In a largely symbolic move, Barrow County has officially declared itself a “Second Amendment sanctuary.”
During its Tuesday, Feb. 11 meeting, the county board of commissioners approved a resolution that would support the sheriff’s discretion to not enforce any federal or state firearms laws that the county deems unconstitutional, and that the county would not use any county money to enforce those laws.
But the board chose not to pass a revised resolution suggested by the county attorney’s office that would have softened and clarified some of the language.
One clause of the resolution passed Tuesday states that “all federal acts, laws, orders, rules or regulations regarding firearms, firearms accessories and ammunition are a violation of” the U.S. and state constitutions. It was not made clear in the resolution whether that statement would apply to restrictions such as guns being prohibited on school campuses or convicted felons being barred from having a gun, though it does leave the discretion to the sheriff.
County attorney Angie Davis, at the board’s Jan. 28 work session, had suggested that sentence be changed to “…certain federal acts, laws, orders, rules or regulations…may be a violation of the Second Amendment and inconsistent with” the state constitution.
The Georgia Constitution states that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but the General Assembly shall have powers to prescribe the manner in which arms may be borne.”
Davis had also suggested the board modify a clause that stated the board would not “authorize or appropriate funds, resources, employees, agencies, contractors, buildings, detention centers or offices for the purpose of enforcing or assisting in the enforcement of any element of any acts, laws, orders, mandates, rules or regulations that infringe on the right by the people to keep and bear arms,” saying that could create some potential legal issues.
Board chairman Pat Graham, who advocated for the sanctuary resolution to be put before the board, had county manager Mike Renshaw read the original resolution out loud in its entirety at Tuesday’s meeting and then made a motion to approve it without the suggested revisions being read.
The vote was 5-1 with commissioner Rolando Alvarez opposed and commissioner Ben Hendrix absent. Alvarez said he supported the county being a “Second Amendment sanctuary” but wanted the board to approve the revised resolution that the county attorney’s office provided.
“They’re the experts; I am not,” Alvarez said.
Barrow County is one of several counties around the state and the nation to declare themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries” in recent months. The push comes amid a series of sweeping gun-control laws passed in Virginia that sparked the ire of gun rights advocates.
The newly Democratic-controlled legislature in Virginia has passed several bills — with Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s support — largely in response to a high-profile mass shooting at a municipal center in Virginia Beach that left 12 people dead. The most recently-passed legislation bans the sale of certain semi-automatic firearms as well as silencers and magazines that hold more than 12 rounds. Other laws passed include universal background checks, limiting handgun purchases to one per month and “red flag” legislation that would allow officials to keep people determined to be a danger to others and/or themselves from having guns.
Habersham County last month became the first county in Georgia to declare itself a “Second Amendment sanctuary,” and several others around northeast Georgia, including Jackson County last week, have followed suit.
When the board approved Tuesday’s resolution, it was met with applause from a packed meeting room at the historic Barrow County Courthouse.
During a public comment period, Winder resident Ken Young said any watered-down version of the resolution would be a “disservice to the law-abiding citizens of our county.”
“Major changes that gut the original intent of that original resolution are not in your best interests, in my opinion,” Young said. “The nonsense in Virginia should be a wake-up call for all. I have equal concern for unconstitutional state laws as well as I do federal laws. And we can extend that to local laws and ordinances as well.
“Any unconstitutional acts by any government that would take away the Second Amendment or infringe on that particular right, that needs to be covered by this resolution.”
Sickness in Barrow County schools has been worse this year than in the past, but “despite it being a bad flu season, we just haven’t seen system-wide impacts more than in previous years,” according to Matt Thompson, the system’s student services and data service director.
More than 2,100 students have been sent home sick since November, according to Thompson, about 266 more than in 2019.
“You can see both November and December were much worse in terms of sending kids home than was the previous year, but January leveled off and was about the same,” he said.
The district reported about 770 students each month sent home sick. That number was 612 in January.
However, Thompson said the system does not “track flu per se” and the numbers are not “flu” numbers.
Despite the numbers, the percentage of student attendance was slightly better for November through January than in the same months in 2019.
Thompson said teacher attendance was “down a bit from last year,” but he said multiple reasons, including professional learning, are included in the numbers.
“Prior to winter break, Holsenbeck and Bethlehem (elementary schools) had a lot of absences and when we returned Yargo (elementary) had a period where (it) had a lot of sickness,” he said. “But that usually burns out after a day or two.”
Bus drivers for the schools have been short most of the year, according to Ken Greene, assistant superintendent for support services, but not because of illness.
Greene said the attendance for bus drivers took a "very slight dip" in January — it was 93.89 percent after three months of more than 94 percent.
"We have had some call-outs due to the flu and other illnesses. However, I would not think this is excessive," Greene said.
Former long-time Barrow County commissioner Roger Wehunt died Saturday, Feb. 8. He was 80.
Wehunt died in the early morning hours Saturday, and a private family graveside service was held, according to an obituary.
A Jackson County native, Wehunt was a farmer in Barrow County and served parts of five terms on the commission, starting in 1998. He resigned in 2008 to run for mayor of Winder and returned in 2015 after winning a special election to replace Steve Worley.
Wehunt was re-elected to a four-year term in 2016 but resigned his District 3 seat in October 2018 due to an ongoing illness. Rolando Alvarez won the special election in March 2019 to replace Wehunt.
Barrow County manager Mike Renshaw announced Wehunt's passing to the public prior to the Tuesday, Feb. 11 Barrow County Board of Commissioners meeting. Renshaw said it was his "honor and privilege" to work with Wehunt.
"Roger was a great guy," Renshaw said. "We didn't always agree on everything and had some epic conversations and discussions in my office. But one thing I'll always remember about him is he had great perspective about things."
Commissioner Isaiah Berry, who served several years on the board with Wehunt, said that Wehunt "took me under his wing" from the start of Berry's tenure on the board. Berry, a retired long-time football and track and field coach at Winder-Barrow High School, recalled Wehunt's generosity and told the story of Wehunt giving him a $100 bill to buy a pair of track shoes for an athlete and teammate of his granddaughter at the school.
"He said buy her the best shoes money can buy," Berry said. "That was the generosity of the Roger I knew and that I loved. I'm so terribly sorry he's gone, but he's on to the next reward.
"As Roger would say, 'Coach, everything will be alright.'"
Wehunt is survived by his wife, former school board member Connie Wehunt, his daughter, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and a brother and sister.
Barrow County will have fewer polling locations starting with next month’s presidential preference primaries, but there will be additional poll workers and equipment at each location to accommodate any larger crowds.
The county’s board of elections voted unanimously in January to reduce the number of polling locations by half, from 16 to 8, combining precincts across those locations.
The changes affected about half of the county’s registered voters (around 25,000), and new cards were mailed out last week to those affected, county elections and voter registration director Monica Franklin said.
Franklin said the board had worked on the changes for several months before approving them in a meeting and said the changes were primarily due to low attendance at some previous locations.
“In looking at the results over the last four to six years, we saw an increase in advanced voting numbers and a decrease in election day turnout at some of the polling locations,” Franklin said. “The board was on the same page on this, and they all agreed this would the best thing to do.”
Advanced voting for the March 24 presidential primaries begins March 2 and runs through March 20, Mondays through Fridays, with Saturday voting March 7 and 14. Franklin said the board decided to add a second Saturday for voting this year, even though state law only requires one Saturday for voting. She said the board will also “likely” extend weekday advanced voting hours for the May general primaries and the November general election.
The new and newly-combined polling locations and precincts are as follows:
•Precinct 1 — Bethlehem Community Center, 750 Manger Ave. No changes.
•Precincts 2 and 15 combined — Bethlehem Church – 211 campus, 1054 Old Thompson Mill Rd., Hoschton.
•Precincts 3 and 12 combined and new polling location — Hmong New Hope Alliance Church, 1622 Union Grove Church Rd., Auburn.
•Precincts 4 and 14 combined and new polling location — Covenant Life Sanctuary, 115 Patrick Mill Rd. SW, Winder.
•Precincts 5 and 7 combined — Barrow County Emergency Services Fire Station 1, 1625 Bethlehem Rd., Statham.
•Precincts 8 and 9 combined — First Baptist Church Winder, 625 Jefferson Hwy.
•Precincts 6, 10, 13 and a small portion of 15 combined — Winder Community Center, 113 East Athens St.
•Precincts 11 and 16 combined — Church at Winder, 546 Treadwell Rd., Bethlehem.
A map of the precincts and new polling locations and be found online at www.barrowga.org.