A threat posted on social media led to a lockdown and a day of rumors and fear at Madison County High School Monday, Sept. 9, though no weapons were found at the school. However, one juvenile was taken into custody for something expressed to authorities after the investigation began.
“That person made some remarks verbally and based on those remarks law enforcement felt it necessary to take the person into custody,” said Madison County School Superintendent Michael Williams.
The superintendent said the investigation began when a student made administrators aware of something posted on social media. Williams said the threat was not very specific, but the schools began investigating the post. Once questioning began, word began to travel around the school quickly. Williams said a lot of misinformation was spread as fear ramped up and texts were sent on and off campus.
“Fortunately, there was no credible evidence of a weapon on campus,” he said.
Drug dogs had been at the school earlier and MCHS was on a “soft lockdown.” Then, the investigation on the social media post began and the school was put on a “hard lockdown,” which Williams said lasted 15-to-20 minutes.
“Safety is first and foremost in our minds regarding our students,” he said.
Williams said school resource officers were accompanied Monday by other law enforcement personnel in investigating the incident and stepping up police presence. Williams said the school system sent out notifications to parents after the issue had been investigated. Any parent who does not receive such notifications is encouraged to call their child’s school office or the school board office to make sure there is a proper phone number or email address for such alerts.
“We tried to do that (notify parents) as quickly as we could,” he said.
Sheriff Michael Moore issued the following statement Monday about the incident on his department’s Facebook page.
“Earlier today, the school officials learned of a social media post from a student stating they were making threats of harming students at the school,” said Moore. ‘The threats were involving a weapon on the MCHS campus. As normal protocol, the school was placed on lockdown. Multiple parents were contacted by their children and were told they believed a gun was on campus. After investigation, the offender was detained and charges are being pursued. The school was immediately taken off of lockdown and extra law enforcement presence was brought to the high school campus for the remainder of the day.”
The school system is in the process of selecting four lucky eighth graders to be this year’s REACH scholars.
Superintendent Michael Williams told board of education members Tuesday, Sept. 10, that a REACH committee was to review applications on Wednesday and then set up interviews with finalists. The four new REACH scholars will be announced during a signing day Oct. 8 at 11 a.m. at the middle school.
REACH is part of REACH Georgia, a needs-based mentorship and college scholarship program. The mission is to ensure that Georgia’s low income, academically promising students have the academic, social, and financial support needed to graduate from high school, access college, and achieve postsecondary success, according to the REACH website.
Williams also said he recently met with principals and staff to review the vision, mission and guiding principles of the school system. He said he thinks it is important to periodically review these and keep them at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
Assistant Superintendent Amanda Wommack reported that SPLOST revenues continue to show an increase over last year’s revenues. She also said that as of the 20th day of enrollment, the school system has 4,858 students, including Pre-K students. She said the school system continues to see growth.
In a related matter, the board voted to approve a $24,873 increase in their contract with ABM for cleaning services in order to take care of daily cleaning at the Early Learning Center.
Wommack also noted that the school system is the largest food service provider in the county and that they have an award winning Farm to School program that has been recognized statewide. The food service department will receive the Gold Level Golden Radish from Georgia Organics during a Sept. 17 ceremony in Atlanta.
Finally, she noted that Bus Driver Appreciation Week is Oct. 21 – 25.
Assistant Superintendent Jody Goodroe said the College and Career Academy is working on several grant applications for new equipment for CTAE programs through the Georgia Department of Education. In related news, Goodroe noted that the academy governance team is planning to add a CTAE representative from the middle school as there are now several courses there that count for high school credit.
In other business, the BOE agreed to sign a one-year memorandum of understanding with the Chamber of Commerce to donate a sum of $10,000 toward the salary of a new Chamber Director.
Board of Education members approved the following personnel recommendations Tuesday night.
•Colbert – They granted intermittent FMLA to teacher Brenda Chandler and FMLA to teacher Katherine Tucker. They also accepted the resignation of parapro Hannah Williams.
•Comer – They added additional duties for second bus substitutes Samantha Chitwood and Elizabeth Holloman. They granted FMLA for parapro Michelle Sparks.
•Danielsville – They added Encore Enrichment duties for 12 weeks for teachers Kim Bartlett, Susan Beach, Tori Bowers, Susan Childers, Selina Gilbert, Merrie Gillespie, Clint Hill, Amanda Holtzclaw, Amanda Hunt, Kelly Lasseter, Allison Lewis, Jennifer Martinez, Alesia McElroy, Carol Montoya, Wendy Myers, Kim Tucker and Michelle Welch. They also added the same duties to classified personnel Jeannie Hugg, Lisa Little, April Pruitt and Janie Smith.
•Early Learning Center (ELC) – They hired Karrie Sanders to replace Pre-K teacher M. Nguyen.
•Hull-Sanford – They hired Torrie Bray and William Webb as CampRaider assistants.
•MCHS – They granted leave without pay to teacher Lee Burroughs and FMLA to teacher Kyle Cooper. They also hired Celia Easley to replace Special Ed parapro R. Lowe.
•MCMS – They granted leave without pay for assistant principal Britt Beaver and accepted the resignation of House 1100 secretary Shannon Deavers. They hired Tammy McHale to replace Deavers and hired Sandra Huff to replace MCMS tech T. Fleming.
•School nutrition – They hired food assistant Terri DeBusk and granted FMLA to food assistant/cashier Bertha Moon.
•Transport – They accepted the resignation of bus driver Terry Herring and hired Charles Floyd to replace him. They also granted FMLA to bus driver Bertha Moon and hired Debra Parks to replace bus driver Frank May.
Brad Averill reminds Madison County citizens that there are two key ingredients to health: good nutrition and exercise.
The Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) agent for the Madison and Oglethorpe County Extension Services is leading a free, 12-week Walk-A-Weigh program at the Madison County Recreation Department every Tuesday at 6 p.m. through Oct. 15.
“Our Walk-A-Weigh program is a research and evidence-based program from the university,” said Averill. “And the idea is to get people to change their eating patterns and their activity patterns and work toward permanent weight control. We usually do 15 minutes of nutrition covering a different topic every week.”
The FACS agent said he’s had about 13-to-15 participants at each class. One recent class was on nutrition labels.
“We talked about how to read them,” said Averill. “They are often confusing. People often look at them (labels) and say, ‘I see them, but I don’t know what it means. What’s a serving size? How much? How much am I supposed to have.’ A lot of people will have a meal in front of them and won’t realize they’re having four servings of potatoes or they’re eating three servings of chicken.”
Averill goes over a wide range of topics. Water consumption was last week’s subject.
“We do a fun taste test with five different waters and have them taste them to see if they can really tell a difference between an expensive bottled water and tap water,” he said. “Usually that makes people upset. They realize they spend a lot of money on water and they can’t tell a difference.”
Another class was over dietary supplements.
“Most supplements are not approved by FDA (Food and Drug Administration),” he said. “Most people don’t realize that if you eat a fairly balanced diet with fruits and vegetables, you’ll get all the vitamins you need.”
Averill emphasizes that the class is meant to spark a lifestyle change, not a temporary fix. He hopes to help people eat food with less fat, sugar and sodium and to help prevent and control chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Of course, regular physical activity is also a key element of healthy living.
“There are 24 hours in your day; you can’t do 1/24 of your day to move around a little?” he said. “It (the class) is just to get people to move a little more and appreciate that if you get up and exercise, you’ll feel better.”
Citizens can still sign up for the remaining classes.
“And we have all the presentations (from previous classes) in files you can review if you want,” he said.
Averill said all participants get a snack and bottle of water.
“There’s a lot people can take away from it,” he said. “There’s a ton of good information. And we change the topic every week.”
Here are the next six topics that will be offered in our Walk-A-Weigh classes.
•Sept. 17 — Modifying Recipes
•Sept. 24 — Immunity
•Oct. 4 — Sodium
•Oct. 8 — Breakfast
•Oct. 15 — Loving your Body
•Oct. 22 — Walk-a-Weigh 5K
The final class will be a group 5K through the trails and the track at the Madison County Recreation Department.
The year 2020 is fast approaching and so are the elections, including the all-consuming presidential showdown and decisions on numerous other offices. So, is Madison County prepared to handle these elections on new, state-mandated voting machines?
That’s the question that consumes Tracy Dean’s thoughts. Dean oversees the Madison County elections office and is the chairman of the Madison County Board of Elections and Registration.
“I don’t want any problems in any election and the voters of the county are my priority,” she said. “I want to make sure they have the opportunity to vote.”
Dean was not alone in concern over next year’s elections. Twelve people took the podium Monday, Sept. 9, to ask commissioners to do whatever is needed to support Dean and the election process in Madison County. Georgia’s voting practices have received national attention over the past year. And Monday night’s speakers, both Republican and Democrat, spoke in favor of guaranteeing sound election practices in the county. They said Dean is doing a good job and needs funding support from the commissioners.
“Some places will have something said about voter suppression and other miskeeps,” said Dave Ramsey. “I don’t want Madison County to be on that list.”
Local, state and federal elections in Georgia will be held on new voting machines from Dominion Voting that offer a paper trail. But the old machines won’t be picked up from the county elections office until at least a month after the upcoming Nov. 5 referendums on a sales tax and Sunday sales.
That’s when the transition begins in earnest.
The new machines must be ready to run in March. And about 75 poll workers for 12 precincts must be trained on how to use the machines, while 20,000 registered county voters must also be educated on how the new process works.
Dean appeared before commissioners Monday to give an overview of how the machines from Dominion Voting will work. She also talked about the need for additional storage space for the new equipment, which includes washing-machine-sized tabulators, pointing out that the current voting machines take up less space than the new ones. But the storage room is packed full now. And new equipment can’t be stacked like some of the current equipment. Dean presented board members with a price quote for adding a 22’ by 22’ area on to the storage room at the elections office. BOC members will have to seek bids if they agree to pay for expanding the storage area.
The overall elections budget for 2020 is $249,989. Dean requested $336,329 to handle the presidential election year budget. Another $70,000 has been set aside by commissioners in the county budget for election equipment expenses, though this is listed in the general fund, not in the elections budget. Election expenses in 2016, the last presidential election year, were $244,989.
Dean asked commissioners why $30,000 was cut from her budget line for poll workers. And commissioners didn’t have an answer. She requested $80,000 for poll workers, but only $50,000 was budgeted. She said she was never notified that the line item was being cut. The elections office spent just over $46,000 on poll workers in 2016. Dean said the 2020 elections will include more poll workers, more training and potentially more elections. There were four elections in 2016, with potentially six next year. Poll workers must arrive on election day at 6 a.m., then stay for the duration of voting, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. They then remain until all tallies are complete. The day can stretch on for 14 or 15 hours. Poll clerks are paid $125 a day. Assistants are paid $145. And managers are paid $160 for the day.
“They don’t get the thanks they deserve,” said Dean of the poll workers. She urged commissioners and others to tell them thanks for the job they do.
The county must cover the cost of toner for the new printers and a particular paper mandated by the state that costs 13 cents a page. The state has promised 82 voting tablets, 82 printers and 15 tabulators. Dean said the county needs at least 20 to 22 tabulators, which cost $4,000-to-$5,000 apiece. She said the elections office had been using the old coroner’s van to transport equipment to and from polling sites, but now it has no vehicle. She said the county might have to rent a U-haul for election days.
Dean gave commissioners an overview of the process for voters with the new machines, which includes getting a voter certificate filled out, presenting ID, getting an electronic ballot from a poll worker, inserting that ballot into a pad (which looks similar to an iPad), selecting choices, reviewing those choices, then printing the ballot onto a printer that sits next to the pad. The voter will then feed that ballot into a large tabulator. The paper ballot will be kept in a locked bin inside the tabulator until the election is over.
BOC members took no votes on any matters Monday, but they agreed that preparing for the 2020 elections is important and that they will look into the matters Dean brought up.
“We need to do everything we can to support your department,” said commissioner Theresa Bettis, who added that the county is “blessed to have you (Dean) and your staff.” Bettis apologized for any miscommunication on budgeting and said all problems needed to be remedied to ensure smooth elections for Madison County in 2020.
There had been some talk earlier in the year at the commissioners’ table of consolidating polling places in Madison County. This is actually a decision under the authority of the county board of elections, not the county commissioners. No one in the meeting room Monday expressed any desire to see that happen in 2020.
In other matters Monday, the board discussed a title change for county clerk Rhonda Wooten. The proposed new title would be county clerk/administrator. Commissioner Brian Kirk said he feels “administrative assistant” might be more appropriate than “administrator,” saying that title might create confusion, with people perhaps equating her role to that of a county manager or county administrator operating outside of the guidance of the county commission chairman. Bettis and commissioners Lee Allen voiced support for Wooten and noted that she already performs a wide variety of administrative duties. Three people took the podium Monday to voice support for Wooten’s position change, while one speaker said she was concerned about pay increases at a time when the elections office needs more money.
Commissioners unanimously agreed to chip in an additional $1,500 toward the salary of the new county extension agent. The University of Georgia has agreed to allocate an additional $11,000 for Carol Knight to take the role of county extension agent, replacing Adam Speir, who took a job at Jackson EMC. The school board is also being asked to chip in $1,500. Commissioner Tripp Strickland said Knight is highly qualified, adding that UGA agreeing to boost pay by $11,000 shows how much they think of her taking the role in Madison County.
Commissioners also approved a final plat for Kaydence Springs Subdivision off Colbert-Diamond Hill Road. The plat was approved on the condition that Lot 1 and Lot 16 be accessed from Faith Lane and Lot 17 be accessed from Diamond Hill Colbert Road.
Commissioner Derek Doster requested upgrades at the intersection of Bullock Mill Road and Colbert Danielsville Road. He suggested rumble strips and shrub trimming to improve driver safety.
Danielsville city council members want to encourage residents to fill out next year’s 2020 U.S. Census.
Mayor Todd Higdon and city clerk Susan Payne discussed the issue at Monday night’s Sept. 9 council meeting, saying they had been contacted by a census recruiter about the upcoming census and asked that community leaders make their residents aware that Census workers will be out next year.
“If the numbers don’t come in we don’t get funding, it’s as simple as that,” Payne noted. “We need a good head count.”
Higdon told those present that the Census affects many things including SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) funding, eligibility for federal and state grants and whether or not major retail outlets and restaurants locate in a city.
“The Census is key to multiple developing divisions and is crucial to the future of Danielsville,” Higdon said.
In a related matter, Higdon said the city still has not heard anything firm on whether or not the county is committed to providing an extra $200,000 through the county Industrial Authority (IDA) in the next SPLOST to Danielsville for desperately needed updates to its sewer and water infrastructure since it serves so many of the government and school system facilities. County officials have committed, in principle, to providing the funding but he noted that the city has received no letter of intent, which it will need to provide to city auditors.
He also noted that IDA Chairman Bruce Azevedo was quoted in The Journal last week as saying the funds will be distributed among the cities, based on requests.
Higdon said he was unclear if this meant that the position of county officials had changed, or not.
“So they may not have been willing to commit to what they say they’re gonna do?” said Mayor-elect Michael Wideman, who was seated in the audience at the meeting.
Higdon said he remains hopeful that they will stand behind what was originally said.
In other business, the council approved its 2020 tax digest which leaves the millage rate at 4.5, the same as last year. City officials did note that Danielsville should still see a three-percent increase in tax revenue next year due to an increase in county property values.
The council approved an updated ordinance concerning the discharging of firearms inside city limits. The new ordinance allows residents to shoot nuisance animals that come onto their property, provided they follow the ordinance regulations.
Mayor Higdon told the council that the city’s maintenance workers will need to repair or replace four fire hydrants over the next few weeks; two that were damaged on Colbert-Danielsville Road, one at Sunset Avenue and one at Sam Groves Street. The latter two will require the water supply to be cut when the repair/replacements take place. He said citizens and business owners will be notified ahead of time and that the repairs will likely take place on a Saturday morning.
Higdon also mentioned that a poultry farmer on Racetrack Road has expressed interest in tapping into the city’s water system to supply drinking water to his 12 chicken houses. He said the city will provide him with some figures once he gives them an estimate of how much water it will take for the houses.
Higdon said work continues on the city’s sewer pond updates.