Saturday, October 09, 2010

SPORTS>>Lady Panthers victorious


Leader sportswriter

Senior night became a statement match for the Cabot Lady Panthers on Thursday.

Although mired in seventh place in the 7A-Central standings, the Lady Panthers showed they are not to be counted out of the state tournament chase with a 3-0 sweep over North Little Rock at Panther Pavilion, taking a dominant and emotional victory, 25-22, 25-18, 25-19.

Senior hitter Ashley Daniels ripped the Lady Wildcats with a match-high 17 kills, plus two aces and four blocks, two of which were assisted. Teammate Jenny Evans was not far behind with 13 kills, two aces and three blocks, including two assisted.

The Lady Wildcats (4-7 in conference) jumped to an early 5-1 lead in the first game before the Lady Panthers (2-9) took over the match. A kill by Evans tied the score 12-12 and a scorching kill by Daniels gave Cabot its first lead of the night.

“We were playing with more intensity tonight,” Cabot coach Terry Williams said. “This is their last home game. We have six seniors. Of course, that’s motivation right there.

“We didn’t have those dips like we usually do. We kind of stayed at a high level and played more consistently throughout the match.”

Cabot answered North Little Rock’s strongest hitting threat with blocker Carlee Wright, who stopped a number of solid attempts to keep the Lady ’Cats off balance. Wright finished the night with five blocks, one assisted.

“You look at the first time we played teams in the conference and the second time we’ve gone through, we’re scoring a lot more points,” Williams said. “We’ve been gradually improving — just slowly but surely.”

Daniels and Evans took turns dominating the net with their rotations in Game 2. Evans scored two straight kills to give the Lady Panthers a 9-4 lead early, and Daniels took over in the late stages with a pair of kills to give the Lady Panthers an 18-12 lead, and she scored two of Cabot’s final three points with kills.

“She did a good job,” Williams said of Daniels. “She’s been working on her hitting, trying to stay aggressive up there. She had some difficulties a couple of matches ago, but she’s fixed it. She was up there swinging tonight.”

Stevie Brock also gave North Little Rock’s defense fits from the left side in the second game. Brock scored twice on a pair of cross-court smashes, and scored another point with a shot behind her back that the Lady Wildcats did not return. The Lady Panthers also had a good performance at the service line by Brylee Staten.

Other contributors for Cabot were Chloe Eifling, Kori Maloy and Lauren Hardiman.

The Lady Wildcats hung around in Game 3 until the Lady Panthers went on a 9-3 run in the final stages. Daniels drilled one last kill to end it and began a celebration that included as many tears as it did smiles.

“They were crying in practice today around noon, so I knew it was going to be rough,” Williams said. “They were excited, and the younger girls did a great job with their intensity on the bench. It makes a difference when those little ones are cheering their hearts out too. I thought it was a good group effort.”

The victory still leaves Cabot in seventh place, five points behind Little Rock Hall, 37 to 32, in the 7A-Central standings with three matches remaining. Williams said the fight to secure the sixth and final tournament seed is still alive.

“I think mathematically we can, but we’ve got to get some wins,” Williams said. “We’ve got to get at least two more wins the rest of the season. It’s going to be hard, but it’s not impossible.”

SPORTS>>Red Devils get stingy in shutout of Warriors

By todd traub

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville got back to winning form in a big way with a 29-0, 7A/6A-East Conference victory at Little Rock Hall on Friday.

A week after its conference loss to Jonesboro, Jacksonville posted a defensive effort that featured two goal line stands, two blocked punts and a fumble recovery while quarterback Logan Perry passed for three touchdowns.

“I’m very proud of our football team,” first year Jacksonville coach Rick Russell said. “Little Rock Hall had a good defense and they put a lot of pressure on us and they just kept plugging. We put some good plays together and made some good things happen.”

Under Russell, the former defensive coordinator who returned as head coach this year, the Red Devils (4-2, 2-1) are now able to think about reaching the postseason after winning just two games last year.

“We’ll take it week by week and we’re excited,” Russell said. “We’re trying to get a good seed in the playoffs”

The Red Devils made their goal line stops in the first quarter and midway through the third. Rhakeem James forced a fumble that J.D. Harrison returned 17 yards to set up Jacksonville’s last touchdown that came on a 14-yard pass from Perry to Xavier Brown early in the fourth quarter.

Brown added a 31-yard field goal in the closing minutes.

Jacksonville’s first score came on a 75-yard touchdown pass from Perry to Fletcher Berkley in the first quarter.

“Logan did a good job moving in the pocket and finding the open receiver,” Russell said. And Fletcher was alone on the right sideline.”

Russell said Berkley had caught a pass in every game but came up big Friday.

“He was the long receiver tonight,” Russell said.

Antwone Mosby scored on a three-yard run to make it 13-0 in the second quarter, and the Warriors stopped the Red Devils’ conversion run after an offsides penalty on Hall led Jacksonville to go for it.

D’Vone McClure outjumped two defenders in the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown reception that made it 19-0, following a missed extra point, in the third quarter.

“It was a great pass and a great catch by D’Vone,” Russell said.

McClure also reversed field on a run that set up Brown’s field goal that ended the scoring.

Russell said he was concerned Hall would try to run the kind of sweeps that Jonesboro used to great success in the previous week’s 34-20 victory. But a week of film study and chalk talk had the Red Devils ready, Russell said.

“We made some adjustments and alignments and in our line stunts and we did a good job following through with our game plan,” Russell said.

SPORTS>>Lonoke smashes Southside


Leader sportswriter

Justin Smith gave Lonoke fans plenty to cheer about during the Jackrabbits’ 50-14 clubbing of Southside Batesville Friday.

The crowd at James B. Abraham Stadium had its disappointment over the absence of injured stars Wes Plummer, Darius Scott and Justin Carpenter quickly replaced with jubilation over Smith’s standout defensive performance.

The senior defensive back pulled down three interceptions, two of which set the ’Rabbits (5-1, 2-1 2-4A Conference) up in scoring position. Smith also picked up a fumbled Southside lateral to give Lonoke first and goal at the 6 for another touchdown in the second quarter.

Smith also came close to grabbing two more interceptions, while sophomore Essick Shepard and junior Mike Holder also picked off passes.

“Those guys that have been backups all year had the opportunity to come in there, and they did the job,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “It’s good that those guys can get that kind of experience tonight. We let them play with us in the first half, and were kind of disappointed at halftime.

“We challenged them. The offensive line came out, and we were able to run the ball in the second half.”

Plummer was out because of an injured elbow, Scott suffered from back spasms all week and Carpenter sat out with a concussion. But Smith played the game of his career to take up the slack for Plummer and Scott.

“We just played as a team,” Smith said. “We went out there and we got the job done. We were rolling in our coverage, and everyone was getting their assignments.

“The quarterback, I just looked at his eyes the whole time, and I could see where he was throwing it.”

The dominant defensive performance allowed the Jackrabbits to experiment on offense. Sophomore running back Eric Williams turned in a workhorse effort with 15 carries for 170 yards and a touchdown, while Bost put junior quarterback Terrale Watson in for over half the game.

Watson, who earned the starting job two days before sustaining an ankle injury in August, looked solid despite having no playing time prior to Friday. He completed 4 of 8 pass attempts for 46 yards and a touchdown, and had one rush for 15 yards late in the game before taking a knee on three straight plays to end it.

“That was the game plan coming in,” Bost said. “Just good to get him some game action. I think he completed a couple of passes, and took off on a run. That’s good, in case we ever need him down the line. It was good to see him back out there.”

Smith earned a local radio station’s player of the game honor for his efforts.

“I’ll tell you what, he had three, and maybe two more right there that he could have easily had,” Bost said of the interceptions. “He showed some great senior leadership, and he’s a great senior for us. I was proud of him, and he had a big night for us.”

Logan DeWhitt finished 8 of 15 passing for 169 yards and two touchdowns. D.J. Burton led the receivers with five receptions for 103 yards and two touchdowns.

The Jackrabbits finished with 536 total yards to 280 for Southside.

The Jackrabbits struck first with a 41-yard touchdown pass from DeWhitt to Blake Dill with 8:04 left in the first quarter. Dill broke from the left side to the middle and made a diving catch in the end zone.

T.J. Scott’s extra point was good to make it 7-0.

Southside’s second turnover set Lonoke up with good field position at the Southerners’ 6. Keli Bryant was stopped at the line of scrimmage on first down, but he followed a three-yard run by D.J. Burton with a three-yard touchdown run with 10:24 left in the half.

The Jackrabbits were on their way to a mercy rule rout when Essick Shephard intercepted a pass from Southside quarterback Jared Dahl at the Southerners’ 43.

DeWhitt found Scott Smith for a 12-yard pass on second down, which set up Eric Williams for a 25-yard touchdown run with 5:56 left in the half to give the ’Rabbits a 21-0 lead following Scott’s extra point.

But the Southerners (0-6, 0-3) fought back with a pair of touchdown passes late in the half. Dahl found Levi Henderson for a 53-yard pass to set Southside up with first-and-goal at the Lonoke 3, and passed to Storm Tipton on the next play for the score.

Dahl ran in the two-point conversion to cut it to 21-8.

SPORTS>>Cabot’s ‘D’ earns an A for efforts on goal line

By todd traub

Leader sports editor

It began with a goal-line stand and ended with one, and somewhere in between Cabot scored enough points to beat North Little Rock 14-7 in overtime at Panther Stadium on Friday night.

The Panthers scored on Spencer Smith’s two-yard run that began the extra period for their first lead. Then Cabot, in its best defensive effort of the year, stopped North Little Rock on downs, chasing quarterback Kaylon Cooper out of bounds near the 5 on his fourth and 16 carry to lock up the 7A/6A-Central Conference victory.

“We didn’t quit, we got it when we had to and all I can say is I’m tickled to death to get a conference win over a good North Little Rock team,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said.

Charging Wildcats kicker Edgar Atilano missed a 37-yard field goal wide left with 16 seconds left in regulation, and North Little Rock’s overtime drive was plagued by a holding penalty that wiped out Cooper’s six-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Dunlap and brought up the fourth and 16 situation.

Both coaches were at a loss to explain why Cooper stepped out of bounds with Cabot’s Greg Phelps closing in instead of fighting for yardage and possibly breaking a tackle.

“That shocked me man,” Malham said. “But I’m glad he did.”

North Little Rock coach Brad Bolding said he wouldn’t be able to explain the decision making by Cooper, who was coming out of a timeout, until he watched film and spoke to his quarterback.

Cabot (4-2, 2-1) set the defensive tone early, stopping North Little Rock at the 1 on the first possession of the game and again on fourth down later in the first quarter.

The Panthers’ worst mishap was an underthrown interception by Zach Craig that led to the Charging Wildcats’ only scoring drive, and North Little Rock got the touchdown and the lead with Cooper’s 43-yard pass to Hunter Airheart that made it 7-0 with 2:55 left in the third quarter.

But after forcing a punt, Cabot started at its 6 with 8:14 left and drove for Spencer’s 1-yard run and Jesus Marquez’s extra point that tied it at 14 with 1:36 to go. Jeremy Berry had a 31-yard run on the possession to help get Cabot away from its end zone and Smith had a 22-yard run up the middle.

“We started finding a few creases and did what we had to do when we had to do it,” Malham said.

Smith led Cabot with 147 yards and Berry had 82 while Kendall Williams led North Little Rock with 125.

SPORTS>>Smith wins 7A state

By todd traub

Leader sports editor

Cabot’s Hunter Smith birdied four of his final seven holes to win the boys 7A state golf championship at Cabot’s Greystone Country Club on Wednesday.

Smith, a senior, shot a 3-under-par 69 on his final round to finish the two-day tournament with a 4-under 140 on Greystone’s Mountain Springs course.

Little Rock Catholic’s Matt Mabrey was second with a 148.

Behind Smith’s effort, Cabot won the team championship with a 623 score, nudging out Catholic, which shot a two-day 635.

Cabot’s Colby Benton shot a 75-78—153 to finish fifth.

Smith’s steady play early helped him move ahead of or stay in front of Mabrey and Fort Smith Southside’s Drew Comer, who took double bogeys on the opening hole. Smith, on the other hand, started the second day with three straight pars.

Mabry was 6-over after four holes Wednesday and Comer was 3-over after three holes.

Smith suffered a bogey on No. 11 but he birdied No. 12, 13 and 14. Mabry, who rallied back to 1-over with birdies on No. 5, 9, 10, 11 and 13, had his third double bogey on No. 14, a 500-yard par 5 which allowed Smith to pull away.

Smith was at his best on the par 5s, shooting 6-under on the big holes, and he only three-putted twice.

Smith hasn’t put Mabrey or Comer completely in his past. All three have qualified for Thursday’s Overall Tournament at Pleasant Valley Country Club in Little Rock.

Friday, October 08, 2010

EDITORIAL >>Limiting state cars

Is Mike Beebe a good governor or a just a good politician, or is there a difference? He turns every controversy into a good-government lesson.

Beebe demonstrated his deft touch in the great state-car controversy. The Arkansas Democrat- Gazette’s summerlong reporting on the extensive use and abuse of government vehicles turned an old, old policy issue into a raging controversy. Did far too many government employees enjoy the use of a state car when it was not essential to their job and, if so, who was responsible? Executive cars are common in the business world, but when the taxpayers supply them, we invoke a higher standard.

Republicans, notably Beebe’s opponent Jim Keet, saw an opening and suggested that it was a Democratic scandal since the state constitutional officers are Democrats at the moment. They filed a lawsuit to make the five state constitutional officers who have state cars give them up because they amounted to income, putting them over the salary limits for their job. The suit had nothing to do with the issue of overuse of government vehicles for nongovernmental purposes. It was just a political gimmick.

Good questions, Beebe said of the issues raised by the newspaper’s reporting. Let’s find out. He ordered a systematic review of the vehicle policies of every agency of government, including all those that are not under his supervision, including the state Game and Fish Commission, Highway Department, the lottery and colleges and universities. He wanted it now, not next year.

When it was completed last week, Beebe concluded that far too many workers and officials commuted to their jobs in state-owned cars when it was not essential. They were just going to their offices to work for the day, not into the field for inspections, for law enforcement or for other duties that took them away from the offices.

Everyone’s assignment of a state car would be suspended on Nov. 1 and everyone would have to apply afresh for a car and justify its assignment. A number of officials, starting with the director of the big department that runs the state’s finances and conducted the study, surrendered their cars last week.

Beebe noted that he could not force the Game and Fish Commission and the colleges to follow the new rules, but he genuinely hoped they would. He said it appeared to him that they abused the system.

The Game and Fish Commission the next day adopted a policy that it said would reduce its fleet by a fourth. Game and Fish, which got a huge source of funding in 1998, when voters amended the Constitution to levy a sales tax dedicated to the wildlife agency and state parks, has 658 cars but only 613 employees. It has been giving many office workers a new car to drive to and from work. That practice will be ended.

Beebe offered no excuses and claimed no credit. The truth of the matter is, he said, the economizing on state cars needed to be done.

“Sometimes it takes the media,” he said. “Some-times it takes the public. Sometimes it takes the press to focus the light on things in a fashion that causes things to move.”

This is the third time in our memory that the state has had a big vehicle shrinkage. When Dale Bumpers became governor in 1971, he was astonished by the number of government cars around the government grounds. He thought they were also too big and wasted too much fuel. He issued a new policy, which reduced the number of cars and had agencies buying smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicles.

A dozen years later, Bill Clinton adopted a tough vehicle policy in his second term. But agencies became lax again in the 1990s, and as the energy crisis subsided, the number and size of vehicles exploded.

The lesson may be that we should have an automatic review every five years or so.

TOP STORY > >Suit doesn’t stop annexation plans

By rick kron

Leader staff writer

Although a lawsuit has been filed to stop Jacksonville’s efforts to bring 3.84 square miles north of the city limits into the city, plans continue to annex the area if voters approve the proposal Nov. 2.

The suit, by Dr. John Daugh-erty and his wife Partne, was filed Tuesday in Pulaski County Circuit Court, Second Division.

But it didn’t stop the annexation committee from meeting Thursday night to tighten up a proposed six-page code-enforcement ordinance for the area.

The Daughertys, in their suit against the city, the Pulaski County Election Commission and the secretary of state, is asking for the court to declare the city ordinance authorizing the annexation unconstitutional prior to the start of voting. As an alternative, the plaintiffs are asking that if the vote proceeds before the case is settled that the secretary of state not count the votes or have them decertified.

The Daughertys are also asking for the defendants to cover their costs in presenting the lawsuit “and all other relief and costs deemed just and proper.” Because the election is only 28 days away and the plaintiffs feel they have been stonewalled by the city, they have asked the court to shorten the time which defendants have to file an answer or responsive pleading and to expedite the hearing.

In papers filed with the court, the Daughertys claim they tried to obtain records related to the annexation effort as early as Sept. 7 but the records “were not completely and timely provided.”

Besides claiming that the city did not respond, under the Freedom of Information Act, in an appropriate manner, the Daughertys are saying that the annexation would “result in injury to the Plaintiffs as property owners as they would be required to pay additional taxes.

The Daughertys also claim that the city is trying to illegally annex land “which is owned, managed, regulated and otherwise controlled by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. They also say that the city has already illegally annexed another piece of AGFC property on the south side of the city.

In the suit, the Daughertys say Arkansas codes prevent a city from annexing lands whose best use is “for agricultural or horticultural purposes.”

A number of residents in the proposed annexation area signed affidavits that their land is best suited as agricultural or horticultural land. Those affidavits are part of the suit.

Larry Holman, who own at more than seven acres in the affected area says he raises cattle and will continue to do so, along with growing hay, and is against annexation.

Robert Macaulay owns three parcels off Old Hwy. 67 and stated that his property is rural agricultural and horticultural acreage.

Wilson Roger Crews signed an affidavit for the lawsuit stating he owns a 35-acre timber farm in the affected area and that he bought the land to be specifically outside the city limits.

Steven and Catherine Gruver also signed a sworn affidavit that their property was and would continue to be agricultural.

As far as the AGFC acreage, the lawsuit claims that Amendment 35 of the Arkansas Constitution that AGFC “has sole control of this property, including but not limited to enacting regulations to govern its use.”

But Alderman Marshall Smith, chairman of the Jacksonville Citizen Concerns Committee said their hour-long meeting before Thursday night’s city council went while and that the group had pretty much locked in an ordinance to cover concerns of the area.”

“There’s a few changes for our city attorney to work on, but overall it looks good,” Smith said.

The ordinance would allow animal breeders and kennels within the city limit—there are some in the area under consideration for annexation—as long as certain requirements were met that mostly have to do with prevent the operations from becoming puppy mills.

Cows, horses, goats and other similar animals will be allowed in the city provided they are kept on property that is a half acre or larger in size and that the animals’ pens or stables are at least 100 feet away from other residences.

Smaller animals like rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens and roosters may also be kept in the city provided their pens are 100 feet from any residential structure.

When it comes to hunting, the city will follow state law and game and fish commission regulations along.

When it comes to he eight of grass, weeds or vegetation on residential or industrial lots of five acres or more there will be no restriction unless it creates a nuisance.

The discharge, possession, sale and use of fireworks will comply with current city law, which doesn’t allow it, although there is talk of changing the city law.

When it comes to burning trash and yard waste, it can’t be done on property smaller than one acre. Burning on larger lots must comply with the Arkansas Fire Prevention Code.

The final version of the ordinance will be presented to the city council at its next meeting, Oct. 21.

TOP STORY > >Smaller budget in 2011

By Rick kron

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville’s 2011 budget will be smaller than this year’s. That was the word aldermen received Thursday night from the city’s finance director.

“It will be a tight budget,” Paul Mushrush said at the council meeting. “But there are no plans to cut services or raise taxes.”

However, there may not be much in the budget for employee raises.

“We may have to give a small set amount rather than a percentage,” said Director of Administration Jim Durham after the meeting.

Mushrush applauded the city’s conservative budgeting over the past few years, but the lack of revenue has been worse than expected. “But we are still much better than many surrounding communities that are cutting services to make ends meet.”

“We plan well and don’t knee jerk,” he said.

Bringing in about four new square miles of property through annexation in November will help, but Mushrush said he has to develop the budget based on money he knows will be available.

The area the city is looking to annex, according to finance reports, generates about $10 million in business revenue, which would equate to about $1.9 million in added revenue for the city.

Mushrush said at the beginning of the year the city had $14 million of projects on the books, with about $10.5 million of those funded.

“We now have $19.2 million worth of projects, including some from earlier this year that have gone up in price. I just found out today that the Graham Road widening project has increased by $684,000,” he lamented.

Mushrush said the city has set aside $3.43 million for the joint fire and police training facility located off Marshall Road, $915,000 for the Graham Road project, $282,000 for engineering studies for Emma, Oneida and West Main Street intersections and extensions, another $659,000 for actual construction on those roadway projects, $400,000 for renovations to the 911 center, $400,000 for a police/fire substation (more than likely in the annexed area), $358,000 set aside for economic development projects and $350,000 for renovation to the police building.

The city has also budgeted for or already spent $233,800 on the demolition and removal of Manor House Apartments and $150,000 for a roundabout at the Main Street and Harris Road intersection.

Mayor Gary Fletcher says current plans call for building a new 911 center and police building on the new training grounds rather than renovating.

He said after a visit to Conway to look at their police complex, “iIt was like they were CSI and we were Marshal Dillon. It’s not a question of keeping up with the Joneses,” the mayor explained, “but I don’t want to see us lose a case after the hard work of the police because we didn’t have the proper facilities to maintain DNA or other evidence needed for the case.”

He said residents will get the same overview from the finance director at a town hall meeting at the recreation center at 7 p.m. Thursday.

“Yes, we’ll talk about annexation, but we also want the citizens to see where we are heading and what we have to get us there,” he said.

In other council business:

n Public Works Director Jim Oakley said the animal shelter received 92 dogs and 96 cats during September.

Shelter officials were able to return 14 dogs and six cats to their owners, another 55 dogs and 26 cats were adopted out, but 32 dogs and 73 cats were euthanized.

n City Engineer Jay Whisker, in his monthly report to the council, said his department issued 25 building permits and 10 business licenses for September.

The engineering department performed 176 inspections and wrote 322 warning letters for unkempt or unsafe yards and structures.

The department had 113 properties mowed and trash picked up at another two at a cost of about $9,700.

TOP STORY > >PCSSD must follow rules, auditors say

Leader senior staff writer

Members of the state Legis-lative Audit Committee grilled Pulaski County Special School District Board member Gwen Williams and her board mates Friday morning, asking how they could have been so lax as to allow $439,000 worth of district property to be fraudulently purchased and sold.

They also wanted more information about the board members’ understanding of what expenses they could be reimbursed for when traveling to conferences or on other business.

Lawmakers—including Rep. Mark Perry, D-Jacksonville, Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, who chairs the audit committee, Sen. Randy Laverty, D-Jasper, Sen. Greg Reep, D-Warren and several others—had harsh assessments of the way in which the board members and administrators had conducted the district’s business in recent years, finding a lack of transparency and accountability.

“There’s no excuse for a board member not to know what they can or cannot do,” said Glover.

Glover also took the opportunity to say, “Jacksonville doesn’t want to be part of (PCSSD). We should go on record as (wanting to) allow Jacksonville to have its own district.”

“This is the dag-gumest re-port I’ve ever read,” said Reep, loudly. “This is not a way to run a school district.”

Perry said he questioned the board and administrators getting new iPADs for $25,000 when not all the students have books.

New Superintendent Charles Hopson said the books and the iPADs were not related, that the problem with books was not financial and was being straightened out.

He said the iPad decision was his, that the district had already invested $100,000 in going green and digital before he was hired.

One representative wanted to know if there was a “mechanism for removing school board members if they act improperly.”

Not unless they missed three consecutive meetings, the district was in academic distress or the board member was convicted of a felony, he was told.

Williams, who was there under subpoena, said she missed the previous meeting because she couldn’t get off work at Wal-mart.

“I am the sole provider of my family,” she said, and can’t afford to miss work.

She has already had to make restitution of $469 of unallowable travel expenses, and Friday she had to answer to new findings that she ran up a $1,059 cellular phone bill on the district.

“During the course of our follow-up review, the district provided documentation for cellular phone service…that reflects she is delinquent in reimbursing the district $803 for cellular phone charges from March 1, 2009 to August 30, 2010,” auditor Kay Williams told the committee members.

The audit records show that Gwen Williams had reimbursed $256 and still owed the district $803, but Gwen Williams said she thought she had paid the higher figure and owed on $256.

Kay Williams assured her they had the records to support the audit bureau’s findings.

Gwen Williams said in her 14 years on the board, she had never had gratuities disallowed from reimbursement or told it was improper.

PCSSD requested the state legislative audit bureau to conduct an audit of the district, and in May, the bureau released a report that found that some board members were reimbursed for theater tickets, alcohol, and a Little Rock hotel room for a member who lived in Little Rock and for tips and gratuities paid while on official travel.

The auditors found the district overpaid former Superintendent James Sharpe while buying out his contract and that James Diemer, the maintenance supervisor, bought and stole about $439,000 worth of equipment and supplies without anyone questioning the purchases.

Laverty said, “In all the time I’ve been here I’ve never seen such terrible, egregious abuse.”

Hopson told the committee he welcomed additional audits. “Hold our feet to the fire,” he said. A second audit will be conducted in December, and Hopson promised they would see improvement.

“In hiring Hopson, we’re headed in the right direction to correct a lot of these things,” Gwen Williams said. 

“I’ll be surprised if we see much difference,” Glover said. “I see the superintendent—he’s doing all he possibly can to straighten this out.”

“It’s going to take more than two months to fix 10 to 15 years of problems,” Hopson said.  

Hopson and chief financial officer Anita Farver have guided the board toward actions that he said would make the district’s finances more accountable and transparent.

The district now is on the computerized, online ABSCAN accounting system.

The board last month ap-proved a policy prohibiting blanket purchase orders and Hopson and Farver are hoping the board will adopt a U.S. Bank procurement-card system, where all expenditures can be followed online and where spending limits can be imposed and change online, card by card and user by user.

“None of this would have happened,” if those changes had been in effect all along, Hopson said Friday afternoon.

Hopson said he expected representatives from U.S. Bank to be on hand at next week’s board meeting to explain about the procurement-card system and answer questions.

Also on the agenda will be reorganization of the board and a discussion of hiring new legal counsel for the district.

The firm of Billingsley and Bequette currently has the account, but represented the board in its efforts to disenfranchise the teachers and support staff unions and now union supported candidates have a likely 5-2 majority.

Attending the meeting were board members Williams, Mildred Tatum, Sandra Sawyer, Bill Vasquez, the two new members—Gloria Lawrence and Tom Stuthard—former board members Shana Chapman and Carol Burgett, PACT president Marty 
Nix, Hopson, Farver, most members of the superintendent’s cabinet and Rob McGill, who served as interim superintendent between the termination of Sharpe and the hiring of Hopson.

Chapman told the legislators that the board was often dysfunctional, with members fighting with each other and with special interest groups.

“Unless you’ve been to a PCSSD board meeting, its hard to understand,” she said to laughter. “Hopefully it will change but I can’t say I’m optimistic.”

Vasquez told lawmakers “Your remarks are right on spot. Our checkbook wasn’t even balanced.

Sen. Pritchard, who asked for all the board members to appear, said “It’s time to draw a line in the sand and the past is the past and move on.”

“It’s like a school yard sandbox fight,” he said. “I can only imagine what your board meetings are like.”

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

EDITORIAL >>Reassessing exemptions

The state Constitution says you can’t do it. A 60-year-old statute says you can’t do it. A good case can be made that the U. S. Constitution prohibits it. Common sense and elemental fairness say no. But the Pulaski County tax assessor, Janet Troutman Ward, does it anyway. She exempts ministers from paying property taxes on their homes — that is, those who don’t want to pay the taxes.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, in a nice piece of reporting, found nine preachers who took Ward up on the exemption. They have not been paying the taxes that their neighbors have to pay to support the schools, municipal and county services, police and firemen’s pensions and improvement districts. Ward said she will exempt every preacher who asks for it as long as preaching is his or her primary job.

Now that the word is out, another thousand may claim the exemption, and the schools and municipalities will take a big hit. But maybe many clergymen will choose simply not to participate in an activity that clearly violates the law and the public good. You would expect that to be a minister’s impulse.

One minister’s home is a $600,000 estate in west Little Rock with a swimming pool and tennis courts. Anyone else in the neighborhood would owe $8,841 in taxes on such a swanky abode. The preacher, Apostle Lawrence E. Braggs, told the newspaper’s reporter that he had been paying the taxes and that “they’re killing me,” but the county’s records show that the property has not been assessed nor have taxes been paid since at least 2004. Three other homes had a market value of $340,000 or more.

The Democrat-Gazette surveyed a few other county assessors and none of them grant ministers grace from paying taxes. With good reason.

The state Constitution is clear about it. Counties were to be spared in exempting people and institutions from taxes because it would get out of hand. Taxes had to be scrupulously fair and evenhanded. The framers in 1874 allowed a church building to be exempt from property taxes, but only if the building was used solely as a church. It prohibited the legislature from granting other exemptions.

But the legislature in 1945 ignored the Con-stitution’s injunction and exempted parsonages from all but improvement-district taxes as long as a church owned the house and only the parson used it. Even then, preachers who owned their homes were not to be exempt. The First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U. S. Constitution also surely prohibit the practice of favoring people in the religious establishment with preferred tax treatment.

Ward is aware of all those laws. But she says exempting ministers is her custom. Office custom apparently supersedes constitutions and statutes. She said she did not grant the exemptions to win the political support of the big churches, a couple of which have congregations that run into the thousands. Let’s take her at her word.
Late Tuesday, Ms. Ward consulted with the county attorney, who told her she needed to put the ministers’ homes on the tax rolls as the law requires. She is going to do it. If she needs spiritual guidance, she should consult Romans 13: 1-7.

TOP STORY > >Incumbent, two others seeking mayor’s seat

By rick kron
Leader staff writer

Sherwood has had three mayors—Dan Stedman, Bill Harmon and Virginia Hillman – in the past four years. So no matter who wins Sherwood’s mayor’s race in November, he or she will have the position for a full term and that hasn’t happened since Harmon retired at the end of 2006.

Virginia Hillman, the incumbent, beat out six opponents in a special election to fill the seat after Mayor Dan Stedman resigned for health reasons just four months into his term in April 2007. Former Mayor Bill Harmon, who had retired, was called back to serve as interim mayor, and was the candidate Hillman beat in a run-off to secure the job in the summer of 2007.

In this election, Hillman faces Alderman Sheila Sulcer and businessman Mike Presson. Presson was a mayoral candidate in 2006, losing to Stedman.

Hillman, 47, is divorced with two children and has worked in Sherwood for 24 years and lived in the city for the past nine years.

Presson, 57, is a widower, with three grown children. He has lived in Sher-wood since 1960 and owns and operates Press 1 Pizza.

Sulcer, who has been an alderman for the past 12 years, is married and has lived in Sherwood for 38 years.
She and her husband have two daughters and five grandchildren. Sulcer is anexecutive broker and Realtor.

The candidates’ answers are listed alphabetically.

Why do you want to be mayor?

Hillman: I am in my first term as mayor, a partial one at that.  We have accomplished many things in the past three years but much is left to be completed.  We have a good team of department heads and employees. A change in leadership would be disruptive to the progress of our city.  I enjoy serving the community where I live and would appreciate the opportunity to continue to serve with experienced leadership.

Presson: People are always asking why I’m running for mayor. Well, it’s pretty simple; I’m your neighbor and have been for 50 years. I left briefly in 1971 to earn my degree at the University of Central Arkansas. Otherwise I’ve been walking and driving these streets all of my life. I’ve been here so long I could write a book. My wife Doris left this world Oct. 1, 2007, but before she departed, Doris held me to a promise. “Michael, you will run for mayor of Sherwood again.” I balked at the idea until she said, “Michael, you will run for the kids.” Yes, I am running for the kids.

Sulcer: I’m running for mayor because I want to bring a fiscally conservative and financially responsible approach to city government. Sherwood is a great city with great people who deserve to get the most for their tax dollars. We deserve a city government that will be as careful with their money as we are with ours. We deserve a mayor who will place priority on people and providing good city services. I want to connect city government to the people of Sherwood and recruit citizens to serve on my task force to discuss city problems and services. I believe that by listening to what people are saying, I can improve city government and services.

What experiences qualify you to be mayor?

Hillman: I have been a city employee for more than 24 years.  I began employment at the age of 22.  I have worked in the finance department, planning and engineering, served as city clerk/treasurer for six years prior to being elected mayor.  I understand the revenue sources as well as the day-to-day operations.  Despite the worst economic turndown since the Depression, we have continued the level of services to our community the past three years without any decrease of services.

Presson: Most residents know I entered the Sherwood’s mayor race in the fall of 2006.  Not long after that, doctors discovered that my wife Doris had contracted leukemia. Besides my mother, Doris was the greatest woman I ever met.  She’s the reason I’m in the race today. My experiences include 11 years on the parks and recreation commission, three years on the advertising and promotion commission, two years as Sylvan Hills Elementary PTA president, two yeas as field chairman for the Optimist Club and even one year as a Tiger Cub den leader. I own my own business and know what it takes to be fiscally responsible.

Sulcer: I have been proud to serve as an alderman for the past 12 years. Prior to that I served on the Sherwood Planning Commission, and served on the parks and recreation committee. I know what it means to balance a budget, and I believe government should live within its means just as families must. I am also a member of the Sherwood Chamber of Commerce board of directors, the Sherwood Health Care Coalition and the St. Vincent Medical Center North community board.

What are the most pressing issues facing Sherwood and how will you work to solve such problems?

Hillman: We are in need of doing street overlay.  Funds have not been available since 2003.  But 2011 revenues will increase due to our higher census count. Streets have already been rated in accordance to priority.  Bids will be advertised in November of this year to begin overlay and milling. Traffic continues to be a challenge.  Brockington Road Phase I has been recently completed and Phase II is under construction and should be completed in late 2011.  This year we also opened a connection of Maryland Avenue.  We will continue to push for the completion of Maryland Avenue as well as the connection of Oakbrooke.

Presson: We have serious drainage issues that need to be addressed. People’s houses are being flooded and that is their biggest investment. We need to step in and offer solutions.  We need to make  Sherwood the greatest city in Arkansas  again.

Sulcer: Our most pressing problems are to restore our street overlay and maintenance programs as well as improving and maintaining our drainage infrastructure. We must also do a better job of making sure our first responders and public-works people have the tools necessary to perform the services required. These problems all have a common root. The current administration has not done a good job of effectively managing the finances of the city, making money for these services unavailable. Sherwood is not experiencing a revenue shortfall. Unwise and uncontrolled spending has led to the problem with delivering services to the people who are paying for them.

What are Sherwood’s strengths? 

Hillman: Sherwood has a huge community spirit. We have good support volunteers. Sherwood has continued to grow despite economic conditions.  Sherwood is positioned to develop to the north as a result of the addition of Gravel Ridge to our city. Also, Sherwood is a bedroom community with a hometown feel.  This is attractive to many who enjoy living close to the capital of Little Rock with the amenities, yet have the luxury of coming home to quieter surroundings.

Presson: Our strength is our people. When the storm hit the baseball fields a few years ago, there was an outpouring of volunteers and fundraising. That’s who we are—a city full of volunteers.

Sulcer: Sherwood’s greatest strength are the people. Sherwood is made up of good, decent and hard-working people who want a high quality of life in clean neighborhoods. They want to feel safe within their homes and out in public. They want to know that if they have a problem they can call someone in city government for help in solving it. If elected, I pledge to return the mayor’s office to the people of Sherwood and always maintain “an open-door policy.”

What would you like to see done to make Sherwood more appealing to potential residents and businesses? 

Hillman: I am proposing an economic-development district in 2011.  Our economic growth is important to our financial strength. Also, I look forward to our new middle school that will open in the fall of 2011. Good schools and strong business make for a great community. New potential residents have located in other areas due to the conditions and reputation of our schools.

Presson: We must have better schools to attract people and business. Just look north to Cabot and Beebe. The Pulaski County Special School District is a train wreck. The problem is not the teachers, support staff or administrators. The problem is Dixon Road and the school board.

Sulcer: Sherwood has lots of room to grow, both residentially and commercially. We have an excellent tax profile with no city-imposed property tax, which compares very favorably with our neighboring cities. In order to appeal to residents and businesses that will bring quality growth to our city, we must immediately reverse the deterioration of our streets, drainage and sewer infrastructure and work to improve these. City government must adopt a growth-friendly attitude that will help foster our growth. And we must make every effort that we can, as a city government, to maintain and improve the quality of pubic education in Sherwood. Sherwood is a safe, low-crime city and we must work hard to make sure it stays that way. And our fire department rating is among the best in the state, helping keep property insurance affordable for Sherwood residents.

Pulaski County Special School District seems to be in turmoil. How is that affecting Sherwood and what plans would you have to ensure the city’s children receive a strong education? 

Hillman: The new middle school on Johnson Drive will be an asset to our community.  I am excited about the leadership of our new superintendent. I believe that it is time once again for our community and district to join together to bring our community schools back. I have had the privilege of reading in our schools, rewarding good behavior in our middle school by taking students to lunch as well as participating in other events within our schools.  Good schools make a better community.  As a Keep Sherwood Beautiful member, we have helped with cleanup projects at the high school as well as the middle school.

Presson:  It’s time we secede from the PCSSD, and I will tell you why.  The PCSSD was concocted 60 years ago and it was a good idea at the time. Now less than half our tax dollars are actually being spent on our schools. We are being gouged, ripped off and taken to the cleaners. Some people say I’m a rebel for wanting to break away and create our own school district right here in Sherwood. So be it. I’d rather think of myself as a common man with common sense and attainable goals. I will raise teachers’ salaries and make sure that no child is left behind. I assure you that every student will have school books, pencils and paper – basic tools they don’t have today.

Sulcer: My two daughters were educated in the PCSSD and received a good education. I believe our schools are still doing a super job. I have always worked with our schools and will continue to be an ardent supporter.

Efforts are in the works to bring the state fair to a site near Sherwood. Do you favor this and what would you do to help bring it to the area?

Hillman: I believe the proposed regional approach to the state fair north of the river would be beneficial to all of our communities. The current location is inadequate in size and many people have safety concerns.

Presson: If the state fair comes to a site near Sherwood, the city would benefit economically from people visiting. I would communicate with our neighboring cities and help bring this to our area.

Sulcer: I believe having the state fair near Sherwood would be an asset. Anytime we can bring new people to our area, it is an opportunity for growth in business revenues and population.

How will you work with LRAFB? What relationship do you now have with the base?

Hillman: I am an active member of the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council. I have had the privilege of attending many events, including change of commands, farewells and welcomes. I have recently appointed a military liaison to enhance the relationship between the city and our military. I recognize that the LRAFB, as well as Camp Robinson, is important to our community. Many of our residents are active and retired military.  We appreciate their service and appreciate their influence in our community.

Presson: I was a salesman to the base for 25 years. One of my employees is a retired lieutenant colonel from the base and also a dear friend. I have many friends who are connected to the base and also many customers. They are a very valuable asset to our community.

Sulcer: The city of Sherwood has always partnered with LRAFB. We have a tremendous number of Air Force retirees and active duty members who are members of our community. The Air Force base is very important to our city and I will work to maintain that relationship.

What one thing do you want voters to know about you and think about when they are making their ballots? 

Hillman: Integrity and honesty is important to all, especially in public office. I have maintained that standard in my conservative decisions.

Presson: Those closest to me know I fulfill my promises. I back up everything I say. Honesty, transparency and accountability – that’s Mike Presson. I will stop the hanky-panky in local government and clean up the mess. We deserve some clean, fresh air around here. Sherwood deserves better.
Sulcer: I would like to convey to the voters that no one would work harder as mayor than I will. I may not always have the answer to every problem, but with the help of the council and the citizens of Sherwood, I will work to find that answer. And, I will always tell the truth.