Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Hmong pot farmer shot and killed by Siskiyou County law enforcement amidst fire evacuation

I blogged yesterday about the "officer involved shooting" of a white teen in Arkansas.  Another incident of law enforcement killing a person in a rural setting is in the headlines today, this one out of Siskiyou County, California, population 44,900.  The Siskiyou sheriff's department said the man pointed a gun at officers.  Here's an excerpt from the Sacramento Bee's coverage:    

Four officers shot and killed a man after he fired a gun at them as they tried to stop a vehicle at the entrance to a large complex of cannabis farms under evacuation Monday evening from the 13,330-acre Lava Fire in Siskiyou County, the sheriff said Tuesday.

The officers tried to stop a man at the Mount Shasta Vista subdivision after the fire crossed Highway 97 north of Weed, Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue said. The 1,641-lot subdivision has been converted into a massive network of marijuana grows run primarily by Hmong families.  [The man shot and killed by officers was Hmong]

“They made contact with the driver. And at some point, the driver exhibited a firearm, a handgun, and pointed it at the officers,” LaRue told The Sacramento Bee.

The eyewitness report of a firefighter at the scene seems to contradict the law enforcement account. A resident who lived near the shooting said he heard about 60 rounds fired.  And here's more context from the Bee report:
The shooting comes in the wake of the sheriff’s office aggressively enforcing local ordinances seeking to eliminate the massive proliferation of marijuana farms in the rural county along the Oregon border. Siskiyou County has banned large-scale cannabis cultivation.
* * *
The growers, most of them of Hmong and Chinese descent, have accused local authorities of racial discrimination, and they’re pursuing a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The county disputes that their crackdown has been racially motivated, citing a rise of violent crime and unsafe living conditions inside the grows.

A recent post about the marijuana business in the area is here, based on a New York Times feature on nearby Weed, California.    

The Etna Police Department has reported that its officers were involved in the incident.  Etna, population 737, is west of !-5, but their officers had been east of I-5--an hour's drive from home--assisting with fire evacuation and other related public safety needs.   

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Rural teen shot by law enforcement during puzzling traffic stop. What does it tell us about race and rural law enforcement?

 A 17-year-old man was killed by a sheriff's deputy in Cabot, Arkansas a few days ago.  I first saw the story reported by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.   Here's what Ashton Eley reported on June 24, when this was the lead story on the website: 

A Lonoke County deputy shot and killed a 17-year-old early Wednesday during a traffic stop near Cabot, authorities said.

Hunter Brittain of McRae was driving a truck on Arkansas 89 just south of Cabot when he was stopped by Sgt. Michael Davis of the Lonoke County sheriff's office. The stop "ended in a shooting incident," according to a news release from the Arkansas State Police, which is investigating.

About 6 p.m., the crowd of protesters demanded answers about Brittain's death, chanting "Justice for Hunter," a phrase that also was displayed on signs and white T-shirts worn by many outside the sheriff's office.

Brittain's uncles, Jesse and Harley Brittain, said their nephew was trying to fix the transmission on his truck at Mahoney's Body Shop near Cabot. At the time of the stop, they said he was test-driving it so he could go to his construction job the next day. Another 17-year-old boy was with Hunter Brittain at the time of the shooting, family members said.

The crowd chanted several times "No Justice, No Peace" -- a slogan associated with protests against racial injustice and police brutality.

Harley Brittain [Hunter's uncle] said demonstrators planned to return today and possibly Friday, as well. He said they held the event for Hunter Brittain, who was white, but also because of police violence around the nation.

"It's happening everywhere. It's happening all the time. This is close to home. This is family," he said. "We're about to light a fire under this whole thing. We're not stopping here."

I thought the implicit reference to Black Lives Matter was interesting, and I wondered if BLM protestors--including Black protestors--were coming to Lonoke County to protest.  

Then, today, I saw that Vice had picked up the story.  Here's how they frame it: 

Early on June 23, before Davis stopped Hunter, an aspiring NASCAR driver from McRae, Arkansas [population 682, in neighboring White County], the teen had been fixing up his truck so he could make it to work on time, Jesse Brittain said.

Hunter had just fixed his transmission and taken the truck out for a test drive when Davis pulled him over, according to the teen riding with Hunter and his uncle’s knowledge of the incident.

“The shifting linkage in the truck was messed up, so when they pulled up, the truck was rolling back,” Jesse Brittain told VICE News.

That’s why Hunter went to get the antifreeze.

After Davis fired, Hunter “sustained a gunshot wound and was transported to a North Little Rock hospital, where he later died,” the Arkansas State Police said in a short statement last week.

Jordan King, the teen with Hunter the night of the incident, told local ABC affiliate KATV that Davis didn’t say anything to Hunter before shooting him. Another deputy showed up and handcuffed King for hours, though Jesse Brittain said the teen, who’s also a family member, was never charged with any crime.

“All they were doing was working on the truck,” Jesse Brittain said.

Rebecca Payne, Hunter’s grandmother and his guardian at the time, told VICE News that authorities have told her little about what happened to her grandson. It wasn’t even the sheriff’s office that told her Hunter had been shot, but other people who were at the property where he was killed, she said.

“I guess I don’t trust any police right now,” Payne said. “Won’t nobody tell us anything. The body hasn’t been released. None of the information has been released to us. We’ve been told a lot of different things.”

Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley said in a video statement posted to his office’s Facebook page last week that “like everyone, I want to know exactly what happened.” He added that Arkansas State Police will investigate and that his office has provided the agency with body-cam footage, though it’s unclear how much of the incident was captured. The family has not seen any body-cam video.

The story references a Tweet storm that went viral, which is here: 

The bio for "Read Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler" is: 

All of this reminds me of my earlier post from about a year ago regarding what we should do when law enforcement behave badly toward relatively powerless whites.  In this case, Hunter may have been lacking power because he was without parents, under the care of his grandmother.  Does that mean he was poor?  perhaps?  also, he was from a rural part of neighboring county.  The deputy who shot him was from an exurban county that is part of the Little Rock metro area.  White County is one more ring out from that, a micropolitan county, but also part of the Little Rock-North Little Rock Metropolitan Area. 

P.S.  On June 30, 2021, KATV based in Little Rock reported that the Brittain family has engaged the same lawyers who represented George Floyd's family, including Benjamin Crump.  That story featured this from Moesha Foreman, apparently the Black woman shown in the video clip at the KATV link: 

Moesha Foreman didn’t know Hunter but met Scott Hendrickson, who is family friends with the Brittains, in passing at a gas station. She decided to join the Justice for Hunter movement.

“I’ve been to protest Black Lives Matter, all lives matter. I’ve been to all the protests and it’s just got to stop,” Foreman said.

She said regardless of what color you are or who you are, you should not be shot down by those paid to protect and serve you.

“You have other actions to go by. You have (a) taser, pepper spray. You have other options to go by before you can take a person’s life,” Foreman said.
To this, I sent this Tweet, which referenced the blog post above: 

And that is close enough in theme (cross-racial coalition building) to this from a few days ago that I'll post this here, too: 

Nostalgia for the rural, farming in China

Here's the story from the New York Times,  "At this Instagram Hotspot, All the World's a Stage (the the Buffalo's a Prop).

The morning mist was still thick between the banyan trees when the farmer appeared in the clearing, an ax slung over his shoulder as he led a water buffalo on a rope leash. In the slanting sunlight, unhurried and companionable, the two picked their way through the undergrowth, a vision of the rural idyll.

Then, when the farmer reached the other end of the clearing, he turned and began his trek again. And again. And again, in a constant loop.

“Come over here a bit!” called out one photographer on the edge of the glade in southeastern China.

“That’s the way!” said another photographer, shouting out directions and encouragement.

“OK, no need to walk anymore!”

With that, the visitors called it a wrap, satisfied they had gotten the perfect photographs of the bucolic scene.

Be sure to click through to the story so you can enjoy the photos.   It seems that people--and I don't think this is limited to the Chinese--want to dream about/fantasize/fetishize/feel connected to where their food is coming from.  The story's subhead speaks volumes in this regard:  "Photographers are flocking to a rural county in southeastern China for its quaint scenes of farmers and fishermen — made to order."

Monday, June 28, 2021

Nudges from farmer/Senator Tester on the bipartisan infrastructure bill

By this account from Politico, Senator Jon Tester--the only farmer in the Senate--played a critical role in brokering the bi-partisan infrastructure bill that was announced last week.  Here's the story's lede:  

Nearly every day over the last week, Jon Tester insisted that the Senate’s latest bipartisan alliance had to seal an infrastructure deal before the next morning. After several whiffs, his nudges paid off.

With talks among his group and President Joe Biden moving along sluggishly, the burly Montana farmer had a plan in mind as he repeatedly urged his colleagues — publicly and privately — to wrap things up.

“You have to push positive vibes if you’re going to get a positive result,” Tester explained of his strategy. “You’ve got to talk about success if you’re going to achieve success.”

This communications strategy is one Tester touted in his book, Grounded, which I reviewed here.  See the last chapter, with the "to do" list for Democrats, which suggests that framing and language matter.  

Sunday, June 27, 2021

A rural Nevada travelogue, on foot

This is from today's Las Vegas Review Journal, as reported by John Glionna.  The headline is "A Wild Walk Across Rural Nevada.

Eric Poulin noticed it early on: rural Nevadans rarely paused when they spotted him and his backpack along paved roads, but they always stopped on the more neighborly dirt tracks.

That’s how he encountered the old rancher, who slowed his diesel pickup as Poulin trudged west between the Monitor and Toquima mountain ranges near the town of Belmont.

When locals encounter pedestrians way out there, they’re usually in trouble, their vehicles disabled somewhere nearby. They need water, directions, medical assistance or at least a lift to the nearest telephone.

Poulin needed none of that. Sure, he’d take a bottle of cold water if you had one to spare or, better yet, a cheeseburger, but he was just fine, thank you.

When the rancher asked where he was headed, the 38-year-old Michigan native described a circuitous, half-mad 950-mile expedition across some 17 mountain ranges in central Nevada, a scant part of the route along established trails.

Poulin was bushwhacking across a veritable lost world, through hidden box canyons, seas of prickly sagebrush, dead-tree thickets and imposing walls of thorns. He’d been disappointed by numerous false mountaintop peaks, discovered places where only wild horses make the trails. He slept cowboy-style under wondrous star-filled skies you didn’t see back home in Michigan.

And he was recording it all on video, plotting the coordinates of a new route he christened the “Basin and Range Trail,” so that other intrepid through-hikers might one day follow in his footsteps.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

On rurality's lack of anonymity in relation to controversy over "critical race theory"

A few days ago, Terry Gross of NPR's "Fresh Air" interviewed an NBC reporter, Tyler Kingkade, who has been studying local resistance to teaching "Critical Race Theory" (CRT) in public schools.  I found this part, which presumes to say something about rural America, of particular interest.  

In a lot of these [places], [protests against teaching CRT] are getting to be pretty aggressive. And most of these disputes that we've seen and looked at are taking place in smaller towns or in suburbs. So this is not happening generally in the center of large cities. It's happening in places where everyone knows everyone. And so it gets very personal very quickly. We talked to folks in one town in Cumberland, Maine [population 7211], where one of the lead activists against critical race theory has put up photos of school board members on his front lawn, billboard-sized photos, and then allegedly booby trapped them so that no one would take it down and displayed Christmas lights over them. We've seen - in Loudoun County, Va. [population 413,000, suburban and exurban to Washington, DC], they just announced that they're going to be driving around a mobile billboard on one of those small trucks with a school board member's face on it as part of their efforts to get that school board member recalled.  (emphasis added) 

Kingkade suggests that rural lack of anonymity--what rural sociologists often call a "high density of acquaintanceship"--is driving the dynamic.  I've been thinking for a while that peer pressure influences our political views and pushes us further to the right or the left, depending on where we live.  I've gotten a lot of pushback on that notion, but this story supports my hunch:  peer pressure is at play in politics, and it may matter more in rural-ish places where folks cannot easily move into another social group. 

Another terrific aspect of this particular reporting on CRT is that it grapples with defining critical race theory and acknowledges ambiguity about meaning of CRT is contributing to the controversy.  I've been thinking lots about this myself.  Here are some salient quotes:     

GROSS:  Critical race theory is the study of systemic racism, but this movement has included the study of equity issues, about equality, under this umbrella. This movement has led to the ousting of school board members accused of supporting teaching critical race theory and the drafting of legislation to ban teaching it.
* * * 
[KINGKADE] And I think that's one of the things here that's going on is, like, there's a rush to define it, to associate critical race theory with a negative implication before anyone else can hear about it and say, well, I've heard about critical race theory and I don't really care about it, I don't mind it. But if you can introduce it, and this first time a parent hears about it, they hear about something bad happening, then maybe they'll remember that later when it's brought up as just sort of a key word that they listen to on the campaign trail in - later in 2021 for some states like Virginia, or in 2022, when we have midterm elections in Congress.

GROSS: It's such a confusing issue for some people because what's being taught in the schools isn't critical race theory, because critical race theory is something that pertains to the university level. It's, you know, it's an academic pursuit. It's not something you're going to learn in kindergarten or sixth grade or seventh grade. But the idea of racism and equity is something that is being introduced in schools. But that's not the language that the opposition is using. They're not saying we're against children learning that there's racism in American history. So do you think that the way this conservative movement is positioning and describing CRT is misleading?  

Another thoughtful perspective on the controversy over teaching CRT is here.  

Friday, June 25, 2021

Rural lawyer shortage continues to attract attention

This post can be chalked up to the shameless self promotion department, but this post is to celebrate that "Legal Deserts:  A Multi-State Perspective on Rural Access to Justice" (2018) has been downloaded 1000 times.  It's been my most downloaded article--though it's a relatively recent one--for some time.  And to be clear, it's not just "my" article; I wrote it with Amanda Kool, Michele Statz, Danielle Conway, Lauren Sudeall, and Hannah Haksgaard. 

As you can see from the screenshot of my page, my other most "popular" articles are some of my earliest rural scholarship (from 2007 and 2008), about gender.  One commonality among these three articles is that I (and my colleagues) were writing to existing communities of scholars, in the first instance access-to-justice scholars/scholars of the legal profession and, in the second, feminist legal scholars. 

I've always thought that downloads and citation counts are silly metrics for scholarly success, but they are metrics that nevertheless increasingly dominate the legal academy.  In that sense, I guess, law and rural livelihoods has made a breakthrough as evidenced by these 1000 downloads. Paying attention to the rural lawyer shortage is a huge part of that success.  I didn't anticipate that when I accepted the invitation of the South Dakota Law Review to participate in their 2013 symposium (thank you Kelsea Kenzy Sutton, symposium editor), but that event, which sent me down this path of investigating the rural lawyer shortage, has made a big difference.  

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CXXXII)/Coronavirus in rural America (Part CXL): More on federal COVID relief funds flowing into county

The May 19, 2021 edition of the NewtonCounty Times sheds some light on the issue I blogged about a few days ago:  how can and will federal COVID-19 relief funds--$1.5 million coming into the county--be spent?  

The story reports that Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has established the American Rescue Plan Steering Committee, which is comprised of eight state cabinet officials or their designees, along with three state senators and three state representatives. The committee will guide an executive/legislative effort to manage funding from the federal American Rescue Plan.  

The total amount coming into the state is $5 billion or $1.57 billion, depending on which sentence of the news story one credits.  

Re federal restrictions on the funding, the governor said, having read the U.S. Treasury regulations, "The purposes are very broad.  There's a lot of flexibility."  His comments continued: 

This is such a unique time that it's important that we proceed through this in a planned fashion, that we proceed through it in a coordinated way in coordination with our city and county counterparts that receive separate funds and that we coordinate with our different agencies in education that receive separate American Rescue Plan funds.

When the federal  money runs out, we don't have any state money to supplement it. 

Elsewhere, the story reports that the money can be used for capital investments and infrastructure, even to help the state Health Department prepare for a future pandemic.   The governor is encouraging spending on "capital investments like broadband that won't incur long-term spending and debt for the state, as opposed to developing new programs." 

Nothing about this report is county specific, but the prior related story indicated that Newton County will receive $1.5 million.  I hope the newspaper will track how this money gets spent.  

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Supreme Court rules on case implicating union access to organize agricultural workers

 Here's the New York Times report by Adam Liptak, which describes the case: 

The case, Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, No. 20-107, arose from organizing efforts in 2015 at Fowler Packing Company, a shipper of table grapes and citrus, and Cedar Point Nursery, which grows strawberry plants. They sued California officials in 2016, saying the regulation letting unions to have access to their properties amounted to a government taking of private property without compensation. The growers lost in the lower courts.
The state regulation, issued in 1975 and unique in the nation, allows union organizers to meet with agricultural workers at work sites in the hour before and after work and during lunch breaks for as many as 120 days a year. The regulation’s drafters said this was the only practical way to give farmworkers, who can be nomadic and poorly educated, a realistic chance to consider joining a union.

The decision strikes me as another illustration of the lack of law's meaningful presence in rural places. In this case, by denying unions access to workers, the result is a failure to protect vulnerable rural workers because an institution that could protect them is hamstrung from a meaningful opportunity to do so.  My colleague Aaron Tang put the case in broader context in relation to labor laws here for NPR. Los Angeles Times coverage of the case is hereNew York Times coverage is here.  

Interestingly, Cedar Point Nursery, the named plaintiff, is in Dorris, California, population 939, a truly remote and rural locale, in far northern California near the Oregon state line.  This is intriguing to me because so much of California agriculture is in the Central Valley, which is dotted by cities like Fresno, Merced, and Modesto.  Not so far northern California, including places like Siskiyou and Modoc County.  The largest cities near Dorris are Redding, California (2 hours), Klamath Falls, Oregon (22 minutes), and Medford, Oregon (1 hour, 39 minutes).

I previously wrote about the case here.  

"Progress" brings visual and noise pollution to rural locales in Texas and England

Last month, the New York Times reported from Boca Chica, Texas, a community at the mouth of the Rio Grande River that isn't even a census-designated place.  Today they report from Mersham, England, a "mostly agricultural village and civil parish" in Kent, about the impact Brexit has had on the movement of goods and its knock-on impacts on an area near the southeast ports in England--the jumping off point to the European continent.  

The stories--worlds apart literally--have similar themes:  rural places, previously somewhat idyllic, now dramatically changed by what some count as progress.  

Here's the lede from the Texas story, "A Serene Shore Resort, Except for the SpaceX 'Ball of Fire,'" with this subhead:  "For years, those in a rural Texas village cherished living among nature and wildlife.  Elon Musk's SpaceX has brought new fears and the promise of an economic boost to one of America's poorest corners:    :

The text arrived late at night: For your own safety, leave home by morning, it read. Nancy and James Crawford, no longer surprised but still unsettled, raced away in their S.U.V. after sunrise, occasionally twisting their necks to catch a glimpse of the space rocket towering behind them.

Moments later, the Crawfords, who are in their 70s, watched from a 12th-floor balcony on South Padre Island, a few miles up the coast, as the rocket shattered on impact during an attempted landing, spreading fiery debris along the sand dunes and tidal flats. The building shook, Mr. Crawford recalled, and in the distance, there was “a ball of fire.”

“It was exciting,” echoed his wife, “but too dangerous if we had stayed home.”

Home for the Crawfords is a remote coastal community a stone’s throw from Mexico, a village so small that water has to be trucked in. With a single road in that ends at the shoreline, it has long attracted people eager to escape congested cities, and retirees eager to escape the harsh winters of the North and Midwest.

Here's an excerpt from the British story, headlined "They Voted for Brexit, but Not the Giant Truck Park That Came With It." : 

Five years after Britons voted to leave the European Union, the aftershocks are still being registered. But few parts of the country have felt its impact more than this corner of England close to its Channel ports and the white cliffs of Dover, where a majority voted for Brexit.

When Britain was inside the E.U., the trucks that flowed ceaselessly to and from France did so with few checks. But Brexit has brought a blizzard of red tape, requiring the government to build the checkpoint nicknamed the “Farage garage,” a reference to the pro-Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage.

“For people living nearby it’s an absolute catastrophe with the night sky completely lit up. Honestly, it’s like Heathrow Airport,” said Geoffrey Fletcher, chairman of the parish council at Mersham (pronounced “Merzam”).

Consultation on the 24-hour truck park had been minimal and suggestions on how to limit problems ignored, he said. Yet, so polarized is the debate over an issue that divided the country, that Mr. Fletcher thinks few minds have changed on Brexit.

Also out of South Texas' Rio Grande Valley this week, a New York Times report on vaccine uptake amidst the LatinX community devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.  

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The Los Angeles Times covers the Susanville prison closure

I blogged here last month about the projected 2022 closure of a Susanville, California prison, and now Hailey Branson-Potts reports for the LA Times under the headline, "California’s prison boom saved this town. Now, plans to close a lockup are sparking anger and fear."  Here's an excerpt that sums up Susanville's economic situation:

Few places rely on a prison as much as Susanville, the only incorporated city in Lassen County. The nearest city, 86 miles away, is Reno.

Surrounded by forests, mountains and lakes, Susanville is a place of striking natural beauty. The air smells of pine trees. Deer wander through frontyards. But it’s an isolated town stuck in a long decline.
More than 45% of the employment in Susanville is at CCC [the prison slated for closure] and the adjacent High Desert State Prison, which opened in 1995. The average pay for non-management correctional staffers is $87,500, not including benefits and overtime — generous-paying jobs in a county where only 13% of residents have a bachelor’s degree.
Also of interest is this suggestion that Newsom might be punishing Lassen County for its conservative, pro-recall views:   
Many in town believe Newsom is retaliating against conservative Lassen County, which had among the state’s highest concentrations of people signing a petition to recall the governor and where 75% of voters cast their ballots for then-President Trump last fall.
The Newsom administration denies any such motive.  

Branson-Potts reports that Susanville plans to sue the State of California, but she doesn't provide any details of the cause of action, which leaves me wondering what on earth it (or they) might be.  I'm speculating something reliance-based, but we shall see.  

Monday, June 21, 2021

"Holler" as double entendre (?) in new Indie film

Here is what the Los Angles Times' Katie Walsh had to say about the movie "Holler," an indie film attracting attention these days.  It is set in director Nicole Riegel's hometown, Jackson, Ohio, population 6,397, in the Appalachian part of the state, and it's partly autobiographical.

“Holler” is an unflinching autobiographical work about what it takes to lift oneself out of this marginalized life. It’s not just the merits of intelligence or hard work for someone like Ruth, but a willingness to sacrifice the only things she has, everything she’s known.

Shot on Super 16mm on location, there’s a gritty realism to Riegel’s work, found in the film grain and the dark abandoned buildings where Ruth and Blaze strip copper wire from the ceilings, working as a part of an illegal scrap crew. Blaze has sent in Ruth’s college application, and her acceptance ignites the dream in both of them that she might escape. All they need is a little money, and so they turn to the menacing scrap dealer Hark (Austin Amelio). With him, they find companionship and the promise of profit, despite the inherent dangers.

One gets the sense of that "holler" refers both to yelling--a cry for help--and hollow, a valley, of the Appalachian variety.

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CXXXI)/Coronavirus in rural America (Part CXXXIX) : More on federal-local relations in relation to $1.5 million in COVID Relief funds

The headline for the May 12, 2021 story in the Newton County Times is "Quorum Court prepares for 'rescue' funds."  Like this prior post, it's a take of how the federal and the local interact in a rural county.  Here's the story: 
The Newton County Quorum Court passed an ordinance Monday night, May 3, establishing a special revenue fund to be called the American Rescue Plan fund. The county will soon receive a projected $1.5 million in federal funds. However, a plan for how the money can be spent won't be revealed until after the money is received.

The $1.9 trillion authorized by the American Rescue Plan Act will provide Arkansas with $1.7 billion in state fiscal relief in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Guidance and rules on how the money can be used are being drafted by the US Department of the Treasury.

Before receiving the money the county is required to establish a fund on the books to track the revenues, expenditures and/or appropriated transfers of the federal assistance.

County Judge Warren Campbell told the JPs he does not know when the money will be released or what restrictions will be placed on it.

From there, the story gets really confusing: 

The ordinance states that deposit of federal assistance funds from the American Rescue Plan Act are imminent calling for the ordinance to be passed with an emergency clause.

The reporter does not explain what "ordinance" it's referring to but then reports on an ordinance that will transfer $25K a month from the county's "COVID Relief Fund" into the sheriff's budget. It states: 

The quorum court passed an ordinance amending the sheriff's budget. That ordinance calls for transferring $25,000 from the county's current COVID Relief Fund into the sheriff's budget. That amount will be transferred each month beginning in May and continuing through December at which time the funds will be deleted. This will be done by a monthly court order.

I'm wondering if the county's COVID Relief Fund is the fund into which the federal $1.5 million will be deposited.  And if so, why would those monies be flowing into the sheriff's budget.  What will the sheriff do with COVID relief funds?  Not suggesting anything untoward, but an explanation would be helpful.  

Then there is this added information about the sheriff's budget, which thankfully does make sense: 

The sheriff's office was also appropriated $32,562.32. This money was received under federal Title III as payment for emergency services provided on federal property located within the county.

Here's a prior post about the county's failure to segregate funds, to keep earmarked dollars out of the general fund.  

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CXXX): Federal regulation of rural polling places

(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2010
Murray Community Center, Newton County, Arkansas 
The sign on the post, facing the other direction, marks handicapped parking 

The June 9, 2021 issue of the Newton County Times features the headline, "Access to polls need addressed."  The story is about the interface of federal law and local government, specifically with regard to federal disability law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  In the course of reporting the matter, the writer tells us something about how elections are financed and run in a small, rural county in Arkansas, i.e., the state provided "new voting machines and other equipment" last year; the number of polling places shrunk in the last election, amidst the pandemic.  The story also tells us that the county does have a legal adviser to assist it in responding to a federal communication regarding compliance with federal law.    

The Newton County Quorum Court [like a County Board of Supervisors] met almost a week earlier than normal to take care of some important business Tuesday night, June 1. The items on the agenda were a resolution and an ordinance required to answer a US Department of Justice (DOJ) warning that deficiencies under the Americans with Disabilities Act existed at some voting locations in the county.

Brad Brown, the county's legal adviser, said the DOJ sent a list of deficiencies to the county election commission, but the election panel does not have budgeted funds to address the problems. Most of them concern adequate parking, level pads and specified ramps necessary to provide wheelchair-bound voters unimpeded access to the polls. Corrections have to be made by the next regular election in 2022. The county is also required to appoint an ADA coordinator to make sure polling locations are accessible under the law.

Last year, the county received new voting machines and other equipment from the state. The election commission consolidated the more than 20 polling locations into 11 voting centers. Voters could vote at any of the centers even if they're not located in their home precincts. Some of those locations were new and weren't selected until shortly before the election.

Brown said he spoke with DOJ officials and they are willing to work with the county and election commission to ensure changes are made by the next election.

County Clerk Donnie Davis told the justices of the peace [the five elected officials who make up the the Quorum Court) that the election commission doesn't want to close any more polling sites. If locations can not be brought into compliance other locations would have to be found.

County Judge Warren Campbell said a bonded contractor should be hired by the county to ensure that the ramps and other facility updates are built to exact ADA specifications. He did not know what the cost would be for the work, but added that it has to be done. Money would have to be appropriated from the county general fund. It would be transferred into an election commission line item. Davis did not know if the state would assist in the work's funding.

The quorum court then passed the resolution agreeing to meet the DOJ directions and meet the ADA mandates.

It also voted to amend the county's 2021 budget ordinance regarding employees and compensation adding an ADA coordinator position that will pay $12 per hour.

Here is a fall, 2020 story about the county's voting plan, using "voting centers."  

In somewhat related news, the New York Times reported today that the Arkansas legislature, like that of various other states, is making moves to assert greater control over local elections.  It's not clear what impact this would have in a place like Newton County, which has minimal bureaucracy (election board?) but plenty of concentrated power. 

P.S. I've belatedly been made aware of this June 17, 2021 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story about the Newton County voting matter.  It's written by Bill Bowden, who provides some helpful background not in the Newton County Times coverage, as well as an update on events:  The U.S. Department of Justice has reached a settlement with the county under Title II of the ADA:    

During election day on March 3, 2020, and early voting the previous day, inspectors from the federal government surveyed the county courthouse in Jasper, used during early voting, and all 18 of the county's polling places.

The settlement states: 

All of the polling places surveyed contained architectural barriers that rendered the facilities inaccessible to voters with disabilities, such as a lack of accessible parking areas and accessible routes due to gravel and grass ground surfaces; excessively sloped ramps, some without handrails and edge protection; numerous gaps and level changes along exterior routes; and protruding objects.

Bowden's story notes another important infirmity not noted in the local paper's story:  

Also, there was a lack of access to working voting machines at all polling places, according to the settlement.

[County Clerk Donnie] Davis said federal inspectors also determined that a wheelchair ramp at the county courthouse was too steep. He said they checked it with a level.

Here's a blog post I wrote 11 years ago about voting in Newton County.  Its focus was the rather more exciting topic of vote buying, which has a long history in Newton County.  Makes me wonder if that's what brought the DOJ inspectors to the county in March, 2020.  If so, I'm relieved that they found only ADA violations and no vote buying, though the malfunctioning voting machines are concerning, especially if they were new and recently provided by the State.  

Friday, June 18, 2021

Another dispatch out of impoverished rural West Virginia, this one focused on roads

Haley Messenger reports for NBC news out of Clay County, West Virginia, under the headline "With roads so bad even the ambulance can't pass, this county hopes for infrastructure dollars."  The story is not only about roads and how they get paid for, but also whether "bigger counties," presumably referring to metropolitan areas, get more than their fair share of a state's funds.  

When Clay County Commissioner Fran King relays the issues to the West Virginia Department of Transportation’s Division of Highways, the agency frequently cites a lack of funding for road repairs.

“But then when funds come into the state, they’re allocated for the bigger counties to put in byways and roundabouts,” she said. “They forget about the people out here like us that need help, so that we can get our children educated, people can go to work.”
* * *
King also said the state’s control over county roads serves as a barrier to getting local complaints resolved. In West Virginia, the Division of Highways controls 89 percent of miles, leading every other U.S. state, according to a recent report from TRIP, a transportation research nonprofit organization.

“We have no power,” King said. “Those complaints come to us, then we report them, but nothing becomes of them and then the citizens think that we could do something about it but we cannot.”      

The story also quotes West Virginia Civil Engineering professor David Martinelli about why road repairs are more costly in places like the "Mountain State." 

The most expensive element of highway construction is earthmoving operations. We've done a lot of it because of our topography — so that makes highway construction in West Virginia, right out of the gate, significantly more expensive. And that's true for a lot of rural states or rural areas.

Clay County's population is just a tad under 10,000.

McKenzie Scott's fortune going to rural places, too

I was impressed to see that the list of educational and other institutions receiving the charitable largesse of MacKenzie Scott extended to rural and quasi-rural locales, including here in California.  A salient excerpt from the Los Angeles Times follows:

UC Merced received $20 million; Pasadena and Long Beach City Colleges each received $30 million; Santa Barbara City College, $20 million; Chaffey College, $25 million; Cal State Northridge, Cal Poly Pomona and Cal State Fullerton each received $40 million; Cal State Channel Islands, $15 million; Porterville College, $7 million; College of the Desert, $18 million; and West Hills College Lemoore also received a donation.

Chaffey College, Porterville College, College of the Desert and West Hills College of Leemore are all rural by some measure, as is Merced, the youngest of the University of California campuses.  The story continues:    

Scott, 51, said she and her team looked for “equity-oriented non-profit teams working in areas that have been neglected” — campuses that serve disadvantaged students, organizations that bridge deepening ethnic and religious divides, arts and cultural institutions that strengthen communities by fostering empathy, economic mobility and improved mental health.

I note that the list of the "neglected" doesn't explicitly address geography, let alone rurality, but never mind.  I'm sure they'll eventually see (and, I hope, call out) that aspect of the inequities Scott is addressing.   

Three dozen recipients of the the $2.7 billion she just donated are in California.  The New York Times coverage of her gifts is here.  

This support for state universities and colleges--especially community colleges--comes on the heels of recent  enrollment drops in these schools.  Those drops have been driven in part by the pandemic, as reported by the Los Angles Times and the New York Times.  The Los Angeles Times story reports: 

California leads the nation with the largest drop in spring 2021 college enrollment numbers largely due to a steep decline in community college students, who have particularly struggled with pandemic hardships, according to a report released Thursday.

The state’s overall community college and university headcount dropped by about 123,000 students — the largest numeric decrease of any state. The percentage decline was 5.3% .The numeric downturn reflects California’s stature as the most populous state, but does not account for the entirety of the loss, researchers said.
* * *
“California is doing worse than the national averages by 1 or 2 percentage points in terms of the declines this spring compared with last,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of [the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center].  

As I see the various community colleges announcing the gifts ($7 million here or there) from MacKenzie Scott, I wonder if/how these institutions will use the money to turn things around, for themselves and  their students.  

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CXXIX): High-profile violent crimes

Several high-profile crimes have been reported in the Newton County Times during the first half of 2021.   

First, the January 13, 2021 issue featured the front-page headline, "Two men arrested for suspected homicide, arson near Fallsville."  The story reports that the Deer and Ozone [volunteer]  fire departments were called to the scene of a house fire west of Fallsville around 3:35 pm on January 9.  "While battling the blaze, firefighters found the body of a male subject inside the residence.  It is believed to be that of the homeowner.  Evidence at the scene and subsequent information received confirmed investigators' suspicions that a homicide and arson ha occurred." 

A later story, in the March 3, 2021 issue, reports that charges were filed in the case.  The dateline is Oark:

Formal charges were filed Tuesday, Feb. 23, against a 61-year-old man and his 34-year-old son in connection with a suspected murder and arson event in early January, online court records show.

The story continues that the two are charged with first-degree murder and two counts of endangering the welfare of a minor, along with penalty enhancement of committing offenses in the presence of a child, while Steven Stepp (the 34-year-old charged) is also charged with arson, residential burglary, tampering with physical evidence, abuse of a corpse and felony with a firearm.   

The two men were identified after the deputies found a .22 caliber revolver in the front yard of the burned residence, along with a trail leading from the burned residence, where there were more .22 shells and empty beer cans.  

The Stepps were identified as the neighbors and they lived in separate residences on the same property.  

The story is not clear at all--is quite poorly written--but it appears that the Stepps were neighbors of the murdered man, Jerry Don Cantrell.  An interview with Cantrell's son indicated Cantrell was "having problems with the Stepps."  The story continues: 

At about 2:45 the following morning, Clarksville Police got a call from Angela Stepp and her daughter, Jessica Stepp, of Clarksville, who are related to Steven and Vernon [the suspects]. [The story later discloses that Angela is Vernon's sister-in-law] 

They told Clarksville Police that [the Stepp men] had told them they had killed man and burned his house.  They were told that Steven and Vernon [Stepp] would kill them if they told the police and that they were armed for the encounter with law enforcement, the affidavit said.

The involvement of the Clarksville Police is interesting because Clarksville is 16 miles from Oark, the story's dateline, and even farther from Fallsville, where these events occurred.  Clarksville is the county seat of Johnson County, which is also home to Oark, and Fallsville is in Newton County, to the north.  

The story later discloses that Cantrell had supervised visitation with Vernon Stepp's grandchildren.  He told police that Steven went to Cantrell's residence with him and Steven got into an argument.  Steven then left Cantrell's residence, while Vernon stayed.  Vernon said Steven returned a short time later with a .357 pistol and holster.  He said Cantrell produced a pistol-grip shotgun from under the kitchen table and pushed Vernon to the floor.  Vernon said Cantrell fired a shot over the Stepps' heads and Steven fired twice at Cantrell with the .357.  The suggestion is self-defense and/or Steven's defense of his father.  

Steven Stepp told police he burned the house because he was scared.

Will be interesting to see how this case is tried.   

The May 19, 2021 issue features a front-page headline, "Charges filed in matter of stolen school truck."  Here are the details:

Conner Ray Rigsbee, 22, was formally charged in Newton County Circuit Court, last May 5, on charges of theft by receiving, a Class C felony, and possession of drug paraphernalia, a class D felony.  

Court filings allege that last April 23, sheriff's deputy ... was dispatched to the Deer School to investigate a report of a 2006 Chevrolet pick up truck. 

The night before, multiple deputies were attempting to locate Rigsbee in the same area.  He had allegedly stolen a pistol from his mother earlier in the day.  

* * *

Rigsbee later stated he traded the gun and he bought tje truck from someone he had never met before.  Rigsbee was found to have in his possession a glass pipe having a crystal-like residue. 

The May 12 edition featured two more crime headlines:  "Man dies from self-inflicted gunshot wound," with the dateline St. Joe, and "Man sentenced for setting fire within [Buffalo National River]," dateline Fort Smith.  The former story is actually more interesting than it sounds at first blush because the man who shot himself did so after the vehicle in which he was a passenger--a vehicle driven by a woman--was pulled over by the National Park Service for routine traffic violations.   The man, during the "contact," was "determined ... to have possible, non-extraditable warrants from another jurisdiction, along with a lengthy criminal history involving firearms, drugs, assault and domestic violence."  Later, presumably after the suicide, the two were identified "as persons of interest in a shooting incident in Pulaski County [Little Rock]." 

The April 21, 2021 issue reports the headline, "Pregnant woman stabbed," for which the dateline is Harrison.  Here's the lede:  

Authorities say a man formerly from Missouri was in custody Friday on suspicion of stabbing his girlfriend Thursday night in Bellefonte.  

The story reports that the victim was 27 weeks pregnant with the perpetrator's child.  He reportedly attacked her "without provocation as she was lying on the couch."   He will reportedly face two counts of capital murder for the attack.  None of the wounds "damaged vital organs and weren't life threatening," though she suffered "multiple cuts and stab wounds to the arms, back, shoulder and face."  

Another story from that issue is headlined, "Man runs from deputy second time."  The lede states that the Newton Coutny sheriff "said a 33-year-old man on a four-wheeler ran from a deputy Wednesday night for the second time and was airlifted for treatment of injures."  Although on a four-wheeler, the driver took the sheriff's deputy on a chase through parts of two neighboring counties.  The man is wanted on multiple warrants from different jurisdictions, including for speeding and possession of controlled substance.  The "second time" in the heading refers to the man's arrest in August, 2020 after he failed to appear in court on charges from a pursuit in February of that year.  

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Not all of rural California has been moving rightward, at least not compared to the last gubernatorial recall

This map, published in today's Los Angeles Times, shows the Democratic vote share in the elections of  Gavin Newsom (2018) compared to that of Governor Gray Davis (2002).  The 2003 recall of Davis was successful, installing Arnold Schwarzenegger as California's first Republican governor in a while.  Golden State voters will decide this fall whether to recall Newsom. 

In any event, this map of how folks voted for Governor in 2018 compared to 2002 suggests a left-ward political migration in some surprising places in rural California.  The places that look more Democratic leaning in 2018 than in 2002 include Siskiyou County in the far north, a hub of the State of Jefferson movement.  Other places where Newsom had more support than Davis include much of the Great Central Valley, Del Norte, Trinity, Humboldt, Mendocino (the Emerald Triangle--then an illegal pot growing region, now a potentially legal one), and also the Eastern Sierra and the Inland Empire.  

The only places trending right-ward between the Davis election and the Newsom election are the Gold Country foothills east of Sacramento (El Dorado, Amador and Calaveras counties), Lake County, and a cluster of counties in far northern California including Shasta, Tehama, Plumas, Lassen and Modoc.  The latter, along with the Gold Country, have become strong holds of the State of Jefferson, as the movement has crept southward.  Again, that's in contrast to Siskiyou County, a traditional State of Jefferson stronghold.  

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Educating a populace for a town with no jobs?

The New York Times reported yesterday from Welch, West Virginia, in coal country.  The headline is "A Fading Coal County Bets on Schools, but There's One Big Hitch."  That big hitch is jobs--or the lack thereof.  The county is aiming to do a better job of getting more teens through high school and on to college, but then what?  Not much, if the job situation in that corner of southern West Virginia--coal country--doesn't improve.  Indeed, the whole story reminds me of something an Australian rural sociologist commented on years ago:  smart rural girls are expected to become teachers.  That's a solution to part of the problem, but not nearly all of it.  That said, it's interesting that the newly  minted teachers featured in the story are women.  Here are two key quotes from the story: 

Notably, the teachers’ federation acknowledges the tension between the goal of preparing the young to grasp future opportunities and the fact that there are few of those in town. Bob Brown, the federation’s main person in McDowell County, noted that “there is a very small percentage of high school graduates who stay.” As Ms. Keys sees it: “The options are you get a job as a teacher or you leave.”

McDowell is poor — one of the poorest counties in the country. Over half of its children do not live with their biological parents, who are often addled by opioids, in prison or dead. Among residents 25 or older, only about one in five has a bachelor’s degree.

The county is hoping that it has a future in ecotourism, which would employ more skilled graduates:

Now Welch is putting its hopes in tourism, mostly revolving around trails for all-terrain vehicles that draw crowds every weekend. It hopes to expand this into zip-lining, kayaking and whatever else will attract people willing to spend money.

And here's a quote from Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers:  

You can turn around schooling, but if you can't turn around the economy, it's not enough.  

Welch's population is just 2,406.  McDowell County's population is 22,113. Prior posts about McDowell County are here.  I will also add that Welch reminds me of my hometown--in terms of its percentage of adults who have Bachelor's degrees and in terms of there being no jobs for educated folks except teaching.  I'm also reminded of something a rural sociologist from Australia said to me years ago:  smart rural girls are supposed to become teacher.  There's no higher aspiration or expectation--at least not without moving away.  

Roundtable on "Rural Policing in North America" set for September

Rural crime and criminal justice practices and responses face different challenges from those experienced in urban contexts.

International Society for the Study of Rural Crime is proud to host a practitioner-focused roundtable which will investigate community policing and crime-reduction efforts on issues surrounding rural policing. The roundtable will provide an opportunity for participants to hear first-hand from four leaders in rural policing about work being done in the US and Canada to police rural crime.

The roundtable is free to attend. However, if you are able to make a donation, funds will be directed to the ISSRC awards program for higher degree research students, early career researchers, and practitioners.

Ample opportunity will be provided for attendees to engage with the panel.

Register via EventBrite:

For more information and link to EventBrite registration, visit

The panelists will address three key questions:  
  • What is the key element to successful community policing in your community?
  • What is one initiative in which you have successfully engaged the community in crime-reduction efforts?
  • What is the most significant challenge to successfully reducing crime in your community?
Wednesday 15 September 2021

5.00pm – 6.30pm (CDT; US)

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The rural-urban divide in Colorado, as reflected in "Meat Out" v. "Meat In"

guest essay in the Washington Post headlined "The gulf between urban and rural Coloradans is widening in a battle over livestock," speaks to the chasm that is growing in relation to animals and meat consumption.  The "MeatOut" that author Maddy Butcher speaks about is Governor Jared Polis' recent proposal that "Coloradans should call attention to greenhouse gases by abstaining from eating meat."  Butcher also describes the counter "Meat In" movement:  

The political and cultural gulf between urban, liberal-leaning Coloradans and more conservative rural residents is only widening, with the current battleground involving the state’s livestock industry. Perhaps sensing that the measure would alienate too many voters, Polis has said he opposes it. Now the state Supreme Court is refereeing the Initiative 16 effort.
Introduced by two Denver-area animal-rights activists, the initiative could redefine as a “sexual act” the artificial insemination or pregnancy-checking of a cow. It would require ranchers and farmers, with potentially ruinous financial effect, to keep their livestock for years longer than is current practice. Cows, five years. Chickens, two.

* * * 

I’m dismayed to see yet another issue in Colorado is cutting so divisively along urban-rural lines. As a horse owner, I’m all for animal welfare, but disheartened by an initiative that appears to be about taking better care of animals yet would almost certainly precipitate worse care and outcomes.

* * *  

News reports about livestock abuse might stir their alarm, but most ranchers and farmers are careful, responsible people. It’s their livelihood, after all, and putting stress on animals hurts the owners’ bottom line.

Butcher quotes Sheryl King, professor emeritus at Southern Illinois University, where she directed the animal science program:  

People who haven’t been raised around livestock or working animals have a natural instinct to revert to the human perspective.  In a way, I feel sorry for them. These are people who love animals but don’t understand them.

This divide reminds me of the recent tweets of a female northern California rancher, who's always also struggling on one side of that divide.  All of these were taken on June 17, 2021 except the last one, which was taken late on the night of June 18, 2021, as a fire blazed near Chico, California, apparently in reasonably close proximity to Megan Brown's ranch.  

Monday, June 14, 2021

Did the pandemic further decrease our expectations of rural schools? or are we making consumption of education more convenient for rural students?

The smaller of three rural school districts serving my home county, Deer/Mt. Judea, recently voted 3-2 to implement a 4-day/week schedule beginning in the 2021-22 academic year.  This tiny district has been under threat of consolidation for years, and I have written previously about that in a series of posts here. 

"Split vote for four-day week" is the headline in the April 14, 2021 Newton County Times.  The story does not indicate what is driving the proposal for a shorter school week, but I'm guessing the less regular school attendance wrought by the pandemic has made this possibility seem more palatable.  For the most part, Arkansas schools have been back in session during the entire 2020-21 academic year, especially rural schools like those in Newton County.  Still, there have been some interruptions to school when groups of students had to quarantine following a positive test, and some temporary closures have been driven by high infection rates locally or statewide.  

It goes without saying that the prospect of cost savings is surely one of the reason for this proposal, though none of the news reports over the course of several months in the Newton County Times mentioned that.  

An earlier survey of teachers and staff at Deer/Mt. Judea indicated 27.8% "strongly in favor" of the proposal and another 27.8% merely "in favor" of it.  Another 16.5% were undecided and the remainder were "strongly opposed" or had "no preference."  The survey garnered 79 responses.  Of those surveyed, nearly 70% favored removing Friday from the school week.  "The main concern voiced by staff was for those students who would need day care that one day a week."  

A week earlier, a "community meeting" had been held at Deer school, one of two schools governed by the district.  At that meeting, concerns were expressed about "added time on the school bus and a shrinking safety net for at risk children."  Further, "parents were encouraged to fill out a short survey."  The Newton County Times does not indicate what questions were on that survey.    What the paper does report is this: 

Parents talked about transportation concerns and time students spend on the bus.  More buses and bus drivers will be needed to adjust or add bus routes.  Vernie Heydenrich, district transportation supervisor, said way back when it was decided to pick up students at their home.  [sic] He advocates bus stops where students would gather to be picked up and dropped off.  besides saving time it would save wear and tear o the bus fleet.  

Many parents expressed the need for their children to be in school five days a week due to lack of child care, study times, meals, social interaction with other children, and other needs.

It is not clear why the changed schedule will require more bus routes.  The story does report that the school day will be a bit longer, but since K-12 are all on one campus and all attending the same hours, that would not seem to have transportation implications.   

A June 2, 2021 story suggests further diminished expectations of the localK-12 schools.  The headline is "Digital instruction sign-up at Jasper," and the story reports that the "Jasper School District has received approval from the Arkansas State Board of Education to offer a digital learning model of instruction for the 2021-22 school year."  The Jasper district is the largest in the state.  The story continues:

This plan was developed with input from our teachers, community members and administrators.  The digital program will be open to students in grades 9-12 who meet the criteria outlined.

Those wishing to be considered for the program are being asked to submit an application.  The story does not indicate what the criteria are, but it does include this statement from the district's Federal Program Coordinator, which says essentially nothing: 

Thank you all for your continued support of the Jasper School District.  We appreciate the cooperation and patience you have shown to us as we navigated the most challenging year in education.  We look forward with great anticipation to the coming school year and returning to more normal routines and practices.

This is a little confusing since the proposal seems to be for a new practice rather than a routine one. 

An April 7, 2021 headline announces "Jasper School District dropping masks."  This was in response to Governor Asa Hutchinson's dropping of the state mask mandate a week earlier.  

In other stories in the June 2 issue, the Jasper mayor has been "exploring options for parents who need child care for young children in Jasper and the surrounding areas."  The story notes that "parents are often unable to accept offers for employment because of a lack of child care options and businesses are facing difficulties due to being understaffed."  The mayor explained that the Baptist Church could acquire a temporarily license while the search for a permanent location continues at jasper City Council meeting.  The church could be offering as many as 25 child care spots by August 1, with care between 7 am and 6 pm.

Also, the Newton County Library has received grant funding to create "the Library Commons, an outdoor space for library and community use."  The Home Depot Foundation, through the Home Depot in neighboring Harrison, has donated four picnic tables, which have been located next to the library in Jasper.  

In other news, the April 14 issue of the paper reports "Library will laminate COVID-19 vaccine cards for free."  According to the New York Times website, the vaccination rate in the county is very low, with 21% of all residents fully vaccinated and 43% of those over the age of 65 fully vaccinated.  

In January, both Jasper and Deer-Mt. Judea school districts were advertising for substitute teachers, which are apparently in short supply.  These needs were announced in two short, front-page stories, one for each school district.  

In May, the Deer/Mt. Judea School Board announced its 2021-22 salary schedule, which calls for a $2,000 increase t the certified salary schedule along with stipends. The board also recommended to the Personnel and Policy committee to allow a $10,000 per year stipend allotted t the school district's COVID-19 point of contact person who records data regarding tests results and quarantines to go to an individual hired specifically for that job and not adding that responsibility to a current staff member.  The money for this role comes from CARES Act funding, which also pays for a "learning loss interventionist," but that person needs to be a reading specialist and the position is full-time.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Coastal northern California town suspends police officers for ridiculing people experiencing homelessness

Jason Pohl reported for the Sacramento Bee in a story published earlier this week.  Several officers in Eureka, California, population 27,191, were ridiculing the city's homeless population.  An excerpt follows:  

The sergeant and officers compared people living on the streets to pigeons.

They likened them to troglodytes who could be organized like bowling pins or corralled into a burning building.

They joked about decapitating them with helicopter blades while they slept downtown.

After 11 weeks of interviews and a trickle of new details, the outside investigation into dehumanizing and violent text messages at a Northern California police department is at most only halfway completed, with yet another supervisor sidelined indefinitely and unease apparent through the ranks.

Eureka Police Chief Steve Watson put one of his top-ranking officers, Capt. Patrick O’Neill, on paid administrative leave May 17. In a written statement over the weekend, city officials declined to say what prompted the move or whether it was connected to the ongoing third-party review of the text messages among subordinates.

Homelessness in the Humboldt County area has been the subject of high-profile reporting in recent years, including in the New York Times here,  here, and here.  This 2012 story mentions an ordinance banning panhandling in Arcata.  

Wikipedia reports that Eureka is the largest coastal city between San Francisco, California, and Portland, Oregon.  The greater metro area includes Arcata, home to Humboldt State University, the subject of this recent post.  

Friday, June 11, 2021

The bridge over the Buffalo River at Pruitt (yes, "my" Pruitt), came down this week

Old Pruitt Bridge over the Buffalo National River after 
the deck (pavement) was removed, 
before explosives were used to take down the bridge.  

A bridge built in 1931, the last Pennsylvania through-truss bridge in Arkansas, came down on Wednesday--with the help of explosives.  That bridge was part of Scenic Highway 7 and crossed the Buffalo National River at Pruitt.  Yes, that's the same Pruitt as my paternal family.  Pruitt used to have its own post office (up til the 1970s) but more recently hosted a Ranger Station for the National Park Service.   It is in Newton County, just a few miles south of the Boone County line and in a rural area.  Just west of there now is Pruitt Landing, 

The best video I've seen of the implosion of the bridge is compliments of Crouse Construction, which built the replacement bridge that opened on May 14.  A video from a different angle is here, compliments of the Harrison Police Department.  

Some recent stories about the bridge and its history include one from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette here.  It includes this information about the bridge's design:
Regarding the design of the old Pruitt bridge, Dave Parker, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Transportation, said in an email: "The Buffalo River (Pruitt) bridge truss design is a variant of a Pennsylvania through-truss with Warren pony trusses on either side. The through-truss connection to the pony trusses displays a unique design; it has not been identified to date in any other bridges. The Buffalo River (Pruitt) bridge is also the last variation of the Pennsylvania though truss design in service on Arkansas roadways."
This is from a Newton County Times story about the state of the bridge once the deck was removed:
You’ve seen it as a landmark. Your parents and possibly even grandparents have seen it that way, too. After nine decades, the Pruitt bridge will come down, officials say.

Crouse Construction of Harrison was contracted to build a new bridge over the Buffalo National River. It’s now open and the old bridge will be imploded today, Wednesday, if the weather cooperates.

And by looking at the old bridge with all the decking and pavement removed, it’s probably past time for that to happen.

Crystal Crouse with Crouse Construction is overseeing the entire project.

“The deck of the bridge was really keeping the majority of the structure in place,” Crouse said. “Pavement was really what was keeping it together.”

She explained that some of the X-member support braces were so corroded they began to fall when the pavement was removed.

Bridge foreman Eddie Mitchell said two concrete slabs started on either end of the old bridge and met on the center pier. When the two-inch layer of asphalt atop the concrete was taken up, they found that the concrete slabs were barely touching the beam on the pier under it, which Crouse said was the main strength for the bridge.

Some of the beams on which the decking rested showed daylight through corroded holes. Crouse said much of the steel structure is in such bad shape that it can’t even be salvaged for scrap.

Mitchell said some of the massive beams for the new bridge were hauled in from the south and over the bridge. Had they known the condition of the bridge at that time, they wouldn’t have crossed the bridge.

Crouse and Mitchell and their crew are largely from Boone and Newton counties. Crouse said her grandfather lived in Jasper and used the bridge daily. They recognize the gravity of a landmark that many people wanted to save.

“I know it’s an old, historic work of art, but it’s needing to come down,” Mitchell said. “What we were driving on was rotten.”

And here's a story about the bridge's history, also in the Newton County Times, quoting from the Historic American Engineering Record.   As you'll see below, the cost of the bridge was just $55K, and the winning bidder was based in Topeka, Kansas.   

(Pruitt Bridge)
HAER No. AR-23

In February 1931 Arkansas State Highway Department began to consider replacing the bridge over the Buffalo River on the scenic Highway 7 near Jasper, county seat of Newton County. Officials were said to be "not seriously alarmed by the condition of this bridge," indeed, an anonymous representative of the Bridge Department was recorded as saying that the old bridge "was almost as good today as when it was built." However, while the old bridge was not in a condition that required immediate replacement, its older design could withstand only limited loading. In a study of the older bridge by the Highway Department, the bridge engineers suggested that "a three ton load limit sign should be placed on the old Buffalo River bridge."


The design of the new bridge for the Buffalo River was not yet underway by April 8, 1931.
The State Highway engineer W.M. Mitchell, reported in a letter of that date that the bridge designers had not "been able to get the plans started due to other work that was ordered ahead of this."

On May 6, Mitchell requested the bridge engineers of the State Highway Department to commence and complete the plans "as early as possible." He specifically requested the urgent attention of the bridge engineers to this project as "considerable pressure is being brought to bear to get this bridge in the next letting. " It cannot be ascertained precisely where that "pressure" was coming from, but the dire need for bridge projects to aid employment in the years of the Depression would suggest that pressure originated at county level.

The plans were commenced on May 11, 1931, and, remarkably, completed the next day.
The contract was advertised on May 13, with an estimated cost of $65,461.43. The contractor, Fred Luttjohann, of Topeka, Kansas, received the contract for the lowest bid of $55,226.09. Work began on the bridge on July 18, 1931, with a contracted building period of 210 days.

Fred Luttjohann was, as with many of the bridge contractors of the 1920s and 1930s, a largely unknown figure. He was involved with a number of Arkansan bridges of the period, but as a contractor he was primarily engaged in subcontracting work, consequently leaving his work as regards the contracts largely supervisory and anonymous. His work, however, was regularly advertised in the State Highway Department magazine of the period. Advertisements there declare that his bridges are "built for the ages."


The Pruitt Bridge is a steel truss of total length 375 feet, comprised of a center span of 160 feet, two end spans of 80 feet each, and a 55-foot girder approach span on the south end. The Warren end spans and the Pennsylvania main span all have eight panels, where a panel is defined by the space spanned by a main diagonal. The horizontal, vertical, and diagonal sub-struts of the main span radiate from the main diagonal at mid-panel width. The end spans have verticals at every other panel point, meeting the top chord where the diagonals are riveted to it.

The inclined top chord of the end trusses slopes five degrees upward to the polygonal top chord of the main span. The top chord for the entire bridge consists of two 10-inch-deep channels, increasing in weight toward the center of the span, joined by a continuous top plate and lacing bars. The chord is riveted along its length except for a pin connection between the main and secondary span at U7 (see Highway Drawing No. 3223). During construction this joint was riveted to support the center span, which was cantilevered from the end spans. Once the center span was complete, the bridge carried forces as three trusses, and all weight was transferred to the piers and not from one truss to another. So member U7-U8 did not carry any axial load.

The bottom chord, two 12-inch-deep channels with lacing and batten plates, is also pin connected at L8 to a fixed hinge on a concrete pier. The similarly positioned panel point on the other end of the bridge is pinned to an expansion rocker, as are the extreme ends of the end spans.

All verticals, sub-struts, and diagonals are riveted to the chords. Throughout the bridge the web members are 10-inch-deepI sections, oriented with the web transverse to the direction of the bridge.

All lateral, sway, and portal bracing is formed with angles. Top and bottom lateral bracing span one panel diagonally. Those on top are angles with lacing, but the bottom braces are single angles. Sway bracing at each panel point is a three-panel double-intersection Warren truss. Portal braces are trapezoidal with braces reaching from the center of the top strut to the inclined impost. A portal brace on the diagonal at the first vertical of the main span replaces the sway bracing at that point.

The 27-inch-deep I-beam floor girders are supported on the bottom chord and are riveted to the vertical web members. The girders support the 20 foot wide concrete slab deck with curbs without the aid of stringers.
June, 2017 at Pruitt Landing, west of/downstream from bridge(s)

My favorite memory of the Pruitt Bridge:  swimming just downstream from it when I was a kid, when a man named Hillary Jones owned the land north of the bridge and had a campground there.  You could pay for day use to go down to the river, where steps were carved in the bluff to facilitate the descent to the swimming hole.  The photos just above and below are from visits to Pruitt in recent years, where I went floating or kayaking with my son.  On the photo above, you can see the "PRUITT" sign in the background.

Summer 2015, Lower Pruitt Landing