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January 02, 2002


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Girls Set To Take On Defending Champs On The Road Friday
The Lady Tigers have had seven games to work the kinks out. Now the “real” season starts with region play.

Lady Panthers explode onto fast-pitch scene
Though there were certainly larger headlines on the national scene, the one sports story of 2001 that is likely to have the most lasting impact is that of Jackson County’s fast-pitch softball team.

Dragons continue strong in Keen Classic
To face biggest challenge next Wednesday
Jefferson’s varsity wrestling team will travel to Dawsonville Friday and Saturday for the annual Amicalola Invitational at Dawson County High School.

Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY

1-Almond resigns as Comer Elem. principal
Large crowds show support for long-time school leader
Mac Almond resigned in March as principal of Comer Elementary School amid allegations of embezzlement.

2-Madison County taxes skyrocket
Taxes jumped significantly in 2001 for county schools and the county government.
School taxes were up 17 percent, a major increase for the second straight year, while county government taxes were up 19 percent. The increased tax income this year for the county government is more than the previous five years combined.


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY

Newsmaker of the Year 2001 —
Bonnie Johnson found herself in the center of controversy; supporters praise her volunteer efforts
A Baldwin woman who has spent the last decade working to promote Banks County found herself in the eye of the storm in some of the most controversial stories of the year in 2001.

Santa wears blue’
Firefighters, EMT, E-911 staff make holidays brighter for Tim Keanum
One Banks County firefighter, Tim Keanum, who is recuperating from quadruple bypass surgery, said, “I never knew it so strongly, as I know now. There is a Santa Claus and he wears blue!”
Santa wears blue


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The Jackson Herald
Jefferson, Georgia
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MAN’S BEST FRIEND

Jackson County Board of Commissioner Emil Beshara is shown with one of his pets. During his first year in office, Beshara has pushed for a county animal control plan.



Newsmaker of the Year
Emil Beshara on center stage with aggressive style
Whether it was animal control, bookkeeping by the county fire departments, or abolishing the planning commission, Jackson County Board of Commissioners member Emil Beshara was at the forefront of controversy in 2001.
Beshara was never shy about offering his opinion on whatever was being debated and, unlike his fellow commissioners, had no problem elaborating on why he voted for or against an issue.
Long before he ran for public office, Beshara attended BOC meetings. He was a frequent critic of the “old” Waddell administration, both at its meetings and through letters to the newspaper.
But if anyone thought Beshara’s political rock throwing would end once he was inside the BOC’s glass house, they were wrong. He has continued to be vocal and aggressive during his first year holding an elected position and has pushed several agendas, some successfully, some not.
Because of his leading role in some of the most controversial stories of the year, commissioner Emil Beshara is The Herald’s Newsmaker of the Year for 2001.

ANIMAL CONTROL
One of Beshara’s defining issues is the one he has yet to bring to fruition.
Animal control was an issue that Beshara pushed during his campaign and it is one that he has continued to push during his first year in office, albeit unsuccessfully.
Beshara presented a proposal to his fellow commissioners outlining how animal control could be handled and he visited various town governments promoting his ideas.
Beshara’s plan calls for the creation of a county animal control department to handle complaints. The ordinance also calls for all cats and dogs over age four months to be registered with the county on a yearly basis. The owner would have to provide a current rabies certification from a licensed veterinarian, along with information. In what is perhaps the most controversial part of his proposal, the county would charge a fee per cat or dog.
The proposal also states that pet owners must not let their animals go on another person’s property without permission. This has led the proposal to referred to as a “leash law,” which Beshara denies.
“I realize that there are still many areas of Jackson County that are still largely rural and agricultural,” he said. “I live in one of those areas myself. The few people I have talked to who oppose animal control live in the more rural areas of our county. But those who oppose the thought of animal control associate such a program with a leash law. The ordinance proposed is not a leash law. It only requires animal owners to maintain control of their pets on their own property. When explained in this manner, most people drop their opposition.”
Beshara had pushed for funds to be put into next year’s budget for animal control, but they were slashed when the board finalized the 2002 budget. But Beshara is still optimistic that the county will make headway with animal control during his second year in office.
“The process that will likely bring animal control to Jackson County is entering the final stages,” Beshara said recently. “Some public comments have been received and have been incorporated into the draft ordinance that we began the year with. It is likely that a formal vote to implement an animal control ordinance will take place in February or March.”
In earlier meetings, Beshara didn’t go into detail on how animal control would be funded. But he said recently that new county manager Al Crace has taken the responsibility of drafting a preliminary budget to fund the program and is developing a proposed approach for providing the services the ordinance will require.
“He is working closely with finance director John Hulsey to come up with the funds from the budget that was passed late this year,” Beshara said. “While the budget did not include specific funding for animal control, there are likely funds that can be shifted to accommodate the approach proposed.”
Beshara said that because of the tight county budget passed, it is not feasible to propose a full-fledged animal control program at this time.
“We will likely start off with limited personnel, equipment, and hours of operation,” he said. “The needs of the program will be evaluated throughout the year. When we sit down to look at the budget for 2003, we will review the needs of the program and budget for those needs within the funds available.”
Estimates based on the full-service programs of neighboring counties indicate that such a program would cost in the neighborhood of $175,000 per year, he added.
“That’s about $4.25 per year per resident,” he said. “The initial limited approach we have discussed will likely be nearer $100,000 per year. That’s about $2.40 per resident per year, less than the cost of a McDonald’s Happy Meal.”
Beshara points out that every week, the 911 center receives 12 or more dog-related calls. County law enforcement officials have no legal means to address these complaints unless a human is injured, he added.
“It is time to provide a legal mechanism to address these incidents,” he said. “I am committed to seeing Jackson County provide this service to our residents. There are several municipalities that have indicated that they would utilize the service when the county offers it. It is reasonable to initiate the program now while it can still be started on a limited basis. If we were to wait for several years, it would require a significantly higher level of funding.”

FIRE DEPARTMENTS
Another battle Beshara took on this year was the bookkeeping methods used by county fire departments. The commissioner requested a meeting with county fire departments to “open up communication” over that issue and to float the idea of the county having some full-time firemen. The two-hour meeting was heated at times.
A key issue that Beshara addressed at that meeting was the financial record-keeping. Every fire department in the county came under fire in the annual county audit for sloppy record-keeping.
While the firemen at first opposed the county’s move to centralize bookkeeping, the matter was eventually resolved. The county now handles the bookkeeping for the fire departments.

PLANNING COMMISSION
One of the most controversial and surprising actions of the BOC in 2001 was the abolishing of the county planning commission. The board immediately re-created the planning board with a new set of rules and then named its own members.
Beshara was a key player behind the scenes in that move and presented the plan at the BOC meeting. The move was never discussed in the open until action was taken, but Beshara has said the commissioners and county leaders had been working on the move for some time.
As Beshara enters into his second year in office, it is likely that he will remain in the center of controversial issues. His aggressive and outspoken style will likely keep politics lively in 2002.


Economic Story of the YearEconomic Story of the YearTwo long-time textile plants close
Jackson County’s economy was hit hard in 2001 with the closing of two long-time textile businesses in Jefferson. Hundreds were left without jobs and the dwindling textile base in the county led to these events being selected as the top economic story of the year.
In early October, Wilkins Industries, an Athens-based apparel designer, marketer and manufacturer, announced plans to begin closing its Jefferson plant with 135 workers to be laid off. The Jefferson facility had been in operation since 1958.
Company leaders said the closing was largely a result of continued foreign and NAFTA-related competition.
“It is impossible to compete in a global marketplace in which American apparel workers are paid $9 to $12 an hour while workers in Mexico make $2.20 per hour and those in Pakistan make only 37 cents per hour,” Wilkins human resources director Ellen Wilkins said.
One week after the announcement from Wilkins, Texfi Industries in Jefferson announced it would be closing with 160 people to lose their jobs.
The closing of the two plants leaves only two textile manufacturing plants in Jackson County: Buhler Yarns in Jefferson and Mt. Vernon Mills in Commerce.

Snow flurries fall; up to 4 inches expected
BY ANGELA GARY
Snow flurries were falling Wednesday and up to four inches is expected in the area, according to the National Weather Service.
The forecast calls for temperatures ranging from 26 to 37 degrees with scattered snow showers. Forecasters predict from one to four inches of snow will accumulate in parts of Georgia.
County manager Al Crace said the county officials are “on alert” and keeping a watch on the weather conditions.
“We are staying on alert,” he said. “Just before Christmas, we had a two-day dry run just to check all of our equipment and make sure everything was in order. All of our equipment was working and we have proper supplies, such as salt and stone.”
Crace added that E-911 staff members keep up with the updated weather report and pass it along to county officials. The county manager said he also has a beeper that gives him the general weather report alert.
Crace said that county leaders also coordinate the weather with school and hospital officials.


Recession’ Hardly Noticed In Local Housing Industry
Apparently Commerce area developers either haven't heard about the so-called recession, or they don't believe it. As 2001 fades away, the construction of spec houses in several subdivisions continues unabated.
Slow to get to the Jackson County housing boom because it is furthest from Atlanta, Commerce doesn't appear ready to let talk of a recession put a damper on it now that development has finally crossed the river.
"What else costs the same that it did 20 years ago?" notes a confident-sounding Venita Masters, who for The Norton Agency represents Deer Creek Subdivision, located at the end of Baugh Street.
She's not talking about the cost of housing; she's talking about the cost of borrowing money. Mortgage rates slipped below seven percent a month ago and have since edged back into the seven percent range – a range real estate salespeople find very attractive.
Mrs. Masters says none of the Deer Creek houses has sold yet – because they are not quite completed – but she expects action to pick up soon, when a model house is open.
"I think it'll be a little slower in January, but then it will pick up. We think in the latter part of the first quarter, it will really start to boom."
Her agency is also marketing a subdivision in Jefferson and another in Hall County.
The South is a good place to sell houses. "I think our area is better than what a lot of the other parts of the country are going through," she observes.
Olin Dillard, who recently moved to Commerce and through Tay-Gen Develop-ment Corp. has bought the first five lots in Belmont Park Subdivision, is also optimistic.
"I've already had one person come in and talk about a house. We're getting her pre-qualified right now," he said.
And while he's read the stories about corporate layoffs, he doesn't see them affecting business right now.
"People still need to buy homes and people still want to get out of where they are and move here," he says. "The economic fundamentals are still good. The job layoffs are industry specific."
He also likes the county.
"From everything I can see up here, Jackson County is poising itself for development," he says, noting that the sale of houses "may not go at a blistering pace" in 2002, "but it will go on."
His houses sell from the mid $130,000 to mid-$140,000, feature split foyers, concrete siding and sodded yards.
If all of the subdivisions already permitted were to build out, the city would acquire more than 600 more households – not counting duplex projects. And while that certainly won't happen in the next year, it is apparent that the interest in Commerce by developers is not flagging.
"It's kind of slow right now, but that's just the season," says David Lanphear, city building inspector. "Yesterday, we had a real estate person for Remax looking for property. We get those people walking in here pretty regular."



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George Grimes Was Top Story
Of Past Year
Sudden Death, Revelation Of Embezzelment Rocked Commerce
What was the biggest story reported in the pages of The Commerce News during 2001? What captured the most headlines, had the greatest impact or caused the most commentary?
It's a subjective question, of course, and the potential nominees for that title are numerous. There was the first year of the county manager form of government, for example, or the topsy-turvy shenanigans of the Nicholson city government. Growth and the problems it creates have been and will continue for years to be a major source of news stories in every part of the entire county. How about the Bear Creek Reservoir, supposed to have been completed but still under construction even as Georgia's drought enters its fourth year?
All of those are worthy nominees, but for sheer shock value, nothing created more interest in Commerce than the death of Police Chief George Grimes and the subsequent revelation that he had been stealing money from the city.
Over the long term, Grimes' perfidy amounts to almost nothing; but the events that unfolded after his June 1 death sent shock waves from Commerce to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
While it is easy now to find people who did not like Grimes, at the time he was generally regarded by the public as a good, honest police chief. Buddy Nix, director of the GBI, just weeks before had told the Commerce Kiwanis Club that Commerce "is lucky to have George Grimes" as police chief, and Grimes was well-regarded as an instructor at the Command College.
And then Grimes died.
He suffered a heart attack Friday morning, June 1, and died en route to an Atlanta hospital. By the time his memorial service was held the following Tuesday, city officials concluded that Grimes had been stealing proceeds from traffic citations.
The first evidence occurred as officers began cleaning out his office for use by interim chief Aubrey Pittman and found boxes of empty envelopes that once contained cash payments from traffic tickets paid at the police station.
People who chose not to contest their speeding or other tickets in city court could pay them off in cash at the police station. The dispatcher placed the cash in an envelope, gave the offender one receipt, placed another receipt in the envelope with the cash and put that envelope in a locked box – to which Grimes had the only key. Periodically, Grimes would take the contents of the box to City Hall, where it was counted and the money deposited.
Except, Grimes apparently did not deliver all of the money to City Hall.
Immediately upon learning of the empty envelopes, city manager Clarence Bryant summoned the GBI, which took over the investigations. More envelopes were found in Grimes' car and apartment; rumors, most of them false, circulated about co-conspirators and illicit romances. City officials were first stunned, then embarrassed.
The GBI ultimately concluded that, acting alone, Grimes managed to siphon off $269,779 over several years. The actual figure could have been more; that total was derived from the available records. But it also turned out that the city's insurance coverage should reimburse the city for all of the loss except the deductible, which has been mentioned as $5,000 to $10,000. The city council voted to donate the insurance payment to the Commerce City School System to go toward the Bill Anderson Center for the Performing Arts.
The city tightened its accounting mechanisms as a result of the theft and hired John Gaissert, former public safety director at North Georgia College, as its new police chief.