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14 county elections coming up in May

Some 14 major local county elections are on tap in Jackson County this year.

Qualifying for these county elections will be March 2-6.

Jackson County will go to the polls at least three times in 2020:

• March 24 (early voting March 2-20) for the presidential preference primary. The focus of this balloting will be the selection of Democrat and Republican candidates for president. In addition, Hoschton will fill two empty seats on its city council and voters across the county will also determine the fate of a proposal to allow some older citizens to have more of a tax break from school property taxes.

• May 19 (early voting April 27-May 15) for local county office elections. Those positions with qualifying fees are:

--Sheriff $2,270

--Probate Judge $1,894

--State Court Judge $3,422

--Clerk of Court $1,894

--Tax Commissioner $1,894

--Coroner $283

--Magistrate Judge $1,894

--Solicitor $3,148

--Surveyor $0

--BOC chairman $450

--BOC District 1 $300

--BOC District 2 $300

--County BOE District 1 $36

-- County BOE District 4 $36

In addition, there are 26 posts to be filled on the county's 10 fire district boards.

• Nov. 3 (early voting Oct. 12-30) for the national and local General Election. Voting for president will top the ballot. Any local race that has both Democrat and Republican candidates will also be on the November ballot.

Maysville votes not to proceed with nuisance property ordinance

The Maysville City Council voted Monday night not to move forward with adoption of regulations that would address property nuisances.

The Maysville Planning and Zoning Commission initiated an effort to request the city council adopt regulations regarding nuisance property.

After listening to a number of citizens from the crowd at the public hearing held Monday night speak in favor of the ordinance, and one citizen voicing opposition, the city council voted unanimously not to move forward with adoption of the proposed ordinance.

At a recent public hearing, the Maysville Planning and Zoning Commission approved recommendations for an ordinance that would require property owners to clean up dilapidated buildings and abandoned properties.

During a council work session held January 30, Mayor Richard Presley questioned how the planning and zoning commission proposes the city pay for improvements initiated by adoption of the regulations. Presley said a feasibility study has not been conducted by the board to determine what kind of money the city will be spending. If the nuisance ordinance was adopted and regulations were enforced, the city would ultimately be responsible for the upfront cost for demolition and improvements to bring certain properties up to code. The city would then have to take action against the property owner to re-coop the expense and this could take some time.

Presley said the city collected a little over $28,000 in property taxes last year.

“We struggle working a budget, to make that budget work with collecting no more taxes,” said Presley. “Everybody at this table would like to see a refurbishing of somewhat – but to put a burden on the people of the town, especially the elderly on a fixed income – I want some questions answered.”

Councilmember Kathleen Bush said the city’s priority at this time is to improve infrastructure such as paving streets and replacing an aging water system.

Banks County resident, Cliff Joliff said one of the visions the council approved in the city comprehensive plan is to have Maysville restored to a place where people want to come shop and eat and one of the items listed as ways to accomplish this is through nuisance and historic overlay regulations.

Joliff made reference to a downtown development authority and a historical committee that are no longer in existence. Joliff said these are two entities that could help the council with the nuisance and historic overlay issues.

Councilman Junior Hardy said he feels like the planning commission should present the council with a plan reflecting the location of lots in need of attention and a cost analysis for improvements.

During a public hearing held February 3, Maysville Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Vance Holifield agreed additional consideration will need to be given to the recommendations and how the city can pay for enforcing the ordinance, but the city needs to adopt some kind of regulations to require clean up of dilapidated buildings.

Holifield went on to say the 2018 comprehensive plan detailed specific areas and concerns regarding dilapidated and unsafe buildings. Holifield said the city is two years into the plan and no updates have been made and the proposed ordinance would address these issues.

Holifield said there are citizens willing to volunteer to help those property owners that were not financially or physically able to make improvements, but assistance from the city would also be required.

Trent Perry spoke in favor of the regulations. Perry, owner of a 164-year-old home, said he operates a business in his house and has more and more customers that are visiting his home. Perry said he would like for those customers to have the ability to drive to his property and not have to see some of the dilapidated and unsafe buildings along the way.

April Sutton, speaking on behalf of a group of citizens in support of the proposed nuisance ordinance, asked the council to adopt the regulations and encouraged citizens to come together as a community and work hand in hand with the city council to leave a legacy of community, prosperity and history for the next generation.

Quoting comments made by Mayor Presley prior to the recent city election, city resident Jenna Gray said Presley stated residential and industrial growth would be a top challenge for the council during the next 10 years and to be successful, the city would need a 10-year vision. Gray quoted Presley as saying five goals are needed in order to accomplish this vision. These goals include, creating a business-friendly environment to restore the economic potential of current businesses, protection of open spaces through conservation planning, preservation and celebration of Maysville’s small town heritage, redevelopment and improvement of the city infrastructure and last, development of community facilities to enhance quality of life for residents and visitors. Gray encouraged Presley to act upon his promises to preserve and restore Maysville.

Other citizens spoke of health hazards such as rodent and mosquito infestations, noting such issues can be handled by the health department through state health regulations.

One citizen spoke against the proposed regulations. Teri Trudnak said she is not in favor of raising property taxes to pay for improvements initiated by adoption of the nuisance regulations.

Councilman Scott Harper said, although something will eventually have to be done, now is not the time. Harper said there are people in the town that cannot pay their water bill and an additional property tax would be a burden to those citizens.

In the end, the council voted unanimously against adoption of nuisance regulations as presented by the planning commission.


The planning commission also recommends the city council approve a historical overlay district.

Holifield said the reason for recommendation of the historical overlay is because recent commercial construction in the city showed the lack of ability to direct building construction design.

The ordinance would create appropriate development and design guidelines to protect the historic appearance and character of the city. These regulations were not presented for consideration at this time in order for the board to receive additional citizen input.


In other business, Maysville resident, Laura White, is on a mission to make Maysville the next project for Home Town Takeover. Producers of a sequel to the original series, Home Town, are conducting a nationwide search for a community in need of restoration and revitalization. White encouraged citizens to go to the Hometown Takeover website and submit requests for Maysville to be considered for a makeover. If selected, the crew would be in the city for about six months, filming a minimum of six episodes. To qualify, a city must have a population of less than 40,000 people with buildings and homes that are in need of some TLC. White said this is one way to help with some of the dilapidated buildings and houses in the city.


Other action by the council included,

•acceptance of a bid of $2,403 from James Outz to tint windows in the City Hall building.

•approval of an increase from $35 to $40 for Jackson County Sheriff’s Office jail housing fees.

ANALYSIS: Collins Senate bid sets off political scramble

Rep. Doug Collins' announcement last week that he intends to run for the U.S. Senate seat formally held by Sen. Johnny Isakson has set off a firestorm of political scrambling in Northeast Georgia.

Collins' U.S. House 9th District covers most of Northeast Georgia, including Jackson County. Only minutes after Collins announced his Senate bid, State Sen. John Wilkinson announced plans to run for Collins' seat in the House. Wilkinson's state senate District 50 seat covers a part of Jackson County.

Less than 24 hours after Wilkinson made his announcement, Stacy Hall, chairman of the Habersham County Board of Commissioners, announced his plans to run for Wilkinson's state senate seat, saying "our North Georgia way of life is under attack."

This week, Jefferson native Andy Garrison announced he was also running for Wilkinson's seat.

Others are likely to also throw their hats into the ring for both the 9th District Congressional seat and for the state senate District 50 seat.


While that jockeying for political position in the state was going on, Collins quickly faced a backlash from Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp in December to replace Isakson until an election is held Nov. 3.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, a group that supports incumbent Republican senators, issued a press release blasting Collins.

“The shortsightedness in this decision is stunning," said the NRSC. "Doug Collins’ selfishness will hurt David Perdue, Kelly Loeffler, and President Trump. Not to mention the people of Georgia who stand to bear the burden of it for years to come. All he has done is put two senate seats, multiple house seats, and Georgia’s 16 electoral votes in play. The NRSC stands firmly behind Sen. Kelly Loeffler..."

For her part, Loeffler has moved to the right and strongly embraced President Donald Trump while attacking Collins as a "career politician."

"Kelly Loeffler grew up on a farm, worked her way through college, and built a successful career in business," said her campaign. "She's a conservative outsider, not a career politician, who is willing to challenge Washington's wasteful ways to keep our state and country moving in the right direction."

Loeffler has repeated that idea several times that she isn't a "career politician," a phrase clearly designed to frame Collins as just another Washington insider.

For his part, Collins has called Loeffler a "pretend farmer."

The long knives are coming out in that race.


The showdown between Collins and Loeffler could be influenced if Trump decides to inject himself into the race. Collins has been one of Trump's strongest defenders in Congress and has become a regular on Fox News shows defending Trump. That has played well in the 9th District, which is one of the most Republican districts east of the Mississippi River.

But Loeffler has also been striving to show her loyalty to Trump, issuing a number of news releases supporting the president and opposing the impeachment effort. And Loeffler has the support — and political backing — of Gov. Kemp and his political machinery across the state. In addition, Loeffler is independently wealthy and given her incumbent status, could raise far more money than Collins.

Perhaps by proxy, the Loeffler-Collins race could become a showdown between Trump and Kemp and which one has the most sway with voters in Georgia. While Kemp is already working to shore up support for Loeffler, Trump has not yet indicated if he will throw his weight behind Collins, or if he will embrace Loeffler since she is a woman politician who could help Trump with suburban female voters in Georgia, a key group of voters in a state that is Red but teetering on Purple.


Complicating this race further is that the special election to fill Isakson's Senate seat will be non-partisan, meaning that both Democrats and Republicans will be on the ticket Nov. 3.

The intra-party fight between Collins and Loeffler could give Democrats an opening in that race, if they rally behind a strong Democratic contender.

So far, only the Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church has thrown his hat into the Senate race for Democrats. Although lacking name recognition compared to Loeffler and Collins, he has the support of Stacey Abrams, whose state and national standings could generate publicity and money for Warnock.

Wilkinson to run for 9th District Congressional seat

State Senator John Wilkinson recently announced that he plans to run for the 9th District Congressional seat. This election will be to replace Congressman Doug Collins, who has announced that he will be running for a seat in the United States Senate.

Sen. Wilkinson, who was elected to the State Senate in a special election in 2011 and has been re-elected to four additional terms, was raised on a small farm in Stephens County.

"Working with projects in 4-H and FFA, he learned the value of hard work, cooperation and responsibility at an early age," according to a news release. "Those values have stayed with him during his career in agriculture, education and politics. He has not missed a day of work during his eight years of service in the Senate."

A native of Toccoa and graduate of Stephens County High School, Wilkinson earned degrees in agriculture and education from the University of Georgia. He has experience as a classroom teacher and served on the State Agricultural Education staff for 26 years. He has served as State Advisor to the Georgia FFA Association, as well as the Georgia Young Farmer Association. He was recognized as the Outstanding Member of the National Association of Supervisors of Agricultural Education in 2006. He and his wife Debbie have two children and five grandchildren. John and Debbie are active members of Tates Creek Baptist Church.

Senator Wilkinson has served as Chair of the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee in the Senate for the past eight years. He also serves as Vice Chairman of the Education and Youth Committee, as well as a member of the Natural Resources and the Environment, Appropriations and Rules Committees. He has served as Secretary of the Senate Majority Caucus for the past six years.

“This is a critical time for our country, and we need an experienced, conservative voice willing to stand up for the values that residents of North Georgia hold dear," said Wilkinson. “For the past eight years in Atlanta, I have fought to eliminate useless red tape and regulation of business, defended the sanctity of all life, and fought for our constitutional rights guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment. I look forward to continuing that fight in Washington.”

The 9th Congressional District includes all of Banks, Dawson, Elbert, Fannin, Franklin, Gilmer, Habersham, Hall, Hart, Jackson, Lumpkin, Madison, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union, White and parts of Clarke, Forsyth and Pickens counties.

To learn more about Senator John Wilkinson, visit www.VoteWilkinson.com.

Garrison announces for state senate

Jefferson native Andy Garrison announced this week that he plans to run for the Georgia State Senate District 50 seat, a position that is  currently held by John Wilkinson, who recently announced his intention to vacate the seat to run for the U.S. House of Representatives.

The district includes parts of Jackson, Banks, Franklin, Habersham, Hall, Rabun, Stephens and Towns counties.

"I was born and raised in Jefferson and have lived in North Georgia all my life," Garrison said. "As Director of the State Public Safety Training Center in Athens, I have served northeast Georgia for over 30 years by training and educating your public safety personnel. I have served on the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce for many years and recently completed a year as chairman. During my tenure at the Chamber and through my business, I have seen north Georgia change. Even though change is inevitable, I believe it can be managed in order to make the change beneficial to our communities."

 Garrison has an extensive background in business consulting, real estate and law enforcement. He retired as the Director of the Northeast Georgia Police Academy in 2011 and is currently the principal managing partner of Inland Realty in Jefferson and president of The Garrison Company.

 He has also been involved with local community volunteer groups since the early 1980s. His diverse collection of activities include the Hurricane Shoals Tumbling Waters Society, Jefferson’s Community Theater, Sons of the American Legion and various local business associations.

 His education includes an undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice from Georgia Southern University and a master’s in Public Administration from Brenau College.

Lance executed by lethal injection

Convicted murderer Donnie Cleveland Lance was executed on the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 29. Lance was sentenced to death in June 1999 for the brutal murders of his ex-wife Joy Lance and her boyfriend Butch Wood.

Lance died at 9:05 p.m. by a lethal injection of pentobarbital at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center in Jackson.

Lance was escorted into the execution chamber by six guards around 8:35 p.m. and prepared for the execution. Following those preparations, guards raised the bed and angled the gurney towards the viewing area: Three long wooden pews on the other side of a large glass window. The preparations had been completed by 8:45 p.m. and witnesses were led into the viewing room.

Shortly after 8:52 p.m., Warden Benjamin Ford asked Lance if he’d like to make a final statement or have a prayer said over him. He refused both.

Around 8:54 p.m., Ford concluded reading the execution order and the pentobarbital was administered shortly after.

Lance’s body jerked slightly around 8:57 p.m. and he let out a sharp breath, opening his mouth when he did so. His mouth remained open after that.

The viewing room was mostly silent throughout, with a few coughs interrupting. A family member on the front pew let out quiet sobs.

Lance’s skin on his face and hands soon began to pale and his face looked waxy.

At 9:05 p.m., two doctors entered the room and checked Lance’s vital signs. One of them nodded to Ford, who announced the execution had been carried out.

Lance had been visited earlier in the day by 15 family members, one friend and three attorneys. He did not record a final statement.


Lance was convicted of brutally murdering Joy Lance and Butch Wood on Nov. 9, 1997.

The murders occurred at Wood’s home in Maysville. The door was kicked in and Wood had been shot with a shotgun. J. Lance had been beaten to death with repeated blows to her face with the butt of a shotgun.

Lance was indicted in the Superior Court of Jackson County on two counts of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, burglary, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and two counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He was sentenced to death on June 23, 1999.

Lance has appealed his case over the last 21 years, claiming he was denied adequate counsel when he was sentenced to death. He based his appeal around evidence that his lawyer failed to tell the jury of his previous traumatic head injuries, including having been shot in the head, and his alcoholism.

Lance appealed his conviction, claiming that his lawyer failed to present any mitigating evidence, including Lance’s mental condition, during the penalty phase of the trial. But the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Lance’s conviction. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court denied his petition for a review.

In 2009, a judge in Butts County threw out Lance’s death sentence, saying that his lawyer hadn’t presented evidence of Lance’s mental impairments at trial. But the Georgia Supreme Court in 2010 upheld the death penalty sentence, saying that even if Lance’s mental capabilities had been outlined to the jury, it would not have changed the outcome of the sentencing. The U.S. Supreme Court denied Lance’s request to appeal in 2010.

In 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals declined to grant Lance a writ of habeas corpus on the same issue. The U.S. Supreme Court denied that request in January 2019.

On April 26, 2019, Lance sought post-conviction DNA testing. The trial court denied Lance’s extraordinary motion for a new trial on Sept. 30, 2019. Lance filed an appeal, which was denied by the Georgia Supreme Court on Dec. 2, 2019.

His attorneys filed a petition for clemency with the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles Jan. 23, but that request was denied.

A request for a stay of execution was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court shortly before the execution.


The Lances’ two children, Stephanie Lance Cape and Jessie Lance, have been vocal advocates for their father.

Lance’s attorneys said the siblings have continued developing a strong relationship with their father while he’s been in prison.

“…the people most injured by this crime, the children of Donnie and Joy Lance, do not want to see the execution of their only remaining parent,” according to the clemency petition. “For over two decades, Mr. Lance has been a critical part of the lives of the children, Stephanie Lance Cape and Jessie Lance. Both were young when their mother died and, while they continue to mourn her loss, they have consistently looked to their father for advice and continued to love him as their sole remaining parent.”

The siblings have pushed for DNA testing and expressed their hope that the parole board would grant clemency in Lance’s case, pleading for the board to spare their father’s life.

“We have spent our whole lives with this huge gaping hole in our hearts, but at least we’ve had our dad at our sides,” the siblings said in a letter to the board. “It’s almost impossible to imagine that it could get worse.”

Commerce council talks about buffers in zoning

Buffering property between industrial and residential and between subdivisions and roads were the main topic of conversation Feb. 3 at the Commerce City Council work session.

The council asked the planning commission for recommendations on buffers.

The council could vote on new buffer conditions at its Feb. 17 regular meeting.

Jordan Shoemaker, administrator for the planning and zoning department said the planning commission recommendations include:

•a 50-foot buffer for industrial property.

•a 50-foot buffer for residential property that abuts industrial land. That would be a total of a 100-foot buffer.

• Vegetation would be required in that buffer. Fences and other structures would not be allowed.

•A buffer would be 60 percent planted in evergreen trees and bushes and 40 percent in deciduous trees and bushes.

Council member Bobby Redmon suggested a “range” of buffers from light- to heavy-industrial. It was suggested that a 75-foot buffer be included in any M-2 heavy industry zoning.

Mayor Clark Hill suggested another buffer zone be approved for parkland or for historic property. He said the property for a 600-acre industrial development that is adjacent to Interstate 85 would be very close to land in the Hurricane Shoals Park area.

A buffer for that area might be 100 feet, he said. It also could include other suggestions by a developer. For example, a very high berm or a fence of some height might work in some areas.

Shoemaker said areas developed along roads might include guard rails. She stressed plans from the beginning need to be submitted to the planning office. For example, one site that raised the issue is the rear of Carrington Place, a 55+ development, that includes houses near a curve in Mt. Olive Road.

Shoemaker said if the developer had not cleared all the vegetation away down to the right-of-way perhaps a vegetative buffer could have been left and guard rails would not be needed.

She also said fences and other similar structures could be permissible for housing developments.


In other business, Jerry Harrison, with Waste Pro, the city’s garbage collector, said recycling has changed dramatically in the past two years.

He said standards for accepting recycling materials have changed. Harrison said companies that had recycled have started charging fees if a recycle load is “contaminated.”

He used the examples of grocery bags and black garbage bags as items that are no longer accepted.

Harrison said loads now are charged fees if they are one percent contaminated. He said his company aims for 20 percent contamination and that is sometimes difficult to meet.

Council member Johnny Eubanks repeatedly said city customers should be “educated” on what is acceptable for recycling and what is not. He said the city spent time and effort when the program first started to explain what material can be recycled.

“It may be time again” to do that, Eubanks said.

Harrison suggested that cities and companies that recycle are moving to restricting what material is taken for four or five commodities – “and that’s it.”

He said cities are beginning to set up locations where material can be taken, perhaps once a week on Saturday.

He said, “China used to buy all our stuff” and now it is not buying any.

“What we’re doing, it’s not working,” Eubanks said. “We need to make this work if at all possible.”


In other business, the council:

•will consider approving Jerry Weitz & Associates as a consultant to the city to review the zoning regulations and development standards. Weitz works with a number of area cities and towns.

•will be asked to approve quit claim deeds on Barber and Harmony streets for construction of new homes under the Community Housing Improvement Program. The city has received

$300,000 to build new houses and sell them to residents. A revolving loan fund can be set up to use the money from new construction to build more houses. Shoemaker said construction can start on the houses by April.

•will consider a variance for a piece of property along U.S. Hwy. 441 adjacent to United Community Bank. An office building for two to three businesses can be built there.

•will consider approval for three agreements between the city, its police department and other law enforcement agencies.

•will be asked to re-appoint Billy Chandler and John Stell as city judge and city attorney, respectively for 24-month terms. City manager James Wascher said Stell would consider attending city planning commission meetings on the fourth Monday of a month. His retainer for the city would increase from $1,500 to $1,750 a month for that service.

•will consider approving a special event permit for the sale of beer and wine for the Folk-to-Fine Art event March 6.

Jefferson residential, commercial projects get initial approval

Plans for 142 townhouses in Jefferson got the green light Feb. 3 by the Jefferson-Talmo Planning Commission.

The project is slated for 29.5 acres off of Danielsville St. and Sycamore St. The board approved the project with conditions, including the addition of a buffer on the side that faces a farm in unincorporated Jackson County.

Cook Communities of Gainesville will be the developer. The property is currently owned by Jacobs Family Enterprises.

A lawyer for the developer said the townhouses would be a minimum of 1,600 sq. ft. and priced in the mid-$200,000 range.

The property is a narrow strip that wraps around from Danielsville St. to Sycamore St.

This project and the others approved by the planning board will next go to the Jefferson City Council for final action.


A commercial building and a new antique store could also be coming to Jefferson following action by the planning board.

The board approved a rezoning and two variances for Jeremy and Delina Kozop at the intersection of Hill St. and Mahaffey St. (across from Cream and Shuga) for the project. The move will allow the project to rehabilitate three vacant buildings on the property.

The board approved two variances, including waiving the mandate for a sidewalk and allowing parking in front of the buildings facing Mahaffey St.


Six single family homes could be developed on Gordon St. in Jefferson following the approval of a rezoning and two variances by the planning board.

The property, 1.5 acres across from Fairfield Dr., was approved to be rezoned to Planned Community Development for the project. The board also approved a preliminary plat for the project.