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October 18, 2000


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OPINIONS

Frank Gillispie
Sovereignty of states upheld

I am pleased to announce another victory in the battle to preserve the sovereignty of the states as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court ruled this week . . .

Margie Richards
A squirrel named Tooty Fruity

She was not much bigger than my thumb when I found her, and most of that was her head. I knew she was a baby something, but it took me a few minutes to decide she was a squirrel.


SPORTS

SEE THIS WEEK'S PIGSKIN PICKERS!

Raiders bound for Columbus after two wins in state sectionals
The reservations are made, the bags are being packed. And the adrenaline is rushing.
The Raiders are bound for Columbus with one goal in mind - bringing home a state fast-pitch softball title.


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY
DOT says Baldwin responsible for cost of relocating water line
For the past few months, the Baldwin City Council and Georgia Department of Transportation have been arguing over who is to blame for the broken water line along Wolford Creek and who should pay for it. Last week, the council learned that Baldwin will have to fund the relocation of the line.

Pilot not seriously injured in crash
A South Carolina woman escaped serious injury Saturday in a plane crash in Banks County. Svetlana Dramoua, 18, a native of the Ukraine, was on a solo flight from Clemson, S.C., when she crashed around 12:30 p.m. Saturday.


News from...
JACKSON COUNTY
Wickliffe pleads guilty to bid-rigging
Jerry Wickliffe, owner of the private sewage firm Water Wise, entered a guilty plea Friday in federal court on charges that he and others engaged in a wide-ranging bid-rigging scheme.

'Referendum A' would cost county $162,255 in taxes
If a statewide referendum to eliminate property taxes from farm equipment passes on Nov. 7, it would cost Jackson County approximately $162,255 next year.


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AADAPP SITE


The Rev. Jess Martin and his 3-year-old grandson, Nathan, stand in front of the Martins' home on Friendship Church Road. The home will be used as a drug and alcohol counseling center.  


Martins' house to be used for AADAPP
The Rev. Jess Martin and his wife, Anna, plan to move out of their Friendship Church Road home to use it as a site for a proposed drug and alcohol counseling center.
Madison County commissioners recently approved the use of the old tax assessor's office on Crawford W. Long Street for Martin's proposed Northeast Georgia Alcohol/Drug Addiction Prevention Program and Aftercare Services (AADAPP).
But Martin said the old county structure is too run-down to renovate in a cost-efficient manner. He said he contacted a national asbestos group about removing asbestos from the windows of the old building and found out that it would cost "about $150,000" to remove the dangerous substance.
"That alone constituted such a high expense that it made it (the old tax assessor's building) not feasible to use," said Martin, who added that he and his wife plan to move in with their son, who lives on neighboring property.
Apart from the building, the commissioners recently put $25,000 toward Martin's proposal. Martin said the funds have been turned over to CPA Daniel Dooley. He added that the $25,000 will be used for such things as salaries, office supplies and telephone services. He said he is also seeking grant money to help fund the AADAPP program.
The issue of money for the program has clearly divided county leaders.
Some have been eager to see Martin get county money to run the program, saying the county's troubled youth need a place to get help. Others have maintained that it's fiscally irresponsible to allot funds for a private cause without requiring sufficient details - such as who will sit on the AADAPP board and manage the money.
Martin said he's fed up with the politics of the issue.
"Arguing back and forth isn't going to make anything work," he said, maintaining that every month that goes by leaves more kids without help.
Martin said he and his wife spent approximately $60,000 renovating the old house in recent years. And while the property must be rezoned for the program, and some work will be needed to turn the house into a counseling center, Martin said he expects the program could be fully operational in the house by April, serving "between 30 and 45" people per month.
Martin said he intends to employ three full-time counselors within the first year of operation. He said the house will provide three offices, a break area, a large classroom and a waiting area.
He added that the house, which has been a school and a church, is worth $150,000 and that he and his wife plan to sell the house to the program for "$30,000 less so there will be equity in place."


BOE fields questions about system's financial woes, agrees to hold public forum
Members of the Madison County Board of Education began answering questions about the school system's finances at their regular meeting Tuesday night, and agreed to hold a public forum on the subject in the near future.
The school board has been under fire since it was recently revealed that the school system may face a $2 million shortfall for the year.
Second District member Elaine Belfield opened the discussion by quoting state law requiring the board to keep the public informed. She asked for a public meeting involving all members of the board's administrative staff to include Steve Sorrells and the consultants being used by acting superintendent Allen McCannon.
"It's a shame that (former superintendent) Dr. (Dennis) Moore will not be available," she said. She also requested an extensive list of documents from McCannon.
Chairman Jimmy Patton agreed to the meeting and suggested that it be conducted as a public forum. A date for the forum will be set at a budget hearing scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 24 at 6:30 p.m. in the high school media center.
Greg Bleakley, a parent with two children in the Madison County school system, presented the board with eight questions Tuesday concerning finances. Board members and administrative personnel answered several of the questions, and stated flatly that they did not know the answers to others. Bleakley was assured that a full effort would be made to answer his questions at the forum.
Belfield addressed the question of the missing $3 million "surplus" left by former Superintendent Jim Perkins. She listed numerous repairs to school facilities that had been put off from previous budgets, and the purchase of land intended for a sports complex. Chairman Patton agreed that school repairs had been neglected. He said that it would have cost less if repairs had been made a few at a time.
Assistant superintendent Jimmy Minish suggested that the word "surplus" was not appropriate for the funds in question. He said that in past budgets, these funds were reserves to help finance school operations between the start of a new school year and collection of property taxes in December and January.
Chairman Patton commented that many school systems borrow money at the start of the school year due to delays in collectinglocal taxes, but ageed that Madison County had not been forced to do so in past years.
Ms. Belfield said Moore was responsible for much of the problem.
"A mistake was made giving Dr. Moore too much freedom and not watching him carefully enough," she said. She pointed out instances where Moore had granted pay raises without informing the board as well as other unapproved expenditures.
Bleakley raised the question of the proposed sports complex. Minish said that the board had paid $240,000 for the land, and collected $70,000 for the timber. Chairman Patton defended plans to develop the complex, pointing out that Madison County High will soon be a Class AAAA school but has no track, soccer field or tennis courts. District 1 BOE member Robert Haggard reminded the audience that a large contingent of parents had appeared at a recent board meeting in support of the complex. Board members agreed that funding for the complex will be on hold until current funding problems are solved.
Mary Widles, a teacher in the school system who wrote the original letter questioning the system's financial plans, told the board that she was speaking as a taxpayer. She said she was reluctant to speak because of her position as a teacher. Chairman Patton told her that there would be no reprisals for her comments.
Widles said that Bleakley's questions covered most of hers, and she was pleased by efforts to answer his questions, and the promise of a special meeting to address the remainder. She added two questions to the list.
She requested that the board carefully study expenditures for the past two years and change policy to prevent future problems. She also suggested that the board consider hiring a financial officer to oversee the budget.
"I will be looking for specifics - how will you become educated on how to run the system?" Widles said. "Can the board of education do the job?"
District 4 member Jim Patton - no relation to chairman Jimmy Patton - answered, "Yes, but it will take belt tightening."
Belfield agreed, saying that budget control was the key.
"The budget must be the spending authority," she said.
Chairman Patton agreed with the idea of a financial officer.
"That will be one of the considerations in hiring a new superintendent," Patton said.
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Planners approve Berry's plan for children's homes
Madison County planners gave the thumbs up Tuesday to country singer John Berry's plans for children's homes on Drake Woods Road.
The Madison County Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of a request by John and Robin Berry for a conditional use permit on 41.88 acres of agricultural land on Drake Woods Road, despite quite a few objections from neighbors.
The county commissioners will have final say on the matter Monday.
The Berrys plan to sell the property to North Georgia Christian Family Services, a private, tax-exempt organization that plans to operate several children's group homes on the land that will be licensed by the Georgia Department of Human Resources and the Department of Family and Children Services.
The homes, which according to Berry will each have three house parents and eight to 10 children ranging from 6 to 12 years old, will be for "children in need of a family."
According to James Griffeth, president of the board of directors of the organization, the homes won't be set up to handle children with criminal records or behavioral problems and each child accepted into the program will first undergo a screening process.
But a number of neighbors in the area objected to the permit, saying that the facility wouldn't be "good for the community."
For the rest of this story, see this week's Madison County Journal.



Judge still considering lowering Fortson bond
A judge was still considering Wednesday morning whether or not the half million dollar bond set recently for accused "cement murderer" Tracy Lea Fortson is too high.
Meanwhile, no official word was available Wednesday morning on whether a Madison County Grand Jury had indicted Fortson for murder. Grand Jury presentments are expected to be released later today or Thursday.
Fortson, 35, of Winterville, has been charged with the June murder of her former boyfriend, Douglas Benton, at his home in Colbert.
Benton's body was found encased in a horse trough filled with cement on June 19 in a wooded area of Oglethorpe County.
All judges in the Northern Judicial District recused themselves in the request by Fortson's attorney Tom Camp to consider lowering her bond. The matter was heard by Judge Roger Dunaway of the neighboring Toombs Circuit last Thursday afternoon in the Madison County courtroom in Danielsville before a number of family and friends of both the victim and defendant.
Camp told the judge that the $500,000 amount set by Judge Thomas Hodges late last month is "so excessive that it amounts to no bond at all."
"There is simply no basis for that amount of bond being set...she is not able to make bond and her house is in foreclosure," he told the judge.
Camp suggested a lowered amount of $75,000 to $100,000 and called Fortson's mother, Sharon Hodges, (no relation to Judge Thomas Hodges) to the stand to testify that her daughter could live with her and that the family is prepared to live with any stipulations and constraints that are placed on her daughter.
She also told the judge that Fortson's 15-year-old daughter currently lives with her and "wants her mama home."
Madison County sheriff Clayton Lowe testified that he "feared for the safety of the community" if Fortson were released. He also said that he was concerned about several pieces of evidence that had not yet been found.
For the rest of this story, see this week's Madison County Journal.