Friday, June 03, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Probation corrupted

Lonoke and Beebe have stopped using a contracted probation supervisor who was arrested for allegedly trying to coerce sex from a woman he had previously overseen as a probationer. Cabot, though, has yet to sever ties with the man’s company.

The woman, who was convicted for shoplifting $52 in merchandise in Beebe, alleges the probation supervisor sexually abused her and hired her as a freelance probation officer before she reported him to the authorities.

The State Police took Jeffery Everetts, 59, of Batesville into custody after monitoring text messages intended to arrange a sexual encounter with the woman. He has been charged with felony third-degree attempted sexual assault. More victims who may have been exploited during their probation may come forward, which could complicate nearly every criminal case he was involved with in Lonoke and White counties.

Our reporter Jeffrey Smith has uncovered the sordid details, many of them unfit to print in a family newspaper. But the reported facts reveal a pattern of abuse that should not be tolerated in our communities.

The victim’s sworn statements portray Everetts as a man constantly on the prowl, many times during office hours in city buildings.

Lonoke County Prosecutor Chuck Graham requested the State Police Criminal Investigation Division look into the allegations against Everetts in April. Graham said, “We’re now trying to determine how many victims could be out there....We’re probably going to have charges (in White County), too.”

Everetts’ alleged misconduct could amount to more than sexual harassment, too. The woman who made the complaint says he paid her in cash that was collected from people on probation, a questionable way to run a business.

CS Background, Everetts’ company, also provided ankle-bracelet monitors to probationers, charging them $750 activation fees, plus $25 a month. It’s easy to imagine Everetts visited probationers to collect money as much he did to check in on their personal welfare and behavior. He may have reduced or waived fees in turn for sexual favors.

Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley became suspicious when he noticed Everetts had put the woman to work at the courthouse. Staley thought that was wrong and wanted Everetts removed.

Beebe City Attorney Scott Bles and Mayor Mike Robertson requested White County District Court not to use Everetts’ company while the case is pending. Lonoke has also stopped using Everetts’ company.

Bles told The Leader, “My office and Beebe city officials have grave concerns for probationers who are being supervised by this company,” Bles said.

The case throws lights on a little known cottage industry, which seems to operate without sufficient oversight by public officials, that allows people with little or no law-enforcement experience to provide probation services to cash-strapped city courts.

Everetts has resigned from his company, but his wife has stepped in as his replacement. That is enough to satisfy Cabot officials, who will keep using the company citing possible savings of about $54,000 this year after farming out probation services.

That isn’t good enough for the public’s interest though. Cabot must immediately end its contract with CS Background. The affidavit’s stomach-turning details show why.

Just because CS Background has saved the cities some money, it isn’t worth discrediting the criminal-justice system that Everetts represents.

His wife is not a credible replacement to oversee people whom her husband may have abused.

If more victims come forward and more charges are filed, as expected, Cabot’s decision to stand by Everetts’ company will be even harder to defend. Plaintiffs may seek reimbursements of fees he collected from them, which the cities may have to return.

People who wind up on probation should not be propositioned after committing minor offenses like shoplifting, traffic violations, hot checks and drug possession. They still deserve respect.

Aldermen and judges should provide more oversight of probation-service contractors in the future. Saving money is no reason to put people in degrading situations.

The controversy surrounding Everetts could jeopardize dozens of cases in Lonoke and White counties. It’s too bad that the alleged actions of one shady contractor could lead to tossing out charges and monetary claims against the local courts. Did he have his background checked?

Prosecutors, judges and mayors must reform a system that has brought disrepute to the courts. Finding reputable probation officers is a first step toward restoring faith in this overlooked part of our judicial system.

TOP SORY >> Lonoke gets a new fire truck

Leader staff writer

A new fire truck that Lonoke thought it lost out on is now parked in front of the Lonoke Fire Station.

Cabot is also in the market for a new fire engine.

Lonoke Fire Chief Jimmy Wallace told the council at its recent council meeting that the city was in desperate need of an additional fire engine.

“Our main vehicle is Engine 4, and we’ve been having problems with it. So much so that we had to pull a 40-year-plus vehicle we had in mothballs to sell at auction back into service to make sure the department had the vehicle power it needed to respond to incidents like a fiery crash on I-40 that caused three other accidents and kept firefighters out on the scene for five hours,” the chief said.

Wallace lamented he had found a used, but excellent, vehicle similar to the one the city had for $220,000 but when he called back on it, the vehicle was already sold.

“We can move some money around,” said Alderman Pat Howell, in an effort to give the chief assurances that a down payment would be ready the next time the chief found an appropriate vehicle.

It didn’t take long as Texas Fire Truck Sales of Houston called the chief Monday and said the deal had fallen through on the fire truck that he was interested in and did Lonoke still want it. The chief said yes and was told the city had until Thursday to pick it up.

It took city officials a few days to figure where in the budget the funds were going to come from and a special council meeting was called to approve the purchase.

Firefighters went to Houston and brought the 2004 Pierce Enforcer rescue pumper back to Lonoke.

A $12,500 check presented to the department last month by state Rep. Camille Bennett from the state’s General Improvement Fund went toward the purchase of the fire truck.

Meanwhile, Cabot Fire Chief Phil Robinson is looking to spend up to $450,000 for a new fire truck.

The Cabot City Council approved an ordinance in late March authorizing the issuance of a promissory note to provide financing for the purchase of a fire truck.

Interest on the note is set at 1.72 percent. Payments will come from the city’s general funds.

TOP STORY >> Sylvan Hills team goes to Iowa

Leader staff writer

From last to first — that’s the story of the Sylvan Hills Middle School Odyssey of the Mind team.

Seventh-grader Nikolas Whitehead, one of three students on the seven-person team from last year, called it a great turnaround.

Truthfully, he didn’t say the team finished last the previous year. He said, “dead last,” which made this year’s solid first place finish and a trip to the world competition even sweeter.

The team took first in regionals, and bested 11 other teams to take first at the state-level competition in Beebe held in April. The first- and second-place teams, Sylvan Hills Middle School and Washington Junior High School in Bentonville, moved on to the world competition, with 799 other teams from around the globe, which was in Ames, Iowa, the last week of school.

Nineteen students auditioned in September for the seven positions. Six of the seven selected had previous Odyssey of the Mind experience and four had been to the world competition before.

Members of the team included Whitehead, eighth-graders Tori Taylor, Khadijah Kaliq, seventh-graders Gracie Yielding, Carly Hall, and sixth-graders Noah Radke and Canon Pedersen.

Eighth-grader Tori Taylor, one of the veterans on the team, admitted when the seven were first picked, “well, some of us weren’t particularly happy with some of the choices, but we all became friends and now we are a family.”

She considered herself the team’s peacekeeper. “We were all passionate about our ideas,” she said, adding she had to referee a time or two.

Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college.

Team members use their creativity to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics. They then bring their solutions to competition on the local, state and world level. Thousands of teams from around the U.S. and from about 25 other countries participate in the program.

In the Odyssey of the Mind competition, student teams get to choose from five categories. This year’s Sylvan Hills team chose the fifth category, which was a theatrical presentation called “Furs, Fins, Feathers and Friends.”

“Two categories had to do with building something, another was about technology and the fourth was about the classics, and only two of us felt comfortable with that one. But everyone liked the acting choice,” Taylor said.

Whitehead agreed. “I’ve always been into acting and writing,” he said.

The team started working on their project in October and had to have it completed by March.

“Well, at least 99 percent complete,” said Cindy Taylor, Tori’s mother and one of the coaches. The other coaches were Sam Kimes and Megan Whitehead. The teacher advisor was Christi Hall.

Coach Taylor explained that for the theatrical activity the team had to have a mammal, a fish and a bird as the main characters, and each had to demonstrate an assigned emotion and then the characters had to be shown helping each other, helping a stranger and helping solve a world problem.

The performance also had to include an original song and dance, and unique sound and a door.

Taylor played the sympathetic owl, and Whitehead was the curious puffer fish. Khadijah Kaliq was a frustrated giraffe.

At regional, state and world finals, the team was judged for performance, style and a spontaneous question session.

At state, the team scored 155 out of 200, which was not as good as they expected and about five points below their regional score, so their first-place announcement was a surprise.

“We thought we were going to win, but we weren’t sure until they called our names,” Whitehead said.

Once the state title was securely in the hands of the Sylvan Hills team, the students had to raise money for the trip to Iowa.

The team collected enough money by visiting every business on Kiehl Avenue and asking for support, explained Taylor.

“We also got some financial help from the district and the state,” she said.

On the drive to Iowa, the team worked to improve their script. “We took the judge’s critiques and comments to heart and tried to improve it,” Whitehead said. “And it was a long drive, so we had a lot of time to prepare.”

At the world competition, the team finished in the middle of the pack, placing 32nd out of 65 teams, but in the spontaneous category the team actually scored 105 points out of 100.

“When five of us were sent into the room in isolation and the judges gave us our question. I just smiled and said to myself, ‘We’ve got this.’”

The surprise question the team had to answer was “What kind of superpower would you like to have and why? “Luckily, we were all into superheroes,” Taylor quipped.

Part of the takeaway from the world competition, according to the students was meeting people from all over the world and trading pins that the teams had designed.

“We combined Batman with the animal theme for our pins, and everyone seemed to like them,” Taylor said.

All the students came home with quite a collection of pins from other teams, according to Coach Taylor.

Whitehead said he met students from Korea, Singapore and Poland. “That was cool. Where else can you meet such a diverse group. It was a really, really cool experience,” he said.

Whitehead said Odyssey of the Mind teaches a lot of team-working skills “that will help throughout life,”

Taylor added that as a member “you definitely learn teamwork and gain problem-solving” skills.

Taylor hopes to make the high school team next year, and Whitehead wants to become the veteran on the middle school team.

TOP STORY >> Summer starts at library

Leader staff writer

The Cabot Public Library will begin its children’s summer reading program Monday.

This year’s theme, “Ready, Set, Read,” is about health and wellness.

The reading program is for children ages 4 to 12 years old. It continues through June 30. Registration is free and children can continue to sign up at the library or online until the final week of June. An end-of-the summer reading party will be held on June 30. Last year more than 500 children participated in the summer reading program.

“People should come to the summer reading program because when children are out of school, they have the opportunity to read. They’ll avoid the summer slump of not reading, and it will give them an education on healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. They can exercise their mind and body at the summer reading program,” library branch manager Tammie Evans said.

The summer reading program will also include a health and wellness activity planned each day at the library. Activities include self-defense karate lessons, a magic show, geocaching, children’s art projects, healthy eating lessons from the Lonoke County Extension Office and gymnastics.

The Game and Fish Commission is bringing their traveling aquarium. The National Weather Service will talk about weather safety. There is a program about Toltec Mounds planned. Children can join in a mile-long walk with a librarian. The Cabot Fire Department will teach fire safety with a fire prevention film and smoke-house demonstration.

The Cabot Animal Shelter will bring some animals. The library also plans a field trip to Joyland Skate Center.

SPORTS STORY >> Fans share blame for coaches’ lies

Leader sports editor

The plausible deniability excuse has become so common for head coaches of major NCAA athletic programs, that they continue to use it even in the face of direct evidence to the contrary, and fans should not accept it.

John Calipari became famous for it when he used it twice as he also left UMass and Memphis in shambles for cheating scandals under his watch.

His counterpart at Louisville, Rick Pitino, trotted it out last year when his Cardinals were involved in a prostitutes-for-recruits scandal.

It’s garbage, and everyone not a major fan of the team in question knows it. They chide the coach and guffaw at how ludicrous of an excuse it is, right up until it’s the coach of their favorite team, and then he’s telling the truth.

Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss has taken it to a new level. It started with his famous tweet in 2013 challenging anyone with evidence of wrongdoing by his program to “bring it on.”

Now he has altered the comment slightly, but it still disregards the facts. On nationwide radio this week, Freeze no longer claims his program is clean, but says none of his coaches personally paid players.

Now there is evidence, highly publicized evidence, that an assistant athletic director paid players, but Freeze doesn’t know anything about that. All he knows is that he and none of his coaches have ever paid players.

Art Briles of Baylor, who is the only coach mentioned so far that hasn’t gotten off scott free, took a slightly different approach.

He handled the charges before they happened, by telling everyone he was going to bring in players of questionable character.

He continuously gave scholarships to high-risk athletes, and continued to turn a blind eye to their continued bad behavior, and called it Christian charity.

That didn’t work, but it is harder for a coach to say he didn’t know about repeated sexual assaults than it is to say he didn’t know his players were getting $1,000 hand shakes.

But the NCAA is toothless. Nay, the NCAA is in on it. In most of the recent high profile cases, it has either done nothing (e.g. Miami football, UNC basketball, Louisville basketball) or handed out minimal penalties for the sake of appearances (Syracuse basketball, Auburn football, etc.).

Cheating pays because winning pays and the NCAA knows it. The only thing that organization is passionate about is not sharing that pay.

It remains adamant that players don’t deserve any of the stratospheric profits because of the outrageous and ironic excuse that it would damage the integrity of amateur athletics.

It is probably true that in order to be a successful coach in a major college sport, one can’t have much integrity. But whose fault is that? There’s plenty to go around.

Fans are also to blame because we don’t really care about integrity, no matter how much we talk about it.

The evidence comes from how we flip the script between scandals happening to another team and happening to ours.

When our football coach, who happened to be the most successful in decades, turned out to be a scoundrel, it didn’t matter to a huge portion of fans because he won games.

We’re not really all that concerned with sacrifice when it means sacrificing things we really, really like, such as our favorite team going to the Sugar Bowl, or even college sports itself.

It would be interesting to know how many fans of NCAA sports signed the petition to boycott Target for their transgender bathroom policy.

Whatever the number, it’s a good bet that most of them will be on their couches, if not in the arenas, with brackets in hand when March Madness rolls around next year, even though the NCAA said it will not host any event in a city that does not have laws requiring exactly what Target did.

Thankfully in Arkansas, the blatant hypocrisy honestly doesn’t seem as bad as other places. There was an even bigger portion of fans who knew that Petrino had to be fired, and supported the decision.

The UA’s three major sports coaches have all been there for several years now without a hint of scandal. We can still be proud of that, even more proud than if they won more with no integrity.

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville juniors top Cabot again

Leader sportswriter

The Gwatney Chevrolet Junior American Legion team jumped out to a six-run lead against the Centennial Bank Junior team before rain put a halt to play. But after the delay, Jacksonville held off Cabot’s fourth-inning rally to win 7-4 in four innings Thursday at Dupree Park.

Cabot leadoff hitter Brian Tillery scored the game’s first run in the top of the first inning on a passed ball, but the Jacksonville Juniors (2-2) answered with two runs in the bottom half of the inning.

The Chevy Boys had two fly outs to begin the bottom of the first, but Quentin Stallard singled with two outs, and Foster Rash reached on an error in center field the following at-bat. Axton Ramick drove both runners in with a single, giving Jacksonville a 2-1 lead.

Caleb Anderson scored again for Jacksonville in the bottom of the second before rain put about a half-hour delay to the game. Play resumed with two outs and Jayden Loving on first base, and Gwatney Chevrolet leading 3-1.

The first at-bat after the delay, Peyton Williams reached first base on an error by the Cabot pitcher, and the next at-bat, Stallard hit a two-RBI standup double to center field, driving in Loving and Williams to up the Jacksonville lead to 5-1.

Rash, who started on the mound for Jacksonville, followed with a double to the left-field fence that scored Stallard and furthered the Chevy Boys’ lead to 6-1. Cameron Leonard entered the game as Rash’s courtesy runner, and with Ramick at the plate, Leonard advanced to third on a passed ball. Ramick struck out swinging for what would’ve been the third out of the inning, but the ball got by the Cabot catcher. As Ramick made it safely to first base, Leonard scored to give Jacksonville a 7-1 cushion.

Neither team scored in the third inning. Jacksonville pulled Rash off the mound after the third inning and replaced him with Williams, and the Gwatney relief pitcher struggled with his control. Cabot’s first five batters in the fourth inning reached base safely on one walk, three hit batters and a bunt that left that batter safe because of an E1 on the throw to first.

Nicholas Belden scored Cabot’s second run on that bunt by Blake Buffalo, and Jacob Caswell scored Centennial Bank’s third run on a wild pitch, which made it 7-3 Jacksonville. Michael Crumbly drove in the final run of the inning with a sac fly to deep left field, scoring Tillery, who was plunked three batters earlier.

Jacksonville loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the fourth, but the game was called immediately after because the two-hour time limit expired.

It’s Jacksonville’s second win of the summer over Cabot (0-4), but this game was more competitive than the Chevy Boys’ 12-2 win over Centennial Bank during the Memorial Day Tournament at Burns Park.

“Today we played well,” said Gwatney Junior coach Chuck Winer. “We hit the ball a little more than usual. The pitchers just have to throw more strikes and stay focused through the whole game, and that’s really about all we got to do with these guys is just get them a tad bit tougher.

“They’re on the edge. They’ve got a chance and they can be pretty good, but they’ve got to do it within themselves.”

The rain made it tough to pitch for both teams Thursday, but considering that, Winer thought his starting pitcher did well in his three innings on the mound.

“He threw well,” Winer said of Rash. “He threw a lot of strikes, struggled with the rain, of course, like everybody else – the ball wet and things like that. But overall he didn’t do bad. He did what we asked him to, throw strikes.”

Rash gave up two hits and struck out two en route to the win. Stallard was the only player for either team with multiple hits. He was 2 for 2 with a single, double, walk, two RBIs and two runs scored.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot trio leads nation in NCAA vault finalists

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE – Cabot, Ark. likely will outscore many large universities at the NCAA Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships June 9 and 11 in Eugene, Ore.
University of Arkansas freshmen All-American twin sisters Lexi Weeks, the NCAA Indoor champion and SEC Indoor and Outdoor champion, and Tori Weeks, and senior three-time All-American Ariel Voskamp all represent Cabot for Coach Lance Harter’s Razorbacks.

“Yeah, the little town of Cabot probably has more pole vaulters at the National Championships than any university out there,” Arkansas Women’s vault coach Bryan Compton said. “Three girls at the NCAA Championships from the same town on the same team in the same event, that’s pretty unheard of.”

Apparently it has Cabot all atwitter.

“Our high school Twitter page tweeted about three Cabot girls going to Nationals and it hit home how three of us from this one little town of Cabot are going to Nationals representing the University of Arkansas,” Lexi Weeks said. “It’s pretty incredible.”

Their bond is even more incredible.

The Weeks sisters, both athletically renowned since birth it seems, compete without a shred of envious sibling rivalry.

Tori Weeks, with personal records of 14-feet, 5 1/4-inches in both indoors and outdoors, is a 2016 indoors All-American, was sixth nationally and third in the SEC, and SEC Outdoor runner-up to Lexi. That easily would be every other schools’ freshman phenom if not performing at the same school as her sister.

“Yeah, I guess it’s kind of different,” Tori said. “She has always been a couple of inches ahead of me and obviously she’s been amazing and I hope I live up to that next year. It’s been awesome being able to vault with her and Ariel and Megan (Zimlich) and being able to train with Sandi Morris (the UA grad, 2015 NCAA Indoor champion and 16-foot Olympic hopeful and 2016 World Indoor Championships runner-up). I don’t know if I got all the results I expected this year, but I did get a PR indoors and outdoors and that’s pretty exciting. I’ve jumped 14-5 and hopefully at Nationals I’ll jump 14-9.”

Lexi Weeks not only became the first freshman to win the NCAA Indoor women’s vault, but also became the first freshman to ever surpass 15-feet at 15-2 1/4.

“I finished indoors with a national championship in the pole vault and I wanted to carry that momentum on to outdoors,” Lexi Weeks said. “And I think I did. I jumped high 14s several times and I jumped 15 twice outdoors. I am very satisfied that three of us have qualified going to Nationals and I think we all have a chance of placing.”

The twins have surpassed Voskamp in jump height, yet never cease looking up to her.

“They still see me as a leader,” Voskamp said, as both nodded vigorous assent. “And that really means a lot to me. Because we go to meets and Tori and Lexi are jumping 14 and Lexi is jumping at collegiate records, but they are very down to Earth and they do listen to what I have to say.”

Voskamp has experienced what the Weeks twins have not, like last week’s NCAA West Preliminary in Lawrence, Kan.

The prelim, of which the sole purpose is winnowing a 48-entrant field in each event to 12 for Nationals, compels great vaulters to enter at unaccustomed low heights then be out of rhythm with interminable time between vaults.

“I told them it’s really long, save your energy and make that first attempt,” Voskamp said.

Andrew Irwin, the graduated Razorbacks’ Men’s NCAA champion, twice failing to advance out of the tedious Regional process, warned them, too.

“He told us, ‘Don’t Andrew it,’” the Weeks twins said.

The Cabot three have the same vault pedigree. Prior to Compton, all were coached by Morry Sanders of the Arkansas Vault Club, and coached in about every other event by Cabot coach Leon White.

The three may be so down to Earth because they were too tired in high school to loft their heads in the clouds.

“Honestly I did whatever Coach White wanted me to do,” Voskamp said. “My main events were the hurdles and the 4x400 and 200, and sometimes the jumps and the pole vault.”

Lexi Weeks added, “I ran the 400, both relays, the long jump and pole vault.”

Tori Weeks said, “I did both relays, pole vault, triple jump, sometimes long jump, 300 hurdles. I think about last year and doing five or six different events all day long. It’s kind of a relief going just to the pole vault.”

They were good at those events, too, and considered doing more in college. The twins combined hold 12 school track and field records of the 18 total high school events.

Lexi Weeks holds the Cabot High School record in the pole vault, 100-meter hurdles, 400-meter dash, long jump and heptathlon points, winning the heptathlon in 2015 with 4,481 points.

Tori holds the school record in the 300-meter hurdles, 800-meters and triple jump. They both ran legs of the school record 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams, and Tori is second in school history in the 400 (third is their mother, Amy Weeks) and she lost last year’s heptathlon to Lexi by one point – the closest heptathlon in Arkansas history.

So what do they do with so much track meet spare time?

“You cheer on your teammates,” Tori said, knowing their senior mentor cheers for the twins.

“It’s a joy watching Voskamp kind of lead the twins,” Sandi Morris, still training with the Razorbacks while rehabbing a fractured wrist before the Olympic Trials, said. “Having Ariel here, they felt at home when they got here and they continue to jump really high and improve.”

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney gets no-no for win

Leader sportswriter

Rain put an early end to Thursday night’s Senior American Legion game between Jacksonville and Cabot, but it was all Gwatney Chevrolet in the 3 1/2 innings played, as the Chevy Boys outscored Centennial Bank 10-1 at Dupree Park.

Thursday’s game was the first of the summer for the Gwatney Chevrolet Senior team (1-0). Cabot’s AA team (1-1) played its first game Tuesday night against Russellville, and won that game 3-2. Gavin Tillery earned the win on the mound in that game. He pitched the first four innings, giving up only one earned run.

Jacksonville’s Mike Havard was the winning pitcher Thursday. Havard threw 3 1/2 innings of no-hit ball, giving up four walks while striking out five Centennial Bank batters. But because of the wet conditions, Havard struggled to find the strike zone early, as did Cabot’s starting pitcher.

Cabot’s first two batters walked in the top of the first inning. Havard struck out two of the next three batters he faced, but walked the second of those three to load the bases. Brian Tillery was then hit by a pitch, which scored leadoff hitter Caleb Harpole for Centennial Bank’s lone run of the night.

Cabot’s lead didn’t last long, though, as Jacksonville scored five of their 10 runs in the bottom of the first. Leadoff hitter Tyson Flowers reached on an infield single to start things off for Gwatney, and Havard walked the next at-bat.

Before Havard walked, Flowers advanced to second base on a passed ball, and after Havard walked, the two runners advanced to second and third on another passed ball. Flowers then scored on a 5-3 groundout by Caleb McMunn, tying the game at 1-1.

Brandon Hickingbotham was hit by a pitch before Caden Sample drove in the go-ahead run with a one-out single. Kameron Whitmore reached on an E5 the following at-bat, which allowed Hickingbotham to score and give Gwatney Chevrolet a 3-1 lead.

Two batters later, Sample and Whitmore both scored on a two-out, standup double to right center by Caleb Smith, which upped Jacksonville’s lead to 5-1. Neither team scored in the second inning, but Jacksonville added five more in the bottom of the third to set the final margin.

Smith led off the bottom half of the inning with a walk. Peyton Traywick laid down a sacrifice bunt the following at-bat, but the Cabot third baseman couldn’t field the ball cleanly, leaving both runners safe at first and second with no outs.

With Flowers at the plate, Smith and Traywick advanced to third and second base on a wild pitch, and advanced again on a passed ball. That sent Smith home for a 6-1 Jacksonville lead, and Traywick scored shortly after on a Flowers single to center field.

Flowers stole second base with Havard at the plate. Havard eventually walked, and he and Flowers stole third and second on a double steal. McMunn then hammered a double off the top of the high fence in left field, which drove in Flowers and Havard for a 9-1 Gwatney Chevrolet lead.

Two batters later, Sample grounded out to first base for the first out of the inning, but the contact allowed McMunn to score for the 10-1 Jacksonville lead. A fly out to shallow right field that led to a 4-2 double play ended the inning.

The rain continued to pour in the fourth inning, and after Cabot’s at-bat, the game was called.

Jacksonville finished the night with seven hits and committed no errors in the field. Flowers led the way with two hits. McMunn, Hickingbotham, Sample, Whitmore and Smith accounted for Gwatney’s other five hits.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

EDITORIAL >> How emails shifted funds

Former Rep. Mike Wilson (D-Jacksonville) has uncovered some incriminating emails from area legislators in his lawsuit against so-called General Improvement Funds that lawmakers funnel to their communities through local agencies. He says they’re laundering money to circumvent the state Constitution.

Wilson has asked Circuit Judge Chris Piazza for a summary judgment that would prohibit legislators from funding projects to their districts. He says lawmakers’ emails to Central Arkansas Planning and Development District directing funds to their special projects prove they’re violating the law against distributing state money to strictly local projects.

Since Wilson filed his suit, the CAPDD has stopped handing out money pending the outcome of the suit. He wants the money returned to the state.

Wilson, an attorney, won a similar suit in 2005 and was upheld by the state Supreme Court, and now he says legislators are using CAPDD and other local agencies, which approve the grant requests often without discussion.

“CAPDD board has not denied any application presented it in 2015,” Wilson’s motion states. “Of 680 grants approved by legislators and made through CAPDD since 2007, maybe 10 have been denied for reasons unknown.”

According to our senior writer John Hofheimer, Wilson’s motion for a summary judgment includes examples of emails between CAPPD employees and legislators in which legislators are asked for approval to fund certain projects.

“How much money do I have left,” Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock) asked. “Please see attached,” replied an employee. “$91K.” A nice piece of taxpayers’ money.

Rep. Camille Bennett (D-Lonoke) wrote, “If it is not too late, can you add me $2,000 for the exceptional school and $2000 for CASA?” No problem.

Rep. Joe Farrer (R-Austin) ordered a CAPDD employee, “Give them $5,000,” then, “Fund Austin Police dept. $3000. Options Pregnancy $2000, Cabot Chamber $2000, Safe Haven $2000 and CASA $2000.” Sure thing.

Wilson cites others: Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock), $9,000 for food at Air Force anniversary gala and $6,720 for fence and gate; Farrer, Rosebud Future Farmers of America pole barn, $5,000; Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot), Boys Club plumbing, $26,000 and purchase airfare, $3,000; Rep. Bob Johnson (D-Jacksonville), two bicycles for injured vets, $2,000; Rep. Tim Lemons (R-Cabot) $5,000 for community center ice maker, and Rep. Karoline Brown (R-Sherwood) $10,000 for police body cameras.

They insist the practice is above board and resent Wilson’s lawsuits to end local funding and return the money to the state.

Among Wilson’s other complaints, the CAPDD board does not adopt a budget in advance of GIF expenditures. As Hofheimer explained it, the funds are tracked internally by CAPDD employees by each legislator’s district. “No separate audit of GIF funds is performed to verify or confirm whether the GIF funds are actually spent by the applicant as proposed or represented in their applications.”

To support his contention that grants are “utilized in purely local or special ‘projects’ in the individual legislators’ home districts cannot seriously be denied” and have little or no economic development effect at all.

Wilson’s attorney, John Ogles of Jacksonville, called running the money through the planning and development districts “a work-around.”

“I think we caught them,” he added. “People pay taxes and deserve better accountability. Otherwise, let’s do it for everybody.”

The current “workaround” authorizes each state representative to spend $70,000 and each state senator $285,000, which Wilson says amounts to pork barrel politics with no oversight, no stated purpose and no matching funds.

Back in 2005, according to Wilson’s suit, portions of the General Improvement Funds were designated by legislators in hundreds of appropriation acts for particular local “projects” in their districts.

When Circuit Judge Willard Proctor ruled in Wilson’s favor that the practice violated Amendment 14 as “local and special acts and that they failed to state a distinct purpose.” The state Supreme Court upheld that ruling, and the practice was stopped. That’s when legislators devised the scheme to pass the money through local agencies, prompting Wilson to sue again. Should Judge Piazza rule against the legislators, an appeal to the state Supreme Court is likely.

The practice of handing out millions to local recipients, however worthy, dates back to the Huckabee administration and will probably have run its course if Wilson wins this latest round.

TOP STORY >> Scholarships awarded

Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia recently awarded several scholarships to local graduates for the 2016-2017 academic year.

Madison Burrow, Brianna Watson, both of Ward, and Daniel Davis of Cabot, who are graduates of Cabot High School, have been chosen to receive the University Scholarship worth $4,500 per semester and has a four-year value of $36,000.

Burrow is the daughter of Crystal Pearson. Watson is the daughter of Ann Watson. Davis is the son of Dan Davis and Teresa Davis.

Ryan Sheppard of Jacksonville, and a graduate of eStem Public Charter High School, and Presley Kay of Beebe, who recently graduated from Beebe High, have also been selected for the University Scholarship.

Sheppard is the son of Ronald Sheppard and Dianna Sheppard.

Kay is the daughter of Ticia Kay.

The following Cabot High School graduates have been selected to receive the Blue and Gold Scholarship, which is worth $3,300 per semester and has a four-year value of $26,400.

Mackayle Tucker of Ward, the daughter of Kristie Tucker; Jackson Jones of Cabot, the son of Lori Jones; Brad Ellis of Ward, the son of Jennifer and John Ellis; Ethan McCoy of Cabot, the son of Nicole Griffin and Craig Griffin; Justin Hefner, the son of Bobby and Karen Hefner; Annabelle Reuting, the daughter of Anna Campbell; Ashley Odom of Austin, the daughter of Karen Mosley; Justin Buckwalter of Cabot, the son of John B. Buckwalter Jr.; Kaylie Whitworth of Cabot, the daughter of Sherry Verbitski; Scottland Puckett of Cabot, the son of Scott Puckett.

Also receiving Blue and Gold Scholarships are Samantha James of Jacksonville and Kane Williams of Carlisle, and both graduates of Lonoke High School, and Jared Smith of Beebe, who is the son of Debbie Mylar.

James is the daughter of Jennifer James. Williams is the son of Rita Jones.

Austin Womble-Ruble and Victoria Baty, both of Cabot and graduates of Cabot High School, have been selected to receive the Achievement Scholarship worth $1,000 per semester and $8,000 over four years.

Womble-Ruble is the son of Gretchen Baggett. Baty is the daughter of Molly Goddard.

Paiglyn White of Jacksonville and a graduate of Jacksonville High School was also awarded the Achievement Scholarship. She is the daughter of Jeanetta White.

Briana Walker of Lonoke and a graduate of Lonoke High School is also a recipient of the Achievement Scholarship. She is the daughter of Sally Walker.

TOP STORY >> Lonoke native inspires pupils

Leader staff writer

Lt. Col. Charles (Spanky) Gilliam, a Lonoke native, spoke to students at Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School Flightline Upper Academy during the school’s career day on Friday about making good life choices.

Gilliam is commander of the 48th Flying Training Squadron at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. He grew up in Lonoke and graduated from Lonoke High School in 1995. He later graduated from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

He told the middle school students that his parents split up when he was young. His mother was a truck driver who raised four children. She worked hard, loved them and wanted the best for them. Gilliam said his father was his biggest supporter at the football games and for academic accomplishments.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but I was poor. At times when my mom was on the road, we’d live with my dad in a little house on Harrison Street. I thought everything was normal. The house we lived in was small with one bedroom we shared with dad, my brother and my sister. He did the best he could. I was not ashamed of it. We just didn’t have a whole lot growing up. The house had holes that you could see outside. I never felt like I was poor, or like I was never loved,” Gilliam said.

Gilliam said in high school he had some phenomenal teachers.

“I was a kid that stayed out of trouble. I did my homework. I worked hard at anything and everything I did in life whether in the classroom doing a math test or on the football field, the basketball court, the track or going to church. I always tried my absolute best,” Gilliam said.

Gilliam told the students because he made good choices it created opportunities for college.

“People would see me around town. They knew who I was by my reputation. Your reputation is your brand. It represents you, your family and everyone else that cares about you. If you want a great reputation you’re not going to lie, you’re not going to steal, you’re not going to cheat,” Gilliam said.

He continued, “I tried to have a good reputation in school growing up. People naturally took care of me. I didn’t have a whole lot of money. People would buy me basketball shoes because I didn’t have shoes to play basketball in. They would take me out to lunch or dinner to a nice restaurant like Olive Garden, just because they cared about me because I was a good kid and worked hard.”

Gilliam played football as a tailback for the Lonoke Jackrabbits and a fullback for the Air Force Falcons.

“Sports teaches you discipline, teamwork and to put others before yourself. In football, you’re not the one who is going to score all the touchdowns or make the game-winning tackle every time. It takes everyone doing their job, sacrificing for someone else in order for the entire time to be successful,” Gilliam said.

Gilliam said when he got his appointment to the Air Force Academy, he thought he would become an engineer.

“You never know what you are going to do in life and don’t ever shut doors that you don’t know about. I had no idea that I’d fly airplanes,” Gilliam said.

Gilliam said the glider program at the academy gave him a love of flying. He attended pilot training in Columbus, Miss. When he graduated from the program, he was kept on as an instructor for three years. Then he flew C-17s at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C.; McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., and all around the world.

Gilliam said a flight stop in New Delhi, India, made a big impression on him. He traveled on a six-hour bus ride to see the Taj Mahal.

“It is the most beautiful structure I’ve ever seen in my life. It is a huge majestic place with marble and gold. It takes your breath away. On the same trip I got see extreme poverty. I saw kids wearing just a cloth around, living in tin lean-tos.

“I thought I had it bad growing up,” Gilliam said.

He told the students, “Travel around the world a little bit. You will have a greater understanding of how blessed you really are. Every one of you has clothes on your back. These kids didn’t and were playing around happy because of their attitude.”

“Every one of you is a leader. You lead yourself and you have influence on others around you. Good leaders have great attitude,” Gilliam said.

TOP STORY >> Bookmobile honors teen’s memory

The family of Codi Rice made a memorial gift to the Beebe Badger Bookmobile in April.

Codi, who was an employee in the Beebe afterschool program, died in a car accident last October at the age of 19.

Her family selected books about topics that were special to Codi. It is the family’s hope that students, such as those Codi taught in the afterschool program, will benefit from their memorial gift.

In each book, there is a memorial label with Codi’s picture and the following quote, selected by her family:

“In honor of her love of children and her desire to work in education.”

The bookmobile will have an “A” week and a “B” week schedule of stops this summer.

Books may be checked out and returned to any location.

The bookmobile summer travels will be posted and shared in a weekly bookmobile blog with a link on the Beebe Public Schools’ website,

The bookmobile will be hosting programs at some of its stops. The bookmobile is seeking volunteers to share their knowledge and experiences with bookmobile patrons.

If you would like to share mementos gathered during your travels, are a terrific storyteller, or have any other unique talents, skills or interests that you would be willing to share with bookmobile patrons, email Kay Calvert at or call 501-882-5463, ext. 1042.

Many dates are still available.

The bookmobile welcomes experiences in the community and shares them with students who visit.

SPORTS STORY >> Thunder close to breakthrough if Durant stays

Leader sportswriter

Despite Monday night’s game-seven loss to Golden State, what the Oklahoma City Thunder did this postseason was nothing short of impressive. But it’s hard to say whether or not their performance in these playoffs should be at all surprising.

It’s not a surprise to the Thunder players that they ousted the Spurs and were up 3-1 in the conference finals against the 73-win, defending champion Warriors. It may not have been a surprise to the bulk of their die-hard fans, either. But also, it may not have been a surprise that they once again came up short of getting back to the Finals.

When OKC advanced to the NBA Finals in 2012, even though it didn’t win, it looked certain that the Thunder would be back. But to some people’s surprise, it didn’t happen right away. The departure of James Harden had a lot to do with that, and when he skipped states for a max deal, that team took a serious hit, and its championship window instantly got smaller.

One player doesn’t make a team, but in a sport like basketball, where a team can only play five on the floor at once, and the roster size is already small, one player can make all the difference. Look at how the Cavs and Heat have done with and without LeBron James.

Any time a player like Harden leaves, it’s going to hurt the team. The recovery process isn’t as rough when the departing player was the third-best on the team and puts as much effort into his defense as Bobby Petrino.

When Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have both been on the floor and healthy, the Thunder have had a chance, and with the talented cast of players surrounding them, it’s hard to call their series win over the Spurs an upset, and it’s hard to be too surprised they had Golden State on the ropes at Chesapeake Arena in game six.

With Durant’s upcoming free agency looming and with the realization of the championship window getting smaller by the year, this Thunder team entered the 2016 playoffs hungrier than ever, and played like a team starving for a championship.

The players deserve their fair share of the credit for the way they performed and elevated their game this postseason, but Billy Donovan deserves his share as well.

It would be false to say that Donovan hasn’t been a difference maker. Yes, previous head coach Scott Brooks did get them to the Finals, but he also had Harden. Brooks may have had a good record and resume with the team, but what coach wouldn’t?

Donovan is not only a much better Xs and Os coach than Brooks, but Donovan got the most out of his players this postseason, and guided them to playing their best ball at the end of the year – one of the primary factors that go into winning a championship.

Even though the Thunder didn’t get to the Finals, it was a good first-year run for the first-year NBA coach, and he’s earned the praise he’s been receiving for his part in the team’s postseason run. Donovan may not have gotten the Thunder further than Brooks did (yet), but firing Brooks to get Donovan was the right call, even if Durant didn’t like or approve of it.

As far as Durant’s upcoming free agency is concerned, if one thing this postseason run has shown, it’s that OKC is the best place for him. Since the team once again fell short of getting back to the Finals, Durant may give some serious thought to giving it a go elsewhere, but it’s unlikely that he’ll depart that team and that city.

If he does choose to stay, though, it won’t be because he’s this tremendously great, loyal guy that has an undying love and devotion for Oklahoma City and the people in it. He probably has developed a certain fondness for the place, but that won’t be what keeps him if he does choose to stay. If he chooses to stay, it’ll be because he feels it’s the best option/fit for him, which is perfectly reasonable (it is a business after all).

He has a still young, talented team already in place, including the most explosive player the league has seen in a long time, maybe ever. When James left Cleveland, he did it because the best teammate he had was Mo Williams. Or was it Boobie Gibson? Antawn Jamison? Larry Hughes? Or was it the well past his prime Shaq?

Point being, Durant’s already got a pretty good gig in place, and he’ll probably re-sign with the Thunder because he has Westbrook and a pretty good/constantly improving cast surrounding them. But as long as OKC has Durant and Westbrook as its nucleus and they can stay healthy, the Thunder will continue to be among the top teams in the league for the next few years or more.

Whether or not that equates to them one day hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy remains to be seen. But if they plan on accomplishing that, it’s going to take more of what they’ve shown this postseason, and probably more next year, because it’s only going to get more difficult with each passing season, especially in that conference.

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville beats Cabot

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville-Gwatney Chevrolet Junior American Legion team got the season underway with a victory in the Memorial Day Classic at Burns Park, but dropped its next two games of pool play in failing to qualify for Monday’s final round of bracket play.

The Chevy Boys opened the tournament with a five-inning, 12-2 win over Cabot-Centennial Bank on Saturday.

“We didn’t hit the ball extremely well in the tournament, but we played OK for a team that hasn’t’ been able to practice,” said Gwatney Chevrolet Junior coach Chuck Winer. “They’re excited to be here and they’re giving good effort most of the time. As long as that keeps up they could be pretty good.”

Jacksonville only had five base hits, but Cabot struggled to find the strike zone, walking eight Jacksonville batters over the first three innings.

The first walk was issued to the first batter, Kameron Whitmore, in just four pitches. Trent Toney then singled on the first pitch he saw to put two on with no outs. Caden Sample also singled to drive in a run, and Foster Rash followed suit with a third-straight base hit and another RBI.

Axton Ramick then walked to load the bases, and Joe Cummings hit a fly ball to deep right field to score Sample for the third and final run of the inning.

Jacksonville sent six batters to the plate in the bottom of the second inning. Three struck out and the other three scored. Nine-hole hitter Jaden Loving drew a leadoff walk for Gwatney to start the frame. With one out, Toney got his second base hit, this one scored Loving to make the score 4-0.

Sample then drew a walk, and both base runners came around to score on passed balls and wild pitches over the next two at-bats.

Cabot remained scoreless in the top of the third, and Jacksonville added six more runs in the bottom half on one hit and five more walks.

Toney went 2 for 2 at the plate to lead the Chevy Boys offensively. Whitmore, Sample and Jonathan Smith got the other three hits for Jacksonville.

Centennial Bank scored two runs in the top of the fifth inning. Nick Belden got a leadoff base hit before Eugene Germer reached on an error at second base. Jacob Coaklin then singled to drive in Cabot’s first run.

Gage Morrow became the fourth-straight batter to reach base with a base hit to right field. Coy Lovercheck walked and Coaklin scored on a groundout by Kevin Lenahan to set the final margin.

Jacksonville played Benton Sports Shop on Saturday and lost 10-0. The Chevy Boys managed just two base hits, one each by Whitmore and Cummings, and scarcely threatened to score. Jacksonville did get two runners on with two outs in the third inning. Whitmore got a one-out base hit and Sample drew a two-out walk, but the inning ended on a called strike three.

Caleb Dorsey went the distance on the mound for the Sports Shop win.

On Sunday, Gwatney hit a little better, but still struggled to produce runs in a 4-1 loss to Little Rock. The Chevy Boys had as many hits after two batters on Sunday as it did all of Saturday’s game. Whitmore and Toney got consecutive base hits, and Whitmore scored later in the inning on a sacrifice fly by Rash.

Jacksonville got just three more hits the rest of the game. Whitmore and Toney each went 2 for 3 while Cummings added the other base hit for the Chevy Boys.

Jacksonville’s early 1-0 lead only lasted until the bottom of the first, when the Diamondbacks’ first three batters scored without a base hit. Two errors and a hit batter is how the trio reached base. A two-run base hit and a sacrifice grounder followed to give Little Rock a 3-1 lead.

The game’s only other run came on three base hits in the bottom of the third inning.

Cabot lost its two remaining games to Little Rock and Benton Sports Shop as well, falling to 0-3 to start the season.

Cabot coach David Smith has several players with very little American Legion or high school experience, and isn’t discouraged by the slow start.

“We coaches have to do our job and put players in the best position to succeed,” said Smith. “We’re going to have to do a lot of teaching with these young kids. They want to play, and if they stay receptive to learning they will get better.”

Centennial Bank and Gwatney Chevrolet will meet again on Thursday for a Junior/Senior doubleheader. The junior teams take the field at Dupree Park at 6 p.m. while Cabot’s AA team will face the Jacksonville Seniors at approximately 8 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot trio vaults into Nationals

Leader sports editor

Though still despising that the NCAA West Preliminary Outdoor meet exists, Arkansas Men’s track coach Chris Bucknam and especially Arkansas Women’s track coach Lance Harter, love the results of last week’s abbreviated meet in Lawrence, Kan.

Arkansaw 4x100-meter relay team ran the fastest time in the world this year, and three pole vaulters from Cabot finished in the Top-7 to lead 21 Razorback Women as qualifiers for the NCAA Outdoor Nationals next week at the University of Oregon.

Arkansas freshmen Lexi and Tori Weeks officially finished first and fifth, but both cleared 13-feet, 10-inches before passing on further jumps, as did several other pole-vaulters in the competition. Bad weather conditions made the technical precision event difficult and in some cases dangerous, prompting the mass passes.

Arkansas senior Ariel Voskamp, also a Cabot graduate, cleared 13-6 ¼ to also qualify for nationals. She finished sixth in the nation in 2014.

The NCAA mandates that to advance to the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, teams must finish in the Top-12 of a 48-athlete field in one of the two preliminaries, East or West.

Those 24 in each event, the Top-12 from the East prelims and the Top-12 in the West, will converge on Eugene, Ore. So will the Top-24 men’s and women’s relay teams.

Bucknam and Harter prefer the old method of qualifying for nationals in which the season’s best performances in descending order formulate the NCAA Outdoor championship field. Both coaches, and many others, believe the regional prelims are overburdening athletes, especially elite ones in an Olympic year.

It became an additional hardship in Lawrence because thunderstorms washed out last Thursday’s first day.

Scheduled to span three afternoons and three nights, the meet was condensed to two mornings and afternoons of finals only, with no preliminary rounds.

The sense of urgency sparked some peak performances.

Arkansas’ women’s 4x400 relay of Damajahaee Birch, Daina Harper, Monisa Dobbins, from Nashville, and SEC Outdoor 400-meter champion Taylor Ellis-Watson anchoring, clocked the year’s best in the world time of 3:25.48, holding off Texas on Saturday.

“The University of Texas is the No. 1 team in the nation and had run 3:26, and we ended up beating them and ran 3:25, the fastest time in the world,” Harter said. “They had the World Relays in April at the Bahamas. We actually ran faster than those countries did.”

Heptathletes Taliyah Brooks, Payton Stumbaugh, Alex Gochenour and Leigha Brown were already qualified for nationals, and Harter has 21 advancing from Lawrence to Eugene.

“It couldn’t have gone better except for the weather,” Harter said, noting, “Yeah, I do,” on feeling better about Arkansas’ chances against NCAA Indoor champion Oregon after competing head to head against Oregon in Lawrence.

Bucknam noted NCAA Indoor Men’s champion and NCAA Outdoor host Oregon begins with a given 30 points from anticipated first places from Edward Cheserek in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters; and high hurdler Devon Allen. But of his No. 5 ranked SEC champion Razorbacks, he asserted, “We have Jarrion (Lawson, the NCAA Indoor long jump champion and superb sprinter) and our own guys, too.”

Sprinter Marqueze Washington, who injured a hamstring during the SEC Outdoor meet, ran much better in Lawrence.

“Our sprint crew ran phenomenally well,” Bucknam said. “Marqueze is back and looking great. Jarrion looked phenomenal, really good. Clive (Pullen, the NCAA Indoor triple jump champion) took one jump and didn’t have to jump again. Kenzo Cotton is 100 percent now. So I think we are hitting our stride.”

Bucknam has 20 athletes bound for Eugene.