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Covid cases continue to climb in county, state

The state of Arkansas is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases, and Lawrence County numbers are reflecting that increase, as well.

The county has seen an additional 150 cases reported in the past week, according to information released by the Arkansas Department of Health.

As of Tuesday the ADH website reported a cumulative case count among Lawrence County residents at 3,893, up from 3,743 the previous week.

In addition, the active case count made a significant jump. Tuesday’s numbers showed the county with 199 active cases, up 79 from the 120 active cases reported a week ago.

Recoveries are steady, but are not keeping up with the influx of new cases. A total of 70 were added to the recovered list during seven-day period bringing that number from 3,560 to 3,630.

One Covid-related death has also been added among Lawrence County residents during the past week, bringing that total to 64.

ADH acquires at-home tests

In December, Gov. Asa Hutchinson directed the Arkansas Department of Health to acquire 1.5 million rapid at-home tests to be available for free to Arkansas residents.

Arkansas has received the first shipment of 211,000 at-home testing kits, and the process of delivering those to the respective distribution locations will begin shortly.

Governor Hutchinson said that the cost of these tests is around $10 million and will be covered by existing funds available in the COVID response budget.

The tests will be available at local public libraries, public health units and other locations. The National Guard will be assisting in the delivery of these at-home tests.

Hadleigh Dickson, seven-year-old daughter of Jeremy and Heather Dickson of Walnut Ridge, throws a snow ball while playing with her brother, Logan (not pictured), who is 17. Both are students at Walnut Ridge School. Last week’s weather did not have any major impacts, but schools took advantage of the AMI option to avoid potential transportation issues.

Snow day

Mayor Snapp announces re-election bid

Walnut Ridge Mayor Charles Snapp has announced that he is seeking re-election in 2022. Snapp, who was first elected to the post in 2014, cited progress on multiple fronts during his time in office and said he wants to see the city’s growth continue.

“This is an exciting time to be a resident of Walnut Ridge, and it’s an exciting time to be the mayor,” Snapp said. “Watching this city’s growth over the past seven years has been one of the great joys in my life. I want to see that progress continue, and I am asking the voters of Walnut Ridge for the privilege of serving another term as their mayor.”

Snapp, a Walnut Ridge native and lifelong resident of the city, noted that building permits within the city have climbed steadily since he took office, from 18 in 2015 to 81 last year.

“Hundreds of new housing units have been built, and more are planned over the next year,” Snapp said.

The mayor noted that population and sales tax revenue are also rising.

“Walnut Ridge increased in population in the latest census, which defied the trend of so many communities around us that lost residential numbers,” he said. “On top of that, many of the homes and apartments that have been built recently were not yet occupied when the census was taken, so we are confident our actual population is quite a bit higher than what the census showed.”

Snapp said his priorities in the next term include developing the amenities that make a community attractive to prospective residents and businesses. He noted the city’s aggressive street paving program and the $500,000 in grants secured for improvements at Stewart Park.

“We have a great quality of life in Walnut Ridge, but we can’t rest where we are,” he said. “We have to continue developing Stewart Park as a destination where people of all ages can enjoy outdoor activities. We will continue to work with developers to encourage the construction of houses and apartments. We are making Walnut Ridge a very attractive option as a bedroom community for larger cities like Jonesboro, because this is a great place to raise a family.”

The mayor also pointed to continued development of downtown Walnut Ridge as a priority, noting that a vibrant downtown is another amenity that attracts families to a city.

Snapp said he looks forward to making his case for another term over the coming year, noting that he is at a good time in his life to pour his energies into continued service as mayor.

“Jackie and I are blessed to be in the position we’re in,” he said. “We have made several transitions in our businesses recently that will enable us to do more things we enjoy. The fact is, being mayor is one of those things I enjoy. I love this job and the people of this community. There is more work to do and more that I want to get done. I’m excited about seeking another term.”

Elections for municipal offices in Walnut Ridge will be part of the general election ballot in November.

Harris seeking re-election as tax collector

Lawrence County Tax Collector Stephanie Harris has formally announced that she will seek re-election this year.

Harris is currently in her eighth term as tax collector, having started in the office as a deputy collector in 1998.

“I have enjoyed working with the public for the past 24 years and hope that the public will continue to let me do so,” she said. “I have undertaken the duties of my office in an honest and professional manner and wish to continue serving as your tax collector.

Harris and her husband, Brandon, live in Lynn, and they have two children, Tyler and Levi.

Holder announces bid for re-election

Becky Holder has formally announced she will be seeking re-election for a third term as Lawrence County Assessor.

Holder began her first term in 2017, but she has been with the assessor’s office for 36 years.

“I have enjoyed serving as your assessor, and I hope you will continue to let me do so,” she said. “I have undertaken the duties of my office in an honest and professional manner. I also want to recognize my staff, as they make the office run smooth and efficient.”

Holder resides in Walnut Ridge with her family.

Sloan to lead Craighead Electric

The Board of Directors of Craighead Electric Cooperative named Jeremiah Sloan as the new chief executive officer of the corporation earlier this week.

Board Chairman Terry Rorex stated, “We are excited to announce Jeremiah Sloan as the newly appointed CEO of Craighead Electric. Sloan will succeed Brian Duncan following his retirement in March.”

Sloan has been with CECC since 2016 and held the roles of engineer, manager of fiber assets, and chief operating officer of Empower, Delivered by Craighead Electric, which provides broadband internet access to customers of the cooperative.

In an interview with The Sun, Sloan said the work completed by Empower to provide broadband access is the type of work that drives him.

“From our first customer in March of 2017, to passing our 11,000th customer a few months ago, it is such a pleasure and honor to be able to provide that service to our membership,” he said. “I think that is really what attracted me to work for a cooperative – their ability to impact rural communities.”

Prior to joining CECC, Sloan spent six years as an officer in the United States Air Force. While serving on active duty, he functioned as a development engineer and a professor of aerospace studies. He was responsible for the acquisition, development and deployment of combat identification and communications systems for the Department of Defense and led Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps programs at the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville.

Sloan’s educational background includes a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Kentucky, a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Tennessee State University, a graduate certificate in power and energy from the Power and Energy Institute of Kentucky and completion of the Robert I Kabat Management Internship Program.

“I am honored to be selected as the next CEO of Craighead Electric,” Sloan stated. “I look forward to the opportunity to serve the member/owners of Craighead Electric, and it is very exciting to be able to lead an exceptional group of employees into the future.”

Sloan and his wife, Blythe, have four boys, Atlas, Everest, Cypress and Sparrow, and they live in Portia.

He is a 2005 graduate of Black Rock High School, as is his wife.

“I married the valedictorian,” he said. “I was the salutatorian.”

He said it was Blythe who first asked him out, and the two both left Lawrence County to pursue their educations. He studied at Tennessee State, while she went to Vanderbilt.

The family enjoys traveling, gardening, bicycling and snow skiing. Sloan said coming returning home has been a blessing.

“It’s been great getting to come back home and work at Craighead Electric where our focus is on the communities,” he said. “Our two older boys are in school at Walnut Ridge. Our roots run strong in Lawrence County.”

Duncan announced his retirement in August of 2021 with an effective date of March 28, 2022. Duncan has served the Cooperative for over 43 years.

He has fulfilled many roles since first hired in 1978. He has worked as a right-of-way crew member, apprentice lineman, staking engineer, district manager, key account manager, manager of member services, and vice president of corporate services before fulfilling his current position as CEO in 2007.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve alongside such a dedicated group of employees at Craighead Electric, and I’ve had a great opportunity to watch Craighead Electric become a premier service provider in our state and region,” Duncan said. “God has allowed me to do what I’d always dreamed of doing, and His blessings on my life are truly amazing.”

Sloan said he is looking forward to the future of CECC, noting that it is an interesting time with solar energy opportunities, electric cars and broadband service.

“I think we want to continue to evaluate how we provide the highest level of service possible,” he said. “That service is going to continue to extend beyond electricity.”

He said he appreciates the board’s trust in him.

“I relish this opportunity and look forward to serving the members,” he said. “It’s an honor; it really is.”

Redistricting ballot initiative proposed

While two lawsuits challenging Arkansas’ legislative redistricting plan work their way through federal court, a new effort has begun to change the process.

A coalition of Arkansas community groups called People Not Politicians (PNP) announced a new campaign last week to take the process out of the hands of elected officials and create a Citizens’ Redistricting Commission tasked with redrawing district maps.

In order to qualify for the November 2022 ballot, the group will need to collect 89,151 valid signatures from registered voters in at least 15 counties.

Loriee Evans, group spokeswoman, said creation of the commission would help assure fair representation.

“We all know that voters should choose their politicians, but the current system allows politicians to pick their voters. Shifting power back to the people in order to end partisan gerrymandering is an important first step in fixing the problems in our state,” Evans said in a news release.

Attorney David Couch, who wrote the proposed amendment, said the measure is essentially the same initiative that was attempted in 2020, which was thrown out by the Arkansas Supreme Court “on a technicality.”

“We were successful in collecting over 100,000 signatures then, and I feel confident that we will do it again,” Couch said in the release.

While the proposal won’t affect redistricting already approved for this year’s election, if voters approve the measure, the commission would redraw congressional and state House and Senate lines for the 2024 election.

The commission would be composed of nine members: three Republicans, three Democrats and three members with other or no political party affiliation. Additionally, the measure prohibits participation by current and former political operatives, lobbyists and elected officials.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky has scheduled a hearing for Jan. 27 on a request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from using the maps adopted last year for this year’s election.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas filed suit last week on behalf of the Arkansas State Conference NAACP and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel. The complaint challenged the new House district boundaries approved by the Arkansas Board of Apportionment. The three-member board includes Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Secretary of State John Thurston, all Republicans. The U.S. and state constitutions require drawing new legislative maps based on information from the U.S. Census every 10 years.

A trial in another lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Christian Ministerial Alliance is scheduled to begin Jan. 18.

Victor Hill, a former circuit judge in the 2nd Judicial District in Northeast Arkansas, is scheduled to testify in that case, which claims that state-elected officials have worked to dilute the voting strength of minority voters.

Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said in an interview published by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette she favors a non-partisan redistricting process such as the one proposed by People Not Politicians.