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March 27, 2002


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OPINIONS
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SPORTS

Tiger Track Teams To Run Thurs.
After facing a host of larger schools during the first two weeks of the season, the Commerce track teams will finally get a look at a smaller school this week when they take on AA Oglethorpe County in Lexington Thursday.

Panthers struggle in early region games
Three more region chances this week
After a difficult opening of its region schedule, the Jackson County baseball team will host Madison County Friday and Winder-Barrow Monday for its third and fourth region games of the season.

Dragons take two from Prince Avenue, falter at GMC
For head coach Chuck Cook and Jefferson’s varsity baseball team, 2002 has already been a season of highs and lows.


Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY
DA won’t prosecute Almond
Lavender sees evidence of ‘sloppy’ bookkeeping, but no criminality
The state will not pursue criminal charges against former long time Comer Elementary principal Mac Almond.

BOE may name new high school principal Wed.
Madison County may name a new high school principal today (Wednesday).
The county school board accepted the resignation of retiring principal Bob Rhinehart last week. The resignation takes effect at the end of the school year.


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY
BCHS player enrages crowd
Player’s comments at banquet draw anger; Gordon asks audience to ‘forgive and forget’
Lady Leopards’ former head coach Mike Gordon has seen his share of controversy on the basketball court. And he probably expected it.

BOC to expand water system
The Banks County Board of Commissioners has approved plans to expand the county’s water system to meet future needs to the tune of $10.883 million.


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Jefferson, Georgia
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PACKING BOXES FOR ACTION, INC. GIVEAWAY

Action, Inc., directed by Di Irvin, had help from a number of sources last week in packing hundreds of boxes with commodities to be given away. Irvin was joined at Bethany United Methodist Church, Brockton Community, by Jackson County Correctional Institute inmates, firefighters, emergency services personnel and supervisors, including warden Vicki Underwood, fire chief Chris Hewlett and EMS officer Richard Parr. Local churches and The Ark of Jackson County also helped out as Action, Inc. prepared for one of its three annual food giveaways.

No new ground broken at three BOC hearings
Final hearing set Thurs. on courthouse site plans
After three of four planned public hearings on the proposed Darnell Road location for a new courthouse, no new ground has been broken nor has the proposal been met with much support. In fact, the meetings have often become tense and testy as members of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners openly challenged some of those who spoke against the board’s plans.
Public hearings on the plans have been held for District 1, District 4 and District 3. The District 2 meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Commerce Civic Center.
At the District 3 hearing Tuesday night at the Braselton Community Center, Jefferson area resident Marion Mahaffey, whose husband served as BOC chairman in the early 1990s, criticized members of the board for their attitude at the meetings. She specifically mentioned a comment made by commissioner Emil Beshara, who referred to those on the former courthouse committee attending all three meetings as the “Jefferson traveling show.” She also mentioned a remark by chairman Harold Fletcher that was made to citizen Jerry Presley, who had a question for the board at the end of the meeting. Fletcher testily told Presley to “finish your political debate.”
“You’re not here to belittle someone and make negative comments,” Mahaffey told the board at the end of Tuesday’s meeting. “If you want citizen support, you have to be courteous to us. To gain our support, be courteous.”
Fletcher apologized for his remark to Presley and said it was “uncalled for.” Beshara didn’t address the comment he had made.
More than 150 people have attended the three hearings, which lasted approximately three hours each. Commissioner Sammy Thomason gave a slide presentation at each meeting about the need for a new courthouse that promoted the Darnell Road site.
The downtown Jefferson site proposed by the Leo Daly Firm and recommended by the courthouse committee was also discussed at each meeting. Tom Bryan, a member of the courthouse committee, spoke on the site at the Jefferson meeting last week. Superior Court Judge David Motes, who served as chairman of the courthouse committee, spoke at the meeting at the South Jackson Fire Department; and Joe Booth, also a member of the courthouse committee, spoke at the meeting at the Braselton Community Center.
JEFFERSON MEETING
The largest crowd so far was at the District 1, Jefferson area meeting, held at the Administrative Building Thursday night. A crowd of more than 100 people attended with 16 Jackson County residents speaking out against moving the courthouse to Darnell Road, and only two supporting the plan. Two others asked questions about the proposal, but didn’t state where they want the new courthouse to locate.
Bryan said he favors the downtown site selected by the Leo Daly firm. He also spoke on his concerns with the BOC only giving one proposed site at the meetings held so far.
“In all meetings, you have advocated a campus-type development outside Jefferson,” he said. “It would appear this preconception in thinking precluded a complete, thorough, objective look at the committee’s reasoning, conclusions and recommendations... It appears you have willed the Darnell Road plan to be the only plan— costs be what they will... In public presentations, you have only set out one plan. That is not being 100 percent objective.”
But members of the BOC said they had not made a final decision on the site.
“A concern to me is the divisiveness and the alienation on the part of the county people because of this project,” he said. “I grew up in this county and I know it’s history about as good as anybody. Tumbling Waters Society and Art in the Park are amongst many projects that have brought people from all sections of this county together. It had never been done, but they did it and they worked together. Even the county schools and the location of the entities have had the unification of the county in mind and the service of the population base. The existing chamber of commerce came about as a merger between the Commerce and Jefferson chambers of commerce.
“...We’ve come a long way in almost extinguishing the existence of the North Oconee River as far as that imaginary line goes, but I think what y’all are doing is alienating the hell out of a whole lot of people and undoing a lot of what has been done. The way you’ve approached this project has caused people from Nicholson and Commerce and Jefferson and Braselton and others to create strong talk of one community against another. We don’t need this. I expect your leadership to scotch such talk instead of encouraging it”
As for the proposed “campus-style” design of the courthouse, Bryan said that it could be built in several stories instead of in one level.
“Hall County built up, not out,” he said. “So the direction doesn’t matter. It is the thoroughness of the design and utilization of spaces that does matter.”
Bryan also spoke on the concerns of traffic and cost that he said the commissioners have.
“Dealing with cost first, that factor doesn’t hold water when you are prepared to pay over twice the appraised value for the Darnell Road property,” he said. “Then, consideration must be given to engineering studies on the site, millions of dollars on road development of infrastructure, cost of compliance with EPA and others.”
Addressing the traffic factor, he said that Jefferson would have relief when the bypass is open and numerous semi-trailer rigs will no longer go through the town and that school traffic will decrease when East Jackson school opens.
Commissioner Sammy Thomason asked: “Accepting the premise that traffic will bet better with the bypass and East Jackson High School, but don’t you believe traffic will come back with growth?”
Members of the BOC asked Bryan several other questions, including whether he has any business or financial interests in the downtown area; whether he had considered the cost of removing historic houses in downtown Jefferson for the property that would be needed; whether the county should buy 10 acres in downtown; how long the county should plan for the facility to last; whether or not he saw the benefit of purchasing the larger 157-acre tract; and what it is about Jefferson that he believed required a courthouse to be in the downtown area in order for its vitality.
“Put it where it is most convenient for the most people of Jackson County,” Bryan said.
Jefferson Mayor Jim Joiner also spoke on his concerns with the Darnell Road site. He said that moving the courthouse from the downtown site would take away the “history and focal point” of the facility.
Several others who spoke asked the BOC for the amount spent on the option for the Darnell Road site and other financial information. The BOC didn’t release this information.
He asked the BOC to make all of the information available to the public.
Angeline Scarborough also asked for more information on the project. She said the public needs more facts and not just opinions.
“We’ve got to have a lot more facts,” she said. “I question making decisions based on opinions verses facts.”
Thomason said that once a site is selected, the financial figures would be available.
The commissioners were also asked how much it would cost to build the roads needed for the Darnell Road site.
Two Jefferson area men spoke in favor of the Darnell Road proposal. John Kidd, who lives on Jefferson River Road, said that the county will need more courthouse space.
I don’t think they have the space downtown to add what they would really need,” he said.
Mike Schmucker, who lives on the Old Swimming Pool Road, also said he favors the Darnell Road site and asked the BOC to put aside political and business interests and think of the majority of the county. He said that the city needs some relief because the population is exploding.
HEARING IN SOUTH JACKSON
Approximately 25 people attended the second hearing, which was held at the South Jackson Fire Department Monday night for District 4. Half of those had also attended the Jefferson meeting.
This meeting was more informal with more people asking questions than giving their opinion on where the courthouse should be located. Several did speak out both for and against the Darnell Road site.
At this meeting, Thomason also presented the Darnell Road proposal. Judge Motes spoke on the Jefferson site recommended by the Leo Daly Firm.
Motes said that the firm and the committee had decided that the downtown site would be the most “cost effective.” He said the study listed the cost of the project at $12 million to $16 million at the downtown location.
te is still under consideration. It has not been completely ruled out.”
Fletcher said that the Leo Daly Firm would be asked to give a formal presentation to the BOC on its recommendation before a final decision is made.
Fletcher also said at this meeting that no decision has been made yet on the courthouse site.
Fletcher also said that he had received two proposals on locating the courthouse on the bypass and said these would be considered.
There was also some discussion at this meeting on how much of the 157 acres on Darnell Road would be usable. There has been concern about the property being in the flood zone, but Beshara said he believes all of the land would be usable. The BOC said a study by the Environmental Protection Agency would be done before a decision is made on the site.
Charlotte Mealor, a member of the courthouse committee, asked the five commissioners if they have any financial interests in the Darnell Road property or adjacent land. All replied that they do not.
BRASELTON MEETING
More than 35 people attended the Tuesday night meeting at the Braselton Community Center, with approximately 10 also having attended the earlier meetings.
Booth began his presentation on the downtown Jefferson site by stating that he is disappointed that the recommendation of the courthouse committee was “disregarded” by the BOC. He said the downtown site places the courthouse in a “position of prominence” and preserves the sense of heritage, history and tradition of the facility. He also added that a downtown site would be within walking distance of restaurants, banks and other businesses which would be convenient.
“You’ve got a sense of community within walking distance,” he said.
Booth also addressed the criticism of the site, including traffic, accessibility and space. He said the traffic problem would be alleviated with the new bypass.
“It doesn’t take an engineer to know that,” he said.
He also pointed out several sites that could be purchased to make the courthouse accessible. He added that enough space is available in the area.

For the complete story see this weeks Jackson Herald.


Fletcher instructs water group to plan for Darnell Rd. services
Despite repeated comments that no final decision has been made to purchase the Darnell Road site for a new courthouse, sources told The Herald this week that instructions have been given to begin work for county water and sewer to serve Darnell Road for a new courthouse.
According to sources close to the plans, county commission chairman Harold Fletcher instructed the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority to begin the groundwork to serve the proposed courthouse site with county water and sewer lines. County water lines will be close to the site under existing plans for a line at Hwy. 15 and Wilhite Road. But there are no county sewer lines in the area and providing sewage service to the site would cost millions of dollars, according to one source.
But perhaps the biggest problem with the plan is that the proposed courthouse site is located inside the City of Jefferson’s service area as defined under HB 489. Legally, only Jefferson can provide water and sewer service to that area.
Fletcher apparently made his instructions under the belief that opposition in Jefferson against the Darnell Road site would cause the city to not provide water and sewer services to accommodate the county’s plans.
County water officials confirmed this week that an engineer was already working on the water and sewer plans for the site.


Nicholson Looking For Grant Money For Park
Nicholson leaders are interested in a city park, but would also like some help in paying for it.
The city council met with Jim Dove and Chris McGahee of the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center Wednes-day to discuss possible grants for the construction of a recreation area.
Mayor Ronnie Maxwell said he'd like to obtain funds to make "a typical park area" with walking trails, a pavilion and a play-ground possible for the city.
Constructing a new city hall next to the park was also mentioned.
The mayor said he and the council are already eyeing three possible spots – five, 10 and 17-acre tracts in the city — to purchase and locate the park.
In seeking funding, Dove and McGahee stressed the importance of finding grants with which they could blend the plans of the park into the mission statements of those grants.
"Grants exist for the mission of the granter agency," McGahee said. "What you have to do is fold the project to meet their statements."
McGahee added it would be possible for Nicholson to get grant dollars from several different agents, but the city would need to have some specific plans in place.
"You can blend a lot of different pots of money; you just need to have a plan of what you want to do," he said.
Dove also stressed the need for solid planning.
"The best thing to do is determine what direction you want to go in, identify the property you want, work on a site plan and get a cost for the project," he said.
The council and RDC representatives discussed at length the possibility of Land/Water Conservation Fund money to aid Nicholson in the project.
The grant would match the city for every dollar they spend up to $75,000. There is a also a $25,000 minimum. However, a pre-application for the grant is due Friday.
McGahee explained that the fund could help pay for the construction of a recreation facility, but added that a new city hall would have to be totally separate from the project.
Dove and McGahee also mentioned several other possible sources for acquiring funds or borrowing money for the park: Greenspace, the Georgia Municipalities Association, the Rural Development Center, or even corporate money.
Dove explained that purchasing land is perhaps the best step toward luring grant money.
"It's a step ahead....you're showing your commitment, you've got a vested interest in it," Dove said. "And they're going to take that into consideration."
McGahee said it was also important to realize that funds aren't automatic.
"I think you need to have the philosophy that 'we may end up doing this all ourselves,' but if we plan it out, our odds of getting some help are better."


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Area Lawmen Arrest Five Men,
Break Up Two Burglary Rings
Two years ago, Casey Gary was one of the heroes who helped bring a state football championship to the Commerce City School System.
Today, Gary, 19, 417 Allen Road, Commerce, stands accused of 13 burglaries, including three victimizing the school system where he earned those honors.
Gary and Timothy Marty Cheatum, 18, 1272 Thyatira- Brockton Road, Jefferson, were arrested during the past week by the Banks County Sheriff's Department and the Jackson County Sheriff's Department in connection with burglaries in those jurisdictions. Commerce served its warrants for six burglaries Tuesday and may file charges in three other incidents later. And officials in Madison County may have charges of their own.
Gary and Cheatum were two of five burglary suspects arrested this week in a pair of loosely connected theft rings operating in and around Commerce, officials say.
Officers recovered some $2,000 in items, including a number of firearms allegedly taken in a burglary at Daniel's Pawn Shop, at Gary's home in Commerce and recovered three of the 18 laptop computers stolen during break-ins at Commerce Middle School.
Gary and Cheatum have been charged with a burglary in March of Dry Pond Country Store and a burglary at East Jackson Middle School in February in which two laptop computers were stolen, said investigator David Cochran of the Jackson County Sheriff's Department.
"We are also looking at an attempted burglary at ABC Pawn on U.S. 129 in Talmo. They never got in and did some damage to the outside. I think we'll be able to clear that up," he said.
Banks County officials have charged the two with the burglary of the Subway sandwich shop at Banks Crossing and another of a pawn shop.
It was in Banks County that the big break came. Officials there interviewed Gary and Cheatum based on information shared among all of the law enforcement agencies and the two allegedly admitted to a number of the Commerce crimes.
"Working with Banks County and Jackson County and sharing information with each other, basically, they (the suspects) knew it was all about to come crashing down," said Commerce detective Chad Knight. "Banks County was interviewing them and they started talking. It was a big circle everybody knew was crashing down, and with everybody wanting leniency, they started talking."
Madison County investigator Buck Scoggins says the two are suspects in a January burglary of Neese Grocery in which cigarettes and lottery tickets were stolen. Charges could be filed later in that case.
Commerce police chief John Gaissert called the arrests the result of "old fashioned police work" and the coordination of efforts by Commerce, Jackson County and Banks County lawmen.
"The detectives diligently followed the forensic evidence and investigative leads," he said. "The investigation was conducted jointly with Jackson County and Banks County in a cooperative effort, which resulted in the solving of more than eight burglaries."
Gary and Cheatum were arrested late last Tuesday, March 19, by Banks County and Jackson County deputies.
"Between the three departments, sharing information back and forth, we got a lead. Banks County was able to follow up on the lead and determined they were responsible for a burglary in Banks County," said Commerce detective David Willoughby.
Gary is regarded as one of the toughest athletes ever to play at Commerce. He was a career leader in quarterback sacks as a defensive lineman and his stripping of a Lincoln County back of the football inside the Tiger 10 helped set up the Tigers' 2000 semifinal playoff win over the Indians that put the Tigers into the Class A finals. As a senior, Gary won the state Class A shot put title and was second in the discus.
The recent rash of burglaries has frustrated law enforcement and officials in Commerce dating back to around Christmas. But it was after Christmas that burglaries at CMS seemed to occur weekly, always targeting laptop computers.
"This has been a good thing for all jurisdictions," said Cochran of the arrests. "Everybody solved some cases. It was a good joint effort."
Gary and Cheatum have been charged with:
•the early January burglary at CMS in which five laptop computers, a desktop computer and a printer were stolen.
•the Feb. 1 break-in at CMS in which three laptop computers were stolen.
•the Feb. 18 break-in at CMS in which eight laptop computers and a digital camera were stolen.
•the Jan. 4 break-in at Commerce Rental Center in which electronics and DVDs were taken.
•a December burglary at Ma & Pa Pocket's pool hall in which cigarette lighters and pool cues were stolen.
•the March 6 break-in at Daniel's Pawn Shop in which more than $6,000 in guns, jewelry and electronics were stolen.
They may also be charged with break-ins at ABC Pawn, Anderson Jewelry and TESA Electronics, which were either unsuccessful or in which nothing was reported missing, and a smash-and-grab theft at Commerce Jewelry in which a necklace was stolen, said detective Chad Knight.
OTHER SUSPECTS
Officers found themselves dealing with two sets of suspects for two different theft rings. Commerce police charged Barney Shane Richey, 30, 137 Walnut Street, Commerce, and Gary Gordon Scales, 24, 169 Forest Avenue, Commerce, with the break-in March 21 at Friedman's Jewelry in which $2,500 worth of watches were stolen.
They charged Richey and Jody Fields, name and address not available, with the March 1 break-in of the Commerce City Schools maintenance building in which $2,260 in tools were stolen. They are also suspects in a subsequent break-in at the same location in which an air compressor was stolen.
The investigation is far from over. Officials are pursuing leads that could tie the suspects to other crimes or that could result in arrests of other suspects, Knight said.


Student killed in Sun. wreck
Jackson County Comp-rehensive High School student, Wesley Roberts, 17, was killed in an early morning wreck on Highway 346 in Pendergrass Sunday.
State highway patrol officials reported Roberts was traveling east on Hwy. 346 when he apparently lost control in a curve. His 2002 Ford F-150 went down an embankment, became airborne and the left front bumper struck a chain link fence throwing the truck into a tree crushing the driver’s side door. The left rear of the truck then struck another tree before coming to rest on its top, according to the report.
Jackson County paramedics and rescue teams worked for 20 minutes to extricate Roberts from the wreckage, said paramedics chief Dwight Smith.
“He had multiple serious injuries and was dead when our crews arrived,” he said.
Roberts was pronounced dead at the scene and then taken to BJC Medical Center.