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Arkansas’ fifth West Nile death this year set a state record for deaths related to the mosquito-borne virus in a single year, the state Department of Health acknowledged Wednesday.

The previous high for deaths related to the virus was four each in 2005 and 2006. The department will not provide information on West Nile victims, citing privacy law. The courts in other states have disagreed and health officials in those states list the towns and counties where the victim resided.

The total number of illnesses in the state so far this year from the virus is 41, which is approaching the 2002 record of 43.

Texas has recorded 50 deaths, Louisiana 10, Oklahoma and Michigan eight each and California six from West Nile Virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Cooler weather may slow activity of mosquitoes down some, but people who are at risk — the elderly, immune-compromised people and those who suffer from serious chronic illnesses — should continue to take precautions.

Those at-risk can relax only after the first hard freeze of fall.

Patrons react

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Residents who asked the Pine Bluff School Board earlier this year to hold public forums to explain their differences with then-Superintendent Jerry O. Payne reacted Tuesday, turning out four of the five incumbent district board members, including the board president and secretary, up for re-election.

Zone 6 incumbent board Vice President Donna Barnes will face Leon Jones Sr. in a runoff in three weeks.

Spencer F. Robinson, the Pine Bluff attorney who represented the district for 30 years, resigned in April, saying he believed the school board has taken actions without the best interests of the district or patrons in mind.

Robinson’s action spoke volumes to district patrons. District directors served notice on Payne that his three-year contract was being terminated June 30 after one-year. We learned of the termination from the superintendent, not the board, following an executive session behind closed doors.

The board would not discuss the reasoning for the action in public. The chickens, as the country expression goes, came home to roost Tuesday at the polls.

Shun gridlock

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Partisanship and gridlock in Congress are the reasons cited by the Delta Grassroots Caucus for moving its fall conference from Capitol Hill for the first time to meet instead in the Arkansas Delta.

The two-day fall conference will be held at Mid-South Community College in West Memphis beginning Oct. 23. Representatives of the caucus from eight states simply decided to pass on Washington this fall.

Congress has failed to approve a budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1or reauthorize a farm bill. The legislative body is on course for being the least productive in modern history. The 112th Congress, which opened in January 2011, has enacted 173 public laws – less than half as many as in any of the previous 20 Congresses save for the 104th in 1995 and 1996, which generated 333 public laws.

The lawmakers are going on hiatus until after the Nov. 6 election, having failed to address expiring tax cuts and reducing long-term deficits to avoid across-the-board spending cuts that would otherwise kick in during the first month of the new year.

Just when you hope Congress can’t fail us, they somehow manage to disappoint us again.