Friday, March 18, 2011

EDITORIAL >>GOP hypocrites

Benjamin Disraeli once said that a conservative government was an organized hypocrisy, although we are not sure it could not be said as well of a liberal government. But, were he around today, Disraeli could summon the new conservative Arkansas legislature as all the proof he needed.

We are indebted to the inveterate blogger, Blue Hog Report, for unearthing the facts. Blue Hog was amused by the sizable Republican bloc in the House of Representatives that was stymieing state appropriations for the next two years because they included some increase in spending to offset higher energy costs and the like. One was the Arkansas School for the Deaf, which was seeking a spending increase of $532.42 a month, which was enough for the Republicans to block the appropriation. They said they were determined to hold down government spending.

But how about themselves? Blue Hog checked the expense vouchers in the state auditor’s office for the first two months of the year and discovered that nearly all the naysaying representatives had finagled to give themselves a big salary supplement, ranging from $1,250 to $2,050 a month apiece. They did it by forming a business, with themselves or their spouses as the owner and usually with their homes as the business address, and then billing the state for providing services to themselves. It might be for renting an office to the representative—the dining room or a spare bedroom perhaps—or providing consultation or advice to the representative. “Say, self, how should I vote on this bill?”

Mark Martin, the new secretary of state (see editorial above), did that for six years, and the word apparently went out to all the new Republican lawmakers that they should replicate Martin’s scam to maximize their pay. Legislators, you see, are paid a salary of $15,000 a year (they meet on average for eight weeks a year) plus ample per-diem reimbursement for days they are actually attending meetings in Little Rock. They are allowed to collect reimbursement for actual expenses occurred in their legislative duties back home, if any, but the expenses must be documented through receipts or invoices. Otherwise, it is merely additional salary, which is illegal. Thus all the new incorporations, some of them filed with the secretary of state the week that the first expense checks were cut.

Any one of the 30 Republican lawmakers who voted against the budget for the deaf children could have paid that increase easily from their own falsified expense collections. We think it’s all illegal; at best, it is rank hypocrisy. —E.D.

EDITORIAL >>Martin’s at it again

From the Why-are-we-not-surprised? Department: The state Board of Apportionment met for the first time Wednesday to begin reapportioning the state legislature and discovered that one of its members had already spent or obligated more than half of its money on a new car and jobs for his pals.

The member who had drained the board’s appropriation was Secretary of State Mark Martin, who took office two months ago. Among Martin’s first tasks after his swearing-in, it seems, were to buy a new Ford Escape Hybrid for his office for $27,673, put his friend Tim Hutchinson on the board’s payroll part-time at $63,000 and contract with another friend, a former aide of Gov. Mike Huckabee, to “consult” with him on reapportionment for $19,000. All of that—some $120,000—would come from the $200,000 appropriation for the Board of Apportionment, which in the next year must construct equal districts for the 100 members of the House of Representatives and 35 members of the Senate based on the 2010 census.

The other two board members, Gov. Mike Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, were astonished to find that most of the board’s money was already spent or obligated and its work had not even started.

“That’s all we’ve got,” the governor said. Beebe told Martin that the full board, not one of its members, decides how the reapportionment will proceed, including who to hire and how the money will be obligated. Martin explained innocently that someone in his office had told him that he could spend it but that he would try to find a way to pay some of the money back to the board from the appropriation for the secretary of state’s office.

An aide to Martin said the new car was for general office use, but Martin said it would be used to travel around the state to educate people on reapportionment. He hired Tim Hutchinson, a former legislator and son of the former U. S. senator of the same name, as the person to coordinate the board’s apportionment work. The little job will fatten Hutchinson’s state retirement check. No one mentioned the patent conflict of interest. Hutchinson will work on creating favorable districts for his mother and brother, who are members of the legislature, and for other Republican friends in northwest Arkansas.

Beebe and McDaniel made it clear that Hutchinson would not be doing the work but someone better qualified. The full board will choose a coordinator. In that case, Martin said, he will find something for Hutchinson to do in the secretary of state’s office.

Martin also hired Chad Gallagher, a political aide of Huckabee and adviser to Republican candidates, to “consult” with the board. What kind of advice he will supply for his taxpayer subsidy was not clear. He brought some controversy to Huckabee’s presidential campaign in 2008 by listing people as Huckabee endorsers without their permission.

Beebe chalked all of Martin’s mistakes up to ignorance. Maybe. But his boners did not surprise us. We remember Mark Martin’s service as a state representative. He calculated ways to turn his legislative expense allowance into a salary supplement. He collected far more compensation than other legislators by maximizing his expenses. He created businesses out of his home that sent invoices to the state for office rental and other services rendered to Rep. Martin. In his last year as a legislator, Martin drew $88,433 from the taxpayers for a part-time job that pays $15,000.

This guy is not dumb.

TOP STORY > >The Leader earns 11 awards at advertising banquet Friday

The Leader won 11 awards and two honorable mentions at the Arkansas Press Association’s Advertising Conference on Friday in Hot Springs.

The newspaper won three first-place awards, four second-place awards and four others for third place.

The first-place honors went to Haunted House of Frightmares, our Mother’s Day page that featured several area businesses, and Boyd Funeral Home’s “We Care” for best use of spot color.

TOP STORY > >Funds for garbage service

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville’s sanitation de-partment received approval from the city council Thursday night to secure a $1.3 million short-term loan to automate the city’s trash pickup service.

The loan will allow the department to purchase three new trucks, two knuckle boomers and enough trash carts to provide for all city residents and businesses.

The automation is part of a multi-prong plan to balance the department’s long-running deficit. The department finished about $400,000 in the red in 2010, and money from the city’s reserves were used to balance the department’s budget.

Earlier this year the council voted to raise rates by about $4 a month going from $11 for most residents to $14.50. The automated trash pickup, which should start in May, will also drop trash pickup from twice a week to once a week.

“The rates will have to be revisited in five years,” Finance Director Paul Mushrush said when the council approved the new rates. It had been 11 years since the last rate increase.

On Thursday night, Mush-rush said more than likely the $1.3 million would be paid back over a five-year period. He told the council it was not necessary to get the council’s approval for the loan, but that it was good protocol to have the council’s backing.

Mushrush said he is shopping around for the best rate.

The cost of automating will run the city about $1 million as new trucks will need to be purchased and thousands of 96-gallon garbage containers will have to be purchased and placed at each home or business.

The first time a resident needs to replace one of the new containers it will be at no charge, but after that there will be a $60 fee.

Once automation starts, the city will continue to pick up recyclables—aluminum, cardboard, newspapers and plastics—provided they are all separated and placed in approved recyclable containers.

The city will also pick up yard waste—grass clippings, leaves, small limbs—as long as they are placed curbside unobstructed so the trucks can get in and pick up the material.

In other council business:

 The council waived competitive bidding to allow the city to spend $108,000 with T&R Utilities of Pencil Bluff for the construction, expansion and installation of water lines. The company had won the original bid and the water department felt going out for bids again on a continuation would be counterproductive. The council agreed.

 In his monthly report to the council, Police Chief Gary Sipes said his department responded to 3,103 calls during February.

The police made 248 adult arrests and 22 juvenile arrests during the month.

Tracking violent crimes for the month of February, Jacksonville had no homicides, sexual assaults or arson.

There were two robberies, seven felony assaults, 11 burglaries, 45 thefts and eight stolen vehicles reported during the month.

 Fire Chief John Vanderhoof, in his monthly report, said his department responded to 213 rescue calls, 67 still alarms, 21 general alarms and had 237 ambulance runs during February.

Estimated fire loss for February was placed at $15,500, while fire savings was estimated to be $52,500.

 Jim Hurley and former Mayor Tommy Swaim were reappointed to the advertising and promotion commission.

TOP STORY > >Finance department wins again

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville Finance Department is one of the top financial entities in the state and has just been awarded the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 13th straight year in a row.

Cheryl Erkel, with the department, said it’s a true honor although there are one or two cities in the state that have a longer streak than Jacksonville. “But we plan on extending ours,” she said.

The certificate was awarded by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada to Jacksonville’s finance department for its outstanding comprehensive annual financial report.

The department received the award for its 2009 financial reporting. “We are putting the 2010 reports together now for the association to review,” Erkel said.

The only other cities in the state winning the award for 2009 financial reporting were Conway, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Hot Springs, Little Rock and Maumelle.

The Certificate of Achieve-ment is the highest form of recognition in the area of governmental accounting and financial reporting, and its attainment represents a significant accomplishment by a government and its management.

For the city’s longtime finance director Paul Mushrush this is another feather in his cap before his April retirement, and one he hopes the department will continue to acquire under a new leader. “It’s an honor for us to be recognized for the hard work and for the effort and accuracy it takes to produce these reports,” he said.

Mushrush, 65, has been the finance director for 17 years, and has 22 years of service with the department. Before that he was in retail sales in California.

He said that when he retires, he’d love to take six months off before having to find something else to do “You can only mow the grass so much,” he quipped.

He and his wife plan a long visit with family in California and spending some time with the grand-dogs.

When Mushrush first came onboard, there was just one computer in city hall. “I got the second one,” Mushrush said. “And when I became finance director I set up the first network in city hall. It steamrolled from there.” City hall now houses nine servers and more than 150 computers.

Mushrush is proud of the comprehensive financial reporting the department does and has been honored for. “We are the smallest city in the state that produces these types of reports. We’ve won the excellence award 13 times, going on 14.”

The city’s financial reports were judged by an impartial panel and said to meet the high standards of the program including demonstrating a constructive “spirit of full disclosure” to clearly communicate its financial story and motivate potential users and user groups to read the reports.

The GFOA is a nonprofit professional association serving about 17,500 government finance professionals with offices in Chicago and Washington.

The GFOA established the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting Program in 1945. It encourages and assists state and local governments to go beyond the minimum requirements of generally accepted accounting principles to prepare comprehensive annual financial reports that evidence the spirit of transparency and full disclosure.

The association then recognizes individual governments that succeed in achieving that goal with the award.

TOP STORY > >Remembering Mother

Leader staff writer

As more and more women entered the workforce about 40 years ago, Revlon came out with a commercial for its Enjoli perfume that set a standard most of us have found impossible to meet.

“I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and never let you forget you’re a man,” a thin woman wearing a slinky evening dress belted out while holding up a skillet to illustrate her point.

In hindsight, I can see that my mother, Carrie Baker, came as close as anyone to meeting the lofty goal set by that commercial.

She didn’t bring home the bacon. She butchered it, salted it and sliced it and even made the skins into pork rinds. In her almost 84 years, she never held a paying job and yet she contributed more to the support of the family than if she had brought home a paycheck. She raised food for the family in a garden so big that other people would have called it a truck patch. She sewed every dress I had until I learned to sew myself in high school. And I wasn’t the only girl she sewed for. My family had seven girls and five boys who wore a few homemade shirts when they were young.

And at the end of some of her shorter days, it was not uncommon for her to bathe and put on a clean dress before my dad came home from the field.

She died at the hospital in Stuttgart on Sunday evening after an apparent stroke on Friday. By that time, she had been in a nursing home for almost two years. The doctors said her dementia made her “pleasantly confused,” which apparently is a medical term for what happens when your mind goes to a happier place than where your body is.

Although her muscles were still strong from years of hard physical labor, she could no longer turn over in bed or even feed herself. But in her mind she was living in a little house on Big Creek in Lee County with her farmer husband and the first few of the 12 babies she would eventually have.

At the hospital, I listened to the stories my brothers and sisters told as we waited for the inevitable. And those were the stories that came to mind when my cousin, who writes obituaries for Bob Neal and Sons Funeral Home, called Tuesday to say she needed more for Mother’s obituary than that she was a homemaker who loved to embroider and raise flowers.

“I know there’s more to her than that,” my cousin said. “What about those cathead biscuits?”

It was odd to be on the receiving end of a call like that. I’m usually the one calling in search of the perfect anecdote to show that someone who just died is worth remembering, maybe even worth crying for.

But my mother didn’t want tears. In a letter to my sister Paula Holcomb that she wrote before her mind went, she called her funeral “her party.” Her only requests were that she be buried with the program from my dad’s funeral that had been the bookmark for her Bible since he died in 1999.

The music for the service had to include “Go Rest High on that Mountain,” “I Can Only Imagine” and “I Want to Stroll Over Heaven with You.”

“Everything else is up to y’all,” she wrote, then threw in, “Don’t let them put makeup on me.”

Near that same time, she told my sister Mary Hastings that she was getting tired. “Life has lost its flavor,” she said.

Her days had gotten monotonous and small wonder, considering what they had been.

We buried her on Wednesday beside my dad in the family cemetery on a little hill beside one of her old garden spots.

On Tuesday night, my sister Naomi Wallis wrote these words for my brother-in-law Mike Holcomb to read during her funeral.

“It was the spring of 1970, and I was a freshman at T.A Futrell Jr. High. I was skinny and had wild curly hair and was definitely not one of the popular girls. Unfortunately, my Home Ec project was due and Mother knew my dark secret. I couldn’t sew worth a flip.

“So she decided to make my dress for me. Now, no mother with seven daughters wants any of them to wear a mini dress, but Mother knew that’s what I wanted, so she made it. It was a hot pink A-line, with a ruffle down the front and so short, I had to hold it down when I walked up the stairs. When I put it on, I felt ‘cool.’ When I got back home, Mother said, ‘What did we get?’ I told her it was a B-plus, because the teacher said the zipper was old fashioned.

“Mother was thrilled and oddly enough now that I have to buy my dresses, they all have zippers like Mother made. In one day, my mother gave me a mini dress, a B-plus and self confidence. Not a bad day’s work for a mom.

“When I was sick, she rubbed my head with her tired hands until I fell asleep. To this day, it’s not safe to touch my head. She had us stand on notebook paper, and she would draw our feet and send them to Alden’s catalogue to make sure our shoes fit. At night when we were asleep, she cleaned the mud off those shoes and put them by the fire, so they would be warm in the morning.

“She would tell us an old elf, named Aiken Drum, did it. She got thorns, glass and even nails out of our feet, because we ran around barefoot. She put merthiolate on our cuts and then used the merthiolate to draw a cat above it.

“On cold mornings, she made us cocoa for breakfast and had fried chocolate pies waiting for us after school. She hated making fried pies because the chocolate melted into the grease and popped her, but she did it anyway.

“When I married, she made my wedding gown and was there when I had my babies. Before my son was born, I asked her, ‘Does it hurt?’ She said, ‘Yes, it does.’ Guess she was just keepin’ it real. When the years passed, if I was sad and cried, she cried. She loved me when I was less than lovable. More importantly, she prayed for me and I heard her sing about Jesus my whole life.

“Mother didn’t just work from sunup to sundown. That would have been a short day for her. She got up before daylight and started the fire in an old wood stove. She worked in the fields and cleared the new ground. She raised a garden that was literally a truck patch and canned food for the winter into the night.

“She was known to plow the garden with an old mule named Blue and later with a less-than-intelligent horse named Cricket. She washed our clothes on a ringer washer and cooked three full meals every day.

“It would take at least six men to butcher a hog, but Mother would cut it up and put it in the freezer by herself. In her ‘spare’ time she raised incredible flowers and embroidered. She read her Bible every day.

“She fried us chicken and made us a cake on our birthday, but she wasn’t a woman to be trifled with. She told us girls once that if we didn’t clean our room, she would nail the door shut. We didn’t. When we came home from school, we had to crawl through the window and then we cleaned our room.

“Somewhere at home, there’s a box with her memories. There are baby curls and an occasional baby tooth in envelopes with faded names written in pencil. There are cards, school awards, letters from Vietnam, pressed flowers and pictures drawn by grandchildren.

“But Carrie Baker was more than a mother, she was a woman of strength and stamina and she was loved. She was gracious, giving and gentle and the epitome of a strong Southern woman. Her passing is the end of an era.”

Carrie Belle Hudson Baker was born near Moro on March 28, 1927 and died March 13. She was preceded in death by her parents, Ollie Wheeler Hudson Poe and Calvin Hudson, her husband of 58 years, John Lee Baker, her sons, David and Marcus Baker and granddaughter, Carrie Hendrix Simpson.

She is survived by three sons and seven daughters, John S. Baker and his wife Carole of New Salem; Philip Baker and his wife Jackie of Holly Springs, Miss.; Shane Baker and his wife Leigh Ann of Moro; Betty Hendrix and her husband Ray of Rose Bud; Louise Best of Moro; Mary Hastings and her husband Don of Moro, Joan McCoy and her husband James of Beebe; Naomi Wallis and her husband Farrell of Beebe; Ruth Baker of Beebe, and Paula Holcomb and her husband Mike of Moro.

She also is survived by two brothers and three sisters, J. Lee Hudson of Moro; William Poe and his wife Barbara of Judsonia; Cora Neal and her husband Harold of Wynne; Flora Grady and her husband Buddy of Moro, and Connie Riggins and her husband Frank of Oakland, Tenn.

She had 26 grandchildren, 45 great-grandchildren and 12 great-great-grandchildren.

TOP STORY > >State fair move seems doomed

Special to The Leader

Moving the Arkansas State Fair, whether to Jacksonville or anywhere else, will cost about $200 million and would take several years, while funding remains uncertain, according to a consultant’s study.

But Jacksonville’s mayor questions some of the figures in the study.

Mayor Gary Fletcher, who was reviewing the study late Friday, said Jacksonville is presenting the fair association a $30 million gift between offering to donate about 450 acres of land, utilities and an already built highway interchange.

“Someone said something about sweetening the pot. I think the pot is pretty sweet already,” the mayor said.

He added, “It is a sacrifice to do what we are doing. We are not a rich city. But we believe in sacrifices when we know the future impact is going to be strong. We did that in the ’50s, donating land for the air base and now it has a $700 million economic impact on the area.”

Fletcher said impact from the state fair won’t be that strong, but would generate hundreds of jobs and would still be worth the sacrifice.

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said on Friday he wasn’t surprised that the cost of moving the fair would be some $200 million.

“From a financial standpoint, I just don’t think it’s feasible,” Stodola said, adding he and other Little Rock officials are ready to do what’s needed to keep the fair in his city, including buying property a few blocks east to Battery Street.

Jim Durham, Jacksonville’s director of administration, says the fair board needs to decide soon where it will go because the land the city has offered could be used for another development if a serious prospect shows interest in the area at the I-440 interchange in south Jacksonville.

The fair board on Thursday received a long-awaited consultant’s study on the feasibility of moving the fair from its longtime home on Roosevelt Road in central Little Rock to a more rural area that would allow the fair’s expansion by hundreds of acres.

“If we drove a stake in the ground tomorrow, it still would take us three to five years to move, or even 10 years,” said Ralph Shoptaw, general manager of the Arkansas Livestock Show Association, which puts on the state fair for 10 days each fall and runs a variety of non-fair events during the rest of the year.

The fair doesn’t have $200 million, or anything close to it, Shoptaw said.

The nut graph of the 73-page report: it would cost about $200 million, primarily in new construction but excluding the cost of acquiring property, to move the state fair, but the livestock association also could see yearly net revenues of up to $1.8 million. Still, that figure is “wholly insufficient” to pay for a relocation, the study said, adding that the association “must become a partnership of private and public entities.”

It noted that private and public Verizon Arena (formerly Alltel Arena) in North Little Rock was paid for with private and public funds.

Jacksonville has proposed buying some 445 acres along Interstate 440 and Wooten Road and giving that land to the association, along with a break on utilities, as an enticement to moving.

Three other locations are being considered:

 467 acres at the intersection of Interstate 40 and I-440.

 865 acres near I-440 and Galloway Road.

 632 acres east of I-440, also along Galloway Road and abutting the 865-acre tract.

The study, conducted by Rod Markin Consulting of Maple Grove, Minn., didn’t look at any of the four sites in detail. “It should be noted that the results of our analysis would generally be applicable of any number of sites between I-40 and Jacksonville and I-440 and the Pulaski County line,” the report said.

Fletcher said, “We have the location, the space and the interchange.” The mayor still expects the Jacksonville site to “rise to the top. It’s the best option they’ve got. They’ve got to do something because if they stay in the current site, it will die,” he said.

Fletcher said the state fair is the number one choice for the area, “but we are in dialogue with something that would be just as attractive” if the fair move stalls.

He said other cities are piping back in. “It will get competitive over the next three months,” the mayor said.

The fair’s current home consists of 148 acres. State fairs across the nation average 366 acres, Shoptaw said.

“We’re going to study this over the next few weeks or a couple of months,” Shoptaw said of the work still facing board members. “We don’t meet again until July. A big question is how we’d finance such a move if, indeed, we wanted to make that move. If we can’t get funding, it’s immaterial anyway.”

How to pay for a move wasn’t part of the consultant’s assignment.

A bond issue would be one option, and the board could seek money from the state or from the city that gets (or retains) the fair, Shoptaw said.

The city of Little Rock wants to keep the fair on Roosevelt Road. A study commissioned last year by the city said improvements at the current location would cost $25 million to $57 million.

Shoptaw said he was struck most by the level of economic impact cited in the study if the fair was moved.

“The increase in the number of non-fair events was good and the revenue stream from those events looked good,” he said.

Non-fair events Keep Falling 

The study said the number of non-fair events at the Roosevelt Road site has steadily declined: from 98 in 2007, to 78 in 2008, 82 in 2009, and 72 last year. At a new site – one that’s open 365 days a year for such events as RV and motorcycle rallies, car shows and concerts – the association could expect significant increases in paid attendance, parking fees and camping fees.

“With our site, the association could put down the asphalt and get started with some of those non-fair events right away to bring in additional income,” the mayor said.

The study envisions a new fairgrounds consisting of an arena with 5,000 fixed seats, a primary exhibition building of 100,000 square feet, a year-round park for up to 2,500 recreational vehicles, and various horse and livestock facilities totaling 280,000 square feet.

The study’s authors conducted a small survey of businesses in North Little Rock that hold meetings or other events requiring outside space: Of 42 responses, 17 said they’d be willing to move to a new fairgrounds site. Eight said they weren’t interested in making such a move. Seventeen didn’t answer the question.

The annual State Fair, if relocated, could expect paid attendance to increase by up to 50 percent a year and the number of vendors and exhibitors to increase by at least 50 percent, according to the study. In 2010, the State Fair collected $507,000 in admission fees, $92,000 in parking revenue, $723,633 in carnival revenue, $104,300 in beer sales, $181,772 in food sales, and $107,854 in exhibitor fees. Revenue from all those categories would increase at a new site, the study said.

“Also what looked really good was the economic impact from construction alone,” Shoptaw said, referring to the study’s estimate that some 1,850 workers would be needed for initial construction at a new site, providing a revenue boost to the state of $24 million to $38 million a year.

Once constructed, the state fair and non-fair events would provide 512 to 647 jobs each year and generate between $527,000 and $828,000 in sales and use taxes each year, according to the study.

Crime – or the perception of it – keeps potential visitors away from the fairgrounds on Roosevelt, the study said, citing police reports, various crime statistics and, apparently, the words of state fair management.

“By moving the fair and fairgrounds to an unincorporated portion of Pulaski County, the annual fair will be situated in a very safe area and is expected to generate a higher attendance and participation trend for the fair, with a distinctly different demographic,” the study said.

The fairgrounds have been along Roosevelt Road since opening in the 1940s. It is in the middle of a residential district, and a railroad, a four-lane Roosevelt Road, and narrow side streets limit access. The centerpiece, Barton Coliseum, opened in 1953.

Shoptaw said he has heard from associations representing nearby residents since talk about moving the fair began nearly two years ago. “The neighborhood associations, I think, would like to see it stay,” he said. “It’s been a big part of their community. They’d hate to see us move.”

Fletcher said, “What we need to remember is that this is not Jacksonville’s fair or Little Rock’s or North Little Rock’s. It belongs to Arkansas, so it needs to be the best possible site, and that’s us.”

Leader staff writer Rick Kron contributed to this report.

SPORTS>>NP softball finds way with bats, on mound

Leader sportswriter

The North Pulaski Lady Falcons disposed of Pulaski Academy quickly in a 10-0 run-ruled shutout in non-conference play at Dupree Park on Thursday.

The Lady Falcons (3-2) claimed victory in five innings and were backed by an error-free performance and a one-hit start by junior pitcher Brittany Bains.

Bains gave up a double to Celeste Gibson in the top of the first inning then retired every ensuing hitter while striking out six.

North Pulaski got 11 hits off Pulaski Academy pitcher Tory Seals. The Lady Bruins also committed five errors, three at third base.

The non-conference blowout followed a 5A-Southeast Conference split with Crossett on Tuesday.

“She did a good job,” Lady Falcons coach Ann Tharp said of Bains’ one-hitter. “I asked her before the game to improve on errors, because we had one bad inning down at Crossett.

“That was one of our goals for this game was no errors.”

Junior first baseman Kelsey Whitmore handled the brunt of the defensive workload for the Lady Falcons.

Whitmore caught a line drive from Becky Prince in the top of the first and made an unassisted play on Gina Kirsht’s grounder in the top of the third to end the inning.

She cleanly fielded six other Pulaski Academy grounders.

Whitmore also hit a game-winning, three-run home run against Crossett.

The Lady Falcons added to their 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning when Alexis Hendricks singled up the middle and advanced to third on passed balls.

Whitmore reached when Pulaski Academy third baseman Lauren Lay committed a throwing error to second that allowed Hendricks to score, making it 3-0.

Whitmore scored when Shelby Floyd doubled to left, and Floyd made it 6-0 when she came home on a single to shallow left by Amber Kirchner.

Hendricks scored North Pulaski’s lone fourth-inning run when she singled and scored two batters later when cleanup hitter Heather Fleshman singled to left.

The Lady Falcons entered the bottom of the fifth needing three runs to end things early, and delivered.

Casey Mullen led off with a walk and scored on a series of passed balls with Lindsey Silvas at the plate. Silvas eventually hit to third, but Lay committed her third error with a high throw to first.

Julie Mullen singled from the bottom of the order to score Silvas, and leadoff hitter Haley Hudson advanced her to third on a bloop single behind second.

Hendricks ended it with a single up the middle to score Julie Mullen.

SPORTS>>Not much locked out right now

Leader sports editor

I got a well-intended note from the Chicago Bears the other day.

It came via the ubiquitous Facebook, where I have more than 200 “friends,” an eclectic group that includes the Bears, Barack Obama and The X-Men.

The group also includes people I actually know.

Anyway, the Bears were trying to reassure me, and all their fans, that they were “pushing forward” despite the current labor “situation” and still working toward winning a Super Bowl for Chicago.

That’s all fine with me after seeing Chicago fall short against hated Green Bay in the NFC championship, but quite frankly, right now, I’m not losing too much sleep over the disagreement between the NFL owners and the players association that has resulted in a lockout.

First, it’s not really much of a lockout when nothing is going on.

While it may seem like football never ends — indeed, Arkansas, Arkansas State and college programs nationwide are currently going through spring practice — we are actually in a rare down period for the pros.

The NFL draft is still a month away and the mini camps are further off.

Colleges have been holding their pro days, in which scouts and NFL player personnel types visit campus to evaluate potential talent, but that’s about it.

Right now I’m more interested in what’s going on in the NCAA tournaments and the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues of spring training than I am the boardrooms and draft headquarters of the NFL.

Unfortunately, UALR’s men have already bowed out of the NCAAs.

There has been some debate the play-in round that increased the tournament field to 68 teams should even count as part of the “Big Dance,” but the Trojans did what they were supposed to, until falling in overtime to UNC-Asheville that is.

They won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament and got an at-large bid, so bully for UALR.

Meanwhile, UALR’s women are back in the national tournament for the second consecutive year, this time as conference champions after winning an at-large bid last year.

The women play Green Bay on Sunday. No, not the vile Packers, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, though if Chastity Reed is on her game I’d like the Trojans’ chances of beating the Packers too.

Then there is spring training, where hopes are high and everyone is still a winner and even the Cubs have yet to be mathematically eliminated.

In Arizona, the Los Angeles Angels, parent team of the Arkansas Travelers and home to Pine Bluff’s own Torii Hunter, are trying to piece together a lineup that will get them back to the playoffs after an injury-plagued down season last year.

It is hoped Angels’ top prospect Mike Trout will continue to develop, only not so quickly he doesn’t make his expected stop at Arkansas this season. It would be good for Trout and the Angels but a tragedy for Travs fans if Trout were to skip over Class AA and start with Class AAA Salt Lake instead.

Expect Trout to at least make a half-season appearance with Arkansas in 2011.

No, I’m not missing the NFL right now.

In fact, in a troubling sign for the league, I know people who are already making plans to do without it when fall actually rolls around.

At the recent high school state basketball finals in Hot Springs, a good friend and NFL fan — he has the DirecTV Sunday Ticket and everything — and I agreed we could get by just fine watching college football.

We also agreed that maybe the league deserves some of its current troubles.

Now that the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement has expired, players and owners are wrangling over an annual “profit pie” estimated at $9 billion. The details when such big amounts are kicked around get confusing, but in essence the owners’ proposals leave the players looking at an 18 percent decrease in pay.

Both sides have their issues, and they may be valid if kept in context. But it’s hard to feel pity while watching millionaires haggle with billionaires in this age of $76.47 average ticket prices (more than $2,000 for an average Super Bowl ticket).

If forced to choose, I’d probably side with the players, who literally get their brains beaten out for our viewing pleasure and have the shortest career expectancy of our major sports.

Sadly, those a work stoppage would hurt the most — beer vendors, concession workers and stadium cleanup crews — don’t have a voice in this.

But really, I don’t mind sitting this debate out entirely. Especially if the rumors I hear are true — Lingerie Football League broadcasts might replace the NFL on Sundays.

SPORTS>>Lions top Panthers at home

Leader sportswriter

The Searcy Lions recovered from an early defensive slip to win 2-1 over Cabot in non-conference play at Lions Stadium on Tuesday.

The Lions (5-1) gave up a goal by Panthers senior forward Logan Spry before rallying to tie by halftime, and Ian Hatchell gave Searcy its ultimate victory with a goal early in the second half.

It was 6A-East Conference member Searcy’s fourth victory over a Class 7A program.

“I’m very pleased with the way our team handled these tough teams,” Searcy coach Bronco King said of the scheduling. “We did it to help us out once we got to conference and later on to the state tournament. I think so far they’ve lived up to the challenge and have handled it real well.”

Spry kicked it in from the right side in the sixth minute following an assist from Panthers freshman Trevor Reid to give Cabot early momentum, but Searcy quickly counter attacked.

The Lions stretched the field and finally tied the game at the three-minute mark when Cam Woodruff assisted senior Steven Seitz, who got a one-on-one shot at Cabot’s goal.

“Overall, we played well,” Cabot coach Steven Porter said.

“We controlled possession and created numerous scoring opportunities. Unfortunately, we failed to put them away towards the end of the game and allowed ourselves to get stretched out.”

Cabot senior forward William Hidalgo was the Panthers’ best hope in the second half, coming close to scoring on a one-on-one break that was unsuccessful and later on a free kick that also fell short.

King praised the defensive efforts of James Atkins and Andrew Moore, and gave senior center mid-fielder Isai Garcia credit for good passes to the fowards.

“He’s a four-year starter,” King said of Garcia. “In basketball, they call the point guard the floor general — he’s our general on the soccer field. He’s as good as anyone in the state. He distributes it where we need it most.”

The Lions took the lead in the final 15 minutes when Kevin Berkheimer assisted to Hatchell for what turned out to be the winning goal.

“Searcy is a good team, and defending 6A state champions, but we were disappointed that we did not take full advantage of the amount of possession we enjoyed,” Porter said.

“I believe that we are close to being a very good team — we have to learn to stay focused for 80 minutes and do a better job of translating possession and opportunities to score goals.”

Cabot will have next week off for spring break before returning to action March 29 with the 7A-Central Conference opener at Conway.

SPORTS>>Big innings push Devils to victory

Leader sports editor

Little Rock Hall was slow to arrive and then Jacksonville made quick work of the Warriors in a 13-0, five-inning victory at Dupree Park on Thursday.

The Red Devils posted two five-run innings while pitchers Jesse Harbin and Xavier Brown didn’t allow a hit as Jacksonville beat Hall by the 10-run rule in a game delayed an hour because of issues with Hall’s transportation.

“We’re going to be around the plate; we’re going to throw strikes,” coach Larry Burrows said. “We’re going to pound the zone. When you throw strikes good things can happen to you.”

Jacksonville (5-1) posted a five-run first, taking advantage of four walks and a hit batter from Hall starter Justin Jackson, with catcher Patrick Castleberry hitting a three-run home run over the center-field wall as nine batted in the inning.

The Devils went down in order in the second but erupted again with another five-run inning during their third.

Jackson walked two in the inning while D’Vone McClure reached on an error. Jacob Abrahamson hit an RBI single, Jake Lovercheck hit a two-run double and Brown contributed a sacrifice fly.

“I thought we had a real mature approach; it’s easy to go up there and just swing once when you’re up 11-0,” Burrows said of his team’s patient presence at the plate that produced 10 walks and the two big innings.

Noah Sanders doubled and scored in the Red Devils’ fourth, as reliever Keion Thorton walked four, and Brown hit a two-run single to cap the scoring. Then Brown sat the Warriors down in order in the fifth to complete his two-inning stint and the game.

Harbin struck out six and walked one in his three innings and Brown struck out two and walked none. Hall’s only base runners were Alante Carter, who reached on an error to open the game, and Davonte Hokes, who walked to lead off the second.

Brown and Sanders, who singled and scored in the third, were the only Red Devils with multi-hit games.

“I thought we had a good approach,” Burrows said. “It’s easy to sort of get lackadaisical up there when you’re up nine, 10 runs. I thought we really competed and scratched out.

“Even when the pitcher got a little slower, it’s real easy to go up there and give away at-bats.”

Brown’s pitching effort was especially welcome to Burrows because staff member Nick Rodriguez is out indefinitely after taking a line drive to the face against Greenbrier just over two weeks ago.

“He’s been in the plans and he’s been more in the plans now that Nick is out,” Burrows said of Brown.

Rodriguez had reconstructive surgery and had just gotten his doctor’s release in time to join the Red Devils in the dugout Thursday.

Burrows said there was a chance Rodriguez could return to the field sometime this season, but for now he is just happy to see his pitcher healing and able to join the team for its spring break trip to play in Panama, Fla.

Jacksonville departs today.

“There’s some talk he might be back,” Burrows said. “I’m just glad he’s getting to go with us to Florida. The doctor released him today so that’s a good sign. When we come back, then we’ll worry about what we can do after that.

“He’s a tough kid and I wouldn’t put anything past him.”

SPORTS>>Lady Lions make score that counts

Leader sportswriter

Defense ruled the day at Lions Stadium on Tuesday as Searcy beat Cabot 1-0 in non-conference play.

Searcy made up for 10 shots that fell short in the first half with one perfect play at the 14-minute mark of the second when the sophomore tandem of Candace Adams and McKenna Smith came up big.

Adams found Smith on a break at midfield and passed to the right, and Smith kicked the only goal of the match into the left corner of the net and out of the reach of Cabot goalkeeper Brittany Shock.

“The sweeper played so far back, and our mid-forward wouldn’t go back and spread the field,” Searcy coach Larry Stamps said of the scoreless first half. “So finally, we got that taken care of. We were kind of surprised, because they had five forwards up top.

“Nobody does that. I’ve seen four, but not five, so that stretches you a little bit.”

Shock’s efforts for the Lady Panthers (1-2-2) kept the match close during a first half in which the Lady Lions (2-1) dominated possession while taking their 10 shots. Shock had four saves to keep the match scoreless at halftime.

“I think we were really patient,” Cabot coach Kerry Castillo said. “We didn’t rush to make hasty mistakes, swatting at the ball a whole lot.

“They had several opportunities to score even more, and our last defender, she made great plays, kept the ball in front of her, kept the players in front of her.”

Cabot’s defense cut down Searcy’s opportunities in the second half while the Lady Panthers controlled the tempo more on offense. Ally Lamb led the Cabot attack early in the half but her kick was high on a scoring attempt from the middle of the field.

Lamb and Codee Park led another charge following Searcy’s score and had a 2-on-1 break against Lady Lions goalkeeper Rosario Bocanegra. But defender Ashley Barnes stepped in to neutralize Lamb while Park and Bocanegra made hard contact while battling for possession.

Park was injured on the play and was sidelined while Bocanegra stayed in the game.

“You don’t get those chances against Searcy,” Castillo said. “And when you do happen to get them to make a bad pass in the box, you’ve got to take it, and you’ve got to convert it. We didn’t, and they did theirs.”

Adams and Smith paired up again on another break less than three minutes after Searcy’s goal, but Smith pulled the ball left and out of bounds.

“Those two work well together,” Stamps said. “I like those two, both of them are sophomores, and both of them played a lot last year. They know what the other one is going to do. I like that combination out there.”

This year marks a new era in Cabot soccer with a coaching staff change Former girls coach Danny Spencer, head football coach at Cabot North and a varsity assistant, and former boys coach Clark Bing, also a varsity football assistant, will focus on football.

Castillo takes over the girls soccer team and Steven Porter will head the boys program.

Castillo appears to have settled in, and has established a defensively strong squad in a short period.

“I’d like to see our defenders contribute more to our attack,” Castillo said. “Our defenders have been a bright spot helping us maintain possession, but today, they weren’t there. That could be attributed to Searcy’s pressure on their counter attack.

“If I could add anything to our possessions, it would be finishing the opportunities we have.”

SPORTS>>Fast start for storied Searcy soccer

Leader sportswriter

Searcy soccer has netted a lot of tradition over the past five years.

For the boys team, it has meant four straight 6A state championships; for the girls, three titles in four straight trips.

And from the looks of this year’s Lions and Lady Lions, more hardware could be on the way later this spring.

The Lady Lions had to undergo a certain amount of rebuilding after losing six seniors from last year’s state championship team. But they have fared well playing against larger 7A schools in early non-conference action, including a 1-0 victory over Cabot on Tuesday and a 1-0 loss to Bryant a week earlier on a corner kick in the final two minutes.

There are still bugs to be worked out with the younger group, third-year coach Larry Stamps said.

“We’re still standing in the mud when the ball’s being delivered,” Stamps said. “In the box, you’ve got to be quick. You can’t two-or-three touch it, and expect to get a shot off.”

The Lady Lions are sophomore strong, including standout forwards Candice Adams and McKenna Smith. The pair was responsible for Searcy’s only goal against Cabot, and Smith was a big part of last year’s state title push as a freshman.

Senior defender Elliott Scarbrough is better known as a basketball player, but has also become a big-time contributor on the soccer field as well.

But the tradition starts long before a player reaches high school. Searcy has one of the best youth-league soccer programs in the state, and some of the Lady Lions also take part in summer traveling clubs.

“We have some parents who take these kids out, and they have traveling teams,” Stamps said. “And that’s the secret right there. Anybody willing to do that, you’re going to have a good team.

“They can come to high school, and you can round off some rough edges, but if the parents get them out there and play all the time, you see a world of difference.”

Year-round weight training has helped increase the overall size of high school athletes over the years, and certainly the basketball players bring height to the soccer field.

But Stamps pointed out average-sized kids can make a difference on the soccer field.

“You don’t have to be a giant to play soccer,” Stamps said. “If you’re small, you can play. You don’t have to be muscled up or anything like that. More kids are interested in it. And we’ve had a good fielding foundation. It’s carried over.

“We’ve had some success, and now the kids really want to come out.”

Stamps has plenty of coaching experience behind him with assistants John Moon and former Searcy varsity football coach Bart McFarland.

The boys’ team is off to another successful start at 5-1 and 1-0 in 6A-East Conference play. The Lions’ only loss came to Catholic 2-0 in the final of a preseason tournament.

The Lions have defeated Little Rock Christian 2-0, Bryant 2-0 and opened their conference schedule with an 8-0 rout of Marion. Third-year boys coach Bronco King said there is plenty leadership with 13 seniors on the roster.

“Right now, at this point, I see us being right there,” King said. “We are where we need to be, so I guess the main thing we need to do is keep that going. There’s still two months left and a lot of games left, and we need to improve on some things.

“We have nine returners back and some good senior leadership.”

King agrees with Stamps that Searcy’s youth leagues are key to the high school program’s success.

He also said the state championship tradition motivates younger players looking to join in and carve out their own accomplishments.

“There’s excitement with the younger ones,” King said. “They want to do what the previous teams have done; they want a part of that also. What the previous teams have done with the championships they’ve won is to set an example.

“And our younger ones definitely don’t want to be the ones who have a let down.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

EDITORIAL >> Protection from drillers

A large bunch of Arkansas legislators announced last week that they were forming a “shale caucus” of mostly Republicans, but a few Democrats. They will collaborate to see that the gas-production companies that exploit the gas in the large shale play across Arkansas are protected from the state government—that is, the people.

They immediately shouted down a bill that would have made the big Texas and Oklahoma companies pay a few more taxes from their enormous profits on the gas to pay a little toward the restoration of the highways, roads and bridges that the drilling and auxiliary rigs are tearing up.

It is a measure of our collective state of mind that the people needing protection are the gas companies and not the landowners, the nearby homeowners, the state’s taxpayers, the vast swath of people who are adversely affected by the drilling, and the land and streams.

Now we know what they got together to protect the companies from. Seven bills would enumerate a few protections for landowners and neighbors in the swath of the drillers. Now there is a caucus—a much smaller one—dedicated to achieving some balance between the interests of the energy companies and the public.

• SB 314 would require buffer zones between drilling sites and homes and require an energy company to give landowners full disclosure and notice of its activities on their property and accurate information about their rights as mineral or surface owners.

• HB 1396 would make the gas companies reveal to state regulatory agencies the volumes of water they use in drilling and the source of it, the chemicals they use, the quantity of water and chemicals that remain in the ground after the drilling and the disposal methods for all drilling and fracturing chemicals.

• HB 1399 would require the companies to reduce noise from drilling to below 55dB at 1,000 yards from a house during the day and 45dB at night.

• HB 1395 would require agencies to periodically monitor the air quality around wells that are near homes or concentrated in small geographic areas.

• HB 1394 would require gas companies to follow best-management practices when building roads, pipelines and drilling pads, strengthen casing standards to prevent contamination of ground water, direct the state to adopt strict requirements for building, maintaining and closing the toxic waste pits around wells to prevent leakage and runoff into creeks, and hold gas companies responsible for testing water supplies near drill sites for contamination.

• HB 1392 would require inspections of wells at least annually and more often during drilling and fracturing when millions of gallons of chemicals and contaminated water are handled on site.

• HB 1393 would increase assurance bonds to pay for closing and cleaning up abandoned or idle wells so that the taxpayers do not become responsible for the costs.

Does that sound so dastardly that Chesapeake and Southwestern Energy should need protection? But in this brave new legislature, populated by tea-party and industry minions, the bills have little chance for passage. The rare legislator who dares support any of them will pay a price in the next campaign.

Ernie Dumas writes editorials for The Leader.

EDITORIAL >> Loan sharks not gone yet

You remember the painfully long (10-year) battle to stop the payday lenders from squeezing the last drop of blood out of the poor and desperate? The Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the Arkansas Check Cashers Act of 1999 only two years ago, although everyone had known that it was unconstitutional from the day the legislature passed it.

The installment lending industry, as it calls itself, was back at the legislature, this time with three pieces of legislation to sharply raise the permissible interest rate on small loans to poor people to highway robbery again. Rep. John Woods, Republican of Springdale, was the sponsor of one of them, and it sailed out of the House Insurance and Commerce Committee last week. It would allow loans of $250 to $5,000 to be made for terms of up to 48 months and it would allow all kinds of special charges that would not be characterized as interest, although the Supreme Court has said over and over and over that all those ruses would not work. They are interest.

Before they went out of business after the last Supreme Court ruling, the usurers were charging people up to 400 percent interest. People were trapped in an unending cycle of debt. Those storefront lenders were all over the state, including Jacksonville, Sherwood, Cabot and beyond. There were more payday lenders in Arkansas than McDonald’s.

Arkansas voters were lulled into voting for a constitutional amendment in November to lift the interest-rate ceiling. It allows the legislature to establish the maximum interest rate by a three-fourths vote of each house. Now we know whom it was for: the payday lenders. Separate from Woods’ bill, two bills were introduced to lift the interest-rate ceiling again to highway robbery. The protest from the American Association of Retired Persons and other groups seems to have stymied that move.

Yesterday, the lending-industry lobbyists had those bills pulled. They will wait for a better day to get the interest ceilings restored to loan-shark levels.

But their bill to allow lenders to charge a big array of fees and say that the fees cannot be counted as interest is still moving along. It is another way to permit the exorbitant charges that the Supreme Court said were illegal.

If it passes, there will have to be still another lawsuit, which will give the lenders a few years to feed on the misfortunes of the poor and desperate before the courts finally shut the door again. There ought to be a better way.

TOP STORY >> Sewer grant may pay for a generator

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville Wastewater Department has applied for an $187,000 grant for a generator to protect the integrity of the system during a power outage.

As part of the grant process the city utility most hold a public hearing on the planned purchase and how it will be used. That hearing is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at city hall.

Bob Williams, with the department, said this is no ordinary generator. It is capable of 440 volts and multiple connections. He said it will be permanently installed at the east pump station on Loop Road.

The pump station services about the eastern two-thirds of Jacksonville.

“We have one portable generator now that we move to where it is needed, and we’ve had that generator since before I started here 14 years ago,” Williams said.

He said the department doesn’t have a lot of power outages to its system, but they do occur. “The biggest problem has to do with the system backing up and manholes overflowing,” Williams said.

The pump station where the department wants to permanently install the generator is located very close to a creek. “We definitely do not want any overflow getting into the creek and the area’s natural water system,” he said.

If there are no objections at the hearing, the department should have the generator on line in the next few months.

TOP STORY >> Williams pushes measure

Leader senior staff writer

The Revenue Stabilization Act of 1947 requires the governor and the General Assembly to pass a balanced budget, but state Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, has sponsored a resolution that could elevate that requirement to a constitutional amendment, he said Monday.

Williams says his Senate Joint Resolution 3, if approved, would be a legislative referral, placed before Arkansas voters at the next general election. The wording “mirrors the law,” Williams said.

His bill has been debated in the Senate’s state Agencies Committee.

By law, the General Assembly can only place three referrals before voters at any given general election.

Williams said so far he hasn’t gotten a House sponsor for his resolution.

“We’re getting down to the last couple weeks,” Williams said. “Committee meetings are going longer. There are a lot of issues.”

At the request of one Jackson-ville small business owner, Williams is sponsoring SB 895, which would eliminate the requirement that small businesses wishing to offer health-care insurance to their employees must also purchase life insurance.

The bill, currently in the Insurance and Commerce Committee, “holds the cost of health insurance down,” he said.

“I think I’ll get a positive response. It’s just common sense,” he said.

Williams also is lead sponsor on a bill that would give counties the option of holding school board elections with county elections in order to save money.

Millage-increase elections could still be called at any time, he said.

Williams’ district is a largely agricultural one, and toward that end, he is sponsoring Senate resolution No. 3 to normalize relationships with Cuba. This would open a large market for agricultural products.

He sits on the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee, which has reported out with a due- pass three tax-cut bills “directed toward the middle class, which works hard for a living, to try to stretch a dollar.”

One would cut the final half-cent state tax off groceries; another would exempt the first $5,000 in the purchase of a used vehicle from state tax and also one that provides relief from tax on energy for manufacturers.

“We’re waiting on House action,” he said.

He doesn’t support the proposed 5-cent a gallon diesel fuel- tax increase, or much of anything along the lines of tax increases, he said.

“I was sent down here to work within our income,” he said. “Gas and diesel (prices) are skyrocketing. People didn’t send us down here to shove out more taxes. We have to find innovative ways to deal with the revenues we have. That’s how we did it in Cabot.”

That tax increase would be earmarked for highway and road construction and maintenance.

It was one of the solutions that the Blue Ribbon Highway Funding Committee, co-chaired by then state Sen. John Paul Capps, proposed to raise money to make $19 billion worth of improvements, repairs and new construction over the next decade. The state Highway Department has identified only about $4 billion of revenues with which to do those things.

Williams prefers another Blue Ribbon suggestion—moving all state tax revenues from transportation related items, such as cars, auto parts, fuel and batteries from the state’s general fund to road and highways. That move, which Gov. Mike Beebe has said he would veto, would generate an estimated $400 million a year.

Williams said he’s not concerned about a Beebe veto, because it only requires a simple majority of both chambers to override his veto in Arkansas.

TOP STORY >> Late fees for water bills

Leader senior staff writer

Water bills will be mailed on the 1st of the month and Lonoke water customers will incur a 10 percent penalty if the bill is not paid by the 10th of the month, according to an ordinance approved at Monday’s city council meeting.

“If any of the water services remains unpaid by the 20th day of the month, the water service shall be disconnected,” the ordinance reads, and the outstanding balance plus a $30 reconnection charge must be paid before service will be reconnected.

The council gave Regina Boyles an extension until 10 a.m. Thursday to place about $30,000 in an escrow account dedicated to restoring a house owned by the Boyles Family Trust at 417 Center Street or the dilapidated building will be torn down and hauled off.

The council approved $4,000 to pay a contractor to tear the house down if the escrow account isn’t established by the deadline.

The house has long been condemned and the Monday council meeting was the deadline for the money to be escrowed or else the demolition order would be executed.

It is Boyles’ daughter, Tina, who says she wants to rehabilitate the building and move into it, and toward that end, her mother had cashed a certificate of deposit, according to City Attorney Camille Bennett, but the money is in Boyles’ checking account, not tied to the house.

“We’re 31 months into this,” Bennett said, but so far the city had received nothing but promises and excuses. During that time, several other condemned homes had been either fixed by their owners or torn down.

It required a two-thirds vote of the council to reverse their previous order to have the money secured by meeting time or tear the building down.

And council members wanted to remind both Boyles women, represented by a friend at the meeting, that they could get $15,000 or $20,000 into the project and fall behind the construction schedule and see the house demolished, or could even sink the full $30,000 into the house and still not get it up to code and standards.

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville’s finest are honored

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville’s Police Department recognized officers, employees and volunteers for their work over the past year during the eighth annual awards banquet held Thursday night at McArthur Assembly of God Church.

“Everyone who received an award was deserving and those who didn’t receive an award were deserving of the recognition that was given by McArthur Church,” Police Chief Gary Sipes said.

The Citizen of the Year Award went to Donna Harts and Carol McMaster.

The two are Citizens Police Academy alumnae who volunteer at the front desk of the police department. They got together with other alumni to provide a Christmas dinner for officers on duty at the police department.

Officer Don Bredenberg was presented with the Special Recognition Award. Bredenberg, a school resource officer brought the “Every 15 Minutes” program to Jacksonville High School and North Pulaski High School. “Every 15 Minutes” is an alcohol awareness program presented before prom to make students aware of the dangers of drinking and driving.

Lt. Brett Hibbs also received the Special Recognition Award for his work as a liaison between the Special Response Team, Special Operations Unit and the K-9 units of the police department.

Rookie of the year honors went to Officer Cleyton McDonald.

“Cleyton is always professional and extremely passionate about the profession,” Sipes said.

Sgt. Robert Washington was presented with the Humanitarian of the Year Award. Washington brought the Our Kids Program, a mentoring program geared specifically toward young black males, to Jacksonville late last year. The program has 50 youngsters and Washington has recruited 34 mentors for the program.

“I think it is going to help Jacksonville in the future,” Sipes said.

The Life Saving Award went to Officer Jason Guillory and Officer Jennifer Thrasher. In June the officers helped rescue a truck driver whose rig overturned on the freeway.

Lt. Martin Cass was presented with the Command Staff of the Year Award. Cass has a 25-plus career. Chief Sipes said Cass is well respected by the officers. He is involved with Special Olympics and Pathfinder.

The supervisor of the year award went to Sgt. Jim Burnett. Sipes said Burnett is always there to give advice and to answer officers’ questions.

Detective Mark Humphries received the Detective of the Year Award. Humphries led detectives in the arrest of the city’s lone murder of last year.

Officer of the year went to Officer Grant Roberts. Roberts oversees the physical-fitness program of the Special Response Team and has helped other officers in the police department become more fit.

Jeff Elmore was presented with the Auxiliary Officer of the Year Award. He is a police department chaplain who went through training to become a certified auxiliary police officer.

The Civilian Employee of the Year award went to Gail Morris. She is a secretary at the police department. Morris helped Sgt. Robert Washington and the Our Kids Program by baking cakes and making dishes for the meetings.

The police department presented a plaque to the Citizens Police Academy alumni for their support of the police department. Accepting the plaque were alumni members Alderman Bill Howard, Dolores Johnson and president Jim Moore.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher was presented with an appreciation award for his support of the police department prior to the banquet because he was in Washington. The police department also gave an appreciation award to City Administrator Jim Durham.

TOP STORY >> Earthquakes rattle nerves

Leader staff writer

Even before they woke up Friday morning to news of the 8.9 earthquake, tsunami and damaged nuclear power plants in Japan, a handful of Faulkner County residents had already scheduled a meeting in Greenbrier to try to get the message out to residents that they need to prepare themselves for a large quake.

And even though Japan is more than half a continent and an ocean away from central Arkansas, the audience of 50 or so that gathered Friday evening at the Greenbrier Event Center saw a connection between the devastating quake there and the small, sometimes barely discernible quakes in their area. Though experts say it’s not so, they say the earthquake in Japan and the several hundred since last fall that are being called the Guy-Greenbrier swarm could have been caused by drilling for natural gas.

Although the topic of the meeting was earthquake readiness, almost the entire two-hour meeting was spent talking about the connection they saw between the earthquakes and the hydraulic-fracturing process, or fracking as it is called, that releases the gas from the shale it is locked inside.

Just look on the Internet, Dirk DeTurck, one of the meeting organizers, told the crowd. China is drilling near Japan, and Japan doesn’t like it.

When measuring the strength of earthquakes, each successive number means the quake was 10 times stronger than the number just below it. But even though the 9-magnitude quake that hit Japan on Friday was roughly 10,000 times stronger than the 4.7 that rocked Greenbrier on Feb. 27, some at the meeting in Greenbrier said there is simply too little known about the fault underneath them for anyone to say with certainty that a 6.0 is the largest quake it could produce.

Furthermore, they don’t necessarily believe it is a newly discovered seven-mile-long fault that is causing the quakes. They say it could have been newly created by fracking for natural gas and by injecting the fluids from those operations back into the ground under high pressure.

Emily Harris with the Arkansas Department of Health helped organize the meeting and was there in her official capacity to tell the mostly area residents who attended the meeting to prepare for a destructive earthquake.

Everyone needs an emergency plan, a stockpile of emergency food and water and you need to know how to turn the utilities off, Harris said.

“If the roads and bridges go, you’re on your own,” then quoted her boss, “For the first 72, it’s just you.”

Harris also suggested that everyone present should attend free disaster training offered by the department of emergency services.

But the audience came to talk about fracking and earthquakes as well as contamination of drinking water. They talked about hiring lawyers to fight the gas industry and the importance of organizing as a nonprofit so they could take donations to pay the lawyers.

Jim Rule of Little Rock came with an unendorsed check he had received from a gas company as payment for gas taken from under his property on Greers Ferry Lake. He deposited the first ones, Rule said. But he wanted to give that one to an organized group to help fight the big gas companies.

In the audience were Sam and April Lane, who have built a website called Stop Arkansas Fracking, which includes information about proposed legislation, violations and accidents and the 2005 exemptions from the federal Clean Water and Clean Air Acts for the gas and oil industry.

Sam Lane brought a statement issued last week by a group of pro-industry state legislators calling themselves the Fayetteville Shale Caucus, who were concerned that proposed regulatory and tax legislation aimed at the gas industry would lead to lost jobs and lost revenue for the state.

Lane read the statement in its entirety.

“We all have issues that our constituents want addressed, Sometimes, however, people file bills with good intent that affect the lives of and jobs of people not in their district.

“It’s become pretty clear the Fayetteville Shale Play has become a target for a lot of recent
legislation. The Fayetteville Shale is an economic engine that we must protect. Our goal is to protect the economic impact of the affected counties while working with the industry folks to encourage good corporate citizenship. We think we can do that without a ton of legislation. Hopefully, the people will appreciate the bipartisan cooperation and the unity between members of different chambers.

“We, and many of our colleagues, agree that we need to send the right message to the business community that we appreciate their business and can find ways to work pro-actively through issues. The Fayetteville Shale Play is important to the long-term economic future of our districts and also the state of Arkansas. We are confident this will be a constructive working group that will strengthen the relationship between this important industry and the people of Arkansas.”

The caucus members in The Leader’s coverage area include Rep. Jeremy Gillam, (R.-Judsonia) and Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe). The group also includes Rep. Stephen Meeks (R-Vilonia) and Rep. David Meeks (R.-Conway.)

It was clear from their comments about dissatisfaction with the lack of laws to protect them, their dissatisfaction with lawmakers and lack of controls by regulatory commissions that many in the audience feel that they are on their own against large gas companies which care little about their safety or the quality of their environments.

“They’re saying our lives aren’t as important as their profit,” April Lane said.

Donna Adolph also attended the meeting. She started a blog after her well water turned gray, she says, from fracking in her area.

She told the audience that what they need is a voice and a good lawyer.

“We’re like a silent scream,” she said. “We have no voice.”

But she added that if everyone could hear their concerns, they would listen.

“Any reasonable person would agree with us if they know the truth,” she said. “We need to connect, educate and expose.

“Everybody is saying the same thing. We need a recognizable group so I know where to give money to. We need to raise $10,000 and get a lawyer.”

Experts say fracking doesn’t cause earthquakes, but injection wells could. On March 4, following the 4.7 earthquake at Greenbrier, the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission ordered two injection wells temporarily closed. That order will automatically terminate at the end of the next AOGC hearing set for March 29-30.

The Concerned Citizen Advisory Group, which organized the Greenbrier meeting, hopes to take a large group to that meeting to show the AOGC that they are concerned.

They likely won’t be able to speak, but with a large enough group, their concern will be obvious, they said. For more information contact Dirk DeTurck at 501-581-3002.

SPORTS >> Beebe cuts grass, goes synthetic on gridiron

Leader staff writer

Grass is in the past for Beebe Badgers football as the school board voted Monday to proceed with plans to install a $680,000 artificial surface at A.S. Bro Erwin Stadium.

The 4-1 vote took place during Monday night’s board meeting.

The school district will spend an estimated $220,000 for the synthetic field with another $423,000 in donations verbally committed.

The vote for the field upgrade was taken after a lengthy discussion, with school board vice president Tommy Vanaman voting against the project.

Vanaman said the money needed to be spent on the academic side. He also expressed concerns the verbal commitments for the donated money might not come through.

The artificial field will open the way for a soccer program at Beebe.

Additionally, ROTC and the band can drill and practice on the new surface instead of in the parking lot. The city will also be able to use the field for youth football and soccer games.

“The more we get kids involved with the school the better,” Shook said. “The field is the most visited place on campus. It will make our campus better.”

After the meeting Shook said the new turf project will begin by summer.

The Badgers football team, coached by John Shannon, who has been a supporter of the artificial turf project, was the runner-up in the 5A-East Conference.

Beebe reached the playoffs after winning just three games the previous year.

The Badgers lost at Batesville, which also uses a synthetic surface, in the first round of the playoffs.

Beebe is one of the few teams in its conference that plays on natural grass, though many teams in the area still have a natural surface at their home fields.

Locally, Lonoke, North Pulaski, Jacksonville and Sylvan Hills still play on real grass.

The rest of the conference includes Batesville, Wynne, Blytheville, Greene Co. Tech, Paragould, Nettleton and Forrest City.

During previous discussions about the turf project, concerns were raised that an artificial surface would benefit visiting opponents, many of whom favor versions of the Spread passing attack.

Beebe primarily operates out of the run-oriented Dead T offense.

However, Cabot, which has an artificial surface at Panther Stadium, uses a similar offense and has reached the 7A state playoffs the past four seasons.

SPORTS >> Pelphrey turns Final to farewell

Leader sports editor

It was hard to miss the tall blond guy in the suit.

Soon to be ex-Arkansas Razorbacks coach John Pelphrey was at courtside in Hot Springs’ Summit Arena on Saturday, taking in Jacksonville’s 6A state championship game against Little Rock Parkview.

We can only guess at what motivated Pelphrey, dismissed after four years as head Hog on Sunday, to make an appearance.

He had to know he was on his way out at Arkansas after his team’s first-round, SEC Tournament loss to Tennessee, or at the very least he had to know he was hanging by a thread.

So what was the point in making the trip to Hot Springs? Does Pelphrey just like hot water?

It’s not like Pelphrey had anything else to do after the fourth-seeded Razorbacks bowed out to the fifth-seeded Volunteers, though he could have stayed in Fayetteville to get the Hogs ready

for a possible berth in the NIT.

Was it a public-relations trip, one last stab by Pelphrey at saving his job?

Did he want the Razorbacks fans to know he was still out there evaluating talent for future rosters and shoring up the commitments he already had from players like Parkview’s Aaron Ross?

By all accounts Pelphrey is a decent guy, no matter what his 69-59 record with the Hogs might say about his coaching. It is possible he was simply jumping at his first chance to show up and support one of the three high school recruits he had competing for state championships.

Pelphrey missed seeing Rashad “Ky” Madden score 15 points and grab seven rebounds to lead East Poinsett County past Parkers Chapel 53-38 in Thursday’s 2A championship.

Pelphrey also missed his chance to get another look at Sylvan Hills’ junior five-star prospect Archie Goodwin, who scored 29 points in the Bears’ 80-64 loss to Alma on Friday night.

Pelphrey did catch recruit Hunter Mickelson, who scored 24 points and had 10 rebounds for Jonesboro-Westside in Saturday’s 60-54, 4A championship loss to Clarksville.

And Pelphrey had nothing but smiles and a big hug for Ross after Parkview edged Jacksonville 50-44.

Some media smart-alecks joked Pelphrey might have hung on a little too long, both to Ross and at Arkansas, but at least there was nothing inappropriate about Pelphrey’s contact with that particular player.

The same couldn’t be said about Pelphrey’s contact with Goodwin.

Life got more complicated for Pelphrey when a photo surfaced of Goodwin and teammate Trey Smith posing with the coach at the Wampus Cat Invitational at Conway in December.

The photo, taken by Smith’s mother, was evidence of a secondary, NCAA recruiting violation for off-campus contact and it came to light just before the SEC Tournament and just after the Hogs closed out the regular season with a pair of losses to Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

I think the photo, just like Pelphrey’s show of support for Ross, speaks to what a decent guy the coach is at heart.

You’re a well-known coach and someone’s momma asks you to pose for a photo with her son and his buddy. What would you do?

It’s likely Goodwin, who may have the pick of the litter among schools like Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky, isn’t going to Arkansas anyway.

But now it remains to be seen if Pelphrey’s committed recruits will play for the Hogs’ new coach — possibly Mike Anderson or Tubby Smith — or bolt elsewhere.

Maybe some of the players will follow Pelphrey to wherever he ends up, but it likely won’t be a marquee school after his middling run at Arkansas.

It’s certainly a tough situation for the Razorbacks.

The outcry in favor of Anderson means the program is going to have to at least make an effort to get him, and that means finding a way to top the $1.6 million base salary and $2.2 million in incentives Anderson is getting at Missouri.

And this comes after football coach Bobby Petrino got his nice extension and his whole staff was retained following a Sugar Bowl season.

Plus Arkansas is looking at yet another, pricey football facilities upgrade.

On top of that, Pelphrey gets a buyout in the neighborhood of $1.8 million paid over three years, so he doesn’t have to be in a hurry to rush out and find himself another job.

With that kind of money, even nice guys like Pelphrey don’t finish last.

SPORTS >> Appleby hurt, but hits court

Leader sportswriter

HOT SPRINGS — Raheem Appleby’s performance in the 6A state championship game will be remembered not for his game-high 19 points but rather for the grit the 6-3 senior shooting guard showed just being on the court.

Little Rock Parkview overtook Jacksonville at the end of the third quarter and held on for a 50-44 victory at Summit Arena on Saturday.

Appleby injured his ankle early in Jacksonville’s semifinal victory over Jonesboro at Marion the previous weekend, and wore a boot on his foot until Wednesday’s practice.

Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner predicted his star player would be at about 70 percent around game time, and his prognosis seemed correct as Appleby, though still quick, was not up to full speed against the Patriots.

The injury also impacted Appleby’s ability to shoot from the outside and make slashing drives into the lane.

After the game Appleby credited Red Devils athletic trainer Jason Cates for helping him recover enough to start against Parkview.

“It’s alright,” Appleby said. “It’s good. My trainer took care of it. It slowed me down just a little bit.”

Appleby went 6 of 19 against Parkview and was 1 of 7 from three-point range. He made 6 of 7 free throws and had two rebounds — one offensive and one defensive — and an assist. The numbers were in line with his average 19.7 points, two assists and 1.2 rebounds a game.

“He’s a great player,” Parkview coach Al Flanigan said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for that young man.”

Appleby’s leadership on this year’s team has been invaluable.

After the departure of Deshone McClure at the end of last season, many around the state wrote the Red Devils off as too inexperienced and lacking a take-charge player. Jacksonville appeared low on most preseason polls, with some prognosticators picking the Red Devils to finish seventh in the tough 6A-East.

But Appleby stepped up and filled the void left by McClure and helped carry his team to a share of the conference championship and back to the state final after the Red Devils won the championship in 2009.

Joyner, though disappointed in Saturday’s loss, was still full of praise for his team and his senior leader.

“Raheem’s not going to tell you the whole truth,” Joyner said. “He’s a humble kid like that. He didn’t have the lift on his shot that he normally would. We tried to keep him stretched out during the game. He had a phenomenal year.”

And a career.

Appleby was the only holdover from the team that beat Little Rock Hall for the 6A championship two years ago.

His role was significantly smaller as a sophomore on a senior-dominated team, but Appleby did see minutes in that game, and contributed with a three-pointer late in the first half.

One of Appleby’s most memorable moments as a Red Devil was when he made a three-pointer at the buzzer against West Memphis in the final 6A-East game of the 2009-10 season.

SPORTS >> Cabot’s Walker savors home visit

Leader sports editor

HOT SPRINGS — Lauren Walker and her South Alabama teammates didn’t get to represent the Sun Belt Conference in the NCAA Tournament.

That spot was reserved for UALR.

But Walker did get to make a trip that was almost as welcome during the recent conference tournament at Summit Arena. Walker, a Cabot High School graduate, got to play college basketball in her home state.

“We actually have a lake house here and we like to go to the lake a lot,” said Walker, standing outside a Summit Arena interview room following the Jaguars’ first-round tournament victory over Louisiana-Lafayette.

“I see my parents when I come back home,” Walker said. “We just have a good time. They miss me, I miss them. I try to come home as often as I can.”

It was a rare playing date in Arkansas for Walker, whose team plays in the Sun Belt East Division while Arkansas State and UALR toil in the West. Schedules haven’t permitted Walker to show her stuff in the Natural State until the conference tournament.

Walker, a junior guard, scored four points in the Jaguars’ 58-53, first-round victory over the Ragin’ Cajuns and then she scored two during UALR’s 73-54 victory that eliminated South Alabama.

UALR advanced to beat Western Kentucky in the championship and make it to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. The Trojans face Wisconsin-Green Bay on Sunday in Wichita, Kan.

Walker may not have enjoyed the loss to UALR, but she is enjoying the Sun Belt competition.

“The level of play, it’s competitive,” she said. “Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, big-time teams. We beat Western Kentucky this year and it’s not the easiest. I think we do pretty good.”

Walker, 5-11, was an all-state selection and a McDonald’s All American nominee her senior season at Cabot, where she lettered all four years. She averaged 14.7 points a game and 6.5 rebounds as a senior and helped the Lady Panthers to consecutive conference championships in 2006 and 2007.

“Cabot, the age group and stuff where I came in, we had some competitive players,” Walker said. “All of us grew together like the chemistry we have at South Alabama. So that made us really good and playing AAU really helped.”

Among Walker’s Cabot teammates was Kim Sitzmann, the former UALR standout guard who holds school records in three-pointers made, assists and steals.

“Kim is one of my good buddies,” Walker said. “She’s playing overseas now. She had a pretty good role at UALR. The Sun Belt Conference, it’s up there.”

Walker developed an interest in playing in the Sun Belt herself, and when South Alabama, located in Mobile, turned out to be the only conference member to recruit her heavily, it made for an easy choice.

“I’m from Cabot and I kind of wanted to get away from home, get a new atmosphere,” said Walker, an avid beach goer while in Mobile.

“And being down in Alabama, that’s a lot different. You need to grow up and meet new people so I think that really helped.”

Walker has blossomed into a three-point specialist at South Alabama and entered the tournament third in the Sun Belt with a 43.2 three-point shooting percentage.

“I didn’t shoot as many threes in high school but when I came in, we’re a shooting team and we’re known for three-point shooting, so I stepped up my game,” Walker said.

“I had to shoot a lot of threes and this year I think I was ranked third or something like that.

“That’s my role. I go on the court to do it.”

Walker is one of the first off the bench and clearly enjoys her teammates. In pregame introductions she can be seen on the floor enthusiastically greeting the starters when they are introduced.

But the lineup will change drastically next year and Walker is set to assume a greater role her senior season.

“Big time,” Walker said. “We’re losing three guards, two starting senior guards. I’m definitely going to have to step up my role.

“And we have three freshman guards coming in so we have three returners so all of us are going to have to step up our game.”

South Alabama finished 17-13 this season.

SPORTS >> Patriots bounce Devils, win 6A

Leader sports editor

HOT SPRINGS — The shots didn’t fall and so Jacksonville did.

Missed baskets here and there proved costly to the Red Devils as Little Rock Parkview overcame Jacksonville at the end of the third quarter on the way to a 50-44 victory in the 6A state championship at Summit Arena on Saturday.

The Patriots took the lead for good when standout forward Aaron Ross followed a missed Jacksonville dunk with a three-pointer to make it 36-35 and Parkview stayed a step ahead the rest of the way to win its 11th state championship and coach Al Flanigan’s fourth.

Flanigan, the one-time Parkview assistant, was considering retiring, but not after Saturday’s championship.

“I’ve got to come back and get another run at this thing,” Flanigan said after Parkview finished 2-1 against 6A-East Conference rival Jacksonville for the season. “I’m so proud of these guys. They scrapped all year long.”

Jacksonville, playing for its second state championship in three years after winning it all in 2009, saw a nine-game winning streak come to an end.

“I just want to thank all these gentlemen,” Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner said. “They gave their heart and soul. They won a tough conference and I’m proud of them.”

Jacksonville’s senior guard and scoring leader Raheem Appleby, slowed somewhat by an ankle injury, was trying to set up Jamison Williams for an alley-oop dunk after Jamison got a steal with Jacksonville leading 35-33 in the closing seconds of the third quarter.

But Williams’ attempt caromed high off the rim, and Ross, an Arkansas Razorbacks signee, got the rebound and made his way to the three-point line uncontested to beat the buzzer for the one-point lead entering the fourth quarter.

While the play was a momentum changer, the game was far from over and Jacksonville had other chances, Joyner said.

“They’ve made that play, what, about six, seven, eight times during the year and executed it successfully,” Joyner said. “It would have given us a big momentum boost. I don’t thinkit was a letdown, I thought we came down and stopped executing.

“The whole thing came down to we stopped executing.”

Parkview made it 38-35 when Emmanuel Adoyl got a rebound and putback to open the fourth quarter. Xavier Huskey made a bank shot to pull the Red Devils within 40-37 with 6:13 to go.

Anton Beard rebounded and scored for the 42-37 Parkview lead and then Appleby cut it to 42-39 with free throws with 4:19 to go. Appleby took a charge with 4:02 left, but his jumper was in and out, one of several shots that were just off for the Red Devils, and Imara Ready made a floater to make it 44-39 Parkview.

Jacksonville (25-4) would get no closer than four points the rest of the way, and that came when Terrell Brown got a rebound and putback to cut it to 48-44 as Joyner called timeout with 21 seconds left.

The Red Devils had to foul, but after Williams fouled Ross, the Patriots ran off almost 10 seconds before Brown fouled Stephan Lambert, who capped the scoring with two free throws with 9.3 seconds left.

“We were one or two plays away from making it a little more interesting,” Joyner said.

Appleby led all scorers with 19 points despite his injury. Ross led Parkview with 13 and got six rebounds and was named MVP, and Imara Ready added 11 points for Parkview (26-5).

With Brown, who led all rebounders with nine, limiting Ross, Parkview got seven rebounds from three different players to take a 36-25 edge in the category.

“Normally, we will shoot a better percentage to offset the fact that we’re getting beat on the boards,” Joyner said of the Devils, who have been outsized by opponents most of the year.

“We didn’t do that in the fourth quarter, and I think that’s what hurt us.”