News from Jackson County...

July 11, 2001


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Local youth runs well in Peachtree
JEFFERSON'S Daniel Elder, 14, finished 416th overall in last week's 32nd annual Peachtree Road Race, the largest 10K road race in the world. More than 55,000 runners participated in the race.

Panthers name new girls' hoops coach
The Jackson County Board of Education approved the hiring this week of Chad Pittman as the new girls' basketball coach at Jackson County Comprehensive High School.

Two area wrestlers earn All-American honors
WINTER may be the time for high school wrestling season, but a pair of area wrestlers earned All-American honors during a recent national tournament in Birmingham, Ala.

Gender Equity Reviewed For Commerce Sports
The Commerce City School System will take a closer look at the equality of the girls' and boys' athletic programs in the 2001-2002 school year.


Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY
Fortson stands trial for murder DA, defense give opening arguments, call first witnesses
The Tracy Lea Fortson murder trial got under way Tuesday afternoon with District Attorney Bob Lavender presenting evidence linking Fortson to the murder of Doug Benton of Colbert.

Fortson trial won't be televised by Court TV
Cable television's Court TV was denied permission Tuesday to tape the Fortson murder trial for broadcast later.


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY
Homer council proceeds with new town hall plans
Mayor Leon Ray asked Jason Bond and other members of the Homer Fire Department Tuesday night to figure out what kind of space the department will need in the new town hall and fire station complex.

Movie theater proposed for Banks Crossing
A movie theater company wants to open a business in Banks County. The theater group, which has been talking to the county about moving in, has expressed a need to add an additional 790 parking spaces which required a change in the ordinances.


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GYM EXPANSION UNDER WAY

A gym expansion project is underway at Jefferson High School and is expected to be completed by October. The project includes locker space for girls, new stands and two practice courts.


Judge upholds county zoning ordinance
Calling a lawsuit by developer Kelly Henderson a "wasteful gambit," Superior Court Judge David Motes upheld the county's zoning codes and ordered Henderson to start over in his bid to locate a landfill on Hwy. 53.
The ruling was a resounding victory for the county government and gave validation to the county's zoning codes. Some officials had earlier viewed Henderson's lawsuit as a serious threat to the county which could potentially throw local zoning codes into disarray.
Motes calls Henderson's actions in the original rezoning application "unclean" and ordered that the application be resubmitted.
"Throughout the zoning process, the plaintiff was less than forthcoming with information as to his intended use for the property," the judge said. "On his rezoning application, mention of the intended use of the property as a landfill is notably absent."
Motes ruled that the plaintiff's "persistent pattern of deception" has not given the citizens of the county the opportunity to make an "informed assessment" of the plans.
"By concealing the purpose behind his actions, the plaintiff has again sought to make an end run around the zoning authority of the Jackson County community," he wrote.
The judge also ruled that the attacks on the validity of the county zoning ordinance are "completely without merit."
At the bench trial held in May before Motes, Henderson's attorney said that state law requires three signatures on zoning maps and that Jackson County's map does not have them. The county called former director of planning and development Don Seagraves to testify on that point. He said that the original zoning map had the required signatures from county officials and that the map Dean presented is a copy and is not the original. The original has not been found in county files.
Motes ruled: "It would appear that none of the parties seeking to present the Seagraves maps as evidence of the original maps are in any way responsible for the absence of those original maps. All the above facts being undisputed at trial, this court must accept the Seagraves maps as the second-best evidence of the original Jackson County zoning maps."
The judge also ruled that Henderson should have gone to the county with his claims that the county ordinance was invalid.
"The plaintiff has denied the commissioners the opportunity to remedy any defects which might have existed," he wrote. "The commissioners would have had an opportunity to make a considered, well-reasoned decision as to the necessity of any proposed changes, and could have acted in a manner which would save the county untold time and money. Instead, by pursuing its arguments directly to this court, the plaintiff has placed a burden on the taxpayers of this county by inducing avoidable litigation and tying up the judicial resources of this court. The court will not allow the plaintiff to succeed in such a wasteful gambit."


Benton to get second Pre-K class
Jackson County school superintendent Andy Byers told board members at Monday's monthly meeting that the state has approved an additional Pre-K class for Benton Elementary School for the coming year. Byers indicated a lottery will be planned during the next few weeks to determine which children on the Benton waiting list will be served by the new class.
Even with the new class allotment, Byers said earlier this week that there are still approximately 400 eligible children who will not be able to attend Pre-K in 2001-02 in Jackson County.
"When the state developed the Pre-K program, it was supposed to be a partnership with private providers," Byers said. He pointed to the lack of private programs as a key factor in the shortage.
"We do have some private folks who provide a Pre-K program, but by the time you pay for electricity and the costs of operating a classroom, you just can't make a profit on what it pays," he said. "That, primarily, is the issue."
Georgia's Pre-K program is funded by the Georgia Lottery, but increased tuition rates and greater interest in the Hope Scholarship program significantly limit the amount of funds available for Pre-K.
School systems must submit an application for a class to the state before offering a class. Though any school system could apply for enough classes to fully meet its needs, the state would not be able to approve all the applications due to the funding limitations.
"It was the same process when they funded kindergarten a few years ago," Byers said. "Today, kindergarten funding is included in the capital outlay formula." That means that school systems may now include kindergarten costs as a regular budget item, and that other state and federal funds may be used to pay for the program. Byers commented that he's not sure if Pre-K will ever be included in the capital outlay formula, but hopes that it will.
"I'm not sure it's going to take the same route, but that's what everyone envisioned when it began," he said. "...The real downside is that we have to resort to some type of lottery system for access to the program. Any time you do that, you're going to have people who don't get chosen, and that makes it seem unfair to some folks."
Earlier this year, a parent approached the BOE about the perceived unfairness of one of its Pre-K lottery programs, but Byers pointed out that everyone who applies has an equal opportunity to be chosen.
"We followed the exact procedures outlined by the state as to how the slots should be filled," he said.
The additional Benton class will allow 20 more students to participate in the Pre-K program.


No Matter How You Look At It, The
'01-'02 Commerce Budget Is Up Sharply

It depends on how you look at it. The budget passed by the Commerce City Council Monday night represents either a 37.2 percent increase or a 21.4 percent increase over last year.
The $27 million budget to cover spending July 1 through June 30 is up 37.2 percent over the $19.69 million budget passed this time last year. It is up 21.4 percent, however, over the $22.25 million actually spent during the last fiscal year.
The fact that actual spending for the 2000-01 fiscal year was $2,566,669 (or 13 percent) more than what was budgeted can be traced right to the higher-than-expected costs of natural gas, which was $3.07 million more than budgeted.
The other major boost to the budget is in capital expenditures, where the city plans to spend $6.7 million. Of that, $2.5 million is for the beginning of a $6 to $7 million addition to the waste treatment plant, another $1.8 million will be spent for water system improvements, including a new tank on Allen Road and $1.47 million in capital improvements spread over the 10 departments of the General Fund
For the rest of this story, see this week's Commerce News.


City Approves Rezoning For Mt. Olive Apts.
The Commerce City Council voted 4-2 Monday night to rezone 29 acres on Mount Olive Road so up to 240 apartment units can be built.
The Commerce Planning Commission had recommended that Carlotta Garrison's request to change the land from A-R (agricultural-residential) to R-4 (multi-family residential) be rejected. That recommendation was based on the city's future land use plan, which calls for the area to be high-density single-family housing, and reasoned that there are already too many rental units in the area.
But Ward 4 councilman Bob Sosebee didn't see it that way.
Sosebee said he had talked to Mrs. Garrison, driven by the property and decided that it "is ideal for multi-family development." Sosebee pointed out that, because the land is not in the shared tax district with Jackson County, "on any development, the city would get 100 percent of the taxes."
Ward 2 councilman Donald Wilson and Ward 1 councilman Riley Harris agreed, making and seconding a motion respectively to grant the rezoning.
But at-large councilman Richard Massey wasn't sold.
"It's going to have a big impact on the schools," he warned.
Ward 3 councilman Sam Brown agreed with Massey.
"I agree with what Richard said as far as the stress on the infrastructure," he stated. "We had duplexes down in my ward and we turned it down. If we're not consistent, if we don't follow the land use plan and go against the planning commission, where does that put us down the road? If we approve on one side of the town, are we not putting ourselves in limbo by not approving them all over town?"
Mayor Charles L. Hardy Jr. indicated he stood with Massey and Brown.
Attorney David Burroughs spoke on Mrs. Garrison's behalf, arguing that the property, if zoned R-4, was worth $19,000 per acre; if zoned R-1 or left A-R, he said, it is worth half that.
He also presented a "constitutional challenge," a document that would serve to keep open the option of suing the city if the council failed to grant the rezoning.
Mrs. Garrison promised a "quality" development from the buyer and asked the council members to "Think how it would be if it was you. Would you want someone to say 'No, you can't?'"
Jerry Gailey, who lives nearby, asked the council to consider whether they would want such a development in their back yards.
"I would rather have horses and cows than 500 screaming kids and a couple thousand cars," he said.
When the question was called, Wilson, Harris, Sosebee and at-large councilman Archie Chaney all voted to overturn the planning commission recommendation; Massey and Brown voted against the motion.
A drawing that was included in the rezoning request proposed 30 eight-unit apartments on the site. However, the developer, who is buying the land from Mrs. Garrison, will have to get the planning commission's approval for the general design of the development, so the number of apartment units could be less.



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3 Rabies-Related Incidents Reported
A trio of incidents in and near Commerce have officials concerned about rabid animals.
On July 1, a fox got into a fight with two dogs on Minish Drive in Commerce, and the fox turned out to be rabid, according to Ben Mathis, the city's animal control officer.
The two dogs, who had not been recently inoculated for rabies, had to be destroyed.
Also last week, a Commerce man told Mathis that a fox tried to bite him in the Willoughby Homes area. The fox did not break the skin, but Robbie Willis is reportedly receiving post-exposure rabies treatments.
In another case last week, a skunk entered a dog pen on Dunson Cemetery Road south of Commerce. Dr. Larry Meadows of Commerce Veterinary Hospital sent the animal's head off to the state and it too came back positive for rabies.
"People should be aware that any time a wild animal exhibits strange behavior, it could be rabid," Meadows warned.
Mathis agreed.
"If people see an animal acting strangely, they should call animal control or 911," he said.
The animal control officer said there have been numerous sightings of foxes around the creek between Heritage Hills Apartments and the city shop and housing project and that people have been feeding them.
"Evidently, they are feeding them," he said. "In the project, where the creek is, I know people throw out scraps."
Both Meadows and Mathis urge pet owners to make sure their pets have current rabies inoculations.
"If you haven't had your animals updated on rabies shots, please do so," Mathis said. "That's the main thing that helps protect people."


Maysville man charged in Commerce murder
A Maysville man has been charged with "malice murder" in the Friday stabbing death of Ralph Douglas Stockton, 56, of 68 Chestnut Street, Commerce.
Commerce investigator Steve Kelley said Robert Steve Turpin, 22, of Unity Church Road, Maysville, confessed to the crime Friday afternoon after his mother brought him to the police station for questioning.
The stabbing occurred in a field off Walnut Street very early Friday, said Kelley.
"Stockton had lived with Turpin's mother years ago, and there were some bad feelings," the investigator said.
The bad blood came to the forefront after Turpin came to visit Stockton, and both were visiting a third man, who was living in a camp site in the woods behind Mount Vernon Mills.
"Both of them were drinking. Ralph got to talking bad about his (Turpin's) family and Turpin just couldn't take it," Kelley said.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Commerce Police Department worked on the case.
Stockton died from being stabbed, but authorities would not reveal how many times he was stabbed.
"We haven't found the murder weapon yet," Kelley said.


Man charged with Alabama murder found in Jackson County
A man who has been charged with the murder of an Alabama man was found Monday morning asleep in a vehicle parked alongside I-85 in Jackson County.
The Jackson County Sheriff's Department received a medical call around 8 a.m. Monday about a man in a green Jeep Cherokee on the off-ramp of I-85 at Hwy. 53. They found Elvernardo Decarlos Dexter, 26, Rock Port, N.C.
Jackson County chief investigator David Cochran said a .38 caliber pistol was found in the vehicle, along with what appeared to be blood. Cochran said the suspect ran away, but was captured shortly afterward by deputies. He said further investigation found that the vehicle was involved in a homicide in Opelika, Ala.
"A brother and sister had given the suspect a ride," Cochran said. "The brother was shot and killed and the body dumped in Alabama. The sister was driven to a Greyhound bus stop in Atlanta where she was put out of the vehicle."
The woman notified Atlanta police, who notified Alabama law enforcement officers.
Dexter is being held in the Jackson County Jail on charges of theft by receiving an automobile, entering an automobile and obstruction of an officer. The State of Alabama has issued a warrant for capital murder and Dexter is expected to be extradited there.