You're on and I'm off. Closing out:
* FOUR DEAD IN HOUSE FIRE: A family of four is believed to have perished in a house fire this morning near Timbo. KATV reports.
* ALABAMA MAY BE NO. 1 BUT THEY'RE STILL LIARS: Sam Eifling has a post up on Deadspin about how Alabama inflates its national title count. Including with 1964!
* ARKANSAS AND NEW STATS ON HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION RATES: Kind of interesting. The feds have recalibrated how they calculate high school graduation rates. Some previously high-ranking states aren't showing up so well. And a number of states show wide variances in graduation rates among different racial and ethnic groups. Not Arkansas. There isn't a wide variation among group rates and its overall 80 percent rate is well above the median.
* THERE ARE GIFTS AND THEN THERE IS MONEY: A few folks at UAMS huffed a bit at the following memo. Because of tax law, no parting gifts may be paid from UAMS Foundation money. Where does $312,000 for an on-call promise from a former employee, plus health insurance coverage, computer and iPad fit in that gift language, they wonder, thinking of the departed CFO with the rich, privately paid stipend to answer the phone when UAMS calls. From the memo:
.. due to IRS tax compliance requirements regarding compensation to employees, we will no longer pay for gifts to employees, gifts to employees retiring or leaving the university or a department. These types of payments will have to be paid from UAMS and we can reimburse UAMS. Dinner’s or lunches can be paid for through foundation funds. The only gifts we can pay for directly from the foundation are for non-university employees.
* STORM DEBRIS: The city of Little Rock issued another update on storm cleanup today. It continues to say it hopes for a FEMA disaster declaration that will open an avenue to money to hire private contractors to speed up the process. City crews will continue to work every street. They've picked up 1,700 tons of debris so far, but that's not even 10 percent of the estimated total. Release follows:
Storm debris from the Christmas Day Winter Event is being collected by Public Works crews six days a week in every ward. More than 1,700 tons of debris has been collected and brought to the Little Rock Landfill, where it will be turned into mulch.
Initially the City had asked residents to use the 311 system to report debris in order to help crews find the most concentrated areas of fallen trees, etc. Now those crews are being directed to conduct a systematic cleanup of the City. Citizens may still report storm debris via 311 and their request will be included in a continuously evolving list. However, its important to note that every street will eventually have its storm debris picked up, whether a 311 call has been made or not.
“The City of Little Rock expects to have a FEMA declaration signed any day now,” said City Manager Bruce Moore. “This will allow the City to hire independent contractors - through a bid process — to pick up storm debris as well. With many more feet on the ground, the speed of the clean up process will increase noticeably. I would like to personally thank all of the residents of Little Rock for their patience during this difficult time for our community.”
Public Works Operations crews remove storm debris piles from both sides of the street once cleanup begins on that street. If the storm debris at any address has objects which are too heavy to be removed by that particular crew, they will put that address on a schedule for a piece of large equipment to return at a later date to complete the cleanup.
Solid Waste crews are picking up trash and normal yard waste contained in bags or personal cans, These Solid Waste crews are also coordinating with Operations crews to assist in storm debris pick up.
Public Works also has two crews patching potholes and two more crews operating street sweepers.