News from Jackson County...

January 23, 2002


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A complete history of Jackson County, Georgia from 1796 to the present. Written in narrative style for easy reading. Includes material not found in other books about Jackson County.

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OPINIONS
Jackson County opinion page

Angela Gary
Meet our staff
Faces always seem to be changing on our staff and we recently added a few new ones to the news department. I thought Išd give our readers a little information on the new faces and describe the job duties of all news staff members.

Editorial
Strange move in Alto
Actions of small-town governments can be confusing at times, but a recent action by the Alto Town Council is beyond confusing. It just doesn't make sense.


SPORTS

Directions to Area Schools

Wrestling teams at state dual qualifiers Saturday
Wrestling teams from Jefferson and Jackson County will participate Saturday in their respective area dual tournaments, the first since the Georgia High School Association’s decision last year to annually recognize state dual meet champions. The top two teams from Saturday’s events will advance to the state meets, to be held in various locations Feb. 16.

Tigers Stun Leopards, 58-56
Needing only two points to tie, Commerce tried to win the game on their last possession of regulation.
But Brown, who nailed five three-pointers on the night, missed the mark from beyond the arc with eight seconds, followed by Reed, who also missed a three point attempt with four ticks left.

Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY

Madison County ‘Teacher of the Year’ was....Born to teach
Shirley Aaron finds joy in instructing MCMS students. Shirley Aaron says she never doubted what she was supposed to do with her life. She has always known with unshakable certainty that she was meant to teach.
Now in her sixth year in that profession — her fifth teaching eighth grade language arts at Madison County Middle School — Aaron has been chosen by her peers as this year’s system-wide “Teacher of the Year.”

Manufactured home permits up slightly in 2001
The number of permits for manufactured homes jumped from 162 in 2000 to 212 in 2001.


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY

BOC moves forward on water contract with Baldwin
The Banks County Board of Commissioners and the Baldwin City Council are negotiating swapping water customers.
The matter was discussed for more than one hour in a called meeting Friday morning.

Coalition seeks Lula intervention on feed mill
Residents still hot under the collar over issue
Lulašs city council may have thought the Mar Jac feed mill controversy was over as far as they were concerned, but a few dozen Lula residents and members of the East Hall Coalition brought the subject before the city council for the fifth time in three months.


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NEW SYSTEM IN PLACE

Three new Lojack systems were placed in Jackson County Sheriff’s Department vehicles this week. Sgt. Duane Thomas is shown looking for a stolen vehicle in a training session Tuesday. The new systems were donated by Lojack, which is a stolen vehicle recovery network. County officials say the sheriff’s department receives an average of two stolen car reports each week.




BOC member says individual contact on zonings illegal
Public hearings only place for comments, Beshara says
If you want to make a comment about a local rezoning matter, don’t pick up the phone and call a county commissioner — that’s illegal, says one member of the board.
Jackson County Board of Commissioners member Emil Beshara said at Monday night’s meeting that it isn’t appropriate for countians to contact the board members individually about zoning issues that are in the public hearing process.
He said that these issues should be discussed at public hearings of the BOC and not in one-on-one conversations. He added that it isn’t appropriate for a person to call one commissioner on a zoning issue because all commissioners and all parties involved in the rezoning request aren’t present for the discussion.
“I ask that you not try to contact us outside of the public hearing process,” he said. “It does not comply with established Georgia law.”
Beshara said the appropriate time to give comments on zoning requests is during the public hearings before the full board and all interested parties.
“Once we hold the public hearing, we are in a public hearing process until the vote is taken,” he said. “To allow either side to impart information to any commissioner outside of that process is, again in my opinion, illegal. The public hearing process in Georgia allows both sides to provide input, but it mandates that it be done in a public hearing, and requires that the applicant be allowed to rebut any opposition. If a commissioner bases his vote on something that someone told him outside of the public hearing, the zoning process has been tainted.”
He said that county attorney Daniel Haygood is in the process of drawing up a legal briefing on this subject, and it will likely result in an additional announcement during the hearings, or a paragraph added on rezone applications.
“The purpose would be to inform the public of the impropriety of talking to commissioners between the public hearing and the vote,” he said. “This problem would go away if we voted in the same meeting where we have the public hearing.
“I have never declined to talk to anyone who called me (as a commissioner) wanting to talk about anything except ‘in process’ rezones. I welcome all contact from the people of Jackson County regarding any questions or concerns regarding their local government. It is one aspect of being a commissioner that I really enjoy,” Beshara said.



Suits filed against Braselton
Barrow County, Gainesville question town’s earlier decisions. Citing violations of a Georgia law, the city of Gainesville and Barrow County have filed two separate lawsuits against the town of Braselton for allegedly stepping beyond the town’s right when it supposedly connected to a south Hall County water line and for the recent annexation of Strickland River Farms’ 499-home development.
According to the Georgia Service Delivery Act of 1999, each municipality in a county must develop a legal strategy when county and city officials disagree over a particular matter, such as zoning or water issues. Those legal strategies vary by county, said town clerk Jennifer Scott.
Braselton is in the unique position of dealing with four counties—Barrow, Hall, Gwinnett and Jackson.
Both Barrow County and Gainesville say the town of Braselton didn’t take the proper steps outlined by the Georgia law.
On Jan. 7, Barrow County officials submitted a lawsuit that alleges the Braselton City Council “manifestly abused its zoning power” by not only ignoring the recommendation of the town’s planning commission to deny Strickland River Farms’ request for annexation and rezoning, but that it also ignored numerous objections from Barrow County leaders as well.
Once developed, the Strickland property would include 499 homes along Hwy. 211 and Liberty Church Road. The 214-acre property lies mostly in Barrow County with 32 acres lying in Gwinnett County.
During a November Braselton Planning Commission hearing, the planners heard from Barrow County Commissioner Eddie Elder, who urged the planners to deny Strickland River Farms’ request because his county wouldn’t be able to handle the massive residential development with the needed services.
Elder cited a comprehensive review by the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center, which determined the Strickland annexation would “not be in the best interest of the state.”
The review, which was initiated through the legal procedure outlined by the Georgia Service Delivery Act, also cited the objections of Barrow County’s fire chief, planning director and school superintendent—all of whom said the county’s resources were already stretched to the limit.
“A development of this density would place a severe strain on our facilities,” superintendent Ron Saunders said in his objection. Saunders further detailed that Barrow County could expect 748 additional school-age children from the proposed Strickland development that would also call for more than 35 new teachers and
classrooms.
Regarding the school shortage, Braselton Mayor Pat Graham said a proposed Greater Atlanta Christian private school in Chateau Élan could help alleviate some of Barrow County’s concerns about overcrowded schools.
The lawsuit by Barrow County further alleges that the Braselton Planning Commission failed to publish its investigation of the Strickland property as required by Georgia law.
Barrow County officials also allege “the actions of the Town Council of Braselton in annexing and rezoning the Strickland property from agricultural to PUD classification were arbitrary, capricious, without
rational basis, not substantially related to public health, safety, and morality of the area, and therefore are null and void.” The Strickland development was annexed by the city council in December.
Since the town of Braselton was served the Barrow County lawsuit last week, no official action has been taken yet, Scott said.
The first court hearing in the Barrow County lawsuit will be held Jan. 31, Graham said.
GAINESVILLE LAWSUIT
Less than two weeks before Braselton Mayor Graham was sworn into office, the city of Gainesville filed a lawsuit alleging the town of Braselton was constructing a water line that illegally tapped into one of Gainesville’s water lines.
In one of her first orders of business as the new mayor, Graham and the Braselton City Council members were briefed by the town attorney Greg Blount on Jan. 9 concerning the Gainesville lawsuit.
Following that initial meeting with the town attorney, the Braselton City Council decided to allow Blount to enter “an appropriate response” in Braselton’s defense in the matter.
“We feel that the citizens of Braselton should have water service in their own town,” Graham said.
The Braselton water line in dispute runs parallel to an existing Gainesville line along Spouts Spring Road in south Hall County. According to the lawsuit, the disputed water line is in Gainesville’s service area and would therefore “adversely affect” the municipality’s financial funding while creating duplication of water service.
In September, the Braselton City Council annexed Chateau Corners Development’s Clearwater subdivision. At the time, Hall County officials agreed to allow Braselton to run a water line near the residential development, but said that it couldn’t serve any customers in Gainesville’s district.
The lawsuit, however, alleges Braselton has connected to a Gainesville water line in order to serve the Clearwater subdivision. Chateau Corners is also named as a defendant in the case.
On Dec. 28, the city of Gainesville filed the lawsuit against the town of Braselton. But construction on the water line didn’t begin until the start of the new year, Scott said.
Scott further said that the town of Braselton hasn’t entered any written agreement with Hall County since the Georgia law only requires such agreements for municipalities with at least 500 residents in the county. Braselton currently has three homes in Hall County with several annexed residential developments to be constructed.
During their first court appearance on Jan. 2, town attorney Blount asked for a 30-day extension in the case since Braselton was to swear into office a new mayor and city council.
Since that time, no other action or court date has been in the Gainesville lawsuit, Graham said.


Chris Elrod announces run for House seat
Chris Elrod has announced his intentions to seek the Georgia House of Representatives District 25 seat on the Republican ticket.
If he wins his party nomination, Elrod would likely face Democrat incumbent Rep. Pat Bell.
Elrod will be speaking at a meeting of area Republicans, along with several other local candidates and U.S. Senate candidate Bob Irvin, at Mike’s Grill in Jefferson Saturday.
Elrod attributes his decision to seek elective office to his desire to impact his community positively through effective representation at the state level.
Elrod lives in Jefferson with his wife, Traci Loar Elrod. They have five children, Katie, Chelsea, Morgan, Emily Anne and Olivia. He is a 1991 magna cum laude graduate of the University of Georgia where he received an A.B. degree in political science. He received his J.D. degree from the UGA Law School in 1995 and practices law in Jefferson.


County’s first female warden stretches into new position
When the time came a few months ago to find a new warden for the Jackson County Correctional Institute, county commission chairman Harold Fletcher said he was a little worried about placing a woman in the demanding position.
But, one month after Vickie Underwood became the county’s first female warden, Fletcher is impressed with the job the former law enforcement agent is doing at the correctional institution.
“When we first started talking about a female in that role, I was a little reserved, but she has proven herself to the job,” Fletcher said.
As a former investigator for the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, Underwood said not only did she have to prove herself capable of performing a job typically considered for men, but she had to prove she could do it with no prior experience in the department of corrections.
Underwood’s career in law enforcement, however, stretches back to her college days at Athens Tech. Needing a part-time job, the computer programming student decided to take a dispatching position with the Jefferson Police Department.
“Things just began to click,” she said of her experience in that first law enforcement job.
Four months later, Underwood was enrolled in the police academy to begin a two-year career with the Jefferson Police Department. Eventually, she was asked by the sheriff to serve as an investigator on cases involving murder and bulgaries and she also specialized in cases dealing with child abuse, rape and domestic violence.
She investigated numerous cases for District Attorney Tim Madison for four years, which often included follow-up cases and preparing court testimonies on the crime scenes she investigated.
By the end of Underwood’s law enforcement career, she had 14 years of experience under her belt.
In February 2001, Underwood decided to take her career in a new direction when she applied for the deputy warden position at the Jackson County Correctional Institution.
She didn’t get the job, but months later, Underwood was named the deputy warden for the institution.
In December, Underwood completed six months of warden training and was certified by the state to hold such a position. During the same month, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners appointed Underwood as warden of the facility.
“I have so much to do,” explains the new warden of her responsibilities. Among those responsibilities is the daily maintenance and inspection of the facilities and to develop an inmate labor program that effectively serves the county.
“We’re looking to expand into a multi-purpose building within the next five years,” Underwood said. “It’s very important for these guys to have a place to worship and hopefully we can do that and not at the cost to taxpayers.”
Another change Underwood plans during her administration is the removal of the institution’s gym and the conversion of that space for 25 additional beds to add to the 174 existing beds. The weights from the gym will be donated to law enforcement agents, she said.
“She’s preparing for the future,” said county manager Al Crace. “I think she’s got the right road map.”
In the month that Underwood has been warden, she’s already begun to appoint her team members within the institution, Crace said. One such appointment included naming Bill Hazelgreen as deputy warden to Underwood’s former position.
Also within her month in the position, Underwood was one of several county department heads who organized the cleanup and maintenance effort during the recent snow storm.
As warden, Underwood is also responsible for coordinating the inmate work program.
“We’re looking strongly to perform better with the training program,” she said of the effort to help former inmates find jobs once they’re released from the institution.
“My impression is that she appears to keep good control of the day-to-day system,” said James Perrish, who monitors the state’s county correctional institutions to make sure they comply with state laws.
“Being a warden doesn’t have to deal with gender, it has to deal with attitude,” said Perrish, county coordinator for the northern district of Georgia.
Beyond the correctional institute, however, Underwood is a mother of three children and grandmother to three grandchildren who is proud of her accomplishments.
“It’s difficult sometimes to manage a full-time career, but my family has been very supportive.” she said.
In addition to her church activities, Underwood also enjoys spending time with horses and even attempting a round of golf.
“We think she’s going to do an excellent job as the warden,” Perrish said. “I think Jackson County will see some good things will come out of the correctional institute.”


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Basin Group May Sue Over Project Delays
ATHENS -- The Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority was scheduled to meet today (Wednesday) amid signs that the four-county group is tiring of the delay in the completion of its Bear Creek reservoir project.
The $31.8 million, 21-million-gallon-per-day water treatment plant was supposed to be done last July 1. Since it is likely that the contractor for the water plant will not finish it until March 1, Wednesday's meeting was expected to include discussion of assessing "liquidated damages" against Beers Construction Company.
"We're looking probably around the middle to the end of February or the first of March," predicted Jim Wrona, senior project engineer for the firm overseeing construction activities at the site.
That's the date at which Beers could conceivably turn over operation of the plant to the authority; it could be three to four weeks beyond that before treated water is sent to Jackson, Barrow and Oconee counties. It should be noted that the completion date has been moved back every single month since July, which reduces confidence in the March 1 date. And since the counties started making monthly payments back in July, there are some unhappy county commissioners.
"There will be lawsuits," predicted Elton Collins, chairman of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority and a member of the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority.
In theory, Beers can be fined $5,000 a day for every day after the July 1 completion date, according to the construction contract.
A sore spot with Basin Authority members is the fact that Beers has what Wrona calls "minimal staff" on hand as it winds down the project.
Harold Fletcher, chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, has already called for the assessment of liquidated damages. While the county water and sewer authority has been able to tap special purpose local option sales tax revenues to make its $149,000 monthly payments, that revenue pool will be dry after the March payment, according to Collins. That means the county government would have to make any subsequent payments until Jackson County has Bear Creek water to sell.
LAKE FILLING
Meanwhile, the reservoir itself is completed and is slowly filling. According to Wrona, it is 78 percent filled and is nine feet from full pool at the 695-foot mark above sea level.
At a state-mandated fill rate of but a foot a week, it will be nine more weeks before the reservoir is at full pool. However, there was long ago sufficient water in the lake to begin removing and treating water, had the treatment plant been ready.


See Galilee Preschool Flyer


Jackson County Republicans to meet Saturday
The Jackson County Republican party will hold its monthly meeting Saturday, Jan. 26, at 8:30 a.m. at Mike’s Grill in Jefferson.
Guest speakers for the meeting will include the following Republicans: Bob Irvin for U.S. Senate, Brian Kemp for State Senate District #46, Chris Elrod for State House Representative District #25 and Tony Beatty for District #4 Commissioner.
Mike’s Grill is located at 30 Sycamore St.
For more information, contact Candice Gunn at (706) 652-2967.