Wednesday, June 09, 2010

EDITORIAL>>Prison reform long overdue

The tenth time may be a charm. We have not been counting, but there must have been at least that many resolutions by state leaders to reverse the steady climb in the number of state prisoners and in the mushrooming cost of keeping them.

But Gov. Mike Beebe and a few other state leaders, notably the chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court, want another study in the hope that knowledgeable people this time can offer a solution that will stick. We know already that they will have a solution. The question is whether it is a politically salable solution.

The Pew Center on the States will do the work. Four years ago, it started its Public Safety Performance Project, which helps states deal with sentencing and correctional practices that have sent prison costs out of control. Arkansas is not alone, although its trend is one of the country’s worst.

Beebe has a record of accomplishing what he sets out to do, so maybe this time really will be a charm.

The problem started 35 years ago when Arkansas, like many states, decided to get tough on crime, which at the time was actually going down slightly owing to demographic changes. The crime rate tends to go up and down, depending upon whether the number of men between the crime-prone ages of 15 and 26 is rising or declining.

The legislature imposed a new set of mandatory sentences and stacked them for third and greater offenses. People stayed in prison longer and longer and the population grew. Over the succeeding two decades, prison officials projected bigger and bigger populations and the need for more and more prisons, at greater and greater cost to the taxpayers.

Governors and a few legislative leaders from time to time resolved to reform the sentencing standards to stem the growth, but the impulse to do just the opposite was always ungovernable. At every session the legislature found more offenses that needed to be criminalized with harsh sentences. Prison construction and expansion of the staff ran apace, although never fast enough to keep up with the growth in inmates. Prisoners backed up in county and city jails awaiting openings in the prisons or the completion of new housing. The police and the courts delayed trials and sentencing because there was no room either in the jails.

That’s where we’ve been. Gov. Mike Huckabee, soon after the turn of the last decade, vowed to do something about it, maybe diverting drug and other nonviolent offenders into treatment and community programs. But he never offered a plan. It was too politically risky. Who wants to be known as being soft on criminals? The legislature passed a couple of minor bills that helped in a small way.

Over the past 20 years, the prison population in Arkansas has more than doubled so that it now approaches 16,000. That’s a larger population than each of 25 Arkansas counties. Twenty years ago, the state spent $45 million a year operating the prisons — that didn’t include construction — and now it runs about $350 million a year. Then it consumed 3 percent of the state’s general revenues, now it eats up 8 percent of a much larger budget. That comes largely at the expense of education.

The trend is not improving. Last year alone, the number of prisoners in state custody rose by 3.1 percent, the eighth-largest percentage increase in the country. It is popular to say that such spending growth is not sustainable, but of course it is. Other services that we value even more, like education, will just have to suffer or else we will raise taxes.

It is common to look upon corrections as a tradeoff. You can pay for safety or you can pay for good education, but you can’t have both without paying the extra taxes for them. But it is not proven that mighty prisons make us much safer. There are states and nations that treat offenders more flexibly and have much smaller incidence of violent crime. Still, that is a hard sell to a legislator who worries about being called a coddler at the next election.

The Pew Center may show us how to do that, and Beebe may be able to work his political magic and get it done. He said the other day that his most important job is to reform the government so that when he leaves it (in January 2015, we presume) the path for his successors will not be uphill. Here is a good test for his resolve.

TOP STORY>>Delegation observing democracy

Leader senior staff writer

Six officials from Kazakhstan are in Little Rock this week to learn about U.S. elections, media and government.

Their probing questions when they visited The Leader on Tuesday bore no resemblance to the coarse, slapstick spoof Borat, in which a make-believe TV reporter from Kazakhstan — the ninth largest nation in the world in size — comes to the U.S. in search of truth.

Kazakhs found Borat highly insulting, by the way, when it was in theaters in 2006. The fledgling independent country was at the time out from under the boot of communism for 15 years, and they didn’t like being portrayed by actor Sasha Baron Cohen as crude, bumbling idiots.

Sponsored by the U.S. Library of Congress, the real Kazakhstan visitors from Central Asia yesterday asked insightful questions about newspapers, about elections and about freedom of speech and freedom of information.

From a nation of 16 million people, they are delegates to the Open World Program, sponsored by the Open World Leadership Center. Most are in their twenties.

“Who sponsors the newspaper?” asked Mirkhat Serikbayev.

“The paper is paid for by people buying ads and people buying newspapers,” he was told.

Members of the group asked such questions as—did candidates pay for articles in the paper? No, only for their advertisements, they were told.

“Do they pay for the endorsements and editorials?” they asked through their interpreter.

No, the publishers—owners—of The Leader and their editorial writers make those decisions, but no money changes hands.

They asked about libel and its punishments—what happens when you say bad things about a president?

Talent Silltanon wanted to know about Helen Thomas, the 89-year-old reporter who questioned 10 presidents, but who resigned Monday after saying in a televised interview that Jews should leave Palestine and go back to Poland, Germany and the United States.

Was she punished for speaking her mind, they wondered?
Perhaps, but more so for loudly violating the reporter’s creed of impartiality.

The objectives and interests of the Open World program include:

The openness of government and access to information, mass media and the role in politics, campaigns and elections, principles of constitutional government in the U.S., freedom of speech in a democratic society and utilization of information technology.

Youth participation in socio-political processes, immigration and problems of ethnic minorities, citizens’ role in local governance, the role of public opinion in politics and relationships among the various branches of the federal government.

The group visited the Wash-ington office of Sen. Mark Pryor and will stay with host families in Little Rock.

They visited Old Mill Park in North Little Rock, Stephens Nature Center, River Market District, Clinton Presidential Center and took a short hike at Pinnacle Mountain.

They met with Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, visited the Central High Museum and toured the school, and learned about elections from Susan Inman, former director of the Pulaski County Election Commission and director of elections for the Arkansas secretary of state.

They will learn about blogging from Max Brantley at Arkansas Times and will discuss issues surrounding Arkansas Hispanics with Alan Leveritt, publisher of the Times and also El Latino.

Other stops on their one-week stay in Little Rock: They will meet with Frank Fellone from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to discuss how the Freedom of Information Act is used and will meet with Grif Stockley to discuss human rights and citizen activism.

They are also slated to visit Cong. Vic Snyder’s office and Heifer Village.

TOP STORY>>Good news slighted by union fight

Leader staff writer

At the school board meeting Tuesday of the Pulaski County Special School District, educators celebrated leaps in scores on Benchmark exams in both literacy and math that exceeded state averages, as well as more than $11 million in college scholarships to graduating seniors. But the meeting was marred by angry outbursts over the board decision to end recognition of the union.

During the public-comment period, a parent of a Sylvan Hills Middle School student speaking out against board actions in recent months and costs of associated legal services, was cut short by school board president Tim Clark.

Parent Dawn Jackson told the board that she was “very unhappy” that the board’s decision in December – and again in April – to end recognition of the Pulaski County Association of Classroom Teachers was “costing the district tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.”
Jackson said her efforts recently to communicate with Clark about the reason for the board’s decision were unsatisfactory.

“He only said, ‘It got personal’ and that was not good enough,” Jackson said.

At that point, Clark cut short Jackson, indicating her time was up.

“You have already broken the rules,” Clark bristled. “You need to be respectful to the board and not mention names.”

Jackson said she was not sure what rules she had broken, then implored the board to reconsider their actions.

“I am sick about this money being spent needlessly,” Jackson said as she headed to her seat. “Teachers don’t want to be in a lawsuit, but they are backed into a corner.”


PACT president Marty Nix, next to speak in public comment, told Clark, “Grow up,” adding that his treatment of Jackson was the reason why the teachers were in a lawsuit.

Clark told her, “Your presentation is over, thank you.”

As Nix was escorted by security from the board meeting room, she told Clark, “We’ll see you in court.”

Clark called a 20-minute recess.

Outside in the administration building lobby, as she answered reporters’ questions, Jackson said she was shaking with anger.

“The fact is, it’s a personal matter – some board members got their feelings hurt, like they did with me,” Jackson said.

Jackson, who is a lawyer, explained that she became interested in the litigation stemming from the board’s decision to sever ties with the union, when her son, Sam Peoples talked about how the teachers were affected.

“Their morale was really low,” Jackson said. “They were down-trodden.

“I was curious to understand what happened. This is a black mark on the district.”

Jackson said she has spent a lot of time sifting through the teacher contract, the tentative agreement that the board rejected in December as well as the lawsuits, motions and counter-motions filed since then.


Jackson has created a website,, because she feels that the news media are not getting the full story out about the board’s decision to end recognition of PACT as the collective bargaining agent for PCSSD teachers.

“My goal is to get information out to the public,” Jackson said.

The website contains a petition for school patrons to sign who want to cast a “vote of no confidence” for the four board members who voted to end union recognition. In four days, more than 400 individuals have signed the petition, Jackson said.

Jackson said that she has made a request according to the state Freedom of Information Act to obtain records of legal costs associated with the ongoing legal battle between the union and the district over the decision to end union recognition.

“What really angers me is to see them treat parents like that,” said Nix about her angry words with Clark. “‘Grow up’ are the two words that literally came to my mind. Parents getting information are finally getting a little upset.”

After the break, Clark explained why he had stopped Jackson from speaking.

“With all due respect to the parent who spoke tonight, the lady who spoke runs the web site for PACT support. When everybody realizes why we are here – for the children, not the union – we’ll all grow as a board.”


The board voted 5-2 to adopt a thick book of personnel policies to replace existing policies negotiated with the teachers’ union, which the district says will no longer represent PCSSD teachers as of June 30.

The vote is another step in a process that began with a board vote last December and another in April to withdraw recognition of PACT as the collective bargaining agent for teachers and replace it with a personnel policies committee (PPC).

In April, the board also voted to non-renew teacher contracts, which are based on policies contained in the agreement negotiated with the union and replace contracts based on the new policies.

The union, which has represented district teachers for 20 years, has challenged the board’s actions with two lawsuits. One filed in January contends that the district is bound to the existing contract with the union and accordingly must negotiate a successor agreement rather than forge new contracts on its own.

The most recent suit was filed Friday in the Sixth Division in Pulaski County Circuit Court by five teachers employed by PCSSD – Judy Stockholm, Cheryl Carpenter, Ben Belton, Loveida Ingram and Brenda Robinson.


The 95-page class action complaint, filed on behalf of more than 600 PCSSD teachers, contends that the board’s action to use the Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal Act as a basis for non-renewal of the contracts violated state law.

“Under the TFDA, a school board can only non-renew the contracts of non-probationary teachers (those with three or more years of experience) based on valid reduction in force, incompetent performance, repeated or material neglect of duty, conduct which materially interferes with the continued performance of the teacher’s teaching duties or other just and reasonable cause, Ark. Code Ann. 6-17-1510(b),” the complaint states.

“The stated reason for the non-renewal – that a new set of replacement policies will be adopted – is not just or reasonable. The non-renewal is not just and reasonable because it amounts to a breach by the District of the PNA which provides that the PNA shall remain in effect until a successor agreement is negotiated with PACT.”

Further, the suit argues that the board’s decision to push ahead with the formation of a PPC in June violates not only state law governing the process for policy changes and contracts, but also the district’s own policies.

The district is ignoring the two lawful options for changing policies affecting teachers, the complaint states – either negotiate with PACT any changes to the existing professional negotiations agreement, or wait until the first quarter of the next school year to move forward with establishment of a PPC, as stated in existing district policy.

“In the event a school district has a written agreement with an organization to negotiate personnel policies, it must negotiate changes to the policies for them to become a part of the teachers’ contracts,” the complaint states.

In the event that a contract is not in place, the complaint continues, “teachers must form and elect a personnel policies committee in the first quarter of the school year and then set a schedule of meetings throughout the year to consider changes or additions to the policies,” in accord with Arkansas Code Ann. 6-17-202.

The board is in violation of state law “because 1,200 teachers cannot be forced into the process of forming a PPC in the last month of school (when almost all teachers will be off for the summer) when the law provides that the teachers are to form a PPC in the first quarter of the school year and then have the entire year to set meetings and review proposed changes or additions to policies.”


Nix said she was “absolutely amazed” that the board was so quick to adopt a set of policies that is almost 200 pages long, when in December it rejected 42 pages of policies with amendments approved by the negotiators.

“They didn’t have time to read that but they did read 196 pages of ridiculous babble.”

At the end of the meeting during the board members’ comment period, Charlie Wood said that he wanted teachers to know that his support for ending the relationship with PACT “is nothing personal against teachers. “It is a matter of principle and how I believe an organization should be run.”

Board member Danny Gililland said that despite the deep difference that divide the district and teachers, the news of test score advances and scholarship offerings should be a reminder that “our kids are still learning and that we are doing much right in our schools every day. We don’t want to forget that.”

TOP STORY>>Halter falters in runoff

Leader staff writer

Even though Lt. Gov. Bill Halter moved ahead in many of the polls in the days before the runoff, he faltered when it counted, losing Tuesday to Sen. Blanche Lincoln, 52 percent to 48 percent.

Lincoln will face Republican U.S. Rep. John Boozman in the general election in November. Early polls have Boozman up by as
much as 20 percent.

Boozman garnered more than 52 percent of the vote in a crowded field of eight during the GOP primary.

Lincoln and Halter were forced into a runoff when the third Democratic challenger, D.C. Morrison, grabbed about 15 percent of the vote, preventing Halter and Lincoln from capturing the required 50 percent.

Lincoln made history when she became the youngest woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate at the age of 38 in 1998. She is trying to gain a third term.

With 98 of the precincts reporting, Lincoln received 132,727 votes to Halter’s 122,620 votes.

In other state races, Jacksonville’s Pat O’Brien, currently the Pulaski County Clerk, defeated challenger Mark Wilcox to get the Democratic nod in the secretary of state race.

O’Brien received 149,070 votes, or 62 percent, to Wilcox’s 92,720 votes, or 38 percent, with 98 percent of the precincts reporting.

O’Brien will face Republican stateRep. Mark Martin in November.

Chad Causey, Congressman Marion Berry’s former chief of staff, and Tim Wooldridge, a former state senator, battled it out, with Causey coming out on top for the Democratic nod for the First District congressional race.

Causey, who finished second in the May primary, gathered 38,713 votes, or 51 percent, to Wooldridge’s 36,741 votes, or 49 percent, with 99 percent of the precincts reporting.

Causey will face Republican Rick Crawford in November.

Democratic State Sen. Joyce Elliott and Speaker of the House Robbie Wills were the top two-vote getters in the May primary, with Elliott besting Wills by 12 percentage points. But in the run-off, it was closer as Elliott bested Wills, 54 percent to 46 percent. Elliott garnered 36,983 votes to 31,822 for Wills, with 100 percent of the precincts reporting.

Elliott will face off with Republican Tim Griffin in the general election.

For the Third District congressional seat being vacated by John Boozman, it was the Republicans in a runoff. Rogers Mayor Steve Womack squeezed past state Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, 51 percent to 49 percent.

He will face Democrat David Whitaker in November.

In the land commissioner runoff, farmer and business consultant L.J. Bryant solidly defeated state Rep. Monty Davenport, 59 percent (140,154 votes) to 41 percent (96,515), with 97 percent of the precincts reporting.

Bryant will face Republican challenger John Thurston, a minister, in the fall.

In the only local runoff race, incumbent Todd Wheat beat challenger Danny Whitehurst, 65 votes to 35, in the Democratic runoff for Position 2 Lonoke alderman.

In the May 18 primary, the two men tied, 33 votes each, so about one-third more people voted in the runoff.

“I just want to thank everyone who voted for me,” Wheat said.

“I promise to work real hard.”

Wheat does not face opposition in the November general election.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

SPORTS>>Sylvan Hills takes third

Leader sports editor

Time was running out on the Sylvan Hills Optimist Bruins, but it caught up to Benton on Sunday.

Sylvan Hills survived a big fifth inning by Benton to take an 11-8 victory in the third-place game at the Gwatney Chevrolet Junior Legion Invitational at Dupree Park. Benton scored five runs in the fifth but never got another at-bat because of the tournament time-limit rule.

Sylvan Hills was sailing along behind starter Greg Atchison and took an 11-3 lead into the fifth. But Atchison tired in the 90-plus degree heat and Benton scored its five runs without a hit.

“He did a great job,” Bruins coach Billy Sims said. “Just the heat got him. Other than that he was solid. He’s getting better.

That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Atchison walked two and hit two, one each with the bases loaded to drive in two runs, and threw a wild pitch to allowanother man to score.

Aaron Sarna relieved Atchison and walked another with the bases loaded, and Benton’s Tyler Lewis added an RBI groundout to cut it to 11-8 before Austin Kennedy flied out to end the inning and, as it turned out, the game.

“We may not win but we play hard,” Sims said. “We’re just trying to get the younger kids better. That’s the main thing.”

Atchison was solid until the fifth, scattering four hits and striking out four, though he did give up three walks and three runs, two earned.

The Bruins, meanwhile, took advantage of six walks and five hit batters to take their big lead. Connor Eller hit a three-run double in the team’s five-run second, and he was replaced by pinch-hitter Trey Sims, who led off the two-run fourth with a home run over the center-field wall.

“Connor’s a good player. He’s a good kid,” Sims said of Eller, then turned his comments to Sims. “He can hit a ball; he hit a bomb for us.”

Pinch hitter Lance Hunter followed Sims with a single to left, then stole bases and came home on a wild pitch to complete Sylvan Hills’ scoring.

Jo Miller led off the game with a walk and later scored on a passed ball and Atchison singled and later scored on a wild pitch by Benton starter Gareth Stout.

Benton reliever Christian Shelton hit Brandon Farrow and walked Forrest Harrison in the Sylvan Hills third, and both scored on wild pitches by Harrison and reliever Holt Fulcher. Brad Neighbors came on to start the fourth and gave up Sims’ home run and Hunter’s single.

Benton got two runs in the second when Jarred Donnor walked and scored on an error by Sylvan Hills left fielder Andrew Terry, and Jeffrey Hodge beat out an infield grounder and scored when Lane Ballard doubled.

Atchison hit Collin Hunter in the third and Hunter later scored on a wild pitch for Benton’s last run until the fifth.

Sylvan Hills went 1-2 in the tournament with a 9-4 loss to Sheridan and a 5-2 loss to Jacksonville on Saturday.

“It was a good day. We let them play and let some of the kids play that normally don’t,” Sims said. “We let kids play that had been sitting the bench.”

SPORTS>>Weaver sitting pretty in points

Leader sportswriter

The Big Show is going for three in a row.

Randy Weaver leads the modified-points standings at Beebe Speedway and at I-30 Speedway after winning track championships at both tracks last year. He also won the IMCA state modified championship, the second of his career, in 2009.

Weaver, nicknamed “Big Show,” has won a total of four modified championships at Beebe, including the past two seasons.

Weaver resides in Little Rock, but his affiliation with the Beebe-based Fox Racing Team has made him a favorite of local fans since he joined the team in 2003.

With four victories in eight starts, Weaver’s dominance at Beebe has shown no signs of deterioration in the first half of this season.

“We’ve had a pretty good season so far,” Weaver said. “We started out with a couple of wins and then kind of wenton a dry spell at both Beebe and I-30. We’ve had a good car about every night; we’ve been going to the front. You can’t ask for a better car.”

The plan for this year is more of the same for Weaver and the Fox team. They will run weekly at both I-30 and Beebe with the occasional trip to Batesville Speedway in Locust Grove, which became an IMCA-sanctioned track for modifieds this year.

“If you want to win a state championship this year, you’re going to have to run Batesville, because they’re IMCA sanctioned too,” Weaver said. “I’m not sure if we’ll make it up there to get the state championship or not, but we’ll probably run at Beebe and I-30 and try to get some of those track championships.”

The only other driver to win multiple modified features this season at Beebe is talented young Vilonia driver Curtis Cook. Weaver was in contention to deny Cook a second modified victory two weeks ago in an intense three-car battle along with North Little Rock veteran driver Mike Bowers.

But a late slip by Bowers cost Weaver the race.

“We had great race,” Weaver said. “I was running the top line, and I caught Bowers. I don’t know if he had a flat or something — he got loose and kind of collected me at the end. Me, Bowers and Cook had a great race. It was three-wide racing — it was awesome.

“I had a bunch of fans tell me it was the best modified race they’ve seen in a long time.”

With Bowers making limited appearances at Beebe, the disappearance of longtime competitors such as Chuck McGinty and Charlie Armstrong, and the recent struggles of former state champ Donnie Stringfellow have allowed Cook to emerge as Weaver’s primary adversary over the two seasons.

The two vary greatly in their driving styles and philosophies, which has made for some heated moments on the track and in the pits. Still, Weaver said there is no reason to believe the rivalry will turn bitter, even with the he-said, she-said debates that tend to percolate on local racing message boards anytime there is an altercation between two drivers.

“We had a couple of races there where we didn’t see eye to eye,” Weaver said. “I’m a guy that doesn’t like to tear my car up, and he’s the same way. I was a little hot that one night, and I’m sure he was too.

“I saw it one way; he saw it another way. That’s just how it goes. That’s just racing. Last week, we were racing inches apart and never touched. The Internet doesn’t make it any better. People start talking on the Internet. I’m not that kind of guy.”

Regional late models have enjoyed resurgence in popularity over the past five years, and now there are even touring modified divisions across the country. But for Weaver and crew, there’s still no place to win like home.

“We’re pretty much happy with modifieds,” Weaver said. “We don’t travel much. I’ve got kids, and the Fox family lives nine miles from here, so they go racing here. We like to support our local tracks, and we’ve got families, so it’s hard to travel.”

SPORTS>>‘Big Show’ gets stellar reviews in track victory

Leader sportswriter

If there were any doubters as to why Randy Weaver is nicknamed “Big Show,” they left Beebe Speedway with a whole new perspective Friday night.

Weaver, the defending modified track champion and current points leader, recovered from a flat tire in the middle of the mod feature to come back and pass the entire field on his way to winning his fourth race of the year.

Weaver started in first position for the feature after winning his heat, and jumped out to a straightaway lead over the rest of the nine-car field in 10 laps. But his F1 machine rolled to a stop outside of turn four on the 11th circuit to bring out the first caution.

His crew quickly replaced the flat right rear tire and Weaver restarted in the back.

That put fellow Little Rock driver Mikey Bolding at the point in front of Searcy’s Robert Davis and Beebe driver Todd Greer.

Greer quickly worked to Davis’ inside for second on the restart, but the real action was behind the leaders.

Weaver worked his way up to fifth by lap 13, and picked off a car in each of the three following laps until he was on the bumper of Bolding’s No. 3 car. He passed Donnie Stringfellowon lap 14, Davis on lap 15 and Greer on the 16th circuit with strong moves to the outside in turns one and two.

That gave Weaver four laps to reclaim the lead from Bolding, but he only needed two, as he overtook Bolding from the outside on the backstretch. The crowd gave Weaver an enthusiastic ovation for his run as he pulled into the winner’s circle afterward.

Bolding had to settle for second while Greer was third. Davis hung on for fourth and Cabot’s David Payne completed the top five.

Weaver’s Fox Racing teammate Blake Jones of McRae made it two E-mod feature victories in a row for his F3 machine on Friday.

Jones won his second race of the year on Thursday night, and backed that up with another winning drive Friday after outlasting Lane Cullum.

Jones started on the pole with Cullum to his outside, but it was Cullum who claimed the top spot at the green. Jones stayed within a car length and even took a peek inside of Cullum’s black and white No. 15 on lap four, but Cullum benefited from a number of timely cautions.

Cullum caught what appeared to be the break of the night when Jones passed him for the lead out of turn two right before points leader Robert Woodard spun in the same corner. That reverted the field back to the previous lap and put Cullum back in the top spot.

Cullum appeared to have the race in hand on the final restart with a smooth inside line while Jones slightly overdrove his car on the outside. But Jones managed to catch Cullum out of turn two on the white-flag lap and the two drag raced down the back straightaway.

They stayed side by side through the final corners until Cullum’s car broke free and spun just out of turn three to give Jones a clear path to his second checkered flag in as many nights.

Last week’s winner Todd Joslin finished second and former E-mod champ Kevin Conway was third. Jeff Brady was fourth while
Beebe’s Ryan Redman recovered from an early spin to complete the top five.

The sentimental victory of the night went to Cabot’s Mike Millwood in the mini-stock feature. Millwood has been a consistent top-five driver in the minis over the years, but with no feature victory to his credit.

That all changed on Friday when Millwood chased down leader Paul Shackleford in his Triple J Racing No. 30 car and passed Shackleford for the lead on the fifth lap. Once out front, the outspoken veteran never looked back in collecting his first career triumph.

Shackleford settled for second while “Downtown” Johnny Brown finished third.

Beebe’s Larry Wise won the factory-stock feature while Jeff Porterfield claimed his second straight victory in hobby stocks.

Porterfield, the hobby-points leader, won the previous night and dominated again Friday.

Eddie Hoyer finished second in his Just-4-Play car and Searcy’s Gage Raines was third.

SPORTS>>Teachable moment comes from ump’s blunder

Leader sports editor

Why did baseball people get so mad at Jim Joyce last week?

It seems a little late to start cracking on the guy now; he’s been dead 69 years.

Sure “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” is a tough read, but Joyce has since earned respect for his use of interior monologue and other technical innovations in the art of the novel.


Oh, JIM Joyce, the umpire who screwed up Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. Not James Joyce the writer.

My bad.

Okay then, yeah, I understand why baseball fans are a little ticked. Exactly a week ago, Joyce was working first base as Galarraga, the Detroit Tigers’ starter, retired the first 26 Cleveland Indians he faced at Comerica Park.

Then Joyce ruled Jason Donald beat out an infield hit, with Galarraga covering first, on a play in which Donald was clearly out.

“I actually thought it was probably one of the worst calls that have ever been called in the major leagues,” said former Arkansas Travelers general manager and executive vice president Bill Valentine, an American League umpire from 1963-68.

Valentine said, with a perfect game or something equally as important on the line, the umpire’s job is to know beyond a shadow of a doubt the runner has beaten the throw before calling him safe. Otherwise the benefit of the doubt should go to the fielder, Galarraga in this case.

“He should have been thinking out, and the runner should have to convince him he was safe,” Valentine said.

After Galarraga retired his final hitter to lock up the 3-0 victory, Detroit manager Jim Leyland and several other Tigers went after Joyce, baseball renewed its introspection over the idea of expanded-replay use and fans howled and revisited notorious blown calls of the past.

Travelers broadcaster Phil Elson joked “Jim Joyce, meet Steve Fritzoni.”

Elson still has flashbacks to Fritzoni’s blunder in Game 4 of the 2005 Texas League Championship Series between the Travelers and Midland RockHounds at Ray Winder Field. Fritzoni lost track of the count, failed to award a base on balls to Arkansas’ Jason Aspito and forced him back into the box for a game-ending strikeout that gave Midland the championship.

The umpires wouldn’t come out of the dressing room and talk to me after that game, which is in marked contrast to the way Joyce handled his mistake.

Instead of ducking the media or avoiding comment, Joyce did something remarkable not just for an umpire, but for many Americans these days — he admitted his goof and apologized. No excuses. He didn’t blame field conditions, a bad childhood or the current administration.

“I just cost that kid a perfect game,” Joyce said. “I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay. It was the biggest call of my career.”

Joyce, a full-time Major League umpire since 1989, went straight to Galarraga and expressed his regret, and what do you know? Galarraga turnedout to be a big man too as his post-game bitterness dissolved into on-the-spot forgiveness expressed by a hug for Joyce.

“He probably feels more bad than me. Nobody is perfect,” Galarraga said, even though he could have been for at least one night.

Okay, baseball is going to have to figure out how to keep these things from happening, but the behavior of these two men renewed my faith in the game more than even a perfect outing by Galarraga would have.

Rare as they are, we’ve seen perfect games before, but the way the umpire and the pitcher conducted themselves, with courtesy and as adults, made me realize our games can still teach us something good.

Galarraga may not go into the record books, but the grace with which he accepted his disappointment is certainly something to write about.

Talk about a portrait of an artist.

“The class act in all of this is the pitcher,” Valentine said of Galarraga.

“He hasn’t moaned, he hasn’t groaned and he doesn’t know it now, he doesn’t have any idea about it now, but if he would have pitched that perfect game, three years from now you wouldn’t even have remembered his name,” Valentine said.

SPORTS>>Gwatney second in tourney

Leader sports editor

Gwatney Chevrolet coach Bob Hicking-botham figured he had about 2 ½ pitchers left for his team’s last game.

But Hickingbotham only needed two, or one, actually, as Gwatney beat the North Little Rock Optimist Colts 7-2 in the second-place game of the Gwatney Chevrolet Junior Legion Invitational at Dupree Park.

Noah Sanders started for Gwatney and gave up both North Little Rock runs in 1/3 of an inning before Hickingbotham replaced him with Xavier Brown, who silenced the Colts the rest of the way and picked up the victory.

“That’s the second time he’s been on the mound,” Hickingbotham said of Brown. “And he threw strikes and did real well. Kept the ball down and they didn’t really get a lot of shots at him. He did a good job. I was proud of him.”

Brown, who started the game at third base, went 4 2/3 innings and worked around four walks while giving up two hits and striking out two. He helped himself with a pair of RBI singles and drove in Gwatney’s first run in the second.

Brown’s effort was especially nice to seebecause most of the pitching staff was worn out from tournament play and a couple pitchers were unavailable for use, even, as position players.

“It’s fatigue, it’s arm fatigue,” Hickingbotham said. “They’re all right. Right now it’s fixing to get real thick and heavy. Because we’ve got three games next week.”

In his 1/3 of an inning, Sanders hit leadoff man Wesley Moore, walked three straight and allowed two runs on wild pitches.

Brown came on and got Drew Potter to fly out and made the third putout at the plate when he covered home after a wild pitch and tagged out Brian Chastain.

Brown’s biggest jam after that was in the third when he walked Moore and Jaleel Tyler, his first two hitters of the inning. But catcher Chris McClendon made a throw to catch Moore in a rundown for the first out then Brown struck out Blake Manning and got Chastain to fly out.

McClendon reached on an infield hit as Gwatney began to rally from its 2-0 deficit in the second. Colts starter Nick Graves hit Zach Traylor with one out and Brown then drove in McClendon with his first single.

Alex Tucker hit a sacrifice fly to score Traylor and tie it.

D’Vone McClure led off the third when he drove Graves’ last pitch, a 2-2 fastball, over the left-field fence to make it 3-2.

McClendon reached on Corey Jones’ outfield fielding error and scored when Jesse Harbin doubled, and Harbin came in on Brown’s second single to make it 5-2.

“The first and second inning we didn’t really do very much and then we kind of got on that little kid,” Hickingbotham said. “The harder they throw the better we are. I think our kids really like it.”

Sanders capped Gwatney’s scoring when he hit a two-RBI single in the fourth to drive in McClure, who doubled with one out, and Alex Williamson, who walked.

McClure finished 2 for 3 with two runs and an RBI; Sanders and Brown had two RBI and Harbin was 2 for 3 with a run and an RBI.

Gwatney advanced to the second-place game by beating the Sylvan Hills Optimist Bruins 5-2 Saturday following its 12-8 loss to Sheridan.

“We needed it after messing around with Sheridan,” Hickingbotham said. “We made too many mistakes and they beat us 11-8 and we just didn’t play very good defensively. We’re just going to give them a day off tomorrow and try to get ready to play Tuesday and Thursday.”

Monday, June 07, 2010

TOP STORY >> Irrigation funds are approved

IN SHORT: Sen. Lincoln gets $37 million in federal aid for a massive flood-control project that will also allow farmers to use water from the Bayou Meto.

Leader senior staff writer

Sen. Blanche Lincoln announced Friday evening that she had secured $37 million in stimulus funds for the Bayou Meto Basin Project, a sprawling irrigation, flood-control and wildlife-habitat project 60 years in the making.

That means Lonoke County farmers and some others can soon irrigate their fields without continuing to deplete the drinking-water aquifer. And the Bayou Meto drainage basin will be less likely to flood, as far north as I-40.

Finally, water will be available for waterfowl habitat, and water can be pumped out of the basin to save flooded hardwoods.

The project will irrigate about 300,000 acres of farmland, most of it in Lonoke County, with some acreage in Pulaski, Prairie and Jefferson counties.

Lincoln said the project is shovel-ready and the contract must be awarded before Sept. 30 to comply with the requirements of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The local match, about $18 million to be paid for with state bonds, brings the total to $55 million toward buying and installing eight massive pumps—six to pump water out of the Arkansas River at Scott for irrigation, two to pump water from the lower end of the basin at Reydel over the levees and back into the river to minimize flooding.

“This is a critical piece to the local economy,” said Lincoln, who is in a close runoff Tuesday with Lt. Gov. Bill Halter for the Democratic nomination for her Senate seat. “It creates jobs immediately. Area farmers have been working on this for a long time.”

Congress first authorized the project in 1950—about the same time the interstate highway system was begun.

“It’s very critical to the drinking- water supply,” Lincoln said, “and it helps ensure the sustainability of (irrigation) agriculture in a responsible way.

“It puts dollars back in the community. It produces jobs in agriculture and in construction as well,” she added.

“We’re already making requests for fiscal year 2011 dollars to finish up,” the senator said. “Normally we’re not able to get going with this good an investment. Now we can do it in half the time it ordinarily would take. We’ve got it in concrete now.”

“People told me that money (for this) was absolutely not available,” said Gene Sullivan, executive director of the Bayou Meto Basin Project. “And she got it. It was a shock to everybody when she came up with that money. The project is going to be built now. We hope to build it in seven years.”

“I hounded everybody I could find from the administration, the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers and my colleagues,” Lincoln said. “So it’s important that we move these dollars.”

“The match will come from state bonds,” Sullivan said. “We have an agreement to pay it back from the sale of water to the farmers.”

The Arkansas Natural Resource Commission is the sponsor.

The Scott station will pump 1,750 cubic feet of water per second into the system. At that rate, those pumps could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in about 50 seconds.

“Talking about the aquifer, we designed it to be sure that we can continue to use the amount of irrigation water we are using now without depleting the aquifer, and we should even have a little recovery,” Sullivan said. “We figured out how much we needed, how much we could safely take out of the aquifer, increase efficiencies (on the farm) and that’s how we set the (pumping) capacity.”

The water is conveyed through channels, ditches and pipes, lifted by pumps when necessary, until it arrives at about 1,200 farms, where the farmers have agreed to tax themselves and to pay for the water.

The project will require two pumping stations, 107 miles of man-made canals, 260 miles of work on existing channels, 465 miles of pipelines and more than 500 water-control structures.

Additional improvements could add about $200 million to the project, according to Sullivan, preferably over the course of seven years.

The project will irrigate 270,000 acres of farmland in Lonoke, Jefferson, Prairie, Arkansas and Pulaski counties and 22,000 acres of commercial fishponds, would provide waterfowl habitat and also a way to get floodwater off the low-lying southeast part of the basin and back into the Arkansas River.

Farmers have been pumping water from the aquifers faster than it can recharge, threatening not only the irrigation water, but also drinking water from the deeper Sparta aquifer.