Friday, May 15, 2009

EDITORIAL >> No tolerance for bigotry

Escaping its growing reputation for religious intolerance and bigotry is going to be much harder than most devoted members of the Republican Party figured. The party’s two leading figures in Arkansas, the only avowed candidate for the U. S. Senate and the party’s state chairman, went to local party gatherings and uttered such nonsense that it won them national attention, the kind of attention no party wants.

State Sen. Kim Hendren of Gravette, who is running for the Republican nomination for the Senate and is so far unopposed, was trying to win over the Pulaski County Republican Committee, which did not like his vote for the cigarette tax increase back in March, so he attacked Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, a liberal Democrat whose unflattering mention he thought would certainly get a good response from the Republicans. He could not think of Schumer’s name, so he called him “that Jew.”

Committee members fed the remark to a Republican blogger, a former campaign worker for Mike Huckabee, and it went on the Internet. Hendren said he was trying to make the point that he stood for traditional family values while the Jew did not. The Arkansas Young Republicans denounced the “anti-Semitic and derogatory personal attack.” Other Republicans put some distance between themselves and the maverick senator. So Thursday Hendren apologized and said he never intended to derogate the senator’s religion and that he had no antipathy for Jews. Ever the gentleman, Sen. Schumer said simply, “apology accepted.”

Hendren explained that he was prone to stick his foot in his mouth, which he has demonstrated from time to time. His candor and independence sometimes are admirable. But the loose remark about a senator who is many things — a Democrat, usually a liberal, a decent and intelligent man — but who happens also to be a Jew betrays something disturbing about Hendren. He assumed that his audience would know the man primarily by his religion and would share his contempt for it.

He will have plenty of chances now to regain the esteem of tolerant people of all faiths in a party that actually does embrace different faiths, including Jews. He has virtually assured opposition in his own party, so there will be abundant opportunities for him to show tolerance for different religious beliefs, ethnic and social backgrounds and points of view.

Doyle Webb, the state Republican chairman and a former state senator, has more to atone for. While making the circuit of Lincoln Day Republican gatherings, Webb distinguished between himself and Democrats by saying he was for the Ten Commandments and the Democratic Party was not.

Webb’s own career has not been a particularly good example, but Democrats against the Ten Commandments? He described the Democratic Party as the party of lesbians and people who were not as good Christians as he was.

Webb went further and attacked a state representative from Little Rock, Kathy Webb, who is unrelated. In the Lincoln Day talks the Republican leader said there was a Democratic legislator who was a lesbian and, he implied, not a follower of the Ten Commandments or a devotee of family values. The day might be coming, he warned, when a lesbian would be “in charge of the state budget.”

He was referring to Rep. Webb, who probably will be co-chair of the Legislative Joint Budget Committee in 2011. Doyle Webb apparently did not serve in the legislature long enough to learn that the chairs of the Budget Committee are not “in charge of the state budget” but happen to have a vote the same as other committee members and other legislators. He may have merely been saying that lesbians are not good with arithmetic.

Ignorance and bigotry are a bad combination. They are the weapons of the demagogue.

Ms. Webb took the attack in stride. She said she would like to meet with Mr. Webb and share her own thoughts about family values. Let her describe them:

“First, my parents were happily married for 68 years, and my siblings and I get along very well. My Dad is a retired United Methodist pastor. I serve on the Missions Committee at First United Methodist Church, and chair the Green Team there. Last year, I spoke from the pulpit during Lent to help raise money for hunger relief. I am privileged to serve on both the Arkansas Foodbank Network and Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance boards.... Today, I was one of 10 legislators honored by the Arkansas Kids Count Coalition as a Legislative Champion. My parents raised me to help those who are less fortunate than I, that to whom much is given, much is expected, and to love my neighbors.”

And Doyle Webb’s values? Seven and a half years ago, the Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct rebuked and fined him for unethical conduct in his law practice. He was the attorney for an 86-year-old woman who was in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease. He arranged for a lawyer who practiced with him to change the sick woman’s will to make Webb the beneficiary of $321,000 from her estate instead of her heirs. Three judges in Saline County, who seem to have been outraged, sent the case to the ethics committee.

We like Kathy Webb’s family values better than Doyle’s. Most Republicans do, too. They deserve leaders who share them both in word and deed.

SPORTS >> Offensive line top Sylvan Hills priority

Leader sports editor

Of the 54 players on the Sylvan Hills roster last fall, only 10 were seniors.
But, boy, are they going to be hard to replace.

Bears head coach Jim Withrow is discovering the answer to that question during spring football, which began last Monday and will run through next week.

“All of those guys played key roles in there,” Withrow said. “We’ll miss the leadership and character of every one of them.”

What Sylvan Hills will lose most is size, something it didn’t have that much of to begin with. Tight ends Taylor Pennington and Devin Shaw are gone, along with linemen Patrick Onuigbo and Brian Hale and fullback Lawrence Hodges.

Withrow hopes to help offset the Bears’ bulk deficiency with an influx of talent, which includes the return of speedy running back Juliean Broner and wide receiver Ahmad Scott.

“We really have a lot of skill guys,” Withrow said, noting a pair of move-ins — receivers Emanuel Tanner from Oak Grove and Michael Finney from Hawaii. “We feel like our skill guys match up with anybody. But up front and depth is what kills us.”

To compensate for all of that, Withrow is going to switch over to more of a Spread attack this fall, something he opened with last year before giving way to a ground-oriented offense. The Bears will often run out of a four- or even five-receiver set, with Broner as the lone setback with quarterback Jordan Spears.

Broner is recovering from a torn ACL that he suffered in the playoffs last season. Withrow said Broner is taking it fairly easy through the spring practices as he continues to heal.

Broner is one of a slew of Bears who represent dangerous pass-catching options. Scott is back, along with Taylor Clark and Michael Maddox. Devonte Britt will continue to play outside linebacker but will also be thrown into the receiver mix. Add newcomers Finney and Tanner and several capable sophomores and Sylvan Hills is stocked at receiver.

“(Senior quarterback) Jordan Spears has been throwing it pretty good,” Withrow said. “But since we don’t have a tight-end type guy, we think (the Spread) is our best chance at moving the football.

“But we’re pretty green on the line and we’re going to have to shore up some of our pass protection. We didn’t do a very good job of that last year, but I think we’re doing a pretty good job of putting the protection in place.”

Withrow said he’s been pretty happy with the progress of the offensive line through the first few days of spring, but warned that patience will be required. The Bears ran a 20-play scrimmage on Wednesday and the line “didn’t do a bad job,” he said.

With the graduation of backup quarterback Casey Cerrato and the move to receiver of quarterback Michael Maddox, it will be more important than ever to protect Spears. The second string quarterback, Ryan Williams, has taken no varsity snaps and only a few on the junior varsity.

Defensively, the Bears return five all-conference starters and they should be every bit as fast as last year, maybe more so. The biggest challenge will be replacing safety Barry Bir and cornerback Casey Cerrato. The transfer in of former North Little Rock defensive back Aronde Thomas should help and Tanner, the Oak Grove transfer, should take over at safety.

“Speed will be our strength,” Withrow said. “We will be very fast. We looked fast the other day and Broner wasn’t even out there.”

Along with the return of Broner are all of the linebackers and a solid defensive line, anchored by Nick Brewer and Alex Smith.

Withrow said 63 players have turned out for spring football, about the normal number. He figures that will drop to 55 before it ends.

“Then we’ll probably pick up three or four in the summer and get it back to around 60,” he said. “I’d really like to get that up to around 75 on a regular basis. That would give us so much more depth.”

Sylvan Hills will attend a team camp at Ouachita Baptist on June 4 and will participate in a 7-on-7 tournament at Pulaski Robinson this summer. The Bears will also play in a 7-on-7 league on Monday nights.

SPORTS >> Going out in style

Leader sports editor

First impressions, they say, are lasting ones.
And as first impressions go, Hannah Pastor made a pretty good one when she captured the 400-meter title at the 3A track meet as a sophomore, setting a 3A record in the process.

Before that, as a second-grader in the Abundant Life schools, she made an immediate splash when she outran elementary school boys, and then again as a seventh-grader, when she posted a 100-meter time of just over 12 seconds.

“We started track (at Abundant Life) when she was in seventh grade because of her,” said her junior high coach Tim Ballard.

But Pastor’s last impressions will likely be the ones that future Lady Owls will admire. It has, quite simply, been a final semester to remember for Pastor, the All-State basketball player and now six-time track champion.

After helping lead the Lady Owls to their first-ever state basketball tournament appearance in March, Pastor earned MVP honors at the All-Metro Classic, beating out the best of all the higher classifications from around central Arkansas.

Yet, that was just the beginning of Pastor’s spectacular spring. On Wednesday afternoon at Genoa High School, Pastor added to her track hardware by winning four events at the 2A track meet, missing out on a fifth title by one-hundredth of a second.

“It was incredible,” said first-year Abundant Life track coach Jared Selby. “It wasn’t until I was on the road coming home that I was like, ‘four in one night.’”

For Pastor, an ultra-competitive athlete who still holds the 3A triple jump record, the four wins came as only a mild surprise to her.

“I really wanted to win three,” she said. “That was my goal coming in, to win at least three. Because I won one my sophomore year and one my junior year so I had to do something different. I figured if I got one more, that was a bonus.”

Not only did Pastor bring home four firsts, she set a state record for the third state spring, this time eclipsing the 2A triple jump mark with a leap of 34 feet, 6.5 inches. Pastor won by more than a foot and won the long jump by five inches with a leap of 17-1.

Pastor went on to win the 200 by more than a second with a time of 26.13.

Pastor ran neck-and-neck with Riverside’s Rebekah Frayer in the 100. Her hand and shoulder actually crossed the finish line ahead of Frayer’s, but both shoulders have to be across, and Pastor’s time of 13.00 was a mere one-hundredth of a second slower than Frayer’s.

“I was disappointed,” Pastor admitted. “I wanted to win it because I’m very competitive. But at the same time, it gave me more fuel to win the 400. I thought, ‘Okay, I have to get this now.’”

That competitiveness, by the way, is the result of a big brother who used to chide Pastor as a youngster. He told her she couldn’t do the things he did because she was a girl. She admits with a laugh that because of that, she’s “always wanted to prove boys wrong.”

Having already made 12 leaps (including the prelims in the triple and the long jumps), hurled the discus six times (she finished fourth) and run in two sprints, Pastor was exhausted going into the 400. But her fiery nature served her well, as she not only won that final event, but did so by a second-and-a-half and set a personal best of 59.80. It was the first sub-minute 400 she’d ever run.

Pressed to identify the greatest athletic thrill from her final year at Abundant Life, Pastor said it’s hard to pick one.

“It’s been crazy and it’s all kind of overwhelming,” she said. “I wanted to play in the Metro game, but I never dreamt I’d get the MVP. I never thought I’d end up in the All-Star game (in Fayetteville) this summer. I guess the thing that stands out is just the experience.”

Pastor scored 22 points in the All-Metro Classic after averaging 22 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals for the Lady Owls.

Pastor is saying goodbye not only to high school athletics, but to athletics in general, preferring instead to focus on her studies. Her plans are to go to junior college in Oklahoma City and finish up at the University of Oklahoma, probably in the medical field and possibly in radiology. She’ll continue to play intramural sports, she said.

“Sports can become your whole life in college,” she said. “You don’t really have a life and I don’t want that. I am going to miss it. But I’ll channel my competitiveness into everything else I do, like my school work, my job and my life.”

Her feats are helping to turn the Abundant Life track program into a force to be reckoned with. Her 53 points on Wednesday allowed the Lady Owls to finish third overall. A team title may not be that far off, Selby said.

“What she has done is very much going to help our program,” he said. “She’s the kind of athlete you don’t have to tell what to do. She’s already driven to do things. Lots of kids look up to her. She’s the reason we had so many numbers in junior high this year.”

The junior high girls won the conference championship, while the boys took second.

As for the fiery, but modest Pastor, she said she would continue to apply sports’ lessons to her life after high school.

“I don’t like to let my competitiveness show because I don’t want to come off that way to other people,” she said. “But I can’t help it. I compete in everything I do. I know it’s just a game, but I’m just a passionate person and I love the Lord, so it just gives me something to strive for.

“Sports has made me a lot into the person I am.”

SPORTS >> Numbers up for Lions this spring

Leader sportswriter

The Tim Harper era of Searcy Lions football began this week with spring practice, and the changing of the guard has brought out the numbers.

Harper started off 103 strong at the first of the week, though that number has shrunk to 80 players after the first couple of practices. While the numbers are there, the most important thing for the new head Lion is getting acquainted with his new surroundings.

“No doubt about it,” said Harper of the adjustment process. “I’m trying to take a snapshot right now. I’m looking at every kid. I’m just trying to get an idea of what we do have and what we really need to focus on and work on the most, and that’s what I’m doing.”

The turn of the century has not been kind to Searcy football. The Lions last made the playoffs in 2002, and have now suffered through five consecutive losing seasons, going 3-37 under previous coach Bart McFarland over the past four years.

It was enough for McFarland to resign shortly after the ’08 season, beginning the search for a new head coach. Harper, who has established good tradition at nearby 2A school Des Arc, including an appearance in the Class 2A championship game last December, was given the nod.

“We’ve had great effort so far,” said Harper. “The kids are trying their best to learn. We’re making some mistakes right now, but they’re learning a new offense and a new defense, and a new attitude toward stuff, so everything is going good.”

Harper’s first act as coach was to strip everyone of their rank. Every player came into the first day of practice fighting for a spot, even if they already had one. A scrimmage game on Monday will begin to fill the 22 vacancies, Harper said.

“Right now there are no jobs that have been won,” said Harper. “Every kid is working hard. We’re just going to see which way it goes. There are no starters right now. We’ll settle that in August probably, but we’ll have a good idea by the end of Monday night who has moved up in the top two or three spots at each position.”

It’s been a hectic time for the players getting used to their new coach, and also a hectic time for the coach himself. Harper has bounced back and forth between Des Arc and Searcy all week in order to fulfill all of his obligations. The work has paid off with the Eagles track team bringing home the 2A state championship on Tuesday under his tutelage, but Harper is ready for the wild ride to slow down a bit near the end of the month.

“I’m looking forward to May 22 when I quit having to do that,” said Harper. “But I’m real thankful that they allowed me the opportunity to finish track season down at Des Arc. It was worth it, but it’s been really hard. I’m looking forward to just having to do one job, and I’m going to try and do it right.”

SPORTS >> Himstedt picks up title for Lonoke

Leader sportswriter

It was quality over quantity for Lonoke track at the 4A state track meet at Lake Hamilton in Pearcy on Thursday. Only five qualified out of district, but the Jackrabbits still managed one individual state title and a runner-up performance.

Junior Ashleigh Himstedt took the state championship in the 800-meter run for the Lady Jackrabbits, while Alex Jones finished second in the shot put for the boys. Lonoke had one other finalist, Tai Grayson, who finished eighth in the long jump.

Himstedt finished with a time of 2:26.58, more than five seconds better than her previous best.

“She’s been strong all year, but hasn’t been pushed at every event,” said Lonoke girls assistant track coach Nathan Morris.

“The track had a lot to do with it. (Lake Hamilton) has a good track down there, and it’s a good thing that she picked it up the way she did, because her previous best wouldn’t have won it. Her old time would have been third,” Morris said.

Third is where Himstedt found herself after the first 100 meters, but a good kick at the 110-meter mark propelled her to the win. Himstedt qualified for state by winning the 800-meters at the 2-4A district meet.

Jones also won district to qualify for his runner-up performance at state. Jones had a distance of 51-3.5, five inches behind Ashdone Bailey of Arkadelphia.

John Hobbs qualified for state with a district win in the 400-meter run, but did not make the top eight in the preliminaries at state.

The hard-luck story of the meet for Lonoke was Sam King, who won the district meet in the triple jump and took second in the long jump to qualify for state, but sustained an injury in the preliminaries of the state triple jump and was forced to withdraw.

With the win, Himstedt is qualified for next week’s Meet of Champs at Lake Hamilton High School.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

TOP STORY >> Graduation ceremonies begin on Friday

Leader staff writer

Graduation is scheduled Fri-day for three area high schools — Cabot, Beebe and Lonoke.
Seniors at Jacksonville High, North Pulaski High and Sylvan Hills will graduate next weekend.

Cabot seniors will graduate at 7 p.m. at Alltel Arena in North Little Rock so the weather forecast for 64 degrees with a 30 percent chance of rain is not an issue.

Beebe seniors will graduate at the football stadium at 7:30 p.m. If it rains, the ceremony will be moved to Badger Arena where seating will be limited to 11 tickets for each senior.

Although semester tests are still underway at Beebe, an estimated 193 seniors will graduate, 19 with honors.

Justin Wertz, valedictorian, and Daniel Doolabh, salutatorian have drafted their speeches and submitted them to school administration for approval.

Lonoke seniors graduate in their football stadium at 8 p.m. In case of rain, graduation will be moved to the gym where seating is limited to immediate family only.

Overflow seating is in the cafeteria. Seats not taken by immediate family are available on a first come, first served basis.

Lonoke has 137 seniors and 16 honor grads. The valedictorian is Courtnie Holt. The salutatorian is Maria McCallie.

Jackonville seniors graduate at 8 p.m., May 22 at the football stadium. If it rains, the ceremony will be moved to McArthur Assembly of God Church with seating limited to four for each senior.

Sylvan Hills High in Sherwood graduates at 9:30 a.m., Saturday May 23 at Jack Stephens Center on the UALR campus in Little Rock. North Pulaski High School follows at 11:30 a.m.

TOP STORY >> PCSSD finally selling bonds

Leader senior staff writer

Stephens Inc. may have offered $81 million in second-lien bonds on behalf of Pulaski County Special School District as early as yesterday to pay for two new school buildings, following Monday’s bond-sale application approval by the state Board of Education, according to interim Superintendent Rob McGill.

After deliberating more than an hour, the board approved the application 7-2.

A month ago, the Board of Education turned thumbs down on the district’s application for the bond, saying its repayment plan depended on cuts to teacher and administrative salaries.

This time around, taking a page from Little Rock School District’s successful bond application, McGill showed that the $5.5 million a year debt service could be covered by the increase in appraisals and property tax revenues and use of existing bond-retirement excess funds.

Of the $81 million the bond will raise, $51.4 million is earmarked for construction of a new high school at Maumelle and $28.6 million for construction of the new Sylvan Hills middle school.

With sale of the bond, the district’s bonded indebtedness will more than double from $75.4 million to $156.8 million. Annual debt service will double to stand at $11 million.

The architects and construction manager say the construction bid packets could be ready by the end of this month for the high school at Maumelle.

New revenues from increased real estate appraisals will account for $3.5 million of the annual debt service on the second-lien bond, transference of $2.8 million from operations and maintenance to debt service will account for most of the rest, with another $190,000 a year available from cutting a public relations person and two other staff members.

McGill and Anita Farver, the district’s interim chief financial officer, defended PCSSD’s plan to repay the 27-year bond as state board members questioned changes that could affect the school district’s revenues and ability to pay.

Farver said even if increased real estate appraisals triggered an automatic millage rollback—Amendment 59—the district would still be able to make its payments.

She said neither the possible loss of desegregation funding from the state nor the loss of 6,000 Jacksonville-area students for a standalone district would hamper the district’s ability to make its payments, though she didn’t explain her conclusion.

Board member Sam Ledbetter wanted to know where the $2.8 million came from and Farver told him it was from the roughly $8 million a year routinely transferred from excess debt service to maintenance and operations.

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hill-man came to support the bond application, but all the speakers were from the Maumelle area.

Proponents told the board that each school term in Maumelle there was a massive out-migration of parents taking their kids to private schools rather than to the decrepit Oak Grove High School. They said many of those parents will opt to keep students in a new high school at Maumelle.

Board member Bill Vasquez of Jacksonville said the board had ceded its oversight responsibility in the past to superintendents, and that he wanted to know why the schools at Maumelle and Sherwood couldn’t be built for $1.20 a square foot like those at Beebe and Cabot.

Construction managers Baldwin and Shell estimated the cost as high as $1.80 a square foot and Vasquez said the current proposal would allow $1.55 a square foot.

TOP STORY >> Lonoke County a disaster area

Leader senior staff writer

Nine trackhoes are working 18-20 hours a day, building levees on top of 10 or 15 miles worth of levees at the Malone Fish Farm on Hwy. 31, according to Jim B. Malone.

The rescue plan could cost $100,000 for the trackhoe work alone, he said, but the fish in his ponds could be worth closer to $1 million or $2 million and he’d hate to see them washed down Crooked Creek and out into the bayou, he said.

“We’ve been underwater for a week or 10 days,” said Dow Brantley, who farms 8,000 acres with his father, Laudies Brantley, near Coy in Lonoke County, which has been declared a disaster area and is eligible for low-cost loans.

“It’s so wet we haven’t planted rice yet,” he said. “Haven’t even thought about it. We’ve planted corn and a few beans — we’d have been better off leaving it in the sack.

“We don’t have a plan,” he said, then approximated a plan. “We’ll plant rice till the first day of June, but it’ll take three weeks for the fields to dry out. We’ll plant a little cotton and a lot of soybeans. We’re in a position we’ve never been in before.

“I haven’t seen it this flooded,” said Brantley, who has worked the farm for about 10 years. “My dad says it’s close to the worst he’s seen in 35 or 36 years.”

Brantley said the water couldn’t drain because Indian Bayou is swollen and it can’t drain into Bayou Meto, which is also backed up and can’t drain into the Arkansas River.

On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Beebe declared Lonoke County a disaster area. The declaration authorizes $200,000 in individual assistance from the Governor’s Disaster Fund for flood victims.

Meanwhile, Brantley and the others are doing normal maintenance and resting, getting ready because when it dries up, every- body will get busy.

“We’ll have to farm in shifts,” Brantley said.

Roads throughout much of the county are underwater, and Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman said he wouldn’t know the extent of the damage until the water recedes.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it. We got 14 to 16 inches of rain (in the past few days), and around 20 inches in Searcy,” he said.

Troutman said flooding was bad in the Kerr area, around Snake Island and in much of the southeast part of the county.

He said he’s had crews tearing out old collapsed or blocked culverts and replacing them with new ones to allow water to drain.

Everywhere there’s a flood plain, there’s a flood, Troutman said.

“It’s going to take a few weeks to fix all this,” he predicted.

He said Mt. Tabor Road has washed out, been cleared and washed out again.

“I know we’ve had water in some homes in Humnoke,” the judge said.

He said school buses couldn’t get to some homes south of Carlisle and that some areas had no mail service.

Brantley said that conceivably this will be the worst flooding and worst production ever on his farm.

“Every time you look, it’s raining again. This is the wettest May in 127 years,” Brantley said.

“We should be 90 percent planted on the whole farm,” he said, “and today it’s 30 percent planted.”

Speaking of himself and his neighbors, he said, “None of us have enough equipment to put this crop in the next 30 days. I’m having to call a landlord and tell him we might not get his farm planted.”

Malone said his farm ponds are probably three feet below the water level outside his reinforced levees. He raises grass carp—about 95 percent sterile—some bait fish and fish for mitigation stocking.

If the water breeches the levees?

“I’ll lose 800 acres of ponds in a matter of hours,” he said.

In the winter of 1987-88, when all the family had was a levee disc and eight employees with shovels, he lost 790 acres to flooding and contamination.

He said he came out of that flood with “a bruised eye and a big will to keep going.”

The new farm office is protected by levees of its own, he said.

The Malones are this year’s Lonoke County farm family of the year.

TOP STORY >> Fletcher, Elliott make runoff for mayor

Leader staff writer

Two veteran Jacksonville aldermen will face each other in a runoff on June 2 for the mayor’s seat after none of the candidates received more than 50 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s special election.

Alderman Gary Fletcher led the six-candidate field, garnering 952 votes, or 39 percent, followed by Alderman Kenny Elliott with 789 votes, or 32 percent.

Farm Bureau manager Jody Urquhart was a distant third with 305 votes, or 13 percent, followed by developer Tommy Dupree at 215 votes, or 8 percent, then real estate agent Beckie Brooks with 155 votes, or 6 percent.Randy “Doc” Rhodd garnered 16 votes, less than 1 percent. (See editorial, p. 8A.)

In all 2,434 votes were cast, with 715 of those ballots coming from early voting and 14 from absentee ballots.

The special election to replace the retiring Mayor Tommy Swaim on July 1 has cost about $14,000.

Fletcher said he was very grateful that he made the run-off. “We had good people working for us. It was heartwarming to see the confidence the voters put in me,” he said.

“We’re running against the establishment,” he said. “We were the underdog.”

Although he raised the most money in the campaign, most of his contributions were in small amounts, Fletcher said.

Fletcher said he’s looking forward to continuing to talk to people and get his message out.

He believes both he and Elliott made the runoff because of their leadership skills, “and that’s what people are looking for.”

He added, “But we both have very distinct and different views for the future.”

Elliott said it’s been a good race up to this point and wants to continue the positive tone of the race through the next three weeks. “I’ve also got to thank everyone for their support and thank the other candidates for their efforts,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to getting more into the issues and talking to the people and hopefully getting enough votes to turn things around,” he said.

Both Elliott and Fletcher will get a chance to get into the issues during a mayoral candidate debate sponsored by the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

The debate will be at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the community center.

Urquhart, who finished third, said, “It didn’t go my way, but I did win in a way, finishing third in my first race.”

He said, “The two guys moving will get just 18 months to get things going, and they will need to focus on education right off the get-go.”

Urquhart promised to work with the next mayor to help him be the best mayor possible.

Dupree said he tossed his hat into the race because some issues need to be brought out and discussed.

“You win some and lose some, and the voters didn’t want me,” he said, but he was still glad for the opportunity and a chance to be heard.

Brooks sent her congratulations to Fletcher and Elliott. Like Dupree, Brooks said she was happy that she was able to bring out some of the issues that where important to her.

“I feel very good about my campaign,” she said. “But it disappoints me that we had a lower-than-expected turnout.”

Rhodd said, “Obviously I didn’t do well, and don’t know what my next move may be. I might just go fishing.”

Rhodd did say he got a call Tuesday night from Elliot and promised to support him in the runoff.

Elliott, 56, is a Jacksonville native and has been an alderman since 1996 and is the coordinator of energy management for the Pulaski County Special School District.

He is married and has one daughter, twin sons and two granddaughters.

Fletcher, 54, has been a Jacksonville resident since 1968 and has been on the council since 1978 and is president of Fletcher Homes, a residential homebuilding company. He is married and has two children and five grandchildren.

Elliott has said that schools are the No. 1 concern.

“We have a common interest in our children’s education, and we must all work together on this issue,” he said.

Fletcher agrees that the schools are a top issue.

“Until the county school district gets out of the courts, which will happen soon, no one can do anything. But when it gets out, the mayor needs to take the lead role. It can be likened to a bad marriage, and the mayor will have to work through the divorce proceedings,” he said.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Lottery commission gets down to work

The state lottery commission is off and running and at this happy stage it seems to be doing things right — make that, saying the right things.

Ray H. Thornton, the most prominent of the nine appointees to the commission, was elected chairman. The former attorney general, congressman, university president and Supreme Court justice said the commission was going to do everything — everything! — out in the open. That is, there will be no private promises of jobs, no closed-door bidding, no side deals, not even any private negotiations. The public will know everything they do and exactly why and how they do it.

That is good to hear and it is important that the commission live up to the standard. A lottery is not like creating just any new state agency. Lotteries are state-operated gambling and by their nature are ethically perilous undertakings. There is great wealth to be made, and we are not talking about the people who win the Lotto jackpot but the people who run the lottery.

The people who are chosen as the lottery director and internal auditor will receive huge salaries and benefits, compared at least with other state employees — three or four times what the governor earns and even more than what Lu Hardin got his board to pay him at the University of Central Arkansas.

The salary maximums that the legislature appropriated for the jobs are inexcusably high, but the sponsors said they wanted to get someone really good. We are unconvinced that the big bucks get that done, but we will see.

One of the commission’s early critical acts will be choosing the lottery vendor, or vendors. It will be the vendors’ lottery. Once chosen, and maybe even before, the vendors will have a role in nearly everything the lottery does.

The companies often are involved in writing the laws creating lotteries. The Arkansas law was written entirely behind closed doors, but the lawmakers assured us they did it independently of the big gaming companies.

American lotteries are an oligopoly. Two companies, Scientific Games Corp. and Gtech Holdings, now do nearly all the lottery business in the United States and in much of the world.

They have a hammerlock on the business. They are simultaneously ruthless competitors and shameless partners. There have been allegations in court of Gtech bribing its way into contracts with state lotteries, but the company says those were questionable practices by rogue employees — sort of like the rogue soldiers who tortured at Abu Ghraib — and at any rate the problems are past.

The companies have more or less divided the market with Gtech concentrating on making, selling and operating online lottery systems while Scientific Games specializes in creating and making instant lottery tickets. Arkansas may wind up contracting with both.

The commission will hire an advertising firm to drum up lottery sales, and the agencies are gearing up to win that lucrative contract. If the lottery is to produce the revenue for college scholarships that its sponsors and promoters claim, there will have to be a relentless commercial effort to create an unquenchable desire of people to play and find their fortunes. At least the contracting must be accomplished with a stern regard for efficiency and accountability.

There are other dangers. Oddly, the constitutional amendment authorizing the lottery specified that the money generated by the lottery would not go into the state treasury but into private accounts, which could mean the public will not have the transparency and safeguards associated with the treasury, where every dollar is audited before and after its expenditure. The lottery commission will need to see that the same scrutiny and accountability will follow the private banking.

Then there is the legislature. The lottery law authorized a committee of legislators to look over the shoulders of the commissioners. It has the appearance of extra accountability but it is more apt to mean the opposite.

A couple of legislators on the monitoring committee wanted to make every commission decision subject to approval by the legislators, which would violate the separation-of-powers doctrine. We worry that the lottery will become an employment agency for former legislators.

This lottery business will bear the public’s careful attention. There are inherent evils in any form of gambling, no less when it is controlled by the government than when it is a private enterprise, and we need to see that the good far outweighs them.

—Ernie Dumas

EDITORIAL >> Fletcher, Elliott in June runoff

Alderman Gary Fletcher and Alderman Kenny Elliott received the most votes in yesterday’s Jacksonville mayoral election and are headed for a runoff on June 2.

The outcome was hardly a surprise — they’re probably the best known of all the candidates, and the only ones with experience in city government. Fletcher, the top vote-getter, appears to have the best organization, and was ably assisted by Jacksonville businessman and former alderman Jim Durham.

Fletcher has portrayed himself as the insurgent candidate who would bring sweeping changes to city government.

Former city manager Murice Green is running Elliott’s campaign, which has relied on support from the mayor and several aldermen.

Fletcher and Elliott have appeared at several public forums during the campaign, and they will have another chance to make their case before the voters at a candidates’ forum at 6:30 p.m. next Tuesday at the Jacksonville Community Center.

The event should be well attended and will give voters a good opportunity to judge the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses and could decide the election.

This is Jacksonville’s first real contested mayoral race in 23 years, so there’s no excuse for voter apathy. The runoff will determine the city’s future for years to come.

SPORTS >> Friendly foes

Leader sportswriter

BFF stands for best friends forever in the busy world of teenagers. Cabot High School seniors Marissa De La Paz and Reilly McAtee consider themselves BFFs, and insist that becoming rivals at the college level will do nothing to change that.

Both are heading to the Sun Belt Conference, but while McAtee will become a Lady Red Wolf at Arkansas State this fall, De La Paz will run track at UALR.

All of that, of course, can wait with the 7A state track meet looming this Saturday at Conway High School.

De La Paz qualified for the 4x800 along with McAtee, and will run in the 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter events, while McAtee won the 800 meter at the 7A Central meet and will compete in that as well as the 1,600 on Saturday Both will also run in the 4x800-meter relay.

“We’ve been saying that it’s going to be UALR, ASU, and then us,” said McAtee, referring to the school meets that the two will be a part of starting next spring.

“Those two have been together since the eighth grade in one form or another,” said Lady Panther track coach Leon White. “They’ve either competed against each other or run together. They are very close friends. I feel like it’s going to be hard on both of them going different ways for college; it’s going to be hard for them not to be together anymore.

“It’s kind of the same thing for me. I’ve coached them both for five years now. We’ve become so close that it’s going to be like losing family in a way.”

It is a friendship that has blossomed only in the past two years, though both have been a part of the Cabot track program since junior high. McAtee began in the seventh grade at Cabot South and De La Paz started running for Cabot North in the eighth grade.

McAtee was forced to sit out her sophomore year to recover from surgery to correct compartment syndrome in her calves. During that time, De La Paz quickly made a name for herself in the Panther track and cross-country programs, earning all conference honors.

She also made all state her junior year with conference meet wins in the 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter events, just as McAtee was getting back up to speed. While both have had strong senior campaigns, it has been McAtee who set a school and 7A Central Conference record in the 800-meter run at last week’s conference meet.

“Those two have switched roles,” said White. “Reilly spent her sophomore and junior years recovering from injuries. This year has been Reilly’s year. She’s had the better overall year, but Marissa has been solid every year she has been here. She was a triple-winner last year. She won the 800, the mile and the two-mile, and that has never been done before here at Cabot.”

McAtee has spent her life in Cabot, while De La Paz, an Air Force kid, has seen the world in her 18 years. Born in Spain, De La Paz and her five siblings have also lived in Japan for two years, as well as in Ohio and Maryland, before parents Lori and Conrad moved them south to Arkansas.

“I’ve blended in well,” De La Paz said. “It was kind of nice knowing that we weren’t going to have to start over again somewhere else. We actually talked about moving at one time, and that was kind of scary because I like Arkansas a lot.”

Her best showing this season was a third-place finish in the 800-meter run at the Central meet last week. She chalks up not having a win to tougher competition this season, but is far from ready to throw in the towel on her high-school career.

“I’ve learned to never give up through running track,” said De La Paz. “I’ve learned to motivate myself and be responsible, but the biggest thing I’ve gained is the special relationships with my teammates, and with coach White.”

It is clear the two girls think highly of their coach. It is just as evident that the admiration is reciprocated.

“If I told somebody what I wanted in future girls for this team, I would tell them to be just like Reilly McAtee and Marissa De La Paz,” said White. “They are both dependable and work hard all the time. If I ask them to do something out on the track, they try their best to do it. They have been great models for future runners here.”

Both lived somewhat in the shadows of high-profile long-distance runner Emily Carpenter last year, but upon Carpenter’s graduation and subsequent departure to college in Texas in the spring of ’08, De La Paz and McAtee became the big dogs.

Going to opposing junior high schools across town and a lack of familiarity with one another as sophomores made for a bit of rivalry, but sharing the spotlight and leadership duties in their final season has not been a problem for either.

Before becoming a track athlete, McAtee was an avid soccer player.

“That made me realize that I liked running,” she said. “I thought I was a sprinter at first, but coach White made me realize that I was a long distance runner.”

Both received offers from UCA, and even discussed the possibility of rooming together and becoming teammates on the Sugar Bear track team. Both ultimately decided that their friendship was strong enough to renew their old rivalry at opposing schools.

“Our senior year has been really fun,” said De La Paz. “Reilly and I have become closer and bonded. Pretty much everything has happened the way I hoped it would. It went by really fast.”

What once was a rivalry is now a bonded friendship, but the competitive spirit still lingers on the track, according to McAtee. Yet it is a healthy and mutually beneficial competitiveness.

“Even on days that are supposed to be slow, we still push each other,” said McAtee. “Without her pushing me, sometimes I realize I’m not doing as good. We are like each other’s support system.”

Going separate ways will not harm their relationship in the least, they say.

“We will stay best friends,” said McAtee. “We are like sisters. Marissa’s mom is like my mom number two.”

“I will still need Reilly,” De La Paz said.

SPORTS >> A right decision made by AAA on private schools

Leader sportswriter

Let’s see how this turns out. The Arkansas Activities Association is proposing a change in its current classifications to separate private schools from public schools in state tournament play in all sports starting this fall. This, after private schools Shiloh Christian Academy in Springdale and metro-area school Pulaski Academy ran away with state football titles back in December, and a host of private schools dominated their classifications in the spring sports that concluded last week.

But the privateers are unhappy.

“How will this prepare them for life?” one privateer protested. “The job market is not separated into those who went to public schools and those who went to private, so why do this now?”

The answer to that question is simple.

In the job market, you will not have a Shiloh Christian that unnecessarily makes 84 copies of a memo that was only supposed to be passed out to 14 people. In the job market, you will not have a Pulaski Academy that hires 10 more presidents and general managers to oversee operations than every other company in its field. In the job market, you will not have a firm that names its headquarters “Billionaire’s Stadium.”

And hopefully, when your kid enters adulthood and the job market, his or her boss will not be nearly as arrogant as Shiloh head football coach and athletic director Josh Floyd, who called off the dogs to the tune of an 84-14 win over Clarksville in the second round of the playoffs last November.

Yeah, if the proposal passes its scheduled August vote, most of us will shout “hooray!” because we might never have to witness the “Saints” plow another helpless county school on their way to their 55th straight state title, or whatever the count is up to now. Now their victims will be schools like Episcopal and Subiaco Academy.

It will also affect us here locally. Harding Academy, which is always competitive in all sports, but never what you would call dominant, would be subjected to this private school playoff system. When I ran my column last fall about the need for a private school league, I was inundated with e-mails, phone calls and face-to-face meetings with Wildcat parents and faculty, some of whom were upset that I mentioned their school in the same breath as Shiloh Christian and Pulaski Academy.

“We play by the rules, and we can’t control it if there are others who don’t and get by with it,” was the main protest lodged by the HA faithful. That was a valid point that I had not considered.

But the way I see it, schools like Harding Academy or Little Rock Catholic will have a lot more clout and will be listened to far more earnestly than a Clarksville or a Berryville when they begin to complain about the odds stacked in Shiloh Christian’s or Pulaski Academy’s favor.

We’ve been down that road one too many times.

We’ll just have to wait and see. But when the Bruins and Saints square off for the private league state football championship for the 17th consecutive year, the folks over on Richards Road in North Little Rock might finally perk up and say, “Hey, now wait just a minute here.”

SPORTS >> Badgers finish up spring

Leader sportswriter

There were 50 potential players who turned out for spring practice at Beebe High School in the final week of April and first week of May. Head coach John Shannon, who will be entering his third year at the helm this fall, said he was pleased with the progress made during the two weeks of scrimmages.

“It went pretty well,” said Shannon. “We had to replace so many kids who left, but we got better each and every day. We found a lot of pieces to the puzzle, but there are still a lot more we have to find.”

In his first two years as Beebe coach, Shannon has led the Badgers to a 17-6 record and playoff berths in both the ’07 and ’08 seasons. Beebe finished runner-up to Monticello in its first-ever 5A-Southeast Conference campaign last year, and won its first postseason game in six years with a 35-22 decision over former 5A-East foe Blytheville.

The Badgers lost a number of key seniors, including the entire offensive backfield. Shannon and the coaching staff are faced with the task of replacing all-state fullback Sammy Williams, who rushed for 2,940 yards and scored 42 touchdowns during his tenure at Beebe.

They also lost quarterback Roger Glaude and halfback Brandon Pursell. Scott Gowen at quarterback and Victor Howel at running back stepped up during the spring sessions to lay early claim to those spots this fall, and junior-to-be Colby Taylor will also see plenty of playing time come September, according to Shannon.

There was also considerable size lost at the line due to graduation, but Shannon said most of that size could be replaced in the fall. He mentioned offensive lineman Dillon Jones and defensive lineman William Conley as two that had a good spring. Jones will be a senior in the fall and Conley a junior.

“We almost have as much size as last year,” said Shannon. “We’re not quite as big as we were last year, but not too far from it. We also have quite a few freshmen moving up next year, so there will still be some spots that we won’t know about until the fall.”

Beebe will participate in a team camp at Conway High School on June 8-9.

Monday, May 11, 2009

TOP STORY >> Base gets another C-130J

Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, commander of Air Mobility Command, on Wednesday delivered the 13th of 16 C-130J Super Hercules assigned to the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base.

The aircraft will be assigned to the 41st Airlift Squadron, the first active-duty combat C-130J squadron in the Air Force. Three more C-130Js should arrive here this year.

Col. Greg Otey, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim, Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams and Jacksonville banker Larry Wilson were on the flightline when the plane landed at the base on Wednesday.

The base could get as many as 35 C-130Js in the next few years. They cost about $55 million each.

The planes take off and land on shorter runways and can accomplish their missions more quickly than the older C-130s that are assigned to LRAFB.

The 314th Airlift Wing at the base has an additional seven C-130Js to train all U.S. military crews flying or maintaining that plane, as well as crews from allies around the world.

The air base flies many of the C-130Js to Afghanistan and Iraq, where the planes have saved numerous lives since the need to use ground transportation is greatly reduced.

“This is my first C-130J delivery, and I have been looking forward to this great opportunity,” said Lichte, who is based at AMC headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., before he took off from Marietta, Ga., where the aircraft is manufactured by Lockheed Martin. “And we [the Air Force] couldn’t have done it without you [Lockheed Martin] and the great leadership of this organization along with the hard work of each individual on the floor who builds these aircraft each and every day.”

When landing, Lichte said, “It’s appropriate that you have so many of the civilian community leaders here today because it is a team. Everyone works together to accomplish the mission, none harder than the men and women at Little Rock that spend the time away from home doing the mission that you ask us to do, you the American people.

“So today it’s with great pride and respect that I bring this aircraft home,” the general said.

“As we gather at the home of C-130 combat airlift, it’s only fitting this combat aircraft be delivered to the Rock,” said Otey. “Home to a team of professionals that provide our nation’s Air Force with unrivaled C-130 combat airlift.

“It’s also fitting this J model be delivered to a community that is the finest military community in America; one that truly understands and appreciates our airmen and Team Little Rock’s contributions and service to our nation. A community that never stops supporting the future of our great Air Force and what’s only the very best for our airmen,” said Otey.

“At the Rock, we have built the foundation to train and deploy the world’s finest C-130 combat airlifters and the infrastructure and training programs to provide America unmatched airlift capability well into the future,” Otey said.

The C-130J has been selected by 11 countries with 173 delivered of the 263 ordered to date.

Worldwide, the C-130J fleet has accumulated more than 500,000 flight hours.

The Combat Airlifter contributed to this report.

TOP STORY >> Air Guard gets first black colonel

Leader staff writer

“I have mixed emotions about it,” Col. Ronald McDaniel, 189th Maintenance Group commander, said of being the first African American full-time em-ployee promoted to colonel in the Arkansas Air National Guard.

His wife, Shirley, pinned on the colonel’s eagle in a ceremony last Saturday at Little Rock Air Force Base. He is the first African American to command the 189th Maintenance Group since the 189th Airlift Wing began in 1925.

“We’ve been a mixed organization for some time,” he said. African Americans weren’t allowed to join the ANG until the early 1970s. “I’m proud to be a leader in this organization. I plan on doing everything I can to be a good role model (for minorities).

“I love this organization,” McDaniel says. “It’s been very good to me.

“You get into a forced pattern of behavior and decide that’s the way to go,” he continued.

McDaniel began his military career in 1972, when he enlisted in the Air Force. He was assigned to the 314th Medical Squadron at LRAFB.

In February 1979, the then staff sergeant separated from the Air Force and joined the Arkansas Air National Guard’s 189th Medical Squadron.

In 1984, McDaniel was commissioned as a consolidated aircraft maintenance officer.

“At the time, we were flying KC-135 tanker, a jet airplane that refueled airplanes in flight,” he says. He was considered a part-time, or “traditional Guardsman,” in 1986 when C-130Es came to the base.

In 1994, McDaniel transferred from his job with the Postal Service to full-time in the Guard.

McDaniel is active in the community, serving as a board member for various organizations such as Service to Mankind (Sertoma), Jacksonville Senior Center, Jacksonville Towers and Worley’s Place. He has been a Sertoma member of since 1984.

Joining the group gave him the opportunity to help the community. He said Tommy Dupree talked him into joining the club.

He says it got him “involved in youth football.” He’s been a member of the club for about 15 years.

The club, along with the Jacksonville Walmart Supercenter, holds the Sam Hoover 3-on-3-basketball tournament annually. McDaniel helps to coordinate both the youth football and the 3-on-3 tournaments.

T.P. White recommended McDaniel to the board.

“Sertoma provided me with the opportunity to be confident with my abilities,” he says. “That has been the emphasis for some of the accomplishments that I have had.”

He has been named the Service to Mankind person of the year in the past.

“I really enjoy…working with the two different age groups,” McDaniel said of the organizations he’s active in. “I get around, I meet a lot of people.”

McDaniel, who was born and raised in Crossett, says a lot of relatives and friends from his hometown were on hand for his pinning ceremony.

“I was really touched,” he said. He says it gave them the opportunity to see that “I’m still the same person that I was and always will be.”

McDaniel leads approximately 175 airmen, both enlisted and officers. “Our job is to make sure the airplanes are ready for flight,” he said adding, “Most of our planes were built in 1962 and 1963.”

The group has 11 planes – nine permanent planes and two inventory planes to help with its mission.

“We’re really fortunate,” McDaniel says of the 189th Maintenance Group. “Most of our folks are hometown and have a lot of experience with working on planes.”

McDaniel has been in Jacksonville since 1972 and says there are “some wonderful people that I have met over the years. I think this is where I’m supposed to be.”

McDaniel says he follows the old adage of “free your heart from hatred, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much.”

McDaniel and his wife will celebrate their 37th wedding anniversary on Tuesday.

He is the father of Orlando McDaniel, Rolanda Shanell Paham and Ronald W. McDaniel II.

McDaniel is the grandfather of four.

TOP STORY >> Lee’s appeal rejected, case in federal court

Leader editor-in-chief

A Jacksonville death-row inmate who went on a crime spree in the late 1980s and early 1990s lost an appeal Thursday before the state’s highest court.

The Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of Ledell Lee, 43, who was sentenced to die for the Feb. 9, 1993, beating and strangling death of Debra Reese, 26, in the Sunnyside addition, where he had attacked several other women.

Lee had argued that his lawyers didn’t present witnesses he wanted at a hearing, had conflicts of interest regarding his case and failed to hire a death-penalty expert to advise them.

His case is now in federal court, where the attorney general’s office is defending his conviction.

When Lee exhausts his federal appeals, Gov. Mike Beebe is expected to set an execution date for Lee.

He was also convicted of raping two Jacksonville women and was tried for the murder of Christine Lewis, the daughter of the late Alderman Robert Lewis. Lee was also suspected of killing a Jacksonville prostitute and dumping her body in a shed near the railroad tracks.

Lewis, 22, was abducted from her Sunnyside home in November 1989 as her 3-year-old child watched. She was raped and strangled and her body dumped in the closet of an abandoned home.

The jury could not agree on a verdict in that trial, but prosecutors decided not to retry him when he received the death sentence in the Reese case and was convicted for raping two women. DNA evidence tied Lee to the murders and rapes.

Reese was struck 36 times with a tire tool her husband gave her for protection while he was out of town on a truck driving job. Lee, who had just been paroled after serving time for burglary, was arrested an hour after the murder when witnesses reported seeing him walking the street.

A 1994 trial resulted in mistrial when it was discovered that a relative of Lee’s was on the jury. In 1995, a prosecutor offered a chilling description of Lee as a multiple rapist who hunted victims in Jacksonville.

Lee’s lawyer asked the jury to consider “who are we then to say” when someone dies.

The prosecutor later replied: “I will tell you who we are — we are the hunted.’’

The jury deliberated two hours before agreeing to the death sentence.

In an opinion Thursday, Justice Robert L. Brown noted that Lee’s lawyer later testified that he didn’t hear the prosecutor’s remarks. Though the remarks likely were inflammatory, Brown said they wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the case.

“The jury ... heard testimony of the violent nature of the Reese murder during the penalty phase and also heard testimony that Lee had raped three different women,” Brown wrote.

In dismissing Lee’s other points, Brown wrote that defense lawyers are allowed to use their discretion in deciding which witnesses to present in a case. Brown said there wasn’t any convincing evidence that hiring a specialist for his case would have changed its outcome.

Brown also said Lee 0didn’t show that his lawyers failed him by not asking for an independent analysis of DNA samples. At a later hearing, Brown noted his lawyer said he didn’t think anyone other than the FBI could conduct such tests in the early ’90s.

Lee’s appeal is one of a series he’s filed since his sentencing. Previously, Lee won a rehearing on a portion of his case after showing his lawyer suffered from substance abuse problems and likely was intoxicated during one portion of his trial.

However, other appeals over victim’s impact statements and other issues pertaining to his trial have failed.

Lee is being held at the state’s Varner Unit.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

TOP STORY >> Allen: ‘I have the best fans in the world’

Leader staff writer

“You’re going to get hungry if you eat ice for lunch,” said “American Idol” Kris Allen, who was referring to the chants of “we eat ice” coming from the hundreds of fans who were on hand to see him perform at the Riverfest Amphitheater in Little Rock. The fans were referring to “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell’s remark that Allen’s performance last week was “like eating ice for lunch.”

Allen, formerly of Jacksonville, found out Wednesday he made it into the top three on the show.

Chris and Susan Rodriquez of Conway were “completely excited.”

“We both jumped up and down,” says Chris. “I did the famous ‘Tiger Woods fist pump.

“It’s good to know he’s gonna come home and see his family and friends,” said Chris Thursday. The two met in kindergarten at Murrell Taylor Elementary School in Jacksonville and have been best friends ever since. Family friend Mary Twitty said it was like sitting on “pins and needles” waiting for results to be announced Wednesday.

Allen took the stage at the amphitheater shortly before noon Friday. “I feel like I have the best fans in the world,” he said. “I’ve been to this place a lot and never seen this many people here. You guys are why I’m here.”

Allen, running on around three hours of sleep, was amazed at the turnout. “This is crazy,” he said. “A few months ago you didn’t even know my name. You guys are great.”

The remaining ‘idols’ will perform two songs Tuesday, a judges’ choice and personal choice. Earlier Friday morning, Allen was notified that “Apologize” by One Republic is his judges’ choice song. “I think it’s going to be awesome,” he said. Allen would not reveal his personal choice, but said it was definitely going to be a surprise.

Before his performance, Allen was given a plaque from the city of Little Rock, proclaiming Friday, May 8 Kris Allen Day. “I never thought that I’d have my own day,” he said. “This is nuts.”

Allen performed three songs, “She Works Hard for the Money,” “Falling Slowly” and “All She Wants to Do is Dance.”

He thanked his supporters numerous times and told the younger people in the crowd that they were “welcome for a reason not to go to school today.”

“American Idol” had a camera crew on hand, recording Allen’s performance and getting many shots of the overwhelmingly supportive crowd. After his appearance in Little Rock, Allen headed to Conway for two performances and his hometown parade. The top three were flown home Thursday evening and were thrown hometown parades.

The Riverfest audience consisted of fans from across the state, including Camden, Perryville and Benton, bearing signs and shirts proclaiming their love of Kris Allen.

“Wow is all I can say,” said Sgt. E5 Susan Mumaus of Ward, with the Arkansas Army National Guard. “I left work to come here. People support us and we should support them.”

“It was awesome,” said Kelly Mize of Cabot. “It’s amazing how humble he is.”

“I love Kris Allen,” said 3-year-old Mallory Cole, of Benton.

When he arrived in Arkansas on Thursday evening, Allen was presented a key to the city of Jacksonville. The remaining ‘idols’ will perform at 7 p.m. Tuesday night on Fox. The results show will be at 8 p.m. Wednesday, also on Fox.

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville goes to polls

Leader staff writer

More than 600 people have cast their votes for a new Jacksonville mayor through early voting and absentee ballots, but thousands more are waiting until Tuesday.

Tuesday is the big day. The six candidates — Beckie Brooks, Tommy Dupree, Kenny Elliott, Gary Fletcher, Randy “Doc” Rhodd and Jody Urquhart, vying to replace retiring Mayor Tommy Swaim — are out gathering last minute support.

Brooks, 68, married a Jacksonville native, has made the city her home since 1964. The couple has two sons and six grandchildren. Brooks operates her own real estate company.

Dupree, 71, is a lifelong resident of Jacksonville. He has been in business in Jacksonville since 1963, primarily developing and building residential and commercial property. He has three children and eight grandchildren.

Elliott, 56, is a native of Jacksonville and has been an alderman since 1996 and is the coordinator of energy management for the Pulaski County Special School District. He is married and has one daughter, twin sons and two granddaughters.

Fletcher, 54, has been a resident of Jacksonville since 1968 and has been on the council since 1978. He is president of Fletcher Homes, a residential homebuilding company. He is married and has two children and five grandchildren.

Rhodd, 46, is the president of the Family Motorcycle Ministry. He is married and has four children.

Urquhart, 36, is married and has one child. He is a lifelong resident of Jacksonville and is district manager for Arkansas Farm Bureau.

All candidates took time to answer some final questions on their stances, what they think is best for Jacksonville and why they should get your vote. Their responses are listed alphabetically below.

The Leader: Now that you’ve been out campaigning, what is the No. 1 concern of the residents and how do you plan to attack it?

The No. 1 concern of the citizens I have spoken with is our education system.  Over and over people ask, “What are we going to do about our schools?” 

As a former teacher, I know we must break with Pulaski County Special School District, and the sooner the better. 

We must address the physical conditions of our schools, even if we have to build and lease back until we get our own schools and we must have Jacksonville people making decisions for Jacksonville students and schools. 

Dupree: The lack of growth in the city over the past several years.

I would work toward growing our tourism industry and I would initiate an aggressive advertising campaign to promote both growth in commercial and residential areas.

Elliott: The schools are the No. 1 concern and we have a common interest that we must all work together on this issue. The questions I have been asked the most are what I will do for economic development and how to get more citizens involved in the community.

We must work on economic development to sustain our existing businesses, attract new businesses, restaurants, and jobs as well as to fill the vacant buildings in Jacksonville. I feel the city and chamber of commerce need to work together to support our businesses and maintain a business friendly environment. I will work to put a package together to attract new businesses to our city.

I will encourage community involvement and establish a volunteerism committee to use the many resources we have in Jacksonville.

Fletcher: Obviously the schools. Until the county school district gets out of the courts, which will happen soon, no one can do anything. But when it gets out, the mayor needs to take the lead role. It can be likened to a bad marriage and the mayor will have to work through the divorce proceedings.

It also seems more knocking on doors I do, the more I find that people want the town to be cleaned up and fixed up.

Keeping the doctors and hospital here are also a big concern. It’s about the people and what’s best for them. We can’t lose sight of the elderly and the sick. We are in the people business. Hopefully the problem has been worked out and we now need to nurture the relationship between the doctor and the hospital and have it strengthen.

Rhodd: The No. 1 concern among residents is the Graham Road closure. I want to work with residents to comprise a plan to resolve the closure. This has gone on for a long time.

Providing quality educational opportunities in a safe environment for our students remains one of the top concerns of our citizens.

I will immediately begin working with our council to gain their support to begin building a plan together to change the course of education in our city despite the path Pulaski County Special School District has sent us down.

We must, as a community, change the perception people visiting Jacksonville have on our community when they see our schools. We can no longer afford to wait for court decisions or attorneys to sort it out. May 12 is the day we have to truly change direction.

The Leader: Does the dumping of the gas shale wastes at Two Pine Landfill concern you and do you have a plan to attack it?

Brooks: The gas shale must meet Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and Waste Management’s standards as a non-hazardous waste before it can be placed in Two Pine Landfill.  

I believe problems arise from the delays in unloading the gas shale waste.  The delays cost small companies and cities as their vehicles wait for hours to unload.  My solution is efficient scheduling, possibly night and/or weekend delivery and processing of the shale waste. 

Dupree: We need to follow the advice of ADEQ as to the safety factor of the waste and support their decision accordingly.

The dumping of gas shale waste does concern me and I will look into this and see what options the city has to either prevent the dumping or make sure that there is no chance of contamination, bad odors or any other negative impact to the citizens of Jacksonville.

I will look at the ADEQ permits and check to see why Little Rock prevented the dumping at their landfill. We must make sure that no toxic wastes that could pose a threat to Jacksonville are being put into the landfill.

I’ve got deep battle scars from Vertac and I don’t want anymore. I’ve met with the city attorney a couple times already and I’ve asked him to prepare an ordinance to ban all toxic waste from the landfill. We’ve learned from history, Vertac caused us setbacks and stagnation.

We’ve got to nip this in the bud quickly, especially since Little Rock has banned it. The waste has got to go somewhere, and right now we are the closest. I hope to have ordinance by the next council meeting to ban anything toxic or hazard. We don’t need the perception that the landfill, in our city, has that kind of waste.

I believe the dumping of gas-shale waste in Two Pine Landfill needs to be stopped and delivered to a facility that is set up for it.

Urquhart: Yes, it concerns me. Knowing that the city of Little Rock has already turned the sludge away, because of odors and unknowns truly bothers me.

As mayor, I will want to know exactly what they are bringing into the city limits and I will want to know without a doubt that we have nothing to be concerned about or they should find somewhere else to go. In no way should there be the potential for our city to have to deal with cleaning up someone else’s shortfalls, because they want to have an extra revenue source. We have been there and done that.

It all comes down to perception for me. It is the responsibility of Two Pine and the producers of the waste to educate the public and ensure its environmental soundness. If they can’t do that, then they need to go somewhere else. Jacksonville is through being everyone’s dumping ground.

The Leader: Has anything surprised you during your campaign?

Brooks: I have been surprised by the lack of streetlights in some parts of town. I have also been surprised by the number of people who have asked me about “term limits” for city officials.

Dupree: I’ve had no surprises.

Elliott: I think the candidates and citizens have a lot of common interests in continuing to make Jacksonville a great place to live even though we have different ideas and approaches. The citizens are willing to get involved in helping with the issues.

Fletcher: The biggest surprise, a pleasant one, is how well we’ve been received door-to-door. I’ve been in the political arena for 30 years and in that time you are going to make some people mad. I’ve hit about 80 percent of the homes and expected to be called on the carpet for something that I voted for or did 20 years ago, but I haven’t.

Knocking on the first door was hard, but the smiles and receptions have pumped me up and makes it hard to stop knocking on doors.

Rhodd: Yes, the anger from the Sunnyside addition residents towards the city of Jacksonville.

The interest the citizens of Jacksonville have in selecting the right person to run this city, based on vision, passion and a true ability to lead.

The Leader: What will make Jacksonville a better place for residents and for visitors?

Brooks: Enthusiastic, energized, involved citizens will make Jacksonville a better place for residents and for visitors. The people are the heart of our city. Newcomers and visitors feel that heartbeat within minutes of arriving in Jacksonville, and the stronger the heartbeat — the stronger the city!

We need to work with and promote Keep Jacksonville Beautiful projects. We also need to promote and encourage neighborhood crime watches in all areas of the city. I also think the creation of a public safety commission for the fire, police and emergency medical services will be a plus for the city.

We must have a clean and safe city with good schools to educate our children and grandchildren. Our citizens must feel safe and secure whether they are at home, at school, in parks or on the streets of Jacksonville. As mayor I will see that the police and fire Departments have the resources needed to reduce crime and provide us a safe city.

I am committed to doing everything I can to improve the schools in Jacksonville. I will establish a housing committee to develop a plan to improve housing and address aging housing such as Sunnyside Addition.

Fletcher: The things I’ve been running on. My ultimate goal is for Jacksonville to become the place for families to come and live. I’m trying to get people to look at the school problem as half full, rather than half empty.

We are going to be on the ground floor of establishing a new district and building the foundation of what we want for our children. It’s going to be an exciting time. When the opportunity comes, people need to be involved We also need to establish ourselves as a senior retirement capital of central Arkansas with recreation, shopping and activities for this group.

I’d put our military museum up to anything in Little Rock and it still has a lot of potential to grow. The canoe stream trail is also new and exciting. I’ve been told and agree that we need to bring more entertainment like a bowling alley, a theater or something to keep people here.

Rhodd: I want to make Jacksonville a better place for residents and visitors by improving the city’s image and revitalizing the entire city.

This race has built new excitement in our community.

The vision of new leadership and a new direction has offered our citizens a look into the future. We must continue to build on the momentum from this race, the steps taken forward to finally getting a district of our own, our beautiful new library, our 6A state champion basketball Devils and 5A state runner-up falcons, and run with it.

The pieces of our puzzle are beginning to fall into place and if we all continue to build on this momentum and work together we can put Jacksonville back on the move in central Arkansas.

The Leader: What is the one thing you want voters to know about you before they mark their ballots?

I want citizens to know that I am a God-fearing, God-loving, born-again Christian, that I love my country, my family, my home and this town!  I will strive to listen and give my very best to lead all the citizens of Jacksonville to an even brighter future.

Dupree: I have worked over the years as a civil servant in different organizations for the betterment of the city of Jacksonville. The job of mayor to me is a position of employment by and for the citizens of Jacksonville and I will do my best to be an outstanding employee.

Elliott: I am running for mayor because I love Jacksonville and as mayor I look forward to the opportunity to serve the citizens of Jacksonville. I feel that I have the experience, leadership and dedication to lead Jacksonville.

I will commit all my resources to provide a high quality of life for our citizens, military and businesses while striving to have clean, safe, orderly growth and change. I believe we must have a plan for where Jacksonville wants to be in five years and 10 years. I believe in honesty, hard work and treating others as you would like to be treated.

Fletcher: I don’t think there’s been anybody to run for this office that has more experience, history, knowledge of the city and a clearer vision of the future for this city than myself. I not only have a love, but a passion and a drive to bring that future about. I’m prepared as any person can be. Jacksonville’s ready for me and I’m ready for Jacksonville and you put us together and it spells success.

Rhodd: I am a man who has strong beliefs and I am 100 percent for the people of the city. The people are who make this city survive.

This election is not about those of us who are running for the mayor’s office, it’s about the people. The people must be heard. They are tired of the same ole, same ole. It’s time for a change.

Urquhart: My interest in serving as the next mayor of Jacksonville is about our citizens, it’s not about me.

I have no hidden agenda. I have a complete lack of respect for underhanded back door politics, where only few people gain from important decisions that affect the rest of our lives.

I have prided myself in running a clean and healthy campaign, to sell my vision and motivate the citizens of our city. I do not like dirty campaigns, especially when the candidates all get along so well, but a few of the people in the background are selling trash and conspiracies. This race is about the health of our community, not individual personalities.

I am here for all the residents of our community, to build on our current successes, to offer new ideas and a new vision to shift the course of our city.

It is time for our light to shine brighter than ever before throughout this great state.

My office will always have open minds, open hearts and open doors.

EDITORIAL >> Jacksonville to pick mayor

Jacksonville voters have gone to the polls this week to cast their ballots early for next week’s crucial mayor election. If you haven’t done it yet, you can vote Monday in downtown Little Rock near the courthouse and, of course, on Tuesday in Jacksonville.

Polls will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. A list of polling places appears on p. 7A.

This is a critical election, the first real contested mayoral race in 23 years. There is an impressive list candidates on the ballot, and for the second time in this campaign, The Leader has interviewed them. (You can read the interviews online.) Study their answers, consider the issues and decide who would best lead this city into the next decade.

We have our own personal favorites, but today we urge you to cast a ballot for the best candidate to move the city forward. A runoff is likely on June 2, but until then, don’t miss this opportunity to help decide the course Jacksonville will take.

See you at the polls.