Saturday, October 24, 2009

SPORTS >> Where would we be without umpires, refs?

There has been a whole lot of fussing about penalty flags lately.

Fans of the grid-Hogs of Arkansas, especially, are boo-hooing into their Cardinal-red hankies over the yellow ones thrown by officials in last week’s 23-20 loss to the top-ranked Florida Gators in Gainesville, Fla.

The Southeastern Conference has suspended the officiating crew for bogus personal foul and pass interference calls that aided the Gators’ drive that tied it 20-20 in the fourth quarter, as well as for blown calls made in the Georgia-LSU game.

It has been that kind of week. Multiple blown calls in the baseball playoffs led Major League Baseball to announce it is using strictly experienced umpires for the World Series, breaking a tradition of having one newcomer on the six-man crew.

Officials must be accountable, and I imagine these punishments and adjustments are deserved. But the men in stripes and their brothers in blue ultimately did not cost teams their games last week.

We all love having a scapegoat, but shouldn’t the Razorbacks’ goat be Alex Tejada, who missed his go-ahead field-goal attempt very wide left to leave it tied 20-20 with 3:08 left last week? And certainly, with the Hogs’ defense sacking Tim Tebow four times and recovering four fumbles, Arkansas had plenty of other chances to win, yet it was Florida that kicked the winning field goal in the closing seconds.

In Tuesday’s American League Championship Series game between the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels, veteran umpire Tim McClelland clearly blew it when he ruled one out had been made on an obvious, unassisted double play in a rundown by Angels’ catcher Mike Napoli.

But how deadly could McClelland’s blunder have been to an Angels team on its way to losing 10-1?

It certainly wasn’t as bad as the infamous Don Denkinger safe call in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, a game St. Louis Cardinals fans are still mourning.

Denkinger’s obviously muffed call in the ninth inning, with St. Louis leading the Kansas City Royals 1-0, put Jorge Orta on first and opened the door for a two-run inning and a stunning, 2-1 Kansas City victory that tied the Series 3-3.

Denkinger’s goof is No. 1 on the list of the 10 worst referee calls at, and perhaps more than any other miscue by an official, it had the most direct impact on the outcome of a game.

But couldn’t St. Louis have just gotten the outs? First baseman Jack Clark couldn’t handle a foul popup by the next hitter, Steve Balboni, and catcher Darrell Porter allowed a passed ball that advanced runners into scoring position later in the inning. You can’t blame those on Denkinger.

And there is no excuse for the Cards’ implosion the following night, when they lost Game 7 and the Series 11-0.

Denkinger’s call didn’t beat St. Louis, McClelland’s call didn’t beat Los Angeles and last week’s penalty flags didn’t beat the Razorbacks either.

The point is, there are numerous chances for a team to win a game. The outcome is based on a series of events, not one. And to hang a loss around the necks of the refs is often taking the easy way out.

I believe I witnessed the granddaddy of blown calls personally, though it wasn’t in a nationally televised, big league game. It was Game 4 of the 2005 Texas League Championship Series between the Arkansas Travelers and Midland RockHounds at old Ray Winder Field.

Arkansas was already looking at a 2-1 deficit in the best of 5 series and trailed 5-4 entering the ninth. With two outs, Jason Aspito was at the plate for the Travelers with league-hits leader Erick Aybar, now with the Angels, representing the winning run on deck.

Aspito worked the count full and took ball four — and it was ball four, as anyone keeping play by play could prove — but home plate umpire Steve Fritzoni lost track of the count and kept Aspito in the batter’s box on what was essentially a 4-2 count.

Aspito struck out on the next pitch to end the series, and while Midland celebrated on the field and the home fans chanted “Four balls,” in protest, confusion reigned in the Travs’ dugout. Manager Tom Gamboa didn’t protest and apparently wasn’t sure if the count on the scoreboard was accurate, primarily because the Ray Winder scoreboard operators, usually forced to work the public address at the same time, had been a day late and a dollar short most of the season.

But rather than blame Fritzoni, who for some reason was promoted from the Class AA Texas League to the Class AAA Pacific Coast League the following season — maybe to keep him out of Arkansas — Gamboa instead pointed out the Travs were down 5-4 by their own doing.

“We’re not going to cry over spilled milk,” Gamboa insisted.

“We had our chances,” Gamboa said.

And he was right.

So did the Hogs last Saturday, so did the Cards in ’85 and so did the Angels on Tuesday night.

Certainly let’s hold the refs up to high standards. Maybe get them some extra manpower for really important games. Maybe re-evaluate how our umpires and referees are trained in every aspect, from the angles they take on calls to their conditioning and fitness.

Maybe football replay needs to be refined so fewer officiating mistakes are made. And maybe it is time for more extensive replay in baseball, especially in the postseason, as long as a way is found to keep games from lasting beyond their already intolerable five-hour length.

But no camera can keep order on the field. No camera can break up a long mound meeting or get between scuffling players.

Sure the refs screw up. But try one game without them and let’s see how we like it then.

SPORTS >> Vote gives approval, new look to 7A-6A

Leader sports editor

The new alignment of the 7A and 6A athletic conferences has a familiar look.
Very familiar.

The Arkansas Activities Association on Thursday ratified a vote by member institutions approving a change to the planned conference realignment for the 2010-2012 cycle. The proposal, put forward by Searcy High School, passed 23-9 on Wednesday.

Only the 6A and 7A schools took part in the vote.

AAA executive director Lance Taylor said the conferences were finalized and set by the balloting.

“That’s over 66 percent,” Taylor said. “That means the majority of them wanted to do this.”

Next year’s 7A-6A-Central will now look just like this year’s 7A-Central with members Bryant, Cabot, Conway, Little Rock Catholic, Little Rock Central, North Little Rock, Russellville and Van Buren.

Cabot and North Little Rock were originally slated to play in the 7A-6A-East and Bryant was to play in the 7A-6A-South.

“It affects us a whole lot because we were going to go back into the East and we were going to have a lot of trouble,” Cabot athletic director Johnny White said. “Our gates wouldn’t have been as good. By getting back into our old conference, financially, it’s a great thing for us. We’re excited to get it back the way it was.”

The 7A-6A-East will look just like the current 6A-East and will include Jacksonville, Jonesboro, Little Rock Hall, Little Rock Parkview, Marion, Mountain Home, Searcy and West Memphis, which is reclassified from 6A to 7A next year. Hall and Parkview had been scheduled to play in the 7A-6A-Central.

“It’s a little bit outside the box,” Taylor said. “But if it works, it works.”

The 7A and 6A were to have separate playoffs, but their regular season records would count toward playoff eligibility.

In pushing for the final tweak of the realignment, Searcy was taking into account travel issues as well as school size. North Little Rock and Cabot will have the second- and third-largest enrollments, respectively, in the state and Searcy would have had the smallest in the originally proposed 7A-6A.

“The proposal was about making size disparity matter in the conference alignment,” Searcy assistant superintendent Earl Walton said before the vote.

“They’re looking at size, trying to do the best they can from a travel perspective but they’re still looking at size,” Taylor said.

While Searcy got what it was looking for, other schools were less than satisfied. Jacksonville athletic director and former boys head basketball coach Jerry Wilson said he had been looking forward to meeting long-time rival Cabot in the same conference in football, and is less happy about having to face basketball powers Hall and Parkview.

Jacksonville and Cabot have set a two-year deal to play what will now be non-conference games, which means Jacksonville will continue to benefit at the gate from the traveling Cabot fans, at least in the short run.

Less appealing to Wilson is the basketball schedule.

“Nothing really changed,” Wilson said. “We were sort of, from an aspect of North Little Rock and Cabot coming in here, for us those are pretty good money games. Close proximity. We used to play them anyway. Then on the other hand, from a basketball standpoint you’re thinking Hall and Parkview, oh boy.”

But Wilson, also a basketball assistant who was on staff for last year’s state championship run by the Red Devils, agreed that realignment never pleases everyone and said Jacksonville was willing to play the slate it is handed.

“We’re going to go with whatever way we’re set,” Wilson said.

Taylor said the vote, whether pleasing everyone or not, was at least fair and involved the right people.

“We’re the most democratic organization in the state,” Taylor said. “We let the schools vote on what they want and they’ve spoken.”

SPORTS >> Lady Panthers earn new life in postseason

Cabot senior Katie Burchfield goes up for a block against a Van Buren hitter.

Leader sportswriter

Senior night started with a scare for the Cabot Lady Panthers in their 3-1 victory over Van Buren at Panther Pavilion on Tuesday.

Visiting Van Buren’s attempt to play spoiler started out well. The Pointerettes claimed the first game 25-18 and rallied in Game 2 before falling 25-21.

But Cabot established dominance in the third game and held off another tenacious Van Buren charge in the fourth and final game in its 7A-Central Conference finale.

The victory earned Cabot (12-12, 6-8) the No. 6 seed in the 7A State tournament this week at Van Buren High School. The Lady Panthers will face 7A-West No. 3 seed Bentonville on Tuesday at 2 p.m.

Seniors Brittany Basye, Faith Blair, Katie Burchfield, Angelica Chamberlain, Sarah Martin and team manager Jaquilynn Williford were honored after the match by parents and faculty for their contributions to the team over the past three seasons.

The Lady Panthers’ only hope of earning a state tournament seed was a victory Tuesday. A Bryant loss to North Little Rock tied the Lady Hornets and Lady Panthers for the sixth seed, with Cabot holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.

“I think they knew what was at stake,” Lady Panthers coach Terry Williams said. “They were a little wound up for that first game. They started to relax a little more after that. We didn’t make as many mistakes. A lot of times, we hurt ourselves because we make so many errors. We cut out a lot of our errors, and that made a difference.”

Burchfield came on strong in the closing points of Game 3 — after Basye and junior Ashley Daniels had dominated the net for most of the game — and closed out her final home match as a Lady Panther with seven kills in the final game, including match point to hand Cabot a 25-23 victory.

The Lady Panthers also picked up defensively down the stretch. They found a way to seal off Van Buren’s deceptive left-side hitting, which led the Pointerettes to a quick 19-13 lead in Game 1, the only game they won.

“We were going for the blocks,” Williams said. “Our back row started picking up and started moving a little bit better, but we try to go for that block on the front line.”

Cabot rushed out to a 10-2 lead in Game 3 and did not allow Van Buren to catch up. That was not the case in the final game, as the Lady Pointerettes closed the gap from 10-2 to pull within 22-21.

A tip by Daniels gave Cabot match point, but a side out helped Van Buren pull within 24-23 before Burchfield’s last kill clinched it for the Lady Panthers.

Opportunities on offense did not come as often early on for Cabot. Van Buren, who will be the Central’s No. 4 seed, kept the Lady Panthers off their game with solid defensive play in Game 1. The Pointerettes also used effective cross-court blasts to gain the early advantage.

“We knew they would keep coming back and keep coming back,” Williams said. “We were just trying to mix things up on offense because we knew Van Buren was good on defense. They are always scrappy.”

Burchfield led Cabot offensively with 15 kills, while Bayse had 11. Daniels also had 11 kills and led the Lady Panthers in blocks with nine.

SPORTS >> Jacksonville takes an official beating

Jacksonville junior running back John Johnson tries to escape a Little Rock Parkview defender during the Red Devils’ heartbreaking 26-21 loss to the Patriots on Friday night at Jan Crow Stadium.

Special to The Leader

Jacksonville set the scene for an upset Friday night, but it wasn’t to be.

The Red Devils used two big fourth-down conversions to reach the Little Rock Parkview 5, but fell short as the Patriots won 26-21 in a 6A-East game at Jan Crow Stadium.

With 20 seconds to cover the 5 yards, the Red Devils instead allowed a 15-yard loss on a sack of quarterback Logan Perry.

Quick up the line and no timeouts left, Jacksonville snapped the ball with 6 seconds to go and Perry dropped back to throw, but the pass floated long and out of the back of the end zone as Little Rock Parkview prevailed.

The Red Devils’ final drive was one that Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley felt his team should not have needed after Parkview scored with 7:07 left in the game.

That drive was helped greatly when an incomplete pass seemed to set up fourth and 17 from the Patriot 9. The defender and receiver each fell down on the play.

Jacksonville sophomore D’Vone McClure had inside position on the deep pass near midfield. A good 5 seconds after the ball fell incomplete, Jacksonville was flagged for pass interference.

The penalty was a 15-yarder and an automatic first down. Three plays later, Parkview backup quarterback Chris Winston ran 37 yards to the 23.

Five plays after that, junior running back Christopher McClendon scored from 10 yards out to set the final margin.

The Red Devils were sensing victory before the controversial call.

“I thought it was going to happen when we had third and 18 down here inside the 10-yard line and we got a pass interference call,” Whatley said. “That was quite a big swing.”

Jacksonville started the game without a starting running back and a center. Senior Caleb Mitchell, who has started on the line all season and moved to center, also left the game in the fourth quarter with an injury.

Parkview tried to capitalize during Jacksonville’s final drive by blitzing up the middle, and it paid off on first and goal.

“We lost Mitchell and had to play a 10th grade center,” Whatley said. “First time he’s been in a war like that. It’s tough on him.

He went in there and did the best he could. They just started bringing heat up the pipe.”

Jacksonville (1-7, 1-4) had just taken its first lead of the game before pass interference call on a nine-play, 68-yard drive.

McClure had two big plays on the drive for 28 yards, and Perry kept for a 34-yard gain to help set up John Johnson’s 2-yard touchdown run.

The extra point made it 21-20 with 11:13 remaining in the game.

Parkview (5-2, 3-2) opened the game with a 72-yard scoring drive, with 70 of it coming in two plays. The first was a 21-yard pass and catch from quarterback Benjamin Anderson to McClendon.

The last was a 49-yard scoring pass to Christopher Giles that made it 6-0 with 10:44 left in the first quarter.

The teams then traded10 straight fruitless possessions before Jacksonville got on the scoreboard with 6:18 left in the half. The Red Devils marched 54 yards in eight plays, including a 7-yard pass from Perry to Tyler Crook on fourth and 7 to keep the drive alive.

Johnson capped the drive with a 21-yard run up the middle. He was sprung by solid downfield blocking by junior lineman Rhakeem James, who was still holding his block all the way to the goal line.

It took Parkview just 1:19 to answer.

Anderson hit McClendon for 48 yards, then Giles for 12 to get the Patriots to the 2, where the quarterback kept for the score with 4:59 left in the half. A fake extra point attempt resulted in a successful two-point conversion that made it 14-6.

SPORTS >> Panthers dragged through mud

Leader sports editor

Bryant threw a little mud on Cabot’s perfect record Friday night.

The Panthers, ranked No. 1 or 2 in most statewide polls, wandered onto the muck at Hornets Stadium and suffered a 35-7, 7A-Central Conference defeat before a near capacity crowd.

Bryant’s all-state running back Chris Rycraw ran wild on the slick field while Cabot, which plays on an artificial surface, couldn’t get much traction or many points in its first loss of the year. Rycraw finished with 188 yards and four touchdowns in an offense so explosive the scoreboard apparently couldn’t handle it and went blank in the second quarter with the Hornets already leading 28-0.

“We worked for this,” Bryant coach Paul Calley said. “It’s very gratifying.”

“They out-coached us, they outplayed us,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “They out-everythinged us tonight, there’s no doubt about that.”

Cabot’s loss arranged at least a two-way tie in the 7A-Central between the Panthers (7-1, 4-1) and Hornets (7-1, 4-1), while Conway and Little Rock Catholic, Cabot’s victims earlier this season, started the night with 3-1 conference records.

“It’s a loss but it’s not the season,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “We’re still tied with them. I don’t know how the other games came out tonight. There could be four teams at 4-1 after tonight. We’ve just got regroup and come back.

“We still control our destiny but hats off to Bryant.”

Heavy rains and a Thursday night junior high game left the field in such poor condition that a pair of hovering helicopters were used to try to air dry it, along with 100 bags of field dry and 40 bags of oil dry.

That appeared to help the Hornets more than it did the Panthers.

Bryant scored on a kickoff return to open the game, immediately recovered an onside kick leading to another score, and took advantage of excellent field position on a botched Cabot punt to ring up another touchdown in taking a 28-0 halftime lead.

Rycraw — who last year set school records in rushing yards (1,514), attempts (284) and touchdowns (17) — was by far the difference, accounting for close to half of Bryant’s 370 total yards.

“I knew they would have trouble tackling him in the open field,” Calley said. “And of course their footing wasn’t good either. He was just superb tonight.”

“We never slowed him down the first half,” Malham said. “They play on grass. I don’t know, they may have better cleats than us, who knows? That can happen. Sometimes it snowballs and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Cabot managed 193 yards and didn’t score its lone touchdown until Matt Bayles ran 23 yards for a touchdown on a straight handoff with 2:12 left in the third quarter.

“We weren’t in it from the word go,” Malham said.

Bryant’s Brady Butler took the opening kickoff up the left sideline, got a block and ran untouched to the end zone for the game’s first score, and seconds later Sammill Watson fell on Jace Denker’s onside kick near the Cabot bench to give the Hornets possession at the Panthers 42 with just 17 seconds elapsed.

Five plays later Rycraw turned in a 23-yard broken field run to make it 14-0 with 8:57 left, and the Hornets had already exceeded the Panthers average of 8.9 points allowed per game.

Cabot was forced to punt and Bryant then turned in a Cabot-style drive, going 75 yards in 14 plays and scoring on Rycraw’s 9-yard run that made it 21-0 with 10:56 left in the half. The longest gains of the drive came on two 11-yard runs by Rycraw.

Cabot got its biggest play of the half when quarterback Seth Bloomberg kept for 15 yards on the next drive, but the Panthers were forced to punt, the snap sailed over Matt Bayles’ head and Bryant got the ball at the Cabot 15.

Rycraw ran for 14 yards and scored on a 1-yard run for the 28-0 lead with 8:04 left.

That capped the scoring for the half, which was good because with just over five minutes left, power went out to the scoreboard and the home side press box.

The Panthers reached the Bryant 20 late in the half, but the drive ended when Blake Heil and Josh Hampton sacked Bloomberg on fourth down.

Rycraw added a 1-yard run to cap a 70-yard Hornets drive with 5:58 left in the third quarter.

Playing from behind and forced to throw more, Cabot got away from using leading rusher Spencer Smith, who hardly touched the ball in the first half but got a 35-yard gain in the second.

“Everything got out synch,” Malham said. “Some of the stuff we did he wasn’t involved with. He played more in the second half but when things are going like that things get out of synch and there’s no continuity there.”

Cabot will return for its final home game of the regular season against Van Buren (1-7, 1-4) next week.

EDITORIAL >> Lottery promise

Can’t anybody around the state Capitol write a decent lottery bill that’s clear and to the point? Jim Purcell, director of the state Department of Higher Education, told a legislative oversight committee Thursday that the lottery law is so poorly written that students now enrolled in college will get much smaller scholarships than those who start school next year.

Why would the state punish today’s college students in favor of teenagers who will pursue a higher education in the years to come? Amazingly, someone inserted language in the lottery law that shortchanges “non-traditional students,” who will get anywhere from $2.6 million to $8 million a year, while younger students coming up could qualify for up to $100 million a year.

Now, in everyday language, “non-traditional students” are part-timers or older students who decide to attend college long after high school. Why would Arkansas cheat those students when there are so many of them in the state? But the definition in the lottery act goes beyond that and includes full-time students who happened to have been born a few years too soon to get full benefits of the new lottery.

This type of discrimination makes no sense, since there will be plenty of scholarship money floating around when Arkies start spending upwards of $500 million a year as they chase their dream of instant riches. Why not give full scholarships to all students, traditional or non-traditional, if there’s excess scholarship money floating around?

Sen. Mary Anne Salmon (D-North Litte Rock) wants to amend the law and give at least $8 million a year to non-traditional students. The legislature needs to act so no college student is deprived of a decent education. Wasn’t that the promise of the new lottery?

EDITORIAL >> Crisis? Look to employees

Gov. Mike Beebe has accepted the recommendation by the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration to cut the state budget by $100 million for the second time in a year because of lower revenues.

Beebe said the revised budget forecast comes after revenues fell below those predicted for the first three months of the fiscal year, which started in July.

The reductions have been mild so far — 2.2 percent from the overall budget of $4.5 billion. Cuts will come mostly from the departments of Correction, Community Correction and Health, with the Arkansas State Police seeing the largest reductions.

Most department heads say they can do the cuts by not filling vacant positions and doing less traveling.

If the state can reduce its budget twice in one year, do you suppose it could cut twice that much — $200 million per fiscal year? You bet it could, however painful those cuts may be. These are hard times, and the governor should consider furloughing state employees, especially expensive department heads, whose bloated numbers are one of the reasons there’s a budget crisis.

The fiscal picture is ominous: Revenues in September were $464.2 million, or $76.6 million less than the year before. That was a 14 percent decrease, the biggest in 20 years.

“Just like any family or business, state government must live within its means,” said Beebe, who will likely run for re-election next year and wants voters to know he shares their pain. “Despite our conservative budgeting, it appears that our recovery from the recession has been slower than anticipated. There are still positive signs in the revenue numbers, and we maintain hope that the recovery will accelerate.”

Few economists share Beebe’s optimism. This recession could last well into next year and perhaps longer in our poor state. The governor should plan for another possible cut on Jan. 1 in case the fiscal picture worsens. Following the lead of other hard-pressed states, furloughs may not be far behind.

Let this serve as a warning to state employees who think the government has endless resources to preserve their jobs, because it does not.

TOP STORY >> Shift to electronic records favored

Leader editor

Pulaski County Clerk and Jacksonville native Pat O’Brien is working to improve the efficiency of record keeping in the state.

He was recently reappointed by Gov. Mike Beebe to the Electronic Recording Commission, where he serves as chair.

“The commission’s job is to promote electronic recording and online services,” O’Brien said, adding that specifically, the commission is slated with the advancement of putting real estate documents from courthouses online.

In 2007, when the state legislature voted to approve the formation of the commission, no counties in Arkansas were recording documents electronically.

Now, Pulaski and Benton counties are doing electronic recordings and several more counties are preparing for the task.

If more documents are being made more accessible to the public, that might pave the way for other court documents to be electronically recorded, O’Brien said.

But there is not yet a commission to handle that work. The legislature is working on drafting legislation that could allow for electric filing of other court documents, O’Brien said, which could lead to the beginning of that work as early as next year.

About 20 states have recording statutes to allow electronic filing.

O’Brien’s county clerk staff has been uploading real estate documents online, which are available for public viewing.

“(Those) online documents were going backwards,” O’Brien said, referring to their timeline. He said the work of the electronic recording is about “going forward.”

“The method by which (documents) get to us is changing,” he said. “(They) used to be brought to us in-person or were mailed.”

O’Brien said that if a title company in Fayetteville wants to change ownership of a Little Rock property, documents would formerly have to be mailed. “Now, you can do it electronically,” he explained.

There are benefits of communicating electronically. “For one, it’s cheaper,” O’Brien said. “You don’t have to use postage or utilize couriers” as many title companies do, he said.

Electronic recording is also faster. With paper, the process could take three or four days. “Now, we do it in 30 minutes.”

O’Brien graduated from Jacksonville High School in 1988 and holds a law degree from the University of Arkansas Law School.

He still lives in Jacksonville.

He is running as a Democrat for secretary of state in 2010.

TOP STORY >> Ward council member quits post

Leader staff writer

Longtime Ward council member Ginger Tarno resigned this week, saying ill health prevents her from doing her job as well as she would like to.

Tarno, who was appointed to the council about 12 years ago and has won every election since, grew up in Ward. She said every decision she has made as a member of the city council has been for the people there.

“I tried to treat the city like I’d like to be treated,” she said.

Tarno said she has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. But her problems also include excessive production of insulin and debilitating leg pain. In two years, she has gone from being very active to requiring a motorized wheelchair for outings.

She has been hospitalized four times in less than a year and she has missed some council meetings.

During the last meeting, her pain was so great she had difficulty concentrating, she said.

Since her problems came on quickly, she said she remains hopeful that the root cause is simple with a simple cure.

But, in the meantime, staying in office wouldn’t be fair to the people she represents, she said.

“I could sit up there and draw a paycheck, but that’s not me,” she said.

Mayor Art Brooke said Tarno had not always agreed with him, but she had always been supportive.

He knew she was considering resigning but he had hoped she would stay. “She’s been good for Ward,” he said. “She’s made good decisions.”

Tarno’s replacement will likely be chosen during the December council meeting.

The new alderman will complete her term and then be eligible to run for the position like she did.

Brooke said several names have been mentioned already, but declined to reveal those names. Tarno said her 25-year-old son, Bobby Tarno Jr., is on that list and he is her first choice, but the decision is the council’s.

A member of the city’s volunteer fire department since he was old enough to join at 13, her son is a family man who is interested in the betterment of the city, she said.

“He’s level-headed,” she said. “He’d be good on the council.”

TOP STORY >> Cabot’s top students recognized

Students receiving awards are Paula Shepard (front, from left), Grace Coggins, Emily Foltz, Kelsey Loraditch, Josh McIntyre (back row), Spencer Sharp, Justin Blankenship, Brendon Tucker and Taylor Burrington.

Leader staff writer

Cabot’s top students, its National Merit semifinalists and AP scholars, were recognized during the Tuesday school board meeting.

Superintendent Tony Thurman noted that many of them had siblings who had also been honored for scholastic achievement and he gave credit to their parents. “You’ve done a wonderful job,” he told them.

National Merit semifinalists are the students from each state who score the highest on the PSAT given to juniors in October.

The semifinalists represent less than 1 percent of the nation’s high school seniors. Semifinalists are eligible to continue in the competition for 8,000 scholarships, worth about $33 million.

This year, 147 Arkansas high school seniors were named National Merit semifinalists. Seven were from Cabot, which ranked third in the state from among 244 school districts for the highest number of semifinalists.

Those semifinalists, who have already been offered college scholarships, are Spencer Sharp, Justin Blankenship, Grace Coggins, Katie Van Druff, Emiliy Foltz, Courtney Anderson and Hannah Norton.

Although many of Cabot’s 33 AP scholars graduated in May, several who are seniors this year attended the Tuesday evening meeting. Some were also there as National Merit semifinalists.

Cabot’s AP scholars who are still in school are Josh McIntyre, Spencer Sharp, Justin Blankenship, Brendon Tucker, Taylor Burrington, Paula Shepard, Grace Coggins, Emily Foltz, Kelsey Loraditch, Rachel Best, Laken Harrington, Thomas Medak, Gary Newman and Courtney Anderson.

The Advanced Placement Program provides AP scholar awards in recognition of the high achievement of students taking advanced placement (college level) courses and exams.

About 18 percent of the 1.6 million students worldwide earned an AP scholar award. Many Cabot students who are enrolled in AP courses will receive college credit for their work and scholarship offers even without the recognition of AP scholar or
National Merit semifinalist, said Jana Smith, coordinator of secondary pre-AP, AP and gifted and talented as well as director of the AP Academy that is in its first year.

The AP Academy was started to make sure students are ready when it’s time to apply for college. To be eligible, students must have a 3.5 grade-point average. They must take a minimum of eight pre-AP and AP classes of which three must be AP. They must work alone on a large community service project either alone or as part of a group.

When they finish the program, which starts in the 10th grade, they will, in theory, have a resume that will be hard for any college to turn down and know how to answer questions during interviews.

“We have found over the years that what many of these schools are looking for is community service,” Smith said, and not just helping with Cabot Cleanup or volunteering at church.

The 160 students who are now part of the AP Academy are doing things like volunteering at hospitals in Little Rock and working on the regional park that is being built in Cabot. “We’re showing them what they need to do so when they go for an interview, they’re ready,” she said.

The Tuesday meeting was the first for new board member Mark Russell, who was sworn in before the meeting started by Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman.

Russell of Ward lost his race for the school board in September to Corey Williams of Cabot but was appointed earlier this month to replace Jim Coy, who resigned because his work requires him to miss meetings.

Russell said during a phone interview after the meeting that he was pleased that the board decided to name him to the position.

“Even though I lost the election, I was still very interested in serving,” he said. Russell called the board’s decision “prudent” considering that the election had just been held.

TOP STORY >> Iraqis fly C-130s as training is now over

Air Force News Service

After receiving extensive training at Little Rock Air Force Base, the Iraqi air force has begun independent C-130 air operations, marking the end of the U.S. C-130 air-advisory mission.

The training was completed by the joint efforts of the 314th and 189th Airlift Wings at the Jacksonville air base.

The C-130 Center of Excellence here has trained international military students from 34 countries in all four crew positions — pilot, navigator, flight engineer and loadmaster, as well as specialized maintenance training. The international training effort is managed under the Defense Department’s security-assistance training program, which provides U.S. military training for foreign allies and promotes ties with foreign leaders.

“Last year, the 314th AW provided simulator refresher training for 35 Iraqi aircrew members here at LRAFB and are in negotiations for upcoming training for another 35-40 aircrew,” said Capt. Anna Murray, 714th Training Squadron International Student Flight commander.

The 189th AW trained its first class of Iraqi C-130 aircrew students this year. The course focused on teaching them to better function as aircrews by fostering communication between all crew positions as well as honing the skills they had learned in their initial C-130 training.

The 10-day course took the crew members to the next level in their development.

“From where they began, their skills have grown tenfold. They have made a huge jump in their proficiency and are focused on using the right techniques and procedures,” said Chief Master Sgt. Eddie Milligan, a 189th Airlift Wing loadmaster.

Squadron 23 at New Al-Muthana Air Base is the largest C-130 squadron in the Iraqi air force. Its mission includes delivering troops and cargo, supporting distinguished visitors and flying medical evacuation missions. The squadron began after the United States gave three C-130E aircraft to the Iraqis through the Excess Defense Articles program.

Air-advisory training included a focus on foundational training for pilots, navigators, flight engineers, loadmasters, crew chiefs and maintenance specialists in engines, sheet metal, avionics and hydraulics.

The Iraqi air force C-130 airlift mission was born with the arrival in January 2005 of the three U.S. planes at Ali Base. This paved the way for the first aircrew members to receive flight training at Little Rock Air Force Base.

After being assigned to Ali Base since 2005, the squadron moved to New Al-Muthana Air Base in March 2006.

A ceremony deactivating the U.S. Air Force’s 321st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron and marking assumption of C-130 operations, maintenance and training by the Iraqi air force’s Squadron 23 formalized the milestone.

Presiding over the event were Maj. Gen. Robert C. Kane, the 321st Air Expeditionary Wing commander and director of the Air Force’s Iraq training and advisory mission; Staff Lt. Gen. Anwar Hamad Amen Ahmed, the Iraqi air force commander; Brig. Gen.

Kareem Ali Abud, commander of the Iraqi air force’s New Al-Muthana Air Base, and Col. Christopher Pehrson, commander of the U.S. Air Force’s 321st Air Expeditionary Advisory Group.

TOP STORY >> PCSSD seeks district chief

Leader staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District began its search for a new superintendent this week with public hearings throughout the district.

Two sparsely attended hearings were held on Wednesday — one in Jacksonville, where five people showed up, and another one in Sherwood, where two people attended, including Mayor Virginia Hillman.

The hearings were led by McPherson and Jacobson Executive Recruitment and Development, a Nebraska firm that specializes in filling top administration positions for public organizations, such as school districts and municipal hospitals. The firm is paid $20,000 to lead the search.

The school board hopes to hire a permanent superintendent in February to be ready for the start of school that fall, according to Thomas Jacobson, the search firm’s owner.

The school board has named Rob McGill as acting superintendent. He has not decided if he wants to be considered for the permanent position.

Jacobson’s son is an Air Force captain who has been stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base for the last four years and owns a home in the Northlakes subdivision in Jacksonville.

So Jacobson is aware of the district’s problems. He said that it won’t be simple to recruit a superintendent.

“The district has a lot of positives, but it also has a lot of challenges,” he said, pointing out that issues like desegregation requirements and the district’s economic disparities are not as prominent in other districts that he has recruited for as they are in the PCSSD.

Jacobson has been teaching at the university level for nearly 20 years. He instructs education administrators through an online program at the University of Nebraska.

The hearings are based on three questions: What are the positive things about the district? What skills should a new superintendent have? What should the new superintendent know to be successful?

People who were unable to attend Wednesday’s meetings can answer those questions online at, the search firm’s Web site, where a community input form can be completed and e-mailed to Jacobson.

The firm worked for the district before. Jacobson told the crowd that he was involved in the search for a new superintendent when James Sharpe was hired by the school board.

Sharpe, who resigned earlier this year, was not recommended by the firm.

“(Sharpe) did not make the short list, but the board wanted to interview him anyway,” he said.

“We bring the names of everyone, we make a short list, then we begin our reference and background checks,” Jacobson explained.

“We represent the school board, not any candidate. I don’t know if (McGill) will be applying,” he said.

The Jacksonville hearing was dominated by the city’s desire to break away from PCSSD and form its own school district.

“We almost need to have two conversations: what the new Jacksonville district needs and what the old one (PCSSD) needs,” said Daniel Gray of the Jacksonville Education Foundation.

Former Superintendent Bobby Lester of Jacksonville also attended. He suggested that the new superintendent should address the city’s lagging facilities.

“Clean up the schools, pay some taxes and maybe build new schools,” he said.

Ivory Tillman, president of the NAACP’s Jacksonville chapter, said he hoped a new superintendent could reverse some of the damaging policies the school board has created under McGill’s tenure.

“They dismantled the (Jacksonville Boys and Girls Middle School), transferred the principals out of town. It seems they were trying to promote the things we were trying to get away from,” Tillman said.

He was referring to former Jacksonville Boys Middle School Principal Mike Nellums and girls middle school principal Kim Forrest, who were both reassigned when they voiced concerns about the district’s reversal of its support for gender-based education after only one year of implementation.

Gray agreed with Tillman about the closing of the middle schools. “You had something that worked and then it was gone,” he said.

Rizelle Aaron, who also belongs to the NAACP, suggested that a new superintendent be “sympathetic to minority groups.”

Sherwood Mayor Hillman said that a new superintendent must have “a proven track record of bailing out another district because we are almost in crisis mode.”

“I want the reputation to improve,” she said. “The parents in this district do not have trust that their kids will get a quality education.”

Hillman wants school officials to understand the importance of good schools. “Good schools mean good business,” she said.

Quality schools are the basis of a strong community, she said.

She said Sylvan Hills High School’s recent improvement on its benchmark exams prove the district can get better.

But perhaps the mayor’s most valuable advice she had to offer to a new superintendent is that “he better have thick skin.”

TOP STORY >> Lonoke hosts flu clinic

Rhelinda McFadden (left), a registered nurse, gives Lonoke High School junior Briana Tate a flu vaccine Wednesday at Lonoke Primary School, while her grandmother, Judith Tate, helps her brave the pain from the shot.

Leader staff writer

The line began to form at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Lonoke Primary School, an hour before the school flu clinic opened its doors.

Students from all Lonoke schools, as well as parents and other family members, were there to get vaccinated against the seasonal flu and the new swine strain that emerged last spring.

After the doors opened, tables in the cafeteria quickly filled. There was paperwork to complete. Then you waited for your group – table by table – to be called into the library for vaccinations. By 5:15 p.m., the line had filled a long hallway and extended outside the school’s front door. About that time, Jeribeth Edwards arrived with her son, Chandler, a pre-kindergarten student. She was unperturbed by the prospect of a long wait.

“Why not?” she said. “It’s free.”

In the cafeteria, the atmosphere was relaxed, though volunteer Emma McClary, whose job was to call groups to go into the library, said she’d nabbed a few folks trying to sneak in out of turn.

A small group of teachers from the middle school sat together, chatting to pass the time. What seemed like a flu bug along with a nasty intestinal virus had already made the rounds this fall, but “it seems to be calming down now. I think we are through the worst of it.”

At another table, Daisy Fowler was filling out the several pages of paperwork required to get the vaccine. The young mother wanted vaccinations for herself and her three children – ages 8, 5, and 2 – because “they are really easy to get sick.”

The clinic was to close at 7 p.m., but it took 40 minutes more to give vaccines to everyone; no one was turned away. In all, 804 people were vaccinated and 1,062 vaccinations given – either the nasal mist or shot for swine flu or seasonal flu shot.

It was a long day, but a good one, said Betty Fletcher, who headed up the collaboration between the school district and the local health unit, along with a cadre of volunteers.

“We felt really good and felt that the community really appreciated what we were doing,” Fletcher said. “We have not had any complaints. We hope what we did will help keep people healthy this winter.”

The Lonoke school clinic was one of several hundred scheduled for this fall in Arkansas’ 243 school districts. The clinics will recur each year, the costs covered by tobacco tax revenues, thanks to a bill passed in the last General Assembly.

“Arkansas is the only state that I am aware of that is doing flu clinics for the general public and the school districts,” said Paula Smith, school nurse consultant for the Arkansas Department of Education. “It has been a very collaborative effort between the health and education departments.”

The planning process began in early spring, before the H1N1 strain came on the scene. That became another layer on a massive logistical effort. It included required innumerable meetings as well as the purchase of 95 more refrigerators for vaccine storage and printing 2 million copies of forms distributed to schools and health units.

It won’t be known until the clinics are finished and data is compiled about how many people are taking advantage of the school clinics, but Smith estimates that at least 50 percent – and in some locations as high as 80 percent – of Arkansas students are being vaccinated.

On the state level, health officials are setting restrictions on who gets the H1N1 vaccine first, because shipments of the vaccine ave not been as plentiful as they had hoped, said Ed Barham, spokesperson for the Arkansas Health Department.

“Our strategy has been to vaccinate children first, and so far there has been just enough for the school clinics,” with shortages reported at only a few locations, Barham said. “But we may not have enough H1N1 vaccine at the mass community flu clinics for everyone.”

The first round of community clinics are slated for Thursday through Saturday and then again in December. Children ages 9 and under are advised to get two doses of H1N1 vaccine a month apart.

Very young children, as well as pregnant women, get top priority because these two groups are at greatest risk for flu-related complications, hospitalization or death.

So far, 87 children across the country have already died from the virus – just one shy of the highest number of pediatric flu-related deaths on record for any year. And, although pregnant women comprise only 1 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 6 percent of swine flu-related deaths.

Pregnant women should call their local health unit or doctor to see if they have the injectable form of the H1N1 vaccine, which is in short supply, Barham advised. Most of the 61,100 doses sent to Arkansas have been the nasal mist, which has not been approved for pregnant women.

Even if community clinics are short on the H1N1 vaccine, they will still be dispensing vaccine for seasonal flu. To be protected against both strains of the flu, both vaccines are needed.

The seasonal flu results in 36,000 deaths annually in the U.S. The swine flu strain is proving to be highly contagious and is spreading rapidly across the country.

If H1N1 vaccine shortages do occur, community mass flu clinics will be re-scheduled, Barham said.

The five companies that each year manufacture the seasonal flu vaccine are also making the one for swine flu, Barham explained.

“It usually takes all summer to make the one for seasonal vaccine, and the one for H1N1 takes longer to make. Right now, we are kind of at the mercy of the process. There is more expected this week, but the numbers change every day,” Barham said.

More shots are scheduled for area

Tuesday: Beebe Elementary School, 8 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.; from 2-6 p.m. at all Pulaski County Special School District schools.

Wednesday: Beebe junior and senior high schools, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Thursday: Jacksonville Community Center, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

Friday: Beebe Health Unit, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Cabot Community Center, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Dec. 4.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

TOP STORY >> PCSSD hires two for better school safety

Leader staff writer

At a special meeting on Monday evening, the school board of the Pulaski County Special School District approved hiring of an additional assistant principal for both Jacksonville and Mills high schools and removed the allocation for the existing dean of students position at Mills.

According to district policy, a school is eligible for an assistant principal when enrollment reaches 375 and may add another position with each additional 375 students.

“That is a guiding number – I don’t know how hard and fast that is,” said Deborah Rousch, director of information for PCSSD.

The new, permanent hires will replace assistant principals both schools lost recently. The new hire at Jacksonville will bring the number of assistant principals back up to three after one transferred to the newly opened STAR Academy for at-risk youth at the beginning of the school year. The high school’s enrollment is 1,010.

Kenneth Clark, head principal at Jacksonville High School, said that the news of the board’s decision was “like a breath of fresh air.”

Being short an assistant principal had forced Clark to “revamp everything and look at things in a new way. I thank the board for adding more administrative power to our team.”

The assistant principal position at Mills replaces a temporary dean of discipline position recently vacated, bringing the total number of assistant principals there to three. The school’s enrollment is 806.

The annual cost for the two positions could be as much as $170,531, including benefits.

Board members Tim Clark, Gwen Williams, Sandra Sawyers, and Mildred Tatum voted for the additional principals. Board members Danny Gililland and Bill Vasquez cast dissenting votes on the motion by board member Mildred Tatum. Board member Charley Wood was absent.

Tatum made the same proposal at the regular monthly board meeting last week, but it died for lack of a second. At that meeting, the board passed a similar measure by board chair Tim Clark, for a second assistant principal at Maumelle Middle School. The school has 709 students.

It was board chair Clark who called for the special meeting to weigh in on the assistant principal issue. Afterwards, he said that he did so because he felt both Mills and Jacksonville high schools “were not adequately staffed. Discipline is an important factor in education; we need to focus more on discipline.”

Sawyer said she voted in favor of the additional principals because she “saw an immediate need” in order to “create a safe environment that is conductive to learning. We must have the one before we can have the other.”

Sawyer said she would like to “look at all the schools” and then “put a plan into action, a swift plan, to address discipline issues in the district.”

After the meeting, Gililland said he voted against the measure because of “budgetary reasons.”

“Ms. (Anita) Farver (the district’s chief financial officer) said that the district did not have the budget to support it,” Gililland said, referring to discussion at the board’s last regular monthly meeting on Oct. 13. “I want people to understand that I would love to see another assistant principal at every school – and classrooms of 15 to 18 students, but when you don’t have the funding, you just don’t do it.”

Gililland said that district revenues are not keeping pace with the $5 million draw this year from reserves to fund new school construction. And then there is the question of how long the district will continue to receive $18 million annually to implement its desegregation plan. Whether the money is cut off all at once or gradually will be for the state to decide, Gililland said, adding, “We’ve got serious money issues and need to be responsible to the taxpayers.”

Vasquez said he voted against the motion because it was not part of an effort to address discipline problems in the district in a comprehensive way.

“It is a band-aid fix to a systemic problem,” Vasquez said after the meeting. “There has not been one recommendation from the board or the superintendent’s office to address findings in the last deseg report. His reference was to periodic reviews by the Office of Desegregation Monitoring, an arm of the U.S. District Court which assesses the district’s compliance its own goals and strategies for elimination of racial disparities in 11 discrete areas, including discipline.

“My zone loses more students than any other,” Vasquez said. “Jacksonville High has a lot of discipline problems, for whatever reason, but the problem with all this is that it is not budgeted.”

In the latest report from the Office of Desegregation Monitoring, published in fall 2008, the PCSSD was taken to task for not doing enough to bring down the high number of discipline referrals, suspensions, expulsions and assignments to Saturday school among black students.

“We charged the last superintendent to take care of those things, and he did not,” Vasquez said. “The district staff is not very proactive in bringing solutions to the board to solve problems.”

After the meeting, Brenda Bowles, assistant superintendent for equity and pupil services for PCSSD, commented that “sometimes people make statements that are a little unfair. They have a report every year that has recommendations.”

TOP STORY >> Lonoke sheriff needs more deputies

Leader senior staff writer

Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson last week told the quorum court he shouldn’t be criticized for having a handful of deputies who have accumulated more than the legal limit of compensatory hours.

He said the court should instead be supportive of his actions that have reduced those hours owed deputies by nearly 75 percent, from more than 45,000 when he came into office to about 14,000 currently.

Roberson said criminals don’t work normal business hours.

“We can eliminate the overtime as soon as we can get these rapists and murderers to work 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through
Friday,” the sheriff said.

Quorum court member Mark Edwards brought up the issue last month, and the court voted unanimously to pay off the hours that put two deputies over the legal limit at that time.

Roberson was not at the meeting, but said the criticism was unfair.

Edwards was not at the meeting Thursday night, but the quorum court members seemed mollified.

Roberson took the opportunity to lobby for two additional deputy positions, saying that would help, but not eliminate, the overtime problem that leads to the county owing more payroll to deputies.

The sheriff asked if a crime is being committed, particularly a violent crime, should his office bypass the nearby deputy who has amassed a lot of overtime in favor of a deputy working his regular shift, but who is farther away from the crime scene?

Another problem with deputies taking time off is that they all want off during deer season or Thanksgiving, for instance.

No action was taken on Roberson’s request for more deputies, but the budget committee will consider the matter.

Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman announced that when the new county jail is finished, he might convert the current jail and sheriff’s office quarters into a courtroom.

Currently, the county leases a building for its third circuit courtroom.

He said he also is not getting any financial help from Ward or Austin, which had promised to help pay for or provide a dispatcher.

In the only action item on the agenda, the court authorized Troutman to apply for a $15,000 grant on behalf of the County Fair Board.

The Lonoke County Conservation District gave its annual report to the court, with commissioner Bob Bevis noting that collections on the 1/2 mill voluntary tax had fallen from $50,000 in recent years to $18,000 last year.

TOP STORY >> Animal ordinance approved in Cabot

Leader staff writer

After more than a year of trying, Cabot finally has a new animal-control ordinance.

The ordinance, which limits the number of dogs and cats per household to four in any combination, was approved unanimously Monday night by the seven council members present. The vote for the emergency clause, which makes the law effective immediately instead of in 30 days, was 6-1.

Aldermen made four changes in the draft of the ordinance before they voted to approve it. The draft limited the number of dogs and cats to eight. Alderman Ann Gillham asked for the reduction in number and two other changes. She asked that the age before pets are counted to be extended from 12 weeks to 16 weeks and prospective foster homes for unwanted pets exclude rental houses.

Alderman Ed Long asked for the emergency clause to be included. Long is chairman of the committee that has dealt with proposed changes to animal-control laws in Cabot. A year of working on the ordinance is long enough, he said.

In response to questions from other council members, Long said leaving the emergency clause off would change nothing. The previous ordinance limited the number of dogs per household to four and there was no limit on cats.

Residents with more than four dogs now are already in violation of city law, he said. And since there was no law limiting cats, residents would be allowed to keep the ones they have now even if their total number of dogs and cats is more than four.

However, grandfathering applies only to those animals in homes as pets now. If they die, they can’t be replaced if replacing them makes the number of dogs and cats exceed four.

Alderman Eddie Cook said he had received more phone calls about the new animal control ordinance than any other issue he has dealt with on the council, at least 50 calls, he said.

Gillham said she had received as many and had taken harsh criticism over the possibility of allowing eight animals per household.

In addition to limiting the number of dogs and cats to four per household, the ordinance bans selling or giving away animals in parking lots, parks, flea markets or any other outside area.

The ban does not apply to humane societies, animal control agencies or nonprofit agencies sponsoring pet adoptions that have obtained approval from the head of Cabot Animal Control.

The ordinance includes a $30 fee for relinquishing unwanted pets.

The fee is reduced to $15 for residents taking care of strays who provide a current newspaper clipping to show they have tried to find the owner.

The new ordinance continues the ban on pit bulls and says it is unlawful to harbor a public nuisance animal which includes the following:

Any animal repeatedly found running at large.

Any dog or cat unleashed in a public park or recreation area.

Any dog or cat that damages, soils, defiles or defecates on any property other than its owner’s.

Any animal that fouls the air with offensive odors.

Any animal that attacks without provocation anyone in a public right-of-way.

Any animal in heat that is not confined to prevent the attraction of other animals.

Any animal that chases cars.

Any feral cat colony that is not vaccinated and sterilized.

Barking dogs that disturb the neighbors.

TOP STORY >> City attorney duties vary

Leader staff writer

Some officials in Jacksonville say it might be time for the city attorney’s position to become full time. But when it comes to city attorneys in Arkansas, part time and full time are just words that have only the weight the city councils decide to give them.

State law says first-class cities with mayor-council governments shall elect city attorneys every four years. But how much those attorneys are paid and their exact duties vary from city to city and appear to be based as much on tradition as law.

Buck Gibson, elected as the city attorney in Searcy in 2002, prepares ordinances and resolutions for the city council, prosecutes in district and circuit court and advises the mayor and council on legal matters.

He is considered a full-time city attorney, but Gibson says his $22,000 take-home pay for the job doesn’t begin to support him in the manner that people mistakenly believe lawyers are accustomed. His real income is from his private practice, he says.

In contrast, Robert Bamburg, Jacksonville’s part-time city attorney, is paid $64,432 for services similar to those Gibson provides. And like Gibson, Bamburg has a private practice.

Beebe City Attorney Mark Derrick is appointed by the city council because no lawyer from Beebe has filed to run for the job.

Derrick’s gross pay of almost $28,000 for his part-time job is about the same as Gibson’s full-time job and his duties are similar.

Derrick lives in Searcy and could lose his job in Beebe if a qualified lawyer decided to run for it.

In Lonoke, City Attorney Camille Bennett is elected to her position. She’s on a $2,000 annual retainer to attend council meetings and advise the mayor and council. But drafting ordinances is considered billable hours. And although most city attorneys are expected to prosecute cases in district court, Lonoke pays the county for that work.

Since the only thing clear about part time or full time is that the issue is clearly confusing, Cabot asked for a definitive answer from the attorney general’s office three years ago but came away empty-handed.

“It has long been the policy of the attorney general’s office to decline to construe the provisions of local ordinances,” Assistant Attorney General Joel DiPippa wrote in August 2006 for then Attorney General Mike Beebe.

The question arose in Cabot about four years after Keith Rhodes, that city’s last elected part-time city attorney, resigned late in 2001, saying the job required more time than he had to give.

At that time, the only ordinance on record describing duties was passed in 1982. It said the city attorney was to advise the mayor and council members whenever requested, provide legal advice and prepare legal opinions.

However, Rhodes was responsible for ordinances and resolutions, he advised the council, prosecuted in district court and handled some lawsuits for the city. When he left, the entire budget for his office was his $16,000 salary.

The job became full time with a $50,000 salary that same year when Jason Carter took over the job. Early in 2002, the city hired a legal assistant to work in the office and later that year the city hired a deputy city attorney to work as prosecutor in district court.

The ordinance making the job full time required the city attorney to maintain an office at city hall, to be present during regular business hours and to attend after-hour city functions. Those duties were in addition to the ones defined in the 1982 ordinance.

In 2005, Ken Williams, who succeeded Carter, resigned and the city council appointed Clint McGue, the longtime appointed Ward city attorney, to fill the position. McGue did not give up his position in Ward and worked out of his law office in Cabot, not city hall. His salary was $60,427.

Odis Waymack, who was on the city council at the time, voted against the appointment, saying the position was full time and that if McGue was going to fill it, he should at least be in the office at city hall during regular business hours.

But when the question was put to the attorney general, the answer, in essence, was that the city would have to interpret its own ordinances.

A further attempt in 2006 to firm up the city attorney’s duties died on the floor of the council chamber for lack of a second.

That proposed ordinance would have required the city attorney to prosecute in district court, approve all contracts and draft all ordinances and resolutions. But since it didn’t pass, the duties remain vague.

Jim Taylor, who filed for city attorney as a Republican and won easily over McGue in 2006, maintains an office at city hall and attends evening council, committee and commission meetings.

He doesn’t necessarily stay in the office during the day and his 2009 salary is $73,310. Also included in the budget for that office is $14,261 for the attorney who prosecutes in district court and $34,690 for the paralegal who runs the office and helps prepare ordinances and resolutions.

TOP STORY >> AG: End school suit

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel wants a settlement for Pulaski County schools soon.

Leader senior staff writer

If the Little Rock School District continues to drag its feet to get more money out of the final desegregation settlement, all three county school districts may find the state’s generous offer of financial support withdrawn, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel told Jacksonville Rotarians on Monday.

Without going into details, he also said that he favors a standalone Jacksonville school district.

Under former state Rep. Will Bond’s leadership, the General Assembly has authorized the attorney general’s office to negotiate a generous phase out of the desegregation support over as many as seven years.

But without an agreement on the money, U.S. District Judge Brian Miller could declare the two remaining districts — Pulaski
County Special School District and North Little Rock — unitary, without requiring the state to continue for a time desegregation funding, according to McDaniel.

Little Rock, North Little Rock and PCSSD districts currently split about $60 million a year in supplemental desegregation funding, with Little Rock getting the lion’s share. But if the districts and the attorney general’s office can’t reach an agreement, such support — amounting to $500 million — could dry up overnight instead of being phased out gradually, McDaniel said.

At the Sept. 30 desegregation hearing—the first in more than two years—Miller asked the Little Rock School District, which has already been declared desegregated, why it still had standing and interest in the case.

That district’s attorney told the judge, in so many words, that Little Rock’s interest was money.

“The (Little Rock) school board meetings don’t discuss our settlement offer,” McDaniel told Rotary.

He said that instead they talk about the effect of charter schools on the desegregation agreement.

“That’s a red herring,” McDaniel said.

“They don’t have a leg to stand on,” he added.

“I have half a billion dollars to wind it down,” said McDaniel. “I want to protect the children.”

But he said he wants the school districts to agree on “a date certain and an amount certain.”

McDaniel said the Joshua Intervenors, represented by attorney John Walker, have served notice they will oppose findings of unitary status for PCSSD and North Little Rock.But based upon the 8th U.S. District Court of Appeals ruling regarding unitary status already granted to the Little Rock district, he doesn’t believe the intervenors have a very strong case.

He said he was proud to have run the payday lenders out of the state. “It took Georgia four-and a half years. It took us 15 weeks. That speaks well for (my staff).”

He said he also was suing the perpetrators of car warranty scams, one of whom had the bad fortune to try to sell him a warranty when he answered the phone at a family member’s house.

“I intend to make them think twice before they try to prey on consumers in Arkansas,” he said.

Earlier in the meeting, McDaniel joked that he had spent much of the weekend looking for a way to bring suit against the Southeast Conference football officials who cost the Razorbacks the game against top-ranked Florida.

EDITORIAL >> Some go crazy over the lottery

The Arkansas lottery will give us plenty of colorful characters to write about, and the games aren’t even a month old. But they’re popular — are they ever.

The lottery is taking in more than $10 million a week — or about $30 million since it started three weeks ago — and paid out about $20 million in prizes.

The winners and would-be winners are as diverse as the people who inhabit Arkansas. You know the types we’re talking about: The woman from Camden who thought she could cut and paste a winning lottery ticket and tried to claim her $3,000 prize this week but didn’t get it. Ruth Dennis can now play the lottery from inside a jail cell. When she gets out of jail, she could apply for a job at the lottery commission to bring more diversity to the operation. We understand they’re still looking for a diversity specialist.

Then there’s Joseph Pierce of Van Buren, the working stiff who had been down on his luck until last week, when he won the state’s first $100,000 prize. The taxman took a 25 percent cut even before the check was made out. Pierce then headed straight to jail on a morals charge.

Still, $75,000 isn’t too bad when you have a growing family. “I do have a wife, and I just had a baby five days ago, so this is perfect timing,” Pierce said.

It was downhill after that: Facing a judge on the morals charge, Pierce couldn’t even get a public defender because the judge told him he can now afford his own attorney. Half of his money will likely go to an attorney and paying off old fines. Before you know it, the money will be gone. There are similar stories around the country and the world: Winners go broke after a few years and wish they’d never heard of the lottery. There will be counselors available, though, to help problem gamblers.

But the Arkansas lottery is doing better than expected — several million dollars above projections. Chairman Ray Thornton and lottery czar Ernie Passailaigue were probably lowballing the numbers before they sold the first ticket to make themselves look good when the games did take off, but in any event, it looks like the lottery will become a growth industry.

Call it a fad, but lottery fever has caught on in Arkansas. For a poor state, the lottery is irresistible: A chance at instant riches, especially when the multi-state Powerball kicks in — although the odds of winning are better at the racetracks. Bettors at the two tracks in Arkansas get 95 percent of the money back in prizes. Thornton and Co. pay out just two-thirds of lottery sales in prizes, and the rest goes to scholarships and expenses.

New games are on the way. You have a second shot at winning when you go online. Powerball will be huge. After that — who knows? Amend the Constitution to allow for casino gambling and help cover future revenue shortfalls? As state revenues keep falling, more types of gambling are inevitable. You can bet on it.

SPORTS >> Hall of fame to celebrate Red Devils of the past

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville High School Hall of Fame will induct five, or a lot more than that depending on how one looks at it, at its third annual banquet Saturday night.

In ceremonies at the Jacksonville Community Center, the hall will admit former Red Devils athletes Mark Dewey, Bernie Cox, Ray Harris, John Buckwalter and the 1976 AAA state championship football team.

“It’s an honor to be recognized,” said Harris, the former Red Devils’ pitcher. “It’s very humbling. I don’t know how to put it in words.”

The football team, which included future NFL hall of famer Dan Hampton, was Jacksonville’s first state champion and posted a 12-1 record, beating Hot Springs 3-0 in the final.

Dewey was an all-state defensive end for the championship Red Devils and played for the University of Arkansas from 1977-81.

Cox, the legendary coach of Little Rock Central High School, was quarterback and captain of the 1961 Jacksonville team. He played at Harding College from 1962-65 and took over at Central in 1975.

Cox, who has announced he will retire after the season, went on to lead the Tigers to seven state and 18 conference championships and is a member of the Arkansas and Harding halls of fame.

Buckwalter was an all-state basketball forward with the Red Devils in 1986 and played for the University of Tulsa in 1987 and Centenary College in 1988-91, where he earned all-conference honors and was named an academic all-American.

Buckwalter earned his doctorate degree in philosophy at Arkansas in 1995.

The left-handed Harris was the state baseball player of the year when he pitched for the Red Devils in 1984 and he played for Arkansas from 1985-88, pitching in the 1985 and 1987 College World Series. The Oakland Athletics drafted Harris in 1988, but an elbow injury eventually ended his career.

With his College World Series appearances, Harris also played in a Major League exhibition in which he pitched for the A’s as a minor leaguer and rubbed shoulders with greats like Ricky Henderson, Dave Stewart and Tony La Russa. But he said his greatest moment was winning the 1984 American Legion State Championship with Gwatney Chevrolet.

“That was the funnest time I ever had,” Harris said. “I think what really makes it special is it’s the guys you grew up with, the guys you went to school with since fourth grade, the guys you played Legion with and all-stars and Babe Ruth.”

Harris, a converted high school first baseman, was 7-1 with a 0.98 ERA as a high school senior and struck out 20 in the Red Devils’ first 1984 state tournament game, which Watson Chapel won 2-1. He went on to earn MVP honors in the American Legion state tournament.

A former Bentonville High School coach now in pharmaceutical sales, he named several coaches who were key to his success: American Legion coach Bob Hickingbotham, Gwatney Chevrolet assistant Steve Poloski, who taught Harris the curveball, and Jacksonville High School coaches Bill Hollingsworth and Robert Koorstad.

It was Koorstad who wrote Arkansas coach Norm DeBriyn on behalf of Harris.

“I just think it’s really neat that they’re doing this,” Harris said of the hall of fame induction. “There’s a ton of guys out there history-wise for Jacksonville. I just can’t wait for every year when more and more guys are being recognized.”

The hall of fame induction banquet will be held at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children under 12.

SPORTS >> Lonoke takes momentum to Marianna

Lonoke safety Taylor Blackard, 23, and Brandon O’Bannon recover a fumble.

Leader sports editor

Lonoke heads back on the road with this week’s 2-4A Conference game at Marianna.

But the Jackrabbits got plenty of mileage out of their latest home appearance.

Lonoke is fresh off its 53-8 whipping of DeWitt in which it scored all its points in the first half, gained 475 yards and rested its starters for the final two quarters.

“We were able to get everybody in after halftime, that’s the kind of game you like right there,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said of the extended playing time for his reserves.

The only pressure on the backups came from the clock. The big halftime lead triggered the sportsmanship-timing rule commonly known as the mercy rule, in which the clock runs almost continually, and that gave the reserve Jackrabbits only so much time on the field.

As for the starters, they made short work of a DeWitt team still trying to find its first victory.

Brandon Smith gained 202 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns on runs of 1, 15 and 53 yards. Morgan Linton scored on a 19-yard screen pass and a 12-yard run up the middle.

“He ran the ball hard, him and Morgan, I thought,” Bost said of Smith and Linton. “Morgan had some big holes through there so, yeah, the O-line did a great job of opening up holes for them. Hopefully we can continue that for the rest of the season.”

Quarterback Michael Nelson passed for 166 yards and three touchdowns and scored the game’s first touchdown on a 1-yard sneak. Darius Scott and Todd Hobson had touchdown receptions, with Hobson spinning away from tackle and breaking another on his 49-yard catch and run.

Scott’s 5-yard touchdown catch was a welcome sight for more than one reason.

“Darius has been hurt, missed about two and a half games for us,” Bost said. “I think he’s back to full speed now. That’s a definite playmaker we need back there.”

The ‘Rabbits defense held the Dragons to 72 total yards in the first half while Wes Plummer, Justin Smith and Jordan Lynch each pulled down an interception for the Jackrabbits (4-3, 2-2).

Lonoke now travels to face Marianna (2-5, 2-2), a team that has beaten the same 2-4A teams — DeWitt and Batesville Southside — the Jackrabbits have.

SPORTS >> Skill players’ return gives Bears a boost

Sylvan Hills receiver Ahmad Scott had three receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown against North Pulaski.

Leader sportswriter

Things are finally coming together for Sylvan Hills just as the Bears face their toughest challenge to date.

That challenge is a road game at unbeaten Monticello this Friday.

The Bears (2-5) are coming closer to full recovery after a laundry list of injuries has hampered them most of the season. They improved their 5A-Southeast Conference record to 2-2 with a 27-0 victory over North Pulaski last week to stay alive in the fight for a playoff seed, and the Bears are tied for fourth with Mills.

Skill players Ahmad Scott, Juliean Broner and Devonte Britt have all seen limited playing time since the start of the conference schedule because of various injuries, but they were all factors last week against the Falcons.

“We’re starting to get some people back,” Bears coach Jim Withrow said. “We look more healthy than we have in a while. We’ll go down there and give it our best shot. We feel good about the position we’re in right now. For everything we’ve done wrong this year, we’ve still given ourselves a chance to have a position in the playoffs.

“It definitely looks better for us now than it did two weeks ago.”

Sylvan Hills dropped its first five games before making it into the victory column in Week 6 with a 3-0 victory over Crossett in a game featuring missed chances by both squads. The Bears had a season-high point total at North Pulaski last week, and could have scored more had they not lost the ball four times.

“It was the best we’ve been all year,” Withrow said. “But we should have scored about 50 points instead of 27. We would get close and then turn the ball over. You can’t do that and win. We want to emphasize taking care of the ball more. When you get in the red zone, you have to hold on to it.”

Monticello (7-0, 4-0) got through its biggest test last week when it held off White Hall 12-6. That victory gave the Billies sole possession of first place in the Southeast as the only unbeaten team remaining.

Fifth-year Monticello coach Van Paschal experimented with the pass-oriented spread offense last season but abandoned it after losing two straight to start the year.

The Billies’ return to their traditional, double-wing offense netted them the 5A-Southeast crown last season and got them to the state semifinals, where they lost to eventual runner up West Helena.

Senior Brishen Matthews will lead a dangerous corps of running backs for the Billies, who have protection from a dominating line led by senior center Taylor Smith (5-11, 240).

“It’s going to be tough,” Withrow said. “Their skill guys are really good. The thing about them is that they’re not just good athletes being athletes, they are being smart and making good decisions on every play.

“We’ll try to put together a plan to try and slow them down a little bit. I don’t know that you can totally slow them down.”

Although bad luck resulted in a disastrous first half of the year, Withrow said his team’s confidence was not altogether tarnished.

“I think we have confidence right now,” he said.

“We’ve executed better, but the kids didn’t really lose a lot of confidence even though we had some bad weeks. It hurt, but they also understood all the bad breaks that happened to us.”

SPORTS >> Cabot looking for spot-free finish

Leader sports editor

Before the Cabot Panthers put their perfect record on the line in their 7A-Central game at troublesome Bryant this week, they might want to stock up on bleach and laundry detergent.

Cabot will leave its immaculate, artificial surface at Panther Stadium for the natural grass field at Bryant. After last week’s rain, and with more in the forecast for Friday, the Panthers may have some dirty work ahead.

“That field’s already pretty saturated,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “I don’t know if we’re mudders or not. In the past we have been. We really don’t play on grass a lot. This will be the second time this year we’ve played on grass. We’ve just got to get our minds set.”

Cabot (7-0, 4-0) overcame multiple turnovers at home last week and still posted a dominant, 28-6 victory over the Little Rock Central Tigers, who are still seeking their first victory of the year and riding an 18-game losing streak.

“We got the win. We’re 4-0 in the conference, which is where we want to be,” Malham said. “We’ve got a big one coming up Friday. They just get bigger.”

The Panthers fumbled four times against the Tigers in perfect conditions last week. If Cabot doesn’t hang on to the ball against Bryant, messy field or not, the miscues could get costly, Malham said.

“That’s not good; that’s not focusing in,” Malham said. “That’s getting sloppy. In a close game that will kill you.”

Bryant has been hard enough to score against even when Cabot has been sure-handed, Malham said.

“They’ve given us trouble over the last couple years,” he said. “They’ve held us to 14 points the last two times we’ve played them. We’re averaging more than that and they’ve done a good job defending us.”

Bryant is allowing its opponents just over 12 points a game and averaging 33.8. Cabot is scoring an average 31.8 points a game while allowing just 8.8, and is still running its dead T with success, though some teams have forced the Panthers to the air more than usual.

But with experienced senior Seth Bloomberg at quarterback, Malham said the Panthers don’t get ruffled if they have to switch tactics.

“Bloomberg does a pretty good job of running and throwing,” Malham said. “We feel like in our running game, our option game and our passing game we may have an answer.”

A greater concern for the Panthers is stopping the motivated Hornets, featuring all-state running back Chris Rycraw, when they have the ball.

“He’s just been tearing it up every week,” Malham said. “So we’ve got our work cut out for us stopping him, and then they’ve got a good throwing attack too. They’ve been scoring some points, that’s for sure.”

Cabot’s already solid running back situation has improved even more the past two weeks with the return of senior fullback Michael James.

James, who gained over 1,300 yards last year, has missed much of the season with shoulder and ankle injuries. He began to ease back into action a game ago at North Little Rock.

James, splitting time now with junior workhorse Spencer Smith, appeared to get up to speed last week when he had 19 carries for 144 yards.

“He got almost 20 carries and looked good,” Malham said. “Spencer had 14 or 15 and I’m thinking he had somewhere around 80 yards. With both of them, that gives us depth and somebody should be rested.”

Malham said it is hard to tell a valuable senior like James or a guy like Smith, who had 42 carries against Little Rock Catholic, to take a seat. But the depth and bench time is good for the offense overall, Malham said.

“Obviously a competitor wants to be on the field the whole time, but it’s a team game,” Malham said. “I think we’ve got a great situation.”