The cost of the new county agricultural facility went up a little more Dec. 16 after the Jackson County Board of Commissioners approved a $715,000 paving contract for the facility's parking lot. The vote was split 3-2 on the issue.
The contract calls for heavy-duty, reinforced concrete paving so that the area can be used by the county fire training facility as a driving course for fire trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles.
Allied Paving Contractors was awarded the bid. The board further approved using SPLOST-6 funds to finance the additional cost.
Commissioner Ralph Richardson expressed concern regarding the rising expense to complete construction of the facility, noting the cost has already exceeded $5 million.
Richardson and commissioner Chas Hardy voted against the plan and against using SPLOST funds to pay for it.
NEW PLANNING BOARD MEMBER
In other action, the BOC made a number of county committee and agency appointments, including appointing Harold Mull to replace David Ayers on the Jackson County Planning Commission. The board reappointed Steve Wittry to the planning board for another term.
Other re-appointments were: James Scott, Steve Wittry and Shirley Turner to the Board of Adjustment; Charles Harrington and Larry Marchinton to the Dangerous Dog Committee; Clarence Bryant to the Industrial Development Authority; Elizabeth French and Melody Herrington to the Keep Jackson County Beautiful Board of Directors; and Roger Brock, Josh Huskins, Jay Phillips and Jimmy Peck to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.
In other business, the BOC approved:
• adding Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a paid holiday for county employees.
• purchasing two ambulances through a three-year lease agreement in the amount of $480,000.
• an agreement between the board, the Sheriff and Correct Health to provide inmate medical service during FY2020.
• a professional service agreement with Southeast Corrections, LLC to provide probation services.
• adoption of a resolution to support locally established building design standards for residential dwellings.
• a statewide mutual aid and assistance agreement.
• adoption of the Hazard Mitigation Plan update for 2018-2023.
• a proposal from the Georgia Power Company to acquire an easement for installation of an underground fiber optic line.
• benefits change for public safety employees to include payment of the $20 monthly contribution to the Georgia Peace Officers Annuity and Benefit Fund.
• accepting Hardin Terrace Circle. The approval was contingent upon agreement by the developer to provide a maintenance surety as required through county regulations. In addition, maintenance of the road will be the responsibility of the developer for a period of two years from acceptance of the road by the county and prior to acceptance by the county, the road must meet county standards and be free of any failures.
• a quit claim deed to accept roads and rights-of-way within The Meadows subdivision. Although this subdivision has homes in it, the development fell into non-compliance during a downturn of the economy a few years ago. The quit claim deed is needed in order to be removed from the county non-compliance list and to allow builders to continue to build houses within the development. According to public development director Gina Roy, the road department has inspected the roads within the development and they were found to comply with county requirements.
The BOC also:
• heard from Bill Curtis, Shepherds Crossing resident, who expressed concern regarding a proposal from Comcast Cable to install cable and equipment along county rights-of-way to deliver 5G cellular service within his community. Curtis said his research indicates the service would be harmful to public health. No action was taken by the board.
• heard from Pam Studdard, a property tax consultant representing Hansen Technologies, who came before the board to request consideration regarding a tax issue. According to Studdard, Hansen Technologies failed to file documentation with the tax assessor’s office for the county's freeport exemption prior to the deadline. According to Studdard, the company paid $7,900 for taxes last year, but this year the company received a bill for $177,000. “You can image what a toll this takes on a company,” Studdard said. Studdard said the company has been operating in the county for 10 years and has been granted freeport exemption every year except this year. But the county attorney said the BOC does not have the authority to waive taxes and the taxes are due if freeport exemption was not filed in a timely manner. County Manager Kevin Poe said the tax commissioner's office is agreeable to setting up a payment plan for the company. No action was taken by the BOC.
Two teenage girls were killed Saturday, Dec. 21 on Hwy. 129 in front of the Pendergrass Flea Market.
According to the Georgia State Patrol, Najely Bonilla, 17, of Gainesville was driving a 1991 Honda Accord and pulled out in front of a 2006 Ford F350. She was killed, along with her passenger 16-year-old Elena Regalado of Pendergrass.
Alexander Bruce, 18, and Sammy Lee Bruce, 44, were in the pickup truck and suffered minor injuries, the GSP said.
Numerous local and state emergency units responded to the scene, which closed both the north and south bound lanes of Hwy. 129 for several hours.
Hoschton Mayor Theresa Kenerly resigned her office Dec. 15 following a national controversy and months of calls for her resignation.
But Kenerly was adamant in a recent interview with The Braselton News that she did nothing wrong in the hiring process of a new city administrator for the town.
Kenerly is accused of not including the resume of Keith Henry, a candidate for city administrator, because of his race. A fellow council member said Kenerly presented the council with three resumes, adding there was a fourth candidate, Henry, who was “real good.” Kenerly reportedly told the council member that Henry is black and she didn’t know if the city was “ready for that.”
In a following news story about the issue with an Atlanta newspaper, mayor pro tem Jim Cleveland defended Kenerly and also expressed his views against interracial relationships, stating they make his “blood boil.”
The backlash was swift, with citizens calling for Cleveland’s and Kenerly’s resignations and filing numerous ethics complaints. And when the two didn’t resign, a formal recall effort was started in August.
After months of signature gathering and court hearings, the final recall vote was scheduled for Jan. 14. But in December, Cleveland and Kenerly both resigned before a recall could happen.
The resignations left the city council essentially inoperable, forcing the town to seek a court decision to allow a three-member city council to vote until the vacated seats are filled March 24.
In an interview after her resignation, Kenerly remained insistent that she did nothing wrong in the city administrator search.
“I think I did it fair,” she said.
Kenerly said the city received over 90 applicants for the position. She narrowed the list down to 10 and focused on candidates that offered significant experience.
She and Justin Kilgore, the town’s planning and zoning director, narrowed the list down to three top candidates.
Kenerly said city attorney Thomas Mitchell asked if she could release all three names to the public (a legal requirement once the three candidates have been named). But Kenerly said one of the candidates hadn’t let their employer know they were applying for another job. She said Mitchell advised them that if they had four candidates, they weren’t required to release the names to the press.
As a result, Kenerly said she asked Kilgore which of the remaining candidates they should add to make the fourth resume and Kilgore recommended Henry. He subsequently emailed Henry’s resume to all council members.
Kenerly said her comments to a fellow council member about Henry's application were “misconstrued” and stressed she didn’t withhold Henry’s application from the other members of the city council.
“I’ll swear on a stack of Bibles and in front of the good Lord that I never held back an application,” she said. “Why would I do that?”
She added Cleveland’s comments about his racial views in the news article complicated the situation. She said she might have been able to rebut the controversy if he hadn’t shared his views against interracial relationships, comments which fueled a national controversy.
“I think it would have been easier,” she said about the situation following Cleveland's comments.
Regardless, Kenerly was essentially forced to resign by the ensuing political storm, or face the likelihood of a Jan. 14 recall.
Kenerly fought the recall move from the start, taking it to the Superior Court of Jackson County. But senior judge David Sweat ruled the recall could move forward. Kenerly said she wasn’t surprised by the ruling.
“(Sweat) had his mind made up when I walked in the door,” she said.
Kenerly appealed that decision with the Supreme Court of Georgia. That appeal was ultimately denied.
Kenerly served on the Hoschton City Council for 12 years and was mayor for seven of those years, replacing former mayor Erma Denney.
She said she had been reflecting in recent days on the town’s accomplishments, both big and small, from adding safe tempered glass to city hall, to securing a grant for Panther Ct. sewer improvements. The city has also grown its reserves in recent years and secured zoning changes for the massive Kolter project, which has the potential to drastically change the city in the coming years.
Kenerly said she has loved the city, “babied it, prayed for it and given lots of time.” After many years serving as the mayor in a strong-mayor type of government, Kenerly has developed a habit of saying “I” and “we” when referring to the city.
“I’ve gotta quit saying that,” she said.
Kenerly admits it was probably time for her to leave as mayor.
“I would run again in March, but my family would kill me. … And really to be honest with you, it was probably past time for me to go,” adding she needs to spend more time caring for her mother.
Kenerly added the recent citizens’ comments during public meetings have been difficult.
“That citizen input got me,” said Kenerly. “I’ve never been talked to like that. And accused and beat up on.”
In addition to Kenerly’s and Cleveland’s resignations, the remaining council members also fired its newly-hired city administrator Dale Hall.
Kenerly said the council was “mean" to Hall, and she determined he wasn’t a good fit for the city. She said she offered him the chance to resign, or he would be terminated. He gave a 30-day notice.
“When they found out about it, they said ‘I don’t even want him in the city. I want the staff to box up his stuff and set it outside,’” Kenerly said.
Hall was ultimately fired with cause, which keeps the council from having to provide severance pay. Council members and Mitchell refused to provide what that cause is.
Kenerly denied that Hall did anything wrong.
“The man didn’t do the first thing wrong. They just didn’t like him,” she said.
The firing follows a move by three of the town's council members that appeared to be an attempt to force out Hall.
Hall, who became the town's administrator in the summer of 2019, had rankled some council members by not providing information to the council quickly enough.
At a Dec. 9 meeting, council members Shantwon Astin and Adam Ledbetter refused to support the adoption of the town's budget and a new garbage service firm because they said they only got the documents at the last moment before that meeting.
At a called meeting Dec. 11, Astin, Ledbetter and council member Hope Weeks voted to adopt an ordinance that outlines in detail when the city administrator is to provide the council with paperwork and how quickly he is to respond to council questions.
"Failure to comply with this policy shall be just cause for termination," the new ordinance said.
Kenerly said that policy may have dissuaded Kilgore from serving in the interim role until another city administrator is hired.
Kenerly anticipates Denney will again seek the mayor position in the City of Hoschton.
She also expects the city will need to levy a millage rate.
“Because municipalities just can’t do without it,” she said.
She said the new council members "will do just fine," but urged them to do what they think is best for the town.
"I hope that the city council themselves would use their knowledge, their hearts and their passion to make decisions and not let people talk in their ear and do what somebody else wants them to do,” she said.
She said she hopes the new council will be careful with the city's money and offered some words of advice to officials:
“You’re gonna make mistakes,” she said. “I don’t care how good you are or how good you think you are. You’re gonna make mistakes. The recovery from the mistakes is the challenge a lot of times.”
The Hoschton City Council can continue to operate with a three-member board following recent court action.
On Dec. 20, Superior Court Judge Joe Booth ordered the temporary suspension of a sentence in the town's charter that prevents the acting mayor from voting. That move allows mayor pro tem Adam Ledbetter and council members Shantwon Astin and Hope Weeks to continue functioning as a three-member board.
The issue comes after former mayor Theresa Kenerly and mayor pro tem Jim Cleveland submitted their resignations following months of controversy.
Cleveland’s and Kenerly’s resignations left the city council essentially inoperable under the town's charter. Three affirmative votes are required for the council to approve anything. But the town's charter doesn't allow the mayor, or in the absence of the mayor, the mayor pro tem, to vote on city matters.
With just three council members left and no mayor, there wouldn't have been enough voting members to transact city business.
The order in the Superior Court of Jackson County allows the newly-elected mayor pro tem, Ledbetter, to vote on city matters. That move allows the council to continue functioning until the March 24 election to fill the vacated seats.
FIRST MEETING FOLLOWS SHORTLY
The three-member board wasted no time, holding its first official meeting outside of the courtroom.
Ledbetter, who is technically acting mayor, immediately turned the meeting over to Weeks, the senior member on the council.
During the brief meeting, the council:
•approved a change to its financial policies to deal with emergencies.
•approved allowing Georgia Climate Control to move forward with repairs to the city hall furnace and gas lines not to exceed $7,000 following a gas leak at city hall. Work could begin on Monday, Dec. 23.
•tabled action on the purchase of a Flow Meter.
•approved safety grant funding for an enclosed trailer for the city public works department totaling $2,700.
Elementary schools in the Jackson County School System closed one day early last week due to a large outbreak of the flu.
The schools closed for the Christmas break starting on Thursday, Dec. 19.
The system sent out a message Dec. 18 announcing the closure, saying the flu "has affected a significant number of students and staff." Superintendent April Howard said the flu had hit over 14 percent of students and staff. An epidemic is considered to be 10 percent and above.
The system's middle and high schools went ahead and held class Dec. 19, but on a previously-set early release schedule. Those schools had not been as adversely affected by the flu as the elementary schools, officials said.
Carroll Daniel Construction was named as the construction manager at-risk to do Phase 1 of transforming the existing Jackson County Comprehensive High School into a multi-use facility to be known as the Empower College and Career Center. The Jackson County Board of Education chose Carroll Daniel out of four finalists at its meeting Dec. 9.
Although he wasn't at the Dec. 9 meeting and didn't register a vote, BOE member Don Clerici sent word to the board ahead of time that he was opposed to the selection of Carroll Daniel for the project.
Carroll Daniel is also the construction manager for the new Jackson County High School being built in West Jackson.
The Empower center is slated to open in 2021. The Phase 1 project is expected to cost $6 million.
In action Dec. 9, the BOE:
• approved renaming Lynn Massey-Wheeler as BOE chairman and Michael Cronic as vice-chairman for 2020.
• approved a revision to several school policies, including student hearing procedures.
• discussed changing the system's high schools schedules to a 7-period, A/B schedule so that not all classes would be held every day, but alternated on an A/B schedule. The move is designed, in part, to modify student homework loads. The school day would be shortened under the plan, which is still under staff review.