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Vandals cause substantial damage to Sells Mill

Jackson County authorities are seeking information on a vandalism incident at a local park that caused over $10,000 worth of damage.

According to a news release, the Jackson County Parks and Recreation Department found Nov. 4 that someone had caused substantial damage to the Sell’s Mill at Sell’s Mill Park.

Jackson County Sheriff Janis Mangum said the vandals broke many of the building's windows. The suspect also reportedly forced in the door. A fan had also been ripped down from a pavilion and thrown into the woods.

The incident occurred sometime between Saturday, Nov. 2, through Monday, Nov. 4.

"A reward is being offered for the capture and conviction of the responsible parties," according to a Jackson County Sheriff's Office news release. "The suspects when located will face multiple felony charges."

Anyone with information is asked to contact Capt. Dale A. Dillow at 706-387-6043 or the anonymous tip line at 706-367-3784.

One killed, another injured in Oct. 29 wreck

One person was killed and another seriously injured in a single-vehicle wreck in West Jackson.

The wreck happened Tuesday, Oct. 29, on New Cut Rd. when a Nissan Titan driven by Jorge A. Medina, 33, of Braselton, failed to maintain lane, ran off the road and struck a number of trees before coming to a rest.

Medina was partially ejected and seriously injured in the wreck and taken to Northeast Georgia Medical Center Gainesville.

A passenger, Stephanie M. Wheeler, 27, of Roswell, was ejected and died.

No seatbelts were used, according to the Georgia State Patrol report.

The specialized collision reconstruction team is assisting in the investigation. Charges, if any, are pending the outcome of that investigation.

BOC looks to create ag facility oversight group

The new Jackson County Agricultural Facility could soon have an oversight committee for its operations, which are slated to begin in 2020.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners previewed a proposal to create the oversight board at its Nov. 4 meeting. The board could take a final vote on the board's creation at its Nov. 18 meeting.

Among those proposed for the group are: Marty Clark as chairman (Clark has overseen the construction planning for the project and led a group to raise private funds to help pay for it); Josh Whitworth, Young Farmer coordinator for Jackson County; Robin Wilson of Rocking W Angus farm in Commerce; David Callaway, agricultural instructor at Jefferson City School System; Michael Cronic, member of the Jackson County Board of Education; Denise Temple, officer manager of the Jackson County Farm Bureau; Phil Page, cattle and swine producer in West Jackson; April Davis, Commerce City School System agricultural teacher; and the Jackson County Cooperative Extension Agent as an  ex-officio member of the board.


In other business discussed at its Nov. 4 meeting, the BOC:

• heard a proposal for the county to terminate its misdemeanor probation services contract with C.S.R.A. Probation Services and move the contract to Southeast Corrections. The move comes at the request of judges in the Piedmont Judicial Circuit and is supported by the Jackson County and Barrow County sheriffs' offices. If approved, the move will change on Jan. 1, 2020.

• saw a proposed list of roads totaling 10 miles to be repaved in 2020 with a combination of local and state funding. Jackson County plans to use SPLOST proceeds for its share of the cost.

• saw a proposal to transfer the right-of-way for Bana Rd. to the City of Commerce. The road is a planned industrial development road that has not been built by the county, but is now needed for the large Band 85 (Rooker) project near the I-85 and the Commerce-Maysville interchange. The project is in the City of Commerce and the city needs the county-owned right-of-way to build the road for that project.

• reviewed the annual state funding assistance application for the county's transit system and a routine update to the system's Title VI plan.

Diana Foods to be sold

A major new industrial facility at Banks Crossing is being sold following action by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Diana Food, a chicken-based food ingredient facility that just recently began operations, is being sold to Kerry Luxembourg by Symrise AG. The sale comes after the Department of Justice forced Symrise to divest itself of the Diana Foods facility if the firm wanted to buy International Dehydrated Foods LLC and American Dehydrated Foods LLC, a reported $900 million deal.

"Without the divestiture, the combined company would control over 75 percent of the domestic market for the manufacture and sale of chicken-based food ingredients," the justice department said.

The Diana Food facility was the result of a a joint project between Banks County and the City of Commerce which led to the $50 million investment at Banks Crossing. It was announced in 2017 for a 40-acre site and a 90,000 sq. ft. building and opened in October 2018. It is one of Banks County's largest industrial projects and was called a "grand slam" by county leaders when it was announced.

The Banks County Board of Commissioners and the Banks County Development Authority approved transferring the Diana Food lease and bond arrangements to Kerry in called meetings last week.

The move by Symrise to sell Diana Food means the new merged firm will be competing with the Diana facility under Kerry's ownership.

"Kerry is a global manufacturer of ingredients and recipe solutions for the food and beverage industry," the Department of Justice said in a news release. "This divestiture ensures that the buyer of the Banks County facility will be well positioned to compete vigorously with the merged company in the manufacture and sale of chicken-based food ingredients in the United States."

Kerry Group was founded in 1972 and  is based in County Kerry, Ireland. It is involved in a number of food-related products in the U.K. and other places around the world and employees around 25,000 people.

The firm has one other location in the U.S. located in Beloit, Wisconsin.

Paving list to be on Commerce agenda

The Commerce City Council will be asked to approve a list of roads to be re-paved at its Nov. 18 meeting.

The list of roads includes two or three in each city ward.

City manager James Wascher said usually between one and two miles of roads are paved.

Wascher said council members may suggest other roads for the list. He said the city’s parking lot near the civic center and behind restaurants on Elm St. may be substituted for a road or roads.

The list includes:

•West Cordes Place from Homer to Ridgeway roads.

•Cedar Dr. from Homer Rd. to Pine Ave.

•an unnamed street between Connie’s Pawn Shop and Mitchell’s Auto Repair.

•Stark St. from Hwy. 98 to a dirt road.

•Oak St. from Hwy. 98 to Clayton St.

•Clayton St. from Central Ave. to Scott St.

•Hood St. from Washington St. to Hwy. 98.

•Popular St. from Smallwood Dr. to the 4-way stop sign at Chestnut St.

•Westwood Dr. from Westwood Rd. to the dead end.

•Roosevelt Blvd. from Hwy. 15 to the 4-way stop sign at Andrew Jackson.

•Bishop Ct. from Arlington Ln. to Oliver Ridge Dr.

•Arlington Ln. from Brentwood Dr. to Bishop Ct.


Also on the Nov. 18 agenda will be an annexation and rezoning to R-1 of 15 acres on Lords Mill Rd. and a license for Strange Duck Brewing Co. at 26 Old Allen Rd.

Wascher said the brewery would be at the former golf driving range. It has been a thrift shop location for the past couple of years, he said. 

The Nov. 18 agenda will also ask for council approval to host a city New Year’s Eve party at the Commerce Civic Center. Wascher said it would be bring your own bottle and would have a theme of the Roaring 2020s.

Elections roil several towns across county

Some big changes could be on the agenda in 2020 following the results of the Nov. 5 municipal elections across Jackson County.

Three towns — Hoschton, Jefferson and Braselton — saw several incumbents defeated and in Braselton, a December run-off is in the works for another town council seat.

In Commerce, two city board of education incumbents fell to challengers.

While those changes highlighted this year's balloting, incumbents carried the day in Arcade, Maysville, Nicholson and the Jefferson Board of Education. There were no challenged municipal races in Pendergrass or Talmo this year.


Among the tightest results, Braselton Town Council incumbent Becky Richardson will face challenger Richard Mayberry in a Dec. 3 runoff election for the town's District 1 seat.

Richardson got 44 percent of the vote while Mayberry got 30 percent and challenger Joy Basham garnered 25 percent.


While the Richardson-Mayberry race is pending, another Braselton council incumbent was defeated by a landslide.

Incumbent Tony Funari lost to challenger Jim Joedecke with Joedecke getting a whopping 81 percent of the vote.

In Hoschton, some big changes loom following the city balloting. With two city council members potentially facing a recall vote in the near future, two other incumbent council members won't be returning following the Nov. 5 voting.

Shantwon Astin and Adam Ledbetter were the top two vote-getters in the city's election, defeating incumbent Mindi Kiewert. Susan Powers didn't run for re-election.


In Jefferson and Commerce, there could be a shift in the balance of power on two boards following the elections.

In Commerce, challenger Knox Smith unseated incumbent BOE member Bill Davis with 62.3 percent of the vote while Kyle Moore ousted incumbent BOE chairman Rodney Gary with 53.7 percent of the vote.

In Jefferson, challenger Clint Roberts defeated incumbent Don Kupis with 56 percent of the vote.

All Commerce City Council incumbents won their re-election bids.

The results for all challenged races are:


City Council District 5

Don Kupis (I) - 86

Clint Roberts - 111

School Board District 4

Dana Phillips - 33

Lisa Richmond (I) - 76


City Council Ward 3

Mark Fitzpatrick (I) - 86

Alicia Vargas - 63

City Council Ward 4

Sam Cotton - 163

Bobby Redmon (I) - 225

City Council Ward 5

Johnny Eubanks (I) - 105

Eric Merrell - 31

School Board District 3

Bill Davis (I) - 55

Knox Smith - 91

School Board District 4

Rodney Gary (I) - 181

Kyle Moore - 210

School Board District 5

Roshuanda Merritt - 65

Paul Sergent (I) - 71


Town Council District 1

Joy Basham - 49

Richard Mayberry - 58

Becky Richardson (I) - 86

Because no candidate secured 50-percent of the vote, there will be a runoff Dec. 3 for the District 1 race between Richardson and Mayberry.

Town Council District 3

Tony Funari (I) - 46

Jim Joedecke - 207


Posts 5 and 6 at-large

Shantwon Astin - 233

Mindi Kiewert (I) - 129

Adam Ledbetter - 236

(The top two vote-getters secured the two seats on the Hoschton City Council.)



Richard Presley (I) - 240

Lynn Villyard - 153

City Council Ward 2

Susan Cooley - 57

Junior Hardy (I) - 74


Three at-large city council seats

Cindy Bone (I) - 44

Shane Cox (I) - 38

Marsha Fields - 23

Thomas Hays (I) - 33

(The top three vote-getters  secured the three seats in the Arcade City Council race.)


Two at-large city council seats

David Michael Barfield (I) - 59

Bobby Crawford - 39

Diane Merriweather - 29

Dillard Lamar Watkins (I) - 81

Jefferson may soon vote on school-zone speed cameras

Jefferson leaders are slated to soon decide whether or not to install automated speed cameras in school zones.

The Jefferson City Council, with a 5-0 vote on Oct. 28, postponed action on the item until its Nov. 18 work session and then make a decision at its Nov. 25 voting meeting.

The postponement will allow the council time to meet with the city school board about the issue. It will also allow time for the city police department to perform its own speed study and for public comments on the issue to be heard at its Nov. 18 meeting.

Jefferson police chief Joe Wirthman requested speed enforcement cameras at the council's Oct. 14 meeting. The devices would detect speeding infractions in school zones and automatically cite violators. The state recently passed a law allowing such automated technology to be placed in school zones.

A representative of Blue Line Solutions, which provides speed cameras, attended the Oct. 14 meeting and addressed the council. Blue Line said it conducted a study in Jefferson which said 11,071 of 16,710 vehicles reached speeds 10 miles per hour over the speed limit in Jefferson’s three school zones.

If the city were to use Blue Line cameras, a two-year contract with the company is required to allow Blue Line to recoup its initial cost for installing the cameras. Blue Line would collect 35 percent of revenue from paid fines generated from speed cameras with the other 65 percent going to the city.

Discussion of speed cameras continued at the Oct. 28  council meeting, though councilmen Malcolm Gramley and Don Kupis asked at the beginning of the meeting the issue be added to the agenda.

Mayor Steve Quinn had requested that the item be tabled until November to allow time to talk with the school board, but Gramley and Kupis wanted to continue discussing the issue at that meeting.


Quinn stressed that the city should conduct its own study, apart from Blue Line’s, to determine the hours when speeding violations occur. He said traffic is typically too congested during school drop-off and pick-up hours for motorists to speed.

“I want to see where all that speeding was happening,” Quinn said.

The city police department plans to conduct its own speed study for a four-to-five-day period.

Councilman Mark Mobley said he’s heard both positive and negative feedback from citizens regarding speed cameras. Mobley, who said he’s in favor of speed cameras in school zones, said he wants to provide an opportunity for those citizens to voice their opinions before the council votes on the item.

“I’m with you guys,” he said. “I want to get this done. I want to have safety … What I want to do is make sure that we don’t rush this through without considering it when the public is giving a lot of feedback.”

Kupis spoke strongly in favor of speed cameras in school zones. He said the inconvenience of a ticket is far outweighed by the danger of speeding near children.

“If one of these people happened to, God forbid, that they hit a child, they’re going to have to live with that the rest of their lives,” Kupis said. “A ticket, they forget about in a month. But you don’t forget about hitting a child or killing a child or putting them in the hospital.”

For those concerned about being ticketed, Kupis said citations likely wouldn’t be issued to those not in excess of 10 mph over the speed limit.

“They’re actually giving us, from what I understand from what the (police) chief said two weeks ago was that he was going to give us a 10 mile-an-hour (cushion),” Kupis said.

If the speed cameras are approved, a desire was expressed amongst the council to see the money generated from the fines go toward safety measures.

Councilman John Howell, who also supported speed cameras in school zones, suggested that revenue be ear-marked to provide street lights for the sidewalks that lead to Jefferson’s schools.

“I would love to see us, as we’re negotiating with the vendor and as we’re talking to the school district, that we look at ear-marking those funds to put some lighting on these sidewalks,” he said. “Any revenue that’s generated. We’re not enriching ourselves as a city. We’re certainly not enriching ourselves as a police department. We have no skin in the game other than protecting our kids and making sure they have a safe route to school, and that this is not a gotcha mentality.”

Quinn said he wants money from the speed-camera fines to go toward starting a safety program at the high school.

“I really don’t want it to be a revenue generator for the police department,” Quinn said. “I really don’t, but I think we can use those funds for very useful things.”

The mayor also said he favored moving forth with the sidewalk street lights.

City manager Priscilla Murphy, who attended a meeting with the vendor about the speed cameras, said funds are designated for public safety only.


Quinn said he wants “to make our children as safe as possible,” but also expressed concerns about incorporating speed cameras in doing so.

“The Constitution tells us that we can address, if someone has a grievance against us, we can address that person,” Quinn said. “You can’t do that with a speed camera.”

He also said the lapse between an infraction and actual notification of the ticket could be two weeks, during which time a driver could rack up several days’ worth of fines without knowing it. He also expressed concerns with situational issues that could lead to speeding — and fines — in a school zone.

“A lot of times you’re going through that school district, and they have a girl (directing traffic) that waves you through, and she’s pushing you through,” Quinn said. “I mean, I’m talking about waving you, telling you, ‘Hurry up and go through.’ What happens if she’s doing that, and you go 10 (mph) over? You can’t prove that to a (speed) camera that that’s what happened.”

Councilman Malcolm Gramley, however, was less concerned with the concerns of speeders being ticketed.

“If you know the law, and you intentionally break it, you get caught,” he said. “That’s it. Period. Whether you’re in a hurry, whether you’re not in a hurry, it makes no difference. You know what the speed limit is. If you’re not going stay by the speed limit, you deserved to be punished … We need to be doing that, and we need to be doing that now.”

Part of the implementation of speed cameras would include a 30-day warning period. Flashing digital signs would also alert drivers of their speed before entering a speed-camera zone. Additionally, signage would warn motorists approaching a speed-camera monitored area.


The council has been invited to the Jefferson Board of Education’s Nov. 14 meeting, during which it is scheduled to discuss the matter.

Meanwhile, city staff will begin preparing a memorandum of understanding with the school system regarding speed cameras and a contract with Blue Line should the council approve speed cameras in November.


In other business conducted Oct. 28, the council:

•voted to authorize Quinn to sign a contract to begin the process of purchasing two small tracts of land adjoining city property on Peach Hill Drive. The action came following a closed session. The price will not exceed $117,500. One tract is approximately an acre, the other is less than half an acre. The city is interested in constructing a new recreation complex on the Peach Hill land, and the additional tracts would allow more space for parking.

•approved a request from Keith Hayes to remove a zoning condition on 2.95 acres on Athens Street that restricts access to Borders Street. This will allow the construction of 16 townhomes. In approving the request, the council added two conditions. The first caps the number of units to 16 on the property. The second stipulates that access to the property shall be through a public or private street that meets local standards for a driveway.

•approved the following budget adjustments: $25,000 to add a dumpster enclosure on the southside of Jefferson’s downtown square; $9,000 to the civic center to cover the cost of repairs for flooding earlier this year; and $18,000 for supplies for roads and grounds and an all-terrain vehicle. Funds for each budget adjustment are available due to recent sales of city property and vehicles.