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February 29--  Six young ladies are winners in the annual Toombs County Foresty Pageant.

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(Front L-R) Teeny Miss Isabelle Wilkes, Tiny Miss Madison Grace Matthews, Little Miss Natalee Carter, and the 2011 Tiny Miss Georgia Forestry Bentlee Carter who assisted in crowning the Toombs County queens.

(Back L-R) Junior Miss Halee Leggett, Miss Toombs County Forestry Faye Beth Collins and Teen Miss Hannah Hill.

The Toombs queens will compete at the Miss Georgia Forestry Pageant this June in Tifton. 

February 29--  A drug violator, a child molestor and a shoplifter have been found guilty by juries in Toombs County Superior Court.

District Attorney Hayward Altman says Neal Garnett Smith was found guilty of felony possession cocaine and simple possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor. He was sentenced by Judge Bobby Reeves to 30 years with 20 years to serve without parole.  The DA says the heavy sentence is because Smith has prior drug convictions.   Smith was indicted for trafficking in cocaine and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, but was convicted on the lesser charges. 

In another case, the jury convicted Victor Tyrone Campbell of Lyons for sodomizing a girl under the age of 16 in 2002.  His sentencing has been set for March 15.

A Soperton woman, Nita Warren, was convicted for stealing televisions and other items from the Walmart in Vidalia in July, 2010.  She has prior convictions in Treutlen County and will be sentenced later in Toombs County.

February 29--  The Sweet Onion Animal Protection Society (SOAPS) celebrated the worldwide observance of "Spay Day" with a benefit SpayGhetti Supper Tuesday night at the Vidalia Community Center.

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Celebrity servers like Lyons Police Chief Wesley Walker (left) loaded plates with "SpayGhetti" and salad from Steeplechase in Vidalia. 

SOAPS volunteers sold hundreds of "SpayGhetti" plates and enlisted corporate sponsors to help raise money for spaying and neutering of stray animals and pets of those who can't afford the cost of the procedure.  Organizer Marcia Cherry estimates the event raised nearly $10,000.

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Good Eatin!

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"Yumion" dances to the music of Sam's Drive-in Band from Swainsboro.

Dal Canady from WTOC-TV in Savannah stopped by and filed the following report.  Click to look.

http://www.wtoc.com/story/17041699/2012/02/28/soaps-hosts-annual-spay-ghetti-fundraiser-dinner

 

February 28--  A longtime history teacher at Toombs County High School is a winner of the WTOC-TV "Top Teacher" Award.

{mosimage}Bobby George was nominated by student Brittanny Garcia.

"He really does influence the students he teaches," she says.  "He gives us everyday life lessons during his lessons.  We'll talk about the Civil War, World War I and World War II and he'll tell us how we need to treasure our elderly because we don't really don't have any World War I veterans and the World War II veterans are dying out.  He says when an old person dies a library is lost as well.  He gives us life lessons we can learn and put in our lives.  He's also the Fellowship of Christian Athletes leader and he really does teach us that God has a plan for your life.  He'll tell you about his life before he became saved and it's really amazing how much he's overcome.  That's one of the reasons I believe he deserves the award," Garcia said.

School principal Doug Alexander says the school is proud of Mr. George and the job he does with the school's young people.  "He is very deserving of this recognition," Alexander said.

The WTOC film crew visited Toombs County High School last week to film the story which is scheduled to air on the station's six o'clock news Wednesday night.

November 28--  A Toombs County murder trial scheduled to have started Monday is off after the defendant decided to enter a guilty plea to a reduced charge.

Sixty-two-year old Norman NeeSmith was facing felony murder charges in the shooting death a year ago of 22-year-old Justin DeShun Patterson of Montgomery County.  Local authorities said NeeSmith shot Patterson after he caught him in his daughter's bedroom in the pre-dawn hours of January 29.

District Attorney Hayward Altman says NeeSmith decided Monday to plead guilty to felony involuntary manslaughter under wreckless conditions.  He is scheduled to be sentenced April 12 by Superior Court Judge Kathy Palmer.

Jury Trials in Session

Two other cases are being tried by Toombs County juries this week.

A 2008 cocaine trafficking case against Neal Garnett Smith started Monday and a 2002 child molestation case against Victor Tyrone Campbell was scheduled to start Tuesday.

February 28-- Country singer Craig Morgan is releasing a new album prior to his April concert at the Vidalia Onion Festival.

If you've got a band that would like to perform at the concert, you need to take part in the "Battle of the Bands" competition coming up March 17-18 at the Historic Pal Theater in downtown Vidalia.  For info, call 538-8687.

Craig Morgan Releases New Album

 
   

It's hard to put just one hat on Craig Morgan. He's out with his new album, "This Ole Boy," today, but when he's not singing, he's competing in dirt bike races, hunting, hosting an Outdoor Channel TV show or stopping crime as a part-time sheriff's deputy. Morgan says singing is a big part of who he is, but it's not the only thing he does. If it were, he says he might have had an even bigger career than the one he has now. But he's always said he's not going to quit being who he is in order to sing. The new album is Morgan's first in more than three years. He wrote seven of the 12 tracks and says the songs give fans a clear picture of who he is and what he's all about.


February 28--  First grade teacher Kim Reynolds files a report on learning in February at Montgomery County Elementary School.

"This month our first grade students at Montgomery County Elementary School have been busy working and learning. We have participated in many different activities that took place during the  February. 

February is heart awareness month. During Health class with Coach Meadows, our students learned about ways they can improve their heart health. They discussed the importance of exercise and healthy eating. Before our winter break we observed President’s Day. Our students recalled information they had learned about Presidents Washington and Lincoln and we discussed the importance of the President and our current President Barack Obama.  February is also Black History month. First grade students participated in this by reading or listening to books written by Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes as well as other important authors.

Our first grade students are studying Science this semester. They are learning about the scientific method and how we can observe the world around us. We have studied topics like weather and the water cycle.  Dr. Chris Jones, father of first grade student Isaiah Jones and chemistry professor and Provost from Brewton-Parker College visited with us and demonstrated several chemistry experiments.

{mosimage}First, Dr. Jones instructed the students about safety when performing such experiments. He told them about safety goggles and making sure they have proper supervision when performing any experiment. Then Dr. Jones demonstrated how different chemicals react when they are mixed together.

For his first experiment, Dr. Jones mixed two clear chemicals in a cup. When this happened the clear chemicals changed to a purple color. Our students were amazed to see this reaction take place. Later, Dr. Jones added vinegar to this solution and the color changed back to clear. He instructed the students that this occurred because he had mixed an acid chemical and a base chemical together.

Next our students observed as Dr. Jones mixed vinegar and baking soda causing a reaction that made the two chemicals fizz or bubble up, as one student said.  Last, Dr. Jones amazed the students by pouring water into a cup in which he had placed some white, chemistry powder. He then turned the cup upside down and to the student’s amazement, no water fell out. The water and powder had mixed together to form a gel. He told the children that this is the same reaction that occurs in diapers and that a Scientist had created the powder for use in diapers.

February has been a busy month. Our students have been working hard and have had fun learning new things about the world around them."

 

February 28--  Dr. Deanna Stoddard from Toombs County Schools submitted the following March events in the Toombs County school system.

Georgia High School Writing Retest will be given March 1.  For more information, please call Cindy Corbitt at 526-6068.

Friday, March 2 is Dr. Seuss’ birthday and Read Across America Day!  

Lyons Primary School PTO meets Monday, March 5 at 6:00 p.m. in the gym.  After the PTO meeting, parents are invited to the LPS art show.

Toombs Central Family Teachers Association will meet Tuesday, March 6 at 7:00 p.m. in the cafeteria.

Lyons Upper Elementary School will take Spring Pictures on Tuesday, March 6.

Lyons Primary will take Spring Pictures on Wednesday, March 7.

Students in 5th grade at Lyons Upper and Toombs Central Elementary will take the state writing assessment for fifth grade students on Wednesday, March 7.  Please make sure your student is present.

Toombs County Board of Education meets Thursday, March 8 at 6:30 p.m. in the boardroom.

School Holidays for Toombs County Schools are March 9-13.

Toombs County Band Boosters meet on Thursday, March 15 at 6:30 p.m. in the band room at TCHS.

Lyons Primary and Toombs Central Elementary will conduct Kindergarten Registration on March 16 from 9:00 am-2:00 pm.  The child will need to be present in order to take a short screening.

Toombs Central Elementary School will take Spring Pictures on Friday, March 16.

Title I Spring Surveys will be sent home with report cards for parents of students in grades K-8 on Monday, March 19.  Parents are encouraged to complete the surveys and return them to the school as soon as possible.

Toombs County Middle School will take Spring Pictures on Tuesday, March 20.

Georgia High School Graduation Test will be given the week of March 26-30.  For more information contact Cindy Corbitt at 526-6068.

Toombs County Middle School will conduct a CRCT parent meeting on Thursday, March 29 from 6:00-7:30 p.m.  All parents are invited to attend.

 

February 28-- The Annual Market Hog Show was held  at the Toombs County Agricenter last week.  A record crowd was on hand for the show sponsored by the Toombs County Young Farmers.  Fifty seven youth participated in the event with a total of sixty seven hogs being shown.  This year’s judge was Mr. Todd Wall, Screven County FFA Advisor.

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For the second year, a Pee Wee division was included for youth ages 5-8.  Pee Wee participants participated in two divisions: a premium weight class and showmanship.

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Participants included winner Britton Herndon and JJ Braddy, Jada Creamer, Thomas Cloud, Jacob Edwards, Kara Frost, Gavin Hall and Clayton Williamson. 

FFA members exhibiting included:  Bailey Bryson, Samantha Castro, Chase Corbin, Ashley Cruz, Katie Douglas, Traci Dixon, Summer Dykes, Douglas Goins, Eric Goins, Jenneca Gomez, Cheyenne Jackson, Taylor Lee, Abby Lindsey, Madison Lynn, Daniel McCall, Lindsey McCoy, Anna McIntyre, Breena Mitchum, Lupita Morales, Jared Morris, Chelsea Music, Chad Newman, Emma Owens, Dani Parrish, Brittany Peavy, Kayla Peterson, Wesley Ricks, Haley Smith, Trent Stephens, Larry Waters, John Ricketson, Jacob Stallings, Samantha Van Dyke and Chelsea Womack.

4-H members exhibiting included: Trey Cloud, Landon Cowart, Adam Edwards, K.D. Frost, Madison Hall, Lorren Herndon, Madison Herndon, Sky Herndon, Dawsan Love, Abigail Lynn, Cameron Panick, Brad Sanders, Cody Williamson, Cole Williamson and Tucker Williford.

 In the senior showmanship division (Grades 10-12), Madison Lynn won first, Sky Herndon took second and third place was awarded to Haley Smith.  In the junior showmanship division (Grades 7-9), first place was awarded to Madison Herndon, second place went to Chase Corbin and third place went to Tucker Williford.  The cloverleaf showmanship division honors went to KD Frost followed by Madison Hall in second and Dalton Underwood in third place.  Pee Wee Class showmanship winners were: Kara Frost (1st), Britton Herndon (2nd) and Jada Creamer (3rd). 

Class 1 consisted of hogs which weighed in under 235 pounds.  Chelsea Music was the class winner followed by Cody Williamson, Madison Lynn, Sky Herndon and Brad Sanders.  In Class 2, hogs weighing in between 237 and 248 pounds, Lorren Herndon took top honors, Madison Herndon finished second, Wesley Ricks took third and Dalton Underwood finished fourth.  Landon Cowart finished fifth.  In the heavy weight class,

Madison Herndon was the class winner.  Finishing out the top five were Lorren Herndon, Landon Cowart, Sky Herndon and KD Frost. 

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The Championship drive was the last event for the evening.  Grand Champion was awarded to Madison Herndon shown with Judge Todd Wall and Toombs Co Extension Service Agent Jason Edenfield.

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The  Reserve Grand Champion was awarded to Lorren Herndon shown with Wall and Edenfield.

Through participation in the Young Farmers Market Hog Show, youth in the Toombs County FFA program strive to maintain their organization’s motto “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve.” The Toombs County FFA advisors are Mark Montfort and Joey Montford.   Toombs County 4-H’ers work “To Make the Best Better.”  The Toombs County Extension Staff members are Cheryl Poppell, Extension Coordinator, Jason Edenfield, County Agent, Lesli Garrett, 4-H Program Assistant and Dorothy Osborn, County Extension Secretary.  For more information about Youth Agricultural Programs, contact Toombs County FFA at 526-6068 or Toombs County 4-H at 526-3101. (Story and photos submited by Cheryl Poppell)

 

February 27--  Last year the Marine Corps fighter squadron stationed at Beaufort Air Station conducted two training exercises at Vidalia Regional Airport.  The unit deploys to Afghanistan in March. 

{mosimage}(L-R) Bill Torrance, Raymond Turner, Brian Frost, Mayor Ronnie Dixon, Kevin Britton, Major Matt McBride and Cecil Thompson.

Before their departure, Operations Officer, Major Matt McBride, visited Vidalia and presented city officials with an F-18 tailhook which had been used in Vidalia to help Marine pilots practice landings on short airfields like they will use in Afghanistan.

In return, the City of Vidalia presented the squadron with the city flag which flew over Vidalia Regional Airport during the training exercise.  Airport Manager Kevin Britton said he hopes the flag will bring the squadron good luck and help everyone return home safely.

February 27--  One man was killed and another was injured Sunday afternoon when a communications tower collapsed in south Toombs County.

Authorities say the two were in the process of taking down a ham radio tower at the home of Fred Dennis, Jr. at 199 Highway 147 south of Lyons.

Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight reports David Edward Lynn and Thomas Lee Brantley, both age 42 of Brunswick, were on the tower when it fell just after four p.m. 

Lynn suffered fatal head injuries.  Brantley was flown to Memorial Medical Center in Savannah in critical condition.

February 27--  The Junior ROTC Regiment representing four area school systems made a strong showing in its first-ever drill competition held earlier this year in Jupiter, Florida.  The unit's public affairs officer files this report.

By Cadet 1st Lieutenant Brittany McCord, Regimental Public Affairs Officer

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Bottom Row (L-R) CSM David Draughn, 1st Sgt. Ken Brantley  Second Row (L-R) Chanaria Fussell, Mikayla Harden, Drew Morrell, Chris Owens, Anthony Summersett, Daisha Singleton, Mason Mitchell, Corey Moore, Rickisha Smith Third Row (L-R) Jenny Shim, Jordan Fox, Octavious Haynes, Caleb Stovall, Jermaine Snell, Brian Mcree, Courtney Walker, Monica Bryant Fourth Row (L-R) Adreona Simpson, Shantae Robinson, India Phillips, Roderick Rogers, Khadijah Davis, Shakira Rogers, Amber Williams, Kadijah Mathews  Fifth Row (L-R) Clay Patrick, Keyona Reed, Karstin Poole, Josh Spires, Tony Kirby.

  The Thunderbolt Regimental drill team competed in Florida’s 3rd Region Invitational Army Junior ROTC drill meet on 28 January 2012.  The categories the cadets competed in were: Female Squad Regulation Drill (Armed); Female Squad Regulation (Unarmed); Male, Female, and Mixed Color Guard, and Male Squad Exhibition Drill (Armed).  Each of these elements won honors in competition—1st Place in Squad Exhibition Drill (Armed) category, 2nd Place in Female Squad Regulation Drill (Armed) category and 3rd place in Female Squad Regulation (Unarmed); Male, Female, and Mixed Color Guard.  This competition was the first of eight competitions that the Thunderbolts will participate in this year.

“We performed well for the first time,” Cadet Colonel Jermaine Snell, Regimental Commander and squad member of the top exhibition squad stated at the end of the competition.  “The hard work, sweat, bruised knuckles, long hours and weekends proved worthy.  I am proud of this Regiment and these cadets.”

“We entered this competition nervous, perhaps slightly intimidated, but our team worked together well and we drove on through the difficulties,” stated Cadet Sergeant Caleb Stovall, a member of the squad exhibition team.

“I was very nervous,” stated Cadet Lieutenant Colonel Courtney Walker, “but, the long hours of practice paid off.  I remember when we first started in the JROTC program, and how clumsy we felt trying to learn the manual of arms.  We’ve come a long way in a short period of time.”

“This competition was an honor for me to participate in,” said Cadet 1st Lieutenant Mason Mitchell who commanded the Thunderbolts 1st place team.  “We impressed our competitors.”

Cadet Staff Sergeant Jordan Fox, commander of the Color Guard said “We went hard, and we went home winners. The Color Guard members worked very hard to earn their trophy.  I am proud to be a Thunderbolt.”

The Thunderbolt cadets practiced many hours after school, at home and on the weekends preparing for this event.  First Sergeant (Retired) Yusvf K, Brantley one of the team’s coaches, remarked “I am very proud of these cadets and their accomplishments.  These young men and women placed a mark high on the drill competition wall for others to emulate.   These young men and young women’s dedication to the Regimental drill team is most certain laudatory.  We look forward to the future, and intend to compete and win at the Georgia State Drill Championship on March 24th.”

The Thunderbolt cadets’ discipline, motivation, and desire to succeed impressed those members of the Florida National Guard who hosted the Thunderbolts at their armory.  These non-commissioned officers left the cadets impressed by Toombs, Vidalia, Montgomery and Treutlen’s finest.  Staff Sergeant Benjamin Carman, Noncommissioned officer in charge of hosting the event presented Cadet Colonel Jermaine Snell with a plaque to point out these cadets’ dedication to excellence and discipline.  “We look forward to seeing you next year,” he said.  You epitomize your Regimental motto ‘Deeds, not Words.’ 

 

 


 

February 24-- The State Board of Education last week approved State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge's recommendation to award nine school districts, representing 63 schools and centers, a Striving Reader Comprehensive Literacy Grant.

“I offer my sincere congratulations to these school districts for receiving a Striving Reader Comprehensive Literacy Grant," said Superintendent Barge. "These grants will provide funding necessary for schools to build literacy plans for their students. Research is clear that students who are reading on grade level, especially after 3rd grade, will be more likely to graduate from high school and be prepared for college and careers.

The following districts submitted literacy plans and were granted a portion of the $24,752,919.00 in Federal funds: Fulton County, Clarke County, Bartow County, Jeff Davis County ($1.9M), Morgan County, Jefferson County, Rome City, Brantley County, and Cartersville City.

Grant funds will allow schools to develop literacy plans to better implement the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards, assist schools in leveraging print and technology resources for student instruction and engagement, provide teachers with professional learning based on individual needs, foster implementation of research-based models of instruction, and provide useful student assessments.

Winning Schools and School Districts : https://eboard.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/Attachment.aspx?S=1262&AID=359021&MID=21842

February 24--  A high speed police chase which started in Emanuel County ended Tuesday in Vidalia.

Toombs County Chief Deputy Sheriff Barry Brown says Toombs law enforcement took up the chase when two suspects entered Toombs County on Highway 297 North.  The chase ended on Northeast Main Street in Vidalia.

He reports numerous traffic charges have been filed against Sylvester Clark of Swainsboro.  He's also being charged for possession of a controlled substance which was found in his car.  Also facing drug charges is the passenger in the car, Christina Alexander of Swainsboro.

Clark is also facing a charge of aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer.  Brown reports Clark's car hit the side of Brown's vehicle during the chase.

Brown says Emanuel County authorities are also investigating possible shoplifting by the pair at the Walmart in Swainsboro.  He says DVD's and CD's from the store were found in the trunk of the car.

February 24-- President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) released the following statement regarding the passage of the mid-year budget. The mid-year budget, HB 741, passed with a vote 51- 1.

“I am proud to continue working alongside my colleagues to produce a fiscally responsible, balanced budget,” said President Pro Tempe Tommie Williams.  “Each year, Georgia manages to do something that our leaders in Washington have failed at - balancing the budget and living within our means during these hard times.  As we continue to search for new ways to limit government spending and ease taxes for Georgia residents, I encourage those elected to serve us in our nation's Capitol to do the same. "

February 23--  Officials in Montgomery County are working out details to build a new fire station in Tarrytown.

At a meeting Wednesday night, the county commission met with Tarrytown Volunteer Fire Department Chief Don Snively and Tarrytown Mayor Lynette Coleman.

The county is buying a lot in Tarrytown and plans to use sales tax revenue to help build a three-bay fire station which it will own and lease to either the city or to the volunteer fire department.  Either way, commission chairman Franklin Brantley says the county is committed to improving fire facilities in Tarrytown.

"We're committed to provide the protection.  We've acquired SPLOST funds for that and I know the whole board is committed to provide that service.  Now it's just a matter of dotting the i's and crossing the t's legally to get it to the point that we can start construction.  Our lawyer is going to give us recommendations and just as soon as we get that and understand it, we'll make a move on it," he said.

County manager David Curry says the county will spend just under $100,000 for the building and he expects the volunteer firemen to provide labor and other in-kind services amounting to about $30,000.

"Hopefully we can get our issues with Tarrytown Fire Department regarding the lease and the land to come together at the same time.  That's one of the reasons we called the meeting for tonight to get all those issues worked out and hopefully we can start in the next couple of weeks," he said.

Chairman Brantley also signed a letter to county department heads recommending improvements to accounting procedures based on the county audit and the commission approved a letter by the county development authority in support of shopping locally.

February 23-- Two students from Southeastern Tech attended the Student Professional Development Conference in Valdosta this month.

{mosimage}The students, Cheryl Willett (left) and Grace Martin, are members of STC’s Student Leadership Council and put their leadership skills to work in conference sessions focusing on leadership styles, nonverbal communication, and leading through action.

“This was STC’s first time attending this conference and it was very interesting seeing how the process of electing officers worked,” said Krysta Rushing, advisor for the college’s Student Leadership Council.

STC Students Excel in Athens

Southeastern Tech students in the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) attended the organization’s 2012 Certification and Development Workshop/Student Conference in Athens.

“The conference allows the students to interact with other professional and student IAAP chapters and they are able to attend workshops,” said Jernigan.

Lisa Buchans, Carolyn Hand, and LaDonna York traveled with IAAP advisor Tina Jernigan and competed in four competitions: Microsoft Office 2010, Grammar Rules and Business Writing, Certified Administrative Professional and Organizational Management (CAP-OM) Mock Exam, and Public Speaking.

The students rounded out the top three in Grammar Rules and Business Writing, with Buchans taking first, Hand second, and York third. Buchans also won CAP-OM Mock Exam, with York placing second.

“I’m very proud of our students. They did an outstanding job and always represent STC well each year,” said Jernigan.

With around 40,000 members and approximately 600 chapters worldwide, IAAP is the world's largest association for administrative support staff. The association partners with employers to promote professional excellence, and IAAP members strive to inspire and equip all administrative professionals to attain excellence.

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Photo (clockwise from bottom-left): Tina Jernigan, Lisa Buchans, Carolyn Hand, LaDonna York

 

 

February 22--  Some parents in Vidalia are concerned that asbestos may be a problem when renovation work starts on a local primary school.

The Vidalia City School system is planning a major remodeling project this year at the J.D. Dickerson Primary School.  A group of parents with students at the school met with School Superintendent Dr. Tim Smith Tuesday morning.

"These parents are concerned that when we start removing it (asbestos) they don't want their children anywhere near it and I can certainly understand that," Dr. Smith said.

Many older buildings like those at Dickerson contain asbestos and Dr. Smith say they inspect regularly.  "The asbestos has been there we know since the building was built.  We've got records going back to 1988 where it was found and has been encapsulated.  Asbestos is not dangerous as long as it's not loose in the air," he noted.

Dr. Smith promises that any work scheduled around areas with asbestos will not be done with students on campus.  "I've got a call to the architect and the contractor and we're trying to work out a schedule so that the asbestos will not be removed while the children are in the building.  It may be possible to do it during Spring break," he says.

Dr. Smith hopes the project will be finished before the start of the next school year.  When it's finished, he says the only school in the system with any asbestos will be Vidalia High School. 

 

February 22--  Georgia is one of ten states which has gained federal approval to come up with a better way to measure public education effectiveness and accountability.

{mosimage}Shelly Smith of Vidalia is the Executive Director of the First District Regional Education Services Agency (RESA).  She reports the ability to deviate from the federal "No Child Left Behind" requirements will mean a big change in testing for Georgia students.

"There will be end of course tests and that will be a much fairer look at what the student was supposed to learn and how well he retained it at the end of that course.  I think, for example, that asking students to take physical science in the ninth grade and then giving them a test in the Spring of the eleventh grade year when they are in the midst of chemistry means a lot of that has been lost.  So I think the kids are going to fare better, but I'll tell you one thing, the tests are going to be harder.  The tests we have been giving have required a lot of memorization.  The new tests will include hardly any of that.  It will all be high order thinking and the ability to solve problems, not the ability to recall information read," she said.

Smith is the only member of the State School Superintendent's advisory committee on the new program who is from below the "gnat line."  She says it will give some important information on funding disparities in the state.

"They are going to compare a school's performance to the number of dollars spent to educate students.  We have some schools in north Georgia which spend up to $12,000 per child to educate a student.  Their results are not nearly as good as some of our school systems and we spend somewhere around $6,000.  So I think we are going to compare very well in terms of cost per student expenditures compared to effectiveness," Smith believes.

The changes take effect next school term.

February 20--  A Toombs County man is scheduled to get his day in court next week for the alleged killing of a young man he caught visiting his daughter in her bedroom.

Sixty-two-year old Norman NeeSmith is facing charges of felony murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment.  He's accused of fatally shooting 22-year-old Justin DeShun Patterson of Montgomery County as he fled from NeeSmith's mobile home at 220 Harden Chapel Road  in the pre-dawn hours of January 29, 2011.

At the time of the incident, Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight reported NeeSmith's daughter, 18-year-old Danielle Nicole Rozier and a juvenile girl invited Patterson and his 18-year-old brother to the house after NeeSmith went to bed.  

Court officials say jury selection is expected Monday in Toombs County Superior Court with District Attorney Hayward Altman presenting the state's case starting Tuesday.

February 20--  A routine traffic checkpoint had led to a meth bust.

Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight says 31-year-old Richard Earl Treharn was stopped at a road check last Friday on Highway 130 North.  He was found to be in possession of methaphetamine and is also charged with possession of a pistol during the commission of a felony.

The arrest led to a search of Treharn's house in Montgomery County where Montgomery County Sheriff Clarence Sanders reports he faces charges of manufacturing methamphetamine.

February 20--  A Toombs County man is being charged with vehicular homocide in a wreck that killed his wife last summer.

Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight says the Georgia State Patrol issued the warrant for 21-year-old Carlos Jacob Williamson.  His wife, 25-year-old Jessica Marie Jarriel Williamson, was killed when their car hit a ditch near Cedar Crossing June 25.  She was thrown from the vehicle and Williamson told investigators she was driving.

Subsequent investigation revealed that he may have been the driver and led the State Patrol to file the charges, according to Sheriff Kight.

February 20--  Vidalia city officials claim Vidalia taxpayers will pay more property taxes if Toombs County has its way in ongoing arguments about how to split local option sales tax collections.

Mayors in Vidalia, Lyons and Santa Claus have refused to accept a proposal from the Toombs County commission that the county's share of collections be increased from 42.1% to 61.4%.  

Vidalia City Manager Bill Torrance points out that if the county has its way, it would roll property taxes back for all property taxpayers nearly 1.5 mils.  However, the decrease in sales tax collections in the cities would require the towns to significantly increase property taxes on city taxpayers.  He says the result will be a net property tax increase for people in the three towns.

"It's not fair to say if it goes down in the county and up in the city, it's the same thing.  It's not the same thing.  It would require a nearly two mil increase in Vidalia, an over 4 mil tax increase in Lyons and a nearly 15 mil increase in Santa Claus to replace the money they lose," Torrance notes.

Equally important, according to Torrance, many of the services the county provides only to residents living in unincorporated areas of the county are paid in part by city residents who also pay the county property taxes.

"If you look at services provided only to unincorporated areas, there is over $2 million a year that goes only to unincorporated areas, but city residents pay the same tax rate and that money goes to subsidize those things.  Thinks like road department, fire protection, animal control and the tipping fees we have to pay to use the landfill.  What we are asking for is if you say you deserve more money, we should get the same services that you provide in the unincorporated area.  Those services should be available to everyone," according to Torrance.

Since both sides have agreed to disagree, a mediator is being sought to see if some compromise can be reached.  If not, the issue will end up in Superior Court in front of a judge from outside the Middle Judicial Circuit.

February 17--  Senator Jack Hill of Reidsville reports on state revenue trends and legislative action in his "Notes From The Senate."

JANUARY REVENUES SLUGGISH - NO GROWTH IN TWO MONTHS

The number two definition of "sluggish" says "slow in movement or flow."  With December revenues negative at -1.2% and January revenues coming in at just above break-even at 0.7%, the 18 months or so of continuous growth month over month seems to have slowed to a crawl.  Maybe it is the fact that the months a year ago were growing and the state economy has improved little this year.  Regardless, it is hard to be enthusiastic at this point with only 5 months left in this fiscal year.  In fact, to meet the budget projections, the state must grow 5.2% every month for the balance of the year.

To make that fact more plausible, the state took in $1.566 billion dollars in January, the highest revenue month all year but just barely ahead of January of 2011.

 

Individual Income Taxes were up only 1.8% totaling $881.6 million.  Sales Tax collections were up 3.2% on collections of $518.3 million.  Motor Fuel Taxes were up in both categories, with Excise taxes up 1.6% and fuel sales taxes up 23.7% for a total of $9.2 million or 13.1%

 

Corporate Tax collections continue to sink totaling a minus $24.6 million for the month due in part to two large refunds according to DOR.  Tobacco Taxes were up 9.1% and alcoholic beverages down -6.1%.

 

YEAR TO DATE FIGURES FAIRLY STEADY AT 4.5%

In the 7 months of the fiscal year so far, revenues are coming in at a 4.5% rate with total collections so far of $9.8 billion, an increase of $420.0 million.  Individual Income Taxes show a 6.2% growth rate or some $5.2 billion for the year.  Sales Tax collections are coming in at a 5.1% rate YTD totaling $3.1 billion.

 

Motor Fuel Taxes show YTD an overall 7.0% growth rate with excise taxes a minus 6.1% and Fuel Sales Taxes growing at the rate of 19.3%.  Overall, Motor Fuel Tax collections are up YTD some $37.7 million for the year.  Tobacco Tax Collections are up 14.5% but Alcoholic Beverages continue to decline by -12.2%.  Corporate Income Taxes continue a sharp downward trend showing a -23.7% for the year or -$70.3 million.

 

INDIVIDUAL INCOME TAX REFUNDS/PAYMENTS SHOW POSITIVE TREND

Even though December and January have been disappointing revenue months, there are some encouraging trends in the largest category - Individual Income Tax Collections.

 

Tax payments numbers have been up every month this year but two and payment amounts for the year are up about $150 million, which is a good trend. 

 

Individual Refund numbers are down for the year by over 200,000 and refund amounts are down 32.6%.

 

SENATE ACTION

The following bills were adopted by the Senate this week:

 

SB 362 - Allows the Department of Natural Resources to sell by bid logs that sank 100 years ago in rivers used for logging operation.

 

SB 395 - Allows counties to issue a Special Purpose Sales Tax Proposal (SPLOST) for fractions of 1 per cent.

 

SB 358 - Vendors from the state of Georgia would be granted preference in awarding bids to match preferences given competing vendors in other states.

 

SB 246 - Applies to Public School Employees' Retirement Fund which includes school bus drivers and school food service employees.  SB 246 increases the retirement benefit that is authorized presently at $14.75 per month for each year of service to $16.00.  The bill also increases the contribution from members hired after July 1, 2012 from $4 monthly to $10 monthly.

 

SB 366 - Bars cell phones in Department of Juvenile Justice Facilities.

 

UNDER SENATE CONSIDERATION

Bills of interest that were recently introduced in the Senate

 

HB 707 - Allows for Students to use their Student ID to vote in elections

 

SB 431 - Includes Medical Identity Theft to Identity Theft.  Applies to information like health insurance cards, health savings accounts, flex spending accounts that are compromised, used or recorded without permission of an that individual.

 

SB 441 - Makes it illegal to point a laser device at law enforcement

 

SB 444 - Requires posting of signs warning drivers of speed zones in work zones which are monitored by detection devices.

 

SB 445 - Creates a new office of Licensing under the Secretary of State's office to regulate and license certain businesses.  Creates position of director of professional licensing and creates the Georgia Board of Licensing and Regulation.

 

If you would like additional information regarding a specific piece of legislation, you may access the Georgia General Assembly website at http://www.legis.ga.gov/.

 

 

The People’s Business

By: Senator Tommie Williams (R-Lyons)

 With the 2012 legislative session well under way, I want to update everyone about what’s going on at the Capitol.

In an effort to improve our state’s education system, I introduced Senate Bill 410. If implemented, this bill will move our schools away from the current AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) system to a system that provides a much more accurate measure of a school’s performance.  The current AYP system provides only a “pass” or “fail” grade, meaning it is hard to track progress and incentivize improvements.  Many educators and parents also argue that the current system is easily manipulated and difficult to understand. With SB 410, however, I hope to help move to a new, multi-tiered system developed by Georgia School Superintendant John Barge and the Department of Education that will provide true bench marks to track progress and provide accountability. The new criteria will provide a clearer and easier to understand picture of how a school is performing.

Once SB 410 is implemented, parents will have access to meaningful data about schools and districts that they don’t currently have under the AYP system. As a result, parents will have the information and access to choose a quality school that is best for their child. Moreover, transparency about performance will incentivize schools and districts to continue to improve.  It is also my hope that we can find ways to reward schools that continue to make progress.

Another important issue I am addressing this session is alternative energy. That being said, I am a co-sponsor and supporter of Senator Buddy Carter’s Senate Bill 401. This legislation, if employed, will allow Georgians to benefit from solar or other renewable energy systems, as well as lower utility bills, without high up-front costs.

In order to do this, SB 401 would allow a third-party installer to hold ownership of the system while the customer pays for it over time from the savings that the system provides. This arrangement, known as a “power purchase agreement,” has become the predominant form of financing rooftop solar systems in the United States, but is not currently available in Georgia. 

While these two bills are still in the early stages of the legislative process, I was proud to see my Senate Resolution 715 pass the Senate this week. This resolution urges Congress to allow states the ultimate power to deal with agriculture labor issues at the state level. Furthermore, SR 715 urges Congress to expand the H-2A guest worker program by allowing states to administer their own H-2A guest worker programs under the supervision of the United States Department of Agriculture. The resolution passed fifty-three to zero, receiving overwhelming support from each side of the aisle.

As we continue to move forward this legislative session, I am confident that the General Assembly will continue to make financially responsible decisions that are beneficial to our state’s long-term growth and prosperity. As always, it is an honor and my pleasure to serve you in the nineteenth Senate district. Please feel free to contact me with your ideas and concerns as we work together to improve Georgia

 

February 17--  Since 1978, the Vidalia Charter Chapter of the American Business Women's Association has been honoring its Woman of the Year and Business Associate of the Year.

At the 2012 program Thursday night, last year's Woman of the Year, Val Holton, announced her successor.

"She graduated from Brewton Parker College with an Associate of Arts degree.  She was in banking from 1998 until 2010 and prior to that worked at Brewton Parker for over 17 years.  I'm proud to announce our 2012 Woman of the Year, Angela Cook."

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(L-R) Friend Peggy Rousch, daughter Jeannie Cook, Angela Cook, husband Robert Cook and friend Cathy Benton.

"It means a lot and it's very surprising," Cook said.  "We meet people, we do a lot of accomplishments, and without all of us working together, it wouldn't get done," she added.

The organization named longtime Vidalia business leader Donald Estroff as its Business Associate of the Year.

{mosimage}

(L-R) Wife Anita, Donald Estroff, grandson Adam, daughter-in-law Susan and son Neal.

"This organzation is built of givers, people who get things done.  It's a pleasure to receive this beautiful award from such a group because you are all do'ers and givers to your community and your businesses," Estroff said in accepting the award.

February 16--  The Georgia Board of Education is delaying a follow-up hearing for the Montgomery County school board.

County School Superintendent Randy Rodgers reports the state board voted to delay the planned March hearing until after a June visit of a review team from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

The state board conducted a hearing last August on the future of the school board after a SACS report last summer noted eight areas of board governance which needed improvement.

A SACS team visited the school system in December and concluded three areas of weakness had been corrected and work on five other areas was in progress.

Meanwhile, the school system's accreditation remains on probation and school board members could be removed from office by Governor Nathan Deal if remaining issues are not resolved to the satisifaction of the state school board.

February 16--  First term Toombs County Commissioner Skeeter Toole says he will not run for re-election this year. The Third District commissioner made the announcement at Tuesday's meeting of the county commission citing his upcoming retirement and desire to travel and pursue other interests.

Earlier in the meeting, the head of the Sweet Onion Animal Protection Society, Therisa Ingley, lamented the euthanization of five dogs by Toombs County and reminded commissioners of the public outcry when officials in Lyons killed 77 dogs in one day last year.

The Lyons Animal Shelter ceased accepting stray dogs from the county as of February 1 and the county chose to destroy three county dogs remaining in the Lyons shelter on January 27.  Two other Toombs dogs being housed in the Mount Vernon Animal Shelter were killed the same day.

Toombs County manager Doug Eaves had asked SOAPS 17 days before the killings if the organization could find any homes for the dogs in order to avoid their deaths.  At the time Ingley told Eaves SOAPS would see if any rescue or foster homes could be found.

Toombs County is now planning to open a county animal shelter and Commission Chairman Buddy West says the county plans to follow a policy of keeping animals at least ten days before they are put to death, or perhaps longer if there is shelter space or if the animal has been identified for rescue.

"We're going to follow the letter of the law.  Now, the letter of the law may not be to everyone's liking.   We've begun talks with Mrs. Ingley and SOAPS and we will have open dialogue as we get further along with our facility.  We welcome outside help and support," Chairman West said.

The county is seeking bids to build holding pens at one of its trash convenience centers.  Eaves says convenience center staff and county animal control personnel will share responsibility for taking care of the animals.

Ingley claims SOAPS relocated over 700 Toombs County dogs from the Lyons Shelter last year and believes the county's $70,000 budget for animal control is inadequate.  She urged the commission to adopt a mandatory spay-neuter policy for strays and to control backyard breeders whom she says contribute to the overpopulation problem in the county.

{mosimage} 

Donna Lee (right) briefed commissioners on recent Red Cross responses to emergencies in the county and presented Red Cross volunteer William Walker with a certificate for exceptional service to the organization.  

February 16-- Vidalia Comprehensive High School recently hosted retired U.S. Army Colonel Paul Longgrear.

Colonel Longgrear served his county for 26 years in various ranks and is highly touted for his role in the battle of Lang Vei in which his unit encountered the first Russian tanks of the Vietnam War and was able to destroy many of the tanks through their efforts. Colonel Longgrear is well documented in the Time Life series on the Vietnam War for his and his unit's efforts.

Col. Longgrear spent a great deal of his time, during his presentation, talking with students about character, and sharing many of his life lessons. He challenged the students to take control of their decisions and to strive to be the best they can be in life.

When questioned about his recent induction into the United States Army Ranger Hall of Fame, Colonel Longgrear described the phone call he received in regards to his nomination. In his own humble opinion, he was not deserving of the honor and tried on several attempts to deflect the nomination in an effort for the committee to pursue others that he deemed more worthy. However, he was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in July of 2011. This honor put him in small company as there are fewer than 350 Rangers that have ever been bestowed with this honor.

{mosimage} 

(L-R) Jermaine Snell, Matt Cone, Retired Colonel Paul Longgrear, Keith Jackson, Justin Claxton, John Carroll

February 16-- The Vidalia-Toombs County Public Library, in coordination with WGBH and the Sweet Onion Animal Protection Society (SOAPS), will be hosting Susan Meddaugh, the author of the popular children’s book, Martha Speaks, on Saturday, February 25th from 2- 4 p.m.  Kids can watch Martha Speaks weekdays at 3pm and Saturdays at 6:30am on GPB and Daily at 10am on GPB Kids.

{mosimage}Accompanying Ms. Meddaugh will be Martha, the feature character of the book and star of the PBS KIDS series, Martha Speaks!  The library invites the community to come and meet the author and Martha and hear some stories from their many adventures through a reading and illustration session.  Children will also have the chance to have their picture taken with Susan and Martha, so parents – bring your cameras! 

In addition to teaching new vocabulary, Martha Speaks has another important mission: to help children and families understand animals, animal safety, and the importance of ending animal cruelty and homelessness. Many of the show's episodes incorporate information about how to treat animals humanely, be a responsible pet owner, and support animal shelters.

On the show, Martha is a shelter dog who is adopted by Helen and her family. The real dog named Martha, who inspired author Susan Meddaugh to write the popular children's book series, was a stray. "[The real-life] Martha has given me more than I could have ever imagined," Susan explains. "What if we hadn't adopted her? We would have missed so much. And it makes me sad to think of all the dogs in shelters, and all the love and surprises they could bring to a forever home of their own."

SOAPS spokesdog Janie, accompanied by Tabitha from the Altamaha Animal Clinic, will be on hand to help talk about SOAPS’ efforts to provide homes for homeless animals.  Participants will also get a chance to meet Donna Buie Beall’s licensed Reading Therapy dogs, Sonnet and Brie, and Tim Bienke’s licensed therapy dog, Scout.

While not required, all attendees are encouraged to bring a can of pet food for SOAPS.  All programs are free and no registration is required.  For additional information call the library at 912-537-9283 and speak to Martha Powers-Jones.

February 15-- The state of Georgia’s net tax collections for the month of January 2012 totaled $1.57 billion, an increase of $11 million or 0.7 percent compared to January 2011. Through seven months of FY2012, net revenue collections totaled $9.8 billion year-to-date, an increase of $420 million or 4.5 percent compared to the same YTD period last year.

The following changes within the various tax categories contributed to the net revenue increase in January:
 
Individual Income Tax: Individual Income Tax collections for January 2012 totaled $881.5 million, up from $866 million in January 2011, for an increase of $15.5 million or 1.8 percent.

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

•      Individual Income Tax refunds issued (net of voided checks) were down $(22.5) million or -28.7 percent
•      Individual Withholding payments were up $37 million or 5.1 percent over last year
•      Individual Tax Return payments were up $19 million compared to last January
•      Individual Income Tax Estimated payments were down $(63) million or -28.9 percent

Sales and Use Tax: Net Sales and Use Tax collections for January 2012 totaled $519 million, up from $503 million in January 2011, for an increase of $16 million or 3.2 percent. Gross Sales Tax collections were up $43.5 million over the previous year with a total of $978.5 million for the month. The monthly Sales Tax Distribution to local governments totaled $456 million, which was an increase of $33 million or 7.8 percent over last year

Corporate Income Tax: A couple of large Corporate Income Tax refunds resulted in very low net Corporate Tax revenue as January 2012 dipped $(24.5) million or -90.5 percent, down from $27 million in January 2011. 

The following notable components within Corporate Income Tax make up the decrease: 
•      Corporate Tax refunds issued (net of voided checks) were up $(33.5) million over last year

•      Corporate Income Tax Return payments were up $20 million compared to last January

•      Corporate Estimated Tax and S-Corp Tax payments were down a combined $(11) million

 

February 14--  One of three suspects wanted in connection with a drug investigation was arrested Monday.

Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight reports 20-year-old Justin Ryan Taylor of Lyons was arrested in Candler County by deputies from the Toombs County and Candler County sheriffs offices.  He is being held in the Toombs County Detention Center for buying and possessing a controlled substance.

Two others still at large are Prentice Benjamin Harris of Lyons and Eric Stephon McLendon of  Vidalia.  If you have information on their whereabouts, call the Toombs County Sheriff's Office, 526-6778.

 

February 14-- On Saturday, February 4, U.S. Congressman John Barrow (GA-12) will be hosting “Congress on the Corner” in Treutlen, Montgomery, and Toombs Counties.

{mosimage}“Congress on the Corner” is an opportunity for citizens to meet one-on-one with Congressman Barrow and to talk about what’s going on in Washington. 

Barrow and his staff will be available to help anyone with problems they may be having with a government agency, such as the Social Security Administration, Medicare, or the Veterans Administration.

“I hope folks will stop by,” said Barrow. “Times are tough, but there are lots of things we can do to help out.”

Saturday’s “Congress on the Corner” will be held at the following times and locations:

Saturday, February 18, 2012

10:30am – 11:30am

The Piglet

412 2nd Street, North Soperton

 

12:30pm – 1:30pm

Brown Eyed Susan's Floral & Gifts

331 South Railroad Avenue, Mt. Vernon

 

2:30pm – 3:30pm

Congressman Barrow’s District Office

107 Old Airport Road, Vidalia

February 13--  STAR students and their STAR teachers for the 2011-12 academic year were honored Monday in ceremonies hosted this year at Vidalia Comprehensive High School.

{mosimage} 

STAR Students (sitting, L-R) are Darby Oliver, Toombs County High School; Sydney Snow, Robert Toombs Christian Academy; Sara Ostrander, Montgomery County High School; and Stephen McCall, Vidalia Comprehensive High School.  Standing behind them (L-R) are their STAR Teachers, TCHS literature teacher Dr. Jennifer Irvin; RTCA science teacher Ashley Lampp who is also the STAR teacher for MCHS's Ostander who formerly attended RTCA; and VCHS science teacher Randall Ikner who was chosen a STAR teacher for the fifth time. 

Two of the students, Sydney Snow and Stephen McCall are planning careers in pharmacy.  Darby Oliver wants to become a veterinarian and Sara Ostrander is looking at international business.

February 13--  There was a sellout crowd for the 2012 "Dancing for the Stars" last Thursday night at the Vidalia Community Center.  Five couples hit the dance floor to raise money for the United Way of Toombs, Montgomery and Wheeler Counties.

{mosimage} 

Dancers from left to right are Kareem and Missy Owens, Mac Jordan and Beccy Champion, Blake Tillery and Wendi James, Morris Moses and Chelsea Blaxton, Kate and Robert Greene.

{mosimage}Wendi and Blake got the nod from the judges dancing to Ike and Tina Turner's "Rollin."

 

 

 

February 13-- Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp reminded voters today that advance in-person voting for Georgia’s March 6, 2012 presidential primary begins Monday, February 13, 2012 and will end Friday, March 2, 2012. Additionally, voters will be able to cast their ballot in-person on Saturday, February 25, 2012.

Secretary Kemp also reminded voters to utilize the Secretary of State’s My Voter Page (MVP) voter education website before participating in the presidential primary. The MVP website allows voters to view their sample ballot, find the in-person advance voting locations, times and dates in their county and more. The MVP website can be accessed at sos.ga.gov/mvp.

Voters participating in the election during the advance in-person voting period will be required to show one of the following six forms of photo ID:

·     A Georgia driver’s license, even if expired;

·       Any valid state or federal government issued photo ID, including a free Voter ID Card issued by your county registrar or Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS);

·       Valid U.S. passport;

·       Valid employee photo ID from any branch, department, agency, or entity of the U.S. Government, Georgia, or any county, municipality, board, authority, or other entity of this state;

·       Valid U.S. military photo ID; or

·       Valid tribal photo ID.

If a voter does not have one of these forms of photo identification, they can obtain a free voter ID card at their county registrar’s office or the Georgia Department of Driver Services. Anyone with additional questions about Georgia’s photo ID requirement can visit www.GAPhotoID.com or call toll free (877) 725-9797.

 

February 13-- The Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) is delighted to announce that Statesboro and Vidalia will host the state’s 2012 Georgia Travel Media Marketplace event May 17-19. Up to 30 travel writers from the United States and Canada will meet with representatives from around the state during the marketplace to get story ideas about Georgia’s tourism destinations, attractions and events.

“This event allows us to showcase Georgia first-hand to a variety of media outlets, in turn providing their audiences with vacation information," said Kevin Langston, Deputy Commissioner for Tourism for the Georgia Department of Economic Development. “Travel writers will have the opportunity to discover new, fresh and unique story ideas in Statesboro and Vidalia.”

Travel media will meet with the host communities as well as Georgia’s regional tourism representatives, regional travel associations and Georgia’s State Parks, during the Marketplace. The writers will then depart on one of three themed familiarization tours around the state through May 22.

Known around the world for sweet onions, the Vidalia area is full of local flavor. Vidalia offers unique shopping, dining, scenic drives, and outdoor adventures. The Vidalia Area is centrally located between Savannah and Macon.  Once pioneer towns, the cities within the Vidalia area were settled at the turn of the 20th century along the Savannah, Americus, and Montgomery Railroad, which opened this section of Georgia in the 1890s. Today, you can enjoy modern conveniences while still experiencing quaint, small town atmospheres full of smiling faces and friendly residents.

Southern charm meets college-town contemporary in Statesboro, less than 60 minutes from Georgia’s coast.  Georgia Southern University’s 11-acre Botanical Garden blooms year-round and the Wildlife Center teems with raptors, reptiles and waterfowl.  Visitors can explore new Civil War archeology finds at the Natural History Museum and complete their getaway with fine and antique shopping, arts venues, a historic downtown stroll, and more than 200 restaurants.

Travel Media Marketplace is jointly hosted by the Georgia Tourism Division and the host communities to showcase Georgia’s tourism assets first hand. Past Marketplace events have been held in Savannah; Athens; Macon; Atlanta; Hiawassee; Augusta; LaGrange and Coweta County; and Blue Ridge and Ellijay.

Travel writers interested in participating in this event can email Stefanie Paupeck at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for an application.

The Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) is the state's sales and marketing arm, the lead agency for attracting new business investment, encouraging the expansion of existing industry and small businesses, locating new markets for Georgia products, attracting tourists to Georgia, and promoting the state as a destination for arts events and location for film, music and digital entertainment projects, as well as planning and mobilizing state resources for economic development. www.georgia.org

February 10-- The Glennville campus of Southeastern Technical College will cease offering credit courses at the end of summer semester.

The campus opened ten years ago, however, STC President Dr. Cathy Mitchell says dwindling enrollment is causing the shutdown.

"The campus has had a low enrollment for a long time, almost since its inception and we've tried a lot of things.  We've tried to put in programs which are typically high enrollment courses such as secretarial and medical and the last effort was the cosmetology program.  There's really not the population there to make the classes successful," she says.

Dr. Mitchell says STC will still maintain a presence in Glennville.  "We will still have adult education and economic development.  The high school dual enrollment and Excel courses have been very successful and we will continue to offer those.  We're not shuttering the campus.  We still own the campus and in the future if there is a need we can open a building or two and serve that community," she promises.

According to Dr. Mitchell, the fulltime enrollment at Glennville has dropped to 18 students.

February 10--  New research released today from Southern Alliance for Clean Energy exposes the trail of money from Georgia EMC members’ pockets to Dean Alford, former Cobb Energy executive and close business associate of indicted Cobb EMC ex-chief Dwight Brown. It also raises questions about benefits to one Washington County family. 

The five EMCs (Snapping Shoals EMC, Central Georgia EMC, Washington EMC, Upson EMC, and Cobb EMC) funneled at least $27 million to Alford via the POWER4Georgians (P4G)  consortium of EMCs, which hired Alford’s company, Allied Energy Services, with a no-bid contract to build two controversial coal-fired power plants in central Georgia. Cobb EMC opted on January 24 to discontinue funding P4G, leaving many questioning the remaining four EMCs continuing role and financial burden. 

The “Follow the Money” research also highlights the role of Hugh Tarbutton, Sr., whose family owns the railroad line that would carry coal to the proposed Sandersville-area plant, Plant Washington. Tarbutton stands to gain a lucrative coal-carrying contract; he also owns the land the plant would be built on and serves on the Washington County Development Authority, which may back Plant Washington with bonds.

“Members have been asking these EMCs for years how Dean Alford has spent their money, and hit a wall of silence,” said Amelia Shenstone, Georgia Coal Organizer for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which compiled the research. “There’s no evidence that the EMCs themselves even know how the spending breaks down. If Hugh Tarbutton sells Power4Georgians his land at the same rate they paid his neighbors, he’ll make eleven times the market value of the land –EMCs and members need to know the justification for those transactions.” 

Snapping Shoals EMC member Ab Roesel added, “I don’t know where my money is going in this process. It is a sure bet that Dean Alford knows. That’s a big problem. For EMC co-ops, the members are the regulators – if we, as members, can’t more clearly see what’s going on, how can we make sure we don’t get in the same mess that Cobb EMC got itself into?”

Dean Alford worked for now-indicted Dwight Brown as a Vice President of Cobb Energy, and kept his job even though his projects lost about $11 million over 5 years. Allied Energy Services, a former Cobb Energy subsidiary, helped create POWER4Georgians, which then turned around and gave a no-bid contract to Allied. Cobb Energy was the ill-fated, for-profit affiliate of Cobb EMC; Dwight Brown, who was CEO of both companies, allegedly used the for-profit to steal from Cobb EMC members. Dean Alford once owned $750,000 in preferred Cobb Energy stock.

Cobb EMC’s new directors have indicated they will conduct a forensic audit to investigate the business arrangements behind P4G and other EMC affairs. Snapping Shoals EMC, Central Georgia EMC, Washington EMC, and Upson EMC, are currently still invested in this risky business proposition. Questions remain about whether they intend to push ahead with this year’s installment to P4G, though several have indicated they are re-evaluating their roles in the power plant projects.

The Georgians for Smart Energy coalition continues to advocate that all the EMCs in P4G conduct a thorough analysis of their needs for new generation in light of reduced power demand trends and a stagnant economy, as well as a comprehensive assessment of alternative options including energy efficiency and renewable energy.


February 10--  The Toombs County Sheriff's Office is asking citizens for help in finding three drug suspects. 

Sheriff Junior Kight reports four people are in custody and three are still at large following a drug investigation by his office, the East Central Drug Task Force and the Savannah Regional Drug Enforcement Agency.

Wanted are 21-year-old white male Justin Ryan Taylor and 24-year-old black male Prentice Benjamin Harris, both of Lyons, and 34-year-old black male Eric Stephon McLendon of  Vidalia.

Arrested earlier this week on drug charges were Vidalia residents Stacy Tyrone Tobler, Jr. of 1201 Roosevelt Street, Susan Mendoza of 602 Scott Drive, Stephen McKee of 124 Oak Grove Court and Amanda Cutler of 305 Peachtree Street.

If you know the whereabouts of the three suspects, you're asked to contact the Toombs County Sheriff's Office at 526-6778.

February 10--  The little white cars have been rolling down North Victory Drive in Lyons for more than 20 years.  This year organizers of the Southeast Georgia Soap Box Derby say the number of entries has nearly doubled and they're looking for more.

Michael Williamson of Lyons is the Derby director for this year's race on Saturday, May 5th.

"We had 19 cars in it last year and as of now we have 37 cars and we want more and invite anyone with an interest to get in touch," he says.

Both of Williamson's sons, Cody and Cole, have won the Derby and he says it's become a family affair.  "We are excited to see the kids when they go down the hill and being on their own in a race.  My boys enjoy getting involved in the Derby and helping out and I've seen them grow a lot doing this," he observes.

The Derby in Lyons serves the region from Macon to Savannah and Williamson says he's already had inquiries from both cities about entering this year's Derby.

The winner of the Derby goes to the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio in July where more than 800 young racers compete for the world title.  Kids ages seven to 13 are eligible to drive in the Derby.

Williamson says they are seeking more car sponsors and volunteers to help with the Derby.  If you have an interest, call 912-245-5685.

February 9-- U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., today praised the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s vote to issue a Combined Construction and Operating License to Southern Company, clearing the way for construction to begin on the nation’s first two new nuclear units in 30 years. The new nuclear units are being built at Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle, near Waynesboro, Ga.

The new Vogtle units will provide clean, safe and affordable electricity for more than 500,000 homes and businesses across Georgia. In addition, it will create 5,000 on-site jobs, including 3,500 craft labor jobs during the peak of construction and 800 permanent jobs.

“This is an historic day for our state and for our nation. I am thrilled by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to allow construction at Plant Vogtle to begin because it will create clean, safe and affordable energy for Georgia’s families and small business, and it will create thousands of jobs in our state,” said Isakson. “Energy security for our country is one of my top goals for 2012, and the development of nuclear energy at home is the key to achieving energy independence.”

“I commend and congratulate Southern Company and Georgia Power on the approval of the necessary permits for the new nuclear units at Plant Vogtle, and that full construction will begin,” said Chambliss. “An energy independent America is a safe America, and nuclear energy is a vital source of reliable, secure domestic energy. Not only is this great news for our country, but I am grateful Georgia will have the 5,000 on site jobs and 800 permanent jobs created by this project.”  

 

February 9-- Tom Darby, author of “Disorderly Notions” will be at the Vidalia-Toombs County Library on Tuesday, February 21st from 6 to 7 pm. The author will read excerpts from his newly published book. Book signing will follow.

{mosimage}Darby was born in Vidalia although he has spent most of his adult life in Canada. He is a professor at Carleton University and has published extensively in political philosophy and related fields, including the philosophy of technology and architectural theory. An Ontario Arts Grant recipient, Tom currently lives in Ottawa with his wife, dog and two cats. This is his first novel.

February 9-- State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge today announced that the U.S. Department of Education has granted Georgia’s waiver of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Superintendent Barge joined nine other state school chiefs at the White House for the announcement. Georgia is among a group of only 10 states to receive a waiver from NCLB.

“This is wonderful news for Georgia’s students, educators, and parents,” said Superintendent Barge. “No longer will we be bound by the narrow definitions of success found in No Child Left Behind. We will now be able to hold schools accountable and reward them for the work they do in all subjects and with all students.”

Governor Nathan Deal added, “This waiver will give Georgia the flexibility we need to pursue our goals of student achievement. We appreciate the cooperation of federal officials as we seek to prepare young Georgians for higher education and the jobs of tomorrow.”

As part of the waiver, the Georgia Department of Education will begin identifying Priority Schools, Focus Schools, and Reward Schools (see attached chart for details). Achievement data from all core content areas and graduation rate data will be used to identify these schools. At the end of this current school year, these Priority Schools and Focus Schools will replace current Needs Improvement Schools. Reward Schools will replace the current Distinguished Schools designation and will be announced in September 2012.  

Georgia will also identify Alert Schools in three categories:  Subgroup Alert Schools, Subject Alert Schools, and Graduation Alert Schools.  These Alert Schools will be identified based on a more detailed evaluation of subgroup performance.  

{mosimage} February 9-- This is a picture of my five-months-old English Bulldog, approximately 35 pounds, missing  Wednesday 2/8,  from my home  1141 Piney Green Church Road. She is white with a brindle eye patch and a brindle tail, answers to her name  Andrea.  Please contact me if you should see my puppy.

Betty Ambrose  (912)526-5340    Lyons, GA

 

February 8--  Vidalia High School is among a list of Advanced Placement Honor Schools in the state.

State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge announced a list of 367 schools in Georgia offering college-level courses to high school students.

Vidalia High School Principal Dr. Garrett Wilcox says more than 50 of the school's juniors and seniors are enrolled in advanced placement courses.

"I think the main thing it says in this economic climate is our school system is willing to invest in a more stringent curriculum and give our kids the same opportunities as others may have in larger systems.  Earning these college credits and showing them on a transcript really gives our kids an advantage when they apply to schools like Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia.  It makes me feel good that our kids who want a more rigorous curriculum have the opportunity to access it right here in Vidalia," he says.

February 8--  It will take a little more effort to recycle in Lyons.  Mayor Willis NeeSmith reported at Tuesday night's city council meeting that curbside recycling is ending as of March 1.  He said only 70 residences were using the service and that folks who wish to recycle can take their items to the city fire station starting next month.

In other actions, the council renewed health insurance for city employees with Blue Cross/Blue Shield agent Al Lewis.  Premiums are going up $28 per month per employee and the deductible is being increased from $1500 to $2000.

The council re-elected councilman Ben Mitchell as Mayor Pro Tem. 

{mosimage}The city also gave $1,000 to the Red Cross in appreciation for support it provides to residents in the aftermath of fires and other emergencies.  Mayor NeeSmith presented the check to Lyons Red Cross volunteer Sarah Maddox (left) and Red Cross representative Robin Wingate.

Councilman Wayne Hartley reports the population of the city animal shelter has been drastically reduced since the city stopped taking animals from Toombs County.  He says there were only four dogs in the shelter last week compared to between 30 and 40 on average when county dogs were being brought to the shelter.

County manager Doug Eaves says strays picked up in Toombs County are now being taken to the Mount Vernon Animal Shelter until the county can come up with a permanent shelter.  The county is seeking bids to build pens at one of its convenience centers.

 

February 8--  There's a new store in downtown Vidalia.  A ribbon-cutting ceremony for "A Main Event" was held Tuesday morning at 119 Southeast Main Street.

{mosimage}

Attending the ceremony were (front row l-r) Howard Hill, Shirley Sumner, Lyla Serber, Terri McIntyre, Ricky McIntyre, Bill Torrance, Adam Moore, Cindy Reddick, Randy Phillips

(Second row l-r) George Sumner, Jeff McLain,  Cynthia McLain, Melvina Braddy, Darren McClellan

(Back row l-r) Andrew McIntyre, Jacob Durden

 

 

February 7--  Vidalia Kiwanians were glued to their seats Tuesday as the biographer of a federal appeals court judge related how he came to have an influence during the nation's civil rights struggle in the 50's and 60's.

{mosimage}Federal Judge Elbert Tuttle, who died in 1996 at the age of 99, was appointed to the federal bench by President Dwight Eisenhower.  His biographer, Georgia State Law Professor Anne Emanuel, says Judge Tuttle was a Republican because he refused to join southern Democrats who favored segregation.

"It's tempting to think of it as being predestined because it was so odd that a person with his background would have become Chief Judge of the Fifth Circuit at that time.  Had he not, things might have turned out quite differently.  People in the Civil Right Division at the White House thought the same thing.  Nicholas Katzenbach, one of Robert Kennedy's top aides in the Justice Department, said if it hadn't been for judges like that on the Fifth Circuit, I don't know if Brown versus Board of Education would have succeeded in the end," she relates.

Professor Emanuel believes decisions made by Judge Tuttle helped break down the system of racial discrimination which brought about the cause championed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..

"Nowhere was it written that Martin Luther King's movement had to succeed.  Before it did succeed, we had rigidly enforced racial segregation.  We didn't have students going to school together.  We didn't have black people and white people at the same meetings or at the same restaurants.  It was an entirely different world and Judge Tuttle played a critical role in turning that around," she said.

Professor Emanuel also addressed a school assembly at Vidalia High School during her visit to Vidalia Tuesday.

February 7--  Gov. Nathan Deal today signed into law a bill that reforms the way in which businesses can review and respond to garnishment requests. This bill, which passed through both houses of Legislature by large margins, grants businesses the power to file garnishment requests through authorized personnel instead of having to hire legal counsel.

“I’m committed to working with the Legislature to reduce unnecessary regulation on businesses, large and small,” Deal said. “This law will take effect immediately and remove a mandate that could pose a costly burden on job creators. Reducing the amount of unnecessary legal fees is just one step in making Georgia the No. 1 place to do business, and there is no need for its delay.” 

Historically, human resources or payroll employees have processed garnishments for employees. Under a 2011 court decision, the state Supreme Court held that this routine task must be performed by lawyers. This legislation prevents an undue administrative burden on small businesses by eliminating the employment of lawyers to process garnishments and allowing them to be performed by authorized personnel instead.

HB 683 was sponsored by Reps. Wendell Willard, Richard Smith, Andy Welch, Tom McCall and Robert Dickey.

February 7-- Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp today issued his final decision on challenges contending that President Barack Obama does not meet the State of Georgia’s eligibility requirements for his name to be listed on the 2012 Presidential Preference Primary ballot.

Secretary Kemp stated, “After careful consideration of Administrative Law Judge Michael Malihi’s initial decision and all record evidence based on the criteria set forth in this process, I find that the Respondent, President Barack Obama, meets the State of Georgia’s eligibility requirements. President Barack Obama’s name shall remain on the Democratic Party’s 2012 Presidential Preference Primary ballot.”

Georgia Supreme Court Strikes Assisted Suicide Law

WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ -- Citing a violation of First Amendment Rights, the Georgia State Supreme Court today struck the state's 1994 law which classified as a felony anyone who "publicly advertises, offers or holds himself out as offering that he or she will intentionally and actively assist another person in the commission of suicide and commits any overt act to further that purpose." The decision leaves Georgia with no protections against assisting suicide.

"Today's ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court puts the lives of older people and those with disabilities in grave danger because it opens the door for the fringe advocates of doctor-prescribed death to openly advertise the practice in the state of Georgia," said Burke Balch, J.D., director of National Right to Life's Powell Center for Medical Ethics. "This ruling essentially says if you want to advertise helping people jump off a cliff, you can hang out your shingle in Georgia."

At the heart of the ruling was a case involving four members of the Final Exit Network who were charged in February 2009 with the death of a 58-year-old cancer patient. As a result of today's ruling, the four will not face a criminal trial.

At present only Oregon and Washington State have legalized doctor-prescribed death. A Montana Supreme Court ruling in 2010 left the status of assisting suicide in that state ambiguous. Other efforts to legalize the practice, which would put countless patients at risk, have been defeated in Maine, Hawaii, and Michigan among others.

"We call on the Georgia legislature to quickly remedy today's ruling by enacting into statute legal protections against doctor-prescribed death and other forms of assisting suicide," added Balch. "Failure to take swift action could result in the deaths of countless older people and those with disabilities."

Founded in 1968, the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the federation of 50 state right-to-life affiliates and more than 3,000 local chapters, is the nation's oldest and largest grassroots pro-life organization. Recognized as the flagship of the pro-life movement, NRLC works through legislation and education to protect innocent human life from abortion, infanticide, assisted suicide and euthanasia.

February 6--  Opportunity knocks in many ways and a Vidalia High School senior  got his own signing day last week.

{mosimage} 

Tray Foreman signs up accompanied by his Mom, Phyllis Spikes. Also at the signing (L-R) VHS Principal Dr. Garrett Wilcox, Sergeant First Class Jacob Purvis, Staff Sergeant James Horace, Command Sergeant Major (Ret) David Draughn and VHS High School football coach Lee Chomskis.

Tray Foreman is part of the Indian Battalion of the Junior ROTC program at Vidalia High School.  He's made a decision to join the United States Army when he graduates in May and says part of the reason is Command Sergeant Major (Retired) David Draughn.

"He's a great leader and when I got into the ROTC program he made me want to join the military even more because of the leadership he showed in the classroom," Tray says.

Command Sergeant Major Draughn says, "I'm not a recruiter, but I'm very happy to see a young man like this join the Army because we need young men like him in our ranks.  Mr. Foreman, both on the football field, and off the football field, in class, is a proven leader."

Foreman played fullback and defensive back for Vidalia Indian Coach Lee Chomskis.  "He's a sharp you man and will be a great addition to the Army.  He's going to be very successful in the military because of his attitude and because of the way he carries himself," the coach said.

Tray reports for basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina in August and after that will attend advanced individual training as a small arms repairman.

February 6--  Voters in Montgomery County will vote in four school board districts instead of five in future elections.

At a called meeting Monday, the Montgomery County Board of Education approved revised voting districts for school board members.  The new districts are the same as those approved previously for county commissioners by the Montgomery County Commission.

The main change is the combining of the Mount Vernon and Ailey districts into one voting precinct.  The new consolidated district will have two school board members, Post One and Post Two.

Post One, currently represented by Jackson Posey, will be on the general election ballot in November.  Also on the ballot will be the Alston-Higgston district seat currently held by Deloris James and the Kibbee-Tarrytown seat held by Lendle Hamilton. 

February 6-- Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced today the release of the Elections Advisory Council Final Report and Recommendations. The Final Report and Recommendations can be found on the Secretary of State’s Elections Advisory Council (EAC) website at http://www.sos.ga.gov/GAEAC. Secretary Kemp formed the EAC to review the Georgia Election Code, State Election Board Rules and all election processes and make recommendations that improve and strengthen Georgia’s election laws and procedures.

The EAC, comprised of experienced election officials and leaders from across Georgia, looked particularly at improvements that will create cost savings and increase efficiencies for state, county and local governments.

“The EAC Final Report is the product of input from the public, EAC members, county election officials, elected officials and organizations, and many hours of review and deliberation regarding the future of Georgia’s election laws and procedures,” said Secretary Kemp. “This report demonstrates that despite our sometimes partisan differences, men and women dedicated to improving our great state can do so in a non-partisan manner for the benefit of all Georgians.”

Highlights from the EAC Final Report and Recommendations include urging the Georgia General Assembly to adopt the following proposals in the 2012 legislative session: 

·         Amend the process by which Independent and political body candidates qualify for placement on the ballot.

·       Design and implement a secure electronic voter registration system.

·       To save money and reduce strain on county election offices, eliminate the September special election date to fill a vacancy in a county or municipal office in an even-numbered year.

·       Permit county election offices to save resources by utilizing electronic record retention technology for voter registration and related materials. 

The EAC also recommends that the Georgia General Assembly consider these items as part of a legislative study committee.

·       Should the current majority threshold for election victory be changed to a set plurality for all elections? 

·       Should the current majority threshold for election victory be changed to a set plurality for special elections only?

·       Should municipal elections that are currently held in odd-numbered years be held in even-numbered years?

Further, the EAC suggests the creation of the Georgia Election Code and State Election Board Rules Review Committee. The Committee will carefully examine each document and draft suggestions for clarification, consolidation and reorganization of materials to allow for better comprehension and understanding. For example, the Committee will consider revision and clarification of state election law regarding residency and where voters are required to cast their ballot.

Finally, the EAC recognizes that some items require future study by the Secretary of State’s Office before encouraging the Georgia General Assembly to enact changes to current election law. One example is the creation of vote centers so voters can cast their ballots in-person at any polling place within their county.

The EAC conducted meetings in Atlanta, Savannah, Albany and Augusta to receive input from the public, organizations, county election directors and elected officials. Each EAC meeting featured a period reserved for public comment so citizens could provide members and others in attendance an overview of their issues and ideas. In addition, the EAC’s website featured an e-government resource that allowed Georgians to submit their ideas online and upload supporting documents.

Brian Kemp has been Secretary of State since January, 2010. Among the office’s wide-ranging responsibilities, the Secretary of State is charged with conducting efficient and secure elections, the registration of corporations, and the regulation of securities and professional license holders. The office also oversees the Georgia Archives.

 

February 6-- A Vidalia family has a home thanks to their own work and the Vidalia Area Habitat for Humanity.

"It's very important because it's a vital way for a family to have a home which they wouldn't be able to buy off the regular market," says local Habitat President Raymond Turner.

{mosimage}The newest house is the home of the Kenneche Johnson family at the corner of Peacock Street and Fifth Avenue in Vidalia.

"They appreciate it because they know that without volunteers and without people helping they wouldn't have a home to stay in," Turner says and he notes Habitat families have to put at least 500 hours of labor into the home they will own or for a future Habitat house for another family.

The Vidalia Habitat group is planning on building its tenth house in 2012 and Turner is asking for volunteers.

"We have somebody on site with the expertise to build the house, but we need people to volunteer their labor.  They do painting, hang sheet rock,frame the house, landscaping and insulatioin," he says.

February 3--  The Vidalia Police Department reports the following activity in the month of January, 2012.

 

January

2012

YTD

Calls for Service

1565

1565

Homicide

0

0

Rape

0

0

Aggravated Assault

3

3

Burglary

9

9

Armed Robbery

0

0

Robbery

0

0

Arrest – ADULT

66

66

Arrest – JUVENILE

3

3

Criminal Trespass

15

15

Family Violence

17

17

Assault/Battery

12

12

Accidents

54

54

DUI

7

7

Traffic Tickets

215

215

Warning Tickets

422

422

Alarms

64

64

Mileage

20729

20729

Fuel Consumed

1852

1852

 

February 3--  State Senator Tommie Williams of Lyons reports on activity this week in the Georgia Senate.

"The 2012 General Assembly just completed its fourteenth legislative day this week.  I wanted to take a chance to update you on some of the bigger news items going on in the state Senate.

We began the week by working toward government efficiency with the passage of SB 223, also known as the Georgia Government and Accountability Act. If enacted, this legislation would create a Joint Legislative Sunset Advisory Committee to oversee the effectiveness of government operations and maximize every taxpayer dollar. The passage of this legislation provides a clear solution in addressing how efficient government should operate. 

We also passed the “Homestead Exemption” bill (SB 117) on Monday with a vote of 51 to 0.  This will reduce the risk of homeowners losing their homes during financial hardship through an exemption from levy and sale of property, ultimately increasing the amount of certain exemptions in a home. SB 117 will raise exemptions from sale or levy of real or personal property that is the debtor’s primary residence from $5,000 to $21,500.  It will also increase the amount exempted for bankruptcy purposes. 

On Tuesday, we passed Senate Bill 136 which allows condominium unit owners to take control of their condominium association if the original individuals responsible for developing the association fail to perform a number of requirements within thirty days.  Approval to take control of the association must be granted from a superior court.

Senate Bill 300, which amends the definition of “food sales establishment”, passed Tuesday with a unanimous vote.  Facilities that boil, bottle, and sell sugar cane syrup or sorghum syrup are no longer included in the definition provided that all product labels meet a number of requirements, including the statement: “This product has not been produced in a facility licensed by the Georgia Department of Agriculture.”

The Senate also took up several bills dealing with the hunting and fishing industry. Some of these bills included:

Senate Bill 307

  • This bill creates a one-day salt-water shore fishing license that may be purchased by residents and non-residents for a fee of $5.00. Hunting and fishing licensees bring approximately $20 million dollars a year in revenue to our state budget.

Senate Bill 309

  • The bill allows state officials to grant special hunting privileges to anyone 21 years or younger with a terminal illness, provided they have proper supervision and follow the usual rules.  This bill has also come to be known as "Taylor's Law,” in honor of Taylor Gramling the 18-year old inspiration for the bill who passed away from leukemia.

Senate Bill 301. 

  • This bill would repeal the current ban on statewide hunting with the use of suppressed handgun, rifle or shotgun. Sound suppressors attached to firearms are an additional tool available to help protect the shooter’s hearing, reduce noise complaints by surrounding residents, as well as increase accuracy and safety. Similar legislation has already been enacted in 15 other states, and has proven effective in helping to reduce the overall amount of noise associated with firearms. The main benefit of this legislation is to aid in the reduction of nuisance species such as coyotes and feral hogs. These problem species kill our pets, livestock and destroy our crops all over Georgia.

Standing firm on our commitment of making education reform a priority, we passed a bill that amends current law to allow a home study program to submit a declaration of intent to utilize a home study program and all attendance records to the Georgia Department of Education.  This bill removes an unfunded and burdensome mandate on local school superintendents. Home schooling reports will be centralized in one location rather than at local school districts, where a large part of these reports remain untouched until a student needs proof of education in order to apply for a Georgia driver’s license. The home school community, local school superintendents and the Department of Education all support this much simpler and streamlined process.

We also passed legislation to increase the Georgia Higher Education Facilities Authority (GAHEFA) budget from $300 to $500 million.  After the passage of SB 562 in 2006, students received parking decks, residence halls, dining halls and much more from the allotted $300 million.  Our state boasts some of the finest higher education opportunities in our nation and these investments are vital to our continued growth.

By week’s end, we debated HB 477, which will make the renewing of insurance licenses a biannual practice rather than annual. 

In addition to passing legislation, we are privileged to host various groups and organizations under the Gold Dome.  On any given day, people from all over the state come to the Capitol to show their support for a special cause or interest.  This week, we were fortunate to honor two very special organizations that are working diligently to make Georgia a better place for generations to come. 

This week, the Senate passed a resolution proclaiming February 1st “Stop the commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Rally”.  Thousands of supports rallied at the Capitol to support our agenda for a safer Georgia for our Children.

We also had the opportunity to welcome members of the Georgia Food Bank Association.  They hosted an exhibit in the South Wing of the Capitol where legislators and visitors alike could gain a better understanding of the needs our state faces in combating hunger. The Second Harvest Food Bank serves over 25 million people and produces 15 million pounds of food a year for those in need.   

It is a pleasure and a privilege to serve the citizens of the 19th District and others throughout our great state. If there is anything I can do to address issues that are of great importance to you please don’t hesitate to contact me.  Together, we can ensure a bright and prosperous future for the people of Georgia.

 

 

February 3--  Vidalia native son and attorney Reid Threlkeld is the city's 2011 Citizen of the Year.

{mosimage} 

Reid and Sheri Threlkeld

The annual recognition has been going on since 1948 and the newest honoree says past recipients had one thing in common.  "I'm truly blessed.  If you look at that list of honorees, I had the privilege of knowing all the men on that list and they had one thing in common and that was a committment to this community and the belief that we could make it better.  I certainly believe that and the proposition that we should make this place better when we leave it than it was when we arrived.  I'm truly blessed to have lived and grown up and worked in a community that I love with people I love," Threlked told attendees at Thursday night's program.

Threlkeld returned to his hometown after serving in the U.S. Air Force and obtaining his law degree.  It's a decision he's never regretted.  "It's our home and we want to do what we can to make it better and attract new families and industry.  Vidalia was certainly high on my list as a place where I'd want to live and work.  It turned out I had the opportunity to do that and I didn't hesitate.  Fortunately my wife didn't hesitate either and it's been a real blessing," he says.

The Vidalia Citizen of the Year is a team project of the Vidalia Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions Clubs.  

{mosimage}The keynote speaker this year was retired Air Force Major General Perry Smith who flew 170 combat missions during the Vietnam War. He spoke about real life heroes who have won civilian awards for heroism and those who have received the nation's highest military commendation, the Congressionial Medal of Honor. 

February 2Members of this year's Leadership Toombs-Montgomery (LTM) class held their January meeting at Southeastern Tech’s Vidalia campus and were welcomed by STC President Dr. Cathy Mitchell.

{mosimage} LTM, now in its 18th year, is a program organized by the Toombs-Montgomery Chamber of Commerce to give a comprehensive view of the region to current and future local leaders. The eight-month program has participants meet for monthly “learning sessions” at various locations to better understand the counties’ resources.

“We have been able to see the ins and outs of so many of our community organizations and businesses, and it has really opened my mind to the potential that Toombs and Montgomery counties have,” said Haley Fountain, LTM participant and site coordinator for 21st Century Community Learning Center, an after-school program at Toombs County Middle School.

Southeastern Tech’s partnership with LTM goes back to the program’s inception, as part of its education learning session. This year, the session included tours of several regional schools and education facilities.

“I tried to plan a day to expose the participants to educational options in the Toombs-Montgomery area,” said Gwen Warren, education chair for LTM and principal of J.R. Trippe Middle School. “Of course, STC is an important component of education in our community because it offers such a great variety of post-secondary education options right here at home.”

Participants were given full access to the school’s facilities and programs: LTM visitors sat in on several classes and spoke with a number of instructors.

“It was very interesting to hear the job placement rates, the rates at which the STC students pass licensure exams, and the salaries the students can earn when they finish their program,” said Warren.

LTM’s current class will graduate in March and history indicates they will likely take on prominent roles in the community.

“As of now, we have more than 250 graduates of the program who have shared the common experience of knowing how our community operates, its needs and challenges, its attributes and potential for the future,” said Debbie Evans, executive vice president of operations for the Toombs-Montgomery Chamber of Commerce.

“These leaders are now involved in boards and organizations throughout the community, including local governments, school boards, charitable organizations and many more. This powerful network of informed leaders serves to make our community stronger and a great place to live and do business.”

“Growing up in Vidalia, I think I took what all STC has to offer for granted,” said Fountain. “I definitely feel that I now have a much deeper appreciation for what STC has to give to our community and surrounding communities.”

 

February 2 – Sen. Tommie Williams (R-19) of Lyons, who represents parts of Appling, Jeff Davis, Liberty, Long, Montgomery, Tattnall, Toombs, Wayne and Wheeler County, was honored with a 2011 Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) Legislative Service Award.

{mosimage}He is honored for recognizing the unintended consequences created by the ethics reforms passed by the General Assembly in 2010 and worked closely with ACCG to clarify the law through HB 232, which increased the ability of local officials to comply. Sen. Williams accepted the award, presented by Jim Grubiak, ACCG General Counsel(L) and ACCG Legislative Director Clint Mueller (R) on February 1, 2012.

Thanks to the new law, local officials may now file Campaign Contribution Disclosure Reports and Personal Financial Disclosure Reports with the state either electronically or via paper.  Local officials must be notified via mail rather than electronically about "the filing of a complaint; a technical defect in a filing; a failure to make a timely filing; or a late fee or other penalty." HB 232 also removes the onerous and costly requirement that every county staff person that speaks with a legislator register as a lobbyist.

“As a long friend of local government, Senator Williams acted swiftly to reduce the burdens and confusion created by the previous law,” said ACCG Legislative Director, Clint Mueller. “His support of county officials is appreciated.”

ACCG presents Legislative Service Awards to recognize lawmakers who have demonstrated distinguished leadership and interest in working with county governments for the benefit of Georgia’s citizens.  Presented annually, the award has gained recognition among elected and appointed officials as a prestigious way to acknowledge Georgia lawmakers for exemplary leadership.

February 1--  The Montgomery County school board held a called meeting Wednesday and released the report of a monitoring team from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools which visited in December.

{mosimage}The report noted the school board has completed three of eight actions needed to get the school system off SACS probation.  However, the team reported interviews it conducted with employees claim a "perceived environment of fright, intimidation and vindictiveness still exists."

School board chairwoman Deloris James reacts by saying, "We were disappointed, I'll admit that, but we are pleased with the progress and we'll work to rectify the five required actions that are works in progress."

The SACS team interviewed 48 people ranging from teachers to community members and concluded, "Two distinct factions within the community are working against one another to perpetuate a divisive force that is capable of destroying the remaining positive work of the school system.  If not rectified, the situation could ultimately cause the loss of accreditation for this school system."

"Mr. Rodgers is in the process of working with his staff to come up with suggestions and a game plan to see if we cannot all come together on common ground for the children of Montgomery County.  He's looking at having some group meetings to let these people air our their differences and hopefully we can all come to an agreement," the chairwoman said.

James also denies an allegation in the report that relatives of school board members have been hired.

"This board has not hired anyone who is related to anyone on this board or to Mr. Rodgers.  That bullet in the report is baffling to us and we're not sure where they are coming from," she says.

The school system remains on probation for the rest of this school term and will undergo another review team visit this summer.

You can read the full eleven-page report on the Montgomery County school system's webpage at www.mcboe.net. Click on the Monitoring Visit Report dated December 5-7, 2011 at the bottom of the page.