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MAY 08, 2002


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OPINIONS
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SPORTS

Back To The Gridiron
Tigers Kickoff
10-Day Spring Football Session
Though the Tigers’ opening football matchup is a distant four months away, the gridiron chores have already started.

18-6 Diamond Dragons to begin state title hunt Thursday at home
Jefferson baseball players gave head coach Chuck Cook something he’s never had last week - a region championship.

Diamond Panthers close season with home loss to Hart County
The Jackson County varsity baseball team closed what could only be described as a disappointing season in what could only be described as a bizarre way last Thursday, in a 14-1 home loss to Hart County in five innings.


Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY
Campaign season is here
....and so were state Republicans Saturday
The 2002 election campaign reached Madison County Saturday as Republicans gathered in Ila to meet and greet several key local, regional and state candidates.

Plans continue for Hwy. 72 park development
The first half of a two-stage plan by the Hwy. 72 Business Park Study Committee has been been completed.


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY
Murder charges filed against two Banks County men
Two Banks County men were charged Wednesday in the shooting death of a Cornelia businessman.
Phillip “Bobby” Fain, 61, Cornelia, was found in a remote, wooded area of central Banks County on Friday.

Rodeo days
The Banks Crossing Saddle Club, which includes members from Banks and Jackson counties, is planning a second annual rodeo for May 10 and 11 at the Banks County Park and Recreation Arena, Homer.

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‘MEET THE MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS’

Miles Adams, Jackson County Comprehensive High School band director, led the JCCHS Concert Band in a performance last Wednesday for the more than 400 preschoolers and kindergarteners who attended “Meet the Musical Instruments.” The program was sponsored by the Jefferson Public Library and the Jackson County band program. Library branch manager Donna Butler described the four families of musical instruments while band members gave demonstrations.

Four-town planning board under discussion
A municipal planning commission comprised of the four cities along Highway 129—Talmo, Pendergrass, Jefferson and Arcade—could become a reality, said Talmo mayor Larry Wood.
The idea for the proposed “quad-city” planning commission has remained relatively quiet from the public since the municipalities’ attorneys first wanted to see if the move was possible, Wood said.
“We didn’t know if it could be done or not,” Wood said during the Talmo city council meeting on Tuesday.
But now that the word is out, Wood said tentative plans for the quad-city planning commission have been centered on each city receiving a voice in planning decisions.
The move comes several months after the Jackson County Board of Commissioners made it clear that the county’s nine towns were no longer welcome on the current joint city-county planning commission.
Based upon population, each city would have a representative to serve on the planning commission with Jefferson and Arcade possibly having two representatives. Likewise, costs for the planning commission would be based on population as well. Talmo, for example, would be expected to contribute seven percent of the funds for the planning commission.
Tentative job descriptions for the planners are in the works as well, he said.
“Being a small town, I think it would be a challenge to have everything in place to be effective, but in this case, we’ll have trained staff who know how to enforce it, the legal way to do it,” said Talmo city council member Michael “Trapper” Brissey.
One of the biggest pluses for the proposed planning commission, Wood said, is that it would allow all of the participating cities to prevent the duplication of services, as Georgia House Bill 489 urges nearby governments to do.
“It’s not just patterned around the four cities,” Brissey said. “Those are just the four cities that showed interest in it, initially. Any of the cities in the county could come in.”
The city of Hoschton, which is also considering forming its own planning commission, could join as well, Brissey and Wood added.
Since Talmo has been tabling the matter of forming its own planning commission since December, the city was eager to finally move forward with its plans, Wood said. It’s the one section of the city’s zoning ordinance that was holding the city council back from approving it any time soon.
But with the proposed quad-city planning commission now on the table, the Talmo city council will have to wait at least another month before taking action on the matter, he added.
The quad-city planning commission will take 60 to 90 days for the cities’ attorneys to complete technical details and have in place, Wood said.
OTHER BUSINESS
In other business covered, the Talmo City Council,
• heard from council member Jill Miller about the Dana Cantrell, the former city librarian. Cantrell, Miller said, is “now behind bars” for allegedly stealing the library’s computer and printer. Since then, a used computer has been donated to the city.
• heard from Wood about the flashing beacon lights along the city’s main street. The Talmo City Council will send a letter to state Rep. Pat Bell thanking her for assisting the city in getting the lights.
• discussed a letter the city received from a resident about the cemetery.
• heard from Brissey about a federal bill that proposes county and city governments share the costs of roads that cross railroad intersections. With at least nine railroad crossings in Talmo, the city could see a huge expense, if the bill is passed, Brissey said.


GBI to investigate Hoschton police chief
Citizens question potential cover-up
After citizens called the recent handling of accusations surrounding Hoschton police chief Dave Hill a potential political cover-up, the city council decided Monday to call the Georgia Bureau of Investig-ation to the case.
Although an initial investigation by Hoschton City Council’s police committee determined on May 2 that Hill was innocent of any wrongdoing, numerous citizens at Monday’s city council meeting showed up to air their concern of possible illegal actions.
“If there’s no wrongdoing, then why not have an outside investigation?” Sandie Romer said.
Last week, Hoschton policemen Lt. Caine Tate and officer Edward Russell Ayers approached Mayor Billy Holder and the city’s police committee about Hill’s alleged manipulation of weekly time work sheets, in which the police chief claimed he was on the clock more often than when the officers say he was performing his duties.
As the Hoschton police chief, Hill is paid $15.33 an hour with overtime pay of $23 an hour.
Since April 8, the officers began a detailed counter-catalogue of Hill’s time on the clock. On the week of April 28, for example, Hill wrote he worked 58.5 hours; the officers contend he worked 46 hours that week. In the past three weeks, the officers allege the police chief counted 34 more hours than he actually worked.
Hoschton resident Joe Underwood told The Jackson Herald the two officers woke him in the middle of the night on April 29 to ask him for help. Underwood said he advised them to hire an attorney and to begin researching whistle-blowing laws.
The officers spoke with the three-member Hoschton police committee on May 1 about the allegations, in which they said one officer would relieve Hill from work in the afternoon, while Hill would relieve the other officer in the mornings.
The following day, the police officers met again with the Hoschton police committee after the council’s regularly-scheduled work session meeting. City council members Ben Davis, Brian Boehmer and Genoria Bridgeman serve on the police committee, with Bridgeman as the committee’s chairperson.
When the officers talked to Davis and Bridgeman following a 50-minute closed-door meeting on Thursday to discuss “personnel matters,” Bridgeman reportedly told the officers the allegations were a personnel matter.
In a narrative of the events, Ayers wrote, “Genoria whispered to Ben Davis for a moment then told me this matter was over.”
On Friday, May 3, the whistle-blowing was taken to the next step when the officers began contacting the Atlanta media about the allegations in the small town.
“My intentions were to expose a criminal act by the chief of police of Hoschton and a cover-up from the police committee,” Ayers wrote. “I told (Richard Belcher of Channel 2 news) what we had discovered and how the police committee was handling it. I also told him how we were being accused of undermining the chief.”
Later that day, Ayers wrote again in his report of the rising controversy.
“Chief said things in his files were missing. Chief asked me if I wanted to resign or be fired. I told the chief I was not quitting for doing my job or for something I believed in,” Ayers wrote.
When the city council meeting rolled around three days later on Monday, more than 50 people crammed into the Hoschton City Hall to voice their concerns surrounding the police chief’s investigation.
Following the first comments made by Romer, Bridgeman read from a prepared statement about the investigation.
“Last week, a grievance was reported by a city of Hoschton employee to Mayor Billy Holder,” Bridgeman said. “A grievance was referred, by the mayor, to the city council and handled in the manner provided by part five of the City of Hoschton personnel (manual) pertaining to grievance procedures for police.”
Several members of the audience openly questioned if the “grievance” was sufficient for what some believed was a criminal act.
Underwood asked the city council members if any of them had a law degree to handle the investigation, especially since the city has been without an attorney since Wayne McLocklin resigned last month.
“I don’t know what they did. I don’t care,” Underwood said about the city’s handling of personnel problems. “All I said was that I wanted it handled properly, and that’s all I said.”
Underwood also questioned the council’s decision to take Hill’s investigation behind closed doors.
“All you people hired this man,” he said. “Why was it taken behind closed doors?”
At several points during the heated meeting, Bridgeman continued to read from her statement when questioned about the city’s justification for its handling of the investigation. Mayor Holder also read the definition of “grievance” from the city’s employee manual, but several citizens still said the accusations didn’t fit into the city’s definition of a grievance.
Michelle Wonsey said that while the incident is “not a matter of hanging anyone,” she did point out that several rumors circulating through Hoschton said Bridgeman’s husband had personal ties to Hill. And with Bridgeman heading the police committee that initially found Hill in no wrongdoing, Wonsey said the community deserved to know when the truth when many people believe the council is hiding something.
“I will not address rumors,” Bridgeman said. “I will not address confidential matters. This has been handled in the manner as provided by our personnel policy.”
After more discussion of the investigation, council member Brian Boehmer said the matter of accusations surrounding Hill should not be heard in a public hearing.
“I do not think that we should discuss human resource issues, personnel issues, in a public forum,” Boehmer said. “Nor do I think we want to talk about any investigation, if there was one, in the public forum. However, in the manner in which it was raised, I think it compels me as an elected official, responsible to the citizens, to request that we go to executive session to discuss this further.”
Boehmer, Ben Davis and Joyce Peppers voted to send the matter into a closed-door executive session, while Bridgeman and Rosemary Bagwell voted to deny the request. Council member Paul Turman did not vote.
The city council members met behind closed doors to discuss “personnel matters” for 30 minutes. Most of the citizens in attendance waited to hear from the council once the meeting was opened back to the public.
“After discussing with the city council in executive session, I’ll exercise my authority as mayor of the town, I’ll call the GBI in for an investigation,” Holder said.
Following his comments, the audience members applauded.
Mayor Holder told The Jackson Herald after the meeting the GBI will be contacted Wednesday. He also said he welcomes the state investigation.
Likewise, Hill said in an interview after the meeting that he too welcomes the investigation of his weekly time sheets.
Although he said he wants to be as open as possible about the matter, since the GBI will handle the pending investigation, he can no longer comment about it.
“I know some people involved in it are voicing opinions and I’m not like that,” Hill said. “I go by factual things.”
“We’re here for the city of Hoschton,” he said. “And I hope that the officers maintain that composure that I hired them for, to protect the citizens and maintain the laws of Georgia.”


Darnell Road courthouse site study to be finished in two weeks
The county’s study of the proposed site for a new county courthouse is expected to be completed soon.
Jackson County Board of Commissioners Chairman Harold Fletcher reported at a meeting Monday night that the study of the 157-acre Darnell Road site should be completed within two weeks.
County manager Al Crace reported that the environmental studies have been completed and are being analyzed.
The county has taken an option to pay $14,000 an acre for the site, which has been debated at several recent public hearings.


BOC OKs resolution for reservoir payment
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution Monday establishing a $1 million line of credit to make payments on the county’s share of the Bear Creek Reservoir debt.
BOC chairman Harold Fletcher said the payment must be made by Friday or Jackson County will be in breach of the contract.
The Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority has been making the payments since last July, but can no longer make them without borrowing additional money, officials say. The water and sewer authority had offered to make additional payments providing the board of commissioners pass the resolution backing the authority’s borrowing of the funds to make them. The plan had been for the authority to make the payments by selling Bear Creek water, but the delay in the completion of the reservoir has not made this possible.
Commissioner Sammy Thomason asked that the resolution include a requirement that the water authority get competitive bids from local banks for the funds.
Commissioner Emil Beshara questioned why a contract was signed by the former BOC in 2000 making it the BOC’s obligation to pay these funds. He added that seven contracts were approved by the BOC in October and November of 2000 outlining the relationship between the BOC and the water authority.


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Nicholson To Buy Land
$200,000 Purchase Being Touted As New Site For City’s Annual Daisy Festival
NICHOLSON -- After agreeing to a purchase on April 15, Nicholson leaders gave mayor Ronnie Maxwell the go-ahead Monday night to ink a contract with property owner John Stringer to buy a 10-acre tract on Lakeview Drive for $200,000.
Though original plans called for constructing a city park on the land, Maxwell said that the initial purpose for the property will be for the relocation of the city's annual "Daisy Festival" since the Hwy. 441 widening project will take the land where the festival is currently held.
The city also authorized a $10,000 earnest payment for the property and agreed to pay Stringer's loan interest until Nicholson's loan is finalized.
Maxwell said paying interest money was the fair thing to do since Stringer took the property off the market and the city's loan process could take six months.
According to the mayor, the city is getting ready to apply for a low-interest loan with the Rural Development Administra-tion and is working with the Regional Development Center to secure grant money to help fund the project.
The council decided on the purchase three weeks ago at a called meeting. At that meeting, Nicholson leaders went behind closed doors for an hour and picked the Lakeview Drive tract from among three pieces of property they had in mind for the project.
In other business conducted Monday night, the council:
•announced that, other than a request for a Nicholson City map, the council hasn't heard anything further from Commerce in regards to that city possibly paying a three percent franchise tax to Nicholson.
•met in closed session to deal with employee issues. The city agreed to allow librarian Bea Pearre to give back her three-percent raise in exchange for an extra week of vacation and voted to give maintenance worker Bobby Wood a dollar-an-hour raise effective on his employment anniversary July 18. The city also announced that Wood would get three days of vacation without sick and personal days.
•accepted a bid for $310 to install an interior door at the library front desk.
•agreed to close the Hwy. 441 end of Lakeview Drive at the request of citizens on that street to reduce the amount of land the Department of Transportation will have to take from them for the widening project. The road will still be open on the Broad Street end.
•voted to extend temporary free garbage service to the Nicholson Booster Club up to four bags a week for the remainder of the baseball season. The move will help the booster club deal with the high amount of garbage the organization said is present after ball games. The city also agreed to extend the same service during football season in the fall.
•agreed to pay the $150 renewal fee to keep the council's sign displayed at the Jackson County Comprehen-sive High School baseball field.
•voted to spend up to $275 for a picnic table to place beside city hall.
Charles Allen went before the council to make sure the deed the city is drawing for his Elm Street land contains an easement.
Allen told city attorney Chris Elrod that he'd present him a plat .



County takes action on pay increases for sheriff’s office
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners took action at Monday’s meeting that will lead to pay increases for deputies at the sheriff’s office.
The BOC took the action at 12:15 a.m. after a one-hour closed session to discuss personnel, real estate acquisition and pending litigation. The board had met in open session from 7 to 11 p.m. (see separate stories) before closing the doors to the public.
After the meeting was opened shortly after midnight, the BOC voted for county manager Al Crace to meet with sheriff Stan Evans to look at the pay plan and make a recommendation on the raises.
“We’ve had some growing concerns there and, rightfully so, we’ve had some restlessness,” Crace said. “The board had to stay with pretty austere things when they came in and they weren’t able to pass on market changes and we’re going to have to do that.”
Crace is expected to present a report on this matter at the next BOC meeting with further action to be taken. Crace said Tuesday that the board did vote to proceed with three or four raises in “special cases.”
Sheriff Stan Evans was present during the open portion of the BOC meeting Monday night but didn’t speak on this issue. He has repeatedly asked at previous board budget hearings for raises for his deputies and pointed out that their salaries aren’t comparable to employees at the correctional institute.
Crace said the BOC took no action on the real estate and litigation issues, but that several updates were given.


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