A judge has dismissed the lawsuit five Homer residents filed against the mayor and city council alleging that they are not getting equal representation in the newly-created voting districts.
On July 2, Judge Richard Story dismissed all of the claims made by citizens Earl Tyson, Annette Tyson, Linda Guabelly, Amanda Acton and Emily Acton, as well as Banks County Golf LLC and Green Ridge Builders of Georgia in the lawsuit filed against the Town of Homer, the mayor and each of the council members and the city clerk. The lawsuit was also filed against the Banks County Board of Elections and elections supervisor and registrar Andra Phagan.
The individual plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit are voters in District 3 in the Town of Homer. The business plaintiffs are owners of land “to be sold to approximately 300 prospective voters in District 3,” according to the lawsuit.
In 2020, Homer Town Council sought and achieved changes in Homer’s Town Council districts. The town council representation was changed to having two seats for District 1, two seats for District 2 and one seat for District 3.
The lawsuit states, “This change occurred despite the growing number of residents and voters in District 3. The Homer defendants’ changes result in Districts 1 and 2 having double the representative on the town council compared to District 3. The Homer defendants have wrongfully given unequal greater weight to Districts 1 and 2 over the votes in residents in District 3.”
District 3 is a newer residential subdivision near a golf course and it contains “a large and geographically compact group of voters,” according to the lawsuit.
In his ruling, the judge stated: “Though it does appear that Districts 1 and 2 have substantially bigger populations than does District 3, plaintiffs do not primarily focus on this apparent disparity. Instead they highlight the new candidate residency requirement, contending that it ‘unfairly limits District 3 voters’ ability to fairly participate in the electoral process.’ That argument is unavailing, thanks to a long-established body of case law holding that election policies requiring that candidates be residents of certain districts that do not contain equal numbers of people do not violate the one-person, one-vote principle if all officials are elected at large. This case is no different. Here, the Act divides Homer into three districts, which are to be represented by five council members. Each council member must reside in the district he or she represents, but he or she is elected by the entire town in an at-large election, rather than only by the individuals in his or her district. Such a plan is lawful and does not violate the one-person, one-vote rule under the Fourteenth Amendment.”
While many kids her age are involved in mainstream sports or some other typical extracurricular activity, Tallulah Falls School rising seventh-grader Morgan Ward is wild about rodeo.
Ward, of Alto, has been around horses since before she could walk and has been competing in rodeos since the age of six. The apple, as they say, didn't fall far from the tree.
"I wanted to do Mutton Bustin' [sheep riding], so that was part of why we started going to rodeos," says Ward. "My daddy is a cowboy, and he is my biggest inspiration."
Morgan's father, Tim Ward, grew up riding horses and competing in rodeos for more than a dozen years all across the Southeast, riding bucking horses.
He and Morgan ride together often, and he spends his time now hauling the eager cowgirl to rodeos and helping her practice; he loves watching her do something she enjoys so much.
"Being a cowboy or cowgirl is more than just being a rodeo competitor," states Tim Ward. "It's a way of life in how you live, work and treat others. I hope Morgan understands that is the most important part of being a cowgirl. I'm thrilled she chose to rodeo because of the many life lessons it can give her. I loved the many years I spent being able to rodeo, but it's nothing compared to watching her do something she loves so much."
Rodeoing requires fine-tuning a craft just like any other athlete has to do for their respective sport. Competition days and leading up need a sacrifice of time, energy and money.
"Rodeo days are usually long and busy but fun," says Ward. "We haul two or three horses for my competitions. I compete in barrel racing, pole bending and breakaway roping. The closest we compete is about an hour from home, but we have to travel much farther most of the time. I ride or exercise my horses several days a week and rope a lot as well. It takes a lot of time to keep myself and my horses ready to compete, but I love it. Rodeo days are also a lot of fun because I get to spend them with family and friends. That's a big part of why I love it so much."
Ward competes in rodeos two or three weekends per month on average, all year long. While some rodeos are a single day of competing, others are two days that require overnight stays.
While perfecting this craft, Ward is simultaneously creating lasting memories.
"One of my most special moments would be winning my first saddle," states Ward. "Winning my first All-Around Champion saddle was the best. One of my funniest moments was one night I took a flying fall off my pony during a rodeo. I had a face and helmet full of dirt, but all the kids kept telling me I looked like Superman flying through the air."
Ward actively serves in the nursery at her church, attends student ministry and enjoys hunting, fishing, playing, and working on her family's farm.
With the demand of time interwoven into what makes her successful in rodeo competition, mastering time management is crucial for the middle schooler.
"I have to work hard to keep all of my schoolwork done as well as taking care of my horses," says Ward. "My daddy has always told me 'if you're going to compete on the weekends, your horses have to be ridden and exercised during the week.' Since I love to rodeo, I learned early on how important it is to take care of my horses and make sure my schoolwork is done. It's a balance, but I don't mind because I love it."
Ward hopes the passion she has for the rodeo will become a large part of her future.
"I love competing in rodeos and would love to one day compete at the NFR (National Finals Rodeo) in Las Vegas," says Ward. "I have also thought about maybe someday being on a college rodeo team."
The former Atlanta Dragway site at Banks Crossing is under contract to be sold. A rezoning application for the property could come before the Banks County Planning Commission as early as August, officials said this week.
The exact plans for the site haven't yet been announced. The area, however, is designated by Banks County for commercial or industrial development given its proximity to I-85.
The firm of JLL is representing the National Hot Rod Association in the sale of the property.
Development of the site has is being closely watched in Banks and Jackson counties. The 318 acres, which is in Banks County but abuts the Jackson County line, is near the new SK Battery plant in a corridor that is rapidly developing with industrial growth.
The NHRA initially said it wanted the property to stay as a dragway, but it was marketed by JLL for other uses.
"The City of Commerce is experiencing exploding growth alongside the construction of the $2.6-billion SK Innovations manufacturing facility, one of the largest economic developments in Georgia’s history," stated JLL. "The Banks Crossing intersection where the Atlanta Dragway is located has been designated by Banks County as a targeted industrial, commercial and residential development corridor."
Banks County Board of Commissioners chairman Charles Turk said last spring he would like to see the raceway kept running, but if not, commercial development that generates sales taxes would be another good option for the county.
JLL is also marketing the nearby 85-acre Commerce Exchange property along Steven Tanger Blvd. behind the outlet mall and Ridgeway Church Rd. One industry has already located on the site.
The prayer team at Air Line Baptist will be meeting at the Lula Veterans Park from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 11, to “pray for revival.”
The park is located at 6007 Main Street, Lula.
Those who attend are asked to bring a chair.