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December 29--  The Vidalia City Council held a called meeting Thursday morning and agreed to return liquor and business licenses to American Legion Post 313 on McIntosh Street in Vidalia.

The Post lost its licensees after a fatal shooting occurred in a parking lot behind the Post home early Thanksgiving morning.  The building had been rented to a party disc jockey the night 19-year-old Trey Hunter was killed in a shooting involving Vidalia police.  Officers had been called to the scene due to a disturbance in the parking lot and investigators believe the Hunter had been at the party prior to the shooting.

Post Commander Lorenzo Folson provided the council written policy on how the club will operate in the future.  He assured the council it will only be used by members and their guests and will operate in accordance with local and state law.

December 27-- Seven Practical Nursing students from Southeastern Technical College’s Vidalia campus graduated this month. To celebrate the graduating class, special pinning ceremonies were held in Tattnall Auditorium. The Practical Nursing program is taught by Jennifer Corner, Brooke Hinson, Vicki Renfroe and Donna Jean Braddy.


Left to right are Donna Jean Braddy (instructor), Vicki Renfroe (instructor), Andrea Talamantez, Margery Prince, Megan Waters, Pam Bell, Tiesha Johnson, Gina Holmes, Kayla Lane, Brooke Hinson (instructor), Jennifer Corner (instructor)

The students of Southeastern Technical College’s 2011 Surgical Technology class graduated this month.

The class of five received their pins from Deborah Smith, director of the Surgical Tech program, and Lisa Spell, clinical coordinator for the program. Their guest speaker was Kevin Westberry, a certified surgical technician at Coffee Regional Medical Center in Douglas, who told the new technicians to “always remember [their] surgical conscience” and treat their patients as if they were family members.


Left to right are Lisa Spell, CST (Clinical Coordinator), Amber Williams, Angela Jenkins, Serena Dixon, Candace Sikes, Deborah Smith, RN, CNOR (Director/Instructor)



December 26--  Sales tax collections in Vidalia are running behind last year and that's got city officials hoping for an economic turnaround in 2012.  The lag is also an indicator that people are spending less in local stores.

City Clerk Bill Bedingfield reports sales tax collections through November are down almost two percent.

"When you're down you've really got to watch your expenses and that's all there is to it.  When we factor the revenues for 2012, we take that we are down into account and we don't budget a higher number for local option sales tax so we have to do what we can on the expense side to make it balance.  This is probably one of the tightest budget we've ever had with only an $11,000 contingency," he says.

So far this year, the city has collected just over $1.7 million in local option sales taxes.

"We're hoping that the Christmas season will be good and give us a year-end boost in collections.  We're excited about that and that 2012 will exceed the amount we have budgeted.  That's certainly something we're hoping for," he notes.

December 26-- The U.S. Department of Justice has approved the congressional and legislative maps passed into law this summer by the state of Georgia, the state’s elected leaders learned today. Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Georgia must receive approval from the federal government before any changes in election practices or procedures are implemented.

“The state of Georgia put forth a tremendous team effort. The maps offer rational district lines, equitable representation and meet the strict standards of the Voting Rights Act,” Gov. Nathan Deal said. “The Justice Department's decision demonstrates that our state’s districts serve our diverse population well. The Legislature conducted an open and fair process that allowed input from all parts of the state, and the final product reflects legislators’ hard work and diligence. Special thanks also goes to Attorney General Sam Olens, who shepherded the maps through the preclearance process.”

“I am pleased that the U.S. Department of Justice affirmed that Georgia’s new legislative and congressional plans meet the legal requirements of the Voting Rights Act,” said Attorney General Sam Olens. “The responsible approach taken by the General Assembly during the redistricting process resulted in carefully drawn maps, which ensure that Georgia’s growing population will be fairly represented. In fact, this redistricting cycle marks the first time since the Voting Rights Act became law that all of Georgia’s plans have been approved on the first review. I applaud the excellent work of Gov. Deal,  Lt. Gov. Casey, Speaker Ralston and the General Assembly, and outside counsel Strickland Brockington Lewis throughout the process to ensure a positive outcome for the citizens of Georgia.”

“From the beginning of this process, all of us have been committed to ensuring that Georgia’s legislative and congressional maps are fair and meet all legal requirements, including compliance with the Voting Rights Act,” Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said. “Today’s decision by the Department of Justice is a validation of our commitment to those principles. I appreciate the diligent work of the Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee as well as the entire Senate that resulted in this important approval.”

“Today’s announcement by the U.S. Justice Department is welcome news and validates what we have been saying all along -- that these maps are fair, sensible and fully comply with the Voting Rights Act. I appreciate House Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee Chairman Roger Lane, the members of his committee and the staff for their efforts that allowed us to successfully reach this point.”

Today's approval by the Democratically controlled Justice Department marks the first time in Georgia's history that the federal government has approved all three statewide redistricting plans on the first review. The federal approval means that the new districts will be used in the 2012 elections.



December 23-- The House of Representatives has passed the final appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2012.  In conjunction with the vote, Rep. Jack Kingston (GA-01) and Rep. John Barrow (GA-12) announced that the legislation includes $588,000 in construction funding for the Army Corps of Engineers to advance the deepening of the Savannah Harbor.

“Although it is a relatively small amount of initial funding, the key is these are construction dollars, not planning or study funds,” said Kingston.  “Supporting that shift from the planning to the implementation stage is critical to keeping the project on schedule and ready to start when it gets the final green light.”

“We’ve got to get the Savannah Port deepened,” said Barrow. “Deepening this port has been one of my top priorities because it’s vital for long term job growth in Georgia. I’m happy to see any additional funding for this project, and I’ll continue to work with Jack and every member of Georgia’s delegation to see that we complete this project.”

The interagency Record of Decision, which formally approves and, in effect, commences the construction phase of the project, is expected to be completed mid-2012.  Having Federal funds ready, along with existing State funds, will put the port in the best position to begin work quickly.  This funding also helps pave the way for the President to request the full construction funding requirement for FY 2013.

“The entire Georgia Congressional delegation, along with the Governor, has asked the Administration to include the next, much larger allotment we need when they submit their 2013 budget in February.” said Kingston “Working together, we can be sure this port is ready and competitive in the new jumbo ship Panamax world.”

December 23--  It's down to the holiday homestretch at the Salvation Army in Vidalia this year and Director Sandy Roberts is overcome with gratitude.  Their food pantry is full and there seems to be enough toys to go around.{mosimage}

"It's awesome. Our pantry is running over.  The food drive Rotary did for us is awesome.  With the economy like it is, we were worried.  We had twice the number of people signed up, but this community has really rallied.  People have been donating and have been great helping people less fortunate, I really want to thank everybody." she says.

Charles Gillis helped organize the Rotary Club food drive which distributed thousands of empty grocery bags to readers of the Advance newspaper.  "We are so pleased with how that has turned out.  We actually have more to take down there today.  It's not just a one-week deal. It can go on throughout the year because they really need it.  We're thankful to everyone who contributed," he said.

December 22--  A Toombs County grand jury met in December and returned 31 indictments.

Nine people were indicted on drug-related charges including Markevis Corbett, Benjamin Winge, Derrick Wideman, Ravon Jackson, Michael Burkett, Marion Williford, Brandi Anderson, Christine Welk and Calvin Matthews.

Indicted for aggravated assault are Darius Wideman and Donald Gutherie while nine people were indicted for theft by taking.  They are Tony Googe, Aaron and Christopher Greenwood, Roger Griffin, Lisa Thompson, Blake Holland, Katheryn Wilkes, Neal Morris, and Ryan Gordy.  Burglary indictments were returned against James Wilds and Jerry Sturgis.

Seven people indicted for shoplifting are Nathaniel Graham, Bernice Joiner, Carl McKinney, Nathaniel Graham, Christopher Robinson and John and Nita Warren.

Indicted for fraud are Christine Welk and Daniel Braddock with Nathalie Medlock charged with forgery.

Two men indicted for vandalizing the Cedar Crossing Baptist Church are James Lowery, Jr. and Levi Mulling.

Joey Cook was indicted for battery and obstructing and officer while Crystal Polke was charged with harboring a drug dealer.

Five people are indicted for sex-related charges.  Eric Kelley, Richard Shipman, Jr., Anthony Toby and Chance Mayner were indicted for sexual battery while Rodney Byrd was indicted for failing to register as a sex offender.

The grand jury also reappointed Carolyn Robinson to the Board of Equalization and Hermon Bo Meeks as an alternate member. 

December 21--  The Vidalia city council is giving American Legion Post 313 a week to shape up in order to regain its business and liquor licenses.

The city revoked the post's licenses seven days after a teenager was killed in a shooting involving Vidalia police in a parking lot behind the post home on McIntosh Street early Thanksgiving morning.{mosimage}

At an appeal hearing before the council Wednesday, Police Chief Frank Waits said 19-year-old Trey Hunter had been inside the post prior to the shooting.  Post Commander Lorenzo Folson said the Post had rented the facility to a party deejay but retained control of the bar area.  He said patrons under age 21 were not supposed to be in the facility and claimed some used fake ID's to enter.

Chief Waits told the council police have responded to 16 disorderly conduct calls at the Post in the last year and that two involved guns.  He also said the parking lot behind the post became a gathering place for intoxicated customers after they left the building and that many of them left there and caused problems at Flash Foods on the corner of North and McIntosh Streets.

Folson told the council the Post had rented the building for parties to raise revenue.  Councilman Eddie Tyson suggested a change in policy, "If it's going to be American Legion Post 313, it needs to be for members and their guests only."

Folson concurred and said, "Only American Legion and their guests will be allowed in that post and we will operate under the American Legion concept.  We don't need all that other stuff with them young jitterbugs coming in and tearing us down.  We're going to be American Legion only and if they give me my license back, we're going to be alright."

The post commander was asked to put the post polices in writing and submit them to the city for review.  The council is expected to vote on returning the licenses at a called meeting Thursday, December 29 at 10:30 a.m.

In another action, the council extended the deadline for paying city property taxes to January 30, 2012. 

December 21--  Earlier we reported on area counties which have achieved "Work Ready" status under a state-sponsored economic development program.  Information below shows how many people took Work Ready tests in each county and the graduation rates of the school systems.  Counties which met or exceeded state standards in each area earned the "Work Ready" status and have a better chance of attracting new businesses and industries to their counties.

"The Governor’s Office of Workforce Development today announced 19 new Certified Work Ready Communities; a designation communicating a county has the skilled workforce needed to meet business demands and drive economic growth, as well as the educational foundation to build a pipeline of workers to create ongoing success.

“I would like to congratulate these communities on reaching their goals and becoming Certified Work Ready,” said Executive Director Tricia Pridemore. “The Work Ready Georgia program is currently undergoing some exciting and positive changes and we are encouraged to see many counties in the state making high school graduation rate a priority.”

The new Certified Work Ready Communities are Bryan, Dade, Evans, Fannin, Gwinnett, Henry, Lee, Marion, Murray, Montgomery, Pierce, Stewart, Tattnall, Toombs, Treutlen, Webster, Wheeler, White, and Wilcox.  These counties completed their Work Ready Certificate goals and successfully met at least the required minimum increase in their county’s public high school graduation rate.

The new Certified Work Ready Communities achieved the following:        

Bryan- 572 Work Ready Certificates earned (207% of goal); increased public high school graduation rate by 5% in the past year

Dade- 610 Work Ready Certificates earned (246% of goal); increased public high school graduation rate by 2% in the past year

Evans- 377 Work Ready Certificates earned (158% of goal); increased public high school graduation rate by 8.5% in the past year

Fannin- 534 Work Ready Certificates earned (223% of goal); increased public high school graduation rate to 82.5%

Gwinnett- 9343 Work Ready Certificates earned (340% of goal); achieved a high school graduation rate of 83.85%

Henry- 2164 Work Ready Certificates earned (175% of goal); increased public high school graduation rate by 12% in the past year

Lee- 1674 Work Ready Certificates earned (572% of goal); achieved a high school graduation rate of 82.76%

Marion- 416 Work Ready Certificates earned (347% of goal); increased public high school graduation rate by 19% in the past year

Montgomery- 320 Work Ready Certificates earned (224% of goal); increased public high school graduation rate by 5% in the past year

Murray -1398 certificates (283% of goal); increased public high school graduation rate by 4% in the past year

Pierce- 844 Work Ready Certificates earned (383% of goal); achieved a high school graduation rate of 86.43%

Stewart- 131 Work Ready Certificates earned (153% of goal); increased public high school graduation rate by 10% in the past year

Tattnall- 426 Work Ready Certificates earned (149% of goal); increased public high school graduation rate by 5% in the past year

Toombs- 1373 Work Ready Certificates earned (292% of goal); increased public high school graduation rate by 3.5% in the past year

Treutlen- 447 Work Ready Certificates earned (406% of goal); increased public high school graduation rate by 11% in the past year

Webster- 87 Work Ready Certificates earned (233% of goal); achieved public high school graduation rate above 80% both years since opening

Wheeler- 453 Work Ready Certificates earned (420% of goal); increased public high school graduation rate by 10% in the past year

White- 705 Work Ready Certificates earned (254% of goal); achieved a public high school graduation rate of 90.7%

Wilcox- 396 Work Ready Certificates earned (297% of goal); achieved a public high school graduation rate of 81.13%

To continue their work, each county will receive a $7,000 grant. Their Work Ready Community teams will also receive a two-year membership to their local chamber of commerce. Counties that are certified receive road signs and a seal denoting the year they achieved certification.



December 21--  As 2011 draws to a close, it's also the end of the presidency of Dr. John Black at East Georgia College in Swainsboro.  He assumed the job in the Fall of 2004.

"I'm most proud of the faculty and staff that make East Georgia College what it is and certainly the students who come to us in ever-increasing numbers every year.  Our enrollment has grown each year, our Swainsboro campus has added athletics, student housing and a four-year opportunity for students.  Also, our Statesboro instructional site has the most dedicated people there to help students make the transition from high school to college.  I'm proud of the folks as much as anything," Dr. Black observes.{mosimage}

With the additon of a four-year degree program in Biology, Dr. Black is hopeful the college will help develop much needed science teachers for schools in Georgia.

"We're going to try and grow our own by identifying students with a science bent early in their school years and encourage them.  Perhaps some school districts will try to do some scholarships so when their students come to East Georgia their education will be paid for if they return to their home schools to teach science," he says.

Meanwhile, Dr. Black's successor is already on campus.  The University System of Georgia has named Robert Boehmer, the associate Provost for Academic Planning at the University of Georgia, as interim president starting January 1.

"I think he brings all of the tools to the job and I fully expect he will be the new president of East Georgia College within six to eight months.  He's going to move us to the next level," Dr. Black predicts.

Dr. Black and his wife plan to retire in Augusta where he started his career in education at Augusta College in 1967.


December 20-- Gov. Nathan Deal today appointed Michael Boggs to the Court of Appeals of Georgia. Boggs fills the vacancy created by the resignation of the Honorable J.D. Smith.

Boggs is a Superior Court judge within the Waycross Judicial Circuit. He served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2001-04. Boggs serves as a member of the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform, the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission, the Judicial Council of Georgia Standing Committee on Accountability Courts, and is the founding director of the Waycross Judicial Circuit Drug Court Program. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Georgia Southern College and law degree from Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law. He and his wife, Heather, reside in Blackshear.

December 20-- Gov. Nathan Deal has received the state investigators’ report on the 2009 administration of the CRCT in the Dougherty County School System. Find the report here.

“There is nothing more important to the future of our state than ensuring that today’s students receive a first-class education,” said Deal. “The findings out of Dougherty County are alarming as they paint a tragic picture of children passed through with no real or fair assessment of their abilities. To cheat a child out of his or her ability to truly excel in the classroom shames the district and the state. We’ll now send the results to the Professional Standards Committee and to the Dougherty County district attorney’s office. It is my hope that brighter days are ahead for the children affected by this unfortunate situation.”  

December 19--  The Toombs County Commission is proceeding with plans to negotiate how sales tax revenue in the future will be divided amonst the county and its three municipalities.

At its December meeting the commissioners approved a resolution to begin the negotiations with Vidalia, Lyons and Santa Claus and talks are now expected to start in January.  If the talks fail, the matter could be decided by a Superior Court judge.  The current agreement expires at the end of 2012 and allocates 41.5% of sales tax revenue each to Toombs County and Vidalia, 16% to Lyons and 1% to Santa Claus.  Any entity which loses share may have to make up the difference by increasing property taxes or reducing expenses.

The new year is an election year for many local officials and the commission set the qualifying fees for candidates as follows:

C/Y 2012 Qualifying Fees *Base Salary Qualifying Fee  Districts
Sheriff                             59,328.83    $1,780
Tax Commissioner            49,721.70    $1,492
Clerk                               49,721.70    $1,492
Probate                           49,721.70     $1,492
Chair, Bd of Comm           18,000.00     $540
Commissioner                    6,000.00     $180                2&3
Coroner                             3,600.00     $108
Bd of Ed Member                2,400.00     $722                4&6
State Court Judge             36,050.00     $1,082
State Court Solicitor          30,900.00     $927

In other actions at its last meeting of the year, Toombs Commissioners:

* Approved a $200,000 economic development loan to Truax Veneer to buy new equipment.

*Approved year-end bonuses totaling $29,000 for the county's 164 fulltime employees.

*Approved the 2012 operating budget of $9 million which Chairman Buddy West notes is two percent less than this year.

*Approved annexing 443 acres of land on the Ezra Taylor Road to Vidalia.

*Transferred $480,000 from the county contingency fund to cover year-end operations

*Named Commissioner Jeff McCormick as Vice-Chairman and reappointed George Powell, Carl Sharp and Sonny Odom to the county Board of Assessors.

December 16-- Gov. Nathan Deal today appointed Jon F. Helton to the Superior Court judgeship within the Dublin Judicial Circuit and Charles E. Auslander III to the State Court judgeship in Clarke County. Helton fills the vacancy created by the resignation of the Honorable J. Stanley Smith and takes effect upon swearing in. The Dublin Judicial Circuit includes Johnson, Laurens, Treutlen and Twiggs counties. Auslander fills the vacancy created by the resignation of the Honorable Kent Lawrence and takes effect upon swearing in.

Helton is a partner at Hilbun & Helton P.C. in Dublin. He is the attorney for the Wilkinson County Commission, judge pro tem of the Juvenile Court of the Dublin Judicial Circuit and judge of the City of McIntyre Municipal Court. Helton previously served as assistant district attorney of the Dublin Judicial Circuit, solicitor of the Juvenile Court of the Dublin Judicial Circuit and judge of the City of Irwinton Municipal Court. Helton earned his bachelor’s degree from Auburn University and law degree from John Marshall Law School. He and his wife, Jennifer, have two children. They reside in Dublin.


December 15--  The Georgia Department of Education has selected the Vidalia City School System to participate in the state's "Race To The Top," a $400 million effort to improve public schools.

Vidalia is one of five systems in the state to be selected, according to Associate State School Superintendent Clara Keith.  

"One of the things we know about Vidalia City schools is that they are committed to constantly looking at how they deploy their resources whether they be financial or human resources.  I think Dr. Smith is always looking at ways to improve and he likes to use data to determine how they can improve and this will be an important process," Keith says.

A Massachusetts' based company, Education Resource Strategies, will conduct the evaluation over a two-year period and give Vidalia school system leaders an objective look at the system.

"We already think we have a great school system, but we also know there may be holes in our curriculum or our resource allocation and this provides us an opportunity to look at things we're not seeing," says Vidalia Assistant School Superintendent Lucy Claroni.  

"You know when you write a paper and you can't really see your own mistakes, you give it to someone else to edit and they can find your errors, so that's kind of what we're doing at this point," Claroni notes.

In other news from this week's Vidalia school board meeting, Claroni informed the board the system is applying for a $1.2 million dollar literacy grant and will find out in February if it is approved.

Meanwhile, the school board's construction committee is proceeding with selection of a project manager to oversee renovation of J.D. Dickerson Primary School and some new construction at J.R. Trippe Middle School.  Four firms are in the final running including Harry Moses Construction and McDonald Construction, both of Vidalia, along with firms from Macon and Dublin.  A meeting with the firms is set for December 29th to make a final selection.

December 14--  Georgia Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams of Lyons joined Governor Nathan Deal and other state Republicans Tuesday in endorsing Newt Gingrich for President.

“We wanted to throw our support behind the only candidate we see qualified to take on Barack Obama and turn this nation around,” said Senator Williams, “Hands down, that person is Newt Gingrich.”

A news conference announcing the endorsement was held in Atlanta.

December 14--  Northland cable viewers in Vidalia should know by the end of the year if the cable system will continue to offer programming from Savannah television stations.

Vidalia city manager Bill Torrance told the December city council meeting the cable company is in negotiations with the stations.  He says the stations want more money from the cable operator and if talks break down Vidalia viewers could lose access on short notice. The current agreement expires December 31.

The council approved annexation of 442 acres on the Ezra Taylor Road and of just over three acres on the Bob Sharp Road into the city.  

City employees are receiving year-end bonuses ranging from $250 to $500 per worker.  The cost is $39,518 and leaves the city with a year-end operating balance of about $200,000.

The council was informed of steps the city is taking to lessen the impact of the county decision to cease paying the cost of streetlights along a section of Highway 280 between Mosley Street and the Sonic Drive-In.  

In other actions, Leander Tufts was appointed to the Vidalia Planning Commission to succeed the late Henry Williams.  Others reappointed include Brent Sammons and Ronnie Green to the Development Authority of Vidalia, Tom Peterson to the Revolving Loan Committee, Chess Fountain to the Vidalia Development Authority, and Freddie Thompson, Karen Hilton and Johnny Whited to the Vidalia Recreation Board. 

December 14--  A former Vidalia Police Lieutenant has been arrested by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Agent Todd Lowery reports Tony Phillips of Montgomery County was arrested for sodomy with a female juvenile.  He was arrested in Treutlen County Tuesday by Treutlen Sheriff Tommy Corbin and booked in the county jail.

Lowery says the charges are the result of an investigation by GBI Agent Jerry Jones. The case is being referred to Oconee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tim Vaughn who will decide if there is sufficient evidence to prosecute, according to Lowery. 


December 14--  A 63-year-old Vidalia man was injured in bicycle-truck collision in Vidalia Tuesday.

Police say the collision happened at the corner of Morris and North Streets and injured John Davis of 518 First Avenue who complained of leg and shoulder pain.  

The driver of the truck, John Hadden of Vidalia, was taken to the Toombs County Detention Center and issued a citation for driving under the influence of drugs pending results of a blood test.  According to the arresting officer, Hadden told him he takes medications "that slow him down."

December 13--  The Salvation Army in Vidalia is appealing for help.  Director Sandy Roberts says they need toys for Christmas.

"Salvation Army Vidalia Service Center is serving over 600 people this Christmas.  We still need gently used or new toys for children ages 1-12 for both boys and girls.  We need these toy donations delivered to 204 Jackson Street before Dec. 21st.  Pick up in front available if you call ahead (538-8203).  Please bring us end of year donations for your 2011 tax write-offs.  Your donations enable us to assist needy clients all year long!

Salvation Army donations stay LOCAL to help Toombs, Montgomery, and Wheeler Counties!"



December 12--  Five area counties are among 18 in the state which have been added to the state's list of Work Ready Communities.  The announcement was made Monday by the Governor's Office of Workforce Development and includes:

Bryan                          Pierce

Dade                           Stewart

Evans                          Tattnall

Fannin                         Toombs

Gwinnett                      Treutlen

Henry                          Webster

Lee                              Wheeler

Marion                         White

Montgomery               Wilcox

The designation is one factor regarding the availability of qualified workers which companies consider when they consider locating to a new community.  


December 12--  A project in Central America has big economic implications for South Georgia.  Work is currently underway to make the Panama Canal accessible to super large ships and when that work is completed, the Port of Savannah wants to be ready to accomodate the vessels around the clock.

Leo Beckmann with the Georgia Ports Authority told Vidalia Kiwanians its vital to deepen Savannah harbor.  "Those ships want to come here.  They're already coming to the East Coast and calling on all the ports.  When we can accomodate them at all tides, they will be able to achieve maximum efficiency. They're coming in light now because the economy is a slow right now, but when the economy picks up they're going to want to come in as heavy as possible," Beckman says.

Beckman hopes all the federal and state red tape can be finished in early 2012 so work on the harbor project can get started and be completed by 2016.

December 9--  Local law enforcement officials think they've solved a number of auto breakins with the arrest of four people.

The four are facing charges in both Toombs County and in Vidalia, according to Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight.  The sheriff says he thinks they were stealing items from vehicles to support their drug habits.  Many of the breakins occurred in the Dixon Lake and Rocky Creek areas of the county and in Vidalia.

The arrests were made Thursday at 303 Kenworth Drive in Vidalia.  Sheriff Kight says those arrested are all in their 20's and are Olivia Braddy and Dustin Hedden, both of 303 Kenworth, Aaron Mullinax of North Washington Street in Lyons and Kelsey Lynn of Jungle Road in Vidalia.

Authorities say many of the stolen items have been recovered. 

December 9-- The State of Georgia’s net tax collections for the month of November totaled $1.35 billion, an increase of $88 million or 7 percent compared to November 2010. Through five months of FY2012, net revenue collections totaled $6.7 billion year-to-date, an increase of $427.5 million or 6.8 percent compared to YTD November FY2011.

The following changes within the various tax categories led to the overall net revenue increase in November:

 Individual Income Tax: Individual Income Tax collections for November totaled $679 million, up from $662 million in November 2010, for an increase of $17 million or 2.6 percent.

The following notable components within Individual Income Tax account for the increase:

•      Individual Income Tax Return payments increased $3.5 million or 32.2 percent

•      Individual Income Tax refunds issued (net of voided checks) were down $(26.5) million or -44.7 percent
•      Individual Withholding payments were down $(2) million or -0.2 percent
•      Individual Tax Assessments were also down $(11) million or -88.1 percent

Sales and Use Tax: Net Sales and Use Tax collections for November totaled $451 million, up from $393 million in November 2010, for an increase of $58 million or 14.8 percent. The monthly Sales Tax Distribution to local governments totaled $346.5 million, which was an increase of $8.5 million or 2.5 percent over last year.

Corporate Income Tax: Corporate Income Tax collections for November rose by $4.1 million or 65 percent, up from $6.4 million in November 2010. 

The following notable components within Corporate Income Tax make up the increase:

•      Corporate Tax refunds issued (net of voided checks) were down $(12.7) million or -74.0 percent

•      Corporate Estimated Tax payments were down $(4) million or -27.5 percent

•      All other Corporate Tax categories combined for a decrease of $(4.6) million or -51.1 percent

December 8--  A decision should be made within the next few weeks on the hiring of a new police chief in Lyons.

Mayor Pro Tem Ben Mitchell reported at this week's city council meeting that more than 50 applications have been received from both inside and outside of Georgia.  

Former Chief Jack Caves has been running the Lyons PD since the drug arrest of Chief Ricky Newsome in September.

December 8--  The GBI is unsure why a Wheeler County man killed a co-worker and then killed himself according to GBI Ageny Todd Lowery.

Forty-nine-year old Terry Hall was fatally shot when he arrived at work Tuesday morning at a trucking business about six miles southwest of Alamo.  The shooter, 32-year-old Elliott White, also fired at, but missed a woman who drove Hall to work.  

She alerted authorities who arrived to find White dead in a nearby wooded area.  Lowery says White died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Still Waiting on Ballistics Results in Vidalia Case

Meanwhile, Agent Lowery says the GBI is still awaiting results of ballistics testing in the Thanksgiving shooting which killed a 19-year-old Vidalia man. 

The GBI believes a Vidalia police officer was fired on by Trey Hunter and returned fire which hit the teenager in the head.

Lowery says it could  be a while before he gets results back from the state crime lab.

December 7--  Rita Curl is in her 18th year of teaching and Monday night was named the Montgomery County school system's teacher of the year for the third time.

She's an English teacher at Montgomery County High School and through the years has seen many changes.

"The world has changed for our students.  Their homelife is far different from what it was even ten years ago.  The biggest challenge is to make learning relevant to the student because some of them have issues which are more vital than whether they pass a test. We need to be aware of that and try to connect subject matter to real life as much as we can and be sensitive to the fact that our students' needs may not always be academic," she says.

Mrs. Curl was the high school's STAR teacher last year and puts in a plug for students in her school.  "I know we have some of the best students around and we still have parents who care and who expect their students to do well.  We still have our good core, but whenever that balance shifts, schools are going to be more like they are now in cities, I'm afraid," she observes.


Other teachers of the year in individual schools this year are Kathy Moring from Montgomery Middle School and Donna Brice from Montgomery Elementary School. Shown left to right at the school board meeting presentation ceremony are MCHS Principal Dr. Henry Walding, Rita Curl, Kathy Moring, MCMS Principal Dr. Tosha Middlebrook, MCES Principal Brittany Deen, Donna Brice and School Superintendent Randy Rodgers.

December 6--  Smoking in bed led to a fire early Saturday in Lyons which killed two people, according to Lyons Fire Chief Daryl Corley.

The chief says the fire started in the bed of 84-year-old Charley Johnson.  His wife, 75-year-old Annie Pearl Johnson, died of smoke inhalation in another bedroom, according to Corley.

The wood frame house is located at 145 South 11th Street not far from the Lyons Fire Station.  Corley says the call came in at 7;14 a.m.  "The room that the man was in was fully engulfed when we got there.  We extinguished the fire and put it out.  The rest of the house had extensive heat and smoke damage, it was an awful thing," he said.

Three other people who were in the house escaped the fire.  Fireman found the body of the couple's dog in the bed next to Mrs. Johnson who had just come home from the hospital the night before.  Corley said the Chihuahua died of smoke inhalation, too.


December 6-- WAYNE EVANS, 31, a resident of New York, was sentenced yesterday by Senior Judge B. Avant Edenfield to 380 months in prison for his role in the burglary of Kemp’s Pharmacy, a Federal Firearms dealer in Claxton, Georgia, and the resulting theft and trafficking of 28 firearms stolen from Kemp’s.

        United States Attorney Edward J. Tarver stated, “The theft of firearms from the lawful marketplace, and their trafficking to the unlawful marketplace, exponentially raises the risk of violence to law enforcement and to everyday citizens.  As this case makes clear, violent repeat offenders who come to Georgia as their source for illegal guns can expect to serve decades in federal prison.”

        EVANS was convicted after a two-day jury trial in July 2011 on several charges relating to the theft of 28 firearms from Kemp’s Pharmacy and the trafficking of the guns to other states along the Eastern Seaboard.  The evidence at trial showed that in June of 2010, EVANS, codefendant  Jordy Noval Melvin, and a juvenile male smashed the glass front doors of Kemp’s Pharmacy in Claxton, Georgia.  Before Claxton Police responded, the defendants were able to take 28 firearms from Kemp’s display cases and depart the area.  EVANS took the bulk of the firearms to New York for resale.  The evidence showed that one firearm was recovered on the night of the burglary in an alley behind Kemp’s Pharmacy, and one firearm was recovered when the juvenile coconspirator was arrested in Claxton the following month.  In the next year, another firearm was recovered in a traffic stop in Worcester, Massachusetts.  Two firearms were recovered in crimes in Brooklyn, New York, within three miles of EVAN’s home.  Another firearm was recovered in the possession of an acquaintance of  EVAN’s sister.  22 firearms remain unaccounted for.  Both Melvin and the juvenile coconspirators confessed to the burglary and testified against EVANS at trial.

        EVANS is the second to be sentenced of the two adult defendants who were indicted together for the firearms trafficking conspiracy.  In addition to the 380 month sentence, he was ordered to pay $7,611.88 in restitution to Kemp’s insurer and a $3,600 fine.  The first defendant to be sentenced, Jordy Noval Melvin, pleaded guilty to the theft of firearms from a federally licensed firearms dealer and was sentenced on July 21, 2011, to 110 months in prison.  Mr. Tarver noted that there is no parole in the federal system. 

December 5--  A judge rules there is insufficient evidence to proceed with a recall election of Montgomery County school board chairwoman Deloris James.

After a two-hour hearing Monday in Montgomery County Superior Court, Senior Judge L.A. McConnell, Jr. told supporters of the recall he appreciates "citizen vigilence" of public bodies, but in this case he finds no evidence of wrongdoing by the head of the school board.

{mosimage}Luke Smith, the former school principal at Montgomery County High School argued the case against James in court, however, he deferred to the chairman of the petition effort, Rudy Nanney, to read a statement after the judge's ruling.

"We are very disappointed at Judge McConnell's decision.  When we circulated the application for the recall petition, there was a tremendously positive response to the recall of Mrs. James.  Obviously all of us thought there was sufficient grounds to recall Deloris James.  If getting our school system placed on probation, violating state law and her failure to obey the code of ethics was not grounds to recall her, then what is?  The obvious loser in this matter is the Montgomery County school system, our community, the students, teachers and staff," Nanney read.

During testimony, School Superintendent Randy Rodgers said Luke Smith had reported concerns about the Montgomey County school board to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools not long after learning his contract at the high school would not be renewed.

James attorney, Joe McGovern, told the judge Luke Smith and former school superintendent Dale Clark "have done all they can to embarrass the school board."  

Reacting to the ruling, James says "This was baseless and unwarranted.  I feel like this was pure vindictiveness on the part of two disgruntled former employees and the spouse of a current employee.  That's just the way it is, I just feel like it's vindictive.  I will reiterate what I've said before.  I am dedicated to the children of Montgomery County and will continue to do what's in their best interest."

December 5--  The Southeastern Technical College Foundation welcomed its 2012-2013 executive committee at its November meeting.

The positions of chair, vice chair, secretary, and treasurer for the 2012-2013 term will be filled by Lynda Morgan, Mary Ruth Ray, Lynda English, and Dennis Ingley, respectively, who represent Emanuel, Tattnall, Candler, and Toombs counties.

Morgan and English move into their new offices from previous positions as the vice chair (Morgan) and co-treasurer (English).

The current officers’ terms end on December 31, and the new officers’ terms begin the following day. All trustees joined together at the November 17 meeting to thank the current secretary, Carolyn Brantley, and chair, Ann Todd, for their years of service to the STC Foundation. Todd will be continuing her duties as a trustee.

The Southeastern Technical College Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides guidance and assists in securing funds for Southeastern Technical College. Their mission is to partner with donors to support and invest in the students, faculty, and staff of Southeastern Technical College to build stronger communities and a better Georgia for Candler, Emanuel, Jenkins, Johnson, Montgomery, Tattnall, Toombs, and Treutlen Counties.

For more about the Southeastern Technical College Foundation, please contact Eide Nesmith at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 912-538-3133.

December 5--  In the mid-80's, Rotary Clubs around the world took on the mission of eliminating polio from the face of the earth.  Today, just about 26 years later, the job is almost complete.

Rotary District Governor Gordon Matthews of Savannah visited Vidalia and told local Rotarians about the effort.{mosimage}

"It started in a very simple place on an island where some Rotarians decided they wanted to eliminate polio on the island.  They succeeded and someone asked how much it would cost to eliminate it around the world.  They estimated five hundred million dollars, which was off by a factor of about ten, so it is a very audacious goal to eliminate a disease.  This would be only the second disease to be eliminated, smallpox was first, and now we are only a few hundred cases from eliminating it polio on the whole planet," Matthews says.

The District Governor visited India where the last cases of polio exist and where Rotarians are making a full court press to wipe them out.

"I saw the impact of polio by seeing people on the street who are crippled by the disease.  The last cases in our country were in 1957, but there are still a few active cases in that huge country of 1.2 billion people and they are making tremendous progress in that very challenging environment," Matthews reports.

"I wanted to see for myself what our fellow Rotarians in India were doing.  I saw some surgery where they were correcting the limbs of some lucky kids who got some treatment.  It makes me proud to be a Rotarian," he said.

December 3--  The Savannah Morning News reports a fourth Republican plans to run for the 12th Congressional District seat currently held by incumbent Congressman John Barrow.

Attorney Maria Sheffield is the fourth Republican to say she’ll run in the redrawn congressional district represented by Savannah Democrat John Barrow.

“I stand as a true Reagan conservative,” Sheffield said Thursday in a prepared statement, “and will go to Congress as a conservative leader.”

The 37-year-old Mableton resident ran second last year in a nine-way race for the GOP nomination for state insurance commissioner.

The Republican-dominated legislature has shifted Barrow’s 12th District north and west out of his Democratic-leaning Chatham County base and deep into Republican friendly turf. Litigation is pending.

Sheffield announced her candidacy after saying recently she’d pray during November over whether to run. But she sounded like a candidate from day one, seeking in news releases to link Barrow to President Barack Obama, who polls show is unpopular in Georgia.

“Barrow has proudly proclaimed he is working ‘hand-in-hand’ with ... Obama,” Thursday’s statement said. “The taxpayers ... need a member of Congress who will work ‘hand-in-hand’ with them and against ... Obama’s efforts to destroy our free market economy ... .”

Barrow spokesman Peyton Bell said his boss had no comment.

Sheffield spokeswoman Kathryn Ballou said the candidate will move to Dexter in Laurens County, which is in the new district. Barrow has said he’ll move into the district but hasn’t indicated where.

Also running are state Rep. Lee Anderson of Grovetown, Augusta businessman Rick Allen and Evans attorney Wright McLeod.

December 3--  The Macon Telegraph reports the closed Range Fuels plant in Soperton is in foreclosure.

Range Fuels biorefinery in foreclosure


AgSouth Farm Credit, the bank that loaned Range Fuels $80 million to launch its Soperton ethanol plant, is foreclosing on the plant.

That leaves taxpayers on the hook for the $64 million portion of the loan that was guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

AgSouth advertised the foreclosure sale of the plant in Thursday’s Soperton News.

Repeated phone calls to Range Fuels over several days were not returned. The company’s website disappeared in October.

Justin DeJong, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, said in a statement Thursday night: “We are disappointed that this company did not succeed, and we will be working on behalf of the American people to protect the federal government’s interest in the loan.”

In its statement, the Department of Agriculture said it had worked with AgSouth “on options to revive operations, but on October 27th notified the lender that it was moving forward with liquidation, because liquidation is seen as the best way to preserve U.S. assets and reclaim funding.” The department said it anticipates that there are “a number of companies” that could be interested in the site.

State and federal documents show that a new corporation has been seeking to take over the Range Fuels plant and its loan guarantee. But that effort seems to have fallen through.

In 2007, the Colorado-based Range Fuels was awarded a $76 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy under the Bush administration, plus the loan guarantee and a state grant, in order to build and start operating the country’s first cellulosic ethanol plant. Cellulosic ethanol is made from the woody or fibrous plants -- in this case wood chips -- rather than from food crops such as corn.

But the plant, which was scheduled to open in 2008, never scaled up to full operation and shuttered early this year after making one test batch of fuel. About 30 workers were laid off, said John Lee, executive director of the Treutlen County Development Authority.

Range officials said they were seeking a new infusion of capital in order to continue.

The Department of Energy suspended payments on its grant at that time, and in August the department and Range terminated their investment agreement, Jen Stutsman, press secretary for the Department of Energy, said in an e-mail. She said the department spent $43.6 million on Range over the course of the grant, which began in 2007.

Stutsman said in an interview that the agreement with Range included no final performance requirements that would require the company to pay back any of the money.

Recently, Range Fuels has been seeking to shift its federal loan guarantee and a $6.25 million state grant to LanzaTech Freedom Pines LLC, which was incorporated in Georgia in September.

An agreement negotiated with Georgia and the Treutlen County Development Authority indicates that Range Fuels planned to transfer some of its assets, including its interest in the Soperton project, to LanzaTech Freedom Pines. The new company’s president and CEO, as listed on its Georgia incorporation records, is the same as the CEO of LanzaTech, a New Zealand-based company with offices in Illinois. LanzaTech was listed by Biofuels Digest as one of the “top 10 hottest companies in bioenergy” for 2011-12.

But Laurel Harmon, LanzaTech’s vice president of government relations, said Thursday that the company no longer has any relationship with Range Fuels.

“We were exploring an opportunity to do something with that site, but we are no longer involved in that site,” she said.

Agreement never signed

An environmental document created by the USDA in September indicates that LanzaTech Freedom Pines proposed to use some of the initial Range process -- gasifying wood chips -- then use its own patented biofermentation process to produce ethanol and butanediol, which can be used as a fuel additive or in plastics, Lycra and spandex, fine chemicals and solvents.

It would have produced a tenth of the 20 million gallons of ethanol a year that Range had promised when it sought the USDA loan guarantee in 2009, according to a USDA “finding of no significant (environmental) impact” document.

LanzaTech’s primary funding comes from the same venture capitalist behind Range Fuels, Vinod Khosla, who was a co-founder of Sun Microsystems. Lanzatech Freedom Pines had negotiated a draft agreement with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and the Treutlen County Development Authority in October, allowing the new company to take over the OneGeorgia grant. It would have also assumed Range Fuel’s obligation to invest $225 million and create 69 permanent, full-time jobs.

That agreement was never signed because the Lanzatech Freedom Pines plans were put on hold when USDA wouldn’t agree to transfer the loan guarantee, Lee said.

Asked if that was the deal breaker for LanzaTech, Harmon said she was uncomfortable sharing specifics about the failed deal, “but we were unable to make that work.”

The Department of Energy will not transfer or reactivate the remainder of the Range Fuels grant, Stutsman said Thursday. She said the department is working with Range to analyze data “that will detail the lessons learned on the project to date.”

But it will be hard to know if American taxpayers will benefit from those lessons. The final technical report will not be released publicly because it will contain proprietary information, she said.

Stutsman added in an e-mailed statement: “The department has already begun to integrate the lessons learned and best practices from this project into our programs as we continue our work to develop next generation biofuels that will help reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil and create new industries here in the U.S.”

To contact reporter S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.



December 2--  The Toombs-Montgomery Chamber of Commerce hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony this week on the first year anniversary of Tummy Treasures in downtown Vidalia.  Owner Tami Britt, holding the scissors, is surrounded by family and well-wishers.

December 2--  The Vidalia Area Convention and Visitors Bureau anounces the first ACO Vidalia Cornhole Cup. The event, which is sponsored by Cintas,is a sanctioned American Cornhole Organization tour stop.The American Cornhole Organization (ACO) is kicking off the 2012 ACO cornhole season with its first tournament in Vidalia, Georgia, on March 23-25, 2012. {mosimage}

The ACO Vidalia Cornhole Cup – an ACO Masters Series Major – will have a $20,000 purse payout. It is the first of four majors planned for the 2012 season.In its inaugural year, the ACO Vidalia Cornhole Cup promises to attract cornhole players and enthusiasts from around Georgia and neighboring states. This event is open to cornhole players of all skill levels.

A player can enter the ACO Vidalia Cornhole Cup as a singles entrant, a doubles entrant, or a crew. A crew can enter the $20,000 ACO Vidalia Cornhole Cup challenge for $250 ($62.50 per crew member). A crew is given the opportunity to participate in all four cash payout events. These include the following: Luck of the Draw, Open Singles, Open Doubles, and Vidalia Cornhole Cup competition – a minimum of 8 guaranteed games for all crew members.

The crew competition is points-based concept developed exclusively by the ACO. A crew consists of four cornhole players, accumulating points based on each player’s finish in the Open Singles and each of the team’s finish in the Open Doubles. The crew with the lowest overall point total wins the coveted ACO Vidalia Cornhole Cup.

Tom Cato, General Manager of Cintas in Vidalia, said “I jumped at the opportunity to be the main sponsor for this event because it’s a great way for Cintas to give back to the community.”  Mr. Cato also said he thought it would be a good way to showcase our sweet piece of paradise with the outside world. Ann Todd, the outgoing chairman of the Vidalia Area CVB, said she is delighted to have such an event coming to Vidalia. “This is a great opportunity for us and could be a big event for years to come.”

For more information about the ACO Vidalia Cornhole Cup or anything ACO, visit or call Kortney 888-563-2002.If you would like to be a vendor or sponsor for this event, please contact Richard Williams or Ingrid Varn at 912.538.8687.

December 1--  Cities and counties in Georgia will be negotiating next year on their share of local option sales taxes which will be collected over a ten-year period starting in 2013.

It's important for property owners because any government which gains share will have to reduce its property taxes by the same amount.  At the same time, if a city or county loses sales tax revenue, property owners in its boundaries could face a property tax increase.

Officials from various area counties attended a seminar on the upcoming sales tax negotiations Thursday at East Georgia College in Swainsboro.  Clint Mueller from the Association County Commissioners of Georgia helped conduct the class.

"Depending on how this money is split, it could favor taxpayers in one area of the county over taxpayers who live in another area of the county.  That's why these negotiations are very important because the outcome could impact how much property tax relief you get," Mueller says.

Based on negotiations which were conducted in 2002, Toombs County and Vidalia each receive 41.5% of local sales tax collections, Lyons gets 16% and Santa Claus is allocated one percent.

Mueller says if the parties' negotiations on a new split break down next year, a judge will decide the outcome.

"Either side who feels they're not getting a fair shake out of this has the ability to argue their side before a neutral third party and that's a visiting judge from the outside.  If they are able to convince that judge that they're acting in good faith in how to split this, then they're going to win.  That judge has to pick one of the proposals that presented and decide which is the fairest way to split it," according to Mueller. 

Both Toombs County and Vidalia have already hired consultants to help them prepare for the upcoming negotiations.  One official says the possibilty is good that it will go to a judge for arbitration before it's decided.