Friday, March 13, 2009

SPORTS >> Big-game hunters miss mark

Leader sportswriter

HOT SPRINGS – The quest to bag the big one could have used a few less stray bullets.

But what Lonoke really needed in the fourth quarter was an answer to Shiloh Christian’s dominant 5-11 senior power-forward Megan Herbert, who scored 14 of her game-high 26 points in the final period to lead the Lady Saints to the 4A state title with a 51-45 win on Thursday at Summit Arena.

It was the third consecutive heartache in a state championship game for Lonoke, which lost to CAC in 2007 and Huntsville last year.

The Lady Jackrabbits (27-7) were on pace to hold Herbert, a University of Central Arkansas signee, well below her 26-point average through the first three quarters, but the final eight minutes were all hers. Herbert put Shiloh Christian (34-1) ahead for the final time at 41-39 with a driving jumper at the 1:58 mark, and went 7 of 8 at the foul line down the stretch.

A 13-of-41 percentage from the floor hampered the Lady Jackrabbits all night. That included 14 missed lay-ups. The Lady ’Rabbits’ outside shooting showed promise, as they hit 3 of 5 from behind the three-point line, and benefited from some critical mid-range jumpers by sophomore Cara Neighbors in the second half.

Lonoke was in no mood to gamble on long-distance shots, however, as it continued to try to drive the ball inside. Ashleigh Himstedt’s bid to pull to the Lady ’Rabbits within one with 58 seconds remaining came up empty after she failed to convert following a nifty drive through the lane. The Lady Saints hit a pair of free throws to increase the lead to 44-39.

“Those same kids that went 3 of 5 from three were also the same kids that were getting to the rack pretty aggressively,” said Morris. “I mean, that’s my opinion. I thought we did the things that made us successful the last two weeks. At what point did we have to have threes? Except the last 30 seconds.”

Herbert, who was named the game’s MVP, began her stellar fourth-quarter run at the 6:38 mark with a putback. She followed that with a transition basket that gave Shiloh a 33-26 lead, but Lonoke came back with baskets by Neighbors and Himstedt to cut it to three.

The Lady Jackrabbits finally tied it up at 35-all on a Neighbors three-pointer and two Himstedt free throws with 3:53 left to play. The Lady Saints briefly recaptured the lead on a Cheyenne Baker free throw before Brown found Himstedt uncovered for a back-door lay-up to make it 37-36 with 3:25 left, giving Lonoke its first lead since the 2:05 mark of the opening period.

But Lonoke was living on borrowed time, with Neighbors, Brown and post Asiah Scribner all carrying four personal fouls. Scribner, who didn’t receive many looks offensively, had done a solid job of containing SC center Kami Garrison all night, holding her to six points. But her fouls limited her defensively and Herbert began to dominate down the stretch.

“She’s tough,” Morris said of Herbert. “She imposed her will inside when she wanted to. We tried to stop that drive that she normally gets 10 more out of in a game. We tried to help deep in the lane, but against her, she’s just going to blow you off her arm and get the (basket) and-one. So, she’s a tough basketball player.”

After Himstedt’s bucket put the Lady Rabbits up, Herbert made a free throw to tie it before Jessie Park hit a 10-footer along the baseline that put Shiloh ahead 39-37 with 2:48 left. Lonoke tied it on two Shoemaker free throws 24 seconds later before Herbert’s lay-up put Shiloh up for good at the 2:05 mark.

Herbert got the Lady Saints out to an early 11-7 lead with seven points in the first quarter. She added two more baskets in the middle of the second quarter to give Shiloh an 18-8 lead, but her basket and free throw with 4:46 left in the first half were her last points for the next 14:08 of the game.

The Lady Saints came into the game under similar circumstances as Lonoke, having lost to Marshall in the 3A finals in ’07 and falling to the same team in the semis last year.

“I commend coach Morris on the job he’s done,” said Shiloh Christian coach Vic Rimmer. “I know it’s tough getting here three times and have that happen. As the season went on, I thought we really began to gel. I thought the difference in the game was just our cohesiveness.”

For Morris and the Lady Jackrabbits, a week of hearing that the third time just might be the charm ended in disappointment.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” Morris said. “There wasn’t a dry eye in that dressing room. It’s not easy to tell those kids that their dreams are over for the year. All I know that we can do is dig, scratch, claw and fight to come back.”

SPORTS >> Lonoke not first to lose 3 straight

Leader sports editor

While losing three consecutive state championship games might be a dubious distinction, Lonoke is hardly the first team to achieve it.

The Greenland girls reached the title tilt five consecutive seasons from 1996 through 2000, losing in ’96, ’97 and ’98. Lonoke can take heart in the fact that the Lady Pirates broke through in ’99 and repeated as champs in 2000.

Harrison’s boys also suffered a bout of futility in its three straight state final setbacks from 1999-2001.

Seven previous girls teams have matched the Lady Jackrabbits’ feat of three consecutive state championship game berths. The most recent was Guy Perkins from 2005-07.


The Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits weren’t kidding about this whole hunting theme.

Last week, head coach Nathan Morris announced that, from that point on, his team had decided to become hunters.

“We’re tired of being the ones being hunted,” he said. “We want to go on the hunt.”

Players and coaches donned camouflage throughout last week. On Thursday, the Lady Jackrabbits wore camouflage jerseys, complete with their numbers, during the player introductions.


Though Lonoke got to the line 24 times on Thursday, Morris intimated in his post-game press conference that that number might have been higher.

“We expected their physicalness,” he said. “I don’t think it necessarily translated into free throws in the paint when we got down there. I wish it would have translated into a little bit more.

“Maybe we were going in a little bit soft, I don’t know. I thought we were attacking pretty aggressively.”

The game plan to attack and try to pick up some fouls on UCA-bound Megan Herbert, failed on two levels. Lonoke missed 14 lay-ups in the contest, including four in the first two minutes and six seconds and six in the first period.

And they failed to ever put Herbert into foul trouble.

“We dribble-penetrated a couple of times and just bounced off her, I guess,” Morris said. “I mean, how many fouls did she have? Two? I thought we attacked her pretty well to see if we could pick up some cheap ones on her, but to no avail. She’s physically tough.”


How much significance Shiloh Christian’s deeper bench played in the outcome is open for debate. But the Lady Saints’ bench outscored Lonoke’s 8-0 in a six-point victory.

Vic Rimmer got 31 minutes out of his reserves, while Morris got only six from his. Though Emily Smith, Patrice Smith, Megan Davis and Briana Lynch all saw playing time for Lonoke, those four were each in for less than a minute.
Only Erin Shoemaker (four minutes) and Lauren Harper (two minutes) afforded the Lady ’Rabbit starters any rest.


Where’s Asiah?

Asiah Scribner managed only three field-goal attempts against the big Lady Saints. The dominant post player and Lonoke’s leading scorer, managed only five points and just 19 over the three games of the tournament.

It’s no secret that the Lady Jackrabbits’ offense runs through their three outstanding guards. Maybe too much so on Thursday. Cara Neighbors, Ashleigh Himstedt and Michaela Brown combined to launch 34 of Lonoke’s 41 field-goal attempts against the Lady Saints. Neighbors was 6 of 16, Himstedt 4 of 11 and Brown 1 of 7.

Lonoke’s two front-line players, meanwhile, shot only seven times.

“They’ve got two big post players that just laid on (Scribner),” Morris said. “We had two or three sets where we tried to free her up and we just never got those sets to work. That was a cause for some problems. Whatever shoulder she turned to, there was (a defender) standing there.”

Shiloh coach Vic Rimmer said that while his first priority was to stop point guard Michaela Brown, he was very much aware of Scribner.

“We didn’t have to help off as much on her when their guards penetrated,” he said. “Kami (Garrison) did a great job of being physical with her, fronting her and not letting her get catches in the post.”


While most of the field goals were concentrated among two players, nearly all of the rebounds were gathered in by three Lady Jackrabbits. Emily Shoemaker and Scribner pulled down seven each while Neighbors grabbed six. Other than that, only Himstedt recorded a board with one. The team was credited with four team rebounds to account for Lonoke’s total of 25.


Super sophomore Cara Neighbors warmed up to make 6 of 10 second-half shots after struggling to an 0-of-6 first half. Part of her struggles came from her defender – All-State post player Megan Herbert – who had at least four inches and quite a few pounds on Neighbors.

“The first one we were most concerned with was (Michaela Brown),” Rimmer said. “She makes everything go. But Megan’s defense over the last three weeks has been the best I’ve seen it. She understood how important it was to guard on the perimeter.”


Though it may be hard for Morris and his team to think about the future so soon after another disappointing loss, there is a lot to take heart in during the offseason. The outstanding guard trio of Himstedt, Brown and Neighbors returns as does the often-dominating Scribner in the post.

Of the five seniors Lonoke will graduate — Harper, Emily Shoemaker, Megan Davis, Briana Lynch and Courtnie Holt – only Harper and Shoemaker saw significant action.

Shoemaker turned in a good final showing on Thursday. Though she made only 1 of 4 shots, she often made it tough inside on the bigger Herbert and she pulled down seven rebounds, including a game-high five on the offensive end. She also recorded a pair of steals to go along with her five points.


The timekeeper at Summit Arena must have been checking SEC tournament scores when, at the beginning of the third period, he failed to stop the clock after a Shiloh Christian foul.

While Ashleigh Himstedt went to the line to shoot two free throws, the clock continued to run. The foul occurred at the 7:45 mark and the clock showed 7:14 when she finished shooting her free throws.

The time was not restored.

SPORTS >> For all the marbles

Leader sports editor

Nobody was thinking state championship last January when the Jacksonville Red Devils were limping along at 3-9. Nobody was even thinking state tournament.

All the Red Devils were thinking about at the time was winning the next game, rediscovering the joy of basketball and trying to learn the lessons of Victor Joyner’s coaching philosophy.

Since those days back in January of 2008, Jacksonville has gone 35-8. The Red Devils finished strong last season to earn a No. 3 seed in the 6A state tournament, where they were ousted by Benton in the quarterfinals.

Though they finished the year with a 14-14 record, they won 11 of their final 16 games. More importantly, they were beginning to gel as a unit, to understand that individual flash and dash is fine for the playground but deadly to a team.

Today at 7:45 p.m., Jacksonville will be going for its first-ever state basketball championship when it takes on 6A-East foe Little Rock Hall at the Summit Arena in Hot Springs. It will be the rubber game of the season series between the two teams, with Hall edging the Red Devils back in January, 58-55 and Jacksonville returning the favor with a 58-44 victory in Little Rock on Feb. 6.

“Like we said coming into this season, we knew we had talent, just like last year,” said Joyner, now in his fourth year at Jacksonville. “But it was our mindset that was our own worst enemy. To get them mentally to this point was the thing. Being mentally strong, accepting their roles, sharing.

“When they began to buy into that, then we began to gel as a team. They were this good last year, just not as cohesive.”

Almost all of that talent, by the way, returned from last year’s team. The Red Devils lost only point guard Terrell Eskridge to graduation. And with another year of seasoning for 6-6 defensive enforcer Demetrius Harris, these Red Devils look like a different team.

The Red Devils shared the 6A-East crown with Hall after both teams posted 13-1 league records. Jacksonville won the tiebreak and, with a No. 1 seed, had to come from behind in both the quarterfinals and the semifinals. The Devils were down at half to both Benton and West Memphis. They cruised in the second half to pull away for a 64-43 win over the Panthers.

Their task was much more treacherous against host team West Memphis, a team they had already beaten twice in the regular season. Jacksonville came back from 12 down at the half to post a 59-53 win.

“It’s good that you can pin your ears back and go to work when you need to,” Joyner said of his team’s resilience in the two tournament games. “They realized they had to buckle down defensively as a team.”

Hall had a close call in a 65-59 quarterfinal win over Pine Bluff before blowing past 6A-South champion Watson Chapel, 80-60.

There were a few hiccups out of the gate this year for the Red Devils, with early losses to Forrest City and North Pulaski, though the Mustangs reached the 5A semifinals while the Falcons will play for a state title earlier in the day today.

Their only other stumble came in a frustrating three-point loss to Hall, the defending 6A champs, at the Devils’ Den on Jan. 9 when the Red Devils missed 17 of 35 free throws.

Jacksonville has not lost since, avenging that loss to Hall along the way when it snapped the Warriors’ 28-game conference winning streak. The Red Devils carry a 14-game winning streak and a 23-3 record into the game while Hall won its final eight games and has posted a 28-2 record. The Warriors’ only other loss came by eight points to undefeated and nationally ranked Fayetteville, which will play for a 7A state title today. Hall led at the half in that one.

The difference between Jacksonville’s loss to the Warriors in January and its win the following month was more than a matter of free throws. In the loss, Jacksonville simply could not contain Baylor-bound point guard A.J. Walton, who consistently penetrated the lane for buckets, dishes and free-throw opportunities. He scored 23 in that one.

In the rematch, the Devils limited Walton to seven, while three-point shooting specialist Marland Smith couldn’t find the basket and struggled to a six-point night. Walton will be less than 100 percent today as he tries to come back from an injury that caused him to miss the last two weeks of the season.

“He’ll play,” insisted Hall coach George Cierks. “He played last weekend. He wasn’t going to, but we needed him down the stretch (in a quarterfinal win over Pine Bluff). But he’ll maybe be at 70 to 75 percent.”

While Joyner hardly minimizes Walton’s talent, he’s not so sure the Warriors aren’t in some ways stronger without him.

“In the film they sometimes look better without him on the court because everybody shares the ball a little more,” he said. “They relied a lot of A.J. and Marland. But they can all score. They’ve got the big boys that can step out and shoot a jumper. They’re a little more balanced.

“But we’ll prepare for them as we always do, try to play solid defense, contain the ball and just man up.”

While the Warriors primarily count on Smith and Walton, Joyner can rely on any one of a half dozen Devils to provide the firepower. They have proven go-to guys in Deshone McClure and Laquentin Miles, who have great range as well as penetration skills. And they have four inside enforcers who are also great offensive rebounders in Harris, Antwan Lockhart, Antonio Roy and Cortrell Eskridge.

That defense is what has carried the Red Devils, who sometimes can struggle in the half-court offense. They are allowing just 45 points a game, while scoring 56. Hall, meanwhile, is outscoring its opponents at a 60-47 clip.

“They’re just a good, solid ball club,” Cierks said of the Red Devils. “They have good guards, strong inside people that rebound well. They’re very formidable.”

While the stakes are high today, Joyner brings the same stoic, understated attitude into the game that his team displays on the court.

“They’ve never been cocky; they don’t boast,” he said. “We don’t allow them to boast. They just come out and work hard and play hard and whatever happens, happens. There are a lot of Christian kids here. They come out and play their best and, if God doesn’t bless you with a win, just be thankful to play the game.”

SPORTS >> Recommitted Falcons ready to make up for ’08 disappointment

Leader sports editor

It was a long and difficult off-season for the North Pulaski Falcons.

It also proved to be an important and invaluable time. Time the Falcons used to refocus, rejuvenate and rededicate.

The 2007-08 season was to have been a special one after the Falcons returned just about everybody from the previous spring’s state-playoff team. And they appeared to be right on schedule when they raced out to a 3-0 start to the 5A-East Conference race.

Then, things went terribly wrong. Injuries, narrow losses and team turmoil sent the Falcons to four losses in their next five games. Though they rallied to win their next four, late-season losses to Wynne and Nettleton eliminated them from a state playoff berth.

“It definitely fueled our fire in the offseason,” said North Pulaski coach Ray Cooper, who will lead his recommitted 25-6 Falcons into today’s 5A state championship game against Greene County Tech. Tip-off at Summit Arena in Hot Springs is set for 12:45. “

“I didn’t let them forget about it. After coming off a playoff berth the previous year and coming back with all the guys intact except two, we expected to be back and maybe even make a run for it.”

The Falcons lost three key players off last year’s 16-11 team, but they had plenty coming back, including deadeye guard Aaron Cooper, slashing forward Daquan Bryant, Kyron Ware, big man Carlos Donley and inspirational leader Joe Agee. They, along with the development of the energetic Jerald Blair and the return of Troy Green from a car accident two years earlier, as well as the presence of several key role players, have brought North Pulaski’s first-ever state basketball championship within reach.

It is also North Pulaski’s first appearance in a state basketball title game.

Standing in the Falcons’ way today is a difficult and familiar foe. Familiar not only to North Pulaski, which battled the Golden Eagles in the 5A East the past several seasons, but familiar to Summit Arena. This will be GCT’s third consecutive trip to the title game. The Eagles (22-5) won it two years ago, but fell to Siloam Springs last March. And to hear head coach Scott Bowlin tell it, just being back again is not enough.

“We’re kind of viewing it as (an all-or-nothing),” said Bowlin, whose Eagles beat Sylvan Hills, Fairview and Siloam Springs to get here. “We got beat in the finals last year and embarrassed to go with it. These seniors have won something like 83 percent of their games and I think if you ask all six of them, they’ll tell you they want to etch their names in school history.”

Ironically, it was these same Eagles who began the Falcons’ tailspin last year when they pulled away late for a 70-57 win in a game that spilled over into bad tempers and tension. Neither coach said that the bad blood from that game would play any part in today’s title tilt.

“After it was over and after we won here,” said Cooper, referring to North Pulaski’s 53-52 victory at the Falcons’ Nest, “we never talked about it again. We’re only focused on Greene County Tech. That other stuff is nothing but a distraction.”

Bowlin agreed. “That was just two high-strung coaches and two competitive high-strung teams battling,” he said. “Talking about that takes away what this game is all about.”

While Greene County Tech was mostly cruising through its side of the bracket last week, North Pulaski was just struggling to survive, edging West Helena Central and CAC before having a little easier time of it in the semis in a 17-point win over Morrilton.

The Golden Eagles start four seniors and a junior, all of whom have two years of state championship experience coming into the game. They are led by 6-4 Wes Livingston, an outside-inside player who, as much as anybody, is the Eagles’ go-to guy. But they are a balanced and disciplined team and have a brawny man on the post in the 6-3 Caleb Hartwig.

“They look a lot like they did last year,” Cooper said. “They run a disciplined offensive system with a lot of twists to it. They scramble and fight and they don’t beat themselves. That’s what makes it so tough.”

Though the Falcons should certainly enjoy a quickness advantage today, these Eagles are not averse to running and can play pretty much any style that is required.

“We played in a couple of national tournaments this year so we’re used to playing teams like (North Pulaski),” Bowlin said. “We can adjust to any way you want to go. But do we really want to get into a relay race with North Pulaski? No, that’s when they’re at their best. They’re very good at that. As far as size, we match up well.”

Cooper said he thinks his Falcons can adjust to different styles, as well.

“We prefer to run, but we’ve also worked hard on playing at a slower pace,” he said. “In playoff games, it happens that way sometimes. Greene County Tech is not going to score 80 points. So we’ll have to be patient, pick our spots, look for opportunities.”

Whatever happens, this season has been ever so much more enjoyable for Cooper, his players and the fans. Cooper said the support shown his team has really inspired them. And he’s happy to have a cohesive team again after last year’s turmoil.

“These guys work so well together and pull for each other,” he said. “There’s no jealousy. They’re all close. I think last year helped bring them together.

“We have not had to struggle to get them to work hard.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

EDITORIAL >> State widens health care

The Arkansas House of Representatives took a bold step Monday toward insuring medical treatment for thousands of children of middle-class working families, and no lawmaker had the heart to denounce it as creeping socialism.

Eighteen of the 100 House members, all Republicans, used the roll call to try to block the expanded insurance for children, all but one of them silently. They oppose such government services for the needy but chose simply to cast their vote against the bill or withhold it.

Back in 1997 when Governor Mike Huckabee and Mike Beebe, then a leading state senator, agreed to set up the ArKids First program, there was grumbling in the governor’s own party that it was socialized medicine. Huckabee called it Christian benevolence, a biblical injunction. Now Huckabee is on the other side, leading the chants of socialism against the new president’s plans to expand health coverage among people who cannot get or afford health insurance. Huckabee’s motto is, it’s Christian when I do it but unpatriotic when Democrats do it.

To qualify to have your children insured, a family of four now can earn up to $44,100 a year. The bill passed by the House will raise the ceiling to $55,000. The 56-cents-a-pack cigarette tax enacted last month will pay the state’s share of the coverage and the federal Medicaid dollars will meet the rest, except for a small copay by the families for each medical service.

Rep. Mark Martin of Prairie Grove was the only legislator to speak against the bill. He did not call it socialism but said simply that the state had bigger needs for the money than the children of working families who are not poor under the current statistical standard. He did not say what those higher needs were. Bigger prisons, perhaps.

It would be hard to find a way to spend the money with better societal results. It will improve the health of thousands of youngsters with long-lasting benefits, and it will give relief to working families who have seen their incomes rise only a fraction of the rate of medical-care inflation. Some 79,000 Arkansas children are uninsured, most of them in working families that will become eligible under the bill. Even then, not every child will be eligible. A family cannot stop its family insurance plan and sign their kids up for Medicaid, nor would many want to.

There is a not inconsequential economic consideration. The program will infuse another $45 million to $50 million a year into the Arkansas economy. We are apt to need a lot more.

EDITORIAL >> Pryor on UA board

Seats on university boards of trustees, particularly the University of Arkansas, are highly prized and every governor’s grateful patronage. Each seat is a chance to reward a powerful political supporter or else mollify a powerful group that feels that it is a big stakeholder in the university’s policies, like big agriculture. Thus are the governor’s appointments, one a year to each board typically, unremarkable. They are a renewed investment in the status quo.

But we are compelled to remark — favorably — upon Governor Beebe’s latest appointment to the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees. He appointed David Pryor, the former congressman, governor and senator, to replace Jim Lindsey, whose 10-year appointment by Governor Mike Huckabee expires.

The contrast tells you why it is remarkable. Lindsey, the old football star who made a fortune in farming and real estate, has had one consuming interest in the university, the Razorback athletic program, although his last service was to try to get his farm superintendent made the next president of the university system. Lindsey for a decade has been the de facto athletic director, a task that he shared collegially until recently with his old coach, Frank Broyles.

Though he was a triple-threat single-wing tailback for the Camden Panthers in the early 1950s, David Pryor has evinced a larger vision for the university than superlative athletic programs: sterling academics and a commitment to public service. When he retired from the U. S. Senate, he turned over much of his remaining campaign treasury — he ran unopposed in his last race — to the university to strengthen its archives and its oral and visual history programs, and he has taught at the university as an adjunct lecturer. After leaving the Senate in 1999, he did two-year stints as a fellow and director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and as the founding dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

Micromanaging the Razorbacks will be down Pryor’s list of things to do, and that has to be good for the university, and for the state. You may recall that Jim Lindsey ran against Governor Pryor in the Democratic primary in 1976, aiming a lot of nasty volleys at the young governor, all of which went graciously unreturned. Pryor beat him 2 to 1. We would guess that is the approximate ratio of return that the people will get from the latest exchange of trustees.

TOP STORY >> 911 center in charge of sirens

Leader staff writer

Tornadoes approached Jacksonville twice last year, and once the sirens went off and once they didn’t.

The time the sirens didn’t go off was not a malfunction but a decision by the 911 center staff not to activate the siren.

“We’ve had a lot of questions since that time about how our sirens work,” Brenda Skinner, the director of the city’s 911 center, told city the council last Thursday night.

She briefed the council on how the system works locally.

Jacksonville’s warning system consists of five sirens placed throughout the city and are activated remotely through the center or can be turned on manually.

Mayor Tommy Swaim interjected that there is a major misconception about the sirens.

“A lot of people will call and say they can’t hear the sirens in their homes, but the system is designed to warn those outside to take cover and precautions. Those inside should be listening to a radio or watching television for updated information,” the mayor explained.

Skinner said the decision to activate the sirens is based on information the center receives from the Little Rock Air Force Base weather squadron, the National Weather Service, police and fire department reports and information from radio and television.

She said television information is limited because the 911 center doesn’t have cable or satellite-television operations so it can only get two stations in with any clarity.

Skinner said the system would be activated when the center receives an official tornado warning that shows that Jacksonville is in the projected path of the severe weather.

Once the tornado warning has been issued, Skinner said, sirens will be activated and run for one minute, and will then continue to wail intermittently during the time that the city remains in danger.

Skinner said there is no “all clear” siren or sound. “We simply stop the siren once we are in the clear.”

She added that the system is tested every Wednesday at noon, except during inclement weather, for one minute.

Skinner explained that the main source for determining if the sirens will be activated is the warnings and tornado-path projections received from the weather service.
However, center officials will also use information provided by neighboring cities and funnel cloud sightings by city personnel.

Last year when the sirens went off, it was determined that Jacksonville was in the projected path, but the second time, even though county sirens and Sherwood sirens were sounding, the projected path had the tornado missing Jacksonville, and the decision was made not to activate the sirens, Skinner explained.

The city’s five sirens are located at 4001 S. First St. (Fire Station 4), 1301 Graham Road (Fire Station 2), 2400 Linda Lane (Jacksonville High School) 1412 West Main St. (Police Department) and at the intersection of West Main Street and Harris Road.

TOP STORY >> CodeRED: System will warn Cabot residents

Leader staff writer

CodeRED, a rapid emergency-communication system, is not fully operational in Cabot yet, but city residents can now go online to register to receive tornado warnings on home and cell phones.

Just go to the city Web site at, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the CodeRED icon.

The city has purchased two alert systems from CodeRED. The general-announcements system could be used by the police department, for example, to call in specific employees like the SWAT team that is being formed. Or Cabot WaterWorks could use the system when waterlines break, so customers wouldn’t have to call in to find out when service would be restored.

The city would have to record those announcements and send them out to specific groups.

The storm-warning system will be controlled by the National Weather Service, which would call only those city residents who live in the path of a tornado and who have signed up for storm warnings on the city Web site or at city hall.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said last week during a teleconference with CodeRED that he intends to use the general-announcement system to call everyone in the city anytime the tornado sirens are sounded.

Tornadoes are the main reason the city is willing to pay $15,000 a year for the service, the mayor said. Cabot was almost destroyed by a tornado more than 30 years ago and it was hit twice last year.

Tornado sirens can be heard outside and sometimes inside, he said. But they often can’t be heard over vacuum cleaners, televisions and washing machines.

So as an extra precaution when the weather is threatening, “We’ll do an all-call” the mayor said.

“It won’t take the place of sirens but it will enhance them,” he said.

The CodeRED icon was added to the city Web site on Thursday.

Cabot Fire Chief Phil Robinson said Friday that much of the city is already covered by the system using data that was easily available to CodeRED, but more will be collected to ensure that everyone who lives inside the city limits is included.

The city will pay $10,000 for general messages and $5,000 for the weather alerts.

Robinson said he didn’t know when the system would be fully operational. However, the sign-up page for the weather alerts tells participants to allow two weeks for the city to verify that they are eligible for the service, which is available only to those who live inside the city limits.

The mayor said he was concerned that since residents will have no access to the data entered into the CodeRED system for Cabot, then they will have no way of knowing if their applications have been processed.

Jill Mason, the CodeRED sales representative, said if in doubt, sign up again. The system will not accept the same phone number twice. So if a number is rejected, it is already in the system.

There is no limit to the number of cell phones in a household that can be entered into the system. Anyone with an unlisted home number also is encouraged to sign up, the fire chief said.

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville gets relief on its debt

Leader senior staff writer

Jacksonville board member Bill Vasquez broke ranks with the usual four-person voting bloc Tuesday as the Pulaski County Special School Board approved a resolution that could let Jacksonville-area school patrons off the hook for part of the $80 million second-lien construction bond Maumelle school.

Jacksonville gets a pass only if it can be done legally and only if and when it gets its own school district.

Board president Tim Clark, Gwen Williams and Charlie Wood argued to table the resolution. But Vasquez, their usual fourth ally, cast the deciding vote allowing the resolution to come up for a vote. He then cast the deciding vote with Shana Chaplin, Danny Gilliland and Mildred Tatum to approve the non-binding resolution.

The resolution authorizes the district’s lawyers and representatives of Stephens Inc., which is handling the bond, to work together toward drafting language that would let Jacksonville off the hook for $5 million a year of that $80 million bond.

That $80 million is just enough to build yet another new school in Maumelle at a time when most area students have to make do in a decrepit schools district while all district patrons have ponied up for new schools in Maumelle and Chenal.

“I’m going to support this and I hope it goes through tonight,” said Vasquez. He said it wasn’t good for the district as a whole, but that it was good for the people in his Jacksonville district.

Vasquez is frequently at odds with Jacksonville school district activist.

On Feb. 10, the board voted by its usual 4-3 vote to end the three-year foray into single-gender education for the middle school students in Jacksonville, which some say was bearing fruit by better test scores and fewer discipline problems.

Meanwhile, Wood said he would bring a resolution at the next meeting intended to overturn the board’s unanimous decision a year ago endorsing a stand-alone Jacksonville school district.

“Because of heavy-handed tactics with me, I’m at the point of resending” the issue to the board, said Williams.


Next year, all middle school students are to attend classes in what is now the Boys Middle School. Jacksonville Boys Middle School principal Mike Nellums and Asst. Superintendent James Warren said it would cost several hundred thousand dollars to set up the five portable classrooms some believe are necessary, plus rental of the portables at about $90,000 a year.

Nellums said that including the rehabilitation of restrooms for the girls, bringing some currently unused classrooms up to standards, pouring sidewalks and doing earthwork to place the portables, plus running new sewer and water lines to them could easily make the cost of renovations and portables $500,000 to $1 million.

Also the district will have to pay additional teacher salaries, add or renovate science and computer classes and erect a covered walkway over a new sidewalk between the school proper and the portables.

“We have 25 classrooms usable today,” Karen Hawks, a middle school teacher, told the board. “We need 39. We’ll have the largest middle school in the district,” she said, noting that it would also serve mostly students from low-income homes.

Nellums asked Clark to get answers regarding the work needed and the costs so he could pass them on to parents who had inquired.


Asked if it were possible to make the necessary improvements, Warren said it could be done, but it was going to cost a lot of money and pull the district’s 37 maintenance, construction, electrical and plumbing workers off the repair jobs they had expected to do this summer.

Tiffany Green, who said she represented McAlmont parents, said Harris Elementary School was dilapidated and unsafe and suggested the board “take your eyes off Jacksonville for a minute and let them handle the boys and girls as they see fit—and look after our school and our children.”

Williams, who is usually a strong advocate for Harris, which is in her district, seemed to argue against more help for Harris, saying that the school had gotten a lot of improvements over the past few years.

Local NAACP president Rozelle Aaron said that the single-gender Jacksonville middle schools were having success with the black students, boys especially, and could be one key to keeping young black men out of prison.

TOP STORY >> Bill restricting teen drivers is approved

Leader staff writer

Teen drivers across the state will soon have some of their driving privileges restricted in order to lower fatality rates.

The Senate approved the House’s changes to Bill 309 on Tuesday, implementing graduated drivers licensing. Gov. Beebe, a supporter of the bill, is expected to sign the bill into law shortly.

The bill was approved nearly unanimously in the Senate both times that it was up for vote. Only one senator, John Teague (D-Nashville), voted against it Tuesday.

Teens will not be allowed to drive unsupervised between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. unless traveling to school or church events or work. Most teens die while driving between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., and most of those accidents occur during weekends, according to the Injury Prevention Center at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

Young drivers will also not be able to drive with more than one non-family member passenger in order to limit dangerous distractions, nor will they be allowed to use a cell phone while driving except in an emergency.

Sen. Bobby Glover (D-Carlisle) was an early supporter of the bill. “I feel the 4 a.m. change is better. There were some concerns that kids going duck hunting weren’t being considered,” he said Tuesday.

Glover was referring to the first version of the bill that the Senate had approved. It would have made 5 a.m. the earliest time that teens can drive. He was pleased with the bill’s passage.

The issue was far more divisive in the House, where the bill passed 58 to 35 on Monday.

Votes were cast largely along party lines, Democrats supporting the bill and Republicans voting against it.

Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville), Rep. Walls McCrary (D-Lonoke) and Rep. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) all supported the bill.

Rep. Davy Carter (R-Cabot) and Rep. Jonathan Dismang (R- Searcy) voted against it.

“I think the time limits are fine, but the limits on the number of passengers 24 hours a day will create hardships on families,” Carter said.

The passenger limitations were responsible for his opposition.

Carter believes teen-driving safety should be dealt with by parents, not state legislators.

McCrary had some reservations about this bill. He understands that the restrictions are inconvenient, but are worthwhile efforts to keep young people safe.

“In some sense, it was a hard decision to make because it will place an imposition on rural areas,” McCrary said Tuesday.

McCrary says the bill is intended to remove some of the common distractions that young drivers face, like cell phones and noisy passengers.

“I voted to save lives after hearing testimony from doctors and safety experts. The statistics of accident rates of young people show that we need to help them,” he said.

McCrary says that this issue has incorrectly been made into a rural versus urban one. He says the assumption is that most accidents involving teenagers occur in cities, not rural areas. Not so, according to McCrary.Arkansas teens more frequently die in accidents along country roads than they do in urban areas, he said.

According to the Center for Disease Control, fatal car wrecks involving teenagers are epidemic in this country. Arkansas teens are killed at much higher levels while driving than in other states.

The CDC and others brought this to the attention of state legislators, according to Sen. John Paul Capps (D-Searcy).

Capps is chairman of the Transportation, Technology and Legislative Affairs Committee, which first introduced this bill.

The tighter restrictions will make roads safer for everyone and prevent teens from dying, the bill’s supporters say.

Statistics from the Injury Prevention Center also show that teen boys are especially at risk. Two of every three teen drivers killed while driving are boys, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

According to the CDC, 679 Arkansans between the ages of 14 and 20 died in car wrecks in 2000 to 2005, a figure far higher than the rest of the nation.

TOP STORY >> Soldier in Iraq for third tour

Leader staff writer

Joining the Army almost immediately after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York and Pentagon in Washington, D.C., seemed like the right thing to do to help protect his family, but now, seven years later and serving his third tour in Iraq, Sgt. Joseph Gerbine of Beebe is ready to get back to his old life.

Joey to his family and Uncle Joey to the kids in his unit, Gerbine is 36 years old, more than 15 years older that some of the soldiers he tries to look out for since he can’t be home to take care of his own children. By the time he is 38 in February 2011, he hopes to be a civilian once again.

Gerbine talked to The Leader as part of an Army media campaign to put soldiers in touch with their communities. Not to be confused with volunteering, Gerbine said he was “voluntold” to tell his story, which is unusual not for the dangerous missions he has been on but for the fact that in seven years in the Army he has been with his family for less than two years.

He is with the 589th Signal Company, 40th Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armor Division. He works with the communication network in Baghdad. Although there is no place in Iraq that can be considered safe, Gerbine said in three tours no soldier from his unit has been killed.

But he said, “The booms still make me flinch.”

Home right now is Germany. That’s where his wife and three youngest daughters live. His two older daughters live in Beebe.

“I’m always gone,” he said. “They try to keep home wherever I’m stationed so I’ll have a home to come back to. Between training and being here and Korea, I’ve been gone one and a half years out of seven. I’m thinking about building a summer home here.”

Gerbine joined the Army in October 2001 about a month after the terrorist attack.

He was 28 with work experience in construction and as a jailer in Pulaski County. But his dad had served two tours in Vietnam and his grandfather had served during World War II.

Military service was a family expectation, he said. Besides, Osama bin Laden had invaded home turf as he saw it and he had four daughters and one on the way who needed to be protected.

By August 2002 he was waiting in Kuwait for the war that started in March 2003. He was one of the first in.

When that tour ended, he was home for two months and then “voluntold” to go back. This tour, already 10 months old, was voluntary, but Gerbine said it will be his last.

He talks to his family regularly, but that’s hardly the same as being home with them. Unable to spend time with his own daughters, he takes to the streets of Baghdad where he hands out candy to the children, making certain the little girls get their fair share by protecting them from the stronger, greedier boys.

He said he feels good about the war despite the fact that the weapons of mass destruction that were supposed to be in Iraq did not exist and bin Laden has not been captured.

“From a soldier’s point of view, we’ve given the people back a country that they can control. I’m proud of what we’ve done,” he said.

But from the point of view of a husband, father and son, he is concerned.

“The ones who sacrifice the most are our wives and kids, moms and dads,” he said.

He is worried about the long-term effect of daughters growing up with a father who exists for them on the other end of a telephone.

“I pray to God my girls understand,” he said.

TOP STORY >> District’s legal fees at $12,000

Leader senior staff writer

Its lawyer billed the Pulaski County Special School District in January approximately $12,000 in legal fees to investigate whether or not Jacksonville Boys Middle School principal Mike Nellums had slandered school board president Tim Clark earlier this year, and if so, what action the board could take.

Clark asked Superintendent James Sharpe to convene an investigation, including whether dismissal or other disciplinary action could be brought against Nellums.

There has been no public statement by district officials on the status of the investigation, but both Nellums and someone familiar with the investigation have said he’s been exonerated.

Nellums, who hired Ricky Hicks as his attorney, said Tuesday that his defense—which he will submit for reimbursement to the school district—is likely to run at least $2,000.

Jay Bequette of Bequette and Billingsley submitted a January bill of $17,480 to the district for personnel matters. Nellums, who obtained a copy under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, says he identified $12,600—maybe more—in charges related to Bequette’s investigation of whether or not Nellums did make the statement, and if he did, whether or not it was protected speech under the Constitution, under the teacher fair dismissal act and several other determinations.

The investigation was into whether or not Nellums told a second principal that Clark had paid board member Gwen Williams for her vote impeaching Mildred Tatum, who was then board president, and electing Clark to the position.

Clark signed his Jan. 19 letter to Sharpe requesting the investigation “Tim Clark, President, PCSSD School Board.”

“It was reported to me that Mr. Nellums made slanderous/defamatory statements about me and fellow board member Gwen Williams to other PCSSD administrators who attended a meeting of PCSSD principals…”

Clark called his letter a formal complaint and asked for an investigation including interviews of all PCSSD administrators who attended the meeting.

Nellums said the investigation is prompted by his longstanding enmity with PACT. PACT has been supportive of and supported by three of the seven sitting board members—Clark, Williams, Bill Vasquez and since September, former board president Charlie Wood has voted regularly with those three.

In a Jan. 29 letter to Barnes and Coley, Nellums said the statement attributed to him was incorrect.

“I am the most credible source and I simply did not say anything about a paid-for activity to (principal) Karen Sullards or anyone else,” Nellums wrote.

Clark has cost the district about $20,000, said Tatum recently, reacting to an accusation that Bequette had billed the district $14,000 and that Clark wanted the district to pay nearly $3,000 for a Maumelle Country Club reception prior to a ground breaking for the new high school.

Bequette’s bill for the investigation seems closer to $12,000 and the bill for the country club reception was about $2,700.

Clark alleged that Nellums made the slanderous comment at a Jan. 14 meeting of principals.

Nellums says the alleged slander never occurred, that the board president doesn’t have the authority to precipitate an investigation and that even if he had made the comment, it would have been protected speech under the Constitution.

Nellums called the investigation “an inquisition.”

It’s very difficult to libel or slander public figures who are said to be in the limelight.

Those investigating the incident—Deborah Coley, Bill Barnes and Jay Bequette—interviewed several principals and at least two teachers.

Coley is the assistant superintendent for human resources, Barnes is director of secondary education and Bequette is the district’s lawyer.

Neither of the two teachers—PACT members—who forwarded Nellums’ alleged slander to the union were at the principals’ meeting, but according to Nellums, they reported the accusation to PACT leaders who forwarded the hearsay comments to Clark.

Clark said the legal fees might be higher than he thought appropriate.

Among the larger billed items was $700 to research employee free speech and First Amendment rights, another $700 to research the First Amendment rights of principals, $400 to meet with a district investigator and potential witness against Nellums, $680 to research board member voting rights, $400 to meet with Nellums and several other three-figure charges.

After negative publicity, Clark paid the country club bill himself.

TOP STORY >> Ballot positions for race

Leader editor-in-chief

Jacksonville mayoral candidates drew for ballot positions at the Pulaski County Election Commission on Tuesday.

Bill Shelley, a former Jackson-ville police officer, drew the No. 1 spot. But he intends to drop out of the race and will officially notify the commission about his decision to quit the race.

Shelley said he intends to endorse Alderman Gary Fletcher.

The rest of the ballot for the May 12 special election will be in this order:

– Tommy Dupree.
– Jody L. Urquhart
– Beckie Brooks
– Gary W. Fletcher
– Kenny Elliott
– Randy (Doc) Rhodd

They’re seeking to replace Tommy Swaim, who is retiring July 1 after running the city for 22 years. Swaim, who has held the office since 1987, will retire in the middle of his term.

An expected run-off election would be held Tuesday, June 2.

Dupree is a developer. Jody Urquhart is a Farm Bureau area manager. Brooks is a longtime realtor.

Elliott, like Fletcher, is an aldermen. Rhodd heads the Family Motorcyle Ministry.

TOP STORY >> Homeowner facing threat of foreclosure

Leader editor-in-chief

He built a house in Prairie County about five years ago and paid his mortgage every month until the economy went bad.

Now he’s fighting to keep his mortgage company, Countrywide Financial, from foreclosing on his home.

We’ll call him Jerome, who admits he’s fallen behind with Countrywide. He’s trying to catch up, but the company won’t accept anything that’s past due unless he pays it in full.

He’s not alone: Every 13 seconds, a home is foreclosed on in the U.S.
Since Jan. 1, more than 450,000 families have lost their homes.

One in five homeowners are “underwater” — they owe more on their homes than they’re worth.

Countrywide isn’t too eager to work with Jerome — yet. But the lender is in a heap of legal trouble for contributing to the housing meltdown with its freewheeling lending practices — remember those introductory “teaser” rates? — so Countrywide is not in a strong negotiating position.

Jerome doesn’t want to end up in foreclosure, which is why he’s negotiating with Countrywide. Can someone from Prairie County outwit the predators at Countrywide?

He loves his house, which he built with the help of friends and relatives, and he doesn’t want to give it up. He doesn’t have a huge mortgage: He owes about $70,000 on a $100,000 home.

It wasn’t as if he’d gone in way over his head: He’d saved thousands doing the contracting himself. His house is worth a lot more than what he owes on it.

But when the country went into a recession and gasoline skyrocketed to $4 a gallon, he had trouble keeping up.

“I spent more driving to work than on the mortgage,” Jerome says. He also lost a part-time job.

He’s delinquent about $3,000, but he’s paid half of that, although Countrywide won’t accept a partial payment just yet.

“When I called Countrywide,” he continues, “I was told to send a certified check for $1,500, to help cover what I owed. But another person told me later I shouldn’t have sent the $1,500 because I’m delinquent. They told me not to call back till the end of March.

“The first person was nice,” he says. “The second person was a bitch. The third person was also nice.”

“I’m trying to get a loan modification,” Jerome says. He’s not asking for a rate reduction. He just wants more time to catch up.

Countrywide may not have any choice if it wants to keep operating: Work with Jerome and hundreds of thousands of others or face more lawsuits. Countrywide has been hauled into court all across the nation for its dubious lending.

Jerome expects to hear back from Countrywide this month, and he’s hopeful they’ll take his money and let him pay out the rest of the skipped payments over several years.

That way everybody wins: Jerome keeps his home and Countrywide keeps collecting the mortgage.

But here’s the catch: Several former executives with Countrywide have formed Private National Mortgage Acceptance Co. (or PenyMac), based in Calabasas, Calif., where Countrywide is based.

They’re buying up delinquent homes for pennies on the dollar and selling them at a quick profit.

Congress and the courts are starting to side with borrowers.

Several states have filed suits against Countrywide for deceptive and predatory lending.

Several bills are passing through Congress, which could help Jerome avoid foreclosure.

But Countrywide’s name is dirt, even though it’s been acquired by Bank of America, which isn’t doing too well itself.

After taking billions in federal bailout money, the bank says it will change Countrywide’s name because the brand has become too toxic.

TOP STORY >> Booze tax dead for now

Leader staff writer

A proposed tax on the alcohol sold at two Cabot restaurants died Monday night in the city council’s budget and personnel committee. But the aldermen who voted unanimously to kill it also conceded that it is possible it could come up again at the council level if any member of the council decided to pursue it.

Alderman Lisa Brickell first discussed the possibility of passing a tax on alcohol in January during an all-day strategy planning session. So in theory, she could still bring an ordinance to the full council for consideration.

The turnout for the second committee discussion of the proposed tax was large with, for the most part, proponents seated on the left side of the city council chambers and opponents seated on the right.

Brickell, City Attorney Jim Taylor and Mayor Eddie Joe Williams did not attend the meeting, so they could not defend themselves against criticism for their part in bringing the proposed ordinance to the committee.

Former Alderman Becky Lemaster, who helped organize the opposition, read an account in The Leader of Brickell proposing the tax. Lemaster said the city attorney was out of line for providing an ordinance for the committee to consider before they discussed the tax. And she said the mayor bragged about having money in savings, so the city didn’t need to pass another tax.

“‘Discussion only’ means you’ll get him the information and you’ll let him know what to put in an ordinance,” Lemaster said of the ordinance that the city attorney gave the committee that called for a 5 percent tax on wine and beer, a 10 percent tax on mixed drinks, and the names, addresses and Social Security numbers of restaurant employees.

But the heaviest criticism came from Karen Elrod who built Fat Daddy’s, one of the two restaurants in Cabot that have been issued permits from the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to serve liquor.

Elrod said the proposed ordinance was part of the mayor’s vendetta against Fat Daddy’s and Kopan, a Korean and Japanese restaurant. She pointed out that she had several supporters at the hearing late last year in which her alcohol license was approved.

But only the mayor and Police Chief Jackie Davis were there to speak against it. The mayor angered the board by calling members rude, uncaring and unprofessional, she said.

If the city really needed the tax from liquor sales, the country clubs would already be taxed, she said.

Elrod told the committee that business has improved since she got her liquor license. Tuesday night now is like Friday used to be, she said.

“We have had the ladies from the First Baptist Church; believe it or not,” Elrod said. “You would think that if the Baptists aren’t against us, the mayor would lighten up.”

Elrod said being able to offer alcohol means some customers who may have taken their families out of town to eat will stay in Cabot instead.

“There are a lot of people who like a beer with their meal or a glass of wine,” she said.

Neither of the two restaurants have bars and alcohol is only served with food orders, the owners say.

Aldermen Eddie Cook, Jon Moore, Rick Prentice and Tom Armstrong serve on the budget and personnel committee. Cook said after the meeting that the committee knew last month the proposed ordinance would likely be scrapped, but they wanted to hear from both sides before making it official.

Though the left side of the council chamber was full, almost no one spoke for passing the tax. Only one man, who did not identify himself, said voters should decide.

In the end, the fact that revenue would likely be low was an important deciding factor. The consensus on the committee was that administration costs would eat up any revenue from the tax.

However, Cook said one good thing that came out of the meeting was that the residents said that committee and council meetings should be posted on the city Web site as well as the agendas for all meetings.

“We as citizens should know what you guys are up to. And we shouldn’t have to go through a maze to find it,” Matt Webber told the committee.

Cook, who chairs the committee, said he would start working Tuesday to make sure they get what they asked for.

Cook also said that Elrod was mistaken when she said police cars park near her business on Hwy. 367 to harass her customers. The cars were there even before Fat Daddy’s was built, he said. They park there to catch speeders coming over a dangerous hill.

The address of the city Web site where more information will soon be available is

TOP STORY >> More federal help coming

Leader managing editor

Several area housing authorities are among the 106 in Arkansas that will receive more than $29 million in federal stimulus funds. They include:

– Jacksonville Housing Authority, $189,102.

– Lonoke County Housing Authority, $211,997.

– Housing Authority of McRae, $30,781.

– Beebe Housing Authority, $82,865.

– DesArc Housing Authority, $81,356.

– Searcy Housing Authority, $273,513.

– England Housing Authority, $235,635.

The funding can be used for energy-efficient modernization and to make large-scale improvements to public-housing developments, such as safety repairs.

Jim Durham, chairman of the Jacksonville Housing Authority Board, said Tuesday he was pleased with the funding the authority is receiving for reducing energy use.

The money will circulate in the local economy and “multiplies many times in the community,” Durham said.

The JHA will spend the money on an energy savings, such as improving bathrooms and reducing water usage in toilets in public housing, he said.

“Energy savings are the primary target of this money,” Durham said.

He said the authority will spend the money in the next two years.

Funds are available for 27 months. A few stipulations apply including 50 percent of all grant funds must be obligated within 120 days and 50 percent of all grant funds must be spent within one year.

More than $88 million has been earmarked in Arkansas for the Public Housing Capital Fund.

An additional $351.5 million is allocated for highway infrastructure investment.
There are 27 shovel-ready highway projects certified throughout the state including two local projects.

One project would rehabilitate 2.8 miles of Hwy. 70 from the Pulaski County line into Lonoke County. The cost range is estimated to be $542,873 to $904,788.

The second area highway project would extend 2.97 miles from Pleasant Plains south on Hwy. 167 from Independence into White counties. That project, also funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Funds, has a cost range of $845,011 to $1,408,351.

Gov. Mike Beebe signed certifications last week confirming Arkansas’ involvement in the Recovery and Reinvestment Act and enabling the flow of funds to Arkansas projects.

For law-enforcement agencies and activities, the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (JAG) allows states and local governments to support a broad range of activities to prevent and control crime and to improve the criminal justice system.

There is $2 billion allocated for state and local law enforcement assistance through the JAG program.

Such programs include law enforcement programs; prosecution and court programs; prevention and education programs; corrections and community corrections programs; drug treatment and enforcement programs; planning, evaluation, and technology improvement programs; crime victim and witness programs.

Pulaski County is eligible for $2,897,792, of which $250,882 could go to the county; $146,917 is available for Jacksonville and $66,835 is available for Sherwood.
White County is eligible for $92,927, of which $31,912 could go to the county and $61,015 could be available for Searcy.

Other available allocations include $13,849 for Beebe; $57,402 for Cabot; $15,053 to Lonoke; $62,219 for Lonoke County; $13,648 for Ward, and $10,838 for England.

Grants must be applied for by April 9. The grants are meant to assist state, local, and tribal law enforcement (including support for hiring), to combat violence against women, to fight Internet crimes against children, to improve the functioning of the criminal justice system, to assist victims of crime, and to support youth mentoring.

The procedure for allocating JAG grants is based on a formula of population and violent crime statistics, in combination with a minimum allocation to ensure that each state and territory receives an appropriate share of funding. Sixty percent of the allocation is awarded directly to a state and 40 percent is set aside for local governments.

Funding will be used by states and more than 5,000 local communities to enhance their ability to protect communities and combat crime.

A Web site has been established by the state for those who want to track the spending of federal stimulus money. The site can be found at

In addition to the site, a recovery hotline is now active.

Arkansans can call 501-683-5767, or toll-free at 1-877-682-1515, to get additional information or provide feedback.

SPORTS >> Lonoke girls advance to finals

Leader sportswriter

PINE BLUFF — Thanks to a heads-up defensive play by senior guard Lauren Harper, the Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits are returning to the Class 4A state championship game … for the third year in a row.

Star City had whittled a 14-point halftime deficit to six when Harper stole a pass under the Lonoke goal, resulting in a critical basket by Emily Shoemaker as the Lady ’Rabbits went on to seize a 52-42 win over Star City on Saturday afternoon at the Pine Bluff Convention Center. The Lady Bull-dogs ended their season with a 31-2 record, both losses coming at the hands of Lonoke.

Lonoke will play Shiloh Christian Academy for the 4A state championship Thursday at 7 p.m.

“That was huge,” said Lady Jackrabbits coach Nathan Morris. “They cut a 14-point lead down to six in about two minutes. It’s very uncharacteristic of us. We knew they were going to make a run. They’re not a good team without making a run.

“Honestly, (Harper and Shoemaker) stepped up and made a good play late. I think that might have held off execution for us. That might have been just enough where we could still keep taking some hits.”

It was Lonoke that did the slicing at the start of the game. Star City pressed, and the Lady ’Rabbits broke it, continually. Lonoke also benefited from eight Lady Bulldog turnovers in the opening period, as it pulled out to a 20-10 lead after one quarter.

“I don’t think we would have won the game without it,” Morris said of the early run. “I still don’t know why we didn’t finish out, but I think we got a little complacent. Our legs were gone. When we attacked late, they were in front of us. They were a little bit more fresh.”

Star City spent the entire third period slicing away at the Lady ’Rabbits 30-16 halftime lead, and got it as close as 34-30 with 2:04 left in the quarter. Ashleigh Himstedt pushed it back to six with a pair of foul shots, and Harper’s steal allowed the Lady Jackrabbits (26-7) to seize the momentum.

Michaela Brown drove the lane for two more points at the buzzer to give Lonoke a 10-point lead heading into the final quarter.

Lonoke enjoyed its best offensive success early, going 9 of 17 from the floor in the first quarter. They cooled off to finish 18 of 43, while making 15 of 28 free throws.
Star City struggled offensively from tip to final buzzer. It was 7 of 25 at the half, 15 of 51 for the game.

“We cut it to four, but we tried to force the pass, and we lost it,” said Lady Bulldogs coach Becky Brown. “And then the momentum swung back. It seems like every time we got momentum coming our way, something happened that it would swing back their way.

“They came out on fire. They beat our press and got easy lay-ups, and that was the key for them early.”

Sophomore guard Cara Neighbors came away with seven of her game-high 16 points in the first period. The Lady Jackrabbits missed four straight shots on their opening possession before Neighbors finally got position on a rebound for a putback at the 7:02 mark. She increased Lonoke’s lead to 13-6 with 3:08 left in the period on a driving basket, and gave the Lady ’Rabs their first double-digit lead of the game at the 2:05 mark.

Himstedt added 15 points and three steals.

Brown chipped in 10 points to go along with her four assists, while Shoemaker added six points and five rebounds. Post Asiah Scribner finished with five points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots.

For Star City, sophomore Jerrica Scott led the way with 16 points and eight rebounds, with 10 more for senior Mariah Rochell.

Both teams ended with 34 team rebounds. Lonoke committed 14 turnovers, while the Lady Bulldogs had 15.

Lonoke beat Star City earlier in the season in the final of the Beebe Christmas tournament.

The Lady Jackrabbits lost in the state championship game the past two seasons.

SPORTS >> Red Devils top West Memphis for seat in finals

Special to The Leader

WEST MEMPHIS — In the bus on the way to Lehr Arena on Saturday, Jacksonville assistant coach Jerry Wilson got this feeling in his bones and he just had to tell head coach Victor Joyner.

“He told me that he thought Stan Appleby was going to win the game for us today,” Joyner said.

Wilson proved prescient. Appleby hit two crucial three-pointers in the third quarter and Laquentin Miles hit two clinching free throws with 14 seconds left to help Jacksonville erase a 12-point halftime lead in a 59-53 victory over West Memphis in the Class 6A semifinals at Lehr Arena.

The Red Devils, winners of 14 straight, will take on Little Rock Hall in the 6A title game Saturday at 7:45 p.m. at Summit Arena in Hot Springs.

West Memphis (20-9) ran out to a 26-14 halftime lead, thanks to a stifling triangle-and-two defense, but Joyner inserted the 5-8 Appleby into the lineup in the third quarter and he responded by swishing a pair of threes during a 25-8 Red Devil run.

“Stan had a really bad game the other day (against Benton), but coach Wilson told me that Stan was going to be the difference today,” Joyner added. “He was the difference in how we attacked that triangle-and-two in the second half.”

West Memphis head coach Larry Bray, unable to stop the lanky Jacksonville guards in their two regular-season meetings, decided to put the two man-to-man defenders in the triangle-and-two on Laquentin Miles and Deshone McClure and it worked to perfection in the first half when Miles and McClure scored just two points apiece.

But as the two 6-4 guards were able to penetrate more in the third quarter, there was Appleby all alone on the perimeter for the kick-out passes.

“One of the things we were worried about was their guards’ ability to penetrate inside,” said Bray. “In the first half, their guards penetrated, but we were able to swat their shots because there was no one on the three-point line to pass it back out to.”
West Memphis tied the score 50-50 with two free throws by Derrick Burns with 2:31 to play, but that’s when the Red Devils (23-3) came back with some crucial plays. The first was a lay-up by Antwan Lockhart, who along with Miles led Jacksonville with 17 points. Then Miles stuck back a missed shot.

Then came the crusher for West Memphis. Anthony Borden, a 6-10 senior center and a University of Arkansas signee, fouled out while reaching over the back of Demetrius Harris on a rebound.

The Red Devils responded with a free throw by McClure for a 55-50 lead with 23.5 seconds to play. West Memphis came back down and missed a three from junior B.J. Rossell, but teammate Tarvin Gaines rebounded and canned a three-pointer with 17 seconds to play in the game for a 55-53 Jacksonville lead.

Miles, however, answered with two free throws with 13.2 seconds to play to clinch the outcome.

“At halftime I was just able to settle them down,” Joyner stated. “Most of them are seniors and I just told them they’d been here before. A point at a time, a bucket at a time we came back. We started being more patient in our offense.

“West Memphis was a little hungrier than we were to start the game. We guarded a little better in the second half.”

McClure added 11 points for Jacksonville while Harris scored eight and Appleby finished with six big ones.

West Memphis got 17 points from Gaines while Burns came off the bench for 14 and Jonathan Fitzgerald scored seven.

Jacksonville hopes to complete its dream season on Saturday in Hot Springs in the championship game.

“We want to win another championship,” said Joyner. “We’ve already won the conference championship, now they want to win a state title ... and they’re doing it.”

SPORTS >> North Pulaski boys earn a shot at state title

Special to The Leader

ALMA — In the school’s 32nd year of existence, North Pulaski has earned a shot at only its second state title, and the first in one of the major sports.

That’s thanks to a spirited second quarter in which the Falcons blew open a close game en route to a 73-56 victory over Morrilton on Saturday afternoon in the semifinal round of the Class 5A state tournament in Alma.

The win pits the Falcons against 5A juggernaut Greene County Tech in the championship game at 12:45 p.m. Saturday at the Summit Arena in Hot Springs.

The school’s only other state title came in a track-and-field relay years ago, a fact not totally lost on Falcon head coach Ray Cooper.

“I didn’t know of any others, at least in basketball, but I knew for sure it was my first time being here,” he said. “So this is new to all of us, I guess.”

The big difference in the contest was shooting. North Pulaski torched the nets at a 54-percent clip, while the Devil Dogs struggled to a 33-percent night from the field.

The two teams played almost dead even in the first, third and fourth quarters, but it was a 23-8 second quarter that told the story.

The Falcons committed five turnovers in the first quarter and failed to launch a single three-point attempt.

Junior post player Daquan Bryant did most of the work in the early going, keeping the Falcons in the game with eight points inside the paint, most of which came off his three offensive rebounds.

Morrilton senior Freddie Roseburrow kept Morrilton close with half of his team’s point total in the opening period.

The second quarter started out evenly as the two teams traded three-point plays before North Pulaski broke it open. It started with back-to-back three-pointers by Falcon junior Aaron Cooper. It ended with six big points from reserve postman Carlos Donley. Morrilton had no answer for the 6-foot-7 senior, who scored all six of his second-quarter points off drives and dishes from Falcon guards.

“I was very proud of Carlos,” Cooper said. “I challenged him, really all my post players, and told them we were going to need them to step up. They really responded; Carlos, Coulson, T.J. (Greene), they all played really well.”

In between the outside-inside bookends, the Falcons scattered the points around the floor and the team. Bryant hit a mid-range jumper, junior forward Kyron Ware slashed to the basket for two and junior guard Christian Knight scored in the paint.

By the end of the half, North Pulaski’s lead was 37-20 and Morrilton faced a dilemma in the second half.

The Falcons spread the court into a four-corners offense early in the third period, and the Devil Dogs decided to press.

“We struggled with our press, but we knew if we didn’t press, they would run out the clock,” Morrilton coach Trent Tipton said.

Respect for the Devil Dogs forced Cooper to start pushing the action again.

“They’ve got playmakers, and most importantly, they’ve got a little point guard that can make things happen,” Cooper said. “I just decided that we need to keep scoring. As long as we were getting buckets and not turning it over, I thought we were alright. I was afraid if we pulled it out and tried to run out the clock, it would give their playmakers an opportunity to get back in it.”

The strategy worked perfectly. The quicker Falcons had very little trouble getting through the Morrilton press, and the Devil Dogs never could get closer than 12 the rest of the way. The lead grew to as many as 22 in the third quarter before a Morrilton run slashed it to 14 just minutes later.

Sixteen of North Pulaski’s 18 third-quarter points came in the paint, with Greene and Coulson scoring six each.

Bryant led the way for the Falcons with 16 points to go along with 12 rebounds.

Cooper scored 14 and Coulson came off the bench to add 11 for North Pulaski. Ware added nine, Donley eight and Greene and senior guard Jerald Blair scored six apiece.

Junior guard Zach Gray led the Devil Dogs with 14 points while senior post Maurice Templeton added 11.

The win lifted North Pulaski to 25-6 overall, but that means little to Cooper and the Falcons.

“I just want to go 1-0 from this point,” Cooper said. “That’s all I’m worried about.”

SPORTS >> Panthers bow out one game short of championship

Leader sports editor

A nightmare beginning led to a disappointing ending.

Undefeated Fayetteville reached the state finals of the 7A state tournament with a 68-51 win over Cabot, bringing an end to the Panthers’ 11-game winning streak, their hopes for a state title berth and the high school careers of all five senior starters.

“It was fun,” said tearful Cabot coach Jerry Bridges, who bid farewell to Adam Sterrenberg, Austin Johnson, Jack Bridges, Miles Monroe and Gary Clark. “You want it to go on forever. But we lost to a good team tonight. You don’t get to 29-0 for no reason. I’m happy for (Fayetteville coach Barry Gebhart). He’s worked hard and I wish him the best. It hurts. I’ve got five seniors in there.”

Despite a horrific first quarter in which the Panthers (23-6) missed 19 of their first 21 shots and fell behind by 18 points — a deficit which reached 40-16 late in the half — Cabot would not go gently, and rallied to eventually cut the lead to nine points. Their 19-4 run over an 8-minute span of the second and third periods eventually cut the deficit to 44-35 on Adam Sterrenberg’s step-back three-pointer with 1:10 left in the third.

But Oklahoma State-bound Fayetteville guard Fred Gulley did what he did all night — drive through the lane for lay-ups — and that was Cabot’s last gasp.

“I was proud of us early in the third quarter to come out battling to get back into it,” Bridges said. “I told them at halftime that we weren’t going to get it all back at once. But at the four-minute mark, let’s try to have it back to 14 and at the end of the third, get it to 10.

“We got there, but it just took everything we had. We just didn’t have much left in the tank after that.”

Some of that Bridges attributed to the tourney format that had Cabot playing the late game on Friday night.

“It was ridiculous how late we had to play, then turn around for this game,” he said. “That was my main concern coming in, are we going to have our legs? They can fix this format, because it does make a difference. That was a hard-fought game for us (Friday night against Springdale Har-ber). Heck, I’d just as soon come in as a three or four seed (and play earlier in the week).”

Whether it was fatigue, nerves or Fayetteville’s defensive scheme, the Panthers were off their game out of the gate on Saturday. Johnson missed three free throws eight seconds into the game and the Bulldogs responded with a pair of threes to open up an 8-0 lead. Cabot’s only bucket of the first quarter was Bridges’ three-pointer with 5:20 left in the period.

Jerry Bridges was hit with a technical after Adam Nobel’s steal and lay-up put the Bull-dogs up 13-4 at the 3:11 mark.

“I thought that was a sorry technical,” Bridges said. “I was talking to my team out there and the official came over. But I’ve got to be better than that, too. There were a lot of calls in that first quarter that made it an uphill battle for us.”

It wasn’t the only technical called on Cabot in the period, underlining the frustrations of the Panthers as they kept missing and the Bulldogs kept increasing their lead.

Monroe got his second foul with 39 seconds left, then got whistled for a technical on the play. Gulley, who finished with 27 points on 8-of-10 shooting, hit one of the two technical free throws, then concluded the period with a three-pointer and Cabot was down 24-6 after one quarter.

Sterrenberg, who finished his Cabot career with a 23-point, two-assist, three-steal performance, finally put a spark in the Panthers with a pull-up three 34 seconds into the second quarter, then added six straight free throws. But Fayetteville continued to sizzle and had its biggest lead of the night at 40-16 on post man Caleb Hogue’s lay-up with 2:31 left in the half.

Cabot, though, hit its final three shots of the half — two Alex Baker perimeter shots and a Sterrenberg steal and lay-up. Johnson, who struggled through a 1-of-9 shooting night, had a chance to draw Cabot closer, but missed a three at the buzzer and the Panthers trailed 40-22 at intermission.

After Clark opened the half with a fall-away 8-footer, Monroe became a man possessed, scoring three consecutive times on the blocks, grabbing rebounds and whittling the lead to 42-30. Sterrenberg converted a pair of charities to get it down to 10.

Cabot’s last gasp came on Sterrenberg’s three-pointer at the 2:25 mark that made it 59-46, but that was as close as the Panthers would get.

Johnson had seven points and six rebounds, while Monroe and Baker each scored six.

Cabot warmed up, but still finished at 32 percent for the game, and made only 4 of 23 from three. Fayetteville shot 54 percent and knocked down 22 of 32 free throws.

The Panthers won (with co-champion Conway) their first boys conference basketball championship and reached the state semifinals for the second straight year after missing the tournament the previous 31 seasons. None of that was lost on Bridges, despite the disappointment.

“What I want them to realize is, now we’ve got a group I can call back one day when we’re making that run again,” he said. “To come back and speak to the kids and let them know what that’s like. Those young men, you have to give them a lot of credit. They’ll have a legacy at our school. They’ll be remembered.”

Monday, March 09, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Barriers to voting

There is a theory that voting should be hard enough to prevent too many undesirable and unworthy people — the poor, minorities, the aged and the disabled, for example — from contaminating the democratic process. We always thought that inclusion served a democracy better.

Two Arkansas legislators, Reps. Bryan King of Green Forest and Dan Greenberg of Little Rock, introduced a bill this week requiring people to show a government-issued photo identification — a passport or driver’s license typically — before they are allowed to vote. That has been useful in holding down minority voting in a few places like Indiana. A photo-identification requirement is supposed to be a discouraging barrier for disadvantaged people, who tend to vote for Democrats, so Republicans are pushing the legislation across the country.

The lawmakers do not say that they are trying to discourage voting but rather that they want to maintain election integrity by stopping people from going to the polls and casting a vote in the name of a registered voter who is not likely to vote that day. They want to be sure that when Joe Smith casts his vote he is actually Joe Smith and not someone pretending to be Joe Smith. That is a solution looking for a problem. There is no recent history or even suspicion of that fraud occurring in Arkansas. Such voting fraud as we have is committed by election officials, not by individual voters, and the photo requirement would not deter election thieves. If there are people registered to vote who are not legally qualified to vote, a photo ID would not prevent them from voting.

Greenberg and King would not absolutely bar people from voting if they do not have a photo ID. No, a voter could cast a provisional ballot if he or she misplaced the ID that day, and the vote would be counted if the voter returned to the county courthouse by the following Monday with the driver’s license or passport in hand. People who did not possess a photo ID could sign a sworn affidavit stating that they have religious objections to being photographed or else that they are just too poor to pay for a driver’s license or a passport. If they were residents of a nursing home and did not have a driver’s license they could go to the polls and produce verifiable proof to election officials of their residency in a nursing home, whatever that would be.

You could still vote, in other words, if you were willing to go to extraordinary lengths to do it. If you want to participate in the democracy that badly, they would let you do it.

But voting should not be hard, or at least any harder for some than for anybody else. We have moved throughout history toward knocking down barriers to voting, not erecting them. You no longer have to own land to vote, you do not have to meet literacy standards erected by election officials, you do not have to pay a poll tax, and you do not have to be white, which was a requirement to vote in Democratic primaries in the South until the 1940s. Greenberg and King would restore something akin to the poll tax, though even more burdensome, for people for whom voting is already hard enough.

Their legislation would do nothing to ensure honest elections, but by omitting people who have no need for a driver’s license or passport it would ensure a less representative popular will. No one has produced any evidence that people who vote in spite of their difficulties vote any less wisely. The House of Representatives, we assume, will thwart this nonsense.

TOP STORY >> Base checks C-130 wings for bad parts

Leader staff writers

All 596 C-130s in the Air Force — including all 68 C-130J models — are being inspected here and abroad for cracks in the wing-joint barrel nuts, according to Roger Drinnon, a spokesman for the Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.

Roughly 20 percent of those aircraft are based at Little Rock Air Force Base. None of the planes here have been grounded while they’re inspected and repaired.

“Our number one thing is to make sure that it is safe in the air for our mission,” Col. Greg Otey, 19th Airlift Wing commander at LRAFB, said Friday. “Some of it could be aging, but we’re checking all C-130s.”

Maintainers at Little Rock Air Force Base began inspecting the 80-plus C-130s here Thursday night. Crews found the bad barrel nuts on about one-third of the aircraft inspected, according to Tech. Sgt. Steven Hood, a maintainer.

Hood said there are 13 nuts per wing, and it will take about four hours per plane, roughly a couple days, to make the repairs.

“It’s pretty routine,” said Hood. “You’re swapping out hardware.”

Deployed aircraft are allowed to fly for a certain amount of time, in times of war before inspections are performed, according to Otey. He said inspections haven’t caused many delays for the base.

“We work 24 hours a day, so the next shift comes on and it becomes a priority,” he said.

Drinnon said the plan is to inspect each plane before its next flight. The immediate action inspection order also includes C-130s operated by the National Guard, the Coast Guard and other forces.

Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer, is charged with notifying allies and owners of C-130s throughout the world.

Drinnon said the C-130Js, which are doing the work of thousands of truck convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan, also were being inspected.

The problem was discovered during routine maintenance to a C-130 Hercules at Robbins Air Force Base in Georgia and the Air Force issued an immediate action order.

He said no accidents, incidents or crashes were known to be attributable to failed wing-joint barrel nuts.

TOP STORY >> District to get country club bill for party

Leader senior staff writer

Pulaski County Special School District patrons are being asked to pick up the tab for a $2,753 groundbreaking reception at the Maumelle County Club two nights before the ceremonial groundbreaking for a new Maumelle high school.

The country club has submitted a bill that included $850 for room rental, $1,195 for “banquet food,” miscellaneous charges of $108, plus $172 in sales tax and a $430 gratuity—that’s 20 percent of the before-tax cost.

The reception was hosted by school board president Tim Clark, who represents Maumelle.

It was not immediately clear what the miscellaneous charges were for. Clark said he didn’t know. A message left on the answering machine at the club was not returned.

School board member Mildred Tatum said she could find plenty of better uses for $2,753. She said two bathrooms at Fuller Middle School are out of order. A ceiling tile fell in one and hit a child. “They are using money I can use for my kids,” Tatum said. “The College Station parking lot is ridiculous. I’m upset and trying to be calm.”

No action at any board meeting authorized the party or the expenditures, according to Tatum, who was board president until deposed and replaced by Clark, Maumelle’s new board member.

The district doesn’t have a history of paying for groundbreaking receptions, said Tatum, who has been on the board for more than 20 years.

It was Clark who submitted the bill for payment to the district. It will now apparently have to be approved retroactively by the board.

“I don’t know why that’s news,” Clark said Thursday. “It’s not news until it hits the agenda.”

“For all you now I’m going to pay for it,” he said.

He said payment of the bill would be on the agenda for approval, and characterized it as “part of the groundbreaking,” an opportunity for constituents in the zone to be involved and meet the architects, Wittenberg, Deloney and Davidson.

“I got a call from Tim Clark, who asked if I could call the club and make a reservation for a reception associated with the ground-breaking to thank everyone involved,” said PCSSD spokesman Craig Douglass, whose name appeared on the bill submitted by Jeff Frazil, general manager of the Maumelle Country Club.

Douglass said he ran a notice in the Maumelle newspaper inviting area residents to the reception and groundbreaking. “Beyond all that, I don’t know.”

Douglass, who has been a contractor for the school district for about three years, said he didn’t recall a similar reception or bill to the district.

If the usual voting blocs prevail, the board could authorize payment of the bill by a 4-3 vote, with Clark, Gwen Williams, who represents the poorest part of the district; Bill Vasquez, who represents most of Jacksonville; and Charlie Wood, who represents Sherwood, voting in favor.

Likely to vote against are Shana Chaplan, representing West Little Rock; Danny Gilliland, representing parts of Sherwood and Jacksonville; and Tatum, who represents the area including College Station and Wrightsville.

TOP STORY >> Paper keeps growing

Leader managing editor

The Leader began its 23rd year this week and is offering a $9.99 subscription special to all our readers to mark the occasion.

Start a new subscription, or renew or extend your subscription today, and get 104 issues — Wednesdays and Saturdays — for just $9.99 a year, or less than 10 cents a paper, a savings of $40 off the newsstand price.

The Leader was founded 22 years ago on March 4, 1987. Much has changed in the last two decades, from the political landscape to the faltering economy, but the Leader remains committed to bringing you local news, sports and commentary that you won’t find anywhere else. We are grateful to you our loyal readers and advertisers.

The Leader now also publishes the Combat Airlifter, the base newspaper.

Our company would not be where it is today without its remarkable staff of dedicated and hard-working newspaper all-stars, including the sales staff headed by John Henderson, (who is being promoted to general manager after being with The Leader for more than 16 years); Matt Robinson, The Leader’s publications manager, and advertising sales staff Linda Hostettler and Susan Swift.

We bring you The Leader All-Star writers twice a week: John Hofheimer, Joan McCoy, Nancy Dockter, Rick Kron, Eric Francis, Ernie Dumas, Jeffrey Smith, as well as the quality sports team of Kelly Fenton and Jason King and photographers David Scolli and David Parker.

Creative editor Christy Hendricks is largely responsible for the award-winning and innovative design that The Leader is known for.

Publisher Garrick Feldman still writes his popular column when something makes him mad enough and occasionally he will knock out a pretty good humor column and music review.

Managing editor Eileen Feldman makes sure deadlines are met and details are not overlooked.

Their children Aliya Feldman and Jonathan Feldman have recently joined the paper’s editorial staff.

Other Leader staffers who deserve a nod include office manager Tosha Churches, who heads a stable of diligent front-office employees, including Whitney Riggins, Thomas Alvis and Melissa Sheldon (who also staffs our Cabot office).

The hard-working graphic-composition staff headed by Clayton Knupp along with Krystle Hall and Lisa Grisham, crank out all the ads and special sections that delight our Leader readers and keep our local economy buzzing.

The new mantra these days (which has always been The Leader’s mantra) is ‘Buy Local.’ Read your Leader’s ads for all the skinny on buying local and reap savings galore. Sometimes the best deals are right under your nose. You can always find them in The Leader.

While praising Leader staff, we can’t say enough good things about our Leader readers. You have helped make The Leader what it is today, an award-winning newspaper which garnered the Arkansas Press Association’s general excellence designation in 2008.

Other Leader employees who keep things ticking include head pressman Randy Morris; mailroom supervisor James Matheney and his second-in-command Ray Gallup; Pat Eddy, who makes sure Leader readers get their papers, and many, many dedicated mailroom employees including Elwanda Barnett, who’s been with the Leader since its earliest days.

While daily newspapers are shutting down across the country or cutting back the days they publish, we at The Leader are convinced there’s a role for our kind of award-winning community journalism.

You don’t have to pay $150 a year to subscribe to The Leader. Instead, for the cost of a trip to McDonald’s, you get re-porting that covers your local government, schools and their teams and tries to keep politicians honest. Because if we don’t keep a wary eye on them, who will?

We cover Metroplan, the Highway Department, future water supply, schools’ plans, fascinating people, police reports and more.

Also, advice columnists and entertainment news, comics, crossword puzzles, horoscopes and a TV guide.

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So subscribe today. Send in the attached coupon, drop by the office or call 982-9421 or 941-5132.

And happy anniversary, readers, from your Leader staff.

TOP STORY >> Cabot looks to tax alcohol at eateries

Leader staff writer

The owners of Fat Daddy’s, a catfish and steak restaurant in Cabot, didn’t know a tax on the beer, wine and mixed drinks they sell was to be discussed when the city council’s budget and personnel committee met last month, so they didn’t attend the meeting.

But they say they will be at the city annex at 6:30 p.m. Monday, when it will be on the agenda again.

The proposed ordinance, like the one passed in Little Rock, Fayetteville, Jonesboro and Ward, would add 5 percent to the cost of beer and wine and 10 percent to the cost of mixed drinks. It also requires restaurant owners to provide information to the city about all employees who serve alcohol.

Cabot is located in a dry county and has not had any restaurants open to the public that serve alcohol until recent months, when Fat Daddy’s and Kopan, which serves Korean and Japanese food, were issued private club liquor licenses by the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams fought those licenses, telling the board that the city already has enough trouble with drunk drivers.

Kevin Elrod, who with his mother Karen Elrod owns Fat Daddy’s, said this week that Cabot police spend an inordinate amount of time parked across the street from his restaurant now that alcohol is on the menu. And he has been told that Lonoke County sheriff’s deputies have been ordered to stay away from his place while they are on duty.

Sheriff Jim Roberson says deputies who are eating elsewhere are doing so of their own freewill. However, Roberson said he appreciated that some of his deputies came to him about the alcohol at Fat Daddy’s and said they didn’t think they should be seen there in uniform.

“They’ve got a right to eat anywhere they want to,” the sheriff said. “Of course they can’t drink on duty. But as far as I know, this is a free country.”

The council members who attended the meeting where the proposed tax was first discussed said then that they needed to hear from more city residents.

Several members of the Lonoke County Republican Committee were there to say they opposed the tax, but the council members wanted to hear from those who supported it as well.

The Leader has been contacted by both sides of the alcohol tax issue, those for it and against it.

Nancy Cohea, a former candidate for city council, said she wanted to be sure the issue was promoted in the newspaper so people would be aware they need to voice their opinion. Cohea says she doesn’t drink and she supports the proposed tax.

Kevin Elrod said former Alderman Becky Lemaster, who opposes the proposed tax, told him it would be on the agenda Monday night. And he is telling his customers who seem to appreciate being able to drive a shorter distance for “a great meal and a beer.” Many have said they will be there, Elrod said.

When the proposed alcohol tax was first discussed, no one but Alderman Rick Prentice seemed convinced that it was a good idea. Prentice said the money could be used for the police and fire departments. The mayor reminded those present that the city needs to save money to build a north interchange.

But Aldermen Ed Long and Patrick Hutton, who do not serve on the budget and personnel committee, agreed that since the revenue from the tax would likely be small, the administrative costs might actually be more.