News from Jackson County...

July 20, 2001

Jackson County

Jackson County
Jackson County

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June 29, 2001

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County powerlifters earn Georgia Games gold
Pendergrass world bench press record holder Tracy Satterfield, upcoming Jackson County Comprehensive High School senior Adam Murphy and Jackson County native R. Garry Glenn were among the five members of Team Northeast Georgia participating recently in the 2001 Georgia Games powerlifting competition at Life University.

Three Tiger Sharks To Compete In State Meet
The Commerce Tiger Sharks recreation swim team will send three swimmers to state competition in Moultrie July 27 and 28.

City, county finalize plans for recreation football programs
The City of Jefferson Parks and Recreation Department and the Jackson County Parks and Recreation Department have finalized plans for their fall football seasons.

Neighboorhood News ..
Fortson sentenced to life for killing Doug Benton
Jeff Bennett and Jerry Alexander spent an agonizing hour in Madison County Superior Court Thursday as attorney Tom Camp tried to pin the murder of their friend, Doug Benton, on them.

GBI continues Mac Almond investigation
The investigation of former Comer principal Mac Almond is ongoing with no clear end in sight.

Neighborhood News...
Inmate firefighter program suspended
Amidst allegations of arson, improper behavior, access to inappropriate materials and prohibited family visits, the inmate firefighter program between the Jackson County Correctional Institution and the Banks County Fire Department has been temporarily suspended.

Anti-nuclear pilgrimage to come through county Sat.
Two Buddhist monks will be leading an anti-nuclear pilgrimage through Banks County on Saturday, July 21.
The Jackson Herald
Jefferson, Georgia
Telephone: (706) 367-5233
Fax: (706) 367-8056


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Teacher Debbie Mayfield hangs classroom posters at North Jackson Elementary School preparing for students to begin classes on August 2.

City of Commerce Cash to be Recovered
It appears that the city of Commerce will recover most of the money allegedly stolen by former police chief George Grimes.
"It looks like the city's insurance will cover all but the $10,000 deductible," said city manager Clarence Bryant.
Bryant said the Georgia Bureau of Investigation estimates that some $220,000 to $230,000 is missing from city fines and forfeitures paid in cash at the police station from 1997 through May. Grimes died June 2. Grimes was fully bonded, Bryant noted.
The GBI investigation into the matter continues. The agency has returned to the police stations all of the receipt books and its auditing department has sent its findings to the Athens office, said Bill Maleug, agent in charge.
"We had hoped to be finished now, but we had some murder cases and other priorities we had to take care of," Malueg said. "I know this is very important to Commerce, but when we have a murder case like we had last week in Commerce that takes a priority." As of Thursday, the GBI still had "a couple of interviews" to conduct, according to Malueg.

Firemen oppose county record-keeping
Local volunteer firemen made it clear to county leaders last week that they do not want county officials handling fire department bookkeeping records despite heavy criticism of current record-keeping by county auditors. The firemen were also adamantly opposed to the county hiring any full-time firefighters.
Commissioner Emil Beshara requested the meeting to "open up communication" between the Jackson County Board of Commissioners and those involved in the county's nine rural fire departments. The meeting lasted almost two hours and the discussion was at times heated.
A key issue that Beshara asked be addressed was the need to improve the departments' financial record-keeping. Every department in the county came under fire in the audit for 2000 for sloppy record-keeping, including the failure to balance monthly bank statements. Some records were in shoe boxes, according to county officials.
Beshara asked county finance director John Hulsey to present a proposal for the county to handle the fire departments' records. Hulsey proposed that invoices approved by the local fire districts be forwarded to the county administrative office for payment, with the amount credited against individual department accounts. The county already handles SPLOST funds for local city governments in a similar manner.
But firemen present at the meeting were adamantly opposed to that proposal. "He wants all the money," said Nicholson fireman William David.
But Beshara said the county doesn't want to take over control of the departmental funds, only the accounting.
"We're not talking about taking any money away or taking any control away from any fire department," he said. "We're talking about allowing Jackson County's finance department to track and perform the accounting services necessary to comply with the law and be accountable to the taxpayers of Jackson County and follow state law, federal law and local county ordinances."
Hulsey agreed.
"When we get the information (for the audit), some of the departments do a real good job and others have a lot of room for improvement," Hulsey said. "...We have a hard time putting this information together...Some of the people are real good and know how to keep books, but some of you don't know how to keep books...We don't want to control your money or take your money away from you...We would like to pay your bills for you on a daily basis."
Fire association president James Lyle said the volunteer firemen would prefer a second proposal from Hulsey, which will be for him to create a spreadsheet format with one method of handling the financial records. Each department would do its own record-keeping using that spreadsheet.
Other firemen were even more defensive of keeping the financial control within the local departments.
"They (taxpayers) elect the people (on the fire boards) they want to look over the money...the people they trust. They don't elect John Hulsey to do that," said Dennis Bullock.
BOC chairman Harold Fletcher reiterated the need for better financial recordkeeping.
"It's not our desire to tell the departments how to function," he said. "What we are looking for is some consistency and some means of assuring the people of the county (of this). We have found some problems. What we would like to see is everyone operating similarly for when we do have an audit."
Fletcher said that the financial records brought in to the county at the end of the year were not consolidated.
"They brought them in shoe boxes," he said. "...There was no rhyme or reason...We want to offer our assistance in helping you do a better job...We're all here to serve the same people. We all have the same constituency."
Nine independent fire districts cover Jackson County outside the cities of Jefferson and Commerce. Those nine districts have locally elected fire district boards which oversee departments within the district. Those boards set a millage rate for the district and levy a property tax to fund firefighting for the department. Last year, the nine districts levied $612,200 in property taxes for firefighting. In addition, the departments received another $48,000 from various sources and the county government paid $143,000 toward fire protection, mostly to the Commerce Fire Department to cover an unincorporated area around that town.
All of the departments currently use volunteer firemen, although some of the departments do pay responding firemen on a per-response basis. Eight of the nine fire districts were created by the BOC and serve under that board, although each is supposed to hold local fire district board elections as well. The West Jackson Fire District was created by an act of the Georgia Legislature.
The departments have come under fire in the past for sloppy record-keeping, but most county officials have been reluctant to openly criticize the departments for fear of political reprisals. Volunteer firemen have long been perceived as a powerful political force in Jackson County. During the last SPLOST issue, the departments had threatened to help defeat the measure unless some of the money was used to build a fire training center.
For the complete story, including the issue of hiring full-time firemen, see this week's Jackson Herald.

read the editorial on this subject

Tanger calls for vote on liquor by the drink
Tanger Factory Outlet Center manager Mark Valentine asked the Jackson County Board of Commissioners Monday night to consider calling for a vote on liquor by the drink in the Banks Crossing area.
Valentine said that Jackson County recently lost several opportunities for restaurants since liquor by the drink is not available. He said that a Ruby Tuesday's restaurant will be locating on Banks County property at Banks Crossing instead of Jackson County because of this.
"The ability to sell alcoholic beverages is very important to restaurants like that and to their ability to be successful," he said. "...The Tanger organization would like to request that the commission consider approving a referendum for the next election cycle in November to allow liquor by the drink in all of Jackson County or in some limited segments near the interchanges or whatever you deem appropriate."
Valentine said several sites are still available at Banks Crossing in Jackson County and would be easier to market to large chain restaurants if liquor by the drink is offered.
"Our ability to really attract a nice restaurant really depends on the ability to have that as a selling tool," he said. "...We understand that this is a very sensitive issue. Clearly, our objective is to do is what is best for the community. We don't think that would be a terribly detrimental thing and there might be a way the commission could find a way to do it in a way that is tasteful and acceptable to the county residents. Any consideration would be greatly appreciated."
On another matter, Valentine asked the BOC to consider participating in a joint project with Banks County and the Tanger company in promoting the Banks Crossing area. He said the proposal is for a $100,000 marketing advertising campaign with the company to provide half of the costs and the counties to pay the other half. He said the goal would be to promote tourism in the area.
The market would be newspaper, magazine, radio and billboards, although no definite plans have been made. Valentine said the ads would promote historical areas and other tourist attractions in the county, along with Tanger.
Valentine has already spoke with the Banks County Convention and Visitors Bureau about the project. He said he has no commitment from that group, but a discussion was held on Banks and Jackson providing the remaining $50,000.
Jackson County officials also made no commitment, but expressed an interest in participating in the project.
"Jackson County is very interested in assisting with this," BOC chairman Harold Fletcher said.

Planning Commission Stalks Out Of Work Session
Angered over the city council's reversal of its recommendation on a rezoning issue, the Commerce Planning Commission walked out of a work session with the Commerce City Council Monday night.
The move left the city council wondering whether all five members of the planning commission would resign over the July 9 decision to rezone 29 acres between Mount Olive and Hospital roads for apartments.
"We didn't resign. That's not the plan," said vice chairman Greg Perry after the meeting. "We're just tired of being used."
Perry, chairman Billy Vandiver and members Ronnie Maxwell, Doug Newcomer and Kenneth Suber all walked out after councilman Bob Sosebee cut off Suber's and Perry's attempt to get an explanation for the July 9 vote.
The two groups had planned a work session to discuss revising the city's land use plan, and all members of both groups were present. Before the proposed topic was discussed, however, Suber asked the council to explain the July 9 vote.
"We'd like to know, in your approval (of the request) where did you all see a benefit for the city of Commerce?" Suber asked.
Sosebee, who had come across July 9 as the leading proponent of reversing the planning commission's recommendation, provided a litany of reasons supporting an R-4 designation on the site. It included what he said was a lack of rental housing units constructed over the last five years, rental housing and mobile homes on nearby tracts, a "90 percent" agreement rate with CPC recommendations, a need for housing and the development trend in the area.
He also belittled suggestions that the apartments would cause crowding for the school system.
"We don't have a school population problem," he said. "If we do, let's educate the children inside the city limits and not educate the kids from outside the city."
Sosebee also argued that the only way to operate the city school system without raising taxes is to "grow the tax digest."
Vandiver pointed out the area on the city's future land use map, which lists it as high-density single-family residential.
"That is basically what we were told we had to look at," he said, referring to the map ... "We are here to look at the future land use plan. That's exactly what we were doing. That's (single-family housing) what it said (for the tract)."
Newcomer accused the council of "wasting two years of our time," and suggested that the city had given the planning commission "marching orders" to stress single-family development, only to change its position.
"Why should we even be here?" he asked.
Having failed to get an explanation from Sosebee, Perry asked councilman Archie Chaney his reasons for overturning the CPC recommendation.
"Some of the council wanted to help the lady," Chaney responded, referring to Carlotta Garrison, who sought the zoning change.
"You just thought it was the best thing to do. You had no justification," Perry answered. He then asked councilman Riley Harris for his reasons. When Sosebee interrupted to suggest the meeting wasn't an appropriate place to make such inquiries, the discussion ended and all five members of the planning commission left the room.
"The sad thing is," said Perry later, "that this opens the whole area between Mount Olive Road and 441 to multi-family development. If you let one in, you can't stop the rest."
"I don't see any benefit to the city of Commerce," said Newcomer. "I don't know what in the world the benefit is to Bob Sosebee."
"They couldn't even answer a question," said Vandiver. "They couldn't back it (their vote) up. I showed them on the land use plan, high-density, single-family residential. That's what we were going on, plus, we were trying to protect the people in Northview Subdivision."
Inside, Sosebee referred to the walk-out as "childish," and said it was orchestrated for the press.
"We've got a planning commission that for some reason, that is totally no-growth," he said.
For the rest of this story, see this week's Commerce News.

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MTV goes to Arcade looking for 'ugly' people
A Los Angeles, Calif., film crew for MTV came to Jackson County over the weekend looking for "ugly" people to feature in a music video.
Rockhard Films was at Arcade on Saturday and Sunday to film a video for Bubba Sparks, who is from Athens. The video, entitled "U-G-L-Y," featured the regulars of the LA Tavern who participated in an ugly contest, which is the underlying theme of the video.
There were apparently some problems during the two-day shoot. The production crew on Sunday blocked off parking to the new Fatboy's restaurant, which sits next door to the L.A. Tavern. Employees of Fatboy's also said that by the second day, the crew had become rude and obnoxious. Restaurant owner Ken Johnson became frustrated with Rockhard and tore down their restricted parking signs. Employees said the company also left a mess behind.
Rockhard also had a problem when they thought a rented van had been stolen overnight. An incident report was filled out and the Jackson County Sheriff's office was on the lookout for the van. It was later found and recovered.
"It wasn't stolen," said a spokeswoman for Rockhard later. "It had been left where it was parked the night before."
There was no word on whether or not the production firm found enough ugly people in Arcade to complete its project.

Asphalt plant applies for EPD permit for Jefferson plant
APAC-Georgia Inc. has filed an application with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for an air quality permit to locate a hot mix asphalt plant in Jackson County.
The proposed site for the plant is Academy Church Road, Jefferson. The plans call for using a drum mixer to dry aggregate material and mix it with liquid asphalt to produce asphalt concrete. The dryer will be capable of burning natural gas, No. 2 fuel oil and No. 5 fuel oil, according to the application.

Grant Project Begins
Commerce residents anxious to see their taxes at work should visit the Cedar Drive area. They can see local, state and federal money being used to upgrade a neighborhood sorely in need of improvement.
Work began two weeks ago on a $750,000 project that will provide street improvements, water and sanitary sewer service to areas where it was not available and even some storm sewers.
The main source of funds is a $500,000 grant from the Department of Community Affairs. That state agency administers the federal block grant program. The Georgia Department of Transportation is putting in another $80,000 to $90,000 in paving for Northside Drive, Cedar Drive, Cedar Drive Extension and Woodbine Street, and the city of Commerce is making up the difference.
The portion of Northside Drive getting the work is a one-lane dirt road that will be widened and paved. Cedar Drive Extension will be extended, widened and paved. Woodbine will be widened and resurfaced and Cedar Drive will be resurfaced. Woodbine will also get curbs and gutters and storm drains, according to Bryan Harbin, director of water and sewer operations for the city.
"All of this has required rights of way and easements," Harbin pointed out. "Fortunately, there were few absentee landowners and most of the local people have been very good and understand. They want the project."
In all, the project, designed to benefit low and moderate income households, involved 5,600 feet of six-inch water lines, with fire hydrants, and 3,800 feet of eight-inch sanitary sewer lines. Fifty-three households and approximately 160 people will be affected.
"The whole idea of the DCA grant is to get rid of the septic tank problems in there," Harbin said. "All of the people will be connected to the city water and sanitary sewer systems."
Currently, most residents in the area have wells and septic tanks. There are some who get city water on very small lines, but there is no fire protection in the form of large lines in the area.
Allen Pipeline won the contract for the work and subcontracted it out to Griffin Brothers, Maysville. The target completion date is Dec. 8.