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OPINION: What A Year In The News

January 5, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

This year was no different.

But the holiday lull provides a chance to catch our breath and think about the year gone by. In 2021, as in every year in bustling Northwest Arkansas, the people of the region packed a lot into 365 days.

The challenges of living in a covid-19 world continue. Vaccines fulfilled their promise of heightened protection, strengthening the capacity of individuals to ward off infection entirely or to reduce symptoms if the little bugger sneaks through. The vaccines' primary shortcoming is that they only work when people take them and that, apparently, their well-vetted benefits are not self-evident to a lot of Arkansans.

Northwest Arkansas school board meetings unfortunately became battlegrounds at times over masks as some residents articulated their belief that mandates, designed for the safety of students and educators, crossed a line, becoming instead infringements on American freedom and parental prerogatives.

Regardless, teachers, administrators and, while I'm at it, health care workers earned major credit for their work in 2021, delivering for the region's young people and everyone in need of medical attention. It's particularly heartless that selfish politics and purposeful ignorance, disguised as principled opposition, prevent so many people from manning up to get a couple of little shots that can help the receiver as well as everyone else. Maybe that's too harsh, but I doubt it.

Thankfully, we got back to full stadiums and arenas. We got back to live music and dramatic performances at George's Majestic Lounge, Walton Arts Center, the AMP, TheatreSquared and other locations. Our libraries opened back up, with Fayetteville's behemoth addition welcoming patrons.

As long as humans are human, the news will be littered with stories of bad actors, but not the onstage variety. For example, the name Richard "Bigo" Barnett became synonymous with the Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol. The man from Gravette gained fame, and federal charges, when he sat at a desk in the office of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi during the incited violence. The Duggar family was, unfortunately, front and center again. Josh Duggar's child porn trial made national headlines. His sentencing, and another civil case involving family members, will continue to shine the national spotlight on the former "19 Kids and Counting" reality show stars.

University of Arkansas Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz shocked everyone by resigning his post suddenly, a move that remains largely unexplained but with plenty of rumors or suspicions.

With new census numbers, Fayetteville took over the title of Arkansas' second-largest city from Fort Smith. Springdale didn't, but some folks believe that's because Latinx and Marshallese populations were undercounted.

Jails became overcrowded again after a lull during the worst of the covid pandemic, when criminal justice officials aggressively released people on citations or lower bail. That didn't last. The new year will feature debate on spending millions for new jail space.

The long-awaited Bella Vista bypass as part of Interstate 49 was a huge infrastructure advancement for the region. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art announced expansion plans, 10 years after opening. And there are so many medical facility plans I don't have room to get into them, but they'll be great for the region.

Before my mini-review of the year ends, let's pay respect to Pea Ridge Officer Kevin Apple, who died in the line of duty last year, and Prairie Grove Officer Tyler Franks, who survived an exchange of gunfire but lost part of his leg. Sadly, multiple officers across the state died of covid-19 this year, including here in Northwest Arkansas.

Let's offer up a prayer for protection for our law enforcement officers in 2022.

What stood out to you in 2021?

-- Greg Harton is editorial page editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Print Headline: What A Year In News

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