, board members and administrators attending the state Education Department’s graduation summit at the Crown Plaza Conference Center in west Little Rock.

“If children don’t come ready to learn and don’t finish school, the public school system fails,” Cooper said.

That failure will cost more in crime, unemployment, and prison expenses than it would cost to educate youngsters and get them to school healthy, he said.

PCSSD has instituted some of Cooper’s recom mendations in a piecemeal fashion, according to Beverly Ruthven, assistant superintendent.

“We are not systematic,” she said Friday, “but bringing mental health (counselors into schools) was a step.”

“I particularly like (his contention) that it’s not just the school’s task to address the needs of the whole child, but the whole community, a more holistic approach,” she said.

Ruthven said that PCSSD is taking advantage of Arkansas’ Better Chance pre-kindergarten programs and that research supports the contention that the best way to increase graduation rates is to make sure that children come to kindergarten healthy, fit and with skills to perform at grade level.

She said working with daycare centers “down the road” would be an excellent plan — that it’s better to be proactive.

She said school administrators and teachers are torn between so many demands, but so little time to do everything, especially with all the things that are mandated.

“This could yield the highest return.”

“But when you have kids in ninth grade who can’t read, you must move forward,” Ruthven said.

Toward that end, the district has implemented transition camps in the summer to help students with academic and social challenges adapt from elementary school to middle school and again for students moving from middle school to high school.

Also, all district high schools now have a freshman academy, where teachers are grouped with some students at the beginning of the year who stay in touch with those students throughout the year, alert for problems or deficiencies.

Cooper said most school-reform projects are promoted by those with textbooks or programs to sell and that statistically nothing introduced to students in middle or high school is going to affect graduation rates.

He said after-school programs may keep children off the streets and out of trouble, but they don’t have a meaningful impact on graduation rates.

Cooper said that after six years, George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program has proven to be a failure. And if changing textbooks or techniques were the answer to educating students and raising graduation rates, he asked why has there been no improvement in 40 years.

“Reformers lie, cheat and do anything they can to make a living off us,” he complained.

“I do think the next president is going to do something for us,” Cooper said.

He said children from upper- and middle-class families usually arrive in kindergarten with 2,000-word vocabularies, while many or most poor children have a vocabulary of about 400 words.

“Kids have to get things settled before they can learn,” he said.

Cooper said schools must work with daycare providers to make sure children come to kindergarten with grade-level skills and that children should be tested so that substandard daycare education can be identified. Then the schools need to work again with those daycares and the test scores should be published so parents know which to avoid.

Also, Cooper said, 80 percent of pregnant girls drop out of school to raise the next generation of dropouts.

He said 80 percent of the children of dropouts come to kindergarten at age 5, but with the developmental level of a 3-and-a-half-year-old.

What he proposes, and what has worked in his experience, he says, is to have daycare centers in the schools, so that the newborns beginning at age 6 weeks can be nourished, fit and learn the skills they need and so that their mothers can return to the classroom and graduate from high school.

The mothers also need to become trained daycare providers so they can help at the daycare and also understand how to help their own children.

“We have taken a whole generation of people and screwed them up,” Cooper said. Eighty-two percent of prisoners are school dropouts.

Schools should be community centers, available around the clock and include English as a second language and adult education classes.

Each school should have a nurse, mental-health counselor and a dentist and doctor available, as well as nutritionist.

He prefers the four nine-weeks system and would have real health and nutrition taught one section a year, with physical education taught the other three.

“We want graduates without a criminal record, a drug problem, a baby and without obesity,” Cooper added.

He said the schools and districts just waste time on the red-ribbon just-say-no campaigns and suggests the money be used instead for random drug tests and that any student failing the test be tested frequently thereafter.

Suspension and expulsion don’t work, he said. That just puts teenagers out on the street to burgle and get in trouble. What’s needed is an alternative school, such as the one in Lonoke County, where those students are sent by a judge after being put on probation.

If they behave, they can be reintegrated into their regular schools. They can be bused back to those schools to participate in athletics or their favorite art or music class.

If they act out while in alternative schools, they go to jail for two days, then back to alternative school — back to jail, back to alternative school as many times as it takes before they decide to behave at alternative school.

TOP STORY > >Hospital deal almost done

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville is close to turning over the reins of its hospital, North Metro, to Allegiance Health management.

“We have a verbal agreement and it’s a sound agreement,” Mayor Tommy Swaim told aldermen Thursday, “but it’s not a deal until all the paperwork is signed.”

He told the council there were still some technical issues that needed to be solved before the Shreveport, La.-based management firm took control of the hospital.

The city wanted to lease it to Allegiance, but in the current economic conditions that fell through. Instead Allegiance will manage the hospital and have an option to buy it.

Back in October, the city council approved leasing the hospital to Allegiance, but the mayor came back to the council earlier this month to get permission for the current management-option deal. “There’s no guarantee that Allegiance will buy it right away or even after a few years, but it will help seal the deal,” the mayor pointed out.

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

“Negotiations have been going on everyday for weeks. Our goal is to have something final no later than Dec. 31,” said the mayor, who also serves as chairman of the hospital’s board of directors, “and in the meantime, it’s business as usual at the hospital.”

If and 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.

Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz, top commander at Little Rock Air Force Base, said in an interview last week that the base relies on the hospital. “North Metro is the closest emergency room facility,” the general said. “We don’t have an ER in the base clinic. We rely on them for medical services in our local community, to provide an emergency room and in-patient services.”

“We do send several of our airmen and their families to North Metro and they’ve been a good provider for us and we’ve been monitoring their situation as a customer,” he said. “But we have no sway.”

The proposed 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’s, but neither submitted proposals. He said Baptist has reported a loss of $17 million and St. Vincent is $3 million in the red.

The mayor added that the company current managing the hospital had no interest in leasing or buying the hospital.

The last year that the hospital operated in the black was 2003-04, when it closed the fiscal year June 30, 2004 with a $652,000 positive income. The next year, net income slipped to the other side of the ledger with a $98,000 loss.

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 $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.

Much of North Metro’s losses are attributable to uncompensated and charity care, as well as the low reimbursement level for

Medicaid and Medicare patients.

The federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act mandates that any hospital that gets Medicare and Medicaid funding – and essentially all do – must provide a medical screening and treatment if necessary for anyone who comes to the emergency room, regardless of their ability to pay.

Swaim said another part of North Metro’s financial problems 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.

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

SPORTS>> Trojans’ rally falls short vs. Memphis

UALR sports information

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The UALR men’s basketball team (7-3) battled back from an 18-point second-half deficit on Wednesday night to pull within five points before dropping a 59-51 decision to the No. 21 Memphis Tigers at FedExForum.

Former North Pulaski player Steven Moore led the Trojans with 16 points.

Memphis (6-2) led 50-32 with 8:07 remaining after a bucket by Antonio Anderson, but went the rest of the game without a field goal. The Trojans, who held Memphis to a 33 percent shooting percentage, pulled within five points on three separate occasions, but were unable to get any closer.

“I’m proud of our guys for continuing to fight and compete in an adverse situation, after being down 18 in this kind of environment with a hostile crowd against us,” said UALR head coach Steve Shields. “The thing we have to do is learn from some of those situational mistakes that cost us tonight, but I’m proud of our guys’ ability to continue to fight, scrap and claw their way back into the game.”

The smaller Trojans out-rebounded the Tigers 38-36, including a plus-6 rebounding margin in the second half. Both teams shot 33.3 percent from the field, but Memphis converted 26 of 40 trips to the foul line, while the Trojans made just 15 trips to the charity stripe — making eight.

“I thought our guys did an excellent job of closing gaps defensively and a very good job on the defensive glass,” added Shields. “Memphis is a team that had 25 offensive rebounds at Georgetown last Saturday and only had nine tonight.”

Three players scored in double figures for the Tigers, led by 15 points from Robert Dozier, who went 3 for 4 from the field and 9 of 12 at the foul line. Tyreke Evans chipped in 12 points and four assists, while Shawn Taggart contributed 12 points off the bench, despite going 3 of 11 from the field.

Moore led the Trojans in scoring for the fifth consecutive outing, finishing, with a game-high 16 points off the bench. Senior John Fowler added eight points for the Trojans and led all players with nine rebounds.

The Trojans led 19-18 after a three-point play by Moore with 8:46 left in the first half, but would be outscored 12-3 the rest of the way after managing just one field goal after Moore’s bucket. UALR held the Tigers to 32 percent shooting over the first 20 minutes, including a 2-of-11 effort from three-point range, but shot just 27.6 percent themselves.

The Tigers used a quick 8-0 run in the second half to extend their lead to 45-28 with 14:16 remaining. Down 50-34 with 7:08 to go, the Trojans mounted a comeback with a quick 8-0 spurt, sparked by three pointers from freshman Curtis Jackson and sophomore Matt Mouzy.

UALR made it a two-possession game, 51-45, off a three-pointer by Moore with 2:27 to play, and pulled within five three times after that, but the Tigers converted 8 of 12 foul shots the rest of the way to preserve the win.

The Trojans return to action tonight at 7 p.m. when they open Sun Belt Conference play against Arkansas State at the Jack Stephens Center.

SPORTS>> ’Rabbits roll ’Dogs

Leader sportswriter

Lonoke coach Wes Swift admits there are still some kinks left to work out with his new high-octane Jackrabbits.

But that high-octane style was still good for nine steals and 22 points in the first quarter alone during Lonoke’s 75-59 win over Star City on Thursday night in the first round of the Pulaski Academy tournament.

The Jackrabbits (4-1) ended up winning the turnover battle by only one at 20-19, although most of those giveaways came with extended sub play in the second half by Lonoke.

“We played the kind of game we wanted to play,” Swift said. “We made so many mistakes, but it’s still early and we’re a work in progress. I thought we made a few shots tonight. I think you’re going to see us make more and more. Obviously, we’re not going to make the three-point shot every night, but I think we have enough players that can knock down a couple.”

There was no shortage of Jackrabbit players knocking down the three-pointers against Star City. Trenton Spencer and Michael Howard each had two in the first half, while Lance Jackson put up 11 of his total 13 points in the third quarter alone, nine of which came from behind the arc.

The outside game generated plenty of points, and a 13 point, eight rebound performance by senior forward Pierre Smith gave the Jackrabbits balance on the inside.

The Bulldogs tried to put the defensive pressure on Howard and fellow senior Clarence Harris, but it was to little avail, as Lonoke used its depth and a plethora of skilled shooters to spread the scoring around. Howard still went on to lead all scorers in the game with 16 points, while Jackson had a good night on both ends with 13 points and six steals.

“That’s what we talked about up at Morrilton,” said Swift. “We got up there, and it was Michael Howard. Mike’s going to be a consistent scorer for us. He can really score. They went to face guarding him tonight. And like I told them, that’s still fine. We still have enough scorers that I don’t think teams are going to be able to do that to us. Any time you take a defensive player out of the mix, it’s always advantage-offense.”

Lonoke’s offense held quite an advantage during the first half, outscoring the Bulldogs 22-10 in the first quarter. The Jackrabbits went on to hold a dominant 49-29 lead at the half, and was one point away from a mercy rule at the 1:19 mark of the third quarter before relieving the starters.

Star City took advantage of the subs’ inexperience, cutting the lead to 73-57 with 2:42 left, which prompted Swift to put his starting five back in for the remainder.

A total of 28 rebounds was enough for Lonoke to win the rebounding battle against the comparably-sized Bulldogs, but not by much. Swift said that is one area in which he and his players are still not on the same page.

“It’s not very good, and that’s a weak spot for us,” he said. “It’s what we talk about every practice. It’s my number-one priority, and I think about their number 10 priority right now, so that’s not a good thing. That’s going to be a work in progress.”

Darius Scott had eight points and five steals for Lonoke. Spencer and Harris also finished with eight points. For Star City, post player Deandra Edwards led with 15 points, with 13 for C.J. Waters and 10 for point guard Issac Hawkins.

Lonoke played host Pulaski Academy last night in the semifinals after Leader deadlines.


Leader sports editor

Don’t misunderstand him. Joe Foley is really high on junior guard Kim Sitzmann, but the University Arkansas-Little Rock head coach isn’t comparing her to Michael Jordan.

He’s only saying that the great shooters share one thing in common: They all eventually hit a rough patch.

So it was with Sitzmann, the former Cabot High standout who took the Sun Belt Conference by storm two seasons ago by earning Freshman of the Year honors. Seems Sitzmann, a three-point shooting specialist, was struggling with her specialty when the 2008-09 season began last month.

“It was bound to come sooner or later,” said Foley, the Trojans’ head man the past five years who has compiled a 533-150 career record. “All the great shooters, even Michael Jordan, go through that. It’s just part of the game. Sometimes the basket looks real big, sometimes real small.

“It looks real big to Kim right now.”

Big enough that Sitzmann’s 28 points and five three-pointers against Southern Miss and six steals and 13 points on three three-pointers against 17th-ranked Oklahoma State garnered her Sun Belt Player of the Week on Dec. 9.

“That was a complete thrill,” said Sitzmann, whose Trojans (8-2) received votes for the Top 25 for the first time in their history. “I was pretty excited.”

Though she was anything but excited, she never lost her confidence when she came out of the chutes this season averaging just seven points and making only 6 of 20 threes over the first five games of the season. Sitzmann, who led UALR in scoring as a freshman, said she wasn’t looking for her shot all that much in the early going. Her teammates, she said, got on her for not shooting enough.

She responded with a three-game stretch during which she scored 61 points and made 13 of 25 three-pointers. She also snagged 15 steals over that span, two more than she’d recorded through the first five games.

“I wasn’t all that frustrated because I figured the shots would come,” said the 5-10 Sitzmann. “But it feels great to have the shooting slump gone. Hopefully, it stays gone.”

Sitzmann re-emergence just happened to coincide with one of the more remarkable stretches the Trojans have ever enjoyed. After struggling a little early – sneaking by at Grambing by a single point after losing on the road at Southeast Missouri State – UALR ripped off five straight wins, including impressive ones over Rice, Southern Miss, Oklahoma State and Tulsa. On

Thursday, they went on the road and beat Ole Miss.

That win over the Cowgirls, then ranked 17th in the country, put UALR women’s basketball on the map, Sitzmann said.

“Playing a Big 12 school is a big deal,” she said. “We had 1,800 people here and it was great. We didn’t even play all that well and still beat them. They know where Little Rock is now.”

Foley said Sitzmann wasn’t what he would call a “can’t-miss” coming out of Cabot, despite the fact that she averaged 21 points, four assists, six rebounds and three steals in her career there. She was a two-time All-State player and was named All-Conference in all three of her seasons.


Her sophomore year, she led the Lady Panthers to the 5A state championship game. But Foley said there were nights he came to watch her play when she looked merely like an above-average player.

“You never really know with high school kids,” said Foley, who entered his sixth season at the Trojan helm with a 77-70 record. “Some kids you can say, yeah, she’s going to be a great player. A lot of it is what kind of work habits they have, how much they want to put into the game, whether or not they’re going to be real good players.

“But coming from a real good program like Cabot, you knew she had good work habits. Some nights I’d watch her and think, she’s something special. She’s got that court awareness and coaching ability on the court. That’s something they develop if they have a love for the game.”

That 5A championship game in 2004 is one Sitzmann said she likely won’t ever forget. And not just because she and the Lady Panthers played in front of an Alltel Arena crowd of more than 10,000. She’ll remember it for what might have been. Cabot was whistled for a dubious traveling call late in the contest, missed two free throws that might have iced it, and lost by a single point to Parkview on a last-second rebound basket.

“I think about it all the time,” she said. “We should have had a championship ring.”

Sitzmann said the transition to Division I basketball from high school wasn’t nearly as tough as it might have been. She knew the pace of the game would be quicker, she said, but credits Cabot High School coach Carla Crowder and assistant coach
Charles Ruple for helping to prepare her.

“They’re just amazing,” she said. “Basically when I came up here, I just had to get used to the speed. The transitions are a lot faster and you have to get used to the shot clock.”

Sitzmann served notice from the beginning that she was going to be better than the above-average player Foley witnessed some nights on his recruiting trips to Cabot. Though her first game was against D-II Ouachita Baptist, Sitzmann scored 10 points and grabbed seven steals. Pilferage, along with her trademark sharp shooting, would become her stock in trade as a freshman as she recorded 70 steals to lead UALR.

She followed her debut with 11 points, 10 assists and four steals against Creighton; 14 points, eight assists and three steals versus Southern Arkansas; and 18 points and seven boards against UT-Arlington. Sitzmann was off and running.

Sitzmann garnered Freshman of the Year honors after leading her team with averages of 14.1 points, 4.3 assists and 2.3 steals as UALR compiled a 21-10 record.

Last year, Sitzmann’s average fell off to 12. 4 points but she raised her overall shooting percentage. Sitzmann’s drop off in points, assists and steals can be in part attributed to recovery from surgery for tendenosis in her knee, a disease that blocks the flow of blood to the tendon. Surgery at the end of her freshman season left her out of shape at the start of her sophomore season and she never full recovered. The extra weight slowed her down and limited her effectiveness.

Sitzmann still suffers from the effects of the disease and will likely require more surgery. In the meantime, she is fit and trim and playing through the pain of her knee ailment.

“I’m pretty psyched before games so I generally don’t think about it much,” she said. “And they numb it up. But, yeah, it bothers me. It’s hurting right now.”


What makes Sitzmann’s relatively smooth transition to D-I basketball more impressive is that it came while learning one of the most difficult offensive systems – the motion offense.

Indeed, Foley said UALR is one of only a couple of women’s basketball programs that runs the offense whose creation is credited to coaching legend Bobby Knight. And almost no high schools utilize it.

The learning curve for the motion offense is steep and Foley said it usually takes new players a full year to begin to grasp its intricacies.

“We have to do a lot of teaching,” Foley said. “It’s the hardest offense to teach and the hardest to learn. But it’s also the hardest to guard.”

Unlike a standard offense that features set plays, the motion offense is read-and-react, allowing the players more freedom but requiring much more precision and concentration.

“They have to learn how to coach themselves out there,” Foley said. “I’ve never had a freshman that wasn’t frustrated but I’ve never had one that at the end of the year didn’t find it rewarding.”

Sitzmann had 99 turnovers as a freshman in the new offense and cut that back to 72 as a sophomore. Her decision-making and anticipation, both on offense and defense, continue to get better and better, Foley said.

“The thing I see about Kim is, when the game gets tight, you see her come to the front because she has the experience and that maturity,” he said. “Last week against good competition, she really stepped it up.

“She makes crucial steals for us. She’s one of those connivers who may not try to do it every time, but when it hurts you the most she’ll take the heart out of you.”

Sitzmann is one of only three juniors on a team with no seniors, making her a de facto leader, along with fellow junior Anshel Cooper of Marion.

All that youth has Foley scratching his head trying to explain how his Trojans have raced out to such a good start. After that five-game winning streak, the Trojans stumbled in a road loss to Missouri State earlier this week, a team that came into the game with just one win.

But UALR responded with another history-making win on Thursday night, beating its first-ever Southeastern Conference team with a 64-61 overtime victory at Ole Miss.

“This is a schedule we looked at and could see helping us get ready for conference,” said Foley. UALR won its first-ever SBC West Division title and reached the WNIT for the first time last season. “Both Southern Miss and Rice beat us last year and with Oklahoma State we thought, hey, we may lose a little confidence, but we’re also going to figure out what it takes to win.

“It could have been a killer schedule as young as we are, but we also thought we had good athletes and good players. We got a little ahead of schedule.”


This year, it was another distraction that may have led to Sitzmann’s slow start. Her mother had been ill in the hospital earlier in the season. She’s better now and Sitzmann hopes she and her father can start coming to her games again.

Todd and Luan Sitzmann, she says, missed only one game prior to this season, whether the Trojans were playing at home or on the road. Todd is retired from the Air Force, giving them the freedom to travel to watch their daughter play.

“They drove to California, they flew to Florida, they go everywhere,” Sitzmann said. “The Southern Miss game my freshman year was the only game they’d missed before this season. I’ve been very fortunate.”

Sitzmann hopes that her folks will be returning to watch a record-breaking season for the Trojans, who, along with Arkansas State, were the preseason picks to win the West Division.

The sting of missing the NCAAs last season when the Trojans lost in the conference tourney semis to Middle Tennessee State, is still there. But Foley said the SBC is starting to gain respect around the country and it is no longer necessary to win the outright tournament title to earn an NCAA bid.

“It’s really political,” he admitted. “There are so many teams on that next tier and sometimes you get in and sometimes you don’t. A couple of years ago, Western Kentucky was 17th in the RPI and didn’t even get in.

“But Middle (Tennessee State) has beaten LSU the last couple of years and we beat Oklahoma State, so we’re starting to get better awareness. We’ve got two kids (from the SBC) playing in the WNBA this year.”

Foley said that, before his team can worry about such things, they need to improve in a lot of areas they’ve been able to cover up by playing at home. Overconfidence, he said, should not be an issue.

For Sitzmann, this season and the next hold much promise.

“This could be a special year,” she said. “We’re young and that will factor into how we finish out. But every year that I’ve been here, we’ve played our best ball in March. We usually start getting pretty good in January. This year, we’re already playing good now.”

SPORTS>> Falcons starting strong

Leader sportswriter

Fourth-year North Pulaski High School coach Raymond Cooper has been busy building a powerhouse program since his arrival at the school in 2005. For a school not known for its athletic prowess, the Falcon basketball team has a chance this season to be among the best in Class 5A.

The tradition began under current Jacksonville head coach Vic Joyner, who coached current University of Arkansas-Little Rock guard Steven Moore when the two were at North Pulaski four years ago.

After narrowly missing the playoffs last season, the Falcons are off to a solid start this year, winning their first seven games before suffering a pair of setbacks in the Wampus Cat Invitational tournament in Conway last week.

Those two losses came at the hands of Conway, last year’s 7A runner up, and local rival Jacksonville in the third-place final.
Strong shooting and full-court pressure serve as the Falcons’ calling cards, along with enough depth to allow for near limitless substitution.

“It’s pretty unique in that we have a lot of skill guys, which makes it fun to coach them,” said Cooper (40-45 record at NP). “But it’s also a double-edged sword because we have a weakness in that we don’t have a lot of inside presence offensively. But we’ve tried to do unique things to try and get easy baskets with penetration and defense, which makes the game up-tempo.”

The strength and weaknesses of the Falcons can be summed up by their post position, which is shared by senior Carlos Donley and sophomore Brian Coulson. Strength, in that Donley is one of only two seniors on the team that will be lost at the end of the season. Weakness, in that they are the only two players on the team that exceed 6-2.

“Brian Coulson is a sophomore who has come in and played a lot of minutes,” Cooper said. “He’s learning, he’s playing hard, and between him and Carlos, we kind of look at them as one guy.

“Their numbers by themselves may not look that great, but we want them to have a double-double between the two of them.

By them subbing for each other, that allows them to play harder. That’s the strategy we’re looking at with them. One of them may not stand out alone, but the two of them together, we think they can do a good job.”

That lack of height does not translate into timidness on the court. In fact, the Falcons’ smallest player, 5-0 junior guard Joe
Agee, is their hardest-nosed. Agee gives up more than a foot of height to his opponent on most nights, but that hasn’t deterred him from emerging as a team leader this year.

“I wish we had everybody come out with his intensity,” Cooper said. “Even in the Conway game, he comes out with that kind of intensity. I can’t say enough about him. A lot of the things he does emotionally, a lot of the things he does as a leader, a lot of the things he does defensively – small things like diving on the floor, and he doesn’t mind mixing it up with big guys.

“He’s a dream to coach because he’s the same way in practice every day. I’d take one of him every year.”

What the Falcons may lack in overall size, they compensate for in depth. Of the 14 players listed on the roster, 10 have seen significant playing time in most of the games.

The talent is abundant, especially when it comes to the duo of juniors Daquan Bryant and Aaron Cooper, the coach’s son.

Aaron is the second of Cooper’s sons to play for him. Quinn, now a sophomore at Lyon College, was a team captain for the first two years of Ray Cooper’s tenure.

Aaron leads the team in scoring with 19.4 points per game, accounting for almost a third of the Falcons’ total points. Bryant is next with an 11.5 average, and is the leading rebounder with 6.5 per game.

“Numbers-wise and production-wise, they’ve done well,” Cooper said. “I’m trying to get them both to take a step and be a little more like Joe, because Joe’s more vocal. He really wears his heart on his sleeve, and he goes out there and lays it all on
the line.

“Aaron has stepped up some and become more vocal. Neither one of them are real emotional kind of kids, they’re just kind of even keel.”

This season will be the first year back in the 5A Southeast Conference after spending two years in the 5A East. The Southeast has some strong contenders in Little Rock McClellan local foe Sylvan Hills, but may not be as tough throughout as the East, according to Cooper.

“I look at it as at the top, it’s tough,” Cooper said. “And the thing about the 5A East was, it was tough from top to bottom.

Even some of the bottom teams, especially going to their home courts were really, really tough. I’m not sure that this conference has quite the balance that it had.”

Of all the potential new rivals, it will be hard for any to match that of their hometown 6A rivals Jacksonville. The two teams face off at least four scheduled times each year, in addition to chance meetings in tournaments.

The two schools have battled twice already, splitting the first two games. The Falcons took the first game 49-43 in late November before Jacksonville got its revenge in a 57-51 win in Conway. The two teams were set for a third meeting last night, this time at the Falcons’ Nest, North Pulaski’s home gym.

“I thought the Jacksonville game was probably the best game for us,” Cooper said. “We had to win in a different kind of way.

And we won it in a hostile environment, plus Jacksonville is traditionally a good team, and they’re a perennial playoff team. We get tired of playing each other, but in the long run, I think it’s good for both of us.

“In the 5A, we won’t face a team that is as athletic, or have the size across the board as Jacksonville does. So it helps us prepare for those games on the road in the conference and hopefully, it prepares us for those tougher teams in the tournaments.”

Cooper is aware of the school’s struggles athletically and takes it all in stride. He said he hopes that his team’s success can spill into other sports.

“I welcome that, because I think North Pulaski is a good school,” Cooper said. “And we’re striving as an athletic program to do things and to get better.

“We don’t consider ourselves as carrying the banner for the school, we’re just doing the best we can to do our part. And we think that our other programs are coming along, and we’re all going to do better.

“Our administration has been committed, and has done things to try and better the program as a whole.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

EDITORIAL > > Justices make wrong call

Sometimes the law is just too clear for clear-eyed judges to see. The solemn delegates who wrote the state’s Constitution in 1874 as the state was emerging from Reconstruction were usually plainspoken men who left ambiguity to those who would later write the amendments changing their work. They were not always farsighted or wise, but they were almost always clear.
They were clear when they drafted a sentence requiring public officials to take bids on major public works like buildings and bridges and to give contracts for the work to those who submitted the lowest responsible bids. Thursday, the Arkansas Supreme Court said the authors did not mean to do that. The drafters wanted it to apply only to county governments, the justices said. Everyone else in government — state, city and school officials — presumably could be trusted to be honest and economical with the taxpayers’ money, but county government officials were obliged to strictly follow prudent contracting policies.
Thus, all state agencies can hand construction contracts valued at more than $5 million to their favorite builder — maybe businessmen who are politically matched with the administration — without taking bids. The legislature and Gov. Mike Huckabee changed the law in 2001 to end the requirement of competitive bids. Too cumbersome, too confining, they said. It is better, they said, to negotiate a contract privately with a preferred builder.
Since then, nearly all state building contracts have gone to four big construction companies. We have no way of knowing whether the taxpayers got their dollar’s worth. Some contractors sued on the ground that the Constitution required bids.
This is what it says: “All contracts for erecting or repairing public buildings or bridges in any county, or for materials therefore, or for providing for the care and keeping of paupers where there are no alms houses, shall be given to the lowest responsible bidder under such regulations as may be provided by law.”
The argument was over the words “in any county.” The justices wrote that those words clearly meant that the framers of the Constitution intended it to apply only to county governments.
But that is not what it says. It says bids are required on any public building or bridge in any of the 75 counties. If it meant buildings built by the county government it would have said so.
If the bidding applied only to county government, the section would have appeared in the county government article of the Constitution, where all the other specifications for county government are lodged. Instead, it appears in the Miscellaneous section at the end of the Consti-tution. All the provisions under Miscellaneous apply to the whole state and to the state government. The provision right above it requires bids to be taken on all contracts for state printing. It is a requirement for the state government, not counties. The other 26 sections of the Miscellaneous article all apply to the state government, though a few apply to counties and cities, too, as clearly the public buildings and bridges section was supposed to do.
History also does not support the court’s theory. The delegates who assembled to write a new Constitution to throw off the shackles of the Reconstruction law had an overweening fear of state executive power because they had seen rampant corruption and abuse by the Reconstruction Republican government. Throughout the document, including its miscellaneous provisions, that fear guided the delegates’ work. They intended to rein in those abuses by providing checks and confining the executive branch’s prerogatives. Competitive bidding was one of the weapons.
Sometimes they went too far and hamstrung government’s ability to meet the changing needs of the people. But the requirement of competitive bidding is not such an instance. That prudence is as valuable today as it was in 1874.
Governments now say bidding is just too time-consuming and complicated and that it ties their hands. We need to look no further than the mammoth waste and fraud in the awarding of no-bid contracts for war support in Iraq, all given to friendly businesses.
This case is reversed and remanded with instructions to follow the Constitution.

TOP STORY > > Construction set for base exchange

Baggette Construction Inc. of Decatur, Ill., broke ground last week at Little Rock Air Force Base on a new $22.3 million base exchange.
The new base exchange will be located next to the existing commissary, according to Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing at the base. The project is being funded by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service. Construction is slated to begin in January and the project should be completed by summer 2010.
The facility features an additional 48,000 square feet to account for an assortment of new dining choices and a larger merchandise selection, according to Pam Honor, Little Rock AFB Exchange general manager.
Alan Thurston, Baggette Con-struction project manager, said plans call for using local companies as much as possible for subcontracting. “We’re pleased with the project and looking forward to working with the base, community and AAFES,” added Thurston.
The current base exchange building will be converted for another use, perhaps as a base library, Schatz said.
Work could also begin this summer on the long-sought $14.8 million Joint Education Center, a partnership between the air base and the city of Jacksonville.
Jacksonville residents taxed themselves $5 million to help provide a new, updated building for the college, outside the base perimeter.

TOP STORY > > Young pastor leads Jacksonville church

Nick Bumgardner, the new pastor at North Jacksonville Missionary Baptist Church, is ready to put down roots. Although not yet 30 years old, Bumgardner has a decade of pastoring behind him. He is also a family man, with a wife and four children, ranging in age from 5 years down to 11 months. A Benton native, he has been away from Arkansas for six years. He is glad to be back in his home state.
Bumgardner is close to the same age as when his predecessor, Pastor Lyndon Whitledge, who retired this fall, took the helm of the church.
The first Sunday that Bumgard-ner delivered a sermon at North Jacksonville Missionary Baptist Church marked 42 years to the day that Whitledge, then 26, started at the church. To Bumgardner, the prospect of a similarly long tenure suits him just fine.
“My desire would be to see my kids grow up here, get married, have a family and see their kids raised here, too. If I am here 42 years, great, or longer, great.”
The two pastors have already settled into an easy rapport. Bumgardner is glad too that Whitledge is staying involved with the doings of the church, and the two seem comfortable with their respective roles on Sunday mornings.
“On Sundays, he gets to relax,” Bumgardner says. “He’s ready for it to be someone else’s turn.”
A lifetime of experience prepared the young minister for his new post. Reared in the same denomination that he now serves, he was saved at age 7 and enjoyed family life that revolved around the church. But like many adolescents, he drifted away from his faith to see if that was any better.
“I grew up in the church and everything was pretty much normal, until age 16 or 17, when I tried to get away from the church to experience other things in life,” Bumgardner said.
The sudden death of the 14-old-year brother of a close friend made Bumgardner re-evaluate his life and what gave it meaning. He regretted having never shared anything about God with his now-deceased friend or the boy’s family. How he related to the people in his life changed from that point forward.
“I started ministering to them; I let them know what the Lord has done for me,” he said. “I started looking at things differently. I realized that there are opportunities to do God’s work all around us, but we have to be willing to do it.”
A year later, at church camp, Bumgardner dedicated his life to God and has never looked back.
“I made a commitment to God to do exactly what He wanted me to do with my life, to pastor His churches,” he said.
A year later, still a teenager, he started looking for a church to pastor. Connections through Missionary Baptist Seminary in Little Rock directed him to a church in Alma, one of appropriate size for a novice preacher.
The congregation numbered no more than 20. He stayed with that church more than two years.
Since leaving at the end of 2002, the young pastor has led three more churches, each congregation larger than the one before – in Slidell, La.; Jerome, Idaho, and most recently, Greenville, Miss.
During those years of gaining practical experience as a pastor, Bumgardner earned a bachelor’s degree in theology from Missionary Baptist Seminary and is now working on a master’s degree in theology from Oxford Baptist Institute, in Oxford, Miss.
Bumgardner is clear about the purpose he is to fulfill at his new church.
“The reason I am here is to reach out to assist in anyway that I can to those who are in Jacksonville, Cabot and the area around, to try to minister to them, to let them know that the Lord has done for me,” he said.
When pressed for specifics, Bumgardner recounted the story of a young woman from his hometown whose life is joined with his by their shared faith and an experience of the miraculous.
When doctors told her that she had advanced ovarian cancer, she and fellow Christians, including Bumgardner, were steadfast in their confidence that God would restore her health.
Going into surgery, her prognosis was grim, but when she awoke from the operation, her doctors told her they had no scientific explanation for the puzzling findings. The workings of a higher power they acknowledged was the only explanation for the mere trace of cancer they had found.
“I got to be part of that, to pray with her, to stay with her, encourage her and help out,” Bumgardner said. “But in return, she got to teach us how important faith is.”
Jacksonville Missionary Bible Church is a place where people can find acceptance and love, Bumgardner says. A focus on youth will be a priority, to create a haven for young people, where they feel comfortable and a part of things.
“People are looking for something where they can be loved and connected through, a place where they can come and be part of a family,” he said.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Polluters welcome

Governor Beebe spurned a plea by environmental organizations that he declare a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in Arkansas, saying that the governor lacked that kind of authority. The groups wanted him to stop construction of the big new generating plant in southwest Arkansas, which will cough some 5 million tons of earth-heating carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year when it starts generating electricity.

We aren’t prepared to dispute Beebe’s view that he is powerless to stop the plant. Some argue that the power is implicit in the chief executive because construction of the plant rests with the prerogatives of two agencies under the governor’s aegis, the state Public Service Commission and the Department of Environmental Quality. Both have issued permits for multi-state utilities building the plant, though both decisions have been appealed.

Governors of other states have issued moratoria that stopped the construction of a number of coal-burning plants, but their constitutions may enumerate plenary powers for chief executives that the Arkansas Constitution does not. There are precedents in Arkansas, too, most notably Governor Orval Faubus’ use of the National Guard in 1957 to stop black students from attending Central High School under plans adopted by the local school board and the federal courts. He claimed the police power to override local government decision-making in order to prevent disorder. Beebe could make the same claim to protect public health, but he would not want to invoke the Faubus precedent.

Would he if he could? He has given no indication that he would other than frequent expressions of concern about climate change. Coal is dirty but it has to be a key part of the immediate energy future, he says.

More troubling are the consistent decisions of the two agencies under his command to speed the construction of the plant. The Public Service Commission ruled first, in 2006, that the plant was needed (its power will go primarily to Texas, which has halted construction of new coal plants in that state) and that it met the requirements for environmental safety. The Department of Environmental Quality held that the plant met all the existing pollution standards. That decision is on appeal to the state Pollution Control Commission but the commissioners, who mostly represent polluting industry and their constituent state agencies, have made it clear they will go with the utilities. Although permits are ordinarily held in abeyance until appeals are finished, the commission told the utilities to go pell-mell ahead with work on the giant plant.

Southwestern Electric Power Co. (Swepco) is rushing to finish the plant before the federal Environmental Protection Agency fixes rules for carbon dioxide emissions. The U. S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the federal government could not ignore the impact of carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act. The Bush administration has dragged its feet developing CO2 standards and Congress is paralyzed by partisan deadlock, but that almost certainly will end with the Obama administration next month.

If the plant is on line by the time new standards are promulgated, it might be grandfathered and exempt from regulation.

Are we wrong to believe that state government ought to be as concerned about the health of the planet and the well-being of its people as the national government? Not here. The wishes of industry come first and last.

EDITORIAL >>TIFs no way to raise taxes

Innovative city officials like North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays deserve both our admiration for trying to develop their cities and our forbearance for the shortage of good ways to raise tax monies to do it. But every innovation to raise that money is not worthy.

Mayor Hays has been ahead of the pack in employing one particularly harmful tool, the tax-increment-financing (TIF) district, which robs public-school treasuries to assist commercial developers. He proposes to use the tool to help a big developer construct a shopping mall in Dark Hollow, the swampy glade alongside Interstates 30 and 40. Now he is rushing to commit school taxes to build a parking deck for a hotel that may build downtown.

TIFs are a fairly recent innovation nationally. Future ad-valorem tax growth from rising property values are carved away from the local governments to which they are pledged and used instead to build infrastructure for commercial development in blighted areas. A constitutional amendment ratified in 2000 authorized Arkansas counties and municipalities to create TIF districts.

Hays would commit growth revenues from property taxes in three designated TIF areas in North Little Rock starting in 2009 to paying the mortgage for the parking deck. Most of the money would come from the already pinched public schools. The mayor’s plan seems plainly to violate the constitutional and statutory terms for TIF financing, but that is where sharp lawyers come in. Arkansas courts are not averse to crafty arguments for the Constitution not meaning what it says.

The Arkansas Supreme Court has already ruled that TIF districts cannot take money collected under the first 25 mills of taxes in any school district, but it has not ruled on the larger issue of whether they can take money collected under any school tax. The Constitution still says that property taxes levied by a vote of the people with the understanding that it is for the schools may never be diverted to any other purpose than education. For the sake of the schools, not merely in North Little Rock but all over Arkansas, that issue needs to be settled.

Mayor Hays is furnishing us with the perfect vehicle to establish the law. We like to think that in the right case the courts would side with children rather than developers, which we are sure is what people intended each time they ratified a constitutional amendment affecting school taxes.

TOP STORY > >Reporter featured on documentary

John Hofheimer, The Leader’s senior staff reporter, will be featured on “Bill Moyers’ Journal” at 9 p.m. Friday on AETN.

The program examines privatization of base housing, much of it based on Hofheimer’s award-winning reporting in The Leader.

TOP STORY > >Recipient of Bronze Star honored for Iraq service

Leader staff writer

For his contribution to Operation Iraqi Freedom, an Arkansas officer received a Bronze Star at a ceremony Monday afternoon at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Lt. Col. Paul “Rich” Stephenson, a training unit instructor with the 62nd Airlift Squadron, was awarded the medal for performing meritoriously while stationed for a year at Basra, Iraq, a large port city near the Persian Gulf. He served as a senior adviser and commander in efforts to help an Iraqi air force squadron rebuild its capabilities.

Col. Charles K. Hyde, commander of the 314th Airlift Wing, pinned the medal on Stephenson after the medal citation and narrative were read before a crowd of airman, his wife, Linda, and the mayors of Jacksonville, Cabot and Sherwood, who had gathered to witness the proud moment.

Hyde, who had trained some years ago under Stephenson at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, said that his expertise and leadership capabilities made him an ideal choice for the challenging mission.

“The Air Force sent someone over to mentor a nation under siege in a raging war,” Hyde said. “They selected someone who knows how to take care of a nation. He delivered that in spades.”

During his tour of duty, Stephenson, as commander of a 10-person U.S. Air Force team, mentored more than 130 Iraqi officers of the Iraqi Air Force’s 70th Reconnaissance Squadron. Work with the Iraqis encompassed all aspects of flight and intelligence operations, including communication and coordination with Iraqi and Coalition command centers, air craft maintenance and safety, and combat mission tactics. The Iraqi unit had eight planes.

The training provided by Stephenson built the Iraqis’ capabilities for missions at night and in adverse weather. That enabled the squadron to successfully fly 1,300 combat missions that entailed intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom. During the Iraqi military’s effort to wrest the city of Basra from enemy control, Stephenson and his U.S.-Iraqi team suffered intense enemy attacks, but loss of life was minimized as a result of his leadership.

“Stephenson displayed unwavering courage and exceptional judgment while leading his team through over 125 enemy airfield attacks, numbering more than 450 Katyusha rockets,” stated the ceremony narrative. “The well-disciplined, immediate action procedures and accountability he drilled into his team and Iraqi Air Force personnel prevented injury or loss of life during frequent indirect fire attacks.”

Throughout the ceremony, Stephenson stood at attention, somber faced. After the pinning, he relaxed and broke into a smile.

“That was way more whoop-de-do than I ever wanted,” he joked.The medal was really a tribute to the entire team of airmen with whom he served, Stephenson claimed.

“When you get to be a major on up, any kind of an award like this is a reflection not on you, but the unit, the people you work with – not just Americans but also Iraqis,” he said. “What we were able to accomplish was just not because of me, but in a lot of ways, in spite of me.”

After the ceremony, Stephenson told reporters that the Iraqis are making great strides in building their air force capabilities, bringing the day closer when U.S. troops can come home. Other American airmen are continuing the work that Stephenson and his crew began in helping Iraqis build a myriad of capabilities – from piloting skills and aircraft maintenance to recruitment and payroll.

“They are making tremendous progress, though not progress quite by our standards; it will take some time to be really good at these things,” Stephenson said.
“The Iraqis are really good people,” he continued. “The folks I worked with on a day-to-day basis were heroes. Many had to come to work in a disguise. They risked their lives to help develop their country. They were happy we were there.”

Stephenson earned his commission in 1983 through the U.S. Air Force Academy with a degree in military history. He is a command pilot with more than 5,000 flying hours in a variety of aircraft, mostly the C-130. He previously served as the commander of the 517th Airlift Squadron in Elmendorf, Alaska. He received his first C-130 training at Little Rock AFB. His career includes three other assignments there prior to his deployment to Iraq.

The Bronze Star is awarded to individuals for heroic or meritorious service while serving with the U.S. military in any capacity, combat or non-combat, excluding aerial operations, during military engagement against an armed enemy. Of the 23 military decorations awarded to individual airmen or units, the Bronze Star is 11th in precedence, one rank above the Purple Heart and one below the Airman’s Medal. President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the Bronze Star by executive order in 1944, retroactive to 1941, to honor heroism of ground troops. The Airman’s Medal had been instituted two years earlier.

TOP STORY > >Report says enrollment is stagnant

Leader senior staff writer

According to a recent report, the Pulaski County Special School District has a hard time attracting new students, although that will probably not have an impact on Jacksonville’s chances of forming its own school district.

“I don’t think this year’s (Pulaski County) enrollment data will in any way change the picture for the Pulaski County Special School District as far as any agreement they have made concerning the proposed Jacksonville district,” Andree Roaf, director of the Office of Desegregation Monitoring, said this week.

“Of course, the real questions right now are one, is the 8th Circuit (Court of Appeals) ever going to rule on the ap-peal from Judge (Bill) Wilson’s declaration that the LRSD has achieved unitary status, and two, can the PCSSD achieve unitary status in turn, if this case does not settle in the coming weeks or months?” Roaf said, referring to PCSSD’s desire to have itself declared desegregated.

“The numbers did not change significantly from last year,” said Roaf, addressing the findings in the “2008-2009 Enrollment and Racial Composition of the Pulaski County Special School District Report.”

Many Jacksonville area residents have worked hard for years to form their own school district. With a unanimous vote, the district has endorsed the idea of a stand-alone district provided that it didn’t interfere with a court-enforced desegregation order.

Currently, the fast route for a stand-alone district is thought to require approval by Judge Wilson, who has said he wants to wait until the 8th Circuit rules.

The report did reflect enrollment increase of three-tenths of 1 percent at Pulaski County Special School District to 18,063, but again, that’s largely attributable to the opening of the new Chenal Elementary School.

For most of the last 21 years, overall PCSSD enrollment has declined while the African American share of the enrollment has increased.

Seven of the district’s 38 schools will exceed the maximum target of black enrollment with African Americans accounting for 87 percent of the enrollment at one school.

Blacks account for 44 percent of the total enrollment at PCSSD, making it the only one of the three Pulaski County districts that still has a majority white enrollment.

“The numbers did not change significantly from last year,” accor-ding to Andre Roaf, head of the office.

“PCSSD actually has a slight increase in overall enrollment, which we suggest is due to the additional students coming into the new Chenal Elementary from the other districts and the resulting increase in M-to-M enrollment.”

According to the report, 48 percent of all public school students in the county attend Little Rock schools, 34 percent attend PCSSD and 18 percent attend North Little Rock.

Of black students in the county, 59 percent attend Little Rock Schools, 26 percent attend North Little Rock and 18 percent attend PCSSD schools.

Most white students, 46 percent, attend PCSSD schools, with 37 percent attending Little Rock Schools and 18 percent at North Little Rock.

County wide, 58 percent of students are black, 42 percent are white.

Among PCSSD students, 56 percent are white, 44 percent black. Among Little Rock students, 68 percent are black, 32 percent black and in North Little Rock, 59 percent of enrollment is black, 42 percent white.

PCSSD enrollment this year fills only 63 percent of the total capacity, leaving 10,772 seats available.

Three PCSSD schools elementary schools had noteworthy gains in enrollment in contrast to the continuing decline district wide.

Enrollment increased at eight of the elementary schools in the district. Scott Elementary gained 35 percent in enrollment and 13 percent at both Sylvan Hills and Tolleson.

Brenda Bowles, director of equity services at PCSSD, says the district is about out of options for trying to improve the racial balances at schools that are out of compliance. “All I can do is better permit control,” Bowles said. “We’re not busing or splitting geocodes by race. I don’t want to bus people from one side of the highway to the other.”

“Somebody needs to talk about the boys and girls schools (Jacksonville’s two single-gender middle schools),” said. “They have some things going on there but some people think not. The community is split.”


Homer Adkins, which changed from an elementary to a pre-kindergarten in the 2006-2007 school year, lost seven students for a total of 99 students, 54 percent, black.

Arnold Drive Elementary School: decreased eight students to an enrollment of 257, 26 percent of whom are black.

Bayou Meto Elementary School: decreased two students to an enrollment of 379, 3 percent of whom are black.

Clinton Elementary School: decreased six students to enrollment of 759, 55 percent are black.

Warren Dupree Elementary School: decreased 26 students to 284, 48 percent of whom are black.

Harris Elementary School: decreased 13 students to 232, 87 percent of whom are black.

Jacksonville Elementary School: decreased five students to 537, 69 percent of whom are black.

Oakbrooke Elementary School: decreased 12 students to 504, 38 percent of whom are black.

Pinewood Elementary School: increased 26 students to 416, 53 percent of whom are black.

Scott Elementary School: increased 53 students to 206, 25 percent of whom are black.

Sherwood Elementary: decreased enrollment by one to 395, 37 percent of whom are black.

Sylvan Hills Elementary School: increased 40 students to 424, 45 of whom are black.

Murrell Taylor Elementary School: decrease0d 27 students to 407, 59 percent of whom are black.

Tolleson Elementary School: increased 42 students to 357, 32 percent of whom are black.

PCSSD elementary schools subtotal: increased 325 students to 9,741, 40 percent of whom are black.


Jacksonville Girls School: decreased 45 students to 360, 56 percent of whom are black.

Jacksonville Boys School: decreased 22 students to 356, 54 percent of whom are black.

Northwood Middle School: increased five students to 637, 39 percent of whom are black.

Sylvan Hills Middle School: remained at 667, 51 percent of whom are black.


Jacksonville High School has a decrease of 25 students to 1,047, 52 percent of whom are black.

North Pulaski High School decreased by 72 students to 548, 38 percent of whom are black.

Sylvan Hills High School has a decrease of five students to 914, 45 percent of whom were black.

PCSSD secondary schools subtotal shows a decrease of 278 to 8,322.

PCSSD school total: increase of 47 to 18,063, 44 percent of whom are black.

TOP STORY > >Local recyclers in it for the long haul

Leader staff writers

To put it bluntly, the bottom has dropped out of the recycling industry, but don’t stop recyling.

Resale prices for aluminum, paper, plastic and assorted scrap metals have fallen so low that some dealers are stockpiling instead of selling in the hope that the market, which is known for ups and downs, will right itself.

But what does that mean for the faithful household recycler who sorts waste into bins for curbside pickup? Those in the recycling business, say nothing has changed – for now.

Even if it is not profitable right now to sell recyclable wastes, it would be even more costly to send it to a landfill. So until further notice, green-minded consumers should just keeping sorting, they say.

“Recycling is not a money-making project,” Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim said last week. “It is not something we depend on for our budget. It is not just about what you make, but what you save in landfill costs and for the environment.”

Six months ago, local recyclers of cardboard, plastics, paper, and aluminum were enjoying a boom. With prices at a high, revenues were well over those for 2007.

“We had almost a 20 percent increase in 2008, and now, here we go, the bottom falls out,” said Jimmy Oakley, director of public works for the city of Jacksonville.

Before prices nose-dived in the last month, the city had reaped $100,000 from recyclable sales; last year’s sales totaled $80,000.

“Our (revenues) may drop by two thirds from the way it is sounding; that’s huge,” Oakley said.

Prices peaked last spring, with aluminum bringing $1.10 a pound, plastics 37 cents a pound, and cardboard $130 a ton. Late summer, prices began to slide but were still at a healthy level.

By late fall, as deflation was settling over world markets like a long winter freeze, local recyclers began to feel the chill. Last week, 37 cents per pound was the price quoted to Jacksonville for its aluminum.

Plastics are now going for 15 cents a pound, and cardboard has crashed to $15 per ton, a near 90 percent drop from its spring price. Newsprint, the biggest product by volume collected, plunged from $135 to $35 per ton in recent weeks.

Oakley remembers when cardboard was at an all-time high five years ago of $200 per ton. He has never seen the price as low as it is now. “Right now, we are really sweating it; we may not even be able to get rid of it,” he said.

The city of Jacksonville has provided curbside recycling since 1993. Garbage, yard waste, and recycling pick-up and disposal cost the city about $1.1 million annually.

Through recycling, the city diverts about 1.2 million pounds of trash from the landfill, saving the city $15,000 in landfill charges annually.


Oakley said it is too soon to say how the plunge in prices will affect recycling collections or sales. For now, both continue. The city’s free service to a few large industries to pick up their discarded cardboard may prove to be too costly. A fee may be charged to cover costs.

“Or we may ask businesses to bring it too us,” Oakley said. “We’ll need to find ways to run a little leaner.”

Predictions are that it will be well into 2009 before prices improve.

“We’re in for a very long cold winter; it will be Labor Day before it gets better,” says Martha Treece, who has been a broker in recyclables for a decade.

Treece and her husband, Bill, own ORE Recovered Materials, based in Clinton. They buy recyclables from Jacksonville and other municipal recyclers across Arkansas. Products are then sold to U.S. manufacturers or go on the international market.

From her global vantage point, Treece saw the impending crisis before it hit the local level. Several weeks ago, she called an emergency meeting of the board of the Arkansas Recycling Coalition, on which she serves, to come up with a plan to help small community recyclers. The first of a series of educational meetings for coalition members around the state was held in Arkadelphia last week to propose ways to weather the tough times.

She advised recyclers to scrutinize efficiencies and costs, and rely more on volunteers.

Kendrick Ketchum, owner of Service Recycling, the Heber Springs business that collects and sells recyclables picked up in Cabot, said prices for paper usually fall around this time of the year because the demand is not as high. Recycled paper is used for Christmas paper, boxes and bags, and those are already in the stores. But the severe drop in prices a few weeks ago can be attributed in great part to China, he said.

“The thing that is different with what’s happening now is that it was just all of a sudden. Just boom,” Ketchum said. “China’s not buying right now. “They overbought getting ready for the Olympics, and now they’re economy is doing what ours is and they’re just not buying.”

Indonesia was also a good customer, Ketchum said, but like China, it’s not buying now either.

Plastic? It’s made from oil, which is so cheap right now that it costs more to recycle old plastic than to make it new, Ketchum said.

Aluminum cans? Ketchum said they sold for 50 cents a pound all summer. Now they are down to 10 cents a pound.

Rusty Miller, an account manager with Waste Management, the company that picks up garbage and recyclables in Beebe, said the cereal boxes, junk mail and newspapers that are left in tubs on curbs in Beebe are warehoused in Little Rock because there is no market for it right now.

Miller said it’s not sent to Two Pine, the landfill the company owns, for several reasons: Waste Management’s contract with the city says those materials will be recycled, not buried. Recycling is the right thing to do for the environment. And Two Pine charges by the load, so for now, it’s cheaper to stockpile than to bury.

Mark Dewitt, with A. Tenen-baum Co. in North Little Rock, which purchases scrap metal of all kinds in several states, said the first three quarters 2008, he shipped 22 trailer-truck loads of aluminum cans a month to Alcoa where they are processed to make more aluminum cans. Now, he ships 10 to 12.

Michelle Gillham, a recycling coordinator with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, said the Arkansas companies, cities and non-profit agencies that sell recyclables are a tight-knit group who keep each other posted about shifts in the market. And they will survive, she said, if they are able to hold expenses down during this slump and if they can educate the public about the importance of recycling.

“They need to let the public know recycling is a service,” she said. “And the public must look for materials with recycled content. If we’re not buying those, we’re not really recycling. The public creates the market for recyclables by buying those things made from recycled materials.”

TOP STORY > >Cabot council passes budget

Leader staff writer

Five of Cabot’s eight city council members braved the icy roads Monday night to pass the mayor’s $8.4 million budget for 2009 — $600,000 more than this year — complete with 2.3 percent cost-of-living raises for themselves and a more substantial 4.8 percent raise for the city attorney, whose salary fell below the middle range in a survey of 16 cities similar to Cabot.

Among those who attended was Alderman Tom Armstrong, who is recovering from a brain tumor. Armstrong defeated former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh who ran against him while Armstrong was being treated for the cancer in Florida. The meeting was
Armstrong’s first since he was diagnosed in the summer.

Alderman Becky Lemaster, who opposed the raises, did not attend. Also absent were Teri Miessner, who had a death in the family, and Virgil Teague, who suffered a stroke in mid-2007 and now lives in the nursing home down the street from city hall. None of the three who were absent will be on the council in 2009. Lemaster and Miessner were defeated and Teague did not run.

Cabot’s budgets are ordinances which generally require three readings during three different meetings to pass. To get around that technicality and pass ordinan-ces at a single meeting, city councils commonly suspend the rule with a two-thirds majority vote, meaning six members are needed to vote.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams and the five members present briefly considered adjourning the meeting and reconvening at the nursing home so Teague could supply the sixth vote needed to pass the budget ordinance. But City Clerk Marva Verkler said she believed that since the budget ordinance is not of a permanent nature because it will automatically be rescinded at the end of 2009, it didn’t need to be read three times.

Taylor, who says he always takes a municipal code book with him to meetings because it’s impossible to remember everything, found the law Verkler had referenced and the budget passed with only one reading.

The mayor, who talked to this reporter by phone after the meeting, said he was very pleased that so many of the city’s aldermen were willing to make the effort to get the budget passed before the end of the year.

The $8.4 million budget for 2009 is an increase of $600,000 over 2008. It includes $77,250 for a new fire station, $60,000 for a new fire truck, which will be added to the $60,000 set aside in 2008, and $350,852 to start a city-operated garbage and trash service if bids from the private sector that will be opened Saturday are higher than the mayor thinks the residents should have to pay.

It also includes $350,000 for parks, up $100,000 from the budgeted amount for 2008. Although only $250,000 was budgeted for parks this year, the city council actually approved paying an additional $300,000.

Of that amount, $100,000 was used to help run parks and $200,000 had to be paid to the Internal Revenue Service for the parks department after money for federal income taxes was withheld from employees’ paychecks but not sent to the IRS.

City Attorney Jim Taylor has been working with the IRS to put the matter to rest. The parks department, which is run by an autonomous commission, is under investigation by the Arkansas State Police.

TOP STORY > >Ice storm factor in traffic death

Leader staff writer

Freezing drizzle that hit the area Monday night caused at least one traffic fatality, a heart attack, closed all school districts in central Arkansas for at least one day and increased ambulance runs by 36 percent.

The local area was hit with about three-tenths of an inch of sleet coating roadways and bridges with just enough ice to make travel treacherous and even deadly for one Jacksonville resident.

Lester Holmes, 47, died from injuries received in a four-car accident Monday evening at Broadway and Palm in North Little Rock. The accident is still under investigation by the State Police to determine who was at fault and how much of a factor weather played in the accident. Two other people were injured in the accident and taken to area hospitals.

In Cabot, an 18-wheeler slid off Hwy. 67/167 near exit 19 and shortly afterward the driver had a heart attack. Late Tuesday afternoon, Cabot Mayor Eddie Jo Williams said the driver had been transported to the hospital, but he didn’t know the driver’s current condition.

Williams called Cabot “pretty devastating from a traffic stand- point.”

“I just wished everyone had stayed home Tuesday,” he said, adding, “we’ve had a lot of issues and several roads were closed most of the day. Our street department has been out all day and we’ve asked for state support.”

Sgt. Brent Lucas of the Cabot Police Department said, “We’ve definitely been busy with accidents all day.”

What worried the Cabot mayor the most Tuesday was that he felt the storm issues were “not over yet.”

State Police with Troop A, which covers Faulkner, Lonoke, Pulaski and Saline counties, worked 70 accidents from 6 p.m.

Monday to noon Tuesday, including the one fatality.

Little Rock Air Force Base was closed Tuesday to all non-essential personnel and those same people were told to wait to report until noon Wednesday.

Both Jacksonville and Sher-wood police said they worked some minor accidents, but overall things were quiet on the city streets.

Sherwood Police Lt. Cheryl Williams said, “We had about six reported accidents between 5 and 7 p.m. Monday and assisted State Police with one accident on Hwy. 67/167. Tuesday morning we had about 15-20 assists. These were not necessarily accidents, but people calling for help because of the weather.”

Metropolitan Emergency Medical Service (MEMS) saw about a 36 percent increase in calls from 3 p.m. Monday to 2 p.m.

Tuesday compared to the same period the day before.

Jon Swanson, with MEMS, said, “We had 253 runs during the ice storm compared to 186 the day before.”

The ambulance service serves all of Pulaski County, except Jacksonville, and Cabot, as well as large portions of Faulkner and Grant counties.

“During the storm time period we had two calls in Sherwood city limits and 16 in Cabot,” Swanson said.

Swanson pointed out that even though there were a lot of vehicle accidents, most of the calls came from people injured in falls.

“When the weather is bad, most drivers slow down, so even though there are a lot of accidents, they aren’t as severe. But in falls, people are hitting their hips, heads, necks and often suffering serious injuries.” Swanson stressed the need to be very careful trying to walk on ice.

Jacksonville’s Public Works Department also stayed busy. “We had trucks out at start of the storm,” said Public Works Director Jim Oakley, “which was about 3:30 p.m. Monday and worked throughout the night, dumping loads of a salt-sand solution on city bridges and intersections, until about noon Tuesday.”

Overall, Oakley said, about 72 tons of the sand-salt solution were dumped on Jacksonville streets and bridges.

One of the city’s street department trucks was hit Tuesday morning when a driver slid through a stop sign into the truck.

“I felt sorry for the woman,” Oakley said. “She’s a nurse at North Metro and had made it all the way down from Mt. Vernon and then slid through a stop sign on Braden Road by the hospital.”

According to the National Weather Service in North Little Rock, sleet hit the area even though Monday’s high was 64 degrees.

The problem was that high was just after midnight Sunday, and by 6 a.m. Monday morning the temperature was 33 degrees.

The current forecast called for the possibility of more sleet or freezing rain Tuesday night since the high temperature for the day never went above freezing.

Today’s highs are forecasted to be in the mid-40s, and by Friday the mercury will hit the mid-60s, with a chance of rain each day.

City hall was closed in Beebe on Tuesday, but Police Sgt. Brian Duke said he was busy all day with accident reports mostly from Monday before area residents realized how bad the roads actually were.

As soon as the freezing rain started Monday afternoon, vehicles started sliding off the road, he said. One ran off the overpass on Hwy. 54.

Another slid off the overpass on Hwy. 31 and into a cedar tree. At about the same time a small truck collided with an empty school bus on top of the Hwy. 31 overpass. And later that evening, another ran off Dewitt Henry Drive.

There were no injuries in the Monday accidents and by 4 p.m. Tuesday, there were no new accidents.

Duke said many of the motorists simply left their vehicles where they came to rest and came in to the police department on Tuesday to fill out reports.

“That’s what I’ve been doing all day, catching up on accident reports,” he said.

SPORTS>>Panthers shake off first-round loss to beat Bruins, Mustangs

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers rebounded from a disappointing, self-destructive, opening-round loss in the CAC Invitational to win the consolation bracket with a see-saw 60-52 victory over host Central Arkansas Christian on Saturday afternoon.

On Thursday, the Panthers, now 7-2, failed to take care of the basketball down the stretch in a 65-62 loss to Mills, but bounced back on Friday with their second victory in five days over Pulaski Academy, 65-50.

The CAC game threatened to be taking the same form as the loss to Mills when the Panthers allowed a 10-point lead with 1:40 left in the game to dwindle to 53-48 with 58 seconds left after a CAC three-pointer, a turnover on the inbounds play and two Mustang free throws.

But Cabot, which missed three straight free throws late, made 7 of its final 8 to secure the win.

Adam Sterrenberg scored 13 of his 19 points after intermission, including two free throws with 47 seconds left that extended Cabot’s precarious lead to 55-48. CAC responded with a bucket to narrow the gap to five again and after Miles Monroe made 1 of 2 charities and CAC turned it over, Austin Johnson went to the line and made two free throws with 19 seconds to seal it.

It was a sluggish start for the Panthers who made only two of their first nine shots and fell behind the spirited Mustangs 8-2 in the early going. But Cabot got it going late in the period, knocking down its final four shots to take a 16-12 lead after one period.

Sharp-shooting guard Jack Bridges, who had been encouraged by his coach and father Jerry Bridges to look to pass first and shoot second in recent games, was given the green light on Saturday – and with good results. The senior made three consecutive three pointers over a two-minute, 23 second span as Cabot began to pull away.

The lead grew to 30-15 on Johnson’s insidebucket off a nice feed from Gary Clark at the 3:10 mark of the first half. A couple of late baskets inside by Scott Cook sent CAC to the locker room down 34-26.

Cabot got its fast break going early in the second half, scoring four times inside to open up a 45-28 lead. But the Panthers suddenly couldn’t find the rim and didn’t score over a six-minute, 58-second span, allowing the Mustangs to go on a 13-0 run and whittle the lead to 45-41 with 6:00 left in the game.

Monroe ended the drought with a rebound basket with 5:43 left and Johnson answered CAC’s ensuring basket with a drive from the left wing for a lay-up. Two free throws by Sterrenberg and Monroe’s lay-up appeared to have Cabot breathing easily with a 53-43 lead with 1:40 left.

CAC rallied with a Carter Trent three and two free throws by Ryan Lamberson after Cabot threw the inbounds pass away.

In addition to Sterrenberg’s 19 points, two assists and two steals, Bridges added 11 points, while Johnson dished out three assists, had two steals and scored 10 points. Monroe added nine points, eight boards, two assists and three steals. Clark scored six and had three assists and two steals. Seth Bloomberg came off the bench to make three steals.

Cabot had 12 steals and forced 20 turnovers, though the Panthers were outrebounded 31-27. They made 19 of 44 shots and dished out 13 assists.