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FEBRUARY 11, 2004


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SPORTS
Tigers Go Into Region Tourney On Winning Note
Whether or not Commerce’s season will continue all depends on how it fared today (Wednesday) in the first round of the region tournament, but the Tigers did give themselves a shot in the arm going into the postseason.

Dragons win third-straight state duals title
Late comeback lifts Jefferson past Bremen in finals of Class A duals
For the Jefferson wrestling program, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Lady Panthers take North’s second seed
Win Thurs. will earn state berth
For the Jackson County girls basketball team, games don’t get much bigger than the one they will play Thursday night.


News from
BANKS COUNTY
Homer reviews proposed town hall plans
The Homer City Council reviewed an architect’s rendering for a proposed new town hall when it met Tuesday night.
The plan calls for a 60 by 60 square foot brick building, to be located on the town’s property on Hwy. 441, adjacent to The Banks County News office.

Alto subdivision to have water
Members of the Alto City Council approved a $26,595 bid from Griffin Brothers to lay 1,780 feet of six-inch water line down Crane Mill Road during Tuesday’s regular meeting.


News from
MADISON COUNTY
Golf no more?
Sunrise owner plans to turn county’s lone course into a subdivision
Madison County could soon lose its only golf course.

Someone to talk to
Mentors discuss the joys
and challenges of helping children in need
Charles Martin says there has been “a marked improvement,” not only in the grades, but in the attitude of the fourth grade boy he has mentored at Ila Elementary School for little more than a year now.

Our Time and Place:
A History of
Jackson County, Ga

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.

Order this book online

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MEETING MAX

Ainsley Lee, 9, met Max the law enforcement dog and his partner, Deputy Thomas Trudnak of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department Tuesday afternoon. Ainsley, a third grader at Benton Elementary School, is raising funds to buy a bulletproof vest for Max. The young Belgian Mainois is shown above left.


Student raising funds for dog’s bulletproof vest
Looking out for MaxAinsley Lee, a third grader at Benton Elementary School, is concerned about the number of law enforcement canines killed and injured in the line of duty and wants to do what she can to help.
Ainsley, who turned 9 in January, has started a benefit account and is seeking donations to purchase bulletproof vests for law enforcement dogs in the area. Her first goal is to raise enough money for a vest for Max, a 2-year-old law enforcement dog who is partnered with Deputy Thomas Trudnak at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office. Currently, Max is the only law enforcement dog with the sheriff’s office and he doesn’t have a bulletproof vest.
After that, the long-range goal is to vest as many dogs in the area as possible, with the cost of a canine bulletproof vest averaging $500 up to $900. So far, Ainsley has raised about $100.
Ainsley first learned about the program “Vest-A-Dog” through reading the book Chicken Soup for the Pre-Teen Soul. She browsed the website of Stephanie Taylor, the girl in California who started the program, and then, with her parents, Chris and Michele Lee, called a toll-free information number to learn more on how to start the program locally.
“This girl in California started it and I’ve heard a girl in Maryland started one after that,”Ainsley said.
Ainsley met Capt. Allen Johnston of the Hoschton Police Department and his canine partner, Dino, when Capt. Johnston visited BES recently to speak with kindergarten students. Ainsley had a chance to look at Dino’s bulletproof vest at that time.
It was through Capt. Johnston that Ainsley learned about Max.
“(Capt. Johnston) said he knew someone who had a dog who needed a vest,” she said.
Ainsley met Max and Deputy Trudnak Tuesday afternoon at BES, watching while Max cavorted in the parking lot around his partner. Like Dino, Max is a Belgian Malinois, a high energy breed of dog often used for tracking, obedience and police work. Deputy Trudnak explained that he and Max are together 24 hours a day, as they not only work together, but also live together. The two began training in North Carolina, where Max was raised, when Max was about 9 months old.
“He’s with me all the time,” Deputy Trudnak said of Max, the first dog he has worked with. “Ultimately, I let (the department) know I was interested in it (the K-9 unit).”
Deputy Trudnak explained that Max helps with vehicle stops, search warrants and whatever calls for a narcotics dog. He said that a dog in Gwinnett County got shot on the job recently; the dog lived, but is now retired.
“There is a great danger for the dog to get harmed,” Deputy Trudnak said. “(Those involved with drugs) don’t look at a dog the same way we do.”
And so Ainsely, who rescued her dog, a “Georgia black dog” named Shiloh, from the pound, continues her fund-raising campaign.
“At this point, we are spotlighting Max, but Ainsley would love to receive enough money to broaden the program to vest other dogs in the surrounding area,” Mrs. Lee said.
Right now, Max is one of three law enforcement dogs in the county; while he is the only one with the sheriff’s office — he replaced Storm, who has retired — the Hoschton department has Dino and the Braselton department also has a dog.
As part of her fund-raising, Ainsley had a booth set up to collect contributions at Benton’s recent math night. She has posted flyers about with pictures of some of the law enforcement dogs with information about making donations, and is planning a yard sale for April with all proceeds to go to “Vest-A-Dog.”
Donations can be made to Athens First Bank and Trust in Commerce, with checks made to “Vest-A-Dog of Jackson County.” For more information on the “Vest-A-Dog” program, visit www.dogvest.com.

Courthouse issue goes before Supreme Court
Decision could affect other county and city governments across state
While it’ll probably be months until a decision, a ruling from the state’s highest court over Jackson County’s new courthouse will affect every city and county in Georgia, an attorney said Tuesday.
Wycliffe Orr, the Gainesville-based attorney representing a local group of concerned citizens, told the Georgia Supreme Court that the financing mechanism used to fund the new courthouse denies citizens a voice in government.
“My clients and other citizens across the state have been denied their right to vote,” he said of the lease-purchase plan that county commissioners are using for the new courthouse.
The lease-purchase agreement, financed through the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), allows governments to fund capital improvement projects without seeking voter approval.
Nearly 80 lease-purchase agreements totaling $350 million have been approved by ACCG for governments across the state, Orr said.
And a decision in the Jackson County case will lead every government in Georgia to rethink its use of the financing plan, he added.
In the Atlanta courtroom for the hearing were representatives from ACCG and Gwinnett County Schools. The largest school system in Georgia is considering a lease-purchase plan to fund $300 million for new schools.
Orr argued that the Georgia Constitution gives citizens the right to vote about matters that could lead to debt. The 15-year-old law that created the lease-purchase mechanism and approved by the Georgia General Assembly denies citizens that right, he said.
But attorneys representing the BOC said the state law has safeguards to ensure lease-purchase agreements don’t bring governments into debt.
By law, lease-purchase contracts for a government can’t exceed $25 million, the contracts must be renewed every year, and the total interest and principal can’t exceed more than 7.5 percent of the county’s budget.
The Jackson County courthouse has a $25 million price tag, funded through a lease-purchase agreement.
Orr, however, contended that the state law still amounts to a “conspiracy” of governments and financial institutions to replace the right for citizens to vote on matters of debt.
“You can’t take our vote away by throwing us another bone,” he said after the hearing.
Nolan Leake, an attorney representing the county, said the constitutionality of the state law has already passed several tests by the Georgia Supreme Court.
The justices, in one of those cases, ruled that the annual re-approval of the lease-purchase contracts didn’t amount to debt, he said.
“To win their case, they have to attack the Constitutionality (of the law),” Leake said.
Georgia Supreme Court chief justice Norman Fletcher questioned who’s responsible for the debt and the county’s credit rating.
“No doubt the county is going to have to have a courthouse,” he said.
Leake said county officials could always “walk away” from the lease-purchase deal and the move wouldn’t affect the county’s credit rating, considering the county’s good financial standing.
“In the real world you wouldn’t do that,” Fletcher said. “And you’re not going to convince me otherwise.”
The reality, however, is that county officials can’t walk away from the courthouse and function without judicial services, Orr said. He pointed to an e-mail from county commissioner Emil Beshara to a local newspaper editor that highlighted that fact.
“This is an intentional intent to circumvent the citizens of Jackson County because a bond referendum failed,” Orr said of referendum attempts decades ago to fund a new courthouse.
When asked after the hearing what’ll happen if the BOC wins their argument in the case, Orr said, “They might start with a bond referendum and let people vote on it.”


Citizens seek BOC support with LP
A group of South Jackson residents asked the board of commissioners for support Monday night in its effort to extend the public review process for an application from Louisiana Pacific for an air quality permit to increase its emissions.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division allocates 120 days for public comments on the application. The South Jackson residents, who are part of a Citizens Concerned About Responsible Environmental Stewardship in South Jackson/North Clarke County (CCARES), asked the BOC to send a letter to the EPD supporting the extension. The group members say they need more time to seek additional information on the company. They plan to ask the EPD for the extension at a public hearing planned for 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 19, at the Athens-Clarke County Department of Public Services, located at 3035 Lexington Road, Athens.
The BOC didn’t take any action, but agreed to review the request from the citizen’s group.
“We wish to make it clear that our organization is not interested in driving Louisiana Pacific out of Georgia,” Moses W. Gordon Jr. wrote in a letter to the BOC from the citizen’s group. “However, we are definitely interested in maintaining a safe and healthy environment in which to live. We would hope that, like the many responsible and professional industries in our region, Louisiana Pacific will learn to join their ranks and become responsible environmental stewards in Center, Georgia, and protectors of community citizenry.”
The group outlined its concerns and plans in the letter to the BOC, which included the following:
• “LP is proposing to increase their volatile organic compound emissions by about 36 percent. These emissions reportedly include formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen, phenol, nitrogen oxides and other compounds. We need to consult with emissions specialists in order to be fully educated on the effects of these toxic compounds.”
• “Our organization needs to hire a technical expert to perform certain tasks in order to determine whether current levels of reported LP emissions are sound and safe for the area or if emission levels need to be lowered from existing levels to insure the health of surrounding residents.”
• “Our organization needs to pursue technical testing of several unknown aspects of environmental quality as pertaining to LP’s operations, such as the condition of surface waters and ground water. No testing of any kind has been performed by either EPD or LP on water run-off, leaching or effects from air emissions.”
•”Previous litigation against LP involving citizens from Jackson and Clarke resulted in the company temporarily reducing its extreme and constant noise output from the Center plant and monitoring its noise levels on a 24-hour basis for a period of years. This probationary period has expired, and LP has once again resumed its extreme noise, which is highly disturbing to hundreds of citizens who live within several miles of the LP plant. We will need to scientifically pursue the levels of damaging effects of this noise with testing and further research.”
•”In order to accurately measure specific health hazards to citizens and the environment within a certain number of miles of the LP plant, we will need additional time to assess actual types and levels of damage to human, wildlife and other environments in the area, including reporting damage to livestock from area farmers and veterinarians.”



Arcade PD chief requests in-car cameras
Arcade Police Chief Dennis Bell renewed his request for in-car cameras Monday night as he presented some cost estimates to the Arcade City Council. He agreed to ask a representative from the Eagle Eye camera company to attend the March city council meeting to provide more information and answer questions.
Chief Bell reported that the city could purchase Eagle Eye cameras for six patrol vehicles at $3,830 each, plus a $1,950 maintenance contract for all six cameras.
“We’ve been needing this for a long time,” Bell said. “It would be in the best interest of the city....In the long run, it will save money.”
Chief Bell pointed out that the in-car cameras would “work both ways” for the safety of patrol officers, as well as for the public. He said that when complaints are made, there will be a video tape of the situation, and also that such tapes can be used as documentation for court cases. The cameras are designed so that officers or anyone else cannot open them and alter or destroy any tapes or evidence, Chief Bell said. In other departments, in-car cameras have been used to identify criminals, as well as those who harm or attempt to harm an officer, he added.
While Chief Bell said he had gotten quotes from another company, he said that the highest recommendations from departments that use in-car cameras has been for Eagle Eye. Jefferson, Commerce and Winder city police departments all use Eagle Eye cameras, he said.
City council member Dean Bentley pointed out that the city had allotted funding for such cameras in the budget, but said the members would have to look back and see just how much had been set aside.
“This has been one of our priorities,” Bentley said. “We budgeted for it.”
While the police department has been seeking grant funding, Chief Bell reported Monday that the department had been turned down.
“We didn’t get any grant money,” he said. “It’s all going to homeland security...I was told that with (federal) grants, right now it’s a waste of time to put it on paper.”
Council member Ron Smith asked Chief Bell to see if the Eagle Eye offer could be extended an additional 30 days, and council member Tom Hays asked that an Eagle Eye representative attend the March council meeting.
“Chief, we’re going to pursue this,” said Mayor Doug Haynie.
OTHER PD BUSINESS
In other police department business, Chief Bell reported that he has two bids for new police cars. The council had budgeted for a new car for February, but the police chief said he could wait a few months, if necessary.
The bids are for a 2004 patrol, one at $29,650 and the other at $25,650.
Mayor Haynie said he’d like to see the January figures for the city before making a decision.
Chief Bell also gave a January police department report, saying that officers patrolled 18,241 miles; made 28 felony and 42 misdemeanor arrests; had 27 assists to other departments; answered 72 calls; had 60 incident reports; handled one accident; and had 34 miscellaneous reports.

Expert: Chateau Elan fuels growth for area
The Chateau Elan area is one of three “engines of growth” that will fuel Jackson County’s development for decades to come, according to a prominent Hall County realtor.
Speaking at what has become an annual “economic forecast” at the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast meeting last Wednesday, Frank Norton Jr., president of The Norton Agency, credited the development of Chateau Elan and the area around it with helping the county get “name brand recognition” from major industry.
“Chateau Elan today is spilling over into your county...attracting companies like Haverty’s,” said Norton. “The Braselton-Hoschton area is referred to in the broad sense in Atlanta as the Chateau Elan area. It has the vibrancy of business activity transcending multiple counties and it is a jewel in the crown (of three “engines of growth).”
Norton predicted that the area will begin to attract office developments, since many business executives already live in the area.
The other two growth centers, Norton said, are the Jefferson-Pendergrass interchange for its industry and the Commerce-Maysville-Banks Crossing area for its retail activity and potential for more.
Those three centers, together with the county’s interstate interchanges, an estimated 10,000 acres of land zoned for industry and growing sewer resources, will enable Jackson County to rival neighboring Clarke and Hall counties in the years to come, Norton predicted.
“With Haverty’s, Toyota, Atlas, Aldi, you know, the captains of industry have found this community and the other captains of industry are keeping a watchful eye...You’ve got name brand recognition and are building a list that will be envied by many of the other communities in Northeast Georgia.
“You are putting the Athens and Clarke County economic initiatives to shame as well as the economic engines of Hall County to shame,” Norton said. “You have the largest number of farms (in Georgia) and they are ripe for opportunity. Someone recently told me that because of land prices reaching $10,000 per acre, everyone with 100 acres or greater in this county is, on paper, a millionaire.”
Norton predicted that in a decade, Jackson County will “pull ahead of Clarke County in business activity.”
“You have the interchanges; they have a 316 wish,” Norton explained. “You have the sewerage infrastructure. If you read their newspaper, you have a stronger vision of what you have ahead of you. You don’t have your head in the sand. By 20 years from now, you have the capacity to pull away from Hall County, because you’re on a road that goes somewhere. They’re on a road that goes only down to Atlanta. You’re on a pipeline that goes from the East Coast all the way into Birmingham, into the automobile plants. You’re on the distribution pipeline for the east coast.”
With that favorable location, location, location, Norton urged his audience – the largest breakfast crowd ever in chamber history – to “invest in the dirt.”
“I urge each of you to invest your own money here,” he said. “Invest in what you know; invest in Jackson County...You know this better than any 401K plan.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, Norton announced that his firm has started a fund for investing in North Georgia real estate, and plans a second.
In the past, Norton observed, Jackson County was influenced by Clarke and Hall counties. Today, he said, the big pressure exerted on the county is from “the city of Gwinnett,” which boasts 670,000 residents.
“You’re next door to an urban center that is causing tremendous pressures of growth in all the communities around it,” Norton stated. He pointed out the growth rates from 1990 to 2000 of adjoining counties including Hall (45.9 percent), Jackson (38.6 percent), Barrow (55.3 percent) and Walton (57.3 percent), “all emanating from the epicenter of the ‘city of Gwinnett.’”
Norton closed his presentation with recommendations including:
•continue investing in water, sewer, roads and other infrastructure, which he called “a platform” to support the county’s development for the next 25-50 years.
•continue to focus on developing sewer capacity for the future.
•learn to “stretch the tax dollars” with efficient government and by soliciting sites for schools, libraries and fire station from developers of larger tracts.
•continue to develop a strong retail component, noting that a Wal-Mart returns an average of almost $3.8 million annually in sales tax and property tax revenue.


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End Of An Era
Mt. Vernon Mills To Close This Spring
The last vestige of an industry that once dominated Commerce will end this spring when Mt. Vernon Mills shuts down local operations.
The mill, which produces yarn for a Cleveland facility, is the last of the textile and apparel plants that were once the economic mainstays of Commerce.
Company officials announced Monday, Feb. 2, that the plant first established in 1893 as Harmony Grove Mills will close. With only 33 employees remaining in a business that has at times employed upwards of 600, the announcement is scarcely a shock.
“They (the employees) knew it was going to happen eventually, but it happened sooner than any of us expected,” said Larry Porter, general manager of Mt. Vernon Mills’ Alto facility. “We thought it might be two or three years down the road.”
The Commerce facility comprises 2 buildings with a total of 350,000 square feet situated on 11 acres on South Elm Street.
Mt. Vernon Mills will move “about half of the equipment” to the Alto plant, where 16 Commerce employees will be offered jobs, said Porter. Commerce employees will also be offered any applicable openings that occur in Alto during the interim. The company is not offering severance packages to the remainder.
Porter said “some inquiries” from a potential purchaser influenced the timing of the closure, which is expected “some time in the neighborhood of three months.”
A Mt. Vernon Mills spokesman said the company does not have a contract from a potential buyer.
Commerce officials report that Joe Craven, owner of The Pottery, has expressed an interest in acquiring the property.
Harmony Grove Mills was founded in 1893 by a group of local citizens with $50,000 in stock. The Hardman family, which owned most of the stock, sold the company to Mt. Vernon Mills in 1991.
Two major apparel industries suffered similar fates. The Commerce Overall Company which in turn became Blue Bell, Wrangler and Bassett-Walker, and the Commerce Manufacturing Company, which later became Commerce Sportswear and then Oxford – have been gone for years, victims of economic difficulties caused in part by foreign competition. One of the Blue Bell-Wrangler buildings is now the Commerce Civic Center. Another is owned by Quick Response of Commerce, a supplier to Wal-Mart. The old Oxford building has been partially demolished to provide parking for the civic center.


Beatty moves for more personnel at sheriff’s office
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners again struggled Monday night with a request from Sheriff Stan Evans for additional staff members for his department.
Last month, the BOC approved four additional staff members for the sheriff’s office. At Monday night’s meeting, commissioner Tony Beatty made a motion that eight more employees be approved for the sheriff’s office during 2004. There was some discussion on his motion, but it died due to a lack of a second.
Beatty suggested that the additional positions be funded with $400,000 in reimbursement the county received from the Federal Aviation Administration for property purchased at the county airport. Finance director John Hulsey said this money went back into the general budget.
In other business, the BOC:
•approved an intergovernmental agreement between the county and Hoschton allowing the city to enforce citations on roads that are in both the county and city.
•agreed to hold a public hearing at the March meeting on local legislation on reapportionment, creating a board of elections and a public safety buildings authority.
•held a closed meeting to discuss “real estate acquisition and pending litigation.” No action was taken when the meeting was opened to the public.


Portion of county jail closed
A portion of the Jackson County Jail was closed Friday after heavy rains caused hazardous conditions. Thirty-five inmates had to be taken to facilities across the state to be housed.
“We have closed down a portion of our jail due to the roof leaking so profusely it placed both inmates and employees in hazardous conditions,” Sheriff Stan Evans said. “The water was pouring through the roof of the upstairs dorm where we normally house female inmates. Bedding, clothing, electrical boxes and, of course, the floor were all covered with water. It even ran down the steps going up to the dorm.”
Evans said he would not be housing inmates in this dorm until the roof is totally replaced.
“Other areas of our facility could be in the same situation just as quickly being it is all in great disrepair,” the sheriff said.


BOC, IDA to meet on roads
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners and the Industrial Development Authority will have a joint meeting on Friday to discuss a bond financing package for several large road projects in the county.
The meeting will be held at 9 a.m. on Friday in the grand jury room in the 911 complex in Jefferson.
The BOC voted in January to ask the IDA to seek a $20 million bond financing package to finance several large road projects in the county. The IDA is authorized to issue bonds for economic development infrastructure and projects.
The BOC didn’t specify what roads would be built or improved. Action on that would come after the IDA approves the bonds.