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FEBRUARY 18, 2004


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OPINIONS
Angela Gary
Saying good-bye toour old ‘home place’
The first thing I noticed was the growing pile of wood and construction debris in the yard of our old house, the house my parents raised two daughters in and lived in for the majority of their almost 40 years of marriage.

Our Views
Take time to volunteer
It’s been said a million times and it’s still as true as the first time it was uttered: Our children are our future.


SPORTS
Lady Leopards head for state competition

In an all out battle, the Banks County Lady Leopards prevailed over the Buford Lady Wolves and won not only a close game, 57 to 52, but a seat on the bus to the state competition.
The last team that went to state competiton was the 1994 Lady Leopards.


News from
JACKSON COUNTY
Water authority ends 2003 more than $200,000 in the black
JCWSA makes all ‘03 reservoir payments, but water sales slow now
Maybe what you see depends on what you want to see.

Two voter precincts to be moved
Voters heading out to the polls in the Randolph and Newtown districts for the March 2 presidential preference election will have a new precinct to go to.


News from
MADISON COUNTY
Planners support golf course rezoning
BOC to have final say on subdivision proposal Mon.
It was a standing-room-only crowd Tuesday night as Colbert area residents showed up in force at the planning and zoning commission meeting to try to stop neighboring Sunrise Golf Course from becoming a subdivision called Sunrise Meadows.

Hwy. 98 subdivision approved by zoning board, again
A Hwy. 98 subdivision got a unanimous approval — for the second time — from the planning a zoning commission at Tuesday night’s zoning public hearings.

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Scramble under the hoop

Banks County Lady Leopard Heather Beck attempted a shot at the hoop and was knocked from behind by a Buford Lady Wolf during the regional playoff game Saturday. Referees called a foul on Beck. The Lady Leopards won 57 to 52 in a close, fast-paced game and are heading for the state competition this weekend.


Cocaine hauler found guilty
Sentenced to 25 years and $1 million fine
Hector Ponce will be spending the next 25 years of his life in a state prison for hauling 120 pounds of cocaine, worth over $5 million, in a tractor trailer load of Texas watermelons.
A bench trial was held in Banks County Superior Court Monday before Judge Robert Adamson, who found Ponce guilty. He was given the mandatory sentence of 25 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
Ponce was arrested in August by authorities after being stopped at a safety-check operation conducted by the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicle Safety.
DMVS officer Rodney Waller, who was stationed in the median along I-85 north, stopped Ponce a mile north of Martin Bridge Road. Waller asked Ponce for his license and Ponce replied it had been stolen, along with other documentation. Georgia law requires a driver to have a commercial license.
During the trial Monday, Waller said Ponce seemed “nervous” during the routine stop.
“Some people are always nervous when you stop them, but after a few minutes, it subsides,” Waller said. “His increased the more we talked.”
Waller said he asked Ponce what he was hauling and he said watermelons from Texas. He told Waller he did not load the trailer, but was present when it was done. Ponce gave the date and time it took place, but when Waller inspected the log book, it showed Ponce was on the road during that time. The discrepancies aroused Waller’s suspicions, so he called for back-up and requested a canine unit.
Georgia State Patrol trooper Dallas Van Scoter arrived on the scene and asked Ponce for permission to search the truck. Van Scoter said Ponce unlocked the truck and he began the inspection. When his flashlight battery died, he said he used a special light device to check in the bins of watermelons and discovered “bricks wrapped with duck tape” in one of them.
Van Scoter said: “Bricks wrapped in cellophane are not consistent with watermelons.”
The search produced 28 bundles, one of which was opened and tested positive for cocaine, officials said.
Van Scoter said Ponce appeared to look “defeated” when the bundles were found.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent Marcie Martinez testified that during her interview with Ponce, he admitted to agreeing to haul the cocaine for $10,000 from Texas to Bronx, N.Y. He told her he was instructed to stop in Banks County to wait for further instructions via phone.
Ponce’s attorney, Jennifer Hanson, tried to make a case that the stop was illegal because it infringed on Ponce’s fourth amendment right to privacy and that the officer did not have a valid reason for making the stop.
Assistant district attorney Brad Smith explained that under the law, drivers of commercial vehicles are held to strict regulations and officers can stop and inspect the cab and the trailer without having probable cause.
Judge Adamson ruled that the stop and the search were legal. Adamson told Ponce he had no choice but to sentence him to the mandatory 25 years in prison and impose the mandatory $1 million fine.


Lula code enforcement plans hindered
Hall County won’t serve Banks County residents
Lula city attorney Brad Patton said at Monday’s council meeting that Hall County rejected a proposed agreement to provide code enforcement for the entire city.
While the county is willing to serve Hall County residents of Lula, it reporteldy will not agree to serve Banks County residents.
Lula resident Winford Popphan said 85 residents of Lula are being treated as second class citizens because they live in Banks County. He said they should be treated the same as Hall County residents and be able to be served when it comes to stray animals and roaming dogs that tear up trash and howl at night.
Popphan, a ranger for the Department of Natural Resources, said: “Animals are stirring up trouble and scattering trash. We need animal control on the Banks County side, too. I get calls at 3 a.m. about barking dogs and people expect me to do something about it. We need to have Hall County animal control serve us or contract with the same trapper and veterinarian Banks County uses to get rid of strays and roaming dogs.”
Mayor Milton Turner said he had asked if the Banks County marshal could provide animal control, but was told he cannot operate in a municipality.
Resident Amy Dover gave the council photos of yards on McCord Street that were full of litter, appliances and had ducks and chickens.
Turner said a letter had been sent to one of the residents via registered mail at the beginning of the month. Under the city’s abatement ordinance, the offender is sent three warnings allowing a total of 90 days to comply. After that, a fine of $300 to $500 can be levied.
Although the city has an agreement with a magistrate in Hall County, Patton said an intergovernmental agreement would have to be made with Banks County’s magistrate judge to handle Banks County cases.
Turner added the council is looking into hiring an off-duty officer to investigate complaints and enforce city codes. The officer would only act upon the council’s request and be on a pay-per-call basis.


School system seeks volunteers for mentoring program
Program pairs students with community members
The Banks County School System is in the process of recruiting new members of the community to assist in a mentoring program called PAWS, Powerful Adults Winning Students.
The program pairs students with adults from the community and the two work together learning from each other. Volunteers are asked to spend at least two hours a month, during the school day, with their assigned child.
Cecil Callaway, a current PAWS mentor, saw the need in the community and decided to get involved.
“A large percentage of children in Banks County don’t finish high school, I believe they may be hurting in different ways and all they need is a little guidance from someone other than a parent to help them along life’s way,” said Callaway.
Callaway has been volunteering with the program for three years. He spends a few hours a week at the Upper Elementary School. The second grader he started with is now in fourth grade.
Callaway said the time he spends at the school reading books, eating lunch, or just talking and spending time means more to him than he ever expected.
“It is a blessing,” he said. “We have bonded and I truly enjoy our time together.”
The key is listening.
“Really, you just need to be a good listener and you can make a difference in the life of a child,” he said. “Sometimes kids need someone outside of their own family to talk to, to give a hug or a handshake to and to tell them they are proud of them. It doesn’t take that much time, I would encourage anyone who has two hours a month to spend with a child to get involved with this program.”
Schools in the Banks County system are: Banks County Primary, which houses kindergarten through first grade; Banks County Elementary, which holds second and third graders; Banks County Upper Elementary, which houses fourth and fifth grade; Banks County Middle, which includes sixth, seventh and eighth grade; and Banks County High, which houses ninth through 12th grade.
Volunteers may select the school in which he or she wishes to work. There is a two-hour training session that must be completed prior to working with a child. A background check is also required.
Any interested persons should call Holly Hill at 677-2224 or K. Ellen Hagan at 677-2308.


Barefoot Road rezoning approved by Lula council Monday
John Swartz left the Lula City Council meeting Monday night happier than he was a month ago after getting approval for the rezoning of 63.9 acres on Barefoot Road from agricultural to R-1 for a development.
Swartz submitted a new plan for the development after objections from residents were raised about paving the gravel road and discovering that the Banks County Board of Commissioners would not allow the subdivision to tie on to Lula’s water system.
The new plan calls for 15 “farmettes” with three to four acres per lot. People buying into the private community will be on individual septic systems and wells. Strict covenants require stick-built homes with a minimum of 1,500 square feet; a 20-year moratorium on subdividing property; and financial participation in maintenance of the 3,500-foot gravel road serving the community.
During the public hearing, resident Winford Popphan said he appreciated the larger lot sizes and reduced number of homes.
Bill McMann, an adjacent property owner, said he is concerned about losing his water volume with 15 new wells tapping into the underground source.
Swartz replied that everyone has the right to any water that may be found on their land.
David White voiced his concerns over the minimum square footage, which he thought should be greater, and property owners subdividing lots. Swartz said the issue was covered in the covenants and specified there could be only one home per lot.
After the close of the public hearing, the council unanimously approved the rezoning request.
In other zoning business, the first reading was held to amend the city ordinance to increase minimum lot sizes within the designations of R-1, R-2 and R-3, as recommended by the Georgia Mountain Rural Development Council.
Developments that will have individual wells and septic systems in R-1 are required to be 52,270 square feet (1.25 acres); and R-2 and R-3 is to be determined by the county health department after soil percolation tests are completed.
Developments on septic systems and city water in R-1 are required to have a lot size of 26,140 square feet (.6 acre); and R-2 and R-3 are also to be determined by the county health department. Developments on city water and sewer systems in R-1 are required to have 21,780 square feet (.5 acre); R-2, 17,500 square feet; and R-3, 12,500 (one-quarter acre).
Lots must also have 30-foot frontage on a public road.
Councilwoman Vicky Chambers requested the amendment also stipulate that if a single-family home is to be built in a R-2 or R-3, the zoning designation must be changed to R-1 and meet the larger minimum lot requirement.
The current requirements are 15,000 square feet for R-1; 10,000 square feet for R-2; and 7,500 square feet for R-3.
The council will address the issue again at the March meeting.
In other business:
•the first reading to annex 81.9 acres bordering Highway 365, owned by the Echols family, was held. The property includes Jaemor Farms. The acreage will be rezoned industrial from agricultural to keep with Hall County’s comprehensive land use plan.
•resident Tony Whitfield complained about the speeding traffic through a subdivision on Narramore Way. The city installed two speed bumps on the road, but Whitfield said they are not slowing the speeders down. He presented the council with a petition from 15 other residents who want the additional speed bumps. Mayor Milton Turner said the speed bumps cost between $1,000 and $1,500 each. Chambers said she would talk to the residents and report to the council at the next meeting.
•Turner said there had been several applicants for the position of city manager and that the council would hold a work session to interview candidates.
•the council agreed to look into the financial cost of making Martin Luther King Day a paid holiday for city employees.
•the council approved waiving the $150 variance fee for the Church of Life.

 


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Two arrested in I-85 drug bust
Two young men were arrested on drug charges last week in the I-85 area by the Northeast Georgia Narcotics Task force and the Banks County Sheriff’s Office.
James Christopher Smith, 22, Hoschton, was charged with trafficking methamphetamines and obstruction of an officer.
Arrested with him was Ruben Costel Stancui, 19, Snellville, who was charged with trafficking methamphetamines and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.
“These two were arrested when they delivered approximately 16 ounces or one pound of crystal meth, which is commonly called ice, to a drop-off point in the I-85 area,” Sheriff Charles Chapman said. “When the arrests started to be made, they were trying to leave the drop-off area in a late model Volvo. The subjects were stopped. Smith, a passenger in the vehicle, exited the vehicle and ran and had to be run down by officers on foot.”
The sheriff added that Stancui, the driver of the vehicle, was not able to get out of the car. He was taken from the vehicle and arrested.
“He had on his person at the time of his arrest, a fully loaded 9 mm automatic, which resulted in him being charged with the possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime,” the sheriff said.
Both men were taken to the Banks County Jail, where they remain in custody, Chapman said. They each have a $300,000 bond.
The sheriff said Stancui is from Romania and had been in America working, but his paperwork has expired, which means he is in the country illegally. The INS has been contacted concerning him, the sheriff added.
The street value of the drugs is $45,000, according to Chapman.
“This was a large bust,” he said.
In another drug arrest, Michael Wesley Grier, 37, Maysville, was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and open container violation. The sheriff said he was arrested after a Banks County deputy stopped his vehicle last week for a traffic violation. Chapman said he had two grams of cocaine at the time of the traffic stop.


Public forum set on county government The Banks County Republican party will sponsor an informational forum on the proposed change to a county manager/administrator form of government.
The forum will be held at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 28, at the Banks County courthouse in Homer. The county government question will be on the March 2 ballot.
The public is invited to attend the forum, leaders say. Political leaders from neighboring counties that have changed to a county manager/administrator form of government have been invited to speak at the forum in Homer.
“Our goal is to get as much accurate information to the public as possible,” said Sue Sears of the Banks County Republican party. “We hope the pros and cons will be explained.”
Questions from the audience will also be taken, she added.


Surgeon to locate practice in Commerce
BJC Medical Center has announced that Dr. Keith Ash, a board certified general surgeon, will relocate his private practice to Commerce March 1.
“We’re delighted to have a surgeon of Dr. Ash’s caliber here on our medical staff,” said Oscar Weinmeister, assistant administrator at BJC. “Dr. Ash is the kind of guy who can practice anywhere he wants to practice, and he was being courted by several different community hospitals. He came here because of the opportunity that BJC represents and because he’s from the area.”
A graduate of East Hall High School, Ash earned an engineering degree from Georgia Tech and later earned his M.D. at the Medical College of Georgia. He became a surgeon in the U.S. Navy, practicing in Portsmouth, Va., before being transferred to Okinawa, Japan. Upon leaving the military, he established a private practice in Dublin until he heard about the opportunity to practice closer to home.
Ash specializes in minimally invasive surgery, such as advanced laparoscopy, endoscopy and breast surgery.
“We’re very excited about opening a surgical practice in Commerce,” Ash said. “The reason we chose Commerce over every other place is this is home for us. I also feel like I have the surgical skills necessary to make people feel comfortable about getting local surgical care at BJC.”
Ash also had the broad support of BJC’s authority and medical staff.
“We’re extremely fortunate that we live in an area that’s prosperous and growing so fast,” observed Jim Yarbrough, BJC’s chief executive officer. “We had a number of interested general surgeon candidates to choose from, but we are all confident Dr. Ash will be a great fit for our community. After interviewing numerous candidates, the BJC medical staff fully supported Dr. Ash as its first choice.”
Ash, his wife, Lindsay, and 4-year-old son Garrett, will all relocate to make Commerce home.