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January 30--  The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)says the Montgomery County school board is making progress to get the school system off probation.

County school superintendent Randy Rodgers says he has received a preliminary report from SACS.  Last year the organization investigated complaints about the school board and found it lacking in eight areas of board governance.

The new report follows a second visit by a SACS team and says the board has corrected three areas of deficiency and is making progress on correcting the other five.

The state school board will examine the report to determine the future of the school board.  After a hearing last August, it gave the school board until March 31 to get its house in order or face possible removal by Governor Nathan Deal.

Meanwhile, a third follow-up visit by SACS is scheduled for June, according to Rodgers, who has said he expects the school system will be removed from SACS probation before next school term.

January 30--  A Vidalia man has died of injuries received in a Toombs County auto accident Saturday night.

Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight reports 39-year-old Hope Achenbach, III and his brother-in-law, Todd Meeks, had been visiting at the home of Shannon Gay at 597 Hillsboro Road.  When leaving, Achenbach ran off the dirt road not far from the house where his car hit a tree and overturned.

Officers arrived on the scene and could not find Achenbach.  His brother-in-law was not hurt, but people in the house said Achenbach had come in to wash off some blood and left. Sheriff Kight says officers searched the area but could not find Achenbach.

Sunday morning Gay call Toombs County 911 to report Achenbach's body had been found in the woods behind his house.  Sheriff Kight says it was apparent he had suffered a head injury.

The body was sent to the Georgia State Crime Lab.  Sheriff Kight says his office, the Georgia State Patrol, the GBI and the Toombs County coroner are investigating. 



January 30--  The following opinion by Tom Crawford of "The Georgia Report" is furnished by the Ogeechee Riverkeepers.

The makeover of the DNR board is completed

The state Board of Natural Resources completed a historic changeover this week as it said goodbye to an environmental advocate and installed in one of its top positions a lobbyist whose firm’s clients include a utility that is one of Georgia’s largest sources of air pollution.

Board members voted formally on Tuesday to elect Philip Watt, a non-practicing physician from Thomasville, as their new chairman. They also elected Rob Leebern, a lobbyist with Troutman Sanders Strategies, as the new vice chairman.

Watt replaces Earl Barrs, the board chairman in 2011 who was removed from the panel when Gov. Nathan Deal decided not to reappoint him. Warren Budd, last year’s vice chairman who normally would have rotated to the chairmanship, was also ousted from the panel when Deal refused to reappoint him to another term as well.

Budd was booted from the board after he spoke out against two initiatives that are important to Deal.

Budd expressed skepticism about Deal’s proposals to build more reservoirs in North Georgia and he also criticized the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) for imposing a miniscule fine of only $1 million on a textile company that discharged chemicals into the Ogeechee River, causing the largest fish kill in Georgia’s history (the company could have been subject to fines of more than $90 million).

“I was told to hush up on both of them,” Budd said. “I was warned and I didn’t do it, and that is why I’m off.”

When reporters contacted the governor’s office about Budd’s removal from the board, Deal’s spokesman issued this reply: “If anyone on any board considers himself indispensable, this is what educators call a ‘teachable moment.’ It takes an eyebrow-raising amount of self-regard for someone to suggest publicly that, out of 10 million Georgians, only he or she brings a diverse viewpoint to a board.”

He added that the governor wanted to appoint board members “who are excited team players ready to carry out his agenda for our state.”

The removal of Budd from the Board of Natural Resources is a watershed moment, if you’ll pardon the expression, for the board that oversees and sets policy for both the Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Division.

Budd was one of the few remaining board members who could realistically be considered a conservationist dedicated to protecting the state’s environment and natural resources.

Deal has made it clear that environmental protection is not the primary mission of either DNR or EPD anymore. Both agencies are now expected to advance the cause of economic development and job creation, even though state government already has a Department of Economic Development headed by Commissioner Chris Cummiskey.

The change in mission is vividly illustrated by the installation of Rob Leebern as the new vice chairman in place of Budd.

Budd is considered to be an environmentally sensitive conservationist. Ogeechee Riverkeeper Diana Wedincamp described him as a “friend of the rivers.”

Leebern is a skilled political operative who’s been working inside the Washington beltway for years, first as chief of staff for Sen. Saxby Chambliss and a top fundraiser for George W. Bush, and more recently with the Washington office of Troutman Sanders.

One of Troutman Sanders’ biggest clients over the years has been Georgia Power, which operates two coal-fired power generation facilities in Georgia, Plant Scherer and Plant Bowen, that are ranked by the EPA as America’s largest sources of greenhouse gases.

Whenever Georgia Power goes to the Public Service Commission to secure a rate increase or fight off demands for a risk-sharing mechanism to minimize cost overruns on their nuclear plants, Troutman Sanders partner Kevin Greene is the man who argues their case.

“It is outrageous to make a lobbyist for the biggest polluter in Georgia and the biggest user of water an officer of the DNR board,” said Mark Woodall of the Sierra Club of Georgia. “I’ve been going to these meetings for 25 years and this is by far the worst board, in terms of balancing the public and private interests of the state of Georgia, that I’ve ever seen.”

The changeover on the DNR board has been happening gradually since Sonny Perdue took office as governor in 2003.

When Perdue was first sworn in as the state’s chief executive, there were three prominent environmental advocates on the DNR board: former lieutenant governor Pierre Howard, Columbus attorney Jim Butler and Sally Bethea, director of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. All three of those people were removed from the board during the course of Perdue’s administration.

Howard was the first to go. In 2003, the Republicans who assumed control of the Georgia Senate refused to confirm nearly 180 people who had been appointed to state boards and commissions by former governor Roy Barnes, a Democrat, during his last year in office (2002). Howard was among that mass of people removed from state boards.

Perdue tried to replace Butler on the DNR board in 2003 before Butler’s term had expired. Butler promptly sued the governor in Fulton County Superior Court, where a judge ordered Butler’s reinstatement to the board. When Butler’s term expired two years later, Perdue then was legally allowed to appoint a replacement.

Perdue did reappoint Bethea to the DNR board, but she was removed from the panel in the same manner as Howard when the Republican majority in the Georgia Senate declined to confirm her reappointment.

Perdue also appointed Budd, a Newnan insurance agent, to the DNR board in 2005.

“He knew where I stood,” Budd said of Perdue. “He allowed a diversity of people on there. He appointed people that were pro-conservation. Gov. Barnes did that, too.”

Budd is a lifelong Republican who invokes Teddy Roosevelt as the kind of Republican who believed in conservation. He says his interest in environmental issues was sparked as a young man when his father, Methodist minister Candler Budd, gave him copies of the Rachel Carson books Silent Spring and The Sea Around Us.

“That’s true conservatism,” Budd said. “Conservatism is conserving what’s good.”

There was another indication this week of just how deeply involved lobbyists are going to be in setting environmental policy for the state over the next few years.

One of the most talked-about social events of the week among capitol observers was a dinner sponsored by several lobbyists Wednesday night for members of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.

The dinner took place at the Parish restaurant in Atlanta’s Inman Park neighborhood and the event was staked out by several environmental activists, as well as by an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter and a photographer. At one point, we’re told, an environmentalist attempted to give Rep. Lynn Smith (R-Newnan), the committee chair, a list of Georgia’s “Dirty Dozen” polluted waterways.

According to an email invitation sent to committee members, the event’s sponsors included Georgia Power, the Georgia Association of Manufacturers, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Joe Tanner and Associates, the Georgia Conservancy, the Georgia Chemistry Council, the Georgia Agribusiness Council, the Georgia Forestry Association, the Georgia Poultry Federation, AGL Resources, the Georgia Mining Association, and the Georgia Paper and Forest Producers Association.

On the same day that the elegant dinner was held for the legislators, the new vice chairman of the DNR board, Leebern, proposed that Georgia’s top environmental regulator be given a $20,000 bump in his annual salary.

Leebern made a motion for the DNR board to increase the salary of EPD Director Jud Turner — a former lobbyist — to $175,000 a year. His motion passed by a unanimous vote of the board.

© 2012 by The Georgia Report


January 27--  A former loan assistant at Montgomery Bank and Trust is going to federal prison for embezzlement at the bank.

Forty-six-year old Janices Knowles of Uvalda has been sentenced to 30 months in prison, five years of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution of $130,415.09.  The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Judge Dudley Bowen, Jr.  

Last July Knowles pled guilty to pilfering 37 bank accounts of an estimated $160,000 from 2005 to 2008.

January 27--  A federal indictment, unsealed Thursday in federal court, has charged 16 defendants with conspiracy to distribute large amounts of cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana in the Vidalia, Georgia area.  The indictment results from a joint investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), East Central Georgia Drug Task Force, Toombs County Sheriff’s Office, Vidalia Police Department, Tri-Circuit Drug Task Force and United States Marshals Service. 

United States Attorney Edward Tarver said, “Successful investigations such as these are the result of great cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.  We are committed to prosecuting those who prey upon our communities and profit from the scourge of illegal narcotics trafficking.  This United States Attorney’s Office will also seek to seize and forfeit the ill-gotten gains from the criminal activity.”

If convicted of the drug trafficking conspiracy charge, each defendant faces a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years to life in prison and a potential fine of $4,000,000.  Tarver noted that the United States is also seeking to forfeit various items of personal property involved in the offenses, including $1.5 million as the alleged proceeds of the defendants’ drug trafficking.

The 16 defendants indicted on federal charges include:

Marcus Antiwan Dickerson 34, Lithonia, Georgia

Tyson Lamar Davis, 28, Vidalia, Georgia

Eric Stephon Mclendon, 34, Vidalia, Georgia

Trenton Arlanda Kinsey, 29, Vidalia, Georgia

Dexter Jamaal Fields, 24, Mount Vernon, Georgia

Eddie Littles, III, 31, Statesboro, Georgia

Terry Powell, 26, Vidalia, Georgia

Ricardo Marquis Davis, 29, Vidalia, Georgia

Isaac Hurst, Jr., 24, Vidalia, Georgia

Alvin Christopher Hamilton, Jr., 36, Vidalia, Georgia

Zikomo Taheam Bostic, 27, Swainsboro, Georgia

Colby Terrell Williams, 27, Swainsboro, Georgia

Bobby Lewis Day, 32, Lyons, Georgia

Matthew Dontell Hill, 28, Vidalia, Georgia

Kaneesha Lashay Simpson, 21, Vidalia, Georgia and

                                    Melinda Dickerson, 52, Vidalia, Georgia

Mr. Tarver emphasized that the indictment is only an accusation and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the Government’s burden  to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.


January 27--  Chamber officials report record attendance at this year's annual meeting of the Toombs-Montgomery Chamber of Commerce Thursday night at Hawks Point in Vidalia.


Outgoing Chamber Board Chairman Alan Thigpen (left) passes the chairman's gavel to his successor, Adam Moore.

Members of the 2012 Board of Directors are Susan Beard, Russ Bell, Brian Bishop, B.J. Davis, Elaine Dixon, Trae Dorough, Howard Hill, Donya Hilton-Wood, Johnny Jones, John Koon, Darren McClellan, Celeste Robison, Doug Roper, Warren Sowell, Susan Taylor, Wayne Williams, Chris Zorn, Jr. and Heidi Zubeck.

January 27--  Democrats in the Georgia General Assembly provided the following information regarding opposition to Georgia's immigration law.

"House Democrats held a public hearing on Thursday to promote rural recovery, beginning with the repeal of HB 87, the failed immigration bill passed in 2011.


House Democrats were joined by advocates for farmers and others impacted by the fall-out of HB 87. “Georgia deserves better than a bill that costs millions of dollars in lost crops, lost revenue and lost opportunities,” explained Representative Lynmore James.  “I am a Georgia farmer.  I know that our families cannot afford to have politicians playing with their food.  If we want good jobs and a stronger economy, the first step is repealing HB 87.”


House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams explained the devastating effects of HB 87 at the House Democrat’s press conference on Tuesday.


“HB 87 is a failed attempt at immigration reform that has simply served to cripple the economy of Georgia,” said Leader Abrams. “The most modest estimates place the price tag for six months of this bill at $75 million in lost crops alone. That’s real money to the thousands of family farms, small grocers and shop owners who rely on Georgia’s agriculture industry to survive.”


Rep. Pedro Marin, author of the repeal, added on Tuesday, “Georgia farmers have been the victims of a failed experiment.  We have watched crops die in the fields, and millions of dollars have been drained from our economy.  The state must get out of the federal immigration business and return to the business of producing the nation’s food supply.”


Larry Pellegrini, Policy Analyst for the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, was in attendance at the public hearing on Thursday.


“The passage of HB 87 was a mistake. Families, the economy and Georgia's reputation have all been hurt,” said Pellegrini. “We applaud the Caucus for making an effort to honestly reveal the consequences of the bill and to identify what is needed to correct the destructive fallout. We regret that all of the effort to pass an unworkable Georgia bill was not put into pressuring Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Georgia should now retreat from the failed HB 87 and move forward with policies that respect and value all of it's residents.”



January 27--  A childcare center on the campus of Southeastern Technical College in Swainsboro has a new lease on life.

College President Dr. Cathy Mitchell says an earlier decision to close the center the end of June is beng extended till the end of December thanks to an infusion of new operating funds from Atlanta.

Whether the center reopens next year depends on finding ways to make it more self sufficient.  Dr. Mitchell says STC has been subsidizing operations to the tune of more than $100,000 a year at a time when the college's budget has been cut 28 percent over the last three years.

The center serves over 40 youngsters from the Swainsboro area.

January 25--  After nearly three hours of talks Wednesday, elected leaders in Toombs County and the towns of Vidalia, Lyons and Santa Claus are at a stalemate on how local option sales tax revenue should be divided among the governments.

{mosimage}They've agreed to hire a third-party mediator to hear their arguments and try to devise a solution.  The cities want to use the same formula which has existed the last ten years, however, the county has proposed increasing its share by nearly 20 percent.  

The city leaders challenged the county to show how city residents benefit from county services and refused to negotiate any further.

"We're doing this because we can't agree with the county," Vidalia Mayor Ronnie Dixon said.  "It's a step backwards.  I've been in city politics for 35 years and this is the first time we haven't been able to sit down at a table and work this out.  It's just getting tougher and tougher to sit down with the county and work it out on things of this nature."

County Commissioin Chairman Buddy West defends the county's position by saying, "The county hired a professional county manager three years ago.  We've raised the bar to a level of professionalism that everyone should expect and instead of the politics of the past, it's moved to a different level now."

If Toombs County prevails, the main winners would be property taxpayers who live in the unincorporated parts of the county.  They would see a decrease in their property taxes.

City residents would also see a county property tax decrease, but that could be offset by city property tax increases as the cities raise taxes to offset lost sales tax revenue.

West is expected to seek reelection this year and the issue could cause him problems among city voters. "If doing the right thing costs me an election, then so be it," he says.

Attorneys for the governments will seek a mediator to conduct mediation starting in February.  If mediation fails, Superior Court is the next step.


January 25--The Ogeechee RiverKeeper reports funding is being withdrawn for Plant Washington in Sandersville.

Cobb EMC ends its involvement with Plant Washington

plant stacksIn a majority vote on Tuesday January 24, the Cobb EMC Board decided to ends its involvement and financial backing of Plant Washington, a proposed coal fired power plant near Sandersville, GA. Cobb EMC was the largest participant in Power4Georgians, a group of electric co-ops investing in the plant.


This is a great victory for the State of Georgia and its citizens- one step closer to fewer dirty plants which would pollute our air and add more mercury to our rivers!


Read the full article by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution here.


Ogeechee Riverkeeper and the Georgians for Smart Energy coalition have worked extremely hard to stop Plant Washington's construction. We thank you for your support. Let's continue to fight current Georgia coal ash waste, which pollutes our land,air and water.


January 25--  Editorial writers at the Athens Banner-Herald are challenging Republican lawmakers to do the right thing and support legislation on their dealings with lobbyists.

"Lawmakers in the Republican-dominated Georgia General Assembly haven’t quite been able in recent years to summon the moral courage to severely limit their access to the largess of lobbyists.

Now, though, they’re almost literally hearing an altar call from a wide coalition of the tea partiers and social conservatives whose votes have been sending them to the legislature for the last couple of election cycles.

As was being widely reported in the media Tuesday, all 236 state legislators have received a letter signed by representatives of more than two dozen conservative groups, from the Ten Commandments Project of Georgia to the Georgia Tea Party Patriots.

The letter, aimed at GOP lawmakers, calls on the General Assembly to support ethics legislation filed by Rep. Tommy Smith, R-Nicholls, and Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus.

According to a report from Georgia Public Broadcasting, the bill “would cap lobbyists’ expenditures on lawmakers to $100 ... would require them to disclose gifts for lawmakers’ families, and would prevent public officials from holding state contracts.”

The letter contends the bill “could be the most important piece of legislation in this session,” and includes the thinly veiled threat that “(w)e as Republicans must stand up for all of the values we know to be good and honest. The ethics of our party, and our elected officials, must be above reproach.”

In other words, Republican lawmakers are being told, by a wide range of their voter base, that they’d better get serious about enacting ethics legislation.

It’s a message, sadly enough, that legislators have been hearing for years, but it’s been coming from good-government groups and other organizations that, quite frankly, lawmakers could ignore with little or no consequence.

But now, with the message coming from within their own ranks — or at least from the people upon whom GOP lawmakers rely to hold public office — there is, or at least there should be, more than enough reason for the General Assembly to pass some ethics legislation worthy of that label.

If lawmakers are somehow able to find the moral courage to do what they should have done on their own a long time ago, the people of Georgia will owe a real debt to the tea partiers and social conservatives who themselves had the moral fiber to demand that Republican lawmakers actually abide by the values they profess in order to get votes.

Oh, and when they get the religion to which they now give fervent lip service, GOP lawmakers might also want to give serious consideration to a legislative proposal from Sen. Doug Stoner, D-Smyrna.

Stoner’s bill would, according to an Associated Press story, establish an independent ethics commission appointed by the state Court of Appeals’ chief judge and the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, rather than by lawmakers, as is currently the case.

It would, now in both senses of the word, be the “right” thing to do."


January 24--  It wasn't an unanimous vote, but the Lyons City Council approved the town's new police chief at a called meeting Tuesday night.

In a 3-2 vote, city councilmen Ivy Toole, Jr. and Bill Mixon voted against hiring 46-year-old Wesley Walker.  After the vote, Lyons city attorney Bruce Durden administered the oath of office to Walker and he accepted the Chief's badge from Mayor Willis NeeSmith.

{mosimage}"I'm excited and ready to come over and get started and get my hands dirty, so to speak.  I understand I've got a lot of work to do.  I've got to gain the trust of the community and that's my plan, to come over and do the best job I know how," the new chief said.

Walker has been on the campus police force at the College of Coastal Georgia after working for less than a year as the police chief in Homerville.  He's got 25 years in law enforcement-related work including seven years with the Camden County Sheriff's Office.  He graduated from Valdosta State with a degree in Criminal Justice and worked five years after college as a probation officer.

"You know the biggest thing is you have to have the support of the community.  I can come in with knowledge, training and education, but unless the community supports you, you're not going to be very effective.  I hope that I have that here.  That's what I'm going to work for once I get started," he said.

Chief Walker's first official day on the job is February 1 and he promises changes in the Lyons Police Department.

"You can expect a lot of changes.  I hope they (the police officers) are going to be comfortable with those changes for the better.  I hope that's what they want to see.  That's my idea going into this thing, to make some changes for the good." he promises.

January 24--  Toombs County officials believe property taxpayers in the county should get a break by the county collecting a larger share of local option sales taxes. 

If the county can increase its share of collections, it will have to rollback property taxes on all taxpayers in the county including those who live in its muncipalities.  Conversely, if the cities lose sales tax revenue, that could lead to an increase in property taxes for city dwellers.

On the eve of the next meeting to discuss the allocation of sales tax revenue among the county and the towns of Vidalia, Lyons and Santa Claus, the county released a two-page talking paper stating the county's position.

Toombs County

Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) Strategy

 Simple: What is fair to everyone? 


                Ga. Const. Art. I, § I, Para. II  (2011)

PARAGRAPH II.  Protection to person and property; equal protection

   Protection to person and property is the paramount duty of government and shall be impartial and complete. No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws.

Local Option Sales Tax

Definition: The proceeds from the 1% local sales tax are distributed each year according to a formula negotiated between the County and the municipalities. The money received is to be used to roll-back the property tax millage rate.

The Law: As a condition precedent for authority to levy the tax or to collect any proceeds from the tax authorized by this article for the year following the initial year in which it is levied and for all subsequent years, the county whose geographical boundary is conterminous with that of the special district and each qualified municipality therein receiving any proceeds of the tax shall adjust annually the millage rate for ad valorem taxation of tangible property within such political subdivisions as provided in this subsection

Cui Bono (Who Benefits)

             Total Taxes used to pay for Services




Five-Year History


























Simple: For every tax dollar required to pay for local services LOST is paying 61 cents in Vidalia, 77 Cents in Lyons and 25 cents County Wide.


Where is the equal protection of the law for the property taxpayers of Toombs County?


As a point of reference let’s look at other Counties, first our neighbors, then by population and finally by our state rank. Toombs County 42.17


By Neighboring Counties





























Mt. Vernon






All Others







































Jeff Davis





















By Population (2010)

% for County


Statewide from the Bottom (Toombs in the Bottom 5%)


54. Upson (27153)








55. Wayne (30099)








56. Oconee (32808)








57. Toombs (27223)








58. Madison (25047)








59. Haralson (28780)








60. Chattooga (26797)

























Large Metro's should be excluded





January 24-- Four Southeastern Technical College students have been selected as the college’s semi-finalists for the Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership (GOAL), according to Charla Nail, coordinator for STC’s GOAL program.

Chosen as semifinalists are:  Chelsea Eubanks, Dental Hygiene major, Guyton; Brenda Leal, Dental Hygiene major, Pulaski; Grayson Mendieta, Dental Hygiene major, Swainsboro; and Chancelor Neesmith, Electrical Systems Technology major, Vidalia.

GOAL, a statewide program of the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG), honors excellence in academics and leadership among the state’s technical college students.  GOAL winners are selected at each of the state’s 26 technical colleges as well as two Board of Regents colleges with technical education divisions. 

All the college GOAL winners will compete in regional judging, which will include students from the other 25 TCSG colleges as well as the two Board of Regents colleges. 

GOAL winners from each college will compete in regional judging in February.  In April, all college winners will come to Atlanta where the nine semi-finalists, three finalists from each of the three regions, will be announced and compete at the state level in April and one student will be named as the statewide GOAL winner.

"The purpose of the GOAL program is to spotlight the outstanding achievement by students in Georgia's technical colleges and to emphasize the importance of technical education in today’s global workforce," said Charla Nail

According to Nail, a screening committee of administrators at Southeastern Technical College selected the four semi-finalists from a list of students nominated by their instructors. 

"A panel of business, civic and industry leaders from the community have interviewed and evaluated these four students and selected one to be the college’s 2012 GOAL winner," said Nail.  The winner will be announced at Southeastern Technical College’s annual awards banquet to be held on January 24. 

STC’s local winner will compete in Central regional judging.  Three finalists from Central region will compete in the state GOAL competition in Atlanta and vie to be named the 2012 statewide GOAL winner.

The state GOAL winner becomes the student ambassador for the Technical College System of Georgia and receives a grand prize of a new car provided by Chevrolet, the statewide corporate sponsor of Georgia’s GOAL program.


January 23--  Vidalia's private Christian school is seeking accreditation.

Jeff McCormick, headmaster at Vidalia Heritage Academy, says the school has applied for joint accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI).

For the first time in its 14-year history, VHA is offering high school classes this year.

"It really will help us as we continue to expand and bring more and more students in and add to our high school area.  We've not been accredited through the years.  We've always been a member of ACSI, but never accredited by them, and now moving into high school we feel like it's a necessary step for us to take," McCormick says.

"The dual accreditation by SACS and ACSI assures families that we have at our very core a Biblical worldview that integrates spiritual truth and academic excellence in every subject.  It also assures families of ongoing evaluation, not just of spiritual standards, but that VHA continually meets the educational standards of quality established by an international school community and we're very excited about that," he continued.

McCormick released the following statement Monday.

ACSI and SACS signed a dual accreditation agreement last year so it was an easy decision for us to take this route. Accreditation through SACS has been recognizable to most parents for years as the standard for a school’s academic effectiveness. But today, SACS accreditation goes far beyond that and examines the whole institution—the programs, the cultural context, the community of stakeholders—to determine how well those things work together in meeting student’s needs. Not only are we are looking forward to the process of self-assessment which will bring to light special challenges we may not have understood before, but we are also looking forward to the external review from our peers to energize and equip us to tackle those issues and become a catalyst for transformative excellence.

“A Christian school bears the name of Christ and therefore should be reflected in the way it provides high quality education. ACSI accreditation assures families that Vidalia Heritage Academy has at its very core a Biblical worldview integrating spiritual truth and academic excellence in every subject. In other words, our Christianity is not something that is tacked on to the beginning or end of our day, rather, it is woven into every fiber and fabric of all our academics and programs. ACSI accreditation further assures families of ongoing evaluation, not just of the spiritual standards, but that VHA continually meets the educational standards of quality established by the international school community.”

The school expects its first evaluation visit in February.

January 23-- Antonio Lamont Murray, 38, Cecil Dewitt Nelson, 32, and Gary Lenion McDonald, 35, each from Pembroke, Georgia, were charged by criminal complaint in federal court with kidnapping.  McDonald’s initial appearance was held Saturday in Savannah, Georgia before United States Magistrate Judge G.R. Smith.  Initial appearances for Murray and Nelson were held today in Savannah, Georgia, also before United States Magistrate Judge Smith.  All three defendants remain in custody pending detention hearings, which have yet to be scheduled. 

        An affidavit in support of the complaint alleged that Murray, Nelson and McDonald were involved in two separate kidnappings in the Bryan County, Georgia area.  The first kidnapping occurred on December 1, 2011. During this incident, the victim was abducted at gunpoint and later released only after a ransom of approximately $19,000 was paid.  The second kidnapping occurred on January 12, 2012.  The second victim was also abducted at gunpoint and released only after a ransom of over $250,000 was paid.

     United States Attorney Edward J. Tarver stated, “The violent and brazen kidnappings alleged in the criminal complaint are acts none too familiar in today’s society.  When these outrageous acts occur, those responsible must be found and prosecuted to the fullest extent that the law allows.  The United States Attorney’s Office has no higher priority than protecting the American people.”

        FBI SAC Brian D. Lamkin stated, “The surrounding law enforcement community, as a whole, came together in response to two serious and violent kidnappings and, as a result much headway has been made in the form of today’s announced arrest of three Pembroke, Georgia residents. While much headway has been made, this matter remains pending and the FBI and its law enforcement partners asks that anyone with information regarding this matter contact Savannah CrimeStoppers or their nearest law enforcement agency.”

        The charges against Murray, Nelson and McDonald resulted from a joint investigation by the FBI, the U.S. Marshals, NCIS, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Georgia State Patrol, the Bryan County Sheriff’s Office, the Tattnall County Sheriff’s Office, the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office, the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, the Richmond Hill Police Department, the Pooler Police Department, the Pembroke Police Department and the Hinesville Police Department.  The investigation of this case remains ongoing.  Anyone having information relating to the two alleged kidnappings are urged to call the Savannah CrimeStoppers Tip Line at (912) 234-2020. 

        The maximum penalty for the kidnapping offense against all three defendants is life in prison.  United States Attorney Edward Tarver emphasized that a complaint is only an accusation and is not evidence of guilt. The burden in any criminal case is on the Government to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

        Assistant United States Attorneys Brian T. Rafferty and Carlton R. Bourne, Jr. are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.  For additional information, please contact First Assistant United States Attorney James D. Durham at (912) 201-2547.


January 23--  You may have never thought about it, but your office copier is a treasure trove of information for identity thieves.

"Copiers that have been manufactured in the last decade possess the capability to store digital images," according to Guy Shifflett, an Information Security Specialist at Fort Stewart.

"What we may not realize is these copier machines may have a disc drive that will store images of the documents.  The upside is we can go back and retrieve a document and print it, but the vulnerability is this may lead to the disclosure of personal information and identity theft," he warns.

Shifflett notes a CBS News investigative report that demonstrates the danger. "They went to a warehouse in New Jersey which contained thousands of used copiers waiting to be resold.  Four machines were bought and they used a free software program to download tens of thousands of personal documents.  Among their findings were 95 pages of pay stubs with names, addresses with social security numbers, $40,000 in copied checks and 300 pages that contained medical records," he recounts.

His advice:  "Before disposing of or trading in your copier, check with your vendor to understand the process and steps to erase the information which may be contained on your copy machine.  One option is the actual removal and destruction of the hard drive itself," Shifflett says.

January 22--  Kim Frix from Lyons Upper Elementary School reports on some special science demonstrations last week.

     {mosimage}"On January 19th and 20th, a special visitor arrived on the campus of Lyons Upper Elementary School.  It was the National Science Center’s Mobile Discovery Center, arranged by the Academic and Creative Excellence (ACE) teacher, Mrs. Ann Murphy.   Students in fourth and fifth grades from Lyons Upper Elementary School and Toombs Central Elementary School were able to learn about the electromagnetic spectrum, Van de Graff generator, plasma ball, persistence of vision, and an acoustical glass breaker. 

Leading the demonstrations were Sgt. First Class Steve Navarro (left) and Sgt. First Class Michael Tindal.  Students volunteered for each activity with much enthusiasm!  Students had fun seeing how static electricity ran through one person to another while each students’ hair filled with electricity!  Even teachers volunteered for this activity!  Students also explored how you could look at a flag that was colored green, black, and yellow for 10 seconds and see the American flag after closing your eyes for a second and opening them back up and looking at a white screen!{mosimage}

     The National Science Center is located in Augusta, GA.  They have many of these mobile discovery centers taking science programs across the nation.  The centers are housed in 18-wheelers and are staffed by U. S. Army soldiers and the Department of Army civilian personnel.  They present programs designed to show students why science and math is essential to their future.  These programs consist of fun, hands-on, interactive science demonstrations and focus on physical science concepts for students in grades 4 through 9.   


January 20--  Seventeen area schools are on the state's list of Distinguished Schools for their work in meeting academic standards in poverty striken areas.

Seven of the schools are earning cash grants from the state for making adequate yearly progress multiple years including Montgomery County Elementary School where Brittany Deen is the principal.

"I have got the most hardworking teachers that anybody could ever have.  They really care about the kids and we have put in place many interventions to help struggling readers and anyone strugglin in math," she notes.

Deen says a school committee will determine how to use the $14,416 grant to directly benefit classroom instruction.  She's in her first year as principal and credits the school's previous leader with the school's progress.

"This is the eighth year we've been named a Title 1 Distinguished School and I attribute it not only to the teachers but also to our previous principal Randy Rodgers who worked hard to put everything in place and I'm hoping we will continue in the future," she said.

The school in this area getting the most cash is Swainsboro Primary School with $21,624.  Appling Primary and Collins Elementary are receiving $2,295 each and Toombs Central Elementary, Treutlen Elementary and the Appling County 4th District Elementary each get $1,530.

Certificates recognizing making at least three consecutive years of AYP are being awarded to Lyons Primary School, Reidsville Middle School, Altamaha and Appling County Elementary Schools, Metter Intermediate and Metter Elementary, Collins Middle School, Wheeler County Elementary, Twin City Elementary and the Adrian School of Performing Arts. 

January 19--  JULIUS PINKSTON, 62, of Metter, Georgia, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison on Tuesday by Senior United States District Court Judge B. Avant Edenfield for his role in a cocaine trafficking ring.  The judge also ordered Pinkston to serve five years on supervised release upon his release from prison. 

  Pinkston was the lead defendant in a 35-defendant indictment returned by the federal grand jury in 2006.  Pinkston fled before the indictment was returned and remained a fugitive until early April, 2011 when he was arrested by deputies of the United States Marshals Service in Douglas, Georgia. Pinkston pled guilty in July, 2011 to one count of distribution of cocaine.

        United States Attorney Edward Tarver said, “This major drug trafficker fled and evaded capture for approximately five years in an attempt to avoid prosecution and sentencing for his crimes.  Federal agents and prosecutors remained prepared and ready to prosecute this defendant whenever and wherever he was apprehended.  It is my hope that this prosecution will give further notice to those who engage in federal criminal conduct in our communities: you can run, but you cannot hide.”  

        Mr. Tarver commended the hard work and dedication of Special Agent Stephen Tinsley and former Task Force Agent Kent Munsey of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Special Agent Kevin Waters of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and Special Agent Marcus Kirkland of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who led the investigation of this case.  Tarver also commended Deputy Rich Kirby of the Southeast Fugitive Task Force (Savannah Office) of the U.S. Marshal’s Service who led the fugitive search and apprehension of Pinkston.  The indictment against Pinkston arose out of Operation Snakepit, a major drug investigation conducted under the auspices of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.


January 19-- State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler announced today that Georgia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined for the third straight month in December, dropping to 9.7 percent. That is a one-tenth of a percentage point decline from a revised 9.8 percent in November, making this the largest two-month decrease in unemployment since 1977. The jobless rate was 10.4 percent in December a year ago.

“The rate declined because 11,500 Georgians went back to work in December,” said Butler, “plus, we saw some increases in employment in areas that have been especially hard hit.”

There were 600 new construction jobs in December, the first time construction has gained jobs in December since 2003. Manufacturing grew by 400 jobs, the first December growth since 2005.  Job gains also came in information services and trade and transportation.

Despite the increases in those job sectors, the overall number of jobs dropped 7,300, or two-tenths of a percentage point to 3,826,900 from 3,834,200 in November. About one-half of the loss was seasonal jobs that traditionally end after the Christmas holidays. The number of jobs in December remained 14,000 fewer than in December of last year.

“Although there were fewer jobs overall than last December, the private sector actually created 11,300 jobs over the year, which is a positive,” said Butler, “but those gains were off-set by 20,300 job cuts in state and local government as the public sector adjusted to shrinking budgets.”

The number of first-time claims for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits rose to 63,714, up 6,141, or 10.7 percent, from 57,573 in November. Some of the increase is attributed to traditional holiday layoffs. However, on a positive note, the number of initial claims decreased 11,921, or 15.8 percent, from 75,635 claims filed in December of last year.

Also, the number of long-term unemployed workers decreased 3,800, to 245,100 from November to December, the fewest number since October of 2010.

“This is great news for our state, particularly for Georgians who have faced a tough job market for several years now,” said Gov. Nathan Deal. “A decrease in unemployment alongside a number of other positive economic indicators suggests we are heading in the right direction. I am fully committed to making Georgia the No. 1 state in the nation in which to do business. Working cooperatively with Commissioner Butler, we will do everything in our power to move Georgians from unemployment rolls to payrolls, creating a better quality of life for all those who call Georgia home.”


January 18--  The Toombs County commissioner who represents Vidalia on the Toombs County Commission favors an increased share of Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) revenue to the county.

Toombs County and the cities of Vidalia, Lyons and Santa Claus are in the midst of negotiating the allocation of sales tax revenue among the governments for a ten-year period starting in 2013.

Toombs County wants to increase its percentage of the tax by about twenty percent and decrease Vidalia's share by about 12 percent.  That could cause an increase in city property taxes in Vidalia, but Commissioner Louie Powell says that would be offset by a rollback in county property taxes which Vidalia residents also pay.

"Every bit of the sales tax revenue that the county receives will be reflected in a rollback to the taxpayers," he observes.  "You know the bottom line to this is, and I hope the cities will understand, that the representation the county commissioners have to do is from a county-wide standpoint so that all citizens of Toombs County would receive a rollback throughout the whole county," he added.

Powell says he hopes the issue can be resolved "in the kind manner that we have in the past."  City and county leaders have a second meeting to discuss the allocation Wednesday, however, the mayors are opposed to the increase proposed by the county. 

January 18--  You may remember retired Air Force Major General Perry Smith from the many years in 1990's when he worked with CNN as a military affairs commentator.  He's the keynote speaker for this year's Vidalia Citizen of the Year banquet Thursday, February 2 at seven p.m. at the First United Methodist Church.  The event is open to the public and hosted this year by the Vidalia Rotary Club and co-sponsored by Vidalia Kiwanis and Lions Clubs.  Tickets are $15.  For info, call Karen McCoy, 537-3017.

{mosimage}General Perry M. Smith, Ph.D is a teacher, speaker, TV and radio commentator and best-selling author. Hundreds of millions of television viewers world-wide came to know him during the Persian Gulf War for his more than appearances as a military analyst for the Cable News Network, the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour and NBC news. Smith is the president of Visionary Leadership of Augusta, Ga.. He has conducted workshops on leadership, strategic planning or ethics for Harvard's Kennedy School, UPS, Tiffany and Company, The Chautauqua Institution, The Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, Texas Instruments, The West Virginia Hospital Association, Andersen Consulting, the WK Kellogg Foundation, and Microsoft, as well as the governors of three states, and the mayor of Detroit. He also gives keynote speeches at conventions and conferences. His seven year relationship with CNN ended on June 14, 1998 when he resigned over an issue of integrity (CN's egregious special accusing the military of using lethal nerve gas to kill our own soldiers during the Vietnam War). He now serves as a military consultant to NBC TV and CBS Radio News.

A retired major general, Smith served for 30 years in the U. S. Air Force. During his career he had a number of leadership experiences, including command of the F-15 wing at Bitburg, Germany where he provided leadership to 4000 personnel. Later, he served as the top Air Force planner and as the Commandant of the National War College, where he taught courses on leadership of large organizations and on strategic planning. He flew 180 combat missions in F-4 aircraft over North Vietnam and Laos during the Vietnam War.

A graduate of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, he later earned his Ph.D. in International Relations from Columbia University. His dissertation earned the Helen Dwight Reid award from the American Political Science Association. His books include Rules and Tools for Leaders, Assignment Pentagon, and A Hero Among Heroes: Jimmie Dyess and the 4th Marine Division. The latter book is a biography of the only person to have earned America's two highest awards for heroism, the Medal of Honor and the Carnegie Medal. In 2002, Smith produced a 60 minute video, Twice a Hero: The Jimmie Dyess Story.

With more than 300,000 copies in print, his most popular book is Rules and Tools for Leaders , a practical guide for leaders. It contains hundreds of rules of thumb and includes 25 checklists on how to hire, fire, plan, deal with the media, give compliments, run meetings, make decisions, provide counseling, check organizational ethics, transition into a new job, etc. After he was interviewed by Katie Couric on the book, it reached #2 on the bestseller list. The newest edition was published in July 2011.



January 18--  Georgia Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams of Lyons provides an update on the state legislature.

{mosimage}"Last week, legislators from across our great state gathered at the State Capitol to begin the 2012 legislative session. Since our last session, our economy has begun to show signs of healing and stabilization. However, we are not out of the woods yet, so our focus needs to continue to be on job creation. Citizens expect us to use our time wisely and get to work on the important issues facing our state, and that is exactly what we are doing in the State Senate.

On the first day of the session, a typically uneventful one, we attacked our work with a great sense of urgency by passing two bills which focus on education reform in Georgia. I authored Senate Bill 184 to amend the current law so as to require a local school board to primarily consider a teacher’s effectiveness in advancing student achievements when considering whom to lay off in a reduction of force implementation.  The amount of time a teacher has been employed cannot be the primary or determining factor. The bill also establishes the Professional Learning Rules Task Force, who will review the current professional learning rules for educators and provide suggestions for revision of the rules. Positive steps toward lasting education reform, like Senate Bill 184, remain vital to the advancement of our education system. I am encouraged by the support this bill has received by my colleagues, and am confident that education reform will continue to be at the top of our “to-do list” this legislative session.

Governor Deal has asked the legislature to eliminate the sales tax on energy for manufactures.  This will help us attract more manufacturing jobs to our state and provide much needed help to our existing manufacturing industry in Georgia.

The Governor has also launched a new skilled labor advancement initiative called “Go Build Georgia.”   This initiative will help Georgia’s skilled trade industries and will open up new opportunities for students entering the job market.

Our most pressing task is to balance the state budget amidst a projected 1 billion dollar budget shortfall. Passing a balanced state budget is our most important task at hand, as well as the only task that we are required to fulfill under the Georgia Constitution. Unlike the federal government, our state constitution mandates a balanced budget that requires us to live within our means. To reduce state spending, we will have to make some challenging decisions this fiscal year, as stimulus funds, reserves and one-time funds are no longer available. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Over the past several months, state revenue collections have steadily increased, and will help us to replenish the state’s “rainy day” reserve.

In addition to balancing the state budget and pushing tax reform measures, one of the key strategies for economic recovery will be to focus on job creation. In recent years, Georgia has quickly become an attractive destination for companies to do business. With accessibility to one of the nation’s busiest airports, as well as close proximity to some of the nation’s leading Fortune 500 companies - including Home Depot, Delta and Coca-Cola - Georgia has become one of the top ten states in the country to conduct business.

As session continues throughout the next few months, I will be spending a lot of time at the Capitol, working for you and the citizens of this state. That being said, I would love to hear from you if you have any particular issues you wish to have addressed. I look forward to continuing my service on behalf of you and the people of Georgia."


January 18--  The Lyons Animal Shelter will no longer accept stray animals from Toombs County as of February 1.  Meanwhile, the shelter has a number of animals from Toombs County which need homes as soon as possible.  Izzie, the beagle, is one.  Can you adopt her??  Call city hall for info, 526-3636.


January 18-- Gov. Nathan Deal announced today that 370 Georgia public schools are being recognized for improvement and achievement during the 2010-2011 school year. The schools are being recognized under Georgia's Single Statewide Accountability System (SSAS), developed by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, to award schools based on their performance on state curriculum exams and Adequate Yearly Progress status.


"Congratulations to these 370 schools for their commitment to hard work and high academic standards," said Deal. "The principals and teachers at these schools are to be commended for maintaining a focus on providing every student with a world-class education."


The awards are being announced as part of the release of the 2010-2011 K-12 Public Schools Report Card. The Report Card, which features the SSAS awards, was developed by GOSA and provides bottom-line data for Georgia’s preschools, K-12 schools, colleges and universities, technical colleges, and educator licensing and accreditation. It includes school, system and state level reports organized into seven major sections: Accountability, Georgia Tests, National Tests, Indicators, Student and  School Demographics, Personnel, and Comparisons.


“I am pleased to recognize these schools for their continued focus on student achievement," said Bonnie Holliday, Executive Director of the Governor's Office of Student Achievement. "Congratulations to the students at these schools for their accomplishments and to the staff  for their ongoing commitment to learning."


The schools are awarded on four levels -- Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze -- in two categories:
* Greatest gains: 111 schools are being recognized for demonstrating significant improvement on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) or the Georgia High School Graduation Tests (GHSGT).
* Highest performance: 259 schools are being recognized for high achievement on the CRCT or GHSGT.


The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement provides accountability for all of Georgia’s education system from pre-kindergarten to post secondary to drive improvement in student achievement and school completion through meaningful, transparent and objective analysis and communication of statewide data. To learn more about GOSA, please visit


To access a complete list of 2010-2011 SSAS award winners, visit 


January 17--  Local governments in Toombs County are discussing allocation of local option sales tax (LOST) revenue for the next ten years starting in 2013.

After the first meeting Tuesday, it's a good bet the issue will go to a third-party mediator and perhaps to court because the parties are nowhere near agreement.

Under a population-based formula which expires this year, Toombs County and Vidalia each get 41.5%, Lyons receives 16% and Santa Claus gets 1%.  State law requires the governments to reduce their property taxes by an amount equal to what is collected in sales taxes.

If the Toombs County Commission is successful in gaining a nearly 20 percent increase in its share of LOST revenue, that could mean an increase in property taxes to residents of Vidalia, Lyons and Santa Claus.


(L-R) Lyons Mayor Willis NeeSmith, Santa Claus Mayor Al Lewis and Vidalia Mayor Ronnie Dixon hear a presentation on allocating sales tax revenues Tuesday afternoon at a meeting at the Toombs-Montgomery Chamber of Commerce

The mayors of the three towns say they are willing to keep the formula the same as it is now, however, Toombs Commission Chairman Buddy West wants the county to increase it's share of sales taxes.

"We feel like we have not received our fair share and this is the reason we call it negotiations to go through the process," West says.

A proposal from the county increases its share to 61.41% and reduces Vidalia to 29.62%, Lyons to 8.75% and Santa Claus to .22%.

A consultant to the cities, Michael Brown from Savannah, says that's a non-starter.  

"The sales tax law says those who generate it should get their fair portion of it.  It's pretty clear that most of the retail and sales tax revenue is generated in Vidalia and they're providing services for that.  At the same time, they're paying for a lot of services for the county and they need a mechanism to get some funds to pay for that," Brown believes.

Officials plan to hold another meeting January 25 to continue discussions.  At the same time, Chairman West is looking ahead and wants to proceed with identifying a mediator who will take over if the cities and county can't agree on a number.  


January 16--  Law enforcement officials are waiting on autopsy results to find out what killed a woman whose body was found in a Toombs County home last Friday.

Toombs County Coroner Ron Hall identifies the woman as 29-year-old Rebecca Holton and says her body was found on the living room floor in the home of John Mitchell on 588 C.V. Mosley Boulevard.

Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight says the woman was from Coffee County and had been living with Mitchell for about a year.  Mitchell works in Alabama and was not home when the body was found.

According to the sheriff, she was last seen at Walmart Tuesday and had been dead for at least two days when found.  The body was discovered when a friend of Mitchell's stopped by the house to feed Mitchell's cats last Friday morning.

The sheriff says there were no signs of foul play and the body was sent to the state crime lab in Atlanta to determine the cause of death.  

January 16--  The Montgomery County school system expects to get a positive report regarding its probation status from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

The system was placed on probation last summer regarding school board governance issues and underwent a follow-up review from a SACS team in December.

Superintendent Randy Rodgers told the January meeting of the school board he has spoken with SACS and been told the board is ahead of schedule in making improvements.  Rodgers says he expects the system will be removed from probation by the end of this school term.

The school board is changing the dates of its monthly meetings for 2012.  Meetings will be held the second Thursday of each month.

January 16--  The Toombs County school board has approved new voting districts for the six members of the board.

At its January meeting, the board approved new voting boundaries to give each district as much population equalization as possible to comply with federal voting laws.

{mosimage}School Superintendent Dr. Kendall Brantley says the most population shifts were made from the Second and Third Districts to boost numbers in the First District.

"No board member was drawn out of his district.  About 95% of all the people who are voting can either vote a board member in or out of office.  The impact is mostly on the fringes of each of the voting districts," Brantley said.

The school board also re-elected board member Russ Benton as the board vice-chairman and voted to keep its meetings in 2012 the same as in the past, the second Thursday of each month.

January 15-- Georgia’s December 2011 revenue performance was mixed compared to December 2010. Sales tax collections continued their solid growth with net revenue growing 7.5 percent. This was the 18th month of positive growth in sales tax revenues out of the last 19 months. In contrast, individual income tax and corporate income tax revenues fell compared to December 2010. However, December 2010 revenues for both taxes were exceptionally high due to large audit settlement payments received in December 2010. These payments result from settlement of disputes between the taxpayers and the Department of Revenue and typically represent taxes owed over a multi-year period along with any penalties and interest.

Outside of the large settlement agreement affecting individual income tax revenues, revenue performance continues to be strong. Payments with returns have grown more than 40 percent averaged over the last three months; individual estimated payments have grown by more than 67 percent averaged over the last three months, and refund payments, a drag on net growth, are down more than 15 percent averaged over the last three months.

Corporate revenues have lagged throughout the fiscal year; however, corporate payments are heavily concentrated in the final quarter of the fiscal year so December’s performance is not necessarily indicative of future trends.

The state of Georgia’s net tax collections for the month of December totaled $1.54 billion, a decrease of $(19) million or -1.2 percent compared to December 2010. Through six months of FY2012, net revenue collections totaled $8.25 billion year-to-date, an increase of $409 million or 5.2 percent compared to YTD December FY2011.

The following changes within the various tax categories contributed to the net revenue decrease in December:

 Individual Income Tax: Individual Income Tax collections for December totaled $846 million, down from $857 million in December 2010, for a decrease of $(11) million or -1.3 percent.

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

•      Individual Income Tax Estimated payments increased $41 million or 84.7 percent

•      Individual Income Tax refunds issued (net of voided checks) were down $(9.5) million or -37.9 percent
•      Individual Withholding payments were down $(64) million or -8.0 percent
•      Individual Tax Returns and Assessments were up a combined $2.5 million

Sales and Use Tax: Net Sales and Use Tax collections for December totaled $402 million, up from $374 million in December 2010, for an increase of $28 million or 4.2 percent. The monthly Sales Tax Distribution to local governments totaled $360 million, which was an increase of $12.5 million or 3.6 percent over last year.

Corporate Income Tax: Corporate Income Tax collections for December fell by $(26) million or -17.3 percent, down from $151.5 million in December 2010. 

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

•      Corporate Tax refunds issued (net of voided checks) were down $(10.5) million or -44.6 percent

•      Corporate Income Tax Return payments declined $(26) million or -39.9 percent

•      Corporate Estimated Tax and S-Corp Tax payments were down a combined $(10.5) million

January 13--  An early morning fire killed a Vidalia man.

Vidalia Assistant Fire Chief Brian Sikes says firemen responded to a fire at 311 East Jenkins Street in Vidalia just after five a.m. Friday.

"We arrived on the scene and found the house fully involved.  Our firemen went in and suppressed the fire and found the body in the room.  The State Fire Marshall's office was informed and was on the scene.  We found there is no foul play and believe the fire was started by a space heater in the front living room," he says.

Toombs County Coroner Ron Hall says he believes the victim is 58-year-old Otis King, Jr. and there were no other people in the house at the time of the fire.  Chief Sikes says the body has been sent to the State Crime Laboratory in Savannah for positive identification.

He also says the death is a reminder for people to check their home heating equipment.  

"This is a reminder that any heating source we use is made for indoor use and not outdoor use and that smoke detectors are working properly.  This just opens our eyes up a little bit to check things around the house and make sure they're working like they are supposed to," Sikes says.

January 13--  The window is now open for area students to apply for a scholarship honoring the memory of a beloved Toombs County teen.  From now until March 5th, qualified seniors who wish to apply for the first annual Courtney Wilkes Ag & Vet Scholarship can submit their applications.  Vidalia® onion farmers have collected donations to fund the scholarship for at least ten years in the amount of $1,000.

In June 2011, 15-year-old Courtney Wilkes of Toombs County was brutally murdered while she was on vacation with her family in Florida.   The Vidalia® onion industry established this scholarship to honor the life of the bright, funny, friendly young woman.  Seniors graduating within the Vidalia onion growing region who are enrolled in either Agriculture or Veterinary fields may apply. They must possess many of the positive attributes Courtney displayed each day including strong morals, good humor, intelligence, commitment to learning, and respectful appreciation of nature and animals.  Those counties qualifying are:  Emanuel, Candler, Treutlen, Bulloch, Wheeler, Montgomery, Evans, Tattnall, Toombs, Telfair, Jeff Davis, Appling, Bacon, Jenkins, Screven, Laurens, Dodge, Pierce, Wayne, and Long.

Courtney was a rising junior at Toombs County High School and number one in her class academically.  She was an officer of FFA, star soccer player, and devout Christian.   She was an outdoor enthusiast described by all who knew her as infectiously cheerful and who offered to everyone around her a bright smile and silly jokes.  She loved animals and aspired to be a veterinarian, which is why applicants must be enrolled in an agriculture or veterinary track. 

Scholarship applications should be submitted by hard copy specifically to:

Courtney Wilkes Scholarship

C/O Vidalia® Onion Business Council

Mail:  P.O. Box 2611

In Person:  100 Vidalia Sweet Onion Dr.

Vidalia, GA, 30475

The deadline is Monday, March 5, 2012, 5pm EST.  For questions or to request an application, contact Bob Stafford at 912-537-1881 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

By Logan Riddles, Lauren Garvin, and David Roberts (VHS Journalism Class)

January 13--Former Vidalia High School student James Davis (1999) has recently been named as the Communications Director of the 2012 Republican National Convention.  Prior to accepting his new position, Mr. Davis worked for a corporate public relations firm in Washington, D.C.  When asked about his job description, Mr. Davis stated that his job was to make sure he builds a team to dominate the media in August for the Republican National Convention.  His team is supposed to give the candidate a platform to help nominate our next President.


            When asked about his earlier jobs and experiences, Mr. Davis shared that he started in the Pentagon after meeting someone while waiting tables in Milledgeville.  It was an elderly gentleman and his wife, and they asked Mr. Davis some questions.  He told them that he was working on a research paper, and they asked him to send them a copy.  This man turned out to be the assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs.  Mr. Davis went on to work in the Public Affairs office for Secretary Rumsfeld.  After Rumsfeld’s departure, Mr. Davis continued working for Secretary Gates.  Davis managed a great deal of communications going on in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time.  After leaving the Pentagon, he handled the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

            We also asked  Mr. Davis about his educational background.  He was a VHS graduate of the class of 1999.  He left Vidalia and went to MacMurray College in Illinois on a partial wrestling scholarship.  Later, he transferred closer to home to Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville and got an undergraduate degree in history and began his master’s in public administration.

            We also asked Mr. Davis how VHS influenced his life.  He said he had great mentors, including Chet Proctor (who was his teacher as well as wrestling coach) and other administrators.  He was also on the golf team for Denis Watkins.  Davis said he learned to organize and express his thoughts under VHS English teacher Mrs. Betty Seabolt (now Mrs. Betty Fulton) and that the bulk of his workload requires a great deal of writing.  Mr. Davis said, “I really want to give Chet Proctor, Coach Proctor, a lot of credit.  My father was not at home, but Coach Proctor kind of filled the void for myself as well as many other athletes on the wrestling team.  He taught me that I could always dig down a little deeper and pull out a little more.”  We asked Coach Proctor about Davis, and he spoke of how everyone should be proud of him.  He stated, “If you find something you’re passionate about, you’re going to be successful and fortunately James has accomplished that”.


January 11--  Some road improvements are on the table for Toombs County in 2012. 

County Manager Doug Eaves told county commissioners Tuesday that bids will be let January 20th for resurfacing of nearly four miles of the New Normantown Road and two more miles of the Lyons-Center Road.

The commission reappointed Barry Dotson to the Workforce Investment Board and Troy Reddick, Donnie Mann and Kathy Milligan to the county Board of Elections.

It  also approved more than $340,000 to buy a new motor grader for the county road department and a wheel loader for the landfill.

The commission passed a resolution declaring February as Spay-Neuter Month but made no mention of what it's planning to do with stray animals caught in the county come February 1.  The City of Lyons has informed the county it will not accept animals from the county after January 31. 

January 11--  Two members of the Vidalia school board switched wards and took new oaths of office at Tuesday night's school board meeting.

{mosimage}The 2010 census caused a shift of ward lines in Vidalia.  As a result, the residence of First Ward board member Bruce Asberry (right) ended up in the new Third Ward and the residence of Third Ward board member Doug Roper, III is in the new First Ward.  To correct the situation, both resigned and were reappointed to represent their new home wards.{mosimage}

The board also named a local construction firm to manage upcoming projects at J.D. Dickerson Primary School and J.R. Trippe Middle School.  McDonald Construction will be paid five percent of the construction cost to oversee the work.

In a related move, the board okayed purchase of a third of an acre of land located next to J.D. Dickerson.  It's paying $30,000 to buy the lot occupied by the former Freddie's Body Shop which will be torn down to give the school additional parking.

Meanwhile, Vidalia school board members have completed requirements to be named a Board of Distinction by the Georgia School Boards Association.  The honor is expected to be announced at the Association's meeting this June in Savannah. 

January 11--  The City of Lyons will swear in its new police chief at a called meeting of the city council Tuesday, January 24 at seven p.m.

Mayor Willis NeeSmith reports the 46-year-old campus police chief at the College of Coastal Georgia in Camden County has been selected from more than 50 applicants.

Wesley Walker is also the former police chief in Homerville and worked seven years for the Camden County Sheriff's Department.

January 11-- Students returned to Southeastern Technical College Monday  to begin the 2012 spring semester.  One of the first tasks was to get in line for visit to the college bookstore.


Early enrollment numbers show 1,838 students attending the technical college this semester, up from 1,813 last January.

“Although this is only a one percent increase in initial enrollment, in light of the many recent changes Southeastern Tech has undergone, we’re very excited about the increase,” said Dr. Barry Dotson, vice president of student affairs at STC.

Last year, Southeastern Tech switched to semester scheduling, and many of its students were affected by changes to the oft-utilized HOPE scholarship. So, STC staffers are understandably pleased with any uptick in enrollment numbers for this semester, the school’s second since converting from the quarter system.

“It just shows that even in times of uncertainty, technical education is still viewed by the public as a good value and as a means of increasing personal income,” said Dotson.

January 11--  Here's the text of Governor Deal's State of the State address Tuesday night before the General Assembly in Atlanta.

Lt. Governor, Mr. Speaker, President Pro Tem Williams, Speaker Pro Tem Jones, Members of the General Assembly, Constitutional Officers, Members of the Judiciary, my fellow Georgians:

In centuries long past … in a world far removed from the one we know today … the Age of Exploration captivated the minds of brave, young men.  These individuals traveled through distant waters to identify the unknown, their will to explore outweighing the countless dangers, hardships and tragedies they faced.  It is an age we now define by these names:  Columbus, da Gama, Vespucci and Magellan. 

These brave adventurers, with only primitive tools at their disposal, charted a course by looking to the stars for guidance.  The nights were not always clear … the waters not always friendly.  For each man commanding a vessel on the high seas, there was always the temptation to give up and to turn back. 

But we know these men today because they held steadfast to their course, leading them to discover new worlds and to expand the opportunities for mankind.  

Georgians have charged us to set a course for our state and they have defined the stars that we must follow to expand opportunity:  the star of education – we must provide great schools that will cultivate the minds of our young people  … the star of transportation – we must provide safe roads and avenues of commerce … the star of security – we must give every Georgian the ability to live in a safe community … and the guiding star in our constellation, jobs – we must create a business climate that provides Georgians with their best shot at a good job!  These are the stars on which our eyes must be focused as we chart the course for our great state!

Tonight, I will discuss our course forward, but first, I think we would be well served to look in the rearview mirror for just a moment.  The situation we faced one year ago and the progress we’ve made bears our attention. 

One year ago, I said “the state of our state is strong” … “that we possess a unique set of strengths” … but we also faced an unusual and historic collection of challenges.         

When we met on this occasion this past January, the Revenue Shortfall Reserve Fund, or the Rainy Day Fund as it is better known, had only enough money to fund state operations for less than two days … meaning essential functions of government were at risk in the event of even the slightest hiccup.  One year later, with your help, we have begun restoring the Rainy Day Fund.  The balance today is $328 million, an increase of 183%.  I remain committed to building up this strategic reserve by keeping our spending in check.      

When we met last year, we faced a difficult budget situation in which the low-hanging fruit and easy fixes were gone.  And yet, we worked together to pass structurally balanced budgets that fund the essential services upon which Georgians depend.  And we did it without new taxes.  We have delivered commonsense, conservative budgets free of gimmicks and one-time gains.  For that reason, we are now one of only eight states with triple-A ratings from the three major rating agencies.  When compared to our AA peers, this credential of creditworthiness saved Georgia taxpayers $11 million over the life of bonds sold last year alone. 

This also provides us with a powerful tool for economic development.  When a business considers locating in Georgia, it helps to be able to show them that they will be partnering with a state government that has its house in order!          

To that end, beginning this year, we will implement zero-based budgeting in 10% of all programs.  Through zero-based budgeting, we will bring a new level of accountability to state government and verify that taxpayer dollars are being spent to meet the priorities of Georgians! 

When we met last year, we faced a federal district court ruling that threatened to cut off up to 85% of Metro-Atlanta’s water supply.  This evening, with the benefit of an 11th Circuit Appeals Court ruling overturning that decision, we are in a far stronger position to reach a lasting agreement with our peers in Alabama and Florida on an issue of critical importance to Georgia’s ability to attract investment and new jobs.   

One year ago, HOPE – arguably the nation’s most generous merit-based, higher education scholarship and grant program – was on an unsustainable course and faced a complete depletion of reserves as early as FY 2013.  This evening, we can claim a piece of legislation that preserves HOPE for future generations!

And for every student who earns HOPE, my budget for next year maintains the same award amount received this year.

Also, we will again appropriate $20 million for the needs-based one percent student loan program which eases the burden of affording a college education.  This year, more than half of these newly-appropriated funds went to students who had no assistance from their families.     

Together, we’ve done something else over the past year.  And while it is more general in nature, it is perhaps even more important to our ability to govern well and to the long-term prospects of our great state.  Together, we have ushered in a new era of cooperation. 

Last January, we were faced with a mountain … Together, we climbed it.  Thank you for your partnership and thank you for all that you do to serve Georgians! 

But this evening, as we embark on a new year, we have other mountains to climb that will require our best collective efforts this year and beyond. 

Recalling the great explorers who looked to the night skies in their search for new lands, the first star in our constellation is education.  Our schools are the front line in our effort to create prosperity.  It is here we make our most strategic investment in the future!

The Amended and FY 2013 budgets I’ve prepared take advantage of the stabilization in revenues and appropriate an additional $146.6 million to fully fund enrollment growth in our K-12 schools.

Likewise, in both the technical college and university systems, I am calling for an additional $111.3 million to fund anticipated enrollment growth.

Also, in keeping with the recommendations of the Education Finance Study Commission, and because we believe they are vital ingredients of the educational experience we provide young Georgians, my budget calls for $3.7 million in additional funds for school nurses! 

This along with the school nutrition program and transportation funding will be moved into the Quality Basic Education funding formula.  These funds will be allocated using the same formula local districts are accustomed to, but they will have complete flexibility in how to spend them.  Better than me, or anyone else under this Gold Dome, I believe local school leaders know how to spend funds within their district in order to get the greatest outcomes for students!

My proposed budget calls for an additional $55.8 million to fund salary increases for our teachers based on training and experience.  Unlike the past, there are no reductions to QBE, Equalization Grants, State Schools or other enrollment driven programs.

Within education, I have called for a new focus on our youngest learners.  The budget I’m proposing increases the Pre-K school year for 84,000 students by 10 days, bringing it to 170 days.  I am proud to say that this will allow us to begin restoring Pre-K teacher salaries!

We must make a concerted effort to increase the percentage of children reading at grade level by the completion of 3rd Grade.  The best evidence tells us that children not meeting this standard often fail to catch up and are more likely to drop out of school, go to prison and have higher unemployment rates later in life than their reading-proficient peers. 

Students must “learn to read” in order to be able to “read to learn” and when we fail to invest in our youngest students, we are forced to spend money on remediation for the remainder of their academic careers.  To this end, my budget includes $1.6 million for a reading mentors program.  This program will assist schools and teachers as they work to help more young Georgians achieve this strategic benchmark – reading at grade level by the completion of 3rd grade.

You’ve heard me talk about moving beyond the status quo in education and that requires a more intense focus on innovation in the classroom.  In particular, we need to put in place strategies that provide students with opportunities to practice and apply what they are learning in a high-quality, real-world environment.  This is one reason we allotted nearly $20 million of our Race to the Top money for the creation of an Innovation Fund.  This initiative asks schools to partner with businesses, non-profits and postsecondary institutions and places a primary focus on developing applied learning opportunities.  We are already seeing positive results.  Tomorrow, I will announce the winners of round two.  

To spur innovation, I am also recommending $8.7 million in supplemental grants in both the Amended budget and next year’s budget for state chartered special schools affected by the Georgia Supreme Court ruling on charter schools.  These schools are key to Georgia’s educational success and without these additional dollars, they would be forced to operate on approximately half of the funds of other public schools. 

However, this is not the long-term solution, and I look forward to working with you to ensure that charter schools can thrive in Georgia.  We can do this and with your help we will!

Further, we must clarify the mission of our schools.  Let me state this very clearly:  I believe students graduating from our high schools … those young men and women who have done everything asked of them by our K-12 system … should be fully ready for postsecondary study or a job!

Going forward, we will reclaim that mission by ensuring that there is a more seamless transition from High School to further study … and from postsecondary study to the workforce. 

With our young people facing a difficult job market and stiff global competition for good jobs, we must do everything in our power to ensure that our education system provides graduates with real opportunity.  Our postsecondary institutions must maintain an intense focus on employability and creating job opportunities.  And in today’s competitive global environment where technology is constantly reshaping the economy, that means abandoning the “ivory tower” model and adapting to meet the needs of business.    

That focus on practical education is why I’m announcing Go Build Georgia this evening.  Go Build is a public-private initiative that will round out our workforce development program by educating young people and the public at large about the skilled trades.  

Already, the business community is unable to fill many positions calling for highly-skilled industrial and commercial construction professionals, jobs that on average pay 27% more than the average Georgian currently brings home.  And with an aging workforce in this area, we are on track to replace only one of every four retirees. 

Today, in America, with more than 13 million people unemployed and seeking work, there are 1.3 million open positions in skilled trade industries for which companies are unable to find qualified applicants!  Right here in Metro-Atlanta, Seimens has been unable to fill approximately 200 skilled-trade positions in the fields of manufacturing automation, healthcare technology, transportation systems and technical services.  It is time we begin work to boost our pipeline! 

We must work together to ensure that our state has the craft professionals to meet present and forecast demand.  This is something we can do and with your help we will!

Here in Georgia, we are blessed with world-class university and technical college systems that provide opportunity to every young Georgian and provide business with a pipeline of talented workers.  As we seek to continue improving higher education in this state, I want to commend Chancellor Hank Huckaby and the Board of Regents, along with Commissioner Ron Jackson and the Technical College Board, for performing a strategic consolidation of institutions.  In this age of “doing more with less,” you are delivering a better return on investment without compromising service to students. 

Before leaving the topic of higher education, I want to announce two ambitious goals.  Georgians deserve a world-class, public medical university, and it will be a priority of this administration to have a medical college among the top 50 nationally.  This is something we can do and with your help we will!

Also within this push, the Georgia Health Sciences University will seek to become the state’s second National Cancer Institute designated Cancer Center, alongside the Winship Cancer Center at Emory. 

As of today, Georgia’s annual death rate from cancer exceeds the national average, but I believe we have all of the ingredients necessary to be a destination for cancer research and a resource for every family battling this disease.   

This designation would mean greater access to research dollars and enhance our ability to recruit top cancer specialists.  Even more, it will place Georgians battling this horrific disease first in line for the newest, most promising therapies and clinical trials. 

To support this goal of a second Georgia-based Cancer Center, my budget proposal includes an investment of $5 million.  This is something we can do and with your help we will!

In order to address the need for additional health professionals in Georgia, we have been investing in the expansion of undergraduate medical education for several years.  We must now take the next step in this process by increasing the number of graduate residency slots.

My budget funds 400 new residency slots in hospitals across the state.  Presently, because we lack adequate residency program capacity, Georgia taxpayers help fund a promising young Georgian’s pre-K, K-12, postsecondary and graduate-level medical education only to see them perform their residency outside of our state and not return.  That doesn’t provide value for Georgians paying taxes. It doesn’t make sense for Georgians needing care and it isn’t fair to young Georgians looking to begin medical careers.  We must ensure that no doctor trained in Georgia is forced to leave the state to complete his or her medical education.  This is something we can do and with your help we will!

Another primary responsibility of government is providing infrastructure – and because it is a key building block of job creation, it is a star that will guide our course forward.  In a global economy in which commerce is increasingly long distance and reliant on cutting-edge logistics, we need a bigger, smarter transportation network to move people and products in the most efficient way possible.  That means roads on which traffic and freight move freely, ports that handle bigger ships, and airports that process people and packages more efficiently.      

To reduce traffic congestion in Metro-Atlanta along Georgia 400, we will be working with the DOT to implement innovative traffic solutions.  We will modify the existing southbound lanes from McFarland Road to the Chattahoochee River, allowing an additional southbound through lane.  From the Chattahoochee River to I-285, we will implement flex shoulders in each direction.  

These improvements will allow us to better facilitate traffic during peak rush hours, accommodating the explosive growth the Northern suburbs have experienced.           

Recently, we called a halt to the P-3 project for the Northwest Corridor.  While there were many reasons for doing so, one of the most important ones is that I was, am, and will be opposed to contracting away Georgia’s sovereignty for a period of 60 to 70 years over a transportation corridor that is so vital to our future.   I remain committed to improving the Northwest Corridor but there is a better way forward.      

Investment in transportation infrastructure is an investment in our future.  I applaud this Legislature’s creation of a transparent, bottom-up approach to identifying critical transportation projects throughout Georgia.  The regional referendums on this year’s ballots give voters the opportunity to fund a slate of projects with a sales tax when they deem the proposed investment provides value.  Over the last several decades, our capacity has fallen behind due to underinvestment in transportation. 

We must seize this opportunity to invest in our future!  We can do this and with your help we will!

We are continuing to work towards the completion of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project – a project that is imperative to our state’s competiveness when the bigger ships start traversing an enlarged Panama Canal in 2014. 

My budget for next year includes $46.7 million in bonds to continue deepening the harbor, building on the more than $136 million already approved for harbor deepening over the last three years.

Also within infrastructure, we are working to ensure every Georgia community has dependable water supplies.  While we await the Army Corps of Engineers decision regarding the impact of water diversions from Lake Lanier, we are moving forward with plans to enhance water supply and security around the state. 

Last year, we took definitive action to get the ball rolling.  My budget for next year proposes $45.7 million for water supply projects, the second installment in a four-year plan calling for $300 million of new investment in water supply.  Today, the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority has issued the solicitation and application forms for the Water Supply Program and local governments can now apply for the low-interest loans and state direct investment as detailed in the recently-approved Water Supply Plan. 

I want to commend our Water Task Force for creating a thorough, forward-looking plan that makes sense for Georgia communities, big and small.

With our state’s population projected to grow by an additional 4.6 million people over the next two decades, it is imperative that we expand water supply across the state.  We must stop being so dependent on the federal government for our water.  We must seize our own destiny!  This is something we can do and with your help we will!

This evening, I have talked about the our duty as elected officials to do the long-term work of ensuring our state charts a course forward that leads to a rich environment of opportunity for every Georgian.   

When those traditional building blocks fail, more and more citizens drift into the criminal justice arena.  And here in Georgia, entrance into our criminal justice system has been a dead end for far too many. 

Last year, faced with one of the most incarcerated populations in the nation, low rehabilitation rates and high recidivism; you joined me in passing legislation to create the Criminal Justice Reform Council.  Since that time, the Council has taken a comprehensive look at what changes are needed to increase the effectiveness of our correctional efforts.

I want to commend the Council for the work they have done and my budget recommendations reflect their findings.  To start, my budget proposes $1.4 million to fund additional parole officers at the State Board of Pardons and Paroles.  These officers will provide supervision to offenders who would otherwise serve their sentence and be released in our communities without any supervision. 

Unless we provide the appropriate tools of supervision that facilitate a successful reentry into society, history has shown that offenders simply return to the prison population.  Right now in Georgia, nearly one in three leaving our prisons are reconvicted within three years. 

We must shut the revolving door!  This is something we can do and with your help we will!

I am also recommending $35.2 million for additional prison beds for those who pose a threat to our citizens.  I am proposing to convert three Pre-Release Centers to Residential Substance Abuse Treatment centers, at a cost of $5.7 million.  We must make this investment … If we fail to treat the addict’s drug addiction; we haven’t taken the first step in breaking the cycle of crime … a cycle that destroys lives and wastes taxpayer resources!  This is something we can do and with your help we will! 

Because we are seeing an increased need for resources to work with violent youth offenders within our Juvenile Justice system, my budget includes funding to open a new Youth Detention Center, as well as funding for two security management and response teams.   

I am also recommending $10 million in next year’s budget for the creation of new Accountability Courts – drug, DUI, mental health and veteran courts – all of which have proven to be both cheaper and more effective than traditional courts for those lower risk offenders falling under their jurisdiction.  In fact, drug courts around this nation have proven to reduce recidivism by as much as 35%.

This evening, I want to tell you about a typical case that finds its way into a drug court.  Sarah was a drug addict.  The drug use that began as recreation resulted in a destructive cocaine and methamphetamine addiction.  It took control of her life.  At one point, she had no means of transportation … she lost custody of her little girl … she wound up homeless. 

But I mention Sarah tonight because she exemplifies many of the goals we hold for our corrections system.  Under the supervision of a drug court, piece by piece, she began rebuilding her life.  With help, she beat addiction ... she won back her daughter … she is now a sponsor helping other women who face the same trials … and because she provides a powerful example of hope and redemption, I have asked her to join us in this chamber tonight. 

Sarah and her daughter are here and I would be honored if you would give her a round of applause!

Sarah was given a shot a better life and she took it.  Her story is not the exception … it is playing out all across Georgia as people reclaim their lives through the work of accountability courts.  

While these reforms require an initial investment, they will increase public safety, and ultimately save money by creating a more effective corrections system that rehabilitates people, closing the revolving door.     

If we lock up an eighteen-year-old who has no skills and is unemployable; where will that individual be after completing a 15-year stint behind bars?  Without a new approach that brings hope back into the equation, we will have spent $270,000 and then have a 33-year-old with no skills who is more dangerous and even less employable than before.  We can do better and with your help we will!

That is why we must focus on transforming our corrections system into a last resort of opportunity – a place where low-level offenders are reclaimed and restored to society as functioning members of the community … working to support their own families … and paying taxes!

This evening, I am calling on the religious community, non-profits and charitable organizations to begin addressing the problem of reentry.  We need you and the people around this state who care to lead bold new efforts in job training and job placement for prisoners reentering society.  You can provide the bridge that will connect those who have served their time with a job and the dignity it provides!  If they will do their part, and many of them will, we must do our part.  

 Let me be clear so that there is no misinterpretation – this is not a get out of jail free card.  These reforms do not in any way diminish the seriousness of the seven deadly sins.  If you commit one of these, you will spend time in our prisons.  In fact, this transformation of our corrections efforts will ensure that we have the space and resources to incarcerate high-risk and violent offenders going forward.

First and foremost, the greatest need of our citizens is jobs and, for that reason, it is the last and brightest star in our constellation.  Businesses require a talented workforce and strong infrastructure, but they also require a business environment that allows them to compete in today’s global marketplace. 

With that in mind, the Georgia Competitiveness Initiative pulled together business leaders and more than 4,000 Georgians across the state to develop a strategy that would improve our business case.  And this morning, at the annual Eggs & Issues Breakfast, I outlined a three-part plan for strategic tax reform based on the work of the Initiative. 

First, I am proposing the elimination of the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, a move that will align us with many of our top competitors.  This will have a dramatic impact on manufacturers’ overall cost structure and vastly improve the competitive position of our producers. 

Secondly, I am proposing sales and use tax exemptions for construction materials used in projects of regional significance, giving us an important tool when competing with other states for projects creating large numbers of jobs.

A third piece, we are proposing to restructure Georgia’s Job Tax Credits and Quality Jobs Tax Credit programs.  The programs now in place was created in 1994, at a time when the competitive landscape was far different than the one our businesses operate in today.  We will modernize our job tax credits to better incentivize small business growth and to help every Georgia community compete with their regional peers. 

My office is already working with House and Senate leadership to create legislation to this effect. 

Georgians cannot compete for jobs that go elsewhere when employers make the decision that a neighboring state is a better place to do business.  The job creators across this state have spoken and I ask all of you to join me in making these important changes.  This is something we can do and with your help we will!

With a sluggish global economy we still face challenges, but we are beginning to see indications that things are stabilizing.  Georgia’s revenues trends have strengthened over the last 18 months and with sustained growth of this order, I believe real job creation is much closer than it was when we met on this occasion one year ago.  Ladies and gentleman, the state of our state is strong!

In keeping with our mission to chart a course that fulfills the priorities of Georgians, we will follow these stars:  providing strong, innovative schools geared for the modern marketplace … providing practical tools for workforce development … providing a modern infrastructure that moves people and products efficiently … providing safe communities … creating a business-friendly environment that attracts investment and puts Georgians in the best possible position to get a good job. 

And when we have fulfilled these imperatives – which are the legitimate purposes of government – let us heed the admonition of Georgians who have asked us to do these few things well, and then to get out of the way so that they can live their lives in freedom and as they see fit!

If we do this, hardworking, self-reliant Georgians will propel our state into a prosperous future!

Thank you, and may God continue to bless this great state and our nation! 


January 10--  Three re-elected members of the Vidalia City Council took oaths of office for new four-year terms at Monday night's city council meeting.


Being sworn in by Toombs County Probate Judge Larry Threlkeld are (L-R) Raymond Turner, Lisa Chesser and Brian Frost.  Turner serves as Mayor Pro Tem, Chesser chairs the Licenses, Taxes and Permits Committee and Frost heads the Streets and Sanitation Committee.

The council also approved the sale of a small lot at the corner of Crooms and Montgomery Street Extension to Solomon Tabernacle Church for $1,500.

January 10--  The Montgomery County Commission is raising property taxes for the second year in a row.

At its January meeting Monday, the Commission raised the rate three-quarters of a mil to 12.596 mils.  Last year the rate was raised one mil to 11.846 mils.

This year's Montgomery County budget is $3,451,898, an increase of 4.2% according to County Manager David Curry.

The Commission also awarded a contract to build a new county sheriff's office next to the old jail in Mount Vernon.  A Lumber City builder, Webster Construction, submitted the low bid of $241,423 and said it would complete the brick building within a hundred days.  Currie says no decision has been made yet on what to do with the old jail.

The commissioners re-elected Franklin Brantley as Commission Chairman and Vernon Sumner as vice-chairman.  

January 10--  Governor Nathan Deal makes his 2012 State of the State tonight at the state Capitol in Atlanta.

You can hear the address at 7 p.m. in Vidalia on WYUM-FM, 101.7 on your dial.

January 9--  So far there are three Augusta area candidates who want to be the Republican nominee to challenge Democrat Congressman John Barrow in this year's 12th Congressional District race.


Wright McLeod (left) with Jim Anderson of the Vidalia Tea Party Patriots.

Former Navy pilot Wright McLeod of Evans made a presentation to the Vidalia Tea Party Patriots last week.  He says he has three reasons why he's decided to get into politics.

"Number one, I absolutely disagree with the direction the country is going, both on a fiscal policy and, number two, on social policy.  And number three, I just really miss serving my country.  I'm retired Navy and I loved what I did in the Navy.  You feel like you make a difference and I miss that," McLeod says.

After 20 years in the Navy, McLeod retired and started practicing real estate law in Augusta in 2006.  He's putting the law practice on hold to seek public office.

"My wife and I and family are committed to this a hundred percent.   We're throwing everything we have into this race.  Steve Jobs said it best.  You cannot connect the dots in life, don't worry about it.  Do what you think is best and follow your heart.  It all boils down to I do not agree with where this country is going and I'm going to do the very best I can to change it," he says.

McLeod and his wife have three daughters and he says he doesn't want to leave them with a bankrupt country.

"It's just fiscal sanity.  It's a matter of cutting back on spending and entitlement programs, reducing the bureaucracy and stimulating jobs. Not only do we need to cut expenses, but we have to promote a pro-business, pro-capitalist envinronment, the same type of envinronment which made this country the greatest we've ever been," he believes.

The other two Augusta area candidates in the race so far are State Representative and farmer Lee Anderson and businessman Rick Allen.

January 9--  Georgia's new immigration law, known as House Bill 87, caused a loss of farm revenue in 2011 for some producers according to a survey by the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

"Twenty-six percent of our respondents indicated losses they attributed to the labor shortage," says state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.

{mosimage}Black says the lack of federal enforcement of immigration laws has caused some states to address the issue.  Part of the overall solution is a workable guest worker program.  According to Black, "House Bill 87 is a perfect example of state's being frustrated with lack of action at the federal level. To protect their own soverignty and their own treasury, that's why we've seen these bills crop up in the states.  But, we should have been having discussions about the guest worker program if there had been a House Bill 87 or not.  The failure of the federal government to fix this program is why were having this discussion right now."

Bills to reform the guest worker program have been introduced in the House and the Senate.  Black testified before a Senate sub-committee last Fall.  "The general notion of getting a guest worker program that is applicable to all of agriculture, one that reduces the federal bureaucracy and limits the costs to producers has general agreement that we need to move forward," Black says.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, Black agrees that 2012 will be a challenging year for farmers because of labor shortages related to Georgia's immigration law and the slow pace of guest worker legislation in Washington.

January 6--  A South Georgia legislator is on the list this year as one of the state's "100 Most Influential Georgians."

Georgia Trend Magazine publishes the list each year.  Here's what it has to say this year about 57-year-old State Senator Tommie Williams of Lyons.

{mosimage}"First elected to the Senate in 1998, Williams is known as a proponent of pro-family legislation and an opponent of anything increasing the tax burden.  He has steadily climbed the Senate's power ladder and is now at the top as Senate President Pro Tem, chairman of the Senate Committee on Assignments and vice-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee."

January 5--  Changes to Georgia's criminal justice system are expected to be considered by the Georgia General Assembly.


Senator Tommie Williams (left) and State Representative Greg Morris.

At Thursday's Pre-Legislative Forum hosted by the Toombs-Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, State Senator Tommie Williams of Lyons said jail terms for non-violent offenders like drug abusers may be reduced to save the state money.

"The folks were locking up for ten years for a drug offense, we need to look at the front side of that to make sure we've done all we can to help the folks before we just send them to prison which cost about $50,000 a year. Whether the sentencing is the right amount of time or whether there are some things we can do with drug courts or other provisions needs to be considered," the Senator said.

Senator Williams says reducing the high school dropout rate will help keep people out of jail and he notes efforts like the local career academy and the new high school ROTC program are positive steps in that direction.

Meanwhile, Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight is afraid reduced jail time for state prisoners will overload local jails.

"Probably about two-thirds of those folks they let out will end up back in jail and that will impact Georgia sheriffs.  That will give us a problem with being over filled and I don't know what we'll do with all of them," he says.

State Representative Greg Morris of Vidalia believes you won't find many lawmakers willing to support a program perceived to be soft on crime.

"Most of the people I know who got off drugs, it wasn't because of anything the state did.  It was because they made a personal decision to change their lives. Now if we can do anything to help that, then I'm for it.  However, my primary concern is public safety and the protection of public property.  If that means we have to pay extra to do it, I think it's worth the cost," Morris says.

Senator Williams notes the Department of Corrections budget accounts for $1.2 billion of the state's $18 billion budget.  He says Governor Deal believes reducing the inmate population is one way the state can save tax dollars.

January 4-- Lyons has a new mayor for the first time since 1996.

Former councilman Willis NeeSmith succeeds longtime Mayor John Moore who did not seek reelection for health reasons.


Mayor Pro Tem Ben Mitchell passes the Mayor's gavel to the new Mayor.

"John Moore was one of the best mayors I can remember growing up here and I've been here 47 years," NeeSmith said.  "He did a lot for the city in terms of growth, beautification and modernization and I just hope I can carry on the baton of his," he added.

The new mayor is optimistic about the city's future.  "With having Pet Foods come in and it looks like they're going to expand out there, so that's good for the community.  We're going to be working with the City of Vidalia and our county Development Authority to bring in more businesses and that just helps that much more," NeeSmith noted.


Also sworn in by retired Judge Marvin Hartley were incumbent councilman Ivy Toole, Jr. (far left) and new councilman Bill Mixon.

The city council voted to affirm a decision not to accept stray animals in the city shelter from the Toombs County Animal Control Officer as of February 1. Councilman Wayne Hartley said 75% of the shelter's population came from the county.

County manager Doug Eaves says the county received a letter from the City of Lyons December 29 informing the county of the decision.  He says it came after the county questioned a shelter bill for a six-months period of $11,400 after the bill for all of 2010 had only been $8,000.  

Eaves says the couny has paid the bill and is now looking at some other shelter options.

January 4--  The proprietor of an Uvalda convenience store has been released on bond after being jailed for selling Spice, a Schedule One Narcotic in Georgia.

Montgomery County Sheriff Clarence Sanders says Piyush Patel was arrested last Friday.  Officers confiscated several thousand dollars in cash and over 800 packages of the drug at Ladson's Store in Uvalda.  At a Superior Court hearing Tuesday, Patel was prohbited from any further involvement in the store's operation.

January 3--  The Range Fuels ethanol plant in Soperton has a new owner.


The facility was sold at public auction Tuesday on the steps of the Treutlen County courthouse in Soperton.  The U.S. Department of Energy provided a $76 million grant in 2007 to explore turning pine trees into cellousic ethanol.  The plant was built in Truetlen County but never reached full capacity.  In January of last year, the plant ceased production due to lack of financing and AgSouth Farm Credit proceeded with foreclosure on an $80 million construction loan.

The new owner is the New Zealand-based energy company LanzaTech which has an U.S. office in Roselle, Illinois.  Company CEO Dr. Jennifer Holmgren bought the plant with a bid of $5.1 million.

"We're developing bio-fuels projects for fuel and chemical production.  We think this is a very nice site, we like the location, the county has treated us great and we like the ability to grow a piece of our company here.  We want to start with small scale units and  then make 100-million gallons or so in production.  We think this is a great place to do it.  The wood basket is here, the interest of the people in the community is here and it would be such a waste to lose the equipment and the work by the people who came before us," she said.

Dr. Holmgren says its too early to say how many jobs will be created or when the plant will resume production.  One of the long term goals is production of jet fuel, she said. 

State Agriculture Commissioner releases ag labor report

Challenges Congress to find an effective solution to fix labor issues

January 3-- Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black today released a report on agriculture labor in Georgia, offering practical solutions to address the concerns of Georgia’s largest and oldest industry. The report, required by Georgia House Bill 87, was delivered to Governor Nathan Deal, Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and Speaker David Ralston earlier today.

“The results of this survey continue to make clear that the solution to labor issues facing Georgia producers rests in the hands of the federal government,” Black said Tuesday.  “Agriculture is our state’s number one industry, yet the federal government is failing to provide our farmers with the skilled labor they need to harvest crops in a legal and efficient manner. It is time that our friends in Washington step up to the plate and provide us with a system that works.”

The first recommendation in the report points out that only the federal government has the ability to reform existing agriculture guest worker programs to make them useful and effective for farmers. Available options for farmers are too cumbersome, unreliable and bureaucratic to be practical in today’s modern economy. Additionally, more resources need to be put in place for educating the agriculture industry about the federal H-2A program. The third and final recommendation suggests more research be conducted in order to fully understand the complexity of agriculture labor in Georgia.

“More than 40 percent of respondents in our study said the federal H-2A program is not applicable to their operations,” Black said, noting this includes year-round agriculture needs, such as dairies, ginners and landscapers. “Another 20 percent of respondents were completely unfamiliar with the option of H-2A for hiring workers and an additional 16 percent had only heard negative things about it.

“The findings of this report also indicate there are opportunities for improved relations between the agriculture community and the Department of Labor for worker recruitment, while education and outreach will help provide better resources for growers,” Black continued.

"Black noted in 2011, Georgia Senators and Representatives offered proposed federal legislation addressing agriculture labor. “We need Senators and Representatives from other states to join this effort in creating a solution to fix the problem,” he said. “Our livelihoods are at stake.”

As consumers increasingly want to know more about where their food comes from, the Department of Agriculture’s survey illustrates the need for a real discussion about a solution to fix labor issues.

“Georgians are concerned about where their food comes from; it is important to them. Our state has a great production capacity, but we need an effective way to get those products from the farm to the table,” Black said. “I challenge consumers to look at the produce available in local stores – you’ll always be able to find blueberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, peaches and the other products you desire – but where these products are grown and sold is directly linked to who is available to harvest them.”

The study obtained responses from 138 Georgia counties, with more than 800 producers responding to the survey, including those from small and large scale operations.

The full report is available online at Additional highlights from the report can be found here:

·       Forty-eight percent of respondents found their part-time workforce to be roughly the same over the past five years, while 20 percent reported their workforce to be smaller.

·       Twenty-one percent of respondents indicated that fewer full- and part-time workers were hired in 2011 when compared to the last five years; major reasons included a poor economy, loss of revenue, poor worker retention and lack of available workers.

·       It is unknown if the lack of full- and part-time workers in 2011 was a direct result of the passage of Georgia HB87, however, the study’s findings suggest this could be an issue and identifies a perception that the lack of workers could be related to the passage of HB87.

·       The survey shows producers pay both full and part time workers at, or above, federal minimum wage.

·       In 2011, more than 50 percent of survey respondents who are producers of blueberries, cabbage, cantaloupe, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, squash, tobacco and watermelon reported income losses.

·       More than 40 percent of respondents said H-2A was not applicable to their farming operations; another 20 percent indicated they were unfamiliar with the program.

·       Most respondents use word of mouth to recruit workers; approximately 13 percent use the Georgia Department of Labor and 3.4 percent reported using H-2A.


January 2--  The AJC reported the following story on Friday, December 30.

"Two South Georgia community banks and a former executive of a failed Alpharetta institution were slapped with censures recently by federal regulators, according to a report issued Friday.

Lyons-based Peoples Bank and the Citizens Bank of Nashville entered separately into consent orders last month with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Consent orders are designed to help banks correct deficiencies and improve operations. The banks neither admitted nor denied any wrongdoing.

Peoples Bank is based in Toombs County, about 100 miles southeast of Macon. The Citizens Bank is based in Berrien County, about 130 miles south of Macon.

The orders, among other things, call for reducing problem loans, reviews and revisions of loan policies, and plans to raise investor capital and maintain capital requirements.

Messages left at both banks were not immediately returned.

Dozens of Georgia banks are under similar orders to improve their operations as they grapple with problem loans and a tepid economic recovery."


January 2--  As the new year starts, Toombs County is in better financial shape than its been in the past, however, County Commission Chairman Buddy West admits 2011 was a challenge.  "It's been a challenge on the economic side, but we've continued to look at expenses and revenue and make adjustments as it comes through," he says.

West is starting his fourth year in office and believes conversion to a county manager form of government has helped the county get its financial house in order.

"The first year we had to borrow money to make year's end budget.  Now we're in a lot better financial shape.  We have some money in a reserve account now and I feel like we're better off and the numbers show we are," he reports.

As local governments continue to look for ways to pay the bills, West expects some hard nose bargaining when the county and its cities sit down to devise a formula for dividing up local sales tax revenue for the next ten years starting in 2013. 

"We just want to get our fair share as much as the cities of Lyons and Vidalia want to get their fair shares.  This is all about tax equity and we're looking at doing the fair thing for all the citizens of Toombs County," West says.

Both the county and Vidalia have hired consultants to give them advice on how to approach the sales tax negotiations which could end up in court if all parties can't agree.

On July 31, voters will be asked to approve a one percent sales tax for road improvements in the county and the region.  "This is a mechanism which was handed down to us (by new state law) that we're using to have better road systems in our area.  It serves a good economic purpose for roadways and will help fund further widening of U.S. One South if it's implemented," the chairman notes.

In an end of year interview, Chairman West provided a list of things he's most proud of accomplishing in 2011. 


1.  Extended the one mil tax assessment for the Toombs County Development Authority for five years.

2.  Reapportioned the county's commission districts.

3.  Updated various ordinances like Beer and Wine, Mobile Homes, etc.

4.  increased funding for recreation to Vidalia, Lyons and Toombs Rec by $2,000 or 6% for 2012.

5.  General fund balance in November is $2,051,244 with $2 million invested in a Certificate of Deposit.

6.  Budget for 2012 Maintenance and Operations Budget is $9,023,650, a 1.82% decrease from 2011 and includes a 3% pay raise for employees.

7. Special Revenue Budget is set at $4,173,955, a 2.3% decrease from 2011.

8.  We continue to look a expenditures.  Recently discovered the county was paying for 39 street lights at $893 per month.  This is a city function and we gave Lyons and Vidalia eight months notice to prepare.

9.  There has been no millage increase in property taxes and we're not borrowing money to operate county government.

Detention Center and Jail

1.  Purchased new E911 equipment and furnishings for $122,621.00.

2.  Re-roofed jail for $148,735.00.

3. Re-lamped outside perimeter of jail and detention center.

4.  Improved lighting in large courtroom.


1. Landfill fund as of November 30 is $1,320,623.

2.  Opened three new cells under budget.

3.  Purchased new compactor to replace 1996 and 1998 models.

4.  Puchased new bulldozer for $208,000.


1.  Served as fiscal agent for widening of Bulldog Road.

2.  Resurfaced two miles of Lyons-Center Road and contracted to resurface an additional two miles.

3.  Contracted for four miles of Old Normantown Road.

4.  Restripped 48 miles of county roads using a Federal Highway Safety Grant.

5.  Purchased new limbcutter for $97,200.00.


1.  Swapped buildings with Lyons and now we have a building for elections and registration and renovated building for $16,006.00.

2.  County contracted with Vidalia, Lyons and Santa Claus to do elections.