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BRUNSWICK — An investment banker, with Lowndes County ties who has been wanted by federal authorities since 2012 regarding $40 million of missing money, was identified and arrested this morning by the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office.

An admission and fingerprints have confirmed that the man taken into custody this morning is Aubrey Lee Price, who vanished in June 2012 after boarding a ferry in Key West, Fla., said Glynn County Sheriff Neal Jump.

Price and his family had lived in the Stone Creek area of Lowndes County at the time of his disappearance.

At approximately 11 a.m. today, a Glynn County sheriff’s deputy stopped a 2001 Dodge Ram for a window-tint violation, Jump said. The driver identified himself as John Doe, which raised the deputy’s interest.

The driver was taken into custody; he reportedly carried false IDs. Glynn County authorities ran his fingerprints, which matched Price’s, and the driver admitted he was Price.

“He told us, ‘I’m going to make you famous,’” Jump said.

Price was still being held in the Glynn County Jail this afternoon awaiting the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jump said.

In July 2012, a federal grand jury indicted Price on a charge of bank fraud, according to court documents. Prosecutors say his actions led to the depletion of the cash assets and reserves of Montgomery Bank & Trust in Ailey.

Price also faces federal charges in New York, where an estimated $17 million was embezzled, according to past reports and court documents.

An estimated $17 million of the missing $40 million was from Montgomery Bank & Trust — a small bank in Ailey about 170 miles southeast of Atlanta — where Price acted as bank director, according to the bank’s website in 2012. That bank was shut down in 2012.

In late 2010, some of Price’s investors put at least $10 million into MB&T, which was listed in December 2010 as the state’s most troubled institution, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. After locals contributed an additional $4 million, the investment was hailed as a success and was even highlighted in a January 2011 front page-article in the AJC, according to past reports.

The SEC soon claimed the investment was worthless as the assets had been depleted and most of its reserves were lost in trading, according to the Associated Press in 2012. In addition to wire fraud, the SEC alleges that losses between $20 million and $23 million were hidden from clients during a two-year period.

In Valdosta, according to the Georgia Superior Court Clerks Cooperative Authority online deed records, Price purchased a home in Lowndes County’s Stone Creek for $242,000 on May 24, 2012. His family reportedly has earlier Valdosta ties.

Price became a director of the Georgia bank after a company he controlled bought a controlling portion of the bank’s stock in 2010.

Price disappeared in mid-June. A rambling confession that investigators believe he wrote indicated that he planned to kill himself.

His family told authorities then they believed he was dead. Investigators offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

Price had ties to Florida and Georgia and may travel to Venezuela and Guatemala, according to the FBI. He was last seen aboard a ferry sailing from Key West, Fla., to Fort Myers, according to various media reports.

The U.S. Department of Justice Issued the Following News Release

AUBREY LEE PRICE, 47, originally from Lyons, Georgia, who was indicted in July 2012 by a federal grand jury sitting in the Southern District of Georgia on a charge that he defrauded the Montgomery Bank & Trust, Ailey, Georgia, of over $21 million, was arrested today by members of the Glynn County Sheriff’s Department conducting a random vehicle and traffic stop. 

            According to the allegations in the Indictment against PRICE, in 2010, an investment group controlled by PRICE invested approximately $10 million in the failing Montgomery Bank & Trust (“MB&T”).  PRICE was then made a director of MB&T and put in charge of investing the bank’s capital.  Over the next eighteen months, PRICE stole, misappropriated and embezzled over $21 million from MB&T.  To cover up his fraud, PRICE provided MB&T officials with bogus account statements which falsely indicated the bank’s capital was safely held in an account at a financial services firm. 

Before today’s arrest, PRICE was last seen in June 2012, boarding a ferry terminal in Key West, Florida, bound for Fort Myers, Florida.  PRICE disappeared after writing a letter to acquaintances and regulators that he had lost a large amount of money, and that he planned to take his own life. 

         The FBI has been actively searching for PRICE since the date of his disappearance.  PRICE was arrested by deputies from the Glynn County Sheriff’s Department on Interstate 95 in Brunswick, Georgia, for a vehicle and traffic violation.  When deputies learned of PRICE’s true identity, he was taken into custody.

PRICE will make his initial appearance on the federal arrest warrants on January 2, 2013, at 10:00 a.m., at the federal courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia.

            In the Southern District of Georgia, PRICE is charged with one count of bank fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000,000.  PRICE faces additional charges in New York.  U. S. Attorney Edward Tarver emphasized that an indictment is only an accusation and is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the Government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

            The indictment of PRICE arises out of an ongoing and joint investigation by FDIC-OIG Special Agent John Crawford; Federal Reserve Board OIG Special Agent Amy Whitcomb; and, FBI Special Agent Ed Sutcliff.  First Assistant United States Attorney James Durham and Assistant United States Attorney Brian Rafferty are prosecuting the case for the United States.  


December 31--  The Toombs County budget in 2014 is going up by about three percent.

{mosimage}The Toombs County Commission held a year-end called meeting and approved the county's budget for the new year which shows an increase of more than three-quarters of a million dollars.

Even with the increase, County Manager John Jones believes the $14.8 million dollar budget is conservative.

"I believe both on the revenue side and the expense side, you would classify it as a very conservative budget and I think that's prudent and the way we need to operate," he said.

Almost half of the increase is attributed to the collection of a one-cent Transportation Sales Tax (TSPLOST) which county officials plan to use for road paving.

"Paving of the Ezra Taylor Road is the biggest project we'll be paying for out of those TSPLOST funds.  We are going to be acquiring right-of-way early on in the new year and possibly by the end of the first quarter we'll see beginning of construction on that road as a direct result of TSPLOST," he noted. 

Other increases in the budget include a plus-up of $50,000 each for E-911 and the county ambulance service.  Most of the 911 budget is paid for by a telephone tax and the ambulance service pays for itself, according to Jones.

"We've not had to take any funds out of the general fund to pay for that.  They had enough revenues to pay for their operations without the general fund having to subsidize any of it," he said.

The biggest single bite out of the county budget goes to law enforcement with $2.4 million allocated to the county sherfiff and jail.  General administration soaks up $1.6 million and third in line is the road department with a million dollar annual budget.

December 27-- Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black is alerting Georgians to the recall of Flat Creek Farm & Dairy’s Heavenly Blue and Aztec Cheddar cheeses, sold in Georgia and Florida, because the products have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

Georgia Department of Agriculture inspectors will be checking retail stores and food warehouses to make sure the recalled product is removed from sale. Here is the recall announcement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

Flat Creek Farm & Dairy of Swainsboro, GA has recalled 90 pounds of Heavenly Blue and 78 pounds of Aztec Cheddar cheese, because of potential contamination of Salmonella. Flat Creek is in the process of notifying all of the purchasers. 

No illnesses have been reported to date.

The cheeses were distributed in certain parts of Georgia and Florida and (6) online orders (, which are in the process of being notified. The product is packed in clear plastic and ranges in sizes from ½ pound to whole wheels. The recall is specific to product marked with the lot codes 130916XHB (Heavenly Blue) and 130823XAZ (Aztec Cheddar), which can be found on the front of the package.

The recall was the result of a routine sampling program conducted by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, which revealed that the finished products were potentially contaminated.  

Consumers that have purchased this product are urged to return the product to the place of purchase.  They may also call Flat Creek Dairy & Farm at 478-237-0123 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. EST for more information. 



December 27--  A Toombs County man was arrested after a Christmas Eve armed robbery.

{mosimage}According to Sheriff Junior Kight, 23-year-old Christopher Keith Peebles of 1447 Racket Town Road, Lyons, was arrested and charged with armed robbery.

The Sheriff says Peebles attempted to use a debit card to pay for $60 worth of gas at the Normantown Grocery.  He then robbed the store clerk of cash at knife point and fled the scene.

He was later apprehended in Emanuel County by deputies from Toombs and Emanuel Counties. 



December 23--  A Vidalia man has been killed in an apparent domestic dispute.

According to Vidalia police, officers went to 330 Commerce Loop in Vidalia at 12:14 a.m. Monday and found that 74-year-old Phillip Wesley Davis had been shot.

The building in West Vidalia is located in Montgomery County and Montgomery County Coroner Joe Strickland was called to the scene where he pronounced Davis dead.  He said the metal building contained an apartment used by Davis.

Police arrested 51-year-old Margaret Marie Aeger of Vidalia in connection with the shooting.  Strickland said she was emotionally upset and was initially taken to Meadows Regional Medical Center for observation.{mosimage}  

She is currently being held at the Toombs County Detention Center in Lyons charged with murder and possession of a firearm during commission of a felony.

The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office and the GBI went to the scene to assist with the investigation.

December 25-- Travis Roose, Meadows Regional Medical Center Assistant Vice President of Cardiovascular Services, was awarded the prestigious Georgia Hospital Heroes Award at the Georgia Hospital Association’s (GHA) annual Hospital Heroes Awards luncheon in Atlanta.

{mosimage}Roose (right, with GHA President Earl Rogers) is one of ten health professionals statewide to receive the award and was recognized for his work in bringing an angioplasty program to the hospital and community.

Meadows President & CEO, Alan Kent noted “we are the smallest hospital in Georgia with a Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory. We have that program due in large part to the unwavering commitment of Travis Roose. He has an incredible dedication to Meadows, its patients and physicians. His work ethic is unparalleled and is most deserving of this high honor.”

 Without Roose’s leadership and commitment, the hospital most likely would not have its angioplasty program that is saving the lives of hundreds locally. Several years ago, Roose had a vision that, one day, the city of Vidalia would offer heart attack treatment so that lives would not be lost in flight to larger facilities.

To make this vision a reality, he accepted a position at St. Joseph’s Heart Hospital in Savannah as a PRN in the catheterization laboratory (cath lab) while he continued to work full time at Meadows. He developed relationships with the physicians there with the goal of building a network to develop a program in his hospital’s laboratory. For five years, Roose finessed the relationship by making the hour-and-a-half trip to work there and covering call on weekends.

Roose secured the trust of the physicians he worked with at St. Joseph’s Heart Hospital and collected enough signatures for a signed affidavit that was used to submit a Certificate Of Need. Meadows opened its doors to the first ever angioplasty lab in Vidalia on August 16, 2010. Roose worked closely with physician recruiters to bring in top talent to support the program.

Roose is still involved with direct patient care and is on call 10 to 20 nights per month. Since the cardiac cath lab opened, volume has doubled and has developed the need to build a second lab and a dedicated cath recovery unit.

“Thanks to Travis Roose’s unwavering commitment and perseverance, hundreds of Vidalia area residents now have high quality cardiac care right in their community and many lives have been saved,” said GHA President Earl V. Rogers. “Travis is a most deserving recipient of this award.”

GHA’s Hospital Heroes Awards are presented every year to 10 individuals who display outstanding service to the healthcare field.

December 23--  The public library in Soperton is building an addition.

{mosimage}The chairwoman of the Treutlen County Library Board, Justine Gillis, addresses those attending the ceremony.

Weather Monday drove the groundbreaking ceremonies inside for the Treutlen County Library's new space which library director Mary Jane Smith says is really needed. 

"We're going to enlarge our meeting room and build a new history room which is larger than the one we have now.  We're also going to put in a Pine Tree Museum which will be the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

"We will have everything there is to know about a pine tree in this museum.  We will have all sorts of equipment and products.  We're getting a lot of donations of different products you can make from a pine tree.  There's not an inch of a pine tree that you can't use for something from making tea to toilet tissue," she said.

Construction is expected to start in the New Year and is being funded with $100,000 from the state and a matching $100,000 gift from the families of Hugh Gillis, Sr. and Jim L. Gillis, Sr. plus some sales tax revenue from the county. 

December 23--  The new president of Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon plans to arrive on campus in time to start the New Year.

By his own admission, he's not your Daddy's college president.

"I'm a grump with a long beard, 14 tattos and I look like a biker.  The doctorate degree was more of a suprise to me than anybody else.  I can't believe I got it in the first place.  I don't look like a president.  I hope people are always surprised when they find out I'm president, not disappointed, but surprised," he said.

Dr. Ergun Caner comes from Arlington Baptist College near Dallas-Fort Worth where he's been the college Provost and Academic Dean for the past two years.  Prior to that he worked with the late Reverend Jerry Falwell at Liberty Baptist College in Virginia.

He was born in Stockholm, Sweden to a Turkish Muslim father who brought the family to the United States in 1969 and where the boy became a Christian.

Dr. Caner hopes he can challenge students to find their destiny.

"Every single one of them, I'm going to look in the eye and say I want you to know that God loves you.  I want you to know there's a plan for your life, you have a destiny and it's bigger than you know right now.  I want them to be inspired.  Education is making people curious.  If you can make a person so hungry to study that they study after class and years later, that's it, you've done your job," he believes.

Enrollment at Brewton-Parker has increased under retiring President Dr. Mike Simoneaux and Dr. Caner is confident the trend will continue.

"Kids come because they like the vision of the school and they like the degrees being offered and they believe in what that school is doing.  And, by the way, the heartbeat of every Christian school should be their chapel.  In other words, the classroom is your head, the chapel is your heart," he said.

Dr. Caner married a North Carolina girl, Jill, nineteen years ago and they have two boys, 15-year-old Braxton and nine-year-old Drake.

"My wife is from the country so Mount Vernon is a perfect fit for her and my family," he says.



December 19--  A former student at Vidalia High School is one of two people arrested in connection with an arson fire in Waycross that killed a city fireman.

{mosimage}Seventeen-year-old Zachery Jacob Thompson was arrested Tuesday along with his friend, 23-year-old Ronnie Cranford.

A Waycross Fire Department Lieutenant, Jeff Little, died when the ceiling of a burned out house collapsed on him during mop up operations early Sunday morning.  The house was vacant at the time of the fire.

Thompson lives two blocks from the scene of the fire and was charged with arson and murder after being interviewed by police.

The boy dropped out of Ware County High School in April.  His mother, Rhonda Sweat, says her son is innocent.

Vidalia High School Assistant Principal Dennis Watkins says he remembers Thompson as a quiet kid who never got into any trouble at school. 


December 19--  A paroled sex offender who fled Toombs County has been captured in Jefferson County.

{mosimage}Sheriff Junior Kight says 39-year-old Albert Murray of Vidalia was apprehended near Wrens by local law enforcement and the Southeast Fugitive Task Force of the U.S. Marshal's Service.

He's been on the loose since December 8th when he failed to report his whereabouts to authorities.  His ankle monitor was found in a wooded area near Nunez.

Sheriff Kight says Murray was apparently working his way up U.S. Highway One.  He's being returned to Toombs County and will be prosecuted for violating parole and sex offender laws.  He was on parole for aggravated child molestation.

December 18--  Expenses are down this year as county officials prepare to close the books on 2013 in Toombs County.

County manager John Jones told the county commission meeting Tuesday county expenditures are down about five percent overall, $298,026.00.

In a show of gratitude and to encourage further savings, the commisson divided $12,723.85 in savings among nine departments which came in under budget.  Their directors have the authority to use the money for department needs in the coming year.


Sharing in savings are (L-R) Tommy Thompson, Landfill; State Court Judge Tommy J. Smith and Solicitor Justin Franklin; Probate Judge Larry Threlkeld; Fuzzy Swain, Roads and Bridges; Carrie Alligood, Elections; Pete Usher, Animal Control; Magistrate Judge Rizza O'Connor; Alvin Hitchcock, Building Maintenance and Belinda Whirley, Financial Administration.

The commission heard an appeal from Tumi to waive $153,000 in Freeport Exemption taxes.  Richard Lawrence claims the company filed the appropriate paperwork on time with the county tax assessor's office and that it was lost.   The county attorney is checking to see if the commissioners have the authority to waive the charges.

Toombs County has received approval of a reimbursement agreement from the state of Georgia regarding paving of the Ezra Taylor Road and hopes to receive a notice to proceed from the Georgia Department of Transportation soon.  Officials say the next step would be to get right of way agreements with property owners.  They hope to pave the road in 2014.

At the same time, bids will be sought to re-stripe 32 miles of paved roads in the county and to seek bids for paving up to five miles of dirt roads.  The county plans to spend $474,000 resurfacing county roads in 2014.

Three members reappointed to the county hospital authority are Jeremy Joyner, Powell Collins and Dr. Bob DeJarnette.

The commission also added a third year to the contract of county manager John Jones and awarded a new three-year audit contract.

The Macon firm of Mauldin and Jenkins underbid Vidalia's McLain, Calhoun, McCullough, Clark and Company by $12,000.  The total contract is $117,000.


December 18-- The chairperson of the Southeastern Technical College Foundation, Lynda Morgan, will be stepping down in January after a year of service in that role and nearly a decade on the Southeastern and Swainsboro Tech foundations.

{mosimage}Morgan was the vice chair for Swainsboro Tech's foundation when that college merged with Southeastern in 2009 and she continued to serve in that capacity in the merged foundation. Working as a stabilizing force in an uncertain time, Morgan established herself as a key figure in the transition.

“She was very instrumental in ensuring that the two separate Foundations became one, working toward a unified goal,” said Charla Nail, director of the STC Foundation. “She never once wavered in her support of our college and led our foundation through that transitional time.”

“She spent many hours working to make sure that the merger was done correctly and was fair to everyone,” said STC President Dr. Cathryn Mitchell. “She felt a lot of responsibility to do everything aboveboard so that no one would question the honesty or intent of what was accomplished through the merger.”

After serving as vice chair for several years on the new STC Foundation, Morgan was named the chair in 2012 and almost immediately had to contend with changes to HOPE funding.

Commercial truck driving (CTD) students found themselves without the HOPE dollars that had been available in the past, but within days of the change, Morgan and the foundation had secured up to $750 for each CTD student.

“The Foundation has helped close to 70 students in that program who otherwise would not have been able to afford to pursue their dreams,” said Nail.

Morgan has also attended numerous in- and out-of-state conferences and training sessions, representing the STC Foundation and technical education in southeast Georgia.

“Lynda Morgan is extremely committed to the college,” said Mitchell. “She totally understands the importance of technical education and how it changes our students' lives.”

Morgan, for her part, credits much of the progress made during her term to the people around her.

“Working with a great team of trustees and staff have made serving as chair a joy,” said Morgan. “It has truly been a pleasure and a privilege to serve with such a dedicated group of people who care so much about STC and the students.”

Taking over at chair will be Mary Ruth Ray from Tattnall County, and Morgan has all ideas that the future for STC will remain bright after she steps down.

“I see growth on both campuses,” said Morgan. “I feel the Foundation will be an important part of that growth, and the financial support of students, faculty and programs will continue to be of utmost importance to the Foundation. 

“Already, the new health sciences building in Swainsboro—and hopefully a new building in Vidalia—will enable us to expand existing programs and start new programs. It is great to be a part of this journey.”

December 17--  Something to think about when you pay your taxes for 2013 and vote in 2014. 

Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has released his annual Wastebook, detailing the 100 leading examples of government waste — amounting to $30 billion this year.

The congressional watchdog said that one of the primary offenders for trashing federal money was the disastrous launch of the Affordable Care Act website, which cost at least $319 million.

Millions more were wasted on ads in various states for President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, including a campaign featuring an Elvis impersonator in Colorado, where Wastebook 2013 says only 4,000 people enrolled, one of whom turned out to be a dog named Baxter.

Another big expense went to a football field-sized blimp, called an "unblinking eye," that was supposed to provide nonstop surveillance over an Afghanistan battlefield. But the Army pulled the plug on the project this year after one test flight over New Jersey. The total waste: $297 million.

The Army National Guard was also lambasted for throwing away $10 million on a Superman movie tie-in while plans were being made to cut the strength of the Guard by 8,000 soldiers.

"When it comes to spending your money, those in Washington tend to see no waste, speak no waste, and cut no waste," wrote Coburn, a Republican, in his 167-page report.

He pointed out that although the Department of Defense grounded the Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy Blue Angels, it frittered away $634 million "to construct aircraft they never intended to fly."

The Defense Department also destroyed $7 billion worth of usable military equipment rather than selling it or having it shipped home.

Additional Pentagon dollars squandered included $9 million for a reality TV series for the Army and $34 million for a military headquarters in Afghanistan that will never be used.

When it comes to doing nothing and getting paid for it, Coburn says there's no beating the 20 NASA employees who spent 70 days lying in bed with their bodies slightly angled downward, as part of a study to replicate what could happen to astronauts during weightlessness in space. NASA has no plans to send anyone up in space in the near future, so that's another $360,000 down the drain.

The government spent $384,989 on a study of duck penises, $237,205 on research of red crabs, and $390,000 to create a cartoon superhero called "Green Ninja" to teach children about global warming, according to The Washington Free Beacon.

And while the Smithsonian was closing exhibits in Washington, the government was funding the creation of "play zones" at the National Museum of Play, an inventory of toys at the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys, as well as producing a $150,000 zombie game to help teach kids math.

"Washington has reversed the wisdom of the old cliché that less is needed when less is wasted," Coburn said. "Every branch of government bickered this year over the need to spend more, while continuing to misspend, with an attitude of 'waste more, want more.'"

"These are only a few of the 100 examples of government mismanagement and stupidity included in Wastebook 2013. Collectively these cost more than $30 billion in a year when Washington would have you believe everything that could be done has been done to control unnecessary spending."

December 17--  Vidalia police are investigating the death of a Vidalia convenience store operator.

Vidalia Police Chief Frant Waits identifies the victim as 47-year-old Harry Patel.

{mosimage}He ran the B-P Convenience Store at the intersection of Highway 280 and Maple Drive in Vidalia and had been living here for about 18 months, according to friends.  

The killing happened about 10:15 Monday night on the side of the street not far from Patel's apartment at 1911 Manning Drive.  He was taken initially to Meadows Regional Medical Center in Vidalia and flown to a Savannah hospital where he died just after midnight.

Friends at the scene believe he came home from his store and was killed after parking his car.  They speculate the motive was robbery.


December 16--  The Sunday edition of The Savannah Morning News reports federal bank regulators have filed a lawsuit against former officials of the now out of business Darby Bank and Trust Company of Vidalia.

"The former director and CEO of the now-defunct Darby Bank & Trust Co. and 15 former bank officers have been sued by a federal agency in a bid to recover at least $15.1 million in losses from bad real estate and other loans over a two-year period.

The 117-page suit filed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., as receiver for the Lyons-based bank, in U.S. District Court in Savannah alleges bank officials ignored repeated warnings of poor management of commercial real estate and acquisition, development and construction loans between Nov. 17, 2007, and Oct. 26, 2009.

Named defendants were:

• Walter B. Bowden of Lyons, who was the bank’s CEO from 1995 until he retired in December 2008. He served on the bank’s directors loan committee during the period of the actions identified in the suit.

• William E. Bedingfield of Vidalia, who was a bank director from 1999 until it closed in November 2010. He also was a member of the loan committee.

• William Emory Davis of Vidalia, who served as director from at least 2005 until May 2010 and as a member of the bank’s directors loan committee at the time of the claims in the suit.

• Donald H. Estroff of Tybee Island, who served as a bank director from 1963 until 2007, was a director from 1999 until 2007 and a loan committee member.

• J. Edward Tyson of Vidalia, who was a bank director from 1991 until February 2007 and a loan committee member.

• Connie Darby Williams of Savannah, who was a director from 1991 until the bank closed in November 2010. She was board chairwoman from March 2007 until the bank failed. She also was a general partner and beneficiary of the Darby Family Limited Partnerships, which owned 32 percent of the bank’s stock.

• Richard D. Williams of Savannah, who served as a director from January 1996 until the bank closed, served on the loan committee and was a beneficiary of the Darby Family Limited Partnerships.

• Richard Allen Williams of Savannah, who was a bank director from 2005 until the bank closed, served on the loan committee and was a beneficiary of the Darby family group.

• Donald R. Coomer of Savannah, who served as a director from 2004 until the bank closed, and chaired the audit committee.

• Wayne D. Hartley of Lyons, who served as a director from March 2007 until the bank closed.

• S. Wayne Smith of Lyons, who served as a director from 1991 until February 2009.

• Michael Zoller of Savannah, who served as a director from March 2007 until the bank closed.

• J. Christopher Banks of Savannah, who served as the bank’s senior vice president and chief loan officer and was a loan committee member from 2002 until September 2009.

• Stephen Coomer of Savannah, who was the bank’s group vice president and manager of commercial lending from April 1997 until the bank failed.

• Donald M. Thompson of Savannah, was senior vice president and manager of the bank’s Savannah City branch from 2005 until he retired in September 2009.

• Stanley E. Harp Jr. of Hahira, who served as president of the bank’s Valdosta branch and loan officer from January 2007 until he was terminated in February 2009. He filed for bankruptcy, and his debts were discharged in 2010. He was named as a nominal defendant in order to seek recovery under the directors and officers liability policy.

About the bank

Darby Bank was formed in Vidalia in 1927 and under director Walter Bowden’s 14-year tenure expanded its lending area in Coastal Georgia markets, opening branches in Savannah and Valdosta.

Darby closed on Nov. 12, 2010, with about $654.7 million in assets, the suit stated. That failure resulted in a loss to the FDIC of about $164.6 million. Darby was owned by DBT Holding Co., which filed for bankruptcy on April 4, 2011, and was administratively dissolved in September 2012.

According to the suit, Bowden had responsibility for the overall management of the bank, including ensuring that the bank adopted and maintained policies and internal controls and that the bank followed safe and sound banking practices.

Commercial real estate loans, as well as acquisition, development and construction loans are inherently risky and are recognized by regulators as such, the suit said.

Under Bowden’s watch, the bank’s assets grew from about $55 million in 1995 to $800 million in 2008, primarily through funding of large numbers of commercial real estate loans, including acquisition, development and construction loans, the suit alleged.

As early as 2004, regulators warned Darby’s board that the rapid and aggressive growth of those loans threatened the bank’s safety. In a letter dated Aug. 10, 2004, regulators warned the overall condition of the bank had “declined, was in a borderline condition, and was at risk of regulatory administrative action,” the suit said.

“Notwithstanding the regulators’ admonition, defendants accelerated Darby’s rate of (commercial real estate) lending at the expense of quality and soundness,” the suit said.

The bank continued to show about double the regulatory threshold for concentrated risk while officials continued to ignore “specific and repeated warnings,” the suit said

“In every report of examination from 2005 through 2008, the regulators criticized the bank’s internal loan review function,” the suit said, adding the bank’s policy kept loan reviews “under the direct supervision of this chief credit officer, who was Banks.”

According to the suit, the loan committee’s practice “evinced utter disregard for regulators’ constant criticism that loan files did not contain large numbers of documents material to borrowers’ ability and willingness to repay.”

In one case cited in the suit, the loan committee on Nov. 8, 2006, approved a $1.9 million loan to a borrower identified only as “RG” for residential construction on Wilmington Island, which was funded on Nov. 17, 2006.

The loan was to cover 100 percent to purchase and develop six to eight lots for 12 months with monthly interest-only payments.

Defendants Bowden, Banks, Davis, Estroff, Tyson, R.A. Williams, C. Williams and R.D. Williams voted to approve the loan despite the fact the borrower already owed the bank $1 million, had guaranteed more than $4 million in other debt and “had a well-known bad credit record with Darby.”

“The borrower had no capacity to repay,” the suit said. Further, he had an annual income of about $263,000, had $30,000 in liquid assets and had no guarantor for the loan, the suit said.

“RG did not sell a single lot,” the suit said, adding that Darby lost almost $1.1 million following foreclosure.

In another loan to “VG,” the loan committee approved $582,000 in November 2006 in “additional funding” to complete construction work on a vacant three-story commercial building at 134 Whitaker St., in addition to a $2 million speculative construction loan for the same project and borrower, the suit said.

The borrower lacked the capacity to repay, the credit memorandum contained no financial information on the borrower and contained no cash flow analysis.

The property later was foreclosed on and Darby took a $1.8 million hit, the suit said.

The FDIC suit contends defendants were negligent and grossly negligent by failing to exercise that “degree of care which every man of common sense, however inattentive he may be, exercises under the same or similar circumstances.”

They also breached their duty “to act with the utmost care and in the best interests of the bank,” the suit said."


December 13--  A Vidalia resident is among those sentenced to federal prison for taking part in a drug ring.

Final sentences were handed down by Senior District Court Judge B. Avant Edenfield in the case of a large-scale drug trafficking organization operating in Tattnall, Appling, Glynn, Liberty, and Chatham Counties.

United States Attorney Edward J. Tarver stated, “Illegal drugs are not only a problem in Georgia, they are a plague on our entire nation.  This organization was a threat to the South Georgia communities where it operated.  Those who peddle and profit from this scourge in our communities can expect to spend years in federal prison.”

The 28 indicted co-conspirators in the organization included Tellas Levallas Kennedy, three of Kennedy's sources of cocaine supply and his network of cocaine distributors, brokers and assistants. 

Terrance Stanton and Rodney Scott, the two defendants who were tried by a jury on July 11-13, 2013, received the heftiest sentences of life imprisonment.  In the federal system, there is no parole.

The other 26 defendants charged together in a 134-count indictment, pleaded guilty and received an average sentence of over 7 years in prison.  The convictions resulted from a two-year investigation conducted by DEA, Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), Tri-Circuit Drug Task Force, Altamaha Drug Task Force, Glynn-Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team (GBNET), Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, Hinesville Police Department, and Glennville Police Department.

According to the evidence presented during the trial and at several guilty plea and sentencing hearings, the organization distributed powder and crack cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana on a large scale in Tattnall, Appling, Glynn, Liberty, and Chatham Counties.

The Defendants convicted and sentenced as part of this prosecution included:

 Tellas Levallas Kennedy, 37, Glennville, Georgia, was sentenced to 210 months in prison;

Antonio Marquet Mangram, 42, Vidalia, Georgia, was sentenced to 92 months in prison;

Oscar Lee Mangram, 44, Brunswick, Georgia, was sentenced to 48 months in prison;

Jeffrey Jackson, 40, Baxley, Georgia, was sentenced to 144 months in prison;

Eric Kennard Crump, 43, Glennville, Georgia, was sentenced to 77 months in prison;

Manuel Longoria, 48, Glennville, Georgia, was sentenced to 15 months in prison;

Perez Alonzo Staples, 30, Glennville, Georgia, was sentenced to 19 months in prison;

Scottie Labell Fate, 28, Glennville, Georgia, was sentenced to 41 months in prison;

Mario Demetrius McNeal, 25, Glennville, Georgia, was sentenced to 188 months in prison;

Christopher Lamont Davis, 38, Glennville, Georgia, was sentenced to 92 months in prison;

Tony Tykeem Tigner, 24, Glennville, Georgia, was sentenced to 21 months in prison;

Darius Laron Cain, 25, Glennville, Georgia, was sentenced to 27 months in prison;

Jeffery Lee Grant, 34, Glennville, Georgia, was sentenced to 27 months in prison;

Shelton Maurice Williams, 26, Glennville, Georgia, was sentenced to 48 months in prison;

Ervin Walker, Jr., 44, Glennville, Georgia, was sentenced to 188 months in prison;

Tosha Lashone Williams, 39, Glennville, Georgia, was sentenced to 14 months in prison;

Terrence Gerard Stanton, 26, Hinesville, Georgia, was sentenced to life in prison;

Romon Velar Mickel, 34, Hinesville, Georgia, was sentenced to 68 months in prison;

Martell Antwon Mingo, 29, Hinesville, Georgia, was sentenced to 235 months in prison;

Lawrence Michael Drayton, 38, Hinesville, Georgia, was sentenced to 188 months in prison;

Leon Varneze Pace, 32, Hinesville, Georgia, was sentenced to 20 months in prison;

Rodney Lorenzo Scott, 27, Hinesville, Georgia, was sentenced to life in prison;

Matthew Helmut Hawkins, 35, Hinesville, Georgia, was sentenced to 102 months in prison;

Gregory Ali Owens, 31, Hinesville, Georgia, was sentenced to 96 months in prison;

Brian Leonard Freeman, 40, Glennville, Georgia, was sentenced to 24 months in prison;

Deonte Jarvarys Bacon, 23, Hinesville, Georgia, was sentenced to 30 months in prison;

Stanley Edward Brown, 27, Hinesville, Georgia, was sentenced to 31 months in prison; and,

Shaquana Elizabeth Brown, 25, Hinesville, Georgia, was sentenced to 14 months in prison.



December 13--  The owner of The Advance newspaper and co-owner of Vidalia Communications died Thursday night.

{mosimage}Eighty-nine-year old Bill Ledford, Sr. died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Vidalia.  He had been in declining health for some time.

In a 1999 interview, he said he ran the newspaper in the same fashion as his father who bought the paper in 1926.

"He always felt like the front page belonged to the public and the editorial page belonged to him.  We've tried to support that idea throughout the years.  We feel like we're doing what we should do.  We're trying to contribute to the community and to the people of this area," he said.

Ray Tapley, a longtime columnist for The Advance, remembers his colleague.

"I don't think Bill ever let his personal feelings or his beliefs effect what was in the news columns.  Of course, he was very outspoken and had a lot of strong opinions and he didn't mind voicing them, but he always kept those on the editorial page where they should be and I admired him for that.

"The newspaper is extremely vital part of Vidalia and always has been.  Bill Ledford was like a brother to me and he was a big asset to this town and to this community," Tapley said.

Mr. Ledford's funeral is Monday afternoon at 3 p.m. at the Ronald V. Halll Funeral Home in Vidalia.  Friends may pay condolences at the funeral home Sunday from 6 to 8 p.m.

December 11--  The District Attorney in the Middle Judicial Circuit of Georgia says the number of cases his office is trying has gone down in the past few years, but the number of repeat offenders is not improving.

District Attorney Hayward Altman addressed the Vidalia Kiwanis Club.

"When I first started having calender call, we'd have anywhere from 100 to 150 cases.  We're now down where we have 30 to 50 cases on each calendar in all five counties in the circuit and that's a tremendous reduction in the amount of backlog we have," he said.

The bad news is he's seeing too many people in court more than once.

"It's either going up or it's staying the same.  It's not improving.  I think the reasons are drugs primarily and the economy, a lack of jobs.  When you don't have anything to do, you go out and do bad things," he believes.

The DA is hopeful some pilot programs in other counties will start in Toombs County to fight recidivism.

"The program will hopefully be initiated soon in Toombs County that will allow us to work with individuals to give them drug counseling and job skills so maybe they won't come back in our court system," Altman said.

Altman also warns he seeing more gang-related crimes in the district.

"The Internet is a great tool for people, but it also allows local individuals access to gang members in big cities.  They are coming down in our circuit.  We've had a gang-related murder up in Jefferson County where 12 people are charged with murder.  Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, it's here," he said.


December 10--  The Toombs County sheriff's office is seeking a sex offender.

Sheriff Junior Kight says 39-year-old Benny Albert Murray of 106 Everette Street in Vidalia left his house Sunday night without informing authorities.  He's currently out of jail on parole for aggravated child molestation.

He was tracked to Nunez via a leg monitor strapped to his leg.  Officials searched a wooded area and found where he had cut the monitor strap and left the tracking device in the woods.

He's described as 5 feet 8 inches tall white male, 150 pounds with brown hair.

Anyone with information on Murray's whereabouts is asked to call the Toombs County Sheriff's Office, 526-6778.

December 11--  Montgomery County is planning to start its own 911 system.

At its December meeting Monday, the county commission voted to buy the equipment and operate it out of the county sheriff's office.

Montgomery County currently pays Toombs County for 911 support, however, county manager Brandon Braddy says the county thinks it can get more mapping accuracy and better directions for emergency responders if it has its own system.

He estimates a one-time cost for the equipment of just under $150,000 and annual operating costs of about $151,000.  Braddy says Montgomery County pays Toombs County $148,000 each year for 911 service.

At the same time, Montgomery County is planning to seek bids for its ambulance service.  This year it paid Toombs County more than $200,000 for ambulance support.

Braddy says the commission wants to know if another provider can provide equal or better service to Montgomery County.  He says Toombs County will be offered the chance to bid.

December 10-- State Representative Greg Morris of Vidalia has pre-filed legislation to erect a monument of the Ten Commandments as well as the preambles to the United States Constitution and the Georgia Constitution in the state capitol. 

{mosimage}“I believe this monument will be an appropriate expression of the religious and political freedoms which we hold dear as Americans and Georgians, said Rep. Morris. “If we as a nation want to reclaim our greatness, we must stand up for the principles that made our nation great in the beginning. Those of us who are elected by the people should lead the way.

House Bill 702, which will be introduced in the 2014 legislative session, would erect this monument where the statue of Tom Watson once stood.  The statue of Watson was removed from the Capitol grounds earlier this year.

The proposed granite statue would be located near the State Capitol’s front entrance and include both Constitutions on one side and the Ten Commandments on the other.          

December 10--  Gov. Nathan Deal announced today that Georgia’s net tax collections for the month of November totaled $1.39 billion, an increase of nearly $49.0 million or 3.6 percent compared to the month-ended November 2012. Year-to-date, net tax revenue collections totaled $7.34 billion for an increase of $378.0 million, or 5.4 percent, compared to the same point last year.

Changes within the following major tax categories explain the net tax revenue increase in November:

Individual Income Tax: Individual Income Tax collections for November totaled $694.25 million — down from $701.5 million in November 2012, for a decrease of $7.25 million or -1.0 percent.

The following notable components within Individual Income Tax combine for the net decrease:

•      Individual Withholding payments for November were up $4.75 million, or 0.7 percent

•      Individual Income Tax refunds issued (net of voided checks) were up $22.0 million, or 75.1 percent

•      All other Individual categories including Return payments were up a combined $10.0 million

Sales and Use Tax: Gross Sales Tax collections declined nearly $17.25 million or -2.1 percent, compared to last year*. Sales & Use Tax collections for November decreased $11.75 million or -2.7 percent — down from $435 million in FY 2013 to roughly $423.5 million in FY 2014. Lastly, the adjusted monthly Sales Tax distribution to local governments totaled $374.5 million, which was a decrease of $3.85 million compared to FY 2013.

Corporate Income Tax: Corporate Income Tax collections for November 2013 increased $10.5 million, or 109.8 percent, compared to last year when Corporate Tax revenues and refunds netted to $9.5 million.

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

•      Corporate Tax refunds issued (net of voided checks) were down roughly $4.0 million, or -13.5 percent

•      Corporate Income Tax payments for November increased nearly $8.5 million, or 956.2 percent

•      All other Corporate Tax categories including Estimated payments combined for a decrease of $2.0 million 

Motor Fuel Taxes:  Motor Fuel Taxes accounted for an increase of nearly $5.75 million or 6.8 percent over November 2012, which is consistent with the bi-annual rate adjustment taking place at the beginning of the fiscal year.  As of July 1, 2013 the average prepaid state tax rate for FY 2014 is roughly 4.1 percent higher than the first-half tax rate in FY 2013.

*Motor Vehicle Tag & Title Fees: Motor Vehicle Fee collections for November 2013 totaled nearly $70.25 million, which was $50.75 million higher than the previous year. The large year-over-year increase is the result of new tax legislation (H.B. 266) – effective as of March 1, 2013 – in which the new law established a Title ad Valorem Tax to replace the traditional Sales Tax that was assessed on the purchase of an automobile. As a result, Motor Vehicle fees have increased by an average of $55.75 million per month since the filing of March returns began in April of FY 2013.


December 10--  The city of Vidalia ends 2013 in strong financial shape and is increasing its general fund budget in 2014.

The city council approved a budget of $7,991.553.00 at its December meeting Monday night, an increase of 3.4% over 2013.  

The budget includes $650,000 for employee health insurance, an increase of $75,000.  There's also a 5% salary increase for employees in the new year. 

Workers got no cost of living increase this year, but the council voted to help with that by approving year-end performance bonuses ranging from $500 to $1,000 for employees who meet performance standards.

The city budget projects $2.1 million in revenue for water and sewer next year and includes a 5% increase increase in customer rates along with a dollar a month increase in base rates.

The budget also shows a reduction in the airport budget of $105,438.00 and a reduction in projected fuel sales due to no air show at the 2014 Vidalia Onion Festival.  The air show is expected to return in 2015 with the Navy's Blue Angels headlining the event.

Onion Festival Chairman Les Salter informed the council that the opening act for the festival's Saturday night concert starring Uncle Kracker is one of the top groups right now in country music.

"Parmalee's" song "Carolina" is currently on the country charts at number four, Salter reported.

The Saturday night concert will be preceded Friday night in downtown Vidalia by "The Temptations" who will inaugurate the new downtown amphitheater.

Mayor Ronnie Dixon informed the council the city along with Lyons and Toombs County are planning a review of how recreation services are delivered in the area.  A six-member advisory committee will be appointed by the three governments to look at options and report back in six months.

December 9--  A previous report stated there was no Angel Tree at Walmart this year to help the local Salvation Army.  That is true, however, as noted below by one of our readers, the Angel Tree program as originally devised is still alive and well in Toombs County.  Our thanks to Mr. McLeod for the clarification.

"Dear Mr. Fowler,

Would it be possible to clarify the article and News Break report about the following statement from the, "Christmas Help for the Salvation Army" article?

"Vidalia Ford bought over 80 bicycles and gifts for some of our kids, the Daniels family bought for about 20 and the Meadows Wellness Center took 50 kids.  The community is rallying around us because we don't have the Angel Tree this year," Roberts reports."

Some listeners who volunteered to help us with Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree program heard this Newsbreak broadcast and were confused.  Angel Tree is a registered trademark of Prison Fellowship Ministries founded by the late Chuck Colson to provide Christmas Gifts to children of prison inmates.  This Angel Tree program has been locally sponsored by the Vidalia First Baptist Church and has been providing Christmas gifts to children of prison inmates in Toombs County for the past 18 years and this year is no exception.  Many volunteers have selected children from our Angel Tree program, and I am concerned they will hear the broadcast and believe our program has ended.  In fact, that's how we first became aware of the News Break broadcast.  A volunteer asked why we had ended the Angel Tree program.

Would it be possible to change the statement to, "we don't have an Angel Tree through Salvation Army this year."?  Or if the last sentence is omitted altogether, that would be even better.

Please know that I really appreciate all that you and your stations do in our community!


Wade & Luanne McLeod - Angel Tree Coordinators for Toombs County"

Angel Tree® is a registered trademark of Prison Fellowship Ministries 


December 9--  Policy makers for technical education and state government came together on Southeastern Technical College’s Swainsboro campus to discuss issues facing the state’s technical education system.

Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) Commissioner Ron Jackson, State Representatives Matt Hatchett, Greg Morris and Butch Parrish and State Senators Jack Hill and Jesse Stone spoke on the needs of the TCSG and Southeastern Tech and how best to address those needs.

{mosimage}(L-R)STC President Cathryn Mitchell and TCSG Commissioner Ron Jackson stand with State Reps. Greg Morris and Butch Parrish, State Sens. Jesse Stone and Jack Hill and State Rep. Matt Hatchett.

“I know how hard it is to stretch the dollar on the state level, but I also know that if you don’t tell your needs, your needs won’t be addressed,” said Jackson, formerly of the Governor’s Office of Planning Budget. “So we’re telling our needs.”

Jackson and STC President Dr. Cathryn Mitchell outlined their priorities for the coming year on the state and local level.  Mitchell began by laying out plans for a new building in Vidalia.

“We need to bring our campus, our library, our bookstore, our student center, our classrooms into the 21st century on the Vidalia campus,” said Mitchell.

The school’s plans call for a two-story, 81,000-square-foot building that will house no less than five programs and a new library and bookstore. The building would give the cosmetology program facilities to better accommodate the high-demand program, and it would allow several health science programs to have their own workspace, instead of sharing with other programs.

Mitchell also expressed a desire to start a Physical Therapy Assistant program and create a Commercial Truck Driving facility in Swainsboro in addition to the plans in place to renovate that campus’s Building 2. And with construction on Swainsboro’s new health science building getting underway after Thanksgiving, the school now has to focus on hiring employees to fill the new building.

The TCSG’s upcoming priorities begin with a similar goal: increasing the percentage of full-time faculty. Statewide, the average for technical college faculty is 33 percent full-time and 67 percent part-time.

“We desperately need to get that ratio up,” said Jackson.

Jackson said that the ideal ratio is 50-50, though for the 2015 fiscal year, the TCSG is pushing for a five percent increase in full-time faculty, which the system believes will create a one percent increase in graduation rate across the state.

The TCSG will also be pursuing an increase in full-time adult education faculty—going from 12 percent full-time to 20 percent, increasing students served by 17,000—and in Strategic Industry Workforce Development Grants.

The grants, first offered this year, offer money to HOPE Grant-eligible students in Georgia’s strategic industries. TCSG wants to expand the number of programs benefitting from the grants and increase grants awarded.

Legislators promised their support and lauded Southeastern Tech and the TCSG.

“My district is sort of scattered and it overlaps into four other technical colleges,” said Stone. “So, it’s interesting to see all the different approaches from school to school. And you all are on the right track, I can assure you of that.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the technical college system has a friend in the legislature,” said Hill. “We’re going to do everything we can to support our technical college system, particularly in our area.”

The legislators made note of Governor Nathan Deal’s responsiveness to the needs of technical education—Hill cited the strategic industry grants—and had faith that state government would remain receptive to technical colleges.






December 7--  Lyons city hall was full of people late Saturday afternoon as the city dedicated the building to the late Mayor John Moore who died in June.

Mayor Willis NeSmith said, "One of the last things he did was to be responsible for building this new building we're standing in now.  We decided we wanrted to dedicate this building to John Moore for all he did for this city over the years.  We're just sorry he couldn't be here with us to see it dedicated to him."

{mosimage}Mayor Moore served the city for 26 years including time on the city council and 14 years as mayor.

His family and widow, Marsha, were present for the unveiling of a plaque in the lobby of city hall.

"It means a great deal to us because John put so much of himself in it.  This is a way he'll be remembered and his efforts won't be forgotten.  He loved the people, he was honored to be their Mayor and honored more to be their friend," Mrs. Moore said.  

December 6--  Two Toombs County High School students competed in area Future Farmers of America (FFA) competition.

{mosimage}Junior Tyler Toole took part in the FFA Agricultural Electrification Career Development Event at Treutlen High School.   He's the son of David and Alison Toole of Lyons.

Freshman Kaitlyn Bryant competed in the FFA Quiz Career Development event designed to stimulate interest in leadership and citizenship.  The competition was held at Southeastern Technical College in Vidalia.  She's the daughter of Ricky and Deanna Bryant of Lyons.{mosimage}

Joey Montford, Mark Montfort and Joey O'Neal are FFA advisors at Toombs County High School.


December 6--  Classes started this week in the new Upper School building at Vidalia Heritage Academy and the official ribbon-cutting was held Thursday morning.

{mosimage}The school has invested $360,000 to buy and renovate the former Murchison Funeral Home facility at the corner of Durden and Second Streets.

"It's been a long time coming.  We had a few issues with the building once we got it, but this has been a phenomenal thing for our students.  Just to watch them and what they're doing in this new setting and what it means to us and the future of Vidalia and Toombs County and the surrounding area is just incredible when you think about it," says Headmaster Jeff McCormick.

The Upper School has 50 students in grades six through ten with a capacity for 120 more.

McCormick says there's a waiting list for next year and plans for more growth.

"We're expanding.  'Time for Tots' which has been at First Baptist Church now is consolidating with us and we'll be offering a full pre-school ministry beginning with the 2014-15 school year.  We're also adding additional athletics and we're looking at some athletic facilities now that we hope to either purchase or build," he said.

December 5--  The Bulloch County school system says a Fox News report on alleged efforts to thwart celebration of Christmas at the Brooklet Elementary School is false.  The school system issued the following statement.

"Brooklet Elementary School's (BES) holiday traditions and especially those of Christmas are alive and well," said BES Principal Marlin Baker. Bulloch County Schools nor BES's administrators have not, nor do they plan to remove any student's learning experiences about Christmas or any other seasonal holiday. Students returned Monday from Thanksgiving break, and already student's holiday artwork is going up on bulletin boards, walls and doorways.

Unfortunately, today the school was terrorized by an intentional and vicious dissemination of untrue information that disrupted the good work going on inside. Fox News Radio Commentary Host Todd Starnes, acting on misinformation that neither he, nor his media outlet corroborated with the school system or Baker, misreported a story about student Christmas Cards being removed from the school. Baker did not receive any questions from the local community either.

The cards in question were not student Christmas cards, nor were they a student project or tradition. The cards are the personal family Christmas cards that faculty members share with one another. They are the personal cards from their homes that they would send to family and friends.

It has been a faculty tradition to post the cards on a small display board made of two pieces of red and green poster paper. The display in the past was posted in hallway outside the office workroom.

This year, due to a legitimate, personal privacy concern raised by one of the school's staff members, Baker moved the display to the opposite wall inside the office work room so that the staff member could still participate in the tradition. Baker wanted to respect the staff member's privacy and that of his/her children depicted in the Christmas card.

The display being moved had absolutely nothing to do with the current open and ongoing discussions that the school system is having with local citizens about religious liberties and expression. "We don't want this misinformation to derail the positive work we are committed to with our community leaders," said Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson.

"I'm appalled by this attack on our school system, and on Brooklet Elementary," said Superintendent Charles Wilson. "We have outstanding faculty, motivated students, and very supportive parents," Baker said. "Our holiday musical is December 17, at 6:30 p.m., and we'd like to invite everyone to attend. This event and all of our long-standing traditions are firmly in place."


The following information from the Rick Allen campaign was posted earlier.

December 3-- Augusta businessman and congressional candidate Rick Allen today signed an online petition opposing Bulloch County’s ban on Christmas cards in public schools which keeps teachers from posting cards from themselves to the students in  school hallways. The practice has been allowed for years and has become a tradition.

According to Fox News Radio: “When boys and girls returned from Thanksgiving break, they discovered that their teachers’ Christmas cards had been removed – under orders from the Georgia school’s administration.”

"When we ban God, faith, and love from our schools, we lose more and more of the values upon which the Founding Fathers established America" Allen said. “We may differ on political issues, but everyone should be able to agree that teachers wishing their students a Merry Christmas is a much-needed force for good in troubling times for our nation.”

This is not the only anti-Christian measure undertaken by the school board. According to Fox News Radio commentator Todd Starnes:
The Christmas card censorship comes as the Bulloch County Board of Education cracks down on religious expression in their schools.
Teachers have been ordered to remove any religious icons or items from their classrooms – ranging from Bibles to Christian music.

Teachers have also been instructed to avoid student-led prayers at all costs.
Should they be in a room where students are praying, teachers have been ordered to turn their backs on their students.

Allen signed the online petition opposing the anti-Christmas measure
and will join parents and teachers opposing it at a school board meeting on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

“If being a candidate for office helps me focus attention on the undermining of American values, then I will use my campaign for that purpose,” Allen said. “This is more important and more dangerous to our society than the laws being made in Washington, D.C. and we need to make a stand as Georgians and Americans.

December 5--  The Toombs County Health Department is seeking national accreditation to improve the quality of care offered to the public.

{mosimage}The first step is a community health assessment which started Wednesday at a meeting conducted by Dr. Rose Marie Parks from the Southeast Health District headquartered in Waycross.

"It's basically having a set of standards that you can show you've met and achieved.  It's a mark of distinction very similar to what hospitals do when they are accredited," she said.

Dr. Parks briefed members of the Toombs County Board of Health and others on various public health issues facing the area ranging from obesity to teenage pregnancies.

She's hopeful community input will help determine issues to be addressed.

"This is just kind of the starting point for all of this.  Community involvement is the number one thing and the community needs to decide these are the things we want to work on.

"I think one of the strengths we have in this area is community collaboration and how everyone works together," she said.

The next assessment meeting is set for March of next year.

December 4-- The Georgia Department of Labor announced today that the unemployment rate in the Heart of Georgia-Altamaha’s region increased to 10.9 percent in October, up five-tenths of a percentage point from 10.4 percent in September. The rate was 11.3 percent in October a year ago.

Because of the federal government shutdown, no states were allowed to publish local labor market data for September. During the interim, the rate for the Heart of Georgia-Altamaha region fell from 11.7 percent in August to 10.4 percent for September.

The rate rose in October primarily for two reasons – an increase in new layoffs and an increase in the number of unemployed residents.

The number of new layoffs, represented by initial claims for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, increased to 2,725, up by 732, or 36.7 percent, from 1,993 in September. Claims were filed in several sectors, led by manufacturing and construction. There were 3,654 claims in October 2012.

The number of unemployed people in the region increased to 13,333, up by 355 from 12,978 in September. There were 14,029 unemployed in October 2012.

The labor force, which is the number of people employed plus those unemployed but actively looking for work, declined by 1,620 to 122,648 in October, down from 124,268 in September. The labor force was down by 1,525 from 124,173 in October 2012.

Metro Athens had the lowest area jobless rate at 5.8 percent, while the Heart of Georgia-Altamaha region had the highest at 10.9 percent.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for October was 8.1 percent, down from 8.3 percent in September. The rate was 8.8 percent in October a year ago.

December 3--  Lyons incumbent city councilman Wayne Hartley has won re-election in a runoff.

Fourth Ward voters gave Hartley a five-vote win over challenger Keith Driggers, 64 to 59.  Five votes is the same margin Hartley won by in the November city election in a four-candidate field.

'I'd like to thank my supporters and everybody that participated.  We had a good turnout.  The runoff vote was actually higher than the general election.  That goes to show that people do really care about city government and for that I'm thankful," Hartley said.

December 3-- On Monday evening, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to elect Dr. Ergun Caner as president of Brewton-Parker College.  Brewton-Parker is one of three colleges affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention.

Outgoing president Dr. Mike Simoneaux said, “I am excited about the appointment of Dr. Ergun Caner as the 16th president of Brewton-Parker. Dr. Caner brings a wealth of experience to the presidency with more than three decades in Christian higher education leadership, Biblical teaching, preaching and apologetics. This appointment will excite Georgia Baptists and Southern Baptists who will sit up and take notice that Brewton-Parker College and its trustees are serious about its stand on the infallibility of the Scriptures and its decision to honor Jesus Christ in every area. I have no doubt that the college will grow and strengthen exponentially under his leadership.  Bonnie and I leave the college knowing that the school we have loved since our first step onto the campus is in the strong, spirit-led and capable hands of President Ergun Caner. May God richly bless his presidency.”

{mosimage}Born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1966, Caner is the oldest son of a devout Turkish Muslim leader.  The family immigrated to the United States first in 1969 and settled in central Ohio.  Through the persistence of a high school friend, Caner converted to Christianity and became a minister shortly thereafter.  He is a 1984 graduate of Gahanna Lincoln High School.

Caner received his Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies from Cumberland College in 1989, his Master of Arts from Criswell College (TX) in 1992, a Master of Divinity (1994) and a Master of Theology (1995) from the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (NC) and the Doctor of Theology from the University of South Africa.

Caner comes to the position from the Arlington Baptist College in Texas, where he served as Provost and Academic Dean since 2011. Prior to that, Caner served as the Dean of the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Virginia, the school started by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority. Falwell named Caner as Dean in 2004.

December 3--  An assistant principal at Toombs County High School has been fired.

{mosimage}After an executive session Monday night, the Toombs County school board voted unanimously to fire Assistant Principal Jennifer Irvin effective immediately.  No reason was given for the firing.  Irving is a former literature teacher at the high school and was named Assistant Principal this school term.

She was the school system's Teacher of the Year in 2009 and was among ten finalists for Georgia's Teacher of the Year in 2010.  She was a STAR teacher at the school in 2012 and 2013.

The school board is holding a Fair Dismissal Hearing for another employee tonight at 6:30 p.m.

December 3-- The State of Georgia will launch a new GED® program in January 2014 that has been developed by the national GED Testing Service (GEDTS) in Washington, D.C. 

The change will align the entire GED program with college and career readiness standards and provide the level of academic rigor required by the increased demands of the job market.

Students who are taking the current GED test, but have not passed all five parts, have until the end of 2013 to pass. All partially-completed tests and scores will expire at the end of the year, meaning those students who do not act now will have to completely start over again in 2014 with the new GED test in order to receive their high school equivalency credential.

Students who are still taking the current version should check online at for the last date the current test will be offered in their area and schedule right away to avoid a rush at the end of the year. 

There are several noticeable changes evident in the new 2014 GED test.   The test will only be delivered on computer and therefore must be taken at one of the fifty-seven state-approved GED testing centers. The test, which once had five content areas, will combine the Language Arts Writing and Reading, and have four content areas: Reasoning through Language Arts, Mathematical Reasoning, Science, and Social Studies.  The test will take about seven hours to complete.

The cost to take the full, four-part test will remain at $160. The price for an individual test in 2014 will increase from $32 to $40.

Starting in January, test-takers will use the new MYGED web portal to register for the exam. They will register online, find a testing location convenient to them, and learn about local adult education programs. The GEDReady component of the portal provides an online practice test which gives the student instant feedback as well as suggestions on where improvement or assistance is needed.

The new portal is scheduled to open at the end of November and can be accessed at

Adult education teachers in Georgia have spent the last year attending conferences, webinars and classes to develop the teaching strategies required to successfully assist students as they prepare for the new 2014 GED test.  “We have been working diligently to prepare for this transition to make it as smooth and worry-free as possible for our students.  We want to remind our students that the 2014 GED Tests are different, but not necessarily more difficult”, says Jennifer Todd, an instructor from the adult education program at Oconee Fall Line Technical College. 

Amy Denney, an adult education instructor from Chattahoochee Technical College, emphasizes that obtaining a GED credential is essential in today’s job market. “I feel so much better preparing students to pass an exam that will properly prepare them for the critical thinking and computer skills needed to compete in tomorrow's world. I also feel that Georgia has been the leader in preparing teachers for this new test," said Denney.

The GEDTS has also announced a 2014 GED® Test Retakes Program to assist students who previously failed to complete the GED test with preparing for the new GED test.  The program waives the GEDTS portion of any fees for up to two retakes per failed content area, providing those retakes occur within 12 calendar months. This means that Georgia students will only pay $20 for any retake that meets the criteria.  

“We highly recommend that all GED test-takers take advantage of the free adult education classes available. There are classes in every county scheduled at various times and dates for the convenience of working adults. Georgia’s adult education students can also qualify for financial assistance to help with the cost of the test,” says Beverly Smith, the TCSG assistant commissioner of adult education. 

And, she said, people shouldn’t be overly concerned about the 2014 GED Test. “Change is difficult and this is the most significant change ever to the GED test.  However, our teachers and testing centers throughout the state are ready to support this productive change for the residents of Georgia,” added Smith. “Results show that the pass rate is higher for test-takers who have attended adult education classes.”

Interested GED test-takers can find more information at  People in Georgia can also call the TCSG Office of Adult Education at 1-800-946-9433 (1-800-94MYGED).

The GED test has opened doors to better jobs and college programs for more than 18 million graduates in the U.S. since 1942. Last year nearly 800,000 adults sat for the GED test, which is accepted by virtually all U.S. colleges and employers. In Georgia, almost 16,000 passed the test in 2012.  Still, there are more than 1.2 million adults in Georgia who do not have a high school or GED credential. 


December 3-- Brewton-Parker College Adjunct Professor of Political Science and former BPC Trustee Roger Byrd was elected to the Georgia Baptist Convention Education Commission at the 2013 Annual Meeting.

{mosimage}The Education Commission of the Georgia Baptist Convention supports the ministry of the three Baptist colleges in Georgia and administers several scholarship programs. The Georgia Baptist Colleges are Brewton-Parker College, Truett-McConnell College, and Shorter University. Byrd’s term on the Commission will expire in 2018. 

Byrd said, “I appreciate the opportunity to serve in this capacity. Georgia Baptists have a vested interest in our colleges. If true and complete knowledge is found in Christ Jesus as Colossians 2:3 states, then a Christian liberal arts education is an important part of equipping the Body of Christ to reach the world. It is imperative that Georgia Baptists have vibrant and mission-minded Georgia Baptist colleges. I want to offer what I can to aid in this effort.”


December 3--  Georgia is one of 26 states which doesn't require insurance companies to cover early intervention to treat children with autism.

A Toombs County mother is trying to get that changed.

Anna Bullard has an uphill climb after she attended a hearing by the Georgia Health Mandate Commission and heard it recommend that autism be excluded.

"The General Assembly is not tied to this Mandate Commission.  Regardless of what it recommends, the General Assembly can move forward with the bill," she says.

Bullard knows from personal experience that early treatment is expensive,but worth it.  Her daughter, Ava, was diagnosed when she was two-and-half years old.

"She was a three-year-old not being able to say one word.  She cried all the time.  Now she's a child in fourth grade and no one would know she has autism," she notes.

And that's why Bullard believes it's better long term for the child and society for insurance companies to pay for early intervention.

"Kids make so much progress they need the treatment for a short time.  Long term savings to the state are tremendous, but we can't seem to get that through to our legislators.  They only will stand up for the health care industry.  I'm one mom up there to probably hundreds of lobbyists," she says.

And Anna would like more Moms to experience a day she'll never forget.

"They said we're going to try to help Ava say Momma.  Every week they would work on her saying Momma until one day I walked into the room and she said Momma.  She was four years old and it was the best day of my life," she remembers.

Bullard is hopeful the General Assembly will overrule the Commission and pass legislation in January requiring insurance companies to inlcude autism treatment in their health insurance policies.

December 2-- Randy Strickland, 55, a former Pierce County, Georgia Deputy Sheriff, pled guilty last week before United States District Court Judge William T. Moore, Jr. for his role in trafficking methamphetamine.

According to the evidence presented during his guilty plea hearing, Strickland agreed to act as “security” for individuals he believed were dealing meth, by acting as the lookout. 

Strickland’s drug activities occurred while he was in uniform and armed, and while he was driving his police vehicle.  After receiving information about Strickland’s apparent criminal activities, Pierce County Sheriff Ramsey Bennett immediately requested federal law enforcement assistance. 

As a result, Strickland’s last “security detail” was for a confidential informant and under the watchful eyes of several federal agents.  On that occasion, Strickland agreed to act as the lookout for who he believed to be a drug dealer selling ounces of methamphetamine.  Shortly after receiving his charged fee of $100, which at Strickland’s direction was placed in a potato chip bag on the side of a road, Strickland was arrested by federal authorities.

Strickland faces up to 20 years in prison for his conviction.  There is no parole in the federal system.  Strickland’s sentencing will be scheduled after the U.S. Probation Office completes a presentence investigation report.