Friday, May 22, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Another principal gets booted out

You can speak truth to power in the Pulaski County Special School District, but not with impunity.

Like Mike Nellums before her, Kim Forrest has been banished as principal of Jacksonville Middle School effective the end of school.

Forrest tried to argue at a recent school board meeting for keeping the single gender middle schools open for one more year to make a more orderly transition to a coeducational middle school. The meeting reportedly got heated and Jacksonville’s Bill Vasquez, acting as board chairman in Tim Clark’s absence, gaveled Forrest down. Combining the schools has been one of Vasquez’s passions.

In an interview published in Wednesday’s Leader, Forrest continued her campaign to have one more year of single gender education and said the board made a bad decision based on incorrect facts. She said there were insufficient classrooms available and that teachers would be roving from classroom to classroom, hauling their personal belongings and teaching tools around on carts.

Vasquez is said to have been furious with that article in the Leader and to have told interim Superintendent Rob McGill to move her.

McGill confirmed the move Friday but refused to characterize it as retribution against Forrest on Vasquez’s behalf. He said it was routine reassignment of personnel. Vasquez did not return phone calls from The Leader this week.

The motion to do away with single-gender education, which had begun proving itself in terms of improved benchmark test scores and improved discipline, was made by Vasquez earlier this year, and carried 4-3.

McGill said he had reassigned Forrest to Northwood Middle School for next school year and reassigned Northwood principal

Veronica Perkins to Jacksonville Middle School.

Nellums has been shuffled off to Robinson Middle School for next year, about as far from Jacksonville as you can get without leaving the county.

Forrest, like Nellums before her, has been a passionate advocate for her Jacksonville Middle School students and we suspect Jacksonville area residents will remember that when Vasquez stands for reelection to the school board.

EDITORIAL >> A Hallmark moment

In case you don’t believe that the Pulaski County Special School District Board president has a big head, you should see the billboard he has erected in his own honor at Maumelle.

That head, floating 30 feet in the air, has to be at least 10 feet tall, and really, we suspect understatement at that. With his name superimposed under his picture, the billboard is a not-so-subtle reminder to his constituents that he’s the man behind the new Maumelle-Tim Clark High School to be constructed in their backyard.

PCSSD passed the final hurdle—permission from the state Board of Education to sell an $81 million second-lien bond to pay for Maumelle-Clark High School and the Sylvan Hills Middle School as well.

A Jacksonville businessman driving to Maumelle a few days ago says he nearly lost control of his vehicle when he saw Clark’s leering visage and “thank-you card” to the community. It was a real Hallmark moment.

“Thanks Maumelle for your help with the new high school,” the billboard read, missing a couple of commas and a bit shaky grammatically. “Together we can build a better Maumelle.”

Hmmmm. Wonder what he’s angling for? A long-running fiefdom as lord of the board? Running for Maumelle mayor? State representative from Maumelle?

We suspect that Clark won’t try to have the school district pay for his outsized homage to himself. Only a few months ago, we caught him trying to have the district pay for the soirĂ©e he threw for movers and shakers at the Maumelle Country Club in celebration of the Maumelle-Clark High School groundbreaking.

Clark submitted the country club bill for $2,753 to then-Superintendent James Sharpe. Sharpe refused to pay that bill, which had been neither discussed nor approved by the board, and we have to wonder if that was the final nail in Sharpe’s coffin.

The superintendent “resigned” shortly thereafter, to be replaced in the interim by a Maumelle educator chosen by Clark and endorsed by the board.

Near as we can tell, that man, Rob McGill, is capable and hardworking. He’s said he’ll apply for the job full time and is a likely finalist.

Clark does have an ego but still: What’s with the big billboard, Tim?

Until the sign comes down, those traveling in Maumelle can enjoy one man’s paean to himself.

SPORTS >> Crabill’s bat, arm lands him MVP at Metro Classic

Leader sports editor

If the Arkansas Activities Association decides to use the Metro Classic games as a criteria in their next classification realignment, Abundant Life could well end up in 7A.

Less than two months after Abundant Life’s Hannah Pastor and Dane Lottner picked up MVP honors at the Metro Classic basketball games, fellow Owl Austin Crabill earned the award at the Metro Classic baseball game.

Crabill helped the Southwest spring a mild 7-6 upset over the Northeast with a pair of singles, a stolen base and two innings of relief that earned him the save at Gary Hogan Field in Little Rock.

Crabill entered the contest in the sixth inning and helped keep a two-out rally alive with a single on the first offering from Jacksonville’s Seth Tomboli. A walk and a hit batter plated a run that extended Southwest’s lead to 6-4. Crabill also beat out an infield single in the eighth.

He came on in relief in the eighth inning and got the first two batters before Sylvan Hills’ Casey Cerrato lined a single to right. Crabill walked the next batter but got out of the jam with a fly out.

Northeast rallied with a run in the bottom of the ninth to cut the lead to 7-6, but Crabill got Jacksonville’s Terrell Brown on a fly ball to right with the game-tying run at third base.

It looked like it would be a romp for Northeast when Sylvan Hills’ D.J. Baxendale and CAC’s Bryan Biggerstaff faced the minimum number of batters through the first four innings. The first batter reached on an error to open the game, but Tomboli turned a sinking line drive into right field into a double play.

Baxendale then set down the next four he faced, and Biggerstaff came in to strike out five of the six batters he faced.

Northeast got a run in the first and Sylvan Hills’ Tyler Van Schoyck delivered a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0 in the third.

In the fourth, Sylvan Hills’ Blake Evans and Jacksonville’s Tommy Sanders drew walks and eventually came around to score on an error and a double.

Jacksonville’s Michael Harmon came on in the fifth with a 4-0 lead and struggled, though he wasn’t helped much by his defense, which committed a couple of errors that led to five runs — three unearned. Harmon, who took the loss, allowed three hits and two walks in the inning as Southwest took a 5-4 lead.

North Pulaski’s A.J. Allen grounded a leadoff single up the middle in the fifth but was left stranded. Southwest made it 6-4 with a run in the sixth, but three singles in the bottom half narrowed the gap to 6-5. Terrell Brown made a bid to tie the game with a sharp grounder, but right at the shortstop.

Evans and fellow Bear Nathan Eller each recorded a pair of strikeouts over an inning of work.

Biggerstaff earned MVP honors for the Northeast. North Little Rock’s Cody Grace went 3 of 3.

SPORTS >> Cabot, Beebe and Searcy earn most All-State honors

Cabot, Beebe and Searcy each earned two selections to the All-State softball teams.

Becca Bakalekos and pitcher Cherie Barfield represented Cabot on the 7A squad, while Nikki King and Amanda Wheeler of Beebe made the 5A team. From Jacksonville, Baylee Herlacher was named to the 6A team.

Also making All-State teams from around the area were Allison Hillis of North Pulaski, Amber Rollins and Morgan Thomasson of Searcy, Nicole Goff of Sylvan Hills and Hayley Hoggatt of Harding Academy.

Brooke Taylor of Cabot and Jessica Lanier of Jacksonville made the All-Tournament team.

SPORTS >> Searcy leads way in All-State selections

Leader sportswriter

A total of four players from Searcy and three from Sylvan Hills topped the list of local All-State soccer honorees. The three-time Class 6A champion Lions had Jarod Harriman, Steven Seitz, Jacob Shourd and Brandon West all make the final list after Searcy claimed its third-straight state title with a 3-0 win over Mountain Home in the championship game two weeks ago in Fayetteville.

Chloe Birdwell, Jaime Lancaster and Caleigh Woodruff all made the 6A All State list for the 2009 state runners-up Lady Lions.

There was also one other local selection for 6A with Jacksonville’s Christian Alvidrez earning all-state honors on the boys side.

The Sylvan Hills soccer team was also rewarded for an outstanding season with three All-State selections. Aaron Maxey, Jacob Persson and Joshua Persson all made the final cut, as did North Pulaski’s Spencer Johnston. Stephanie Alvis and Claire Crews were both selected to All-State for the Lady Falcons, while Sylvan Hills senior Ashley English and Jessica Pfeil made All State for the Lady Bears.

In 7A, Cabot seniors Matt Zendejas and Carrie Leiblong were both selected to All State.

Making the boys’ All-Tournament teams were Michael Eckhart of Cabot, Alvidrez of Jacksonville, Matt Ingersoll of North Pulaski, Sylvan Hills’ Joshua Persson and West, Shourd and Isai Garcia of Searcy. The girls’ All-Tournament team includes North Pulaski’s Ellen Weld, Sylvan Hills’ Ashley English and Woodruff, Melanie Frazier and McKenzie Clark of Searcy.

SPORTS >> Fresh faces greet Bost in first spring

Leader sportswriter

New Lonoke head coach Doug Bost came into his first spring practice armed only with moderate numbers but many new faces. Close to 45 players reported for spring drills, a little down from what the new head Jackrabbit hoped to see.

“I was hoping we would be up in the 50s, but right now, we don’t have that,” said Bost. “There are kids who have other things on their mind right now besides football. Any coach would like to have more numbers, but you have to work with what you’ve got.

“We’ve had some kids show some interest, but they just don’t have it in their schedule right now, so we’ll see if they start showing up during summer workouts.”

Two-year starting quarterback Rollins Elam left the biggest vacancy on the offense, though it won’t be any easier trying to find replacements for fleet wideouts Michael Howard and Clarence Harris.

The battle to replace Elam has been taken up by incoming senior Michael Nelson and junior-to-be Logan Dewhitt. Neither player has starting experience on Friday night, but both have looked good during the spring, according to Bost.

“Logan’s almost 6-3 with a strong arm, and you’ve got Michael Nelson who can run and make plays, so we’re still looking at both of them,” said Bost. “It’s probably going to be throughout the summer before we decide which direction we want to go there.”

The offensive backfield has the most starting experience returning, with All-State tailback Brandon Smith and All-State fullback Morgan Linton back. Both will also be key ingredients on defense, with Smith at defensive end and Linton at linebacker.

“Those guys have started for three years now,” said Bost. “They know this offense inside and out, and they know the level of competition they’ll be going up against. They’re the strength of our team, no doubt about that.”

Defensive guard Tyler Breashears is the only returning starter on the line, while Todd Hobson will lead the two returning safeties.

Many of the returning players with game-night experience will most likely be called on for both sides of the ball.

“At this level, guys have to go both ways,” Bost said. “Our kids know that, and they’ll do a good job this summer of getting themselves in shape and get ready to play both ways.”

The bulk of the spring sessions have been focused on individual drills. Along with the addition of Bost, Daniel Fipps will take over as defensive coordinator, and will also serve as running back/linebackers coach. Former defensive coordinator Tim Scarborough moved over to junior high head coach to fill the vacancy left by Bost.

Randy Phillips, formerly of Hughes, has also joined the staff. Phillips will be coach for the receivers and defensive backs, while Larry Smith remains in place as offensive and defensive line coach.

“It’s been hectic right now,” said Bost. “We had to hire two coaches here, and we hired another at the junior high. That was a process that took a while to go through to find the right fit. And it was my first spring practice, so there are changes going on.

“But we’re going to have the weight room open in the summer and 7 on 7, which we’ve been doing around here, so that’s not going to be anything different. We’re just excited to get after it and know the kids, and I’m excited about the upcoming season.”

It has also been a difficult time around the school with the passing of coach Hal Steelman, who had been a part of the football program at Lonoke for 18 years. Steelman, who died last Friday of complications from diabetes, was Lonoke head coach for two years.

“All the players wore their jerseys in honor of Coach (at his funeral); that was real nice,” said Bost. “The kids all loved him and all respected him. He had a great attitude. I’m sure the players will all learn from him to never give up. And as tough as they may think things are in the future, he went through a lot tougher, and he never complained.

“That was one thing about Coach, he never complained. I think those kids have remembered him, and they’ll fight through whatever they need to get through and be okay.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

TOP STORY >> Drug dealers put on notice

Leader staff writer

Beebe Police Chief Wayne Ballew is serious about putting drug dealers behind bars.

“We may not ever win the war (against drugs), but I guarantee you they’ll know they’ve been in a battle,” Ballew said.

Last week, Cornelius Dale Earl, 40, of Judsonia was found guilty in a jury trial in Searcy on three counts of selling crack cocaine in Beebe and sentenced to 80 years in prison.

In addition to the 80-year prison term, Earl, who had refused to negotiate a plea and opted for the jury trial, was fined $75,000.

“I am very pleased with the findings of the jury and of the hard work put forth during in the investigations of the three cases not only by our officers but with the manner in which Deputy Prosecutor Becky Reed presented her case,” the chief said.

The chief says Earl’s long prison sentence and huge fine send a message to drug dealers that Beebe will not tolerate illegal narcotics.

“We want the word out. If you’re dealing dope, you better think twice before you do it in Beebe,” the chief said.

When Ballew, a retired state trooper, took over as police chief in August 2007, Mayor Mike Robertson told him that residents were tired of drug trafficking and that stopping the activity must be a priority.

Since April 22, a dozen more suspects have been arrested and more arrests are expected, Ballew said, but little information is being released for fear of jeopardizing the investigation.

The Beebe Police Department has only 12 fulltime police officers, so usually only two are free at one time to work narcotics, the chief said. But when necessary, officers are pulled from other duties to assist.

Ballew said the information they receive from informants is that some dealers now say that selling in Beebe is too risky, so they go elsewhere.

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville business expo Thursday

Leader executive editor

It’s gotten to be so familiar it’s like an old sweater that you love but Jacksonville’s annual Business Expo still generates a certain amount of excitement around town as the day approaches.

This year’s theme is recycling and being green, “It Just Comes Natural.”

The event is detailed in a tabloid insert that you will find in this issue. There are details about many of this year’s sponsors. Many of them will be handing out promotional items and there are also a number of great prizes which one can register to win.

It’s also a good opportunity to showcase a new or existing business and to let the community know what your business has to offer that’s unique.

Those who visit Thursday’s expo which runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Community Center will have a great chance to network with other businesses or just to become acquainted with local businesses and the services they offer.

There is an entry fee of $1, but it’s good all day and parking is free.

Several local restaurants including Western Sizzlin’, Golden Corral, Bar-B-Que Shack, Tropical Smoothie, White Pig Inn and Los Rios Mexican restaurant will be offering samples thoughout the day so no one need go hungry while visiting the Expo.

There will be more than 90 booths to visit with information, promotional items and demonstrations to educate, entertain and enlighten.

A new feature this year will be the Red Cross blood mobile sponsored by North Metro Medical Center.

Gold sponsor North Metro Medical Center will have its booth staffed by the hospital’s registered nurses who will perform some on-the-spot blood pressure readings. The nurses also provide a wealth of health-related information from first aid to stroke prevention and identification.

Most who attend come away with free goody bags filled with lots of promotional items such as pens, notepads, coffee mugs, tape measures, key rings, pamphlets and a wide variety of helpful information spanning the wide range of exhibits from financial information to healthy living.

Other gold sponsors this year include First Arkansas Bank and First Arkansas Mortgage Company, Arkansas Federal Credit Union, Comcast, CenturyTel, Cool 104, Poster Boy Printing, the city of Jacksonville.

The Leader is also one of this year’s gold sponsors and is providing the free Expo tabloid with a map of exhibitors and information on the sponsors.

This year’s silver sponsors are Woodland Hills of Jacksonville, Whit Davis Lumber, Ashland Performance Materials, First Electric Cooperative.

Bronze sponsors include Access Rehab, C and J Gifts, Metropolitan National Bank and CenterPoint Energy.

Other businesses with booths at this year’s expo include Baptist Health Medical Center-NLR, Jacksonville Museum of Military History, U.S. Small Business Administration, Webster University, Families, Inc., Counseling Services, the Arkansas Insurance Department, State Farm Insurance (agent Lauren Fowler);

Also, Foxwood Golf Club, Fraley Roofing, Jacksonville Senior Center, Access Telephone Directories, Provident Business Solution, Lighthouse Academy, ADT Security Services, Greenbriar Retirement Center of Jacksonville, Arkansas State University, P.I. Roofing, Advantage Service Company; and Pulaski Technical College, Arkansas Secretary of State, Century 21 Prestige Realty, Hyla Systems, Curves, Arkansas Midland Railroad, Get-A-Grip, B-Safe Security, Inc., Friday, Eldridge and Clark, and Evans Lawn and Landscaping.

TOP STORY >> Cabot to reduce garbage fee

Leader staff writer

Residential garbage rates will go down in Cabot beginning in August when the cost for the service will drop from $16.45 to $14.40.

The city’s contract with IESI ends July 31 and Waste Management will take over Aug. 1.

The city council’s vote Monday night to give the exclusive franchise for residential and commercial garbage collection to Waste Management was 5-3.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams had hoped to continue the existing rates after the new contract started so the city could keep the difference of $2.05 a month from about 10,000 households to pay for drainage projects.But City Attorney Jim Taylor’s research last week showed that it would be illegal for the city to keep the money and use it for anything not related to garbage collection.

The mayor said after the council meeting that he still intends to begin work on drainage problems using money that had been set aside to start a city-operated garbage service if the proposed rates submitted by private companies were more than residents are paying now.

Eddie Cook, Ed Long, Jon Moore, Ann Gilliam and Rick Prentice voted for the contract with Waste Management. Tom Armstrong, Lisa Brickell and Patrick Hutton voted against it.

For a time during the meeting, it appeared that the contract might not be awarded.

Four of the council members were opposed to Waste Manage-ment getting the exclusive right to provide commercial collection because in some cases city businesses will have to pay more for the service with Waste Management than they pay now with other companies.

A proposed amendment to the ordinance would have allowed other companies to continue hauling commercial garbage in the city even after the contracts with their customers expire. The council vote on the amendment was four to four with the mayor voting to break the tie to allow the ordinance to pass as drafted without the amendment.

The proposed amendment would have taken the word “exclusive” out of the contract.
Hutton, who proposed the amendment, voted for it as did Prentice, Brickell and Armstrong.

Wayne Rathbun, director of business development with Waste Management, told the council that if the council took away his company’s exclusive right to provide the service to commercial customers, the residential rates also would have to be reevaluated and could increase.

He also told the council that his company had negotiated with the city in good faith and that other companies should not be allowed to enter into contracts with commercial customers now to keep from losing them when Waste Management takes over in August.

Larry Phillips, owner of Zella’s, with about 120 commercial customers in Cabot, said after the meeting that he intended to get signed contracts from as many of his customers as possible before Waste Management takes over.

The mayor said in a later interview that the city would not try to stop any of the other garbage haulers in Cabot from entering into contracts with businesses.

All contracts that are in place when Waste Management takes over will be honored, he said.

Phillips was not the only disgruntled garbage hauler who attended the council meeting.

Former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh, the municipal marketing manager for IESI, told the council that his company’s proposals were separate for residential and commercial service.

If they had been together, the residential bid might have been lower, he said.

IESI last year submitted a proposal for residential garbage collection for more than $20 a month. “You get what you pay for — $14.40 is a very low rate,” Stumbaugh said.

Contacted Tuesday afternoon, Rathbun said Cabot residents would be happy with Waste Management.

“We only have two things to offer — rates and service — and they’re both good,” he said.

TOP STORY >> Mayoral hopefuls debate top issues

Leader staff writer

In explaining the difference between himself and Alderman Kenny Elliott, Alderman Gary Fletcher told the crowd of about 200 at Tuesday’s candidate forum that the “choice is not between good and bad. We are both good people. If you want the city to continue in the direction it’s been going, then vote for Elliott, but if you want a change and someone with a clear vision, vote for me.”

Elliott responded by saying that he may not be the best talker. “But I am a planner and an organizer and can get things done. Rather than talk the talk, I can walk the walk and lead Jacksonville into the future,” he said.

Both candidates, the top two from an original field of six, spent almost three hours answering questions from the audience and the moderator, Pulaski County Clerk Pat O’Brien at the chamber-sponsored forum at the community center.

In the May 12 special election, Fletcher received 39 percent of the vote and Elliott received 32 percent of the vote. The runoff election is set for June 2. Early voting starts Tuesday.

O’Brien reminded the audience that residents can vote in the runoff, even if they did not vote in the May 12 election.

The event was divided into two rounds. In the first round, each candidate was given 30 minutes to answer questions from the moderator. Fletcher used up all of his time on the first six or seven questions, and Elliot still had 10 minutes left, allowing him to respond to nine straight questions.

In the second round, residents asked questions directly to the candidates and each had a minute to respond. Fletcher ran out of time or overtime on a number of the questions.

To start the night off, Fletcher thanked everyone for coming to the forum. “I know it was hard to choose between us and ‘American Idol,’” he quipped.

Fletcher did thank the 952 people who voted for him on May12, and added that the election “was not about any one particular candidate, but about our city.”

Elliott said it was a very important election. “It is a chance to pick the best candidate to lead the city into the future,” he said.

He told the audience that he’s made no promises he couldn’t keep and is not beholden to anyone and would leave his job with the Pulaski County Special School District to work for the city full time as its mayor.

Both candidates agreed that schools were the number one priority.

When asked if the mayor should be leading the charge for a separate school district for the city, Fletcher said, “The mayor is the head of the city and has to be up in front on this issue and not take a wait-and-see attitude. We’ve been reactive too long. It’s time to take the bull by the horns,” he said.

Fletcher explained that he wants to create an education commission and fund it with city money as a war chest to get the new district going. “We need to let the county district know we are serious,” he explained.

Elliot said as mayor, it would be his job to “give all the effort I can and lead the charge.”

He said there are numerous groups like the World Class Educational Foundation working to get Jacksonville its own district, and “I’ll support them in every way possible.”

The candidates were also asked about annexation plans.

Elliott said, “Yes, we need to be looking at any area we can annex, but it has to be in the best interest of Jacksonville and that area. We need a good plan for any area before we do it.”

Fletcher wants to annex north up Hwy. 67/167 to the Lonoke County line. “Sure there’s some businesses there we may not want in our city, but the best way to make sure we don’t get more of them is to annex the area,” he said.

Fletcher added that Cabot has already come south to the county line and that by going north, the city could work with Cabot.

When asked what makes him the better candidate, Elliot said that he may not have as many years on the council as Fletcher but is more involved. “Not just in Jacksonville, but with the Municipal League and the National League of Cities. I have the experience and worked hard to get it,” he said.

Fletcher said it was not about the years served but what happened during those years. He said, “I’ve been through some storms and have come out stronger and more tempered. After 30 years, I’m Gary and I’ll be the same.”

Whoever becomes mayor will work for $76,000 a year and have a car allowance of $1,000.

The city council last week decided on the salary after turning down two other proposals.

Alderman Bob Stroud suggested a salary of $70,000 and a car allowance of $5,000.

Alderman Avis Twitty wanted to pay the new mayor $73,000 plus a $6,000 car allowance.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

EDITORIAL >> PCSSD must keep middle school open

A vendetta against Jacksonville Boys Middle School principal Mike Nellums by the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and at least three school board members has resulted in a bad, half-baked policy that will play out to the detriment not only of Jacksonville Middle School students next year, but ironically of their teachers as well.

As a result of this vendetta, the board voted earlier this year — on the motion of board member Bill Vasquez of Jacksonville — to end single-gender education, close the building housing the girls, and beginning next year, to have coeducational middle school education in the building now occupied by the boys school.

This despite statistics showing a steady increase in the percentage of Jacksonville Middle School students who performed at or above grade level on benchmark tests in math and language. This despite statistics showing a steady decrease in the number of disciplinary problems at both schools over the three years of single-gender education.

This despite a lack of planning that will leave half of the teachers next year without a permanent classroom, traipsing from room to room with their belongings and teaching materials on carts that must be bought for just that purpose.

Kim Forrest, currently the girls school principal, has been named principal of the newly combined middle school for next year and Nellums was banished to the far side of the district.

Forrest has asked that the single-gender schools be given one more year, so the district can be better prepared, perhaps add some classrooms in preparation. But that would require the board to bring the matter up for another vote at the next meeting.

Some on the board are incapable of changing their minds about closing the boys school. But those with a conscience should remember the children and vote to keep the boys middle school open.

EDITORIAL >> Clinic gets a reprieve

A crisis has temporarily been averted. Doctors at Jacksonville Medical Clinic successfully negotiated a new rental agreement with the city and will stay here for at least the next three years.

For a while it looked as though Jacksonville’s long-time, well-respected and trusted physicians might pack up and move to Sherwood where St. Vincent’s North had offered them similar space for less than the rate Jacksonville was charging. Loss of the doctors could only be more bad news for the hospital, which has faced a loss of consumer confidence in addition to other serious problems.

But thanks to some negotiating by Jacksonville’s hospital commission and mayoral candidate Gary Fletcher, who stepped in at the last moment, the doctors will save about $100,000 a year and can afford to stay for now.

Patients served by North Metro Medical Center can breathe a collective sigh of relief that the doctors they know and trust have agreed to stay put, but the community, its residents and officials need to know there’s lots more to be done.

The doctors said they preferred to stay in Jacksonville but could not afford the increase in rent, which the commission had passed on to them in January based on current market rates. (We wonder if those rates have plummeted along with the rest of the real estate market.)

A strong medical group and the hospital it supports is important to the health of Jacksonville’s residents and those in the surrounding area, including Little Rock Air Force Base, whose airmen depend on the hospital for routine needs but also in the event of an emergency. Cabot and large areas of Lonoke County also depend on North Metro’s existence with Lonoke County being one of Arkansas’ 21 counties without a hospital.

In a true emergency — heart attack, stroke, or motorcycle accident, for example — time is of the essence, making the continued existence of North Metro and its physicians a necessity to the city and beyond.

Restoring public confidence in the hospital’s ability to deliver quality care will send local residents back to its doors. An accessible administration could go a long way toward restoring the public’s confidence in the hospital.

There’s lots of work to be done to repair the hospital’s image in Jacksonville and beyond. Perhaps a new mayor will focus on making North Metro one of the best in the state.

A recent agreement with a new contractor, Allegiance, will keep the hospital open as a long-term provider of critical care.

Other services, such as the emergency room, will continue to operate, but specific information is hard to come by. Area residents have a right to know what’s going at North Metro. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

Residents need to feel that a well-staffed, well-equipped hospital is available for their families’ health care needs and well-being, as well as for emergencies. Having the familiar medical staff available will go a long way toward this goal. But Jacksonville and Lonoke County residents need to come back to Jacksonville Medical Clinic and North Metro in a show of support.

In turn, the hospital commission and administration need to adopt a policy of openness. Business conducted in secret can only foster suspicion among those who are sought after as customers. There’s got to be some give and take. The future of health care in this community depends on that.

SPORTS >> State baseball all stars announced

Leader sports editor

The Arkansas Activities Association has released the names of the 2009 high school baseball all stars.

In The Leader coverage area, Sylvan Hills led the way with four selections: D.J. Baxendale, Tyler Van Schoyck, Nathan Eller and Justin Treece. The defending 6A state champions lost in the 5A semifinals earlier this month.

This year’s 6A runner up Searcy placed three players on the All State team, including Mac Ellis, Dillon Howard and Jonathan Luthe.

Jacksonville senior shortstop Terrell Brown and senior pitcher/infielder Seth Tomboli were named to the team as well. Cabot’s Drew Burks was the lone Panther on the squad.

Austin Crabill of Abundant Life and Roger Glaude of Beebe were also selected to the team.

Rounding out the area teams, Harding Academy placed Matt Calhoun and Matt Lincoln on the All Star squad, while Lonoke was represented by B.J. Manning and Drew Southerland.

Named to the All-Tournament teams were Howard and Preston Tarkington of Searcy, Tyler Erickson of Cabot, Tomboli of Jacksonville, Baxendale of Sylvan Hills, Beebe’s Glaude and Abundant Life’s Crabill.

SPORTS >> Former Lonoke coach Steelman dies

Former head Lonoke football coach Jeff Jones remembered Hal Steelman as a positive person who was always upbeat.

“He was a great inspiration to the players on a daily basis,” Jones said of Steelman, who died last Friday morning of complications from diabetes. “He always had an uplifting word for the team. He was a blessing to be around the past few years.”

Steelman, 50, taught and coached football and girl’s track at Lonoke High School for 10 years. He was a member of the 1997 All Star coaching staff. Steelman began his coaching tenure at Lonoke as defensive coordinator in 1990, and guided the Lonoke Jackrabbits to an 11-3 record and the 5AA-Central championship in 1996.

As head coach, Steelman led the Jackrabbits to a 15-10 record and two playoff appearances.

Steelman graduated from Daniel High School in Clemson, S.C., and Northeast Louisiana University, where he was a graduate assistant on the 1987 national championship team. Steelman also completed a master’s degree from the University of Central Arkansas. Steelman won many awards throughout his career, his most prized of which were the National Attitude Award and the National Football Coach’s Association Award.

Steelman is survived by his father, Harold Steelman Sr., of Little Rock; son, Houston Steelman of Metairie, La.; niece, Amy Reaves; nephew, Jason Fields, cousins and an uncle. Preceding him in death were his mother, Carolyn, and sister, Sara.
Jones, who left Lonoke to become an assistant coach at Springdale, said illness had been a part of Steelman’s life since he developed diabetes in high school. But he never let it affect him, Jones said.

“He always bounced back strong,” he said. “I think we thought it would be the same in this instance.

“He just had such a generally positive outlook on life, he was never down for a minute — no matter what his circumstances. He knew that God was good and he preached that on a daily basis.”

Services for Steelman were held on Monday morning at First Baptist Church in Lonoke.

SPORTS >> Bertrand captures shot-put crown at 7A championships

Leader sportwriter

T.J. Bertrand of Cabot and Kristen Celsor of Searcy were the big winners at the state track meets over the weekend.

Bertrand followed up his victory at the 7A Central meet last week with a state title in the shot put at the 7A meet at Conway on Saturday.

Celsor, last year’s runner up in the heptathlon, won both the 300-meter hurdles and the high jump, and earned a third place in the 100-meter hurdles to lead Searcy to a seventh place finish at Lake Hamilton.

Celsor ran a time of 41.13 seconds in the 300-meter hurdles and cleared a distance of 5-4 in the high jump to claim the win in each event.

Bertrand threw a distance of 50 feet, three inches to claim the state title in the event, 11 inches better than that of the second-place finisher from Rogers High School. Brendan Tucker was second in the 3,200-meter run with a time of 9:39.66, less than two seconds off the winning pace of Catholic’s Alex Tully.

Both Cabot teams had top 10 finishes in the team results. The Panthers finished sixth overall, while the Lady Panthers took 10th.

Grant Pierce had the only other top-five performance for the Cabot boys with a fourth-place finish in the discus with a throw of 133-8. The Panther relay team finished third in the 3,200-meter and fifth in the 1,600 meter.

Senior Lady Panther Reilly McAtee finished third in the 800-meter run with a time of 2:23.92, and also was fifth in the 1,600-meter run with a time of 5:11.73. Ariel Voskamp, who will compete in the heptathlon for Cabot next week, finished second in the pole vault by clearing 11-0, four inches off the winning mark by Rea McKinley of Conway.

In the 5A state meet, North Pulaski’s Claire Crews finished fifth in the 1,600-meter run with a time of 5:37.77, while the Beebe boys relay team finished fifth in the 3,200-meter relay event with a time of 8:45.56.

SPORTS >> Numbers down at Cabot

Leader sportswriter

Replacing the offensive line was issue number one for the Cabot Panthers as spring practice got under way last week. Trying to make do with a much smaller roster was near the top of the list as well.

Incoming senior Walt James is the only returning starter on last year’s O-line in an offense that returns only three starters overall.

“We only have about four that have really good experience,” head coach Mike Malham said of his offensive personnel. “So really, the offensive line is what we’re really looking at. I think we’ve got some kids that are going to be pretty good. When it’s all said and done, hopefully, we’ll be as good as we were last year there.”

The damage is much more minimal on defense, with one vacant linebacker slot, along with two secondary positions open and two more on the defensive line. Malham said the spring unit of only 45, which includes only one current freshman, has been hard at work trying to fill the openings.

The Panthers were 84 strong last year and enjoyed plenty of depth, but the 24 departing seniors, including 13 starters, has given Malham and the coaching staff more positions to fill.

In Class 7A, where depth is of the utmost importance, Malham is trying to avoid a repeat of the 2007 season, when injuries and limited depth had Cabot limping to the finish line, though it did earn a last-minute playoff berth. With more players potentially playing on both offense and defense in the fall, Malham said the objective is to cover as many spots as possible with more than one person.

“It always is a concern, because if you get one of those guys hurt, you lose two starters,” said Malham, who will begin his 28th season as head Panther in the fall. “So if you have to have them play both ways, you at least like to have rotations so they don’t have to play both ways the whole game.”

Several of the skill-position players return, including quarterback Seth Bloomberg and fullback Michael James. Both will be seniors in the fall, as will Matt Bayles, who did not start in 2008, but saw plenty of action at the halfback position while sharing time with graduated cousin Chris Bayles.

The six returning defensive players are led by all-conference linebacker Spencer Neumann, with defensive end Jared Maxwell, linemen Jay Turpin and T.J. Bertrand, as well as Joe and Powell Bryant in the secondary also returning.

Neumann and James were both running backs in their days together at Cabot Junior High North, but Neumann was moved to defense when the two reached the varsity level. Malham said their upcoming senior year could be a backfield reunion for the two.

“We’re just trying to find out who can play,” said Malham. “We worked James on the defensive side and Neumann on the offensive side, because we may play both of them on defense and rotate at fullback. Neumann is just as good a running back as James. It’s just that we’ve always used Neumann at linebacker his first two years, and James was on offense because we had plenty of depth.

“But we don’t think we’re going to be as deep this year. So if we can get the best on the field, we have to put James on that defensive side too, and there’s no way you’re going to carry it 30 times and play linebacker the whole game. So it could be the two of them playing defense and then rotating on offense.”

He added that Maxwell was working at the fullback spot as well and may also see double duty in the fall.

“We had a pretty good week last week,” he said. “We worked four days. Friday, we had graduation and a lot of stuff going on. Plus, we had some kids getting ready to go to the state track meet on Saturday, so we just went to the weight room and did some weights.”

Cabot will begin 7A-Central Conference play this fall as the defending league champs. It was a salty defense and ball-controlling offense that allowed the Panthers to win their final four conference games on their way to the title. Malham said that while there will not be quite as much depth, he hopes that quality will allow the Panthers to equal last year’s success.

“We’ve got a chance to be decent,” said Malham. “I’ll tell you, the weights are getting there, and we’ve got some kids that run pretty well. We have some decent team speed. If we can just get them to where they can figure it out, I think we could be pretty good next year.”

Monday, May 18, 2009

TOP STORY >> Dismang eyeing Capps’ Senate seat

Rep. Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe) is considering a race to succeed Sen. John Paul Capps (D-Searcy), who is term limited.

Dismang, 29, has filed the necessary paperwork with the Secretary of State’s Office to form an exploratory committee to run next year for the Senate in Dist. 29, which includes southern White County, a portion of Faulkner County outside of the Vilonia area and the Jacksonville area.

Dismang, a freshman representative from House Dist. 49, which encompasses most of rural White County, says many people have encouraged him to run.

He says he wants his candidacy to be “driven” by the people back home, so he will be visiting around the district to meet with people and discuss his potential run.  

“I want to see if it would allow me to better serve the people of White County, and to make sure that I am the right person to represent the people in Jacksonville and Faulkner County.”

Gov. Mike Beebe held the Senate seat for many years.

“Gov. Beebe and Sen. Capps are two people who have brought a lot to the state politically, and two people that I really admire,” Dismang said. “I hope to provide the same strong voice and common-sense representation the people of Dist. 29 have enjoyed under their service.”

Dismang received recognition early in his first session by becoming vice chairman of the freshman caucus and then by being named one of the top six freshman legislators of the 87th General Assembly.  

During the session, Dismang sponsored a bill that would have removed the state income tax on active military duty pay and another bill that would have disallowed a gas company’s use of eminent domain for the acquisition of gathering lines.  

The income-tax exemption passed in the House, but it was pulled down in the Senate Revenue and Tax Committee. His bill limiting the use of eminent domain died in the House Agriculture Committee.

“With the exception of a few cleanup bills, all of the legislation that I introduced was constituent-driven. While the passage of the bills I introduced may have been limited, I really feel like my fellow members have a better understanding and respect for the issues we are facing back home.”  

Dismang’s exploratory committee will be led by former White County Judge Bob Parish, Jeff Hoggard and David Staggs, also of White County, and Rep. Jane English (R-North Little Rock).

TOP STORY >> Spinning ‘Wheel of Fortune’ a thrill

Leader staff writer

“The Wheel of Fortune” next Friday will feature Cabot resident and puzzle-solver extraordinaire Allison Osterberg.

The show will air on Channel 7, KATV, at 6:30 p.m.

Although Osterberg’s winnings were modest, she said it was thrilling to appear on the show.

Osterberg is a paralegal for Cabot’s city attorney and is a longtime member of Cabot Junior Auxillary.

The show was taped at Sony Studios on March 20.

“We were sequestered like a jury all day,” but it was more exciting than jury duty, she said.

Several episodes are taped at once, months before they are set to be broadcast.

Osterberg said that she waited all day before she was called to play.

The audience was as big as she expected, maybe just 50 people. She said its members were mostly guests of hotels that provide complimentary tickets.

The fun was not just getting to participate in the iconic American game show, but spending time with her family in Los Angeles, she said. That helped her to feel comfortable when she took the stage.

“We took the kids. We went to Hollywood Boulevard, Venice Beach, and we walked to Santa Monica Pier. We went to the L.A. shopping district,” she said.

Osterberg always loved the show. She has watched it most of her life. She honed her skill for solving its famous word puzzles while working around the house.

Her husband, Brad, soon realized that his wife might be able to turn her talent into cash.

He was right.

When he heard that the show would hold an audition in Conway last November, he asked Allison to give it a shot.

“There were thousands of people there,” she recalled. But the wait seemed to be just too long to bother, she said.

Her name was not called to try out on the first night of auditioning, but her teenage son Wade insisted that she come back again the next day.

She followed Wade’s advice and lucked out.

On the second day of auditions, her name was called and she was asked to participate in a mock round to demonstrate her familiarity with the game.

Just three months later, Osterberg was on set with the show’s host, Pat Sajak, and co-host, Vanna White, spinning the show’s glittering wheel.

The hosts were very warm and polite when she met them. That put her at ease and made her feel comfortable just before showtime.

“When the music started, Pat and Vanna walked out, and I realized I’m on TV,” Osterberg said.

But her nervousness quickly subsided.

“I was like a deer in headlights when the lightning round started, but I snapped out of it,” she said.

According to the show’s Web site, “The Wheel of Fortune” is the most popular syndicated game show on television.

The show has been on the air for 34 years. It started back in 1975 as a CBS daytime game show with Chuck Woolery as the host and Susan Stafford as the letter-turner.

“Pat Sajak came on board in 1981, and a year later he was joined by co-host Vanna White,” according to the Web site.

“In 1983, they syndicated the show as a nighttime program. It rapidly shot to the top of the syndication charts and has stayed there ever since,” the Web site says.

The daytime version continued to run until 1991, according to the show’s Web site.

Osterberg enjoyed the experience, and it gave her a small taste of show business.

“I didn’t recognize Vanna without her makeup, and she was wearing sweats,” she said about the first time she saw the show’s co-host.

“She was very nice,” Osterberg added.

Osterberg said that she and her family toured Universal Studios after her appearance on the game show.

“We rode through the Wisteria Lane on the set of ‘Desperate Housewives.’”

She also passed through the set of “War of the Worlds.”

The Osterberg family even did a little celebrity spotting during their Hollywood vacation.

“We swear that we saw Don Cheadle at Univeral Studios,” she said.

Cheadle is an Oscar-nominated actor who starred in the movies “Hotel Rwanda,” “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Boogie Nights,” as well numerous other film and television roles.

Osterberg’s time in Hollywood hasn’t given her any big ideas, though, about future stardom. At least for now, she says that she has no plans to collaborate with Kris Allen, another celebrity with ties to Cabot.

“I am going to pay for the trip to L.A. and save the rest for a rainy day,” she said about her plans to spend the money she won on the show.

She said that it wasn’t about the money — it was about having the chance of a lifetime and enjoying herself.

Osterberg wishes that she had won more. “I win every night at home, but the luck of the wheel was not on my side,” she said.

But she is very grateful to have had the experience, and her friends and family are delighted to hear her story.

“I was just tickled to be there,” she said.

Her friends and family are planning a watch party for her next week when the show airs.

TOP STORY >> Candidates debate on Tuesday

Leader staff writer

Now that there are just two candidates for Jacksonville mayor, the pair will further lay out their visions for the city and take on all questions at a candidates forum on Tuesday.

None of the six candidates vying to lead the city received more than 50 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff between the top two candidates, Alderman Gary Fletcher and Alderman Kenny Elliott. The two veteran city officials will face each other in a runoff on June 2 for the mayor’s seat being vacated 18 months early by the retiring Mayor Tommy Swaim.

In last Tuesday’s voting, Fletcher led the six-candidate field, garnering 952 votes, or 39 percent, followed by 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.

Fletcher and Elliott will get a chance to differentiate themselves at the Jacksonville chamber-sponsored forum, which starts at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the community center.

“We’ll stay until the last question is answered or until they close the community center at 9 p.m.,” said Amy Mattison, chief executive officer of the chamber.

She said the public forum will be presented in two rounds.

In the first round, Fletcher and Elliott will have three minutes to make opening and closing remarks. In between, there will be a 30-minute question-answer period. The questions will be provided by the audience and asked by the moderator, Pulaski County Clerk Pat O’Brien. O’Brien will also have some questions of his own to ask the candidates.

Once this round is finished, there’ll be a 15-minute break before the second round.
Mattison said in the second round the candidates will take questions directly from the audience.

“We’ll have microphones set up for the audience. During this segment we are asking that the audience limit their questions to 30 seconds and the candidates limit their responses to one minute so we can get in all the questions,” Mattison said.

She added that the chamber and moderator will ask the audience to be respectful of the candidates and not boo or jeer. “They also have to be careful not to clap too long as that counts against the candidate’s response time,” Mattison explained.

About 300 residents attended a forum sponsored by the chamber at the community center in April, when five of the six candidates were allowed about 10 minutes to present their views, visions and beliefs. Candidate Randy “Doc” Rhodd missed that forum because of a death in his family.

All registered voters are allowed to vote in the June 2 runoff even if they didn’t vote in Tuesday’s election. Early voting starts May 26.

In all, 2,434 votes were cast, with 715 of those ballots coming from early voting and 14 from absentee ballots. A number of candidates felt that was a low turnout.

Shortly after the results were posted Tuesday evening, Fletcher said he was grateful that he made the runoff. “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,” Fletcher 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.

Elliott said Tuesday night that it had been a good race up to this point and wanted 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.

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 home building company.

He is married and has two children and five grandchildren.

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.

TOP STORY >> Fun, food and facts promised for expo

Leader executive editor

Jacksonville’s Business Expo 2009 will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday at the Jacksonville Community Center on Municipal Drive.

This year’s theme is “It Just Comes Natural” and the list of participating businesses and organizations promises that the event will be informative and one that should not be missed.“The 11th annual Jacksonville Business Expo is going to be better than ever.  With over 50 vendors and six food booths, there will be many things to see and do.  A great addition to the expo this year is the blood drive to benefit the American Red Cross,” said Laura Peeples, event coordinator for the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event.

The eagerly anticipated annual event is a big draw for area businesses and residents alike. Admission and parking are free and there will be food available throughout the event from such vendors as Western Sizzlin’, Golden Corral, Bar-B-Que Shack, Tropical Smoothie, White Pig Inn and Los Rios Mexican Restaurant.

The expo is an opportunity for business patrons and residents to meet and greet local business representatives, elected officials and perhaps some who are running for office. There will be plenty of games to play offering some really super prizes and there will be lots of free items to take home such as pens, notepads, coffee mugs, tape measures, key rings, pamphlets and a wide variety of helpful information spanning the wide range of exhibits from financial information to healthy living.

A popular booth each year is that of gold sponsor North Metro Medical Center. The booth is staffed by the hospital’s registered nurses who perform on-the-spot blood pressure readings. The nurses also provide a wealth of health-related information from first aid to stroke prevention and identification.

The Business Expo is sponsored each year by the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce in partnership with several area businesses who pledge various levels of sponsorship. Gold sponsors this year include First Arkansas Bank and First Arkansas Mortgage Company, Arkansas Federal Credit Union, Comcast, CenturyTel, Cool 104, Poster Boy Printing and the city of Jacksonville.

The Leader is one of this year’s gold sponsors and is providing the free Expo tabloid with a map of exhibitors and information on the sponsors.

This year’s silver sponsors include Woodland Hills of Jacksonville, Whit Davis Lumber, Ashland Performance Materials, First Electric Cooperative and the Patriot. Bronze sponsors include Access Rehab, C and J Gifts, Metropolitan National Bank and CenterPoint Energy.

Other businesses with booths at this year’s expo include Baptist Health Medical Center-NLR, Jacksonville Museum of Military History, U.S. Small Business Administration, Webster University, Families Inc. Counseling Services, the Arkansas Insurance Department, State Farm Insurance (Lauren Fowler, agent), Foxwood Golf Club, Fraley Roofing, Jacksonville Senior Center, Access Telephone Directories, Provident Business Solution, Lighthouse Academy, ADT Security Services, Greenbriar Retirement Center of Jacksonville, Arkansas State University and the law firm of Friday, Eldridge and Clark.