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Hammond appointed to vacant Winder council seat

Shannon Hammond was sworn in Tuesday, Sept. 7, as the newest Winder City Council member after the council appointed her last week to fill the vacant at-large seat.

The vote in favor of councilman Chris Akins’ motion to appoint Hammond over nine other candidates during a called meeting Sept. 2 was 4-1 with councilman Sonny Morris opposed. It came after Morris’ motion to appoint Bobby Yarbrough to the seat failed for lack of a second. 

Hammond is a former long-time employee of the Barrow County School System, having worked with the district as a middle school teacher, elementary school counselor, assistant principal and eventually as director of federal programs. She was later hired as federal programs director for the Oconee County School District in 2012 and is now in her fifth year in the role for the Walton County School District.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Hammond said of her appointment. “It’s a bit of a surprise, I guess, just because there was 10 for them to choose from. But I feel like this is the right move for me, and I’m looking forward to serving.”

Hammond becomes the fourth woman to serve on the city council and replaces former councilwoman Holly Sheats, who resigned in late July a little more than halfway through her first term over her objections to the city’s process in approving the fiscal year 2022 budget and a resulting millage-rate increase as well as differences with top city officials. Hammond is set to complete the remainder of Sheats’ term and would be up for election to the at-large seat in 2023.

Along with Hammond and Yarbrough, eight other candidates applied for the vacant seat — former councilman Al Brown, Robert Lanham, Power Evans, Pam Powell, David Brock, Holt Persinger, Scott Britt and Jerry Martin. Martin was also one of three candidates who qualified to challenge the incumbent Akins for the other at-large council seat this fall in the municipal elections. Incumbent councilmen Morris (Ward 1) and Jimmy Terrell (Ward 3) are also facing challengers in the Nov. 2 election.

Hammond was a late entry to the field, saying she decided to run the night before the special qualifying period ended in mid-August.

“I’m not a politician, but I do keep up with the local news and had been reading the recent stories (about the budget disputes and controversy surrounding the millage rate increase),” Hammond said. “I was discouraged by (Sheats’ resignation). But I thought I could (serve on the council) and help my community through situation because there’s a bit of turmoil right now.

“…I don’t have any particular agenda, but one of the things I’m most interested in maintaining is the professionalism and civility among the council. You can agree to disagree on issues and move on. I just want to bring some stability and help bring things back to the way a council is supposed to function.”

Mayor David Maynard, who called the group of candidates “strong,” interviewed all 10 with Morris, who serves as mayor pro tem, sitting in on most of the interviews and the rest of the council members either sitting in or having separate individual conversations with each of the candidates.

Hammond said she believed her more than a decade of experience with applying for federal grant funding and understanding how the process works may have been a strong selling point for the council.

“We were very blessed to have such a large number of people put in for this,” Akins said. “Everybody interviewed well, and it was a really hard choice. The thing that stood about (Hammond) to me is I felt in my heart that she would be the one to help us to continue to take the good things we’re doing as a city and move those forward. In her professional career and life, she’s just been a star and good at everything she’s done."

Morris said he supported Yarbrough, a top-ranking official at the Johns Manville plant in Winder, because of his business and management background.

“All the candidates were strong, and I just felt Bobby had the most experience,” Morris said. “He’s been involved in budget decisions, and in my mind he was the best candidate. I just wanted to vote my conviction, but I’m certainly in support of (Hammond).”

Hammond hasn’t committed yet to running for a full term on the council but also said she is open to the possibility.

“I never would have considered running for anything really, previously,” she said. “But kind of like I felt led to do this, if I feel like it’s the right thing and my constituents support me, I will. But I haven’t made that decision yet.”


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316/81 interchange dedicated to late school counselor Judy Loftin

Family and friends of the late Judy Loftin gathered Saturday afternoon, Sept. 4, for an official dedication ceremony for the interchange at highways 316 and 81 that was named in her honor.

Loftin, who died in 2017 at the age of 70, was a counselor for 30 years in the Barrow County School System and was recognized multiple times with awards from counseling organizations for her work. The great-great granddaughter of local historical figure Carter Hill, she was born and raised on a homestead on Punkin Junction Road at the site of the interchange that was completed and opened last fall.

The Georgia General Assembly in May approved a resolution naming the new interchange the Judy Hill Loftin, LPC Memorial Interchange.

During the dedication ceremony Saturday at Winder-Barrow High School’s W. Clair Harris Stadium, state Rep. Terry England recalled when Loftin’s husband, Bob Loftin, emailed him a couple of years ago about getting the interchange named for his late wife and said he was glad to see that come to fruition.

“I think it’s only appropriate,” England said. “Those of us who knew her understood and knew the passion she had, not just for students, but for individuals and people. There were countless generations of people touched by her love and compassion for her fellow man, and many of us will now ride by (the interchange) and think a sweet thought about her.”

Along with England, Bob Loftin and the Loftins’ son, Will, gave remarks during Saturday’s ceremony.

“This is just a great way to memorialize her and what she stood for,” Will Loftin said, remembering his mother as a caring woman who was also a strong mental health advocate. “She would help anybody. She would have gone the extra mile for anybody.”


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Auburn council approves annexation, rezoning for large subdivision

The Auburn City Council approved an annexation and rezoning request during its Thursday, Sept. 2 meeting to allow for a large subdivision at the intersection of Carl-Cedar Hill and Bill Robinson roads.

The council’s approval rezones two parcels totaling 98.2 acres from agricultural land in Barrow County to the planned suburban village zoning classification within the city of Auburn. The site will consist of 315 single-family detached homes served by one vehicular access on Carl Cedar-Hill Road with an overall density of approximately 3.2 units per acre.

The proposal was originally presented to the city’s planning commission during its meeting June 16 but was tabled to its Aug. 18 meeting, during which the commission recommended approval with over a dozen attached conditions.

The conditions attached to the approval stipulate dimension, landscaping and architectural design requirements and a mandatory homeowners association. Road improvements recommended by a preliminary traffic impact study are also part of the approval’s conditions, which require a deceleration lane and left turn lane into the subdivision.

Due to the request of Jason Hutchins, a neighboring property owner concerned about his livestock potentially getting into the development, the council added a condition to include a six-foot tall wood privacy fence along the boundary line of the development and the Hutchins property.

Another condition added on behalf of Hutchins will require a disclosure be included on the final plat for all properties within the subdivision to notify all purchasers the property is contiguous to a farm operation and animals, which may produce sights, smells and sounds associated with agricultural practices.

“We appreciate our neighbors, the adjacent property owners, who have been gracious with their time,” said Shane Lanham, the attorney speaking on behalf of the applicants. “We’ve had a lot of discussions about some of the concerns they raised and we completely understood. We just decided that we’re going to figure it out.”

BUDGET APPROVED

Also at its meeting, the council approved a balanced $6.71 million budget for fiscal year 2022, which begins Oct. 1. That includes a $4.1 million General Fund.

The budget checks in about $240,000 higher than the FY21 budget. The budget includes roughly $126,000 more in police department spending and a $94,000 increase in the parks and leisure services department.

OTHER BUSINESS

In other business at its meeting, the council:

•set the Auburn-Gwinnett County millage rate at 4.951 mills, where it has been since 2013.

•announced the new open position in the parks and leisure services department as director of parks, recreation and community resources.

•announced plans are underway to move forward with Auburn Fest this year. “As of right now we plan to move forward with it. If we get to the point we need to cancel it, obviously we will make that announcement,” said Mayor Linda Blechinger.

•approved a proclamation of the month of September as Library Card Sign-up Month to stimulate an interest in reading and learning throughout the community.


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Former long-time BOE member, Winder councilman Dixon dies

Bob Dixon, a former long-time Barrow County Board of Education member and Winder-Barrow High School basketball and football coach who later served two terms on the Winder City Council, died Thursday, Sept. 2, after being hospitalized recently due to COVID-19 and other complications. He was 85.

Funeral services are scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 5, the day when Dixon would have celebrated his 86th birthday, at First Baptist Church in Winder, where he was a member.

A native of Vidalia, Dixon began his career in education as a teacher and coach at WBHS. He led the school’s boys’ basketball team to the state title game and GHSA Class A and Class AA runner-up finishes in 1961 and 1963, respectively. He was later the head football coach at the school and was at the helm when W. Clair Harris Stadium, for which he led the design efforts and was instrumental in helping to build, opened. The Bulldoggs went 7-3 that year and finished the season on a five-game winning streak after a 2-3 start. Dixon, who was 15-5 in two seasons as head football coach, is part of the school’s athletic wall of fame.

After his coaching career, Dixon was district sales manager for Moen, Inc., a Fortune 500 company, but he stayed involved in education, serving on the school board from 1972 to 1998.

Dixon was elected to an at-large city council seat in 2009 and won a close re-election bid four years later. He initially qualified to run for a third term in 2017 but later dropped out of the race for family health reasons. His second wife, Diane Moon Dixon, died in April.

“Bob was a great man,” councilman Sonny Morris, who served on the council with Dixon and was a junior in high school when Dixon arrived at WBHS, said Friday, Sept. 3. “I go way back with him.”

Ironically, a few hours before Dixon passed, his niece-by-marriage, Shannon Hammond, was appointed by the council to fill the other at-large seat that had been vacant since late July. Dixon’s first marriage was to the late Nancy Jenkins Dixon, whose brother was Hammond’s stepfather.

“He was a giant of a person,” Hammond said Friday of Dixon. “(Being appointed to the council) is a bittersweet moment for me because I know he would have had so much to tell me. I know he would have had a lot of advice for me.”


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DPH: 17-year-old Barrow resident dies of COVID-19

A teenage Barrow County resident died of complications from COVID-19 last month, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

The 17-year-old Black male was the latest confirmed COVID-related death among county residents, as the DPH confirmed two more on Wednesday, Sept. 1 — bringing the official total to 152 along with five "probable" deaths. 

The male, who died in early August, was not a student in the Barrow County School System, a district spokesperson confirmed. 

It was unknown whether the male had an underlying medical condition, according to the data. 

The male is by far the youngest Barrow resident to die of COVID-19. A 31-year-old white female with an underlying condition was also listed among the recently-confirmed deaths in the county. 

A 14-year-old white female from neighboring Jackson County with an underlying condition was also among the confirmed deaths reported by the DPH Wednesday. 

The DPH confirmed another 72 new COVID-19 cases in Barrow on Wednesday, with a seven-day rolling average of 77.9 new daily cases. In all, there have been 10,966 cases in the county since the start of the pandemic and 957 in the last two weeks. 


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Winder Fire Department to hold 9/11 memorial ceremony

The Winder Fire Department will host its annual 9/11 memorial ceremony Saturday, Sept. 11, on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The event will honor the more than 300 firefighters, more than 60 law enforcement officers and other public safety personnel who lost their lives.

The event will begin at 8:30 a.m. — a few minutes before the time the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York — at the WFD headquarters, 90 North Broad St.

The public is invited to attend. 


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