Saturday, January 23, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Politician flip-flops

Has there ever been a season richer with irony? Democrats write a national health-insurance bill closely modeled on the Republican health plan of 35 years ago. On the verge of enactment, it is torpedoed by the election of a Republican U. S. senator in Massachusetts who had voted proudly for a plan just about like it in that state’s legislature.

State Sen. Scott Brown, who was elected to the U. S. Senate in a special election Tuesday, voted four years ago for the Massachusetts health- reform bill of Mitt Romney, the Republican governor of the time. It required nearly every resident of the state to purchase health insurance and gave subsidies to people earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line to help them pay the premiums. People who refuse to buy insurance are subject to tax penalties.

That is the substance of the bill passed by the U. S. Senate last month, and it was modeled after the comprehensive health-insurance plan proposed by President Richard Nixon in 1974 and his successor, President Gerald Ford, but rejected that year by the Democratic Congress.

Although Brown says he is proud of his vote for the Massachusetts health plan, he will join all the Republicans in the U. S. Senate and block the national version of it.

He provides the 41st vote against any bill that comes out of a Senate-House conference on the health bills. Brown’s election effectively kills health reform for this season and perhaps for a generation.

It makes no sense other than the obvious political calculation: Democrats fail. Brown said he would vote against the national bill but assured the people of Massachusetts that they would still enjoy health coverage under the state plan.

Massachusetts people now have the coverage that the Democratic bill would provide to people in Arkansas and elsewhere, and many Massachusetts voters were afraid that the national bill would require them to help subsidize insurance for the rest of the country. About 97 percent of the people of the state now are insured.

The people of Massachusetts now know that even if they lose their jobs or if family members contract a terrible disease they still will be insured.

No one else in the United States, not even those who have good health insurance, have that guarantee and will not have it.

Thanks, Sen. Brown! Thanks, Massachusetts!

—Ernie Dumas

EDITORIAL >> Who wants clean air?

Our sympathies go out to Sen. Blanche Lincoln, whose poll numbers in this angry climate seem to require her to pander to the most powerful interests in the region, but we wish she had a stronger moral constitution.

Lincoln announced Thursday that she was signing on as a sponsor of a resolution to gut the federal Clean Air Act. She joined Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, 34 other Republicans and Senator Mary Landrieu, the Louisiana Democrat who represents a good segment of the nation’s oil refineries. The resolution would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere and cause the warming of the earth.

We need not worry that they will succeed. They won’t. They will not get the required majority in either house — even a handful of Republicans in both houses cannot stomach the idea of putting the government on the side of the biggest polluters in the land and against the public. In any case, President Obama would veto it should they achieve that miracle. Still, we wish that
Lincoln did not feel compelled to clutter her record with such an ugly but empty gesture.

Yes, we know she has some obligations. She and Sen. David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, have received more campaign contributions from the big energy industries than any of the other 98 senators — in Sen. Lincoln’s case, some $200,000 for her current re-election campaign as of late last year. (Sen. Murkowski, for the record, is third in energy money.) Lobbyists for the electric power industry wrote the legislation that they are sponsoring.

The U. S. Supreme Court ruled nearly three years ago that the EPA was bound by the Clean Air Act to issue regulations controlling the emission of greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, from stationary sources unless it determined that they did not affect the climate and had no harmful effect on the public. The EPA under President George W. Bush stonewalled but finally the EPA last year issued its finding that the greenhouse gases were indeed air pollutants, preparatory to the long process of developing standards for the emissions. President Obama said he wanted Congress to do the job instead by enacting comprehensive energy and climate legislation, but that in case Congress could not act, the EPA was obliged to move ahead.

Sen. Lincoln says she wants Congress to do the job. That is the position of the Republican sponsors as well, but it is a deception. Congress — the Senate, at least — cannot act because the very sponsors of the Murkowski measure will not let it.

The House of Representatives passed a climate bill last year, but the Constitution has been changed effectively to require an extraordinary 60 percent vote in the Senate rather than a simple majority to pass serious Democratic measures. The Massachusetts Senate election Tuesday ended the slim possibility of achieving that vote on anything at least this year.

The resolution simply cancels EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases are harmful pollutants, which would end its authority to regulate them. Lincoln and all the other sponsors, except perhaps Oklahoma’s two senators, say they know that the gases are harmful and need to be regulated, but just not right now and not by the EPA. They parrot the argument by the electric utilities and the oil companies that regulating carbon emissions will eliminate jobs in those industries. Wait a few years until the economy is much stronger, they say. A more likely scenario is that it would create new jobs in clean-energy industries. There is another little byproduct: cleaner air. Is there anyone for that?

TOP STORY >> Four finalists picked for PCSSD’s top spot

Leader staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District school board on Thursday selected four finalists for the position of district superintendent. The four include acting superintendent Rob McGill and three other school superintendents from out of state.

There had been 12 applicants for the position, which will pay an annual salary in the range of $175,000 to $200,000. Besides McGill, two other Arkansans applied – James Best of Jonesboro and Bettye Wright of White Hall.

McGill has served as acting superintendent since last March when James Sharpe resigned under pressure by the school board.

PCSSD is the second largest school district in the state with 17,700 students.

The school board chose the four from among five candidates recommended by McPherson & Jacobsen, an Omaha,Neb.-based executive-recruitment firm that is being paid $20,000 to assist with the search for a superintendent.

The board plans to begin interviewing the candidates the first week in February and have the new superintendent on board no later than July 1, said Tom Cameron, chief officer of the search firm.

The four candidates are:

• Charles Hopson, who has been a teacher and principal in Portland, Ore., schools and currently serves as a deputy superintendent of the district, which has an enrollment of 46,000 students. He graduated from the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in elementary education and holds a doctorate in educational policy and management.

• Rob McGill, who has been a teacher, assistant principal and principal in PCSSD. In 2009, he left his post as principal at Pine Forest Elementary to serve as acting superintendent. He holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from UCA and a master’s degree in elementary school administration.

• Roy Pugh, who has served as superintendent of five Texas school districts, ranging in enrollment from 825 to 16,100 students. He holds a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education and a doctorate in educational administration and supervision.

• Vashti Washington, who has been a middle school teacher and principal and now serves as the associate superintendent for Charleston, S.C., public schools, which has an enrollment of 43,000 students.

TOP STORY >> Bond considers race for open House seat

Leader senior staff writer

Former state Rep. Will Bond, 39, a Jacksonville native, could decide by Tuesday whether or not he’ll run for the House of Representatives for the seat currently occupied by Cong. Vic Snyder, D-Little Rock.

Snyder announced last week that had decided not to seek reelection for a ninth term, but would instead stay in Little Rock to devote more time and attention to his family, including young triplets and their slightly older brother.

Bond, now a Little Rock resident, represented Jacksonville for three terms in the General Assembly, but couldn’t run again because of term limits.

So far, state Senator Joyce Elliott of Little Rock, former House Speaker Robbie Wills of Conway, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter and Paul Suskie, chairman of the state Public Service Commission are said to be interested in the Democratic nomination.

Tim Griffin, a Republican associated with Karl Rove, has announced he is seeking the Republican nomination.

“I’ve been talking to my family members and putting pencils to the finances,” Bond said Thursday evening.

“I think I’ll make a final decision by Tuesday,” he said.

He said he thought it would take about $300,000 to run in the May primary.

“I don’t know anybody who wasn’t caught off guard,” Bond said of Snyder’s decision to not seek reelection.

Bond was named managing partner of the McMath law firm in Little Rock about a year ago, and said he would need the blessing of the partners before making a run.

“I was in Denver on work,” he said, when he heard Snyder’s announcement.

“It needs to be something I really want to do,” he said. “It’s a 24-hour-a-day job.”

Bond said between now and Tuesday, he would be talking to potential supporters.

He said the two big questions are whether or not he could win and raise enough money to mount a successful campaign.

While in the state Legislature, Bond was architect of the legislation that may soon lead to unitary status for the three Pulaski County school districts, and eventually to an independent Jacksonville School District.

Bond is a 1988 graduate of Jacksonville High School, a 1992 political science graduate from Vanderbilt University and a 1995 graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville Law School.

Bond and his wife have 4-year-old twin girls and a boy, 9.

TOP STORY >> More C-130s sent to Haiti

Eight C-130s and more than 40 airmen from four squadrons at Little Rock Air Force Base have flown 14 missions and delivered 111,000 pounds of relief supplies since last week as part of the massive Air Mobility Command airlift mission to support Haitian earthquake relief as part of Operation Unified Response.

According to the air base public affairs office, aircrews and C-130s from the 41st, 50th, 53rd and 61st Airlift Squadrons are flying missions to Haiti as part of an overall Air Force operation that has delivered approximately 2,250 tons of supplies to the region.

In addition, a C-130 from the Air National Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing left Friday with an air-intelligence squadron to analyze conditions on the ground.

An aircrew from the 41st Airlift Squadron was one of the first called Jan. 13 to support the Haiti relief operation.

That crew loaded personnel and equipment before dawn Jan. 14 at Biloxi-Gulfport International Airport, Miss., and flew them to Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, the morning of Jan. 14.

That crew is still deployed as part of the Herculean airlift effort.

“This is what we train to do,” said Maj. Lewis Messick, 41st Airlift Squadron director of operations. “Any time we can be of assistance in cases like this, we’re ready to do our job.”

Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Brinkley, 19th Airlift Wing command chief, lauded the motivation of LRAFB aircrews and the impact they are having on Haiti relief operations.

“They feel that they can’t get in there enough. They are chomping at the bit to do what it takes to take care of people and save lives,” he said. “They all want to make a difference.”

“The aerial delivery they have provided is the difference between life and death,” he added. “Besides tangible food and water, we are providing hope.”

Seven members of the Air National Guard’s 123rd Intelligence Squadron left the air base on Friday morning on the first leg of their journey to Haiti to support the disaster-relief effort.

The squadron left in a C-130 from the Arkansas Air National Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing at the base.

The team’s mission is to analyze imagery from full-motion video taken from fixed-wing aircraft conducting aerial reconnaissance over the affected areas
of Haiti.

The unit will assist with force protection for the troops on the ground through identification of areas with rioting or mass crowding of displaced Haitians.

The unit will also be responsible for analyzing infrastructure, such as roadways, sea and aerial ports to help identify their capabilities to accept incoming support.

This is the first mission for the Arkansas National Guard in support of operations in Haiti.

TOP STORY >> Campbell trial is set for March

Leader senior staff writer

Former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell, whose convictions in April 2007 were remanded back to the Lonoke County Prosecutor’s Office, will be retried on 17 of the original 26 charges, Prosecutor Will Feland told Circuit Judge Barbara Elmore Friday.

Campbell appeared at the 10-minute hearing with several supporters.

Feland said the state Supreme Court had overturned several charges, including running a continuing criminal enterprise, the statute of limitations had expired on others and the time already served satisfied the misdemeanor convictions.

Campbell still faces other charges, including conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, five burglaries, theft of property, six or seven charges of obtaining drugs by fraud, two charges of hindering apprehension and one count of filing a false report.
Elmore set Feb. 5 for an omnibus hearing.

The actual trial is set for March 2-4, with pretrial hearing on March 1, Feland said.

Campbell’s wife, Kelly Harrison Campbell, was convicted of 23 crimes at the same time.

She was sentenced to 10 years in prison and recently dropped her appeal because she’s nearing her first parole eligibility.

She could be paroled in a few months.

TOP STORY >> Smith, former Cabot mayor, dies at 89

Leader staff writer

Norfleet Edward Smith, or Red as he was known to most, was 62 years old and retired from running his own business selling and delivering gas and diesel to farms and gas stations when several prominent Cabot businessmen asked him to run for mayor 28 years ago.

His daughter, Sharon Black, said she was surprised. He had served many years on the Cabot School Board, but Black said it never occurred to her that he was prepared for the job of mayor until he was elected. Then she saw him in action and knew the businessmen had been right.

Cabot Clerk-Treasurer Marva Verkler was court clerk back then and recalls the years under Smith’s leadership as good ones.

“We were in good financial shape when he was mayor,” Verkler said. “He was a conservative and he didn’t like to spend money unless he had to.”

A man of few words by all accounts, Verkler said Smith wasn’t one to dance around issues.

“He just told you what he thought and that was good,” she said.

“He was a good man. He was fair. He treated everyone the same,” she said.

Born Aug. 27, 1920, in the Sylvania Community, Smith was only known as Norfleet by the people who lived there. He was married for 62 years to Wilma Summers Smith, called the love of his life by his children. She died June 29, 2009, one day shy of 81. He died at home Tuesday from a lengthy illness, still deeply mourning her loss. He was 89.

Smith attended Beebe High School. His father had died when he was 12 and he had been forced to grow up faster than some.

“He never graduated high school, which he regretted,” Black said. “Nevertheless, he led a remarkable life.”

Smith joined the Coast Guard when World War II began and served with the Navy as a gunner’s mate second class, aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Mills. He crossed the Atlantic Ocean 18 times, escorting U.S. and allied merchant and troop ships carrying vital supplies for Great Britain.

After the war, during the boom years, Smith worked as DX distributor from the 1950s until the 1970s. He later ran Smith Oil Company until he retired — a total of 37 years in the oil business.

In the early years, he made several trips daily to North Little Rock to fill his tank truck, often accompanied by Cabot-area residents who needed a ride.

Black recalls that her father won the contract to sell gas to the air base in Jacksonville while it was under construction. The summer she was 12, he taught her to drive the tank truck and they would take back roads to Jacksonville to make deliveries.

“I felt like I owned the company,” she said.

Even though he was busy with work and spent a lot of time with family, Black said he also made time for crappie fishing and hunting. He was especially guarded with his favorite fishing hole somewhere around Des Arc. He wouldn’t tell anyone where it was and he had been known to stop reeling in a fish if he saw someone watching for fear they would see how deep he was fishing.

Smith served 10 years on the school board, holding the offices of treasurer, vice president and president.

He was elected to his first term as mayor of Cabot in 1982 and for a second term four years later. He resigned on Aug. 31, 1989, because of health concerns.

Smith was preceded in death by his parents, Noff and Mary Ginther Smith; his wife and two sisters, Bessie Lockard of Cabot and Vera Seaton of Sylvania.

Survivors include three children, Duane Smith, Sharon and her husband Jay Black, both of Cabot, and Jackie and her husband Pat Martin of Oklahoma, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

He was a member of the Cabot Masonic Lodge and the VFW. He was instrumental in getting the Veterans Memorial built at Veterans Park.

He served as a director on the board of the Central Arkansas Mental Health Services. He also served as the ex-officio director of the Cabot Chamber of Commerce and was its man of the year in 1983.

The funeral was Saturday at the Cabot United Methodist Church conducted by Pastor Stephen Coburn with Stubby Stumbaugh presenting the eulogy. Arrangements were by Moore’s Cabot Funeral Home.

TOP STORY >> Lonoke JPs quiz land deal, ‘retirements’

Leader senior staff writer

The Lonoke County Quorum Court tabled until the February meeting consideration of an ordinance authorizing County Judge Charlie Troutman to pay a quorum court member and his wife $60,000 for about 1.6 acres of right-of-way for a state Highway Department project to improve the southbound Hwy. 67/167 exit in Cabot at Hwy. 5.

Troutman has offered JP Larry Odom and his wife, Sandra K. Odom, $60,000 for the land and the title had already been registered before the quorum court met. This prompted JP Mark Edwards to call it “a sweetheart deal” in an email sent to two other quorum court members and also to members of the media.

The purchase price would be about $1.15 a square foot. Troutman told the court of “comparables” in the area that were in the $3 to $4.50 a square-foot range.

The money, which would come from the county road and bridge budget, would be part of the county’s match for the $893,000 project.

By the end of the discussion, Odom withdrew an earlier offer to take the $60,000 or whatever the state Highway Department appraisal was, regardless of the amount. Instead, he said, he would take the amount of the Highway Department appraisal. Troutman said he knew the amount of the appraisal, but hadn’t told anyone.

Troutman, as county judge, has the authority to make such purchases, but because Odom is a quorum court member, the quorum court must approve the purchase.

In Edwards’ e-mail, he called Odom’s property swampland.

Both Odom and Troutman expressed anger at Edward’s accusations, and by the end of the conversation, Edwards had apologized for the harshness of his accusations and Troutman apologized for getting combative himself.

In the matter of the so-called “double dipping” by county treasurer Karol DePriest and Assessor Jerry Adams, the court tabled Edwards’ motion to declare a vacancy to exist in each of those offices. Only Edwards voted against tabling his motion.

In the absence of county attorney Jeff Sikes, the court asked county prosecutor Will Feland about declaring a vacancy to exist.

“Basically, you’d be making a judicial determination that this conduct constituted a resignation. I would advise you to talk to your counsel first.”

DePriest and Adams each quietly went 90 consecutive days without pay last year, qualifying under the rules then in place to begin collecting their state retirement from the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System.

Edwards and JP Alexis Malham said that meant they had resigned from their jobs, but Deborah Hoggard, Adams’ and DePriest’s attorney, said they never stopped performing their duties and that no vacancy existed.

“Resign or retire mean the same thing,” said JP Janette Minton.

“There’s nothing we can do,” said JP Henry Lang. “It’s a shame the term “double dipping” got used. They earned their retirement.”

In the matter of the $67,000 allegedly misappropriated by Cassandra Pitts in the sheriff’s office, Sheriff Jim Roberson told the court — Edwards in particular — that new, computerized procedures were now in place to assure against a similar problem in the future. The missing money was discovered by the state Bureau of Legislative Audit.

TOP STORY >> O’Brien kicks off his campaign for secretary of state

Leader executive editor

Pulaski County Clerk Pat O’Brien of Jacksonville kicked off his campaign for secretary of state at the Capitol on Wednesday, promising to make the same improvements he brought to the county clerk’s office over the past five years.

O’Brien said he’ll campaign on his success as county clerk. Until his election in 2004, the office was seen as inefficient and outdated, lacking accurate voter registration records.

He cited the changes he made as county clerk. O’Brien said he put “a team together to clean up that mess.”

“I’m very proud to say that after five years in office, we have taken what was once a perennial embarrassment and a train wreck and turned it into a point of pride around Arkansas.”

“When I took over as county clerk, they had a 19th Century model,” he said. “Most employees didn’t have access to the Internet. In five years, we turned ourselves into a 21st Century model.”

He said he could do for the secretary of state’s office “what we have done in the clerk’s office.”

O’Brien said, “The secretary of state’s office is very important. He is the chief election official.”

The office is responsible for voter records and must be modernized to avoid election disputes.

“In 2000, we could easily have had what happened in Broward County (Florida),” he warned.

O’Brien wants redistricting done more in the open so that voters know who will represent them in the Arkansas Legislature when districts are redrawn.

He said he’s raised more than $100,000 for the campaign and asked his supporters to spread the word about the race.

Secretary of State Charlie Daniels is term-limited and is running for state auditor.

O’Brien faces two Democrats in the May 18 primary — Land Commissioner Mark Wilcox and Sebastian County Clerk Doris Tate. Rep. Mark Martin of Prairie Grove is running as a Republican.

“I’m really optimistic about what we can do,” O’Brien told cheering supporters at the Capitol rotunda.

“I can win this primary in May and win this election in November and take office in January,” he added.

He thought there might be a runoff between the two top Democratic candidates on June 9.

Several Jacksonville supporters were at the campaign event, including Rep. Mark Perry, former Rep. Pat Bond and her husband Tommy, Alderman Kenny Elliott, attorney Ben Rice, Ivory Tillman of the NAACP, builder Jim Green and others.

O’Brien also has several family members in attendance, including his mother, Gladys, and brother Jim.

The candidate said his family credits Jacksonville for the many opportunities they found after moving here from Iowa. The

O’Briens opened Jacksonville’s first McDonald’s on Main Street in 1973.

He worked there as a young man and graduated from Jacksonville High School in 1988, going on to the University of Arkansas and graduating from its law school in 1995.

O’Brien practiced law in Jacksonville and served on the Pulaski County Special School District’s school board and then ran as a reform candidate for Pulaski County clerk.

“My parents taught me to work hard and give back,” O’Brien said.

He was one of the first Democrats to endorse Sen. Barack Obama for president and helped open his headquarters in downtown Little Rock.

O’Brien, who was a delegate to the Democratic convention in 2008, was the only elected Democratic official in the state to support Obama.

The delegation supported Hillary Clinton until they were released from backing her when Obama’s nomination became a foregone conclusion.

O’Brien campaigned for Obama in Iowa and Texas.

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville mayor calls 2009 atypical

Leader staff writer

In presenting his 35-page state-of-the-city report to the Jacksonville City Council on Thursday evening, Mayor Gary Fletcher called 2009 an atypical year that started out with a surprise, but ended with a lot of potential.

The surprise was Jacksonville’s longest-serving mayor, Tommy Swaim, announcing his retirement after nearly 23 years in office.

A special election in May brought out six candidates and resulted in a run-off between Fletcher, an alderman at the time, and Alderman Kenny Elliott. Fletcher bested Elliott in a run-off.

“I would like to thank the great citizens of Jacksonville for this marvelous opportunity to serve in a most exciting time,” Fletcher said during his state-of-the-city report.

The potential he referred to in the report was the opportunity for the city to become home of the new state fairgrounds, moving closer to getting its own school district and the groundbreaking of the joint education center.

“In September,” the mayor said, “Jacksonville jumped out in front with a press conference submitting the first public proposal out of 16 for a new fairgrounds. The economic impact would be more than just the 10 days of the state fair. With a major complex on the site consisting of 125,000 square feet, we would have the opportunity to attract many national meetings, conventions and trade shows to the area.”

The mayor said the establishment of a Jacksonville-north Pulaski school district could become a reality in the very near future.

“We will be in federal court next month in hopes of and with the expectation of unitary status. With past commitments from Pulaski County Special School District to support our separation, we are confident as well as excited about the future of education in Jacksonville that will rival any system.”

The mayor was also excited about the opening of the Lighthouse Academy charter school, the first new school to be built in Jacksonville since Murrell Taylor Elementary in 1981.

“Ground was also broken and construction begun on the joint education center that the people of Jacksonville taxed themselves $5 million for. This unique partnership and close relationship between the city and Little Rock Air Force Base is a story told around the country,” Fletcher said.

The mayor said in between the surprise and the potential a lot happened in the city in 2009.

He cited the opening of the new 13,000-square-foot state-of-the-art library at a cost of $4 million, complete renovation of fire station four, a $300,000 lighting upgrade at Dupree Park, the groundbreaking for the new $2.8 million police and fire training facility and the city’s hospital, North Metro Medical Center, redefined its services to be more financially sound and still provide quality care for the community.

Fletcher was proud of hiring Rickey Hayes of Retail Attractions as an economic-development consultant for the city.

The mayor expects Hayes to recreate what he accomplished in cities across Oklahoma, especially in his hometown of Owasso where Hayes doubled the tax base with the addition of 4.2 million square feet of new commercial construction valued at $250 million.

In looking forward to this year and beyond the mayor expects a number of advancements, including:

• Construction of the 911 communication center, complete with police and fire classrooms and a community safe room.

• Beautification of Main and James streets and Dupree Drive to include new lighting and landscaping.

• Construction and opening of the Jacksonville Farmers Market.

• Acquisition and demolition of Manor House Apartments adjacent to Dupree Park to give more access to the park.

• Intersection improvement at Main Street and Harris Road.

• Construction of a fifth fire station.

• Widening of Graham Road.

• Extending Emma and Oneida streets.

• Additional improvements on the Dupree Park lights.

“These events will move Jacksonville forward from what I have called the ‘city of opportunity’ to more than just a phrase – it will become a reality,” the mayor told the council and audience members.

Highlights from the 35-page report include:

• The city council approved 38 ordinances and nine rezonings during 2009.

• City garage employees spent more than 2,500 hours in 2009 maintaining Jacksonville’s fleet of 250 vehicles.

• Jacksonville District Court saw a small increase in cases, going from 11,978 in 2008 to 12,056 in 2009, collecting more than $1.26 million in fines and forfeitures.

• In 2009, Jacksonville hired 73 new city employees with 44 of those as full-time workers. The employee turnover rate for the city was 39 percent. In 2009 the city had 94 voluntary employee terminations and 17 involuntary terminations. Returning to school was the top reason employees gave for quitting.

• The city’s animal shelter handled 2,325 animals in 2009, slightly down from the previous year. Shelter officials were able to adopt out 869 animals and returned 405 to owners.

• The fire department responded to 1,884 alarms and had 2,667 ambulance runs during the year. Fire loss for the city was estimated at $785,600 and fire savings, based on quick response, was placed at $1.8 million.

• The police department responded to 37,672 calls for service in 2009. There were 232 violent crimes reported in 2009, down slightly more than 20 percent from 2008. There were no homicides for the year.

• Property crimes were also down for the year going from 1,626 in 2008 to 1,492 in 2009. More than 4,300 people were arrested during the year.

• In 2009, the city issued 220 building permits with a total value of $14.3 million.

• After almost 40 years at 308 W. Main St., a new and improved library opened in February just down the road at 703 W. Main St. For the year, the library had 191,855 items checked out, an increase of 23 percent over 2008. More than 1,000 children and adults attended the library’s various programs and nearly 24,000 visitors used the library’s computers.

• Even with the year being the wettest on record, the Splash Zone still managed to bring in more than $172,000 in revenues.

• The community center was booked nearly solid all year and revenues from those meetings, conventions and receptions brought in $78,467.

• The city street sweeper cleaned the equivalent of 9,318 miles of streets during the year.

• Employees and volunteers with the beautification department picked up 4,357 bags of trash and 87 used tires from the city’s rights-of-way; planted 1,796 flowers, shrubs and trees; mowed 111 miles of city rights-of-way and spent about 80 hours on mosquito control.

• The sanitation department collected, processed and sold 1.2 million pounds of recyclable items, making $60,000 and saving the city almost $16,000 in landfill costs. More than 7,300 tons of garbage, 686 tons of bulky items and 33,633 cubic yards of yard waste were collected in 2009.

• The Jacksonville Senior Center served nearly 52,000 meals in 2009 and provided 10,014 rides for seniors.

TOP STORY >> Lighthouse principal sees potential for growth here

Leader staff writer

After just five months in Jacksonville, Lighthouse Academy may build another school.

“We are looking at expanding at a site nearby,” Lighthouse principal Nigena Livingston told the Jacksonville Lions Club this week.

The new building on North First Street is not big enough to add middle school or high school grades. Now, the school is for kindergarten through sixth-grade students. It must add a grade each year just to keep up as its students progress.

Principal Livingston said that the school is looking at a site near Little Rock Air Force Base, but there are other sites under consideration.

She estimates that about a quarter of her school’s students live on the air base.

The new school would be for kindergarten through eighth grades.

The school has “344 students, so we are fully enrolled today. We have a long waiting list,” she said.

Parents as far away as Beebe are anxious to enroll their children in the charter school. Even children from Cabot commute to the school. But without a new building, there will be no more room to accommodate additional students, she said.

“It’s for people who want a different option for their child,” Livingston said.

The school’s emphasis on small classes, frequent professional development for teachers and eight-hour school days is attractive to parents. But the draw is surely not the playground, which the school still lacks.

She wants to build a playground and develop a full athletics program.

Lighthouse is conducting a fundraiser to help build the playground. So far, it has raised about $3,000 out of the required $25,000 needed to build it.

“Teachers do an extensive amount of professional development. They get frequent coaching with our director of instruction, and I also pop into classes and give them feedback,” she said.

Livingston said she is striving to shape her students into “self-disciplined scholars.”

“We want them to get the habits for what it takes to be a scholar. We believe that if we talk to them about college now, they will have that instilled in them” and ultimately lead them into college, she said.

“One of the reasons that Lighthouse exists is the achievement gap between students in affluent communities and those in less affluent areas,” she said.

Livingston said that it was important for the school not to start too big. “Our charter mandated that we start out at this size, but also we want to make sure that it’s working,” she said.

Lighthouse’s popularity seems to have gotten the attention of the Pulaski County Special School District, which has had a monopoly on public education in Jacksonville for decades.

PCSSD now wants to enter the charter school business. It recently asked the state board of education to allow Harris Elementary and Star Academy to be converted into charter schools.

If approved, the schools would remain part of PCSSD.

The state Board of Education “likes the concept,” according to Deborah McAfee, grants coordinator for PCSSD.

She said the board this week asked the district for revisions in the applications, with the Star Academy revision due for the Feb. 8 meeting and the Harris Elementary School revision will be presented in March.

“Once they are passed, then I can write grant applications for three annual increments of $150,000 each for each of the two schools,” she said Friday.

“I welcome the competition. If someone else wants to come in, I think that’s great. (Lighthouse) can only service so many children,” Livingston said.

Lighthouse operates independently of PCSSD, and is not subject to that school board’s policies. However, it is a public school and receives state funding. Additional funding comes from private donors and sponsors, she said.

But Livingston sees the school as one day having all the features of a regular public school but without the many problems.

Recently, the school built a second entrance to its driveway and paved another driveway, where twice a day approximately 200 cars pick up children at once. The new entrance and pavement have helped ease some of that congestion.

The Lions Club meeting also included a discussion of Lions Club International’s efforts to help victims of the Haiti earthquake.

The international group has raised $650,000 for relief aid.

The Jacksonville chapter donated $500 to the cause.

“Two Haitian Lions lost their lives,” president Bob Williams reminded members.

Leader staff writer John Hofheimer contributed to this report.

TOP STORY >> Neighbors who save lives

A United Nations truck passes a C-130J at the Port-Au-Prince airport on Jan. 14 as more emergency supplies were delivered.

John Hofheimer, Leader senior staff writer, stands in front of a C-130J at the Port-au-Prince Airport in Haiti last weekend.


Leader senior staff writer

Elvis and Eddie Joe go to church together.

No, really.

Tech Sgt. Evan “Elvis” Hendricks and Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams are Magness Creek neighbors and attend the same church. That’s what Hendricks, a Little Rock Air Force Base loadmaster, said Monday aboard a C-130J returning to Pope Air Force Base, N.C., after offloading soldiers and relief supplies at the airport in Port-au-Prince in Haiti.

Along with a reporter-photographer team from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, I was aboard the 41st Airlift Squadron’s second plane committed to making relief flights to Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake on Jan. 11.

Hendricks was one of three Cabot residents and a Sherwood resident comprising the four-man crew, plus an electrical and maintenance team.

Capt. Sean Callahan, the pilot, and Master Sgt. Patrick Drozd, a loadmaster, were the other Cabot residents, and 1st Lt. Kevin Bailey, the co-pilot, was the Sherwood resident.

I had flown on an older C-130 when the National Guard named it “City of Lonoke,” part of a public-relations campaign. It was a low-level flight and my main responsibility was to not throw up on Mayor Thomas Privett’s shoes. I was successful in that regard, but it left me concerned about several legs of a thousand-mile –plus flights to ferry aid to Haiti.

But the new state-of-the-art C-130J, flown at high altitude by this expert crew was a different story. The flight was as comfortable as it could be, packed shoulder to shoulder with members of the 82nd Airborne Division on canvas bench seats.

The plane had a modern, commercial airline-style toilet, if not the privacy of a commercial flight restroom.

Heating and cooling, which usually worked, were powerful, as was the plane, taking off with a heavy load.

The instrumentation was state-of-the-art computer controlled and electronic, with some displays on glass screens between the pilots and the front windshield.

I took airsickness medication, but the flights were so smooth that it probably wasn’t necessary.


They told us to be ready for anything as crew-rest restrictions pretty much turned night into day and day into night. But who could have been prepared for a relief flight to Haiti to be redirected to the airport at St. Croix, Virgin Islands, after there was too much air traffic to land at Port-au-Prince as planned Saturday?

“Only you could take off to cover a disaster and end up at a beach resort,” my brother Craig later quipped from his Brooklyn home.

And it was pretty strange, flying for several hours to Pope AFB, taking on passengers and relief supplies, flying on to Haiti only to be stacked up over the airport and then diverted to vacation mecca St. Croix, about 450 miles to the east.

Crew and media totaling 13 went by cab to a hotel on the bay, but not on the beach. Fishing charters, sail boards, rowboats, catamarans — loads of boats on a calm and beautiful day.

What I found on this trip were airmen who seemed well-trained, competent, confident and good-humored.


I had a couple of local beers and herb-seared tuna, served on grilled squash slices on a bed of spinach. I don’t know if that’s irony or insensitivity or what, dining at a resort while people were starving and dying for a drink of water back in Haiti, but I swallowed my guilt along with my dinner.

We got up at about 2:30 a.m. Little Rock time Sunday morning and by 10 a.m., we had unloaded our cargo at Port-au-Prince and took off for St. Croix for fuel and another night’s sleep.

When the hotel had only 12 rooms for 13 people, instead of rolling the double-bunking duties downhill to airmen, Callahan and Bailey shared a room. We awoke again in the wee hours of the morning and this time deadheaded back to Pope Air Force Base, where Callahan’s crew awaited their next orders and I lost my computer and flew home on U.S. Air from Fayetteville, N.C.
Even those in the flight operations center at Little Rock Air Force Base were friendly, relaxed and helpful.


And folks at mission command at Pope Air Force Base helped find the laptop computer and bag I left behind, secured it and got it in the hands of Callahan the same day. But I had ended my four-day tour of duty and was boarding a commercial flight back to Little Rock by then.

Airman Vanessa Dale, of LRAFB public affairs, called to tell me Callahan had my computer and would bring it back when the C-130J returns to the base.

Also confidence-inspiring were the 46 soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division, young, strong rangy men packed into bench seats shoulder to shoulder. To reach the only bathroom on the C-130J, they had to scramble over the tops of relief pallets nearly five-feet high, which many did with the ease and agility of spider monkeys.

These are the kind of guys you want defending you in a difficult situation, observed Command Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Brinkley, who is the senior enlisted man for the 19th Airlift Wing at LRAFB.

Brinkley said, “I’m going (on this trip) to gain perspective on what my people are doing.”

Of the relief effort, “This is what we do, people need help,” the chief said.

In four days with Brinkley, he never met a stranger. He made friends with the cab drivers, reporters, soldiers and airmen he encountered. He said he was an introvert, but he seems to have more than compensated.


Hendricks, 35, is career military. The Checotah, Okla., native has been in the Air Force since he was 19.

At one of his first assignments, at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, a 7-year-old girl saw him and told her mother, “He looks like Elvis.”

Two weeks later, Elvis was on his name tag, and it has been ever since, he said.

Though he recently returned from a 130-day deployment at Kandahar, Afghanistan, he’s also done a lot of humanitarian work at Sarajevo.

He likes humanitarian work because “you get an instant sense of accomplishment.”

He, Bailey and Callahan were in Kandahar at the same time.

Part of the reason he agreed to join the crew for this trip was because of Callahan, he said.

“He doesn’t make you mad and he’s very intelligent. We have a lot of respect for him,” Hendricks said.

Hendricks chose to live in Cabot because he and his wife want to start a family and they liked the schools and the community, he said. “We’ll retire in Cabot.”

He’s only got four years left until he can retire and he’s hoping to get a civilian job on the base for Lockheed—manufacturer of the C-130—as a loadmaster instructor.

Currently he’s a standardization and quality evaluator at the base.

“I’ve been stationed many places, but I’ve never seen as much cohesion with a community as the base has with Jacksonville,” Hendricks said.

“Most places don’t offer discounts at businesses, most aren’t as welcoming. I don’t know how many times I’ve been eating and someone has picked up the tab,” he said.

Drozd, 36, is a tall, solid, fit-looking career airman, built like a college defensive end, born in Hallettsville, Texas.

“I’m superintendent of group training,” he said. “They called and I gladly obliged.”

Drozd said that the first day, the plane couldn’t get clearance to land. On the second day, “we flew straight in, the chaos had settled out and we got the pallets off pretty quick.”

Drozd, who had previously deployed to Kandahar, said flying relief supplies was nicer. “Over there, people don’t like you.

“It’s essentially the same, but it’s nice to know nobody’s shooting at you.”

He said he welcomed the opportunity to help and to get out from the office, where he’s usually doing paperwork.

“I was expecting more traffic,” Sunday,” when the C-130J was able to land.

“They knew we were coming and they were ready for us. The forklifts were ready. It took a while to get in gear, but it looks like the cogs are turning.”

He said the crew was pieced together for the job, because the 41st Airlift Squadron has a lot of airmen deployed right now.

Bailey is the youngster of the crew at 26.

He’s been in the Air Force for four years and has been flying C-130s for two years.

The Middletown, Pa., native lives in Sherwood.

Flying to Haiti is a lot like the flights in the desert, he said, referring to the war on terrorism in the Middle East.

He said they were still “working out the kinks” at the undersized airport at Port-au-Prince. “It’s so early in the mission.”

Callahan, 36, lives in Cabot, but he’ll be moving soon to a new duty assignment at Dyess Air Force Base, where he’ll help start a new C-130J squadron.

He’s been flying the C-130Js since they first came to the base. He was one of the first trained to fly the J-model, and as soon as his training was finished, he was one of the first C-130J instructors on the active-duty side of the base.

“It’s very rewarding to sit at home—one day you’re watching (the Haiti earthquake aftermath) on CNN, and three days later, you’re there,” he said.

“I’m career for sure,” said Callahan, who installed flooring for six years before joining the Air Force.

“It was hard on the knees,” he remembers.

Also on board from LRAFB were Senior Airman Travis Donaway, 21, an electronic environmental specialist, and Staff Sgt. Jordan Cote, who had his nose buried in technical manuals and in his laptop trying to figure out a problem with an alert system on the C-130J.

Friday, January 22, 2010

SPORTS >> Swift says conference is toughest in the state

Leader sports editor

There have been no surprises for former Lonoke coach Wes Swift at his new job in his new conference.


Swift left after eight years with Lonoke, of the 2-4A Conference, to take over at Jonesboro, of the fiercely competitive 6A-East.

In a return trip to central Arkansas with his new team Tuesday, Swift got a taste of that competitiveness as Jacksonville raced to a 59-44 victory at the Devils Den.

“Night in and night out, if you’re not ready, this is what happens,” Swift said. “And tonight they enforced their will on us and we didn’t have an answer for it and that’s what happens. When they come to our place, I expect it to be a different story.”

Swift began his career at Gillett in 1994 then took over at Hughes in 1997. He won 86 games in four seasons and in 2001 the Blue Devils went 35-1 and won the Class AAA state championship.

Swift originally left Hughes for Shiloh Christian but ended up taking the Lonoke job. Swift’s Jackrabbits went 30-5 and wonthe 4A state championship in 2008, were the state runners up in 2003, and made four semifinal appearances and eight trips to the quarterfinals.

But coaches like challenges, and Swift is no different. So he moved on to Jonesboro after last season.

“It’s just an unbelievable basketball tradition up there,” Swift said. “Northeast Arkansas really loves their basketball, just the support. The small schools up there love it, the big schools love it, so that was a big draw.

“Plus the fact that it was in the best conference in the state. If you want to challenge yourself just get in the 6A-East.”

Swift replaced long-time Jonesboro coach Barry Pruitt, who in 28 years won 521 games, two state and nine conference championships. Pruitt has continued to be a friend to the Hurricane, Swift said.

“He’s done a great job. He’s been a great help to me since I’ve gotten there,” Swift said.

Swift was reluctant to make comparisons between his style and Pruitt’s — Swift didn’t want anyone to think he would criticize the former coach.

Swift did say, with his current roster, there are things that must be fixed. He was unhappy Tuesday with continued, erratic play from his youthful guards and defensive breakdowns, especially against Jacksonville senior standout Deshone McClure, who scored 16 points.

“They win; they’re in contention almost every year,” Swift said of the Jonesboro tradition. “But honestly, what I’ve seen from the guys that are here right now, we’ve got to get mentally and we’ve got to get physically tougher. That’s what I see.

“I see the other guys that we’re playing right now really being stronger from a physical standpoint and I also see them being stronger mentally than our guys, and we’ve got to turn that around.”

The loss Tuesday dropped the Hurricane to 8-9, 1-3 and seventh in the 6A-East.

But the Hurricane has plenty of chances to stay in contention. It was playing host to Little Rock Parkview on Friday, then looking at trips to Searcy and Hall, with the rematch against Jacksonville scheduled at Jonesboro later in the season.

Swift recalled a recent conversation with Jacksonville athletic director, basketball assistant and former head coach Jerry Wilson in which they discussed how even the teams in the bottom half of the conference, which includes Jonesboro and Jacksonville right now, are tough.

“We’ve either got to step up or we’re going to get left behind,” Swift said.

Swift has tried to find the fine line between challenging his players and encouraging them. But Swift expects the Hurricane to make some noise before the season is over.

“I’m constantly challenging them but yet we can’t beat down either,” Swift said. “We have to keep the motivation part going too.

It’s going to happen. These kids want to win.”

SPORTS >> Red Devils muscle up to blow by Hurricane

Jacksonville senior T.J. Green shoots over a Jonesboro defender in the Red Devils’ 6A-East home victory.

Leader sports editor

It wasn’t just a victory for Jacksonville and coach Vic Joyner on Tuesday night.

It was an answer to a prayer.

Defending 6A state champion Jacksonville hustled and harassed its way to a 59-44, 6A-East Conference victory over the Jonesboro Hurricane at the Devils Den.

After seeing Jonesboro on film, Joyner jokingly said the key to victory might be divine intervention.

“Praying,” Joyner said of his game plan. “Praying to my God. Because we saw them; I saw them on tape and they were pretty long. It was going to be a battle.”

But Jacksonville helped itself with defense, speed and some patience on offense Tuesday.

Jacksonville outscored Jonesboro 17-8 in the third quarter, then kept Jonesboro at bay with the same defensive pressure that forced turnovers all night. For Joyner, who had criticized his team’s heart at times earlier this year, the intensity was good to see.

“We’ve got to force tempo, we’ve got to push that ball,” Joyner said. “We wanted to make their big men run the floor. So we wanted to push it out, get out in front of them and make them burn a little energy running the floor.”

It was a tough return to the central Arkansas area for Jonesboro coach Wes Swift, who was at nearby Lonoke the previous eight years, winning a state title and finishing as runner-up during almost perennial visits to the 4A state tournament.

“When they play here at home they’re going to try to pressure you, they’re going to turn you over, they’re so aggressive offensively,” Swift said of Jacksonville. “They have good shooters combined with guys that can really handle it and get it into the paint.”

Jonesboro’s early, 4-0 lead would be its only one. Jacksonville (6-9, 2-2), went ahead to stay when Tirrell Brown scored off a Justin McCleary assist to make it 7-5, and the Red Devils took an 18-9 lead at the end of the first quarter when James Aikens and Jamison Williams made consecutive three-pointers wrapped around a Jonesboro turnover.

Jonesboro, (8-9, 1-3) managed to stay within 29-20 at halftime, but the third quarter proved decisive as the Hurricane committed seven turnovers and Jacksonville controlled the rebounding to limit second-chance points.

Jonesboro got within 32-25 when Colby Inboden converted a three-point play with 5:35 left. But, beginning with a three-point play by Deshone McClure, the Red Devils outscored the Hurricane 14-3 the rest of the quarter.

“I think the effort is coming from the overall team spirit,” Joyner said of his roster, whose tallest player is McClure, 6-3. “They know they’ve got to come out being small and scrappy. People are still killing us on the boards and eventually they’re going to kill us but they’re battling. They’re jumping, they’re boxing out.”

Jacksonville led by 20 three times, the last when McCleary went the length of the floor and pulled up for a one-handed jumper to make it 52-32 with just over four minutes left.

Jonesboro got within 52-41 with 2:01 left, but could get no closer.

“We had a plan coming in tonight and we just didn’t execute it and that’s my fault,” Swift said. “I didn’t have our guys ready to play. That’s as unfocused of a game defensively as what we’ve played in a while and I apologize for that.”

Swift said he was unhappy with a persistent problem area — guard play — especially against Jacksonville’s pressure.

“I’m tired of saying they’re inexperienced; we’re in game no. 17 now,” Swift said. “That’s just an excuse. We just didn’t play well tonight at all.”

McClure, a senior, led Jacksonville with 16 points and Raheem Appleby scored 12. Terrance Walker led Jonesboro with 12 points.

Jacksonville moved past Jonesboro to sixth in the 6A-East.

“It’s brutal, it’s brutal man, but what a wonderful conference,” Joyner said. “The kids have got to be up every day.”

SPORTS >> ’Rabbits growing up on court

Junior Darius Scott led  Lonoke with 16 points against DeWitt. 

Leader sportswriter

Sometimes it takes a triumph in the most ugly of circumstances for a team to grow.

Just ask Lonoke coach Dean Campbell.

Those were precisely the circumstances Tuesday, when Campbell’s Jackrabbits overcame a four-point deficit to beat DeWitt 42-36 in overtime at Lonoke on Tuesday. DeWitt led 34-30 with less than a minute to go in regulation before Lonoke rallied.

It was an ugly, physical, sloppy game, but it was also a nice bounce-back for the Jackrabbits after they dropped 2-4A Conference games to Marianna-Lee and Heber Springs the week before.

Lonoke (8-6, 4-3) trailed for most of the contest but rallied late in regulation on a three-pointer by guard Darius Scott, who also went to the line and hit his second free throw to tie the game 34-34 with 38 seconds left.

Scott had two opportunities to win the game for the ’Rabbits in regulation, but could not get either shot attempt to fall.

Lonoke took over once overtime started, as a pair of big defensive rebounds by Mike Jones helped swing momentum in the Jackrabbits’ favor for the first time all night.

“We actually talked about that,” Campbell said. “We’ve done this so many times already this year. Let’s make a run — let’s come back and do what we’ve done so many times. And the kids found a way to dig down and get some defensive stops and finally get some points on the other end.”

The even flow of the game’s early minutes quickly faded at the start of the second quarter and the physical, mistake-prone play was especially apparent in the lane on both ends. That resulted in a quarter in which DeWitt outscored Lonoke 7-2.

“I think their guys were trying to do some things to agitate some of our guys, and we didn’t handle it very well,” Campbell said.

“A couple of our guys got some dumb fouls, and again, that’s just the maturing process that we need to continue to get better at.”

The Dragons held the Jackrabbits scoreless in the second quarter until Jones hit an inside jumper to cut DeWitt’s lead to 15-14 with 1:06 left in the half.

That was how it stayed until halftime.

Jones finished with eight points, but it was his two big defensive rebounds in overtime that made the biggest difference for the Jackrabbits. Both rebounds led to Lonoke points, and took the Jackrabbits from a 36-36 tie to a 40-36 lead with 40 seconds left.

“He had been sick all day,” Campbell said of Jones. “He played like he was sick until the end. He gathered it up and got some rebounds for us that we needed, and got active in the offense.

“He had kind of been sluggish, but sometimes, these kids really, really want to win, and they find a way even when they feel bad to step up.”

Lonoke bounced back in the third quarter and capitalized on a technical foul against DeWitt coach Justin Russell with 5:44 left in the period. That led to a free throw by Scott to make it 18-15 Lonoke, and a three-pointer by Damarcus Dodson with 2:38 left in the third gave the Jackrabbits a 21-17 lead.

DeWitt guard Tyler Leibrock, who paced the Dragons with 12 points, hit from the outside early but exploited the Jackrabbits’ inside defense for six points in the fourth quarter. His shot in the lane with 6:47 left in regulation helped the Dragons reclaim the lead at 27-26, and Leibrock drove the baseline and scored to give DeWitt its biggest lead, 34-30 with 1:12 left.

Scott led the Jackrabbits with 16 points, while Jones and Dodson added eight each.

“We were coming off the loss at Heber, and trying to bounce back,” Campbell said. “They did a good job; DeWitt played hard.

We did some good things — we did some not so good things. We’re still making mistakes that we should not be making.”

SPORTS >> Voice of Travelers earns statewide honor

Leader sports editor

Arkansas Travelers broadcaster Phil Elson has seen the ridiculous and the sublime from his press-box perch. He has seen triumph and tragedy.

Elson has called Arkansas Travelers games since 2001 and more recently has been the man behind the microphone for the UALR women’s basketball team.

Elson’s friendly voice and flair for description were recognized by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, which recently voted him Arkansas sports broadcaster of the year for 2009.

“It’s a great award, I think, because people who are in the industry and are members of this organization are the ones who voted on it,” Elson said.

Elson’s award puts him in the company of Arkansas broadcast legends like the late Jim Elder and Paul Eells.

Elder, who died in 1998, was the long-time voice of the Travelers and one of the last to do road-game recreations and Eells, killed in a car accident in 2006, was the beloved television and radio sportscaster noted for his “Touchdown Arkansas” call when describing Razorbacks games.

“I’ve always been honored to follow in the footsteps of Jim Elder, as far as the Travelers are concerned,” Elson said. “And being mentioned in the same class, I guess, as Paul Eells means a lot as well.”

Elson became the first Travelers radio man to travel with the team and broadcast road games live. He became the voice of UALR women’s basketball in 2005.

“It’s good to show a little bit of versatility as a broadcaster,” Elson said. “I got into broadcasting for baseball, first and foremost, and I’m going to ride that as long as I can, but I really get a lot of joy and pride in being part of the UALR program.”

Elson, 33, was an all-city league catcher at Pittsburgh’s Taylor Allderdice High School. He grew up listening to Pirates baseball and Penguins hockey on 50,000-watt KDKA-AM 1020, and his father hosted a weekend sports talk show on the station.

Elson tagged along and was quickly entranced by the workings of a real radio station.

“I listened to baseball as a kid,” Elson said. “From the time I was 6 or 7 years old I knew what I liked to do, at least at night — watch baseball as much as I could and if it was too late then you’d listen to baseball.”

Not long before taking his first job, Elson was in a New York bar with a friend when legendary Penguins broadcaster Mike Lange, in town for a game, walked in. Elson sent Lange a drink, the two hit it off, and Elson recalls the advice he was given: “For the first five years, you won’t know what you’re doing.”

In 1995, when he was 18, Elson interned for the Class A South Atlantic League team in Fayetteville, N.C. His first on-air job was at Helena, Mont., in the Rookie Pioneer League, then he moved to Stockton, of the Class A California League and finally, in 2001, to Arkansas and the Class AA Texas League.

“I had such an excitement level out of being here in 2001,” Elson said. “And then looking down the road at some of the names that were going to be on that team: John Lackey, Bobby Jenks.”

Elson got a chance to work for the legendary Bill Valentine, the former American League umpire who lost his job for trying to organize a union in 1968 and, with his wacky promotions and giveaways, revived Travelers attendance after taking over as general manager in 1976.

Valentine retired in 2009.

“I knew that this was what I always wanted to do; I just didn’t quite know where it would take me,” Elson said.

Elson’s toughest day on the job was July 22, 2007 when Tulsa first base coach Mike Coolbaugh was struck and killed by a foul ball while in the coaches box at Dickey-Stephens Park.

Elson will also never forget opening day last year, April 9, when Los Angeles Angels pitcher and 2007 Traveler Nick Adenhart was killed in a car accident in California.

In 2001, Elson was on the road with the Travelers at Round Rock, Texas, during the Texas League Championship Series, when on Sept. 11 terrorists struck in New York and Washington D.C. The series was eventually called off and the Travelers were named champions by virtue of their 2-0 series lead without playing a TLCS game before their home fans.

In what was perhaps his most famous call, at least as far as Travelers fans are concerned, Elson was forced to describe the last out of the 2005 TLCS, when umpire Steve Fritzoni lost track of the count and failed to award a ninth-inning, two-out walk to Travelers batter Jason Aspito.

Aspito then struck out on what was essentially a 4-2 count, and the Midland RockHounds took a 5-4 victory and the series.

But it hasn’t all been tragedy and frustration. The 2008 Travelers rallied to win the Texas League first-half clincher over Springfield, 7-6 in 11 innings, then beat Northwest Arkansas and Frisco, Texas, in the playoffs to take the championship.

Elson’s job has also allowed him to hobnob with hall-of-famers like Yogi Berra, George Kell, Jim Palmer and Ferguson Jenkins.

“I hope you can tell I’m having fun; you better have fun if you have people like that with you,” Elson said.

But if Elson is asked what was his best day at the ballpark, it’s no contest.

While scanning the crowd from the press box at old Ray Winder Field during the 2001 season, Elson spied a vivacious brunette apparently signaling her phone number. Elson hastily scribbled down the digits, and got them wrong, but the young woman fortunately made a return visit to the ballpark and the two hit it off.

Elson and Julie Polsky were married in 2005 and the couple welcomed their first child, Sadie Grace, late last summer.

“It makes a lot of sense that I found the love of my life while I was doing something that I loved,” Elson said. “That’s the best way that I can put it.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

EDITORIAL >> This isn’t a fair tax

Beware of propositions that sound too good to be true. They nearly always are. A business group headquartered at Fort Smith is circulating petitions for a constitutional amendment that merits far more skepticism than that. The attorney general cleared the popular name and ballot title a week ago.

It is presently called the AR One Tax, although the sponsors will surely find a catchier and more appealing name, like the Fair Tax, which is what a national group calls a similar proposition that it has been pushing for about a decade. The Arkansas sponsors advertise the amendment as a way to simplify the state tax system, treat taxpayers fairly, finance government bountifully and give the state a robust economy. Truthful advertising would proclaim exactly the opposite.

You’ll likely be asked to sign one of the petitions this spring, probably at the May primaries when you go to vote. Find out what it does first.

The popular name that would appear on the ballot is “A Constitutional Amendment to Repeal All State Taxes and Establish a Flat Rate Sales Tax.” If voters approved the amendment, the legislature would set a sales-tax rate high enough to make up for all the revenue that would be lost by the repeal of all the other taxes from businesses and individuals. The state sales tax now is 6.5 percent. It could go up to 20 percent, 25 percent or 30 percent — no one really has a clue. But this should give you a hint: The present sales-tax rate produces about $2.2 billion a year. To replace all existing taxes, the new tax would need to produce about $8 billion a year. You do the figures.

The text of the amendment, which would not appear on the ballot, is so vague and contradictory that it would take many state Supreme Court decisions to settle exactly what taxes would be repealed and what sales would be taxed under the new single tax on consumers.

We have identified a few problems with the amendment and its popular name and ballot title. Get a copy. You’ll find more.

First, the popular name seems to be a lie. It says “all state taxes” would be repealed. But when you read the amendment, all state taxes are defined, either by design or ineptness, as only some state taxes — those codified in Title 26 of the Arkansas Code and the Constitution. That covers most of the big taxes, but a hundred or so taxes are codified in other titles. The amendment says that it would specifically repeal “payroll taxes” but Arkansas voters cannot repeal the taxes that are commonly known as payroll taxes, Social Security and Medicare, because they are federal taxes. The courts might presume that it was trying to repeal employment security taxes, which constitute the Arkansas unemployment trust fund although it is not codified in Title 26.

But here is the nastiest little detail about the amendment. When the legislature fixed the new sales-tax rate, businesses would not pay any of it. Not only would they no longer pay income, franchise or any of the small imposts for certain business activities, they wouldn’t pay any of the taxes you would pay. The electricity, gas and water they bought wouldn’t be subject to the sales tax. Neither would the motor fuel for their vehicles or any other commodity or service they bought. Your cars, clothing and groceries (yes, groceries would be taxed at the full rate) would be taxed at a rate high enough to compensate for the lost tax revenues from business activity. ExxonMobil, Walmart and all the big multi-state corporations wouldn’t pay a penny of tax in Arkansas. You would pick up the slack.

The sponsors say the sales-tax rate would not have to be very high because everything that is now exempt from the sales tax would be taxed, including doctor and hospital bills. Fair enough, but the amendment says specifically that services of every kind would NOT be taxed.

So the amendment might at first glance be appealing to businessmen throughout Arkansas because it would shift part of their cost of doing business to consumers, including their employees.

But think about this: If the state requires consumers to pay a tax of 25 percent — or even 10 percent — on everything you sell them, how competitive will your business be? No car dealership would be left in the state. Businesses within 100 miles of the border in every direction would go out of business. Internet sales would skyrocket.

The amendment seems to prohibit collection of a compensating use tax for items bought outside the state for use in the state, which would restore some competitiveness if the state had a large enough tax agency to enforce it.

On the other hand, the amendment does not seem to prohibit the legislature from re-enacting any tax that it desires once all those taxes are repealed. Eventually you could have the giant sales tax and every other kind of tax, too.

The AR One Tax, the Fair Tax, or whatever they call it is a recipe for economic disaster. Don’t sign those petitions until you have a chance to read the full amendment.

TOP STORY >> Group is told landfill didn’t cause floods

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville’s branch of the NAACP held its first community forum at the community center on Friday and discussed the possible connection between the Two Pine Landfill and flooding of the Bayou Meto.

David Conrad, spokesman for Waste Management, which operates the landfill, told a crowd of about two dozen people that Two Pine is not the culprit behind the recent floods.

“I truly don’t believe we were the cause of the increase in flooding recently,” Conrad insisted.

Instead, he attributed the flood problems to a combination of unprecedented rainfall and an increase in building near the Bayou Meto. He said eight inches of rain fell between Dec. 22 and Dec. 25. He even speculated that beaver dams might be responsible for some of the high water.

To understand the causes of flooding, he said, “It’s got to take a comprehensive look at flood data.”

Conrad cited figures from the rain-gauging station on Hwy. 31 in Lonoke as being 17 feet above normal last month.

“It’s hard to tell these people who had their homes flooded that (the dump) is not the problem,” an audience member told Conrad.

“If anyone in the audience had problems, I’m very sympathetic. We’ve been suffering from it also,” he said. Conrad said that it is difficult for workers at the landfill to do their jobs when it is muddy.

Rizelle Aaron, chairman of the chapter’s legal-redress committee, asked Conrad if runoff from the landfill has any effect on the safety of the city’s drinking water.

“All of the trash at the site is covered with dirt,” he said. He sees no danger with water runoff.

Alderman Reedie Ray, who attended the meeting, said, “Jacksonville’s water is groundwater. It’s not surface water, and the water comes from Maumelle.”

But Conrad acknowledged the landfill’s area once held more than 3.4 million gallons of water, and some of it now has to go elsewhere.

“We’ve dug 43 acres of wetlands,” to help with Bayou Meto overflow, he said. “I know when I got here four years ago there was a drought.”

Conrad also explained how the landfill works.

The landfill includes 144 acres, which are divided into 16 sections that average nine acres. Each section is like a clay bathtub lined with plastic sheeting, he said. When trash is placed into a section, dirt is placed on top of it.

“After you are done with all of these landfills, what will you do with them?” someone asked.

Conrad estimated that the landfill will be used through 2048. But Waste Management will be responsible for maintaining the land through 2078.

“I don’t ever see houses being built on them” because of the way trash settles, he said.

“We want to be a recreation area for people to do birding activities. We’re proud of partnering with Audubon Arkansas on designing the best way to provide open space,” Conrad said.

“We are doing things to enhance wildlife such as planting native plants,” he said.

The forum also included a discussion about child support and expunging criminal records.

“Prisons are getting full of people who have not paid child support. But you can’t pay child support in jail,” Aaron said.

He said that when it comes to paying child support and expunging criminal records, “One of the biggest disappointments is not just a lack of understanding, but a lack of follow through.”

But he said expunging and sealing criminal records “falls along racial lines because there are more African Americans in jail than anyone else.”

“When you are talking about the NAACP, (we) work for all people not just black people,” Aaron said.

TOP STORY >> Landlords wrestle with city proposal

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville Landlord Association meeting at the Esther Nixon library Thursday was a contentious one with several members criticizing the organization’s support for Mayor Gary Fletcher’s plan to create a citywide landlord registry.

The registry would compile information from a tenant’s payment history to how many times the police are called to a tenant’s home.

Presumably, the ordinance would also ban problematic tenants — those who have had numerous police calls to their homes — from living in the city. Many association members found out about the plan from news reports.

“There is no ordinance yet,” association board member Kevin Smith said.

But at the city council’s Jan. 7 meeting, a document with the header “Jacksonville Landlord Ordinance” was distributed to council members.

Board members apologized for not communicating better with the association’s members and said they instead acted a bit over-zealously in their desire to clean up the city.

“In 30 years in Jacksonville, nothing has changed,” board member Mike Wilson said in a conciliatory tone.

“We want property values to go up. We want to make more money on our rental properties,” Wilson said.

“The process has got to start somewhere, and luckily we have an administration that wants to work with us,” he said.

“I think the issue is ‘who are you representing’ — the city of Jacksonville or the Jacksonville Landlords Association,” Mike Corker of Sherwood, who owns 250 apartments in Jacksonville, asked board members.

“The thing says ‘Jacksonville Landlord Ordinance.’ You can call it whatever you want, but that’s what it says,” Corker said as he held up the paper that was presented to the city council.

But that was a nonbinding initial proposal, too incomplete to even be called a draft, according to members of the board and city officials.

The document was culled from information from the Internet by Alderman Bob Stroud, and it was intended to be more of a conversation starter than a draft proposal.

“Good people are moving out, and bad people are moving in,” Fletcher said.

He wants to reverse that trend and more.

“I want them out of town,” the mayor said.

The mayor said that when landlords manage to evict trouble-making tenants, those same troublemakers rent another house in town, often in the same neighborhood, which the mayor called a “shell game of bad tenants.”

City administrator Jim Durham, who also attended the meeting, said, “There’s a lot of good people who live in Sunnyside but a lot of them belong in the penitentiary. Let them go live in North Little Rock or the county. They’re human beings, they’ve got to live somewhere, but I want them out of town.

“Police are getting bogged down in a certain area and that’s got to stop,” Durham said.

Fletcher made it clear that Sunnyside was not the only problem neighborhood in Jacksonville.

“We get police calls all over. There was a shooting in a nice neighborhood the other day,” he said.

But Sunnyside poses tough challenges for landlords and police.

The mayor displayed a chart of Sunnyside, which highlighted homes that have received multiple police calls. The mayor said he found 37 homes, which policemen were called to in the last six months; 25 of them were rentals.

“One house, I’ve counted nine calls in the last six months,” Fletcher said.

Since he took office, Fletcher has counted 1,032 police calls to Sunnyside. At that rate, approximately 200 per month, the police department will respond to 2,400 calls this year.

“You’re wanting landlords to replace the role of the police. I cannot control the people that I rent to,” said an audience member.

But Police Chief Gary Sipes disagreed. “I’m a landlord myself. I make sure I know what’s going on on my property,” he said.

“You can’t rent to decent people over there with what’s available. The police are the only ones who can take care of it. You get tired of putting money into a property there,” another audience member said.

Alderman Terry Sansing asked the audience to consider the benefits of a database. Sansing was especially supportive of a database’s potential to track rent jumpers, which he said would be of value to landlords. In theory, landlords could turn down prospective renters with a history of delinquent payments.

The mayor sees the group as having the potential to positively transform the city, and he asked for its members’ cooperation.

“I’m not going to ram an ordinance through, but I’m not going to have my hands tied by an individual or a group. I want to stay true to my commitment to clean up this city,” he said.

“We, as an association, can step up or we can step back, and let someone else draft the ordinance and take what we get,” Wilson said.

The landlords will meet again at 3 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28 at the Nixon Library to figure that out.

For more information, e-mail

TOP STORY >> Literacy program is volunteer driven

Leader staff writer

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to volunteer for a cause that benefits your community, you might consider becoming a literacy tutor.

For Claire Rogers, who became executive director of the Lonoke County Literacy Council last July after only five months as a volunteer, the rewards are obvious. She hopes that others will be energized to get involved in helping increase literacy in their communities.

“One in five Arkansans don’t read at the level needed to function in society,” Rogers said, which means not having the reading skills to comprehend a newspaper article, an ingredients list on a food or drug product, a map or business contract.

With tutoring, there is the tangible satisfaction of knowing you have helped another person in a life-changing way, Rogers said.

Like the woman recently who improved her literacy skills so that she was able to fill out a job application and be hired, just as she was laid off from another job. And the man who was then able to pass a driver’s test and obtain a commercial driver’s license.

Literacy makes a difference for communities too. Individuals with poor reading and writing skills have difficulty finding work, keeping a good job or earning a promotion. They will have less money to contribute to the local economy and be less inclined to shop even if they have money to spend.

Poverty and crime are strongly linked to poor literacy. Adults who have difficulty reading and writing are likely to pass the problem on to their children.

“If we help these people now, we’ll reap the benefits later,” Rogers said.

Rogers became a volunteer tutor with the Lonoke Literacy Council after retiring a year ago from a career with the Family Readiness Center at Little Rock Air Force Base.

It seemed like a good fit, given the enjoyment she derives from helping others as well as an affinity for grammar, reading and writing. She liked her new-found avocation so much that when Roy Henderson announced his retirement as the council’s director, she decided to take her involvement a step further and apply for the job.

She has her sights set on increasing the number of individuals helped by the council; that includes those who are American born as well as the growing population of individuals for whom English is a second language.

Rogers wants to spread the word that more literacy tutors are needed to meet the need in Lonoke County. Currently, the council has 40 students and 12 tutors.

She’d like to bring the number of tutors up to 20 so that she can increase outreach to the fisheries. So far, local businesses – restaurants and hotels in particular – “have been really great about sending employees” to tutoring, Rogers said.

To be a tutor requires a weekly time commitment of two to three hours. One does not need to speak the language of ESL students in order to help them learn to read.

To keep its services going, the council depends largely on state funding, but the organization relies heavily on sales from its bookstore, the Book Nook, to pay for study materials. The cost is $110 for one year per student, which is about how long it takes to attain basic proficiency. So that no one is denied assistance because of financial difficulty, Rogers said, “I want everything to be free.”

The Book Nook is accepting donated books again but since space is limited, the store does not accept what does not sell well – hardcover books without jackets, textbooks, encyclopedias or magazines.

It’s hard to get a firm count on just how many people in Lonoke County don’t read well enough to function effectively in daily life, but it could be a substantial number.

According to 2003 U.S. Census data, about 3 percent of the county’s 64,000 residents are Hispanic and therefore may be foreign born, 12 percent live at or below the poverty level and 15 percent do not have a high school diploma, not that that is any guarantee that a person is a proficient reader. A number of those who come to the Lonoke Literacy Council for help are high school graduates.

In Arkansas, 491,000 people age 25 or older do not have a high school diploma; that is almost 25 percent. Almost 10 percent of Arkansans over age 25 have less than an eighth-grade education.

Since last October, when Rogers spoke to the Lonoke Chamber of Commerce about literacy services, the number of ESL students tutored by Lonoke County volunteers have tripled.

“Oh, my goodness, it has just mushroomed from there,” Rogers said. “Word of mouth is just wonderful.” Soon after, arrangements were made for a tutor to hold ESL classes for Hispanic housekeepers at the Holiday Inn in the evenings. In no time, students were asking if family members could join in.


Lonoke County

Literacy Council of Lonoke County:
203 Court St. in Lonoke or
114 N. First St. in Cabot
Call Claire Rogers at 501-676-7478 or e-mail her at

Pulaski County

Literacy Action of Central Arkansas:
100 Rock St., Suite 403 in
Little Rock
Call Clif Ford at 501-372-7323 or e-mail him at

Pulaski County Learning Center Inc.:
1900 N. Pine in North Little Rock
Call Tara Rice at 501-753-5858 or e-mail her at

White County

Literacy County of White County:
109 E. Center
Searcy, Ark. 72143
Call Ann Nieto at 501-278-5500 or e-mail:

TOP STORY >> To Haiti and back

Master Sgt. Patrick Drozd of Cabot signals a forklift operator to raise the forks to unload the next pallet at the Port-au-Prince Airport in Haiti on Sunday.

Staff Sgt. Jordan Cote checks a manual  in flight to resolve a problem regarding a computer apparently issuing a false alert. Cote stayed late after landing at St. Croix, Virgin Islands, working on the problem.


John Hofheimer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — About 10,000 U.S. troops should be on the ground by now in Haiti to provide security for the enormous earthquake relief effort amidst the mounting chaos, and 46 of those soldiers deplaned at Port-au-Prince on Sunday morning from a state-of-the-art C-130J from Little Rock Air Force Base’s 41st Airlift Squadron.

The 41st, or Black Cat, Squadron, is the C-130J squadron in the 19th Airlift Wing.

This was the second of eight Little Rock C-130s committed to the relief effort by Tuesday, according to Tech Sgt. Kati Grabham, a spokesperson at LRAFB.

Crews included Capt. Sean Callahan, Master Sgt. Patrick Drozd and Tech Sgt. Evan “Elvis” Hendricks, all of Cabot, and 1st Lt. Kevin Bailey of Sherwood.

“We may have more here waiting to go,” Grabham said.

“We will support the effort to the fullest,” she said. “Providing airlift is what we do.”

Since Jan. 13, the Air Mobility Command has flown more than 260 sorties for these relief efforts and delivered nearly 1,600 tons of aid and 2,400 passengers. “We have evacuated more than 600 victims,” she said.

She said AMC had 30 aircraft at Pope Air Force Base, N.C., or en route and had processed roughly 103 tons of cargo.

For those like Callahan’s crew, details of their four-day mission shifted with conditions and in that regard, change was the only constant.

In addition to the combat-ready soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, the stretch C-130J carried two pallets of Meals Ready to Eat packets, one pallet of bottled water and a pallet of gear for the soldiers, already loaded with automatic weapons, ammo clips, knapsacks, water and rations.

The soldiers will be assigned to guard the airport or provide security for the Red Cross or other relief providers, according to one of their sergeants.

Callahan’s C-130J crew had been on a 44-hour standby at Little Rock Air Force Base when they got three-hours notice around 9:30 p.m. Friday to fly to Pope, pick up the cargo and proceed to the airport at Port-au-Prince in Haiti.

Arriving at Pope for a debriefing, however, they were instructed to sleep at the base. But upon returning to the plane to get their gear, their orders changed again. Four pallets — maybe 20,000 pounds — were loaded on and secured by the loadmasters — Drozd and Hendricks — and the soldiers from adjoining Fort Bragg filed in and strapped in.

The plane took off about 5 a.m. Saturday, arriving above Haiti at about 11 a.m. to find planes stacked up in a holding pattern from 1,000 to 15,000 feet.

After circling for about an hour, it left to land at St. Croix, Virgin Islands, at about 12:30 p.m.

Two Raven Group airmen from Pope stayed the night at the plane, guarding the relief cargo and the soldiers’ weapons.

After sleeping at a waterfront hotel, the crew arose at about 2:30 a.m. and returned to their plane, where the soldiers joined them.

The plane left at about 5:50 a.m. Sunday for Haiti, theoretically assured of a landing time at the small, overburdened airport already congested with relief supplies and mercy planes parked wingtip to wingtip.

The State Department is reportedly determining the landing order at Port-au-Prince.

The Air Force is manning the control tower and directing planes on the ground.

Turnaround is quick in order to get other planes out of the air and unloaded.

Parked next to the Little Rock AFB C-130J was a C-130 from the Ohio National Guard and nearby was another from Puerto Rico.

As quick as the C-130J parked, the soldiers departed through the crew door while the rear cargo door folded open and large forklifts arrived within minutes to offload the pallets.

Less than 30 minutes later, the plane was unloaded and could have left, but the crew awaited orders to make sure they weren’t needed to ferry the injured or U.S. residents back to Pope.

Planes of every description were parked there, including a C-17 and a 737 cargo plane from China.

On the bustling tarmac, giant forklifts, more loading and unloading equipment, Humvees, and U.N. trucks dodged and weaved between planes and storage compounds, including one in the infield run by the Air Force. Four-wheelers darted about with smaller loads.

The C-130 from Puerto Rico, taxiing to a takeoff position, had to pause while in its path a small group in civilian clothes took pictures of each other.

Word soon came that the space was needed, so the Little Rock crew buttoned up the plane and the crew, with three accompanying members of the press, took off, back to St. Croix for refueling and crew rest.

About 12 hours later, they left to return to Pope Air Force Base.

There they awaited orders, most likely a new cargo plane and a return flight to Haiti.

SPORTS >> Of robots, football and more football

Leader sports editor

What does a dancing, guitar-playing robot have to do with football?

That’s one of several things I wondered as I watched the NFL playoffs on television over the weekend.

The FOX network, that shelter for out-of-work politicians that also airs NFC games, seems to have fallen in love with the gladiatorial robot it uses at the outset of its broadcasts.

Apparently, the robot is named Cleatus. Apparently, he has helped FOX win an Emmy.

But explain why, during Sunday’s Minnesota Vikings-Dallas Cowboys playoff, the robot could be seen doing karate kicks, dancing and playing guitar in a corner of the screen during promos for FOX’s upcoming programming?

What, again, does this have to do with football?

All the networks are guilty of using some sort of overwrought imagery in their broadcasts, and the explosions and jets and robots and dancing girls and Hank Williams Jr. song retreads are an insult.

I can just see FOX executives in a meeting: “Football fans aren’t smart, and their attention span is short; let’s give them robots and shiny objects. It works for Palin.”

However, Fox did a neat thing by showing a clip of the 1975 Cowboys-Vikings playoff and the winning, last-ditch bomb Roger Staubach threw to Drew Pearson. It was the play that gave us the term “Hail Mary” in football, but Sunday’s clip proves again Pearson pushed off.

Just think, if the officials had called the penalty and the Cowboys lost, a Hail Mary might still be just a prayer and the Cowboys might not be America’s Team.

And by the way, when did America vote on that? I guess I missed it.

Anyway, it looks like Brett Favre’s four-touchdown performance for the Vikings has made that preseason, “Will he or won’t he?” soap opera look pretty worthwhile.

For me the highlight was seeing Tyrell Johnson of Rison and Arkansas State hit former Arkansas Razorback Felix Jones for a minimal gain just before Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo threw a second-half interception.

The meeting of the two players may be as close as we’ll ever come to an Arkansas-Arkansas State football game.

On a serious note, in the wake of the earthquake tragedy in Haiti, it was interesting and sobering to learn Sunday of the 20-plus Haitian-American players in the NFL. You would think this would have made former Monday Night Football broadcaster Rush Limbaugh more sensitive in his recent comments about U.S. aid to the stricken nation.

Then we moved on to the New York Jets-San Diego Chargers game on CBS.

Before it started, studio analyst Boomer Esiason said quarterback Mark Sanchez and the Jets had to play “a perfect football game” against the Chargers.

That’s key, since football WAS the game they were playing. If they had played a perfect football game while bowling, they would have had problems.

When quarterback Phillip Rivers led the host Chargers into battle, I shuddered with horrible memories, as I do every time I see that guy.

I covered Rivers’ first game when he was a true freshman starter for North Carolina State against Arkansas State in Raleigh, N.C., in 2000. It was a great game, played in intermittent rain and won by N.C. State in double overtime.

I left the stadium as the rain really began to come down, only to reach the parking lot to find I’d left my keys in my rental car, locked it AND left it running. Before the night was over I would also lose my satchel with my computer and airline tickets in it.

To this day I wake up expecting to find myself still stranded in Raleigh.

With the Chargers leading 7-0 at halftime, studio analyst Dan Marino said the “football teams” were similar and “can run the football.” Good, because if they were lacrosse teams trying to run the badminton shuttlecock, they would have been in trouble.

The game resumed and I learned during a commercial timeout one of the CSI shows had a sexy, golf-themed episode coming up.

Golfers and hanky panky? The public will never buy it. Not enough like real life.

Then color man Phil Simms said Jets kicker Jay Feely was “a football player,” which disabused me of my notion he was a platform diver.

The game, one of the better ones this postseason, ended in heartbreak for the Chargers as the Jets scored a 17-14 upset, but when it ended, I was left disconcerted by something I’d read online during a break in my two-day, football funfest.

The article said NFL games contain an average 11 minutes of real action.

Eleven minutes? Then what was I doing for six hours a day all weekend?