Friday, August 14, 2009

EDITORIAL >> You tell ’em, Governor

Remember when the proponents of term limits argued that, unlike the old guys they would replace, lawmakers who were constitutionally limited to only six or eight years in office would be public spirited and uninterested in self-aggrandizement? How did that work out?

The short-timers in no time were raising their salaries and perks, fattening their government retirements and setting aside large sums of tax money every year for each of them to parcel out for mostly private projects in their districts to win favor with political interests. And they were dead set against legislating any ethical restraints on taking gifts and emoluments from private pleaders.

Now it turns out that they have appropriated millions of dollars to convert a large part of the state office building 75 yards west of the Capitol into offices for legislators. Several state agencies, including the state History Commission and the state archives, will be moved into the old Dillard’s Inc. headquarters in downtown Little Rock to make way for private offices and other space for members of the legislature, principally the House of Representatives.

That has always seemed like a low priority for scarce public funds, but you may have some sympathy for representatives because their counterparts on the east side of the Capitol, the 35 state senators, had offices built for themselves a couple of decades ago. State agencies were moved out of the fourth floor of the Capitol into rental space in commercial buildings to make room for the senators. A representative is the constitutional equal of a senator, although a senator serves a term of four years instead of two and term limits allows him a total of eight years while representatives can stay for only six. A representative may be justified in thinking that if the taxpayers provide an office for the senator from his district they should provide equal quarters for him.

But that wasn’t enough. The legislators plan to build a tunnel or a sky bridge connecting the Multi-Agency Complex, the so-called Big Mac building that will house their private offices, with the Capitol, where they work on the occasions when they are in town for public business. The legislature plans to spend $3 million or so on the tunnel or sky bridge.

Three million dollars is not a lot of money in a state budget of $6 billion, but are there greater needs? Say, the penitentiary, which can’t hold the people convicted of felonies and sentenced to confinement. Or crumbling public schools.

In the 30-odd years since Big MAC was built and for 50 years before that in the old Game and Fish and Employment Security buildings that it replaced, people scurried back and forth unprotected from the harsh Arkansas weather. But, you see, legislators are different. One House leader said lawmakers and their staffs would be toting papers and other stuff back and forth the 75 yards between the Capitol and the Big Mac and they would get wet or, in the brutal Arkansas winter, chilled.

Sometimes, we are pleasantly shocked by the governor, who came from the old legislative guard. He was a senior senator with power when term limits were invoked in 1998 and the old bulls had to retire.

Thursday, Gov. Beebe said building a fancy tunnel or sky bridge over to the office building was a terrible idea. He is known for his good relations with lawmakers, which pay off by their voting for whatever he wants.

“No,” he said quaintly, falling into bumpkin speech. “We ain’t got money for that.”

He went (so reasonably) on: “I can’t see how that’s even feasible. What do you got? A 300-foot walk? A 400-foot walk, something like that, to walk from the Capitol to the Big MAC building? We’ll get them some umbrellas if there is bad weather.”
He said he would even use an umbrella himself when he walked over to Big Mac in the rain or sleet. Imagine that! A governor holding an umbrella. The tunnel or sky bridge would be right outside his office. Gov. Mike Huckabee used to talk about constructing a private escape hatch from his second-floor suite in the event of terrorists, an unruly public or rude reporters.

It is not clear that the governor can stop the project if the legislators insist on it. The legislature in recent years has claimed executive power over part of the general improvement funds it appropriates every two years. But it would be a test of his bully authority if he just flatly said he wouldn’t countenance the spending.

Three million dollars doesn’t go far in a state with stupendous needs, but it’s the principle of the thing. We have an idea that taxpayers in these hard times appreciate the gesture.

TOP STORY >> Puppy dies of injuries after dumped in trash

Leader staff writer

Surveillance video is being examined to find out who is responsible for dumping a tiny puppy in the garbage at Splash Car Wash on Main Street in Jacksonville.

The puppy was found Thursday covered in fleas and ticks in a trash can.

The pup was severely weak and malnourished.

“He’s probably suffering from heat exhaustion or shock. I don’t know if he’ll make it,” shelter manager Hedy Limke said when the puppy was brought in.

He was only five or six weeks old, and he was fighting for his life. But the battle ended that night.

The puppy was discovered by a car wash customer, who was vacuuming her car at about 3:30 p.m. Thursday.

The puppy had probably been in the trash can less than 24 hours, Limke added.

The scorching afternoon heat would probably have killed him as he lay in the heap of garbage if it had spent much more time there.

“We’ve called the car wash owner to get the security video,” Limke said.

She believes that the surveillance footage may lead to the arrest of the person responsible for dumping the puppy.

The puppy went home with one of the animal control officers who tried to nurse the pup back to health with vitamin supplements, milk and sugar water before he died.

It’s the third case of extreme animal abuse the Jacksonville shelter has handled this summer.

Last month, a young chihuahua was found paralyzed by multiple wounds from a pellet gun.

Despite the shelter’s efforts to save him, the dog was eventually euthanized because of irreversible paralysis.

In June, the shelter picked up a Boston terrier whose collar had grown into his neck, a gruesome sight.

The terrier underwent emergency surgery to remove the chain and repair his neck, and has since been adopted.

TOP STORY >> Vasquez tells Jacksonville to drop dead

Leader Editor-in-Chief

Bill Vasquez, who claims to represent Jacksonville on the Pulaski County Special School District Board, says his critics don’t know what they’re talking about when they accuse him of voting against the city’s interests on the school board.

On Tuesday, he proved his critics right: Vasquez voted against negotiating with supporters of a planned Jacksonville-area school district that his constituents have been demanding for years.

It was a stunning decision. It was as dumb as it was reckless. His was the decisive vote against negotiating an amicable separation from the failing school district. Imagine: It’s like sending our ambassador to the United Nations and having him vote for nuclear proliferation in North Korea.

Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but not by much. This is the second time in recent weeks the board has voted against negotiating with the Jacksonville Education Foundation, which is leading the move for separation.

Actually, Vasquez favored negotiating before he was against it. The board voted on the issue last month, and he was in favor of it then, but board member Mildred Tatum had abstained, and it was a tie vote.

Tatum asked for another vote this week because she didn’t mean to abstain the last time, saying she supports negotiations.

That’s when Vasquez pulled a switcheroo.

You’d think he’d have joined with her and resumed talks with the foundation. It wouldn’t have interfered with the court case that will be heard in September to decide whether the Jacksonville district can go forward.

Both sides have been negotiating for months, so what’s the harm in talking a while longer? If the judge gives the go-ahead, the two districts would be better prepared for a quick separation.

Vasquez said the Jacksonville Education Foundation doesn’t represent the city’s residents. “Why would we negotiate with an outside party that doesn’t answer to anyone?” he asked rhetorically. “It’s the board’s decision and business. Not anyone else’s business.”

He forgets it’s the business of those who elected him, many of whom now regret they voted for him.

Then he descended into complete gibberish and compared the separation issue to someone trying to sell a used car. “Why would I need my neighbor’s advice?” Vasquez asked, confusing everyone in the room.

His neighbors who voted for him deserve his attention and consideration, but he doesn’t think that way. Or think at all.

So he voted no, along with Charlie Wood of Sherwood and Gwen Williams of McAlmont, as well as board president Tim Clark of Maumelle. Danny Gililland of north Pulaski County acted honorably and voted for negotiations.

“There are three members on this board elected by Jacksonville residents,” Vasquez said. It’s too bad those constituents can’t count on more than one person to represent them on the board.

Vasquez doesn’t care about Jacksonville or the future of a school district for the area because if there’s a new district, he’d lose his job.

When he ran for the school board, he was the mystery candidate who allegedly represented outside interests.

He’s proven his critics right time after time: He has ignored his constituents and stalled negotiations between PCSSD and Jacksonville groups. He eliminated one of the middle schools and forced boys and girls into a crowded building and unsightly trailers.

Vasquez thinks the rundown school buildings belong to PCSSD. “The area belongs to PCSSD, and the decision and the ability to separate belongs to PCSSD,” he told the school board.

He’s wrong again: The schools and the property around them belong to the people of Jacksonville. They paid for them with their taxes many times over and have got very little in return.

That’s why community leaders support an independent school district. Little Rock Air Force Base has become a powerful voice in favor of a Jacksonville-area district.

Vasquez is said to be working as a civilian at the base, which has pleaded for decades with PCSSD officials to replace the crumbling elementary school on base.

His vote is not only a slam against Jacksonville residents but also an insult to the air base, the largest employer in central Arkansas with an economic impact of at least $580 million a year.

A fraction of that money could build several schools in Jacksonville. Look how many schools Cabot has built in the last few years with a much smaller tax base.

Vasquez said he was the man of the hour. Actually, the proposed new district is making progress without him. The board has approved the proposed district’s boundary, which includes Jacksonville and rural north Pulaski County around Bayou Meto Elementary School.

A special judge will hold a hearing Sept. 30 on the breakaway district. Let’s hope he’s better informed than the PCSSD school board and will side with the youngsters of north Pulaski County.

Then Bill Vasquez won’t stand in the way of a decent education for all the children in this area.

TOP STORY >> Project won’t get stimulus funding

Leader staff writer

The Lonoke-White Water Project that was believed to be eligible for stimulus money because it was supposedly “shovel ready” has hit a snag.

It turns out the project is not “shovel ready” after all, which surprised even the state agency that hopes to distribute the money.

A two-page letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent to the Arkansas Natural Resource Commission on July 23 explained that a public health threat must be present for the project to receive money, according to the requirements for the state’s revolving drinking water fund.

As it stands, the Lonoke-White project is considered long-term state water planning.

The ANRC is the agency that distributes federal money and the DWSRF is the fund through which the stimulus money was to be funneled.

But Clint McGue, attorney for the project, told members during a special meeting this week that the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission wants to help.

“Mark (Bennett) and Dave (Fenter) went to bat for Lonoke-White,” McGue said. “This is not a problem for Natural Resources.

It’s a problem for EPA.”

Bennett and Fenter are with the ANRC which earlier this year wanted all the project members to sign contracts by Sept. 1 so they could meet a Feb. 17 deadline for having the project ready to start.

But McGue said the problems with EPA have voided the ANRC-imposed September deadline. Now, the goal is to get the project ready as fast as possible, but no new deadline has been set.

Woody Bryant, who was named project manager the day before the bad news came, told members that ANRC had made suggestions to overcome the problem.

“It’s not stopping the project; it’s just another hurdle we have to go over,” Bryant said. “The project is still on go. (ANRC) has told EPA it’s still on go. We’ve just got to find the best solution.”

He said that solution could be as simple as Lonoke White Public Water Authority finding a minimum of 25 water customers to claim as its own along with securing a permit to operate a water system from the state Health Department.

By the time the project members met at noon Wednesday, Bryant already had two groups of customers in mind: the 77 Bayou Two customers that are now with Grand Prairie but getting their water from Jacksonville and the 300 or so that are on the municipal water system in McRae.

Other possible solutions were for each member to get its own loan or for the largest members to take on the responsibility for the loans.

McGue said flatly that those were not viable options. Bryant said after the meeting that the project is structured to ensure equity for all members and no one wants to change that.

The board members voted unanimously at the end to allow the executive committee made up of Ward Mayor Art Brooke and Terry House, who runs the Grand Prairie / Bayou Two Water System, to meet Monday with ANRC to work out the most viable solution.

Executive committee advisers Bryant, McGue, engineer Tommy Bond and Howard Williams from the water commission in Vilonia are also supposed to be part of the discussion.

The Lonoke-White Water Project has been in development for 15 years. It has been through a lawsuit that took control away from Community Water Systems on Greers Ferry Lake which started the project and intended to retain ownership while the project members paid for the easements, pipeline, intake structure at Cove Creek and treatment plant.

Members have come and gone. Beebe, the original member that put the White in Lonoke White, left years ago because the city wells met their needs.

Cabot pulled out in favor of getting water from Central Arkansas Water, but is now a member paying for the right to take water from the lake.

In the past few months, Cabot officials have waffled about participation because of the cost.

In July, the project engineer came to the regular meeting with new cost estimates for the project that could allow it to move ahead without Cabot, which is not willing to participate at a level that would require raising its customers’ rates.

Instead of $65 million, Bond said the project could be completed for $45 million if a traditional sand filter treatment plant was build instead of one using membrane technology.

Bill Cypert, secretary for Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission, said this week that Cabot does support the project. And Wednesday, he made the motion to go to ANRC with proposals to get around the EPA’s objections.

There is a possibility that Beebe could rejoin the project. That city’s wells are still more than adequate but officials say they know they must eventually change to surface water.

McRae, about three miles from Beebe and now the second White County member, needs water now.

Mayor Bob Sullivan, who attended the special Wednesday meeting, said he’s having trouble with the city well and the $65,000 line that now connects the McRae system to Higginson is not large enough to supply all the water the city needs.

Sullivan gave permission for the executive committee to use McRae’s water customers to secure funding if need be.

Sullivan said he hadn’t discussed the matter with his city council, but he didn’t foresee a problem because McRae really needs the Lonoke-White Project to succeed.

Vilonia, Jacksonville, Lonoke, Ward and Austin also are project members.

TOP STORY >> Church marks 150th anniversary

Leader staff writer

Parishioners had a special reason to come together at Zion Hill Baptist Church in northern Pulaski County on Sunday. They were there to celebrate the church’s 150th anniversary.

The church’s members have seen it grow over those years, while many churches surrounding it were unable to flourish.

The church held an anniversary lunch and service to mark the occasion.
“God tremendously blessed this church throughout its history. The church survived the Civil War, two world wars and the

(Great) Depression. Several smaller churches in this area did not survive,” Bro. Terry Fortner said.

“We are the oldest church of the 61 churches in the North Pulaski Baptist Association,” Fortner, who is the church’s pastor, said.

The church on Zion Hill Road off West Hwy. 89 near Hwy. 107 is a survivor. Fortner remembers hearing stories about the church’s long history.

It was twice burned by fire.Later, a tornado made its mark by blowing the roof of the church into a neighboring yard.

During Sunday’s anniversary service, the church presented a plaque to 92-year-old Aline Driskill of the Zion Hill community.

She has continually attended Zion Hill for 75 years dating back to June 1, 1934. She was a student at the one-room Zion Hill School located on the church property.

Church member Steve Harbour of the Zion Hill community talked about the importance of the church.

“In the early days the church was the main focus of the community. It was the central place to gather, ” he said.

He said traveling was difficult and families would make grocery trips to Cabot once or twice a month. A trip to Little Rock would happen once or twice a year.

No records have been found to show how long the church congregation has been meeting.

Simeon and Julia Tate gave Zion Hill trustees one acre on Aug. 1, 1859, to use for a church and school.

Rev. Earl Cole, a former pastor, held services in a one- room log cabin.

In the early years, pastors were elected by the church to preach for one year at a time. Church services were held one or two weekends a month. A pastor could preach at more than one church during the month. In 1885, a pastor’s yearly salary was $40.

In 1891, E.B. Dover and wife Eliza gave the church another acre of land. Four years later a new church building was constructed on the top of a hill where a parking lot is now located.

Lighting for the church was provided by kerosene lanterns. The lanterns were later switched to gasoline-burning lamps. By 1938 the church had installed wiring for electricity and added Sunday school rooms.

Adjacent to the church was the Zion Hill School, a one-room schoolhouse open from 1895 to 1927. One teacher would teach students during a session and two sessions were held in a school year.

The school was closed when the Pulaski County Special School District was formed.

In 1928, students attended the old Bayou Meto School. Today the North Pulaski Ball Park sits where Bayou Meto School was located.

The Zion Hill school stood where the current church stands today. An abandoned well across the street from the church is a relic from that time. The well once provided fresh water for the church and for the school.

The old church was used for 89 years until a new sanctuary was completed in 1984.

Zion Hill has had services every Sunday since 1942 and began holding Wednesday night services two years later.

Today Zion Hill church sits on nearly 15 acres of land and the church has 417 members.

TOP STORY >> Dentists give children free care

Leader staff writer

About 50 Jacksonville-area kids 12 and under received free dental screenings this week thanks to Central Arkansas Dental Associates and the Colgate Mobile Dental Van.

The dental unit was parked in front of the Jacksonville Walmart on John Harden Drive Thursday afternoon.

Dr. Andy Orr of Central Arkansas Dental examined the kids’ teeth, explained how they can prevent cavities and how to brush properly.

Orr was assisted by Jackie Ortner and Dina Holland.

“I love to volunteer. I love working with kids. They are so happy to see us,” dental assistant Jackie Ortner said.

Melissa Meredith, Central Arkansas Dental’s director of operations, said that it’s great to get out of the office and give back to the community.

“Sometimes (kids) come to us at 5 years old without their baby teeth,” Meredith said.

She said children who lose their baby teeth early are unlikely to form their adult teeth properly.

“That’s the importance of pediatric dentistry,” Meredith said.

The van, which is an RV with a compact dental-examining room inside, travels around Ohio, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Indiana, Missouri, Mississippi and Louisiana year-round, serving under-insured communities.

The Colgate Mobile Dental van is driven by Holmesetta Green of Louisville and her husband, Nathaniel.

Their mission is to educate parents and children about the importance of dental hygiene. They’ve been at it for eight years.

The Greens said the demand for dental care is growing every day.

“We go to a city and ask dentists to volunteer,” Mrs. Green said.

Central Arkansas Dental’s staff was asked only the day before to work at the event, but they jumped at the chance.

The kids who took advantage of the Colgate van Thursday are better prepared for the start of school next week.

The Greens expect to return next year, but that might not be soon enough for some.

TOP STORY >> Schools brace for swine flu

Leader staff writer

With students starting school Monday at Jacksonville Lighthouse Academy and Wednesday at other area schools, the swine flu has become a concern.

The districts have been told by the Centers for Disease Control that they need to be ready.

Local school districts must develop plans for handling sick children at school, including setting aside an isolation area where they can rest while waiting to go home and creating an environment that allows learning to continue, according to the U.S. secretary of education.

“It’s incredibly important to all of us that students continue to learn,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary, along with Duncan and the CDC, recently released guidelines to help districts with the upcoming flu season which looks to be worse than normal because of the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, which has already claimed nearly 400 deaths across the country this year.

In line with the federal request, the Cabot School District will send home letters the first week of school about the swine flu.

Beebe is also considering sending parents letters and Lonoke has posted information on its school district Web site.

Robert Martin, director of student services for Cabot School District, wrote in a letter to parents that will go home with students early in the school year that everyone must work together to prevent the spread of the disease.

The letter gives this list of preventive measures the school district is undertaking:

Monitoring staff and students and following guidelines of care for individuals who manifest “flu-like” symptoms in school.

Sharing, encouraging and teaching proper health behaviors.

Stocking and making available proper hand washing supplies and/or hand sanitizers.

Encouraging parents to become informed and to use their best judgment in managing their family’s health.

Encouraging all ill employees and students to remain at home until fully recovered.

Continuing building maintenance and sanitizing efforts.

Receiving, monitoring and sharing all pertinent information as appropriate.

Following closely the recommendations and protocols established through the Arkansas Department of Health and the
National Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Martin said he is in contact with local heath department officials about the swine flu as well as the mass immunization of school-aged children set for mid-October. The state Health Department intends to use revenue from the new tobacco tax to pay for the seasonal flu shots.

Dr. Paul Halverson, director of the Arkansas Department of Health, said in a press release the immunization of school children is the beginning of a significant effort in public health protection.

“It has been shown that vaccinating our children is the best way to protect other age groups from the flu as well, especially the elderly population, which is more vulnerable to the most severe effects of the flu,” Halverson said.

However, the seasonal flu shots do not protect against the swine flu.

Rick Duff, director of student services for Beebe School District, said the spread of the flu will likely be a bigger problem in the lower grades because young children have more of a tendency to touch one another. To combat the spread, Duff said students believed to be infected will be isolated from others until their parents pick them up.

The Beebe School District may also send letters home, he said, but not too early in the school year.

“Too early and they might get lost in all the papers that go home early in the term,” Duff explained.

Seasonal flu shots will be given at Beebe schools Oct. 26-27.

SPORTS >> Motivational books no substitute for life’s hard lessons

Leader sports editor

Another public figure. Another public disgrace. This is how life’s lessons get taught. This is how they are hopefully learned.

This is how our character is forged, how our belief systems develop and how our capacity for human compassion and understanding becomes a settled and lasting element of our natures.

Not between the hardback covers of the latest motivational or self-help book, but between a rock and a hard place or, in Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino’s case, between the sheets of another woman’s bed.

Rick Pitino has always seemed to carry himself a bit above it all, speaking in terms not entirely accessible to us fallible humans down here on Planet Earth. His answers always seem to come too easy — as though he were pushing the play button on one of his numerous motivational books on tape.

Now Pitino finds himself in the middle of an all-too-human situation. He has admitted to a sexual liaison with a woman at a restaurant six years ago, which he has delicately referred to as an indiscretion, a word as hollow as some of the titles of Pitino’s many books.

Pitino has also admitted to providing the woman, Karen Sypher, with $3,000, money he claims today was for health insurance, but which most people suspect was in fact for an abortion. Pitino is a devout Catholic who even has a priest on the sidelines with him at Louisville games, and it is this alleged abortion money that may be the hardest stain for him to remove.

To hear former Hawaii coach Bruce O’Neil tell it, this wasn’t Pitino’s first instance of violating a trust. Pitino, whose first job was as O’Neil’s assistant, was named in several infractions at Hawaii that ended up costing O’Neil his job. O’Neil accused Pitino of trying to steal his job during the investigation.

“Rick’s always had trouble with loyalties,” O’Neil told the Lexington Herald-Leader in 1989.

Pitino has never directly staked out the moral high ground in the same audacious and zealous manner of, say, a Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker or Newt Gingrich or any of the countless others who have looked down their noses at us, wagged a disapproving finger in our faces, then shuffled off to their own “indiscretions.”

But he has written a series of books with such titles as “Success is a Choice: Ten Steps to Overachieving in Business and in Life,” “Rebound Rules: The Art of Success,” “Lead to Succeed,” and others with names and subtitles that leave you thinking you’d rather attend an Amway meeting than crack open any one of them.

Why am I so averse to such books? Because nothing lasting can be gleaned from a book whose purpose is to teach you about life. The only lasting lessons about life are learned by living life, by coming up short and in so doing, learning something about yourself.

This isn’t to say the things Pitino has to say in his books are all empty and hollow. I’m certain that he provides worthwhile guidelines for successful living, though if you need to refer to a book to, for instance, build self esteem, establish good habits, always be positive, etc. (these are actual chapter headings from one of his books), you may already be sunk.

Pitino has received his own share of hard knocks in life so it may be that the lessons he’s imparting may be hard-won. He lost a six-month-old son to heart failure and a brother-in-law/best friend in the 9/11 attacks. He grew up a lonely child eight years younger than his next-oldest brother. That may have informed his worldview as well.

But Pitino’s itinerant nature — he has wandered in his coaching career nearly as much as Larry Brown, going from his first coaching job at Boston University to the New York Knicks to Providence back to the Knicks to Kentucky and finally Louisville – may provide some clues into Providence Journal columnist Bill Reynold’s observation that Pitino has always been “a bit of a Gatsby-type figure. At some point he believed that if you work and you dream and you do all these things, you can kind of will yourself to be who you want to be.”

Gatsby never had any sense of himself, perhaps because he lived in a world of grand and abstract notions not unlike the ones put forth in Pitino’s own books.

Pitino has been carrying this secret for six years now. He claims to have made amends with his wife and five kids and good for him if he has. Here’s hoping his fall from grace might add some heft to some of those airy notions he has about success.

SPORTS >> James’ status update a relief to Panthers

Leader sportswriter

It was probably the best grade the Cabot Panthers and standout senior fullback Michael James could expect.

James underwent an MRI on Tuesday after suffering a shoulder injury during the Panthers’ first full-contact practice the previous week.

After the injury, coach Mike Malham said the worst case would be having James out for up to six weeks. But the test result showed James had a slight shoulder separation and he should be available for the opener against Jacksonville on Sept. 1.

“So two, three weeks he should be in good shape,” Malham said. “He should be ready to go when the season starts.”

James gained 1,261 yards and scored 20 touchdowns on 272 carries last season and was expected to again get the majority of the touches in Cabot’s Dead T. Additionally, Malham was planning to use James on defense as one of the linebackers in the Panthers’ 5-2 set.

For those reasons and more, Malham was glad to see that James’ injury wasn’t serious.

“Oh yeah, he’s a three-year starter,” Malham said. “You lose a three-year starter it doesn’t matter who you play, you don’t have the experience.”

James and senior linebacker Spencer Neumann swapped sides for most of spring practice, with Neumann getting reps at halfback and James playing linebacker to refresh himself at the position he hadn’t played since junior high.

If James couldn’t be available, Malham was going to slide Neumann into the fullback spot. It looks like that won’t be necessary now, and Malham is still planning to play James at linebacker.

But after the injury he is going to proceed with some caution.

“We’re still planning to use him on defense,” Malham said. “We’ve got to kind of feel our way and see how it goes.”

SPORTS >> Putting his best foot forward

Leader sportswriter

JONESBORO — Ryan Wilbourn is no dummy.

His academic scholarship already confirms it, but for further proof consider how Wilbourn has been able to indulge his first love — soccer — while breaking in as a football kicker at Arkansas State.

The Searcy High School product arrived on campus with a full academic ride after being recruited by assistant David Gunn to walk on as a kicker for the Red Wolves. Wilbourn handled kickoffs as a true freshman last year and will compete for the vacant punter’s job this season.

“I saw an opportunity to walk on and earn a spot and get some playing time so I went for it,” Wilbourn said.

While drawn to Arkansas State to play football, Wilbourn admitted it was a disappointment the school doesn’t field a men’s soccer team.

However, he appears to have turned that into a plus. Wilbourn’s roommate and former high school teammate Tim Reilly is the manager of the women’s team, and the connection helped Wilbourn find an appealing way to get his kicks when not playing football.

“During the offseason I practice with them every once in awhile,” Wilbourn said. “I go kick around all the time with them because soccer is my favorite sport. It’s hard to stay away. I go to all the games.”

And of course there is the girl-to-guy ratio of those soccer workouts.

“It’s great,” Wilbourn said with a twinkle in his eye. “It’s great.”

See? No dummy.

Wilbourn, 5-10, 157 pounds, was an all-state soccer player who led Searcy to consecutive state championships in 2006 and 2007. Former football coach Bart McFarland talked him into joining the team as a 10th-grader, and as a senior, Wilbourn became the Lions’ lone all-stater and handled every kicking duty in the high school all-star game.

But he didn’t get to savor much success in a Searcy program that has won three games the past four seasons. It was the chance to win that helped lead Wilbourn to walk on with the Red Wolves.

Arkansas State won the Sun Belt Conference and reached the New Orleans Bowl in 2005, and — with key players like quarterback Corey Leonard and tailback Reggie Arnold returning for their senior seasons — are expected to contend with Troy for the title this year.

“I saw the Division I program, I saw the great success they’ve been having,” said Wilbourn, who got no major college offers in football or soccer. “They went to a bowl game a few years back. They had Corey and Reggie and great pieces on offense.”

Red Wolves coach Steve Roberts, also the special teams coordinator, doesn’t like to anoint starters for open position without seeing them compete in camp, so Wilbourn will have to contend for the punting job with Blytheville senior Brice Beck, who transferred last year from Northeast Mississippi Community College.

However it may be a good sign the Red Wolves have installed a rugby-style scheme to take advantage of Wilbourn’s ability to punt on the run and hook his kicks.

“They like it,” Wilbourn said. “I can do it consistently. I can aim the ball where I want it. We’ll see if it works for us.”

“Some of that is because of his ability to do that very well,” Roberts said of the punt scheme. “Another aspect is you see that’s sort of the way the game is going.

“As the special teams coordinator I had to defend that, we had to defend that, last year. And it’s tough to defend. It’s tough to get pressure. It’s tough to get to the block point because the block point changes all the time and it’s tough to hold people up at the line of scrimmage.”

Wilbourn now has the scheme, but he had already proved in high school he had the leg.

Wilbourn launched a 68-yard punt that helped Searcy win the 2007 homecoming game against Jacksonville. The Lions led 10-7 on a 38-yard, third-quarter field goal by Wilbourn but were facing fourth down on their 22 in the closing minutes.

Wilbourn boomed his punt, enabling Searcy to hold on to its first victory in 17 games.

In the 2006 state soccer final against Jonesboro, Wilbourn was the goalkeeper who made two key stops, on a line shot from the penalty box and again on the rebound, to help Searcy to its 1-0 victory.

But despite his two-time all-state selection and his MVP performance in the 3-1, 2008 championship victory over Mountain Home, the best scholarship offers Wilbourn could get came from NAIA and NCAA Division II schools.

He had already qualified for the all the academic aid he would need at a number of places, including Arkansas State, so when Gunn tried to talk him into walking on with the Red Wolves, Wilbourn listened.

“We felt like after coach Roberts evaluated the tape he had a very good chance of becoming a very good collegiate kicker, which he has,” Gunn said.

“I compared Division I to Division II and that was an easy decision,” Wilbourn said. “I wanted to play soccer and I looked at soccer opportunities and most of them were smaller, NAIA schools, even, a couple D II schools. Some of them were even as far away as the other side of Tennessee.

“This right here is an hour and a half from home; 90 miles and I’m at my driveway.”

Gunn said it is likely a football scholarship will soon become available, and when it does it will go to Wilbourn, who is majoring in biology. But the fact Wilbourn already had academic money gave the Red Wolves a nice option.

“That certainly doesn’t take anything from the value that he has for our football team,” Gunn said. “But with him being successful academically, that has afforded us a luxury that once one comes available we can place him on it. It’s not one of these things where it’s like ‘We’ve got to do something or we’re going to lose a young man.’ ”

Red Wolves place kicker Josh Arauco earned his scholarship in much the same way, and has since gone on to set a school record with 15 field goals in a row and starts his second season on the Lou Groza award watch list after he made the final three last year.

Wilbourn, whose top practice distance in high school was 62 yards, expects to contend for Arauco’s job too after Arauco exhausts his eligibility this year.

“Kicking with him is great,” Wilbourn said. “It’s just like going to a camp every day. I get the best instruction you can have, really, because he’s top three in the nation. You get to kick with him every day, it improves yourself.”

SPORTS >> Rhinos brace for Storm

Leader sports editor

Oscar Malone says there’s no place anyone needs to be tonight other than Bob Hill Memorial Stadium for the rematch of the Arkansas Rhinos and the Nashville Storm.

“It’s going to be like the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles,” said Malone, the Rhinos’ owner and offensive coordinator. “We’re going to run and pass and be balanced. And we know what they’re going to do. They’re going to the throw the ball.”

Kickoff in Jacksonville is 7:05 p.m.

The undefeated Storm handed the Rhinos one of their two losses two weeks ago in Nashville, beating Arkansas 33-23. The Rhinos were without several key starters in the game. No one will be missing tonight.

The Rhinos followed up that loss to Nashville with a 62-24 win over the Arkansas Wildcats last Saturday to improve to 4-2. Nashville, which has won its five games by an average score of 55-17, was idle last weekend.

Malone isn’t the only one hyping the rematch between two teams that have gone after it hammer and tong over the past 15 years. The North American Football League has tagged it the NAFL game of the week.

Malone said the rivalry is not just a result of the two teams’ bouts of dominance against one another over the years — the Rhinos won seven in a row; the Storm has won the previous five. There is also the fact that the two teams seem to exchange players on a fairly regular basis.

“We have some of their old players, they have some of ours,” Malone said. “There’s lots of trash talking during the game. But then afterward, they all go and hang out together. It’s only on the field.”

The Storm handed Malone his first loss as coach of the Rhinos in a 38-3 trouncing back in 1994. But the Rhinos avenged that loss later in the season on their way to winning seven in a row. That included handing the Storm its only three losses in the 2005 season.

Nashville is led by quarterback Phellepe Hall, who at 5-10, 210 pounds, reminds Malone of the Eagles’ Donovan McNabb.

“He can step up and throw the big pass, but he can also run,” Malone said. “We’re going to have to be disciplined on defense.”

Hall operates behind a massive offensive line, but the Rhinos sport one of the toughest defenses in the league. They were No. 1 in the NAFL before surrendering 57 points in their past two games.

The Rhinos were missing three or four defensive starters and a couple of offensive starters in the first meeting with Nashville.

They were without three defensive backs and linebacker Enrico Williams as well as running back Jerald Marshall and wideout Tim Mason on offense.

While the Rhinos will focus on shutting down Hall and the passing game, the Storm’s task is a little more complex. Though Arkansas has gone to a more wide-open offense over the past three weeks — seldom using tight ends — they are still a team that can run or throw it on you. Brendon Medcalf and Marshall will provide the punch out of the backfield, while quarterback Damien Dunning will look to receivers Stewart Franks and Mason in the passing game.

“Their defense is pretty good,” Malone said. “They loaded the box on us last time but we found a way to make it happen.”

Indeed they did, piling up a season-high 384 yards. Medcalf ran for 137 of those yards, while Franks hauled in seven passes for 175 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Dunning completed 9 of 31 for 247 yards.

Malone hinted that the rivalry may have intensified as a result of a late field goal Nashville kicked with 10 seconds left to go up 33-15. The Rhinos returned the ensuing kickoff for the final margin.

“We’ve got about nine guys on our team that were there back in 2004 that have that rivalry taste in their mouth,” Malone said.

“They know how passionate we are about this game.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

TOP STORY >> Group that helps less fortunate holds fundraiser

Hope’s Closet and Food Pantry will host a steak dinner from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday at the newly rebuilt Cabot Junior High North cafeteria to benefit the organization’s Backpacks on the Go program for needy students.

The junior high school was destroyed by a fire three years ago and will be open for classes on Wednesday, Aug. 19.

The dinner is sponsored by First Arkansas Bank and Trust, which will pay for the cost of the dinner. TV personality Matt Mosler is the guest speaker.

Roger Sundermeier Jr., marketing director of First Arkansas Bank, said the fundraiser is for a good cause.

“We need to do our part and step up to the plate,” Sundermeier said.

The cost is $20 for adults and $10 for children 12 years old and under. The proceeds will cover needy students’ school supply fees and pay for backpacks and supplies for students in the Cabot and Beebe school districts.

Kimberly Buchberger, director of Hope’s Closet, said the evening has “got me excited. The community wants to help and pull together.”

“I was brainstorming on how to raise money. I went to Colton’s (Steakhouse) with my idea and asked how they could help.

They said, ‘We’ll do the steaks,’” Buchberger said.

Buchberger said Mean Pig Barbecue is selling her large potatoes at a good price. Double R Florist is donating the centerpieces to decorate the tables.

Hope’s Closet is a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to the needy and the hungry in northern Lonoke County and the Beebe area.

Hope’s Closet operates out of Buchberger’s garage at her Cabot home.

She said this is third year Hope’s Closet has helped the students in Cabot. The charity is expanding to help families in Beebe who need assistance.

Hope’s Closet began helping the less fortunate in November 2005, soon after Buchberger and her family moved to Cabot in October that year. She saw there was a need in Cabot for a food pantry.

The food pantry and clothing closet are open by appointment only. The amount of assistance is based on a case-by-case basis.

Volunteers at Hope’s Closet provide rides to the food pantry or make food deliveries to residents who are unable to travel to the location.

Last Saturday, the Arkansas State Teachers Association, the Central Arkansas Teachers Association and the Cabot Fire Department held a fundraiser outside the Cabot Walmart and Kmart to collect school supplies and monetary donations for students.

The fundraiser collected $700, along with school supplies. The three organizations are working together with Hope’s Closet to distribute the school supplies to needy students in Cabot and Beebe.

For more information call 628-7173, or visit online at

TOP STORY >> Lonoke man arrested for raping child

Leader editor

A Lonoke man was arrested last week for the rape of a 5-year-old boy. The man, William Carl Andrews, 44, was arrested by Lonoke County sheriff’s deputies on Friday and charged with rape.

A spokesman for Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson said the assault on the child happened in the central part of Lonoke County. He declined to name the town out of concern for the child’s privacy.

The spokesman, Lt. Jim Kulesa, also declined to give details of Andrews’ relationship to the child but said investigators believed “this wasn’t a random assault” and that the man knew the child. Kulesa would not say if other children also live in the home where the assault occurred but did say the case is being investigated.

Andrews is not a registered sex offender in Arkansas.

The Lonoke County Sheriff’s office was notified of the rape at around 4 p.m. Friday. Det. Michele Scroggins went to the home where the rape allegedly occurred. An investigation led to Andrews’ arrest about three hours later at the sheriff’s office. He is being held in the Lonoke County Detention Facility without bond until his first appearance in court on Friday.

A person found guilty of rape in Arkansas could be sentenced to prison for 10 to 80 years depending on criminal history.
Sexual-abuse victims rank high among children who are mistreated in Lonoke County.

Karen James, director of the Wade Knox Center, said that 90 percent of the 686 children the center has served since 2005 have been sex-abuse victims. The center, which is not involved in this case, is in Lonoke and serves physical, mental and sexual-abuse victims.

“We provide interview services,” she said.

Victims, ages 3-17, come to the center through police referrals. Forensic interviewers interview the children while they’re observed by law-enforcement officials.

The center helps children feel safe while talking about the abuse they have endured. The center also provides referrals for medical and therapy services.

TOP STORY >> Cabot resident marks 100th birthday

Spring Creek Living Center in Cabot celebrated a milestone birthday Monday as resident Evelyn Picard turned 100.

The staff at Spring Creek brought her a small birthday cake with lots of candles.

They sang “Happy Birthday” in the commons area, along with several residents and guests.

Her son, Richard, was there, along with his niece, Cathy, of Miami. She is the daughter of Evelyn’s other son, George, who is a retired Miami city engineer. He wasn’t at the party, but visited his mother the day before.

Her two sons have given her eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

Evelyn has lived at Spring Creek for five years and in assisted living in Arkansas for 15 years.

She was born in Plymouth, Mass., on Aug. 10, 1909. Her mother was from Hanson, Mass., and her father was from Nova Scotia, Canada.

Evelyn and her husband, George, were married for 70 years until his death in 1998 at the age of 88.

After raising their children, Evelyn and her husband moved to Wareham, Mass., outside Plymouth. They lived there 35 years.

Richard Picard said his mother was a career homemaker. She has never driven a car. Evelyn was active in her church. She crafted dolls, knitted and canned vegetables from the family garden.

Evelyn enjoyed knitting and made shawls for her family.

George and Evelyn were high school sweethearts. They were in the same senior class in Plymouth High School.

According to family history, Richard Picard said, Evelyn worked as a secretary. The position required a woman to be single.

George and Evelyn eloped to New York. When they returned to Plymouth, the couple kept it a secret and went back to living with their respective parents. The couple could not admit they were married or Evelyn would have lost her secretarial job.

Richard Picard said his parents lived apart for a year or two, while George lived at home and commuted to groundskeeping school.

According to Evelyn’s son, his father was a professional golfer from the 1920s to the 1950s. He finished out his career as a golf pro at the Kahkwa Club in Erie, Pa., from 1947 to 1951.

He then worked as an office manager for U.S. Plywood in Pittsburgh for 12 years. He also worked as a production manger for

Ocean Spray in Middleboro, Mass., where he then retired.

They shared many happy memories together, Richard said.

Richard, who lives in northern Pulaski County outside Cabot, is a retired Air Force major. A Vietnam veteran, he was in the Air Force for 22 years. He was a C-130 navigator and later taught navigation at Little Rock Air Force Base from 1977 to 1984.

While in the Air Force, Richard earned a master’s degree in logistics management from the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

Two years after retiring from service, he went to UALR as a Vietnam veteran and earned a teaching certificate. He taught physics at Parkview High School in Little Rock for 16 years from 1986 to 2002.

He said his mother is well taken care of at the nursing home. What’s more, “The care at Spring Creek is outstanding,” he said.

TOP STORY >> Beebe unveils $10M center for little ones

Leader staff writer

There was standing-room only in the cafeteria and no parking places left Monday afternoon for the dedication of the state-of-the-art Beebe Early Childhood Center, where Gov. Mike Beebe was the featured speaker.

“It’s good to be home,” the governor told the audience of more than 300 school employees, former board members, city and state leaders and parents. “It’s good to be at Beebe Public Schools when it hasn’t been hit by a tornado.”

When that disaster struck in January 1999, the governor had been the area’s state senator for 17 years.

Beebe asked if the roof of the new building was red like all the others on campus, which he said was an impressive sight from the air.

The buildings the school district patrons have helped pay for with their tax dollars are a testament to their dedication to education, the governor said.

“People select where they live in direct relation to the schools,” he said, adding that communities with good school systems are the ones that prosper and grow.

He praised the district for meeting the needs of the 570 students who will be enrolled at the new school for kindergarten and first grade. Education is a priority for the governor, who said it consumes 70 cents of every dollar in the state general fund.

The son of a single mother who worked as a waitress, the governor was born in Jackson County, but he told the audience that White County has been his home since he graduated from law school at the University of Arkansas in 1972.

“The foundation is kindergarten and first grade,” he said. “If they don’t get a good foundation, everything else that follows is inadequate.”

The 91,000-square-foot, $10 million facility on South Holly Street will house up to 600 students.

Much of the structure, including the cafeteria used for the dedication, indoor play area and library, is set on the concrete slab of a defunct sewing factory.

The facility has art and music rooms, a 3,000-square-foot tornado shelter, a stage in the cafeteria and a smart board in every classroom. It is painted in primary colors inside with splashes of those same colors outside. And it was built with small children in mind down to the low water fountains and toilets.

The state paid $6.3 million for the new facility leaving the school district to pay $3.7 million by restructuring bonds instead of raising taxes.

Dr. Belinda Shook, school superintendent, thanked the governor for taking the time to come especially considering his next appointment of the evening was with an ambassador from China.

She thanked Jack Delk, the construction manager; Eric Goodwin, the job supervisor; and Steve Elliott, who designed the building and all the new buildings in the district.

She thanked the district’s custodial staff that had spent the day getting the facility ready for company. And she invited the guests to look around at the new school, especially the indoor play area.

“Even when it rains, we play,” she said.

TOP STORY >> Payday lenders kicked out of Arkansas

Arkansans Against Abusive Payday Lending declared victory Tuesday when it announced that the last payday lender has left Arkansas.

AAAPL hosted a news conference near a former payday lending store in Little Rock once operated by First American Cash Advance.

First American, the final payday lender to cease operations in Arkansas, closed its last store on July 31.

AAAPL released its latest independent research report, which highlights developments over the last year that ultimately culminated in payday lenders leaving the state for good.

Payday lenders in Jacksonville, Cabot and other nearby communities closed down several months ago.

The formal end of payday lending in Arkansas occurs eight months after the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that a 1999 payday lending industry drafted law violated the Arkansas Constitution, and 16 months after Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel initiated a decisive crackdown on the industry.

Payday lenders charged borrowers triple-digit interest rates — despite the Arkansas Constitution’s interest rate cap of 17 percent a year on consumer loans.

The industry-drafted Check-cashers Act as enacted in 1999 by the state Legislature was designed to evade the Constitution by contending, nonsensically, that payday loans were not loans.

Speakers at Tuesday’s news conference included AAAPL chairman Michael Rowett of Southern Good Faith Fund; Arkansas Deputy Attorney General Jim DePriest, and Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Todd Turner.

Turner, an Arkadelphia attorney, represented dozens of payday lending victims in cases that led to the Arkansas Supreme Court’s landmark ruling against the industry.

“Payday lending is history in Arkansas, and it is a triumph of both conscience and constitutionality,” Rowett said. “Arkansas is the only state in the nation with an interest rate cap enshrined in the state’s Constitution, which is the ultimate expression of the state’s public policy. More than a decade after payday lenders’ initially successful attempt to evade this public policy, the

Constitution’s true intent has been restored. Arkansas consumers — and the rule of law — are the ultimate victors.”

Arkansas joins 14 other states — Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and West Virginia — plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. military, all of which are protected under interest rate caps that prevent high-cost payday lending. The industry’s exemption to an interest rate cap in Arizona is expected to expire in July 2010, bringing the total to 16 states.

Rowett said a significant share of the credit for ending payday lending in Arkansas goes to Turner, the attorney general’s office and H.C. “Hank” Klein, who founded AAAPL in 2004.

“Hank Klein’s tireless devotion, knowledge, and research gave our coalition the expertise it needed to focus on educating Arkansans about the pitfalls of payday lending,” Rowett said. “Ultimately, it was the decisive, pro-consumer actions of Attorney General McDaniel and his dedicated staff and the tremendous legal victories won by Todd Turner that made payday lending extinct in our state.”

DePriest noted that McDaniel in launching his March 2008 crackdown on payday lenders had cautioned it might take years for all payday lenders to leave Arkansas.

“We are exceptionally pleased that it took just over a year to accomplish what we set out to do,” DePriest said. “Payday lenders ultimately recognized that their attempts to justify their existence and continue their business practices weren’t going to work.”

Turner said that Arkansas consumers ultimately are better off without payday lending.

“In Arkansas, it was a legal issue of following our Constitution, but there’s a reason why all these other states don’t allow payday lending — it’s inherently predatory,” Turner said. “Charging 300 percent, 400 percent and even higher interest rates is, as our Supreme Court accurately noted, both deceptive and unconscionable.”

At the industry’s peak in early 2006, payday lenders operated 275 stores across the Natural State — more than twice the number of McDonald’s restaurants in Arkansas.

TOP STORY >> Board wants to go it alone

Leader staff writer

Pulaski County Special School District board member Bill Vasquez of Jacksonville, calling himself the man of the hour, led the charge Tuesday night against reviving talks with the city on its own district.

By a 4-3 vote, with Vasquez, Charlie Wood, Gwen Williams and Tim Clark voting no, the board opted not to repeal its decision at the last meeting and refused to reopen negotiations for the separation of the proposed Jacksonville school district.

Vasquez said after that vote that the board should approve an internal working group to provide the board with the necessary information to act on a future resolution to create a new Jacksonville-area school district. His suggestion was shot down, also by a 4-to-3 vote.

After the meeting, Mayor Gary Fletcher lamented that the city had only two choices – either initiate a lawsuit or wait until the Sept. 30 federal hearing, where Judge Brian Wilson will give the PCSSD and Jacksonville some direction on splitting into two districts.

Vasquez, in not wanting to negotiate with the Jacksonville Educational Foundation, which is representing the city’s efforts with the blessing and support of the mayor, said nowhere in the law does it say the board has to talk to an outside group.

“The school buildings in Jacksonville belong to PCSSD. The area belongs to PCSSD, and the decision and ability to separate belongs to PCSSD,” he said.
Vasquez added that there’s also nothing in the law that prevents PCSSD from handling everything on its own.

“This is an internal process,” he said.

A number of times, Vasquez insisted that negotiations were a board decision, and it would be on the board’s timetable.

“The real question is why we would want to negotiate with an outside party that doesn’t answer to anyone? It is this board’s decision and business. Not anyone else’s,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez called it a falsehood and a farce that the city had no representation in the matter. “There are three members on this board elected by Jacksonville residents,” he said, referring to himself, Wood, who is from Sherwood and Williams, who is from McAlmont.

Vasquez compared dealing with the foundation to owning two cars and trying to sell one. “Why would I need the neighbor’s advice?” he asked.

Daniel Gray of the Jacksonville Educational Foundation insisted, “We are not going away.”

The discussion started when Mildred Tatum told the board that she didn’t have a clear understanding and ramification of the resolution when she abstained from voting the last time.

“I knew I voted the wrong way 10 or 15 minutes after the vote. In my heart, I felt I had to do the right thing,” she said, explaining why she wanted another vote on the matter.

Wood, who earlier in the meeting talked about a time he changed his mind on a vote, didn’t see the need and said with a new board member coming on in two months the vote could just be changing again and again.

Wood said the board will no longer be inundated with requests about the issue from the outside and that the district needed to “concentrate on students, discipline and facilities.”

“Not that it’s (the Jacksonville district) not important, but it shouldn’t be a priority or focus,” he explained.

Wood said that dealing with Jacksonville’s demands “takes our attention away from educating students.”

Williams was also steadfast with her no vote, saying that the resolution said the talks were suspended, not terminated.

She wanted to wait for the judge’s ruling after the Sept. 30 hearing. “I still say we can’t go forward until the judge gives us direction,” Williams said.

She said that attorney John Walker, who represents the Joshua Intervenors, had already promised to tie the district up in litigation if it proceeded with plans to release Jacksonville.

In his defeated proposal, Vasquez called for the internal committee to give reports to the board in November and again in January to “allow action by the board on a resolution creating a new school district no later than March 2010.”

He said that way the district had time to go before the Arkansas School Board, and then on to the ballot for the November 2010 general election.

Board member Shana Chaplin said the idea of an internal committee and working on the issue without input was a lack of transparency. She said she ran for the school board to help make decisions more transparent and to get more parent and public participation.

“Yet we continue to work in the same culture,” she said.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Predatory lenders booted out at last

Starved for good news? Here’s some. The last of the predatory lenders — the so-called check-cashing industry — have departed Arkansas for greener pastures.

These particular loan sharks flourished for nearly a decade under the benign gaze of the state government, but a hardy band of do-gooders and a persistent lawyer finally got the Arkansas Supreme Court to look squarely at the Constitution and rule on it. The court said, yes, triple-digit interest rates do violate the state’s strict usury law.

Arkansans Against Abusive Payday Lending announced yesterday that First American Cash Advance, the final payday lender, had closed its last shop.

Arkansas is now among 15 states that forbid check cashers from charging huge interest rates on payday loans. It should never have been among those that allowed it. Arkansas has had a rigid ceiling on interest since the adoption of the current constitution in 1874.

But the legislature passed a law permitting the exorbitant fees in 1999 and Gov. Mike Huckabee signed it into law, even though it clearly violated the Constitution. The act tried to say that the check cashers could collect big fees on their loans and not call them interest, although the Supreme Court a half-century ago said such ruses could not stand.

It took nine years to get the issue squarely before the Supreme Court so that it could not duck the question. Todd Turner of Arkadelphia, the lawyer who got it there, is now the state chairman of the Democratic Party. The attorney general, Dustin McDaniel, helped drive the lenders out even before the court’s final unanimous order. Hank Klein, former president of Arkansas Federal Credit Union, also led the charge to kick out the payday lenders.

When Huckabee left office in January 2007, there were 275 payday lenders feeding off the poor and desperate.

The state lottery will shortly take their place. There will always be someone to prey upon the desperate and the poor. The respite may be brief, but it is welcome.

—Ernie Dumas

EDITORIAL >> Mike Ross, freeloader

The timing could not be more embarrassing for U. S. Rep. Mike Ross or more delicious for the taxpayers in his district. A week after the South Arkansas congressman’s celebrated face-down with his party leaders over the cost of health-care reform, the Wall Street Journal reported that Ross was one of 10 members of the House of Representatives who took a globe-hopping junket across much of the Southern Hemisphere in January 2008 at a cost of more than $600,000 to the Treasury.

Ross is a leader of the Blue Dog Coalition, conservative Democrats whose mantra is fiscal restraint, and they were worried about the higher federal spending in the health-reform plan, which would mandate that everyone acquire health insurance.

Ross jawboned the committee down by $10 billion a year or so, mainly by shaving the little subsidy that would be offered to poor working families if they would subscribe to health insurance. For a few days he was a national hero.

The Journal’s junket expose tells a different story about the spending watchdogs. Of the 10 members of Congress on the junket (six, including Ross, took their spouses), four were members of the Blue Dogs and four were Republicans who built reputations as foes of federal spending. The Journal wasn’t trying to embarrass them on health reform but on global-warming legislation. They are members of the science committee and the trip was supposed to be a fact-finding mission about the effect of global warming on Antarctica.

Along the way, they snorkled on the Great Barrier Reefs, where they got to see the coral bleaching from rising levels of atmospheric carbon, rode a cable car through the Australian rain forest, visited a penguin rookery in New Zealand and stayed at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach. The spouses stayed behind in New Zealand while the lawmakers flew to the South Pole to see the melting icecaps. They were educated and suitably impressed. Still, all but three voted against the cap-and-trade bill that is supposed to curb greenhouse gas emissions and slow the threat of devastating climate change.

Ross has taken some pricey junkets in his five terms, but he and his conservative friends are not the only hypocrites. Foreign travel and other forms of government-paid skylarking are endemic. We remember Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt, every Arkansan’s favorite conservative, taking a junket every year to a world parliamentary conference. It was always held in one of the great pleasurable cities of Europe — Paris, Rome, Vienna, Istanbul. No African fact-finding missions for him.

Former Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, maybe the most expensive senator in history for the taxpayers, led a small expedition of senators in 2007 to see the Paris Air Show to educate themselves on aviation technology. Taxpayers picked up the tab: $121,000.

Altogether, congressional junkets cost about $13 million a year, some would say not much in a budget of more than $3 trillion.

The Pentagon throws more than that into the winds by 9 o’clock in the morning every day. But it would be hard to find an expenditure more manifestly wasteful or one that arouses more distrust of Congress. You would think that they would pay more attention to their low estimation as an institution.

Ending junkets wouldn’t make a dent in the deficit, but it would raise the Congress a little in the public estimation. The House last week backed down on a $550 million appropriation for eight more Defense Department aircraft to ferry senior government officials, including members of Congress, around the world. That’s progress.

SPORTS >> New Falcons head man says, ‘No looking back’

Leader sports editor

The message first-year head coach Rick Russell is preaching over at North Pulaski this summer is “No looking back.”

Given that the Falcons have managed only five wins over the past six seasons — including just one last year — that mantra seems more than appropriate.

Russell, Jacksonville High School’s long-time defensive coordinator, took over from Tony Bohannon in the spring. Bohannon remains the school’s athletic director, its ninth grade coach and an assistant on the varsity.

Russell’s first order of business when he was introduced last May was to get his team in better shape and, so far, he’s enormously pleased with his team’s response.

“We worked out every Monday and Thursday over the summer and the kids really bought into what we wanted them to do,” Russell said. “We don’t want to bring up the past, but you wouldn’t believe these kids won only one game last year when you look at their attitudes.”

It’s not just the dedication to summer workouts that has Russell feeling good about things. Forty-eight players showed up for the first week of two-a-days and he expects six or seven more before the regular season begins. And the fact that 24 players are out for ninth grade is reason for hope that the program is already on the upswing.

If North Pulaski can find replacements for the loss of most of its offensive line to graduation, the skill positions look to be solid.

“Our strength is definitely our running backs and wide receivers,” Russell insisted. “We’re very quick and athletic.”

Experience will especially be a strength at running back, where incoming juniors Billy Barron and Darius Cage return. Barron is a hoss at 260 pounds. Both saw plenty of action as sophomores. Another incoming junior, Bryan Colson, is questionable because he may play basketball this fall.

But Russell says that, as nice as it is to have Barron and Cage back, the backfield is not limited to those two. The Falcons, he said, are three deep at each of the three running back positions.

“The biggest problem is getting all of them playing time,” said Russell, acknowledging that wasn’t a bad problem to have.

Though the Falcons will run a multiple offense, their first option will be a one-back set with a wing and a slot. They’ll use power formations, some Veer, and a lot of misdirection. Russell said the offense even has a Shotgun package it can turn to.

It’s a complicated offense, involving perfect timing and precise footwork, and it all will be in the hands of a sophomore quarterback in Shyheim Barron, on whom Russell heaps plenty of early praise.

“He has made so much progress since I first got here in May,” Russell said of Shyheim Barron, who quarterbacked the ninth grade last fall. “He’s very intelligent and he’s picked up the offense extremely well. We need to get him to take more control in the huddle.

“But we’re very excited about where he’s at.”

With a young quarterback, of course, comes an even greater need for solid offensive line play. The Falcons lost a lot of size up front, including a pair of 350-pounders in Carlos Donley and Cliff Copeland. Russell admits that was the one big concern coming into the season. But he feels a lot better about things on the line after a week of practice.

“We really only have one returning starter and that was our question mark,” he said. “But we think we’re figuring some things out and making some great strides. Our offensive coaches came up to me (last Thursday) and told me they weren’t worried about the offensive line anymore.

“The problem there is depth. We’ll have several going both ways.”

The defense returns quite a few who either started or got plenty of action last year. The scheme has shifted to a 3-5-3, from which the Falcons can shift into a 5-2 or a goal-line defense with ease. A.J. Stephens, Vinnie Osmun, C.J. Bernard, Calvin Carter, Arlando Hicks, Cage, Barron and Cameron Stoneking will anchor the experienced defense.

But beyond the Xs and Os, Russell remains most happy about attitude.

“The kids have been great,” he said. “(The past) is over. I haven’t seen any negative behavior from any of our kids. I asked them in May to get better every day and they’ve responded.

“We’re not looking back.”

SPORTS >> Injury leaves James’ status up in the air

Leader sportswriter

Cabot fullback Michael James may have to wait a little while to make his defensive debut.

James suffered a shoulder injury on the Panthers’ first day of contact last week and was scheduled for an MRI on Tuesday afternoon.

“They X-rayed it to make sure the collarbone wasn’t broke and it wasn’t,” Panthers coach Mike Malham said. “I don’t know. It may be a separation, but it doesn’t show it because ... usually on a separation the bone pulls away, but you don’t see that, so they’re not sure what it is.”

Without the results of the MRI, Malham guessed the worst-case scenario would have James missing six weeks. Cabot, of the 7A-Central, opens the season against 6A-East member Jacksonville on Sept. 1.

“Better now than three weeks from now,” Malham said of the injury. “We’ve still got four weeks before the first game.”

James, 5-11, 195 pounds, last played defense for Cabot Junior High North’s 9-1 squad in 2006 but Malham worked him at linebacker in the spring and was expecting to start James in the team’s 5-2 set. Senior Spencer Neumann, 6-0, 195, the team’s other starter at linebacker, and James swapped spots for most of the spring so Neumann could get quality reps at fullback and James could get up to speed on defense.

The move will pay off offensively at least, as Neumann will be able to handle the bulk of the carries at fullback, the workhorse spot in Cabot’s Dead T, until James returns. Neumann spent plenty of time at fullback in junior high before focusing on defense the past two years.

“We planned on James working at linebacker over there and then rotating them at fullback,” Malham said.

Neumann had 114 tackles and four sacks to earn all-state honors last year. Junior Riley Hawkins, 6-0, 180, was the No. 3 linebacker exiting the spring and will take over James’ spot on defense.

“He came out of spring looking pretty good at linebacker,” Malham said. “He doesn’t have the speed or strength that those two seniors had.”

James gained 1,261 yards and scored 20 touchdowns last season as the Panthers went 9-1 to win the 7A-Central, then were eliminated by Springdale Har-Ber in the first round of the playoffs.

Malham didn’t know if James was hurt blocking or carrying the ball, but the injury definitely came while he was on offense.

“Thursday, first day in pads,” Malham said. “We were doing a little scrimmage in there at the end and he came up and said, ‘My shoulder’s hurting.’ And boy, the next day, he couldn’t move it.”

Besides Neumann at fullback, the Panthers can use senior Jared Maxwell, a defensive end who practiced at halfback in the spring. They have also tried junior transfer Spencer Smith, from Central Arkansas Christian, at the fullback position.

“We’re not in too bad a shape right there,” Malham said.

Malham agreed it was fortunate James is a senior, and won’t be too behind in his knowledge of the playbook. As for his conditioning, Malham said James is unable to run right now and the Panthers are just going to have to wait for the test results and for James to heal.

“We’ll just have to wait until the MRI and see what he can and can’t do,” Malham said.

SPORTS >> Young gunner

Leader sportswriter

He’s still a few weeks away from his 16th birthday, but Beebe driver Dallas Everett is ready to run with the big boys.

That’s how he will finish the 2009 racing season. Everett, who started the year in the E-mod division, will compete in the modified class at Beebe Speedway and other area tracks as the season winds down. That will put him in competition with a laundry list of drivers who have been in that class longer than he’s been alive.

But proving himself to competitors is something Everett has become accustomed to in his five short years of racing.

“I was ready to do something different,” said Everett. “I had been wanting to move to modified for a while. E-mod was still a challenge, but I felt like it was time to end on a good note and move up to modified.”

It is a bold move by a youngster who was well-positioned in the E-mod season point standings at Beebe Speedway. Through the first half of the season, Everett had four wins, 10 top fives and 11 top 10s, with only two finishes of 12th or worse. He also had similar success at Conway County Speedway in Plumerville.

Despite missing a number of weekends, Everett is still currently listed sixth in the E-mod point standings at Beebe. But it’s not the points Everett is after – it’s the hardware.

“I’m not too worried about points; I’m worried about winning races more than anything,” said Everett. “I would just as soon run different tracks and be able to run well, so I can run different (special) shows. Now that I’ve moved to modified, I plan on running at a lot of different tracks rather than just Beebe and Plumerville.”

Dallas’ father, Rick Everett, has spent a great deal of his adulthood in the hot-rod circuit. His customized trucks have been featured in national publications over the years, and Rick was hoping that his son would catch the bug also. Dallas got hooked in when he got his first go-kart.

“He would run it up and down the driveway every Saturday and Sunday,” said Rick Everett. “He would get in that go-kart and go to the top of the hill and sling it around and come back down.”

Dallas finally convinced Rick to take him racing, but what was supposed to be a one-shot deal turned into much more, according to Dallas’ mom Shelly.

“Dallas wanted to race so bad, and we told him, ‘We’ll let you race one time, but that’s it,’” said Shelly Everett. “Dallas raced and did well, and by that next weekend, we had an enclosed trailer with two go-karts and extra motors. We bought someone out.

We went from racing one time the week before to having a complete operation the next.”

Everett won a handful of go-kart events in a year-and-a-half of competing before moving on to full-sized cars. He started full time in the mini-stock class in 2007 at age 13, and wowed fans while bewildering competitors by winning three of the first four races at Beebe that year.

That led to mass protest and even a boycott of the track by several of the mini-stock competitors for most of the remaining season over what they believed was an illegal car. Everett’s wins were protested on two different occasions. Both times, his E 26 Ford Mustang was declared legal by track tech inspectors.

“It lets you know that you’re doing good when you have people saying stuff like that,” said Everett. “I was surprised at how the year was going. It went great; it was a lot of fun.”

Everett and his family even used that suspicion against his accusers during their first visit to Conway County Speedway.

“I called the promoter to warn her about dirty driving, because there were guys out there getting aggravated,” said Rick Everett. “She told us she would watch out for it, but that if Dallas ran and won, the other guys already had the money set back to protest him.

“I asked her, ‘Well, instead of getting tore down, we could just load up and leave if that happens, couldn’t we?’ And she said that would be fine.”

Dallas added that he and his parents actually wanted to lead on his competitors that he may have been cheating.

“So (the promoter) told them that if we ran there, we probably weren’t going to tear down, we were just going to load up and go home,” he said. “I went up there and won my heat and the feature. I pulled into the infield, and they said, ‘You’re being protested,’ and I said, ‘That’s good. Do we need to tear down here, or at the trailer?’”

To everyone’s surprise upon inspection, Everett’s car proved to be more stock than many of his competitors. He became more respected at that point, and eventually went on to claim 20 feature wins and the 2007 mini-stock championship at Beebe.

Though he is mature for his age, Everett has still had a lot of help from his family in his racing endeavors. Both Rick and Shelly work in the family business at Marple Auto Sales in Searcy. Dallas’ grandparents, Roy and Shirley Marple, bought Dallas his modified ride two years ago. They serve as the car’s primary sponsor. He also gets setup help from Mike Knight on race weekends.

Looking ahead, Everett said he would like to try the growing crate late-model class at some point, but for now, it’s all about modified racing.

“I’m looking forward to getting to race with people who have a lot of experience,” said Everett. “I think it will be a lot of fun.

That’s what I wanted to do was just run modifieds. I knew that E-mod would be the correct choice, since that was a little easier way to get into modifieds rather than just jumping into that class. Because that would be such a big jump.”

On the track, Everett relies on his own knowledge for setup feedback and lane choice. A lot of younger competitors try and emulate their favorite drivers, but Everett’s philosophy is surprisingly like that of most veterans: race the track instead of the guy ahead of and behind you.

“I do watch a lot of other races, but the main reason is to see what the track’s doing,” said Everett. “I really don’t watch it to see what other drivers are doing. Yeah, the people up front are going to be smoother, but I want to know what the track’s going to do.”

While his 36 feature wins to date, along with training at the Brooks-Shaw modified racing school late last year, has given Everett the confidence to enter the modified class, he is making sure he doesn’t become overconfident.

“I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch,” said Everett. “A feature win would be great, but I would be happy with just a heat win and some top fives before the end of the year. I just want to be a consistent car for the rest of the year.”

SPORTS >> Rhinos rout ’Cats

Leader sports editor

Arkansas Rhinos offensive coordinator Oscar Malone didn’t have much offense to coordinate last Saturday in Osceola.

Yes, the Rhinos scored nine touchdowns en route to a 62-24 rout of the Arkansas Wildcats, but they scored their first 27 points without running a play. Defense and special teams did all the damage early before the revamped Rhino offense took over the rest of the way, with Stewart Franks hauling in three touchdown passes.

The Rhinos bounced back from a 33-23 loss to Nashville on Aug. 1 and will have a chance at revenge when the Storm visit Jacksonville on Saturday.

“That’s going to be like the Cowboys and the Eagles,” said Malone, who owns the Rhinos. “We’ll be trying to keep the ball and run the clock and they’ll be trying to throw it down our throat. It’s become a real rivalry.”

The Rhinos actually trailed early on Saturday after the Wildcats marched 80 yard to take a 6-0 lead less than three minutes into the game. That lead lasted all of 14 seconds as Matthew Stewart returned his second kickoff in as many weeks, taking the ensuing kickoff and racing 80 yards for a 7-6 Rhino lead.

On the Wildcats’ next possession, Tyler Knight picked off a pass and raced 42 yards for the score and a 13-6 lead. It was 20-6 one play later when Anton Williams picked off another pass and went 52 yards for the score with 9:33 left in the opening period.

Jerald Marshall then recovered the ensuing kickoff in the end zone for a 27-6 Rhino lead. Twenty-seven points, and the Rhino offense had yet to get on the field. When it did, it showed no signs of rust, driving 55 yards and scoring on quarterback Damien Dunning’s two-yard sneak to make it 34-6 with 2:54 left in the first. The big play on the drive was Dunning’s 30-yard completion to Franks, who finished the night with seven catches for 135 yards.

The Wildcats tacked on a pair of touchdowns early in the second period to get back into it at 34-18, then added a 59-yard punt return to close the gap to 34-24 at the half.

But it took the Rhinos a little less than four minutes to extend the lead when Dunning hit Franks from 24 yards. Knight then hauled in his second interception of the game, returning it to the Wildcat 22. Bronson Taylor capped off that drive with a seven-yard run to make it 49-24, still in the third period.

Whatever hopes the Wildcats might have been holding on to were dashed when Dunning hit Franks for a 50-yard touchdown early in the fourth period. Terrance Keaton’s forced fumble and recovery set up Tye Forte’s two-yard touchdown pass to Franks at the 10:49 mark to cap off the scoring.

The Rhinos scored all their points with only 271 total yards. Dunning was 6 of 9 for 133 yards with two touchdowns, while Forte connected on 4 of 10 for 30 yards with a touchdown. Tim Mason caught three passes totaling 28 yards. The Rhinos added 108 yards on the ground.

The defense forced six turnovers and limited the Wildcats to 89 total yards.

Monday, August 10, 2009

TOP STORY >> City moves to expand Dupree park

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville City Council agreed Thursday that it would chip in $150,000 if the Parks and Recreation Department gets a 50/50 state grant to add 16 acres to Dupree Park.

The council also agreed to make it easier for residents to e-mail city hall with queries.

The parks department wants to buy and develop the acreage just to the east of the playground.

Once the land is purchased, the skate park will be moved to that location and expanded for the skateboarders. A nature trail and other improvements, including a special-needs ballfield, are also planned.

The skate park is now just south of the community center, but the city has plans to build a large farmers market pavilion and a exercise track in the area.

Parks and Recreation Director Kristin Griggs said the city has been looking for a safe area to relocate the skate park that would allow for expansion and have needed restroom facilities. There are restrooms at the playground.

But before the parks department can apply for the funds, it needed a resolution from the city stating that it would match the state grant. The council unanimously approved that resolution.

It was the first meeting for Alderman John Gary Fletcher when he became mayor.

Three aldermen – Kevin Mc-Cleary, Linda Rinker and Avis Twitty – were absent.

The resolutions states that the city council “agrees to provide the necessary local portion of the development cost of the entire project.”

The state’s portion will come from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism’s Outdoor Recreation Grant Program.

In other council business:

– The council voted to reorganize and rename its Residential Housing Facilities Board to the Jacksonville Public Facilities Board.

City Attorney Robert Bamburg explained that state law has expanded the powers and scope of city facility boards over the years, and the action will bring the city’s board in line with the changes.

By widening the scope and power of the board, it also allows the transfer of $100,000 from the city’s Advertising and Promotion Commission to the facilities board to be used in Jacksonville’s effort to get its own school district and to improve its school buildings.

In the past, the board has been used to help secure funding to build city hall and the community center.

Sherwood’s Public Facility Board was instrumental in obtaining a $5.5 million loan to buy the 106-acre North Hills golf course and is now leasing it to the city for the cost of the loan.

According to the new ordinance, “The public welfare of the city will be enhanced by granting an extension of additional authority and powers to the Jacksonville Residential Housing Facilities Board to allow pursuit of the planning, development and financing of other public projects and facilities to benefit the city.”

Schools could be considered in that realm of other pubic projects.

Before voting, Alderman Bob Stroud wanted assurances that any funding decisions by the facilities board would come before the council for final approval. The city attorney said it would.

– Aldermen agreed to spend up to $50,000 with Vision Internet Providers to design an interactive website for the city. Mayor Fletcher said the site would better connect the city with its residents. “If someone has a concern or problem, they can e-mail the city on the website and it will go to the mayor and to the right department and be assigned a tracking number that will be used to keep the citizen informed,” he said.

– The council agreed with the Planning Commission and approved rezoning about an acre of land at 1100 N. James St. from C-1 (light commercial) to C-2 (commercial) for the possible development of a shopping strip center. Alderman also approved the rezoning of a small lot at 1512 Stamps St. from R-7 (mobile homes) to R-2 (multifamily) so a duplex could be built on the property.

TOP STORY >> Austin growing, crime on rise

Leader staff writer

Austin Police Chief John Staley says the city is growing. Traffic has picked up. Crime is on the rise, and the only way to keep up is to enlarge the police department.

To that end, Staley got approval from the mayor and city council recently to promote Don Sims to sergeant and raise his hourly wage from $8.84 to $10.60.

At the same time, Todd Baldwin, the other full-time police officer, received a pay increase of 76 cents an hour from $9.24 to $10 along with the promise of a promotion to corporal when another full-time officer is hired next year.

“Sims, who has worked in law enforcement in Lonoke County for about 15 years, has the experience needed for the job,” the chief said.

“He’s very cool, calm and collected,” he said.

The raises were less than Staley said he wanted for his officers. But he said the reason the mayor and council couldn’t do more was obvious.

“We’re collecting taxes on a population of 608 and we’re probably closer to 2,500,” he said.

So while he waits for more revenue from the 2010 census to help him build his department from three full-time officers, counting himself, and eight parttime, he’s working toward getting it organized.

Staley also has applied for a $1,000 grant from Walmart to help pay the expense of setting up neighborhood watch groups in every subdivision in town.

Like Cabot, Austin has a lot of crime of opportunity. Unlocked cars and houses don’t necessarily tempt otherwise honest people, he said. But they are an easy target for those who aren’t honest or who are looking for a little excitement, he said.

“You’ve got to lock your cars,” is the first message Staley intends to get across when neighborhood watch meetings begin in September or October with or without the grant.

Between the increased traffic and crime, Staley says, “We’re getting slammed and we’ve got to have more people.”

He says he hears complaints from residents that the police are never around when they are needed.

More officers will improve that situation, but he says better communication is also needed. The officers come when they are called, he said, adding that not all residents call when they need help.