Walmart Foundation director expected to receive executive nomination

The Obama Administration is expected to go the Walmart way when it nominates Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the Walmart Foundation, to head up the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. According to numerous sources, cited by Talk Business, the announcement is expected to occur today.

Burwell will replace Jeffrey Zients, who has been the interim director for more than a year. She came to the Walmart Foundation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton Administration and worked for a short time in the U.S. Department of Treasury.

The Walmart Foundation confirmed the nomination in a statement on Sunday.

“We congratulate Sylvia on her nomination by President Obama to be director of the Office of Management and Budget,” said Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke. “Sylvia is a strong leader who both masters the details and has a clear vision for making big things happen. She cares deeply about people and has natural personal warmth that enables her to build relationships and drive results that deliver impact. She understands business and the role that business, government and civil society must play to build a strong economy that provides opportunity and strengthens communities across the country. Sylvia does a great job leading the Walmart Foundation, and if confirmed by the Senate, will do a tremendous job serving our country.”

Posted in Business, By Allison Gatlin, Money, News, Politics | 1 Comment

El Dorado braces for colder weekend temperatures

Those hoping the changeover from February to March would give some winter weather reprieve will be sorely disappointed this weekend as temperatures continue to plummet into the 20s, according to the National Weather Service.

Heading into Saturday, the high is estimated for the high 40s with a low slated for 26. Sunday shows only a slight increase in temperatures to a high of 55 and a low of 37.

On the bright side (pun intended) sunny skies are anticipated throughout the weekend, darkened by cloudy skies and a 20 percent chance of rain on Monday.

That weather, however, comes with the caveat of higher temperatures into the 60s.

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Promise expands to include non-resident students

The El Dorado Promise is expanding the parameters for eligibility to the scholarship program to include non-resident El Dorado Public Schools students, according to a release from Magen Olive, of the Murphy Oil Corporation.

Effective with the May 2013 graduating class, students who attend El Dorado Public Schools and meet all other requirements but live in neighboring areas will also be eligible to receive the Promise. The removal of the previous residency requirement allows students transferring to El Dorado Public Schools via school choice to apply for the scholarship as a non-resident.

Seventy-five students who currently attend an El Dorado school as a non-resident are immediately eligible for the Promise as a result of the announcement.

Other requirements remain the same and include graduation from El Dorado High School and continuous attendance to an El Dorado school since 9th grade.

The announcement comes days before registration for the upcoming school year on March 4 and 5 at 200 W. Oak.

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House overrides Beebe’s abortion ban veto

In a completely anticipated move, the Arkansas House of Representatives overrode a gubernatorial veto that would have defeated a measure to ban abortions at 20 weeks.

The so-called “fetal pain” bill has received huge attention across the state as the new Republican majority in the Legislature and Democrat Gov. Mike Beebe swing back and forth on the issue. Although the matter passed with ease in the House and Senate, Beebe shot it down with a veto days later.

According to Arkansas News
, the House voted again on the matter today, passing the legislation again with a vote of 53-28. Only 51 votes were needed for the majority in the House. If the matter goes to the Senate, only 18 votes will be needed for the measure to become law.

Accompanying the 20-week ban, the Legislature is still contending with changes to the 12-week abortion ban, which would make illegal any abortions performed after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

Beebe has openly opposed both pieces of legislation, stating they’ll ultimately prove unconstitutional.

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House speaker proposals $150 million in tax cuts

Arkansans could reap the benefits of more than $150 million in tax cuts if House Speaker Davy Carter has anything to say about it.

Carter (R-Cabot) asked the House Revenue and Taxation Committee today to come up with proposals for tax cuts, which he said the state can afford to balance by trimming the same amount in spending, according to the Associated Press.

He made no comment on the proposals he will personally back.

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Sequestration estimated to have a $920 million economic productivity impact in Arkansas

Eleventh-hour opportunities to spare the nation the economic impact of sequestration are thinning as both chambers of Legislature work on proposals that would replace the $85 billion in federally-mandated across-the-board cuts.

In Arkansas, cuts are expected to signify a $920 million economic productivity loss and could put 1,950 Arkansan jobs on the line, according to a study by George Mason University.

Broken down, approximately 900 accounts will receive cuts — excepting Medicaid, Social Security, Food Stamps, veteran benefits and federal transportation — comprised of 9.4 percent defense and 8.2 percent domestic spending, according to Arkansas News.

In Arkansas, the biggest cuts will be felt by the Pine Bluff Arsenal ($23 million), public education ($26 million) and research at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences ($12.2 million).

Rural airports will feel the hit as traffic control towers in Fort Smith, Springdale, Fayetteville and Rogers are slated for closure and poultry processing plants are on edge at a proposed $2 billion USDA reduction that could necessitate furloughs.

“These furlough could result in as much as 15 days of lost production, costing roughly over $10 billion in production losses, and industry workers would experience over $400 million in lost wages,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Democrat Sen. Mark Pryor predicted the 15-day closures would result in 3.3 billion pounds of chicken and 2 billion pounds of egg products unprocessed, causing a strain on the food supply and upping prices unilaterally.

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Officials backpedal on FedEx deal saying it’s still under negotiation

El Dorado Mayor Frank Hash may have spoken a bit too soon when he revealed during Thursday’s El Dorado Civitan Club meeting that a FedEx facility would soon be built on Champagnolle Road near Therma-Flite.

Negotiations have been underway since November, however, a contract has yet to be signed, said Henry Florsheim, El Dorado Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer.

He would make no comment on the size of the facility, the number of jobs anticipated or whether it would replace the 1908 W. Hillsboro FedEx store.

The FedEx project is in the hands of the Union County Industrial Board which played a pivotal role in bringing Therma-Flite to the area by releasing a parcel of land in 2011 on Champagnolle for its construction. As part of the $1.6 million deal, the city owns and will lease the building to Therma-Flite for five years after which the business will have the option of purchase.

No word yet from Hash on FedEx negotiations.

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Abortion ban goes to governor

The Arkansas House of Representatives is forcing Gov. Mike Beebe to put his money where his mouth is when it comes to constitutional worries over a pair of bills that would ban abortions at 20 and 12 weeks, according to Arkansas News.

With the inclusion of exceptions in the cases of rape or incest — in addition to the original exception for danger to the mother’s life or irreversible impairment to the mother — the House passed 80-10 on the “fetal pain” bill.

According to the bill’s language, abortions at the point a fetus can feel pain, which the author contests is at 20 weeks, would become prohibited.

No word yet on whether Beebe expects to sign the bill into law.

Also in contention currently is the 12-week ban which would criminalize abortions at the point a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

Originally a Senate bill, the House passed the measure with exclusions for endangerment and early detection of fatal fetal disabilities. It will now go back to the Senate for approval before it can pass the governor’s desk.

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Entergy prepares for wide-sweeping outages

As of 3:50 p.m. Wednesday only 114 customers statewide were without power — two in Union County — but that doesn’t mean Entergy Arkansas isn’t preparing for wide-sweeping outages following a line of ice and thunderstorms across the state Wednesday night and Thursday.

According to a release from Entergy, the utility company has secured an additional 1,000 line, vegetation and scout workers expected for arrival Wednesday evening. Other workers are preparing by double checking equipment and studying line maps.

Despite a brief sleeting around lunch time, El Dorado is likely to escape the icier weather falling on Central and North Arkansas with precipitation only predicted to be 40 percent for Wednesday and 80 percent for Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

Friday, on the other hand, is expected to dawn with sunshine and a high nearing 60 degrees.

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Wildcat Drive shut down as crews plug gas leak

Responders with CenterPoint Energy are currently working to plug a gas leak caused by contractors laying orange pipe at Timberlane and Wildcat drives, according to officials with the El Dorado Police and El Dorado Fire departments.

They emphasize there is no danger to students at the nearby El Dorado High School or to vehicles passing by, however, currently the only access to the school is by Parnell Road. Wildcat Drive is closed although Timberlane traffic continues to move smoothly, according to a photographer at the scene.

The El Dorado Fire Department is on hand to monitor air quality.

More in tomorrow’s News-Times.

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Shepherd files proposed constitutional amendments

Among the five proposals submitted ahead of Wednesday’s deadline, Rep. Matthew Shepherd (R-El Dorado) included one that would redefine Arkansas Supreme Court positions as appointed rather than elected seats.

If passed HJR1005 would alter the Arkansas Constitution to allow the governor to appoint the seven justices to the Supreme Court. The court of appeals judges, however, would remain elected positions.

According to the proposal, “When a vacancy in the position of Justice of the Supreme Court occurs or is certain to occur, the Judicial Nominating Commission shall choose and submit to the Governor and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court three nominees, each of whom has previously notified the commission in writing that he or she will serve as a Justice of the Supreme Court if appointed.”

If the governor fails to appoint a nominee within 60 days, the decision then reverts to the chief justice.

Other bills filed by Shepherd include HJR1011, HJR1012, HJR1013 and HJR1014, all of which are shell bills — with details to be filled in at a later time — and deal with the judicial department, the Supreme Court and civil litigation.

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OEM director found deceased at residence

Union County Coroner Curtis Butterfield confirmed that the Jerry Thomas found deceased at his El Dorado residence this morning by family members was in fact THE Jerry Thomas, former El Dorado Fire Department assistant chief and current director of the Union County Office of Emergency Management.

Thomas, who was 60, likely suffered a heart attack, Butterfield said. His death has been deemed natural and his body won’t be sent to the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory for autopsy.

Prior to his appointment to the Office of Emergency Management in July 2010, Thomas worked as a truck driver for Union County — a position for which both Union County Judge Mike Loftin and former Union County Judge Bobby Edmonds agreed he was was vastly overqualified.

A 27-year veteran of the El Dorado Fire Department, Thomas was first hired on as an officer in 1976. In 1982, 1985 and 1989 he was thrice promoted, finally landing in the position of assistant chief, which he retained until his retirement in February 2003.

For more, see tomorrow’s News-Times.

Posted in By Allison Gatlin, Family, Health, News | 1 Comment

House passes bill to reward whistle blowers on fraud and waste

Augmenting ethics reform and the state’s online open checkbook — both of which became realities after the 2011 general session — the Arkansas House of Republicans passed a bill today to offer cash rewards to state government employees who blow the whistle on government waste and fraud.

According to Arkansas News, the bill passed in a 65-21 vote and would entitle state government employees who report waste and fraud to 10 percent of the amount of money they saved the state.

The matter will now go before the Senate.

Rep. John Catlett, D-Rover, argued against the bill’s implementation, calling it a burden to the state and saying there are always methods of rewarding employees in use.

Rep. Jim Nickels, D-Sherwood, on the other hand, defended the measure, reasoning that it would empower employees to put a little more balance in the system.

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Claiborne Parish severs historical agreement with Junction City

Claiborne Parish, La., officials announced Tuesday their intention of scrapping the 70-plus-year agreement that allows Louisiana students to attend school in Junction City, according to minutes of the most recent Junction City School Board meeting.

The agreement was historically put into place to ease travel frustrations for students in the Claiborne Parish School District but living closer to the Junction City School District, JCSD Superintendent Danny Thomas told the News-Times in May 2012 when CPSD first revealed their budgeting issues.

Although the Intergovernmental Agreement was extended another year at that time, an estimated $1.5 million debt (tallied in May 2012) prompted Louisiana officials to sever the agreement effective at the end of this school year.

Officials last met in September 2012 when CPSD Superintendent Janice Williams said she would need to wait until student population estimates were available the next month before she could make a decision about continuing the agreement.

More in tomorrow’s News-Times.

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Milbank employees ratify contract, return to work

Unionized Milbank Manufacturing employees returned to work at 6 a.m. this morning, according to Dale McCoy, an international representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Worker of Local Union 2284.

Their return marked the end to a five-day long lockout that began when the union refused to ratify a new contract before the midnight Feb. 6 deadline. They cited issues in their health insurance premiums and the attendance policy.

On Monday, the union ratified a new contract, McCoy said. Neither McCoy, nor a representative for Lavon Winkler, Milbank chief executive officer, would comment on whether the employees’ complaints had been resolved in the new three-year contract.

More in tomorrow’s News-Times.

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