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OPINION | NWA EDITORIAL: Thursday's Thumbs

A crisis of communication by NWA Democrat-Gazette | July 22, 2021 at 7:00 a.m.

When Thursday rolls around, it's time to reveal our weekly thumbs. Here they are.

(down) We celebrated two years ago when a crisis intervention unit opened in Washington County. It was one 0f four such units in the state designed to house people experiencing a mental health crisis requiring immediate care. Before such facilities were available, most people in those circumstances ended up in county jails, which were woefully unequipped to deal with them. So the creation of the crisis units was a good move. In the two years since it opened, the 16-bed Washington County unit received 1,200 referrals, 755 of which were admitted. In other words, 755 people who needed medical care received it, instead of going to languish in a jail somewhere. It was, in theory, a great solution. Jails are simply not designed to provide the kind of services someone in crisis needs. Nor should they be. They have enough on their plates already. Here's the bad news: The Washington County unit closed June 30. The provider contracted to run it, Ozark Guidance, said it couldn't operate on what the state was now willing to pay. The unit's annual state allocation was cut by $43,000 a year, or 32%. The state says the unit should be able to fund its operation with other sources of income, such as payments from clients' health insurance. Ozark Guidance says that's not the way the unit is set up. Until another provider can be found that can handle the smaller state investment, it will remain closed. What we seem to have here is a failure to communicate. Meanwhile, people in crisis in Northwest Arkansas are headed back to jail. Oh, there's a crisis unit in Fort Smith, but local law enforcement says it's impractical for their officers to spend several hours off the street to take someone that far. So, back to jail they go. It is, in reality, the worst of both worlds for people in crisis and for local county jails already stretched to their limits. This is a solvable problem. Solve it.

(Up) The Madison County Sheriff's Office says it will investigate reports of some disturbing conduct among junior high basketball players in Huntsville. As reported by the Madison County Record and republished in our paper, younger players on the boys team were allegedly held down while older players placed their exposed genitals on the younger boys' faces. This was, sickeningly, referred to as "baptisms" by the older boys. An internal investigation by district administrators led to the recommendation of one-year expulsions of two students and suspensions for several more. But the school board last month overruled its own staff, reducing the expulsions to a semester and wiping out the punishments for the other boys involved. The community cried foul, pointing out that the nature of the behavior ranged far past horseplay and hazing all the way to sexual harassment and, perhaps, criminal assault. At the time of the school board's inexplicable about-face, there was no criminal investigation in progress. There is now. The facts will determine whether charges should be filed, but we're glad to note that an agency other than the Huntsville School Board is looking into the incidents.

(Down) As of this writing, we still don't know what killed thousands of fish in Spring Creek, a stream that flows through downtown Springdale. One morning last week, a city employee was walking along a creekside trail when he noticed the dead fish. The employee also reported the odor of ammonia, a chemical often used in industrial settings. The incident was reported to the state Department of Energy and Environment, who said it would investigate. We're still waiting for the results. Of course, such an incident on any waterway is bad, but its even worse when it happens along a scenic trail the local community has been successfully promoting as a destination for bikers and walkers. Thanks to the efforts of lots of people, Springdale's downtown has really become a nice place to visit, especially for those into the biking culture. Here's hoping the department can get to the bottom of what caused this mess.

(Up) Razorback fans often brag about the unifying nature of sports in Arkansas. It's been said that rooting for the Hogs can transcend our differences and join a diverse collection of people together in a single cause. Why, the University of Arkansas athletic department even markets the concept with its "One Razorback" campaign. So it came as no surprise to us when the UA politely asked a newly announced political candidate, Jake Bequette, to discontinue using Razorback imagery in his brand new campaign to be elected one of Arkansas' U.S. senators. Bequette, Hog fans will recall, was a defensive lineman for the Razorbacks and played briefly in the NFL before joining the military. His announcement video (that's how we do politics today, forgoing the stemwinding stump speech) features his Razorback bona fides prominently. The UA would rather not be seen as supporting any particular candidate for office, hence its request to Bequette. Ironically, the person Bequette hopes to defeat in the Republican primary and replace in Washington is also a former Razorback, Sen. John Boozman. And, Boozman did something similar in 2010 when running for office, highlighting his years as a tight end on the Hog football teams of the late 1960s. The UA made a similar request of Boozman, and he willingly complied. It's good to keep the Razorback out of politics. While it's certainly understandable how the name recognition of having been an Arkansas athlete could be a political asset, there's little else that experience would provides to someone seeking to serve in Congress. Better for the candidates to tell us who they are, not what they were.

(up)While we're talking about the unifying power of sports, it might seem unlikely Arkansans and residents of a northern industrial city like Milwaukee would have much in common. But they do, and that's their affection for Bobby Portis. Portis, a Little Rock kid who thrilled Arkansas Razorback basketball fans for two years with his passionate, energetic play for the home team, has earned the same adoration from fans of the Milwaukee Bucks, who claimed the 2021 NBA Championship on Tuesday night with a win over the Phoenix Suns. Portis, who left UA in 2015, kicked around a few NBA teams before landing this year in Milwaukee. The fans quickly fell in love with his full-speed and intense style of play, his penetrating eyes and his joyful celebrations. He was a key factor in the Bucks' title run, scoring 16 points off the bench in Tuesday's championship-clinching victory. We noted that as the team's main stars -- Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday -- addressed the delirious home court crowd after the game, fans began chanting, "Bobby, Bobby," pleading to hear from their new hero. He responded with a few words and the crowd roared. Looks like Bobby Portis has found a second home in Milwaukee. Arkansas understands why.

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Want to give some brief feedback on the news? Someone who deserves a pat on the back? An idea that needs a dose of common sense? Recommend a “Thursday thumb” by calling Greg Harton at (479) 872-5026 or by email at [email protected]

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