Friday, December 20, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Don’t give up yet, Sherwood

Supporters of a Sherwood school district independent of the Pulaski County Special School District recently had their hopes dashed when the deal to end the desegregation case prevented the city from breaking away from the trouble-plagued Little Rock-based district. But Jacksonville residents, who have long fought for the split and are allowed to leave under the deal, would advise their southern neighbors to persevere, stay focused and they too will eventually succeed.

On Monday, the Sherwood City Council unanimously opposed the part of the deal that excludes their city from leaving PCSSD before it is declared desegregated. But the council did express its support for ending the decades-old desegregation suit that many view as having been a waste of money that hindered the district’s academics.

U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. will consider Sherwood’s plea to be allowed to breakaway. But the future of PCSSD is questionable if Jacksonville and Sherwood were to leave simultaneously. The financially struggling district might not survive the shock of losing a third of its student body and tax base.

On the other hand, the geographical composition of PCSSD never made much sense and dissolving it by incorporating with Little Rock and North Little Rock seems practical. It covers Mills Road in southern Little Rock to the far west of Little Rock’s Hwy. 10 area to Scott on the edge of the county this side of the river to the rural outskirts of Jacksonville. Those expansive boundaries have isolated administrators, who never really had much of a stake in the communities they were supposed to serve.

Local control will change that. Just look at the success of Cabot, Beebe and Lonoke, where new schools have been built every couple of years.

Don’t give up, Sherwood. Your day will come.

EDITORIAL >> Public must be informed

The Jacksonville Police Department kept residents in the dark about a string of armed robberies at ATM machines — which ended in the shooting death of a 23-year-old man — under the premise that they were investigating those cases. Meanwhile, people continued to be victimized while using cash machines at night.

Perhaps if police would have thought to alert the public to be more vigilant at ATMs after dark, Jacksonville might not be closing out 2013 with a fourth murder.

“If you see something, say something” clearly did not apply to Jacksonville police officers when it came to notifying the public.

The police reports were hidden from the media, so the public didn’t know there was a dangerous serial ATM robber on the loose in their community. It took more than three weeks before the police made an arrest, although last weekend’s fatal shooting clearly put pressure on the police department to make an arrest.

Law-enforcement officials often withhold crime reports from the public — including this newspaper — to ensure they don’t disclose something that could later compromise their chances of getting a conviction in court. But, oftentimes when reports are concealed, it appears the motivation is to hide from view crimes that will reflect poorly on police departments and the community.

When the FBI releases its annual crime statistics, rape cases are almost always reported, even though they were not previously released by local police departments. That smacks of a public-relations effort rather than solid police work.

Police are not the owners of public information; they are merely temporary custodians of it.

In defense of keeping the robberies quiet, Capt. Kenny Boyd, spokesman for the Jacksonville Police Department, said, “We don’t want to give all of our clues out so quickly.”

That implies officers were following up on clues that would lead to an arrest. But incident reports should be released immediately, without tipping off a criminal what the police know about him. In this case, investigators were not aggressive enough in tracking down a suspect who carried out his crimes on a bicycle while armed with a semi-automatic pistol.

Lerome Deshawn Kelley, 19, a homeless youth, admitted to officers that he shot Marcus Israel on Dec. 13 as he was withdrawing $20 from the ATM at First Arkansas Bank on Main Street. Israel fled from his alleged killer instead of handing over the money. Kelley has pleaded not guilty, but the police department said he admitted to robbing customers at Bank of America on Nov. 28 and Nov. 30. He also confessed to holding up an employee at Sonic on the day of the murder.

Residents who generously financed a new $6 million state-of-the-art police department on Marshall Road deserve to be informed when they are at risk of being victimized. Otherwise, they are easy prey for criminals.

We don’t expect police officers to get it right all the time, but public safety should always come first. In this tragic series of ATM robberies, the public’s need to know was sadly ignored.

TOP STORY >> Director: All VA sites still in play

Leader staff writer

All 20 proposed sites are still in play for the new $22 million veterans’ home.

Even through the Arkansas Veterans’ Home Commission, on Tuesday, narrowed the 20 proposals down to three cities — Jacksonville, North Little Rock and Searcy — Cissy Rucker, director of the state Department of Veterans Affairs, has the final say.

Mayor Gary Fletcher, who attended the commission meeting, is excited that Jacksonville was among the top sites chosen. “All they have to do is come out and visit the community and they’ll see what we see, that, when it comes to our military, Jacksonville is a very special place,” he said.

On Friday, Rucker said that all sites were still being considered by the Veterans’ Affairs Department. Rucker originally said she thought she would have a decision made by theend of the year, but now she says, “I have no idea, but hope it can still be by the end of the year.”

The panel, in recommending the three cities, kept both of Jacksonville’s proposed sites in the mix.

But Rucker expressed concerns with one of the city’s sites, along with the North Little Rock selection. “For us to use one of the Jacksonville sites, land has to be obtained from the Department of Defense, and, in North Little Rock, it has to be obtained from the VA. We need to know how laborious of a process that will be,” she said.

Two proposed sites in Jacksonville were recommended. One is 30 acres of privately-owned farmland on Military Road and the other is a 20-acre site near Little Rock Air Force Base. Commissioners expressed some reservations about the site near the base when informed that it was in the flight path of C-130 aircraft.

The North Little Rock location is located near Fort Roots Veterans Administration Medical Center on what is now the nine-hole Emerald Park Golf Course.

The Searcy location is 20 acres of privately-owned land near Booth and Pioneer roads. “It is west of the airport and a nice flat area,” Rucker said.

All three cities were in or near the top three of each of the 15 commissioners’ lists of recommendations.

The new facility would house between 100 and 150 veterans and bring about 100 jobs to the area it is located in.

Federal regulations allow the state to have about 650 beds for veterans, but the state only has about 80 at one home in Fayetteville. A veterans’ facility in Little Rock was closed about two years ago because of mismanagement and financial fraud.

Rucker said five firms have been selected as finalists to design the new veterans’ home. The five will be interviewed by Rucker and three others on a selection panel in mid-January.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has approved $14.5 million for the project, and the state Legislature voted to chip in an additional $7.5 million.

The two sites in Jacksonville are on North First Street and Military Road.

The site on Military Road is 30 acres of agricultural land, Jacksonville chamber director Amy Mattison said.

She said the 20-acre property on North First Street is owned by the Air Force.

Both sites have utilities.

The Military Road site would be donated if chosen for the project. The North First Street site would be offered through the enhanced-use lease program, which is more time-consuming than donating a site, Mattison said.

An enhanced-use lease is a lease between the Air Force and a public or private interest willing to pay at least fair market rental value or in-kind consideration for the use of a base’s non-excess real property, according to an article on the Air Force’s website. It also states that the lease is typically for 25 to 50 years.

Earlier in the year, the Veterans’ Affairs Department asked for proposals and Jacksonville was one of the top four finalists out of 61 with a 57-acre site of General Samuels Road near Swift Road.

But all the proposals were tossed after it was determined the department needed to include additional requirements on the sites. The new requirements disqualified the city’s first offering.

TOP STORY >> Budget passed by city for 2014

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville City Council on Thursday voted 9-1 to approve a $22 million budget for 2014.

Alderman Mike Traylor voted against the measure because he thought there was a discrepancy in salaries for parks employees and firefighters.

“I appreciate that everybody’s put a lot of hard work into it, but I just don’t feel like we’re quite there yet. I want to look at more things,” Traylor said.

The alderman asked why Parks and Recreation salaries were up $113,000. He acknowledged that $62,000 of the increase is budgeted for two full-time employees who will be hired for the $3 million Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation 160-acre sport-shooting and archery range that is under construction at Graham and Loop roads.

“That’s halfway to getting our longevity pay back if it’s wrong,” Traylor said about the perceived discrepancy.

Human resources director Jill Ross explained in a Friday interview with The Leader that Traylor was looking at an amended 2013 budget, which is based on money the city spent instead of projected expenditures.

The amended 2013 budget was smaller — increasing the gap between it and the 2014 budget — than the projected budget for 2013 because both departments had vacancies open up throughout the year that weren’t filled immediately, she said.

The 2014 budget must include funding for every position and be based on projected expenditures, Ross explained. That is why it should be compared to the larger 2013 budget.

Finance director Cheryl Erkel said the $107,000 increase in the fire department’s salaries is for promotions.

Parks director Kevin House told the council that the only increase he knew of in his department’s salaries is for the shooting range staff.

He said after the meeting that the plan is to hire a full-time manager and one other full-time employee for the range. The rest of the staff will work part time, and the city doesn’t know yet how many part-time positions will be needed, House said.

Alderman Terry Sansing said, “This budget has been hashed back and forth for three months. We knew it was a tight budget going into this. We have a balanced budget. The only way to cut into this budget any further would be to lay people off. We do not, we are not, giving people raises, but we are not laying anybody off. Let’s get this budget done. I urge that we go ahead and take care of business tonight.”

Aldermen James Bolden said, “My main concern is that we go over the end of the year without a budget…The city is standing in limbo if we don’t pass a budget.”

State law requires that Jacksonville pass a 2014 budget by Feb. 1.

Sansing pointed out that the council can amend the budget and usually does amend it three to four times a year. Mayor Gary Fletcher agreed, calling the budget a “working document.”

The 2014 budget includes $40,000 in revenue from an increase in the sales tax on alcoholic beverages and more than $157,000 in cuts to employee benefits.

The tax was recently increased to 10 percent of a business’ gross profits, the same rate several surrounding cities have, according to the mayor.

The 2014 budget does not include cost-of-living or annual raises for city employees. The cuts were a $20,246 clothing allowance, $20,000 in tuition reimbursement, $88,000 in longevity pay and $28,800 in degree-incentive pay.

The employee portion of health insurance will also increase from $0 to $72 for individuals and from $115 to $150 for families.

But there will be no furloughs or layoffs, officials emphasized.

And Jacksonville won’t fill six positions that will be open after the beginning of the year.

Fletcher said previously that the positions are across the city.

He has blamed the tight budget on the city’s loss of $1 million in federal turnback revenue, which happened when the 2010 census — certified in 2011 — showed Jacksonville had lost about 1,500 of its population. The population drop can be attributed to airmen who were overseas or elsewhere while homes were being renovated on Little Rock Air Force Base, the mayor has said.

Fletcher continued, “I think we’ve all got concerns. We’re all concerned about the pinch, if I can use that word, that cost all our employees…At this point, the departments have cut down so much that to lay someone off now would cut services.”

Alderman Kenny Elliott said, “I know there’s a lot of concern on city employees. The staff has worked very hard on it, and different department heads have worked very hard on the budget. I’ve tried going through it as best I can and everything. I wish there were some places we could cut there, but one thing I do want to do is to go on record saying we should make sure that, when we have additional money come in, we look at replacing some of these cuts, getting these cuts back, before we spend money on other items.”

Erkel presented an unbalanced budget to the council in early November. It included all funding requests from every department.

The budget presented then showed that Jacksonville had to make up for a $2.95 million shortfall by making cuts and/or generating more revenue. The council did both.

TOP STORY >> JPs extend beaver tax

Leader staff writer

The Lonoke County Quorum Court met for about 20 minutes Thursday night and passed two ordinances — one setting the voluntary tax for beaver control and the sheriff’s drug-control program and another appropriating $1,026 to pay for security monitors for the courthouse.

JP Tim Lemons said after the unanimous vote to leave the voluntary tax at the current millage, “It’s a lot simpler than last year.”

There were nods of agreement but no discussion about the months of turbulence that finally led to a vote in January to stop collecting the voluntary tax for a host of nonprofit agencies in the county that provide services to children, unwanted animals, the elderly and the poor.

The tax brought in less than $70,000, which was divided among the various agencies.

The county started collecting the tax for the nonprofits in 2002, several years after an opinion from the state attorney general that collection of voluntary taxes for nonprofits is illegal. The county was written up in state audits three times for the practice.

Doug Erwin, who took office in 2011, had to answer for the collections for 2010and came back from the capital telling the quorum court that changes had to be made.

In November 2012, Erwin brought in Mike Rainwater from the Rainwater Holt and Sexton law firm for a special quorum court meeting to help the JPs work through the problem.

Rainwater said, near the end of that November meeting, one solution would be to change the collection from a voluntary tax to a donation or gift that could be accepted by the county judge and appropriated by the quorum court.

But, two months later, the quorum court voted to do away with all the voluntary taxes except for the two that were approved Thursday.

Since those two are for government agencies, the collections are not against state law.

There was also no discussion about the request to transfer $1,026 from a special fund to the general fund to pay for the security monitors at the courthouse.

Judge Sandy Huckabee said after the meeting that the monitors would cover the south side of the courthouse and would produce recognizable pictures of anyone coming into or leaving the main courtroom on the second floor.

He reiterated that he wasn’t asking for new money, only that existing funds be appropriated.

At the end of the brief meeting, the county judge invited everyone to dinner at the courthouse.

His wife, Gail, paid for the ingredients and prepared the food, Erwin said. No county money was used.

The judge also asked for prayers for the families of Charlie and Sharae Bryant of near Austin. Sharae was found dead Thursday morning from a gunshot wound.

Charlie, who was shot in the abdomen, was treated for his injuries and then arrested for capital murder by state police investigators, who took over the case at the request of Sheriff John Staley.

Charlie Bryant was a former reserve deputy for the sheriff.

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers lose title to Benton

Leader sportswriter

The third annual Cabot Pre-Holiday Tournament final in the boys’ division was a battle of the Panthers, and it was a close battle up to the very end, but the class 6A Panthers from Benton made enough plays down the stretch to beat the host Panthers of Cabot 50-43 Monday at Panther Arena.

Neither team led by more than five points up till the finals seconds of the fourth quarter, and in a gamethat tight, the winner often emerges by doing the little things better than the losing team. That was the case in Monday’s title game, as Cabot struggled from the free-throw line, making just 6 of 17 shots from the stripe for a less than stellar 35 percent.

Cabot (4-2) had just two attempts from the line in the first half and missed them both. In the second half, when the host Panthers really needed to make their free shots, they made just 6 of 15. Conversely, Benton (4-3) made 5 of 6 shots from the stripe in the second half, and 7 of 10 in the four quarters played for 70 percent.

“Any time you shoot free throws 6 of 15, you’re not going to beat anybody,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges after the game. “We work on it and I preach to them about it, but I guess it’s not sinking in, so I guess we need someone else to come and preach to them.”

The intensity level was high for all four quarters, as neither team took a break from hustling while on the floor. However, when asked if fatigue could’ve played a role in the host team’s poor showing at the free-throw line, Bridges said his players are conditioned to withstand such high-energy levels.

“We’re in shape,” Bridges said. “If you see what we do to them in the fall, it wasn’t fatigue. We choked, but we’ll get better at that. We’ll get used to that situation, but we didn’t finish the game. You’ve got to give Benton credit. They had people hurt and they came in and outplayed us.”

Benton played Monday’s game without two of its key guards, but the visiting Panthers had plenty of other quality guards step in and play well in those two players’ absence.

Cabot went back and forth with Benton in the first quarter, but the host Panthers led at the end of the opening quarter, 13-10, thanks to a steal and layup at the other end by guard Nick Thomas.

Benton scored the first seven points of the second quarter to retake the lead, but Cabot battled back and regained that lead on a three-pointer by Hunter York with 3:09 left in the first half, which made the score 19-17.

The class 6A Panthers, though, closed the second period with a 9-4 run to take a 26-23 lead into halftime. Benton scored the first points of the second half on a basket inside by Josh Bowling to push its lead to 28-23, but Cabot wouldn’t stay down long.

The class 7A Panthers closed the quarter with a 13-5 run to lead 36-33 at the start of the fourth quarter.

Cabot could only increase its lead to four points in the final eight minutes, and Benton regained a lead it wouldn’t relinquish on a fadeaway jumper by Blake Bowlin that put the visitors up 42-41 with 4:16 to play.

From there, Benton steadily built on its lead, and sealed the game in its favor on a steal by Bowling that resulted in an easy layup on the offensive end, which put the 6A Panthers on top 48-42 with 37.6 seconds remaining. Free throws in the waning seconds set the final score.

In addition to its higher free-throw percentage, Benton was also the more efficient team from three-point range. The 6A Panthers were 5 for 9 from beyond the arc for 55 percent, while Cabot finished the game 5 for 16 from that distance for 31 percent.

Cabot outrebounded Ben-ton 17-12, and even though Bowling got the game-clinching takeaway in the game’s final seconds, each team did a good job of taking care of the ball, especially in the second half.

The host Panthers committed 12 turnovers in the game, and just three in the second half. Benton finished the game with 11 turnovers, with five of those coming in the final two quarters.

Bowling led all scorers with 20 points. Senior forward Adolfo Iglesias came off the bench to lead Cabot with 10 points and six rebounds, both of which were team highs.

Cabot played Beebe last night in the first round of the Relyance Bank Classic at White Hall, and will play again today against the host team at 4:45 p.m. at White Hall High School.

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke’s ladies get close win in league

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits won their last two outings, including their conference opener on Monday, running their early-season record to 5-2 overall and 1-0 inside the 4A-2 Conference.

On Saturday, the Lady Jackrabbits battled with tournament host Conway St. Joseph in the third-place game before prevailing 40-37. Two days later, they went on the road to handle Southside-Batesville 47-31.

The Lady Bulldogs’ defense was tough for Lonoke to deal with in Saturday’s game. CSJ executed a half-court trap that created problems for Lonoke for most of the game. The score was knotted at 29 at the end of three quarters, when the Lady Jackrabbits finally solved the puzzle. Lonoke began breaking the press and getting the ball to post player Eboni Willis while the defense was still extended. Willis finished well at the basket, and led all scorers with 15 points.

“We had some chances to go up a little bit more,” said Lonoke coach Nathan Morris. “They called timeout when it got to nine. We were knocking on the door of putting the game away and then they went on a little run and we had to keep working.

“St. Joseph is well-versed in what they do. You really have to go out and beat them. They’re not going to give anything away. That trap bothered us some, but that’s a good thing. It gives us something we know we need to work on.”

Monday’s conference win was another one that, despite the lop-sided final score, was close for a half. The Lady Jackrabbits led 26-20 at intermission, but stepped up their defense in the final two quarters.

“We just defended better, stayed in front better than we did in the first half,” Morris said. “We moved our feet and didn’t reach. They got to the free-throw line eight times in the first half, but only twice in the second.

“We’ve got a sophomore, Kemistry Balance, that’s coming along and playing good defense. She’s our first guard-sub off the bench right now. She’s one I thought had the potential to help us down the road, but I didn’t expect her to be this effective this early. She was a solid player in junior high. We’re getting a little more confidence in her offense, but we feel really good about her defense.”

Offensively for Lonoke, Southside had no answer for Jarrelyn McCall. The sophomore guard scored 20 of Lonoke’s 26 first-half points, and finished with a season-high 25.

“Jarrelyn can create too,” Morris said. “It’s not all what plays we run for her. She can create shots for herself. They were running a 1-3-1 zone, and they didn’t have anyone that could keep her from going baseline. They tried laying way off of her on one particular inbound play, and she hit a three, so they had to go back out to defend her.”

Another thing that helped Lonoke take control in the second half was the inside presence of Willis. The 6-foot-1 junior got into early foul trouble and sat most of the first half, but came back to score all nine of her points in the second half.

Southside stayed close primarily by utilizing guard penetration in the first half, which brings Morris back to the second-half defense as the primary key to victory.

“We feel pretty good about putting Amanda Sexton on anybody’s best player,” Morris said. “Unless it’s a point guard, Amanda is going to draw that responsibility. Now we have another one in Kemistry that we’re confident with. So we’re finding our niche a little bit when it comes to that. We’re growing as a team.”

SPORTS STORY >> Bears win consolation

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills boys basketball team bounced back from an initial setback at the Russellville tournament to win its last two games and the consolation bracket. The Bears beat Sheridan 53-50 in the second round and hammered Arkadelphia 70-37 on Saturday to claim the consolation prize.

Sylvan Hills had struggled in its previous three games away from home, but showed signs of getting over its road weariness in the last two games.

“Certainly you need to start hitting your stride and getting comfortable on the road with conference coming up quickly,” Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis said. “I think getting some football guys acclimated helped. Weadded Marlon (Clemmons) and Trajan (Doss) from football, and we got Nate (Burchett) back from injury. When we didn’t play well on the road before, we were without those three guys. Having them in there helps our depth, and gets everybody back full-time at their natural positions. I think all that shows. The Arkadelphia game was certainly our best one up to this point as far as execution goes.”

The Bears controlled the Badgers from the start, building a 20-11 lead by the end of the first quarter, and extending it to a 13-point margin by halftime. The lead was all the way up to 56-31 by the end of three quarters, and shortly into the fourth, the sportsmanship rule kicked in and the clock ran continuously.

“Sometimes you hear coaches say things like their players bought in, but I just think I have buy-in guys,” Davis said. “They went out and executed our game plan, and played the game the way we’re trying to play it. Sometimes the game gets at a quick pace and you have to make quick decisions. I thought our guys did a great job of execution in that situation.”

Senior Ronnie Hinton and sophomore Cordy Winston each scored 22 points to lead the Bears offensively. No one else scored in double figures, but 10 players broke into the scorebook.

“That’s a sign that our depth is developing,” Davis said. “Hopefully it keeps getting better from here.”

The win over Sheridan wasn’t as easy. The game was tied at 39 after three quarters, but Sylvan Hills’ man-to-man defense began producing several stops, and eventually the Bears eased out to an eight-point lead.

Hinton blocked three shots after coming over from help-side defense, and the Bears managed to add points after each block.

“He came through in a big way for us,” Davis said of Hinton. “We didn’t really have anyone that matched up with their big man at 6-foot-9. So we had to play good team defense and Ronnie came over and made three huge plays for us.”

Hinton also led the team in scoring against the Yellowjackets, dropping in 13 points while Winson and Armani Armond added 11 each.

The Bears, along with the Lady Bears, played a makeup at home against Watson Chapel last night after Leader deadlines. Look for details of those matchups in Saturday’s edition of The Leader.

The Sylvan Hills boys will play in the Mountain Home tournament Dec. 26-28, while the Lady Bears will be at the Beebe tournament on the same dates.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot girls place first in tourney

Leader sportswriter

The Lady Panthers withstood Vilonia’s comeback efforts in the fourth quarter of the Cabot Pre-Holiday Tournament championship game on Monday to win 42-34, and leave Panther Arena with the tournament title.

Monday’s matchup was a rematch of last year’s Cabot Pre-Holiday Tournament championship game. In the 2012 title game, the Lady Eagles stunned the Lady Panthers with a 46-28 blowout victory.

Cabot wasn’t able to pull away like Vilonia did last year, but the host team brought the first-place trophy back home, no less.

There wasn’t much action in the first three quarters as Vilonia (8-2) struggled to make field goals, especially from three-point range, and as a result, Cabot appeared to be on its way to an easy victory. The Lady Panthers pushed their fourth-quarter lead to double digits with 5:50 to play on an and-one by sophomore CoCo Calhoon, which put the host team up 28-16.

It wasn’t long after that, though, when the Lady Eagles’ shots started to fall. Vilonia trailed Cabot 32-19 late in the game, but senior guard Audrey Moran scored five-straight points for the Lady Eagles on a three-pointer and mid-court steal that led to a layup at the other end, which cut the deficit to 32-24 with 2:19 remaining.

Cabot failed to score on the ensuing possession, and Moran drained another three-pointer with 1:34 to play, trimming the Lady Panthers’ lead to 32-27. Ten seconds later, Calhoon was fouled, and she calmly sank both free throws to push Cabot’s lead to 34-27. Calhoon then stole the ball on Vilonia’s following possession, and she took it the distance, scoring on a highly-contested turnaround layup with 1:07 remaining that put the host team up nine with the score 36-27.

Vilonia made a free throw on its next possession to make it an eight-point game, but had to foul and hope Cabot missed its free throws. That didn’t happen, though, as junior guard Danielle McWilliams hit both free throws to put the Lady Panthers back on top by double digits, leading 38-28.

Lady Eagles’ junior guard Cassidy McNespey then hit another Vilonia three-pointer on its next possession, and after Cabot failed to score on its next possession, Moran drained another Vilonia three to make it a four-point game, trailing the Lady Panthers 38-34 with 19 seconds remaining.

That was as close as Vilonia would get, however, as Cabot sophomore point guard Leighton Taylor made two free throws with 14.2 ticks remaining, and junior forward Alyssa Hamilton sank two more with 00.3 on the clock to set the final score.

Cabot led 4-0 at the start of the game, and 10-7 at the end of the opening quarter. Vilonia couldn’t even manage a single field goal in the second quarter.

Senior forward McKenzie Morris made two free throws at the beginning of the second quarter, but those were the only points the Lady Eagles would score for the remainder of the half, as Cabot ended the second period with a 7-0 run to lead 17-9 at halftime.

The first points of the third quarter weren’t scored until the 3:23 mark, when Calhoon scored on a driving layup to make the score 19-9 in the Lady Panthers’ favor. At the end of three, Cabot led 23-14.

The Lady Panthers outrebounded the Lady Eagles 26-17, but Cabot finished the game with 18 turnovers, 11 of which came in the second half. Vilonia committed 11 turnovers in the game, but just four in the final two quarters.

Both teams were close percentage-wise at the free-throw line. Cabot made 15 of 21 shots for 71 percent, while Vilonia made 9 of 14 attempts from the line for 64 percent.

The biggest difference-making statistic in the game was the three-point shooting.

Cabot didn’t make a single three, but had just four attempts. Vilonia, a team known for airing it out from long distance, was 5 for 20 from beyond the arc for 25 percent. However, the Lady Eagles were just 1 for 11 from three-point range in the first half, and 4 for 9 in the second.

Calhoon led all scorers with 19 points. Hamilton and McWilliams scored eight points apiece. Hamilton also had a game-high nine rebounds. Taylor scored four points for Cabot, all of which came in the second half and at the free-throw line.

Moran led Vilonia with 11 points, all of which were scored in the second half, while McNespey finished with 10 points.

The Lady Panthers are scheduled to play again at a tournament in Mansfield, Texas the day after Christmas. Their next home game won’t be until Jan. 14 when they host Marion in the second week of 7A/6A East Conference action.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Tigers better, but Panthers can be proud

Leader sportswriter

Based on how competitive the first half was between Cabot and Bentonville in Friday night’s class 7A state football championship game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, a thrilling second half would have been expected.

Instead, the last two quarters were very one-sided, as the Tigers took complete control of the second half to win its fourth state title in school history, and third under head coach Barry Lunney’s tenure by the final score of 39-28.

Bentonville (11-2) trailed the previously unbeaten Panthers (12-1) 14-13 at the end of the first half, but in the second half, the Tigers outscored Cabot 26-14 to secure the victory. But even those scoring totals do not accurately reflect how dominant the perennial 7A West power was in the final two quarters of play.

The Tigers received the opening kickoff of the second half, and after a return to the Bentonville 25-yard line, running back Dylan Smith ran for 14 yards on the first play of the drive. The second play of that drive alone told the story of the entire second half.

On that play, quarterback Kasey Ford completed a deep, 41-yard pass to Chris Scroggins. Scroggins was brought down at the Cabot 20, and six plays later Bentonville took its first lead since early in the second quarter on a 1-yard run by running back Hekili Keliiliki. (Have fun trying to pronounce that name.)

Keliiliki’s score was one of three unanswered touchdowns the Tigers scored in the second half, two of which came in the third quarter. Cabot dug itself into a hole during that stretch as two costly fumbles gave the ball back to Bentonville’s potent offense.

The second fumble by Cabot star fullback Zach Launius wasn’t actually a fumble though, as his knee was clearly down before the ball came loose.

Still, mistakes are to be expected in a high school game that doesn’t have the luxury of instant replay like college and professional games provide. It’s always going to be a judgment call, and the officials did their best to call a fair game, and should in no way be blamed for the Panthers’ loss.

If any blame should be cast for Bentonville leaving Little Rock with the class 7A state championship trophy, it should be, well, Bentonville who deserves all the blame. The Tigers deserve the blame for having the bigger, stronger, faster and more diverse athletes.

The Tigers were also helped by the fact that Cabot’s secondary didn’t play its best game Friday night, to say the least. The Panther defense repeatedly left the 5-to-10-yard outs and hooks open all game, especially in the second half. Cabot was clearly showing respect to the taller, faster Tigers receivers.

But in addition to giving up those short pass plays, the Panther defense gave up the big pass plays in the second half as well. Add that to the fact that Ford was given plenty of time to throw thanks to his massive offensive linemen who easily outweighed the Cabot defensive line across the board, and the results showed on the scoreboard.

In the third quarter alone, Ford, the 6-foot-5 sophomore, completed 7 of 14 pass attempts for 170 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the game 11 of 18 passing for 265 yards and three touchdowns.

That’s just over 24 yards per completion, which is a very surprising statistic considering it rained nonstop the entire game. As far as who Ford’s favorite targets were Friday, Scroggins and fellow receiver Jimmie Jackson each caught four passes for over 100 yards and one touchdown.

Nationally recruited tight end Jack Kraus, who’s 6-foot-6 and weighs 234 pounds, caught two of Ford’s passes for 25 yards and one touchdown.

Since it rained throughout all four quarters, which meant a soaking wet ball no matter how many towels were used to dry them, it would’ve been reasonable to think Cabot would have the offensive advantage with their run-heavy, Dead-T attack.

Instead, Cabot finished the game minus two in the turnover category.

When Cabot fell into that multi-score deficit in the second half, its Dead-T attack, which is designed to control the clock, became almost a benefit for the Tigers, since it took too much time for Cabot to add its two second-half scores.

Even though the Panthers’ highly successful season ended in disappointment, it was still a great season for a team that not many people outside of Cabot believed would win its conference outright or be a serious contender once the playoffs began five weeks ago.

The unfortunate ending may sting now and will probably continue to sting the Panther players, coaches and fans in the community, at least for a little while.

But in time, the sting will eventually give way to looking back on a season with great pride and appreciation for what the team accomplished. Congratulations to the 2013 Cabot Panthers on one heck of a season. You’ve made your community very proud.

SPORTSSTORY >> Lonoke dominant in second half at CSJ

Leader sports editor

It took a week longer than it was supposed to, but the Lonoke Jackrabbits brought home the first-place trophy in the Conway St. Joseph tournament on Saturday, beating the host team 43-28 after struggling in the first half.

After taking a slim 19-17 lead into intermission, the Jackrabbits were utterly dominant on defense in the second half after making some adjustments.

“We finally decided to defend better,” said Lonoke coach Dean Campbell of his team’s second half effort. “I thought we gambled a little too much in our last game because we could get away with it. I was worried that we would do that again, and we did to start. We overplayed and gambled, and they got us with the back door stuff. We were a lot more disciplined in the second half and it turned out a lot better.”

The margin stayed between two and four points for the first five minutes of the third quarter. With Lonoke leading 23-21, guard Jamel Rankin hit a three pointer with 3:05 on the clock to kick start 10-0 Jackrabbit run that ended with a slam dunk out of the half-court set that put Lonoke up 33-21 with 7:02 left in the game.

Brenton Bryant drained a three pointer at the buzzer to end the third quarter, and Mack’s dunk firmly established control for Lonoke.

At one point, St. Joseph had four-straight possessions end in Lonoke steals, and six-straight possessions that ended in turnovers without the Bulldogs getting a shot into the air.

The Bulldogs finally got a three-point play to get back to within nine points, but Lonoke scored the next five and the margin remained between 13 and 15 the rest of the way.

Lonoke, 5-0, also committed to getting the ball inside on offense. Mack had just three points at halftime, but finished with 11, scoring all eight of his second-half points in the fourth quarter.

“We settled in and ran the offense a lot better in the second half,” Campbell said. “When we got the lead we only wanted good shots, and we were patient and did that for the most part. We got a lot of steals in the second half, but we didn’t rush anything in transition. It was just a lot better half than the first one. We played much better.”

Rankin led Lonoke with 13 points.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot boys outplay Rams

Leader sportswriter

The Panthers played perhaps their best overall game of the season in the semifinals of the third annual Cabot Pre-Holiday Tournament on Saturday, beating previously undefeated Paragould 51-41 at Panther Arena.

As was to be expected between the two evenly-matched teams, there was very little separation on the scoreboard after the first half of play. Cabot (4-1), who’s reeled off four wins in a row, jumped out to an early 10-4 lead at the start of the game, but Paragould (3-1) answered with an 8-0 run to lead 12-10 at the end of the first quarter.

Cabot sophomore Hunter Southerland made a free throw at the beginning of the second quarter to cut the Rams’ lead to one, and Nick Thomas hit a three-pointer at the5:33 mark of the quarter to give the Panthers a 14-12 lead.

Matt Paynter gave Paragould the lead again with 1:49 to play in the opening half on a basket inside the paint, which made the score 19-18. But the Panthers closed the first half with a 4-0 run to lead 23-19 at the break.

Cabot carried its momentum from the end of the first half into the second, as it opened the third quarter with a 10-4 run to push its lead to double digits with the score 33-23. By the end of the quarter, though, Paragould cut the Panther lead to seven, trailing 35-28.

Sophomore Garrett Rowe pushed Cabot’s lead back to 10 with a three-pointer at the start of the fourth and final period, but the Rams steadily chipped away at the host team’s lead. With two-and-a-half minutes to play, Paragould trimmed the deficit down to 43-39.

Two free throws by Hunter York gave Cabot a six-point cushion, but it was Thomas who made the most crucial plays for the Panthers down the stretch. In the last two minutes, Thomas made two game-changing steals, the second of which came with 1:34 remaining, and resulted in an and-one by Thomas at the other end that put Cabot up 48-39 with 1:31 to play.

“Man, I’ll tell you something,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges after the game. “Nick Thomas doesn’t show up in the stat sheets scoring 15, 20 points a game, but Nick Thomas is such an important part of our team because he keeps that extra pass going sometimes, and he keeps us rolling. And he can defend better than people think.

“I put Nick on their best player (Brandon Clifford), and I thought Nick did a good job on 20 (Clifford). Twenty had 22 (points) the other night. Nick accepted the challenge, and those steals were big; his and-one was real big. That sort of pushed that cushion, and then they become more one dimensional, offensively.

“It’s easier to defend one dimension, but I’m just proud of Nick because, like I said, you don’t read his name a lot in the papers, but we’re not 4-1 if he’s not on our team.”

The biggest differences between the two evenly-matched teams in the second half came down to free throws, three-pointers and turnovers.

Cabot finished the game 10 of 16 from the free-throw line for 63 percent, but made 7 of 12 three-pointers for a stellar 58 percent. The Panthers also cut down on their turnovers in the second half. They finished the game with 12, but committed just four in the final two quarters of play.

Conversely, Paragould committed 10 turnovers in the second half, and 19 for the game. The Rams made 8 of 15 free throws in the four quarters played for 53 percent, but went just 3 for 10 from the stripe in the second half (30 percent).

They were 2 for 3 from three-point range in the first half, but 1 for 6 the rest of the game for an overall percentage of 33.

The Panthers also outrebounded Paragould, but just barely, with the margin at 18-16.

York led the Panthers with 13 points. Southerland scored 10. Michael Smith had nine, all of which came in the second half. Thomas scored seven and had a game-high five steals, while Rowe scored all six of his points in the second half.

Chase Brittingham led the Rams with 13 points. Cabot’s Thomas held Clifford, who scored 22 points against Little Rock Catholic in the first round of the Pre-Holiday Tournament, to just four points.

Cabot played Benton, last year’s Pre-Holiday Tournament champions, in the 2013 championship game Monday night after deadlines. Look for details of the boys’ title game in Saturday’s edition of The Leader.

SPORTS STORY >> A second quarter surge lifts JHS ladies

Leader sportswriter

After a close first quarter, Jacksonville separated itself from Watson Chapel in the second, and the Lady Red Devils built on their lead from there, winning 71-43 Saturday in the Cabot Pre-Holiday Tournament at Panther Arena.

It was the only game Jacksonville (2-4) played in the third annual tournament, as the Lady Red Devils took the place of Greene County Tech, who was forced to drop out of the tournament last Tuesday because of the winter weather conditions in northeast Arkansas.

Greene County Tech was originally scheduled to play Cabot last Tuesday. Jacksonville played at Mount St. Mary Academy that day. So because of the scheduling conflict, Cabot received a first-round bye and the Lady Red Devils replaced GCT in the losers’ bracket.

In Saturday’s game, Jacksonville opened with an 11-4 lead, but the Lady Wildcats (2-5) closed the first quarter with a 6-0 run that cut the Lady Red Devils’ lead to 11-10 by the start of the second.

Watson Chapel took a 13-11 lead less than a minute into the second period on a three-pointer by Kierra Cox, but Jacksonville’s Keke Alcorn answered with a three on the ensuing possession to put the Lady Devils back up 14-13.

The two teams traded leads again until Ashli Evans drained another Jacksonville three-pointer, which sparked a 15-0 run for the Lady Red Devils. Jacksonville led 31-17 at that point, and went into halftime with a comfortable 36-19 lead.

“This is two (wins) in a row,” said Jacksonville coach William Rountree, whose team beat Mount St. Mary 63-39 for its first win of the season. “The kids are starting to play a lot better. We’re getting better defensively.

“(Watson Chapel) went to a zone, and we just kind of stood around. That slowed us down. We’re not a good slow down operation, and when we slowed down on offense we didn’t get back on defense.”

Jacksonville’s pressure got to the Lady Wildcats throughout the second quarter and deep into the second half. As a result, Watson Chapel had 28 turnovers in the game. Conversely, Jacksonville took better care of the ball as the game progressed. The Lady Devils had 15 turnovers in the game, but just five in the second half.

“We took care of the ball better and we scored in transition,” Rountree said of the second half.

The Lady Devils upped their lead to 20 with 5:36 to play in the third quarter on a layup by Tiffany Smith. At the end of three, Jacksonville led 56-31. Just over the midway point of the final period, the Lady Devils went up 30 on a midrange jumper by Alcorn, which invoked the sportsmanship rule with the score 70-40 with 3:53 remaining.

With the continuous clock in effect, only four more points were scored the rest of the way, and Evans set the final score in the waning seconds on a free throw.

Markela Bryles led the Lady Red Devils offensively. She finished the game with 16 points and 11 rebounds – both team highs. Smith scored 15 points. Antrice McCoy scored 13. Alcorn had 11, while Sacha Richardson and Evans added six apiece.

If the Lady Red Devils want to make it three wins in a row, they’ll have to do it against the most talented team in the state, as they’ll host top-ranked North Little Rock on Friday.

SPORTS STORY >> Falcons topple Fayetteville

Leader sports editor

The North Pulaski Falcons got one of their biggest wins under third-year coach Roy Jackson on Saturday, beating defending class 7A runner-up Fayetteville 61-59 in overtime in the third-place game of the John Stanton Memorial Classic at Conway High School. The Falcons showed patience and poise to pull off the win after trailing by two with 1.7 seconds left in regulation and by three with 58 seconds left in overtime.

“This is an important win for us,” said Jackson. “Fayetteville may not be as talented as they were last year, but they still got that size and they’re still an excellent team. I see them going a long way in that 7A.”

Trailing 52-50, point guard RaShawn Langston was fouled with 1.7 seconds left in regulation. The 6-foot-3 sophomore coolly stepped up and dropped both free throws into the bottom of the net to send the game into overtime.

Fayetteville scored first in overtime and got a defensive stop with a chance to extend the lead. But senior Fred Thomas stole the ball and passed to Langston, who attacked the rim, drew two defenders and dished to Steven Farrior for a layup and a 55-54 North Pulaski lead.

Fayetteville then scored the next four points, taking a 58-55 lead when 6-7 post player C.J. O’Grady picked up a loose ball and scored with 1:20 left in overtime.

North Pulaski’s Aaren Scruggs was fouled on the next possession and hit both free throws, something Fayetteville was not able to do down the stretch, to make it 58-57.

O’Grady was fouled on the Bulldogs’ next possession but missed both free throws, air-balling the second one to give the Falcons possession with 55 seconds left.

That possession was pivotal. North Pulaski ran its offense to perfection, making five passes while keeping the ball moving. It paid off when Scruggs gave it up to Langston at the top of the key, then cut to the basket unguarded. Langston spotted the open man and hit Scruggs for an uncontested layup that put the Falcons up 69-58 with 35 seconds on the clock.

“That’s something we’ve been drilling and drilling and working on in practice,” Jackson said. “Slowing down, being patient and letting the offense work for you instead of you forcing the offense. And then look what happens.”

With 14 seconds left, Fayetteville guard Payton Willis went to the line for two shots. He made the first, but missed the second, leaving it tied at 59. Thomas got the rebound for the Falcons and called timeout with 10.4 seconds left.

Jackson told his team to spread the floor and let Langston attack the basket, and the strategy worked. Langston faked left, crossed over to his right and hit a scooping layup with two seconds remaining. Fayetteville, without any timeouts left, wasn’t able to inbound the ball and get a shot off before time expired.

“They had been in man defense so I felt like we could get to the rim if we spread it out,” Jackson said. “Langston made a great play.”

The win was all the more impressive since the Falcons won the game without leading scorer and Division I signee Joe Aikens, who left the game after rolling his ankle just before halftime. He was walking on it and jogging up and down the bench shortly after leaving the game, but was held out in the second half just as a precaution.

“He’s the leader of the team, so for us to put things together and get a win like this without him is even better,” Jackson said. “The two games we’ve lost, we didn’t play as a team. This game right here, we played team basketball. There wasn’t any one player that stepped up, everybody stepped up. Scruggs hit some big shots and some big free throws. Shawn made that great play and hit those two free throws. I thought Fred and Steven battled hard on the boards with those big guys. De’Marik Brown hit some huge shots for us in the second half. It was just a team effort.”

Brown and Scruggs shared leading scoring honors with 13 points each. All 13 of Brown’s came in the second half, when he went 5 for 6 from the floor, including 3 for 3 from three-point range. His 25-footer at the buzzer to end the third quarter put the Falcons in front 36-33. He added another one to start the fourth quarter that put the Falcons up six before the Bulldogs began to battle back.

Fayetteville didn’t try to utilize its considerable size advantage, instead relying heavily on outside shooting. The Bulldogs took 40 shots, 20 of them from beyond the arc. They made 21 of their 40 shot attempts, but only seven three pointers.

The Falcons were 23 of 46 from the floor, and made four of their seven three-point attempts. Fayetteville hit 10 of 17 free-throw attempts while North Pulaski made 11 of 17. The Falcons outrebounded the much bigger Bulldogs 21-16.

The task grows even bigger this week, when North Pulaski hosts overall No. 1 ranked Parkview on Friday.

EDITORIAL >> Budget deal helps LRAFB

The budget compromise that passed the House of Representatives last week and is now in the Senate could mean more funding for Little Rock Air Force, where an avionics modernization program for older C-130s could resume sometime next year.

The costly modernization program was put on hiatus earlier this year and appeared doomed after Congress approved automatic across-the-board budget cuts — or sequestration — that hit the military the hardest. Half the cuts would have come from the military, but the congressional budget deal now calls for restoring $62 billion in spending over the next two years. As much as $30 billion will go to the Pentagon, which still leaves $23 billion in cuts in place. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who lead the negotiations in the House with Senate conferees, insists that 92 percent of the sequestration cuts will still go into effect.

That would still leave billions for much needed programs. Easing sequestration could mean millions of dollars spent on the C-130 modernization program for older planes at the air base and elsewhere.

A handful of those older C-130Hs were refitted at the Jacksonville air base before budget cuts ended the program, especially because Boeing, the program’s contractor, has struggled to contain costs. The company’s original bid, which included extensive rewiring of the old C-130s, was originally $5 million for each plane. Even before the program was canceled, the Pentagon warned Boeing that cost overruns are unacceptable.

The avionics modernization program costs about $9 million per plane, or almost double Boeing’s original $5 million bid. Boeing is trying to bring the cost down, but even the higher figure is still much lower than the cost of a new C-130J, which sells for about $70 million. Many of the older planes, especially those in the Air National Guard, can no longer fly because their avionics are out of date.

The Air Force will probably opt for a less expensive communications, navigation and surveillance air-traffic management system.

The latest program can be installed for about $2.5 billion on 184 airplanes, which would be a tremendous boost for the 314th Airlift Wing, the National Guard’s 89th Airlift Wing and the Reserves’ detachment wing, which train C-130 crews at LRAFB. The 19th Airlift Wing, the combat mission at the base, is transitioning to an all-C130J fleet.

Sweden has successfully refitted its C-130s, improving navigation and fuel economy and access to air space as new rules in Europe will restrict older planes in civilian air space starting in 2015.

As funds become available, a dozen or so C-130s could see their avionics upgraded early in 2014 and perhaps another 20 or so at the end of the year. Initially, the program called for improving as many as 200 old planes. Modernizing 100 of them would go a long way toward making America’s C-130 fleet more up to date.

The C-130 still has many friends in Washington. Reconfiguring the aging fleet is a good way to move forward in a tight budget environment. Remember, the airmen at Little Rock Air Force Base and elsewhere are flying their grandfathers’ airplanes.

The modernization program will keep them flying for several more generations, which would be a fitting testament to the durability of the greatest cargo plane in aviation history.

TOP STORY >> Accused in killing appears in court

Leader staff writer

Marcus Israel, 23, withdrew $20 Friday night at First Arkansas Bank’s ATM on West Main Street, according to Jacksonville police. The commonplace act was his last.

The Jacksonville man may have selected the “fast cash” shortcut many automatic-teller machines prompt customers to use.

Fast cash is what 19-year-old Lerome Deshawn Kelley was looking for before he allegedly shot Israel several times with a semi-automatic pistol, according to Capt. Kenny Boyd of the Jacksonville Police Department.

The victim died Saturday at UAMS.

Kelley is charged with capital murder, four counts of aggravated robbery, committing a terroristic act and three counts of theft of property.

Although he pleaded not guilty on Monday at Jacksonville District Court to the murder, one robbery charge and the terrorist act charge, Kelley confessed to killing Israel after he was arrested on Sunday, according to police.

Boyd added that Kelley admitted to robbing three others at gunpoint on the same day as the murder, on Nov. 30 and on Nov. 28.

District Judge Robert Batton is scheduled to hear Kelley’s pleas on the rest of the charges at 9 a.m. today in a video conference call from the Pulaski County jail. No bond has been set.

Kelley is set to appear at 9 a.m. Friday in Batton’s courtroom at 1412 W. Main St. for a bond hearing. He will re-enter pleas later at Pulaski County Circuit Court, which tries felony cases.

The homeless teen who stayed with different people in Jacksonville told police he shot at Israel because he got “scared” when the other man tried to drive away.

Boyd said Kelley and Israel never spoke to each other.

He added, “I learned a long time ago not to attempt to get into these people’s heads. They don’t think like me and you do.”

Israel was found inside his green Dodge Ram, which he crashed into a vacant building.

A surveillance video shows Kelley parking his bicycle in a nearby alley, according to reports. He walked out of camera view until 10:39 p.m., one minute after Israel pulled up to the ATM.

Kelley was wearing a camouflage jacket when he fled the scene. He was seen Sunday wearing the same jacket and riding a bike on Stevenson Street.

Boyd said Monday that the department, at this time, is not releasing how Kelley was found because information related to that is being followed up on.

But, he said of investigators, “They worked diligently over the weekend.”

Reports of the previous robberies were not released because police didn’t want to alert Kelley to their investigation, Boyd said.

“We don’t want to give all of our clues out so quickly,” he explained.

Kelley covered his face completely, with the exception of his eyes, during all of the robberies. All of the locations had security cameras.

On the day of the murder, Kelley allegedly robbed a Sonic employee at 1808 West Main St. when the employee went outside by the dumpster to smoke, according to a report.

A pack of Marlboro red cigarettes, a coin holder and a Sonic wallet containing $100.64 were stolen.

On Nov. 30, a man was robbed at Bank of America at 101 Gregory Place off North First Street. A cell phone was stolen from the man, who said he didn’t have any money on him, according to a report.

A man was robbed at Bank of America on Nov. 28. A cell phone and $240 were stolen.

TOP STORY >> Interest limited for new signups

Leader senior staff writer

If you want new health insurance under the Affordable Care Act to take effect Jan. 1, you must enroll by Dec. 23, according to two in-person assisters whose job it is to help people through the process.

The two, Joyce Hardy and Stephen Marshall, are sponsored by the Central Arkansas Library System. They were on hand to help at Sherwood’s Amy Sanders Library last Thursday evening.

Perhaps because the state General Assembly turned their thumbs down on a $5 million advertising and informational campaign for the Affordable Care Act — commonly known as Obamacare — no one showed up for the two-hour enrollment opportunity.

As the enrollment deadline nears for those wanting Affordable Care Act health-care coverage by the Jan. 1 startup, scores of in-person assisters are available in Pulaski, Lonoke and White counties.

The cost of health care varies by the extent of coverage sought, family size, income and smoking status, Marshall said.

Hardy said most of the people they helped are finding the new health coverage better and less expensive than their current policy, if they have one.

Despite concerns that they don’t qualify because they don’t make enough money, don’t have a job or do have a pre-existing condition, those are precisely the people that the Affordable Care Act was designed for, Hardy said.

Most days, she answers questions or helps one to three people enroll. In Pulaski County, there are 13 groups sponsoring in-person assisters, including people at all Central Arkansas Library branches, Hardy said.

Those enrolling can do so by phone, in person, on paper or through the website, according to Hardy. She said that she has helped 38 people enroll. Another in-person assistor, Stephen Foster, said he had helped about 30.

According to Heather Haywood of the state Insurance Department, “Arkansas Health Connector is holding enrollment events throughout the state.” Consumers are applying, shopping and enrolling in health-insurance plans through, Haywood said. “The website improvements have allowed consumers to ha ve better shopping experience,” she noted.

As of Dec. 2, 58,203 Arkansans had completed enrollment, according to Amy Webb, spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services. Another 5,432, based on their answers, were told they would be better served in the traditional Medicaid program.

Rice said between 200,000 and 250,000 Arkansans are eligible for Affordable Care Act insurance.

For eligibility, a person or family would have to have taxable income of 138 percent of the poverty level. So a single person earning up to $15,850 a year would be eligible .

Marshall said eligibility is determined by these simple criteria:

• You must live in the U.S.

• You must be lawfully present in the U.S.

• You must not be incarcerated due to a conviction.

• All Arkansans between 19 and 65 years old are required by law to have health insurance by March 15 or face a penalty that increases every year.

• All insurance policies, whether through the website, Medicaid expansion or regular private insurance, are now required to accept people younger than 19 who have preexisting conditions, allow parents to carry their children on their plans until they are 26, provide free preventative care and lift lifetime limits on health insurance payout. All health insurance plans must provide:

• Outpatient services, including primary-care physician office visits; specialist office visits, outpatient surgical services, outpatient diagnostics, including advanced diagnostic services such as MRIs and CT scans; and outpatient physical and occupational therapy.

• Emergency services, including after-hours clinic or urgent-care center visits; observation services, transfer to in-network hospital and ambulance services.

• Hospitalization, including hospital services; physician hospital visits, inpatient services, including surgical services; physical and occupational therapy and organ transplant services.

• Maternity and newborn care.

• Mental health and substance abuse services, including professional services; diagnostics and inpatient and outpatient care at a hospital or other covered facility.

• Prescription drugs.

• Rehabilitative and habilitative services, including physical, occupational and speech therapy and developmental services.

• Laboratory services — testing and evaluation.

• Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management, including case- management communications made by primary-care physician.

• Preventive health services, including routine immunizations and pediatric services, including dental and vision care.

Locations where help with enrollment is available include:


• Local Health Department units, including the one in Jacksonville, 501-982-7477.

• Arkansas Health Care Access Foundation, 501-221-3033 and 501-951-5330.

• Arkansas Minority Health Commission, 501-686-2720.

• Arkansas Voices for the Children Left Behind, 501-366-3647.

• Better Community Development, Inc., 501-663-9181, 501-580-4269.

• Central Arkansas Library, 501-918-3031.

• Central Arkansas Volunteers in Medicine, doing business as Harmony Health Clinic, 501-375-4400.

• Community Health Centers of Arkansas, Inc., 501-374-8225.

• Future Builders, Inc., 501- 897-5566.

• Hope, Restoration and Wellness Learning Center, 501-240-2795

• IN Affordable Housing, Inc., 501-221-2203, 501-954-0017 (mobile).

• Mental Health Council of Arkansas, 501-372-7062.

• The Living & Affected, 877-902-7448.

• Women’s Council on African American Affairs, Inc., 501-372-3800.


• Cabot Health Unit, 501- 843-7561.

• Lonoke Health Unit, 501- 676-2268.

• Central Arkansas Library, 501-918-3031.

• Future Builders, Inc., 501-897-5566.

• In Affordable Housing, Inc., 501-221-2203, 501-954-0017 (mobile).


• Beebe Health Unit, 501- 882-5128.

• IN Affordable Housing, Inc., 501-221-2203, 501-954-0017 (mobile).

• Mental Health Council of Arkansas, 501-372-7062.

Connector website is For help enrolling or to find assisters in your area, call 855-283-3483.

TOP STORY >> Sherwood opposes PCSSD deal

Leader staff writer

Twenty-five words — just two lines, only one sentence — caused the Sherwood City Council to take a stand Monday night against the state-proposed desegregation settlement.

“The desegregation case is 35 years old and it needs to end,” said City Attorney Steve Cobb, “but, in the process, we want to be treated like everyone else.”

The sentence in the proposed settlement causing the consternation is: “The state will oppose the creation of any other school district (besides Jacksonville) from PCSSD’s territory until PCSSD is declared fully unitary and released from court supervision.”

The council unanimously approved a resolution calling on Cobb to prepare the objection.

If the settlement is approved, it will end — in about four years — the state’s annual payments of more than $70 million split between Little Rock, north Little Rock and Pulaski County school districts.

State Rep. Jim Nickels (D-Sherwood), who found the added sentence in the attorney general’s final proposal, said it would throw Sherwood under the proverbial school bus.

He told the council Monday night that it wasn’t right to insert that sentence at this point in Sherwood’s efforts. “You were doing everything that was asked of you, following the law, playing by the rules, doing what you were supposed to do, and then the state decides to change rules.”

Linda Remele, who co-chairs with Beverly Williams the group that is laying the foundation for a separate school district, said Sherwood supporters have two choices — throw their hands up and wait until the district does reach unitary state and is released from court supervision, or push forward and raise concerns and objections now.

She said the education foundation is meeting in the next few days. Remele and Williams will recommend the panel file a letter of objection just like the council voted to do.

Cobb said he would start drafting the city’s objection immediately and once reviewed by the mayor and other city officials, he will send it to U.S District Judge G. Price Marshall.

According to the attorney general, any objections to the proposed settlement agreement must be submitted in writing to the court by Dec. 23.

In pushing for the resolution, Alderman Charlie Harmon said, “It is very evident that Sherwood residents want their own school district. We represent the 30,000 people of the city; no one else does.”

Remele said, “We agree with most Arkansans that this long overdue settlement agreement is needed in Arkansas, but we are profoundly disappointed with a last-minute change to the proposed desegregation settlement.”

She told the council she and the foundation were “shocked when we found out, as it was not in the original proposal.”

Remele said she and Williams met with the governor and the attorney general, but got no promises of a change.

Williams told the council that, even though the feasibility study was not complete, the racial and economic numbers were available. They showed that a Sherwood district would not upset the racial balance of PCSSD, she said.

The proposed Sherwood district — one high school, two middle schools and six elementary schools — would be whiter than PCSSD, but it would also be blacker and socio-economically disadvantaged.

Williams pointed out, “PCSSD is 44.5 percent white; the proposed Sherwood district would be 45.5 percent white. PCSSD is 43.5 percent black; the proposed Sherwood district would be 44 percent black. And PCSSD is 6.5 percent Hispanic; Sherwood would be 6 percent Hispanic.”

She continued, “PCSSD enrollment has 55.5 percent of its students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch; Sherwood would have 58 percent qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch. Both PCSSD and the proposed Sherwood district have 12 percent enrolled in special education.”

Remele added, “We are supportive of that opportunity for our neighboring city, and we had no problems with that paragraph (allowing Jacksonville its own district) until that sentence was added. It has unfair, negative consequences for our community.”

She said, “It begs the obvious question: Why is it allowable for one community to create its own school district, yet not for Sherwood?”

Sherwood has been working toward its own district since 2004 and has made major strides in the past year.

In 2004, Sherwood residents determined that a community-based and community-run school district would be in the best interest of the city and its students.

Earlier this year, the council passed a resolution establishing the Sherwood Public Education Foundation with the mayor appointing its members. The foundation has been pursuing the process outlined by Arkansas law to create a Sherwood Public School District. The process included holding public meetings and initiating a feasibility study.

Williams told the council Monday that Sherwood is the 14th largest city in the state, yet doesn’t have its own school district. If it gets its own district, it will be in the top 20 in size — between Benton and El Dorado school districts.

Attorneys for the Joshua Intervenors and the Pulaski County Special School District have agreed on two more areas in which the district is unitary — that’s desegregated — and have asked Judge Marshall to appoint a magistrate to help oversee compliance and agreement on the final seven areas.

“PCSSD has substantially complied with its obligations in Plan 2000 regarding 1) student Assignment and 2) talented and assignment, gifted, advanced placement and honors programs,” according to a stipulation filed Monday with the district clerk’s office over the signatures of attorneys John Walker and Allen Roberts.