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School, county officials on alert for coronavirus

Madison County is like the rest of the world — focused on the coronavirus.

School system leaders are keeping their eyes and ears open for any sign that the novel coronavirus, officially dubbed “COVID-19” that originated in China has made an appearance locally.

Superintendent Michael Williams said Tuesday that the school system is and has been reviewing its safety/crisis plan of action for the outbreak of any contagious disease and is in regular communication with the local health department as well as the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH) on where the virus is. They are also working closely with Madison County’s public emergency manager, EMS Director Bobby Smith, who also has a safety plan for a contagious disease outbreak in the community.

And with the news of the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Georgia coming late Monday, Williams said that alertness will only intensify.

He said primary actions being taken right now with both students and staff are reminders about preventative steps that they can take not only to prevent a COVID-19 spread, should it occur in the area, but to also prevent and curtail the spread of the flu and other illnesses that are already circulating.

“Everyone needs to wash their hands often with soap and water and if you need to cough, cough into your elbow or use another way (beside hands) to cover your mouth,” Williams said. “Avoid contact with people who are sick and if you are sick, please stay home, especially if you have a fever. We do not want students or staff who are sick to be at school where they can spread infections.”

Williams said they have also been closely monitoring faculty and student attendance at all schools and have not seen a drastic difference for a typical cold-and-flu season.

“Actually attendance has been relatively good for the season but we will continue to monitor it closely,” he said.

He said the crisis plan does include a worst case scenario, which would involve closing schools for a time, depending on the situation.

Williams said a regular meeting between principals and department directors had further discussion of COVID-19 preparedness among the items on the agenda.

Last week, Williams sent out a letter to all school administrators and staff that noted that there have been questions about the virus and whether the school system was preparing for an outbreak and he noted in that letter all of the things previously mentioned. He also told told the staff that he had been in contact with Georgia DPH and that it is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta to identify any potential outbreak and the appropriate public health action needed.

Williams said the custodial staff is working diligently to clean and disinfect schools.

With that email was an attached news release from the DPH that noted that “COVID-19 is rapidly evolving and guidance is subject to change. The preparations currently underway in Georgia are based on the best scientific information we have from the CDC. DPH will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation, and work with state partners and health care communities to incorporate the most up to date guidance in our planning and preparation efforts. DPH will continue to update Georgians through our website https://dph.georgia.gov/novelcoronavirus, our Facebook page and our Twitter account. It is important to remember that the most accurate and timely information regarding this outbreak is available through DPH or the CDC’s website https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019- ncov/index.html.”

EMERGENCY DIRECTOR ADDRESSES COVID-19

Madison County’s Emergency Manager, EMS Director Bobby Smith, said Madison County continues to receive updates from DPH and the CDC on a regular basis about the novel coronavirus COVID-19 as it spreads in the United States.

Smith said that if one of the emergency medical services ambulances picked up a patient that later turned out to be positive for COVID-19, his team would follow the same precautions as it does with flu patients.

“If the patient can tolerate it, we put a mask on them when we arrive,” he said of a patient suspected of an infectious disease. “And, of course, we wear masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) before we begin to care for them.”

He said if a patient were to later test positive for COVID-19, all medical personnel involved in the patient’s care would be tested to get a baseline (and to ensure no one was already infected and unaware of it). He said those personnel would continue to be monitored for symptoms.

“Right now, following DPH guidelines, we are encouraging everyone to follow good hand hygiene, cover their coughs and if sick, especially with a fever to stay home and stay away from others,” Smith said.

He said in a true outbreak of COVID-19 he would be the person in charge of overseeing it, but he would immediately call on the multiple resources he has with not only DPH and the CDC, but also with Red Cross and with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA).

“We are fortunate to live in a rural area while also having tons of resources to reach out to,” he said.

In an email Smith received from GEMA Tuesday afternoon, officials said they expected that “you all will receive numerous inquiries on COVID-19 over the next couple of days. Please refer these persons to the DPH and CDC websites,” adding that the sites have information tailored to a variety of audiences, including schools and businesses.

The email also noted that there are two confirmed cases of the virus in Georgia at the time and the risk of transmission remained low.

Websites for DPH and CDC are: https://dph.georgia.gov/novelcoronavirus or https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html


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Equipment storage remains an issue for elections office

The votes are being cast while the boxes are stacked high in the elections office.

Early voting in the U.S. Presidential Preference Primaries is underway. And Madison County Board of Elections and Registration Chairperson Tracy Dean pleaded again with county commissioners this past week to provide more space for storing county elections equipment. She emailed commissioners about a lack of space, providing pictures of the crowded office space, then appearing before the board Monday, March 2 to seek help.

“I am sending you pictures of our new elections equipment,” wrote Dean to the BOC Feb. 28. “These pictures show only the equipment that is to be stored at our office. The other location (CID “criminal investigations division” building) is already full with 12 additional tabulator /scanners, stands and poll workers cases and other essential equipment necessary to run an election.”

Dean said she hadn’t heard back from board members after previous pleas.

“I have sent numerous emails (in which some of you ask that I keep you ‘informed’ as to what is happening) regarding my concerns with storage of this equipment,” wrote Dean. “However no one seems to have been interested in even acknowledging them. Just this week arrangements have been made for shelves in the one election room I do have and still not 100 percent sure the electrical capacity of the building is adequate to charge these machines up.”

Dean wrote to the board that she doesn’t feel they’ve done what they need to do to prepare for this year’s elections.

“It is the responsibility of the governing authority to provide a secure and climate controlled location for all voting equipment,” she wrote. “As you can see in the pictures this has not happened. This needs immediate attention as early voting starts Monday morning…and we must still continue to test equipment throughout early voting days the equipment that is deployed on Election Day, March 24.”

Commissioner Brian Kirk responded, saying he thought the issues were being addressed.

“Tracy, I fully support your efforts to properly store this equipment, the voting process and the citizens right to vote,” replied Kirk in an email. “However, we must work as a team and the finger pointing tone of this email with copy outside to the local paper does not in my opinion help to address the problem in a constructive way. I will follow up to better understand the issues, and help to get this resolved.”

Dean responded to Kirk, noting that “this has been an ongoing problem.”

“I have tried to communicate with all parties involved, no one has ever ask me how much space I would need,” wrote Dean. “I found out that equipment would be stored at the CID building by reading the local paper. I am not pointing the finger at anyone and have tried to keep the line of communication open and work as a team, but that is a two-way street. I have always been available to answer any questions and for you to stop by and see for yourself the situation.”

Dean appeared before county commissioners March 2 under “urgent matters.” She told the board that having two storage areas presents serious logistical complications. She said there was nothing that can be done before the March 24 election, but she asked the board to consider moving quickly to add on to the elections office before the May 19 primaries. She said due to storage issues, there are only six voting machines set up in the elections office instead of the planned eight.

Commissioner Derek Doster asked Dean how many voting machines could fit in the commissioners’ meeting room. She said perhaps 20.

No votes were taken after the discussion.


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Man suffers medical emergency, drives into Bread Basket in Comer

A long-time City of Comer employee suffered a medical emergency and drove his personal truck into the front of the Bread Basket in downtown Comer Saturday shortly after 9:20 a.m.

Jason Garrett, a volunteer fireman and utility worker for Comer, lost consciousness and drove his Dodge Ram truck into the Bread Basket, striking a man, who apparently suffered minor injuries.

Gary Hobbs of Carlton was in the store and pulled Garrett from the truck and began CPR.

“Everybody just jumped in quickly,” said Comer Mayor Jody Blackmon, who responded to the accident. “The mayor from Carlton, her husband (Hobbs) was here, and he started CPR immediately. There was a state trooper that was really close. He was here within a minute. And he started CPR and then within a matter of three or four minutes, we had full response. He was in a full code when we got here. First responders initiated CPR and used the AED (defibrillator) to revive him and got him in the truck.”

Blackmon said Tuesday, March 3 that Garrett is in a regular room at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center. He had a heart catherization Monday and three stints were put in. The mayor said Garrett is doing well. Blackmon said the quick response and the use of the defibrillator helped save Garrett’s life.

Debra Smith and Erin Threlkeld were working in the Bread Basket deli when the incident occurred. They said a woman and her three young grandchildren had just picked up a call-in order for biscuits. They were out of harm’s way prior to the crash.

“I was in the back and I heard a big crash and heard Debra holler, and I thought something had blown up,” said Threlkeld. “I walk around the corner and see the truck in here and my first thought was, ‘Where are the kids that were in the store?’ And then I knew there was a gentleman at the counter who I had just given a dollar to. And I was wondering where he was.”

Threlkeld said the man struck by the truck was “walking and talking.”

“He was bleeding some and sore,” she said. “I helped him a little.”

Smith said she was working at the grill when the truck came in the store. She said she was torn up to see Garrett in trouble. He is her friend.

“I thought somebody had thrown a bomb in here,” she said. “It was just a huge explosion. And everybody was screaming and I saw it was Jason Garrett and Jason is my buddy. We’re good buddies since I started here.”

Owner Sean Hussain said he would get the front of the store boarded up and hoped to be back in business within a few hours.


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More throw hats in ring on second day of qualifying

Qualifying for candidacy for Madison County offices continues through Friday at noon.

As of noon Thursday, those who qualified included:

•Board of Education District 3 (non partisan race): Cindy Nash

•Board of Education District 3 (non partisan race): Jeff Strickland

•Board of Education District 4 (non partisan race):Byron Lee

•Board of Education District 5 (non partisan race): Brenda Moon

•Board of Education District 5 (non partisan race): Cynthia Fortson

•Probate Court Judge (non partisan race): Cody Cross

•Board of Commissioners chairman: Rhonda Wooten, Republican

•Board of Commissioners chairman: Larry Cox, Republican

•Board of Commissioners chairman: Todd Higdon, Republican

•Board of Commissioners District 1: Stanley Thomas, Republican

•Board of Commissioners District 1: Dennis Adams, Republican

•Board of Commissioners District 2: Grant Gillespie, Republican

•Board of Commissioners District 2: Terry Chandler, Republican

•Board of Commissioners District 2: Larry Stewart, Republican

•Board of Commissioners District 2: Conolus Scott, Democrat

•Coroner: Julie Harrison, Republican

•Clerk of Superior Court: Katie Cross, Republican

•Clerk of Superior Court: Casey Russell Luke, Republican

•Sheriff: Michael Moore, Republican

•Tax commissioner: Lamar Dalton, Republican

STATE OFFICES

•House District 32: Alan Powell, Republican

•House District 32: Alisha Isom, Democrat

•House District 33: Bruce Azevedo, Republican

•House District 33: Rob Leverett, Republican

•House District 33: Tripp Strickland, Republican

•House District 33: Kerry Dornell Hamm, Democrat

•Senate District 47: Frank Ginn, Republican

•District Attorney Northern Judicial District: Parks White, Republican

US HOUSE

•House District 9: Devin Pandy, Democrat

•House District 9: Michael Boggus, Republican

•House District 9: Andrew Clyde, Republican

•House District 9: Matt Gurtler, Republican

•House District 9: Maria Strickland, Republican

•House District 9: Kevin Tanner, Republican

•House District 9: Ethan Underwood, Republican

US SENATE

•David Perdue, Republican

•James Knox, Democrat

•Teresa Pike Tomlinson, Republican

Qualifying for 2020 local elections will end at noon Friday, March 6. Primaries and non partisan elections will be held May 19. The general election will be Nov. 5.

All candidates who wish to qualify for all races will qualify at the Board of Elections and Registration Office, 94 Spring Lake Drive, Danielsville.

For information, contact Tracy Dean at the Board of Elections and Registration Office at 706-795-6335.

Qualifying fees are as follows: Sheriff, $1,943.28; Clerk of Superior Court, $1,591.05; Tax Commissioner, $1,591.05; Probate Judge, $1,591.05; Chairman, BOC, $1,943.28; BOC, District 1 and 2 Commissioners, $216; Board of Education, $94.62; and Coroner, $351.81.

EARLY VOTING BEGINS

Early voting for the March 24 presidential preference primary began Monday. It will be held through March 20 at the elections office at 94 Spring Lake Drive in Danielsville.


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BOC members talk passionately about '2nd Amendment Sanctuary' resolution

County commissioners are considering a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” county resolution.

If passed, the board would give the sheriff the authority to determine the Constitutionality of all gun laws and whether such laws should be enforced in Madison County. That resolution was considered Monday and will be back before the commissioners March 30.

Sheriff Michael Moore said he’s not ever going to enforce any law that requires him to go out and confiscate guns.

“If I got to come and take y’alls guns, I’m leaving the badge on the table,” said Moore. “I’m going home with my family.”

Planning and zoning board chairman Lamar Hughston spoke in favor of the resolution, saying that he has been gathering information about making Madison County a sanctuary county and then saw that the matter was on the BOC’s March 2 meeting agenda.

“It (the sanctuary movement) continues to grow as people start to clamp down on our Second Amendment rights that were guaranteed by the Constitution,” said Hughston. “…I ask that you seriously consider this.”

Polly Walls Penson, a retired police officer, also spoke in favor of the resolution.

“To take away our Second Amendment rights is something I’m totally against. I want our county to be in the red zone we have for the Second Amendment. We’re surrounded by counties that’s already passed this amendment. And we need to have Madison County as a Second Amendment county. The counties that’s not wanting to adopt this, they’re going to be saying hey, whenever it’s time and they’re in trouble, they’re going to be calling someone. They’re going to wish they had somebody to call to come and defend them. I’m defending my property and what I have with everything that I’ve got. And I will defend it.”

She referenced a church shooting in Texas to highlight the need to carry firearms in church.

“They’re in church to have a service and worship God; they’re not thinking they’re going to get shot and killed at that time,” said Penson. “We need to have it so the Second Amendment is for our county and for the people in this county.”

Chip Chandler of Carlton said he carries a firearm every day in the woods and supports the Second Amendment.

“But at some point, I don’t want gun owners to work against themselves,” he said. “I support your right to carry a pistol, but if everybody starts walking around with one in Kroger, it’s not really the best thing for gun owners to do, because it enflames people who are anti-gun.”

Chandler gave an anecdote about one gun that passed through a family and killed four people over several years.

“I want gun owners to step up and be responsible for guns,” said Chandler. “…I’m not sure this resolution is exactly what you want.”

Maggie Sjoberg of Ila said she is perplexed by the resolution.

“I’m not sure I understand what’s going on,” she said. “I’m not sure why this county thinks it needs this resolution. Do you think the federal government is coming for your guns? What exactly does the resolution say and explain to me why it’s necessary.”

County attorney Mike Pruett was asked to give an explanation of the resolution which is similar to others passed elsewhere and not a resolution drafted by Pruett.

“All I know is what I read in the resolution,” said Pruett. “I think it’s saying you would encourage the sheriff not to enforce any state laws that were passed regarding guns, firearms if he individually felt it conflicted with the Second Amendment.”

Pruett later added that the resolution delegates to the sheriff to “decide whether any law or future law violates the Constitution.”

“The structure of the Constitution says that’s a judicial function, not an executive function,” he said.

Pruett said a sheriff in Arizona got the idea of Second Amendment sanctuaries from the immigration sanctuary cities, where cities said they wouldn’t cooperate with the federal government in enforcing immigration laws.

“There have been four district court cases on that now,” said Pruett. “Three of them have said that the administration could not withhold funding. One last week said that Trump can withhold funding from those sanctuary cities. I assume the same dynamic would be in place if a county refused to cooperate with a state law. There would be the question, ‘Could a state withhold funding?’As a lawyer, I would say whatever the cause might be and what political stripe might agree with it, the structure of the Constitution might be more important than individual causes.”

Commissioner Derek Doster said the resolution presents a truly difficult personal dilemma.

“I probably have not been as conflicted in an idea in a long time,” said Doster. “I will die tonight defending my right, your right, my family’s right. It’s my core belief that the Second Amendment is there for a reason. But I also have an undying understanding that the notion of our rule of law can come or go with the whim of a particular person or a particular body. History has taught us, people have fought for those things and people have died for those rights. I honestly don’t know, because I support the notion of those Amendments, every one of them, but for me, to give credence to this act of defiance almost lends credence to the ones I don’t agree with, like the sanctuary cities. So, this goes to the core of my life. And I don’t know which way to make another comment.”

Commission chairman John Scarborough said he doesn’t think the resolution interferes with certain restrictions, such as convicted felons owning guns.

“I don’t think this supersedes that,” he said. “I could be wrong.”

Commissioner Tripp Strickland said he feels the resolution is simply a declaration of intent if the culture swings too wildly to the left.

“I just look at it as a statement of where we stand if it ever gets to that point,” said Strickland.

Commissioner Lee Allen said the state legislature has loosened gun restrictions each year.

“I don’t know a single person who doesn’t care about Second Amendment rights,” said Allen. “The First Amendment and Second Amendment in my opinion help us protect all the other ones.”

Allen cited court cases holding up the Second Amendment.

“It goes past the militia and into individual rights,” he said.

But Allen said he thinks fear is behind the movement.

“I believe fear has caused people to take action on things that maybe aren’t something to be fearful of,” he said. “Fear in my mind is totally useless…Fear is being used a little bit here…But beyond that, if District 1 wants it or they don’t want it, I’ll be voting that direction. So in the next 28 days, I’ll be talking to people and I know these guys up here will be doing the same thing and make sure we get the will of the people…As of right now, I’ve had two people call me in support and 14 call or email me against it.”

Strickland mentioned gun legislation in Virginia.

“Everybody is attuned to what’s going on in Virginia right now,” he said. “Look at what they’re trying to do there and remember we were not just a breath away from a Governor that espoused the same rhetoric.”

Allen responded to Strickland.

“Do you know what the Virginia laws are?” Allen asked Strickland. “You kind of need to know them to know what the background was.”

Allen said the Virginia legislation included a “red-flag law” for anyone who would be a burden to themselves or dangerous to themselves or others.

“The courts would decided that as usual,” said Allen. “Another one was, public places such as government complexes and parks, they would have their right to say individually, I don’t want guns on our park. We don’t want guns on our government complex. And the other one was, you couldn’t buy more than one pistol a month. So you could only have 12 pistols a year. I’ve got some collector buddies who don’t buy 12 guns a year.”

Allen said fear overshadows knowledge on the subject.

“If you don’t know what the laws are, you shouldn’t really say that you’re scared of them and think it’s going to go a certain way,” he said. “You need to know what people are passing. And that’s what was going on in Virginia. Georgia is not that type of place right now.”

“Yet,” said Strickland.

“It could, but this is a fear thing,” said Allen. “What are you afraid of?”

Strickland responded that there are “one million more people inside the loop of 285 than there are in the entire state of South Carolina.”

Allen said the resolution “will not stop anyone from coming here and living in this state.”

“It will not stop people from moving in to Madison County,” he added.

Kirk said “you never know when the right situation occurs and somebody does propose laws.”

“As Tripp states, sometimes the difference in how things are looked at inside the 285 loop is quite different than how folks look at it in Madison County,” said Kirk. “I’m a defender of Second Amendment rights. In looking at what’s written here, it is sort of a ‘what if?’ Now, whether or not it’s needed at this point. It’s probably not needed right now today. But in the future, it might be something we would want.”

Strickland said people contend “militia” wasn’t what the founders meant in the Second Amendment.

“Bullcrap, that’s what they meant,” he said. “They just came out from under oppression. They just had their houses taken, their land burned, their cattle absconded. Yeah, they meant it. They meant that you should be able to take up arms anytime a tyrant comes against your country. And it can happen in the blink of an eye. Look at Hitler. Did those people see that coming? He started doing little things. That’s not fear-mongering. That’s the dadgum truth. That’s history.”

“Hitler is true; I will agree with you on that, Tripp,” said Allen. “Hitler was real. I’m not a Hitler denier.”

“You’re not a Republican either,” responded Strickland.

“I’m not. I’m not a Republican,” said Allen. “I left the Republican Party. Everybody needs to know that.”

Kirk said the Second Amendment was put in place so that rule of America by a foreign leader “never happens again, because the people will be armed.”

The debate over guns took place on Monday as Steve Waller of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office stood with his firearm, listening to the heated talk through a speaker at the government complex entrance, where he required visitors without a government badge to go through a metal detector to make sure they weren’t armed with a gun as they headed to the meeting.

WHAT THE RESOLUTION SAYS:

Here are some key stipulations under consideration:

•“Whereas, U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that the federal government cannot compel state law enforcement officers to enforce federal laws. (Prinz vs. United States 1997).”

•“Whereas all federal acts, laws, orders, rules or regulations regarding firearms, firearms accessories and ammunition are a violation of the Second Amendment…”

•“It is the desire of the Madison County Board of Commissioners to declare its support of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and to the provisions of the Constitution of the State of Georgia that protects Madison County citizens’ individual inalienable rights to keep and bear arms.”

•“Be it further resolved that the Madison County Board of Commissioners affirms its support for the Madison County Sheriff in the exercise of his sound discretion to not enforce against any citizen an unconstitutional firearms law.”

•“Be it further resolved that no agent, employee or official of Madison County or any corporation providing services to Madison County, shall provide material support or participate in any way with the implementation of federal acts, orders, rules, laws or regulations in violation of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

•“Be it further resolved that the Madison County Board of Commissioners will 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.”

OTHER BUSINESS

Kirk said Tim Seymour withdrew his name from consideration for a nomination to the planning commission. Kirk added that he is seeking recommendations on who in District 4 should serve on the zoning board. Chandler spoke on the matter and said he doesn’t think a developer should serve on the planning commission, since it would be difficult for a developer to be impartial on matters involving other developers. Kirk said he has an interest in having someone who understands the ins and outs of residential construction. “I see where Chip is coming from as far as making sure that person can deal with it and not be biased, but I think we need someone with some experience with that,” said Kirk.

Andrew Lane’s requested rezoning of 34.48 acres on Collins Dudley Road from A-2 to A-1 for poultry houses was postponed, because neighboring property owners were not presented with a timely notification of the proposal. The matter will go back to the zoning board.

Scarborough said Planter Gunnell Road is back in service after being damaged by recent rains. He said the road department is working between rain events to repair numerous roads as quickly as possible.