News from Banks County...

JUNE 18, 2003


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OPINIONS
Angela Gary

A ‘rising star’ honors a ‘country legend’
One is a legend who has been entertaining country music fans for more than half a century.
The other is a rising star who has already won numerous awards and sold millions of CDs.

Phillip Sartain
Skipping Pages
I like to go to the beach. And I like for my wife to go with me. We both like to sit in the sand and relax. You can learn a lot about your spouse that way.


SPORTS

Several summer camps planned at recreation dept.
FAST-PITCH
SOFTBALL CAMP
A youth fast-pitch softball camp for girls ages 7-14 is planned for July 14-17 from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m.
The camp costs $35 and will primarly focus on the fundamentals of the game. Deadline for registration is July 9. Call the BCRD at 677-4407 for more information.


Neighboorhood News ..
JACKSON COUNTY
BOC sets hearing on courthouse financing for July 11
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners has set a public hearing to discuss financing a new courthouse.
The hearing will be held at 9 a.m. on Friday, July 11, at the Grand Jury Room in the E-911 complex in Jefferson.

‘Celebrate Braselton’ planned for July 3-4
The Town of Braselton is planning its first-ever town-sponsored July festival on July 3 and 4 in the town’s park.

City Lights To Sparkle This Weekend
Members of the Commerce Area Business Association got a final update on this week’s City Lights Festival at last Wednesday’s meeting.

Chairman blasts editor
For the fifth time this year, Jackson County Board of Commissioners Chairman Harold Fletcher berated newspaper editor Mike Buffington at a public meeting.

Jackson ends 2002 in the black
Owing largely to a large tax hike in late 2001, the Jackson County government ended 2002 in the black.
During the year, the county took in $31.7 million and spent $29.3 million, not including funds for the airport authority and health department.

BOC postpones appointing water authority members
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners postponed action Monday night on appointing two people to serve on the county water and sewerage authority.

County Water Authority Unhappy About $24 Million Debt On Its Audit
JEFFERSON — Members of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority didn’t seem pleased on Thursday to see the $24 million debt for the Bear Creek Reservoir placed on their audit, despite agreeing to the move three months ago.

Freedom Festival set June 28 in Jefferson
The Jefferson Area Business Association will hold its annual Fourth of July celebration on June 28.


Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY
Murder trial delayed due to missing witness
The trial of Henry McKinsy Bolton Jr., who is accused of killing Willie Frank Smith of Athens, has been postponed, as authorities search for a missing witness.

Planners deny residential rezoning in Harrison
Several property owners in the rural community of Harrison near Royston told the planning commission Tuesday night that they’d rather have chicken houses on neighboring property than see it split up into small tracts by a developer for a subdivision.

IDA finances tight as group awaits approval of loans for water system
Madison County Industrial Authority (IDA) members have been concerned in recent months about a shortage in funding for authority operations.

Madison Co. school SPLOST projects moving forward
Madison County school improvement projects funded with local sales tax money are underway.
Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Operations Mitch McGhee said all flooring work funded through the special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) should be completed “within two and a half to three weeks.”

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THE DEFENDANT

Accused murderer Thomas Harold Pruitt sits at a table in the Banks County courthouse during the final day of his trial for the 2002 murder of Phillip Bobby Fain.

Deadlocked!
Banks County Superior Court Judge Joe Booth declared a mistrial Friday in the murder trial of Thomas Harold Pruitt after a jury was unable to reach a verdict in the case.
“It’s always frustrating on behalf of the victim’s family and the community,” district attorney Tim Madison said of the outcome.
The eight-woman and four-man jury, after replacing two of its members with alternate jurors amidst allegations of jury contamination (see separate story), deliberated for only one hour and 45 minutes before informing the judge they were deadlocked at 2:06 p.m. Friday.
All totaled, the juries spent five hours and nine minutes deliberating.
Madison said he was encouraged by the fact that the jury was split 10-2 in favor of a guilty verdict. He said the state would “definitely” be trying the case again. That trial could happen as early as October.
One male juror, who asked not to be identified, said just minutes after the judge’s ruling that some on the jury did not feel the state had the right amount of evidence in the case of the murder of prominent Cornelia businessman Phillip Bobby Fain.
“Without the right evidence it’s a tough decision,” he said.
The unidentified juror said it was “hard to believe what people say after they lie so much,” referencing the testimony of Pruitt’s alleged accomplice, Patrick Henry Cagle.
Cagle pled guilty to conspiracy to commit murder, aggravated assault and hijacking of a motor vehicle just hours before the trial started.
In exchange for his testimony naming Pruitt as the trigger man, Cagle was sentenced to 35 years for the crime. He’ll serve 20 without the possibility of parole.
Madison said the state offered Cagle a plea agreement because the judge wouldn’t let him try both defendants together. He also said there was more physical evidence against Cagle and the state wanted his testimony against Pruitt.
“We didn’t want one of them to go free,” he said. “We want to see both of them go behind bars.”
Madison said he would be filing a motion to have Cagle’s plea and sentence set aside for lying under oath last week. During cross examination by Pruitt defense attorney Katie Anderson, Cagle said he did accept a plea agreement but that he hadn’t done anything wrong.
However, Madison said part of his testimony was that he and Pruitt had acted together and by saying he hadn’t done anything wrong, Cagle was violating a condition of his plea that he tell the complete truth.
As for Pruitt, he will be sent into the state prison system to serve the remainder of a sentence he received after his parole was revoked.
He’ll also likely be denied bail when he comes back up on murder charges again.


Madison calls for investigation on possible jury contamination
Two male jurors were removed Friday from the jury hearing the murder trial of Thomas Harold Pruitt after they admitted to having a “lengthy” conversation with two defense witnesses.
District Attorney Tim Madison said that a member of the victim’s family informed him Thursday evening that the two jurors were having conversations with Kenneth Carlan and Dean Rasnick, two defense witnesses. The jury began deliberating on murder charges against Pruitt Thursday.
Madison moved for a mistrial on grounds that the jurors had contaminated the jury and directly disobeyed Judge Joe Booth’s orders that they have no contact with anyone involved in the case nor discuss the case with anyone or look at any media coverage of the trial.
During a motion hearing for a mistrial, Madison said he himself observed the two jurors and the two defense witnesses talking after being informed they were doing so on the courthouse steps Thursday.
He said he went and stopped the conversation and pulled Carlan and Rasnick aside.
“I asked them what the hell they were doing,” Madison told the judge.
He said the two were trying to win favor with jurors and that defense attorney Katie Anderson had no prior knowledge of the meeting.
Anderson said a mistrial might be premature and suggested the court question the jurors. Booth agreed.
“This is the first time I’ve seen anything like this,” he said. “I’m not sure yet if a mistrial is the proper remedy.”
Booth ordered that the jury stop deliberating the case and called it into the courtroom for questioning.
He asked repeatedly if any of the jurors had any conversations with those involved in the murder case. He also asked if they were approached by anyone involved in the case.
The jurors indicated they had not by shaking their heads “no”.
Booth again questioned them and one juror stood and said two men involved in the case had asked him some questions about a survey but that they had not discussed the case at all.
Booth then asked the jury again if anyone else had conversations with someone involved in the case. They said they had not and were sent back to the jury room.
Madison then called Ron Jones to the stand. Jones testified in the motion hearing that he saw Rasnick and Carlan talking with two male jurors for about 20 or 25 minutes before Madison stopped the conversation.
Elaine Williams testified to the same and said she couldn’t hear what they were talking about except something about ballgames.
Then Madison suggested that Booth question individually the two jurors who were allegedly involved, one of whom had already admitted to having conversations with the two defense witnesses.
Both men said they had talked with Carlan and Rasnick but that the conversation did not involve the trial at all.
Booth then sent them back to the jury room and called the jury into the courtroom as a whole.
He excused the two jurors for their involvement in the conversations and asked that the two alternate jurors be called in to start deliberations all over again, denying the motion for a mistrial. The alternate jurors arrived just before 11 a.m. and were questioned briefly before being allowed to restart deliberations.
Madison said Monday that he has given information about the incident to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and suggested that the GBI may be pursuing criminal charges against Rasnick and Carlan for obstruction.


Porno in Alto
Adult books in the new Shell convenience store on Gainesville Highway in Alto has concerned some residents, some of whom spoke at the council meeting last week.
The two shelved, multi-tiered rack holds dozens of magazines that are definitely of an adult nature, according to resident John Closs. He said some of the names of the magazines are extremely suggestive.
“The books are right out in the open for the kids to see,” he said. “They show topless women and have titles that are extremely provocative. One of the magazines is called ‘Tight Teens.’ That suggests to me, underage teenagers. Not only that, but it could lead to a rise in the sexual crime rate. I think the city should be able to do something about this.”
Resident Sharon Christmas echoed his concerns.
Mayor Carolyn Gulley agreed with them, but when she asked the city attorney Jim Acrey what could be done about it, she didn’t get much help.
Acrey replied: “I just know that’s a can of worms.”
Gulley asked him if the storekeepers are supposed to keep the books away from children.
Acrey said it was a gray area and that it was up to the store owner to make the decision.
Council member Donald Wade said he thought the books were to be covered in a brown wrapper.
Closs said the books are in plastic and couldn’t be easily opened.
“It’s not like you can stand and browse through them,” Closs added.
Acrey suggested the council go down to the store and look for themselves.
Acrey explained: “Everybody’s got an opinion on what’s obscene or what’s pornographic. I can guarantee that there is nobody in this room who would give the same answer.”
Council member Audrey Turner said she had discussed the situation with a Macon lawyer and was told it was tough to make a case.
Acrey added: “One of the greatest judges of our times said, ‘It’s not something you can define. It’s just something you know when you see it.’ What he was saying is how do you say this is pornography and this isn’t? You can trust me on this. You think it hasn’t been tried in Atlanta? Those anti-pornographic things get drawn out. It’s expensive litigation. Next thing you know, you’ll have the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) up here trying cases in the little town of Alto.”
Christmas said she thought Gainesville had done something about a similar circumstance.
Acrey replied that it was possible there may have been an ordinance limiting such literature if it was sold within a certain distance of a school, a playground or a church.
He told her: “I just know that people have been trying to do that for many years; it’s pathetic. It’s a hard battle to win.”
Turner suggested the council go and talk with the owners, NPL Retail.
The council also talked about contacting the local name they had been given for an emergency contact, Sylvestor Joseph, who has an Alto address.
Gulley said: “We need to do something for the sake of our children.”
She asked Acrey to look into the methods Gainesville had used to handle the problem.



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Lone citizen shows up for BOC budget hearing
One Banks County citizen attended a very brief public hearing on the proposed $8.4 million county budget Thursday.
Lou Sokowoski told commissioner Rickey Cain and BOC chairman Kenneth Brady he was very concerned with comments made about the sheriff’s office budget.
Sokowoski referenced a May 28 story in The Banks County News in which commissioner Pat Westmoreland accused Sheriff Charles Chapman of padding his budget.
“It is totally inappropriate for a public official to make that kind of statement to any department head,” he said.
Sokowoski also called for a public apology from Westmoreland for the comment. Westmoreland wasn’t at the meeting Thursday due to an already-scheduled conflict with a church event.
Sokowoski also objected to the BOC’s decision to cut five percent from Chapman’s budget request, saying the sheriff’s office and the EMS and fire budget needed more money.
“I don’t understand how you as commissioners can reduce the sheriff’s office budget,” he said.
Brady said the sheriff’s budget was up 10 percent over last year and had to be trimmed like other county departments.
Sokowoski said the sheriff’s office needed more deputies to cover the county. He also vowed to return to the budget hearing next year to ask for more increases for the sheriff’s office and reminded the BOC of the increased needs for the new jail, slated to be open in the spring of 2004.
“Whatever it takes to protect the citizens, we’re going to see that it’s done,” Cain said. “We’re going to look after the people.”
Brady added that Chapman does a good job with “what he’s working with.”
The BOC will approve the budget at a called meeting Thursday at 9 a.m. in the courthouse conference room.


CVB announces dedication plans on Banks Crossing beautification
Plans are moving ahead for an official dedication ceremony and weekend celebration at Banks Crossing to celebrate the culmination of the beautification project that was originally started in 1997.
According to CVB chairman Craig Armstrong, the dedication ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. on Thursday, July 10, in front of Boots Etc. on Highway 441 at Banks Crossing.
The celebration will continue through the weekend as area businesses are invited to conduct their own special events to attract regional shoppers to the area.
“We are very excited to see this project come to fruition, as it has created a wonderful visual impact on the I-85 interchange,” Armstrong said. “To see it all finally come together, especially with the beautiful red, white and blue banners that started going up last week, really makes all the hard work, persistence and dedication by the many people involved worthwhile.”
The dedication event will take place outdoors under a giant tent on the lot immediately in front of Boots Etc.
A variety of dignitaries and local businesses will be on hand to mark the project’s completion.
In 1997, on behalf of the CVB, the Banks County Board of Commissioners applied for and received an Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) Grant for the project.
This was a matching funds grant wherein the Georgia Department of Transportation provided 80 percent in federal funds and the Banks County CVB provided the matching 20 percent in local funds for the total cost of each phase of the beautification project.
The purpose of the project was to improve the landscaping, signs, lighting, sidewalks, crosswalks, rest areas and related facilities at Banks Crossing as well as to provide visitor information displays to facilitate increased tourism and economic growth and development at Banks Crossing.
The project involved three phases: the planning and design phase; the property acquisition phase; and the construction phase.
The total cost of the project was $1,150,000 of which the Banks County CVB provided $230,000.
The Banks County Convention and Visitors Bureau is a non-profit organization organized under state CVB Guidelines for the purpose of promoting and attracting visitors to the area.
The organization currently consists of over 35 local Banks County businesses, most of which are tied in some way to the tourism industry. Officially chartered in 2001, the bureau funding comes from its share of the five percent hotel-motel tax.
As regulated by state legislation, the CVB receives 40 percent of the total revenue generated from this tax while the county receives 60 percent.
Banks Crossing, consisting of over 200 outlets, 10 hotels and 25 restaurants, is located at the intersection of I-85 (Exit 149) and U.S. Highway 441 and is a major retail hub serving surrounding counties as well as an outlet shopping attraction for interstate travelers and residents as far away as Atlanta, Augusta, Greenville, S.C., and beyond.
The Atlanta Dragway, home of the annual NHRA Southern Nationals, is also located at Banks Crossing.
For more information on the Banks County CVB or Banks Crossing, visit www.bankscountyga.org or call (706) 677-5265.