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JUNE 9, 2004


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OPINIONS
Jackson County opinion page


SPORTS
Basketball In June
CHS Hoops Teams Addressing Winter Needs Now
Rex Gregg says he needs to find two starters. Don Watkins has even larger personnel question marks looming after wholesale changes over last year.

Committee pushing for new recreation complex in Jefferson
Supporters of a new proposed Jefferson recreation complex off Old Pendergrass Rd. have begun organizing support for a July 20 vote on a bond referendum to pay for the $5.25 million project.

Local recreation Little Leagues wraping up play
Local Little League tournaments are bringing an end to seasons in Jackson County this week.
Saturday, action at the Jefferson Parks and Recreation Department wrapped up with tournament championship games taking place from Thursday through Saturday.


News from
BANKS COUNTY
BOC loses methadone clinic lawsuit on zoning
To appeal ruling
The Banks County Board of Commissioners lost the lawsuit Sylvanus Memorial Treatment Center filed against it for the zoning decision that denied the company’s request to locate a methadone treatment center in the county’s industrial park.

Commissioners still discussing county agent option
The Banks County Board of Commissioners met with a representative from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service Thursday to once again discuss the opportunity of having a county agent placed in the county.


News from
MADISON
COUNTY
Road widening — a distant possibility
But no immediate plans on the table for widening Hwy. 29
Hwy. 29 might be widened one day in Madison County through Danielsville.
It might not.

Explosive growth expected for Comer
If current trends continue, Comer’s population can double in the next five years, according to the city’s zoning administrator Gerald Kemp.
The city council approved preliminary plats for two proposed subdivisions at its scheduled meeting Tuesday night. Royal Oaks Subdivision near the junction of Brickyard Road and Hwy. 98 will contain 68 lots.

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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‘The anchor holds’

Moved by the words of a song — “The anchor holds, Though the ship is battered”— survivors Tilly White, Pam Minish, Vivian Brooks and Brooks’ daughter Judy Dillard fought back the tears during the opening ceremony of the Jackson County Relay For Life Friday evening. See this weeks Jackson Herald for more relay photograhs.

Waddell paid $96,000 to leave
BOC, JCWSA approve termination contract
After three-and-a-half-years of political controversy, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners finally succeeded in getting rid of Jerry Waddell as county water superintendent. But it cost taxpayers nearly $100,000 for them to remove Waddell from his position.
Friday afternoon, the BOC approved a termination contract for Waddell and Saturday morning, the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority also approved the deal.
Authority member Elton Collins said he brokered the agreement after board of commissioners chairman Harold Fletcher initiated discussions.
“It is kind of a sad day for all of us and for the citizens of Jackson County,” Collins stated. “There’s really no winners in this. The taxpayers are losers, the county government is a loser and certainly the water authority is a loser because all of us know Mr. Waddell has done a great job down here. He’s put together a superb team of people that operate and run this water authority and now that’s going to be in an upheaval for awhile.”
Although Collins gave the background on how the deal came about, Fletcher insisted Friday that the BOC was not a player in dealing with Waddell on the termination contract.
“We had no part in the negotiations,” Fletcher said, adding that the board of commissioners’ only role was to pay the money in the event the authority lacked the funds.
Saturday, Collins disputed Fletcher’s version of what happened.
“This was totally conceived and created by the county commissioners,” Collins contradicted on Saturday. “The water authority had nothing to do with this. I was totally shocked when I was approached with this idea, because (with) the relationship of these bodies, I would never have dreamed of this coming about.”
With the terms of Collins and Dean Stringer expiring this month, the commissioners stand to appoint three new members who, with support from authority member Wanda David, could have voted to fire Waddell. That’s what surprised Collins, he said, when Fletcher proposed the buy-out.
According to Collins, Fletcher came by his office two weeks ago and proposed an agreement for Waddell to depart.
“I don’t know the reason for them wanting to make this agreement, but he wanted me to be the go-between between the county commissioners and Mr. Waddell,” Collins told the authority. “I agreed to do it because I was certainly in favor of Mr. Waddell receiving some type of compensation if he was going to be let go. The alternative to this agreement certainly wasn’t good. That was, he was going to leave with his hat in his hands.”
According to Collins, he and Fletcher negotiated for about an hour before Collins reached the point where he had an agreement he was willing to take to Waddell. At that point, he summoned Waddell to his office.
“I laid out to Mr. Waddell what the agreement was,” Collins said. “I don’t mind saying I advised Mr. Waddell to take the agreement because the alternative was basically to leave with nothing.”
From that point, authority attorney Julius Hulsey and county attorney Daniel Haygood got involved with Waddell, hammering out the final agreement, Collins said.
Waddell said this week that the had no choice but to leave with the deal, or face being fired.
“I wanted to stay and do my jog,” he said. “I felt like I was doing a good job, but Harold didn’t me any alternatives...It hurts me that it happened this way, but what really hurts is the loss for Jackson County citizens in losing (control) of this authority to a group of people (the BOC) like that.”
In a related move, Fletcher also made it known that Hulsey was to be terminated as the authority’s attorney. Hulsey resigned from the position Friday (see other story.)
WHY NOW?
Although the termination contract was approved, the question remaining is why was the BOC so anxious to get rid of Waddell now, when he could have been fired in a month with the appointment of new authority members? Collins said Fletcher insisted that Waddell be off the job by June 4.
Asked to defend the expenditure, Fletcher said that the amount was “fair to everybody.”
Although Waddell is an “at-will” employee of the authority who can, supposedly, be fired without cause by a majority vote of the authority, Fletcher said it would “be a presumption that we could have done it for nothing because he could have brought suit and we could have spent that much or more defending a lawsuit.”
And there’s also the July 20 election in which Fletcher faces a tough challenge from former county commissioner Pat Bell. Some have speculated that Fletcher wanted the Waddell issue resolved now rather than have it blow up just a few days before that July 20 vote.
Collins said he is also wondering why Fletcher insisted that Waddell be gone by the end of last week.
Collins told the authority Saturday that he asked Fletcher “what is going on?”
“I said, ‘level with me Harold, tell me what’s going on,’” Collins related. “He said, ‘Elton, once the election is over, I’ll sit down and talk to you.’”
Authority members seemed to expect a public backlash over the expenditure of almost $100,000 by a cash-strapped authority just to terminate an employee.
Waddell’s removal has been an objective of the board of commissioners since members took office in 2000 just after the authority hired Waddell, the former BOC chairman. Since that time, the BOC and the authority have sparred repeatedly. The BOC tried to get legislation introduced in the General Assembly to give it control of day-to-day authority activities, but after a public outcry, the county’s legislative delegation backed off. But the BOC has been persistent with its criticism of the authority and Waddell in particular.
DEAL DETAILS
The deal included $67,821 in salary – paying Waddell through February 2006 when he turns 62 – plus unused vacation totaling $8,943 and unused sick leave totaling $8,134, all of which amounted to a check for $63,943 after withholding; a check for $2,800 to cover what the authority would have paid for Waddell’s health benefits for the rest of 2004; and a check for $9,494 to the Charles Schwab Trust Co., to cover payments into Waddell’s retirement fund.
Actually, the check was $1,121 too high, a fact discovered Monday, because the document signed by all parties had a miscalculation in the amount of sick leave to be paid ($8,134 vs. what should have been $9,255), while the check was calculated properly, Collins said. As a result, Waddell will reimburse the authority $1,121.01, he said.
Other stipulations include:
•Waddell cannot return to the authority for two years, or he must return all compensation.
•Waddell can be retained by the authority as a consultant for up to five hours a week at up to $40 per hour. All work must be approved by the chairman.
•Waddell will not file suit against the authority, the board of commissioners or any county employees, commissioners or authority members and the authority and county agree to file no claims against Waddell.
MIMS PROMOTED
To replace Waddell, the authority also voted to promote Paul Mims, water system superintendent, to manager. He will be paid $65,000 and will get the authority vehicle Waddell had used.
Waddell warned that the authority may need to hire additional help.
“Paul will work hard and do a good job, but as Traditions comes online, there’s no way he can do what I do and manage the inspections too,” he said.
The authority also announced that its June meeting, scheduled for Thursday, will be moved back a week to June 17 at 7 p.m. at the authority’s headquarters.


Hulsey steps down as water authority attorney
Julius Hulsey has resigned as attorney for the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority because the board of commissioners no longer want him to serve.
“I have been advised that the board of commissioners no longer feel that I should serve as counsel for the water and sewerage authority,” Hulsey wrote in a June 3 letter to the water authority. “In view of this, I hereby resign as attorney for the Jackosn County Water and Sewerage Authority, effective June 4.”
Hulsey also said he has had a “great working relationship” with the water authority board members and staff.
“Jackson County has been fortunate to have dedicated board members who serve with no play and often times incurred a great deal of hardship on the public’s behalf,” he said. “Further, I have great admiration for the staff members and their dedication to running a top notch authority.”
Hulsey also offered support for water authority manager Jerry Waddell.
“In my opinion, Mr. Waddell has been a very efficient and effective manager of the authority and has dealt with the public fairly and justly,” he said. “The remaining staff has been very hard-working and supportive of me.”


Court rules in favor of BOC on courthouse
After a year-long legal battle, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled this week in favor of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners on how the new courthouse was financed.
The unanimous decision ruled that the county did not violate the state’s constitution when it arranged a $25 million lease-purchase with the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.
The lease-purchase was challenged by a group of Jackson County citizens who contended that the 30-year lease-purchase deal was little more than long-term debt. According to the Georgia Constitution, long-term debt is to be approved by voters.
But the Supreme Court ruled that the lease-purchase was not debt and that the county officials would have the power to terminate the contract at the end of each year.
The attorney for the citizens’ group, Wyc Orr, said he was disappointed at the ruling.
“We are extremely disappointed and strongly disagree with the court,” he said. “We intend to file a motion to reconsider.”
The citizens group had argued that it would be impossible for the county to terminate the 30-year contract and just abandon the new courthouse once it was occupied. But the court disagreed.
“Similarly, if this lease agreement is terminated, other office and courtroom space would have to be quickly found,” read the opinion. “...That power is present in this agreement and future county commissions are not bound to renew the agreement.”
BOC chairman Harold Fletcher said the court’s ruling showed that the case was “frivolous.”
This is just confirmation of what we’ve contended all along, that this was a frivolous lawsuit,” declared Fletcher. “I think one comment sums it all up: ‘These arguments are meritless.’”
Fletcher said the delay in getting the project financed resulted in an additional $4.6 million in interest over the course of the lease, and that the county’s defense of the suit cost $350,000.
Leader of the citizens’ group which brought the suit, Tim Venable, said this week that he believes the citizens were right in spite of the ruling.
“We obviously are disappointed in the ruling, but not surprised,” said Venable, chairman of the Concerned Citizens of Jackson County. “Our attorney told us from the very start that we faced an uphill battle. The entire political power base of the state had a vested interest in seeing the lease-purchase deal continue. This is a defeat for taxpayers in all 159 counties in Georgia, because local governments now have the green light essentially to raise taxes without voter approval.
“We lost the fight, but we still think we are right on the issues. I want to again thank everyone in Jackson County who has supported our effort. They can be proud that they took a stand for one of our most basic rights — the right to vote.”


LP emissions increase gets EPD approval
The Georgia Environ-mental Protection Division has approved a permit for Louisiana Pacific that will allow the company to increase its emissions at the Center plant.
The Environmental Protection Agency will have final say on the matter. The EPA will have 45 days to review the EPD’s recommendation of approval and make a final ruling.
The new permit will allow the plant to increase its production rate of oriented strand board. It will also allow for an increase in emissions by 100 tons per year of particulate matter, volatile organic compound, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and phenol.
The permit was issued after the EPD director made a visit to LP last week to tour the facility and to meet with concerned citizens.
Two hearings were held in Athens earlier this year with a large crowd of area residents speaking out in opposition to the request. Noise, air quality, traffic problems, water supply and the effect to the natural environment were among the issues they addressed.


Road delay stalling new development?
Jackson County may be losing industrial prospects because of county delays in building Concord Road and upgrading Possum Creek Road.
Sources close to the issue said this week that at least two projects, totaling $27 million in initial investment, are on hold because the board of commissioners failed to meet its June 1 deadline to have the two roads completed.
The deadline was one part of the deal the Jackson County Board of Commissioners agreed to in 2002 to lure a $60 million Toyota/MACI plant to the Jefferson-Pendergrass area just north of I-85.
The sources also said that several other potential industrial projects had backed away from serious consideration of land in the area because of the road delays.
The missed deadline has also upset Toyota officials, who in late May demanded an explanation from the county as to why it had failed to do the roads.
The two road projects, totaling nearly $7 million, are not designed just to serve Toyota, say officials. The roads are designed to serve a large swath of industrial land north of I-85 between Hwy. 129 and Hwy. 98. Concord Road is supposed to be completed to Hwy. 82 by the year 2010.
BOC chairman Harold Fletcher said last week that the county delayed the roads in order to do other roads in the county first and that Toyota itself had delayed building its plant. But if the roads were delayed on purpose, no indication of that was every communicated to Toyota or to the myriad of other players who are involved in that and other related industrial development projects.
In response to the situation, the BOC ran a full page advertisment in this week’s Herald that talks about a “Toyota Partnership,” but it does not list road construction as part of the BOC’s commitment to the firm.
BESHARA NOW INVOLVED
Following critical comments about the lack of work on the roads from members of the Jackson County Industrial Development Authority two weeks ago, sources close to the issue say that commissioner Emil Beshara, whose district includes the Toyota project area, has gotten involved in the discussions.
Earlier this week, Beshara, Fletcher and county manager Al Crace reportedly met in private with some members of the IDA to discuss the road issue. Since then, Beshara has reportedly gotten more involved in the discussions and pushed for the county to get moving on the road projects.
CONCERNS AIRED EARLIER
Although concerns about the road only recently came to a head in public after the county missed its deadline, a number of development officials had expressed concerns for months about the lack of work by the county on the roads.
In an email memo to Fletcher in March, Richard Valentine, a former owner of the property where Toyota is locating and owner of several hundred acres in the area slated for industrial development, said there were six prospects looking at sites around Toyota, but that rumors about the roads not being done had caused them to back away from pursuing plans in the area.
“We have received feedback from some of the prospects about rumors that the roads may not be completed as planned, or not at all,” wrote Valentine. “Therefore, some will not commit to Jackson County without actually seeing dirt being moved.
“Harold, does the government of Jackson County intend to honor its contract with Toyota Industries of North America and have the roads completed by June 2004?”
Part of Valentine’s concerns apparently stemmed from reports that Fletcher had in private said referred to Concord Road as a “Waddell road” and that it would not be built. Valentine said the four different people have told him Fletcher made such comments to them.
In response to the Valentine email in March, Beshara responded with a scathing rebuke of Valentine and said that the roads would definitely be built by June 1.
COUNTY MISLED ON TIMELINE?
Toyota officials had also raised questions earlier about the lack of work on the roads in monthly meeting with county officials and had been told by Crace that everything was on schedule.
Documents obtained by The Herald this week show that county officials had consistently given Toyota information that indicated the road projects were on a working timeline.
In February 2003, county officials outlined a timetable for work on the roads where construction plans were to be submitted for final review by August 21, 2003.
In a May 9, 2003 document, county officials outlined plans for Concord Road to be bid and construction done between September 2003 and April 2004.
But in a May meeting, Crace reportedly told Toyota officials that not only had no work begun on the roads, but also that no schedule for completing the roads was available.


Michael A. Carroll
For Jackson County
Superior Court 2004

VOTE JULY 20
in the
Republican Primary!

CarrollforClerk@alltel.net


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3rd Graders Excel On Critical CRCT Exam
Commerce Elementary School third graders did extremely well on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) that play a role in determining advancement into the fourth grade.
Of the 117 children who took the test, 114 passed it, according to Superintendent of Schools Larry White.
“That’s real good. Think about it – only three failures,” White said. “That tells me my elementary teachers are doing a good job down there.”
Principal Kim Savage said all three students who did not pass the test have learning disabilities. Two have since been re-tested and a third is out of the state for the summer.
“We were really, really, really pleased,” she said. “You just never know from year to year. We felt like we had worked really hard to make sure they knew what was expected of them. It was better than I thought; we braced ourselves for the worst.”
Eventually, CRCT results will help determine passage or failure in the fifth and eighth grades too. Statewide, systems had braced for as many as a third of third graders to be held back.
Children who did not pass the test are given remedial opportunities over the summer. Commerce Elementary School offers a “summer reading and math camp” to allow children to work on specific skills.
“I was really pleased with our ESOL (English as a second language) population,” Savage said. “I was kind of worried about them. I wasn’t sure how well they would do, but they did really well.”
Savage said the school’s third-grade teachers were thrilled – although she could not resist, when reporting the results, telling them that 23 students failed. Then: “Oh, I read that wrong, it was three,” she corrected.
“They had kids they were worried about,” she explained. “They felt like they knew the material but might get nervous. I told them all that hard work paid off.”
White said he was surprised and relieved when the results came in.
“I was really surprised,” he said. “If I’d had to take a guess, I would have thought we’d be in good shape if we had 90 percent passing.”


Jefferson calls election for $5.25 million bond
Impact fees an option for financing recreation bond
Jefferson will hold a July 20 city election, along with the primary election, to give citizens a chance to vote on a 20-year $5.25 million general obligation park and recreation facilities bond, the bulk of which would be used to develop phase one of a new recreation complex.
City officials are considering development impact fees as a financing option for the bond; according to a consultant, impact fees could finance as much as 50 to 75 percent of the cost, with the remainder of the debt service paid through taxes.
“We’re going to ask the people to go to the polls and say whether they want to obligate themselves for $5.25 million over 20 years,” Mayor Jim Joiner said. “I think it’s real important for people to understand this is a general obligation bond and is backed up by the city.”
During a called meeting Monday, the Jefferson City Council voted unanimously to call for the city election, which will be held at the downtown fire station. The notice of election, which will be published in The Jackson Herald for four weeks, beginning June 16, calls for a principal amount of $5,250,000, payable semi-annually at rates not exceeding 6.25 percent.
Originally, the council had discussed setting the amount as not to exceed $7 million, but city attorney Ronnie Hopkins said Monday night that the city had decided to fix the figure at $5.25 million.
Phase one of the new recreation complex would include “baseball and softball fields, gymnasiums, football/soccer fields, parking lots, roadways, and other related park facilities,” according to the notice of election.
Likewise, the funds would also be used to pay off the remaining $725,000 owed on the property, which is located off Old Swimming Pool and Old Pendergrass roads, Hopkins said.
The city’s recreation board has been organizing a committee to provide information about the bond referendum and the recreation complex (see separate story on page 1B).
FINANCING OPTIONS
“Part of what you want to know is how to pay this back,” city manager David Clabo said Monday night. “(Consultant) Bill Ross will give us ideas on what we’ll be able to do.”
Ross spoke Monday night about using development impact fees — an idea the city has been tossing around for over a year — as a way to finance the bond payments. The city will appoint its final member of a development impact fee advisory board at its Monday, June 14, meeting to study the pros and cons of implementing such fees.
While Ross said he will have no definitive answers on exact figures until his study is complete, he said the city could “anticipate between 50 to 75 percent of the cost being covered by future impact fees.”
“Seventy-five percent if you set the impact fee at the maximum and 50 to 65 percent with a more reasonable fee,” Ross said. “You won’t be able to pay 100 percent with impact fees....but I’m confident you can set an impact fee that will cover 50 to 60 percent.”
“Remember there’s a safety belt,” Ross added. “You’ll revisit the impact fees every year and make adjustments. You will look at setting the millage rate each year to make up (the difference).”
Mayor Joiner pointed out that the city would not have enough in impact fees to cover both phases of the proposed recreation complex, and that the city would be “saving up” for the second phase.
“In some years you may collect more than you need for the debt service and you can save up for phase two,” Ross said.
Clabo said that the city is also looking at other uses for devlopment impact fees, such as fire, police and libraries.
“We may not have the entire package ready by July 20, but we know enough at this point that you’ll be making money,” Ross said.
Council members Bosie Griffith and Philip Thompson were not present for Monday night’s called meeting.