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Searcy School Board hires Hope superintendent to lead district
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The Searcy School Board has picked its next superintendent, deciding on Dr. Bobby R. Hart to replace Diane Barrett, who’s retiring at the end of June.

Hart has been the superintendent of the Hope School District for the last six years. He will take over as Searcy’s superintendent July 1, a day after Barrett ends her 11 years in the position. She has spent 45 years in education.

Hart said at Friday evening’s special meeting that he appreciates the opportunity to serve and told the School Board, “I look forward to working with each and everyone of you.”

His salary was not mentioned, but School Board member Philip Williams said his contract is subject to an index multiplier off the step certified teacher salaries. The multiplier is 2.83417.

Hart has 27 years of experience, so according to Searcy’s salary schedule, he will be paid $185,000 a year. Barrett was being paid $169,422.

Hart also will have unlimited use of a school vehicle, 12 days of vacation and two personal days, according to the School Board. Payment of dues to professional organizations is also included in Hart’s deal. He is a member of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators.

He also is a member of the Arkansas Imagination Library board and Arkansas School Resource Center Rural Advisory Board and serves as an educational representative for the Arkansas State Police Child Abduction Response Team.

Hart has a bachelor degree in physical education, a master’s in physical education administration and a specialist degree before he finished his doctorate degree. His undergraduate work was at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia and he also went there to get his master’s of science. He got his Doctor of Education in educational administration at Texas A&M. In 2019, he was inducted into the Southern Arkansas University Educational Leadership Hall of Fame.

Before becoming Hope’s superintendent, he had been a high school principal, including at Newport High School, and athletic director and head football coach at Augusta High School. He is a 1987 graduate of Bryant High School.

In an interview with The Daily Citizen after Friday’s special meeting, Hart said “We had some conversations last night that we thought this might be possible. They were gracious to invite me to the board meeting tonight. It has been a whirlwind day. I am very impressed with the entire district and I hope I can contribute.”

He said his full-day interview for the position was “a little taxing but it was fun; being on point all day, but it was fun. I enjoyed visiting with everyone in the stakeholder groups.”

Hart and his wife, Christy, have twins who will be turning 14 on Tuesday. Trenton and Aubrey are going into ninth grade.

“I am excited,” Christy Hart said. “We are very blessed and it’s just one step in the right direction, We are really excited about what Searcy can be for our kids. We are just excited about the change and the opportunity.”

The other candidates for the job were Dr. Rick Gales, Superintendent of Stuttgart, Dr. Nathan Morris, Cross County Superintendent of Cross County and Jerrod Williams, Superintendent of the Sheridan School District.”

Unable to mask excitement

Randal and Beverly Wood of Searcy visit with Spruce, a black-and-white. mixed-breed male puppy, at the Humane Society of Searcy on Friday. They wound up adopting Spruce’s black-and-tan sister, Willow. The two dogs were part of a litter of six that got dropped off at the shelter. The shelter is located at 112 W. Johnston Road.

Water, sewer rate increases in Beebe due to city outgrowing sewer system, mayor says

Incremental Beebe water and sewer rate increases that begin Sunday are necessary to build a sewer system that will be sufficient for the city’s current population and growth, according to Mayor Mike Robertson.

Robertson said the sewer plant and sewer ponds in the city were built and designed for 5,000 or 6,000 users, not for 9,000. “We’ve outgrown it,” he said. “Some parts of it are old, parts of it need expansions.

“I personally spoke to ADEQ [Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality] representatives and they said that we have just outgrown and we are talking $5 million-plus to bring the sewer plant up to specifications that are required with this type of demand.”

A chart of the water rate adjustments that have been approved by the Beebe City Council by Robertson and City Clerk/Treasurer Carol Westergren, showed that there will be a 5 percent rate increase through 2024.

The average bill based on 4,000 gallons of use for 2021 will be $55.15, a $2.63 increase per month. The water base rate is $19.85 and the sewer base rate is $10. The annual revenue increase based off the rate increase will be $115,847, according to the chart, and the total annual revenue will be $2,432,788.

In 2022, the annual revenue increase will be $121,639 and the total annual revenue will be $2,554,427, with the average bill based off 4,000 gallons being $57.90. The increase per month based on the average bill will be $2.76 with a water base rate of $20.84 and sewer base rate at $10.50.

In 2023, the annual revenue increase will be $127,721 and the total revenue will be $2,682,148. The average bill would be $60.60, with 4,000 gallons of use, and the increase per month on the bill would be $2.90 with a water base rate of $21.88 and the sewer base rate being $11.02

In 2024, the annual revenue increase would be $134,107 and the total avenue revenue will be $2,816,256. The average bill would be $63.84. The increase per bill will be $3.04 with a water base rate of $22.97 and the sewer rate will be $11.58.

The ordinance passed by the council in February states that the city “owns and operates a water and sewer system and has determined that there is a need to increase sewer rates in order that the city and its inhabitants have adequate and proper sewer service and facilities; and whereas, it is necessary for the city to fix rates to be charged for the sewer services of the system.”

The ordinance also includes that Sunday is “the first day of the billing cycle” and sets a $9.52 minimum for “the first 1,000 gallons of water consumption per month” and $4.10 per 1,000 gallons for additional water usage.

“In the case of new customers for whom consumption records for the months involved are not available, the computation shall be based on the current month’s water consumption,” the ordinance states. “Vacant unoccupied property not actually using the System shall not be subject to a charge, but the burden of showing vacancy and non-use shall rest on the owner of the property.

“All bills for sewer services shall be rendered monthly in the amount due. If any sewer charge is not paid on or before the 10th day after the bill is rendered, a 10 percent penalty shall be added, and if any sewer charge is not paid on or before the 20th day after the bill is rendered, suit shall be bought to collect the amount due, together with the expenses of collection and a reasonable attorney’s fee.

The rate increase follows the council in January abolishing the water and sewer commission, with the city taking over operations. No jobs were lost and Robertson made the motion for the water commission Chairman Tommy Jackson to be the department’s manager.

Beebe council balks at paying $10,000-$12,000 for livestream equipment

The Beebe City Council balked last week at paying $10,000 to $12,000 to “get a proper sound system” for its meetings.

City Clerk/Treasurer Carol Westergren said complaints had been received on Facebook about the poor sound quality from livestreams of meetings. She said the problem has to do with the microphone that picks up the sound.

Exploring the city’s options “with the help of our new code enforcement officer,” Westergren said to get what’s needed would be “quite expensive.”

“We have got two quotes,” she said. “One is about $10,000 to $12,000 and another one of about $10,000.”

Code Enforcement Officer James Squires said the $10,000 price included a ceiling-mounted microphone that would pick up everyone along with ceiling speakers. “We [can] get rid of all this rinky-dink sound equipment and it also includes all of the stuff for streaming.”

Squires said as far as lapel microphones with body packs, that cost would be $12,000 to $15,000.

Council member Shannon Woods said when she watched some of the livestreams, she could hear the council just fine.

“That’s just me,” Woods said. “I think for that amount of money it would be ridiculous.”

Council member Matt Dugger added that the council doesn’t meet often enough to justify the expense.

“It would be different if we were meeting once a day,” Dugger said. “We are meeting once a month.”

Dugger said he would like to find out if they could use a splitter to have multiple microphones pick up the sound.

Westergren said something needed to be done about the problem. “Either council members are going to have to speak up and say ‘it’s fine’ or we are going to have to take care of something,” she said.

“The mayor won’t be happy when I say this, but I am tired of the complaints on Facebook.

Woods repeated her comment that paying that much money was ridiculous.

Dugger added, “Tonight, I’m not wearing a mask and I think that always buffers us a little bit. I will go back and rewatch this tonight and see. If I can’t hear myself, we are going to need to do something.”

Searcy City Council adds just over $21,000 for American Legion Hut repairs after low bid over budget

The bids for renovating the exterior of the historic American Legion Hut in downtown Searcy came in more than $21,000 over budget, so the Searcy City Council on Friday morning agreed to have the city pay the overage.

“When we did the original application over a year ago, we thought that we could do the entire exterior of the American Hall for $90,000,” Main Street Searcy Executive Director Amy Burton told the council, “so with the increase of construction costs we have seen over the years, with the addition of an architect, which was required by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program due to the nature of the work done on an actual register property, we are looking at being just over $21,000 short in to being able to complete the project like we need to do, the entire exterior.”

According to Burton, the low bid came in at $97,000, which she said was substantially lower than the second lowest bid. “So obviously we want to go with that $97,000 bid,” Burton said. “And then we have in addition $14,000 in architectural fees.”

She said with the city adding to its portion, a renovation would be done on the city-owned building at 110 W. Race Ave. that would “total more than $111,000, with an investment of the city for under $30,000.”

Last July when the American Legion left the hut, it gave the city $18,000 to use toward the rehabilitation, according to Councilman Rodger Cargile. He said the city also received $6,000 from the Searcy Board of Realtors, which brought the amount to $24,000. A two-for-one matching grant with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program was applied for, with $60,000 received, meaning the city had to provide $6,000 of the $30,000 to match.

Burton told the council before it approved the added expense that she knows things are tough right now economically but it would be a value to the city to have the work done on the building.

Additionally, she said, there is an application pending for a second grant for $80,000 from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program that will allow the project to move into Phase 2 in the fall, which would be restoration of the interior of the building. The Searcy Advertising and Tourism Promotion Commission has already agreed to pay up to a $40,000 match for the grant.

Once the project is completed, Burton said the American Legion Hut could be used for public events. It also will have two usable office spaces that can be used by the city or leased out as a revenue source.

“We need to go ahead and do this in my opinion,” Councilman Don Raney said. “I would love to see the Legion Hut rehabbed completely, that part of the [White County Courthouse] square. I think we need to do this.”

Raney asked architect Barry Hoffman if he had confidence in the low bidder, Elijah Hampton Enterprises of Little Rock.

“I have checked into the low bidder,” Hoffman told Raney. “We have got a solid contract, we have bond, we are going to have insurance, all the technical things that will back him up. That is about all you can do. He actually came up to visit the project and walked around.”

Raney made the motion to fund the actual amount of $21,021.93, and it was seconded by Councilman Logan Cothern and unanimously passed.

The other bid mentioned was from Wagner General Contractors Inc. of Searcy for $161,900.

In another action at the meeting, a resolution was passed to accept a $23,000 grant with no match from the Federal Aviation Administration for the Searcy Municipal Airport. Airport Manager Roger Pearson said this grant was more of a coronavirus relief grant.

“It is not designated for one particular project,” Pearson said. “It is more designed for a financial loss. This is the second grant we have got of this nature and we will use this one just like last one. It will basically replace revenue that has been lost during the corona epidemic.”

Kensett 18-year-old officially facing charges in February mugging at Sonic

An 18-year-old from Kensett accused in a mugging at the Sonic Drive-In on Race Avenue in February officially has been charged with multiple felonies and a misdemeanor.

A warrant was issued recently at the request of the 17th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for Michael Hunter Branch on charges of class Y felony aggravated robbery with accomplice; class D felony theft of property – firearm valued at less than $2,500 with accomplice; class D felony breaking and entering with accomplice; and class A misdemeanor battery in the third degree with accomplice.

He also is facing charges of class D felony breaking and entering and class D felony theft of property – firearm for a separate incident that occurred a few days earlier.

According to an affidavit written by Searcy Police Department Detective Laurel Sexton, the armed robbery at Sonic took place Feb. 1. Officer Aaron Smith arrived at the restaurant around 7:10 p.m. to talk to the alleged victim, who reportedly said “he met a friend at Sonic to buy a 12-gauge shotgun.”

The alleged victim reportedly said he paid the friend $350 and placed the shotgun in the back of his vehicle before a dark-colored vehicle with three black men in it pulled in and “parked in front of his car, blocking him in.”

The alleged victim recognized the driver as Branch and believed him to be armed because the others with him “had guns and told him, ‘Don’t move,’” Sexton wrote. The three men then reportedly struck the alleged victim “with closed fists” and one of them got into his vehicle and took the shotgun.

The alleged victim’s injuries, “a bruised and swollen area around his right eye,” were photographed, Sexton wrote.

Surveillance footage from the restaurant reportedly corroborated the alleged victim’s statement.

The other incident occurred Jan. 28 at Waffle House on Race Avenue after 11 a.m. Branch is accused of breaking into an unlocked vehicle and stealing a loaded .38-caliber pistol.

According to the affidavit written by Sexton, Branch was identified after surveillance footage showed a man in a hoodie speaking with an employee inside the building and getting into a dark-colored sport utility vehicle after leaving. The SUV then reportedly “drives to the south exit of the parking lot,” parking behind the alleged victim’s vehicle.

More surveillance footage showed Branch open the door of the alleged victim’s vehicle and take out an object from the driver’s side before leaving the parking lot in the SUV.

The alleged victim reportedly told Officer Jason Denison that the employee “knew about the gun in the truck.”

Branch was not in custody Friday afternoon in the White County Detention Center and no court date had been set.

A warrant also was issued for Dennis Ray Swan, 40, of Searcy on charges of class D felony breaking and entering; class A misdemeanor criminal mischief in the first degree; and class A misdemeanor theft of property less than $1,000.

Swan reportedly entered the Searcy Suds laundromat on East Moore Avenue on Jan. 30, damaged a vending machine and broke into a Pac-Man video arcade machine, stealing an “unknown amount of change.”

The owner of the business identified Swan because he had broken into his business in July 2020, according to the affidavit written by Sexton. Surveillance footage from the Jan. 30 incident reportedly showed Swan “attempting to break into all the change machines, washers and dryers,” but he was successful only in getting into the Pac-Man machine, using “something that looked like a set of keys to unlock the machine.”

Around 2:39 p.m., Officer John Aska saw a man who fit the description of Swan “walking west” on West Pleasure Avenue. He reportedly had “a set of lock-pick tools, $5.25 in quarters and a red face mask” on him.

Swan also was not in custody at the White County jail Friday afternoon and no court appearance had been set.

A class C felony first-degree criminal mischief charge also officially was filed against Shay Lee Armstrong, 28, of Searcy for reportedly causing more than $5,000 in damage to two vehicles at a residence on North Hickory Street.

According to the affidavit, Armstrong, who was known by the resident, came to his house last Sept. 2 and keyed the vehicles. Video footage reportedly showed her ringing the doorbell, stepping off the porch “with an object in her hand” and “running that object along the outside” of one of the vehicles.

A driver’s license photo reportedly matched Daniel to the footage.

She also was not in the White County jail Wednesday afternoon, but is set to appear in White County Circuit Court on Tuesday at 9 a.m. for plea and arraignment.