Wednesday, March 18, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Getting ready for a lottery

The godfathers of the state lottery finally filed their bill, some 75 pages, last week and expect to rush it through both houses and to the governor’s desk this week. No need to read it too closely; trust them.

Actually, we have done a quick perusal and find it unexceptionable, even admirable in many particulars. The bill erects safeguards against any form of bribery that we can imagine offhand, although like the rest of state government now, it does not require competitive bidding in any real sense for all the major contracts. The Lottery Commission will give contracts to Scientific Games or any of the other big gaming syndicates on whatever basis it chooses, and the same for the lottery’s lucrative advertising business.

It overhauls the existing major scholarship programs in ways that make them less daunting and more accessible. The Lottery Commission could lower the threshold to a 2.5 gradepoint or a score of 19 on the ACT to qualify for the big needs-based scholarships.

The constitutional amendment that authorized the legislature to establish a lottery specifies that the large sums collected and spent by the lottery cannot be subject to appropriations and all the safeguards of treasury funds, which is dangerous in the extreme, but the bill tries to appropriate the money by the back door. It sets out line-items for salaries for lottery employees, which is what an appropriation does, but it does not establish spending limits for any aspect of the lottery operation, which would clearly violate the amendment. But it would subject the lottery to the annual legislative audit like all the agencies operating under appropriations.

The bill engages in a little subterfuge. It fixes the maximum salary for the executive director of the lottery and its chief auditor at $141,000 a year, which is close to the appropriated salary for the heads of most large state departments. That is the range of pay for the director of the state Department of Finance and Administration, who handles about $8 billion a year. But the bill sneaks in a little proviso that the Lottery Commission could pay the two top officials another $352,500 each if it chose. That comes to $453,500 a year. One lawmaker explained that the lottery was going to be a big business and you needed to get the smartest business executive you could find, which would require a hefty compensation package.

For $453,500, perks and free rein to run a state-sanctioned numbers racket, they should be able to compete for one of the business geniuses who ran AIG, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, or one of the government-sponsored mortgage companies. Several are in the job market.

EDITORIAL >> Save dairy farmers

It is the season of monumental bailouts, so why not a little government subsidy for a few struggling Arkansas farmers? These business subsidies are always distasteful, but we find ourselves a trifle sympathetic to the dairy farmers, the few who remain in Arkansas and who stand to get a small bailout, this time from the state government, not the feds.

Dairy farming has been in a decline for a score of years, and all but a handful of farmers have gone out of business as sharply fluctuating prices, declining exports, energy costs and other expenses make it increasingly unprofitable. From 520 dairy farms only 10 years ago, the industry has shrunk to no more than 140. Most of those may not survive this year because milk prices have been plummeting, though you may not see the evidence on the grocery shelf.

A board created by Governor Beebe two years ago to find a way to save the industry has suggested a formula similar to one in Wisconsin, the dairy capital of the country. It is a fee added to the dairy products at the wholesale level. They call it a fee; let’s be honest and call it a tax. They hope it would not be passed along to customers in the form of a higher grocery bill, but you know that if there is a way to pass along operating costs to the ultimate customer, it will be done.

The “milk stabilization fee,” as it is called, was levied in a bill that passed the state House of Representatives last week. It may have rougher sledding in the Senate but it ought to pass. The fee/tax would be 30 cents per hundredweight on all dairy products sold at wholesale in Arkansas, and the fund would subsidize Arkansas milk producers when milk prices fall below 70 percent of their production cost. If you consume 600 pounds of dairy products in a year, which is supposed to be the average, you would pay another $1.80 a year, presuming the dairy companies pass the little tax along to you.

Arkansas retail merchants and grocers oppose the little tax, and so do a number of conservative legislators. It’s a tough world out there, they say, and the weak are going to fail. It’s not the government’s job nor consumers’ to prop them up. We can’t save every struggling industry that the market turns against.

No, but there is some argument from the consumers’ standpoint. A business study at the University of Arkansas concluded that if the state had no native producers and all the milk was imported, the cost of a gallon of milk would over time rise by 36 cents. The cost also would be reflected in other products processed from milk. We have no idea if the university’s scholars are right, but we would rather not take the chance. We will pay the extra half-penny a day and save a hundred or so farm families rather than pay 36 cents a gallon more. Let’s pass the milk-stabilization bill. It feels better than bailing out General Motors, Citibank and AIG.

TOP STORY >> Mayors seek funds in D.C.

Leader staff writer

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams did not attend the Monday night city council meeting.

He was in Washington, trying to convince the senators and congressmen who represent the Cabot area that if economic stimulus money pays for road projects that are ready for construction now, then some of the money already obligated for that work should instead be used to building a north interchange for Cabot.

The north interchange has always been part of a larger plan to help manage traffic in Cabot, a plan that also includes the railroad pass that is supposed to open in the early spring.

Alderman Lisa Brickell, serving as vice mayor and presiding over the Monday meeting, explained the mayor’s absence to the city council and audience.

“When I asked where he was going, he said he was going to beg for more money,” Brickell said.

Officials with the Arkansas Municipal League, which serves all 500 Arkansas cities and lobbies for cities at the state level, said Monday that because of the economic stimulus money, the turnout for this year’s National League of Cities’ Congressional City Conference was the best in recent history.

Almost 60 city leaders went to Washington for the conference that started Saturday and will end today, compared to about 40 most years.

The Cabot mayor was accompanied by City Attorney Jim Taylor.

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim went with aldermen Kenny Elliott and Gary Fletcher.
Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman was accompanied by aldermen Marina Brooks and Charlie Harmon.

Beebe, Ward, Austin and Lonoke did not send representatives to the annual March conference.

The Congressional City Conference is designed to inform municipal leaders about federal policy issues and at the same time provide an opportunity for them to bring local concerns to their federal elected officials in Washington, D.C.

Karen Davis, operations director in Cabot, said Williams intended to meet with Rep. Marion Berry, Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Sen. Mark Pryor.

“His top priority is the north interchange,” Davis said.

Contacted Monday night, Williams said the hope is that money for the north interchange will be included in the transportation authorization at the end of the year.

“I visited with the (Arkansas) Highway Commission again and their position is still that if we can get help from the congressional delegation that they’ll help, too,” Williams said.

The mayor said he had appointments with Pryor and Lincoln on Tuesday and with Berry today.

He would tell them, he said, that Cabot has done what it said it would to help build the overpass and the armory that will be under construction this summer.

Cabot the third fastest-growing city in the state and it deserves help controlling the traffic, he said.

Williams said the estimated cost of building the north interchange that would connect Hwy. 67/167 to Hwy. 367 is $19.5 million.

The railroad overpass will connect Arkansas Hwy. 367 to Arkansas Hwy. 38.

“You have to have an overpass before you can have a north interchange,” the mayor said during an interview late last year. “That’s done. Now it’s time to move on to the next step.”

The hope is that the north interchange will be completely funded with federal money. Williams said the $3 million he has put back over the past two years could help pay an 80-20 match if necessary and he is still saving.

According to the Web site for the National League of Cities, it is “the nation’s oldest and largest organization devoted to strengthening and promoting cities as centers of opportunity, leadership and governance.

“NLC is a resource and advocate for 19,000 cities, towns and villages, representing more than 218 million Americans,” according to the Web site.

TOP STORY >> Road work to ramp up as stimulus paves way

Leader staff writer

Two Pulaski-Lonoke County corridors will get new asphalt paid for with federal economic stimulus funds totaling $2.75 million. But the Lonoke County judge is unhappy with the selection process.

The projects are among 103 road and bridge improvements statewide approved recently by the Arkansas Highway Commission, bringing $351.5 million into the state economy as authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2001. President Obama signed into the act into law Feb. 17.

The federal funds will free up additional state and local funds, bringing the total available for road and bridge improvements to $421 million.

For repairs to 2.8 miles of Hwy. 70 running from the Pulaski County line east into Lonoke County, $750,000 is allocated. For repairs to the nine-mile stretch of Hwy. 165 between I-440 and Hwy. 386, $2 million in stimulus funds is allocated. Both projects are slated to go to bid within the next 90 days and may be among jobs starting by late April.

“I didn’t know they were in bad enough shape that they needed an overlay, but apparently state highway department engineers think so,” was what Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman had to say this week about the two projects. He said that he and other county judges around the state are unhappy that they were not given any say in how the stimulus funds will be spent.

“We feel kind of left out – that is a pretty good way to put it,” he said, adding that of the 103 projects selected by the Highway Commission, 22 are asphalt overlay. Because that kind of project is quick to get going – and hence fitting the ARRA funding criterion of “shovel ready” – Troutman opined that was an important factor in the commissioners’ decision.

Of the $351.5 million in ARRA funding for Arkansas for road and bridge projects, $15.7 million goes directly to the state’s two largest metropolitan areas. West Memphis will receive $1.5 million.

The remaining $14.2 million will go for projects in Pulaski, Lonoke, Saline and Faulkner counties. Metroplan, the transportation planning agency for central Arkansas, has authorized spending the funds on a host of shovel-ready projects, which moves the widening of Graham Road up on the list.

The state Highway Department is providing design, survey and environmental work for the project,. But an actual start date is uncertain, at least another year or two at the earliest, say officials, and will hinge on a funding reauthorization by Congress later this year.

“The stimulus funds took projects already in the pipeline further along and allowed us to move Graham Road ahead on the list, but we will have to see how far the money stretches,” said Jim McKenzie, executive director of Metroplan.

Highway Department spokesman Glenn Bolick explained that toward the end of 2008, all county highway departments were asked to identify shovel-ready projects – those that could start in 120 days.

By federal law, half of the ARRA funds have to be obligated by the end of June, with the rest obligated by March 2010.

“One-hundred and thirty projects — $1.2 billion worth of jobs – were awaiting funding,” Bolick said. “The challenge was to decide which projects to spend money on.”

In shortening the list, commissioners tried to come up with an array of projects statewide that would provide bidding opportunities for diverse sectors of the economy including concrete work, asphalt overlay, and bridge and building construction, Bolick explained.

“The spirit of the bill Obama signed into law was to stimulate the economy. The main question was not, ‘What is your most pressing need as a highway project?’”

“By using the money in this way, we are getting the equivalent of an extra full year of federally funded highway improvement projects,” said Dan Flowers, director of the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department.

TOP STORY >> Small gains in sales tax collections

Leader staff writers

Tax collections for the first two months of the year are up in Cabot, Beebe and Lonoke, but slightly down in Jacksonville.

County and city sales taxes are down by about 4.5 percent, according to Jacksonville Finance Director Paul Mushrush. However, the January prepared food and hotel room tax collections were strong. Those funds go to the Jacksonville Advertising and Promotion Commission.

Even with those solid numbers, the commission is nervous about the overall economy and has sliced its 2009 budget by five percent.

“We want to ensure that we don’t run out of money,” explained commission chairman Mike Houchen.

Tammy Yocom, deputy city treasurer in Cabot, said the city’s 1 percent sales tax for fire and police brought in $267,832 in January 2008 compared to $293,279 in January 2009. In February 2008, the city collected $328,529 compared to $347,118 in February 2009.

Cabot also collects a portion of the countywide 1 percent sales tax, which was $130,106 in January 2008 but jumped to $150,709. In February 2008, it was $139,318, and last February, it increased to $165,715.

The city also has a 1 percent tax that is dedicated to paying off bonds which was not included in the collection numbers.

Collections are also up for Cabot’s 1.5 percent hamburger tax, said Vicky Burt, senior deputy city clerk. In January 2008, the tax brought in $56,086 compared to $47,825 in January 2009. In February 2008, $40,610 was collected compared to $50,010 in February 2009.

However, Burt said she doesn’t know what caused the big jump in the February collections. It is possible, she said, that some businesses were behind in their payments and caught up in February, which made the numbers appear inflated.


In Beebe, City Clerk-Treasurer Carol Crump Westergren said sales tax went up in July 2008 from about $68,000 to $69,000 a month to between $72,000 and $75,000 a month and has not gone back down.

“We’re not losing, so that’s good,” Crump-Westergren said.

Records in the Lonoke mayor’s office show collections increased more than $10,000 a month over last year. In January 2008, the 2 percent sales tax brought in $86,007. In January 2009, $96,479 was collected.

In February 2008, $97,950 was collected. The February 2009 collection was $118,914.


In Sherwood, the county, city and the advertising and promotion tax collections are up, but City Clerk Angela Nicholson said there was no Walmart Supercenter in the early part of 2008 and Gravel Ridge didn’t become part of Sherwood until April. Both of those are in the 2009 tax figures, making the year appear stronger than what it actually is.

For Sherwood, the city tax collection for January 2009 came in at $364,260 compared to $314,200 a year earlier. The February collections totaled $442,400 this year and $391,400 for 2008.

County sales tax for Sherwood for January 2009 came in at $363,800 and the February levy was $452,900.

In 2008, the county tax collection for January was $364,500 and $447,000 in February.

Overall, the city is running about $100,000 higher this year, but the 2009 figures include sales from the Walmart Supercenter and from all the Gravel Ridge businesses, neither were part of Sherwood in January and February 2008.


In Jacksonville, city tax collections in January were $584,759, compared to $576,885 in January 2008, and February 2009 brought in $662,845, while February intake in 2008 was $693,490. Overall, this was a drop of about $23,000.

The county sales tax for Jacksonville in January was $506,014 and slightly higher in January 2008 at $506,942. In February 2009, the county sales tax collection was $629, 957, slightly above February 2008, which came in at $621,732.

Mushrush said the city sales tax run about two months behind, meaning what the city received in February was collected in December. “So our February check is our Christmas sales and usually the largest check of the year,” Mushrush said.

According to the report given Monday night by Cheryl Erkel of the Jacksonville Finance Department, the city’s two-cent hotel room tax, which goes to the city’s advertising and promotion commission, came in at $6,146 in January, making it the second-best January in the six-year history of the tax.

The city’s two-cent prepared food tax has been collected for just slightly more than two years, but January’s collections of $59,605 was the best January to date.

But those rosy figures were not enough as the commission downsized its budget by 5 percent, leaving it with just $30,000 in uncommitted funds for the year.

Sherwood also has a two-cent prepared food tax, and its January and February figures for this year are higher than in 2008, but again there are more businesses such as Walmart and restaurants in Gravel Ridge paying the tax now than last year.

In January of this year, the tax garnered $51,887, compared to $41, 334. February collections for this year stand at $60,174, and last February it was $41,393.

Officials in Sherwood and Jacksonville agree that the economic problems apparently haven’t dampened the urge or desire to eat out.

TOP STORY >> Legislature passes tax cut

Leader senior staff writer

Without dissent, Sen. Bobby Glover’s bill to eliminate another penny in state sales tax from grocery items passed through both houses of the General Aassembly and could be signed by Gov. Mike Beebe as early as today.

The bill, which passed the Senate 34-0, was returned from the House with an amendment naming all 100 House members as co-sponsors, Glover said.

Glover, D-Carlisle, said he’d have liked to have seen it passed much earlier, but House Speaker Robbie Wills said even before the start of the session that he didn’t want to rush into it until he saw how the state’s finances were looking further into the session.

“Sometimes you have to be patient on those type of things,” Glover said.

Beebe cut three cents off the grocery tax his first session, part of his campaign pledge to get rid of the tax, and he felt the state could afford to take another penny off this year, Glover said. The penny cut will save consumers—and cost the state--$40 million, but the loss of that revenue already was built into the governor’s budget.

The tax cut takes effect July 1.

Both tax cuts combined saved consumers and cost the state about $160 million a year, said Glover, who handled both tax-cut bills in the Senate for the governor.

“It couldn’t have gone any smoother,” the senator said.

On the House side, representatives Walls McCrary, D-Lonoke, and Rick Saunders, D-Hot Springs, handled the bill. McCrary is a freshman legislator and Saunders is a veteran considering a run for the state Senate at the end of his term.

Glover said the state’s poorest residents already receive food stamps and didn’t pay grocery tax on items purchased with them. Many low- and moderate-income residents will get some relief, especially at a time when grocery prices are escalating, he said.

Glover, who suffered a stroke shortly before the beginning of the session, has been active with several bills.

He will be termed out at the end of this term and because of his stroke, he said previously that he had changed his mind and would not seek the secretary of state’s office.

But now, he says he’s about 80 percent recovered, and people around him are encouraging him not to rule out a run to replace Charlie Daniels as secretary of state.

“I want to see how things work out,” Glover said Tuesday.

Among his other bills, Glover is promoting two that change the way appointments to commissions are made.

Those two bills—one for the state Pardon and Parole Board and the other for the state Correction Department Board—would require at least one commissioner from each of the state’s four congressional districts.

TOP STORY >> Cabot allows assisted-living facility

Leader staff writer

The Cabot City Council on Monday night approved a special-use permit that will allow an assisted-living facility to be built in a residential neighborhood.

The vote was unanimous despite objections from residents of the adjoining Glenwood Estates on East Mt. Springs Road who said they feared their property values would decline. And they were concerned about increased traffic, especially ambulances.

They also feared garbage containing adult diapers and medical wastes might be scattered by dogs since the city doesn’t enforce an ordinance requiring fences around dumpsters.

Children from nearby Northside Elementary School could be harmed by the traffic and medical wastes, they said.

“This is a business plain and simple,” Jeanie Roberts told the council. “Our only entrance and exit is their only entrance and exit.”

Karen Marlott said she was concerned that if the venture failed, the five large buildings that would be left behind would be good for nothing but low-rent housing for derelicts.

“What else they could be used for?” Marlott asked.

“Even though this is a good project and the city could use it, the location is just wrong,” Tracy Oakley said, and asked the council to hold off voting so more residents could get involved.

Ashley Blankenship and her mother, Liz Blankenship, will build and operate the facility, told the council that the neighbors’ fears were unfounded.

No medical wastes will be placed in the dumpsters, she said. And the dumpsters will be fenced because they would be unattractive if they were not.

She said the five large units they intend to build on 8.84 acres will look like houses, not an institution. And they will be well maintained because they will be home to the residents who will likely live out their lives there.

The Blankenships also have assisted-living facilities in Heber Springs and Conway.
No member of the council voiced any concerns about the project.

Alderman Patrick Hutton took the position that the property is more valuable for commercial use instead of residential and that the owner should be able to sell it for as much as possible.

Alderman Ed Long said construction of the facility would be good for the area because the city would require street improvements.

Alderman Jon Moore pointed out that traffic would likely be worse in the area if more houses were built instead of the assisted-living facility.

Alderman Ann Gilliam said the facility would not be unattractive. In fact, the houses would be pretty, she said.

But Alderman Rick Prentice who is becoming known for being very outspoken had the most pointed comments.

“Where do you want to put these people?” Prentice asked Glenwood Estate residents. “Do you want to put them in a slum?”

“These people have the right to live somewhere,” he said. “You haven’t convinced me it shouldn’t be over there.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

SPORTS >> Devils get their due

Leader sports editor

HOT SPRINGS — Deshone McClure almost ran out of time, almost lost the ball, almost passed it off to a teammate.


Instead, Jacksonville’s junior guard was able to launch a three-point shot with 1.2 seconds left and his Red Devils trailing by a point to Little Rock Hall in the 6A state championship.

McClure missed the shot but drew the foul. He made the first to tie it, missed the second, then calmly sank the third as Jacksonville defeated the Warriors, 63-62, on Saturday night at the Summit Arena, bringing the Red Devils their first-ever state basketball championship.

“I give honor to my God,” said Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner. “These guys showed a lot of heart. I was thinking after he missed the (second free throw): Overtime, my kids are about out of gas and that means four more minutes of A.J. Walton. And I didn’t want none of that.”

Walton had just made a pair of free throws with 7.8 seconds left that fully wiped what had been just four minutes earlier a 12-point Jacksonville lead and put the Warriors on top 62-61.

Jacksonville, out of time outs, got the ball in to McClure, who dribbled furiously between Hall defenders, nearly lost the ball as he crossed the timeline, found a seam near the top of the circle and launched a leaning three-pointer. David Rivers, reaching over the top from behind, was whistled for the foul.

“Coach told me to get the ball and don’t stop,” McClure said. “I almost lost it and I almost passed it, but Coach told me to go and don’t stop. If we’re going tot lose, we’re going to lose it because of me.”

For the defending champion Warriors, who finished the season 28-3, it was a bitterly disappointing loss.

“We’re disappointed it didn’t come out the way we wanted it to come out,” said Hall coach George Cirks, whose team suffered two of its three losses to the Red Devils. “But we’re part of the fault for that and I was a big part of the fault for that by some things we just didn’t get accomplished.”

As for the foul on Rivers, Cirks only said that he’s seen it called and he’s seen it not called in that situation.

“Referees do different things,” he said. “I’ve seen them let that go at the end of the game with one second left. But I don’t get into trying to call the game. They made the call so we have to live with it.”

The Red Devils won their final 15 games of the season after falling to Hall at home back in early January. They finished 24-3.

Jacksonville won the game despite committing 24 turnovers, which Hall converted into 28 points. Those turnovers largely allowed the cold-shooting Warriors to stay close, despite losing the rebounding battle by 16. The Baylor-bound Walton turned in a courageous performance after coming into the game at what his coach estimated was 70-75 percent following a high-ankle sprain three weeks ago. Walton, who came into the game making only 33 percent of his three-pointers, knocked down 4 of 7 on Saturday and scored 15 of his game-high 24 points over the final 5:48 of the game.

“What about A.J. Walton?” Joyner said. “That kid’s got a big heart. He showed why he’s a Division I player. He’s got no quit in him and he almost single-handedly carried his team to a state title. Big kudos to A.J. and to Hall. They have a lot of class over there and showed a lot of character.”

But it was McClure who took home the Most Valuable Player honors after scoring 17 points. Demetrius Harris was also an MVP candidate after making 9 of 14 shots on his way to 20 points and 10 rebounds.

McClure’s evolution as a player over the past 14 months coincided with Jacksonville’s rise from the ashes of a 3-9 record start to their 2007-08 season. The Red Devils were beset by turmoil and Joyner struggled to harness the enormous talent on his team into a cohesive unit.

McClure was one of several Red Devils who had developed a reputation for trying to do too much by himself. But he, along with his teammates, began to buy into Joyner’s team concept during last year’s conference season, and on Saturday night, McClure took only six shots, making five of them, including 3 of 4 three-pointers. He also handed out two assists.

“I thought last year these kids underachieved,” said Joyner, whose 2007-08 Red Devils were eliminated in the quarterfinals at state. “We had a lot of infighting, a lot of things we were trying to work through personally. But for the most part, all year, these kids have given it up for each other. They respect each other and they’ve grown closer as teammates.

“But they’re still competitive. They want you to stop this guy, they want you to get up there and get this rebound. And they’ll get up in each other’s face and tell each other. And there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you handle it the right way.”

Many of the Red Devils’ early turnovers were the result of carelessness and mental errors. In the second half, Hall turned up the pressure, extending a 1-3-1 trap that dealt fits to Jacksonville throughout the third and fourth periods. It became a real issue when Cortrell Eskridge got poked in the eye and had to leave the game. That left the Appleby brothers — 5-8 Stanley and 5-10 Raheem — trying to battle the much-taller Hall defenders out top.

The Red Devils couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start with McClure knocking down two three-pointers in the opening two minutes as Jacksonville rushed out to an 11-1 start. But Walton hit a three and Hall sharp-shooter Marland Smith hit two more as Hall surged to a 15-14 lead after one.

Jacksonville regained the lead at 27-21 on a three-pointer from Raheem Appleby, but Hall trailed by only a single point after a Jacksonville turnover at midcourt with five seconds left led to a bucket and free throw.

Jacksonville, which dominated the glass behind 10 rebounds by both Harris and LaQuintin Miles, got rebound baskets by Antwan Lockhart, Harris and Cortrell Eskridge to open the second half. After McClure knocked down his third three of the game, Jacksonville got breakaway jams by McClure and Lockhart. Miles’ drive, basket and free throw opened up a 45-34 Jacksonville lead late in the third.

Over the first two minutes and 33 seconds of the fourth period, Stanley Appleby gave the Red Devils some unexpected offensive punch when he scored seven consecutive points and Jacksonville had its biggest lead of the game at 52-39. Walton, Smith and David Rivers kept Hall hanging around, though, and they chipped away as Jacksonville began to wilt in the face of Hall’s relentless defensive pressure.

Walton’s three-pointer with 41 seconds left drew the Warriors to within 61-59. After another steal, he hit one of two free throws to whittle the margin to one with 36 seconds left.

Miles missed the front end of a one-and-one with 28 seconds left and Walton drove the lane at the other end, drew the foul and made both free throws with 7.8 seconds left.

“It’s just an honor for my team to be here,” said a red-eyed Cirks afterward. “To get this opportunity two years in a row.”

SPORTS >> Early, late, McClure answers the call

Leader sportswriter

HOT SPRINGS — Deshone McClure may not have had a career night, scoring-wise, but all 17 of his points came at critical times for Jacksonville, from a pair of three-pointers to start the game to his winning free throws at the end. He was 5 of 6 from the floor and 3 of 4 on three-point attempts. He was also 4 of 7 at the foul line, including the two that mattered most on his way to earning game MVP. Post Antwan Lockhart was the only Red Devil starter to take fewer shots from the field than McClure, going 3 of 3.


Cortrell Eskridge took a poke in the eye while fighting for a loose ball at the end of the first quarter, but returned to the game in the second half after receiving treatment from Jacksonville trainer Jason Cates. Eskridge finished with only one field goal, but came away with a pair of critical offensive rebounds, and his efforts on defense helped keep Hall’s dynamic slasher guard A.J. Walton out of the paint. Walton made all of his points either from behind the three-point line or at the foul line.


The question coming into the game was how well the Baylor-bound Walton would fare after suffering a late-season ankle injury. He was said to be at about 70 percent, but his game-high 24 points, including four three-point baskets and a 12-of-16 performance at the foul line provided a fitting swan song for arguably the state’s most gifted high-school player.

His two free throws in the final 10 seconds put the Warriors on top 62-61, and would have clinched it had McClure not made his way to the line at the end. Walton had nine of Hall’s 11 points over the final two minutes of the game.

“What about that A.J. Walton?” said Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner. “The kid’s got a big heart. He showed why he’s the Division I player. There’s no quit in him, and he almost carried that team single-handedly to a state title, even with a bum ankle.”

Walton exited the arena in defiant fashion, exchanging words with an overzealous Jacksonville fan who heckled him as he walked off the court.

“You could never begin to fill my shoes!” Walton shouted back at the fan.


Jacksonville guard Stan Appleby scored all seven of his points over a 56-second span early in the fourth quarter, ending his run with a three-point basket that gave the Red Devils a 52-39 lead, their biggest of the game. His only other shot attempt was a long-distance heave at the first-quarter buzzer that missed the mark. Little brother Raheem hit a three-point basket with 1:17 left in the first half for his only points of the game.


Just after missing the second of three free throws with 1.2 seconds on the clock and the game tied at 62, a calm seemed to come over McClure, who glanced over at the Red Devil bench and determinedly shook his head while giving his chest two quick bumps with his fist.

“I had to do it for my teammates – I had to,” said McClure. “After I missed that one I was thinking that I couldn’t miss another one or we’re going into overtime. I knew if we went into overtime that it was going to be a battle, so I had to hit it.”


He’s developed a reputation for combativeness over the years, but Devils coach Victor Joyner went through the entire 2008-09 season without a single technical-foul call.

The Red Devils turned it over 24 times, but not one time was there a stomped foot or a hoarse scream across the arena like in big games of season’s past.

He rarely questioned a call by an official.

His first words of the post-game press conference gave a pretty strong indicator as to the noticeable change in personality.

“I give honor to my God,” said Joyner. “My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, first of all.”

He even came close to giving officials Huey Pugh, Ron Bellomy and Ernie Murry a compliment following the game.

“I thought they did a decent job,” said Joyner. “One or two calls here or there, but, you know, that’s me – I’m not going to say anything.”


There were isolated moments of excitement, but mostly struggling performances throughout the 2009 state finals, including disappointing floppers between GCT-North Pulaski and Fayetteville-Rogers earlier on Saturday. But that all changed when the Red Devils and Warriors took to the court for the final championship game.

The two teams attacked the basket early, and Jacksonville shot it well out of the gate. McClure and Hall’s Marland Smith each had a pair of threes under their belt after the first eight minutes.

The score at the end of the first quarter was 15-14 Hall — a score that surpassed the halftime scores of several earlier games, including the GCT-North Pulaski contest.


McClure’s drive down court in the final seconds that led to the decisive foul shots nearly ended in disaster at the other end when he almost lost control of the ball near midcourt as he slashed through the Warrior press.

“Coach Joyner told me to get the ball and go and don’t stop,” said McClure. “So I got the ball and went and didn’t stop. I almost lost it. I was about to pass it, but he told me to go and don’t stop. So if we were going to lose, we were going to lose because of me.”

When asked if he got fouled at the end, McClure smiled and replied, “They called it.”


The Red Devils out-shot Hall 50 per cent to 34 percent, going 24 of 48 from the floor. They also hit 5 of 10 three-point attempts.
The deep backdrop behind the goals of the sizeable Summit Arena played tricks on some of the state’s sharpest shooters over the three-day championship weekend, but a mid-afternoon shoot-around at the Lakeside High gymnasium gave Joyner an idea, and it seemed to pay off.

“We had a shoot-around at Lakeside after the North Pulaski game,” said Joyner. “I want to thank their coach. They had some overhanging goals that hung off on the side with no backdrop, kind of like these goals.

“And when I saw that, I made everyone shoot from the side goals. And the depth-perception was the same. I think telling them to keep their eye on the rim and lining up their shot with the rim helped a lot.

“When Deshone started shooting over there, he wasn’t doing too good at first. He kept shooting, and he got his rhythm. I think that made all the difference, that hour-and-a-half shoot-around that we had.”

SPORTS >> Falcon freeze-out

Leader sportswriter

HOT SPRINGS – North Pulaski couldn’t have picked a bigger game to go ice cold.

Greene County Tech overcame its own sloppy offensive performance to claim a 39-34 win over the Falcons in the Class 5A championship game on Saturday at Summit Arena. It was their second state crown in three years.

North Pulaski (25-7) suffered through a dismal 19-percent shooting performance, converting only 11 of 57 shots.

Junior forward Kyron Ware was one of few bright spots for the Falcons, leading the way with 19 points on 7 of 13 shooting. Pretty much everything else went wrong, from Daquan Bryant picking up his third foul a minute into the second quarter to North Pulaski sharp-shooter Aaron Cooper’s 0-of-17 nightmare from the floor.

“He’s made so many big shots for us,” said NP coach Ray Cooper of his son and Falcon point guard. “He’s hit in these close games all year, probably seven or eight times. There’s nobody else I would rather have to take those shots.

“He hurt his back yesterday, and I don’t know if that had anything to do with it. He never made any excuses about it. He came and got treatment and went out and played the best that he could. We got the shots from the guys we wanted to shoot. For whatever reason, they just didn’t fall the way they normally do.”

Despite the almost unbelievable offensive futility, the Falcons still had a chance down the stretch when Ware led a Falcon run that cut a 24-13 lead at the 3:47 mark to 24-23 with 12 seconds left in the third. Bryant kept North Pulaski close at the start of the fourth quarter, but poor shooting reared its ugly head once again down the stretch. The Eagles (26-6) took advantage by packing the lane and forcing North Pulaski to take the same outside looks that had proved so unproductive to that point. The Falcons missed all five of their three-point attempts in the final period to finish 3 of 19 overall.

“I think that if you talk to coach Cooper, he’s going to tell you the same thing,” said GCT coach Scott Bowlin. “Neither one of us looked very good offensively. I thought both teams played pretty good defense. We were jittery, especially in the first half.”

The Eagles finished 13 of 30 from the floor and 11 of 23 at the foul line.

Ware’s numbers were in stark contrast to his North Pulaski teammates’. He was 7 of 13 from the floor and 3 of 6 on three-point attempts. Bryant finished 4 of 13. The rest of the team went 0 for 31.

It wasn’t just from the field that North Pulaski struggled, but from the free-throw line as well. The Falcons, who normally shoot around 70 percent at the stripe, went 9 of 19.

“It’s frustrating, but I knew the kids were fighting,” said Cooper. “I don’t know if we were over-hyped. I don’t know what it was, because normally, we’re a pretty good free-throw shooting team.”

Ware scored 10 points in the third quarter when the Falcons began to make their move. His two made free throws at the 5:40 mark cut the Eagles’ lead to 18-13, but GCT answered with a 6-0 run that pushed its advantage to 24-13. Ware went back to work with a trey at the 3:16 mark, followed by a putback from Bryant.

Ware added a three from the left corner, then ended his run with a turnaround in the lane to make it a one-point game. Trase Davis scored for GCT just before the period ended to give the Eagles a 26-23 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Back-to-back jumpers from Bryant narrowed the deficit to 29-27 with 3:56 left to play, but the turning point came when Livingston went to the line for a two-shot foul 17 seconds later. He made the first and missed the second. But Chase Halbrook slipped in for the rebound and putback to push the lead to 32-27.

Davis added a pair of free throws with 2:34 left, but Bryant’s spin and scoop whittled the deficit to 34-29 at the 2:15 mark. Caleb Hartwig hit a floater and the Falcons missed a pair of threes. Their last gasp came on Bryant’s rebound basket with 32 seconds left that cut the lead to 36-31. But Livingston, who was named the MVP, hit 3 of 4 free throws down the stretch to seal it.

“I thought Kyron did a great job of stepping up when we needed him to,” Cooper said. He really gave us a spark and kept us in the game when nobody else could make a shot.”

GCT denied the Falcons any open lanes all game. The Eagles played aggressively on defense, perhaps a bit too aggressively for Cooper, as he noted in his post-game press conference.

“We were getting to the lane, and they were running under our legs,” said Cooper. “It was something we saw on tape. I watched two years of tape back and forth, and it was something that we tried to get prepared for, but it’s hard to be prepared for a guy that’s underneath when you’re trying to shoot a basketball. We talked to the officials about it, and got no response.”

Bryant added 10 points, 15 rebounds and four steals in just 20 minutes of play.

“I just want to thank these guys,” said Falcons coach Ray Cooper. “Especially Jerald (Blair) and all the seniors, and thank them for the hard work they’ve put forth to get here. We missed the playoffs by a game or two last year, and these guys set forth at the beginning of the season and worked as hard as they could. Of course, it was our goal to win it, but they have nothing to be ashamed of. I’m just as proud of them as I could be.”

SPORTS >> Numbers clearly tell the tale of North Pulaski’s loss

Leader sports editor

There must be as many ways to quantify North Pulaski’s offensive futility on Saturday as there were missed Falcon shots (46, for the record).

You could begin with the 0-for-11 start or you could refer to the 0-for-6 start to the second half. You could point out that the Falcons went 3 for 10 over the final two minutes of the third period … and raised their shooting percentage nine points.

What makes it all noteworthy is that, despite their almost unbelievable shooting woes against Greene County Tech, the Falcons lost by only five points. So let’s just go through some other numbers and remember that, if North Pulaski’s shooting had been merely exceptionally bad and not awful, it would likely be the 5A champs today.

– North Pulaski came into the game shooting well above 50 percent from the field, meaning their 19.3 percent performance on Saturday was almost 40 points below their average.

– After Ware’s 7-of-13 shooting, the rest of the Falcons made only 4 of 44. Take out DaQuan Bryant’s 4 of 13 and everyone else went 0 of 31.

– North Pulaski’s first basket came on a Ware runner with 41 seconds left in the first period. After missing its next eight shots to drop it to 5 percent shooting at 1 of 20, North Pulaski got its only other first-half bucket with 2:03 left in the second period on a Ware three-pointer.

– Ware recorded the Falcons’ first three field goals. It wasn’t until Bryant scored on a putback with 2:17 left in the third that another Falcon scored from the field. Ware and Bryant were the only two Falcons to record a field goal.

– The Falcons’ 9-of-36 shooting in the second half actually raised its overall field goal percentage 10 points.

– Normally a solid three-point shooting team, North Pulaski made just 3 of 19.

– It wasn’t just the jumpers that weren’t falling, though. The Falcons missed 12 lay-ups in the contest while making only three.


One of the best shooters in the state and also one of its best point guards will have to find a way to put this one behind him.

Aaron Cooper, normally a deadeye on the perimeter, missed all 10 of his three-point attempts and all 17 of his field goal attempts.

Two factors might help explain Cooper’s uncharacteristic struggles from the field against the Eagles: A bad back and the five inches he was giving up to 6-4 defender Chase Halbrook.

“With his back being hurt, he didn’t have the explosion that he normally has,” said North Pulaski head coach Raymond Cooper, who is also Aaron’s father. “He didn’t even tell me he was hurt. But I looked (on Friday) and the whole left side of his back was swollen.

“He never asked to come out, but I could tell he could not … when guys play him that close, he’s normally going to go around them. And today, he just settled for jump shot after jump shot and they wouldn’t fall.

“He’s made so many big shots for us. There’s nobody else I would rather have take those shots.”

Cooper dejectedly walked off the court with a towel draped over his head. But after a few days of reflecting on what might have been, he probably ought to keep in mind that these Falcons, who lose only Ware among their starters on Saturday, have a chance to redeem themselves next year.


Ray Cooper looked shell-shocked when he walked into the media room minutes after his Falcons had gone colder than a naked Eskimo swimming in the Bering Sea.

“I thought defensively we played great,” he said. “If somebody would have told me that we would hold them to 39 points, I would have told them that we would beat them by 20 before the game … The defense was absolutely great. The effort and intensity was there. I thought we played tough …

“All the things we talked about that we needed to do before the game, we did. And I guess I didn’t talk about making some baskets, so guess I left that one part out.”


Greene County Tech took only four three-pointers, 15 fewer than North Pulaski. Of their 28 points from the field, 22 were in the paint. The Falcons, on the other hand, got only 10 of their 25 points from the field in the paint.

“As far as offensively, I’ve been (at the finals) for five years in a row (as a coach or spectator), and I’ve never seen a jump-shooting team win the state championship,” Eagle coach Scott Bowlin said. “The teams that win the state championship are the teams that attack the glass. I’ll let you shoot those outside shots all day long. When you’ve got a state championship on the line, we’re going to go for the glass.”

There was one problem with that, according to Ray Cooper: The Eagle defense was using defensive tactics that made it hard for his Falcons to attack the basket.

“We were getting to the lane and they were running under our legs,” he said. “It was something we watched on tape … it was something we tried to get prepared for. But it’s hard to prepare for a guy that’s underneath your legs when you’re trying to shoot the basketball.

“We talked to the officials about it and got no response.”


A couple of other stats really stand out from this game. North Pulaski took 27 more shots than GCT. And, as a result, the offensive rebounding numbers paint a false picture.

With the Falcons missing so many shots, they naturally had more opportunities for offensive rebounds. That’s why their 20-7 advantage in that category actually means little. The fact is, the Falcons converted those into only nine second-chance points, the same as the Eagles.

All those extra missed shots, by the way, also allowed GCT to post a 30-17 advantage on the defensive glass. The two teams finished with 37 boards apiece.


North Pulaski’s defense was characteristically outstanding on Saturday. It was the only thing that kept them in the game at a time when their field goal percentage was hovering around single digits.

The Falcons forced 18 turnovers off nine steals. The problem was they made little hay out of them, converting those 18 GCT miscues into only 10 points.


DaQuan Bryant picked up his third foul 49 seconds into the third period and his fourth 26 seconds into the final period. The result was only 20 minutes of action in a game in which the Falcons could have used him all 32.

Despite that, Bryant pulled down 15 rebounds, nearly one a minute. His eight offensive boards surpassed GCT’s seven. Bryant also scored 10 points and snagged four steals.

SPORTS >> Every Devil had a hand in bringing home the crown

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville’s 13-point lead was suddenly just a precarious five after three-pointers by Marland Smith and A.J. Walton and four straight points by David Rivers.

Two minutes and 40 seconds remained in the 6A state championship and all the momentum had shifted to Little Rock Hall.

That’s when Cortrell Eskridge made an aggressive move from the top of the key and delivered a crisp bounce pass to Demetrius Harris for a lay-up and a seven-point lead.

One play among many in a game in which one play – at any point along the way – could have made the difference between heartache and jubilation. Eskridge’s numbers – 1 of 6 shooting, three rebounds – might get lost among all the others, but he had two assists in the game and that second one to Harris was as big as any play in the game, temporarily, at least, squelching Hall’s gathering momentum.

When people over the course of time gaze upon the championship banner that will forever festoon the Devils’ Den at Jacksonville High, they’ll quite naturally think of Deshone McClure’s MVP performance, his three three-pointers, his 5-of-6 shooting and, most dramatically, his game-winning free throws with 1.2 seconds remaining when Jacksonville trailed by one.

But his drive from one end of the court to the other with 7.8 seconds left, the foul he drew, the free throws he made, was also just one play among many. In a one-point win, every play counts. And everybody contributed in his own big or small way on Saturday night.

Darrius Morant missed his only shot in the game. But in just five minutes of action, Morant delivered two big assists. His defensive rebound and long pass to Antwan Lockhart led to a crowd-rousing jam late in the third period.

Just a minute and six seconds later, he dished inside to Harris for a lay-up that put the Red Devils up nine.

Antonio Roy picked up seven rebounds — three offensive — in just 14 minutes of action, helping account for the Red Devils’ 11 second-chance points in the contest. He also had one of their three blocks.

And let’s not forget the Appleby brothers — Raheem and Stanley. Raheem hit a three late in the first half – a three that had to be counted as bonus points, given his limited action during the regular season. Brother Stanley scored seven points over the course of 56 seconds in the early critical stages of the final period. He hit a floater in the lane, a driving lay-up and a three-pointer that gave the Red Devils their biggest lead of the game at 52-39.

Antwan Lockhart took only three shots and made them all. His rebound basket to open the second half got the Red Devils off on the right foot. His thunderous dunk with 2:10 left in the third period not only opened up a nine-point lead, but electrified the Red Devil faithful. He also had three rebounds and a block.

Harris’ performance needs no illumination. Twenty points, 10 rebounds — five offensive — a blocked shot and an assist speaks for itself. This from a football star who has played only two years of organized basketball. Harris’ development into an outstanding offensive player, rebounder and defender is a big reason for the Red Devils’ improvement from a 14-14 quarterfinal team a year ago into a 24-3 state champion this season.

Finally, don’t overlook LaQuentin Miles’ performance on Saturday. Don’t let the 1-of-8 shooting and the seven turnovers fool you. Miles, who offset those numbers with three steals, two assists and 10 boards, was put in the unenviable position of running the point most of the season in an attempt to provide the one missing part on this otherwise complete team.

“Our kids overcame a big handicap,” Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner said. “This team hasn’t had a true point guard all year. LaQuentin sacrificed a lot of offense running the point and maybe even an MVP and that’s an unselfish kid right there.

“Because if LaQuentin was a two guard, he’d be averaging 25-30 points a game for us, easy. And that’s what I’m saying. These kids played their roles for each other and they won this thing collectively as a group.”

Remember that when you look at that banner.

Monday, March 16, 2009

EDITORIAL >> PCSSD board gets a big ‘F’

The biggest obstacle to quality education in Pulaski County is the school board. At least that’s true for the Pulaski County Special School District, which is in complete disarray because of the public and hidden agendas of the various board members. Those include allegiances to the powerful Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and the competition for scarce resources—particularly money—across the far-flung district.

Many members are vindictive, petty, inconsistent, selfish and worst of all, ill-informed.

Nearly all district facilities are in miserable condition, but in recent years the board has chosen to put its money only in the Maumelle Middle School and the Chenal Elementary School.

Now the board will float an $80 million second-lien bond to build a new super high school in Maumelle, leaving the promised Sylvan Hills Middle School up on blocks. Meanwhile, Jacksonville could be stuck with a large chunk of the bill even if it separates from PCSSD.

Board member Charlie Wood, seldom on the same side of an issue twice, has been fooled. The Sherwood representative seems to think there is money for both his school and the high school. But the only money available is the proceeds from that bond issue, according to chief financial officer Larry O’Brian. The entire bond issue will be required for the Maumelle high school.

In September, Tim Clark ran unopposed to represent Maumelle on the board, replacing Pam Roberts. Four meetings later, he helped impeach sitting board president Mildred Tatum, winning her position by a single vote.

Clark has interpreted that one-vote margin as a mandate and has launched an imperial board presidency that is favorable to the unions and also his Maumelle constituents but not to other schools and zones, particularly those in the Jacksonville area.

Now Clark has run off Superintendent James Sharpe, passing over an experienced deputy superintendent and replacing Sharpe with a man inexperienced in running a school district. Clark recused himself as the board otherwise unanimously approved Pine Forest Elementary principal Robert McGill. McGill, a Maumelle constituent of Clark’s, has taught Clark’s children. He also holds certification as a superintendent through 2013.

Clark denied that the two were personal friends. But Beverly Ruthven has served ably as interim superintendent while Sharpe was in the hospital and has rigorously pursued data-driven academic improvements for the district. She deserves a shot at the superintendent’s job.

McGill has worked for 16 years in the district. We’ve not heard anything bad about him. We wish him good luck, because this district needs real leadership, but that will require standing up to Clark and other board members who hold his fate in their hands.

Sharpe’s departure stands as a warning to superintendents who would cross Clark and company. McGill has said he’d like the job permanently, although PCSSD superintendents better keep their suitcases packed.Sharpe is the third consecutive superintendent the board has bought out in about six years, with a total payout of about $500,000.

Various board members, including Clark, Bill Vasquez, Gwen Williams and Wood have tried to fire Sharpe over the last few months, finally buying out his contract for $185,000 on Wednesday. The final straw may have come when Sharpe refused to pay a $2,753 bill for a party Clark threw at the Maumelle Country Club in celebration of the groundbreaking for the new $80 million high school at Maumelle.

Clark had no board authorization, and when he submitted the bill, Sharpe stood his ground. At Tuesday’s board meeting, Clark announced he had paid that bill himself, and that he had never submitted it to the district to be paid.

The Leader is in possession of a copy of that bill that Tatum received under the Freedom of Information Act from Sharpe. Others familiar with the incident have confirmed that Clark asked to have the district pay the bill.

In his role as defender of the teachers union—and the board and administration have treated the teachers badly in some instances—Clark has sought to run off Jacksonville Boys Middle School Principal Mike Nellums. He’s been joined in that pursuit by the other board members pledged to the union, Vasquez and Gwen Williams.

Nellums has battled and frustrated the union on several fronts and there is no love lost between them.

Clark, who claimed in January that Nellums slandered him to a fellow principal, instructed Sharpe to initiate an investigation. That probe cost the district at least $16,000, not including several days away from their normal duties for Debbie Colie, director of human resources, and Bill Barnes, assistant superintendent for secondary education.

The district’s lawyer, Jay Becquette, charged—and the district on Tuesday night paid—$12,000 or more for that January investigation. Nellums will submit legal bills of at least $4,200 to pay his defenders, Ricky Hicks and Terrance Cain.

This is more proof that the district can ill afford to let Clark act without restraint.

The board unanimously supported a stand-alone Jacksonville school district last year, but on Tuesday Wood and Williams said they are prepared to reintroduce the matter at the next meeting, change their votes and oppose the proposed new district.

Williams said the Jacksonville district proponents solicited her friend to talk to her on their behalf and that really made her angry. Apparently Williams’ ear is reserved for PACT and PASS and no one else.

TOP STORY >> PCSSD to rebuild

Leader senior staff writer

“I want to help the students of the district and rebuild the confidence from the patrons in outlying areas,” freshly minted interim Pulaski County Special School District Super-intendent Robert McGill said Friday afternoon.

McGill takes over for James Sharpe, who agreed to a $185,000 buyout at a special meeting called for that purpose Wednesday. McGill said he has met with Sharpe who is helping ease the transition.

McGill, until Wednesday principal of Pine Forest Elementary School in Maumelle, could have a steep learning curve as he takes the reins of the county school district.

“I guess I got myself in for a challenge this time,” said McGill. “When the board decided to give me a chance I wasn’t going to say no.”

McGill, 41, was principal at Pine Forest for several years, which is where he met school board president Tim Clark.

Clark, who recused himself in hiring McGill, said he was well- respected by parents and the community in Maumelle.

“He was an outstanding administrator and makes sound, logical decisions,” Clark said Friday.

McGill and his wife, Pam, have been married for 16 years, according to district spokesman Craig Douglass. They have two sons, ages 6 and 2 years old.

McGill is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Arkansas Army National Guard.

McGill said he and Clark are “friendly but not friends, serving together on the parent-teacher organization at the school.”

“First, I’m going to get my feet wet, give everything a fresh look, and see what needs to be changed,” McGill. “There’s a need for improvement in communication, internally and externally.”

Born in Arkadelphia, McGill graduated from Gurdon High school in 1986.

He holds a bachelor’s of science degree in education at the University of Central Arkansas, a master’s degree in education ad-ministration from Henderson State and is certified in school administration and as a superintendent.

By meeting time Wednesday, apparently the only question was the terms of Sharpe’s resignation. Sharpe had packed most of his personal possessions from the superintendent’s corner office, and a district employee was taking them out to his car.

He did not have a lawyer at the meeting, and toward the end of the 100-minute executive session was smiling, looking relaxed and joking with Jay Bequette, the district’s lawyer with whom he had been negotiating only minutes earlier.

The vote to accept his resignation and pay him $185,000 in a lump sum was 5 to 2. Mildred Tatum voted against it because she felt Sharpe had been treated badly.

Charlie Wood voted against it because he didn’t want to pay Sharpe to leave.

Some board members have been trying to fire Sharpe since at least last November, when they claimed he acted too slowly to move elementary school students out of buildings with faulty roofs.

In January, the board voted to honor the two years remaining on his current contract, but not to extend it to the traditional three years.

Sharpe took over as superintendent in 2005, after the board bought out the contract of Don Henderson and after an extensive search by headhunters.

His legacy is his oversight in bringing the district out of fiscal distress. PCSSD could have been taken over by the state Department of Education had the board, under Sharpe’s leadership, not made drastic cuts and brought the district back into fiscal compliance.

TOP STORY >> Guard HQ in Cabot will open next year

Leader staff writer

An architect’s drawing of the $8.2 million future home of the Arkansas National Guard’s F Company of the 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s Brigade Support Battalion was unveiled in Cabot on Tuesday afternoon.

The 35,000-square-foot armory, officially called a readiness center, will be built off Arkansas Hwy. 367 near the new railroad overpass that is supposed to open next month. It will have a classroom large enough to hold 100 soldiers and kitchen large enough to serve 350.

It also will have a 5,800-square-foot drill hall, a physical-fitness room, administrative space, storage space and maintenance and storage areas for vehicles and equipment.

And according to the men who have worked for several years to make it a reality, it is the best thing to happen to Cabot since the air base opened in Jacksonville in 1955.

If all goes as planned and the weather cooperates, groundbreaking for the project will be held this summer and construction should be completed in 12 to 15 months.

Maj. Gen. William Wofford, adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard, said city leaders had asked for an armory several times in years past.

But the answer was always the same: Cabot just can’t support a unit. But the growth of the city combined with the number of military members (40 percent of the population) living in the Cabot area convinced the Guard to reconsider in 2006.

The armory was designed by Lewis Architects Engineers, a Little Rock firm.

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams was on hand when the camouflage netting was pulled from the architect’s rendering of the planned facility. He called it “one of the biggest things to come to Cabot in a number of years.”

“When we started trying to plan this facility we figured it would take five to seven years to get the plan approved and the funding forecasted into the federal budget,” Williams said. “But, thanks to the hard work of many of the members of the planning board and our congressional representatives, we are nearing reality on this project.”

Also attending the unveiling were several of the original group who asked the Guard to locate a unit in Cabot: David Hipp, Joe Allman, Don Elliott, Wayne “Moose” Cullins and Charles George.

“It is a tremendous boost. It’s going to be a good thing. I’m enthused about it,” George said. “There are a lot of patriotic people around here. The armory is something people can see and hopefully young men and women will think seriously about being a member of the military. It is going to be up to them to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

The project will be mostly federally funded. In 2008, the congressional delegation announced that money for construction had been secured. In 2007, $840,000 in federal funds paid for design work.

The city bought the 15.5 acres in the industrial park where the armory will be built for $399,000. But much of that cost was reimbursed by the state.

The state has not built a new armory since September 2005 when a $4.25 million facility went up in Warren.

Maj. Jason Carter, a former Cabot city attorney and judge advocate with the National Guard, recently found documents from December 1900 that show Cabot had a Guard company organized over 100 years ago.

The group was organized as Company A, First Infantry on Sept. 9, 1893, and was led by Capt. George Granberry. The company was mustered to serve with a second company during the Spanish-American War.

Wofford said the new armory may not have been the first in Cabot, but it will be the best.

The new facility and the unit assigned to Cabot are expected to have an annual economic impact of a little more than $1 million to the community through payroll for unit members as well as general operations and maintenance expenses for the facility and equipment.

TOP STORY >> Base needs parts to fix faulty nuts on C-130s

Leader senior staff writer

Little Rock Air Force Base lacks the parts to fix about one-third of its C-130 fleet that have questionable upper-wing, joint-barrel nuts.

New barrel nuts have been ordered, but planes in use by the war fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan will be serviced first. The next priority is for the combat commanders and Little Rock is “right up there,” Col. Greg Otey, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, said Friday.

It could be days or mid-April before Little Rock gets all the parts it needs.

The base has about 96 C-130s, and those with the worn parts were out of service last week, according to Otey.

A routine inspection at Robbins Air Force Base in Georgia recently determined that there were two slightly different upper-wing joint-barrel nuts, one considered safe, the other not. Otey said maintainers could tell the difference by looking.

Each plane has 13 barrel nuts on the wings, he said. The barrel nuts secure the outer wings to the center wing box, Otey said.

Some training flights have been cancelled, but all “real world missions” have been flown, said Otey.

“Operational readiness was not affected and air crews were never in danger,” he said.
Base air maintenance crews worked long hours, including on weekends, to complete the inspections, the commander said.

Two planes have been brought up to standard and placed back in service so far, he said.

All but one of the base’s C-130J models passed the inspection.

Maintainance crews began inspecting the 80-plus C-130s here March 5.

Deployed aircraft are allowed to fly for a certain period of time during a war before inspections are performed, according to Otey.

The immediate inspection action 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.

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

Otey said the C-130s undergo home-station checks about every 225 days, other checks every 450 days and programmed-depot maintenance every 900 days.

TOP STORY >> Sherwood rejects large subdivision

Leader staff writer

Sherwood’s Planning Commission rejected a major subdivision after its developer failed to include the North Belt Loop in its plans.

Developer Steve Deere and others working on the project insisted that they didn’t have to show the North Belt on their plans. The more than 1,000-home residential development had been tabled for months as the commission awaited the city council’s action adding route to Sherwood’s master street plan.

The commission insisted that city ordinances said that all planned roads, highways and interstates needed to be shown on the plans.

After the council approved the master street plan, which relocated the North Belt to its latest proposed position, the developer still did not put it on his plans.

The commission Tuesday night then felt it had no choice but to turn down the plans.

At previous commission and council meetings, the attorney for the Oakdale North Addition called the state Highway Department the bad guy and said the city was just a pawn for the state and that it could not force a developer to give up something for the state.

Attorney Hal Kemp said the city could end up financially responsible for the acreage it wants to take for the North Belt.

He suggested that the city could be in “financial peril” if it didn’t approved the subdivision plans.

Kemp said that turning down the subdivision could mean that the city will end up in court.

Deere gave no inkling of a lawsuit Tuesday when the commission turned the project down. “I just down you to table it again,” he told the commission before they voted the project down.

The North Belt right-of-way chews up about 60 acres of his acreage and could prevent another 150 acres from being developed.

Michael Clayton, representing the Millers Crossroads Phase II project, asked for another delay. His project also does not show the North Belt on the plans and has been tabled for months. He asked for another delay because the Highway Department was negotiating with his clients to purchase the necessary right of way for the bypass.

The commission did approve the preliminary plat for Belin Addition near Overcup Drive and Woodruff Avenue.

The owner wants to split the three acres into two lots for residential development.

The Sherwood Planning Com-mission meets at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month in the police and court building.

The meetings are open to the public.

TOP STORY >> Painter finds inspiration in new library

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville artist Roberta McGrath has donated one of her paintings to the new Esther D. Nixon Library.

The large, colorful painting inspired by quilting fabrics will be installed later this month in the children’s section of the library.

Library manager Kathy Sey-mour said that the painting, which measures six feet by six feet and will fill an entire wall, “will really add a lot of color to the children’s area.”

McGrath, whose stylistically diverse works are in many private and corporate collections, said that she began thinking about creating a work for the new library several years ago when she first heard about plans to build it. Knowing that a large building was planned, she conceived of a canvas of compatible scale.

“I wanted to paint big for a big wall,” she said.

One day strolling through a local flea market, McGrath’s eyes fell on a pile of quilts. The disarray of patterns struck her as the perfect subject matter for an arresting composition.

She calls the painting “Controlled Chaos.” She decided that the lively, abstract design, “free from any religious or political overtones” – something that shows up in McGrath’s work – would be fitting for a public art collection. The painting, which now belongs to the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS), will hang indefinitely in the Jacksonville library, but it may be circulated among other branch libraries eventually.

“We like the idea of branches pulling from local artists. It reinforces the idea of a library being a community resource and a place for people to gather,” said Colin Thompson, the art administrator for CALS. “We are all very happy she is donating this painting to the library.”

McGrath has been painting since her childhood in Newfoundland, on the Atlantic coast of Canada. Largely self-taught, she enjoys experimenting with diverse styles and techniques from sharp realism to soft abstraction.

Her preferred medium is oils. Subject matter includes still life, portrait, landscape and non-representational shapes and patterns. Her work reflects artistic genres from the Renaissance to Impressionism to the contemporary. She has won numerous awards.

For McGrath, the construction of the new library is an element in her vision for Jacksonville to someday become a regional nexus for the arts.

She would like to see a center for the arts erected in Jacksonville that would house a performance hall, schools for music and art, and shops, cafes, and galleries to support the center and stimulate the local economy.

“The library is central as a hub for arts and culture in Jacksonville,” McGrath said. “It even looks like a museum. It is important to build on that. One of the things that will really enhance Jacksonville’s image is to create an atmosphere of arts and culture. You’ve got a lot of talent in Jacksonville, but no outlet.”

McGrath’s work can be viewed on her Web site,

TOP STORY >> Plug-in Prius uses less gas

Leader staff writer

First Electric Cooperative is on the cutting edge of electric automotive technology and higher fuel efficiency.

On Wednesday, the company’s 2009 Toyota Prius Hybrid was modified into a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle at First Electric’s fleet garage on 1000 South J.P. Wright Loop Road in Jacksonville.

Glenn Edmonds and Jason Wil-liams, Advanced Vehicle Research Center representatives from Raleigh, N.C., retrofitted the Prius with a Hymotion A123 PHEV conversion package, which doubles the Prius’ energy efficiency.

The cost of the conversion package was $10,000.

The conversion package increases the car’s fuel mileage with the addition of a 170-pound high-energy rechargeable plug-in lithium-ion battery module.

The lithium-ion battery can power the Prius for 40 miles, then it needs a recharge. Until then, the Prius goes back to using the factory battery as well as the gasoline engine.

First Electric’s Prius averaged 40 to 45 miles per gallon of gasoline before the addition of the second larger battery.

Engineers estimate that the plug-in hybrid will reach 75 to 80 miles per gallon when driven at lower speeds in the city.

“You can get the best results with city driving,” said Neal Frizzell, First Electric Cooperative vice president of marketing and communications.

Installation of the unit took less than four hours. The rechargeable battery was installed in the trunk’s spare-tire well and was connected to the car’s electrical system. An electrical plug was installed in the rear bumper cover.

The converted vehicle, one of the first in the state, will be used as a teaching tool alongside other First Electric projects on energy efficiency and “green” power.  

“The car is a way to show energy efficiency and that First Electric is committed to that process,” said Mary Novak, communications coordinator.

The upgrade allows the vehicle’s 5.5 kilowatt-hour battery to be recharged by plugging the car into a standard grounded 110-volt electrical outlet using a 14-amp extension cord.

At the rate of 10 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity, a full recharge of the battery would cost 50 cents.

First Electric will have a plug-in station for the car on the company grounds.

A full recharge takes about five hours. While the battery recharges, the rear brake lights act as a charging indicator.

The lights are dimmed and gradually intensify in brightness until the battery is fully charged before the lights turn off.

It’s still not known how long the lithium-ion battery will last, but that’s being studied.

The plug-in vehicle has the same acceleration and speed of the stock Prius.

Depending on a person’s driving style and speed, the lithium-ion battery will add 40 miles per gallon, reducing the number of trips to fill up at gas pumps.

The original stock Prius hybrid battery under the rear seat is recharged by the car during braking and deceleration.

A V2 Green data logger was installed in the First Electric plug-in hybrid Prius to monitor the car’s performance and mileage.