Friday, July 17, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Lottery madness

You know that the grabby compensation practices at the state lottery are arousing people because Gov. Beebe weighed in this week that he was bothered by the high salaries. Beebe never criticizes anybody or anything — almost never.

But on successive days, the governor said the mammoth salaries handed out to the new director from South Carolina and the first eight or nine hires were eroding public confidence in the lottery and were causing a rift between the lottery organization and the legislators who created it.

It had not occurred to us to worry that legislators might get disillusioned with the lottery. We were worried about the opposite.

Legislators were falling all over themselves praising the lottery commission and its director and defending their work. But sure enough, House Speaker Robbie Wills, the chief sponsor of the lottery law and its most buoyant cheerleader, announced some reservations on his blog yesterday. He still thought the $324,000 plus perks paid to Ernie Passailaigue, the director, was fine but he was disturbed by the $225,000 paid to two other friends of Passailaigue from South Carolina and other six-figure salaries offered to others.

There was evidence that even the Lottery Commission, appointed by the governor and Senate and House leaders, had begun to detect the rising public rage over the salaries. It voted 7 to 2 to have Passailaigue run his hiring decisions by one of its committees if he was going to pay them more than $80,000 a year. No one yet has been hired at anything nearly as low as $80,000. Gov. Beebe said that was a start and he suggested that maybe they could lower the salaries of some of the people already hired. No way, Passailaigue said. He sticks to his commitments, he said.

Speaker Wills and other lawmakers, along with Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, the father of the Arkansas lottery, had insisted all along that this was not going to happen, that the lottery commission could be depended upon to be frugal and prudent in establishing the lottery.

Actually, it was inevitable. The constitutional amendment legalizing a state lottery was written to assure it. The lottery would not be like any other government agency. It would not be restrained by the state’s niggardly fiscal rules, like appropriations and salary allotments. The lottery was to be run like a business, and the money it collected was not to be run through the state treasury where the distribution and spending would be subjected to pre-audits and other accounting procedures. Passailaigue said this week that it was important to run it like a business where you can pay top dollar to get the people you want.

His import was that the lottery was just more important than other government agencies, like the Education, Health and Highway Departments and the big agencies that collect and distribute $6 billion a year in taxes.

It is the nature of state-operated gambling. The culture of easy come, easy go prevails everywhere. Lotteries pay sizable salaries everywhere although there apparently is none among the 43 or so lottery states that is so free with its money as the weeks-old Arkansas lottery.

Passailaigue is paid considerably more than the directors of the giant California, New York and Illinois lotteries. The two vice presidents he imported from South Carolina make more than the lottery directors of most states. And Arkansas is one of the poorest states and its compensation of government workers among the very lowest of the states.

The Lottery Commission and Passailaigue said the huge salaries were needed so that the lottery could be set up hastily and lottery tickets sold by the end of October. Arkansas has not had a lottery in its first 180 years but suddenly every day counts.

Not a single scholarship is to be awarded before the fall of 2010 so the haste makes no sense. The state universities and colleges will open the fall term next month with $100 million in scholarship aid awaiting them, without a single lottery dollar.

Much of it will not be spent before September 2010, when every youngster who qualifies and wants a scholarship will have one available.

The madness is simply shocking. Gov. Beebe’s mild dudgeon is wholly justified. We would be pleased to see a little rage.

Ernie Dumas writes editorials for The Leader.

EDITORIAL >> Tell senators to do right

Sen. Blanche Lincoln has received more national attention than usual since Congress has been waiting for the finance committee that she sits on to produce a health care reform bill.

Representatives presented a bill this week that awaits a vote in the House. The Senate’s health committee also passed its version of the bill.

So what’s the holdup in the Senate Finance Committee to produce a bill on which most members will agree? That health care needs to be made more affordable and available is largely undisputed, but how to do it while keeping insurers in business is what’s wrangling Washington.

The finance committee’s job is to figure out how to pay for it all. It looks like for Lincoln, that means making sure insurance companies will continue to have customers.

She ranked second in the Senate for contributions from the health care industry between 2000 and 2008 — about $6.3 million.

That’s according to Common Cause, the group that found health care lobbyists have spent $1.4 million a day so far this year.

Lincoln’s former chief of staff, Kelly Bingel, is a lobbyist with a firm whose ranks are out in force to influence Congress. The firm’s clients include drug and insurance companies, among others.

Bingel was instrumental earlier this year in helping Walmart, and persuading Lincoln and Sen. Mark Pryor to block the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made it easier for employees to form unions. Pryor, who may have not accepted health care lobbyist money comparable to Lincoln, has also not committed to protecting consumers from insurance companies’ skyrocketing costs.

If the demise of the Employee Free Choice Act is proof of Lincoln’s and Pryor’s allegiances, their alignment with lobbyists could very well mean the insurance companies will write the bill that comes out of the Senate.

Some ideas being considered are mandates that would require everyone to have insurance and require employers, both large and small, to provide health benefits. That means individuals and businesses will be required to purchase policies from insurance companies, guaranteeing customers for years to come.

While helping draft this possibly historic piece of legislation, Lincoln should keep in mind that health care isn’t just about going to the doctor, it’s about keeping jobs in Arkansas. When Jacksonville’s city-owned hospital, North Metro, decided to lease to a Louisiana company, it was forced to because its costs were unsustainable. Before North Metro went up for sale, a spokeswoman for the hospital blamed charity care and uncollected bills for its debt. She said a public health- care plan was the only way the hospital’s administration could foresee staying afloat.

When bills go unpaid, hospital jobs are lost. Unemployment leads to fewer customers who can spend money at stores and restaurants, fewer home-owners and decreased property and sales tax collected by cities, which has a detrimental impact to infrastructure and public perception. Entrepreneurs don’t want to open up shop in a downtrodden city. They also can’t afford to do the government’s job. The Congressional Budget Office said that forcing businesses to purchase insurance coverage for all of its employees, even those who work one day a week, could result in the hiring of fewer workers, according to the New York Times.

When health care is a necessity but is driving individuals, hospitals and businesses into the hole, something must be done. The middle-class and the chronically ill are unable to fill in the budget gaps of mismanaged medical institutions and insurance companies, especially when rising costs fall on the shoulders of young families and people already struggling to make their car and house payments.

Municipalities would benefit in other ways if health care benefits were less burdensome. If cities’ health- care bills were decreased, funds could be redirected to construction of new roads and water systems.

Pulaski County Special School District’s expenditures on infrastructure could be increased if its employee health-care costs were reduced. Maybe then new schools could be built in Jacksonville.

If Lincoln and Pryor have their way, they will allow the insurance industry to continue to bilk our towns and our schools.

Health care’s powerful lobbying has allowed insurance companies to harness the dialogue in the creation of reforms. One thing may unfortunately be guaranteed in the next few years: their bankrolls will continue to soar.

Lincoln and Pryor should take a break from their meetings with lobbyists to find out what voters are already saying about them. Lincoln’s Facebook page is full of comments from angry constituents demanding her to help reduce their health-care bills.

Perhaps she should redirect the millions she’s collected from the health-care industry to help such families pay for their medical care.

TOP STORY >> South Bend buys two new fire trucks

Leader staff writer

The South Bend Volunteer Fire Department received two new water-tanker trucks on Wednesday. The trucks, which together cost $112,820, will enable the department to better serve the areas that are not connected to city water.

“These trucks will be a real asset to the department because they are more up-to-date. That’s something that we’ve been working toward for almost 10 years now,” Chief Kenneth Fraley said.

The department is responsible for protecting 85 square miles of in rural Lonoke and Pulaski counties. New equipment is always a cause for celebration at a department with such a huge territory to protect.

The fire crew understands the importance of the new tankers.

“We average about 400 calls a year for fires, car accidents and medical emergencies,” public information officer Hubert Chapman said.

That’s a lot of demand for a 40-person crew that is entirely volunteer. Plus, fighting fires in rural areas is anything but routine.

About a third of the South Bend district uses well water. In those areas, the firefighters do not have access to fire hydrants.

South Bend already had a fire engine with a small tanker built in, and an inflatable pool that carries hundreds of gallons of water. But the new trucks’ sole purpose is to carry 1,850 gallons each. They can pump 375 gallons per minute.

Both trucks are ’92 GMC Kodiaks. They were refurbished by Deep South Fire Trucks based in Seminary, Miss.

“We custom build new and used big tankers,” Deep South Fire Truck’s Arkansas representative Danny Avera said.

The department seemed happy with its purchase at a dedication ceremony Wednesday evening. The firefighters gathered, along with community members, for a prayer led by chaplain Jim Schmidt. He and his wife Suzy lead the congregation of Full-time Christian Church outside Jacksonville.

“We open every meeting we have with a prayer,” Chapman said.

But the department isn’t just about fighting fires.

“We treat people out here like our customers,” Chapman said.

He says South Bend firefighters never forget they are there to serve their community.

The South Bend Fire Association holds a free breakfast Saturday every month from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Every Friday at 6 p.m., the fire association hosts bingo with cash prizes. Bingo helps the association to raise money for other community-service programs like its Christmas food and gift drive.

“There are approximately 973 fire departments in Arkansas and 920 are volunteer, so the paid departments are the minority,” Chapman said.

“We’re all unpaid, we get no reimbursements. It’s about giving back,” he said.

TOP STORY >> Rural areas hope to get broadband

Leader senior staff writer

About 140 people from several states attended a day-long workshop Thursday to learn how to properly apply for a share of the $7.2 billion in stimulus money available to bring high-speed Internet to rural and other underserved populations.

David Villano, assistant administrator of the telecommunications program of the U.S. Agriculture Department, gave a broad overview to those assembled at the Dale Bumpers Training Facility in Lonoke.

He reminded them that the applications require them to fill out 50 questions and that those filling out, for instance, 49, would not be considered for the grants.

The Lonoke workshop was one of nine around the country. The others were at Albuquerque, N.M., Birmingham, Ala., Bil-lings, Mont., Charleston, S.C., Los Angeles, Boston, Memphis and Minneapolis.

State Rep. Walls McCrary (D-Lonoke), who attended the morning session, said he hoped the workshop would help the rural areas in Lonoke County get access to broadband.

Earlier this month, Vice President Joe Biden announced the availability of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act loans and grants to help bring broadband service to unserved and underserved communities across the country.

It is aimed at expanding broadband access to help bridge the technological divide and create jobs building out Internet infrastructure.

Biden called the initiative “a first step toward realizing President Obama’s vision of a nationwide 21st Century communications infrastructure – one that encourages economic growth, enhances America’s global competitiveness and helps address many of America’s most pressing challenges.”

Organizers did not make registration information available, so it’s hard to know who attended locally on behalf of their communities.

The parking lot was filled to overflowing and while most vehicles had Arkansas tags, there were vehicles from Oklahoma, Missouri, Mississippi, Texas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, California, Tennessee and Illinois.

The Recovery Act provided $7.2 billion to the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service to accelerate broadband deployment in areas of the country that have been without the high-speed infrastructure.

Of that funding, the Commerce Department will utilize $4.7 billion to deploy broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas in the United States, expand public computer-center capacity and encourage sustainable adoption of broadband service.

USDA will invest $2.5 billion to facilitate broadband deployment in rural communities.

TOP STORY >> Lonoke Walmart opens

Leader staff writer

Lonoke finally has a grocery store after the new Walmart store at 322 Brownsville Loop Road opened Wednesday.

The city has been without a grocery store since City Market closed about six weeks ago.

The store has 206 employees; the previous location had 61. The store is 99,000- square-feet, about half the size of most Supercenters. Along with groceries, the store has a lawn and garden center.

“We needed something like this. You can actually buy groceries in Lonoke now,” Lonoke resident Jay White said.

“It is good for Lonoke. We have been needing this for a long time. You don’t have to go out of town to get food,” Lonoke resident Debbie Williams said.

Assistant manager Jennifer Burroughs said, “We carry the same products as the Supercenter. It still has the hometown feel. We have the same associates and cashiers (from the old store on 1400 N. Center St.) We added 30 cashiers from the Lonoke area.”

Customer Joyce White said, “It’s great. It is within four miles from our house. We’ll save a lot of gas.”

A smaller store has advantages according to assistant store manager J.D. Moore.

“It is easier to shop in; it’s not as large. It has a better family atmosphere. Friends and kinfolk will be shopping here,” Moore said.

Lonoke resident LaRose Lackey was shopping during the opening hour with her son, Mike Burgess. “It is absolutely what we have been waiting for. Everybody is excited. It is more than I expected. Everything I was looking for, I found. We will definitely be back. Walmart is going to help our city grow,” she said.

“They have met the needs of the community,” Lonoke Chamber of Commerce executive director John Garner said.

Garner predicts there will be more growth for Lonoke.

“To get to the store you have to drive down Center Street, unless you are traveling west on I-40. There will be a tremendous amount of traffic for merchants along Center Street,” he said.

Garner says four projects will help the city grow: The new community center, the new middle school, the new Walmart and the planned $10 million Lonoke High School.

At a VIP preview tour of the new store Monday night, Walmart officials presented checks totaling $28,000 to 15 area organizations.

The biggest check was for $15,000, and went to the Arkansas Food Bank.

Checks for $2,500 each were awarded to Wade Knox Child Advocacy Center, Lonoke Council on Aging, Open Arms Shelter, the Lonoke Volunteer Fire Department, Lonoke Exceptional School and the Lonoke Police Department.

Walmart gave $1,000 checks to Lonoke Century League, Lonoke Lions Club, American Cancer Relay for Life, Carver High School Alumni Association, CASA, Lonoke Child Development Center, Arkansas Rice Depot and the Boy Scouts of America, Quapaw Council.

SPORTS >> Arkansas Activities Association has lot on plate at Aug. 4 meeting

Leader sports editor

Nobody seems particularly happy with the Arkansas Activities Association these days, but then, when have they been? The AAA is developing the same reputation as the NCAA — overly officious, full of rules created with some abstract benefit in mind, but which ultimately leave a lot of people scratching their heads and saying, “What?”

Several big topics will be taken up at the Aug. 4 meeting, among them two alternate private school proposals designed to address what is perceived as those schools’ unfair advantage over their public counterparts.

There is a third proposal separate from those two that addresses enrollment and classification of private schools. That one would elevate to the next classification those private schools with 80 or more students in grades 9-11. A private school with an enrollment that would qualify it for 5A if it were a public school, for example, would compete in 6A. Currently, a 1.75 multiplier applies to private schools.

That same proposal would mandate that a private program that won a state championship in either football or boys basketball could not compete at a lower classification the following year, even if enrollment dropped a corresponding amount.

Because of potential Title IX issues (the proposal applies only to boys sports), the board of directors has an 18-0 Do Not Pass recommendation attached to it.

Proposals 7 and 8 for the August meeting are mutually exclusive. If Proposal 7 passes, Proposal 8 will not be taken up.

Proposal 7, in a nutshell, would provide for separate state championship tournaments for private and public schools, even though private schools would continue to compete in the regular season in conferences that include both public and private programs.

The board of directors is opposed to this by a 15-3 margin and has offered in its place a Non-Public Transfer Rule. This one strikes me as a reasonable alternative and one that will give smaller private schools a realistic chance at state championships in lower classifications. Because, after all, if private schools all compete in one conference, what chance would an Episcopal (currently 2A) have against a Pulaski Academy (5A)?

The Non-Public Transfer Rule, which is likely to beat out Proposal 7, mandates that students who enroll at a private school must do so by July 1 prior to beginning the seventh grade, or the lowest grade that school offers if it is higher than seventh grade. If they enroll at a time later than that, they will be ineligible for athletic competition for 365 days.

This would seem to address the recruitment issue that so many public schools have complained about after watching the Shiloh Christians and Pulaski Academies fairly dominate in recent years. This proposal also has a 17-1 Do Pass recommendation.

That leaves the matter of how to determine separate 6A and 7A champions once the two categories are realigned into one category featuring eight four-team conferences beginning in 2010.

Most people seem to agree that the two 16-team classifications (6A and 7A) have made a mockery of state championships by diluting the playoffs so completely that 12 of 16 teams qualify. And the conjoining of the 6A and 7A into a 32-team category hardly resolves the matter of diluting the crowns if, after all is said and done, we have two separate champions drawn from 16-team fields.

Beyond that is the fact that no one has any idea how the playoff berths will be determined, given the 6A and 7A schools will be competing in conferences together. If Jacksonville is placed in a conference with six other 7A schools and finishes seventh in the conference, for instance, would it be considered a No. 1 seed since it would be the top 6A team in the conference? Red Devil head coach Mark Whatley said at the Rotary Club meeting the other day he’d heard talk of a possible power rankings system, similar to what the Bowl Championship Series uses in college football. And we all know how fans love that.

It’s a mess and I’m not sure what the answer is. But half-measures and compromise will make matters only worse.

One AD has put forth a proposal to mix the top 16 teams from 5A with the current crop of 6A teams to form one 32-team conference. But that leaves the 7A as well as the remaining 5A conferences with just 16 teams.


One final matter which affects fewer people and isn’t high on the priority chain is the two-week dead period that runs from late June through early July. Designed to give students a reprieve from the year-round athletic demands, the idea seems sound in concept.

The rule states that no school facilities can be made available and no high school coaches or volunteers can have contact with student athletes from that school for those two weeks. Unfortunately, while it impacts only few, it impacts them dramatically — American Legion baseball, specifically.

Those Legion teams which use high school facilities and whose coaches are affiliated with the high school make the biggest sacrifices. The Cabot junior Legion team received a double whammy in that regard. Cabot Legion plays at the high school field and the junior team is coached by Cabot High assistant coach Andy Runyan.

As a result, the Cabot junior Legion team was unable to play a home game after June 19 and was without its head coach until the second game of the zone tournament.

SPORTS >> Rocketman coming of age

Leader sportswriter

His nickname says it all.

Searcy native Tyler Stevens has been known as “The Rocketman” since a dominating weekend of go-kart racing at Talladega Short Track as a teenager. Now 22, Stevens can still recall the trip that earned him his racing handle.

“I got it whenever we went to Alabama one year,” said Stevens. “There was a go-kart race at Talladega Short Track, right next to the Superspeedway, and we went down there and entered in three different divisions. We won all three of them. We came back to Arkansas, and someone said something like, ‘Well, you must have been a rocket’, and so ever since then, it’s been Rocketman.”

Stevens, who won four straight national go-kart championships at the Tunica Indoor Nationals from 2002-’06, entered the world of go-kart racing at age 5 and found national success before following in the footsteps of his dad Larry Stevens, who became Tyler’s first car owner when he made the switch to modifieds in June of 2006. Larry had been a modified racer in his younger days, and helped prepare Tyler for racing at the clay bullrings across the state of Arkansas.

Tyler quickly took to the open-wheeled machines, hovering around the top ten for the first two months until he broke through with his first career modified top five at Beebe Speedway in early August of 2006. He finished third behind veterans Ben Waggoner and Donnie Stringfellow that night, but broke through for his first mod win on the last weekend of the ’06 season in late October.

Things got complicated the following season when the family-funded team began to run out of money. Stevens started the season in the modified class, but had to switch to the less-expensive — and far less prestigious — E-mod class by early summer.

“Modified is one of the classes where you have to have top-notch equipment, or you’re not going to be a front runner,” Stevens said. “We had good enough stuff to run top ten, then it turned into kind of sinking money into it.”

Stevens made the most of his disappointing situation, dominating the E-mod class with four straight wins during the 2007 summer season, but when veteran car owner Kevin Barker came calling the following summer, Stevens left the economy mods behind.

“The opportunity opened up with Barker’s, and it was a good opportunity to take advantage of,” he said. “I just wanted to move up the ladder in racing. My dad drove modifieds, and I started out running modifieds for him. Then about a year ago, I started driving for Mr. Barker, and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.”

Barker, of Cabot, is one of the most successful modified owners in the central Arkansas area. He won an IMCA state title in 2005 with Conway racer Chuck McGinty before running two seasons with local driver Jayson Hefley.

Hefley’s busy schedule away from the track left Barker looking for a new driver in the spring of 2008, and it didn’t take him long to settle on a replacement.

“I was watching Tyler back when he was running E-mod,” said Barker. “I told everyone, you better keep an eye on that boy right there. You give him some seat time, and he’s going to be a contender.

“When I got the opportunity to get him to drive for me, he was the first one who popped into my mind. In another couple of years, he’s probably going to be one of the drivers that’s starting in the back and coming to the front every week.”

The explosion of popularity in go-kart racing and 250cc micro-sprints across the country a decade ago has changed the complexion of local short-track racing as a whole. No longer do the 20-year veterans enjoy an overwhelming advantage on any given weekend at the bullring dirt tracks. Young up-and-comers like Stevens are now becoming heavy hitters in all of the more prestigious classes.

Stevens has managed to parlay his success from the go-kart tracks to the quarter and half-milers across the state. And with his comfort level in modifieds improving weekly, that early go-kart streak may end up as a mere footnote by the time he hangs up his helmet decades from now.

“People would be surprised how much a modified is like a go-kart,” said Stevens. “With such a large motor and smaller tires, it’s more or less about being smooth and consistent. Whereas in a go-kart, everybody is so equal that you have to run smooth and consistent.”

His numbers are already solid in mods. The Barker’s 2FAST team has already taken five checkered flags in 2009, giving Stevens nearly 25 open-wheel modified wins during his limited time over the past three seasons.

Stevens said he is happy in the modified division for now, but neither he nor Barker have ruled out a possible venture into the resurgent late-model class in the coming years. With some of the biggest names in the country running modifieds week to week in central Arkansas, Stevens wants to make the most of where he is at right now.

“Around here, you have some of the best modified racers in the nation, with Batesville having Shaw and Greenbrier having GRT cars,” said Stevens. “You’ve got everybody — Jared Landers, Peyton Taylor — all the big names. They come from around here, and they can go anywhere in the country on a given weekend and be a top runner.

“Racing is not an easy sport. It’s going to be tough to win anywhere you go.”

SPORTS >> Area swimmers eye records at MOC today

Leader sportswriter

The Sherwood Sharks will try to continue their dynasty today when the sixth annual Meet of Champs gets under way at UALR.

The Sharks concluded a sixth straight unbeaten season and sixth consecutive Central Arkansas Swim League title, and will be looking to break several individual records today.

Other area teams with swimmers qualified in the event are the Cabot Piranhas and Lonoke Sharkrockets.

“You never really know what’s going to happen at the Meet of Champs,” said Sharks parent representative Mary Jo Heye, whose son Thomas Heye has dominated in the 9-10 boys age division this summer. “You can have kids come out of nowhere and break records. The kids keep improving over the summer, and you never know how well a newer swimmer will do there.”

Thomas Heye and 11-12 girls swimmer Conner McNulty have the best chances to break MOC records, Mary Jo Heye said. Heye is unbeaten this summer, and McNulty has achieved gold status in all of her categories.

But it’s the 7-8 year-olds that make up the heart of the dominant Sharks team. Katie Henderson, Anna Jaworski and Brianna Hanley have all had outstanding summers on the girls side, while Joseph Potts, Tristen Bowen and Vincent Jaworski have helped the Sharks boys dominate every opponent this summer.
Heye said to also watch for 9-10 girls swimmer Delaney Haralson and 14-year-old Sam Scott on the boys side.

For the second straight year, the Cabot Piranhas qualified nearly three-fourths of their swimmers for the Meet of Champs. Of nearly 100 swimmers on the roster, 70 swimmers qualified.

“We have had a good summer,” said Cabot coach Debbie Skidmore, now in her 11th season as head Piranha. “We have a lot of outstanding gold swimmers, and I expect our relay teams to also do well. The kids have been doubling up on practices and working out. I’m excited. We have a lot of kids qualified, and we hope they’re going to do some damage.”

Of those qualified, Skidmore said Megan Owens, Michael Rawocski, Riley Young and John Santiago have the best chances at shattering records today. And the 18-under girls relay team of Owens, Emily Grigsby, Jenni Anne Vaughan and Katie Burchfield will be going for its third-straight MOC victory after breaking their own record from 2007 at last year’s meet.

There have also been several swimmers reach all-gold status for the Piranhas this summer, including Alyssa Pritchard-Farren in the girls 6-under division, Alex Layman in the boys 7-8, Ashley Gore in the girls 9-10 and Brent Brockel and Payton Jones in the 11-12 boys division.

The Sharks began their sixth straight year of CASL domination on the first weekend of June with a win at Bryant. A number of swimmers quickly reached gold status in their new age divisions, as Sherwood easily took the win with a team score of 701, while the Barracudas finished with 435 points.

The Sharks hosted Otter Creek and YMCA at their own Harmon Pool the following weekend, and the result was another runaway victory. It was the second-highest point total in a single meet for the Sharks in 2009, as they took 873.5 points to the Otters’ 269.5 and 94 points for the Stingrays.

They improved to 3-0 on the season with a meet win at Lakewood, and closed out the month of June by hosting Maumelle and Lonoke at Harmon Pool. The Marlins racked up more points against the Sharks than any other competitor this summer with 473 team points, but Sherwood’s 826.5 was more than enough to secure the win.

They wrapped up their sixth title and closed out the season with a 925-460 win at Cabot on July 11.

The Piranhas opened their 2009 summer season with a win at Otter Creek against the Otters and the YMCA Stingrays. Cabot finished with 510 team points, while second-place Otter Creek had 332 points. The Piranhas then won two straight meets at home before suffering their first setback of the season in a narrow 75-point loss at Maumelle.

The Meet of Champs will begin today at 8 a.m. at the UALR Donaghey Student Center Aquatic Center.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

TOP STORY >> Huck’s main adversary is not running

Leader editor-in-chief

(This column, which appeared here on Jan. 17, 2008, won first prize in the Arkansas Press Association’s Better Newspaper contest. It placed second in the National Newspaper Association’s contest.)

Mike Huckabee’s most formidable opponent is not running for president.

Her name is Lois Davidson, and she could knock him out of the running faster than any of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination.

Davidson is the Missouri woman who says — truthfully — that Huckabee is responsible for her daughter’s death because he let Wayne Dumond out of prison and let him move to Missouri, where he raped and murdered Davidson’s daughter, Carol Sue Shields. Dumond, who was convicted in the Shields case, almost certainly raped and murdered another woman, but he died in prison before he could be tried for that case.

Davidson appears in a TV commercial being aired in primary states — but apparently not in Arkansas — criticizing Huckabee for favoring Dumond’s release, and that has upset the former governor. He says he’s “appalled” that she went public with her grief and that she is being “exploited” by his opponents who’ve distorted his role in the case.

Huckabee, who never bothered to read the trial proceedings, has tried to hide his complicity in the Dumond fiasco for years, but Davidson wouldn’t let him insult the memory of her precious daughter.

“I assure you, Mr. Huckabee, I am not being exploited,” she answered back. “I am fully aware of the actions I have taken in attempting to inform the public of your role in my daughter’s rape and murder. I have spent over seven years thinking about this. I am not a dupe. But you, Gov. Huckabee, were duped time and again by convicted felons who once released from prison by you began hurting people again.”

The facts are these: Huckabee thought Dumond was railroaded by the Clinton “machine” and lobbied publicly and behind the scenes on Dumond’s behalf.

Former Governor Jim Guy Tucker had reduced Dumond’s sentence from life to 39 years, but Huckabee thought that was still excessive.

At a highly unusual meeting with the parole board — no other governor had made an appearance there in recent memory — Huck said Dumond had gotten a raw deal and pushed for his earliest release, saying Dumond had been in prison too long.

Parole board member Charles Chastain disagreed, telling the governor, “That’s what happens when you rape a cheerleader in a small town.”

As far as Huckabee was concerned, Dumond was the victim, not the woman who claimed she was raped.

Huckabee believed Dumond deserved a new start in Missouri and convinced the parole board to let him go. Only Chastain voted no.

Huckabee thought justice had been served. Lois Davidson doesn’t think so. Addressing Huckabee, she said her daughter was “raped and murdered by a serial rapist that you wanted freed from prison. Please be honest about the role you played in releasing my daughter’s killer.”

Although Huckabee may have felt let down when his man was arrested again, no ambitious politician will admit he has blood on his hands — unless he still believes in Dumond’s innocence.

Maybe he thinks Dumond was unfairly convicted in Missouri, too, a victim of another political machine that had spread from Arkansas into Missouri.

But any sensible jury would reach this verdict on Huckabee: Guilty as charged.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Already hitting the jackpot

A lottery is all about making dreams come true, right? The Arkansas Lottery hasn’t sold a single scratch-off or Powerball ticket but it’s making the wildest dreams come true almost every day. Monday it was the turn of Sheriff Lance Huey of Sheridan, the hometown of the state Lottery Commission chairman, Ray Thornton.

The sheriff of little Grant County landed a job with the state lottery for a $70,000 raise. He will make $115,644 a year to be in charge of security at the lottery offices at Little Rock. He will be the highest paid law-enforcement person in Arkansas history.

Here’s a comparison that a reporter made Monday. Huey’s salary will exceed that of the director of the State Police, who directs the work of almost a thousand people who investigate criminal activity from border to border and patrol the highways of the state. The State Police director got a raise last week and will earn $108,083 if the State Police Commission gave him the maximum allowed by the appropriation, $7,000 less than Sheriff Huey.

Ernie Passailaigue, the $324,000-a-year director of the lottery, had an explanation for paying his man so much more than the State Police chief or any other law-enforcement official in the state. The State Police director has hundreds of well-trained troopers to help him enforce the laws across the state, Passailaigue said. Huey will have to police the lottery by himself. He won’t be just a security guard but he will be the person who makes sure that convenience store owners and other lottery vendors don’t cheat the state out of its share of lottery receipts and that people don’t work scams on the lottery. The guy is going to have to work so hard the next six months, by Passailaigue’s account, that people ought to feel sorry for him.

Last week, Passailaigue hired two assistants from South Carolina at $225,000 each and a couple of young lawyers who had associations with legislators, Lottery Chairman Thornton or the state attorney general at salaries of $105,000, far above their old state pay grades. His first hire as public relations, legislative and commission liaison director (she polishes relations with legislators and key politicians) was a former aide to the retired Thornton. Her salary is $105,000.

The constitutional amendment that voters approved last year frees the lottery from the normal restrictions on compensation and hiring that apply to the other 100,000 or so state and local government workers in Arkansas. It can pay as many people as it wants as much as it wants, if the Lottery Commission approves. We now see why that little proviso was included.

The lottery has about 80 more jobs to go. You must presume that all of them will go at rates far above the prevailing compensation for similar government work in Arkansas. If you have a connection with one of the lottery commissioners or a legislator, go for it. This lottery is a party like Arkansas has never seen. You miss out on it at your regret.

Ernie Dumas writes editorials for The Leader.

EDITORIAL >> PCSSD vs. Nellums

One or more members of the Pulaski County Special School District Board went ballistic when Michael Nellums and Kim Forrest accused them of having a vendetta against Nellums.

So for the second time since the beginning of the year, certain members of this temperamental, erratic and thin-skinned board are having interim Superintendent Rob McGill investigate Nellums again.

Those who run afoul of the majority on this board quickly find themselves reassigned, passed over or investigated.

A lesser man, or perhaps a less stubborn man, would have thrown in the towel long ago, long before the first “investigation” into remarks he allegedly made earlier this year.

That investigation, which came up with no actionable behavior on his part, cost the district more than $10,000, billed over the course of a month by the district’s attorney, Jay Bequette.

That didn’t include the time that Bill Barnes, director of secondary education, or Debbie Coley, director of human resources, spent interrogating various other principals or teachers who might have heard an alleged slander.

Now Nellums and Forrest are being investigated because of the following sentences that appeared in a May 20 Leader article about the combining of the boys and girls middle schools in Jacksonville: “Forrest said she thought the combining of the schools was part of a vendetta against Nellums. Nellums said Tuesday he has no doubt that the combining of the schools grew out of just such a vendetta.”

Nellums’ troubles began when he refused to cave in to PACT, the district’s powerful teachers union — and increased as PACT added Tim Clark and Jacksonville board member Bill Vasquez to the board, where they had earlier placed Gwen Williams.

Forrest’s troubles began when she was appointed principal of the newly coeducational Jacksonville middle school for next year and spoke out asking for another year of single-gender education. She angered the special-interest groups by siding with Nellums.

Now Nellums is under investigation again and his attorneys, reportedly considering legal action against some members of the board, have directed him not to discuss the situation.

We think Nellums and Forrest have courageously fought for what they believed was best for their students. They’ve been able principals with a clear vision. The district needs more like them.

TOP STORY >> Job seekers swarming libraries

Leader staff writer

Local libraries are seeing an upswing in patrons using public computers as a resource for job searches and résumé writing.

Head librarian Christine Williams of the Arlene Cherry Memorial Library in Cabot said, “We have noticed an upsurge of computer usage to make résumés, run job searches and to complete online applications for available jobs.

“We are glad to have so many public computers available for their use in their job search,” Williams said.

There are 15 computers available at the Cabot library. Besides computers, the library has a section of books available for job seekers. The books have information on how to write a résumé, how to compose a cover letter and tips on interviewing.

Joshua Brown, 21, of Cabot was using the computers at the library to connect to the Internet and search for job openings.

“It is really helpful to see what is available. I have been going around business to business. A lot of them tell me they are not hiring or they are on a hiring freeze,” Brown said.

A library user from Austin said she has been looking for new job for about a month. She is trying to find a job to satisfy her family needs and that uses her qualifications in a business administration or accounting position.

She said she does not want to settle for less.

“Using the library has helped, especially the Internet. I have had three to six interviews a week, especially in the Little Rock area. It is hard to find a job locally in the suburban towns,” she said.

The Cabot library is open 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. On Fridays the library is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Venessa Ford, librarian of the Ward Public Library, said the computer usage at the library has increased. Some of the increase is due to patrons filling out job applications online.

Ford said the library has books on how to develop a résumé.

“We have pulled books for patrons to look at,” she said.

The Ward Public Library is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. On Wednesdays, the library is open an hour later until 6 p.m. Thursday the library is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The library is closed from noon to 1 p.m. every day for lunch.

There has been an increase in the number of visitors to the Beebe Public Library, a branch of the White County Regional Library System.

Branch manager Kathy Rodgers said library usage has increased due in part to job searching. Visitors to the library can also check out books about résumé writing

“There are résumé programs on our public-access computers,” Rodgers said.

The Beebe Public Library is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from noon to 6 p.m. The library is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. It is closed on Fridays.

Jacksonville’s Esther D. Nixon branch has seen an increase in job-hunting Internet use.

“Quite often people will ask for assistance filling out applications or ask questions about résumés. These sorts of questions seem to have increased in recent months,” branch manager Kathy Seymour said.

“We’ve also seen more people viewing the classifieds in the newspapers along with faxing applications and résumés within the past three months or so,” Seymour said.

In March, the library held a job-search program focused on tactics for getting a job in the tough economy. However, no such program is currently in place.

Kim Hackett, the assistant manager of Sherwood’s Amy Sanders Library, says that the branch has also seen increased computer use.

“Since the spring, there have been quite a few more people coming in to use computers. I don’t know for a fact what specifically people use the computers for because Internet use is privacy protected, but I assume most Internet use is job-related.

“A lot more people have been asking for help with Word Wizard, a program that has résumé formatting capabilities, in recent months. Job hunting books have also been checked out more frequently,” Hackett said.

Though the Sherwood branch does not host job search programs, the Central Arkansas Library System’s main branch, located at 100 Rock St. in Little Rock, regularly hosts computer classes and recently held a class specific to résumé formatting. Contact the main library at 501-918-3000.

(Julia Hofheimer contributed to this report.)

TOP STORY >> Newspaper honored as state’s best

The Leader has won the General Excellence Award for two years in a row in the Arkansas Press Association’s Better Newspaper contest.

The APA named The Leader the state’s best large weekly newspaper after it received 17 awards, including first place for best news story, best front page, best special issue, as well as top honors for investigative reporting, news and political column, sports column and sports feature photo.

The awards were announced at the APA’s annual convention Saturday in Rogers. The Leader also won three awards from the National Newspaper Association.

The APA named “Violent end brings pall over subdivision” by Jonathan Feldman and Garrick Feldman the best news article in a large weekly. The father-son team described a standoff last August between the Jacksonville police and a mentally disturbed man who was shooting at neighbors and police at a home in the Foxwood subdivision.

A police sharpshooter later shot the man through a kitchen window.

For the second time, John Hofheimer won for his series of exclusive reports on the housing-privatization program at Little Rock Air Force Base. His reporting has received national recognition and led to the dismissal of the previous contractor for failing to build or remodel homes on the air base or pay subcontractors.

New contractors have been hired and have resumed work on the housing project.

Garrick Feldman’s column, “Huck’s main adversary not running,” was judged best news/political column. It placed second in the National Newspaper Association contest. The column described a mother’s anguish after her daughter was murdered in Missouri by Wayne Dumond, a convicted Arkansas rapist who was paroled after then-Gov. Mike Huckabee had intervened on his behalf. (The column is reprinted on page 1A.)

Jonathan Feldman, Rick Kron and David Scolli won second place from the National Newspaper Association for their coverage of the Reed’s Bridge Civil War battle reenactment. Aliya Feldman, another Feldman offspring, won honorable mention from the NNA for her environmental reporting on the expanded Two Pine Landfill in Jacksonville.

At the Arkansas Press convention, The Leader won for best special issue on last year’s storms.

Design editor Christy Hendricks finished first for best front page. Sports editor Kelly Fenton won first place for his column, “Baseball brings pain.” He won second place for his feature, “Double jeopardy” and honorable mention for his feature, “Going to Kansas City” and for his article, “No excuses needed.” He finished third for a humorous column, “Bob’s your uncle.”

Sportswriter Jason King won honorable mention for his articles, “Panthers grind way to title” and “Trey’s legacy.”

David Scolli took first place for his sports feature photo, “Panther cheerleaders.”

David Parker and Christy Hendricks won second place for “Memorial Day” in the picture page/photo essay category.

Hendricks and The Leader staff took second for a feature page.

Nancy Dockter and John Hofheimer won second place for coverage of business and agriculture.

Jonathan Feldman, Rick Kron, Jeffrey Smith and Hofheimer placed second for their coverage of tourism.

“Winning 21 awards in the state and national contests is a record for The Leader,” publisher Garrick Feldman said. “The contest is very competitive with hundreds of outstanding submissions. We appreciate the special recognition, not only for the newspaper and our talented staff, but also for the communities that have supported The Leader for more than 20 years.”

TOP STORY >> A key test in schools indicating progress

Leader staff writer

Pupils at Magness Creek and Stagecoach in Cabot and Arnold Drive elementary schools at the air base are among the top in the state based on recently released benchmark scores.

Almost all Magness Creek third-graders scored proficient or advanced in math on the annual assessment. Because percentages are rounded, the school did have a few students, less than six, score basic and none scored below basic.

If a student scores advanced, it means he is more than ready to move up to the next grade, proficient implies the student is also ready to move up, but may need a little help here and there, a basic student needs a lot of help to complete work at his grade level and will have difficulty at the next grade level, and a below basic student doesn’t have all the skills to move up to the next grade.

Among the top scores in the region were third-graders at Stagecoach Elementary, with 95 percent of them scoring proficient or advanced and 92 percent of the fourth- graders scoring proficient or better. Also, 90 percent of Southside Elementary third and fourth-graders made the grade.

At Arnold Drive Elementary in Jacksonville, 97 percent of the third graders, 94 percent of the fourth-graders scored proficient or better in math and 91 percent of the fifth-graders scored well in math.

These same third and fourth-graders scored 91 and 97 percent, respectively, in literacy. Also, 93 percent of Oakbrooke Elementary third-graders in Sherwood made the cut in literacy.

Ninety-five percent of Sidney Deener Elementary School third-graders in Searcy scored proficient or better in math, and 93 percent of the third-graders at Searcy’s Westside Elementary did the same, while the fourth-graders had a 92 percent pass rate. The sixth-graders at Searcy’s Southwest Middle School had a 90 percent pass rate in math, while among Ahlf Junior High eighth-graders, 91 percent scored well in literacy.

State Education Department figures show, for the first time, more than 60 percent of students at each grade level scored proficient or advanced on both mathematics and literacy on the Arkansas Augmented Benchmark Exams.

Generally, students did better in math than in literacy. the younger students did better than the older students.

The exams, given in April to 209,000 third through eighth grade students, are recognized as some of the most rigorous in the country, according to Julie Thompson, spokesman for the Education Department.

Diana Julian, interim commissioner for the Arkansas Department of Education, said, “It’s a great day when a state can report that more than two-thirds of its students are achieving proficiency, especially when those results reflect continued academic growth at each grade level.”

The No Child Left Behind Act requires all students be proficient or advanced at their grade level by the end of the 2013-2014 school year.

The state considers an annual school increase of about seven percentage points as making adequate progress toward that goal. This means any school that has less than 70 percent of its students proficient or advanced is in jeopardy of reaching that 100 percent goal in time.


At Beebe Intermediate, 87 percent of the third-graders scored proficient or advanced in math and 73 percent did as well in literacy. Among the fourth-graders, 85 percent were proficient or better in math and 84 percent made the cut in literacy.

At Beebe Middle School, 71 percent of the fifth-graders were either proficient or advanced and 75 percent scored proficient or better in literacy. Among the sixth-graders, 86 percent were proficient or better in math and 74 percent did equally well in literacy.

At Beebe Junior High, 71 percent of the seventh-graders scored proficient or better and 68 percent did the same in literacy.

Among eighth-graders, 67 percent were proficient or advanced in math and 81 percent in literacy did the same.


At Westside Elementary, 79 percent of the third-graders scored proficient or better in math and 77 percent did the same in literacy. At the fourth-grade level, 77 percent scored proficient or advanced in math and literacy.

Central Elementary had 83 percent of its third-graders score proficient or advanced in math and 73 percent did the same in literacy. Among fourth-graders, 87 percent scored well in math and 81 percent scored proficient or better in literacy.

At Magness Creek, 100 percent of its third-graders scored proficient or advanced in math and 86 percent did equally well in literacy. The school’s fourth-graders had an 88 percent pass rate in math and an 89 percent proficient or better rate in literacy.

At Stagecoach, 95 percent of the third-graders scored proficient or better in math and 88 percent did the same in literacy.

Among the fourth-graders, 92 percent made the cut in math and 83 percent scored proficient or advanced in literacy.

Among Northside third-graders, 86 percent scored proficient or better in math and 76 percent did the same in literacy. At the fourth-grade level, 85 percent scored well in math and 83 percent scored proficient or advanced in literacy.

At Eastside Elementary, 86 percent of third-graders were proficient or advanced in math and 73 percent did equally well in literacy. Eighty-six percent of the fourth-graders also scored proficient or advanced in math, while 81 percent did the same in literacy.

At Ward Central, 78 percent of the third-graders scored proficient or advanced in math, but only 63 percent did so in literacy.

At the fourth-grade level, 80 percent made the cut in math and 78 percent scored proficient or better in literacy.

At Southside Elementary, 90 percent of the third-graders scored proficient or better in math and 80 percent did so in literacy.

Among the fourth-graders, 90 percent made the grade in math and 84 percent were proficient or better in literacy.

For fifth-graders at Cabot Middle School North, 82 percent scored proficient or advanced in math and 81 did the same in literacy. At the sixth-grade level, 88 percent made the cut in math and 83 percent did so in literacy.

At Cabot Middle School South, 83 percent of the fifth-graders scored proficient or better in math and 81 percent were proficient or advanced in literacy. Among sixth-graders, 88 percent were proficient or better in math and 84 percent did the same in literacy.

At Cabot Junior High North, 72 percent of the seventh-graders scored proficient or better in math, but that fell to 65 percent in literacy. At the eighth-grade level, 71 were proficient or better in math and 77 percent did the same in literacy.

Among the seventh-graders at Cabot Junior High South, 78 percent scored proficient or better in math and 76 percent scored equally well in literacy. At the eighth-grade level, 71 percent scored proficient or advanced in math and that jumped to 79 percent in literacy.


At the third-grade level, 75 percent of the students were proficient or advanced in math and 64 percent did equally well in literacy. Among fourth-graders, 81 percent were proficient or better in math and 73 percent were proficient or better in literacy. At the fifth-grade level, 76 percent of the students were proficient or better in math and 72 percent made the cut in literacy.

At Lonoke Middle School, 83 percent of the sixth-graders scored proficient or advanced in math and 72 percent were proficient or better in literacy. Among seventh-graders, 75 percent were proficient or better in math, but that dropped to 58 percent in literacy. At the eighth-grade level, 70 percent were proficient or advanced in math and 75 percent made the cut in literacy.


At Oakbrooke Elementary in Sherwood, 76 percent of the third-graders were proficient or advanced in math, but that fell to 61 percent in literacy. At the fourth-grade level, 78 percent scored well in math, but that jumped up to 93 percent proficient or better in literacy. Among fifth-graders, 63 percent scored proficient or better in math and 67 percent did as well in literacy.

At Sherwood Elementary, 70 percent of the third-graders scored proficient or better in math and 66 percent did equally well in literacy. Among fourth-graders, 73 percent made the cut in math and 68 percent scored proficient or advanced in literacy. At the fifth-grade level, 72 percent scored proficient or better in math and 62 percent did the same in literacy.

At Sylvan Hills Elementary in Sherwood, 76 percent of the third-graders scored proficient or better in math, but that slipped to 62 percent in literacy. At the fourth-grade level, 73 percent scored proficient or better in math and 69 percent did the same in literacy. Among fifth-graders, just 42 percent are proficient or advanced in math and 51 percent are in literacy.

Sherwood’s Clinton Elementary had 65 percent of its third-graders score proficient or advanced in math and 63 percent did the same in literacy. At the fourth-grade level, 73 percent made the cut in math and 71 percent scored proficient or better in literacy. Among the fifth-graders, 62 percent scored proficient or better in math and 58 percent did the same in literacy.

Pinewood Elementary in Jacksonville had 76 percent of its third-graders score proficient or better in math, but that fell to 47 percent making the cut in literacy. Among the fourth-graders, 76 percent made the grade in math and 69 percent scored proficient or better in literacy. At the fifth-grade level, 68 percent scored proficient or better in math and 61 did the same in literacy.

At Bayou Meto Elementary, 85 percent of third-graders made the grade in math, but that fell to 65 percent in literacy. Among the fourth-graders, 89 percent achieved proficiency or better in math and 80 percent did equally well in literacy. At the fifth-grade level, 79 percent scored proficient or better in math and 75 percent did the same in literacy.

At Tolleson Elementary, 81 percent of the third-graders scored proficient or better in math, but that fell to 67 percent of students for literacy. At the fourth-grade level, 80 percent scored proficient or advanced in math and 76 percent did the same in literacy. Among the fifth-graders, 60 percent scored well in math and 66 percent did the same in literacy.

Cato Elementary had 85 of its third-graders score proficient or advanced in math and that fell to 59 percent in literacy. Among fourth-graders, 79 percent scored well in math and 77 percent scored proficient or better in literacy. At the fifth-grade level, 59 percent of the students scored well in math and 60 percent in literacy.

At Murrell Taylor Elementary, 69 percent of the third-graders made the cut in math and 60 percent scored proficient or better in literacy. At the fourth-grade level, just 40 percent of the students were proficient or better in math, but that jumped to 76 percent in literacy. Among the fifth-graders, 50 percent made the cut in math and 44 percent scored proficient or better in literacy.

At Jacksonville Elementary, 59 percent of the third-graders scored proficient or better in math and 40 percent did the same in literacy. Among fourth-graders, 53 percent made the cut in math and 45 percent scored proficient or better in literacy. At the fifth-grade level, just 31 percent made the required grade in math and 48 percent scored proficient or better in literacy.

Arnold Drive Elementary had some of the better scores in the county district. Among its third-graders, 97 percent scored proficient or advanced in math and 91 percent did the same in literacy. At the fourth-grade level, 94 percent made the cut in math and 97 percent scored proficient or better in literacy. Among fifth-graders, 91 percent scored well in math and 86 percent did equally well in literacy.

At Warren Dupree Elementary, 60 percent of its third-graders made the cut in math and 40 percent scored proficient or better in literacy. At the fourth-grade level, 81 percent scored well in math and 69 percent scored proficient or better in literacy.

Among fifth-graders, 65 percent scored well in math and 79 percent made the cut in literacy.

At Harris Elementary, 53 percent of the third-graders scored proficient or better in math and 42 percent did equally well in literacy. Among fourth-graders, 48 percent scored well in math and 42 percent made the cut in literacy. At the fifth-grade level, it was 42 percent making the cut in math and 48 percent scored proficient or better in literacy.

At Jacksonville Middle School Girls’ campus, 55 percent of the sixth-graders scored proficient or better in math and 56 percent did the same in literacy. At the seventh-grade level, 41 percent scored proficient or better in math and that jumped to 59 percent in literacy. Among the eighth-graders, 35 percent scored proficient or better in math and 65 percent made the cut in literacy.

At the boys’ campus, 68 percent of sixth-graders scored well in math, while 43 percent scored proficient or better in literacy.

At the seventh-grade level, the numbers fell to 43 percent proficient or better in math and down to 23 percent making the cut in literacy. In eighth grade, 52 percent of the students scored well in math and 56 percent scored proficient or better in literacy.

Among Sylvan Hills Middle School sixth-graders, 69 percent scored proficient or advanced in math and 54 percent made the cut in literacy. Forty-eight percent of the seventh-graders scored proficient or better in math and that edged up to 56 percent making the grade in literacy. At the eighth-grade level, 38 percent scored well in math and 59 percent scored proficient or better in literacy.

At Northwood Middle School, 77 percent of sixth-graders scored proficient or better in math and 55 percent scored well in literacy. At the seventh-grade level, 59 percent scored well in math and 72 percent were proficient or better in literacy. Among eighth-graders, 63 percent scored proficient or better in math and 74 percent did well in literacy.


At Sidney Deener Elementary, 95 percent of the third-graders scored proficient or advanced in math and 87 percent did the same in literacy. At the fourth-grade level, 87 percent scored proficient or better in math and 76 percent did equally well in literacy.

At Westside Elementary, 93 percent of the third-graders scored proficient or better and 89 percent made the cut in literacy.
Among the fourth-graders, 92 percent scored proficient or advanced in math and 85 percent scored proficient or better in literacy.

At McRae Elementary, 83 percent of the third-graders were proficient or better in math and 75 percent did the same in literacy. Among the fourth-graders, 83 percent made the cut in math and 76 percent made the grade in literacy.

At Southwest Middle School, 81 percent of the fifth-graders scored proficient or better in math and 87 percent did the same in literacy. At the sixth-grade level, 90 percent of the students scored proficient or advanced in math and 88 percent made the cut in literacy.

For seventh-graders at Ahlf Junior High, 78 percent scored well in math and 80 percent were proficient or advanced in literacy. Among the eighth-graders, 79 percent made the cut in math and 91 percent scored proficient or advanced in literacy.

TOP STORY >> Air base heading to rodeo with high hopes

Leader editor-in-chief

Little Rock Air Force Base, which has the largest C-130 fleet in the world, is sending four planes and some 140 airmen to the air rodeo competition at McChord Air Force Base in Washington state.

These are the men and women who fly C-130s, deliver military personnel and supplies around the world on short notice, and they will compete for the title of best airlifters in the world.

Air Mobility Command’s premier mobility competition will take place Saturday through Friday, July 24.

Col. Gregory S. Otey, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base, and Col. Charles K. Hyde, commander of the 314th Airlift Wing, will lead their teams to McChord on Friday.

Among those going on the trip are Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, former Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim, Larry Bernake of Arkansas Federal Credit Union and Larry Wilson of First Arkansas Bank and Trust.

The three surviving members of the original nine Doolittle Raiders, who were the first to bomb a Japanese island during the Second World War, will be the special guests of Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, the commander of Air Mobility Command.

The air rodeo, held every two years, tests the mobility of C-130 crews. The competition features more than 40 aircraft participating in airdrops, aerial refueling and other aerial events.

Additional events will showcase the wide-ranging capabilities of military security forces and aerial port, maintenance and aeromedical-evacuation personnel.

More than 100 teams and 2,500 people from the Air Force, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard, as well as allies from 25 nations, are expected to participate.

The last biennial competition took place in July 2007 at McChord AFB.

“The return on investment from rodeo is huge because it tests, improves and impacts the entire worldwide mobility machine,” Otey said. “This one week allows us to measure our combat airlift skills against the best of the best mobility aircrews from around the world.

“Airlift rodeo allows all of us to share tactics, techniques and procedures and increases the velocity and precision of combat airlift. That increase in efficiency in combat airlift velocity and precision directly affects our war-fighters on the front lines,” Otey said.

Hyde, who is going to his first rodeo, is also enthusiastic about the upcoming competition. He said the rodeo “tests the whole system” of air mobility. “It challenges everybody to be better and work together better. We learn from each other.”

Hyde’s grandfather built C-130s in the 1960s at the Lockheed assembly plant in Marietta, Ga., where he grew up. He said his grandfather probably helped build many of the planes at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Hyde is a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Otey, a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, was a weapons officer at the C-130 Weapons School at the air base from 1995 through 1997.

Hyde, who is an Air Force Academy graduate, trained here and was a flight instructor in 1992.

The 314th Airlift Wing trains C-130 crews for the Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and several allied nations. The wing is part of the Education and Training Command.

The 19th Airlift Wing is the premier combat airlift unit and reports to Air Mobility Command.

“Rodeo showcases AMC’s best of the best and allows us to train and learn through spirited competition,” said Maj. Gen. Brooks Bash, AMC director of operations and Rodeo 2009 commander.

“Not only does this world-class competition train mobility forces for the fight, it provides a forum for airmen and our international partners to share the best of tactics and techniques,” Brooks added.

According to the Air Force, an important long-term benefit of this event is increased cooperation between air mobility forces among participating nations. Collectively, the ultimate goal of the competition is to develop and improve techniques and procedures that enhance air mobility operations.

According to AMC officials, the command provides the nation global mobility combined with rapid response.

Air Mobility Command not only plays a crucial role in Iraq and Afghanistan through its airlift, tanker and aeromedical-evacuation capabilities but also provides humanitarian support around the world. Its extensive daily flying operations average an aircraft takeoff every 90 seconds.

Capt. Allison Stephens of Little Rock Air Force Base public affairs contributed to this report.

SPORTS >> Cabot seniors go to bat on Searcy

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Centennial Bank seniors improved to 12-8 with a 10-0 cruise past Searcy on Sunday at Brian Wade Conrade Field.
Sam Bates led the way with two hits and three RBI, including a home run, and lifted his average to .482.

Drew Burks went 3 of 4 and raised his batting mark to .396, while Ben Wainwright continues to climb out of an early season slump with three hits that moved his average up to .293.

Andrew Reynolds and Ty Steele each had two hits as Centennial Bank totaled 16. Matt Turner ran his team-leading RBI total to 21 with two more on Sunday.

Cole Nicholson tossed a five-hit shutout to improve to 4-1 and drop his ERA to 1.20. Nicholson struck out five, walked one and hit a batter over seven innings.

Cabot will take on Maumelle or North Little Rock on Friday night in the opening round of the zone tournament at Burns Park.

SPORTS >> Whatley says televised football provides great chance to showcase city

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville Red Devil head football coach Mark Whatley took on a variety of topics when he spoke to the Rotary Club on Monday — from private schools to a proposed classification realignment to education standards at his program.

The big items, though, were the televised football game with Cabot that opens the season on Sept. 1 and the introduction of new defensive coordinator Derek Moore, who is awaiting the approval of the Pulaski County Special School District board.

Whatley, who will be starting his fifth season at the Red Devil helm, touted KARK/Fearless Friday’s televised football package, which was unveiled last month and will launch with the Jacksonville-Cabot game.

“Those guys have done a great job putting this together,” Whatley said before adding with a laugh, “Now I have my own thoughts about those blogs and message board sites (Fearless Friday offers a forum for fans to discuss statewide sports topics). I don’t read those because it can upset you sometimes.

“But this is a great chance to show people what we have here in Jacksonville. And we would like to try to get that traveling (Jacksonville-Cabot game) trophy back.”

Whatley said his 2009 Red Devils should benefit from having as many as eight incoming junior defensive players who either started or saw plenty of action last fall.

Jacksonville lost long-time defensive coordinator Rick Russell, who took over the head coaching job at North Pulaski. When Whatley went in search for a replacement for Russell, he said he had in mind an older guy with lots of experience. Warren head coach Bo Hembree urged him to think young, Whatley said.

“It seemed like every time Warren lost a game, Bo would fire a defensive coordinator,” Whatley joked. “So I called him and he said to stay away from the old guys. He told me that defense was about attitude, energy and flying to the football. Find someone young who has learned under great coaches.”

Hembree also pointed out that computers have started to play a key role in coaching and that younger coaches are much more computer-savvy. Hembree mentioned Moore, a former Arkansas Razorback defensive end and student assistant under defensive coordinator Reggie Herring, as a perfect candidate.

“So I called Reggie and he told me, ‘You better get him. You better get him right now,’” Whatley said.

Whatley got the same recommendation from new Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino and defensive coordinator Willy Robinson.

“It’s a big jump for me,” said Moore, who was introduced as the prospective Red Devil defensive coordinator at the Rotary Club gathering. “But I’ve learned under two really good defensive coaches and I got a feeling for coaching high school football under

Coach (Barry Lunney) at Fort Smith Southside.”

Whatley listed defensive experience, junior quarterback Logan Perry and deep offensive and defensive lines as the strengths of his 2009 squad. Those lines will benefit significantly from the move-in of a Batesville senior transfer who clocks in at 6-feet, 5-inches and 270 pounds.

“Last year, we just didn’t have much depth up front and we had to play some guys both ways on the line,” Whatley said. “This year, we’ll be stretched a little thin with the skill people.”

Whatley was asked about the controversial matter of private programs, which have now been relegated to their own conference after allegations of recruiting and complaints that they enjoyed unfair advantages over public schools.

“I think sometimes people don’t recognize the things that successful programs are doing right,” Whatley said. “Successful programs have accountability, long-range plans and are committed to what they are doing.

“I mean, yeah, I want a level playing field, but I think we need to find the best thing out there and try to level it that way.”

Whatley wouldn’t speculate on the allegations of recruiting but stressed that he’d much rather be able to just keep Jacksonville kids home, rather than rely on move-ins.

“I just want to get the ones we have here (in Jacksonville),” he said. “I want these kids walking the halls together and developing that chemistry and sense of community. We would all really benefit if those kids (in the Jacksonville youth football programs) would stay in our feeder schools and we wouldn’t lose them to different schools along the way.”

Whatley also stressed that academic performance would continue to be a top priority in his program, employing the phrase “books before ball.” While the requirement for player eligibility is a 2.0 grade point average, Whatley suggested that wasn’t high enough.

“You have to have a 2.5 to play at a Division I school,” he said. “We need to send a better message to these kids about academics.”

Jacksonville will continue to scrimmage Little Rock Catholic and Vilonia every Thursday at 5 p.m. through July at Jan Crow Stadium.

SPORTS >> Bruins falter in state tournament

Leader sports editor

A season that began slowly before gathering momentum midway through ended with a fairly loud thud at the American Legion junior state tournament last weekend.

The Sylvan Hills Optimist Club Bruins lost both games at the Sheridan Sports Complex by a combined 25-1, falling 14-0 to Sheridan in the opening round, then getting eliminated 11-1 by Bryant on Saturday afternoon.

The Bruins finish the season 20-8.

The table was set early on Friday night, when Sheridan’s Kurt Stamper belted a first-inning grand slam for a quick 4-0 lead.

The Bruins gave themselves only one opportunity to get back into the contest when they loaded the bases in the second but came up empty.

Sylvan Hills starter Justin Cook gave up a single and a walk to open the game, but looked as though he might escape after a pair of strikeouts. Tyler Lathan, though, battled for a walk and Stamper lined a 2-2 pitch over the fence in left for a 4-0 Sheridan lead.

The Bruins collected one of their two hits in the game when Austin Spears beat out a high bouncer past the mound to open the second. Sheridan hurler Tyler Lathan hit Michael Lock with one out and James Pepin with two outs to load the bases. But Will Carter hit a bouncer to first for an unassisted out and the Bruins managed only two more base runners the rest of the way.

Cook fooled a lot of Sheridan hitters with his curve ball on his way to seven strikeouts. But the ones that weren’t fooled hit him pretty hard. A typical inning was the third, when Cook struck out two of the first four he faced, but hit a batter and gave up a single to the other two. Another single followed to make it 5-0.

In the fourth, two singles and an error scored two more runs. Then, following his sixth and seventh strikeouts to open the fifth, Cook surrendered back-to-back doubles by Nick Ware and Landon Moore. Moore had four of Sheridan’s 11 hits.

With a possibility of as many as six games between Friday and Tuesday, Sylvan Hills coach Jim Fink left Cook on the mound through the fifth inning. Sheridan struck for six more in the sixth on three hits, six walks and a sacrifice fly.

Pinch hitter Zach Russenberger picked up Sylvan Hills’ only other hit when he grounded a single up the middle with two outs in the final inning.

Sheridan was slated to take on Texarkana yesterday in the state championship.

SPORTS >> Rhinos roll ’Cats

Holding the Arkansas Wildcats to only 33 yards of offense in the second half was key for the Arkansas Rhinos in their home opener at Bob Hill Memorial Field on Saturday.

Tough defense compensated for an offense that killed itself with penalties in a 13-0 win as the Rhinos improved to 2-0 in front of more than 400 fans, which included Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher.

The Rhinos were penalized 13 times for 100 yards. Most of the field laundry came at inopportune times to stall out promising drives in the second half.

The Rhinos moved the ball consistently throughout the game, but the constant penalties forced them to resort to gadgetry late in the game when their best drive of the second half stalled at the Wildcat 40-yard line.

Kicker James Bellar was sent out to attempt a long 54-yard field goal, but holder Daniel Brown took the snap and sprinted down the left side to score with 3:39 left in the game to all but put the game away. Brown bobbled the snap on the extra-point attempt, which set the final margin at 13-0.

The other Rhinos’ score at the start of the second quarter was set up by two powerful rushes from running back Jerald Marshall. They were his only two carries of the first half, but were enough to take the Rhinos from their own 39-yard line to the Wildcat 14. Marshall broke three tackles on his first carry for 16 yards, and used up most of the field on his second carry of 31 yards.

Anton Williams took it in for the score two plays later on a 12-yard touchdown run off left tackle with 10:01 left in the half. Bellar added the point-after to give the Rhinos a 7-0 lead.

But Williams did most of his damage on the defensive side from his linebacker slot, leading the Rhinos with eight tackles.

Safety Tyler Knight did most of the denying in the backfield. Knight finished with three tackles, but it was his five pass break-ups and one near-interception in the first quarter that had Wildcat quarterback Marlon Trumble trying to look somewhere else for most of the game.

Veteran Rhinos linebacker Enrico Wilkens kept busy with five tackles, but it was his blitz and sack of Trumble on third and 10 with nine minutes left to play that deflated what little air the Wildcat offense had left. The stuff resulted in a seven-yard loss, and a fake punt by the Wildcats on fourth and 17 was quickly sniffed out by Williams and defensive end Ronnie Marshall.

It would have given the Rhinos the ball in Wildcat territory, but an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty pushed it back across midfield to the Rhinos 45.

Rhinos quarterback Jeremiah Crouch had a good second half after a shaky first half in which he went 1 of 4 for 19 yards and one interception. His efforts in the second half lifted him to 7 of 18 for 106 yards for the game. He also benefited from a little bit of luck as three potential interceptions were dropped by Wildcat defenders.

Time of possession was another area in which the Rhinos dominated. They kept the ball for 38:01, limiting the Wildcats’ time of possession to just under 22 minutes.

The Rhinos finished with 194 yards of offense. The Wildcats had 133 yards of total offense, 100 of which came in the first half.

They fell to 4-2 on the season with the loss.

Along with the mayor, Jacksonville Director of Administration Jim Durham was on hand, and flipped the coin to begin the game.

“The mayor and I were really impressed with the turnout and hope for continued success for the Rhinos,” Durham said. “It’s great for the city of Jacksonville.”

The Rhinos will play on the road against the St. Louis Bulldogs this Saturday, and will return home on July 25 against the Arkansas Jaguars.

Monday, July 13, 2009

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville parks director named

Leader staff writer

A familiar face was chosen to lead the Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department. Kristen Griggs, who was serving as interim director, was hired on Thursday as director.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher surprised Griggs with the announcement under the guise of a second interview.

Fletcher said there were 22 applicants for the director position. Of those, four were selected to be interviewed. The interview panel consisted of the mayor, city human resources director Jill Ross and Bobby Altom, Parks and Recreation Commission chairman.

“We had good interviews with everybody. The decision was a unanimous choice,” Fletcher said. “I stand behind the decision.”

The mayor said he had concerns with Griggs, 27, being young. But he said she more than compensated for her youth with her enthusiasm, vision and a deep passion for the department.

“She was futuristic in her plans for the department. She expressed ideas on how to make the department grow. She wants to carry it to a new level and has a desire to make it the best in the state,” Fletcher continued.

The mayor said Griggs has ideas for the department. She now has the ability to apply for grants. In college, Griggs wrote a thesis on how to generate revenue specifically for the Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department.

Altom said, “I am excited about it. Under her leadership we are on our way of becoming the premier parks and recreation department in the state. That is due not only to her capabilities, but the excellent staff that is already on board.”

For the past two months Griggs has served as interim parks and recreation director. Former director George Biggs resigned from the position in April after city officials learned that he is a convicted felon.

Griggs will oversee 44 full-time and part-time employees and 20 seasonal employees. The parks and recreation department has 12 parks, the community center, the Martin Street Youth Center and Splash Zone water park.

Griggs is a lifelong resident of Jacksonville. She graduated from Jacksonville High School in 2000.

She grew up playing T-ball, fast-pitch softball and volleyball. Her late father, Dr. Donald Griggs, a dentist, was on the Parks and Recreation Commission for 10 years. He passed away three years ago.

Griggs said as a child she would go with her father to the city’s parks. She went to the Marshall Street Youth Center and attended special events including the Easter egg hunts.

“I saw every park in the city,” she said.

After high school Griggs attended the University of Central Arkansas in Conway to study early childhood education. After completing her freshman year, Griggs worked during the summer at the Martin Street Youth Center.

She was an activities monitor working under program services manager Cathy Brand, who oversaw programs and special events.

“I fell in love with parks and recreation after working that summer,” Griggs said.

She changed schools and her focus of study. Griggs went to Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in community and sports recreation. She recently completed her master’s degree in sports administration in May.

Griggs said Biggs was a mentor through college and when she became a full-time employee at the parks and recreation department.

Griggs was a fitness specialist for parks and recreation from August 2005 to April 2007. She then became program services manager in April 2007, when Brand retired. Griggs said she’s achieved a longtime goal.

“My ultimate goal was to be the director of the Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department. Everything I have done is to prepare myself for this position,” Griggs explained.

She said the parks and recreation department will eventually provide something for everyone.

“Parks is not just sports or the community center. There are a wide variety of activities, events, programs and facilities that we could offer. Mayor Fletcher and I are forward thinkers, always looking for ways to improve our park system,” she said.

Griggs continued, “I am very passionate about parks and recreation and I am passionate about Jacksonville. Those two things I feel make me ideal for this position.

“I want to see our department grow. I want the department to work as a team and working towards a goal. That is what motivates people,” she said.

Looking toward the future, Griggs said the parks and recreation department is about to do a feasibility study for rebuilding the Martin Street Youth Center.

She is looking toward specialty classes to generate revenue for the parks and recreation department from registration and facilities use. Griggs gave cake decorating, martial arts and Spanish lessons as examples of possible classes.

Griggs and parks and recreation marketing manager Marlo Jackson have been working together applying for a land acquisition and development grant.

The goal is to acquire land to move the skate park from its temporary site beside the community center to the wooded area near the playground off Redmond Road near Dupree Park.

A farmers market and a walking track are planned to be built near the skateboard park.

TOP STORY >> Meeting at Bayou Meto will decide boundaries

Leader senior staff writer

A public hearing is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 23 at the Bayou Meto Elementary School cafeteria to help determine where patrons in the Bayou Meto attendance zone would want to send their children if the Jacksonville area gets its standalone district.

Breaking bread together at the Western Sizzlin’ Steakhouse on Wednesday evening were Pulaski County Special School District representatives, Jacksonville’s new mayor, lawyers for a proposed Jacksonville-area school district and the PCSSD, and the man who did the study that found both the proposed and existing districts sustainable.

By all accounts, the meeting was productive and cordial, and it resulted in the decision to hold the public hearing or town meeting.

There was further talk of a board workshop sometime after the meeting to discuss Bayou Meto and the boundaries.

While the likely boundaries for a Jacksonville-area district have been pretty well set, there are at least two options regarding the Bayou Meto attendance zone.

Jacksonville district proponents have figured the Bayou Meto zone into their district for purposes of anticipating student enrollment, expenses and revenues. Some on the PCSSD board and others would like Hwy. 107 to be the line of demarcation. Those on the west — about 40 percent of the total — would stay with PCSSD, while those on the east would be in the Jacksonville zone.

Consultant Don Stewart’s financial report, submitted last September, included those in the Bayou Meto attendance zone in the Jacksonville proposal.

Jacksonville proponents had hoped to resolve the boundary question at Tuesday’s meeting, according to Daniel Gray, vice president of the Jacksonville World Class Education Organization, but “we have no problem (with the change).”

Gray, who was not at the Wednesday meeting, said it was important to move on with setting the boundaries because the PCSSD board has so many other important issues to resolve — teacher contract negotiations, for instance — and “that could put this on the back burner.”

The supper meeting was the idea of new Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher.

“I took this on trying to build relationships with school board members,” he said afterward. “I hadn’t met with (Superintendent Rob) McGill until (the dinner meeting). I think you can get a lot more done if you know people.”

“We found we could disagree, but it didn’t get ugly,” Fletcher added. “I learned that the school district wants to work with us to bring this to a resolution.”

The meeting was private and arranged to not violate the state Freedom of Information Act.

“You’re limited to what you can say on a public meeting,” the mayor said.

McGill said Thursday that he was trying to get as much information as possible for the board to make an informed decision.

Others at the meeting included school board president Tim Clark, PCSSD desegregation attorney Sam Jones, Jacksonville Education Foundation attorney Patrick Wilson and Stewart, the consultant.

The Jacksonville-area district proponents favor the following boundaries, which seemed to be agreed to in principle by the board last August: Bounded by Sherwood and Faulkner County on the west, Faulkner County on the north, Lonoke County on the east and the southern boundary is Jacksonville’s southern city limit and Wooten Road to Lonoke County.

The proposed new district would consist of the following schools:

Arnold Drive Elementary, Bayou Meto Elementary, Homer Adkins Pre-K, Jacksonville Elementary, Murrell Taylor Elementary and Pinewood Ele-mentary.

Also, Tolleson Elementary, Warren Dupree Elementary, Jacksonville Middle School, North Pulaski High School and Jacksonville High School.

Using those boundaries, Stewart’s feasibility study explored projected revenues, tax rates, facilities needs and teacher salaries, among other data, and concluded that the detachment from PCSSD would benefit both districts.

“I’m optimistic a deal can be reached this summer,” Fletcher said. “I’m encouraged by this meeting. Jacksonville’s future will be secured with its own schools. There’s no logical reason for Jacksonville not to get its own district.”

TOP STORY >> Another delay for overpass in Cabot

Leader staff writer

A ribbon cutting was held Friday atop the soon-to-be open railroad overpass in Cabot connecting Hwy. 367 to Hwy. 38.

The overpass should be ready for traffic by the end of next week. Road crews are working on finishing the bridge. To complete the project, another layer of asphalt is being laid on the roadbed. The new road also needs the lanes striped.

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said there will be access to both ends of Polk Street. The railroad will be responsible for closing the rail crossing. When the overpass is open for traffic, the Polk Street crossing will close. It is the second railroad overpass in Cabot.

“My hope is that this is just the beginning of a north interchange,” Williams said.
Construction of the $7.2 million overpass has been ongoing for nearly two years. The bridge, which was supposed to open Friday, was built with federal funds and nearly $1 million from the city.

Austin Mayor Bernie Chamberlain said she was glad to see the overpass open. She said it will help everybody, and it is good for safety. She said it will help Austin residents when the trains stop and block the railroad crossing in Austin.

Cabot Alderman Eddie Cook said, “It shows the dedication of the council to help traffic in the city. We will continue to push forward to achieving a north interchange and to improve traffic in general.”

The railroad overpass is the first part of the planned north interchange. The interchange will help divert nearly 5,000 cars out of downtown Cabot driving to Hwy. 67/167.

Cabot Alderman Rick Prentice said it was about time the overpass was completed. He said it was amazing what concrete and steel can do to help in traffic safety.

“I think it is going to help Austin. It will put more traffic and growth in the area. I know we will see growth when we get the interchange. It is a big deal for this end of the county. It has been a long time coming,” Cabot Alderman Eddie Long said.

Some residents living along Polk Street had mixed emotions about the closing of the railroad crossing.

James Ashley said, “I think it is great. It needs to be a dead end. People drive fast down the road. When you drive over the railroad crossing now, it beats you to death.”

“I wish they would keep it open. It is easier for me to get to work. I use Hwy. 367 to cut to the freeway. Instead, I’ll have to go all around,” Sammy Chamberlain said.