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JUNE 16, 2004


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OPINIONS
Frank Gillispie
On Reagan and good deeds
Those of you who watched the ceremonies for the late Ronald Reagan heard repeated references to “the shining city on a hill.” This was Reagan’s fav

Zach Mitcham
Keeping perspective amid ugliness
The blood pressure cuff, the pneumograph, the galvanometer — all parts of a lie detector machine.
Your local tax assessor’s/chairman’s office controversy may soon involve these instruments.


SPORTS
‘Summer training’
MCHS baseball team hones skills with summer baseball schedule
It’s a lot like Major League baseball’s spring training — except a lot hotter.
The Madison County baseball team is currently in the middle of its 22-game summer schedule which helps bridge the regular season and the fall ball slate and keep skills sharpened.


News from
BANKS COUNTY
County commissioners adopt 8.279 millage rate
The Banks County Board of Commissioners adopted the 2003 millage rate after the third public hearing held Thursday night in the conference room at the Banks County courthouse.

No opposition to BOE millage rate
Public hearing held; another set for Mon.
After two public hearings have been held, the Banks County Board of Education has yet to hear any citizens speak in opposition to the proposed millage rate.


News from
JACKSON COUNTY
Fletcher, Bell face off at first political forum
Roads, water authority among debated topics
In their first face-off of the political season, the two Republican candidates running for chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners met in Hoschton Tuesday night to debate some hot local issues.

Second political forum ahead Tues. at JEMC
A political forum for candidates in the July 20 election has been set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 22, at the Jackson Electric Membership Corporation auditorium in Jefferson.

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County board of assessor chairman John Bellew (right) hands a paper to BOC chairman Wesley Nash (center) Monday as county clerk Morris Fortson (left) looks on.

Assessor’s conflict takes ugly turn
BOC chairman proposes lie detectors amid allegations of records tampering
Talk about lie detectors, office break-ins, property record tampering — Monday’s county commissioners meeting had all three.
The conflict between the commission chairman’s office and the tax assessor’s department has been a lengthy ordeal, a hostile dilemma.
And it just got a lot uglier.
The state was called in recently to investigate county tax appraisers and their methods of assessing property values. And a report is expected within the next week detailing their findings.
But tax assessor chairman John Bellew — who is one of four Democrats facing off July 20 for the chance to oust Wesley Nash from the county commission chairman’s seat — confronted the board of commissioners Monday on several contentious assessor issues, saying action was needed immediately.
Bellew said the tax office needs money for postage for assessment notices as soon as possible. He said the assessor’s department needs a computer brought back to that office from the chairman’s office and that chief appraiser Rebecca Duncan had qualified for a pay raise that she never received.
But most notable were Bellew’s allegations that someone has been entering the tax assessor’s office and that “things have been moved around.” Even more striking, Bellew said someone tampered with the property records of his brother, Delmar “J.R.” Bellew, between 10:09 and 10:10 a.m. on the morning of May 19, changing the value of his property from $92,630 to $2. He said the “edit history” on the tax assessor’s office computers shows “Rebecca” — the county’s chief appraiser — made the changes to the property values. But Bellew said that Rebecca Duncan was meeting with the state-appointed investigation committee that morning and couldn’t have made such changes.
He said only two people — Duncan and county technical coordinator Gary Venable — know Duncan’s password.
Venable was not at Monday’s meeting, but when contacted Tuesday, he adamantly denied any involvement in records tampering.
“I have not changed any property values,” said Venable. “And I would have absolutely nothing to gain in doing so.”
Bellew also brought up the possibility that the computer of a former tax assessor’s office employee, Mechell Salter, was connected to the tax assessor’s server. He said Duncan and another county employee observed Salter accessing the tax assessor’s office server from her computer in the chairman’s office. But Salter, Nash, county clerk Morris Fortson and Venable have all said that Salter’s computer has not been connected to the tax assessor’s server since Salter’s relocation to the chairman’s office.
The board of tax assessors voted earlier this year to fire Salter, with one reason for the dismissal being alleged tampering of documents. But Salter has flatly denied that allegation, saying that she is the victim of a smear campaign. And the chairman’s office has backed up the former appraiser, with Nash blocking Salter’s firing and giving her a temporary post in the chairman’s office until the controversy is resolved.
On Monday, Bellew asked commissioners for a vote to return the computer Salter uses in the chairman’s office to the assessor’s office.
For the rest of this story see this weeks Madison County Journal.


Friends and family ready for Westbrook’s homecoming
Ex-Raider star to start against Braves in Atlanta this weekend
This Fathers’ Day weekend will be only the second time Cauthen Westbrook has made a visit to Turner Field for a Braves’ game.
It’s safe to say this trip will be quite different since he’ll be pretty familiar with the visiting starting pitcher.
Ex-Raider star and Cleveland Indians pitcher Jake Westbrook will make a homecoming of sorts this weekend when Cleveland takes on Atlanta at Turner Field Friday through Sunday. As of right now, Westbrook is set to start Saturday against the Braves.
It will be the first time Cauthen Westbrook’s son has pitched in his home state against the team he grew up watching in a five-year major league career.
“It will be a little strange,” Cauthen Westbrook said with a laugh. “Everybody around here grows up with the Braves being the team everyone follows. But we’ve gotten away from Braves baseball the past four or five years and have been watching more baseball overall. But I’ll be a little anxious.”
Predictably, the requests have piled up from friends and family who want to see Jake Westbrook take the hill in Atlanta. In fact, the Indians pitcher could have doubled as a one-man Ticket Master this week.
“He had to fight and scratch, but he got the tickets he wanted,” said Joan Westbrook, Jake’s mother.
George Elrod, a family friend of the Westbrook’s, is among those who will be at Turner Field to witness it first hand.
“There’s a lot of interest in it,” said Elrod. “Hopefully, he can keep up the magic he’s got going right now ... I hope he can continue pitching strong and having the luck he’s had lately.”
Westbrook’s family alone will comprise quite a support gallery.
“I don’t know of anybody in our family that’s not going down there,” said Dr. Kevin Adams, Westbrook’s cousin.
Adams said the family always knew Jake was capable of great things on the baseball field and seeing it first hand makes it all the more special.
“You don’t get many opportunities to see a family member pitch in a professional ballpark like that,” he said.
Westbrook’s fan club is catching him in the middle of what’s been a red-hot June for the 6’3” right-hander.
Westbrook now leads the American League with a 2.70 ERA after a four-hit, complete-game shutout of the Orioles Monday night. His six wins on the season leave him just one shy of his victory total for all of last year.
Westbrook’s parents have been able to follow their son’s success every step of the way, even though Cleveland is 700 miles from Danielsville. Thanks to the technology of satellite, they’re able to watch all of Jake’s games on television and usually make it up to Cleveland around twice a year and catch five to six games a trip.
“We’re pretty in tune to what’s going on,” Cauthen Westbrook said.
But he said the realization of what their son is achieving on baseball’s biggest stage is something they’ll come to fully appreciate as time goes on.
“Right now, we’re just sitting back and trying to enjoy it and keep up with what’s going on,” Cauthen Westbrook said. “As far as realizing what he’s actually doing — I think that’s something that will come maybe after this year is over or maybe when his career is over.”


Rising seniors fare well on grad tests
Rising Madison County seniors exceeded state averages on all four sections of the Georgia High School Graduation Tests.
Ninety five percent of the 2003-2004 MCHS junior class taking the graduation test for the first time passed the English portion of the exam, compared to 93 percent of students statewide. Meanwhile, 94 percent of MCHS rising seniors passed the math exam, compared to 92 percent of students statewide, while 87 percent of MCHS students passed the social studies test, compared to 82 percent of students statewide. Seventy-one percent of MCHS rising seniors passed the science exam on their first try, compared to 67 percent statewide.
“We were above the state average on everything and that is commendable,” said Madison County curriculum director Jane Fitzpatrick.
She added that Madison County test results are consistently “solid,” not showing significant fluctuations.
“It’s scary if you’re always showing peaks and valleys,” said Fitzpatrick. “But we’re consistently making progress and consistently above the state level.”
TUTORIAL PROGRAM FOR THIRD GRADERS
In a separate testing matter, 19 2003-2004 Madison County third grade students were required to take tutorial classes this summer after failing the reading portion of the CRCT on their first try.
For the rest of this story see this weeks Madison County Journal.

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To read more about the local events in Madison County, including births, weddings, sports news and school news, see this week's Madison County Journal.


Planners against lifting restrictions
County planners refused to support a request to have lot size restrictions lifted on a major subdivision planned near the intersection of Hwy. 72 and Hwy. 172.
The planning commission voted 6-1 to deny a request by attorney Victor Johnson, representing property owners Harold Gaulding, Stephen Fennel and Sonny Dinsmore, to have the previous rezoning conditions on their property relieved on the grounds that zoning laws have been amended since the matter was settled in a lawsuit by the developers against the county in 2002.
The BOC denied the owners’ request in early 2002 to rezone the 108-acre tract into one-acre lots. The owners sued, with a settlement being reached later in the year with a compromise allowing for the development of 1.5 acre lots.
Johnson pointed out that the county amended the zoning ordinance last year to allow lot sizes as low as 3/4 acre in high density growth areas, provided water is furnished by a community water system.
But commission members pointed out that this subdivision falls in a medium, not high, density area.
Commission member Jim English made the motion to deny, saying that the proposed subdivision is not in the high density area and that he felt there is no need to recommend overruling the settlement agreed to by the BOC.
Commission member Debbie Morris voted “no.”