Saturday, November 14, 2009

SPORTS >> Forfeit fight forces halt to playoffs at 3A level

Leader sportswriter

Class 3A football fans will have to put away the war paint and cowbells for a while, possibly the season.

The Arkansas Activities Association announced late Thursday evening the 3A state playoffs, scheduled to begin Friday, were suspended indefinitely after Fifth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Gordon McCain granted an injunction to the Lamar athletic department on an appeal filed earlier in the week.

Lamar requested an independent hearing regarding the Arkansas Activities Association’s decision on Tuesday that forced the Warriors to forfeit five of their six victories in the 4-3A Conference and their subsequent No. 2 seed in the playoffs because of an ineligible player.

Harding Academy, which had a first-round bye, was not scheduled for a playoff game until next week.

The situation involves Blaid Estes, a junior defensive player who transferred from Russellville to Lamar and moved in with his grandparents at the beginning of the school year because of threats he allegedly received at Russellville last year.

The AAA determined the player did not meet criteria for a legitimate move-in under Article III, Rule 1, Section A of the Arkansas Activities Association handbook which reads:

“A student’s eligibility for interscholastic athletics shall be in the public school district of the parent’s residence. Refer to other residence and transfer rules for limitations and situations. The AAA recognizes only one residence for eligibility. A change in residence consists of a complete and bona fide move from one domicile to another.”

AAA executive director Lance Taylor made the initial decision Nov. 6, and the Arkansas Activities Board of Directors sub-committee reinforced that decision during the appeal process Tuesday.

The injunction ordered the AAA to overturn its previous decision and award the victories back to Lamar, and place the Warriors back in the 3A playoffs.

McCain was prohibited from commenting to The Leader on specifics of the case, but did provide a copy of the ruling, which stated:

“The Court finds and concludes that, based upon the evidence presented, Plaintiffs have met their burden of demonstrating a likelihood of success on the merits of the claim for permanent injunction, and that irreparable harm would occur unless preliminary relief was granted. Any harm occasioned to the Defendants is outweighed by the irreparable harm the Plaintiffs would suffer.”

The ruling went on to say that the AAA failed to properly apply its own rules, and that the testimony of Estes’ mother established “extreme and unusual circumstance,” which should have met the grounds of a hardship application.

Taylor strongly disagreed with the decision handed down.

“We spent over three and a half hours just arguing our stance,” Taylor said. “That’s a rule that has been in place for over 50 years, and has not been changed by the schools. That’s the only way that rule can be changed, is a vote by the schools, and the middle schools, junior high schools and high schools have abided by that rule and never changed it in over 50 years.

“But they said that did not matter; that we were to overlook their ineligible player.”

Taylor also said that if the appeals court did not decide to expedite the case as an emergency hearing, a higher court ruling could take up to six months. Until something is resolved, the AAA’s hands were tied as far as resuming the playoffs.

“We’re waiting on a written order from the court at this point,” Taylor said Friday afternoon. “He told us it would be here first thing this morning, and we still have not received it. We have to wait for that to see what our next move will be. It’s basically a mess.”

Lamar officials argued Estes met the criteria for a legitimate move as it was in good faith and without fraud.

Lamar finished 9-1, 6-1 in the 4-3A Conference. The Warriors’ only loss was to eventual 4-3A champion Perryville 27-7 in Week 8. The AAA ruling reversed conference victories over Mountain View, Yellville-Summit, Marshall, Green Forest and Atkins.

Lamar would have faced 7-3A No. 4 seed Parkers Chapel in the first round, but its spot was given to Paris, and also moved both Yellville-Summit and Green Forest one seed higher in the bracket. The decision also handed a playoff berth to Atkins, which did not originally qualify for postseason play.

Harding Academy, based in Searcy, finished the regular season as unbeaten champion of the 2-3A Conference, and earned its first-round bye as the league’s top seed. But with the playoffs suspended, the Wildcats will get at least one more free week.

“I don’t know where this puts us,” Wildcats coach Roddy Mote said Friday morning. “I mean, I’ve heard all kinds of stuff, but the only thing I’ve been told for sure is that there are no games tonight.”

The Wildcats stormed through the regular season with minimal challenge from any of their opponents, which has made them one of the favorites to reach the 3A state finals originally scheduled for noon on Dec. 12 at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

“All we can do is keep structure in our program and continue to do the things necessary for us,” Mote said. “We can’t be overly concerned about any of it — it’s pretty much a wait-and-see approach for us at this point.”

Having at least one extra week off was also not much of a concern for Mote as of Friday.

“All of the teams will be in a similar situation,” Mote said. “We don’t need to worry about things that are out of our control, although sometimes it’s hard not to.”

SPORTS >> Six is no longer magic number for Red Wolves

Leader sports editor

It’s amazing, if you think about it, that Arkansas State coach Steve Roberts stuck around long enough to wind up on the hot seat.

Flash back to a late-summer evening in 2002, as Arkansas State arrived home from its first game at Virginia Tech and the players limped off the bus into the Jonesboro darkness.

Earlier that day the Indians, as they were known then, had made the program a lot of money the hard way, taking a 63-7 beating from the Hokies in a game that pretty much toilet-papered Roberts’ debut.

On just one play during the long Sunday afternoon, Virginia Tech sacked Arkansas State quarterback Tommy Miller, handed Miller a season-ending knee injury in the process and returned the fumble Miller lost for a touchdown.

Arkansas State wasn’t even supposed to play Virginia Tech at all, originally. Athletic director Paul Griffin used an NCAA loophole to negotiate the rare Sunday game, called the Hispanic College Fund Classic, to give Arkansas State 13 playing dates in just under 13 weeks and a six-figure payday.

But Griffin wasn’t around to see the brutal results of his scheduling sleight of hand. At mid-summer, Griffin, apparently disturbed by the limited financial resources at Arkansas State, had bolted for Georgia Tech after roughly half a year on the job.

It’s a wonder Roberts didn’t run screaming into the sultry night as soon as he stepped off the team bus following that first game.

Instead, Roberts took his players to the newly remodeled, three-story fieldhouse, undergoing its finishing touches, and showed them the spacious dressing room, training facilities and offices they would soon inhabit.

He told his team its future was as big as its plush, new building, and that Arkansas State wasn’t to be defined by its 28-92-1 record in 10 seasons at the NCAA Division I-A level, nor, even, by that day’s beat-down by Virginia Tech.

And he was right. Arkansas State, now nicknamed the Red Wolves, rose to new heights under Roberts, only to be defined these days by a sense of mediocrity, which is still a vast improvement over the tragic opera the coach inherited.

Consider that Roberts’ predecessor, Joe Hollis, went 13-43 in five seasons and was fired on Thanksgiving Day after it had been revealed Hollis had prostate cancer. Hollis was notified by a press release handed to him as he walked off the field just after the Indians had lost 28-22 to NCAA Division I-AA member Nicholls State.

Anything would be an improvement after that, but Roberts led the program to some of its best moments, starting with the 6-7 record against that torture rack of a schedule in his debut season.

Arkansas State went 6-5 and won the 2005 Sun Belt title and reached the New Orleans Bowl, the team’s first Division I-A bowl game, where it lost 30-19 to Southern Miss.

There was the near-upset at Texas in the 2007 opener and the true upset at Texas A&M in the opener the following year, and then there were consecutive, thrilling, comeback victories over long-time non-conference rival Memphis in 2006 and 2007.

Roberts seemed to be just what Arkansas State needed after failed experiments with the NFL veteran Ray Perkins and the former Ohio State offensive coordinator Hollis.

Roberts was young and enthusiastic. He was a state product, a graduate of Pulaski Robinson and Ouachita Baptist University.

He had won at Division II Southern Arkansas and at Northwestern (La.) State.

But Arkansas State finds itself in a Sun Belt Conference striving to be upwardly mobile, and on all sides, the program is being passed by newer league members with vast, or built-in recruiting bases and deep-pocket donors who are throwing together entire stadiums, not just adding a fieldhouse here or a fake playing surface there.

That’s hard to keep up with. But the fact is, founding Sun Belt members North Texas and Arkansas State won the first five titles; latecomers Troy and Florida Atlantic have won the rest. Now here comes new Sun Belt member Western Kentucky, with South Alabama waiting in the wings.

It just seems the six victories Arkansas State earned in four different seasons under Roberts won’t cut it anymore. Six victories may be good enough to get the grid-Hogs of Arkansas into a bowl, but Arkansas State inhabits a different world where six, even with the Sun Belt’s secondary ties to the, St. Petersburg and Independence bowls, probably won’t be good enough.

Roberts himself has said he’s tired of 6-6, but it looks like the Red Wolves (2-6, 1-3) will be hard pressed to manage that.

The Red Wolves were picked second in the Sun Belt behind Troy and could boast four-year starter Corey Leonard at quarterback and NFL prospect Alex Carrington at defensive end. But the year has collapsed in a series of close losses.

There was the nationally televised and baffling, 16-10 setback in the rain at Louisiana-Monroe that followed Arkansas State’s heroic showing in a 24-21 loss at No. 4 Iowa, also on national TV. There was a 21-13 loss at Louisville, which used its third-string quarterback, and there was last week’s 21-18 Sun Belt loss at home to Louisiana-Lafayette, in which Roberts benched Leonard and the offense appeared to rally behind backup Ryan Aplin.

Roberts has never been seen to fire a coordinator to save face, and has kept his staff largely intact. It remains to be seen now if he will make a gesture along those lines to save his job, if it is indeed in jeopardy.

Remember, Arkansas State has a hands-on chancellor in Robert Potts, a guy not known to let problems fester for long. But also remember Roberts has two more years to go on his current contract extension, paying a $140,000 base per year, and Arkansas State may not want to buy him out.

That would be two more years to engineer just one or two more victories a season, and a bowl trip would do a lot to make grumbling fans forget the current malaise.

As long as Roberts can get past that sinister six.

SPORTS >> ’Rabbits’ Smith gets his yards in farewell

Lonoke senior running back Brandon Smith had three touchdown carries.

Leader sportswriter

It wasn’t exactly a workhorse night for senior running back/linebacker Brandon Smith, but it was certainly heroic.

In his final home game as a Lonoke Jackrabbit, Smith carried 10 times for 172 yards and three touchdowns, as the ’Rabbits blasted Clarksville 48-21 in the first round of the 4A state playoffs.

Smith’s first score, on a 5-yard run to the left, gave the Jackrabbits their initial lead with 9:26 left in the first quarter and was his shortest scoring run of the night.

Smith’s two other touchdowns came on 70- and 65-yard runs to account for the bulk of his rushing numbers.

Smith’s modest carries of 4 and 14 yards on Lonoke’s first drive gave way to the field-spanner that pushed the Jackrabbits’ lead to 14-0 by the time there was 5:31 left in the first quarter, and his second big run made it 35-7 with 4:01 left in the first half.

“It feels good winning at home, and having fun winning at home,” Smith said. “It’s always good to win your last home game. A lot of things went well tonight. I’m glad that as a senior, we all won our last home game.

“This one goes out to all the seniors; we all enjoyed ourselves, and we all had a good game.”

Smith’s performance was accompanied by strong senior showings across the board, including a near-perfect night passing by quarterback Michael Nelson, and a solid all-purpose performance by fullback Morgan Linton.

Todd Hobson perhaps had the most versatile performance by a Lonoke senior with a pair of interceptions in the first half, both of which led to scores, and two touchdown catches on the offensive side.

But without Smith, the receptions might not have been possible.

“That’s why I think our passing game has picked up the last few weeks,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “Because people are stacking the box on him and that opens up our passing game. And when Michael can complete a few, which he has been, and they take somebody out and then we try to get it back in Brandon’s hands.

“That’s good when we have the balance like that, so hopefully we can keep that up.”

Smith also had a couple of receptions, including a catch in the right corner of the end zone on a conversion pass from Nelson that gave Lonoke a 28-0 lead with 9:30 left in the first half.

Smith and his fellow seniors were determined to celebrate their final home game regardless of the outcome. But the victory they ended up with made the night that much sweeter.

“We kind of talked in the locker room before the game,” Smith said. “We just came out here and had fun. It had been a long week for us.

“That’s all we talked about before we came out. Win or lose, we’re still going to have fun, and we just came out on top big tonight. I think we did a pretty good job.”

Warren’s 38-13 rout over Clinton on Friday sets up a rematch of last year’s second-round playoff game between the Lumberjacks and Jackrabbits.

Lonoke ended Warren’s season decisively last year with a 45-24 victory at James B. Abraham Stadium. This year, the ’Rabbits will have to visit Warren as the lower seed.

“We’re going to play our hardest, and they’ll play their hardest,” Smith said. “I feel like whoever comes out on top, that doesn’t mean they’re the better team, but I don’t take anybody lightly.”

As Smith’s senior year progresses, so does the interest from colleges. Smith, along with fellow Linton, received offers from Henderson State this past week, and Smith is also being courted by Louisiana Tech, Harding University, Ouachita Baptist and Florida International.

“He’s a smart kid,” Bost said. “Good head on his shoulders – I think it’s early yet in the recruiting process, but I think some of the bigger boys are going to come along. This summer he visited some SEC schools, so they know about him.”

Some of the SEC buzz is coming from Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Ole Miss.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” Smith said. “I’m still looking for a college. I hope I can go D-I.”

SPORTS >> Lonoke too much for Clarksville

Brandon Smith (5) and Todd Hobson turned in big nights on offense and defense in Lonoke’s playoff victory Friday.

Leader sports editor

Lonoke’s Todd Hobson made a bid to be the leading receiver against Clarksville on Friday night.

For both teams.

Hobson intercepted two passes, with each play leading to a score, and had a touchdown reception while Brandon Smith turned in a dominant rushing effort in Lonoke’s 48-21, victory in the first round of the 4A playoffs at James B. Abraham Field.

The Jackrabbits scored on six of their seven first-half possessions and built a 42-7 halftime lead, triggering the sportsmanship-timing rule known as the “mercy rule,” in which the clock runs almost continually in the second half.

“It’s a state playoff game. We had ninth, 10th-graders getting in there, that’s great,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “We worked hard to get the home-field advantage. That was the main thing. We knew we’d have a good crowd here, the kids would be excited, so that was great to come out and execute like that, it sure was.”

Smith had touchdown runs of 5, 70 and 65 yards and caught a conversion pass in the first half. Hobson had a 16-yard scoring reception set up by his second interception and he also made a 7-yard touchdown catch in the closing seconds of the second quarter.

“We just read the quarterback’s eyes and he led us right to it,” Hobson said. “We had great corners and play from the other safety so it made my job a lot easier. Watching the film he had a really good arm, he didn’t throw any lobs. He threw the ball on a nice line. We knew it would be tough getting picks but we knew we could do it.”

Hobson finished with a team-best four receptions for 51 yards and his two scores.

“We’ve got a great running attack and a great line, it just opens up the passing game for us,” Hobson said.

Quarterback Michael Nelson added a 6-yard scoring run to go with his two first-half touchdown passes.

It all added up to a strong first-round showing for Bost, in his first year as head coach after coaching in the Lonoke junior high ranks.

“We got it, we got a big win, good crowd, good momentum heading into next week,” Bost said.

Lonoke advances to play at Warren, which it beat in one-side fashion in the second round of last year’s playoffs.

“Last year, that was pretty good,” said Smith, who rushed for 172 yards. “This year’ they’re pretty good, we’re pretty good. It’s just going to be a good game.”

Hobson ended Clarksville’s game-opening drive when he intercepted Trey Shucker’s pass over the middle at the 39 and returned it to the Clarksville 48, with the possession leading to Smith’s 5-yard scoring run.

Hobson grabbed his second interception at the 39 and returned that to the Clarksville 47, and the Jackrabbits later scored on Nelson’s 16-yard pass to Hobson that made it 20-0 with 11:54 left in the half.

“He’s a three-year starter, he really reads defenses good. From 7-on-7 and just playing so many games,” Bost said of Hobson.

“Yeah, he really sets the tone for us.”

Smith answered Clarksville’s first score, which came on a 16-yard completion from Shucker to Brody McKinney, with a 65-yard touchdown run off tackle on Lonoke’s ensuing first play to make it 35-7 with 4:17 to go.

Looking first for a receiver on third and 37 with under a minute to go, Shucker instead got off a line drive quick kick that went straight to Smith, who returned the ball from the Lonoke 46 to the Clarksville 23.

The play led to Hobson’s second touchdown reception with 6 seconds left and the 42-7 halftime lead.

SPORTS >> Devils dig in to defend title

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner’s whistle cut sharply through the fuzz of the phone connection.

It was the aural equivalent of chewing tinfoil, and it was followed by the bark of Joyner’s voice as he stepped away to instruct his players.

“You’ve got to be scrappy,” said Joyner, picking up the phone to resume his chat about the challenges and pressures of being the defending 6A state champion. “We’ve got to rebound by committee and try to be as defensively sound as we can be.”

Joyner’s youthful team, of the 6A-East, will begin its title defense at Little Rock McClellan on Tuesday. In all, four area boys and girls teams will open the 2009-10 season Tuesday night or next week.

Riverview plays Monday at Cave City followed on Tuesday by Cabot’s boys playing host to Searcy, which has already gotten in a game against Vilonia, and Beebe travels to Benton.

Sylvan Hills, Lonoke and North Pulaski open play the following week, while Harding Academy and Abundant Life, the only non-football playing school of the bunch, have already seen action.

Questions abound.

Can a boys basketball team from football-mad Cabot advance farther than the state semifinals the Panthers reached last year?

Can Lonoke’s girls live up to their high preseason expectations? Can Sylvan Hills’ talented group of sophomore boys grow up quickly?

But in the short run, at least, eyes are on Jacksonville, which may explain why Joyner was distracted during his recent phone conversation.

“I’ve already had some people we beat last year tell me they’re going to try to beat me by 30,” Joyner said. “They’re not going to take it easy on us. That’s not the nature of the business.”

Jacksonville charged to the state tournament last year and won its championship by beating Little Rock Hall 63-62 in a back-and-forth final.

“Last year was last year,” Joyner said. “Those guys paid their dues. We won the championship with kids that lived in Jacksonville. We didn’t get transfers from here, transfers from there. We won a championship with kids we taught from the ninth grade to senior year.

But most of those kids are gone, leaving only Deshone McClure as a returning starter.

But at least having McClure at the two-guard is a good place to start, even if teams decide to key on him, Joyner said.

“You ain’t got to worry about Deshone getting his chances,” Joyner said. “He’s going to get his shots off no matter what the other teams do. He’s a good hand. He’s battle tested. He’s been through these wars since he’s been a 10th-grader.”
Battle testing for the others will come quickly enough in the 6A-East, Joyner said.

“These guys are going to get their nose bloodied a few times but they’ve got to learn to play at this level,” Joyner said. “This is a tough conference.”

How tough?

“You look at the last five or six years and the state champions coming out of this conference,” Joyner said. “And the number of championships the coaches in this conference have won. West Memphis and Parkview and Hall. That will let you gauge it right there.”

Joyner said his focus in the preseason has been on completing. He noted seven players from last year’s team have gone on to college.

“We’re talking about are they developing into college players,” Joyner said. “Learn with a great deal of understanding. That’s what we’re expecting. If we win along the way, that’s great.”

Friday, November 13, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Charter schools

Wisdom has come slowly but surely at the state Board of Education, aided by a few personnel changes. The board, which has a little higher quotient of appointees by Governor Beebe, signaled this week that it will scrutinize charter school applications more carefully and skeptically. It turned down six.

No longer will it be sufficient to show that a charter school would put some children in a different building with a lofty sounding educational doctrine. Charter applicants will have to show that they will offer something decidedly different and effective for children who are struggling in the regular school environment. It has not always been so in Arkansas.

Charter schools are a wonderful development, or at least the concept is. Thoughtful educators are invited to formulate programs that stimulate poor and low-achieving children who lag in the normal school environment. The intense KIPP schools are the best template. They have performed wonders with ghetto children. Helena-West Helena furnishes an excellent model, and now it will be expanded to Blytheville.

But charter schools also can be a ruse for establishing private schools with taxpayer support. They can be a version of the old academies set up in many communities when the public schools were desegregated at the end of the 1960s. They were a haven for white children in communities that had a large quotient of African-American and poor children. The education was no different, just the youngsters at the desks.

The charter student bodies are not all white, but the self-selecting students tend to be better motivated and their parents more involved. So it is no surprise when students like those in the eStem schools in downtown Little Rock score better than those in the regular schools. They also did better when they were in the same classrooms.

Great care needs to be taken in approving charter schools because they drain dollars and students, usually the self-motivating ones, from the public schools, leaving the schools worse and the children who are left behind in greater jeopardy.

Governor Beebe expressed some skepticism about the rapid growth of charter schools, especially in instances where they altered the racial composition in the public schools and undermined their desegregation. His appointments to the Board of Education have gradually replaced those of Mike Huckabee, who by 2006 had appointed all the members. In myriad ways, elections do make a difference.

—Ernie Dumas

EDITORIAL >> Farm Bureau leads charge

Yesterday we got the shocking news that the Arkansas Farm Bureau was going to follow the lead of the American Farm Bureau, which was following the lead of the petrochemical industry in opposing the climate-change bills working their way glacially through Congress. The Arkansas Farm Bureau’s stand puts more pressure on Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who did not need it. She had already announced her intention to fight the climate bill.

Sen. Lincoln, like the Farm Bureau, is for doing something about global warming but just not anything that could conceivably affect a major economic interest like the oil and coal industries or big farmers. Everyone in fact, except Rush Limbaugh and the editors of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, realizes that atmospheric carbon is heating the earth at a rapid rate and that time is running out for reducing the man-made gases that are trapping heat and altering climate patterns.

Someone needs to do something about it and make some sacrifices, but not us — not the oil and gas industry and its clients, not the coal industry, not the big power companies, not the manufacturers that produce billions of tons of greenhouse gases, and certainly not those of us who buy and pay for their products. Somebody else — say China, or the third-world countries that are starting to generate power for development, or maybe the countries that are clearing their rainforests for development. If it’s going to fall on us to sacrifice, let’s just let our grandchildren fend for themselves. Medical science will find ways to protect them from the new perils of disease, and better engineering will save them from the rising seas and turbulent skies. They and all the other species will just have to adapt to a more dangerous world.

On the other hand, we can begin to do our part as the nation that has paced the world in the production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Show the way, in other words, although we are far behind Europe and a few nations elsewhere that have taken steps to conserve and maximize their energy.

The “cap-and-trade” bill that the Farm Bureau and a combine of energy and manufacturing industries oppose is actually a weak one. The bill that passed the House of Representatives makes concessions to agriculture and energy companies, but it seeks to drive the country toward renewable and cleaner energy. Big polluters would be assigned caps and they could trade credits for pollution emission. The oil and gas companies say the steps they would have to take would raise the cost of oil and gas, which would slow economic growth and be a hardship on families. The Farm Bureau says it could raise the cost of agriculture fuel and fertilizer.

Maybe a little, maybe not. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office computed the effect of the House bill. By 2020, it might cost a family about the price of a postage stamp a day. But if it succeeded in developing a high reliance on renewable energy and drives people and businesses to greater efficiency in their homes, offices and travel, as previous government initiatives like auto fuel-efficiency standards did, everyone will be better off.

And maybe our grandchildren will not curse us.

TOP STORY >> Four cities out of compliance

Leader staff writer

Sherwood, Cabot, Beebe and Lonoke had “significant deficiencies” in their 2007 city budgets according to the state’s Division of Legislative Audit.

Among problems found were extra paychecks, expenditures exceeding income and financial support for nonprofit groups.

The auditors review all city budgets and present their findings to the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee which accepts the findings and forwards the report to the cities.

Jacksonville’s budget is reviewed by an independent auditor and the findings are forwarded to the state. The city had no deficiencies in 2007.

The state auditors have completed their work on all the 2007 budgets and are now looking at school districts’ financial reports before auditing 2008 city budgets.

In the letter of findings to Sherwood, auditor June Barron found two “significant deficiencies” and a number of other problems.

Barron’s first concern was that financial duties weren’t distributed among city employees. “The clerk/treasurer did not segregate these duties to sufficiently reduce the risk of fraud or error and properly safeguard the city’s assets, because of limited financial resources. We recommend that the financial accounting duties in this office be segregated among employees to the extent possible.”

The city was also cited for not having internal controls or oversight to prevent or detect illegal transactions.

Barron wrote that “unauthorized use of the clerk/treasurer’s electronic access to the city’s general fund bank account resulted in the improper transfer of $219,913 on Dec. 5, 2008.” Only $16,000 of that money has been recovered. The theft case continues to be investigated by the state police and the FBI.

The city has told the auditors that both deficiencies have been corrected.

The auditors also stated that they found financial procedures in the city clerk/treasurer office, district court clerk office and in the police chief’s office were in compliance with state laws, but their was noncompliance in the mayor’s office.

In 2007, the city had three mayors, which may have contributed to the problems. Danny Stedman was the mayor from Jan. 1 to April 9 when he resigned. Former Mayor Bill Harmon became interim mayor from April 11 to July 31. Mayor Virginia Hillman took over Aug. 1.

The letter said Sherwood, in 2007, contributed $7,165 to a non-profit corporation, an apparent violation of state law. Barron said that state law states, “No…city…shall…appropriate money for, or loan its credit to any corporation, association, institution or individual.”

In a letter to Cabot, Barron found two “significant deficiencies” and a number of minor violations and concerns.

Cabot was cited for not dispersing financial duties to a number of city employees. When too few employees handle all receipts, deposits, disbursing and recording, it allows for the possibility of fraud or theft.

The audit also said the city’s financial records “contained omissions/errors.” The section titled “Other Funds in the Aggregate” contained misstatements for cash and fund balance in the amounts of $120,361 and $478,121 because of failure to record investment activity.

Two other amounts – $1,197,487 and $468,364 – in that category were also called misstatements because all receipt and disbursement activity was not recorded.

Auditors found noncompliance of state financial regulations in the mayor’s office, the clerk/treasurer office and the office of the parks and recreation director.

In the mayor’s office, the auditors found that the total general fund and street fund disbursements exceeded appropriations by $97,748 and $40,286, respectively, in violation with state law.

The parks and recreation bookkeeper Sarah Rye, according to auditors, issued herself extra paychecks totaling $3,085. The police department investigated and sent the results on to the prosecuting attorney, according to the auditor’s letter.

In a letter to Lonoke, Barron found one “significant deficiency” and numerous other problems.

Like Sherwood and Cabot, the deficiency had to do with not dispersing financial duties among its employees. City officials have told auditors that they will segregate the duties as much as possible.

Auditors also found the mayor’s office to be out of compliance with state financial regulations.

The city was also in apparent violation of state regulations because it provided free office space in a city-owned building to the chamber of commerce.

The council also approved and the city paid $20,682 in 2008 and $11,784 in 2007 to cover the chamber’s dues, building maintenance, utilities and promotional material.

The city also contributed $3,000 to a nonprofit group in 2007 and 2008.

Lonoke also allowed the chamber to rent out space in a city-owned building and keep the rental fees.

The auditors said the chamber needs to reimburse the city.

Auditors also found a “significant discrepancy” in Beebe’s budgeting procedures in 2007. It was the same one found in the other cities — too few people handling financial duties.

The report did say that Beebe city officers were all in compliance with financial reporting laws.

TOP STORY >> Lincoln upbeat on reform in visit

Leader senior staff writer

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, at the center of the current storm over health-care reform in the U.S. Senate, Thursday toured the Lonoke Exceptional School and Remington Arms with a Los Angles Times reporter in tow.

Political writer Mark Z. Barabak last tailed Maine Sen. Olympia Snow, who is also a key player the Senate’s health-care debate.

Lincoln, who faces reelection challenges amid declining poll numbers, toured the school, speaking with board members, staff and school clients, young and adult. She asked Exceptional School Director Janie Sexton questions about funding and services available to the center and its clients.

Later she discussed the health-care issue en route to Remington.

“I think health-care reform is something we can do,” she said. “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has glued together a plan.

We don’t know what the bill is. We need time to look at the Congressional Budget Office’s cost analysis.”

As she has throughout the debate, Lincoln said there were alternatives to the public option when it comes to getting people covered by health insurance, making insurance companies more accountable and holding down costs.

She said there were 500,000 uninsured Arkansans, including about 77,000 children, of whom about two-thirds should be eligible for ARKids First.

She said she wanted to fully use existing resources such as Medicare and Medicaid “as opposed to recreating the wheel.”

“My worry is that a public option would be putting (the taxpayer) at risk,” she said.

“I think you can create in the market- place nonprofit co-ops and a nationwide plan — allow states to form compacts,” she said.

“I think competition is the key. There is a risk of too much of an advantage for insurance companies to put less healthy people into a public option.”

Lincoln, who met with former President Bill Clinton about health care last week, quoted him as saying “this is a process. You’re not going to solve everything overnight. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Congressman Marion Berry and Congressman Vic Snyder supported the House version of the health-care bill, which passed 220 to 215 last week. Congressmen Mike Ross and John Boozman did not. Berry, Snyder and Ross are Democrats, Boozman is a Republican.

Berry explained his vote Thursday saying, “The United States, as a people, spends twice as much on health care as any other country and our outcomes are about 37th (in the world).

“A child born in Cuba today has a better life expectancy than a child born in America. (We’re) not getting our money’s worth.

We can’t possibly compete (worldwide) with twice as much health-care expenses as any other county.”

Berry said he wanted to make sure that everyone legally in the U.S. has health insurance. That would lead to more timely diagnosis and treatment, and reduce the cost.

“I was in the Clinton White House in 1993 and went through the same exercise. Not quite as volatile.”

Berry said that while there were a lot of things in the bill that he didn’t like, “When you vote (down) a bill you lose the ability to have any more input into it. This is not the time to give up. That would have been the end of it and we would wait another 16 or 17 years, it’s such a toxic political issue.

“I think we’ll get (a health-care bill) and I think we’ll get it before Christmas,” Berry said. “It’s a test for the Senate and for Harry Reid, our leader. It’s a difficult time to be in the Senate.”

TOP STORY >> Teachers will get pay raise

Leader staff writer

Beebe teachers and some school employees will soon be getting $1,000 pay raises.

The school board approved the increases at Monday’s meeting.

Cafeteria workers, janitors and other classified employees will receive 3 percent raises. The raise makes the minimum teacher salary in the district $35,000. Raises were planned in the 2009-2010 school budget.

Construction on the $6 million Career and Technical Center at the high school will soon be under way. The board approved two bids from Spence Construction. A bid of $403,000 was submitted for site work and for constructing a new road to the new building. A second bid of $112,500 is to build a road from the Early Childhood Building to the Transportation Department.

Five stadium light poles at the baseball field were repaired in October after an inspection.

In August, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission sent a release alerting the public that outdoor steel stadium light poles manufactured by Whitco of Fort Worth, Texas, can fracture or crack and fall over. Whitco is no longer in business.

The commission said the Whitco light poles installed from 2000 to 2006 should be inspected immediately. The commission confirmed nine Whitco poles installed during the six-year period had fallen. The commission was not aware of any injuries.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission found 50 Whitco poles that did not fall had cracks next to the welds connecting the pole to the base plate.

Whitco lighting poles at the Beebe baseball field were installed in 1998. The poles were inspected last month by ReliaPOLE Solutions of Texas. Five of six light poles required minor repairs.

Assistant Superintendent Hal Crisco said the poles needed welding and re-galvanizing.

Crisco said, “Everything has been repaired, re-inspected and taken care of.”

The board members approved $17,000 for the repair of the stadium light poles.

In other sports news, Athletic Surfaces Plus of Memphis gave a presentation to the school board on replacing the natural grass surface at A.S. “Bro” Erwin Stadium with synthetic turf.

Athletic Surfaces Plus offers consulting, project management and fundraising for synthetic turf upgrades.

Board members have talked about adding soccer to the Beebe athletic program. Beebe would need to a build a field if the sport is added.

Athletic Surfaces Plus consultant Tim Cowan spoke about widening and replacing the current grass football field with a dual purpose football and soccer field. The cost would be around $600,000.

Building a separate natural grass soccer field would cost between $275,000 to $300,000, according to Cowan. Adding bleachers, restrooms and a scoreboard would increase the cost. A.S. “Bro” Erwin Stadium has the infrastructure already in place.

Cowan said sources of funding for the synthetic field could come from private donations, business advertising on the outer edges of the field and in naming rights for the stadium.

Cowan said the artificial field has several benefits. The lines on the field, the hash marks, the Beebe logo and the end zones are permanent colored turf.

The synthetic turf has a low maintenance cost and has an eight-year warranty.

There is no watering, fertilizing or top dressing. The turf is safer and fewer injuries occur. However, the turf surface is hotter in the summer than grass.

“You cannot wear out the field. UV light will break down the fibers, not play,” Cowan said.

Cowan said, “The life of the turf is 12-plus years. The turf will handle 20-inches of rain an hour. It does not puddle. It can dry in 30 minutes or less.”

Cowen said many schools with the synthetic surface have opened their athletic fields to the community. The durability of the turf allows for bands and ROTC to practice marching, concerts, graduations, pee-wee football games and community events.

Beebe assistant football coach Jim Wooten said, “It would be a positive for the community. People could take a great deal of pride in it.”

TOP STORY >> Cities get grant from state

Leader editor

Jacksonville was recently awarded $53,191 to build the second phase of a hiking and bicycle trail around Bayou Meto.

The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department announced this week recipients of federal funds that will help finance several projects in the state.

Arkansas State University-Heber Springs received a $29,000 grant.

“It’s been a year or so since I applied for those funds,” Jacksonville Public Works Director Jimmy Oakley said.

The financing will go toward adding to the partially completed recreational trail.

“Phase two will go around the back of the (Dupree Lake),” Oakley said, “so people can go fishing there.” The trail will also be for walking and bicycle riding, he said.

The first phase of the project, known officially as the Bayou Meto Creek Trail, consisted of beginning construction of a walking trail around the lake.

The second phase will continue around the lake to add to the path so that it wraps behind the water, Oakley said.

He said he hadn’t yet heard from the Arkansas State Highway Commission that the creek will receive the grant for the additional construction. But he was still happy to learn that Jacksonville was selected to receive the funding.

The trail is planned to eventually go toward Rixie and reach Hwy. 161.

There isn’t a definite date for completion of the trail, on which construction began in 2000, because it depends on when funds become available, Oakley said.

“As moneys come in, we apply,” he said.

There is some property around the lake that still needs to be acquired by the city before the trail can be completed, he said.

Several easements have already been obtained for construction to move forward immediately.

The second phase will consist of clearing vegetation, laying gravel and then asphalt to complete that portion of the trail.

Colbie Falwell, a spokesperson for ASU-Beebe, said, “The money will go to the improvement and expansion of the trail on Sugarloaf Mountain behind the ASU-Heber Springs campus. The master plan is to renovate the historic summit trail that has been used by many generations of residents and visitors.

“The long term plan is to have the trail go around the base of the mountain and extend to the top to allow people to continue to use the trail,” Falwell said.

The Arkansas Highway Commission awarded the funds as part of its recreational trails program totaling $1.428 million, including a $289,000 project for North Little Rock.

The program is federally funded through the 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users. Part of that act’s funding is dedicated specifically for the construction of recreational trails.

TOP STORY >> Crowded jails worry sheriffs

Leader staff writers

Money to reimburse counties for housing prisoners sentenced to state facilities will run out at the end of December, which would mean counties would bear the entire cost until July 2010, the beginning of the next fiscal year.

Prison officials are expected to ask the state legislature to increase the reimbursement fund by allowing them to carry forward $2 million they have in last year’s budget. They also want a supplemental appropriation of $6 million for reimbursements through the end of the fiscal year.

If they don’t get it, White County Sheriff Ricky Shourd says he has money built into his budget to continue caring for state prisoners even without reimbursement. Letting those state prisoners go free is not an option, he said.

What concerns him, he said, is the state’s plan not to open more than 300 beds because that could potentially increase the number of state inmates he must house.

If crowding became a problem, misdemeanor and nonviolent offenders could be released from the jail in White County, said Capt. Clayton Edwards, administrator at the White County Detention Center.

But that isn’t likely to happen because the three-year-old jail has 285 beds, not counting room for 40 prisoners in intake.

“The sheriff has authority to relieve overcrowding, but overcrowding is not an issue here,” Edwards said.

The issue is the reimbursement rate that has not been raised since 2001 and is only about two-thirds of the actual cost of keeping prisoners.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Edwards said he was holding 200 prisoners. Of that number, 58 had been convicted of felonies and sentenced to prison, but the number has been as high as 80. And they often wait for space in a state facility for eight or nine months.

The cost per day for each inmate is $42.80, he said. The state reimburses $28 a day for its prisoners and if that money stops in December as expected then the whole cost of taking care of the state prisoners will have to come out of the half-cent sales tax voters approved in 2004 for law enforcement, not just part of it as it does now.

But the county will pay because it has no choice. The state requires counties to house prisoners waiting for a bed in prison.

The only problem possible with the number of beds available is an imbalance of gender and type of offense, he said. Women must be separated from men and misdemeanor offenders must be separated from felons.

The Pulaski County Detention Center held about 215 inmates for the state this week, down about 100 from a month ago, according to Sheriff’s spokesman John Rehrauer. “They’ve been paying very regularly.”

He said he didn’t think delayed payment for the state inmates would create a big problem for the county. “We’re coming down to the end of the budget year. We have to watch every penny and this is another obstacle to making ends meet,” Rehrauer said.

“State inmates usually account for about half of my population,” said Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson. Right now I have about 25.”

Roberson said the county would take the state inmates on to the state Correction Department if it can’t pay toward their upkeep.

“We go through this quite often,” said Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman. “In the past the Arkansas Department of Correction has been a little late paying. Right now there are probably 1,500 state inmates backed up in county jails.”

He said that in the past, the Association of County Judges has asked the state Legislature to come up with some money to pay the counties.

“If it doesn’t get too far, we could cover (the added expense for a while,)” Troutman said. “We had 18 state inmates when (Jerry Dale Luker) got hurt and died. Luker was a state inmate temporarily housed at Lonoke County Detention Center awaiting transfer when he was injured, transported to UAMS and later died.

The state medical examiner has called his death a homicide, and the State Police are investigating. His family has announced its intention to file a lawsuit.

Lonoke County is currently advertising for bids for a new, 136-bed detention center, Troutman said. Bids will be opened Dec. 8 and Troutman estimated it would take about 10 months to build.

The city of Lonoke usually has about three or four state inmates in its jail, according to Mayor Wayne McGee. The city is more likely to have a number of holds for the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service.

“I don’t look for it to affect us much,” he said.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

TOP STORY >> Family saves elderly woman in flood, starts rebuilding life

The family of Bertha Figley managed to get her out of a flooded mobile home.

Leader editor

Even more admirable than her family’s rescue of Bertha Figley, 84, from her trailer when it was surrounded by floodwaters is their humility after having lost so much early in the morning on Oct. 30.

Figley has stayed with her son, Glenn, and his wife, Adylyn, in a motel since their trailer also flooded during the relentless downpour.

Adylyn said their losses don’t seem like a lot compared to her mother-in-law’s.

“She lost everything,” Adylyn said.

Four to five feet of water covered Bertha’s trailer in Hillside Bayou Mobile Home Park on Old Tom Box Road in Macon.

“It’s been kind of like a nightmare,” she said.

Glenn brought his mother from Little Rock to live near him in the trailer park about a year ago.

He gave her his trailer to live in and he and Adylyn bought a new one. Bertha’s trailer was full of furniture that is now ruined, including a 100-year-old antique bed, an armoire, clothing, a china cabinet, a television, pots and pans.

“Her refrigerator slid into the water and was on its back,” Adylyn said.

The couple lived in the park for nine years and never expected this kind of flooding would be possible there. They bought a new trailer just 15 months ago.

“We don’t know what we’re going to do,” Adylyn said. “We’re shocked.”

This was the third or fourth flood at the park, but the first time water went into the trailers.

“It’s the first time it flooded in the house…Even with (Hurricane) Gustav it didn’t come into the house,” she said.

Now the carpet in the couple’s home is wet and the hardwood floors are buckled.

They haven’t turned the power back on yet in their trailer even though it’s been restored in the park.

Water came through the vents and the walls and they fear turning the power on could cause more damage.

“At 9:30 or 10 Thursday night, she called and said she was fine,” Adylyn said. But her mother-in-law called back in the middle of the night to tell the couple they needed to come get her.

“When we got (to her), the water was almost at the back door,” she said.

“When we got back to our trailer, it had risen more (there).” They were evacuated with other residents of the trailer park by the fire department at about 8 a.m. Friday.

“You see it on TV but you don’t expect it to happen to you,” she said, remembering scenes from Hurricane Katrina. The couple left without being able to collect any of their belongings except Glenn’s medications.

The couple’s church, Cornerstone Assembly in Ward, paid for them to stay at the Best Western in Jacksonville for three nights.

Members of Bertha’s church, First Baptist Church of Gravel Ridge, helped clean out her trailer.

The family has found another trailer that they will rent, near the ones that flooded, where all three will live. They are waiting for an insurance inspector to record the damage at their new trailer. They aren’t sure what will be covered. Bertha’s trailer wasn’t covered by flood insurance. Adylyn said she thinks both trailers are worth about $75,000 together.

“We’re hanging in there, waiting on the Lord,” she said.

The couple says they would rather not receive donations to help them get back on their feet. They would like to see the Red Cross receive help.

The Red Cross helped other families who had to be evacuated from Hillside Bayou Mobile Home Park but had nowhere to go.

TOP STORY >> Prosecutor mulls Campbell retrial

Leader staff writers

“We’re still in research mode,” Lonoke County Prosecutor Will Feland said Monday when asked if he thought his office would retry former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell.

The state Supreme Court on Thursday overturned Campbell’s 2007 conviction on charges of operating a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiring to manufacture methamphetamine and numerous charges of theft and theft by receiving, and remanded the cases back to Lonoke County.

Feland said he would confer with those who prosecuted the case — with the attorney general’s office and with the State Police’s lead investigator Charles McLemore, since retired — before deciding. Campbell had served about 30 months of a 40-year sentence.

He will have a hearing in two weeks to determine his future.

Jay Campbell was sentenced to 40 years as the kingpin of a continuing criminal enterprise, 30 years for conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, 20 years for each of six counts of residential burglary, 10 years for each of seven counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and various other drug or theft related charges.

To retry Campbell on the continuing criminal-enterprise charge would constitute double jeopardy, according to his attorney, Patrick Benca.

None of the evidence seized at his home can be used because the Supreme Court ruled it was obtained by use of an improper search warrant. Benca said there was no probable cause to issue that warrant.

As to whether or not the former chief should be retried, county residents are divided.

“If he was in the wrong, he should be punished,” said Wilma Ray of Cabot.

A Lonoke County resident formerly from Hot Springs who did not want to be named said, “I was very much surprised when he was charged and convicted. I would be in favor of him being released. I knew him and his mother and I’m decidedly in favor for him getting another chance. He was a very nice boy in high school.”

“I have a lot of respect for Judge Cole. He’s been on the bench a long time,” said Pat Howell, a Lonoke alderman who was critical of Campbell back when the story was unfolding. “But if he made the mistakes (the Supreme Court said), Jay ought to be set free.”

“I figure he was probably guilty and they found a loop hole. It is politics,” said Jimmy Hall of Austin.

Cecil Bayless of Ward said, “I think part of it was true and part of it was not true. They just wanted to get rid of them. Some people in other towns do the same things. They didn’t get charged or accused.”

TOP STORY >> Communities salute our vets

Hank Lambert, an 11-year Marine veteran who served in the Korean War, receives an award Wednesday from veterans service officer Sam High during a Veterans Day ceremony held at Spring Creek Living Center in Cabot.

Members of the Little Rock Air Force Base honor guard were on hand to give a rifle salute during the Veterans Day ceremony at the Sherwood Veterans Memorial.

Leader staff writers

Sherwood was the first area city to recognize veterans for their contribution to our nation’s freedom. Members of the Sherwood Rotary Club, the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, along with elected officials, participated Nov. 8 in a special recognition at the Sherwood Veterans Memorial.

The audience included veterans from the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Mayor Virginia Hillman and incoming Sherwood Rotary president Marcia Cook placed a wreath on the memorial wall. The Little Rock Air Force Base honor guard presented the colors, fired a gun salute and played Taps during the ceremony.

Alderman Butch Davis said after the ceremony, “It is important to remember the veterans and the ones who served before us.

They are the ones who made us free, and today soldiers are the ones who keep us free. I always thank them for their service.”

“It is important for soldiers to hear thank you. Sherwood should have a parade for veterans,” Davis said.

During the Vietnam War Davis was a platoon sergeant in the Army. He was shot in July 1969. Davis received multiple shrapnel wounds. He was struck in the neck, back, shoulders, buttocks and leg.

Davis was paralyzed from his neck down for a year. Davis was awarded the Purple Heart and is a Bronze Star recipient.

Attending the veterans ceremony was 87-year-old James Chappell of North Little Rock. During the Second World War, Chappell joined the Navy at age 19. He was a gunner on the light cruiser the USS St. Louis in the Pacific Ocean.

Later in the war, Chappell went to the Navy hospital corps in San Diego. He was a pharmacist mate first class on the USS Pastores.

He said the Pastores was a refrigerated ship that carried frozen goods and delivered supplies to troops on islands in the Pacific.

Chappell said, “We took turkeys to MacArthur in the Philippines for Thanksgiving.

“After the war was over, we decommissioned the medical unit in landing ship tanks in San Francisco,” he said.

When Chappell got out of the service, he earned a pharmacy degree from the University of Tennessee in Memphis.

Chappell’s pharmaceutical career spanned 40 years in North Little Rock and Little Rock until he retired at age 72.

The Veterans Day assembly at Northwood Middle School may have had special significance for about one-sixth of the approximately 600 students who gathered in the gym Nov.10 for a program officiated over by Little Rock Air Force Base personnel.                                            

Study hard and behave, Lt. Col. Jerome Osurman told students, many of whom have military parents.  

“Freedom isn’t free,” said Osurman, commander of the 19th Equipment Maintenance Squadron at the nearby base. “It’s paid for by sacrifice. For some, it’s the ultimate sacrifice that we may live in freedom.”

He said their parents and others in the military are the tip of the spear. Osurman said he grew up in Hawaii, where his parents, Pearl Harbor survivors, were headed for  church when the bombs began falling. “On Sept. 11, our nation answered another call to duty. We need your support,” he said. “Our enemy wants to take us down.”

The focal point of the assembly was a prisoner-of-war, missing-in-action table ceremony. A white table cloth was surrounded by five empty chairs symbolizing those missing, captured or dead from the five branches of the military.

The base honor guard assisted in the ceremonies and the pledge of allegiance. Students Diana Reiss and Maddie Turcotte sang the Star Spangled Banner, harmonizing in places and hitting the high notes. 

Chief Master Sgt. Frankie McGriff narrated the event. He said the World War I Armistice, when all sides agreed to formally stop the war, took effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

After the Second World War, Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day, according to McGriff. He told students that 340,000 Americans did not return home safely from World War I and World War II. In the Korean War, 23,300 Americans died and another 57,000 died in Vietnam. 

He said 246 more died during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and so far, 5,278 Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those attending from Pulaski County Special School District were interim Superintendent Rob McGill, board member Danny Gilliland and chief financial officer Anita Farver.

TOP STORY >> Top doctor: Must pass health bill

Leader editor-in-chief

Arkansas’ top physician says the nation’s health-care system is “a mess” and needs an overhaul to ensure health care for all citizens.

Dr. Joe Thompson, the state’s surgeon general since 2005, says as insurance premiums skyrocket and health-care expenses take up one-sixth of the nation’s gross domestic product, it is time to rein in costs while providing near-universal care.

Thompson, a Huckabee appointee and a pediatrician, spoke Monday to the Jacksonville Rotary Club, where he gave a history of health care since the Second World War, when many workers received health insurance benefits instead of pay increases because there was a wage freeze.

Thompson believes the health-care bill that passed in the House and is before the Senate could lead to improvements in the system, which is very expensive while 50 million people remain uninsured.

“Our system couldn’t be more messed up if we sat down at a table and tried to mess it up,” he said.

Thompson said he hoped “we’ll wind up with legislation that will move health care forward.” He also favors tort reform that would limit malpractice awards and bring down costs.

“I’m excited and I’m a little scared,” Thompson said. “It will not be completely fixed, but we’ll never get to that point.”

The doctor said after his speech that he would support a public option if insurance remains unavailable to those without coverage.

“If private insurance can’t do it, there should be a trigger for a public option. That will give the private sector an incentive to deliver,” he told The Leader.

“We’re ethically obligated to make certain that all citizens have access to insurance,” he said.

He reminded Rotarians that the system has worked well for most workers, retirees and young people, but still leaves many uninsured and often puts them deep in debt after a health crisis.

The system is often wasteful, he said, with too many expensive medical tests, such as MRIs and CAT scans, which are not always needed. Patients expect such tests, and doctors often order them to protect themselves from malpractice suits.

Health care in the U.S. costs at least twice what other countries spend on health care because of wasteful spending, Thompson said.

“The Arkansas Medical Society will run me out for saying that,” he said.

To provide equal coverage for everyone, insurance companies must stop discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, he told the Rotary Club.

Thompson has pushed for more insurance coverage for poor children, campaigned against obesity, as well as encouraged more exercise and preventive care.

He also spoke about the swine flu, which looks like an epidemic from 60 years ago, which may explain why the elderly are not as affected by it since they may have been exposed to it once before.

He urged Rotarians to get vaccinated. The vaccine is fatal in one in a million cases, while there have been 18 deaths from swine flu in the state since August.

The best way to avoid the flu is to wash hands often with soap.

EDITORIAL >> Don’t call it philanthropy

Every few days the Arkansas Lottery makes another breathless announcement about how many people are betting. From late Saturday night, when the first Powerball tickets were sold, through Wednesday — that’s only four days — Arkansas people invested $1.1 million in jackpot tickets.

The lottery office reported the development with the same exhilaration that it has announced the magnitude of lottery purchases regularly since the lottery began two months ago. It is a sign of marvelous things for the state, or that is the message.

But should we celebrate? Remember, half of the Power-ball sales — something over $500,000 for those four days — leaves the state instantly for the multistate jackpot treasury. That is $500,000 that will not be spent in the Arkansas economy. In the context of the current environment, that is the equivalent of losing a small plant and 20 jobs every four days. Sure, some day, maybe right away, an Arkansan will win the big jackpot and some of that money will trickle back.

Perhaps a tenth of the bets will stay in Arkansas for small prizes. Some of it will pay the big lottery staff and Ernie Passailaigue’s $325,000 salary.

And, as Lt. Gov. Bill Halter will tell you, endlessly, part of the $1.1 million will stay around to give a few youngsters scholarships in 2011 and beyond.

But not needy youngsters as Halter and the lottery promoters proclaim. Arkansas already appropriates money from your sales and income taxes to provide tuition to youngsters from poor and middle-class families who meet the low eligibility requirements — basically a solid C average in high school.

The state carried forward a huge surplus from last year because the appropriation was more than enough to meet the demand.

The lottery amendment that voters ratified last year prohibits the state from ever reducing the taxpayer-financed scholarships.

So to spend all the new money earmarked for scholarships by the lottery, the legislature had to expand the scholarship program. It took off the income limits so that from now on the children of billionaires qualify for the same scholarships to public or private universities. Then it lowered the eligibility standard so that any aimless youngster who decides to try college for a year can get the money.

A college scholarship is now an entitlement. If the lottery and the earmarked share of state taxes still produce more money than the kids need in 2011, the state can raise the scholarships to include some walking-around money. The Constitution now says neither lottery proceeds nor the earmarked tax receipts can ever be spent for anything else.

Perhaps a college entitlement is a good thing, but only if the government is meeting all the other manifold needs of a poor state, like good schools, public health, prisons and law enforcement.

The chief effect of the lottery, other than draining money from the productive economy, is a big transfer of wealth — upwards, from the poor to the well to do.

So, enjoy the thrill of betting on an $80 million jackpot when you buy a Powerball ticket, but don’t feel noble. It is entertainment, not philanthropy.

Ernie Dumas writes editorials for The Leader.

EDITORIAL >> Health bill goes forward

The U. S. House of Representatives passed a far-reaching health-reform bill Saturday, but by the dismaying margin of only two votes. Only one Republican, a freshman from New Orleans, voted for the bill, but the surprise was that even one left the cave.

For the first time, no Arkansan had a leading role in passing landmark social insurance, nor is it likely that this will change as the battle shifts to the Senate, where Senator Blanche Lincoln is holding out for a sweeter deal for insurance companies.

Let us remember that Senator Joe T. Robinson of Lonoke, the majority leader at the time, led the way on old-age, disability and unemployment insurance in 1935, Rep. Wilbur D. Mills of Kensett crafted the legislation creating Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, and President Bill Clinton pushed through children’s health insurance in 1997 with help from Senator Dale Bumpers of Charleston. When President Ronald Reagan raised payroll and employer taxes to shore up Social Security and unemployment insurance during the great recession of 1982-83, the entire Arkansas delegation voted with him, unapologetically.

Yes, half of Arkansas’ House delegation voted for the health bill, which will bring insurance to 35 million Americans, the poorer, working variety, and begin to tamp down the skyrocketing cost of medical care and insurance, but they seemed just a trifle apologetic. They said they would have preferred something a little different than the bill hammered out over nearly a year of dickering, but that health reform was too important for them to stand in the way. No one ever likes every provision of a bill. If everyone waited for their notion of the perfect, we would have no laws — and no country.

The two congressmen from our parts, Vic Snyder and Marion Berry, voted for the bill, though meekly, and they deserve our gratitude. Berry thought, correctly we think, that the legislation went too easy on the pharmaceutical industry, but he will reserve that fight for another day.

To no one’s surprise, Rep. John Boozman of Springdale and Rep. Mike Ross of Prescott voted no. Boozman votes in lockstep with the Republican leadership, which wants to deny the president and the Democratic Party the achievement of a promise that every Democratic candidate for president and a few Republicans made in 2008 and across decades. Ross has proclaimed himself a champion of universal health insurance since going to the House of Representatives in 2001, but it long ago became clear that there would never be a circumstance where he would actually vote to do it. Ross satisfies the hundreds of thousands in his district who need help with nice words but satisfies the special interests and wingnuts opposed to health reform with his vote.

He did the same thing six years ago with the prescription drug program for seniors. He voted against the bill that provided some insurance for drugs under Medicare because he said the bill gave the role to insurance companies and he preferred to have the government do it as a defined benefit for all seniors under Medicare. Now, his stance is just the opposite. He does not want the government to offer a policy in competition with the insurance companies.

But Ross offered his constituents all sorts of reasons for voting against their interests, even though the House had weakened the bill in many ways to meet the objections of Ross and some of the other Southern “Blue Dogs,” as they call themselves. He feared that there might be a way under the bill that an immigrant without legal papers could buy an insurance policy or be treated for illness or injury. They can now; it’s guaranteed by the equal-protection clause of the U. S. Constitution. No civilized country in the world denies medical treatment to immigrants. The health reform bill goes as far as it can to prevent it, but even that is not enough for Ross.

Ross repeated the mantra that Republicans raised throughout the long debate. We should not undertake a major initiative that would raise some taxes and impose new mandates on businesses and people when the country is in a recession and has a huge budget deficit and high unemployment. In a statement to his constituents after the vote, Ross said the country should focus on lowering the deficit and unemployment instead of starting a new program. Let’s wait for the good times, he suggested.

Would it help to remind him that he voted for all the initiatives that created the $1.2 trillion deficit except one, the unfunded prescription drug program? That includes the giant tax cut for the wealthy in 2001, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and every one of their appropriations, George W. Bush’s mammoth bailout of the financial industry, both the Bush and Obama bailouts of automakers and the economic stimulus package.

If a recession and high joblessness are the wrong times to solve big problems, would he have voted against Social Security and unemployment insurance and their taxes in 1935, when unemployment was more than twice today’s levels? Would he and all the Republicans who predict doom if health reform becomes law have voted against President Ronald Reagan’s big taxes on workers and employers to shore up Social Security and unemployment insurance in 1983, when joblessness was running higher than today?

People in the Fourth District sooner or later will get the point. Ignore his lofty talk about the terrible health crisis. The bright day when he will vote to actually solve their problems will never come.

SPORTS >> Panthers, Wildcats savoring down time

Cabot’s Spencer Smith (3) and teammates will get needed rest this week.

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers and Harding Academy Wildcats will sit out the first round of the state high school football playoffs thanks to their conference championships.

Cabot (9-1) beat Russellville 26-24 in the season finale at Cyclone Stadium to repeat as the 7A-Central champion with a 6-1 record and earn a first-round bye. North Little Rock also finished 6-1 in conference, but the Panthers beat the Charging Wildcats earlier this season.

Cabot’s only loss was to Bryant, 35-7, over two weeks ago, but North Little Rock knocked off Bryant the following week.

“Two weeks ago I didn’t know if we could beat anybody,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said of the stunning loss on the muddy ground at Bryant. “But I know one thing, we’re on the turf so we don’t have to worry about the mud anymore. If we play three more games it will all be on turf. Cabot, Cabot and War Memorial.”

Led by standout junior quarterback Seth Keese, Harding Academy beat Rose Bud 46-20 to remain perfect and return to the top of the 2-3A Conference under second-year coach Roddy Mote. The Wildcats reached the playoffs in Mote’s first year last season but fell short of a conference championship, something to which Harding Academy fans had become accustomed under former coach Tommy Shoemaker.

Cabot will play its second-round playoff game at Panther Stadium on Nov. 20 against the winner of the Fayetteville-Conway game. Harding Academy awaits its home matchup against the winner of the first-round Yellville-Summit-Cave City game.

“We’re going to catch our breath and see what happens,” Malham said.

The time off probably comes at a good time for Cabot.

Senior fullback Michael James has nursed injuries all year. James, who rushed for close to 3,000 yards combined in his sophomore and junior seasons, injured his shoulder in pre-season practice, and continues to rebound from a high-ankle sprain.

He limped through his 174-yard, two-touchdown performance at Russellville last Thursday.

Spencer Smith had been the workhorse in Cabot’s dead T with James out, but Smith is suffering from a bad ankle as well.

“We’ve got some bad ankles. We’ve got two or three,” Malham said of the Russellville game. “You watch James limp on and Spencer Smith limp off.

“I was rotating them at fullback and both of them looked like they couldn’t run a lick the way they’re limping. So this will give us a couple weeks.”

James gained over 1,300 yards last year and was expected to have another big season, as well as making his varsity debut as a linebacker after he last played the position in ninth grade.

James has shown flashes of his ability in limited time this year, as he did against the Cyclones, and Malham said James is probably as healthy as he is going to get and he is confident he will get the senior’s best effort, even when banged up.

“It does help to have two good ones,” Malham said of James and Smith.

Cabot earned a bye last year then suffered a 21-17, first-round loss when Springdale Har-Ber intercepted a pass in the end zone with 53 seconds left at Panther Stadium.

“Hopefully we’ll get ready to play,” Malham said. “Last year was a disappointment. We thought we let Har-Ber slip by us last year. But that’s football; you’ve only got one chance when you get in the playoffs.”

Har-Ber is on Cabot’s side of the bracket again this season, along with Springdale and Russellville.

But first there is the matter of playing the Conway-Fayetteville winner, Malham said.

“We’ll sit back and see who’s going to come to our place and if we win we get to play at our place again,” Malham said. “We set ourselves up. Of course, we’ve got to produce now but it’s a good feeling right now anyway.”

SPORTS >> Lions get it done, looking for more

Leader sports editor

Some might not have expected it, but first-year Searcy coach Tim Harper and the Lions are right where Harper figured to be: the postseason.

After a multi-year drought, Searcy has returned to the playoffs as the No. 6 seed from the 6A-East Conference and will play at Watson Chapel in the first round of the state playoffs Friday night.

“I think our kids deserve to play an extra week,” Harper said. “We’re excited about that. I think that sets us up well for the future. I think we have 95 percent of our team coming back.”

Harper left Des Arc to take over a Searcy program that had won three games the previous four seasons. The Lions weren’t that far removed from the stretch in 2000-2004 when they won 30 games and earned a playoff victory in 2001, and Harper’s plan was to reinstate a sense of program.

Searcy scored some upsets this season, threw a scare into a few other teams, reduced its points allowed from 370 to 182 and has produced 40 letterman out of a 50-player roster who will return next year.

But the best part for the Lions is that this year is still going on.

“Our goal since January was to make it to Week 11 and we did that,” Harper said. “We didn’t do it in the fashion we wanted to. We had some setbacks. We lost Friday night and that was a game we felt we should have won.”

Mountain Home overtook Searcy 16-12 last week after the Lions had come back from a 10-0 halftime deficit to claim the lead on a pair of touchdown passes by Desmond Stegall.

A critical moment occurred when B.J. Slaughter returned a second-half Mountain Home punt to the 3, but had the play called back because of a block in the back by the Lions.

“What’s sad is we have a 12-10 lead and if we score from the 3 we probably win the ballgame,” Harper said. “That’s part of it. On film, according to us, we didn’t see the block in the back but that’s part of the game. We’ve got to get better than having to rely on the official not to make a call to beat us.”

Harper said the Lions’ second-half rally was indicative of his team’s slow starts this year, but he felt Searcy was in every game but the 40-3 loss to 6A power West Memphis.

And even then, Harper said the Lions had chances.

“We had it four times in the red zone on them,” Harper said.

Searcy was dominant in three of its four victories, beating Fair 44-0, Jacksonville 40-14 and Little Rock Hall 45-0. The Lions edged the Parkview Patriots 21-20 in Week 5.

Harper said he hoped the victories and near misses — Searcy hung with Jonesboro in a 21-14, Week 8 loss — don’t leave fans satisfied but rather, expecting more next season.

“Who wants to coach a football program where there’s no expectations?” Harper said. “If you’re coaching a team with no expectations, that means something isn’t going right. I won’t be happy with 4-6 I can assure you.

“We’ve got to create an atmosphere that expects success. That does mean the community too. I think they’ll get there.”

Before Searcy can think about next year, there is the little matter of this year and Friday’s opponent Watson Chapel.

“I don’t want to overlook this game because I guarantee you we’re going to give them everything we’ve got,” Harper said.

“We’re going down to Watson Chapel hoping to win the ballgame.”

Harper sees a team similar offensively to his own in the Wildcats. Watson Chapel, led by senior quarterback C.J. Branch, favors multiple looks and can jump from the wishbone to the spread.

“He may be the best quarterback we’ve seen all season,” Harper said of Branch, 6-3, 215 pounds.

“He’s really a special athlete. He runs the ball very well. They run a lot of power football when they’re in the wishbone and then they run the spread stuff and try to beat you with their speed.”

SPORTS >> ’Rabbits ready for first round

Lonoke senior receiver Todd Hobson pulls down a reception against 2-4A champion Bald Knob.

Leader sportswriter

Last week’s 48-13 victory over Clinton solidified the 2-4A No. 3 seed for the Lonoke Jackrabbits and sent them to the state playoffs for the third straight season, and also earned them a home playoff game against Clarksville on Friday at James B. Abraham Stadium.

The Jackrabbits (7-3 overall) finished with a 5-2 record in the 2-4A Conference after a rocky, 0-2 start.

“We’ve had a good five weeks,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “We’ve done some good things. We’ve protected the ball on offense, and defensively, we’ve had guys stepping up and making big plays. We’ve had some fumbles and quite a few interceptions. So we’ve played about as well as we can play heading into this week.”

With the ’Rabbits’ playoff berth, Bost also becomes the first Lonoke football coach this decade to reach the postseason in his first year.

Friday’s triumph over Clinton came with a balanced effort on offense.

Senior tailback Brandon Smith turned in his usual solid performance with 16 carries for 158 yards and two touchdowns.

Classmate and quarterback Michael Nelson had a good night through the air, completing 20 of 27 pass attempts for 253 yards, and also carried 11 times for 51 yards and a touchdown.

Fullback Morgan Linton rushed for a pair of scores, and Todd Hobson led the receivers with 7 catches for 82 yards. Darius Scott had 4 receptions for 73 yards, and Blake Dill had 4 catches for 53 yards.

Lonoke finished with 518 total yards. The numbers on the ground and through the air ended up close, with 253 passing yards and 265 passing.

Defensively, Brandon O’Bannon led the way with 10 tackles while sophomore standout Tommy Scott finished with eight.

“We knew we needed to win to get that No. 3 seed and be at home,” Bost said. “We took care of business and got the win. I was real proud of our balance on offense. Anytime you’re able to run and throw within 12 yards of each other, that’s something to be proud of.”

The Panthers (6-4, 4-3 4-4) are the No. 4 seed out of the 4-4A Conference. They are also a spread-based team with good balance, starting with junior quarterback Trey Schucker, who averages 144.9 yards passing per game.

But Clarksville’s biggest threat on offense is junior running back Wesleigh Foster, who averages 115.3 yards rushing per game. Foster is also a conference 100-meter champion.

“If he gets out in open space, he will outrun you,” Bost said. “He’s by far the fastest one they have, but we’re comfortable as long as we can get 11 helmets after him. He’s definitely one that we will have to focus our efforts on.”

The Panthers also have senior leadership on defense with linebacker Thomas Plugge, who averages close to 17 tackles a game out of their linebacker-heavy set.

“They use a 3-5-3, which means at any time, they are sending two to three guys,” said Bost, who last saw such a formation against Central Arkansas Christian in a non-conference game in Week 3. “We haven’t really seen that since we played CAC.

That kind of defense can give you problems if you’re a spread team. It’s something we will have to work on this week.”

Clarksville also has momentum after winning three of its last four games. The Panthers suffered a 26-21 loss to Dover in Week 9, but finished out the regular season last week with a 23-17 victory over Dardanelle.

Their worst loss of the season came at the hands of eventual 4-4A champion Booneville, 56-7, in Week 4. They also lost to league No. 3 seed West Fork 19-7 in Week 6.

The last time Lonoke and Clarksville met was in the first round of the 4A state playoffs two years ago, when the host Jackrabbits moved on to the second round with a 48-20 victory.

Lonoke also won its home playoff game last year against Warren.

“Anytime you get to play at home, it’s a great thing to have,” Bost said. “We know the fans will come out and support our kids, so we’re just glad to have it at home.”

SPORTS >> Bears at full strength for Bulldogs

Sylvan Hills senior quarterback Jordan Spears is dragged down by Beebe defenders Dalton Wallace, 43, Jordan Brockway, 19, and Brandon Bailey during the Bears’ 13-12 victory over the Badgers on Friday at Bill Blackwood Field.

Leader sportswriter

If Greenwood was looking for a willing underdog in the first round of the 5A state playoffs, Sylvan Hills was probably not what it had in mind.

The Bulldogs (9-1) swept the 5A-West Conference to earn the league title and No. 1 playoff seed with a 7-0 mark. They clinched the title last week on the road in a 25-21 victory over second-place Alma.

Sylvan Hills (4-6) ended the 5A-Southeast season at 4-3. The Bears have won four of their last five games after starting the
season 0-5.

They clinched the No. 4 seed out of the Southeast with a 13-12 victory over Beebe last week at Bill Blackwood Field in their season and conference finale.

That set up the first-round playoff game at Greenwood’s Smith-Robinson Stadium in Greenwood on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

The numbers stack up in Greenwood’s favor, but Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow isn’t buying.

“I think it’s all in how you look at it,” Withrow said. “We’re playing a very good football team, but it’s not like we’re going in and facing the New England Patriots either. If you go out, play well and think you can win, that’s the biggest part of the battle.

“If you think you can win, you have a good chance. At the high school level, the psychological aspect is one of the biggest parts, and that’s the approach we’re taking. We’re going in thinking we can win. We’re not going up there just happy to be in the show and go out and have pizza afterward. If we don’t compete, I’m going to be very disappointed.”

Withrow was also quick to point out his team has already faced elite competition this season in the form of Cabot and North Little Rock in Week 2 and 3, as well 5A-Southeast Conference champion Monticello two weeks ago.

“If you’re intimidated now, you must have been asleep the past couple of months,” Withrow said. “I think we’ve also looked at it and realized how we could have approached those games better from a players’ perspective. Like in the Monticello game, they were up 14-0 before the game ever started, and it ended up 35-7. It could just as easily been 21-7.

“We can’t wait until we go halfway into the second quarter and then say, ‘Hey, wecan play with these guys.’ ”

The Bears and Badgers went scoreless last week until the fourth quarter, when both teams found the end zone twice. But a pair of missed two-point conversions by Beebe handed the victory and the playoff spot to Sylvan Hills.

“It was kind of the way I thought it would be,” Withrow said. “It was pretty evenly matched. We had some opportunities to score early on but didn’t cash them in — the same stuff we’ve been doing. But we had two big stops on two-point conversions.”

The Bears came full circle last week with the return of senior running back Juliean Broner. Broner has been back on defense for a number of weeks after recovering from a leg injury he sustained earlier in the year, but finally got a full release from the training staff to play offense.

“I thought we threw the ball pretty good,” Withrow said. “We got to using Broner more at tailback and got a little too one dimensional. It was good to have him back, but we’ve got to find that balance.”

With their final regular season game against Beebe played on Thursday, Withrow and his Bears had a chance to visit Alma to see the Airedales and White Hall face off.

“That’s what high school football should be,” Withrow said. “Both towns were there watching the game. I even got to meet the Alma superintendent — these people understand that academics and activities go hand in hand.”

What Withrow saw on the field was not a bunch of 300-pound gorillas, but rather well coached high school kids.

“One thing was their passing game was real precise,” Withrow said. “They made changes at the line of scrimmage; they would look at the coverage, check it off and go to something else.”

The Bulldogs are also multiple on defense. Withrow said that is something Bears senior quarterback Jordan Spears will have to be ready to deal with.

“Defensively, they disguise their coverages well,” Withrow said. “They have a lot of movement in their backfield.

“They will move up in the middle of the cadence. For Jordan, he’s going to have to be patient and wait and see what the coverage is.”