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MAY 12, 2004


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SPORTS
Knocking The Dust Off
Commerce Football Team Tries To Get Rid Of The Rust With The Start Of Spring Practice
Approximately 55 kids showed up for works outs this past Monday for the Commerce football team as it kicked off its spring football practice session.

Let the Games begin
Host Dragons hope to be in Class A title contention this week
When the state’s best boys track and field athletes converge on Jefferson’s Memorial Stadium this week, the hometown Dragons hope to be in contention for the Class A state crown which eluded them last year.

Lady Panther season ends at state tournament for first time ever
No matter what, the Jackson County girls’ golf team knew their season was going to come to an end on Monday at the Class AAAA state tournament.


News from
BANKS COUNTY
New BCMS to be completed soon
Moving day set May 21
The new Banks County Middle School will open its doors to students when classes resume in August.

BOC approves water restrictions
The Banks County Board of Commissioners approved outdoor water restrictions Tuesday night that are in-line with state guidelines for water use.


News from
MADISON
COUNTY
State investigation to begin Tuesday
Three-day inquiry will focus on tax assessor’s office
A three-person team of out-of-county tax appraisers will visit the Madison County government complex for three days next week to assess the assessors.

Industrial authority expects rapid growth for Hull water system
Madison County’s Industrial Development Authority (IDA) expects demands on its Hull water system to double in the next few years.
At an IDA meeting last Wednesday morning, authority secretary Marvin White said the Hull water system now serves over 200 customers and uses 70,000 gallons of water per day.

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.

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AT BUS WRECK SCENE

Law enforcement, emergency workers, school officials and staff, parents and students are shown at the scene of an accident involving a Jackson County school bus Tuesday on New Kings Bridge Road.

BOC chairman accused of 74 ethics violations
The state ethics commission has decided it will hold a formal hearing to discuss allegations that Jackson County Board of Commission chairman Harold Fletcher failed to disclose his interest in several businesses and properties.
The ethics commission alleges that Fletcher violated 74 counts of the Ethics in Government Act between 2000 and 2004. No date has been set for the hearing.
Fletcher was offered a settlement to pay a $7,000 fine and admit guilt for the alleged violations, but he said he turned down the offer.
“My interpretation from that — that speaks to the weakness of their case,” Fletcher said Tuesday. “I have provided the information to the proper authorities, when I had the proper interpretation. I have no reason to hide anything and I invite anybody to go up to the courthouse and look at it.”
According to the commission, Fletcher supposedly didn’t report his fiduciary relationship with an entity on 29 occasions, failed to report a direct interest in an entity on 24 occasions and failed to report property of a net value of more than $20,000 on 21 occasions.
Fletcher wasn’t present for Monday’s brief preliminary hearing, which was held at the Douglas County courthouse. But during an interview at The Jackson Herald office on Tuesday, the commission chairman said the allegations stem from a misunderstanding of the state law.
“This is an ongoing thing, that has its basis in the fact that I failed — through a misunderstanding or a misinterpretation of the guidelines — to report five, inactive corporations,” he said. “When I say inactive, it means there’s been no activity for quite some time.”
Theodore Lee, executive secretary of the state ethics commission, said Monday that Fletcher failed to file or complete a series of financial disclosure statements.
“The financial disclosure statement (requirement) is designed to lay potential or actual sources conflict of interest before the public on a timely basis,” Lee said.
Fletcher said he filed his 2000 financial disclosure statements, but the documents were apparently lost.
Fletcher filed an amendment of his financial disclosure statement three weeks ago, which includes all of his fiduciary positions, direct ownership interests in businesses and property holdings. Twelve companies are listed, with five classified by Fletcher as “inactive.”
The “active” companies Fletcher identified are: Piedmont Realty Services, Inc.; First Piedmont Financial Services, Inc.; Quality Home Investment, Inc., Tower Realty, Inc. and Cave Springs Baptist Church, where he is a deacon. Fletcher’s interests in Pharo Enterprise, Inc., were transferred to his two sons on April 22.
He lists a self-directed IRA account as active, although a third party trustee handles profits from the sale of properties performed through the account.
“My only involvement in this is to determine when and what to buy or sell. I get to see no money,” he said. “The trustee wires the money to the attorneys, and the attorneys, in turn, when I sell, wires the money back to them.”
Fletcher named the “inactive” companies as: Diversified Properties, Arcade Realty, Inc.; First Fletch Financial Services, Inc.; Properties Unlimited, Inc. and Fletcher and Associates Realty.
Phillip Davis, a Pendergrass resident who filed the initial allegations against Fletcher last year, said the commission chairman also failed to report property transactions.
Davis said he found 231 deeds in Fletcher’s name or his self-directed IRA listed at the Jackson County Courthouse from January 1, 2000 to May 5, 2004.
Besides the properties in Jackson County, Fletcher owns land in Banks, Greene and Emanuel counties.
“I’ve owned property in just about every county in Northeast Georgia over the years,” Fletcher said.
He said the reason that he didn’t include many of those properties in his initial financial disclosure statement was that state law allows any property valued at $20,000 or less to be exempt. The exemption applies to property identified by the tax assessor’s value as $20,000, minus any indebtedness, Fletcher said.
“I might have a million dollar piece of property that I owe $990,000 on — that is not required to be reported,” he said.
Fletcher said once he learned that additional properties needed to be included in his financial disclosure statement, he provided a complete list of all of his properties.
“Every last piece of property that I own, that my IRA owns, is on those documents,” he said. His IRA has more than 100 properties, some worth almost half a million dollars.
“I am probably the most investigated, the most researched county commissioner that has ever been in office,” Fletcher said. “And for them to only be to find something as frivolous as this, that really says something.”
Davis said after Monday’s preliminary hearing that his investigation into Fletcher’s past stems from a property transaction of a friend’s parcel, which is located on the site of the planned Toyota plant in Pendergrass.
Davis said county officials and the owner of Valentine Farms “harassed” Roxie Gaines into selling her land and mobile home to make way for the Toyota plant. Davis contends the sale of her property was illegal and the reason he targeted Fletcher was “his name was on the check.”
County attorney Daniel Haygood wrote in a April 3, 2003 letter to senior assistant attorney general Kathryn Allen that Davis “appears to want to prove that some type of conspiracy theory existed to deprive Ms. Gaines of her property.” Haygood added that some of Davis’ activities related to his investigation have “begun to diverge into the territory of harassment.”
Fletcher said he feels confident that he will win his case at the formal hearing, which hasn’t been scheduled by the state ethics commission.
“We’re going to defend this vigorously,” he said. Fletcher will also be working on his re-election campaign at the same time.
“I do apologize to the people of this county that I failed to properly interpret the requirements of those documents,” Fletcher said. “And I’m sorry for any embarrassment that it might have caused, but it was an honest error, on my part.”



Buford man says Fletcher misled him about Toyota project in 2002 discussion
A Gwinnett County man said this week that Jackson County Board of Commission chairman Harold Fletcher attempted to lead him to believe in 2002 that the $60 million Toyota plant would not be built in Jackson County.
Ron Peavey, Buford, submitted a two-page letter to the state ethics commission last week describing what he called an “unethical abuse of power” by Fletcher during a discussion about real estate in the I-85 area north of Jefferson.
Peavey owns a 15-acre tract of land near the M.A.C.I./Toyota project that he purchased several years ago as an investment.
In his letter, Peavey states that Fletcher indicated to him in mid or late 2002 that the Toyota project was “on hold” and that a key part of the project, Concord Road, would never be built. According to Peavey, Fletcher referred to Concord Road as the “Waddell road,” saying that road was the idea of former county commission chairman Jerry Waddell and that it would not be completed. The proposed road turns off Hwy. 129 next the QT store just north of I-85 in Jefferson.
Fletcher and Waddell are political foes whose relationship has been at the center of several BOC efforts to take over the county water authority, where Waddell is superintendent. Fletcher reportedly wants Waddell fired from the position.
But Fletcher denied the allegations in a Wednesday interview, saying he didn’t remember meeting with Peavey.
“I don’t remember meeting with Mr. Peavey,” said Fletcher. “I meet with a lot of folks. I would never tell anybody that something was not going to happen, particularly a project like Toyota. I have been intimately involved with this project from the get-go. I don’t know what Mr. Peavy’s gripe is but apparently he has an ulterior motive from the get-go. Mr. Peavy is making some allegation that he can’t substantiate. I have been supportive of the Toyota project from the get-go.”
Fletcher also said that Peavey might be “in cahoots” with Philip Davis, the Pendergrass man who filed with the state ethics commission over Fletcher’s real estate dealings (see other story.)
Fletcher also predicted that there would be other allegations in the coming months and that most would be connected to the Concerned Citizens of Jackson County group which sued the BOC over the financing of the new courthouse. That suit is awaiting a decision by the Georgia Supreme Court.
“Over the course of the next few months, you are probably going to find several people who are going to come out of the woodworks with unfounded allegations,” said Fletcher. “For the most part, they are directly or indirectly related to the Concerned Citizens of Jackson County. It is unfortunate that we have to deal with something like this.”
The development of Concord Road has come under much behind-the-scenes discussion in the last year after Fletcher reportedly indicated to other people that the road would not be built. However, the BOC committed to build part of the road as one of the conditions set in 2002 to lure the $60-$100 million Toyota facility. So far, however, no work, other than engineering plans, has been done on the road.
Peavey attended Monday’s hearing in Douglasville before the state ethics commission where other allegations against Fletcher were discussed, but he did not speak at the hearing (see other story.)
2002 MEETING
The 2002 meeting between Peavey and Fletcher, which took place at Fletcher’s real estate firm, Tower Realty in Jefferson, was apparently a chance encounter. Peavey said that following the July 2002 announcement of the Toyota project, he began to receive inquiries about selling his 15-acre tract, which is located near the property purchased by Toyota.
Peavey said he wasn’t anxious to sell the land in 2002, but had set up an appointment with a real estate agent from Tower Realty to discuss the potential for the land.
While waiting for the agent to arrive, Peavey said he had conversation with Fletcher and another man he believes was Fletcher’s brother, Jerry.
When asked what he wanted for his land, Peavey said Fletcher “chuckled” at his asking price.
“Harold asked me how much I was looking to ask for my land,” wrote Peavey. “I explained that I was in no hurry to sell and that I would not let it go for anything under $25,000 per acre. Harold chuckled.”
Peavey said that both men then indicated that the Toyota project was “on hold” and quoted them as saying “That road (Concord Road) over there ain’t coming.”
“He (Fletcher) wasn’t specific when he used the word ‘canceled,’ but we were discussing the Toyota project at the moment,” wrote Peavey. “I brought up how all of this was news to me.”
Peavey said in a Tuesday interview that although he doesn’t live in Jackson County, he had kept up with county politics through the newspaper. He had not read of the project being canceled, so he was concerned to hear that information from Fletcher.
Peavey said that during the meeting, he figured out the man “Harold” he was talking with was the chairman of the BOC, whom he had read about, but that Fletcher never revealed his public position during the discussions.
“I just don’t think he knew I knew who he was,” Peavey said during an interview Monday.
Peavey also said that the two men told him that the land on the North side of I-85, where Toyota is locating, would not develop until all the land on the South side of I-85 had been developed. Peavey said Tuesday that he argued that idea with Fletcher, pointing out the other development already on the north side of I-85.
He said that Fletcher also told him his 15-acre tract was worth less than residential property, although it was next to the Toyota site.
“I thought it (Fletcher’s analysis) was absurd,” said Peavey.
Peavey said the agent he was supposed to meet never arrived, so he left, but immediately began calling other county leaders to see if indeed the Toyota project had been canceled. He said he was told by the other leaders that the project was still ongoing and that it had not been canceled.
“He (Fletcher) was sitting there as a principal party,” Peavey said Monday. “Only after I realized that everything he said was patently false, it made me wonder how this could be accomplished. If I was some ignorant person off the street, taking his advice, who knows — I could have said, ‘This is never going to amount to nothing, I’m just going to let it (the property) go.’”
Peavey said Fletcher never offered to buy his land during the discussion. The land is currently listed for sale by Norris Realty, he said.

DOT presents Jefferson traffic re-routing plan
Would keep bridge, create one-way loop
The Department of Transportation’s proposed plan for re-routing traffic in Jefferson revolves around the historic White Bridge that spans Curry Creek, literally looping around in one-way stretches on either side of the creek.
In an effort to keep the bridge intact but to also alleviate traffic congestion around the bridge and the S.R. 335 intersection, DOT engineers and a local task force have worked their way through at least a dozen proposals over the past few years before settling on the one presented at a public hearing Thursday evening. The design on the “one-way pair” is not final and the DOT held the hearing to get public input on the plan.
Three sets of the plan, highlighted in yellow and blue, were taped to the walls in the Jefferson High School cafeteria for three hours Thursday. Citizens looked at the map, asked questions and listened as DOT representatives explained the concept.
The plan calls for a one-way flow of traffic out of town, beginning in front of SouthTrust Bank and Storey Street and then continuing across the bridge, going toward Commerce and the S.R. 82 intersection. At that intersection, traffic will become two-way again.
Likewise, the traffic coming into town from Commerce and the S.R. 82 intersection will traverse a one-way path across a new bridge to Kissam Street and in front of the new Jefferson civic center. Traffic will flow onto Storey Street alongside SouthTrust Bank and become two-way again into downtown.
The S.R. 82 intersection itself will be shifted, coming to a stop, rather than the current yield, on the Jefferson-Commerce Road. The road will intersect with the Jefferson-Commerce Road (S.R. 15A) at a location between the existing convenience store and the new store and car wash currently under construction. A left turn lane will be established for motorists turning onto S.R. 82.
Other proposed changes include removal of the traffic light at the S.R. 335 (Brockton Road) intersection with S.R. 15A at the Curry Creek bridge. One-way traffic will simply flow into S.R. 335 from across the bridge. Traffic leaving S.R. 335 will turn right into the one-way flow. Motorists who are heading into downtown will turn right from S.R. 335, looping around. They will cross the existing (but extended) bridge that leads over the creek onto Kissam Street and follow the one-way route in front of the civic center.
At Thursday’s public hearing, DOT district preconstruction engineer Russell McMurry explained the benefits of the project, saying that the bridge will be preserved and no residents will be displaced. There are 26 parcels of property involved in the proposed plan.
McMurry added that the purpose of the public hearing was to present the “grand scheme” and to get comments.
“The design is based around the historic bridge, a historic home (at the corner of S.R. 335) and the flood plain at the intersection,” he said. “You’ll be coming into town one way and going out of town one way....Really, the whole thing is to improve downtown Jefferson as a main thoroughfare. That intersection is causing a lot of headaches...This plan has the least impact and has the biggest bang for the buck.”
NEXT STEP
According to Todd Long with the DOT, once the preliminary plan is finalized, with public comments incorporated, the next step in the project is to complete the environmental document.
Long said the timeline includes getting rights-of-way in fiscal year 2006 and construction “several years after that.”
After an initial meeting about completely replacing the historic bridge — an idea that was met with a lot of community opposition — the DOT “started again from scratch,” Long said of the planning process.
Some of the alternatives investigated for re-routing Jefferson traffic included an all-way stop, the current signal at the intersection and completely re-routing S.R. 335.
Some of the citizens who attended the public hearing Thursday asked questions about rights-of-way for specific properties, while others commented on the inconvenience of the traffic loop.
But DOT representatives said that the overall comments they had heard during the public hearing were positive.
“People are pleased that the bridge is staying intact,” said Mark Ballard.
The plans and displays will be available for review at the DOT District 1 office until May 17. Written comments will be accepted until that date, as well. The office is located at 2905 Athens Hwy., Gainesville, GA 30503. The project number is BHF-052-2(20) Jackson County, P.I. numbers 122510.


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New Owner
After 72 Years, Jay’s Department
Store Is Under New Ownership
Terry Minish Purchases Jay’s Stock,
For the first time since it opened in 1932, Jay’s Department Store in Commerce is under new ownership.
Long-time employee Terry Minish, who has managed the store since 1990, completed the purchase of all stock in Jay’s Department Store last week. He will keep the store’s name and its staff.
“I would like to thank all of the people for all the years of business, and I welcome their continued support,” Minish stated. “I just feel like Commerce needs Jay’s and Jay’s needs the Commerce area. It’s an institution we want to see continued.”
The store got its start in 1932 when the late Harry Jay opened on State Street. It moved into its current location at the corner of South Broad Street and Central Avenue in the late 1930s. After the death of founder Harry Jay, his son Nathan owned and operated the business until his recent retirement.
Minish joined the business part-time while in high school at Commerce High School, taking on such duties as sweeping the floor and washing the windows.
“I’ve never worked anywhere else,” he notes.
Under Nathan Jay’s tutelage, Minish learned the business and was given more responsibility. He remembers his first purchasing trip to New York – with Jay – in 1990 or 1991.
“The first time, I was scared to death,” he recalled. “He was there. I was making the decisions, but he was behind me saying yea or nay. He made two New York trips with me and turned me loose.”
In 1998, Minish purchased one of the two buildings comprising the store. He’d been negotiating with Jay to acquire the company for about six months.
Minish plans a big celebration in July to coincide with the store’s 72nd anniversary. He hopes to do something resembling the early annual give-away of a bale of cotton, an event that flooded the streets of Commerce with patrons hoping to get lucky. The celebration, featuring give-aways Minish hopes to get from his suppliers, will last four to five days, he said.
Little will change to the average customer.
Minish has been there 30 years. Gloria Ford, 25-plus years, and Mary Ann Cook and Pauline Blalock, both of whom have been with Jay’s for more than 20 years, will continue to work, as will Minish’s daughter, Abby, 19. Store hours will continue to be 9-6 Mondays through Fridays and 9-5 Saturdays.
Nonetheless, there will be subtle changes, Minish said.
“We’re working to acquire new lines of shoes. We’ve added Florsheim’s men’s shoes and we’re going to add a line of lady’s sandals that is very popular now, Clark’s of England. We will also expand our line of University of Georgia merchandise.”
Eventually, Minish hopes to develop the second floor of the store, possibly into loft apartments.
“That’s down the road. When you’re in debt, everything’s way down the road,” he laughed.
A website, ngeorgia.com
/jays, is now operating. It contains an order page, a contact page and a demonstration of Zippit ties, for which Jay’s is one of the only area retailers. Other items will be added, Minish promised.
“I’m always open to suggestions and comments. We strive to provide what the community wants.” Anyone with suggestions can reach the store online at jay319@alltel.net or call the store at 335-4300.


Six students receive minor injuries in bus wreck
Six Jackson County School System students received minor injuries in a bus wreck Tuesday afternoon.
The students received minor injuries and were taken to Athens Regional Medical Center, according to reports from the Georgia State Patrol.
Keith Everson, director of administrative services for the Jackson County School System, said the students ranged in age from 6 to 12, and all were released from the hospital by 6 p.m. Tuesday. He said the most serious injury was a hairline fracture. The bus driver also only received minor injuries, Everson said. He said she had a sore arm, neck and back.
A Jackson County school bus driven by Kelli Lynn Brown, 43, Jefferson, was traveling north on New Kings Bridge Road around 3 p.m. The bus had stopped to make a left turn at Ansley Road and a cement truck driven by Perry Wingard, 47, Bethlehem, also traveling north could not stop and rear-ended the bus, according to the report.
Everson said the bus driver was “really the hero” in the accident.
“She saw the cement truck coming when she was about to turn into a subdivision,” he said. “She knew it was going to hit her. She accelerated to go straight and try to avoid the accident. By doing that, it absorbed quite a bit of the impact of that cement truck. She did a tremendous job.”


Jefferson postpones action on courthouse annexation into city
Some members of the Jefferson City Council want more information on the new courthouse project before voting on an annexation request from the county.
The Jefferson City Council tabled action at its meeting Monday night on a rezoning request for 4.37 acres on Darnell Road at the new courthouse site.
Councilman Philip Thompson said he wants to find out whether the rezoning request should come from the Association County Commissioners of Georgia instead of the county. The ACCG has ownership of the courthouse under its lease-purchase agreement with the county.
County manager Al Crace said the matter has been discussed with the ACCG and the county had support to proceed with the rezoning request.
Thompson also wants the legal definition of a courthouse and the floor plans for the new facility.
Mayor Jim Joiner said the county and city attorney could get together to compile this information for the council.
Jefferson officials first discovered that part of the courthouse sat on a tract of land that had not been annexed into the city limits when they were working on some plans for new sewerage lines to the area.
City officials brought the matter to the attention of the BOC, who then discovered that 30 percent of the building, which is still under construction on Darnell Road east of Jefferson, sat on unincorporated land. The part of the courthouse not in the city limits is a triangle shaped wedge on the back of the building where the corner of one unincorporated tract falls.