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City of Searcy having staffing problem, department heads say; hourly pay too low

Parsons

The city of Searcy is having trouble staffing its departments based on how much potential employees are wanting to be paid, according to the city’s department heads.

Sanitation Department Director Terry Rutherford was among seven department heads who spoke before the Searcy City Council on Thursday night about their employment needs. Rutherford said that he was “down two” workers from 42 employed by his department.

Council member David Morris asked Rutherford how many commercial driver’s license drivers he needed to get all the city’s equipment up and running.

“I’ll need more than 42,” Rutherford told him. “I’ve got seven boom trucks – we’ve been running four but I need three CDL drivers to run the others.” According to Rutherford, if the trucks weigh more than 26,000 pounds, the driver has to have a CDL.

Morris asked what the city’s rate of pay was for these type of drivers, and Rutherford said the starting salary is $13.50. Morris then asked if Rutherford was having trouble keeping CDL drivers. Rutherford said, “Yes sir, yes sir. We are going to staffing agencies searching for people for general labor, but the staffing agency is not set up to hire CDL drivers because of liability and such.

“We put the numbers out there. There are places in Searcy who hire people to drive trucks and other things and they are paying $17 to $20 an hour. You can’t compete [unless] they look at our benefit package. ...”

Council member Tonia Hale asked Rutherford what the procedure was when residents called to say they have limbs to be picked up.

“We dispatch somebody as soon as we can,” he said. “We have four trucks running, three of those trucks pick up brush. As you know we have four wards; in the perfect world, we’d like to have a trash truck and put it with a boom truck in each ward and then have a junk truck.” He said “junk” meant white goods, swing sets and old stuff that residents collect and put out to the curb.

“We need five trucks running to do it and we only have three, so therefore we are a little bit behind,” he said. “We don’t tell them they are on the list, that was the statement that used to be made. We say, ‘Yes, we will take care of it,’ and we get to it collectively as soon as we can.”

Rutherford mentioned that there are 7,000 households in Searcy “and it’s kind of hard when you use three trucks.”

Council member Don Raney asked Rutherford if the limit of three was based solely on CDL drivers, and he told him yes. “We don’t have enough CDL drivers to run those other two trucks, We have seven operational, but I’m only running four.”

Raney said he thought that the sanitation department had a lot more workers than 42. Rutherford said when he came to work for the city 19 years ago, there was 60 workers, but “that number has just been reduced and reduced.”

“Our city as you all know is growing and growing and growing,” Rutherford said. “We are doing the best that we can with that.”

Raney said, “So the rate of pay for CDL is a big problem,” and Rutherford agreed.

Council member Rodger Cargile asked if all seven trucks were boom trucks, and Rutherford said they were. Cargile asked how many were operating that day and Ruther said four were operating, “one picking up junk, three picking up brush.”

Rutherford said if he could put a boom truck in each ward and have a floater, the floater could work an area that has a heavier workload that day.

He said his department had 14 CDL drivers currently employed there.

Cargile asked if there was any thought of giving these drivers some overtime hours. Rutherford said it has been talked about but his department really doesn’t have an overtime budget, although through the years there has been an overtime budget.

He said years ago there was a $70,000 overtime budget so there could be runs on the weekend or during long summer days, he could have employees come in at 6 a.m. and keep working through the day since he really doesn’t like the idea of running boom trucks or trucks like them at dark. He said not all of the drivers would work overtime but he knew of some who would “love to do it.”

Council member Chris Howell asked Rutherford what his recommendation was to fix the problem. Rutherford said if the department were to be given “no holds barred,” it needs to hire the two employees.

“The money is going to have to get better, too,” he said. “We have to make them want to come to work for us because some of the guys on the desired rate of pay that is on the application, $18 to $20 an hour.”

Rutherford said he has had potential employees tell him the city’s benefits are good, but the money is not. He said some said they were planning on relocating to Searcy but couldn’t because of the money.

Street Department

City Engineer Mark Lane spoke next about the Street Department. He said the department has a superintendent and five employees at this point, but one is out on medical leave. In the past, Lane said the street department has added as many as 10 employees, but right now is operating with four employees and the superintendent.

“Someone is mowing on the tractor, you have got to have someone behind him in a truck, in front of the truck,” Lane said. “That is three out of four employees who are really out there doing the work.”

Lane said in his department, there are employees working in the mid-$13 an hour level up to the mid-$18 level. Predominantly though, workers in the department were at the mid-$13 level.

“Local construction companies are paying ... what I was told two or three weeks ago by the owner of one of them, he starts people at $18 an hour,” he said. “It’s hard to compete with that.”

Lane said he did agree with Rutherford that the city offers a good benefit package, but “the younger guys, they don’t care what good the benefits package is, they want to know what they are going to get every two weeks.”

Lane said he thinks his department needs two more “operator-type” employees who could run a bulldozer, a back hoe, track hoe or whatever. He said the department was getting ready to fill one of those spots but could also use some general labor workers who “can actually get down and do the heavy lifting.”

Hale asked Lane if he had any idea how many projects the city was behind on, and he said there were numerous projects. “I have projects on my board in there that have been over there for more than two years.” Hale send a resident in her ward has been waiting since February on a need.

Howell asked Lane how the priorities were determined. Lane gave as example a hole in the middle of Poplar Street about a month ago. He said he went to check it out and it was about 4 feet deep with a pipe down in the hole. “That’s something we stop everything we are doing and we go over and fix it.”

Whether it’s a priority “kind of depends on the dangers it poses,” he said. “If there is a risk to human life, we are going to stop other things that we are doing [and get to it]. Mowing a lot of times falls to the wayside because it’s unsightly but it’s not harming anything really. A lot of drainage problems need to be addressed fairly quickly because we never know when it’s going to rain. We’ve got to take care of it because of flooding. We just have to look at each individual thing and make a decision.”

Howell asked Lane what his recommendation was to fix things, and he said, “I think we need to make a concerted effort to hire some more people, but I think to to do that to take the job, we’re going to have to pay a little bit bitter. We are going to have to bump people’s salaries up if we want to get the good quality people.”

He said he probably”hire people all day long at $13 an hour who are going to sit around and you have to stay on them eight hours a day to be able to do anything or they will be off doing whatever.”

Concerning equipment, Lane said his department is doing fairly well but it does have some that are aging. A bulldozer being around from when he started working for the city 21 years ago and road graders older than that were mentioned.

Morris recalled that the city bought a road grader used and Lane said when it broke down last winter, the city was unable to get a part for it for a good amount of time.

Lane said the equipment is used pretty hard. He said he could come with a list pretty quickly of things the department could utilize.

Parks and Rec

Parks and Recreation Director Mike Parsons said his department doesn’t have a big turnover rate when it comes to staffing the Carmichael Community Center and the parks department, but it does with the Searcy Swim Center because “normally, that’s seasonal.”

Recently, Parsons said he had an employee retire and someone left for better pay, so he actually has three spots open in grounds and maintenance and one of those has been open for over a year.

“We interviewed a young man today just out of high school, no work experience, but that’s the only job application we got,” he said. “We have been hiring whoever we can just to fill the spot and get by for the mowers and stuff, and a lot of times that doesn’t work out.”

Raney asked Parsons if it was mainly because of the rate of pay that he couldn’t find workers, and he said, “Yes sir, minimum wage except for the gentleman who retired because he was here almost 10 years. Almost everyone in the maintenance crew makes under $13 [per hour] except two.”

Cargile said he thinks this can be compared to what “we see in the paper” where an introductory job at Hobby Lobby pays $15 per hour.

Parsons said he goes through the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce to help find workers and also he uses Facebook pages to get the word out about jobs open. He said his department also has done newspaper advertising, “but when they see weed eating out in 110 degree heat for eight hours a day at $11 per hour, it’s hard to get them in there.”

Howell asked if the jobs he was talking about were seasonal, asking what the employee who does weed eating doe in the winter time. Parsons said, “Christmas lights, we’re starting those Oct. 1st. There’s always something between the Rialto, Smyrna Church, maintaining the grounds, bike trails; we’ve got plenty to do year round.”

Morris mentioned Parks and Recreation employees also are needed to put the synthetic ice rink together at Spring Park. Parsons said things get vandalized and broken, so there is always something for the workers to do.

Searcy Mayor Kyle Osborne thanked Parsons and said, “I think we are going to hear the same thing from each department.”

The reports by the department heads were made two months before Searcy voters will decide in a special election to be held Nov. 9 whether to make the city’s temporary 1-cent sales and use tax permanent. The eight-year tax passed in 2014 expires next June. Searcy voters already rejected making it permanent in a February special election.


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Searcy mayor calls for 9/11 commemoration to be same every year as 20th anniversary

Mayor Kyle Osborne believes that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks should be treated the same way “every year” that remembering what happened has been for the 20th anniversary.

“We should be here every year; we should be here not every 20 years,” Osborne said during a speech Saturday at the 9/11 ceremony at the Central Fire Station on West Beebe-Capps Expressway.

He asked the crowd how many of those present remembered exactly where they were standing during the attacks that morning when members of the al-Qaida terrorist organization hijacked and flew commercial airliners into the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and crashed into a field in Pennsylvania

“I was with three other police officers in Chief J.R. Thomas’ office and the first plane had struck the tower, and we’re like everyone else, we’re trying to figure out what happened,” Osborne said. “How did a pilot not see the tower? While we were talking, we were watching the TV and we watched the second plane hit the tower, and we look at each other and realize this is no accident, we are in trouble.”

As the events played out the rest of the day, “the worst terror attack in U.S. history,” Osborne said. “You’re calling your loved ones, you’re calling everyone that you know that’s in the military, ‘What’s going on? What’s going to happen next? What do we do? What do we do?’ As we watched the first responders, most of them firefighters, running straight into the mouth of these buildings and we watched the thousands upon thousands of survivors crossing the bridges, trying to get away from this carnage, and there’s a steady stream. We all watched in on TV ... of firemen, EMTs, paramedics, police officers, going the opposite direction, running straight into these buildings.

“An hour and a half later as we watched and the first tower fell, again we look at each other ... surely, everybody’s out of there. A few minutes later, the second tower falls. As we watched the news for the rest of the day and trying to figure out what has happened, they are showing us pictures of fire engines crushed beyond description, police cars crushed, the politicians getting involved.

“It is a morning none of us will forget for the rest of our lives, and we should never forget. We should never, ever forget.”

Osborne said of the nearly 3,000 people who perished that day, 400 were first responders, and of that 400, 347 were firefighters.”I salute you gentlemen,” he said, “and the police officers. the EMT personnel. We owe it to you. We owe it to you to never, never forget, and I promise you, I will never forget, and as long as I’m mayor, Chief, if you want to do this every year instead of every 20 years, I’ll be here. I’ll be here.”

The Searcy Fire Department holds a 9/11 remembrance every year, but this year’s was more involved than usual, according to Fire Chief Brian Dunavan.

Osborne also pointed to a piece of steel beam from the World Trade Center near the flag pole at the station. “This is a reminder of 20 years ago,” he said. “It will be here as long as this fire station is here. Gentlemen, I salute you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you, thank you for your service. We do appreciate you, I promise.”

Retired U.S. Air Force veteran Michael Westergren, a past state commander of the American Legion, called the day Patriots Day, where America’s spirit, strength and solidarity are honored.

“Today, we pay homage to those who lost their lives in the attacks 20 years ago and those that rose to take the fight back to a deplorable enemy that despises our American values,” Westergren said. “Over 4.6 million Americans have served in our military since 9/11. Each volunteered to protect our nation, to pit our national might against tyranny. Over 7,000 paid the ultimate price by laying down their lives defending America’s values of liberty, freedom and democracy.”

For every “warrior” lost in battle, Westergren said, “there’s a mother or father, brother or sister, spouse, son or daughter who knows the real cost of our freedom. We call them our Gold Star Families.”

He said if you asked one of these families why their family member joined the military, “most of them will tell you it was for love – love of family so that someone else doesn’t need to go into harm’s way, love of country and all that protecting our freedom requires, love of our brother or sister on their left and on their right, the family only someone in the military can know about and that can give them and receive so much love from.”

The love these men and women had for their country “now becomes our love,” Westergren said. “We owe it to them to continue to uphold their love, their dreams, their wishes as our own. We owe it to them to never forget their names.”

He said there are at least five Gold Star Families in White County who have lost a loved one since 9/11. He read the names of each military member and said Sunday, Sept. 26, is Gold Star Family Day. “Please, never forget the names of our fallen warriors.”

Dunavan thanked his firefighters, the police officers and NorthStar EMS for their service to the city.

“This city and the community is so blessed to have the type of men and ladies that serve this community. They deserve all of our respect,” Dunavan said. “I love this community and I love those that serve it for us.”

He said Americans should never forget the firemen, police officers and EMS personnel who died in 2001.

“We should never forget them, and it’s because of those type of people, the military, that we have the freedom today to do this,” Dunavan said. “We need to remember those who have sacrificed for us that give us the freedom that we can live in a community like this, and it’s up to us to carry the torch and to make the sacrifices we need to to keep it.”

A bell ceremony was held after Dunavan explained its meaning.

“The men and women that are today’s first responders are confronted with a more dangerous work environment than ever before,” he said. “All are forced to continually change strategies and tactics to accomplish the tasks and complete the call. Our methods may change, but our goals remain the same as they were in the past, to save lives and to protect property, sometimes at a terrible cost. This is what we do. This is our chose profession. This is the tradition of firefighters, first responders. Today’s fire service is ever changing, but it is steeped in traditions over 200 years old.”

Dunavan stopped speaking as an alarm was sounded over the speakers inside the fire station station. “I’m just going to pause and let them respond real quick.” He said they had an open lane as the sirens blared and the fire trucks started to roll out. The crowd burst into applause as the firefighters left the station and rolled onto Beebe-Capps Expressway to rush to the call.

“We didn’t plan that,” Dunavan said.

Returning to his explanation, he said one of the traditions for the fire service is sounding the bell. In the past, it signified the beginning of a day’s shift. Throughout the day and even at night, each alarm was sounded with a bell that “called for those brave souls to respond for the good of the fellow citizens.”

“We utilize these traditions as symbols which reflect honor and respect to those who have given so much and have served so well, Dunavan said. “To symbolize the devotion that these brave souls have had for their duty, a special signal of three bells, three rings, three times each represents the end of our fellow brothers’ and sisters’ duties, that they will be returning to quarters. To those who have selflessly given their lives for the good of their fellow man, their tasks completed, their duties well done, to those brothers and sisters, their last alarm, they are all home.

“Today, we sound this bell as a 20-year remembrance for not only the 2,726 lives that were lost of Sept. 11, 2001, but also for the ultimate sacrifice of 343 firefighters, 60 law enforcement officers and eight EMS personnel. May they all rest in peace and may their families both in blood and in uniform be surrounded by the peace of God’s presence. Together, we thank them for their service and their ultimate sacrifice.”


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On 'nationalizing' Arkansas governor's race, Sanders says, 'You bet I am!'

Sarah Huckabee Sanders had an answer Friday night for those who are saying that she is “nationalizing” the 2022 Arkansas governor’s race: “You bet I am.”

Sanders, who served as White House press secretary for President Donald Trump for nearly 2.5 years, told a sold-out crowd at the Republican Party of White County’s Lincoln/Reagan Dinner on the Harding University campus that Arkansas needs a fighter, “someone who will push back against the radical left.”

She is running in the Republican primary next May against Arkansas Attorney General to be the party’s candidate to replace Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

She said as she has been campaigning around the state, she keeps hearing the criticism, “Oh, there’s that Sarah Sanders, she is nationalizing the race.” She admitted that she is “because if you are not, you are missing what is happening in this country.”

“We have people who are no longer satisfied simply changing policy,” she said. “They want to fundamentally change who we are as a people, and we cannot allow that to happen. Our country is too great and the sacrifice has been too many to allow somebody to come in and change who we are at our core.”

Sanders said she is not afraid of the “fight in Washington,” where Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress. (The Senate is split, but Vice President Kamala Harris can cast the tiebreaking vote.) She said the only thing she is afraid of is “if we don’t have the right leader to wage that battle.”

Sanders is confident she can be the leader Arkansas needs and is confident she can win the fights against “the radical left” because she said she has been doing it her entire life “and winning and coming out stronger and better on the other side.”

She said just being a fighter is not enough, though. “We need a leader who can look forward and lead our state with heart and compassion. I am sick and tired of watching Arkansas compete at the bottom. I am tired of being 46th and 47th and 48th when I know we have the capacity to be first and second, but we need a real leader to take us there.

“We need somebody who can not only fight back against the radical left coming out of Washington, but somebody who can lead us forward and take Arkansas to the top, and I know I’m confident that I can be that leader that we need at a time when we need it.”

Sanders said one of the reasons she is running for governor is because she wants to make sure the path in front of her kids and the path of every kid growing up in Arkansas is “free and clear so they can run full speed ahead towards whatever it is that they want, because in American that is still the goal. It’s still the American dream.”

“It doesn’t matter where you start, you get to decide where you will finish,” she said. “Unfortunately, we have people in the country who don’t think like that anymore. They not only want to put hurdles in front of our kids, they want to rip that path up so it doesn’t even exist, and I refuse to step back and do nothing and allow that to happen. Not in our state, not in our communities.”

First mom

Sanders was introduced at the dinner by Republican Party of White County Chairman Billy Kurck, who said she graduated from Little Rock Central High School and then went on to Ouachita Baptist University. “Sarah is the very first mom to ever hold the job of White House press secretary,” Kurck said. “Upon her departure from the administration, President Trump described Sarah as ‘irreplaceable, a warrior, a very special person with extraordinary talents who has done an incredible job.’”

Some, Sanders said, do not know that she was only the third woman to ever have the White House press secretary’s job and the first mom, which she said “frankly, I find a little bit shocking. Not only because being a mom was a great way to remind me what my priorities were but it was also a great way to prepare for being the White House press secretary.”

When she started at the White House, her kids were 5, 3 and 1. She said that meant “we did chaos really well at our house. Being White House secretary was probably some days easier than being a mom to my three kids, so I think I was one of the few people to go to the White House to get a break instead of staying home and trying to keep our kids out of trouble.”

Sanders said one of the thing she learned growing up in a political family was “how important public service is.” She said her parents, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and her mother, Janet, showed her and her two older brothers firsthand.

“My parents drug us with them literally to every corner of the state so that we could see firsthand how important it is to have good people engaged at every level of public service,” she said.

Sanders said she thinks it was when she was in college when she figured out “it wasn’t normal to spend weekends and summers passing out brochures asking people to vote for your parents.” She said it was a lesson that had a “profound impact” on her and one that she wants to pass on to her kids. She said she and her husband, Bryan, talked about this and decided they would take their kids with them “as much as possible during their travels.”

Sanders spent a little time taking about “bring your kid to work day at the White House.” She recalled bringing her middle child, Huck, who was about 4 at the time, and it would mean he would have to make it through an entire work ay at the White House. Sanders said the plan was if things were to get a little bit crazy, she would call Bryan to pick Huck up and her “job would be safe.”

She said Huck had on his little bow tie and blazer and she said she took “about 10,000 pictures before 9 o’clock in the morning,” but she said she didn’t realize “the most memorable part of the day would come at the very end.”

Sanders said on this special day, all the kids gather in the Rose Garden and the president comes out and greets them and takes pictures with them. She said she reminded the president that half of the kids out there were reporters and he might want to watch what he says. When the crowd laughed, she said “that is pretty much the response he gave me, too.”

She said Huck popped out of the rose bushes and ran directly to the window of the Oval Office and pushed “his face completely up against the glass. I’m not sure if you’ve seen a 4-year-old’s face smashed up against glass in a while but it was pretty special.” She said the president, “clearly appalled, jumped back and said, “Oh my gosh, there’s a little boy looking in to the Oval Office.”

“I said , ‘Yes sir, that’s my son Huck.’ She said the president shook his head and said, “Oh, Sarah, at least he’s handsome.”

She said Huck did not want that to be his only mark on the day. As the president walked out of the Oval Office and all the kids were cheering and excited to see him, Huck ran directly to the president. “Full speed ahead, here come Huck.” She said the president crouched down like he is going to pick up Huck, but just before he got to the president, and right before she said she was pretty sure Secret Service was going to intervene to take him out, Huck sidestepped the president, “completely ignoring him before the entire crowd and ran high past him and jumps into my arms.”

“The president turns around and says, ‘Are you kidding me, this kid again?’ And I kind of shrugged my shoulders and I take Huck to the side. And I’m starting to explain to him how he has to behave if he still wants to keep coming to events with mom, when I realized, Huck shouldn’t be in trouble at all because for every other kid out there, the only person that mattered to them was the president, but for my 4-year-old son, the only person that mattered to him was his mom and that’s a pretty remarkable thing.”

‘Secret trip’

One of the greatest opportunities Sanders said she had during her time at the White House was traveling with the president on every foreign trip he took, going to nearly 30 countries.

“One of the things that I loved about that experience is what an incredible reminder it was and what a great blessing it is to wake up every single day and call myself an American,” she said. “We are so grateful and we should be so thankful that we have that opportunity.”

One of those foreign trips with the president Dec. 25, 2018, was “a secret trip to Iraq.” Sanders said it was unlike anything they had ever done before.

She said it was Christmas night and she had literally just tucked her kids in for bed and had cleaned up wrapping paper that “they had stuffed in every corner of our house.” She said she had to walk out on her extended family, unable to tell anyone else where they were going because the place where they were traveling to “was so dangerous that they did not want anyone in the world to know that the president would be on the ground, even for a few hours, yet we have men and women who live there, serving, sacrificing, missing every holiday with their family so that we can live free in this great country.”

Before finishing her story, Sanders said, “ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake about it, the United States is the greatest country the world has ever known. And the reason we are the greatest country the world has ever known is that we are the freest country the world has ever known. That freedom didn’t come free at all. It came from the sacrifice and service of many.”

This particular trip, Sanders said, they boarded the plane “in complete and total darkness, no lights on the plane, no lights on the runway. The shades were pulled down. Our cell phones were turned in’ we were going off the grid.”

When they touched down in the war-torn part of western Iraq, Sanders said it was a similar scene with no lights on the plane and no lights on the runway. The only thing that could be seen “was a glimmer of light from about a mile from where we had touched down.”

“The reason you could see light coming from there is a dining hall packed with hundreds of troops who had gathered thinking they were having dinner with senior military leadership,” she said. “They had absolutely no idea the president and the first lady were going to come into that room, and when they did, a scene unfolded that I hope I never forget: hundreds of troops from every different background, every political party, every demographic, every region of the country, shouting in one perfect voice, over and over and over again, ‘USA, USA, USA!’

“That is who we are as a country. The people in that room represent the very best of America, standing on the front lines, making sure we get to live in the greatest country the world has ever known in complete and total freedom.”

The president started making his way around the room, thanking each of the individual troops, Sanders noted. A young soldier yelled from the back and said, “Mr. President, I reenlisted in the military because of you,’ and the president said, ‘Son, I’m here because of you.”

Sanders said the young soldier came up to her and said, “Sarah, you have a tough job, and I thought, ‘Are you kidding’ I take questions, you take bombs and bullets.’ I was like ‘what I do is nothing,’ and in a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life, he reached up and he tore the Braves rifle patch that he wore on his shoulder and he placed it into my hand and he said, ‘Sarah, we are in this together.’”

She told the crowd “that’s who we are. That young man and everyone that serves alongside of him, everyone that has come before him and the thousands that we know that will be called upon to come after him represent the very best of the United States, and we owe it to them that they know that they have a country and a community of people who recognize their service, that appreciate their service. We will do our part to preserve it and protect it so that we can pass it down to the next generation because that is our moral obligation.”

“I can assure you, I will do my part in the fight for freedom,” Sanders said. “Not all of us are called to serve on the physical battlefields of Iraq. Not all of us are called to run for office, although I do think half of this room is but we do all have a part to play. We all have a role to play in the fight for freedom.

“No candidate for office ever wins on their own and if they tell you that they did, frankly, you don’t want them there because it means they don’t understand the sacrifice of those who have carried them across the finish line.”

Sanders said she has three little faces that will hold her accountable, her children, Scarlett, Huck and George, because every decision she will make if elected governor will have a direct impact on them and she said that is not a responsibility she takes lightly but one she relishes “because I know that I can be the governor and the leader our state needs at a time when we need it.”

“I am ready to take Arkansas to the top,” she said. “I hope you will join with me in that effort and I hope that we can continue to be the greatest country on the face of the planet.”


News
Shots fired nearby puts two Searcy schools on soft lockdowns; police detain three persons of interest

Shots fired near the vicinity of Birch Street and Vine Avenue on Monday morning caused brief soft lockdowns at two Searcy schools, according to the Searcy Police Department.

The lockdowns started around 10:30 a.m. and lasted five to 10 minutes at McRae Elementary School and Ahlf Junior High School, according to Lt. Todd Wells and Betsy Bailey, school/community coordinator for the Searcy School District.

Bailey said students were allowed to move around in the building but the doors were locked. Wells said the main thing during soft lockdowns is to get everybody inside and keep them safe while classes stay in session.

“It was a little ways from the school, but if it’s so close we will err on the side of caution and go ahead and lock it [the schools] down,” Wells said, adding that when the department found out students weren’t in any danger, the schools came off the soft lockdown.

According to Wells, the shots-fired call resulted in three persons of interest being detained and questioned.

“Nobody got hurt, nobody got shot, nothing like that,” he said. “They were shooting out of a vehicle, a car shooting at another car. They knew each other; it just wasn’t random like ‘let me shoot at this person.’

“We are just trying to get to the bottom of it, who exactly is shooting and what the motive and all that stuff is. They have been detained. It [the investigation] is still ongoing.”

The names of the persons of interest are not being released at this time, Wells said. ‘We haven’t got to the bottom of it. We have three of them [in custody, as of press time] so we have to get each one’s side of it. There was a couple people riding in the car, so we have to get exactly what is going on with them. There’s a lot of investigation going on.”

Wells said it did not appear that the vehicles were damaged. He said one of the cars was impounded and a search warrant “will be run on it.”


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