Friday, April 01, 2011

EDITORIAL >>Federalizing Exchanges

Our history affords few better examples of low politics subverting the public interest than the successful Republican drive to force 200,000 Arkansans to buy their health insurance through a federally regulated market rather than one set up for them in Arkansas.

It will require people almost certainly to buy more expensive insurance than they could get from an Arkansas exchange and make protection from unscrupulous insurance agents and companies harder to find and correct.

But those little inconveniences were secondary to making President Obama look bad, which was the game. Anything that could be viewed as stymieing a part of the new national health-insurance law was good, no matter what the actual consequences on people might be.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which Republicans like to call “Obamacare,” requires individuals and employers with more than 50 full-time workers to acquire insurance starting in January 2014 or pay a small tax. Their medical bills now are typically passed on to everyone else who is insured through higher premiums and, of course, to the government. A national insurance exchange will be set up where people and employers can shop for a private insurance plan that is affordable and suits their needs.

But the law allows states if they wish to create their own insurance markets. It makes perfect sense for Arkansas to do so because insurance companies should offer less expensive plans for Arkansans since medical costs are lower than in most of the nation and they can make a profit even while collecting lower premiums. The government will subsidize the premiums for families with low to middle incomes.

Since the state Insurance Department rather than the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would regulate the plans sold through the state exchanges, consumers would have a place to go to get speedier relief.

But the Republican contingent in the House of Representatives stood shoulder to shoulder to prevent the state from setting up the exchange. The state Constitution requires three-fourths of each house to vote for most appropriations—no other state in the country gives a small minority control over taxing and spending—and the Republicans united to keep the appropriation for the Insurance Department from passing. If the legislature failed to pass an appropriation for the agency, it would go out of existence on July 1 and insurance companies could no longer do business in Arkansas. That would be a major catastrophe, and even the Republicans knew it.

The Republicans threatened to do just that unless the rest of the legislature killed Gov. Beebe’s bill to authorize the Insurance Department to start setting up the Arkansas exchanges. When the sponsor of the bill finally pulled it down Thursday, the Republicans juvilantly went along and passed the appropriation.

They claimed a great victory. They said they had delayed implementation of “Obamacare,” their name for the law written by Democrats in the Senate and House of Representatives.

But they delayed nothing. It merely means that there will not be an Arkansas exchange and that people in this state who are uninsured will buy plans from Blue Cross, Aetna or another company that are designed for a national market, including high-cost centers like New York and Boston, rather plans formulated for the Arkansas medical market.

A setback for President Obama? Hardly. No one knows but he probably is happy for Arkansans to patronize the federal exchange.

Gov. Beebe was mystified that Republicans would celebrate strengthening the federal government’s hand in health care in Arkansas. It may be a political victory for the Republicans, if they are correct in believing that people are too busy or dense to understand what was done to them.

For Arkansas people who need medical insurance, it is a decisive defeat.

TOP STORY > >Circus in Cabot at Southside Elementary

A one-ring circus is coming to Cabot’s Southside Elementary on Wednesday, with shows at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for children ages 3 to 11 years old. Buy them now at Days Inn and all First Security Bank locations.

The event is a fundraiser for Cabot Rotary Club. Cabot Fire Chief Phil Robinson, who is coordinating the event for the club, said the proceeds will help pay the $1,000 college scholarship the club gives each spring, and the $100 a month that helps support foreign-exchange students in Cabot.

The club also fills 100 food baskets at Thanksgiving, Robinson said.

According to information pulled from the Kelly Miller Circus website, the one-ring circus started in 1938 by Obert Miller and his sons Kelly and Dory.

In 1984, it changed hands but not names and was operated by David Rawls a third-generation circus performer.

Then in 2007, John Ringling North II, the great nephew of the famous Ringling brothers, took over.

The circus tent has a seating capacity of 1,500.

The performances include trapeze acts, trained elephants, tigers, camels and dogs as well as clowns and a Wild West act.

TOP STORY > >Liquor-store feud continues

Leader staff writer

The lawyer for Donald Sears—the owner of the large liquor store now under construction on T.P. White Drive just over the line that separates Cabot from Pulaski County —has asked Circuit Judge Mary S. McGowan, 9th Division, 6th Circuit, to dismiss the lawsuit against his client that was filed in November by the owner of Ace Liquor.

Charles Singleton says in his motion to dismiss that the subject of the suit is outside the court’s jurisdiction.

Joan Zumwalt, owner of Ace Liquor, said in her suit filed in November against Sears and the Alcoholic Beverage Countrol Division of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration that the transfer of license that is allowing Sears to build a liquor store near hers was not advertised in a newspaper that is read by Cabot residents and that the sign Sears posted on the property announcing the transfer was in the center of the property, not at the entrance as required by the state.

On Jan. 31, Judge McGowan ruled that the court had no subject-matter jurisdiction in the case against the ABC because the ABC board didn’t adjudicate the case.

There was no hearing in which Zumwalt objected and the board agreed with ABC Director Michael Langley that Sears had met the requirements to transfer the liquor license. Since the ABC board had not ruled on any questions, but simply approved the administration’s recommendation, the court had no authority to hear an appeal from Zumwalt.

The motion that Singleton filed this week to dismiss the suit against Sears uses the same argument.

The court has no jurisdiction in the case against Sears because the ABC board did not adjudicate Zumwalt’s complaint. Langley’s decision to grant the license transfer was based on procedures that allow such transfers and on the file Sears gave him that showed he had properly advertised his intent and posted the property.

Singleton wrote in his motion to dismiss:

“Since the notice of transfer of location of the retail liquor store permit was properly published in a newspaper of bonafide circulation in Pulaski County, the Daily Record, as shown by the affidavit of publication, and insomuch as a report by the agent as viewed by the Director on the date he made his decision, showed that the property was properly posted, and that the Plaintiff failed to formally protest the issuance of the license before a decision had been rendered by the Director in this matter, then no further appeals are possible as the only methodology of appeal of a Director’s decision is by taking an appeal to the full ABC Board, as is provided by ACA-3-213.”

Singleton argues that since Zumwalt didn’t fight the new liquor store before the ABC board, the next step of appealing to circuit court is not available to her.

But the basis of Zumwalt’s suit is that she couldn’t appeal because she didn’t know Sears was about to move almost next door to her business because she didn’t see either the ad in the Daily Record or the sign posted on the property.

The case is available for viewing at no cost on the Pulaski County clerk’s website.

Singleton filed his motion to dismiss on March 30. The judge has not yet responded.

TOP STORY > >Ward to sell bonds to improve sewers

Leader staff writer

The Ward City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night for a $5 million bond issue that will combine the 2005 and 2009 bond issues and also provide $750,000 for upgrades at the sewer- treatment plant to keep it in compliance with state regulations.

The bonds are supported by revenue from the water and sewer departments. Bob Wright with Crews & Associates, the firm handling the bond sale, told the council that no rate increase is needed to support the bond issue.

Interest rates are 4.35 percent now, Wright said, and that the city will save $156,000 by refunding the existing bond issues.

Deborah Staley, who manages the water department, told the council that the payment on the bonds will be $50,000 a month.

Mayor Art Brooke was the only person who spoke during the meeting, and was opposed to the additional $750,000. He supported refunding the existing bonds for a lower interest rate, but he said he was concerned that a rate increase will be needed when the Lonoke-White water project is funded and the city has to start paying $5 a month for each of Ward’s actual 3,500 water customers plus an additional 750 customers that Ward doesn’t have. To secure federal loans to bring water to the area from Greers Ferry Lake, members of the Lonoke-White project agreed to pay more to make up for Cabot deciding to not participate.

“I have to be fair to the people who are out there paying the bills,” Brooke said.

Tim Lemons, who has been the engineer on several water and sewer projects in Ward, warned that waiting to make improvements at the sewer plant could be costly. The plant is permitted with the state to handle 500,000 gallons of wastewater a day, Lemons said. But during heavy rains, as much as 1.6 million gallons go through it.

One of the improvements he has designed is an “equalization basin” that will hold the rainwater that gets to the plant through infiltration from broken sewer lines and feed it into the plant gradually for treatment.

“(The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality) has been very hospitable to Ward in recent years but I don’t know how long that hospitality will last,” Lemons said.

He warned that although he has never seen it happen, ADEQ could fine the city as much as $10,000 a day for each day the city is out of compliance.

Mike Sipes, who runs the water and sewer plants, told the council that he was for the additional $750,000 for sewer-plant improvements.

“We’re patching things now,” Sipes said.

TOP STORY > >PCSSD: A state takeover unfair

Leader senior staff writer

Three new Jacksonville schools and the rest of the proposed $104 million Pulaski County Special School District construction are threatened by the sudden and unexpected notice from the state Board of Education on Wednesday that the district may be back in fiscal distress.

PCSSD officials say they are confident that they will be successful in their appeal of the finding, which is based largely on problems and deficiencies identified by a state Legislative Audit last year and since corrected by Superintendent Charles Hopson, the board, led by president Bill Vazquez, and chief financial officer Anita Farver.

At a special PCSSD board meeting Thursday evening, the board took action to resolve the few remaining issues and money owed the district, in hopes of defending against the fiscal- distress finding.

“We don’t want to threaten a $100 million building program over $30,000 worth of concerns and discrepancies,” Vasquez said. He said that amounted to less than one-one thousandth of 1 percent of the district’s budget.


“This is unexpected. We’ve been forthright and diligent,” Vasquez said in opening Thursday night’s special board meeting. “We have all the minimal amounts in our accounts, we are fiscally solvent and we anticipate adding to those accounts by the end of the year.”

He said the state’s concern was based strictly on a few items left unresolved from the Legislative Audit.

“But to move forward, to upgrade, we have to take care of these items and let the state Department of Education see that we are exercising our fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers,” Vasquez said.

The district was in fiscal distress from 2005 through 2007 because it was essentially broke, he said. This time around, the district is on sound financial ground, he said. The problems here are those identified by an audit requested by Tim Clark, then the school board president, over concerns that the district wasn’t following sound procedures in tracking its money.


The state Legislative Audit Bureau discovered about $435,000 in theft from a maintenance supervisor—currently in prison—and another $400,000 in expenditures that were improper or improperly documented. It also found fault with the district’s financial practices, and since that time, the board has implemented numerous and sweeping changes.

By December, the amount of questionable expenditures had been reduced to about $60,000. By mid-March, all but about $30,000 of those expenses had been either documented, repaid or in some cases, legal action had been undertaken to recover money.

At Thursday’s special meeting, the board voted to have the DREAM preschool program, which owes the district about $21,700, continue making payments as per the consent judgment.

The mechanism for paying the superintendent’s health insurance was changed to comply with state statutes, and board member Gwen Williams told the board she had agreed to a schedule of repayment for $1,223 in unallowable or improper payments she had received.

Board member Mildred Tatum announced that she had repaid the $116 she was found to owe the district.

The legislative audit was also concerned because the district hadn’t been reimbursed $3,422 from the Confucius Institute for traveling to China to help set up a Mandarin Chinese language program in the district.

“The check arrived yesterday,” Farver said.


The district is expected to approve its 2011-2012 budget April 12, including $8 million in cuts aimed at debt service on a $104 million construction bond issue, but until the matter of fiscal distress is resolved, the district may not “incur any debt without prior written approval from the Department,” according to the letter from Hazel Burnett, state Education Department coordinator for fiscal-distress accountability and reporting.

Both the district’s appeal of the fiscal-distress finding and its request for authorization to sell the bonds could be heard at the May state board meeting, according to Hopson.

PCSSD Director of Operations Derek Scott, who is the ramrod on the construction initiative, said Tuesday and reiterated Friday that the district’s request for authority to sell the bonds had been bumped already to the state board’s June meeting, so if it upholds the district’s fiscal-distress appeal in May, no time will have been lost in proceeding with the program.

Scott said he still hoped the PCSSD board would approve the budget, including $8 million in cuts, April 12; if the state board agrees in May that the district is not in fiscal distress, then in June to sell the bonds, let the construction bids and fire up the bulldozers in June or July.


Of the relationship between the building program and fiscal-distress finding, Scott makes this analogy: “It’s like we are trying to buy a house and first we are trying to get the credit report clean.”

Hopson said Thursday that he was not inclined to put the bond-issue question on the table at the same state board meeting that the district was appealing the fiscal-distress finding.

TOP STORY > >Pen pal visits Warren Dupree

Leader staff writer

Europe became closer for youngsters at Warren Dupree Elementary as a German pen pal made a visit to the school this week.

School principal Janice Walker, who is also command sergeant major of the Army Reserve’s 489th Engineer Bat-talion based at Camp Robinson, invited Lt. Col. Wolfgang Geiss of the German armed forces to visit the school.

Walker met Geiss in June during Army training at Fort McCoy, Wis. Geiss was participating in the U.S. Army officer- exchange program.

“I thought it would be interesting and exciting for students to email and communicate with someone from another country,” Walker said.

When Walker presented the idea to the school of having a pen pal, Mendy Lemoine’s third-grade class took the lead. The class exchanged emails and photos with Geiss who lives in Essen, Germany.

In November, the students sent handwritten letters to him. Geiss said he responded to every letter with a package he sent to the school. He included a map showing the German states, information on the Euro currency and sent German candy for the students.

Geiss has been in the German military for 22 years. He is retired, but is still involved in the military part time. The unit he is assigned to oversees all of Germany’s army helicopters. Geiss spent two years deployed in the former Yugoslavia from 1997 to 1999.

“I was a liaison officer to American and French units assigned to Germany. I trained a lot of foreign officers in German training and arms,” Geiss said.

In his civilian career, Geiss works in strategies and planning for German government health insurance.

Geiss holds two master’s degrees in business economics and international business studies.

He also has a degree in personnel-team coaching.

Geiss was invited to visit Dupree Elementary, so he used his vacation time to see Arkansas and meet with students.

He’s been to the United States many times before. He spent his 10-day vacation sightseeing. He visited the Clinton Presidential Library, Little Rock Central High School, Hot Springs, Memphis, Branson and Mississippi.

He said he enjoyed seeing nature, the culture and learning about history.

During his time at Dupree Elementary, he showed students a PowerPoint presentation about Germany. Parents were invited to meet Geiss during a reception on Friday.

While visiting Dupree Elementary, Geiss said he has gained insight on how American children learn, grow and use computers. He was comparing the culture and education between Germany and America.

He said it was emotional and the students were full of kindness.

“They were really excited that I was going to visit. I feel at home. There is no reason I don’t feel welcome. The kids are hugging me all the time. They are open minded to me having no fear of a foreigner,” Geiss said.

“I have never seen an open- space school. Young people can learn from each other. I think it is a quite good education,” Geiss said.

He said the students have social interaction with each other and are not closed off into a traditional, walled classroom.

“It is a big family,” Geiss said about Dupree Elementary.

Geiss said the pen-pal letters were a chance for him to learn something new and for someone to learn something about him.

Mendy Lemoine’s third- grade class studied about Germany. In their letters, they had many questions to ask, such as what is it like to live in Germany.

Principal Walker said Geiss’ visit related to the school’s school-year theme of “All the Places You’ll Go.”

She said it was a great way show how the Internet and email connects people globally.

Walker said, “It has been enlightening for my students, my staff and my parents, because they have been able to take part in this experience.

“We’re more knowledgeable about Germany. We’re connected and Lt. Col. Geiss too is part of our Dupree family,” Walker said.

SPORTS>>National invite goes to Jackson

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville sophomore guard Jessica Jackson has been invited to participate in the USA Basketball 16-Under National Team Trials on May 26-30 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Col.

If selected, Jackson will train for the 2011 FIBA Americas 16-Under Championship in Merida, Mexico, June 13-18.

The FIBA Americas Championship is a bi-annual tournament featuring all-star teams from North and South America, Central America and the Caribbean. The event also serves as a qualifier for the FIBA World Championship and Olympic Games.

Jackson, 6-2, has been highly sought as a college recruit since her freshman season after she caused a buzz on the AAU youth basketball scene.

The versatile Jackson led Jacksonville with an average 15 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks a game.

She was an all-state selection by the Arkansas Activities Association and is The Leader Sophomore of the Year.

SPORTS>>UALR ends losing skid, beats UCA

UALR Sports Information

UALR baseball snapped a four-game losing streak with an 8-3 non-conference victory over Central Arkansas on Wednesday night at Bear Stadium in Conway.

UALR starter Dillon Wilson limited UCA to four hits and two runs over 4 1/3 innings, and senior John Maler held the Bears to two hits over 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief to improve to 2-2 on the year.

Junior Cameron Bentley and sophomore Myles Parma led the Trojans (11-13) with two hits apiece, with Bentley going 2 for 3 with one run scored and two RBI. Senior Jake Rowell hit his first home run of the season in the top of the second, a solo shot to right, to give UALR a 1-0 lead and the Trojans never trailed.

The Trojans tacked on two more runs in the third on an RBI groundout by senior Jason Houston and a run-scoring single by junior Nick Rountree to take a 3-0 lead.

UCA (12-14) manufactured two runs in the bottom half to pull within one as Jonathan Davis and Jonathan Houston delivered consecutive RBI singles. UCA went scoreless over the next five innings, however, and left a total of 13 men on base, stranding a runner at third five times.

UALR pushed across runs in the fourth and sixth innings to go ahead 5-2, and then broke the game open with a three-run rally in the seventh.

Houston opened the inning with a leadoff single and Rountree followed by reaching base on a catcher’s interference to put two on with no outs.

SPORTS>>Roberts, Panthers look like good fit

Leader sports editor

Why is Steve Roberts following me around?

Of course may-be Roberts, soon to be Cabot’s new athletic director, is wondering the same thing about me.

On Monday, the Cabot School Board confirmed Roberts, most recently football coach at Arkansas State, as the school’s new athletic director. Roberts, 46, will replace Johnny White officially on July 1.

White is retiring after 35 years with the school district.

I have known Roberts since his first year as head coach at Southern Arkansas University in 1994. Elevated from assistant that year, Roberts led SAU to a 1-7-1 record — not a sign of things to come.

In just a couple more seasons Roberts had the Muleriders atop the Gulf South Conference and in their first NCAA Division II playoff. SAU would contend with Arkansas Tech for the conference championship again the following year, falling short in a close season finale at Russellville.

Then in 2000, Roberts headed off to Northwestern (La.) State, of the old NCAA Division I-AA classification and I went on to cover Division I-A Arkansas State.

While Roberts was posting two winning seasons with the Northwestern State Demons, I was watching Joe Hollis’ woeful Arkansas State Indians struggle to 1-10 and 2-9 finishes.

The second season ended with Hollis being handed his dismissal notice as he left the sideline following a Thanksgiving Day loss to Division I-AA Nicholls State.

Throw in the fact Hollis, still alive and kicking in Georgia by the way, was suffering from prostate cancer at the time and it was one of the most dismal days in sports I have ever witnessed firsthand.

Clearly what Arkansas State needed after that was a vaccination of enthusiasm, a can full of can-do.

Athletic director Paul Griffin, who only stuck around Arkansas State for six months, delivered. His legacy will be the hiring of Roberts, whose first team promptly went 6-7 while losing its quarterback in the season opener at Virginia Tech and playing 13 games in just under 13 weeks.

That was 2002. In 2005 Arkansas State (6-5) won the lion’s share of the Sun Belt championship and went to the New Orleans Bowl, its first Division I-A bowl game, and turned in a gritty effort in a loss to Southern Miss.

The Indians, later renamed the Red Wolves, won six games a couple more times, but ultimately Roberts became the victim of the expectations he raised, and after consecutive 4-8 seasons he resigned after meeting with university officials last fall.

Roberts will bring to Cabot the enthusiasm he showed when he bounded onto the stage during his introduction at Arkansas State in December 2001.

And he will bring the lack of quit he showed when he lost his debut game at Virginia Tech 63-7.

This is the guy who urged his first teams, downtrodden for so long, to whoop it up when good things happened, even if it meant a celebration penalty.

As the former head of a program that competes in football’s highest classification, Roberts, who will earn $88,043 a year, knows something about hiring, firing, scheduling, delegating, budgeting and travel arrangements, and he will be called on to do all those things at Cabot. Well, hopefully not the firing.

He knows what a successful football program needs to keep up its success — and Cabot has one under Arkansas State alum Mike Malham, who just completed his 30th year by leading Cabot into the state playoffs.

Roberts arrives at a time when Cabot is already on sound footing.

The loan for its artificial playing surface should be paid off in June, the new on-campus building featuring a basketball arena is scheduled for completion in the fall, the football facilities are top notch and most programs are state contenders.

It all means Roberts shouldn’t be forced to make any immediate, major shakeups and can settle in first.

Roberts, a graduate of Pulaski Robinson High School, is a devout individual with a daughter who is an incoming high school junior, so he should be at home in the community as he returns to central Arkansas.

Hopefully he’ll move into one of those modern subdivisions that have sidewalks and everything and hopefully he won’t have to make too many left turns on the way to work, because those are hard to pull off in Cabot.

But based on what I know about the guy, I think the school district took the right turn when it brought Roberts in.

SPORTS>>Bears head list of all-state players

Leader sportswriter

Twenty-one area players from nine different schools were named to the Arkansas Activities Association all-state basketball rosters released Wednesday.

Local schools had 14 players named to the state all-tournament teams.

Sylvan Hills landed the most with four, including three from the 5A state runner-up Bears. Top national college recruit Archie Goodwin and junior classmates Dion Patton and Trey Smith all earned all-state honors.

Goodwin also made the 5A all-tournament team along with teammate Larry Ziegler, a junior forward.

Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis said it was something of a surprise to have as many all-state selections as he did.

“It really was,” Davis said. “I think the season that we had is probably a lot to attribute why we had three. But it did come up as a little bit of as surprise.”

Patton, a transfer from Little Rock Parkview, had experience playing with Goodwin on the Ron Crawford-coached Arkansas Wings AAU team, and meshed with the rest of the team quickly.

“I thought Dion was such a tenacious defender and having coached him this year, coaching for as long as I have, I think he is absolutely deserving from just a defensive standpoint,” Davis said. “I think that’s why he garnered so much respect from the other coaches from what he brings to the floor defensively.

“Early in the season his assist to turnover ratio was 8 to 1 and I’ve never heard of that, certainly not any team I’ve had.”

Goodwin, who has offers from over 40 major colleges including Kentucky and North Carolina, averaged over 28 points a game this season and earned numerous all-star and player-of-the-year honors.

“We knew Archie coming in was a pretty special young man,” Davis said taking stock of a season that featured a compressed schedule because of snow-related postponements. “Once all the dust settles, it’s such a fast and furious year winning the conference and we had the weather situation, it made everything go so fast and it is nice looking back at the season you had and what the kids accomplished.”

While Goodwin netted most of the headlines this past season, Smith quietly established himself as the Bears’ premier outside shooter.

“Trey, my shooting guard, was in double figures, I think, in 10 of our 14 conference games,” Davis said. “I thought, as coaches expressed to me, he was certainly a game changer. He shot the ball so deep and caused defenses to really have to extend.”

Not surprisingly, Davis is looking forward to the group returning this fall for their senior seasons along with post player Devin Pearson and Ziegler. The Bears went 14-0 through their 5A-Southeast Conference schedule on their way to a league title and state tournament run that ended with a loss to Alma in the championship game.

“I think the thing that’s most exciting is you see the biggest jump in kids from that junior to senior year,” Davis said. “We hope they come back really, really hungry because they were so devastated at the end.”

Ashley Johnson was the only all-state selection from the Lady Bears. Johnson, who was also named to the 5A all-tournament team and is The Leader girls Player of the Year, led Sylvan Hills to its third state tournament in coach Bee Rodden’s final season before her retirement at the year’s end.

Cabot senior Kai Davis was the only all-state selection for the Panthers, though classmate Darin Jones was named to the 7A state all-tournament team. The Panthers entered the 7A state tournament at Rogers Heritage High School as the No. 4 seed out of the 7A-Centeral Conference and fell to Fayetteville 53-41 in the first round.

Lady Panthers senior point guard Kaki Thomas and junior guard/forward Melissa Wolff were named all-state, and Wolff also made the 7A all-tournament team for her performances against Rogers and Fayetteville in the postseason.

The Lady Panthers finished runner-up to then-unbeaten North Little Rock in the 7A-Central Conference, which earned them a first-round bye. They defeated Rogers 39-37 in the second round before losing to eventual champion Fayetteville in the semifinals.

Ole Miss signee Jamal Jones was Searcy’s only boys all-state selection. Jones was also named to the 6A all-tournament team.

Searcy girls senior Elliot Scarbrough was on the all-state and all-tournament team lists.

Jacksonville senior Raheem Appleby and sophomore Justin McCleary earned all-state honors as guards for 6A the Red Devils, who reached the 6A state final and lost to Little Rock Parkview. Both players also made the 6A all-tournament team, and Appleby is Leader Boys Player of the Year.

Beebe senior guard Devonte Young and junior post player Dayton Scott were named all state, and Scott made the 5A all-tournament team. Lady Badgers sophomore guard Jamie Jackson was also selected for all state.

North Pulaski Junior guard Shyheim Barron and sophomore point guard Dayshawn Watkins were named all state, and Watkins was named to the 5A all-tournament team.

Lonoke senior guard Cara Neighbors was the school’s only all-state selection. Neighbors led the Lady ’Rabbits in scoring the past three seasons, and averaged 20.6 points and seven rebounds a game as a senior.

Harding Academy sophomore Will Francis and junior girls shooting guard Lynley Crowell are all-state choices and Lady Wildcats point guard Molly Koch was named to the 3A girls all-tournament team.

Riverview seniors Taylor Smith and D.J. Teague were named all-state, and teammate and point guard Keinan Lee was named to the 3A all-tournament team.

SPORTS>>Jacksonville hits them fair in foul weather

Leader sportswriter

Miserable weather conditions did not hamper Jacksonville as the Lady Red Devils thumped Memphis 15-0 at Dupree Park on Thursday.

The Lady Red Devils picked up their second straight 6A-East Conference victory on a soggy field in front of a sparse crowd that braved the cold, rainy afternoon. Two days earlier, Jacksonville defeated Marion 16-15 in similar conditions at Dupree, which seemed to give the Lady Red Devils an edge over the struggling Lady Blue Devils on Thursday.

Jacksonville scored seven consecutive runs without an out and batted around in the third inning.

The Lady Blue Devils put themselves out of their misery later in the inning with an error on Alexis Oakley’s fly to right that scored Shyrel McKinney and Tyler Pickett to make it 15-0 and trigger the third-inning run rule.

“They did a good job,” Jacksonville interim coach Kevin Sullivan said. “It’s funny, because we did this exact same thing Tuesday — the weather was almost identical.

“I felt like when I came into the program that our main problem was mental toughness. And we’ve really been preaching mental toughness, just talking about things like ignoring the elements.”

Sullivan is filling in for longtime Lady Red Devils coach Tanya Ganey, who is recovering from a recent heart attack. Ganey has attended a number of early games but is under doctor’s orders not to participate.

In Ganey’s absence, Sullivan appears to have developed a rapport with the squad.

“They make fun of me now,” Sullivan said. “They laugh and they even say, ‘Ignore the elements.’ Regardless of the temperature or the conditions, we’re going to go after it.”

Junior pitcher Whitney House put in a strong performance during the Lady Red Devils’ brief time on the field. House gave up one hit and struck out three while allowing one walk.

West Memphis leadoff batter Kori Adams was the only Lady Blue Devil to get more than one at-bat.

House’s twin sister Alexis, the other half of Jacksonville’s pitching tandem, is currently on the mend recovering from a knee injury.

“She’s doing a good job,” Sullivan said of Whitney House. “She’s the only one we’ve got right now. She’s really had to carry the load. She’s looked better today than she has all year. She hasn’t thrown bad; Mountain Home got on her a little bit. But she hasn’t thrown bad, our defense has been really poor.

“She’s coming into her own and settling down, and the defense behind her is getting better and better.”

West Memphis gave up seven hits, committed four errors and had nine walks, including five straight in the decisive third inning. Cana Ratliff started out in the pitcher’s circle for West Memphis but quickly gave way to Alexa Carroll.

Bekah Walters started the third inning pitching, but Carroll came on in relief again after Walters walked Haley Hickingbotham, House, Victoria Cummings and Chyna Davis in consecutive order.

“I know they had the long bus trip, and I know that’s rough,” Sullivan said. “Nobody really anticipated it, but I would like to think it did give us an advantage. We’re going to continue to preach it regardless. I really think that most of this game is mental.

“It’s about confidence and believing. If they believe they’re going to be tough regardless of conditions, then that’s half the battle.”

Pickett was 2 for 3 with two runs for Jacksonville. Oakley had one hit but reached on all four trips to the plate courtesy of two West Memphis errors, and a walk from Ratliff to start the game.

McKinney reached on three walks, one to drive in a run in the third.

Senior right fielder Riley Zink also had a single and an RBI while Hanna Zink singled to drive in a run in the third before coming in on Oakley’s finishing fly to right.

The Lady Red Devils are now 2-3 after losing their season opener to White Hall and a 6A-East doubleheader at Mountain Home.

“We’re getting better and better,” Sullivan said. “To be quite honest, our first game out against White Hall was, for lack of a better phrase, a train wreck. We’ve really focused the last two weeks. Took spring break off, came back refreshed.

“We took our time, fielded lots of ground balls, lots of fly balls trying to refocus our defense.”

Thursday, March 31, 2011

TOP STORY >> ‘Lost’ cemetery rediscovered

By Christy Hendricks
Leader staff writer

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
Psalm 116:15, King James Bible.

Behind’s Dude’s Place, which sits at the intersection of Hwys. 38 and 319 in Austin, runs Ray Sowell Road. Located in a curve, somewhere along Ray Sowell Road, is Russ Cemetery, a cemetery for blacks dating back to the Civil War.

Come rain or shine, hardworking volunteers from all over central Arkansas will bring Russ Cemetery back to life.

“People who have lived here always believed it to be a Civil War cemetery,” said Cathy Gastineau, who rediscovered the cemetery last spring.

Gastineau had followed her daughter to a babysitting job, making sure she made it safely, when she noticed a headstone sticking out of some brush along Ray Sowell Road.

Gastineau started researching and found the landowner, and eventually traced the cemetery ownership to the Christian Methodist Episcopal denomination. She contacted members of the CME, Old Austin Baptist Church and her own church, Old Austin United Methodist Church. Old Austin Methodist Church stands where a Union hospital was built during the Civil War.

Soon, a group was formed to resurrect the cemetery. This past Saturday, volunteers from the churches began cleaning up the cemetery in a cold rain, which was overrun with brush, seedling trees and more. What they uncovered was a taste of history.

There are markers for World War II and Korean War veterans. Some markers have dates as far back as 1918, and some as recent as the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the headstones have been broken or vandalized.

One marker bears the words “International Order of Twelve Knights and Daughters of Tabor,” a black fraternal organization established by Moses Dickson in Independence, Mo., in 1872.

In 1942, the group opened the Taborian Hospital in Mound Bayou, Miss., offering a 42-bed medical facility for blacks during a time when such a thing was nearly non-existent. The hospital operated until the mid-1960s, during integration, and unfortunately could no longer compete with larger hospitals in the area, according to

Gastineau and co-chair, Rev. Charles Holloway, pastor of St. James CME Church in Conway, have been working on obtaining grants to help care for the cemetery.

Gastineau says the group would like to put up new fencing, plot the cemetery and fix the broken stones over time. According to a March 21 press release about the cleanup, “It is the stated goal of the partnered churches to return Russ Cemetery to a more sacred condition and to provide for its future care.”

Holloway says several churches are involved with the preservation of Russ Cemetery: The Leach CME chapel in North Little Rock, the Beebe CME chapel in Wrightsville, the Pleasant Hill CME chapel in College Station, Old Austin Baptist Church and Old Austin United Methodist, as well as his own congregation.

“It’s important for the families to know that the remains of their relatives are indeed cared for. That the cemetery is made presentable, not deserted or in disrepair,” he continued.

Holloway is hopeful because the unity of people who have come together to work on the cemetery.

“From a racial standpoint, we don’t come together as much as we should. I see so much harmony from this. We have come to love each other more,” he said. “I’m just proud to be a part of it.”

For more information, to volunteer, or to provide information on those buried at the cemetery, contact Gastineau at 501-941-9339.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

SPORTS >> Travelers hook Trout for starters

Leader sports editor

Arkansas Travelers manager Bill Mosiello is getting the player he wanted.

If he can get the number of victories he wants, it should be a delightful year at Dickey-Stephens Park.

The competitive Mosiello was only half-joking when, during the Travelers’ hot-stove reception in February, he said he wanted to win all 140 games. But Mosiello was serious when he said he wanted Los Angeles Angels No. 1 prospect Mike Trout.

And as Angels spring training winds to a close, the club has committed to starting Trout at Arkansas.

The outfielder, rated’s top prospect, was Los Angeles’ No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft and split his first full professional season between Class A Cedar Rapids, of the Midwest League, and Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga, of the California League.

Trout, a Vineland, N.J., native, hit a combined .341 with 10 home runs, 58 RBI and 56 stolen bases. Trout participated in the minor league Futures Game during Major League All-Star week and was Midwest League all-star, most valuable player and prospect of the year.

Mosiello managed Cedar Rapids last season and takes over the Travelers after four years under Bobby Magallanes.

Mosiello said in February he anticipated Trout either starting the year at Arkansas or earning a promotion sometime during the season. He said Trout was one of his former players who he would lobby hard to get.

While confirming to Los Angeles Times reporter Bill Shaikin that Trout would make his Class AA debut with the Travs, Los Angeles general manager Tony Reagins said he thought it was “unlikely” Trout would be called up to the Angels this season, the Travelers reported on their website.

That doesn’t mean Trout, who hit 192 in 14 games with the big league club this spring, won’t earn a promotion to Class AAA Salt Lake if he puts in a good half-season at Arkansas.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia told he wouldn’t be surprised if Trout, one of 25 non-roster players the Angels invited to big league spring training, earned a promotion, maybe even to the parent club.

“At some point, if you project where Mike’s going to be, I’d be surprised if he’s not on our depth chart at some time late in the year,” Scioscia said. “I’m not saying he’s going to get called up. He’s obviously opened up a lot of eyes. When he’s ready he’ll get an opportunity.”

Arkansas opens the season at Midland on April 7. Trout and the Travelers are expected to work out at Dickey-Stephens Park either April 5 or April 6 before boarding the bus to travel to play the RockHounds.

Arkansas plays three games at Midland and three at Frisco, then has an off day April 13.

The Travelers will play their home opener against Midland on April 14 at 7:10 p.m. at Dickey-Stephens Park.

Mosiello was 160-116 the past two seasons at Cedar Rapids and has a 357-274 minor-league record overall. He has also coached collegiately at Cal State-Fullerton, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Arizona State, Southern California and Auburn.

The Angels retained Francisco Matos as Travelers hitting coach while former Traveler Brandon Emanuel will serve as pitching coach, replacing Ken Patterson, who spent five years overall with Arkansas including the past four.

SPORTS >> Troy tops UALR, gets SBC sweep

UALR Sports Information

Troy scored eight runs over the first two innings and completed its Sun Belt Conference sweep of UALR with a 13-3 victory Sunday afternoon.

Blake Martz led Troy with three RBI while Tyler Hannah went 3 for 5 with three runs and two RBI.

Troy (19-4, 5-1) jumped to a 4-0 lead in the first inning as Martz hit a two-run homer to left and Josh McDorman delivered a two-out, two-run single up the middle.

UALR (10-13, 2-4) answered in the top of the second with a two-run home run to left by junior Greg Garcia, but Troy tacked on four more runs in the bottom half to go on top, 8-2.

Troy manufactured its four-run second on four singles, three walks and one hit batter, with Drew Prichard capping off the rally with a two-run single down the right-field line.

With Troy leading 10-2 through three innings, UALR pushed across a run in the fourth as sophomore Myles Parma hit a leadoff double to right and scored three batters later on a two-out single by junior Austin Atwell.

UALR went scoreless over the next three innings, however, and Troy scored three runs with two out in the bottom of the seventh to run-rule the visitors.

Hannah hit a two-run double to right to make it 12-3 and Tyson Workman brought the game to an end by drawing a bases-loaded walk.

UALR’s four pitchers combined for 11 walks, with starter Calvin Drinnen (2-2) taking the loss after surrendering five hits and five runs over 1 1/3 innings.

Troy starter Jimmy Hodgskin (2-1) got the victory, limiting UALR to six hits and three runs over five innings of work.

UALR returns to action today when it takes on Central Arkansas at 6 p.m. in Conway.

The game was pushed back a day because of expected bad weather.

The Trojans will then welcome Western Kentucky to Gary Hogan Field for a three-game series starting Friday at 6 p.m.

SPORTS >> Jacksonville soccer makes strides

Leader sportswriter

The Jacksonville soccer teams are off to a strong start with a 2-0 record for the Lady Red Devils and a 1-1 record for the boys.

The Lady Red Devils, backed by a solid performance from freshman goalkeeper Ja Quia Alexander, opened the season with a 6-0 shutout over cross-town rival North Pulaski.

6A-East Conference play crept up quickly on the Lady Devils, who faced Marion in their second match and won decisively, 8-2.

Junior forward and team captain Taylor Ruple led the way with four goals while sophomore Katie Lawrence added three. Courtney Moody gave Jacksonville the early lead when she scored the first goal on a penalty kick.

“We’re excited about this year,” Lady Red Devils assistant coach Addie Sereal said. “We’re excited to be 2-0 this season, and everyone is working really hard to reach the state tournament again.”

The Lady Red Devils qualified for the 6A state tournament last year despite a slow start. There was talk of not fielding a girls team at all before Ruple, then a sophomore, began recruiting schoolmates and piecing a team together.

“It makes them proud to know that they’ve worked hard,” Sereal said.

“They practiced when there wasn’t anyone else out there; the girls came out and worked by themselves. It just shows what faith and determination can accomplish.”

The Red Devils are starting a new era this season with coach Pablo Reilman, formerly a volunteer coach at North Pulaski.

Reilman is also president of the Jacksonville Soccer Association, and wants to build excitement for soccer in the community on the level Searcy has achieved.

Searcy teams have dominated Class 6A soccer for half a decade backed by the strength of the community youth clubs.

“If Jacksonville wants to be successful in soccer, what they have to do is get kids to go join a club,” Reilman said. “So, by the time they reach high school, they will have some experience playing soccer.That’s what I want to try and do, is get them involved and get them developed.”

SPORTS >> Rain doesn’t dampen Cabot championship

Leader sportswriter

Tournament victories are great confidence boosters for young teams — even rain-shortened tournament victories.

The Cabot Panthers won the Harrison Invitational tournament last weekend with a first-round victory over Fort Smith Southside and an 18-1 championship victory over the host Goblins.

Rain on Saturday forced cancellations, and many teams made the decision to pack up and go home early. Cabot and Harrison were the two first-round winners still on site, and were therefore placed opposite to each other in the final.

Sophomore pitcher Ryan Logan got his first career victory in the championship game, giving up a run in the bottom of the first inning before shutting down Harrison during the four remaining innings as the game was shortened by the run rule.

“The thing is, anything can happen when you throw in young pitchers,” Cabot coach Jay Fitch said. “When we hit the ball well, the problem is, sometimes we don’t get into the flow like we need to. But in this one, we did.

“That takes pressure off a young pitcher trying to win his first game, so that’s always nice.”

Catcher T.C. Carter provided the spark offensively with home runs in the first and second innings. Carter went 3 for 3 with a walk and hit his first homer over the fence as part of a four-run first, and he hit a three-run home run in his next at-bat in the top of the second.

Freshman first baseman Zach Patterson went 3 for 4 with a double and two singles.

Patterson is only the third freshman to start in Fitch’s 14 years. The other two were Major League prospect Drew Burks, in his last season at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College and has signed with Arkansas State, and University of Arkansas outfielder Sam Bates, who was drafted by the Florida Marlins last year but did not sign.

“We lost our first three; played some really tough competition,” Fitch said of the season’s start. “We have a lot of young players, so to win a couple of tournament games like this is big for us. Hopefully we can build on that confidence as we get into conference.”

The Panthers picked up their 5-2, first-round victory over the Grizzlies thanks to a four-run fourth. Fort Smith Northside struck first when with two runs in the top of the second as starter Cole Nicholson gave up a single and was touched for a pair of squeeze bunts.

But Nicholson went the distance for Cabot and gave up just one more hit while striking out 11. Nicholson, a right-handed senior, has a fastball in the 87-88 mph range and has a few offers from junior colleges.

“He’s just an anchor for us,” Fitch said. “We feel like we can win any game with him on the mound. All we have to do is hit three or four. He’s a shutdown pitcher. He hits his spots, which is good at any level.

“I’m trying to soak him up for one more year — he’s a fun one to watch.”

Cabot pulled to within one run in the bottom of the third when Bryson Morris led off with a double.

Junior third baseman Justin Goff followed with a double to score Morris.

Tyler Cole led off the fourth with a walk and advanced on a single by Cole Thomas. Morris then delivered an RBI single that tied the score.

Carter drove in Thomas and Morris with a single to give the Panthers a 4-2 lead.

Thomas added an insurance run in the seventh when he walked with two outs and stole second before Morris sent him in with a double.

Morris went 3 for 4 with 2 RBI.

The Panthers are hoping to return to the 7A state tournament this season after missing out last year after a bizarre 7A-Central Conference race that featured a six-way tie with two games remaining.

Cabot opened league play before spring break with a split against Russellville. The Panthers resume 7A-Central play Thursday when they host defending 7A state champion Bryant.

“The 7A-Central is the toughest conference in the state, and probably in the history of Arkansas,” Fitch said. “Every team is great, and has a lot of tradition. You don’t get any nights off here.”

Varsity doubleheaders are a new wrinkle this season for 7A teams.

Lower classifications have used doubleheaders and rotated sites from one year to the next, but the 7A-Central and 7A-West played conference opponents home and away until travel demands forced a change.

“It’s kind of a tricky deal, because if you win the first one, you don’t want to be satisfied,” Fitch said.

“But if you lose the first one, you don’t want to get down either, so either way, it’s tough to play those varsity doubleheaders.”

SPORTS >> Hog’s Baxendale savors role

Special to The Leader

The Arkansas Razorbacks’ freshmen pitchers opened the season looking up to a sophomore who hadn’t won any more games than they had.

DJ Baxendale, the sophomore right-hander from Sylvan Hills, brought an 0-2 record into his season-opening start at Baum Stadium against the Delaware State Hornets.

It was a sign of coach Dave Van Horn’s faith that he not only tabbed Baxendale to start the opener, he projected him to come out of the bullpen two, or even three times an SEC series.

“Basically what I am telling you is I think he’s our best pitcher,” Van Horn said.

Being a winless ace is quite a load, but Baxendale didn’t stay winless for long. He won his opening day start, 5-0, as he and Cade Lynch combined to allow seven hits.

Baxendale scattered four hits over five innings and got seven of the Hogs’ 14 strikeouts.

Entering Tuesday’s non-conference game with Oklahoma, Baxendale was 5-0 with a 1.68 ERA, both team bests, and was tied for the team lead with two saves.

“Just getting thrown into the mix as a freshman last year helped me really mature early,” Baxendale, 6-2, 190 pounds, said.

Baxendale has been used just as Van Horn promised. He has started twice with a victory and a no-decision and got his other three victories in long-duration relief.

“If you are looking at having to win one game, I will start him,” Van Horn said. “But I wouldn’t mind closing with him on Friday and then maybe he can pitch an inning Saturday and go three, four or five on Sunday.

“DJ may get 12 starts before the season is over with or he might have 15 saves.”

Most recently Baxendale worked the final 2 1/3 innings to beat Vanderbilt 2-1 on Friday as he gave up three hits, walked none and struck out three.

He took the next two games of the Vanderbilt series off and should have been rested and ready to go against Oklahoma on Tuesday.

Baxendale entered Tuesday second on the team with 27 strikeouts and third with 27 1/3 innings pitched. In a big clue to Baxendale’s success, he leads all pitchers who have significant playing time with only three walks.

“I’m for any role I can help the team,” Baxendale said of his multiple uses. “We have a younger pitching staff coming in this year, so as the year goes on we’ll have to play it by feel and see how it turns out.”

Baxendale was the Arkansas player of the year as a senior at Sylvan Hills, where he wound up after also playing at Arkadelphia and Abundant Life. He was 42-12 in high school with an 0.73 ERA and was 25-1 his final two years at Sylvan Hills, leading the Bears to the 6A state championship as a junior and earning MVP honors in the state tournament.

As an Arkansas freshman Baxendale was 0-2 with a team-high seven saves and a 3.58 ERA.

“He was not intimidated as a freshman,” Arkansas pitching coach Dave Jorn said. “He had moments when he was banged around but he was able to bounce back from it.”

Last summer Baxendale earned pitcher of the year honors for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the prestigious, wood-bat Cape Cod League, a hotbed for Major League hopefuls.

“Playing all summer in Cape Cod also helped,” Baxendale said. “It was really good getting all that experience. The summer went well. I was used as a closer in Cape Cod and finished with 10 or 11 saves.”

In 2004, Van Horn used Jay Sawatski and Charley Boyce in multiple roles similar to what Baxendale has done and they pitched Arkansas all the way to the College World Series.

Growing up in state, Baxendale, of course, is familiar with all that.

“We are a bunch of no-name guys right now and we plan to go out and make a name for ourselves,” Baxendale said. “So whatever role they want, I’ll be happy with it as long as I am pitching.”

— Leader sports editor Todd Traub contributed to this story.

SPORTS >> Athletic director named at Cabot

Leader sports editor

Former Arkansas State football coach Steve Roberts has accepted the job of athletic director at Cabot High School.

Roberts will replace Johnny White, who is retiring at the end of this school year. Roberts officially takes over July 1 and was confirmed in a school board meeting Monday.

“I’m very excited about moving to Cabot,” Roberts said Tuesday night. “What really sold us was the people that we had an opportunity to meet with during the interview.”

Roberts said Cabot would be a good home for his wife Sherri and daughter Abby, an incoming junior.

“It’s a great community,” he said. “An opportunity to work with great coaches and great facilities and great people and it’s a great school district for my daughter.”

Roberts, 46, won 45 games as coach at Arkansas State from 2002 until the end of last season, when he resigned under pressure after the Red Wolves went 4-8. Roberts led Arkansas State to the 2005 Sun Belt Conference championship and New Orleans Bowl and produced several conference players of the year and NFL draft picks.

A graduate of Joe T. Robin-son High School and a former player at Ouachita Baptist University, Roberts said he had collegiate coaching offers outside Arkansas and opportunities outside of coaching, but none seemed a good fit.

“I just wanted to stay involved in athletics and with coaches and kids’ lives,” said Roberts, who was head coach at Southern Arkansas and Northwestern (La.) State before replacing Joe Hollis at Arkansas State in December of 2001.

Roberts said the deciding factor was his meetings with Cabot Superintendent Tony Thurman, assistant superintendent Jim Dalton and director of personnel Lisa Baker.

“I spent a lot of time with them and had an opportunity to meet the school board, and I just really felt like they have a great heart for young people,” Roberts said.

Thurman said Roberts would earn $88,043 a year at Cabot. He earned a base of $140,000 with incentives at Arkansas State.

Roberts said he was impressed by the continuity of the coaching staffs, which include football coach Mike Malham, an Arkansas State graduate who has been head coach since 1981.

“They’re a great group and they’re well respected in the profession in the high school ranks and by college coaches,” Roberts said.

Malham said he knew Roberts only casually but said he was highly regarded in state coaching circles and that he looked forward to working with Roberts.

“He’s got a good reputation.He’s been successful everywhere he’s been,” Malham said. “He seems like he’ll be a good fellow to work with. Hopefully we’ll continue to be successful.”

Malham said he had not sought the job when White announced his retirement and gave credit to Roberts for first calling to see if he was interested before Roberts applied.

Malham said the athletic department had grown so large, a director could no longer coach as well, and Malham didn’t want to leave the Panthers sidelines.

“It’s such a big job if you could coach and do that too,” Malham said, “but I’ve been here 30 years as a football coach.”

Roberts said his experiences at a football program in the NCAA’s highest classification prepared him to take over the Cabot athletic department.

“I’ve been an administrator for the last 17 years as a head coach and experienced a lot of those issues that come up administratively,” Roberts said. “I’m confident about that. But I guess the thing I miss most is he daily interaction with a particular group of kids, but I hope to be able to be involved with our student athletes.”

White is retiring after 35 years with the district. During his tenure, Cabot’s student population has grown from 3,500 to 10,000 and the athletic program has steadily moved up from the AA classification to 7A, the largest in the state.

The football facilities have been upgraded and now feature a multi-story fieldhouse and indoor practice field, video scoreboard and artificial turf, with the $700,000, five-year loan for the playing surface to be paid off in June.

A new building featuring a basketball arena, HPER building and cafeteria is going up on campus.

With the construction and most of the athletic programs performing annually as postseason contenders, Roberts said he was in no hurry to make major changes.

“I’m going to go into it in an evaluation mode as much as anything else and just make decisions as things arise,” Roberts said. “I don’t think it’s fair to come in with a preconceived plan of what to do with the athletic program.

“I think you need to evaluate it and experience it before you make any changes.”

EDITORIAL >> Utilities in charge

If anyone should ever dispute who the real constituency of the Arkansas legislature is, the definitive answer is, see HB 1895 of 2011. When the public interest clashes with that of a powerful commercial interest, the legislature will side with their corporate supporters every time.

The Senate passed HB 1895 Monday night by a vote of 26 to 7 despite protests that it would weaken the already flimsy public control over the siting of big polluting power plants. The House of Representatives had passed the bill handily and now Gov. Beebe will overcome his concerns about the weakened regulatory structure and sign it into law.

American Electric Power, the Ohio-based conglomerate that owns the largest power distribution system in the country, now will try to hammer the Arkansas courts into subservience. The Arkansas Court of Appeals and Arkansas Supreme Court have both ruled, unanimously, that the company and the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Corp. violated the law in finagling approval from state regulatory agencies to get permits to build a giant coal-burning generation plant in southwest Arkansas. The plant will supply power mostly to Louisiana and Texas, which did not want the plant built there.

See, the utilities will tell the courts, the Arkansas legislature, which represents the people of Arkansas, sided with us. It is not likely to work, but the dismantled regulatory structure will be there next time a utility needs it.

The state Public Service Commission let the utilities start building the plant without a permit and they continued the work without a valid one. When the courts ruled that the PSC’s permit was invalid, American Electric Power said it would make it a merchant plant, removing it from the state’s jurisdiction.

Now they want the legislature to change state law to show that they were right all along and the courts should have ruled for them. Originally, the bill changed the law retroactively to the time the PSC gave American Electric Power the permit, but Gov. Beebe couldn’t stomach that. It would clearly have been unconstitutional, as if that should make any difference. The ex-post-facto feature was removed.

The big problem was that Arkansas law always required the issues involved in a major new generating plant to be decided in a single proceeding where any interested party, including the public, could participate. That included the basic determination of whether a new generating plant was necessary and, if so, whether its degradation of the ground, water and air was an acceptable price to pay for meeting the power needs.

But Gov. Mike Huckabee’s PSC considered American Power’s declaration of the need for the plant in an unpublicized proceeding and pronounced it necessary. Then the company applied for a certificate of public convenience, and the PSC supplied it after hearings. The necessity for the plant was not an issue in those hearings because the previous commission had rubber-stamped it.

HB 1895 declares that the procedure used back then—two separate proceedings, one more or less private between the company and the PSC, and the second a public one—actually is the right way to do it. It describes it as a “clarification” of the law, but it is simply new law.

There was one notable opponent in the Senate, Jeremy Hutchinson, the conservative Republican from Little Rock. Hutchinson said he wanted the power companies to build the big coal plant, but he hated to eliminate the people’s power to object realistically to something so important. (It will belch 6 million tons of carbon gases into the atmosphere every year.) That didn’t seem quite American to him. Nor to us.

TOP STORY >> Beebe favors development

Leader staff writer

The Beebe City Council passed ordinances Monday night that will make it easier to redevelop the downtown area but did so without the emergency clauses that have become customary for city ordinances.

Mayor Mike Robertson and Clerk-Treasurer Carol Crump-Westergren said after the meeting that emergency clauses, which make an ordinance the law immediately, have been successfully challenged in court.

The council action that let the city clean up the dead blackbirds on New Year’s Day was an emergency, Crump-Westergren said. However, she has attended meetings for city clerks recently where the emphasis has been on the overuse of emergency clauses.

Since 2006, zoning laws have been in place to help give new life to downtown Beebe, largely at the request of the mayor’s father, W.L. Robertson, who said back then that he was inspired by Hardy, Arkansas, where the second stories of downtown businesses are used as apartments like they were when the town was built. He has four buildings in the downtown area that he would like to use in that way, he told The Leader in 2005.

When Arkansas’ towns and cities were built, merchants often operated stores on the ground level and lived on the second floor. That’s what the elder Robertson wanted and what the council approved five years ago.

Then, in 2010 at the request of the planning commission, the council amended the zoning ordinance to allow entire buildings to be used as residences. And Monday night, again at the request of the planning commission, the council removed the restriction against children in downtown apartments.

The following section was removed from the zoning ordinance: “Residential use in C-1 district is restricted to adult use only. No children under the age of 18 years of age permitted as resident. Under no circumstance shall more than two occupants be permitted per rental unit.”

Mayor Robertson said Mon-day night that he believes allowing children to live in downtown Beebe is a mistake because there is little for them to do there. But the planning commission recommended it and the council approved, so he will go along with it.

The council also approved ordinances that will make it easier to build churches in any zone and to use those downtown buildings as residences. Before, both required a conditional use permit which had to be approved by the planning commission and the city council. Now all that is required is a special use permit that can be approved by the city’s code officer.

And coming soon, the mayor said, is an ordinance that will allow antique stores and flea markets in the C-1 areas of Main and Center streets.

Leonard Fort, the city’s code enforcement officer, said there are currently two such businesses on Main Street, which is why the mayor says the zoning law should be changed to allow them.

Antique stores and flea markets are found in every downtown area in the country, Fort said. They bring people in.

In other business, the council passed an ordinance establishing a city department of parks and recreation and a seven-member parks and recreation committee to help run it. The members of the committee will be appointed by the mayor and approved by the council.

Committee recommendations for the parks must be approved by the city council.

TOP STORY >> State offers training for 911 centers

Leader staff writer

The state will now offer training for 911 dispatchers, and Tabby Hughes, director of Jacksonville’s 911 center, is pleased.

A new law, which was signed last week by Gov. Beebe, will offer a standardized program at the Law Enforcement Training Academy in East Camden. The training isn’t mandatory, but Hughes and others hope it will be one day soon.

“I’m real excited about this,” said Hughes, who has pushed for it over the past few years.

“It’s important for the officers and citizens that our dispatchers are trained properly and for all possible situations,” she said.

In Jacksonville, Hughes’ dispatchers go through three months training process that includes CPR training and emergency medical dispatching procedures. “Not all dispatchers in the state or area are trained in EMD procedures,” explained Hughes, “but are dispatchers handle both police and medical calls, so they need the added training.”

Hughes, who is a 14-year veteran, said being a dispatcher is a constant learning process. “You are learning every day and every week and just when you think you’ve seen it all, something new and different jumps out.”

The state program will cost about $120,000 a year which will include salary for instructors and supplies. The funding will come from the 65-cent fee that all cell phone users are charged for 911 services.

Gary Gray, deputy coordinator and operations manager for North Little Rock Emergency Services has been one of the key players pushing for the training. Gray said there would be three courses offered in the program, one focusing on police dispatching, one on fire dispatching and one for medical calls and emergencies.

Each dispatcher-in-training will receive a certificate after passing the course, and there will be a mechanism in place for those you fail, to retrain and take the end-of-course test again.

Gray said the training program is to prevent problems, plus give state residents the securing in knowing that when they call 911, that call is being answered by a trained professional.

TOP STORY >> After school means fun in Sherwood

Special to The Leader

About 37 joy-filled boys and girls ran around playing games, taking advantage of a sunny mid-morning and afternoon, on Thursday at Pinnacle Mountain State Park.

The children were there on a field trip with Sherwood’s afterschool program offered at the Bill Harmon Recreation Center, 51 Shelby Road.

During the school year, parents can pay to have children attending the city’s public schools picked up and treated to a variety of recreational activities until 6 on weekday evenings, said program coordinator Blake Calloway.

The program also has access to the Oakbrook playground.

“I love working with kids,” Calloway said. “Absolutely love making sure the kids are taken care of and have a positive influence in their lives. It keeps you feeling very, very young.”

The program accepts children enrolled in kindergarten through fifth grade. One child costs $55 a week and $30 more for each additional child.

In the summer, the center offers day camp for children from as far away as Little Rock and Hazen. The day camp costs $75 a week for one child, and $45 for each additional child.

The registration for each family is $30 for both programs.

Right now, there are 56 children in the program. The capacity is 68.

Calloway said the program receives funds in the form of an annual budget through the Parks and Recreation Department.

What really makes this program run well is the dedication of its workers. Some of the counselors who helped out with Thursday’s field trip were on spring break from college, but help out with the day camp during the summer.

Several of the counselors who take care of the children were in fact enrolled in the program, which was established in the mid-‘90s, when they were younger.

Shalee Bradford, 20, of Sherwood, was one such counselor. She’s been working with the program since she turned 16 and was enrolled as a child until she was 14.

“What I like about this job is how much you can influence a child’s life and how much they can influence yours,” Bradford said.

She is attending UALR and majoring in nursing and Spanish.

Roderick “Rodeo” (as the other counselors call him) Barnes of Little Rock is another counselor who enjoyed the program as a child.

Barnes attends Arkansas Tech University in Russellville and is majoring in broadcast journalism. He said he loved the field trips when he was a child and has worked for the program since age 16. He’s noticed a lot of changes, such as “the simple stuff kept us interested” in comparison to the DS portable game system that is popular with many children now.

Samantha Ramirez, 24, of Sherwood started working for the program last June. She is attending UALR and majoring is psychology.

“I enjoy working with children,” she said. “It’s a thrilling and exciting experience for me.”

TOP STORY >> Grim anniversary for Cabot twister

Leader staff writer

In 1970, Cabot had just started to grow as people from Little Rock and military personnel from the air base in Jacksonville moved in. It had picked up almost 1,600 new residents for a total population of about 2,900. Ten years later, it had grown to 4,800. In between, on March 29, 1976, the town was hit with several F3 and F4 tornadoes that killed five people.

Thirty-five years later, the signs of the devastation are still there, but not in what can be seen. The destruction shows in what is missing.

Although Cabot was settled in 1873, it has no historic downtown; no empty stores with tall ceilings covered with metal tiles and unlike nearby Beebe, no need for ordinances to help bring an old downtown back to life.

Although the tornadoes took lives and destroyed property, they didn’t destroy the spirit of Cabot residents who rebuilt and then in the fall of 1978, celebrated with a festival they called, Cabot: We’re Back,” a festival now known as the annual Cabotfest.

Bill Cypert, the new mayor of Cabot, which has now grown to 23,776, credits that storm with showing Cabot people the strength they have within themselves.

“Most people probably don’t even know about the tornado,” he said. “But it was probably the turning point for revitalization and growth.”

According to a history of Cabot, “During the rebuilding of the city, it was decided to build a new city hall, municipal courtroom, library (since relocated), and police station on the site of the debris-filled dividing point between the east and west sections of Main Street, creating City Plaza.

“Highway 89, which follows the same path as West Main Street in Cabot, was redirected around City Plaza along one block of Second Street, to continue its path along Pine Street just south of the Cabot High School campus.

“In the past 35 years, Cabot has not only grown in population; it has big-box stores and boutiques. Large grocery stores and family entertainment like the bowling alley and movie theater.”

The enrollment at Cabot schools is now more than 10,000 and park facilities are growing with the population.

In recent years, city leaders have tried to create a feeling of downtown, especially in December with holiday lights and celebrations at the city hall that was built after the tornado.

The new health clinic could have moved to the newer parts of the city, but it was built behind city hall to help maintain the vitality of the older part of the city. And Centennial Bank has built a branch that looks on the outside like the original Bank of Cabot.

To be fair to Cabot’s new mayor, questions about the 1976 tornadoes caught him off guard. He said he has had traffic on his mind, how to make it flow better and why the patterns seem to change inexplicably.

But if he had to think about the lack of an historic downtown, then he thinks Cabot is doing just fine without it.

“Obviously, the trade area evolves as the city grows,” Cypert said. “Look at Little Rock. Everything used to be on Broadway. That’s all there was. No, I don’t think this is significant for Cabot.”