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{mosimage}August 31--  Hurricane Irene barreled up the East Coast over the weekend leaving millions of people without electricity.  As part of a coordinated restoration team, six crew members from Altamaha EMC left Lyons on Sunday to take part in the massive effort to aid consumers of Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO). 

SMECO reported as many as 109,000 consumers without power after Hurricane Irene blew through the area.  Current updates show approximately 78,000 services have been restored, but 31,000 people are still without electricity.  SEMCO officials say it could be as late as this weekend before all power is restored.

Georgia EMCs currently have approximately 147 linemen responding to the call for help. Approximately 60 Georgia EMC linemen are working for Jones Onslow EMC in Jacksonville, North Carolina and approximately 87 linemen are assisting with restoration efforts for SMECO in Hughesville, MD. 

Matthew Johnson, Line Foreman for Altamaha EMC, called the office today with the following update: “Working with the SMECO crews and other crews from EMCs in Georgia, we have made a lot of progress.  But there are areas here in SMECO’s territory that haven’t even been assessed yet.  To date, SMECO reports over 200 utility poles that were broken by the storm.  We still have some very long days ahead of us.”  Accompanying Johnson are Wil Ledford, Frank Stokes, Dennis Morris, Glenn Gay and Tommy Reddish.

According to Georgia EMC Safety, Education and Training Vice President Jim Wright, the EMCs in Georgia were in close contact with EMCs to the north to pre-arrange assistance even before the hurricane made landfall. Wright says doing so allows the timely dispatch of an arsenal of Georgia co-ops consisting of much needed manpower, trucks and equipment. Personnel from many electric membership corporations (EMCs) in Georgia headed to North Carolina and Maryland over the weekend to help electric co-ops restore power to areas hardest hit by Hurricane Irene.

“It’s a massive effort to restore power in as short a time as possible,” Wright says. “The North Carolina and Maryland cooperatives will now have access to a large, experienced group of EMC line workers from Georgia to help them restore power as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

According to Tammye Vaughn, Manager of Marketing and Communications for Altamaha EMC, cooperatives in Georgia will offer crews and equipment for as long as necessary to get the lights back on for the consumers in the areas hit by Hurricane Irene. 

“Being an electric co-op means calling upon your neighbors during emergencies,” notes Vaughn.  “In the past, we’ve asked for and benefitted from the assistance of other cooperatives when we’ve been hard hit by storms, and it’s our duty and privilege to assist others now that their distribution system has been damaged.”

August 31-- At 9:06 a.m. ET Wednesday, while plant workers were performing equipment maintenance, Plant Vogtle Unit 1 near Waynesboro automatically shut down.

All Plant Vogtle safety systems operated as designed and expected. The unit is safe and stable, and plant personnel are investigating the cause of the shut down. There was no risk to the public.

Unit 2 currently is at 97 percent power in preparation for a routine, scheduled refueling outage.

About Southern Nuclear:

Southern Nuclear, a subsidiary of Southern Company, operates the Edwin I. Hatch Nuclear Plant near Baxley, Ga., the Joseph M. Farley Nuclear Plant near Dothan, Ala. and the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant near Waynesboro, Ga.

About Southern Company:

With 4.4 million customers and more than 42,000 megawatts of generating capacity, Atlanta-based Southern Company (NYSE: SO) is the premier energy company serving the Southeast. A leading U.S. producer of electricity, Southern Company owns electric utilities in four states and a growing competitive generation company, as well as fiber optics and wireless communications. Southern Company brands are known for excellent customer service, high reliability and retail electric prices that are below the national average. Southern Company was named the World's Most Admired Electric and Gas Utility by Fortune magazine in 2011, and is consistently listed among the top U.S. electric service providers in customer satisfaction by the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Visit our website at www.southerncompany.com.


August 30--  The city of Vidalia is receiving a $500,000 grant to help build a new Boys and Girls Club building.

"That program touches so many lives and this money is going to give the Boys and Girls Club a new home and a new identity I hope in this community of one which reaches out to all children.  I hope we're going to see this program take off as a result of this new facility," says Vidalia city manager Bill Torrance.

The current location in the old J.D. Dickerson School on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive has been in use since the club was started in Vidalia in the middle-1990's. The new building will be constructed on a four-acre site the city owns at the corner of Winona and Third Streets.

Raymond Turner, chairman of the club's board, says "It's going to be great for the city of Vidalia and the kids of Vidalia.  We will be able to provide better service and have a better facility."

The grant provides the lion's share of the funding, however, Turner says more money is coming from other sources.  "We're going to get about $75,000 from the national Boys and Girls Club, the local club will give about $50,000, the Sweet Onion Classic will help with $50,0000 and the city of Vidalia is helping with $25,000 and the land plus we'll have fund raisers going on, so we'll have the money there," he says.

Turner estimates it will take about 18 months to get the project completed.

August 30--  Reports in Atlanta say the man who helped 12th District Congressman John Barrow get re-elected in 2010 has been tapped by President Obama to help him in the South in 2012.

Tharon Johnson will be Obama's southern regional director.  He's an Athens native and graduate of Clark Atlanta University.  

He helped Atlanta Mayor Kassim Reed get elected and has also assisted Congressman John Lewis and former state Labor Commissioner Mike Thurmond with campaigns.

Republicans being discussed as possible primary election opponents for the 12th Congressional District include state Senator Tommie Williams of Lyons and state Representative Lee Anderson of Columbia County.

August 30--  Dr. Barry Dotson at STC heads up the local UGA alumni group and forwards this information on a former Vidalia High School student from "The Red and Black" newspaper at UGA.

Student interns in the Office of the First Lady, hobnobs with celebrities

By on August 25, 2011

Senior Eric Jones always knew he wanted to have two internships in his life. He wanted one for each of his majors: journalism and political science. What Jones did not foresee was that he would have the opportunity to intern at the White House in the office of Michelle Obama.

Eric Jones participated in the Washington Semester Program, a University program for juniors and seniors interested in working and studying in Washington, DC. ANDREA BRISCOE/Staff

“I applied once or twice before, but this past year I was like, ‘OK Eric, you can do this.’” Jones said. “I put everything I had into it. To get the call back and actually have the opportunity was just mind blowing to me. And that opportunity would never had been available to me if I hadn’t already been accepted into the Washington semester program that UGA does.”

The Washington Semester Program is open to juniors and seniors in all majors who are interested in living, working and studying in Washington, D.C., for a semester.

Students interested in this opportunity go through a vigorous application and interview process, and 20 undergraduates per semester are chosen to represent the University at the capital.

Housing is at Capitol Hill on Constitution Avenue, and is provided by the program. Classes are held in Capitol Hill for the students’ convenience — students who spend the bulk of their day working because they can go back home, relax, eat dinner and class is only a few staircases away.

Each intern has contact with a mentor from his or her school throughout the stay in D.C. Dr. Jamie L. Carson, associate professor of government mass media at the University, aided Jones throughout his application process as well as during his stay in Capitol Hill.

“One of the requirements for an internship is that the students have to send weekly status reports,” Carson said. “His were fantastic because just about every other week he would send one that said, ‘This was the best week yet.’”

While in D.C., Jones interned about 40 hours per week while earning class credit along the way. Classes were scheduled one or two nights of the week to allow interns to focus on work during the day.

Having the Washington Semester Program makes a difference in a University, as it makes interning in DC a more realistic goal for a student who may otherwise be apprehensive about missing a semester of school.

“I think our students have a distinct advantage because they can work full time,” said Don DeMaria, director of the Washington Semester Program. “It helps them stand out compared to other programs or maybe students in other schools who can’t work full time.”

Jones worked in the First Lady’s Correspondence Office with a group of people to ensure that first lady Michelle Obama knew from whom she was getting letters, what the letters said and that writers were getting timely responses.

Jones said the secret service was “no secret” and he spotted them while at work, as well as several celebrities and the Obamas.

“I had some fun run-ins with Jaime Foxx and Smokey Robinson. I got to hold Stevie Wonder’s Louis Vuitton bag.” Jones said. “Between January and May so much happened, you had things going on in Tunisia, Egypt, etc., so many protests going on in the Middle Eastern countries, government that almost shut down, I remember being there for that and stressing out with everyone during those times.”

Jones and his fellow interns attended a going away party near the end of term where M. Obama thanked them herself for all of their hard work. The interns also got to leave D.C. in possession of a group picture taken with President Obama.

DeMaria said he proudly received good remarks about Jones, who represented the University well.

From January to May, many speeches were made, many decisions were altered, many letters were written and the Washington Semester Program made it possible for University interns to be there through it all — a fact that Jones appreciates greatly.

“Those four months were four of the best months of my entire life,” he said.

 

August 29--  Sen. Jack Murphy (R-Cumming) said he was disturbed by President Barrack Obama’s decision to ignore the nation’s law-making system and begin a process of “prosecutorial discretion,” thus pushing his immigration agenda without Congressional approval.

After repeatedly failing to receive Congressional support for his immigration initiatives, President Obama has authorized a review of deportation proceedings for several hundred thousand illegal immigrants already in the legal system. This process has already allowed the release of people who were in custody and are known to have come into this country illegally. The Obama administration also will allow “low priority” illegal immigrants who have been released from custody to apply for work permits if they have not committed other crimes since they committed the crime of illegally crossing our borders. White House officials said those individuals would probably be granted those permits.

“Our unemployment rate is sitting near the double-digit mark and the President, rather than focusing on jobs, is focusing on allowing more people to compete for those jobs, despite the fact that they committed a crime by crossing our border,” said Sen. Murphy, who helped draft Georgia’s new tough immigration laws. “The President basically ignored our Constitutional process to pass laws and made law by decree.”

Estimates suggest illegal immigrants currently in the deportation process number about 300,000. Not only is this an insult to the law enforcement officers, who processed these cases, this puts an undue burden on them to re-investigate each case.

Sen. Chip Rogers, the Senate Majority Leader, is also alarmed at the willful subversion of Federal law.

“It should outrage all Americans when the Executive branch establishes amnesty without any Congressional approval or authority. The President continues to ignore the impact of illegal immigration on our citizens. He has now gone even further by showing a complete disregard for our nation’s law and a rejection of the Constitutional principles of separation of powers,” said Sen. Rogers said. “If the President can simply order which laws must be followed and which are to be ignored we no longer have a Constitutional republic as given us by our forefathers.”

The new prosecutorial policy put in place by the administration will allow illegal aliens charged with additional non-violent crimes to remain in the United States. Recent news reports suggest hundreds of illegal aliens scheduled for deportation hearings in Georgia have been released.

August 29--  The cities of Vidalia and Soperton are receiving Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

Vidalia will use $500,000 from the state to help build a new building for the Toombs County Boys and Girls Club.

In Soperton, $368,085 will be used to make sewer improvements.

August 29--  A Wilkinson County man died over the weekend in a Toombs County traffic accident.

Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight reports 52-year-old Lee Richard Boone of Toomsboro died in the accident early Saturday afternoon on U.S. Highway One about a mile south of Lyons.

August 29--  It was like the United Nations of professional golf over the weekend at Hawks Point Golf Course in Vidalia.

"We got to see I believe it was 36 different countries and 36 different states represented and we showcased great golf in Vidalia," says assistant pro Judson Clark.

Up and coming women golfers from all over the world were in Vidalia for the city's first ever professional golf tournament, the Vidalia Championship of the Ladies Professional Golf Association's Futures Tour.  They were competing for a share of the $110,000 purse and a chance to play on the LPGA Tour next year.

{mosimage}  Tour rookie Sydnee Michaels from California addresses the gallery after her win Sunday.

Futures Tour Director Christy Barts is happy with the week of golf.  "Vidalia is true southern hospitality and this golf course, it's a magnificient golf course and it's only going to get better as it grows and continues to bloom.  It's phenomenal.  What a great week.  The Page family and everyone here at Hawk's Point have been wonderful," she says.

Course owner Andy Page says one of his goals when the course was rebuilt three years ago was to attract a professional golf tournament to Vidalia. 
"We're looking forward to many more years of this.  We tried to design it in such a way to meet the requirements of having a pro tournament here and that's exactly what we got," he says.

{mosimage}  Michaels finishes nine-under to win at Hawk's Point.

The golfers described the course as tough, but fair, and in great shape.  That's what Greens Superintendent Marty Clark had in mind.  "Everybody had a great time and when a girl like Sydnee Michaels can come out here and shoot nine under par, she played fantastic.  All the hard work by all of my staff and all the staff here at Hawks Point made every second we've been out here worthwhile," he said.

Only two golfers in the field of 144 were able to finish the 54-hole tournament with sub-par scores. Clark believes "that's a testment to the golf course, what good shape it's in and how tough the layout is and the design of it, but they enjoyed it, tha's the main thing."

The Futures Tour golfers will return next year and Judson Clark says Hawks Point will be ready.  "We're going to sit down in the next week or so and write down what worked and what didn't work and what we can do to make this one of the best events on the circuit," he says.

August 27--   On Saturday, August 27th, at the Annual GAGOP Fish Fry, the Georgia Republican Party hosted the first statewide Republican Presidential Straw Poll. Results of the poll are as follows:

Herman Cain – 26% (232)

Ron Paul – 25.7% (229)

Rick Perry – 20% (179)

Newt Gingrich – 18% (162)

Mitt Romney – 6% (51)

Michele Bachmann – 3.3% (29)

All Others – 1%

 

Also Receiving Votes:

 

Rick Santorum – 4

Jon Huntsman – 3

Thad McCotter – 1

August 27--  Two Toombs County teenagers suffered serious injuries in a Thursday afternoon auto accident.

Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kite reports the two were thrown from their vehicle when it overturned numerous times on the Will Toole Road.

Fourteen-year-old Ronald William Brown was a passenger and was airlifted to a Savannah hospital in critical condition.  The driver, 16-year-old Robert Ethan Brown, was admitted to Meadows Regional in Vidalia in serious condition.

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August 26--  LPGA Futures Tour golfer Blair O'Neal from Tempe, Arizona signs autographs from young fans following her opening round of play Friday at Hawks Point Golf Course in Vidalia.  She's a former winner of the Golf Channel's "Big Break" and has been featured in the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated.

August 26--  The local rumor mill has been churning out reports of layoffs at Meadows Regional Medical Center in Vidalia.

To the contrary, Meadows CEO Alan Kent says they're hiring.

"That's an interesting rumor because the opposite is true," he says about the new medical center which opened six months ago.

"We're having near record utilization of the hospital right now and people who went other places are now using the hospital.  We actually have added new employees.  We hired 13 new employees in August after hiring 17 in July and we've got ten new people scheduled to come on in September," Kent says.

Contrary to many hospitals in the country and in Georgia, Kent reports Meadows closed out its fiscal year in the black.

"We closed our books last year with a profit.  It wasn't a great profit, but we were in the black and that continues our record of success here at the hospital.  Sixty percent of all hospitals in the state are in the red, so we're fortunate we're able to run this place with a profit and reinvest that money back in our community," he notes.

At the same time, Kent says the hospital continues to spend a great deal of money each year for indigent patient care.  "You know every year in this hospital, there are millions of dollars in charity care provided to the community and we're fortunate to be financially stable enough to continue to provide that care," Kent says.

August 25--  The chairwoman of the Montgomery County school board testified this week that the school board has made mistakes governing the county school system since taking office in January.

Chairwoman Deloris James told the state school board the biggest mistake they made was not hiring the right school superintendent following the resignation of Dr. Lynn Batten last December.

"I really believe the biggest problem the five of us as the Montgomery County Board of Education made was not hiring Randy Rodgers as superintendent on January 1, 2011.  Had we done that, I do not think we would be charged and faced with these governance issues," she said.

Members of the board admit they need more training and James says they made a mistake by not properly managing personnel changes and salary cuts recommended by Superintendent Dr. Charles Warnock when he was on board back in March.

"These were announced at a board meeting.  There were feelings hurt, there were mad spouses and a lot of outcry from the public.  Those things had to be done, but those people's names and where they were going to be transferred and their salary cuts should not have been done until they were told face to face," James said.

The chairwoman denies one of the allegations by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools that the board failed to seek or follow the advice of school attorney Tom Everette.

"On two occasions I have asked our board attorney how that statement came to be in that report.  I asked if the SACS team interviewed him and they did not.  So I have no idea since legal counsel was not interviewed.  Every decision we have made, we have asked him if it's okay to proceed in the manner," James told the state school board.

All members of the school board testified on the need to improve communications and Superintendent Rodgers responded to State Board member Allen Rice of Vidalia who asked if the "Your Mind on Line" column in the Vidalia newspaper helps "drive the craziness?"  Rodgers says the paper needs to take some responsiblity and accused it of "one-sided reporting" of the ongoing school system story.

August 23--  The Georgia Board of Education is giving the Montgomery County school board seven months to get its house in order.

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After a three-hour hearing Wednesday in Atlanta, the state board voted to accept a consent order requiring the school board to correct governance issues contained in a report from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).  If it fails to meet a March 31,2012 deadline, the board can recommend that Governor Nathan Deal suspend the board members.

School Superintendent Randy Rodgers and members of the board all testified they can fix their problems if given time.

State Board Chairwoman Wanda Barrs is appealing  to citizens in Montgomery County to put aside their differences.

"The state board is giving the local board of education in cooperation with the superintendent the opportunity to work toward improving the atmosphere for learning and we believe they deserve this opportunity to try to make that work.  I really ask the citizens of Montgomery County to put aside their differences and work alongside this leadership in order to make that happen to the benefit of the students in Montgomery County," Barr said.

Montgomery County board chairwoman Deloris James echoes Mrs. Barr's appeal, "I think it would be tremendously beneficial to the students to lay aside some of the pettiness and politics which has been going on.  This can only be achieved through the hard work of the community and the citizens."

However, a vocal critic of the school board, Adrian Bell of Uvalda, is unhappy with the hearing and its results.

"They might have represented the state, but they were not representing Montgomery County.  They were not representing my children and the members and children of  'Kids First, Montgomery.'  There was so much stuff left on the table that was not brought out.  They just took the easy way out and gave these people more time to continue to mess up our school system and that is so unfortunate," Bell said.

The school board will host a re-inspection by a SACS review team in mid-December.  Results of that review will impact the state school board's final decision next March.

August 22--  A hundred-and-thirty at-risk kids in the Toombs County school system will have access to after-school help starting September 6.

Anna Bullard with Toombs County Family Connections says a $350,000 grant for each of the next three years will be used to help kindergarteners through fifth graders in after-school programs at Lyons Upper Elementary and Toombs County Middle School.

"Our goals are going to be to equal the playing field for these students and allow them to receive extra academic time and enrichment through music and art.  If we don't put more time and effort into these children, we're not going to move from that 42nd spot that Georgia has held for three years in education.  We want to give them a better opportunity in life so they can be citizens in our community who are effective and self-sufficient," Bullard says.

According to Bullard, ninety percent of the students in the Toombs County school system live in poverty.

"We need to have an after-school program to get kids off the street and to provide them attention that the school day just doesn't provide.  We have many stakeholders in our community.  Our Superintendent, Dr. Brantly, has been supportive of this from day one and many businesses and organizations in our community have been supportive and that's really why this is happening," she says.

The after-school program will run from 3:30 till 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday of each week and transportation will be provided.  A hundred students will be served at the elementary school and 30 at the middle school.

August 23--  Toombs County EMA Director Lynn Moore reports the following after a conference call this morning at 11:30 with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

"Good news....from the National Weather Service out of Jacksonville, FL....the closet Hurricane Irene will come to the Georgia coast is estimated to be 240 miles....

forecast for late Friday and early Saturday is 20 to 30 mph winds on the coast with gusts up to 35....rough surf at the beach....good chance no rain

Inland 15 to 20 mph and further inland less...better chance no rain

Savannah may be the only Georgia area to get any rain....storm to far off the coast...."

 

 

 

August 22-- Members of the Montgomery County school board go to Atlanta Wednesday to tell the State Board of Education why they should remain in office.  The school system is on probation and the state board has the authority to recommend that Governor Nathan Deal suspend with pay the local board members for problems relating to governance of the school system.

Monday afternoon the Montgomery Board met and approved the same Code of Ethics it had approved when it first came into office in January.  Board Chairman Deloris James says the reaffirmation is one of the requirements dictated by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

"Maybe it's just for clarification so that AdvancEd is sure that each board member has read and will abide by the Code of Ethics," she said.  When asked if she thought any members of the board have violated the code since it's approval in January, she said, "No, I do not."

The school board has already approved a consent order drafted by the state board of education and one outcome of the Wednesday meeting could be final approval of the order by the state if it allows the school board to remain in office.

August 22-- Twelfth District Congressman John Barrow loses his home county of Chatman County in the congressional redistricting map revealed Monday at the state capitol in Atlanta. 

Republican Congressman Jack Kingston of Savannah picks up all of Chatham under the proposal while Barrow retains all of Richmond County.  Congressman Barrow carried huge majorities in both Richmond and Chatham counties to defeat Republican Ray McKinney in the 2010 election.

The new map would also remove five other counties which voted for Barrow to other congressional districts.  They are Baldwin, Hancock, Jefferson, Warren and Washington counties.

Counties added to the new 12th District include south Columbia County and all of Laurens, Coffee, Appling, Jeff Davis, Telfair and Wheeler Counties.

U.S. Congressman John Barrow (GA-12) issued the following statement in response to the reapportionment maps released today by the Georgia State Legislature:

“This isn’t the first time the folks in Atlanta have put politics above the interests of the people I represent… and I doubt it will be the last.  But I’ve always believed that working hard for the people trumps politics every time. 

“Our country is facing a number of critical challenges, from cutting spending and getting our fiscal house in order to helping small business succeed and creating new jobs in our district.  As Washington prepares to return from the district work period, these challenges will be at the front of my mind, and I plan to continue approaching my public service in the same way I’ve always done: by listening to the concerns of my constituents, working to come up with smart solutions to their challenges, and putting their interests ahead of party or politics. 

“I look forward to getting to know the new constituents drawn in to Georgia’s 12th District, and building on the friendships I’ve formed with folks who still call the 12th District home.” 

  The following release is from the Georgia Senate Press Office. 

"The House and Senate Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee Chairmen, Rep. Roger Lane (R-Darien) and Senator Mitch Seabaugh (R-Sharpsburg), released their proposed plan for the state’s Congressional Districts today. The proposed plan is available on the Joint Reapportionment Office Website at http://www.legis.ga.gov, Joint Offices, Reapportionment; or by clicking this link, or by following this web address: http://www.legis.ga.gov/Joint/reapportionment/en-US/default.aspx

The plan:

·        Complies with the US Constitution’s requirement of “one person, one vote”;

·        Complies with the Voting Rights Act of 1965;

·        Respects the boundaries of counties and precincts;

·        Consists of compact districts; and

·        Respects communities of interest;

“Every step taken during this historic process has shown our dedication to openness and fairness,” said Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, Chairman of the Senate Redistricting and Reapportionment Committee. “Citizens across our state met us at hearings to speak about the creation of a Congressional plan that properly represents them. This map represents their voices. I applaud Chairman Lane for his dedicated leadership in the House. We worked together to construct a Congressional plan that is fair and legal, and one that every Georgian can be proud of.”

“The proposed Congressional map released today is fair, sensible and the product of a great amount of input from Georgians throughout the state,” said Rep. Roger Lane, Chairman of the House Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee. “Like the House redistricting plan this body passed last week, Republicans are continuing to fulfill their promise to draw maps that fairly represent the people of this state.”

The map fully complies with the principles adopted by the House and Senate committees during the summer.  The deviation from the ideal district size is plus or minus one person as required by federal law.   The map fully complies with the Voting Rights Act with four districts of more than 50% African-American population.

            The proposed plan splits 15 counties compared to the 20 counties split under the state’s current congressional map and the 34 counties split under the 2001 plan. Additionally, the plan proposed today splits fewer than 30 precincts. The districts are also more compact than the current congressional map and maintain an average of 67.5% of the existing district cores."

August 22--  Gov. Nathan Deal announced today that Firth Rixson Forgings LLC, a subsidiary of U.K.-based Firth Rixson Limited, will expand its forged metal operation in Midway as a result of increased business. The company anticipates creating 75 to 100 new jobs, bringing its total employees to 304 when in full production mode.

“We are pleased Firth Rixson’s experience in the state has been such a positive one they have chosen to expand here,” said Deal. “It’s not every state or every location that can provide the workforce to handle these highly technical jobs, many of which require engineering expertise. Georgia can, and I give great credit to our academic facilities, especially those on the coast, for providing the quality of training companies such as Firth Rixson require.”

Firth Rixson’s Midway operation, which opened in January 2011, provides components for the aerospace industry. The facility is the company’s fourth closed die forging operation and its largest greenfield investment. The company anticipates breaking ground in January 2012 for this expansion, its first on the site.

August 22--  John Neff from the Montgomery County Emergency Management Agency provides the following information on potential bad weather heading our way this weekend.

"Tropical Storm Irene became Hurricane Irene this morning and is forecast to travel in a path which could possibly affect the Montgomery County area this weekend. The National Weather Service long range forecast currently shows Irene possibly making a landfall on the Georgia coast sometime in the early morning hours on Saturday.

Everyone in Montgomery County should monitor this situation closely and begin preparing for the possibility of severe weather this weekend. Some things to consider are:

  1. Review your family emergency plan. Communications such as telephones and cell phones may be affected. Make plans for your family to communicate.
  2. Check your personal emergency kit or make one. Recommended items for a kit are listed at: http://www.ready.gov/america/getakit/index.html
  3. Prepare for the possibility of electric service being interrupted for an extended period.
  4. Fill plastic jugs with drinking water. Fill bathtubs with water for cleaning and toilet flushing.
  5. If high winds impact our area, roads may become impassable for a period. Be prepared to shelter at home until travel can resume.
Keep up to date on the progress of this storm by checking local TV or radio or the National Hurricane Center at: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/

 

 

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August 19--  Junior ROTC cadets at Vidalia High School give erstwhile photographer Collins Knighton the "JROTC Wave" outside the school.

August 19--  State Senator Jack Hill of Reidsville assesses how the proposed new reapportionment map impacts his 4th Senatorial District.

In the second portion of his weekly column, he wonders if it's the best thing to continue the practice of allowing educators to retire and come back to work when so many teachers are looking for jobs in the state.

Reapportionment

 

The State Senate passed the 2011 Reapportionment Proposal on Thursday, August 18, 2011.

 

The Fourth Senatorial District, represented by Senator Jack Hill, in the 2010 Census came in 9,803 over the new required district size and had to be reduced by that number.  The new required Senate district population total is 172,994.

 

The Fourth District contained 182,797, so that difference, 9,803, had to be removed and placed in other districts that were short population.

 

The plan that passed August 18 changed three counties in the Fourth.  One precinct in Tattnall, Birdford, was moved from the Fourth to the 19th District represented by Senator Tommie Williams.

 

In Emanuel County, the Twin City precinct was moved from the Fourth to the 23rd Senate District, represented by Senator Jesse Stone.  The City of Swainsboro Precinct is now entirely in the Fourth.

And Treutlen County was removed from the Fourth District and placed in the 19th District, represented by Senator Williams.

 

Counties left in the Fourth in their entirety include:   Bulloch, Candler, Effingham and Evans Counties.

 

"I have thoroughly enjoyed representing all of the areas now being changed.

 

The Fourth Senatorial District after reapportionment will consist of: Bulloch, Candler, Effingham, Evans Counties and parts of Emanuel and Tattnall Counties. Treutlen County will now be in the 19th Senatorial District represented by Sen. Tommie Williams.

 

The new House and Senate District maps may be viewed at:  www.legis.ga.gov, "Please visit the joint webpage for the House and Senate Reapportionment Committees", "Proposed Maps."

 

I pledge to work closely with Senators Williams and Stone to ensure continued effective representation" stated Senator Hill.  "If I can be of service, please give me that opportunity."

DO FULL-TIME EDUCATION RETIREE REHIRES RESTRICT JOB OPPORTUNITIES?

In 2002, the Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 210 to address what was projected to be a critical shortage of public school teachers in the state. Prior to the enactment of HB210, retired teachers could only return to work in the classroom in Georgia part-time if they wished to continue receiving retirement benefits. After passage of HB210, beginning with the 2002 school year, teachers who retired prior to December 31, 2001 could return to work full time as a teacher or improvement specialist for up to five years without interrupting retirement benefits. Any teacher who returned to work full-time was limited to those schools with low test scores and performance ratings. In theory, the highly experienced and qualified teachers the state wished to retain would be utilized at the approximately 600 schools most in need of their services. All changes made by HB210 were set to expire July 1, 2008.

 

Since 2002, OCGA 47-3-127.1 has been amended twice, each time expanding the re-employment options available to retired teachers. The 2004 amendment allows those who retired prior to December 2003 to return to work at any school for an indefinite amount of time rather than just the low performing schools for five years.

 

Enacted in 2008, the current version of the law is set to expire June 30, 2016 and allows all retirees to return to work full-time, regardless of date of retirement, after a one year break between retirement and returning to work. During the requisite year they may work part-time. Rehired employees are eligible to teach at all public schools with no limit on the amount of time they may return to work. Retirees are eligible to return to work as a classroom teacher, principal, superintendent, counselor, media specialist, or RESA improvement specialist. The only limits on eligibility are that those who retired as principals or superintendents may not return to the same school or school system from which they retired.

 

The most important change to note under the current statute is that the employer of retired Teacher's Retirement System (TRS) employees must now pay both the employer and employee contributions into the retirement system. Previously, the employer was only responsible for paying the employer contribution. Under all three forms of the law, the rehired retiree does not receive any additional creditable service towards his or her current pension benefits.

 

 

WHAT IS THE IMPACT?

The current economic climate begs the question of whether the practice of allowing TRS retirees to work full-time for a salary in addition to collecting retirement benefits should continue. The initial reason for instituting such a practice was to address a projected critical shortage of teachers in Georgia public schools. Since 2007, the University System of Georgia (USG) has seen a steady increase in the number of students graduating from teaching programs across the state. While all of these graduates may not intend on teaching in Georgia, a majority of them probably are. Between 2007 and 2010, USG has averaged more than 4,300 graduates each year. In 2010, 66 percent of the 4871 new teaching candidates graduated from a traditional bachelors' program. The remaining 34 percent of candidates completed a graduate program or a post-baccalaureate program. Since, 2008 the percentage of people newly certified as teachers who were reported as having become employed as a teacher in a public school the following year has decreased almost 30%. In FY2008, 76% of the 12,529 newly certified teachers were employed. In FY2009, this number was reduced to 60% with 6,556 of 10,861 reported as employed. In FY2010, only 3,945, or 46%, of the 8,488 who were certified for the first time were reported as teachers. The number of teachers newly certified in FY2011 increased slightly to 8,488. This year, the number of those who become employed will not be known until October.

 

Currently, there are roughly 2,300 public schools in 180 school systems across Georgia. During the 2008 school year there were 118,913 active teachers in Georgia. In 2009, this number reached its peak at almost 121,000. Since that time, the number of active teachers has decreased by more than 6,000 positions to a total of 114,416 in 2010. Every year, more teachers are competing for fewer positions. The state audit on TRS indicates that in FY2009 there were between 7,160 and 11,626 retirees who had returned to work either part-time or full-time. These numbers are based on data from TRS and the Department of Audits and Accounts respectively.

(http://www.audits.ga.gov/rsaAudits/viewDivisionCate.aud?divisionCate=divisionCategoryId&filterDivisionValue=3 )

 

While it can be argued that there is no real additional cost associated with employing retired teachers because someone else would still be hired to fill the position otherwise, there are some additional issues to ponder including higher salary and retirement contributions.

 

CONCLUSION

There is little debate about the impact a good teacher can have on a child but during these difficult economic times, it is appropriate to question how tax money is being spent. Should anyone be allowed, and even encouraged, to earn a full-time salary in addition to receiving full retirement benefits for roughly the same position? All retirees returning to work have the option of suspending retirement benefits to again become an active and contributing member of the system. Under this plan, the employee will be credited with the additional service when he or she returns to retirement. While there is no longer a teacher shortage in most Georgia public schools, the lowest performing schools can always benefit from experience. Given this fact, it may be worthwhile to consider returning the law to its 2002 version rather than eliminating the practice altogether.

 



 

 

August 19--  A group against construction of a coal-fired power plant in Washington County issued the following after a public hearing in Sandersville this week.

"Sandersville, GA—In the auditorium of the Oconee Technical College near the site of a proposed 850 MW coal-burning power plant, residents, retirees, and activists gathered to speak out against the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s (EPD) Draft Air Permit for the facility.

“This permit authorizes more toxic pollution, like mercury, to be added to our air and water in an area already overloaded with mercury pollution,” said Sarah Alexander a University of Georgia student and spokesperson for Environment Georgia. “Let’s work to create a Georgia where a healthy environment and a thriving economy go hand in hand—the technologies are out there, we can create energy without this pollution. That’s the kind of place I want my future children to live in.”

The permit is the second air permit issued by the EPD. After a hearing on the original air permit, Administrative Law Judge Ronit Walker ruled that the permit’s limits for hazardous air pollutants failed to meet the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standard required by the Clean Air Act. She sent the permit back to the agency to reconsider the permit limits for certain kinds of hazardous air pollutants. 

“EPD says its mission is to protect our environment but in Washington County it is failing miserably,” said Katherine Helms Cummings, Executive Director of the Fall-line Alliance for a Clean Environment, a grassroots group based in the county.  “No matter how you look at it, this permit is flawed and will bring destruction to our air, water, and health. Georgia Power’s Plant Hammond, which was built in the ‘50s and ‘70s, achieves lower emissions than this permit allows for Plant Washington.”

Of 24 speakers in the two-hour hearing, which included two physicians, all but two came to the podium to speak out against the re-issued permit. Several speakers emphasized the dangers of adding more mercury to the local environment. Plant Washington’s mercury limit would allow it to emit 210 times more than the cleanest similar source in the country and the permit limits greatly exceed those in the EPA’s proposed Mercury and Air Toxics Rule which was released in May of 2011.

“Georgia EPD considered proposed new EPA standards in Plant Washington’s particulate matter pollution limit, but failed to extend the application to toxic mercury and hydrochloric acid emissions. It’s EPD’s job to adequately protect public health and ignoring the tighter standards just means more toxins, more health problems, and more costs for the EMCs later down the road to ultimately comply with the law,” said SACE’s Coal Organizer Amelia Shenstone.

The physicians emphasized the health costs that would be associated with the plant. “Exposure to mercury in the early stages of life can cause permanent neurological and brain damage, including reduced cognitive abilities and other developmental problems,” explained Yolanda Whyte, a pediatrician who treats patients in the Middle Georgia area.

“The special chemistry of black water rivers, like the Ogeechee, means they are especially susceptible to mercury pollution,” said Dianna Wedincamp, the Ogeechee Riverkeeper. “We already have advisories on our river that state the limit of what fish you can safely eat. If we add more mercury to the local environment the toxicity levels of these fish will shoot up.”

Cathy Mayberry, a mother whose family pond will be in the shadow of Plant Washington, wore a t-shirt emblazoned with a photo of her 6-year-old grandson holding a seven pound bass caught in the pond. “The levels of toxic pollutants in this permit are not acceptable for my grandchildren or anyone else’s grandchildren. It isn’t acceptable for me to tell him that he and his sister can’t eat the fish they catch in our pond and local rivers, ” Mayberry said.

Several speakers pointed out how the forces behind the plant can be traced back to Cobb EMC in suburban Atlanta. One of the early organizers of the plant was Cobb EMC’s former CEO Dwight Brown, who has been indicted on 35 counts that include racketeering, theft, making false statements, and intimidating witnesses.

“I’m a member of Snapping Shoals EMC, and know we’ve spent millions of dollars in this permitting process. It is astounding to me that we have spent so much of members’ money without our approval as EMC members,” said activist Ab Roesel. His EMC is one of the remaining five that joined Cobb EMC to form Power4Georgians. The group has spent over $27 million on the permitting of the plant. “We are not a third world country. We should be taking advantage of alternative technologies and paying attention to modern science, not investing in technology from the last century.”

 

August 18--  Waste from the Chicken of the Sea plant north of Lyons is causing problems with the city's sewage treatment plant.

City manager Rick Hartley told the Toombs County Development Authority that greasy residue and even tuna cans were clogging the sewage treatment facility that serves the northern part of the town.

Authority Director Bill Mitchell reports a state environmental permit is expected soon that will allow the plant to use adjacent property as a spray field for waste disposal.

The property near Highway 130 north of the plant was acquired by the Development Authority using county tax money earmarked for economic development each year.

" It's obviously very important because it gives us the opportunity to invest in companies coming into the community.  A case in point is the 300 acres we were able to buy this year for a million dollars.  The company has a full payback on it in ten years so there's no liability for the community, but we couldn't have gotten them here if we didn't have the money which is provided by this one mil of tax," Mitchell points out.  

This year the county commission has allocated nearly $595,000 for use by the Development Authority.

 

 

 

August 18– State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said today that Georgia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 10.1 percent in July, up two-tenths of a percentage point from 9.9 percent in June. The state’s jobless rate was also 10.1 percent in July a year ago.

The July increase, as in June, was due primarily to the traditional seasonal layoffs, with about 80 percent of them in state and local education. 

Georgia lost 30,200 jobs in July, as the total jobs number dropped eight-tenths of a percentage point to 3,789,600. In addition to 24,500 jobs lost in government and education, business services lost 2,200, while construction lost 1,800. Overall, there were 28,400, or seven-tenths of a percentage point, fewer jobs than in July of last year.

However, a gain of 1,400 manufacturing jobs helped offset overall losses. This was the first July in 18 years that Georgia had an increase in manufacturing jobs.

“Manufacturing has been a very weak sector, but we’re starting to see some increases in hiring,” said Butler. “We’re getting a lot of inquiries from manufacturers who are looking to expand or relocate here, which is always a good sign.”

Butler said Georgia’s pro-business environment will help create much-needed jobs. However, he noted that the unrest in Washington is only hindering the growth process.

“I believe the recent lack of leadership in Washington is a contributing factor to the overall lack of confidence in the economy,” Butler said. “Due to this lack of confidence, we are seeing a business community which is hesitant to make further investments in this economy.”

The number of long-term unemployed workers increased for the first time in five months, up 600 to 251,100. The number of long-term unemployed remains 9.1 percent higher than the 230,100 in July of last year. The long-term unemployed account for 52.9 percent of Georgia’s 474,577 jobless workers.

Also, first-time claims for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits in July rose to 61,570, up 2,589, or 4.4 percent, from 58,981 in June. Most of the first-time claims were filed in manufacturing, education, services and construction. However, on the positive side, there was an over-the-year decrease of 6,519 initial claims, or 9.6 percent, from 68,089 filed in July of last year.

July marked the 48th consecutive month Georgia has exceeded the national unemployment rate, which is currently 9.1 percent, down from 9.2 percent in June. 

 

August 18--  The Montgomery County school board has approved a proposed consent order with the state Board of Education.

At a called meeting Thursday, the local board okayed a draft consent order provided by the state board.  Montgomery board attorney Tom Everett says details of the order cannot be released until the school board's hearing before the state board in Atlanta Wednesday morning.

According to School Superintendent Randy Rodgers, the consent order addresses the eight areas of school board governance concerns which landed the school system on probation earlier this month.  Rodgers reports the school system's number one priority is correcting the deficiences noted by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) when its review team visited Montgomery County this summer.

Meanwhile, three fair dismissal hearings scheduled Thursday for faculty members in the system have been delayed at the request of their attorneys.  Rodgers says hearings will be held later for elementary school teacher Marilyn Haymons and middle school teachers Allie Rhodes and Lisa Parker.

The school board also approved a $55,000 contract with AllClean to provide custodial services at the middle and high schools.

August 18--  Gov. Nathan Deal today unveiled a new law enforcement initiative to crack down on gambling parlors currently proliferating throughout Georgia.

“Today, we are coming together to send a clear message to the illegal gaming industry, and to concerned communities throughout Georgia: Our state law prohibits gambling,” said Deal. “The code is black and white on this issue. Though some have sought to further their own interests by spreading the impression that the thwarting of these laws would be winked at, we are here to reassure Georgians that we will prosecute anyone skirting the law in this area.”

The state of Georgia has witnessed an expansion of internet cafes which are being used to host internet gaming, complete with cash prizes. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation now estimates that there are 50-100 active operations. The governor is launching this initiative because large internet sweepstakes companies have their eye on Georgia for a massive expansion – projected at hundreds of locations with major sites having as many as 500 gaming terminals.    

“I am calling on GBI Director Vernon Keenan, Attorney General Sam Olens, the District Attorneys’ Association and law enforcement to use their jurisdiction and power to enforce Georgia’s gaming laws to the fullest extent,” Deal said. “Establishments falsely claiming to be internet cafes are not welcome in Georgia.  We are sending a clear message that we do not want this industry in Georgia and I am directing the state’s  resources to eliminate it from our communities.”

House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle joined the governor in vowing to take whatever legislative steps are needed during the General Assembly’s 2012 session.

 

 

August 17--  House District 155 gets a new number and new geography in the redistricting plan moving forward in the Georgia legislature.

Representative Greg Morris of Vidalia would be in the new House District 156 and pick up some new terrority to the south while losing people living in areas north and west of Vidalia.

"As proposed the new House District 156 would consist all of Toombs County, all of Montgomery County, a portion of Appling County which is Baxley and north and then a portion of Jeff Davis County up in the northeast corner," Morris explains.

At the same time, the new map moves Treutlen County and Wheeler County to new House districts.

"Currently I have all of Treutlen County and the eastern half of Wheeler County.  Under the proposed plan, both of those would go to new representatives.  Matt Hatchet from Laurens County would be representing Treutlen County and Jimmy Pruett from Eastman would represent Wheeler County.  Both of them are good representatives.  So, Treutlen County remains a whole county and Wheeler County is put back together and will no longer be split," Morris notes.

"Now, if I had my selfish wants, I wouldn't change anything, but this isn't about what I want.  It's about following the law and making a map which is fair and makes sense," he adds.

Both the House and Senate redistricting plans are expected to get legislative approval by the end of next week.

{mosimage} 

August 17--  Congressman John Barrow was at Vidalia Regional Airport Saturday night addressing the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association.  Looking on is chapter President Donald Brantley.  Congressman Barrow is co-chair of the General Aviation Committee in the House of Representatives. (Photo courtesy Billy Ragan)

August 17--  A group opposed to building a new coal-powered power plant in Washington County reports a public hearing on the plant is being held Thursday night in Sandersville.

EPD’s Second Stab at Coal Plant Permit Ripe for Critique at 8/18 Hearing

What: A public hearing to gather comments on the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s new air permit for Plant Washington.

Health specialists, fisherman, local advocates, and EMC ratepayers will turn out in force to critique the new air permit issued by the EPD for Plant Washington in Sandersville, GA. EPD reissued the permit after a judge found the first permit didn’t sufficiently protect public health. The new permit still allows the release of over 55 pounds of mercury per year, along with other toxic air pollutants. If built, Plant Washington would be the first coal plant constructed in Georgia in more than three decades.

Where: Sandersville Technical College-- 1189 Deepstep Road, Sandersville, GA 31082

When: Thursday August 18, 2011 6:30 pm-9:00 pm

August 16--  The state Senate District represented by Senator Tommie Williams of Lyons will be larger if the redistricting map currently under consideration by the state legislature is approved.

Senator Williams says the 19th Senatorial District will increase in size from nine to eleven by adding Treutlen and Telfair counties.

"In south Georgia we don't have near the growth they have in Hall or Forsyth or Cherokee counties, so we lost one south Georgia district over around the Sumter County area which will move to the Floyd County area.  Our districts just become larger and I've gone from having nine counties to eleven including Telfair and Treutlen counties," Senator Williams reports.

Senator Williams believes the maps will meet muster with the U.S. Department of Justice.

"We tried not to divide counties unless we absolutely had to and we tried to keep cities and communities together.  We obeyed the law and the population deviations are less than one percent, so it should be pre-cleared," he said.

"One of the things the Democrats did to us ten years ago was to group us together so that if two Republicans lived close to each other, they put us in the same district so we'd have to run against each other.  Other than one district in South Georgia, no other senator is put together with an incumbent.  Those are the harsh things we tried to avoid," Senator Williams says.

According to Senator Williams, the state Senate and House maps should be approved by the end of next week to be followed the last week of August by Congressional District maps.

August 15--  Toombs County School Superintendent Dr. Kendall Brantley has his keys back and is back on the job with the county school system.

{mosimage}

Dr. Brantley (R) returned to the county school board meeting Monday night after being barred from last Thursday night's meeting by board chairman Caraway (L).

School Board Chairman Daniel Caraway took Dr. Brantley's keys before a school board meeting last Thursday acting on advice from lawyers who said a state law prohibited Dr. Brantley from retiring earlier this summer and returning to his job.

Turns out the lawyers were talking about return in a fulltime capacity while Dr. Brantley is now employed in a part-time capacity.  Senator Tommie Williams of Lyons sent a letter to Caraway apologizing for the inaccurate information which had come from the state's office of Legislative Counsel.

According to Caraway, the whole thing started when a constituent read a July 29th column by Senator Jack Hill about state retirees on SoutheastGeorgiaToday.Com. and asked him to investigate if it applied to Dr. Brantley.  He said he did his job and is glad it's over.

"There is an apology here that was sent down from Atlanta for any kind of misguidance or misinformation which was passed out.  I appreciate that and I'm glad that Dr. Brantley is back to be in the position he's in to carry on the school work," Caraway told Monday night's meeting of the school board.

Dr. Brantley told an overflow conference room, "I know Mr. Caraway was advised to do what he thought was right.  Anytime you're not sure, I suppose you have to be cautious and be safe.  That's what I always try to do."

Meanwhile, a majority of the school board passed a motion regarding possible censure or sanction against board chairman Caraway for possible violation of the school board's Code of Ethics.  The motion by Duane Tomlin instructs Dr. Brantley, in consultation with board attorney Macky Bryant, to explore actions the board can take.  All but board members Russ Benton and Jonathan Holland voted for the measure.

One provision in the board's Code of Ethics, "Recognizes that the authority of the board rests only with the authority of the board as a whole and not with individual board members and act accordingly."

Some board members were upset that the chairman took the superintendent's keys without board authority before last Thursday's meeting.

Caraway also conducted a board meeting without the presence of the superintendent last Thursday night which is a violation of the code. 

 

August 15--  The Vidalia Board of Education has a policy of recognizing folks who go above and beyond with what they call "The Indian Star Award."  According to School Superintendent Dr. Tim Smith, "They are the ones who demonstrate a willingness to improve service to others, have a committment beyond the call of duty, make a significant contribution to public education or who have demonstrated outstanding performance and achievement."

The latest Indian Star is Vidalia High School sophomore Logan Lawrence.  When he was a freshman last year, he succeeded in having September designated "Jewish Heritage Month" by the Georgia General Assembly.

{mosimage}

Vidalia School Board Chairman Hal Chesser presents the school board's "Indian Star Award" to Logan Lawrence at the board's August meeting. 

"Knowing that I have friends who are Holocaust survivors and friends whose lives have been touched by the Holocaust made me want to see something like this happen in their lifetime because that's definitely a dying generation," he said.

When he was a student at J.R. Trippe Middle School, Logan initiated a school assembly presentation by the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust. As a high school freshman, he was invited by teacher Denise Parsons to join the student chapter of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America where his work in convincing the legislature to establish Jewish Heritage Month won region and statewide awards.

"I had a lot of great people behind me and backing from the community. That gave me the driving force to do what I did," Logan says.

 

August 12--  Senator Jack Hill of Reidsville provides you a link to review proposed Georgia House and Senate reapportionment maps.

 

PROPOSED SENATE AND HOUSE REAPPORTIONMENT MAPS ON LINE

 

Proposed maps for both the State Senate and House Reapportionment Committees are available on line for the public to review. Here is the process:

 

Go to: www.legis.ga.gov   

Click on "Joint Offices"

Click on "Reapportionment Office"

There are several types of maps available

The Senate and House Reapportionment Committees will be considering these maps this week for a possible vote the week of Aug. 22-26.

 

While there will be active discussions concerning Congressional reapportionment during the first week, there likely will not be any committee consideration until the Senate and House have completed most of the steps in passing the respective House and Senate maps. 

   

JULY REVENUES START OFF FY 2012 STRONGLY

 

The first month of the FY2012 Fiscal Year started off very well showing a 7.3% increase with total revenues of $1.23 billion for July. 

 

Individual Income Taxes include businesses who file as Subchapter S corporations and other individual filings.  That category, usually about 50% of total revenues, totaled $656.5 million for the month, a whopping increase of 22%.

 

Sales Tax Collections, while up 4.6% overall, showed a net decline to the state of -1.1% after distributions were made to local governments.  The difference for state collections was about $5 million less than July of 2010.

 

Motor Fuel Tax collections showed a strong increase on sales taxes on fuel coming in at a 26.5% increase while excise tax collections showed a decrease of -14.6% reflecting less fuel consumption with the rising prices.   Fuel Taxes collected totaled $85.6 million for the month.

 

Corporate Tax Collections were negative for the month by -$43.0 million totaling -$24.1 million for July versus an $18.9 million gain a year ago.  This category which showed a minus 2.0% drop in FY2011 continues to reflect the weakness in business activity and profitability.  Because of carry forward losses, recovery in this category will probably lag other categories' recoveries.

 

Tobacco tax collections were up for the month by $3.9 million or 42.3% while Alcohol tax collections were down at a minus 12.1% rate.

 

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

 

The sharp increase in Individual Income Taxes can be partially explained by a decrease in the number of Individual Refunds by 71.6% or -$91 million and an increase in Individual Withholding Payments of $29 million or 4.6%.  Individual Tax Return Payments, though, were down $3.5 million or -34.1%.

 

The decrease in state Sales Tax revenues for the month can best be explained by the increase of $38 million in local sales tax distribution over July of 2010.  Looking at Sales Tax categories, increases were shown by Automotive 2.0%, Food 6.9%, General Merchandise 3.2%, Home Furnishing 0.2%, Retail Trade 6.6%, Utilities 7.4% and Wholesale Trade 10.9%.  Categories with decreases included Accommodations at -1.4%, Construction -30.0%, and Manufacturing -1.8%.

 

WHAT LIES AHEAD?

 

There is much to be concerned about as work begins on the FY2013 state budget amid the uncertainty at all levels of the economy and government.  Since there are more questions than apparent answers, maybe a future column will dwell on the range of issues facing the state, country and in fact the world. But one thing is clear; both the immediate and long-term future of Georgia is woven in the economic uncertainty facing the United States; and Georgia is affected by the decisions or lack of decisions coming out of Washington today and in the coming months.  

August 12-- Gov. Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens praised the federal appeals court ruling that struck down the individual mandate in Obamacare as unconstitutional. In a joint statement, Deal and Olens said Georgia will continue to press its case that the whole law should be declared unconstitutional – an issue the Supreme Court will ultimately have to decide.

“We applaud today's ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit striking down the individual mandate as ‘a wholly novel and potentially unbounded assertion of congressional authority.’ Today's ruling recognizes the core principles of our federalist system and reminds an over-reaching federal government that the Constitution applies to it, too.

“We do not, however, agree with all findings in the decision. Unlike the 11th Circuit, we believe that the Obama administration should be taken at its word that the individual mandate is crucial to the whole bill, and that the whole bill should be struck down. But this much is certain: Federal healthcare reform is on life support, and this case will be decided by the Supreme Court of the United States. Today is a huge step toward victory, but it is also a day that emphasizes the importance of the work ahead.”

August 11--  Before Thursday night's Toombs County school board meeting, board chairman Daniel Caraway asked School Superintendent Dr. Kendall Brantley for his keys.

{mosimage}School Board Chairman Daniel Caraway ran an abbreviated meeting Thursday night.  The chair on the right is normally occupied by School Superintendent Dr. Kendall Brantley.  Caraway informed Brantley just before the meeting that he'd been advised by board lawyers that his employment is illegal.  The board went into executive session and later emerged to announce they would seek "a second opinion" on Dr. Brantley's job status. 

Caraway says the board attorney's office advised him Dr. Brantley's job status violates state law.  Earlier he had asked Senator Tommie Williams for an opinion from the state's office of legislative counsel.

"He asked me what the law was and I said I'm not sure what the law is but I'll ask legislative counsel to research it for you and they did and I just forwarded him what they had sent me," Senator Williams reports. 

The legislative counsel quotes state law which says a school superintendent cannot retire and come back as a superintendent of the same school system.  Dr. Brantley retired earlier this summer and came back in a half-time capacity which he claims is legal.  He believes the law would only apply if he had come back in a fulltime mode.

"From my perspective there is an interpretation of school law that is being discussed and to be on the safe side the board is asking for more legal opinions from the school board attorney.  Until we have those opinions, it's my understanding from the board they will continue the board meeting on Monday once those legal opinions have been sought," Dr. Brantley says.

Dr. Brantley contends Thursday night's meeting was a violation of the school board Code of Ethics because the board met in regular session in the absence of the superintendent.  That meeting is in recess until Monday night at 6:30.

"I suppose they'll give me the courtesy of calling me, but if they don't, I'm not going to contest it.  I'm over 62 and I can start drawing my Social Security, but I felt like we've done a good job.  We've had some scrapes here lately, but I sure didn't want the system to be in an uproar," the superintendent said.

Dr. Brantley notes there are any number of other school superintendents around the state who have retired and come back in a part-time status including Dr. Tim Smith in Vidalia.

 

August 11--  Members of the Montgomery County school board have been ordered to show cause why they should not be suspended with pay.

The state Board of Education has ordered Montgomery County school board members to attend a show cause hearing scheduled for Wednesday, August 24th at nine a.m. at the state board's offices in Atlanta.

This is the first hearing to be conducted under a new state law which gives the Governor the power to intervene with problem school boards. 

Earlier this summer the Montgomery County school system was placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for issues related to school board governance. 

Among the issues noted were questionable personnel decisions influenced by board members and alleged violations of Open Meetings laws.

A school board official said one outcome of the hearing could place the school system under a consent order outlining corrective actions to be taken. 

The board can also recommend that Governor Deal suspend the current members with pay and appoint temporary replacement members.

August 11--  With another school year getting started, the Montgomery County school system honored four school bus drivers who have over 20 years of driving without an accident.

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Harold Quarterman (far right) has been driving accident-free for 34 years.  Others (L-R) are James Love and Becky Fountain, both with 24 years, and Carolyn Anderson with 21 years.

August 10--  Officials in Vidalia should know next month if their request for a $500,000 state grant to help build a new Boys and Girls Club home in Vidalia will be approved.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs has told the city it's waiting on a federal allocation of funds before it can decide if the Vidalia request will be approved.

Meanwhile, some property owners in Vidalia may find their property being sold at public auction if they don't pay their property taxes.  City manager Bill Torrance told the city council Monday night an auction is being planned for September 6th.

August 10--  The Toombs County Commissioners are maintaining property tax rates at the current level.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Commission approved a tax rate of 9.624 mils to raise local revenue estimated at $5.7 million.

The commission also approved a one mil levy to support the Toombs County Development Authority.  Executive Director Bill Mitchell says the nearly $595,000 in revenue will help the Authority continue its work of attracting new business to Toombs County.

The commission will hold a public hearing August 30th regarding new county commission districts.  County manager Doug Eaves provides the following information on the redistricting plan.

 

"The public is invited to a public meeting at 5:30 on August 30, 2011 to review and comment (on the new district map). District one would pick-up 897 citizens, District two would pick-up 104 citizens, and District Three will lose 1001 citizens. District Four has no changes. The purpose of these changes are to minimize the deviation from the median average to achieve the one man-one vote principle. The deviation range on each district will be less than 2% well within the acceptable range. The new maps as developed by the Legislative Reapportionment Office adheres to the primary redistricting principles of Compactness of Districts, Maintaining Communities of Interest, Maintenance of Core Districts, Adherence to Natural subdivision and precinct boundaries, and  Incumbent protection."

Once the new map is approved by the Commission, it will require approval by the U.S. Department of Justice and enabling legislation by the state legislature.

 

 

 

August 10--  The Vidalia school board is looking for a new bank to handle its money.

School Superintendent Dr. Tim Smith says Montgomery Bank and Trust is asking the board to transfer up to $4.5 million to other banks.  The move would relieve MB&T from having to maintain sufficient securities on hand to back up the school system's accounts.

The school system will seek bids from other area banks, according to Dr. Smith. 

August 10--  Keep your pants up when you visit Lyons.  The city council has amended it's ordinance on indecent exposure prohibiting the public wearing of pants or shorts which exposes skin or undergarments below the waist.

Violators can be fined up to $250 and ordered to perform up to 80 hours of community service.

The law was sponsored by Councilman Tracy Johnson.

August 10--  Gov. Nathan Deal, joined by House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, today issued the call for the 2011 special legislative session. The special session is set to convene Monday, Aug. 15, at 10 a.m. and will include redistricting of the Georgia House and Senate and congressional districts, technical changes to next year’s TSPLOST referendum and ratifying the governor’s gas tax rate freeze.

“My aim is to sign into law fair maps that comply with the mandates that the federal government sets forth,” Deal said. “We will update our state and congressional legislative district maps to reflect the population changes documented in the 2010 Census, and we will  honor the sacred principle of ‘one person, one vote.’

“Working swiftly, as our maps require preclearance from the Department of Justice, we will also work to provide candidates and voters as much time as possible to prepare for the next election cycle and to keep costs down for Georgia taxpayers.”

August 10--  The city of Millen is receiving a federal grant of $917,710 to provide sewage service to a new private prison being built in Jenkins County.  The prison is expected to create 250 jobs.

Millen has been hardstruck by the loss of manufacturing.  So much so that it's being used as an example of hard times in an NBC program scheduled to air this weekend.  You can see a preview at the link below. 

NBC News' Lester Holt reports the story of three American women who find an inner strength as they face the Great Recession and their own worst fears.  'The Town That Jobs Forgot' airs Sunday, August 14, at 7pm/6c.

 http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032600/vp/44061224#44061224

August 9--  In the first month of the 2012 fiscal year, the state of Georgia’s net tax collections totaled $1.2 billion, an increase of $84 million or 7.3 percent compared to July 2011, Gov. Nathan Deal reported today.

“The first month of this fiscal year has continued the trend of year-on-year comparison growth,” said Deal. “I am encouraged by the results but will watch Georgia’s revenue numbers closely to ensure we maintain a conservative state budget. There’s much uncertainty in the market at the moment, and I’m committed to preparing our state government for whatever the global economy throws our way.”

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

Individual Income Tax: Individual Income Tax collections for July 2012 totaled $656.5 million, up from $536 million in July 2011 for an increase on $120.5 million or 22.5 percent.

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

·         Individual Tax Return payments are down $3.5 million or 34.1 percent.

·         Individual Withholding payments are up $29 million or 4.6 percent

·         Individual refunds issued (net of voided checks) are down $91 million or 71.6 percent

·         All other Individual Income Tax categories combined for an increase of nearly $4 million

Sales and Use Tax:  Sales and Use Tax collections for July 2012 reported a net decrease of $5 million or 1.1 percent over the same period last fiscal year. Gross collections reported an increase of $38 million or 4.6 percent, up from $815 million in July 2011 to $853 million in July 2012. Local distributions for July 2012 also increased by $30 million or 8.4 percent over last July, while net Sales Tax refunds increased $12 million or 387 percent over the same period last year to effectively negate the positive improvement in gross collections.          

August 8--  A $10,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction in connection with the fire that destroyed a church in the Ponderosa Community of Toombs County early Sunday.

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Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight says a car was seen leaving the Oasis Church of God just a short while before it was engulfed in flames about two a.m. Sunday.

"Right now what the Fire Marshal's office is trying to do is look through the scene and see if any of the church guitars and sound system are still there.  Typically when you have a church fire like this, it's a burglary and they set if on fire when they leave," Sheriff Kite reports.

If you have information, call the Toombs County Sheriff's Office, 526-6778.

Meanwhile, lightning struck a house early Saturday evening at 3801 Lyons-Center Road.  The resulting fire caused extensive damage to the home of Judy and David Hart who were not there but arrived home in time to save the family dog and move a vehicle from their carport.

Sheriff Kight also reports the serious injury of a Toombs County man in an auto accident.  He says Tracy McDaniel was found trapped under his vehicle on the Ezra Taylor Road Friday night.  The sheriff says he was taken to a Savannah hospital in critical condition.

August 8--  The Montgomery County Development Authority is working to encourage new retail businesses to locate in the county to increase the local sales tax base.

{mosimage} 

The latest addition to the business landscape in Mount Vernon is a new Thriftway food store being opened by the Grimes family which also runs the Thriftway store in Lyons. Ribbon-cutting for the new store was held Monday morning. Michelle Grimes Gay, holding the scissors, is the store manager.

 

August 8--  Two former Army non-commissioned officers will lead the Army Junior ROTC program serving four school systems in the Vidalia area this school term.

The two career noncoms, First Sergeant Yusvf Brantley and Command Sergeant Major David Draughn, are excited about the opportunties the program will offer students.

{mosimage}

We caught up with First Sergeant Brantley (L) and CSM Draughn sorting supplies at Vidalia High School.

CSM Draughn has already met with students and says he told them, "The moment you signed up for this course, you became part of something bigger than you.  It's no longer what the individual does or fails to do, it's what the Corps of Cadets does or fails to do.  Everything you do or fail to do reflects on the Corps of Cadets.  I had some pretty strange looks on that one, but they'll learn." 

Both NCO's have had years of experience leading young people and CSM Draughn says he's never been disappointed.

"I believe very strongly in the youth of America.  I think one of the highest forms of praise I ever heard was when the Army crossed into Iraq and the soldiers were getting into some pretty tough stuff.  Some of the embedded reporters on TV were amazed and said 'Where do we get these people?'  They come from places like Vidalia and Dobson, NC where I'm from and places like that.  Those kids have never disappointed me in a long time.  It's takes leadership and proper attitude to do that, but they'll do great things and I believe very strongly they'll do that at Vidalia," he says.

Officials say 170 students have enrolled in the first class of JROTC ever to be offered in this area.

August 6-  State Senator Jack Hill of Reidsville reports on the impact the federal budget cuts has on the state of Georgia budget.
 
  When retirees started to wonder if they would receive their Social Security checks on Aug. 3, the federal budget crisis finally began to sink in to average citizens.  The debate on raising the debt ceiling brought into sharp focus the United States' fiscal policies and held this country up to the same light as other economies around the world.  If nothing else is accomplished from the recent debate, it has elevated the understanding of average citizens of the necessity of this country to change the direction of spending excesses and get its fiscal house in order.   Of course the recession complicates things, but it is becoming a "chicken and the egg " situation when recovery is held back by people's lack of confidence in the future due to the country's fiscal situation.  So the argument that the U.S. should not reduce spending due to possible negative effects on the economy lacks validity in my view.

 

Assuming that fiscal restraints will actually begin to take effect and Congress begins to implement budget cuts, a legitimate question is "what is the potential effect on Georgia, its budget and citizens."

 

The answer is"a lot."  Even though state leaders always complain that this state does not get back as much in tax dollars as it sends to Washington, the federal budget permeates every nook and cranny of this state.

 

Here is just a quick review: 

 

Federal Funds by State Agency-a partial list:

 

Dept. of Agriculture                                         $6.6 million

Dept. of Community Affairs                            $167.4 million         

Dept. of Behavioral Health                              $162.7 million

Dept. of Community Health                             $5.1 billion

Dept. of Education                                            $1.8 billion

Governor's Office                                             $44.02 million

Dept. of Human Services                                 $1.07 billion

GBI                                                                      $27.2 million

Dept. of Labor                                                   $345.4 million

Dept. of Natural Resources                             $54.0 million

Dept. of Public Health                                      $471.2 million

Dept. of Public Safety                                      $37.4 million

Technical College System                                $70.8 million

Transportation                                                   $1.21 billion

Veterans Services                                              $18.2 million

              

About $10.8 billion in federal funds flow through the state budget and are dispensed through the state appropriations process.

 

A second huge source of federal funds in the state is through Federal Benefit Programs which are paid to individuals and to medical providers.   These include Social Security and Medicare.   Social Security payments total over $15 billion yearly.  That's roughly the same amount of revenue the state takes in!   Medicare expends almost $10 billion to providers of health care to Georgia recipients.  Military and federal civilian retirement payments total about $3.8 billion.  Out of 10.4 million state citizens, 1.4 million receive Social Security payments and 1.2 million benefit from Medicare.

 

A third source of federal expenditures in the state involves federal procurement contracts for supplies and services which totaled $11.2 billion in FY2009.  Federal employee salaries for military personnel total $8.8 billion and for civilian salaries for all sorts of federal agencies in the state total $4.8 billion.  Federal research and other grants for Regents institutions total $1.2 billion. 

 

Totaling everything we can think of, the federal governments' total yearly expenditures in Georgia approach $90 billion.  This total dwarfs the state funds budget of the state at $18.3 billion.

 

 

GEORGIA'S BUDGET--$10.8 BILLION IN FEDERAL FUNDS - 31.9%

 

Georgia has a total funds budget for FY2012 of $34,059,167,567 (34.0 billion).  Of that total $18.2 billion are state funds raised through taxes and fees.  The next largest portion of the budget, $10,857,824,765 ($10.8 billion) comes from the federal government through a wide range of programs, entitlements and grants.

 

These federal funds range from $5.0 billion in Medical Assistance (Medicaid) to $1.14 billion in highway funds to $32.00 for "Enhanced Assessment Instruments"- the smallest grant listed. 

 

The vast majority of the federal funds are tax dollars coming to the state but there are a few that are based on sales of certain items that have a federal excise tax.  These include Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration funds derived from taxes on sales of fishing equipment and boats and fuel.  Georgia receives $7.0 million yearly through federal appropriations.  Also the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Funds are based on taxes on firearms, ammunition and other sporting goods.  For Georgia in FY012 this appropriation totals $3.9 million.  Both are appropriated by the state to the Department of Natural Resources.     

 

Budget writers have relied more and more on federal funding to support state departments as shrinking state revenues forced down the state funds budget.

So this 31.9% of the total funds budget that is made up of federal funds is vital to the operation of the state.

 

Looking down the list of federal appropriations, it is easy to spot grants and sources that don't seem critical.  But there is no doubt that when federal funds start shrinking, there will be effects on the state's budget touching all Georgians' lives.

 

To look up a list of Federal funds sources in Georgia's budget, go to www.legis.ga.gov.

August 4--  A Superior Court judge has dismissed the case of a Toombs County citizen against the District Attorney of the Middle Judicial Circuit.

Former Toombs Commission Chairman James Thompson sought a court order requiring District Attorney Hayward Altman to deposit some proceeds from a series of convenience store video machine gambling raids last year in the Toombs County general fund.

The raids in Toombs County generated nearly $440,000 to the District Attorney's office and another almost $210,000 was paid to an Atlanta law firm hired by Altman to assist in the cases.  A new Georgia law as of July 1st prohibits the hiring of third-party attorneys in future cases.

Earlier this year the District Attorney said the $440,000 collected from Toombs County defendants would be divided among his office, the East Central Georgia Drug Task Force, the Toombs County Sheriff's office and police departments in Vidalia and Lyons. 

Toombs County manager Doug Eaves says it will be up to the county commission to determine if money from the DA will make it to the sheriff's office.

Meanwhile, Altman issued a statement saying he was gratified with the ruling of Judge Kathy Palmer and termed it a "victory" for law enforcement agencies who participated in the raids.

The judge also ruled that under provisions of Georgia's frivolous law suit statute, the DA can file a motion asking that Thompson pay attorney's fees and expenses related to the case.

Thompson's attorney, Mackey Bryant of Vidalia, says he's unsure if the case will be appealed.

August 4--  For the second time in less than a month, a Vidalia businessman has been arrested on drug charges.

Vidalia police report 43-year-old Chris Casteel called 911 about four a.m. Wednesday morning from his business on North Street, C&C Pawn City.  Upon arrival, Police Chief Frank Waits says officers found Casteel and a woman in an intoxicated state inside the store.  Casteel claimed someone had entered the building an opened fire with a weapon.  Chief Waits says there's evidence a 9mm automatic was fired multiple times in the building with no injuries.

He says officers found cocaine in plain view and are charging Casteel with possession.  The woman was not charged.  He was taken to the Toombs County jail and later released on five-thousand dollars bond.

Last month Casteel and the same woman were found with cocaine in Casteel's vehicle on the side of State Route 130 near the Oconee River Boat Ramp in Wheeler County.  He was charged with cocaine possession and released on bond.

Chief Waits says his officers are looking for the shooter in the Vidalia case.

August 3--  The Montgomery County school board is considering a change to its public participation policy at school board meetings.

School Superintendent Randy Rodgers proposed the change at the board's August meeting.  Currently the board allows citizens to sign up immediately before meetings to address the board.  The proposed change would require citizens to request a board appearance at least three days before the meeting and require the approval of the school superintendent.

Rodgers says it's the same policy which was in effect during the administrations of former superintendents Dale Clark and Jim Paul Poole.  The current board has been publicly criticized during the public participation portion of its meetings for the past several months.  The board is expected to vote on the change at its September meeting.

Rodgers also questioned the journalistic ethics of print media covering school board meetings.  He claims The Advance newspaper in Vidalia uses it's "Your Mind on Line" page to print anonymous personal attacks and trash.

Here is a portion of a statement he read to the board and those attending the meeting.

"Someone very, very wise once told me that you can’t fight people that buy ink by the 55 gallon barrel. That may be so, but since I have become superintendent, I have had gallons of ink dumped on me by the media.

The Vidalia Advance accepts slanderous comments from people who call in anonymously and justifies their printing of such slander as the communication of opinion. They then convert those slanderous remarks to libel when they say things that are not true or are only half true. Many of the comments that are adverse are popularly known as preposterous, but still they print them under the justification that they are communicating opinions. (On a very personal note, I would not wish on anyone, not even the employees of The Vidalia Advance, the experience of having their wife, children, and mother read the trash that the Vidalia Advance allows in their paper regarding individuals and, in this case, me.)

As a staff member of a very much honored publication in another community, I was always taught that you should be very aware of your ability to be a bully and to unfairly and unscrupulously sway public opinion.  It seems that certain media are quick to hold us to standards of ethics and accreditation. At the same time, the Code of Ethics of the Georgia Press Association holds them to very high standards. It would be interesting if the print media would share their Code of Ethics in print and comment on how they strive to uphold the standards of journalism.

I cannot tell you how disappointed and hurt that I am that people that I known and have trusted in the past have unfairly treated me, personally as well as my family that is exposed to this treatment, and my earnest efforts to attempt to lead the school system in such a way that Montgomery County children are advantaged. I will not suggest reasons for such treatment, but I do know that my upbringing and training was such that I know the difference in what is right and wrong, here. This is wrong."

In actions at the meeting, the school board accepted the resignation of former Montgomery County High School principal Luke Smith whom will be paid the same retirement incentives as others who have retired from the system.  Smith will teach math this school term in Wheeler County.  Smith had threatened to sue to the school board after the board refused to renew his contract earlier this year.  The issue sparked a student demonstration in support of Smith at the high school.

The school board also approved a budget of nearly $11.2 million, four percent less than this year, and granted authority for the school system's central office to relocate at the appropriate time to the 1929 building on the middle-high school campus.  There are no firm plans on what to do with the current central office buildings when they are vacated, but Superintendent Rodgers says the shutting them down will save money.

August 2--  Twelfth District Congressman John Barrow voted Monday for the bill authorizing an increase of the federal government's debt limit.  He issued the following statement on the bill and his vote.

“This bill is not perfect, but it pulls together ideas from both sides of the aisle and preserves the spirit of honest compromise that the American people expect from their leaders in Washington. This legislation provides certainty to our business community, makes much-needed spending cuts that will help get our fiscal house in order, and ensures that the United States can continue to pay its obligations on time.  Most importantly, it averts a disaster that would’ve crippled our economy and endangered the future of our nation for generations.  Supporting this plan was the fiscally responsible thing to do for our country in the short-term, but there are many more challenges facing us on our road to long-term economic security.  It’s my hope that as we deal with the challenges ahead we will focus on crafting common sense, bipartisan solutions as quickly as possible, so that we never again risk running out the clock on our nation’s economic future.” 

Meanwhile, one of Georgia's newest congressman voted against the measure.

U.S. Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA-09) issued the following statement after voting against the deal President Obama and Congressional leaders reached to raise the debt limit:

“America’s call for sweeping change last November set the stage for this great debate over our debt burden.  Washington has pushed its recklessness to the limit and violated the trust of the American people for far too long.  A debt of $14 trillion isn’t an indictment; it’s a conviction.

“Unfortunately, the final deal before us today fails the match the magnitude of the crisis.  In fact, it doesn’t come close.  In exchange for giving President Obama the largest debt limit increase in United States history, the American people receive only $10 billion in savings over the next two years.  The bill does seek out deeper spending cuts in the future, but if we’re to learn anything from history, that promise is bound to be broken.  The fact is, by the end of next year our national debt will be near $17 trillion and will remain a serious threat to our economy. 

“Ultimately, the voices of the Georgians I represent weren’t reflected in the final result, and I could not support the bill.

 “Despite the legislation’s many flaws, I do want to commend Speaker Boehner for his hard work and critical victory on the issue of taxes.  By preventing any job-destroying tax hikes from making their way into the deal, the Speaker protected a great many American jobs from being sacrificed for Washington’s bailout.

“I realize this debate has been long and very difficult, but if we intend to change a government as broken as ours, prepare for the road ahead to be even more challenging.  This debate is far from over, and I’ll continue to work toward solving our debt crisis—even if it means going against the grain every time.  We have made progress, and we will continue to fight for a brighter, more prosperous future for America.”

 

 

August 2--  When the new school term starts August 12, there's a new place for area students to learn.  Local leaders hope it will reduce the high school dropout rate and help improve the area's workforce readiness.

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The Southeastern Early College and Career Academy (SECCA) ribbon-cutting was held Monday at the new $7 million dollar building on the campus of Southeastern Tech in Vidalia.

It's the first regional career academy in the state and will serve students from high schools in Vidalia, Toombs, Montgomery and Treutlen counties.  State Senator Tommie Williams of Lyons started the ball rolling on the project seven years ago.

{mosimage}"It's a place where kids want to come to learn, where they don't want to drop out, where they are serious and where they see a vision for a time when they might have a job.   This is a real inspiration for this county.  People in politics get involved with a lot of things.  Some work out and some don't work out, but for me this is the most important thing I've ever been involved with and thank you all who had a part in making it happen," Senator Williams said.

 

Georgia Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle has been a driving force to create career academies statewide and helped get funding for the one in Vidalia.{mosimage}  

"We have for too long said that for every student to be successful, you've got to go to college.  I want every student to have the opportunity to go to college, but I also want us to understand that 80 percent of the workforce tomorrow is going to need some type of technical training. It's critical.  

"What we've done with career academies is that we've not only shown relevance, we've given real accountability and real results.  What we have today with career academies are 98 percent graduation rates and 100 percent placement rates when they're finished," Cagle said.

Dr. Ryan Flowers from Vidalia High School is coordinating course offerings and scheduling with the other three school systems which are part of the career academy.

 

August 2--  The Montgomery County school system has been placed on probation for the coming school year by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

A SACS review team visited the school system in June due to complaints it received from citizens in the county.  The team's report contends the county school board has violated nine accreditation standards and possibly state law regarding open meetings and conduct of board members.

Reverend Adrian Bell of Uvalda has been a vocal critic of school board personnel and financial decisions and says, "I hate that our system is on probation.  It is not a good thing.  I do not relish the fact whatsoever, but I think it is the right decision.  Now, hopefully, with the laws that are in place in Georgia, now we can truly going back to getting things under control and restoring confidence in the board of education from the citizens of the county."

The school board has been given until December 15th to correct the noted violations and stand re-inspection by another review team.  School board chairwoman Deloris James says, "We are committed to addressing the eight required actions that SACS has delineated for us.  We are committed to providing the best education and we're more than happy to meet the requirements they set for us.  We believe we'll be a better school system by taking care of those required actions."

School Superintendent Randy Rodgers says the probation status does not impact the school system's accreditation this year nor will it impact any of the high school's graduates as far as their academic records are concerned.

The SACS report noted, "Two very distinct factions exist between two prior school superintendents who still live in the community, one of whom is now on the board."  It said many stakeholders believe some board members, along with the prior superintendents, are focused on personal agendas at the expense of children served by the system.

A copy of the team's findings is below.

Findings

Based upon the information collected and reviewed, the Special Review Team found sufficient evidence to support a finding that the school system is in violation of AdvancED Standards and policies for District Accreditation.

The Special Review Team found the following Standards violations:

Standard 2.2: Recognizes and preserves the executive, administrative, and leadership authority of the administrative head of the system.

Interviews with stakeholders and review of documentation of the Montgomery County

School System revealed the following four superintendents resigned in less than a four

month timeframe. Dr. Lynn Batten resigned after three years as superintendent

following the election of three new board of education members, Mr. Reggie Roberts

resigned after three weeks as interim superintendent, Dr. Larry Daniels resigned one day

after being named interim superintendent, and Dr. Charles Warnock was in the position

of interim superintendent for six weeks (but only worked 18 days) before resigning.

 

At the January 24, 2011 board meeting, the board of education approved personnel

recommendations that were offered as considerations from the prior superintendent. He

had resigned on December 31, 2010. At the time, Mr. Roberts was still serving in the

capacity of interim superintendent and did not support the recommendations that were

approved by the board. Even though Mr. Roberts resigned that night as a result of the

board not supporting his leadership, his term of office was still effective until January 30,

2011. Therefore, the board made personnel recommendations and voted on the

recommendations, conflicting with their own board policy. At this same January 24,

2011 meeting, the board hired Mr. Larry Daniels as interim superintendent after he was

interviewed during the Executive Session of the board meeting. This action appears to

violate state law, which mandates activities appropriate for discussion during Executive

Sessions.

 

The team observed that the actions taken by the board indicated that it was the board’s

expectation that the role of the superintendent within the district was to adhere only to

the wishes of the board. An interim superintendent was named in haste that evening.

Individual board members have consistently been directly involved in personnel

decisions by instructing the superintendent regarding who should be transferred, hired,

or dismissed as opposed to voting on the personnel recommendations made by the

superintendent. School board members have even failed to acknowledge the

superintendent’s personnel recommendations. On March 7, 2011 and on March 21,

2011, the board failed to act on the personnel recommendations of Dr. Warnock, the

interim superintendent.

 

On March 24, 2011, the current Superintendent, Mr. Randy Rodgers, was named

immediately after the position was vacated by Dr. Warnock on March 23, 2011. The

position was not advertised as vacant nor was the interview process followed pursuant to state law. Dr. Warnock told a reporter when he resigned that he refused to be “a puppet for school board members” whom he claimed have “a personal and political agenda.” In a media release dated March 23, 2011, Dr. Warnock indicated, “It is not my wish to have a hand in any further wrong-doings to the employees and students of this school system.My actions and recommendations have been dictated by my professional experience and Christian values. It appears that the Board does not share my beliefs, and a severance of our relationship is appropriate at this time.”

On May 26, 2011, the Board interviewed Dr. Henry Walding for the position of principal of Montgomery County High School during the Executive Session of a called board meeting. Kathy Bradford, assistant editor of the Vidalia Advance, informed Superintendent Rodgers that according to David Hudson, Georgia Press Association General Counsel, candidates for principal could not be interviewed during Executive Session. Superintendent Rodgers ignored this media inquiry and proceeded to conduct the interview during Executive Session.

Interviews revealed numerous indications that some board of education members are

personally and politically motivated as opposed to being focused on utilizing best

practices in fiscal responsibilities and fairness to employees. For example, the board’s

chairperson told Superintendent Warnock, “They were ready to ‘clean out’ Central

Office. They had already succeeded in removing Clark, Roberts, and Adams.”

In a signed letter dated March 27, 2011 to the SACS Special Review Team, Mr. Reggie

Roberts made reference that he had been instructed by the current school board

members to meet with Mr. Luke Smith, principal of Montgomery County High School,

and inform him that he would not be approved for employment for the 2011-2012

school year. Additionally, the board expressed concern about employees receiving

compensatory time, and Mr. Roberts was directed to inform Mr. Smith that

compensatory time would no longer be granted to employees. Mr. Roberts stated that he

“resigned the position [of interim superintendent] because he was unwilling to make the

[personnel] recommendations the board proposed.” Mr. Roberts’ letter further

indicated, “When I was named [interim] superintendent, the board chairperson publicly

stated that if I did not continue as superintendent, that I would be allowed to return to

my previous position as assistant superintendent. This was also written in my contract.

However, on March 21, 2011, my contract was non-renewed for the 2011-2012 school

year.”

Standard 2.3: Ensures compliance with applicable local, state, and federal laws,

standards, and regulations.

The Special Review Team, through interviews and a review of board meetings and

artifacts, found that the Montgomery County School Board failed to comply with local

board policy BH - Code of Ethics for School Board Members (adopted January 3, 2011)

and Georgia state law in the following areas:

o Domain I: Governance Structure

􀂃 1. Recognizes that the authority of the board rests only with the board

as a whole and not with individual board members and act accordingly

􀂃 2. Supports the delegation of authority for the day-to-day administration

of the school system to the local superintendent and act accordingly

7 | Special Review Team Report

􀂃 5. Not undermine the authority of the local superintendent or intrude

into responsibilities that properly belong to the local superintendent or

school administration, including such functions as hiring, transferring, or

dismissing employees.

o Domain II: Strategic Planning

􀂃 4. Render all decisions based on available facts and his or her

independent judgment and refuse to surrender his or her judgment to

individuals or special interest groups.

o Domain III: Board and Community Relations

􀂃 1. Seek regular and systemic communications among the board and

students, staff and community.

􀂃 2. Communicate to the board and the local superintendent expressions

of public reaction to board policies and school programs.

o Domain V. Board Meetings

􀂃 3. Work with other board members in a spirit of harmony and

cooperation in spite of differences of opinion that may arise during the

discussion and resolution of issues at board meetings.

􀂃 5. Maintains the confidentiality of all discussions and other matters

pertaining to the board and the school system, during Executive Session

of the board.

􀂃 6. Make decisions in accordance with the interests of the school system

as a whole and not any particular segment thereof.

􀂃 7. Express opinions before votes are cast, but after the board vote,

abides by and supports all majority decisions of the board.

o Domain VI: Personnel

􀂃 1. Consider the employment of personnel only after receiving and

considering the recommendation of the local superintendent.

􀂃 2. Support the employment of persons best qualified to serve as

employees of the school system and insist on regular and impartial

evaluations of school system staff.

􀂃 3. Comply with all applicable law, rules, regulations and all board

policies regarding employment of family members.

o Domain VII: Financial Governance

􀂃 1. Refrain from using the position of board member for personal or

partisan gain or to benefit any person or entity over the interest of the

school system.

o Conduct as Board Member:

􀂃 3. Communicate in a respectful professional manner with and about

fellow board members.

􀂃 4. Take no private action that will compromise the board or school

system administration.

Evidence shared with the team revealed that the current Superintendent, Mr. Randy

Rodgers was named immediately after the position was vacated. The position was not

advertised as vacant as mandated by state law. Another potential violation of state law

occurred when the board interviewed Dr. Daniels, a candidate for principal, during

Executive Session. Additionally, the board may have been in violation of Georgia’s

Open Meetings Act as a result of assembling together and conducting a meeting during

a bus trip to Eastman, Georgia.

Some members of the board of education are engaging in numerous activities in areas of

terminations, transfers, and other personnel matters without regard to due process, staff

evaluation, and/or professional improvement plans. The board chairperson publicly

campaigned against the Special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) referendum

through the use of full page newspaper advertisements and flyers, even though the

majority of the board voted to pursue this funding option. Georgia state law specifies

that board members may inform the public of facts regarding a SPLOST referendum.

However, the campaigning of a board member’s opinion regarding the SPLOST is

another potential violation of state law.

Standard 2.5: Builds public support, secures sufficient resources, and acts as a steward of the system’s resources.

Public support and staff and student morale have diminished during recent months due

to school board and leadership upheavals according to stakeholders as shared during

interviews. There is a pervasive atmosphere of bitterness and fear by stakeholders

throughout the district. There is distinct fear by staff members that if they speak out

against the board, they will lose their jobs. One student in an interview with the local

media indicated, “I pray that the Lord really works miracles on the board because those

people really need those jobs.”

The board has terminated or transferred all system and school level leadership since the

January 2011 board meeting, during a time when the system was under the leadership of

four interim superintendents and now a first-time superintendent. Additionally, these

actions took place when three new board members had been in position for only a few

months. There is public concern regarding the numerous transfers and terminations

with no apparent personnel or reorganization plan in place that has been communicated

to stakeholders.

Standard 2.6: Maintains access to legal counsel to advise or obtain information about legal requirements and obligations.

Stakeholders stated that the legal counsel for the board is not always appropriately

consulted and when consulted, the advice is not always followed.

Standard 2.9: Creates and supports collaborative networks of stakeholders to support system programs.

The majority of the representative group of stakeholders interviewed by the Special

Review Team indicated that they had not received any communication initiated by the

district pertaining to changes in personnel or to changes in the direction of the school

system. Two very distinct factions exist between two prior superintendents who still live

in the community and one of whom is now on the board. Interviews revealed that

many stakeholders believe some board members, along with the prior superintendents,

are focused on personal agendas impacting the district and the community at the

expense of children served by the school system.

Additional responses from stakeholders revealed that they have many unanswered

questions, feel accountability should be greater, would like changes to be explained, and

feel communication is poor. Further, many interviewed indicated that the school

system’s leadership is “broken and needs to be fixed.”

Standard 2.10: Provides direction, assistance, and resources to align, support, and

enhance all parts of the system in meeting organizational and student performance

goals.

The team discovered a lack of evidence of a proposed plan supporting the major

changes that have taken place. These decisions appear to be driven more by emotions

and personal agendas as opposed to systemic, systematic, and sustainable plans to

improve the school district. Stakeholders expressed, “We can support a plan if we know

there is a plan and direction.” Also, there appears to be a lack of honesty and

transparency on the part of the board and the current superintendent. Parents

expressed that the behaviors/conduct of the board members and the superintendent

were not appropriate for those responsible for the quality of education in Montgomery

County. Parents also are concerned that the system’s goals and vision are not being met,

administrators and board members are not providing leadership, and everything is being

politicized. All stakeholders would like for the school district to move forward with a

shared focus on student achievement.

Standard 2.11: Provides internal and external stakeholders meaningful roles in the

decision-making process that promote a culture of participation, responsibility, and

ownership.

Furthermore, representatives of the stakeholder groups indicated that they had not been

involved or given the opportunity to provide feedback regarding changes impacting the

direction of the school system that have been implemented since January 2011.

Additional responses from stakeholders revealed that they have many unanswered

questions, feel accountability should be greater, would like changes to be explained, and

feel communication is poor. There is no evidence of a plan on the part of the board to

deal with personnel changes and the finances of the school district, nor has any

information been communicated to stakeholders.

Parents expressed concern that the school system’s goals are not being met and there

has been no structured opportunity for parents to engage in discussion regarding their

concerns.

Standard 2:12: Assesses and addresses community expectations and stakeholder

satisfaction.

There is significant concern about the possible loss of students to surrounding school

districts because of the turmoil that exists in the district. There is confusion on the part

of the stakeholders regarding the necessity for all of the administrative changes, in

particular because the students are performing at relatively high academic levels in

comparison to surrounding school districts. Additionally, concerns were expressed that

the turmoil in district leadership has created questions about the community’s ability to

attract and retain new businesses, industries, and families.

Standard 5.2: Establishes and implements a process to assign professional and support staff based on system needs and staff qualifications as may be required by federal and state law and regulations (i.e. professional preparation, ability, knowledge, and experience).

There is a pattern of assigning and transferring professional staff in an arbitrary manner

without sufficient regard for the best interest of students, staff, the community, and the

school system. Some assignments and adjustments appear to be the result of retaliation

for expressing opinions and ideas contrary to those of some board members. Without

advertising positions or seeking a pool of qualified applicants, the board approved

numerous administrative staff members including the high school principal and the

current superintendent.

Accreditation Status

Based on the findings of the Special Review Team, it is concluded that the Montgomery County School System is in violation of the following AdvancED Accreditation Standards for School Systems: Standards 2.2, 2.3, 2.5, 2.6, 2.9, 2.10, 2.11, 2.12, and

5.2. It is the recommendation of the Special Review Team that the Montgomery County School System be placed in the accreditation status of “Probation” for the school year 2011-2012. The probation status provides the school district with the opportunity to address the problems identified in this report and to ensure that the Standards for Accreditation are being met. The team further recommends that the Montgomery County School System, with the cooperation and leadershipof the Board of Education and superintendent, address the following Required Actions by December 15, 2011, and schedule and host a Monitoring Visit prior to that date to assess progress.

Required Actions

The institution must fully address the following Required Actions made by the Special Review Team:

1. The Montgomery County Board of Education and superintendent must develop and

implement a communication plan with timelines to keep stakeholders informed of the

district’s purpose and direction. The plan must be an earnest effort to operate in a

transparent manner that will lead to a rebuilding of respect and trust among the

community stakeholders and school system staff.

2. The Montgomery County Board of Education and superintendent must develop and

implement a strategic plan with timelines that involve representatives from various

stakeholder groups in the planning and implementation of the strategic plan.

3. All board members must consider and vote at a board meeting to support and uphold

the Board Code of Ethics - Policy BH, adopted January 3, 2011 and individually sign a

commitment of agreement.

4. The Montgomery County Board of Education must ensure that all actions and

behaviors of board members are fully aligned with the official board policies, applicable

laws, and all AdvancED Accreditation Standards. The Board is responsible for

monitoring its performance and, as such, should consider and take appropriate action

when any member of the Board fails to act in accordance with board policies, applicable

laws, and Accreditation Standards.

5. The Montgomery County Board of Education and superintendent must develop a plan

and timeline for comprehensive board member training by a recognized training

organization with proven experience in training local Board members (i.e. Georgia

School Board Association) in the areas that follow: board member roles and

responsibilities, superintendent and board relations, working as a team, communicating

with and involving all stakeholders in the education process, financial responsibilities,

board ethics, and appropriate disciplinary action for board members.

6. The Montgomery County Board of Education and superintendent must develop and implement a plan with timelines for handling the current budget crisis. This plan should provide opportunities for stakeholder input. The plan should include proposed cost cutting processes and personnel changes with justifications for each change.

7. The Montgomery County Board of Education and superintendent must make decisions based on information provided by the school system staff, data, and other results in support of student achievement. Conflict of interest must be removed from the decision-making process of the school system and the Board and superintendent must demonstrate that decisions are made in the best interest of the school system as a whole.

8. The superintendent must present a monthly, detailed financial statement to the board and make it available to the staff and to the public. The Montgomery County School System should request that a Monitoring Team be appointed by AdvancED to make an on-site visit to assess the progress of the school system in meeting the Required Actions listed above. The Monitoring Visit should be scheduled to occur no later than December 15, 2011. All expenses of the review team pertaining to the Monitoring Visit are the responsibility of the district and to be paid by the district. Additionally, the district will be required to submit an Institutional Progress Report documenting progress relative to the Required Actions. A template for completing the Progress Report will be provided by the AdvancED Georgia office. The Institutional Progress Report must be submitted no less thantwo weeks prior to the on-site Monitoring Visit. Further, the AdvancED Georgia office isavailable to provide assistance, if needed.

Next Steps - Using and Acting on the Report

A copy of this report is sent to the superintendent. The school system shall use the report to guide its response to the findings and its improvement efforts. The school system is accountable for addressing the Required Actions identified in this report within the specified timeline. It is the responsibility of the superintendent to ensure that the content of this report is shared with the community.

Closing Comments

The board members and the superintendent of the Montgomery County School System,

individually and collectively, must work cooperatively to establish a culture that promotes effective governance and professional operations for the benefit of their most important constituents - the children they serve. The board of education and the superintendent must diligently collaborate to inform the community, and put into practice, that board members are obligated to serve the interests of the entire school district even though they are elected by a segment of county residents.

It is clear to the members of the Special Review Team that the continuing accreditation of the schools in Montgomery County is highly regarded and a source of pride among the community. However, continuing accreditation is in serious jeopardy. The actions of board members are in direct conflict with their own policies and AdvancED Accreditation Standards, resulting in a loss of respect for the board by the stakeholders of the school district. Evidence reveals that the current board is not demonstrating the ability to provide consistent, positive, and effective leadership in moving the system forward.

Serving on the board of education is an admirable endeavor for those who seek to lead and support education. However, board members who demonstrate behaviors that create disruption cause unnecessary injury to the work and reputation of the board and the school district. Such behaviors breed fear, mistrust, confusion, and a lack of focus among school and district stakeholders. During the process of the review, the Special Review Team interacted with a group of community leaders and administrators dedicated to the students and to the community. It is incumbent upon the board to help create and preserve an overall environment that is free from threats, intimidation, and retaliation toward school system employees. The schools belong to the community, and it is time for board members to respond to stakeholder expectations by focusing on district improvement.

August 1--  Marcia Cherry with the Sweet Onion Animal Protection Society (SOAPS) reports on a successful pet Adopt-A-Thon Saturday at the Vidalia Animal Shelter on Airport Road.  Many other animals are still awaiting adoption at the shelter!

"OH MY GOODNESS - What a Wonderful day for SOAPS & The Vidalia Animal Control Shelter!!!!!!

{mosimage}Take a look at the pictures. A smile is worth a thousand words. Twelve of our Furry Friends at the shelter found forever homes.

The shelter looked GREAT & the community came together and restocked the
shelter with food items & cat litter. Thank-You Toombs County.

{mosimage}Another treat we had at the shelter Saturday was Winona Powell, a certified obedience trainer. We kept her busy for 2 hours. Asking questions and picking-up tips on dog training. She was FANTASTIC!!!"

 

August 1--  There's good news and bad news about property taxes in Montgomery County.

The bad news is that the county commission is raising the tax.  The good news is that they have backed off on the amount of the increase.

Initally, the commissioners were planning on a one mil increase to give the budget an extra $217,000.  However, after a public hearing and talking with folks, Commission Chairman Franklin Brantley says the commissioners, on a 3-2 vote, decided on an increase of only 3/4 of a mil.

"We're doing our duty to meet our budget for 2012 and, at the same time, try to understand what's going on with the economics and please some of the voters out there and the folks in the county, so we chose to go back to 3/4 quarters of a mil," Brantley said.

The new budget eliminates the need for furlough days for county employees, however, the loss of a quarter-mil takes away their 1.5 percent pay raise.

"The employees have paid their dues.  They've done it (furloughs) for three years and we were all strongly committed to doing away with those six days.  Of course, we had also put in a 1.5% raise and we eliminated that as part of the makeup between a mil and three-quarters of a mil," he said.

The chairman along with Commissioners Brandon Braddy and Vernon Sumner voted for the increase with Commissioners Clarence Thomas and John Carpenter voting no.

Meanwhile, as far as school property taxes are concerned, there will be no increase this year.  The Montgomery County school board has voted to maintain the tax at 12.1 mils.

At a called meeting, the school board also awarded a nearly $94,000 contract to Bishop-Durden Insurance of Vidalia for the school system's liability, property and workers compensation insurance.