OPINION

The Flatlander

Behind The Week's Headlines

Posted

Let’s catch up on a few stories behind the stories -- items that didn’t make the headlines above the fold in recent weeks.

A recent phone interview with Mountain View Band Director Blake Henley sort of caught me off guard.
When Leader News Editor Lori Freeze asked me to reach out to Henley about a trip the band will make to Washington next spring I was admittedly less then excited. But it is a newsworthy item, and timely with the upcoming Veteran’s Day holiday, so Henley and I scheduled a call for a mid-week mid-afternoon.

Henley is an interesting guy, and the more you get to know him, the more interesting he becomes.
Our conversation momentarily reminded me of a speech I once heard. At seven minutes and a few seconds, it is billed as the shortest commencement speech in Arkansas State University’s history. Home-state-native and best-selling author John Grisham offered these (paraphrased) words at Arkansas State early in his career:

Go. Leave. Get out of Arkansas. Travel all you can. Arkansas is a great place to call home and you can always come back, but it’s important to go and see what else is out there.

Grisham’s speech with that singular message lasted just more than seven minutes. It wasn’t exactly what all the thousands of parents expected.

Henley channeled John Grisham in our phone interview about the band trip last week. I found myself captivated by the sincerity and passion he expressed about what a great opportunity this is for the students.

Not only will the band play at an important memorial – four students will be chosen to place a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“For some of them it will be an interesting trip and opportunity to do and see things they’ve never done and seen before, but for others, this will be a life-changing experience – something they will never forget and walking and ground that not many others get to walk on,” Henley said.
Henley’s commitment to exposing his students to experiences like this is commendable. What is more commendable even, is his commitment that no one gets left behind. It will cost about $850 for each of the 48 band students to make the trip.

When the band made this trip four years ago community groups, civic organizations, parent employers and other individuals came together and raised enough money so that no student was out of pocket any personal money with the exception of items like gifts or souviners.

Henley’s resolute tone about repeating that feat and ensuring his students the experience to visit Washington honestly made me admire him all the more.

It’s great seeing educators like this who go above and beyond. Henley is a real community asset.

•••

Justice of the Peace Stan Townsend may never get enough credit for his excellent work during the last two weeks. At least, Townsend, who serves as the Stone County Quorum Court’s Budget Committee chairman, put together a 2022 budget that serves every department well. At most, his work led the way to averting a major county crisis.

JPs were caught off guard three weeks ago when jailers said their $11 per hour salaries weren’t enough to keep workers on staff. At full staff, the jail employs 13 jailers and two weeks ago that number was perilously close to five. It would have created an unmanageable situation at the jail where deputies would have been called in off patrol routes to fill in the gaps. It was a major problem, it was sudden, and it was completely unknown how it would be resolved.
Townsend ramped up the process for presenting next year’s budget to the court and in the process discovered more than $300,000 in unanticipated revenues. It presented an opportunity the court hadn’t seen in a decade, he said.

Now, these things normally move very slow. In three weeks, Townsend dug deep, discovered a solution, sold the package to the court and satisfied county employees across the board.
It was amazing work, and right on time.

•••

The proposed redistricting lines for Stone County’s representation in the Arkansas General Assembly are bad news for the future and getting things done here.

Bottom line? If approved, we would go from having one state senator to three; and from two state representatives to four.

At face value that may sound like a great deal. Who wouldn’t want more representation in a legislative body.

What it really means is that consensus becomes more difficult, and it takes more effort getting more bodies in the room. When it comes to getting things like highway improvements and tourism grants and infrastructure development up and moving, it’s a lot easier for a single effective legislator to make it happen than it is for six.

County officials may ask for some reconsideration to the new lines. Actually getting them changed is unlikely.

•••

See you in next week’s newspaper.

(Steve Watkins is a writer/columnist for the Stone County Leader. Write him at steve@stonecountyleader.com)

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