Thursday, December 10, 2009

TOP STORY >> Group seeks to widen missions for base

Leader executive editor

The Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution calling for the Air Force to refrain from moving C-130 training to other facilities.

Based in large part upon a column written by Col. C.K. Hyde, commander of the 314th Airlift Wing, the resolution reads, “Be it resolved that: The Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council hereby respectfully requests that the leadership of the world’s best Air Force not dilute the proven combat delivery value and effectiveness of this ‘C-130 Center of Excellence’ at the Little Rock Air Force Base by moving such training to other locations and commands.”

Retired Col. Bill Kehler, who is president of the community council, told members that the base has plenty of space for more missions.

“We don’t need to move training elsewhere,” said Kehler, a former base commander. “We can handle more training. It’s not too crowded here.”

There are several hundred acres of undeveloped land at the base, which has received 23 new C-130Js, the newest generation of transport planes, and more could be on the way, according to two representatives from Lockheed Martin, the plane’s manufacturer, who spoke at the luncheon.

Several C-130s have been transferred here from Guard units in other sections of the country. But there’s always pressure to move training missions elsewhere.

Hyde, in a recent column in the Combat Airlifter, the newspaper at Little Rock Air Force Base, wrote that one of the greatest strengths of the Air Force “is the integration of active-duty, Reserve and Air National Guard components into the world’s best air, space and cyberspace force.”

“Readiness is a unique source of strength due to these components continuously fielding total force capabilities and executing their missions without significant start-up time and this readiness has important advantages to the joint force in meeting current operations and emerging requirements without significant training delays due to total-force readiness and interoperability given common and consistent standards and training, regardless of component,” Hyde wrote.

According to the resolution, “Whereas, combat delivery is the best example of quality total force capabilities and integration which was seen through equal readiness, common procedures and superb training during Operation Iraqi Freedom and other missions around the world; and

“Whereas, training is the foundation of this total-force capability which has been provided for over two decades through the world’s best training team at Little Rock Air Force Base through the 314th Airlift Wing and Arkansas Air National Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing in partnership with the Aircrew Training System contractor; and

“Whereas, this partnership has created an unmatched collection of combat delivery expertise, experience and innovation resulting in total-force readiness and interoperability that no other service or nation can match.”

Craig Chewning, who directs Lockheed’s C-130J government requirements, and George S. Sturgill, who directs Lockheed’s air mobility programs, told the council that demand for the plane continues to grow.

The planes are well-regarded in the military, they said, and are good value. They have two-person cockpits and are more fuel efficient, they said.

Their four engines are as powerful as five engines and take off twice as fast on shorter runways than the old C-130s.

In addition, the C-130Js have 40 percent more cargo space and digital avionics. Lockheed is offering the Air Force 10 percent price reductions if the planes are ordered in bulk. They now cost about $76 million each, but the price could drop to $68 million if the Air Force gives the company a large order.

Leader senior staff writer John Hofheimer contributed to this article.

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville leads race to land fair

Leader executive editor

Jacksonville has the best site and has made the best offer to move the Arkansas State Fair from Little Rock, according to the official in charge of the prestigious program.

Ralph Shoptaw, the general manager of the Arkansas Livestock Show Association, called Jacksonville’s offer to give the association 430 acres of land in southeast Jacksonville “very attractive.”

He told The Leader during a visit to Jacksonville on Tuesday that the site off South Hwy. 161 near Hwy. 67/167 and the North Belt Freeway was the best he’s seen from among 19 that were submitted.

Shoptaw said the Jacksonville site is centrally located with easy access from I-40, which is “convenient for people traveling nationwide.”

Little Rock has not made a serious offer to expand the current site, which is too cramped and outdated, he said. He and his board are ready to expand the annual event to a year-round program, Shoptaw said.

The land, which is worth more than $1 million, “is an ideal location to bring tourists from all across the country,” Shoptaw said.

He said he’s been traveling around the country, looking at year-round programs, and that’s what he wants to do in Arkansas. The problem with 10-day fairs is that when it rains, as it did this year, it’s a total washout.

“We’ve seen fairgrounds that are flourishing year-round,” Shoptaw said. “What we have stymies us when it rains. Everything we have is worn out.”

He said he wants to build bigger and better pavilions that would cost at least $100 million, and it would be a waste of money to use them just once a year.

After a site is chosen, the new fairgrounds could cost up to $150 million and could be completed in three to five years, Shoptaw said.

Funding would come from bonds and long-term loans and fundraising by the livestock association.

“The board will meet in the next few weeks to discuss financing,” the general manager said.

“Hopefully, the state will kick in and help with financing,” Shoptaw said.

The foundation would also raise private donations and pay off a bond issue “as quickly as we can and get out of debt.”

Part of the proposed site is in Jacksonville. The city would annex the remainder if the fair moves there.

When seeking proposals, the commission had said the ideal site would be flat but not in a wetland, accessible and visible from an interstate or four-lane highway with utilities available.

The fair board has been considering giving up the old fairgrounds on Roosevelt Road in Little Rock and moving within 35 miles of the capital city if a suitable site is found. Several cities, including Cabot, Carlisle, Conway, North Little Rock and Benton, submitted proposals to get the fair from Little Rock.

If the state fair moved to Jacksonville, history will repeat itself. Jacksonville leaders raised $1 million to donate land to build Little Rock Air Force Base more than 55 years ago.

They hope to form a partnership with private individuals to raise the money for the fair, but also use city funds.

“We have in hand commitments for a large portion of the cost, and we expect city council approval for the remainder,” Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher wrote to the livestock association.

The city plans to negotiate with seven landowners, including Entergy, to buy the land or swap some city-owned property for the land.

Jacksonville also has money set aside for economic development. The city’s advertising and promotion commission also has funds available raised through the 2-cent hamburger tax.

Several individuals have agreed to give hundreds of thousands of dollars, some anonymously, to buy the land.

Fletcher said the site meets all the criteria set by the state fair board:
  • At least 250 acres with access and visibility from a four-lane highway;
  • Suitable terrain with minimal disruption to wetlands;
  • The land is within 35 miles from the old fairgrounds;
  • Available utilities.
The proposed Jacksonville fair site, which is accessible from the Rixie Road exit at the North Belt Freeway and Hwy. 67/167 in south Jacksonville, is six times the size of the current fairgrounds.

Fletcher said the city would have the same special relationship with the fair board as with the air base.

Col. Gregory Otey, commander of the 314th Airlift Wing, sent a letter to the Livestock Association, praising Jacksonville’s commitment and spirit. He cited the city’s support of the base in donating $5 million to help build a joint-education center with the air base.

Letters of recommendation were also sent by Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville), Rep. Jane English (R-North Little Rock), former Rep. Mike Wilson of Jack-sonville and others.

Shoptaw said beer sales are an important part of the income. Alcohol could be served at the Jacksonville site because it’s not in a dry area.

The livestock commission is working with Thomas Engineering Company of North Little Rock and Mike Berg Company, Buyer’s Real Estate Agent of Little Rock.

The fairgrounds are 70 years old and too cramped, critics say. There isn’t enough room for parking and the 33,000-square-foot Hall of Industry needs to be at least 100,000 square feet to accommodate some of the businesses that have been turned away because of lack of space.

Then there is difficulty in getting to the fairgrounds, located in an older, deteriorating part of the capital city.

The 10,000-seat Barton Coliseum at the fairgrounds is considered outdated. A new arena would be built at the new site.

Attendance at the state fair has doubled in recent years from about 200,000 to about 400,000. But Fletcher thinks more people would come to Jacksonville, which has a better location and has less congestion.

Leader staff writer Joan McCoy contributed to this article.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

TOP STORY >> Pathfinder adds ‘one more jewel’

Leader staff writers

Joan Zumwalt, who has led Pathfinder for many years, stood before a crowd of staff, parents and notable visitors and told them it was “another red-letter day for Pathfinder.”

“We have sunshine here in the building,” Zumwalt told the crowd which had braved a cold rain to attend. The group was on hand for the dedication of the new Pathfinder Preschool in Jacksonville.

The new building, which cost $6 million to build, is tornado-proof and was built with low-interest bonds.

The 38,000-square-foot, one-story building is located adjacent to the Reynolds building, the main facility on the Pathfinder campus at 2400 W. Main St.

Pathfinder is a private, nonprofit program that has served individuals with developmental disabilities since 1971.

It opened with one person and a $12,000 budget to provide educational services to six people. Pathfinder has an annual budget of $33 million.

Zumwalt thanked the guests, who included Col. Michael Zick, Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher, Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, state Reps. Mark Perry, Sandra Prater and Jane English, architect Odom Peck Architecture of Little Rock and representatives from Centennial Bank and general contractor Noacom, Inc.

Zumwalt gave the floor to a handful of the preschool’s students who sang “Good Morning to You,” and presented Gov. Mike Beebe with a poster thanking him for visiting. Each student in the group shook hands with the governor.

“When you’re on the board or work for Pathfinder, you work for Joan,” John Burkhalter, a Pathfinder board member, said. “When you’re governor you do too,” Beebe jokingly added.

“I always refer to Joan as admiral,” Beebe told the crowd after Burkhalter’s introduction.

“What we just say, with the kids, is what this is about,” the governor told the crowd. “This is why we’re here this morning.”

The governor spoke of adults who work with special-needs children, such as the staff at Pathfinders. “It is something that is truly a labor of love.” He went on to tell the group of his firm belief in what pre-kindergarten and pre-school can do.

“It all starts at the very beginning with that foundation,” Beebe said. “All of them will progress at different rates, all of them will learn at different levels. But they all deserve the competition.”

Fletcher said, “I’m so excited for Pathfinder, but it drives home how dilapidated the facilities are in our public schools. It is visual proof. It makes me mindful, but at the same time it gives me hope. We will have schools on this level in the near future.”

Alderman Reedie Ray said, “This is great for the city of Jacksonville and is great for the whole state. It helps so many people.”

Alderman Marshall Smith said, “It is fabulous. It is another lighthouse in the community. This facility can be be added to and can be expanded. The board and staff, especially Joan Zumwalt, should be commended.”

Pathfinder vice chairman Robert Ferguson spoke about the construction of the preschool. The building’s perimeter walls were built with 6-inch poured concrete. The walls were interlaced with vertical and horizontal-positioned rebar.

The roof has hurricane straps connecting to the building and the interior has special bracing.

“It can stand a near direct hit from a tornado,” Ferguson said.

“This is the most recent jewel in our crown. Pathfinder has always been an inspiration to me,”

Zumwalt told The Leader. “We won’t stop here. We’re reminded constantly of the need. The reward is what we saw with the kids (who performed).” Zumwalt has been with Pathfinder since the beginning – 38 years.

She says she’s seen many examples of what Pathfinder can do.

Col. Michael Zick, 19th Airlift Wing vice commander, and his wife Emily are Pathfinder supporters.

The couple, who are stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base for the third time, have a son with autism, who attended Pathfinder from age 3 to 5.

“This is just fantastic to see how the school has grown,” Zick said. “They were the very first on getting our son on that engagement track to getting the skills needed.”

“His pediatrician came here,” Emily said. “Everything was done here. It’s the only developmental school he attended.” Their son, now a pre-teen, attends public school.

The colonel said the facilities here “rate among the best I’ve seen.”

TOP STORY >> Beebe is granting fewer clemencies

Gov. Mike Beebe speaks to Joan Zumwalt at the Pathfinder Preschool.

Leader staff writers

Gov. Mike Beebe is distancing himself from his predecessor, who issued a record number of pardons and clemencies.

While visiting the dedication of the newest Pathfinder pre-school in Jacksonville on Tuesday, Beebe told The Leader, “In three years, I’ve granted one commutation and shortened one sentence.”

He said only rarely would he consider “shortening someone’s sentence that the court and jury have decided.”

“My philosophy is probably different,” he explained, referring to Gov. Mike Huckabee, who signed more than 1,000 clemencies and pardons during his 10 years in office.

Maurice Clemmons, whose sentence Huckabee commuted in 2000 to time served, killed four police officers Nov. 29 in Washington state. Before that, Huckabee pushed for the release of Wayne Dumond, a convicted rapist, who later killed two women in Missouri. He was convicted of one of those murders and died in prison.

Beebe said he would consider pardoning those who have served their time, especially if they were young at the time they committed their crimes.

He says he “rarely, if ever, balks at the idea of pardoning someone” who has served out their full sentence.

Beebe sounded optimistic about the chances of a health-reform bill that would help Arkansans. He was concerned about an additional $220 million Arkansas would have to pay for higher Medicaid costs. But as the Senate continues negotiating a bill, the governor was hopeful the state wouldn’t be stuck with a higher bill.

“I’m encouraged about what they’re talking about,” Beebe said.

He does favor some kind of public option that offered “a good blend and balance,” he said.

“But we have to make sure that whatever you provide, there’s still a private-sector option,” Beebe insisted. He said the state’s economy “is in better shape” than many parts of the country. Although the state has lost more than 26,000 jobs, 23,000 new jobs have also been created.

He continues to work toward bringing new businesses to industry and expected to make an important announcement soon.

Beebe has made education his top priority, followed by improving the economy.

“Jobs and education go hand in hand,” the governor said.

Arkansans must have a good education if they want good jobs, he said. Without an educated workforce, new industries will not move to Arkansas, Beebe said.

He’s pleased that the new state lottery is doing better than expected, which will mean more money for college scholarships — as much s $100 million a year. But he cautioned that ticket sales could level off, which would mean fewer scholarships.

TOP STORY >> Lonoke jail construction set

Leader senior staff writer

After 15 years of trying every which way to expand the old jail or build a new one, Lonoke County officials were smiling, slapping backs and shaking hands after a Cabot company was the apparent low bidder for a new 142-bed jail.

“I never dreamed we’d be able to build everything with the money we had,” said Tim Lemons, a Cabot engineer and quorum court member.

“It’s a wonderful day for the county,” said building committee chairman Larry Odom. “A 15-year battle with a whole lot of effort with a whole lot of people — especially the voters that approved the sales tax,” Odom said.

“Looks like you all went to the same school,” Troutman said, noting that 11 of the 12 other bidders all were within about half-a-million dollars of that amount.

“This is outstanding,” said Lemons. “We’re in the money and within our budget.”

County residents voted for a one-year, one-penny sales tax dedicated to jail construction. Collection of that tax stopped Sept. 30, and it raised nearly $6.25 million.

If the county accepts the low bid—architect Erik Jorgensen will conduct a line-by-line review of the bids — construction can begin.

“Everyone wins here—the people of Lonoke County, officials including the sheriff, the people of the city of Lonoke, which will get the jail moved from a residential neighborhood to an industrial part, and even the jailers and inmates, who will be housed in a safer, legal jail,” Lemons said.

“A Cabot contractor got the job and many of the construction jobs are likely to go to Lonoke County residents, Lemons said.

“I feel good,” said Sheriff Jim Roberson. “I got a lot of jail. It looks like everything we wanted.”

“Judge Troutman said it would come in (affordable) and Chief Deputy White worked hard on the design,” Roberson said.

Designed for 142 inmates, it will hold as many as 160, Roberson said, or even 170 with beds in the common space.

It also allows for video visitation or arraignment.

Greg Gladden of Gladden Construction also built the Boone County jail, Troutman said.

“But 400 days (construction time) won’t get it,” Troutman said. “I want it by Oct. 1.”

Some prisoners in the current decrepit county jail may have been in kindergarten when County Judge Charlie Troutman, Odom and a small handful of other current quorum court members first tackled the problem.

GAG Builders — that’s Gladden Construction of Cabot — bid about $5.48 million to build the 35,000-square-foot building, including lockup, offices, a courtroom big enough for a jury trial and the 911 dispatch office. That was about $1.1 million less than the high bid, submitted by Key Construction of Wichita, Kan.

The next low bid was about $5.57 million submitted by Noacon of Shirley.

TOP STORY >> Gas shut off as hospital bills pile up

Leader editor-in-chief

A couple in Beebe have been without heat for several months after the natural-gas company took out their meter because they were not paying their bills.

The couple disputes that, but after we intervened in their behalf, their gas was turned back on Tuesday.

We’ll call them Mary and Joe, who’ve had major surgery and are facing mounting debts, mostly because of their operations.

They say they’ve been making payments to Centerpoint Energy, but the utility company took their meter out because it wasn’t being used ever since the gas got cut off back in March.

Centerpoint demanded $100 to return the meter and restart service. But with $20,000 in medical bills and needing medication that costs hundreds of dollars a month, Mary and Joe didn’t have the money to restart the gas.

So they relied on their wood stove and three electric heaters, but they couldn’t really warm the house much the last few weeks.

As temperatures dropped into the 20s, “it got down to 51 degrees in the house,” said Mary, who earlier this year had a baseball-sized tumor removed near her heart.

“Being on blood thinner,” she said, “and putting on three shirts, three pairs of pants, two socks and three blankets, I was still cold at night.”

She takes heart medication and three other drugs, and her husband, who had much of his colon removed, is also on three medications. A drug store gives them credit because otherwise they couldn’t afford the drugs.

It didn’t seem right that a couple trying to pay off $20,000 in medical bills and stay current with their mortgage is forced to go without heat, so we called Centerpoint in Little Rock to see if somebody there would show a little compassion.

No one answered in Little Rock, so our call was forwarded to Houston, where Centerpoint is based. No one picked up the phone there either, so we called the Public Service Commission on Monday and talked to director John Bethel, who seemed genuinely concerned that a couple in poor health would go without heat just as winter was approaching.

We told Bethel that Joe and Mary fell on hard times trying to pay the hospital where they had surgery and the doctors who performed the procedures.

He said medical waivers are available for people who can’t pay their utility bills. Joe said he told Centerpoint that he and his wife both had surgery, but that didn’t get them much sympathy.

Bethel promised to contact a public-relations person at Centerpoint in Houston. Within minutes, Alisha Dixon, a spokesperson for the utility, was on the phone.

She promised to get in touch with a troubleshooter in Little Rock. He called Joe and told him $50 would get his heat turned on and the company would bill him the other $50. A relative paid $50 in behalf of the couple, and their heat is back on.

Joe and Mary could have declared bankruptcy a long time ago. But they’re paying their bills, a little bit at a time. What they’ve found out is that even if you have health insurance, you’ll still have huge bills to take care of.

The problem was Joe’s policy paid only 20 percent of his medical expenses, so he had a $17,000 bill he had to pay off.

White County Hospital, where both had their operations, has been more than patient with them: They’re paying just a small portion of their bill every month, and it will be decades for them to pay it all off.

But they don’t want to declare bankruptcy. Even though they have an $1,800 a month mortgage, their house isn’t worth what they paid for it four years ago.

“We have 27 to 30 bills a month,” Mary said. “It’s almost impossible to take care of them all.”

She’s been worried they’d both get sick and be back in the hospital. But she was happy when her husband called her at work to tell her the heat was back on.

“I’ll get to go home to a warm house tonight,” Mary said.

TOP STORY >> Board votes to decertify two unions

Leader senior staff writer

Tempers smoldered Tuesday night at the Pulaski County Special School District meeting, and before the evening was over, the school board withdrew recognition of both the teachers’ union and the support staff union as negotiating agents by a vote of 4-2.

“This is a huge mistake,” said board member Bill Vasquez of Jacksonville. “It sends a horrible message. It’s poor judgment to act on this recommendation,” he said, so close to PCSSD’s hearing for unitary status in federal court the week of Jan. 25.

He was joined in his opposition to the action by Gwen Williams, who steadfastly votes in the unions’ interests.

Earlier in the evening, before leaving, teachers’ union president Marty Nix said all options, including a strike, were on the table if the board stripped the unions of their negotiating power.

Emry Chesterfield, president of the Pulaski Association of Support Staff, made a comment that was interpreted by many as a threat to the young children of school board president Tim Clark, and moments later, board member Charlie Wood moved to decertify the unions.

During his turn at the podium, Chesterfield mocked Deborah Coley, one of the district’s negotiators. “You don’t do nothing unless you’re told,” he said.

“Sit down,” said Clark. “You’re grandstanding.”

“I’m going to go ahead and sit down, but you have to realize your kids are at home,” said Chesterfield.

Later, toward the end of the regular meeting, the board voted unanimously to table a motion that would have authorized a second-lien bond sale of as much as $2 million for construction of a new elementary school on Little Rock Air Force Base to replace both Arnold Drive and Tolleson elementary schools.

Acting Superintendent Rob McGill and Chief Financial Officer Anita Farver told the board that they didn’t believe the district had enough money to give raises to the teachers and build the new school.

Wood, who placed the new Jacksonville area elementary school issue on the budget, said he wanted language assuring that Jacksonville would take over the debt for the new school if and when the city detached from PCSSD.

Col. George A. Risse, commander of the 19th Mission Support Group at Little Rock Air Force Base; Col. C.K. Hyde, commander of 314th Air Mobility Wing, and Lisa Otey, wife of Col. Greg Otey of the 19th Airlift Wing attended the meeting in support of the new elementary school, slated to be built on the base, but outside the fence.

Hyde said he wasn’t disappointed that action on the new school was tabled.

“We appreciate the recognition of the need for a new elementary school that supports military dependents and others in our local community and we look forward to resolution,” Hyde said.

The evening began with a special called meeting at which many expected the board to ratify the new five-year contracts for both the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and the PASS, but at the urging of Wood, the matter was tabled, angering members of both unions and their representatives.

Clark kept leaving the room, he said to confer with board member Sandra Sawyer, who he said was sick. Board member Mildred Tatum said Sawyer wasn’t so much sick as sick of the bickering among school board members, and said Sawyer had resigned earlier in the evening.

Clark angered the union members, who had come to the meeting with a contract agreement signed by their negotiator and the negotiator for the district and which had been unanimously ratified by the rank and file. They expected the board to sign off on the contract.

But shortly before the start of that meeting, Clark conferred with Sandra Roy, executive director of the unions, then went on to announce that the meeting had been postponed.

“Not all board members have been brought up to speed on all issues,” Clark said.

It was Wood in particular, a long-time foe of the unions, who said he hadn’t been briefed, that there were provisions in the five year contract that he disagreed with—including that it was a five-year contract instead of a one-year contract.
Wood said the unions dragged their feet in negotiations waiting until Shana Chaplin left the board. Chaplin was frequently at odds with the union.

Nix said seven months of negotiations started pretty rocky, with the board putting 71 items on the table, most of which involved contract stripping.

At the end of her heated comments, she said, “If your word means nothing, you are nothing.”

McGill told the board that the state Board of Education had approved the purchase of 31 new school buses over the next two years, using stimulus money.

Vasquez, warned that decertification of the unions, especially if they went out on strike, could influence U.S. District Judge Brian Miller to dissolve the district and annex part of it to the Little Rock School District, the rest of the North Little Rock district.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

TOP STORY >> Cabot’s Christmas parade is Sunday

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams rode in an antique car in last year’s parade. 

Leader staff writer

Cabot’s parade starts at 3 p.m., Sunday with a theme of “A red, white and blue Christmas.”

Grand marshals will be Cabot veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom.

The Arkansas Military Vehicles Preservation Association will have a number of jeeps and vintage military trucks in the parade.

For the first time, the Arkansas Tech University band will be coming to Cabot’s parade along with some other new additions.

Cabot City Beautiful took over the parade from the Jaycees in 2000. “We basically started from scratch,” said Matt Webber with the city’s beautification group. Webber said before his group took over the parade it was averaging about 20 to 30 entries and was about four blocks long.

“Our parade now travels a 1.5 mile route,” he said.

Each year, the number of entries seems to grow, Webber added.

The last few years the parade averaged about 70 entries. That number or more is expected this year.

“We started the grand marshal tradition and created separate categories of judging. We have different dignitaries each year to act as judges. We started giving trophies, too,” he explained.

The Cabot High School band has traditionally led the parade. Other high school bands will also march this year.

“Don’t get me wrong; we love Mr. Trusty and the Cabot band. We are just looking for more music and fun,” Webber said.

So besides the Cabot High band and the ATU group, parade-goers will also enjoy bands from Lonoke and North Pulaski high schools.

The Scimitar Temple Shrine will also be a part of the parade. “We don’t know yet if they’ll bring clowns or funny cars, or both,” Webber said.

TOP STORY >> Cook kicks off mayoral campaign

Alderman Eddie Cook has announced that he is running for mayor of Cabot. 

Leader staff writer

Cabot Alderman Eddie Cook on Monday evening became the second candidate to announce his intention to run for mayor.
Bill Cypert, an original member of the four-year-old Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission, was the first.

“You’re all friends and family and I appreciate y’all for coming,” Cook told his audience. I know I’m going to have your support and it’s going to make this a lot easier.”

Cook, who has served on the city council for five years, told the 40 or so well-wishers who gathered in the council chambers at the city annex that he was following the example set by his father, Ed Cook, who served as a council member in DeWitt for many years. He watched his father have a positive impact on the community where he grew up and he knew he could have a positive impact on Cabot, he said.

Cook said he had given considerable thought to his campaign platform and, in a nutshell, he intends to keep things going the way they are going now.

“It’s been a pleasure working with the current mayor (Eddie Joe Williams),” he said.

His budgets will be conservative; improvements to streets and drainage will continue, and he will continue building the good relationships needed to get things done for Cabot, he said.

Cook said one of his biggest accomplishments has been the extension of a one-cent sales tax to pay for projects that the city had no way of funding. The tax has paid for the city’s sewer-treatment plant, and helped build the animal shelter, community center and railroad overpass as well as paying about $2 million for street improvements.

He said in a later interview that in part because the current council works well together, the number of ordinances passed this year is about half that of recent years.

“That’s good, he said. “We don’t need big government. We don’t need to be watching over citizens and telling them what they can and can’t do.”

Much of the 30-minute long announcement was taken up with Cook’s campaign Web site,, which he said has had about 1,500 hits so far.

On that site, Cook, 41, lists these qualifications for mayor:

More than 20 years of management experience in various industries, including city leadership roles with demonstrated success.

Expertise in management, team building, staffing and employee relations.

Proficient in cost containment, capital-asset oversight, strategic planning, budgeting and finance, and human-resource development.

Quick learner with an ability to rapidly achieve organizational integration, assimilate job requirements and use new methodologies. Energetic and self-motivated team player/builder. At ease in high-stress environments.Effectively handle and multi-task levels of responsibility.

Experienced in developing and executing city policies and procedures.
Cook was among the council members who worked for more than a year on a new animal-control ordinance.

During committee meetings, Cook frequently referred to penguins during discussion about problems and solutions. “I’ve got three penguins in my backyard...,” he would begin.

Eventually, penguins were everyone’s metaphor for the issue and other council members began leaving stuffed penguins and penguin cards on his chair at the council table.

The T-shirt shop Cook owns will sell campaign T-shirts to raise money for his campaign, but the proceeds from the penguin shirts, which also are campaign shirts, will go to the animal shelter.

Cook is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He is alderman for Ward 1, Position 2.

He has chaired the city’s budget committee for three years and says he is very proud that the city budget is conservative and that the budget process has been streamlined.

Cook’s campaign manager is Misty Redd. Denny Tipton designed his Web site.

Bill Cypert has also developed a Web site,

EDITORIAL >> Jodie Mahony, man of the people

In 1971, Jodie Mahony joined the ranks of a tribe that now must number more than 4,000 — people who were elected to the Arkansas General Assembly from statehood in 1837 until today. Measured by his own ambitions, Mahony would be as anonymous as all the others. He never held or sought another office, never held or sought the prestigious titles in the legislature like speaker and president pro tempore that come with long service or accumulated influence, never rattled the chandeliers with his bombast or moved hearts with his eloquence, and as far as anyone can tell his 36 years in the legislature and the huge compendium of laws that he wrote never brought him the faintest personal advancement like wealth and social or professional station.

He was just a legislator. But, man, what a legislator! William Faulkner was just a writer.

They will bury Joseph K. Mahony II today at El Dorado, which he represented in the state House of Representatives for 28 years and the Senate for eight years. Actually, the people of that community only elected him; it is not extravagant to say that he represented the public interest, not of his own bailiwick but the whole state. If the General Assembly were in session, it would adjourn to El Dorado today for that is what he has meant to that institution.

On the day after term limits ended his service, in spite of the ravages of cancer he was back at the Capitol advising the lawmakers. No elected member of the Assembly has worked harder or longer in the intervening three years to see that the budgets were tight and the crucial lawmaking thoughtful and rational.

If schedules and the family permit, governors will testify today about Mahony’s indispensable help in making them successful: Bill Clinton, Jim Guy Tucker, Mike Huckabee and Mike Beebe with each one’s spasm of education reform, Dale Bumpers and David Pryor with the raft of political and governmental reforms they undertook in the 1970s, when Mahony was about the youngest but least callow member of the Assembly.

The news stories and tributes this week dwelled on Mahony’s style and haberdashery. His uniform was always the same, an ancient but stylish tweed jacket, rumpled khaki slacks, loosened collar and tie and scuffed Docksiders. His trademark was a cardboard box, ragged and darkened from years of daily handling, in which all his bills and research were kept. He toted it from committee to committee.

Our image of Mahony dates to 1983, when he introduced and fought for a bill to raise the severance tax on natural gas, which until last year was left virtually untaxed owing to the vast power of the gas industry and its allied interests, not the least of which were Mahony’s own family, clients and friends. Education needed the money. He fell a little short of getting the three-fourths of the House to raise the tax. That’s what separated him from most legislators and most public officials. Self-interest was just not a factor. There are never enough Jodie Mahonys.

—Ernie Dumas

EDITORIAL >> Huckabee’s Chutzpah

Whatever you think of his record as governor and politician, you have to admire Mike Huckabee’s chutzpah and acknowledge his unmatched gifts for propaganda. Monday, the former governor landed space in some of the big prints in the country, including the Washington Post and the New York Daily News, painting over his culpability in the death of four policemen in a Tacoma, Wash., suburb 10 days ago.

When he was governor of Arkansas in 2000, Huckabee commuted sentences totaling 108 years for young Maurice Clemmons, making him eligible for immediate parole rather than in 2021. Clemmons, after a frighteningly prolific criminal career, murdered the four officers over their morning coffee and was killed a couple of days later. That brought to six the number of innocent people slain by men who had received clemency from Huckabee. He embarked on a campaign to stanch the political hemorrhaging from the revelations, first on his national television and radio shows and now on the op-ed pages of newspapers across the country.

He is very, very good, if you can overlook his sly distortions of the record.

Look, he explained in the op-eds, his role was not that big. The Post-Prison Transfer Board recommended that Clemmons be granted parole eligibility. The circuit judge said he thought Clemmons was rehabilitated. He sent notices to the secretary of state, attorney general, the prosecutor’s office and the media and no one objected, he said. Huckabee had appointed the board. Prosecutors had twice objected to parole.

The Post-Prison Transfer Board clears many inmates for commuted sentences. What made Clemmons’ case so different from all those he denied?

It was the fellow’s youth (16, Huckabee said) and the fact that the lad had received 108 years in prison (though some were concurrent) for only two felonies, burglary and robbery. That was the governor’s explanation. Earlier, he had said he was impressed with the young man’s letter to him, saying how he had found Christ and was asking God to intercede with the governor. Jailhouse conversions and the intercession of preachers always had a big effect on the governor. That and an inmate’s family contributions to the Republican Party.

Sixteen does sound awfully young. Actually, Clemmons was 18 when he finally was convicted and sent to prison. And it was not for merely two felonies. There was a string of trials for a long crime spree. He was convicted of robbery on Aug. 3, 1989, burglary, theft and probation revocation on Sept. 9, aggravated robbery and theft on Nov. 15, burglary and theft of property on Feb. 23, 1990 and firearm possession in a school on Nov. 19, 1990.

Prosecutors noted an unusually brazen and violent bent. He robbed an elderly woman in a hotel parking lot, punching her in the face. He burglarized the home of a state trooper. He carried a pistol in Hall High School. During one of his trials, the judge had him shackled in leg irons and seated next to an officer because he thought Clemmons had threatened him. Another time he hid a hinge in his sock to use as a weapon. Another time he took a lock from a holding cell and threw it at the bailiff, hitting instead his mother, who had brought him some clothes. Still another time he tried to steal a guard’s pistol on the way to the courtroom. In prison, he hadn’t been a model either. He got into trouble for battery, sexual assault, theft, drugs and weapons. That is all in the record.

Huckabee wrote this week that he granted clemency only after personally reviewing Clemmons’ record very thoroughly. If he did, he knew all that. He said that he grieved for the policemen’s families, but that even today “if I only had the same information I had then, I would make the same decision.”

Soon after his parole, incidentally, Clemmons was arrested for aggravated robbery and theft in Pulaski County and then later for a robbery and beating in Ouachita County, which landed him back in prison. Huckabee’s parole board set him free again in 2004 on condition that he go to Washington state.

Mercifully, for once, Mr. Huckabee didn’t say that he had prayed and asked God’s guidance before granting clemency. The Lord is off the hook.

SPORTS >> Searcy learns from narrow loss to NLR

Searcy junior Jamal Jones tries to block a North Little Rock shot on Saturday.

Leader sportswriter

Searcy took a home loss in the championship of the Bank Classic on Saturday, but it could also be the game that puts the Lions on the map.

North Little Rock made a last-second three-pointer in overtime to clinch a 64-63 victory over the Lions in the Bank Classic finals at the Jungle on Searcy’s campus.

Junior forward Jamal Jones made a pair of free throws in the final 8 seconds to give Searcy the lead and the Lions were intent on sealing off the Charging Wildcats’ standout guard Reggie Bryles on North Little Rock’s possession.

The Lions accomplished that, but Bryles was able to pass and get the assist on the last-second, winning three-pointer.

The Lions won their semifinal game against Bryant handily on Thursday and were up by eight points in the title game against NLR on Saturday. For Searcy coach Jim Summers, now in his third year, the season ahead in the tough 6A-East Conference does not look as dreary as it has turned out in the past.

“We don’t want to be happy with a loss,” Summers said. “But now we have an idea of what it takes to get better. We have a measuring stick now, and we know we’re right there and can compete. But we’re not by any means as good as we’re going to be.”

Jones and teammate Chris Blakely led the Lions with 16 points each. It was a season high for Blakely, who may not garner as much attention as the Division I prospect Jones, but contributes just as much, Summers said.

“Chris is that guy that you don’t notice a whole lot,” Summers said. “But you look in the book at the end of the game and he has 12 points and 10 rebounds. He always stays right there around a double double. He’s the best rebounding 6-2 post I’ve seen; he just has a nose for it.

“He’s also been working on his outside game. He flies under the radar a lot, but he’s always in there playing hard.”

The Lions built an 8-point lead in the third quarter, but Jones had to come out for a cut on his face, and North Little Rock rallied.

The Wildcats evened the score and continued their run in the fourth quarter on their way to a six-point advantage before Searcy scored again.

Junior guard Casey Wilmath added 13 points for Searcy. Chris Campbell led North Little Rock with 17 points.

The Lions, 3-3, have beaten Benton and Bryant and had close calls against 7A teams Cabot and North Little Rock. Entering 6A-East play with that kind of momentum has Summers confident, but not too confident.

“It’s fun to go out and play the best teams in the state night in and night out,” Summers said. “It’s not always a good result maybe, but now I think we have a chance to compete every night. It’s a gauntlet, but if we go through healthy and injury free, we have a chance.”

In girls action, Searcy got a championship victory and a conference sneak preview.

The Lady Lions beat the Jonesboro Lady Hurricane 43-24 to claim their second straight Bank Classic championship at the Jungle.

The Lady Hurricane, who along with the Lady Lions play in the 6A-East Conference and are under first-year coach Jodi Davis, jumped to an 8-0 lead early before the Lady Lions rallied for a 19-14 halftime lead and held Jonesboro scoreless in the third quarter.

Searcy (6-0) beat Fair 63-24 in the first round Tuesday and beat Wynne 66-49 in Friday’s semifinal to earn a shot at its second Bank Classic trophy.

“I thought Wynne was a very athletic team, and we were scared with Jonesboro coming in,” Searcy coach Michelle Birdsong said.

“But we did some adjusting with our defense, and the kids adjusted well to that. We got down early, but we kept fighting.”

Senior post player Lauren Harrison led Searcy with 15 points. Junior Elliot Scarborough added 12, while Kristen Celsor finished with 10 points.

“We’ve gotten our team chemistry better,” Birdsong said. “And we’ve done a good job on the offensive boards. We have about 15 a game, and if we continue to do that and continue to develop patience, we can improve some more.”

Lady Hurricane standout Whitney Keith led Jonesboro early with six of the team’s first eight points and was also responsible for guarding Searcy senior forward Kristen Celsor.

Keith’s aggressive pressure led to three fouls before the end of the half and forced her to sit out the first part of the third quarter. The Lady Lions took advantage by outscoring the Lady Hurricane 13-0 in the third.

Once Keith re-entered the game, she was held scoreless for the remainder.

“I think they will do a lot better whenever we go to their place,” Birdsong said of Jonesboro.

“It will be much tougher games once conference starts. They have a new coach, and I think they’re still trying to find an identity.”

SPORTS >> Panthers opening door for ’Rabbits

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers may not have reached the state finals, but coach Mike Malham was more than happy to give Lonoke a leg up on the way to its championship game.

Malham, athletic director Johnny White and the Panthers have allowed the Jackrabbits to make Panther Stadium a second home during the run up to Saturday’s 4A championship between Lonoke and Shiloh Christian at War Memorial Stadium.

Over the past couple weeks, Lonoke has left its natural grass playing and practice fields to work out on Cabot’s 20-yard, artificial indoor surface and on the fake turf of Panther Stadium.

The courtesy has allowed the Jackrabbits to avoid the rain and to work out on a surface similar to the field at War Memorial.

Lonoke practiced indoors at Cabot a week ago and was scheduled for a workout there today.

Lonoke has a two-hour practice scheduled at War Memorial for Thursday.

“He said, ‘Hey you all win, you all feel free to come back,’ ” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said of Malham. “That was nice.”

“They’d do the same for us if they had something like that,” Malham said.

To Malham, it just made sense to be a good neighbor, especially after Cabot bowed out of the 7A playoffs with a 14-10, semifinal loss to eventual state champion Springdale Har-Ber on Nov. 27.

“We’re done and they’re still playing,” Malham said of Lonoke. “They’re in the same county. If anybody wants to use it and we’re not using it, it’s not a big deal.”

Malham said Cabot has opened its doors to other teams like Des Arc and Strong, which is located in south Arkansas but had playoff games this year in Augusta and Des Arc.

“We’re super-nice people, man,” Malham said. “We get along with everybody.”

But Malham admitted playing favorites with a team like Lonoke, Cabot’s Lonoke County neighbor, against teams further away.

“Lonoke’s in our county, a county school,” Malham said. “They’re close. Obviously we want anybody in our county, Lonoke, Carlisle. We pull for all those schools. England.”

After the Panthers fell to Har-Ber in the playoffs for the third straight year, Malham wouldn’t mind seeing Lonoke beat Springdale-based Shiloh Christian, which is heavily favored and gunning for its sixth championship in 11 years.

“Lonoke, that would be a giant killer right there,” Malham said. “David and Goliath. According to the polls, Shiloh is the best team in the state. I’d like to see them do it week in and week out against 7A competition.”

Shiloh Christian’s overwhelming success through the years and its apparent advantages as a well-funded, faith-based private school with an unlimited base from which to draw talent all help to make the Saints the prohibitive favorites Saturday.

“I’m not sure why Springdale and Har-Ber, they’re having trouble finding non-conference opponents,” Malham said. “I don’t see why they don’t play them.”

Shiloh Christian has outscored its opponents by an average 22.2 points a game this year, though it had some scares in the playoffs in a 56-35, second-round victory over DeQueen and a 51-49 squeaker the next week. The Saints beat Bald Knob 48-7 in the semifinals Friday.

“I hope they play them a good ballgame,” Malham said of Lonoke. “It’s going to be a tough game.”

Malham recalled seeing Shiloh Christian himself in one of the Saints’ recent state championships.

“From what they had on the field they could have competed with anybody in our league,” Malham said. “They definitely have an advantage with no boundaries. That’s a big area up there and anybody can go there that they let in.”

SPORTS >> Harding Academy taking postseason show on the road

Harding Academy quarterback Seth Keese launches a pass in Friday’s quarterfinal 3A playoff victory over Harrisburg.

Leader sports editor

Everyone has to leave home sooner or later.

Harding Academy plays its first road game of the 3A playoffs with a state championship berth on the line when it travels to
Fountain Lake on Friday night.

In a simple twist of the postseason bracket, Fountain Lake, the 5-3A West champion, wound up with an upper berth, making it the host team for 2-3A champion Harding Academy in the semifinals.

“We’re the same seed, they just go with the team on top,” Harding Academy coach Roddy Mote said. “Fountain Lake’s on the top side of the bracket. If it would have been a two seed that we were playing this week, then we would have had home-field advantage.”

For better or for worse, Harding Academy has played its last game at home in First Security Stadium, which it shares with neighbor Harding University. That state final has been moved to Dec. 19 at Estes Stadium on the Central Arkansas University campus.

A legal wrangle over Lamar’s eligibility for the 3A playoffs delayed the schedule by one week and made Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium unavailable because of planned renovations.

“You don’t really worry about it,” Mote said of the road game. “You just do it and you just go. So be it. Being on the road or here, you get to this point in the year it really doesn’t make any difference.”

In its two home playoffs, Harding Academy won two very different games.

In beating Paris 43-13 on Nov. 27, the Wildcats grabbed five fumbles and enacted the sportsmanship/timing rule in which the clock runs almost continuously after a team builds a 35-point lead.

Last week against Harrisburg, Harding Academy needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns and a defensive stop to put away the Hornets 20-12.

“You want to be better each week,” Mote said. “Obviously there’s some things we didn’t do as well on Friday that we’ve done better early in the season. Obviously I don’t think we threw and caught the ball very well. That’s just part of it. Sometimes you have a week like that.”

Standout quarterback Seth Keese had just 68 passing yards and an interception in the Wildcats’ spread offense. But he made up for that with 185 yards rushing and passed for the go-ahead touchdown with 9:21 left, then added the 37-yard rushing touchdown with 1:59 to go, forcing the Hornets to try to go the distance for a touchdown and a conversion just to tie.

“Obviously you can’t turn the ball over and we did that,” Mote said. “When you get down to the red zone you need to get points and there was a couple times we didn’t do that.”

But the victory revealed a truth about Harding Academy that some opponents have overlooked — the Wildcats, despite their reputation as a spread team, can run.

“Each week coaches prepare, there’s tendencies that coaches look at,” Mote said. “I know that we’ve run the ball in previous weeks and I felt like we ran it effectively at times Friday. And of course we’ve thrown the ball effectively at times. We’ve been pretty balanced all year.

“Sometimes it appears a little lopsided in favor of the run or the pass.”

Keese pointed out after Friday’s victory that the Wildcats have gained 200 yards a game on the ground this season and said he hoped opponents continue to view Harding Academy as primarily a passing team.

Either way, it helps to have a player like Keese, a junior, running the offense, Mote said.

“Seth, he’s a very good high school football player,” Mote said. “He’s done a great job for us. It’s great having him around.

He’s made great strides over the last year. It’s a big difference between a sophomore and a junior. I’m glad he’s on our team.

I’m glad he’s a Wildcat.”

Keese, who had 304 all-purpose yards against Paris, also is a hard-nosed defensive back who had 18 tackles in that game, Mote said.

“He’s a very aggressive player,” Mote said. “He’s got good instincts, plays fast on the field. He’s as good a defensive player as he is offensively.

“I think he understands the game. I think all these kids do, as much Play Station 2 or Xbox they play, they know as much football as any of us, really.”

The Wildcats will face another balanced team in Fountain Lake, which reached the state championship last year and lost to Charleston. But the Cobras find their balance in a very different set — the wing T led by quarterback David Gray.

“Basically it’s run first, pass second,” Mote said. “They’re very good at both. Defensively they’re very aggressive and have great team speed. They’re just a very good football team. You’re doing something right if you get to this point.”

SPORTS >> Underdog role suits Lonoke

Lonoke’s Michael Nelson prepares to hand off to Brandon Smith behind a block from Dustin Rhodes early this season.


Leader sportswriter

The Shiloh Christian Saints will most likely take a charter bus to Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium for Saturday’s 4A state championship game instead of marching in according to the traditional melody.

Whichever mode of transportation they use, the Saints will come in as heavy favorites over Lonoke.

The Jackrabbits (11-3) earned their first trip to War Memorial since 1994 on Friday when they knocked off Osceola 28-7 in the semifinals. It was the third straight playoff game in which Lonoke was viewed by prognosticators and message-board patrons as the team on its way home, making this week the end of a one-month cycle Lonoke has spent as the underdog.

But that’s okay with first-year ’Rabbits coach Doug Bost, who encouraged everyone to keep it coming.

“Don’t pick us to win. We’re going to prove people wrong,” Bost said. “A lot of people are going to say Lonoke didn’t deserve to be here. I just think that’s crap right there. We’ve been on the road and we’ve beaten two No. 2 seeds and a No. 1 at Osceola.”

Jackrabbits senior quarterback Michael Nelson said being picked to lose week after week in the playoffs does not bother him and his teammates. In fact, it serves as a source of inspiration.

“We’ve embraced it,” Nelson said. “I mean, we’re a little ticked off that they still have us ranked third in 4A with only two teams left, but we’ve fed off of that since the playoffs started. We’re happy to wear all white and be the road opponent.”

The Saints (12-1) almost saw their bid to repeat as state champions go by the wayside two weeks ago when Nashville stormed to a 28-0 lead in the first half of their quarterfinal game. But Shiloh came back to win 51-49, and earned another trip to Little Rock with a 48-7 pummeling of previously unbeaten Bald Knob in last week’s semifinals.

It is the fourth-consecutive state championship appearance for Shiloh Christian, which has six state titles overall since 1998.

But as well as the Jackrabbits have responded in their run as the underdogs, Bost is hoping for one more upset.

“That’s kind of how we look at it,” Bost said. “You’re going on the road, we’ve been down, we’ve had to hang on and win.

There’s been a lot of stuff thrown at these young men and they’ve responded to every situation.”

Adapting was a key for Lonoke in its victory over Osceola last week. The Seminoles’ defense, notorious for stopping the run, keyed on senior running back Brandon Smith and held him to fewer than 30 yards.

But Nelson responded with a career night, completing 20 of 39 passes for 347 yards and all four Lonoke touchdowns, and led the ’Rabbits in rushing with 72 yards.

It was an improvement over the way Nelson started the season.

“The first two games, I think he had 53 yards passing against Robinson and he might have had 73 it seemed like,” Bost said. “I think in those three losses people started stacking the boxes thinking we were a running team.

“He has really come on strong as far as seeing defenses and making plays for us.”

Each of Nelson’s touchdowns last week were to different receivers, plus a successful two-point conversion pass to Todd Hobson to give him a score with each of the five receivers used.

“We can spread people out now,” Bost said. “When there’s running lanes, he takes off and runs. He may be little, 5-7, but he runs over folks. I really don’t like that. I tell him he needs to hook slide, but he hasn’t mastered the hook slide yet.”

Last week’s triumph over Osceola marked nine straight victories for the Jackrabbits after starting their 2-4A Conference season with back-to-back losses to Heber Springs and Bald Knob.

It has been another dominant year for the Saints, who began the season with a 37-36, come-from-behind victory over Louisiana private school Evangel Christian.

Shiloh Christian’s only loss came in Week 3 to 5A powerhouse Greenwood in a 54-51 shootout.

Since that game, Shiloh Christian outscored its 1-4A Conference opponents 295-63 to claim its 13th league title in school history.

The Saints have outscored opponents 579-268 for the season.

A playoff bid for Lonoke became questionable in Week 5 when the Jackrabbits were spanked 33-13 by eventual 2-4A Conference champions Bald Knob at their own homecoming, which also made their third straight loss.

But the ’Rabbits recovered the following week with a 40-0 shutout over Southside Batesville, and have been on the winning track since.

“It was frustrating,” said Bost. “I think they all thought we had a better team than what we were showing. But that happens when things don’t go right. Frustration comes out in people.

“We not only went back to focusing on fundamentals, but started trying to have fun in practice. We even cut down the practice time so they aren’t as long and drawn out. We’ve been running around having fun.”