Friday, May 17, 2013

TOP STORY >> First Electric opens doors to media

Leader staff writer

“We bill for kilowatt hours, but what we sell is service,” Don Crabbe, the chief executive officer of First Electric Cooperative, recently told The Leader and a local TV news anchor at the utility’s media day.

The focus of the presentation was how First Electric responds to outages, especially those caused by severe weather, like the Christmas Day snowstorm.

The provider spent $1.6 million on system repairs after that storm, said Larry Harp, vice president of operations. The outages peaked at 30,000 and power was restored in eight days.

But those figures don’t measure up to the 2000-2001 ice storm, which caused twice the damage and affected all five of the utility’s service districts.

When outages occur, line crews must repair parts of the system in the following order:

• high-voltage transmission lines,

• substations,

• main distribution lines,

• tap lines, which provide power to transformers,

• and individual homes.

Marshall Smith has been a lineman for 15 years. He helped restore power to First Electric customers during the recent snowstorm.

Smith said, “It was horrible, finding broken poles. (We) couldn’t access them. We work so many hours, and then we’re made to rest. You want everyone on before you go. For the most part, the public is very understanding. There is always a first (restoration) and a last.”

He also described how a New York City resident opened his home to First Electric crews who were helping out during Hurricane Sandy.

First Electric has five districts that do not touch, said Tonya Everhart, vice president of marketing and communications. First Electric has approximately 70,000 members, 88,000 meters and 9,300 miles of lines.

That system was built with three- to five-year potential growth in mind. Crabbe said, “You have to design everything for that peak demand.”

The utility employs 125 operations personnel, including 95 linemen.

Everhart said, “That makes us unique and poses some issues.”

Harp noted that the separate districts are difficult to manage at times but also have an advantage. He said, “It’s rare that a weather event hits every district we have.” That means crews from other districts can be called to help a district with major outages.

Harp explained why restoration might slow down at the end of the process even though crews are doing the same kind of work.

“We might replace one pole and get 2,000 on. We might replace a pole later and get two people on,” he said.

First Electric’s priority is to work on equipment that will restore the most people in the least amount of time, Harp continued.

Response to an outage can also be held up if crews can’t get to places because of obstacles like snow or downed trees.

Harp said, “If they are going to be at risk, we’re going to tell them to wait.”

Crews will also wait if they see that the wind or something else will cause damage to a piece of equipment if they replace it immediately.

“There comes a point when you’re not accomplishing anything,” Harp noted.

Prevention is also part of addressing outages.

Tim Felty, right- of-way maintenance supervisor, is responsible for making sure vegetation and trees near the poles are trimmed or removed so that they don’t cause a service disruption.

His 10-member crew inspects 20,000 wood poles a year. Maintenance of vegetation and trees is done on a five-year rotation for every part of the system, Felty explained.

Some require maintenance every four years while others, especially in rural areas with few tall plants, can wait six years for an inspection, he continued.

There are 50 substations the right-of-way crew works on every year.

Felty said the utility started investing in right of way eight years ago, when a new general manager was hired.

Since then the right-of-way program has gained a larger staff and the ability to do things such as offer residents a gift certificate so they can purchase a smaller tree to replace the one First Electric must remove.

But the new trees must be planted outside the right of way.

The most common complaint is that the brush isn’t cleaned up right away because that crew is a couple of days behind the mechanical tree trimmer, Felty said.

He added, “We try to talk to all of our members before work is done.”

Trees that are removed are cut into firewood for the residents to use, sell or give away.

About the right-of-way program, Crabbe said, “We try to fix things before they break.”

A lineman is always on call and has a First Electric truck parked at his home, ready to drive to a nearby outage, the CEO continued.

First Electric is a nonprofit company that shares revenues that exceed its operating costs with its customers, Everhart continued.

Everhart noted that the provider returned $7.89 million — the highest amount ever — to members last year.

First Electric also allows its members to participate in Operation Roundup. Participants agree to have their bills rounded up to the next whole dollar. The extra change is used to send students who live in the utility’s service area on a trip to Washington.

“We’re not just an electric provider. We are a partner in our community,” Everhart said.

TOP STORY >> Judge’s remark in court blasted

Leader staff writer

The state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission reprimanded Jacksonville District Judge Robert Batton on Friday for racially insensitive comments he made during an August traffic-court case.

According to the commission’s report, Batton told repeat offender Glen Thomas, “You’re racist, and I’ll let the world know it too.”

The judge also said, “There goes another angry black man” after Thomas left the courtroom, the report states.

The judge admitted to the commission that his comments were not “right or proper,” but he added that Thomas provokes frustration when he appears in court, according to the report.

Gwendolyn Harper, president of the Jacksonville National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the chapter felt the reprimand was appropriate. The group will not pursue further action against the judge.

Harper added, “I’m not surprised at his behavior at all. He’s not a very nice person.”

Batton, whose court will be monitored for 18 months, did not return a call from The Leader on Friday. He has been on the bench for 36 years.

Batton won re-election by four votes in May 2012. Batton said then that he planned to retire when his term ends in 2016.

His opponent was attorney Marshall Nash, who is black. It was a heated campaign fueled by racial tensions and accusations that Batton was part of a good ol’ boy system.

The result of the reprimand is that random observers will monitor Batton’s court for the next 18 months. New allegations could be filed if they report that the judge has violated the code of conduct again.

The commission determined that Batton did not promote public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary; did not avoid impropriety or the appearance of it; engaged in bias, prejudice or harassment; and was not patient, dignified and courteous.

The report said the commission did not recommend more serious consequences — public charges or a disciplinary hearing — because Batton admitted to violating the code of conduct and is committed to being more aware of such issues.

Batton also told the commission that he wants to prove to those in court that he is not prejudiced against black people, the report states.

Thomas, the defendant, was charged with driving on a suspended license. The report states that he was arguing with his attorney loudly enough for the whole room to hear.

Batton implied Thomas was acting foolishly and is always argumentative, according to the report.

Before the judge called him a racist, Thomas said, “This always happens to minorities,” the report states.

It also states that Thomas mentioned previous complaints to the commission and Batton responded, “Did they throw that out?”

Batton brought up Thomas’ personal life later on in the heated exchange, according to the report.

Thomas asked Batton to recuse himself from the case, the report states.

Batton rescheduled the case for the following month.

During the May 2012 campaign, Nash told The Leader that a judge must avoid the appearance of impropriety and treat everyone fairly. He also said he was committed to running the court with honor, dignity and respect.

Batton told The Leader, in an article following the one with Nash’s comments, “I have no prejudice or bias and do not succumb to external influences that would prevent me from correctly applying the law to the facts of the situations.”

Batton also told The Leader his background and knowledge of the law allowed him to “serve the people of our community impartially and fairly.”

TOP STORY >> Carter out as lawmakers reflect

Leader staff writer

For area representatives, how the regular session of the 89th General Assembly went varied, but the overall sentiment is that it was productive.

House Speaker Davy Carter (R-Cabot) is term limited and can’t run for re-election. He said Friday he will not run for governor but will return to Centennial Bank, where he has been promoted to executive vice president.

“After much deliberation, I have decided against a campaign for governor at this time,” Carter said in a statement. “In the past weeks I have had many calls of encouragement and offers of support from fellow Republicans, independents and yes, even Democrats, all of which I very much appreciate. I love this state and I love public service.”

Rep. Jim Nickels (D- Sherwood) was pleased with the Medicaid private-option bill passing, but disappointed that a bill to restore a week to the length of unemployment benefits didn’t pass.

“We are the only Southern state to pass something like this,” he said of the Medicaid expansion. “It will be very beneficial to the state and the working poor. I feel pretty good about that.”

But first-time Rep. Joe Farrer (R-Austin) thinks otherwise. “I was the only one in this area to vote against it. The private option plan will cost the federal government $30 to save Arkansas $1, and guess who is paying that $30? We are. Over a 10-year period it will cost us $27 billion, and if we had done nothing, it would only cost $3 billion.”

Farrer added the session was a learning experience. “We dealt with so much information in such a short time, you had to be an expert on everything or make sure you did your research. I enjoyed the session, learned a lot — some good, some bad,” Farrer said.

Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock) said, overall, the session was successful. “Items most important to Republicans got passed, like Second Amendment protection, abortion and some voting reform, and a lot of it was passed with bipartisan support.”

“I only saw five or six party- line votes. Everyone came to work for their constituents. I saw very little me-attitudes as everyone was working for the good of the people,” said House, another freshmen representative.

Nickels said it certainly had its ups and downs. He was not pleased that a buy-American bill was not turned into law. He said the House approved his bill, but the companion bill couldn’t get out of the Senate.

“It was a weaker bill than ours and couldn’t get 18 votes. The political group Americans for Prosperity fought hard to defeat it. They ought to be called Americans for Chinese Prosperity,” Nickels said.

But he was happy that two less-notable bills he sponsored sailed through and became law. “They weren’t earth-shattering except to the people involved,” he said.

One was a bill that did away with a state regulation that was detrimental, according to Nickels, to middle school band and choir programs.

He was also pleased with the passing of a bill giving state employees more grievance. Nickels said that under executive order if the state lost a grievance, it could appeal, but if the employee lost, no appeal was allowed. “This levels the field a bit,” the representative explained.

A bill that he co-sponsored to expunge conviction records also won approval. “This applies to folks who have been good citizens and ask that their conviction be expunged. It gives them a chance to get on with their lives,” said Nickels.

During the 100-day session, which ended Friday, legislators introduced 2,492 bills, and 1,520 have become law; 1,300 of the bills introduced this session originated in the House.

Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville), who is in his third and final term, said the session started slowly. “We had 40 or more freshmen, and for the first month we didn’t get much done. It was a big learning curve. I’m just now knowing what I’m doing and my time is almost up,” Perry explained.

House is happy that a bill making sure military members’ absentee ballots count was passed into law.

Before House’s bill, if a military member sent in an absentee ballot and died before it arrived and was counted, the vote would not count. “It’s appalling to me that it was conceivable for the government to inform a family about the death of a loved one and then the state following behind letting them know the service members vote didn’t count,” House explained.

The representative was disappointed that a bill limiting state spending to three percent of the previous year’s budget didn’t pass. “Right now as we get it in, we spend it,” he said.

Even though Nickels and Farrer were on opposites of the private-option bill, like Nickels, Farrer was pleased with a small bill he got passed.

Farrer was able to get into law a $1,000 tax deduction for volunteer firefighters for purchase of their equipment and property damage. “We have 14 volunteer departments in the district. I campaigned to help them and this new law does,” Farrer said.

Even though the session officially ended Friday, Farrer will stay busy as a member of the lottery-oversight committee.

Perry was pleased that everyone worked together to past the private option. “It will be good for Arkansas,” he said.

He was proud of two education bills that became law and one was used just last week. Perry sponsored a bill that extended the amount of time the state could run or control a school district from two years to five years.

Last week, Dr. Tom Kimbrell, the state’s education commissioner, announced that the Pulaski County Special School District was making some progress under state control but not enough to be released, and it would stay under control of the state for at least another year, meaning the district will spend at least three more years under direct state control.

Perry also pushed through a bill that set up the framework for a district to detach or separate from another district, and the new law says the old district will help financially support the break-away district for up to two years while the new district is setting up its finances.

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville’s interior looking strong

Leader sports editor

The offensive line has stood out as a noticeable strength after seven spring football practices for the Jacksonville Red Devils.

Jacksonville has struggled in recent years with depth at that position, but if the Devils can steer clear of injuries, they’ll be close to being able to two-platoon on the lines this year. Cory Harrison anchors the offensive line at tackle. At 6-foot-3, 338 pounds and quick feet, Harrison is garnering attention from several large colleges.

Brandon Tooms recently received a scholarship offer from Missouri State as a defensive end, but will play a lot of offense for Jacksonville.

“He’s a project for a Division I school, but he fits the size and speed test,” Jacksonville coach Rick Russell. “They think they can get him bulked up and he’ll be a player.”

Jordan Belew started some at center last year and has come on strong in the offseason to establish himself as a solid starter on the line. Keith Purvall has as well. Anthony Fields has been working at the tackle opposite Harrison. Fields is 6-1, 265 pounds with exceptional speed for someone his size.

“He’s a tremendous athlete,” Russell said of Fields. “He played running back inninth grade, but he’s become such a physical force for us, and we’re so deep at the skill positions, he’s going to be a huge boost for us on the line.”

Tooms and Fields are also working with the defense, but neither is expected to play full time on both sides.

Skill players abound for the Red Devils. It’s one of the deepest groups of skill position players Russell can remember in his time at JHS.

Lamont Gause returns for his junior year after garnering All-Conference honors as a sophomore. Seniors Carlin Herd and Damon Thomas, a North Pulaski transfer, have a been very strong running backs as well. Terrell Moore has added considerable strength and speed to his 6-3 frame and Russell expects him to become an impact wide receiver in the Red Devils’ new spread offense.

“He’s just one example of several I can give you that have gotten so much stronger this offseason,” Russell said. “The work ethic of this group has been outstanding. It’s been a very demanding, physical offseason and they have been all in for the most part. I’m very encouraged with the strides they’ve made as athletes.”

Jacksonville has three spring sessions left on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The final practice will be an intra-squad scrimmage at approximately 3 p.m.

“We’re going to have a little Red-White type controlled scrimmage, and we’re going to let the student body come down to the field and watch,” Russell said. “Hopefully we’ll have a good crowd. These kids have worked hard.”

SPORTS STORY >> Defense controls rough scrimmage

Leader sports editor

Spring football practice took on a decidedly physical tone for the Cabot Panthers on Thursday. In about an hour of indoor scrimmaging, the Panther defense distributed several big blows and left several offensive starters needing respite on three occasions.

“The defense was dishing out some pretty good blows out there today,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “We feel like we have a chance to have a pretty good defense this year, if we can keep everybody healthy. We don’t have a lot of depth, but we’ve got some good size and we’re going to have probably more speed on defense than we’ve had in a long time.”

Junior Jake Ferguson, who was named by one publication as the sophomore of the year last season as a cornerback, has spent the whole spring working on offense. He has put in work at quarterback, halfback and wide receiver.

With last year’s starting quarterback Kason Kimbrell missing the first week of spring practice while playing baseball, Ferguson worked with Grant Bell at quarterback. He has been very impressive at receiver, but Malham says he’ll still be a full-time defensive player.

“He’s just an athlete,” Malham said. “He’s going to be back on defense, but we’re working him at different spots on offense just to have him ready if something happens and we need him. And he’s looked pretty good everywhere we’ve put him.”

While the defense controlled most of the action in scrimmaging, the offense had its moments. The Panthers ended last season with the expectation of having their entire offensive line returning, but they’ve spent much of spring trying to find two new starters after losing one each to injury and discipline problems.

“That’s hurting us right now because we don’t have a lot of depth anywhere really,” Malham said. “We sure don’t have the kind of size we lost with anybody we’re looking at replacing them with. We just got to keep some people ready and keep going.”

Cabot is going through its 10 spring practices with 60 players, including two sophomores. About 45 more sophomores are expected to join the team for summer workouts and preseason two-a-days in August.

“We’re going to have good overall numbers,” Malham said. “We feel pretty good about the starters we have out there right now, but we’ve got to find some depth. Right now there’s a pretty good drop off from our starters to our backups at most positions.”

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot track closed for new surface installation

Leader sports editor

The Cabot School District will spend approximately $267,000 and possibly more renovating Panther Stadium the school board learned Tuesday.

The track will be resurfaced for about $267,211 with an option of $43,060 more if the project is modified. The district is looking at installing a band shell and upgrading the press box at the stadium. The band shell will provide shelter for the marching band during games and help with acoustics. A more definite figure will be determined after the old surface is removed and the asphalt base is examined. The track was closed to the public on Thursday as renovations began.

The track surface was largely damaged by skateboards, strollers, bicycles and lawn chairs, though signs at entryways to the track state those things are prohibited.

Cabot’s head track coach, Leon White, looks forward to the new surface, called Beynon BSS 300. It’s a flood and chip sandwich system that puts a two-component seal coat between a polyurethane basemat and a textured polyurethane surface.

The new surface will have much better shock absorption and higher resiliency, which means it will be easier on athletes and faster.

“I’m very excited mainly because the extra cushion means a lot less strain on our athletes as far as shin splints and things like that when we’re training,” White said. “It’s also very resilient. There’s more spring in it so it’s going to be a nice, durable, fast track.”

The track is scheduled to be complete by July 1, just in time for training to begin for White’s cross country team.

“It works out perfectly for us,” White said. “I give them the whole month of June off and we’re scheduled to start back after the Fourth of July. So we’re really looking forward to getting out there on that new track and starting work.”

White is especially excited about the girls team he will have returning next season. This year’s team was sophomore laden and performed exceptionally well, taking second place at conference and seventh at the state meet.

“We’re really hoping we’ll really have a team that can make some noise, especially when these girls are seniors,” White said. “We’ve got a strong group and we’re going to try to recruit some kids from other sports to come help us. Hopefully we’re going to build on this girls team so we can have a team that has a chance to do something special when they’re seniors.”

The boys team was down this year, due largely to strong distance runners who stepped away from track and field to concentrate on other sports. Some will be back this year for cross country, and White expects the boys team to be stronger in spring as well.

SPORTS STORY >> Three area athletes in Top 11 at heptathlon

Leader sports editor

Three local athletes turned in good performances at the 2013 Arkansas Heptathlon this week at Fayetteville High School. Cabot sophomore sisters Tori and Lexi Weeks got Top 10 performances, finishing eighth and ninth respectively, while Beebe junior Madison Richey was just two places behind in 11th place after the two-day competition on Wednesday and Thursday.

This year 64 athletes assembled to compete in the seven-event contest. Crossett junior Kelsey Herman won the event with 4,844 points. Springdale Har-Ber junior Payton Stumbaugh was second with 4,538 and Bentonville junior Logan Morton was third with 4,100.

Tori Weeks totaled 3,889 points while Lexi Weeks had 3,865 and Richey 3,831.

“We felt like they had a chance to do really well,” Cabot coach Leon White said. “Unfortunately the pole vault is one of the events the boys do that the girls don’t get to. They’re the two best female pole vaulters in the state, but they still have done really well. And they’ll have a chance to do even better. They’re only sophomores.”

Herman and Stumbaugh each took first place in two events. Herman won the long jump and high jump. Stumbaugh won the sprints, setting a new heptathlon record in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 14.42.

Bryant junior Melinda Murdock finished seventh overall, but set a new heptathlon record in the 800 with a time of 2:15.35.

The 800 was also the Weeks’ best event. Lexi was second and Tori third, with only one-one hundredth of a second separating them. Lexi finished in 2:23.80 while Tori crossed the finish line almost simultaneously at 2:23.81. The 800 was the last event of the competition, and the results moved Tori and Lexi into the Top 10.

Tori Weeks finished sixth in the discus with a toss of 79-2 for her only other Top-10 event. Lexi Weeks finished 10th in the long jump, 11th in the hurdles and 12th in the 200.

Richey also had two top-11 finishes, including a seventh place effort in the high jump, clearing 5-1, finishing 11th in the long jump with a 16-11 3/4 distance. She was also high in the 800 with a time of 2:35.94, good for 13th place.

Local boys weren’t quite as successful as the girls, but Cabot’s Seth Hoggard and Hayden Richey were 29th and 30th respectively in the 74-person decathlon.

Hoggard had a top-10 distance in the long jump, leaping 20-1 for 10th place. Hayden Richey finished 11th in the pole vault with a height of 10-6 for his best finish.

SPORTS STORY >> NLR girls vie for title today

Leader sportswriter

North Little Rock is one game away from claiming the class 7A state softball championship, and in today’s 3 p.m. title game at Bogle Park on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville, it’ll be against a red hot Rogers team that lost soundly to the Charging Lady Wildcats earlier in the season.

In the two respective teams’ lone meeting this season, which took place in early March at Lady Cat Field, North Little Rock (26-7) pummeled the Lady Mounties 14-1 in five innings of play. But as Charging Lady Wildcats coach Anthony Cantrell has said to his team all week, expect a much bigger challenge this time around.

“They’re playing really well right now,” Cantrell said of Rogers. “We played them earlier in the year and I think they’re a totally different team right now. And that’s one of the things we’ve been trying to get across to our girls, is the team we’re going to play on Saturday is not the same team we played earlier in the year.

“I think they had gotten some girls that were just out of basketball, and I think coach Harper (Rogers) was trying to play with some different lineups. It was just one of those days where we swung it real good that day and played well.”

The Lady Mounties (19-10) finished the season second in the 7A/6A West Conference with a 10-4 record. They finished behind Fayetteville, who North Little Rock squeaked by in the semifinals last Saturday with a 3-1 win.

Freshman standout pitcher Kayleigh Wynne got the win against Fayetteville, and will try and get the same result against Rogers today. Wynne has dominated the competition this year as she’s put together an impressive 25-5 record.

“Kayleigh will be pitching on Saturday,” Cantrell said. “She’s real strong and the more she throws the better she gets.”

Even though the majority of the Lady Wildcat starters are freshmen and sophomores, the upperclassmen on the team have been on this stage before. In 2011, North Little Rock played Bryant in the title game, but was on the losing end of that game.

Seniors Emily Bullock, Kelsie Claussen, Erin Columbus and Lauren Steadman, along with juniors Katy Kinnison and Kaylie Roberts, have led by example throughout the year, and know what it’s going to take to be on the winning side of things this time around, according to Cantrell.

“That’s one of the things we’ve been talking about all week,” Cantrell said. “I’ve got six upperclassmen that were on the team two years ago when we got beat 11-1 by Bryant in the finals. They’ve got some experience and they know you can’t take anything for granted.

“It’s something you’re not guaranteed to get back to every year. We’ve been taking it one swing at a time, one game at a time, and hopefully on Saturday we’re going to continue to do the same thing.”

Wynne also leads the team in hitting as she’s batting over .400 for the year. She’s totaled a team-high 16 doubles and has two home runs. Kinnison and Hannah Lovercheck have also had stellar seasons at the plate as both are hitting around the .360 mark.

Kinnison and Lovercheck each have totaled 15 doubles on the season. Kinnison also has 4 home runs. Lovercheck has one homer on the year, and has scored a team-high 28 runs.

Defensively, North Little Rock has been solid all year long. Sophomore shortstop Ashton Bobbitt and freshman second baseman Sydney Parr have made it difficult for opposing teams to reach base throughout the year, and sophomore catcher McKenzie Escovedo’s play behind the plate has stood out in particular to Cantrell.

“Those two in the middle have really done well,” Cantrell said of Bobbitt and Parr. “McKenzie Escovedo, she’s really, really underrated behind the plate, because she’s catching kids that are throwing 60 miles-per-hour, having the ball move all over the place. She’s done a wonderful job behind the plate defensively.

“She’s one of those kids that she’s not a real vocal kid, but she may be the most fierce competitor we have. I mean, she wants to do everything perfectly. She is really underrated I think as far as a defensive catcher goes.”

Sophomores Lydia Belew, Rachel Gregory, Bailey Harris and Morgan Seaton, along with freshman Lainey Necessary, have also played a big part in the Lady Wildcats’ success this season, and will need to continue to contribute to the team’s effort today if North Little Rock expects to hoist the championship trophy at the conclusion of today’s title game.

Rogers, who beat Fort Smith Southside 6-3 in last Saturday’s semifinals, has played its best ball over the past couple of weeks, according to Lady Mounties coach Mike Harper. But if Harper’s team expects a different outcome from its first meeting with NLR this year, he knows his girls will have to play their best game to date.

“They played really well that day and we didn’t,” Harper said of his team’s regular season loss to NLR. “I hope we play a better game on Saturday that’s for sure. We’ve had a good season, we’ve finished strong and we have some confidence, but we know we have to play to the best of our ability to beat a team like North Little Rock.”

Harper didn’t want to say for sure who his starting pitcher will be in today’s game, but mentioned that sophomore right-hander Haylee Zimmerman will likely get the nod to start, but added that he has a few options he’s considering.

“We just want to play our game,” Harper said. “We’re not as talented as North Little Rock and we’re going to need to play to the best of our abilities. We’ve developed more team chemistry throughout the year and I guess you can say that’s a key to how we’ve gotten better.

“We’ve had a variety of people that have kind of stepped up throughout the year. They get along real well and they come to work, and they don’t ever complain about what we’re doing. They’ve had a very successful year.”

Cantrell has the same approach as far as how his team has prepared for today’s big game.

“We just want to keep doing what we’ve been doing and that’s play as a team,” Cantrell said. “We’ve had some pretty good success this year and that’s because we’ve been playing selfless. All my girls play for each other. Yeah, we have some kids that are pretty good individually.

“But those kids have also bought into the fact that, you know, they may have a day where they go 3 for 3 and do great, but if we don’t win it doesn’t matter. They’ve really bought into the team first mindset.”

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Rams put end to season for Sylvan Hills

Leader sportswriter

Friday’s matchup between Sylvan Hills and Paragould was neck-and-neck after five innings of play, but a huge sixth inning by the Lady Rams ended the Lady Bears’ season as they fell 12-5 in the quarterfinal round of the class 5A state softball tournament at Hope.

Junior pitcher Michelle Sorensen started on the mound for the Lady Bears and held the Lady Rams scoreless until the fourth inning when they scored the first run of the game. Sylvan Hills responded with two runs to take a 2-1 lead after four.

Callie Cavender was hit by a pitch to start the inning and stole second base before Maddison Shelton reached on an error. Cavender scored on the Lady Rams’ error, and Shelton scored the go-ahead run on a base hit by Jenna Hoogeveen.

Sorensen had some control problems the next inning, and as a result, Paragould loaded the bases. Tyra Williams came in to relieve Sorensen and pitched her way out of the jam, but the next inning was when the Lady Rams took control.

With two runners on base, freshman Braxton Burnside was at the plate with a full count and hit a clutch three-run home run which gave Paragould a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

“That’s where things began was with that home run shot,” said Lady Bears coach Justine Gladden. “After that, number one, my team was in shock that it happened. Then the hitting was contagious. After one hit they all started hitting.

“They forced us to play defense, which we hadn’t had to play much of the past few days. They started making us play defense and we had a few errors here and there. Suddenly it went from 2-1 to 9-2. It got worse from there.”

By the time the bottom of the seventh came around, Sylvan Hills, the No. 1 seed from the Central, trailed by a commanding 12-3 deficit.

Junior centerfielder Jordie Flippo started the inning with a double to left centerfield, and stole second and third base before scoring on a sacrifice by Williams.

Cavender then reached base with her second hit of the game, and later scored on a base hit by senior shortstop Jeana Canady, which set the final score. Even though the ending didn’t turn out in Sylvan Hills’ favor, Gladden was at least proud of the way her team finished.

“The only cool thing that really shocked me was when they started beating us I figured my team was going to shut down and give up, but they didn’t,” Gladden said. “They just kept fighting and trying to get that out. A couple of bad calls were made by the umpires and they still tried to battle back. You could tell they really wanted it. It was just one bad inning.”

Ashley Broadway and Cavender led the Lady Bears with two hits each, while Flippo, Canady and Hoogeveen had a hit apiece. It was the final game for Canady, the lone senior on the team.

Sylvan Hills finished the season 24-7 overall and unbeaten in 5A Central Conference play with a perfect 12-0 record. With all but one starter returning (Canady), the Lady Bears will be in good position to make another run at a conference title next spring.

For Gladden, her first year as the Lady Bears coach was nothing less than stellar.

“It was definitely a blast,” Gladden said. “They were really fun to work with. At times were they hard-headed, yes, they’re women, they’re going to be hard-headed. But I couldn’t have picked a better team to start with at Sylvan Hills. They were fun. They were coachable.

“We of course had our ups and downs, but it didn’t matter, because I always told them at the end of the day that I love them, because I do. I wouldn’t change anything that happened. I loved every minute of it.”

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot, Beebe, NLR do well at MOC

Leader sports editor

The hosting Lake Hamilton boys and Crossett girls won team titles in the Arkansas track and field Meet of Champions on Saturday in Pearcy, but several local athletes performed well. The North Little Rock boys took seventh place overall while the Cabot girls were 11th.

There were two first-place finishes by local athletes in the girls meet. Cabot sophomore Lexi Weeks cleared 13 feet in the pole vault, beating out sister and teammate Tori Weeks by four inches.

The next closest competitor was Russellville’s Taylor Hathcoate, who was a full 16 inches below Tori Weeks’ second-place height.

North Little Rock sophomore Malica Monk won the triple jump, outdistancing Bryant’s Alexis Royal by two-and-a-half inches with a personal best of 37-9.

In one of the most exciting events of the meet of champs, the North Little Rock girls 4x100 relay team, a squad consisting of three sophomores and a junior, finished third behind Bentonville and Crossett in a race that saw the top four teams finish within .83 seconds of each other.

Bentonville won it with a time of 47.09 while Crossett came in at 47.26. North Little Rock’s team of Brandi Hughes, Lagradia Nelson, Makayla Daniel and Monk finished in 47.87 while Camden Fairview crossed the finish line at 47.92.

Bentonville’s time was only .09 off the 29-year-old state record set by Pine Bluff in 1984.

Beebe’s Jamie Jackson took second place in the girls 300-meter low hurdles with a time of 46.78, though she was almost three seconds off the pace of Springdale Har-Ber’s Payton Stumbaugh’s 43.37, which broke a 25-year-old state record by .53 seconds.

In the boys meet, Charging Wildcat junior Kavin Alexander won the 200-meter dash with a time of 21.76, and took second in the 100-meter dash with a 10.79 time, just .01 behind winner Curtis Rogers of England.

North Little Rock’s Marcus Lindsey took third in the discus with a fling of 154-3, and Martinez Butler was fourth in the triple jump, bounding 44-4 1/4 inches.

Other state records to fall included the girls 1600-meters. Rogers’ Maggie Montoya finished in 4:57.57, beating the state record set by Elkins’ Grace Heymsfield in 2010 by .41 seconds.

Montoya also won the 3200, but was nowhere near the state record of 10:40.35 set by Cabot’s Emily Myer last year. Montoya won this year’s 3200 with a time of 11:05.24.

The Fayetteville girls 4x800 relay team eclipsed the state mark of 9:37.69 set by Fort Smith Southside in 2007, finishing in 9:37.20 and 25 seconds ahead of second place.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot ladies classy after tourney loss

Leader sportswriter

Cabot may have lost its final game of the season in a 3-0 shutout against Bryant in the quarterfinal round of the 7A state soccer tournament at Panther Stadium on Friday, but the Lady Panthers were winners in another capacity when it came to showing support for a good cause the following day.

Bryant had better legs than Cabot due to a first-round bye for the Lady Hornets as the No. 2 seed out of the 7A Central Conference after the Lady Panthers battled hard in their opening win against Rogers on Thursday. The game was scoreless through one half of play, but fatigue started to set in on the Lady Panthers in the final 40 minutes as Bryant scored on a corner kick early in the second half and added two more goals before the final horn.

The Lady Hornets wore white socks with a single pink stripe in the middle to show support for five different Bryant soccer moms who are battling breast cancer. Cabot junior forward Jessica Souza inquired about the meaning behind the socks, and when she spread the news to her teammates, they made a decision to show their support during Bryant’s semifinal loss to Mount St. Mary on Saturday by showing up to Panther Stadium wearing pink shirts.

“Wins or losses – I don’t care if we would have lost every game this year,” Lady Panthers coach Kerry Castillo said. “To see those girls show that kind of sincerity and compassion, that’s a winning season when you have girls who will do that. That’s something I’m real proud of in the end.”

Souza earned a yellow card in the 11th minute of the first half, but rebounded with a couple of scoring opportunities later in the half, including a header that just missed the mark with 13:04 remaining.

The Lady Hornets went on the attack at the start of the second half, earning a corner kick in the first minute that was denied, but the play resulted in Cabot knocking the ball across its own end line to give Bryant another corner kick. The Lady Hornets capitalized on the second one, as Lexie Balisterri’s kick found Rori Whittaker for a successful header to give Bryant a 1-0 lead.

Anna Lowery made it 2-0 in the 15th minute with another goal for the Lady Hornets, and Shelby Gartrell put the final score in with just over eight minutes remaining.

“I certainly felt like fatigue played a role with us,” Castillo said. “You could really see it in the second half. First half, we created several chances. It was more of a back-and-forth game. They gave us a little trouble in certain areas.

“After the game, I told the girls how immensely proud I am of them for everything we’ve accomplished.”

The Lady Panthers lose senior captain Tabitha Owens and senior goalkeeper Hana Cooper, but the rest of the team remains intact for next year. That includes junior standout Souza, and a host of underclassman talent that includes Codee Park, Devin Patterson, Sydney Farquharson, Braxton Reed and Maddie Rice.

Due to the confusing and imbalanced points system used by the Arkansas Activities Association for assigning tournament seeds, Cabot (12-6-4) entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed out of the 7A Central Conference, despite a strong 6-1 run through the 7A/6A East.

“I think the point system really hurt us this year,” Castillo said. “There are probably several other teams who felt the same way. We only had one loss, which counted as two, because our conference only played each other once. A team that finished with three losses managed to have more points than we did.”

SPORTS STORY >> NLR girls going for title

Leader sports editor

There wasn’t a lot of offense, but there didn’t have to be much. North Little Rock freshman pitcher Kaleigh Wynne was on her game, and the Charging Lady Wildcats were loose and more ready to play than their opponent. The result was a 3-1 Lady Cat victory over Fayetteville in the semifinal of the class 7A state tournament Saturday in Springdale.

The Charging Lady Wildcats will face Rogers in the state championship game this Saturday at Bogle Field on the campus of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

There was a brief celebration in the infield after the win, but little else. The team huddled along the third baseline fence of a neighboring field and talked about what it has accomplished and what’s to come.

“I’m not going to stand here and get all emotional or anything like that,” North Little Rock coach Anthony Cantrell told his team after the game. “The reason is, we’re not done.”

Indeed, the Charging Lady Wildcats entered Saturday’s game like any other game, while Fayetteville started tight. Lady Bulldog pitcher Ashlye Pool didn’t get her best stuff working until about the fourth batter, and the defense behind her committed two errors in the first three at bats to give the Lady Wildcats a quick 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning.

“That’s the thing about this team man,” Cantrell said. “They love to come to the ballpark and play. A lot of teams, by this time in the season, are sick of softball. This team is not like that. They love to get out here and just play. And the situation doesn’t seem to matter to them. They just want to get out there and play.”

Fayetteville’s nerves were apparent early and the price was an early deficit.

Leadoff hitter Sydney Parr hit a hard grounder to third base to start the game. Fayetteville’s Brittany Haskins made a good play to field the grounder, but made an errant throw to first base that left Parr safe at second.

Ashton Bobbitt put down a sacrifice bunt that moved her to third. Wynne then hit a scorching line drive right to Fayetteville outfielder McKenzie Miller, but Miller whiffed on the catch, scoring Parr and leaving Wynne safe at second.

Wynne’s line drive wasn’t as impressive as the foul ball she hit two pitches earlier. Wynne’s shot, which was only about 10 feet left of the third base line, went over the field’s temporary fence at 220 feet, over the permanent fence at 240 and landed on the ticket takers tent at the front gate of the park, approximately 270 feet from home plate.

Cleanup hitter Katy Kinnison then walked, but Pool struck out the next two batters to get out of the jam.

She then struck out the side in order in the second to run her strikeout streak to five in a row, but she ran into trouble again in the third inning when the top of the order came back to the plate.

Parr ripped a fly ball over Miller’s head in left field. She ran through Cantrell’s stop sign at second base and slid in just underneath the tag on a close play at third for a triple.

“She’s got good speed and good base running instincts, that’s why she’s our leadoff hitter,” Cantrell said. “If she’d been called out, well, I don’t know what I would have done to her. But she wasn’t so it all worked out. She made a good play.”

Parr then scored on a wild pitch by Pool to empty the bases, but Bobbitt got another rally started with a single to centerfield. Wynne hit a sacrifice grounder to first base to move Bobbitt into scoring position. Two batters later, Hannah Lovercheck doubled to left to score Bobbitt and give the Charging Lady Wildcats a 3-0 lead.

North Little Rock got just two more base runners the rest of the game, singles by Parr and McKenzie Escovedo in the fifth and sixth innings respectively, but they didn’t need any more.

Fayetteville’s first threat came with their first two hits of the game in the third inning. But the two hits were sandwiched between three strikeouts and no runs scored.

After two strikeouts to start the bottom of the fourth, Lady Bulldog Maggie Mabaupis doubled to left, but the next batter grounded out to end the inning.

Fayetteville’s one run came in the fifth inning. Taylor Crockett hit a one-out single and moved to second on a groundout by Emily Bengmen. She then scored on a single by leadoff hitter Anne Marie Petrino to make it 3-1.

Fayetteville got one more hit with two outs in the sixth, but never seriously threatened again.

Wynne threw all seven innings, giving up six hits while striking out 11 and walking none. Petrino, Mabaupis, a reserve who only batted twice, and Crockett accounted for all six Fayetteville hits with two apiece.

North Little Rock finished with only five base hits, but hit the ball better and put it in play more than Fayetteville throughout the game. After five strikeouts in the first two innings, the Charging Lady Wildcats struck out only three more times in the remaining five frames.

Parr led the way offensively with two hits including the triple. Bobbitt, Lovercheck and Escovedo got one apiece, with Lovercheck’s going for an RBI double.

EDITORIAL >> Second terms no cakewalk

Second presidential terms seldom end on a high note: Watergate chased Richard Nixon out of office, Iran-contra ruined Ronald Reagan’s second term and Monica Lewinsky knocked the wind out from under Bill Clinton’s presidency. George W. Bush never recovered from waging his protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Then there was the start of the Great Recession of 2008 and still with no end in sight, making it difficult for most of us to feel nostalgic for W’s presidency.

It’s looking more like a lame duck presidency for Barack Obama, as well, not only because Republicans are blocking his legislative program, from background checks for weapons purchases to immigration reform. He’s in trouble over continuing revelations about Benghazi, excesses at the IRS — whose Orwellian “Determinations Unit” was caught harassing tea party groups for opposing the Obama administration and now the tapping of journalists’ phones who write about the war on terror without seeking clearance from the government.

The troubling revelations about misdeeds at the Internal Revenue Service are serious enough, but no less troubling is the latest admission from the Justice Department that it monitored hundreds of phone calls at the Associated Press.

The Justice Department confiscated the AP’s telephone records to find out who leaked the news about the CIA breaking up a terror plot in Yemen. AP officials have called the Justice Department’s actions a gross violation of the news agency’s “constitutional rights to gather and report the news.”

The snooping is reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s obsession with bugging the phones of journalists and the politicization of the IRS that helped depose the Nixon gang. Attorney General Eric Holder had assigned the AP case to the U.S. attorney in Washington. Both have a lot of explaining to do.

As for the excesses at the IRS, maybe “the low-level employees” who are blamed for this fiasco were trying to please the boss, which is bad enough, but now it appears that higher-level IRS officials hatched the plan to single out tea partiers and other self-described patriotic groups. The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation.

Other organizations, including a pro-Israeli group, were told they would not be granted nonprofit status because they opposed Obama’s Mideast policies.

There’s no evidence anyone in the White House orchestrated the harassment of the tea party. “If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it — and they have to be held fully accountable,” Obama told reporters Monday.

Even the American Civil Liberties Union is angry. Republicans hope to abolish the IRS if they take over the White House and the Senate.

Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS’ tax-exemption section, admitted in a mealy-mouthed mea culpa that “mistakes were made”— bureaucrats always use the passive voice when they’re caught misbehaving. She said the IRS is “apologetic” — why not just apologize? — and blamed the violations on “career employees,” which gives you an idea what kind of people make careers at the IRS, including Ms. Lerner. She will be hauled before congressional committees, along with other department heads, as they should be: Who ordered the auditing of tea party groups and who started covering up for them?

It will be a hot summer for IRS officials as they face tough questions from Congress, where it has few friends. The IRS could lose future funding, which could lead to a more sensible tax-collection system, which is long overdue.

TOP STORY >> Schools graduating this weekend

Leader staff writers

Area high schools will be saying goodbye to their classes of 2013 at commencement exercises this weekend.

Cabot High School’s graduation will be held at 7 p.m. Friday at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock.

There will 631 seniors graduating.

The valedictorian, salutatorian and the number of honor graduates were not released by press time on Tuesday.

Cabot will have a parade to send-off seniors to graduation practice at 8:15 a.m. Friday.
A school bus caravan will travel along South Pine Street to Hwy. 321 and Hwy. 67/167.

Family, friends and businesses are encouraged to line up along both highways with signs and to cheer on the seniors during their last school bus ride.

Beebe High School’s graduation ceremony will also be held on Friday night.

The ceremony starts at 7:30 p.m. on the football field of A.S. “Bro” Erwin Stadium.

Beebe has 210 students scheduled to graduate.

The valedictorian is Annlee Glass and the salutatorian is Erin Langley.

Graduating with highest honors (a grade point average above 4.0) are Glass, Langley, Heather Deaton, Whitney Emison, Kasey Eubanks, Kaley Fanguy, Jared Gowen, Taylor Harrell, Danielle Martin, Kristina McReynolds and Bayleigh Moody.

Graduating with honors are Olivia Bruce, Devon Childers, Martin Davis, Haley Kay, Zakary Kendrick, Tanner Matone, Danielle Spence, Austin Stevens, Colby Vestal and Lindsey Wood.

If it rains, the graduation will be moved to Badger Arena.

Project Graduation, a party for seniors is from 11 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Saturday at the 11th- and 12th-grade building.

Lonoke’s 137 seniors will be graduating at 8 p.m. Friday in the James B. Abraham Stadium.

There are three valedictorians and three salutatorians. All of them will speak at the ceremony.

The valedictorians are Emily Ellis, Madison James and Dustyn Perkins.

The salutatorians are Maria Negrete, Madison Staton and Houston Keller.

There are 23 honor graduates, including one student who attended the Arkansas School for Math and Science.

If it rains Friday, the ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday in the stadium. If it rains on Saturday, it will be at 2 p.m. Sunday.

If it rains on Sunday, the ceremony will be held in the gym at 2 p.m.

Carlisle will say farewell to 52 seniors at its 3 p.m. commencement on Sunday in the gymnasium.

The valedictorian and salutatorian had not been named by press time on Tuesday because the students are finishing their final exams today.

There are 12 honor graduates. They are Hannah Oden, Audrey Roberts, Brittany Swears, Callie Hillman, Hannah Cooper, Jacob Wilson, Chris Hart, Ashley Reid, Dustin Nichols, Heather Gordan, Jacob Stack and Maddie Harrison.

TOP STORY >> Guess has plans to make PCSSD better next year

Leader senior staff writer

Now that the state Board of Education has officially given the Pulaski County Special School District another year to right its fiscal ship, Superintendent Jerry Guess has big plans for the district—provided his contract is renewed.

He’s not been offered a contract yet, but state Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell has publicly expressed confidence in Guess’ efforts to extricate the district from fiscal distress, and his chief of staff, Phyllis Stewart, said Tuesday that Guess’ contract would be renewed.

“Guess is doing a good job,” Kimbrell said at the May board meeting Monday, and he said the district has “a bright future.”

Until the state Legislature amended the existing law last month, the state could only take over a district in fiscal distress for two years before taking more extreme measures, such as consolidating or annexing it, but the state now has up to five years.

Neither remedy would have been a likely option for PCSSD as long as the district is under a desegregation order and oversight by the federal courts.

PCSSD and the Helena/West Helena School District both were placed on year three of fiscal distress at Monday’s state school board meeting — an action that would have been impossible without the amended legislation.

The board also authorized Kimbrell to appoint a citizens advisory council for each of those districts, with membership subject to state board confirmation.

Stewart said Kimbrell was pulling together lists from which to choose advisory council members. The council would make recommendations, but not decisions.

Without the law change and authorization by the board, June 30 would have been the end of PCSSD’s second and final year in fiscal distress. “We would have been out of time,” said Guess. “Two years is not enough time for changes to become part of the culture.”

“A lot of what we’re doing here is just good practice in most schools, but it doesn’t appear to have been done here over the years,” Guess said Tuesday.

“We offered contracts to certified personnel about two weeks ago, in anticipation of the school year.

The district has about $4 million in its facilities fund, so in addition to stripping and waxing floors, painting, tending to shrub beds and grass cutting, the district will look at camera systems, heating and air-conditioning, roofs — “a lot of safe, warm and dry things,” he said. “That is the watch phrase.”

The district also is busy ordering textbooks, filling positions and doing whatever else is necessary, Guess said.

Jacksonville community members reported their progress toward detaching from PCSSD for residents of Jacksonville and northern Pulaski County, saying they hoped to go before the board again in June with enough verified petition signatures to for a detachment election.

“I’ve been working on this for most of my life,” said Patrick Wilson, a lawyer who would have been in diapers when the first efforts for detachment were started in about 1970.

Board member Vicki Saviers asked, “Do we need to be looking at another option?”

She suggested that a broader solution, such as breaking up the district into several smaller districts, might be in order.

Kimbrell said further changes in the district’s makeup should await a decision by the courts as to whether or not Jacksonville can detach. He said he had expected the state legislature to consider breaking the district into two districts—one north of the river, one south.

He said a Maumelle district would be almost all white and not likely to garner favor with the judge in the desegregation case.

The biggest stumbling block to a Jacksonville detachment vote would be an opinion or order from Federal District Court Judge Price Marshall Jr. that a detachment election could not be held until the district achieves unitary status, meaning desegregation requirements have been met.

Last time Jacksonville residents sought such an election, the PCSSD board opposed it, took them to court and the judge ordered the election cancelled.

Now PCSSD favors the detachment. A new study found detachment to be feasible, based on state detachment law, projected attendance of the two districts and financially — each district could afford to operate successfully after detachment.

The petition to call an election requires 1,260 valid signatures of residents of the proposed Jacksonville/north Pulaski district. So far the group has collected about 1,600 signatures and verified 1,000, according to Wilson.

When the necessary number of signatures are gathered, verified and submitted to the state board, it’s then incumbent on the board to ask the court for permission and then schedule an election, he said.

The new, 48-page feasibility study, published in January, found that detachment would:

 Leave both a Jacksonville/north Pulaski district and the Pulaski County Special School District with at least 4,000 students, as required by state law in the matter of detachment.

 Have the tax base, milage rate and revenue sufficient to run the proposed 4,300-student, 10-school district, noting that an increase in local taxes might be required to deal with the inventory of decrepit school buildings inherited by the new district.

 Not affect court-ordered desegregation efforts of PCSSD and both entities would be subject to the desegregation plan until released by Marshall. Detachment would not significantly alter the racial composition of PCSSD and the new district would have approximately the same composition.

 Likely require increased local taxes to bring the old school buildings up to state standards.

TOP STORY >> Voters decide in Sherwood to keep NLR

Leader staff writer

Sherwood residents, by more than a 2-1 margin, voted Tuesday to uphold an ordinance that renewed the city’s contract with North Little Rock Electric through 2035.

The uncertified results showed that 1,921 voted for the ordinance and 858 were against it.

The utility services 7,500 customers in Sherwood.

Early voting led the way with a lead of 3-1 for the ordinance. There were 773 early and absentee voters, with 593 voting for the ordinance and 180 voting against.

The renewal of the contract means the city will continue to receive $470,000 annually in shared revenues from the utility.

Spokeswoman Beverly Williams of Facts About Customers’ Electric Services (FACES) — a grassroots organization formed to campaign for the ordinance — was thrilled.

She added that a goal of North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith is to form a commission to look at decisions affecting utility customers, and Sherwood may have representation on that commission.

Williams said, “We’re obviously excited to continue this contract with North Little Rock Electric since we’ve had it for over 65 years. I’d like to acknowledge all the Sherwood citizens who worked to help us pass this ordinance. One of the things that is important to acknowledge those citizens who had First Electric and Entergy because many of them voted to support us and let us keep the provider we wanted.”

She continued, “Our entire campaign was to support our city council. We feel they did their due diligence. The process was right and the process worked. We’re excited to be on the front lines.”

Mayor Virginia Hillman said after the election, “We are very pleased. Now we can concentrate on some other issues we need to be attending to.”

Citizens of Sherwood Together (COST), another grassroots group, petitioned for the special election and hoped that the ordinance would be repealed.

The group’s spokesman, Don Berry, said, “Forcing the election was a win for us. The win is the fact that we found an issue, we were concerned about an issue and we used the process. (The aldermen) know the citizens can always do this.” He was also pleased with the voter turnout.

The city council passed the ordinance in November by a vote of 5-3.

NLR Electric has provided electricity to the area for more than 60 years and to public buildings since Sherwood was incorporated in 1948.

The utility transfers its profits to the general funds of the cities it services because it is municipally owned. The $470,000 tariff is Sherwood’s share of that.

The city’s contract with NLR Electric states, “North Little Rock shall not collect the tariff component of the franchise fee from its customers in addition to rates and charges for service.”

That tariff is set at $0.003206 multiplied by the number of kilowatt hours of electricity NLR Electric sells in Sherwood.

The fee can be adjusted up to four times by the utility or the city on or after the fifth anniversary of the contract and every fifth anniversary after that, according to the contract.

The adjustment would be effective when written notice is provided to the entity that didn’t initiate the change, the contract states. If a dispute arises over the adjustment, a certified public accountant or other expert must be hired to calculate it.

The franchise fee has two parts, the contract states. The other part is the “traditional fee” of 4.25 percent of annual gross electric revenues collected from the utility’s customers in Sherwood.

Central Arkansas Water and CenterPoint Entergy also pay 4.25 percent for the right to do business in Sherwood.

If the city had chosen to switch, a new provider would have had to purchase North Little Rock Electric’s infrastructure in Sherwood. The highest estimate has been $28 million, which include an $8 million substation, Williams’ group claimed.

She said the Public Service Commission told her that debt could be spread among all of another provider’s customers, but not equitably, meaning Sherwood customers could end up paying more on their bills for the switch to another provider.

Berry said the former contract specified a process by which that price would be determined. The former contract states that Sherwood and another provider would have to pay what it would cost for NLR Electric to rebuild its system at a depreciated rate. His group was concerned that the council didn’t hire an expert or gather enough public input.

Another main point Berry has made is that Entergy’s and First Electric’s rates are 15 to 20 percent lower than those of NLR Electric.

Williams has said the difference is a “nominal” $6 to $8 because of extra fees Entergy adds to its bills. NLR Electric charges 9 cents per kilowatt hour, while Entergy charges 6 cents.

She and other members of FACES have argued that they don’t mind paying a little more because NLR Electric has fewer outages and restores power more quickly than Entergy and First Electric.