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March 31- – Grand Ole Opry star Charlie Daniels is recovering after having a pacemaker implanted today (3-28), at a Nashville area hospital.
During a doctor visit on Monday (3-25), Charlie was diagnosed with a mild case of pneumonia and admitted to the hospital for a series of routine tests.  The tests revealed that a pacemaker was needed to regulate his heart rate.

He plans to be released from the hospital on Friday (3-29).  The family asks for your thoughts and prayers for Charlie as he recovers.  He will spend the next two weeks at his home.
Charlie recently celebrated 5 years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry, where he is a regular performer.

“I just had not been feeling well and wanted to get checked out,” says Daniels.  “I am thankful the doctors found the problem and were able to implant a pacemaker to get my heart rate regulated.  I am feeling so much better and looking forward to spending Easter with my family.”
Charlie’s performance at MTSU’s Murphy Center in Murfreesboro, TN, as part of the World Outreach Church Easter service,  has been cancelled.
Two CDB concert dates, Englewood, NJ (4-5), and Newark, OH (4-6) have been cancelled and will be re-scheduled.  Charlie will resume his touring schedule with an appearance in Lynchburg, VA on April 11th and continue his tour schedule with the following dates:
Verona, NY (4-12), Chester, WV (4-13), Opry (4-18), Vidalia, GA (4-20), Wilkesboro, NC (4-25), Florence, SC (4-26), Priceville, AL (4-27), Indio, CA (4-28)
For more info on The Charlie Daniels Band tour dates, go to



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Charlie Daniels

March 29--  The 9th edition of Tales From the Altamaha is almost here and playwright Laurie Jo Upchurch of Appling County has the task of converting the writings of Colonel T. Ross Sharpe into stage adaptations.  She has been the playwright for the last 7 years of the production. 


“I was approached by Better Hometown.  Their previous playwright had to drop out for health reasons and they asked if I would like to become the playwright and so I prayed about it and said yes, I would love to do that.”  She added, “This year is about bringing more things that you love of Tales From the Altamaha and stepping it up a notch.  We’ve got some new songs and a new band member who brings a lot to the mix.  We’ve got some new cast members that we haven’t had yet as well as our old favorite people that come back every year and reprise their characters.”


Upchurch said, “Each story each year is brand new.  It’s even better than it was last year.  I begin writing the new plays in June, so I write from June until August and September and then I turn the script over to Lyons Better Hometown.  They get it published and then we hold auditions.”


In addition to the playwright, Upchurch is also an actress.  “I actually have a scene this year.  I’m kind of the fallback woman if somebody gets sick or can’t be there for various reasons”, she stated.


For more information on this year’s Tales From the Altamaha, contact the Lyons Better Hometown Office at 526-6445.


March 28--  In a called meeting, the Toombs County Commission approved the submittal of an application of a Community Development Block Grant for $500,000 to be used on a facility for the Mercy Clinic.  The approval was delayed from the last regular meeting in order to make necessary changes to the wording prior to approval and the application deadline of April 1st.  A decision on whether or not they will receive the grant should come from the Department of Community Affairs sometime this summer.  This is the same type grant that was used to fund the new Boys and Girls Club in Vidalia.


In conjunction, the Vidalia City Council approved in a called meeting the waiving of the water and sewer tap fees and building permit fees for the Mercy Clinic facility, pending approval of the grant.  In addition, the City of Vidalia also approved Sara Davis of Associates in Local Government of Alma, Georgia as the administrator of their own Community Development Block Grant application.  The city’s grant is also for $500,000 and will be used for water, sewer, and drainage issues within the city.  Hofstadter and Associates of Macon, Georgia was approved as the engineer for the project.  The city previously approved an additional $386,000 to go with the $500,000 grant for a project total of $886,000.


{mosimage}March 27--  Lyons Police Chief Wesley Walker reports a joint effort by the Vidalia Police Department, the Toombs County Sheriff’s Office, Lyons Police Department, East Central Drug Task Force, and the Department of Corrections Probation Division led to the arrest of Casey Bruns of 245 W. Wesley Ave Lyons, Ga. and the seizure of approximately 8 grams of methamphetamines (ICE) and approximately 1 ounce of marijuana. 

On March 20, 2013 the Vidalia Police Department received information about Bruns illegal activity and contacted the Sheriff’s Office to help positively identify the target.  Once the target was identified the Lyons Police Department and the East Central Drug Task Force were contacted along with the local Probation Office.  Subsequently a search of Bruns residence was conducted and the illegal contraband was found and Bruns was arrested. 

This was good police work on part of all agencies involved and goes to show that the local law enforcement agencies are effectively working together to combat the illicit drug activity in our county.  Bruns was charged with Possession of Methamphetamine with intent to distribute and Possession of Marijuana with intent to distribute.  Bruns remains in the Toombs County Jail awaiting arraignment.


March 27--  John Burgess, Site Manager for LanzaTech Freedom Pines Biorefinery in Soperton recently visited Vidalia to speak to the local Rotary Club.  LanzaTech plans to utilize some of the existing technology at the former Range Fuels facility in Soperton alongside their own technology to produce clean, renewable fuels and chemicals from waste biomass.  “Primarily that’s ethanol and other value added chemicals that traditionally come from commodity based feed stocks.” Burgess said. 


We’re currently evaluating the site so we’re doing a complete shakedown of all of the technology that was left behind and we’re diligently analyzing that to determine whether that is a technology that will remain at the site or we will replace it with something that is otherwise commercially available.” Burgess stated. 


“The next steps for Freedom Pines are the design, installation, and construction of the gas fermenters.  In parallel with that we will be doing the remediation or replacement of the front end gasification technology.  Conversationally, that’s a 20 to 24 month proposition from the day we break ground.”  Burgess added, “One of our priorities is to build a manufacturing base in the Treutlen County and surrounding counties.  We would envision staffing of that plant to be initially to be 50 to 75 people and that’s for the phase one.  The nice thing and part of the reason that Freedom Pines is of strategic interest to the company is it has the potential to expand to a much greater capacity than that and of course that economic impact would expand along with that.”

LanzaTech was founded in New Zealand in 2005 and was the only renewable fuels company named to Forbes top 100 list of America’s Most Promising Companies.  

March 26-- More teenagers die in traffic accidents in southeast Georgia than in any other part of the state.  The main reason is they don't wear seat belts.

Billy Fulks from the Georgia Department of Health is heading a program to turn that around.  It's called "Drive Alive."

"When we look at the state as a whole, we're doing very well.  Eight-eight to eighty-nine percent of the folks are buckling up.  When we get out to the rural areas, especially the southeast, we have a problem with teen drivers and our death rate is higher than any part of the state," Fulks says.

Bonnie Brantley with the local "Safe Kids" program says surveys at Vidalia High School and Toombs County High School show only about 20 percent of the teenage drivers are buckled up.

The percentage at Wayne County High School in Jesup was low, too, until a popular teenager was killed.  His friend, Hope Waldron, says 80 percent of her schoolmates are now using seat belts.

"It was because of seeing such a young person lose his life."  But she admits before that, it wasn't cool to buckle up.

"A lot of kids my age are very immature and they don't think it's cool to wear a seat belt.  They think it's not popular to wear a seat belt, but if more kids take a stand it will be more popular and there'll be a lot of lives changed because one person took a stand and did something," she believes.

A sophomore at Vidalia High School is alive today because she was wearing her seat belt.  Adeline Frost was calling her Mom on her cellphone when she lost control of her car only three days after getting her driver's license.

"I don't remember looking down but I do remember looking up.  That was the scariest experience of my life.  You don't realize how far you move in three seconds.  I know it (the seat belt) saved me because I would have gone outside the car and I would have been underneath the car," she remembers. 

Fulks says he frustrated because in the 26 southeast Georgia counties with the biggest problem, only 13 schools are allowing their students to cooperate with the "Drive Alive" program in an effort to educate students that seat belts save lives.

March 20--  If you can't read, you're in trouble and the Vidalia City School System is doing something about it.

"Reading is a predictor of future success.  There's a direct correlation between your reading skills and why and how you're going to graduate and what place you're going to gradutate when you're a senior," observes Lucy Claroni, the Curriculum Director for the school system.

The school system has received a $1 million grant to improve reading in its four schools.  

It will help teachers learn how to teach reading better, buy books for libraries and classrooms and invest in new technology.

"Right now we don't even have enough money to buy textbooks.  With the grant we'll have a rich environment with books and down the line each child will have an E-Reader to download their textbooks and books they enjoy reading into their E-Reader," she says.

Claroni says it costs the school system a quarter-million dollars each time it buys a new textbook.  These expenses can be avoided in the future.

"Whenever there is an update, students can download an update.  For example, science textbooks and history textbooks get outdated monthly," she reports.

Part of the grant program calls for assessments of students' reading progress and that's where parents come in.

"Parents need to be aware of those assessments and when they see those assessments and what their child's strengths and weaknesses are, they need to ask the child's reading teacher what they can do at home to strengthen the child's weaknesses.  It also doesn't matter what grade level their child is in because we're working with all grade levels from kindergarten to high school," Claroni says.

March 20--  Toombs County officials are concerned about slowing tax revenue collections.

County Manager John Jones told the March meeting of the Toombs County Commission that local sales tax collections are down 12% this year.  He also reports initial collection of the new transportation sales tax is less than expected by about $9,000.  Jones said collections of $30,000 had been projected in the first month, but only $21,000 was collected.

At the same time, the county is expecting quotes on county employee health insurance soon and Jones is anticipating premium increases of between 15% and 25%.

He alerted the Commissioners that adjustments to the county budget may be necessary unless something changes in the next few months.

The Commission accepted the resignation of county Solicitor Paul Threlkeld who is moving to a law firm in Savannah.  Governor Nathan Deal will appoint an interim successor pending a special election next year.

The county is considering a recycling program at the county landfill for plastic, cardboard and glass.  It's also looking for property to open new convenience centers in the north and south parts of the county.

{mosimage}As part of its employee recognition program, Charles Newsome was thanked for 35 years as a county employee.  He currently works at the landfill.

The Commission also named county Ordinance Control Officer Skipper Smith as the Toombs County Employee of the Month. 

March 20--  The Montgomery County school system is considering a change to its school calendar.

At its March meeting, the county school board heard a proposal from Superintendent Randy Rodgers which would reduce the number of school days but increase the number of hours in each school day.

Rodgers said the option is like the one currently employed by Toombs County and would reduce the number of class days by about 13 while lengthening the school day by a half-hour.  Classes would start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 3:15 p.m.

The board took the recommendation under advisement and will decide on the calendar at a future meeting.

The superintendent also informed the board that he's seeing a downward trend in the collection of sales taxes which, if it continues, could further hurt the school system's finances.

{mosimage}Rodgers (left) recognized Gail Bellew as the school system's Special Education Teacher of the Year.  She teaches at the Montgomery County Elementary School.

March 19--  The Savannah Morning News reports a judge in Spalding County has ruled against environmentalists trying to protect the Ogeechee River from pollution by a Screven County plant.

The Ogeechee Riverkeeper has lost an effort to force the shutdown of unpermitted pollution from a Screven County textile processor.

In a judgement issued last week, Spalding County Superior Court Judge Christopher C. Edwards found that the state’s top pollution regulator, Environmental Protection Division Director Judson Turner, “acted reasonably under the circumstances and consistent with the provisions of the Georgia Water Quality Control Act” in allowing the discharge to continue.

Click here to read Judge Edwards' 15-page order on the Ogeechee River case.

Georgia law affords the director enforcement discretion, saying he may order a violator’s activity to cease but not that he must do so, Edwards ruled.

“The legislature and the Director are both authorized by law to make these ‘guns or butter’ economic decisions, balancing the externalities of pollution — our innocent children will swim in an ocean we are allowing to contain some small quantity of formaldehyde and other pollutants — against the benefits of industry — the parents of these same innocent children have jobs and our workers including brave firefighters have fire retardant clothing,” the order states.

In reacting to the order, Riverkeeper attorney Don Stack rejected this reasoning, saying it was “ridiculous and sad that people continue to think that there must be a choice made between clean, healthy water and economic vitality.”

“Additionally, unfortunately, the belief that the illegal discharges result in some undefined acceptable levels of formaldehyde in the ocean, more than 70 miles downstream of the source, completely ignores the impacts those discharges have on the people who use the Ogeechee at and just below the plant,” Stack said. “Dilution is not the solution to pollution. Prevention of pollution should be the goal of all citizens of the State. Those efforts should be led by EPD. Instead the State hinders the efforts of those most affected. That is reprehensible.”

In May 2011, the Ogeechee was the site of a fish kill that left 38,000 fish dead; all were discovered below King America Finishing’s discharge pipe. EPD’s follow-up investigation revealed the company’s fire retardant processing line that had been operating for five years without a pollution permit.

The EPD issued a letter that July informing the company it could restart the fire retardant line under specified conditions while a permit was being developed.

That permit was issued more than a year later in August 2012 but withdrawn in October in response to a legal challenge.

A new permit is in the works that includes a previously omitted analysis of whether lowering water quality is necessary to accommodate economic development.

Attorneys for the nonprofit Ogeechee Riverkeeper filed its request for the judge to order the shutdown Nov. 13 in Superior Court of Screven County arguing a permit — not a letter — is required. The case was subsequently moved to Spalding County, where EPD Director Turner resides.

In a February hearing, the EPD’s Program Manager Elizabeth Booth testified that “the company was cooperating with EPD and that the monitoring and testing results showed that the company’s discharge was neither toxic nor violating water quality standards,” the order states.


Clean Water Act

Edwards’ order agreed with the EPD director that the Riverkeeper lacked standing and that a different course of action, namely a Clean Water Act suit in federal court, is the proper legal remedy in this case.

“The Director asserts that, because this legal remedy was specifically created for situations where the regulatory agency ‘cannot or will not command compliance,’ as in this case, it must be considered an adequate remedy at law.”

The Riverkeeper has already filed a Clean Water Act citizen suit in the southern district of Georgia, but Stack said he was astonished that state regulators sent its citizens to the federal government for relief.

“It’s like, OK you have some other alternative so don’t look to us to enforce the law,” Stack said. “Even though the state law is directly on point and we’re the waste regulators. And these are the same people who get upset with the feds interfering with governments within their boundaries.”

Assistant EPD director Jim Ussery said the judge made the right decision.

“The director does have broad discretion and exercised this in crafting the remedy,” he said.

EPD negotiated what it decided was a safe discharge, according to Ussery. Stopping the fire retardant line would have effectively shut the company down, Ussery said.

“It would have been a punitive action with no environmental or public health purpose,” he said.

King America Finishing issued a statement Friday saying, “King America Finishing is very pleased that the Spalding County Superior Court denied the legal action seeking to forcibly shut down the plant in Screven County. We are also pleased with Judge Edwards’ ruling that the Georgia EPD has acted reasonably in its actions both to protect the Ogeechee River and to protect the jobs of the hundreds of Georgians who work at the King America plant. We look forward to continuing to manufacture our life-saving products in full compliance with environmental laws and regulations.”



March 19--  Georgia's new vehicle title tax started the first of the month and some customers are a little confused about the new system.

Chris Reeves with Harton Chevrolet-Buick-GMC in Vidalia says buyers need to know it's a good deal.

"For some reason they think now they're having to pay sales tax and when they get to the tag office they're going to have to pay ad valorem taxes which is untrue.

"There is no longer a sales tax added on a vehicle.  It's called a Tax Ad Valorem and what happens is once they pay this one time at the dealership, when they go to the tag office from now till they get rid of that car, they will no longer have to pay ad valorem tax on the vehicle.  They will have to pay the annual tag fee which probably runs around $20, but they will no longer pay ad valorem taxes on the vehicle," Reeves notes.

Reeves says the new title tax is actually less than buyers were paying before March.

"If there's a rebate, they take that off before the tax ad valorem is added.  Even if you have a trade, they take that off and you take the rebate off.  So, it's really helping people because the tax rate went from 8% to 6.5%, there's no longer a SLPOST fee which was one percent on the first $5,000 and that's no longer out there," he says.

In Reeves opinion, the new system may not help state revenue as much as lawmakers thought.

"I don't know how long this is going to last because it's actually been better for the consumer than it has been for the state," he says.

On thing the new law does do is close a loophole on vehicle sales between private individuals.  When you go to get your title on a private sale, you'll have to pay a sales tax before you can get your tag and title.

March 18-- This article on inequities in Georgia public school funding was published today on "Georgia News Clips."  You can subscribe to this daily statewide news service for $6 a month.  For info, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Poorest schools don't receive equalized funding
by JAMES SALZER, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA (AP) — Gov. Nathan Deal won praise in January when he announced plans to plow an additional $40 million into struggling Georgia school districts that are having trouble raising enough money to educate their children.

What neither the governor nor applauding lawmakers knew at the time was that virtually the entire increase next year will flow to Gwinnett, Clayton and Paulding County schools. Many of the small-town systems that most Georgians would call poor are getting nothing.

That's according to calculations the Georgia Department of Education recently made using a new equalization funding formula legislators approved last year. About two-thirds of districts get the money on top of their regular state allocation to help address the financial disparity between wealthy and poor systems.

Gwinnett County's equalization take alone next year will rise from $43.2 million to $65.6 million. Meanwhile, dozens of small, rural systems in Georgia — and many of metro Atlanta's biggest systems — will get no extra funding. It makes some superintendents wonder whether the formula was drawn to help certain districts and not others.

"I am not sure there is anything equal about it," said Cherokee County Superintendent Frank Petruzielo. "It seems to me that it is the most politically motivated component of education funding in Georgia."

House Education Chairman Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, who co-chaired an education funding commission that recommended the changes to the equalization law, said politics has nothing to do with it. Gwinnett, he said, is benefiting from the formula used to determine payouts because it has a giant, growing student enrollment at the same time property values have tanked.

"There was nothing done to specifically help Gwinnett," Coleman said. "It's a function of the numbers."

Brian Robinson, spokesman for Deal, said the governor didn't know where the extra money was going when he proposed the increase.

"The Legislature changed the way we calculate equalization last year. We fully funded the formula that is now in the law," he said.

Using more up-to-date enrollment and financial data, the House slightly altered Deal's original request, approving $474.4 million in equalization funding for the upcoming school year, up from $436.1 million this year. Excluding Gwinnett, Clayton and Paulding, the amount of equalization funding would actually drop, slightly, next year. About half of all equalization funds go to suburban or exurban metro Atlanta-area districts.

The equalization fund, set up in 1985, is supposed to provide greater equity in school funding for systems with lower property tax bases. It was often thought of as a way to help poor, rural districts that can raise little from property taxes. But the collapse of the real estate market in metro Atlanta changed the equation, and the largest grants in recent years have gone to districts that are neither rural nor comparatively poor.

The state's formula for disbursing the money uses the number of students in the district, the value of property and the property tax rate. A property wealth-to-student ratio qualifies some suburban and urban districts to receive grants.

In the final hours of their 2012 session, state legislators passed a bill intended to slow the growth of the equalization fund and get more money to poor rural districts. The changes reduced the number of systems getting equalization — weeding out some of those deemed too "wealthy." In some cases, rural districts got more. In others, they were left out completely.

Gwinnett has been getting an increased share of equalization money in recent years because it has the right combination of rapid enrollment growth and eroded tax base.

Rick Cost, the school system's chief financial officer, noted that in 2007, Gwinnett schools enrolled 9.1 percent of all students in Georgia. Its tax digest was 8.9 percent of the state's total. Next year, he said, Gwinnett will enroll 9.9 percent of all students in the state, but its tax digest will amount to 8 percent of the state's total.

In 2007, Gwinnett didn't qualify for equalization funding. Since then, it has been ranked poorer and poorer by the state formula, and has collected an extra $186 million. That money goes to help offset the system's loss in property tax money.

"Since fiscal 2008 ... we have lost $143 million in annual local tax revenue ... and we have 26,000 more students," he said.

The tax base in many systems has plummeted since the recession, but enrollment in those districts is not growing like Gwinnett's. Enrollment in DeKalb, Cobb and the city of Atlanta systems, for instance, has remained about the same or fallen since the October 2007 count. Enrollment in much of rural Georgia has been stable or fallen as well.

Gwinnett is often considered an innovator in education. Even in tight times, it is making a digital push to invest $54 million in technology improvements that, within a few years, will make hardback textbooks obsolete, allow students 24 /7 access to their schoolwork and give teachers the ability to give tests and track student success — all via the Internet.

By contrast, some of the small, rural systems missing out on equalization have one teacher per subject in their high schools, few advanced courses or foreign language options, no financial reserves to fall back on and no hope of raising serious money from property taxes.

Quitman County's district, with 345 students, has a much smaller enrollment than most Gwinnett elementary schools. Its superintendent, Allen Fort, worries about having to lay off one or two of his few teachers because of limited funds.

"But somehow we're richer than Gwinnett County," said Fort, whose Southwest Georgia district doesn't qualify for equalization funding. "Don't call it equalization, because it's not equal."

Fort said Quitman schools raise about $70,000 from a mill of property taxes. The system's budget is $3 million.

"One mill (of property taxes) in Gwinnett County could run my system for 10 years," he said. "I am not against Gwinnett getting money, I am just trying to figure out how we got none."

Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, a member of the Senate education and appropriations committees, represents much of Southwest Georgia. Several of her districts don't receive equalization funding.

"If you look at the financial challenges these districts continue to have, it's not fair," she said. "There needs to be a concerted effort to take a long, hard look at how you define equalization. Without proper funding, there is no way for our students to compete against students from other parts of the state."

David L. Sjoquist, a state tax and funding expert at Georgia State University's Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, noted that officials have made efforts in the past to lessen the amount of equalization money going to districts like Gwinnett.

"Everybody has looked at that and scratched their head. Everybody has looked at that and said, 'That's not fair,'" he said.

Sjoquist said there have been proposals in the past to incorporate some measure of personal wealth into the equation, which would help places like Quitman County, where household income is about half of Gwinnett's, and the poverty rate is twice Gwinnett's. But so far the idea hasn't gone anywhere.

Coleman, the Gwinnett lawmaker, said counties like Gwinnett and Clayton get the equalization money because they have "earned it" under a formula designed to help systems that need it the most. "Gwinnett is big, and it's poor," he said.

But Gwinnett also has a strong legislative delegation, and the school system has its own lobbyist at the Capitol. Fort has a hard time believing Gwinnett's political clout hasn't played a role in developing and maintaining a system that benefits the local school system.

"Clout, hell, they've got a sledgehammer," he said. "There are more senators and representatives in Gwinnett County than there are in South Georgia. In the end, we don't matter."



March 18-- According to Emanuel County Sheriff J. Tyson Stephens, a wanted sex offender, DECHANE SHAMIK JONES, age 21, has been arrested without incident by the U.S Marshals’ Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force (SERFTF) and the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office at an East Dublin,GA, residence.

{mosimage}Jones had warrants outstanding for his arrest for Failing to Register as a Sex Offender in Emanuel County and for Probation Violations.

The Emanuel County Sheriff’s Office and the Swainsboro Police Department assisted the SERFTF in locating Jones. Jones has been returned to the Emanuel County Sheriff’s Detention Center where he will be held without bond until his court appearance.

The Emanuel County Sheriff’s Office Sex Offender Registry and Tracking Unit (SORT) is responsible for maintaining a registry of all sex offenders residing and working in Emanuel County.

To find more information about SORT, go to the sheriff’s new website at Anyone with information helpful to this or any other case is asked to call the Emanuel County Sheriff’s Office at (478) 237-7526.

March 18--  The Toombs County Board of Education has avoided a Superior Court hearing by reaching an out-of-court settlement with one of its teachers.

In February the school board suspended social studies teacher and soccer coach Jimmy Price for 90 days without pay and ordered him to repay $3,509.77 in funds missing from school candy sales and concession stand sales at soccer games.

Price appealed to the Georgia Board of Education because state law limits a suspension to 60 days.  He also obtained a temporary injunction in Toombs County Superior Court preventing the school board from conducting a second hearing to reconsider its earlier ruling.  

A hearing to make the injunction permanent had been scheduled for February 21.

Price's attorney, Hugh McCullough of Glennville, says the two parties have reached agreement stipulating that Price's suspension is reduced to the legal limit of 60 days and that he will make restitution of the missing money.

McCullough also says his client has never been accused of stealing the funds but does admit to "lax management" of how the funds were collected and accounted for.

In other Toombs County school board news, the board awarded a contract at its March meeting for site preparation for the new Toombs County High School.

Karl Owens' OCS, Incorporated of Vidalia submitted a low bid of $692,872 to ready the land adjacent to the current high school location for the new school.

School Superintendent Dr. Kim Corley reports she is awaiting receipt of state funding allotments for next year so she can complete the school system's budget.  She's hopeful there'll be no need for job cuts nor furloughs.  At the same time, she's not ruling out a property tax increase if needed.  Dr. Corley notes Toombs County has one of the lowest school property tax rates in the state and may be forced to relook the situation if the state continues cuts to the system's allocation.

Dr. Corley also reports all of the school systems teachers and para-professionals have obtained highly quaified status in their subject areas and that Toombs County High School has been named an "AP Challenge School" for offering advanced placement classes to its stuents in all academic areas.

The school board also saluted Toombs County High School wrestler Xavier Horne for winning the state AA wrestling championship in his weight classification.

March 16-- Six students from Montgomery County Elementary School attended the spring edition of the fourth annual “Step Up and Lead” conference.

{mosimage}Montgomery County Elementary School Student Council officers attending the conference are (L-R standing) Sarah Ortiz, Emily Walker, Ryan Holton and Macie Pittman and (sitting L-R) Jamiya Bryant and Trey Ricks. Teachers Sarah Rich and Wesley Bratton accompanied the students.

Coming from all parts of the state, elementary and middle school students had the opportunity to attend the “Step Up and Lead” conference series. A joint effort of Georgia 4-H and the Georgia Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals,  “Step Up and Lead” conferences focus on cultivating leadership skills in elementary and middle school students while providing adult leaders with a framework for engaging these students when they return to school. 

The conference was held in Tifton at the University of Georgia Tifton Campus Conference Center on Thursday, March 7th. Youth from all parts of the state were able to participate in interactive activities designed by youth development professionals. 

“Step Up and Lead” Conferences feature motivational speakers and exciting, interactive workshops.  Workshops are designed to engage and empower youth in future leadership initiatives. These three sessions focused on Team Building and Cooperation, Planning and Organizing, and Building Communication Skills. 



March 15--  The Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) provides a weekly update to its members regarding legislation in the General Assembly.  Here's this week's report from the its perspective.

"Legislators have wasted no time this year checking off the official 40 days of the 2013 legislative calendar. This week, the General Assembly set the schedule for the final days of the legislative session with plans to end their work before the end of March. Watch for a flurry of activity over the next week as legislators work to amend bills to get their priorities considered. As a result, the ACCG policy staff and interns are keeping a close watch on committee work and floor amendments. The legislative schedule for the next two weeks is as follows:  

·        Day 35: Wednesday March 20

·        Day 36: Thursday March 21

·        Day 37: Friday March 22

·        Day 38: Monday March 25

·        Day 39: Tuesday March 26

·        Day 40: Thursday March 28 

 Watch for issues such as ethics reform to generate much debate and media interest as legislators try to resolve differences between the House and Senate approaches to this high visibility issue.  

Juvenile Justice Reform Heads to the Senate Floor Next Week

HB 242 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, March 13. The bill was amended to extend the timeline for custody hearings and related summons from 24 hours to 72 hours, thereby eliminating the need to staff the courthouse on the weekends. The bill was further amended to clarify that a court appointed special advocate (CASA) shall be appointed as a guardian ad litem (GAL) whenever possible in all cases, eliminating the cost of an additional attorney. It was also amended to allow the court to make the determination as to whether expenses should be charged to the counties in juvenile proceedings within a 120 day timeframe. It was further amended to specifically state that counties are responsible for expenses related to superior court proceedings when a child is prosecuted as an adult. Additional changes were made that do not impact counties. To review the complete summary for HB 242, please see the sectional summary.

Bill to Allow Guns in Courthouses and Government Buildings will Likely Get Senate Hearing Soon

HB 512 is this session’s omnibus gun legislation that lifts several current prohibitions on where concealed firearms and other weapons may be carried.  Importantly to counties, it authorizes the carrying of guns into courthouses and other county government buildings that do not have security guards who screen ingress into these facilities. ACCG has offered acompromise with the author to leave this decision to local governments, but to no avail.       

ACCG is opposed to the state, not local governments, authorizing guns in courthouses and government buildings and asks that you please contact your Senators immediately to let them know any concerns your county may have. The bill will likely get a hearing next week in the Senate Judiciary Non-CivilCommittee.     

Contact Legislators about Forestland Protection Act Grants and HB 19

HB 197 is pending in the Senate Finance Committee and, if passed, will encourage more timber owners to enroll land in the Forest Land Protection Act. The state is currently a year and a half behind paying their constitutionally obligated share of this program’s costs to the local governments. Please encourage your legislators to appropriate what is already owed to the counties before passing HB 197 to further expand this program. For 2011, the state has not paid the local governments $5.6 million in approved grants. The State of Georgia is budgeting for the 2012 grants in the FY 2014 budget. The amount budgeted, $14.2 million, is almost $8 million short of the estimated $22 million that will be needed to pay for the 2012 grants. Make sure your legislators know the amount your county is owed and the impact the late and underfunded payments will have on your budget.

To see the entire Legislative Update, click here.



March 14--  The former police chief in Lyons is going to jail.

{mosimage}Ricky Newsome (left, with attorney Joe McGovern) was sentenced Thursday afternoon in Toombs County Superior Court by Judge Cathy Palmer. 

After hearing recommendations from Middle Judicial Circuit District Attorney Hayward Altman, Judge Palmer sentenced Newsome to ten years in prison and five years on probation for violating his oath of office and distributing marijuana.  The maximum he could have received was 25 years.

Newsome was arrested in September, 2011 and has been out on bail after confessing to his crimes.

He apologized before sentence was passed and asked for mercy.

"I regret what I did.  It was wrong and I lost the trust of the citizens of Lyons.  Most of all I hurt my wife and family, but that's no excuse.  I did wrong and would like to take this time to apologize for what I did and ask the court to have mercy on me," he said.

Newsome's wife Brenda, who has lung cancer, and Pastor Stephen Toole of the Cedar Crossing Church of God, asked the judge for leniency.

Judge Palmer passed sentence and said, "What you did totally reflected on the office of Chief that you held and on the good work of everyone working under you.  You disgraced the badge," she said.

Newsome was ordered to report Monday morning when  his sentence will begin.

March 14--  The emergency management director in Montgomery County has been terminated.

The County Commission announced the departure of John Neff following an executive session Monday.  Neff has been with the county for five years.

The commission also plans to start advertising for a fulltime county manager the next two weeks.

In other actions, it authorized John Roller of Mount Vernon to oversee county road resurfacing and agreed to start working on a resolution seeking continuation of a one cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

March 14--  The Vidalia City School System is facing a $1 million shortfall in its operating budget next year.

School Superintendent Dr. Garrett Wilcox briefed the school board at its March meeting Tuesday night.

The school system has suffered a $2.5 million budget reduction in the last seven years and has eliminated over 40 jobs during that period.

Most of the cuts were made when people retired and their jobs weren't filled, however, Dr. Wilcox is afraid other jobs will be impacted in the new budget.

"We hope not.  Most of those jobs in the past went by the wayside by attrition, and we'll have several more this year with folks retiring, but we're probably at the point now that attrition won't get us to that $1 million number and that's the sad part of all this.

"We don't have any choice but to protect our core curriculum.  The staff has met and we've started the process.  We're all aware of what it means to make these cuts and what it means to the school system and who we are moving forward.

"The worst part is that the kids suffer from all this.  There are some programs that the kids hold dear and the parents hold dear that will have to be considered as we try to come up with this money," he said.

The school system's reserve has dropped from more than $3 million two years ago to $1.2 million now.

The school board authorized Dr. Wilcox to use $200,000 of that to help meet next year's shortfall.  He says the monthly payroll for the system is about $1 million.

The school board is expected to get recommendations on how to deal with the $1 million shortfall in May or June, Dr. Wilcox reports.

The state has reduced funding to the school system by nearly $12 million since 2003.










 $        219,429.00

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 $        459,891.00

 $        679,320.00


 $        539,755.00

 $    1,219,075.00


 $        539,750.00

 $    1,758,825.00


 $        261,489.00

 $    2,020,314.00


 $        214,164.00

 $    2,234,478.00


 $        802,372.00

 $    3,036,850.00


 $    2,092,217.00

 $    5,129,067.00


 $    1,646,892.00

 $    6,775,959.00


 $    1,738,431.00

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 $    1,739,191.00

 $  10,253,581.00


 $    1,739,191.00

 $  11,992,772.00


Meanwhile, the price of school lunches will go up slightly next year because of state guidelines.  The price will increase a dime for all students except those who qualify for reduced lunch prices.


March 13--  The organizer for this year's Vidalia Onion Festival "Gospel Music Fest" in downtown Vidalia died suddenly at his home on Taylor Springs Road Wednesday morning.

{mosimage}Paula Toole of the Downtown Vidalia Association says Rickey Palmer in his role as "Pilgrim, The Clown" was downtown last Friday promoting the Gospel Sing which will feature "The Dixie Sonlighters" and other groups from around the state who have been invited to perform.

Rickey's wife, Mary, says the sing will go on as scheduled and she will host, "because Rickey would have wanted me to."

The sing will be held in Meadows Street Park April 19-20.

Paula says anyone who can help the family defray funeral expenses is urged to contact the Ronald V. Hall Funeral Home in Vidalia, 537-7877. 

March 12--  The city of Vidalia's operating budget was already tight this year, and now it's even tighter.

City manager Bill Torrance told the city council Monday night the annual franchise payment from Georgia Power is about $100,000 less than budgeted and that city department heads have been told to cut expenses wherever possible.

City finance director Bill Bedingfield reports Local Option Sales tax collections this year are down more than five percent while tax revenue on alcohol is up nearly three percent and the hotel/motel tax is up more than 19 percent.

Meanwhile, the council gave the go ahead to negotiate with a solar company which wants to lease city land off Aimwell Road for solar panels.  Hannah Solar of Atlanta says it will pay $15,000 a year for the lease.

In other actions, the council okayed a license for a new game room on McIntosh Street across from God's Storehouse with the warning that one case of disturbing the peace could lead to revocation.

It approved a temporary alcohol permit to the Vidalia Onion Festival Committee.  It permits the sale of beer from four till ten p.m. Saturday in the area fenced off for the Charley Daniels concert at the airport festival site.

The council also agreed to negotiate with a promoter who wants to bring a Luke Bryan concert to the airport in October.   

March 12--  School administrators around Georgia are keeping an eye on what happened yesterday at Dublin High School.  It could save them lots of money in energy costs in coming years.

{mosimage}Groundbreaking was held for solar panels that Dublin High School plans to use to provide electricity at the school.

"This is going to be a very positive thing for us. It will start saving money for us immediately," Dublin City Schools Superintendent Dr. Chuck Ledbetter said.

"The bottom line is its going to reduce our power bill," Ledbetter said. "Over time as power rates go up over the course of the lease, it saves us even more money."

In the first year alone, the power plant is expected to save the school district $100,000 and cut one furlough day. Ledbetter says over the next 25 years, the district will save $3.5 million.

MAGE SOLAR is supplying the materials for power plant. Over the next 25 years, the school district will lease it from Greenovations for $300,000 a year.

Solar panels on the roofs and ground at the high school will turn sunlight directly into electricity, enough to power the entire school.

On days where it is rainy or overcast, Dublin High School won't be in a blackout. Instead, it will buy energy from Georgia Power like normal.

Construction is set to begin immediately. The solar panels should be up and running by June.

March 12-- According to Emanuel County Sheriff J. Tyson Stephens, a joint investigation involving the Emanuel County Sheriff’s Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has resulted in the arrest of Samantha Janes SCOTT (21) and Randy Lee SCOTT (36). Both are charged with Murder and
Concealing the Death of Another.

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The charges result after investigators initiated a missing person case after Kenneth Wiley JANES, the father of Samantha Scott, was reported missing by concerned citizens.

Investigators ultimately located the body of a person believed to be Kenneth Janes in a makeshift grave on Friday, March 8th, at the Scott Family Cemetery in northern Emanuel County.

Samantha Scott has an additional charge of Financial Transaction Card Fraud. Randy Lee Scott is also charged with two counts of Possession of Firearm by Convicted Felon.

Sheriff Stephens stated that he “certainly regrets the circumstances of the case for the concerned family members of Mr. Janes. I wish to thank the investigators, GBI agents and officers from assisting agencies for their hard work and effort in the investigation of this case.”

District Attorney Hayward Altman offered his condolences to the family of the victim for the loss they have suffered.

Mr. Altman also expressed his gratitude for the excellent work conducted by the Emanuel County Sheriff’s Office Investigative Division and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, specifically GBI Special Agent Joshua Alford and Chief Investigator Rocky Davis for following up on the initial report of the missing person.

Investigators have been assisted in the case by the District Attorney’s Office for the Middle Circuit of Georgia, the Emanuel County Coroner’s Office and the East Central Georgia Drug Task Force.

Anyone with information helpful to this case is asked to call either of the following agencies: Emanuel County Sheriff’s Office at (478) 237-7526, GBI Region 12 at (478) 374-6988 or the District Attorney’s Office at (478) 237-7846.

March 11– Wendy Brannen, who has served as executive director of the Vidalia® Onion Committee (VOC) since July 2005, has resigned to take a position with U.S. Apple Association in Washington, DC. 

{mosimage}“This has not been a job.  This has been a joy,” said Brannen of her time at the VOC.  She continued, “These growers and packers, the industry, and the Vidalia community have been beyond good to me.  While I look forward to working in a new industry in a new place, I will always be thankful for this tremendous adventure and without a doubt will continue to be a Vidalia onion ambassador.” 

Jason Herndon of Herndon Farms in Lyons, Georgia, vice-chairperson of the VOC, commented, “It has been a pleasure for us in the Vidalia industry to have Wendy on board with us for the last eight years.  We hate to see her move on, but we all understand the name of the game. She has really helped us to become a major marketed commodity and shown great leadership and focus in helping to ensure our marketing strategies were successful. We will sincerely miss her but wish her the best in her new position with U.S. Apple.”

During hertenure with Vidalia onions, Brannen redeveloped the industry’s website, introduced the group to social media strategy, and expanded retail outreach through broad-based consumer programs including online contests and giveaways, downloadable coupons, and paid advertising.  Her signature strategy, however, has been developing major promotional partnerships.

In 2012, Brannen directed the Sweet Vidalias & Country Music promotion with Universal Music Group, Nashville.  During that program, the VOC launched a new Vidalia Facebook page that garnered almost 36,000 fans in the four-month promotional window.  Fifty thousand Vidalia coupons were downloaded with a whopping 26 percent redemption.  In 2011 during year one of that promotion, Brannen suggested a national Vidalia Onion Jingle Contest which resulted in more than 136,000 visitors to the Vidalia onion website.  The winning jingle is now used in radio ads.

Brannen is, however, most widely recognized as spearheading the wildly popular Shrek “Ogres & Onions” partnership with DreamWorks Animation.  That promotion landed the VOC on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, on ABC World News with Dianne Sawyer, Fox Business, New York Post, and a laundry list of other A-list media.  Reports that parents were getting kids to eat Vidalia onions because of colorful Shrek packaging struck curiosity and drove sales of consumer packs up almost 30 percent.

Another bright but unusual note in the list of Brannen’s accomplishments is the Vidalia Onion Museum, which Brannen spearheaded for five years from conceptualization through implementation to public relations outreach.  That museum opened in Vidalia during April 2011 and has had visitors from more than 45 states and 12 foreign countries to date.

March 11--  Here's a girl who's been in the Lyons Animal Shelter since December and needs a loving "forever home."

Karan Crane of the Sweet Onion Animal Society volunteers at the shelter and tells us this about "Liza."

{mosimage}"We call her Liza and she is as sweet as a 30lb sack of sugar.  Liza is such a sweet, gentle, loving and very affectionate and calm girl.  She is a little on the thin side, she ate her food bowl clean today, and she is so ready to have her very own family.  Liza is a black female lab blend with a little white on her chest." 

Contact Animal Control Officer Joseph Sikes at the Lyons Police Department if you would like to adopt "Liza."



March 11--  Senator Tommie Williams of Lyons provides an update of legislative activity last week in the Georgia Senate in his "The People's Business" column.

"The Senate moved beyond Crossover Day this week thus reaching an important milestone in the legislative process.  Since it is the last day bills can cross from one chamber to another, we worked late into the night debating and voting on a list of 29 bills in an effort to pass the remaining important legislation before the 40th day.  Moving forward, we will begin taking up bills from the House and working on compromises between similar legislation in conference committees. 

The only required bill we must pass in Georgia is the budget.  Georgia has two budgets, a general, “big” budget, as well as an amended budget, mid-year budget.  Luckily our state, like your family, must pass a balanced budget, meaning we cannot spend money that we do not have.  The general budget is based on projections for the next year and the amended budget is used to adjust changes in the mid-year that may be needed due to actual changes in revenue collections, student enrollment, or the economy.  The amended (mid-year) budget passed with a unanimous vote last week.  I will continue to update you as the Senate and House continue to meet do discuss the general budget for 2014.

This year the Senate passed Senate Resolution 245 requesting Congress to adopt a resolution proposing a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution as well as submit the same to the states for ratification. This resolution is proposed by the General Assembly of Georgia, and requests that members of the Senate request that their counterparts in all 49 other states act upon an identical resolution. Finally, this resolution requests all the members of the Georgia congressional delegation testify before the Senate as to why the federal budget is not balanced.  I am happy to vote yes to this legislation and intend to continue voicing my concern for the lack of a Congressional balanced budget. 

Senate Bill 13 will require nurses and health care entities to report suspected professional violations to the Board of Nursing or the Board of Examiners of Licensed Practical Nurses.

Senate Bill 101 will remove burdensome reporting requirements for firearms dealers and recognize out-of-state weapons carry licenses in Georgia.

Senate Bill 156 revises the term ‘borrow pit’ to allow a property owner to use earthen materials from excavated areas of less than five acres without having to apply for a mining permit. However, these materials cannot be sold. 

Senate Bill 195 will authorize physicians and other practitioners with prescribing authority to prescribe auto-injectable epinephrine in the name of a public or private school.

Senate Bill 210 will create the Georgia Legacy Program to conserve the state’s land, water, fisheries and wildlife resources. It will also create the Georgia Legacy Council to approve projects eligible for funding, and would establish two funds to provide grants and loans for the approved projects.

Senate Bill 236 will mandate for when a health insurer increases a premium, they must provide a notice explaining how much of the increase is attributable to the Affordable Care Act.

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.



March 11--  Twenty high school students from four area high schools have completed this year's youth leadership program hosted by the Toombs-Montgomery Chamber of Commerce.

The program started in 2006 to inform young people about how things get done locally and the opportunities they have right here at home.

Students interviewed at graduation say it's working.

Cole Johnson from Vidalia High School says, "We just learned about our community and doing better for our community.  A lot of people say they want to leave this place, but there are a lot of opportunities here and this program gives you a lot of options."

Tamika Jackson from Montgomery County High School says it helped her personally.

"Usually I'm a shy person and I don't interact with other people, but this helped me come out of that.  The most important thing I learned was how to become an active member of my community," Tamika said.

Sarah Payne from Robert Toombs Christian Academy learned teamwork, "We learned a lot about how to work together with groups and about ourselves and how we can relate to other people.  I think that was really valuable because teamwork is something we definitely need to know going forward."

Anna McIntyre from Toombs County High School says the program opened her eyes in a number of ways.

"Even though some people think Toombs County is not a good place to grow up, they really do have a lot of resources and businesses that give back to the community.  It's a great place to raise a family," she thinks.

"I recommend the program because you get to meet different people and see what's in our community that you don't know about," Anna says.


L-R Front Row: Lacey Bishop, Tameika Jackson, Ali Waller, Cheyenne Willhite, Kourtney Owens, Casey George, Emily Arnold, Aly Helms

Second Row: Evan Clark, Joanna Hendrix, Abigail Dixon, Sarah Payne, Megan Meadows

Third Row: Ben Flamm, Raysean Ricks, Anna McIntyre, Nic McBride, Cole Johnson, John Victor Wolfe

Not Pictured: Anna Sullivan





March 9-- Twelve Georgia chefs will soon reveal layers of their own talent as well as the versatility of the famous Vidalia® onion.

The 2nd Annual Golden Onion will be held on Sunday, April 14, 2013, in Vidalia, Ga., as the official kick-off to the 36th Annual Vidalia Onion Festival. This professional cooking competition showcases the Vidalia® onion, Georgia’s official state vegetable, and also serves as a platform for chefs across Georgia to display their skills and creativity.

From the mountains to the islands, fine dining to casual eateries, new business ventures to long-standing community mainstays, the 2013 roster of chef competitors represents a cross-section of Georgia restaurants and cuisine:

Chef Mimmo Alboumeh is owner and executive chef of ME Restaurant Group, which operates Red Pepper Taqueria, Coldbrews Sports Bar & Grill, and Coldbrews Oyster Bar in Atlanta, Ga. Alboumeh’s childhood was spent in Italy and Spain where he gained a passion for the culinary arts and was immersed in rich food-centric cultures. After moving to the states, he assisted with his family’s restaurant in Athens, Ga., before moving to Atlanta to further his career. In August 2002, he became executive chef and managing partner of Barcelona Restaurant and Tapas Bar in Duluth, Ga. He opened Cheeky Taqueria in Suwanee, Ga., in June 2006. “I believe in using the freshest ingredients whenever possible, buying locally and giving back to our community,” he says. “That being said, cultivating dishes that include Vidalia onions on my menus has always been very important. The light and delicate flavor of the Vidalia onion makes it so versatile.”

Chef Daniel Chance, executive chef of Campogonolo in Atlanta, Ga., is an Atlanta native who has spent more than 15 years gaining experience in modern and traditional cuisine. He began his career cooking Italian food at Pricci and Veni Vidi Vici. His resume also includes stints at Trois, Two Urban Licks and Abattoir in Atlanta, Ga., before taking the helm at Campagnolo in April 2012. Chance enjoys using fresh produce from local farms and even spent a summer as a commercial salmon fisherman learning a lot about fish. He has participated in several events including Food & Wine in Aspen, Colo., and Charleston Wine + Food Festival in S.C. “The flavor of Vidalia onions is really fantastic,” he says. “It’s one of the few that can stand on its own or elevate any dish.”

Chef Linda Harrell, executive chef and partner of Cibo E Beve in Sandy Springs, Ga., brings over 20 years of experience to the Italian restaurant. Harrell received her culinary foundation and formal European training working in Williamsburg, Va. She hit her stride at Les Clos de Marchands in Williamsburg where she worked as executive chef for five years. For the next eight years, Harrell worked as executive chef at the Italian restaurant Trattoria Toscana in Baltimore, Md., where she made virtually every product by hand. It was here that her passion for Tuscan-influenced Italian cuisine blossomed. She brought her skills and passion to Atlanta to help open Antica Posta. She then began working with the owners of 101 Concepts Restaurant Group, first at Mangia 101, followed by a stint at Meehan’s Public House restaurants, and now Cibo E Beve. “When we can get Vidalia onions, we use them,” she says. “They’re local and delicious.”

Chef Brian Jones, chef de cuisine for Atlanta Grill at The Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta is a native of Chamblee, Ga. He began his culinary career at Carbo’s Café in Buckhead, and then moved on to The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead. Other notable restaurants on his resume include Watershed, Canoe and the 1848 House in Marietta. Jones grew up cooking alongside his grandmother and aunts, appreciating authentic Southern dishes made from daily harvests of the family gardens. He brings that heritage to his menus that brim with varieties of local and regional produce. “What I enjoy most about using Vidalia onions is the confidence that I am using a product that is world renowned and at the same time supporting our local agricultural economy,” he says. “I love the fact that I can further that name by respectfully preparing these local gems in as many ways as possible.”

Chef Brian Justice, chef and owner of Tasteful Temptations Café in Brunswick, Ga., is a Georgia native. He started working at the Sea Island Company in 1992, completed the Apprentice Cook Program and was named lead cook/banquet chef at The Cloister, Sea Island. Six years later, he moved to the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla., where he held multiple positions. In 2004 he leapt at the opportunity to drive fresh and frozen foods across the U.S. for Frozen Foods Express, based in Dallas, Texas. In 2007, he returned to his home state and hometown with his wife and opened Tasteful Temptations, which offers catering services, serves as the in-flight vendor for Netjets and most other private jets flying out of Brunswick and St. Simons Island, and also operates the café in the Brunswick Airport. He enjoys Vidalia® onions because, “They’re sweeter and don’t overpower dishes,” he says.

Chef John Mark Lane, executive chef of Elements Bistro & Grill in Lyons, Ga., was born in Charleston, W. Va. He launched his culinary career at age 15, working as a dishwasher at Café Society in Charlotte, N.C. Within a year he’d progressed to sous chef and was creating lunches. By age 16, Lane decided that he one day wanted to cook great food at his own restaurant. A graduate of the Culinary Arts program at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C., he worked at several restaurants including Trio Restaurant, Charley’s and Sonoma Bistro in Charlotte, N.C., and then took some time off from cooking before opening Elements Bistro & Grill in October 2007. “I like cooking with the Vidalia onions because of the sweet flavor and versatility” he says. “The onions are very fresh and caramelize well. They can be used in a wide range of dishes.”

Chef Roberto Leoci, chef and owner of Leoci’s Trattoria in Savannah, Ga., developed a passion for food at an early age while spending summers in Sicily with his family. His culinary career began as he worked and studied in Florence, Italy, and continued after crossing the Atlantic to work at The Ritz-Carlton on Key Biscayne, Fla. He then worked as a private chef for several years. After moving to Savannah to help open Bull Street Chophouse, in late 2009 he opened Leoci’s Trattoria. The menu is influenced by his boyhood in Bari, on the heel of the Italian boot. With a family of shopkeepers, cheese mongers and cooks, Chef Leoci has a firm background in the region’s foodways.I am an Italian Chef who was raised on Cipollini onions,” he says. “I try my hardest to use only local ingredients. Importing food from Italy defeats the purpose of Italian food as I was raised and trained to understand it—the true basis of Italian food is local ingredients, no matter where you’re cooking. So finding these Georgia gems was a no-brainer. Cooking with Vidalia onions gives my dishes a mild sweetness with a perfect acidity that complements.”

Chef Keira Moritz, chef and owner of Steel Magnolias in Valdosta, Ga., is a Georgia native. She attended Valdosta State University and was planning on a career in criminal justice before fully realizing her passion for cooking. Filling in at an event where the chef failed to show up, Moritz fed 150 guests and knew she had stumbled upon a career. She earned her culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, S.C., and then a foodservice management degree from the university’s campus in Denver, Colo. After graduation, she remained in Denver to work at Panzano Restaurant where her admiration of Italian cuisine grew. Her career with Kimpton Hotels and Restaurant led to stints in Denver, Aspen, Portland, San Francisco and Atlanta, where she opened and led the team at Pacci Ristorante. Moritz returned to her hometown, purchasing and renovating an historic building in downtown Valdosta, which now houses her independent restaurant where the menu showcases local farms and artisan producers. “I love cooking with Vidalia onions because they are location specific,” she says. “When you say ‘Vidalia onion’ people from all over the country and all walks of life know what it is, almost like a secret handshake.”

Chef Austin Rocconi, executive chef for Le Vigne Restaurant at Montaluce in Dahlonega, Ga., graduated from the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, Calif. Prior to his current position, he worked in kitchens at Kyma, BLT Steak and Canoe in the Atlanta area. Rocconi favors locally-sourced cuisine and hyper-seasonal ingredients; at Le Vigne he incorporates ingredients from the restaurant's garden as well as from regional purveyors. “I consider it a blessing to live in the state of Georgia where I have access to such a nationally sought-after product such as the Vidalia onion,” he says. “I strive to support local and regional farmers and feature their products exclusively on my menu. The Vidalia onion gives me the chance to support local agriculture as well as show my community just one of the great accomplishments their state has produced. Vidalia onion season is something I always look forward to and a product I will use as long as I am cooking.” Chef Rocconi placed third at the inaugural Golden Onion competition in 2012 and is excited to be competing again.

Chef Michael Shutters is executive chef and food service director at The Pilot House Grille Restaurant at George T. Bagby State Park and Lodge in Fort Gaines, Ga. He was born in Indianapolis, Ind., and grew up near Jacksonville, Fla. After working for several years as a corporate trainer, he changed careers in 2002 and has worked his way up from a sandwich maker and dishwasher to his current position at the helm of the restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. About Vidalia® onions he says, “I love the unique sweetness and low sulfur content.”

Chef Dave Snyder, chef and owner of Halyards and Tramici in St. Simons Island, Ga., first gained cooking experience during his high school years in Michigan. He continued cooking while attending college at the University of Georgia in Athens and later graduated from the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. He then gained experience working at several New York City restaurants, including Les Celebrites, Union Square Café, The Mark Hotel and Zoe. Returning to Georgia, he worked at Azalea in Atlanta for a brief time before joining J Mac’s Island Restaurant on St. Simons Island. Now as chef and owner of two restaurants, his goal is to develop a team that will enable Halyards and Tramici to expand into a family of restaurants. He enjoys cooking with Vidalia onions, he says, “because of the variety of applications of this Georgia Grown product with a great history. It’s a one-of-a-kind onion with flavors of a specific growing region.” Snyder is a Georgia Grown Executive Chef in 2013.

Chef Marc Taft, chef and owner of Chicken & The Egg in Marietta, Ga., and executive chef and general manager of the new The Mill Kitchen & Bar in Roswell, Ga., earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama and then began working for the restaurant companies Carlson Hospitality and Brinker International. He has since served as general manager for The Inn at Evins Mill in middle Tennessee, B.A.N.K Restaurant in Minneapolis, Minn., Domaso Trattoria Moderna in Washington, D.C., and Pacci Ristorante in Atlanta, Ga. Taft has also worked as the concept development director for Al Copeland Investments, where he helped develop Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro, and has held executive chef and corporate chef positions. His experience also includes stints as the director of food and beverage for the Sheraton Music City Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., and director of restaurant operations for the Southeast region of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants where he was responsible for overseeing several restaurants including Area 31 in Miami, Fla., and Central 214 in Dallas, Texas. About Vidalia onions, Taft says, “I love the versatility of the Vidalia® onion, the perfect balance of the onion flavor and sweetness make it the perfect additive to any dish or stand alone as the star of the show.”

Chefs Jones, Lane, Rocconi, Snyder and Taft also competed in Golden Onion 2012.

About the Golden Onion

The Golden Onion professional cooking competition challenges 12 Georgia chefs to create and prepare recipes featuring Vidalia® onions. Competing chefs will have one hour to prepare and present their recipes. The First Place champion will be presented the Golden Onion trophy to hold for one year along with a cash prize of $500. The second place winner will receive $250 and the third place winner $100. All winners will also receive commemorative plaques. The Golden Onion competition will be held at the Vidalia Community Center, 107 Old Airport Road in Vidalia, Ga. The event is open to the public starting at 12:30 p.m. Advance tickets cost $10 per person or $15 at the door and include an event recipe booklet. For details visit

About the Vidalia Onion Festival

Celebrating its 36th year in 2013, the Vidalia Onion Festival will be held April 18-21 in Vidalia, Ga. The event has been featured on The Food Network and recognized as one of the “5 Don't-Miss Festivals Across the U.S.” by MSNBC. The festival offers something for everyone, including the Miss Vidalia Onion Pageant, a children’s parade, outdoor music concerts, an arts and crafts festival, opening ceremonies and fireworks, car show, the Kiwanis Onion Run, the Vidalia Onion Festival Rodeo, and the Famous onion eating contest. Come to Vidalia to experience the “whole onion.” For more information, visit

About Vidalia® Onions

Vidalia® Onions are the pioneer of sweet onions and Georgia’s official state vegetable. Grown only in the mild climate and unique soil surrounding Vidalia, Ga., they’re loved by chefs and home cooks throughout the world. Vidalia® onions are hand-planted and hand-harvested each year, with sweet, juicy bulbs available seasonally from late April to late August. Their mild, sweet taste makes Vidalia® onions more versatile than stronger onions. And these Georgia sweeties are a low-calorie, fat, cholesterol, and sodium-free way to get a healthy dose of Vitamin C. For more information, visit


About the Vidalia® Onion Committee

Because Vidalia® Onions are sweetly unique, farmers were forced to unite and seek legal protection of their crop and its name. Federal Marketing Order No. 955 was established in 1989 to stipulate how and where the crop can be grown and sold. The Vidalia® Onion Committee administers FMO No. 955 and authorizes production research, marketing research and development and marketing promotion programs. This federal protection reinforces Georgia state laws and the Vidalia® trademark. So, you can try to grow a sweet onion elsewhere, but you cannot call it a “Vidalia!” For more information, visit

About the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA)
The GRA’s mission is to serve as the voice for Georgia’s Restaurants in Advocacy, Education and Awareness. The GRA is sanctioned by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) to operate Georgia’s only not-for-profit representing the state’s foodservice industry. From large chains to start-ups, the GRA helps make Georgia a better place for restaurants to do business and helps make restaurants better for Georgia. For more information, visit

About Georgia Grown Executive Chefs

The Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Georgia Restaurant Association appoint four Georgia Grown Executive Chefs each year, as part of a program that debuted in 2012. The goal of the program is to help raise awareness about the availability of the quality, local products that can be found in Georgia and promote relationships between chefs and farmers across the state.

March 9-- In his famous book The Lorax, Dr. Seuss says, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Students in Miss Rustin Howard’s Advanced Placement Literature class have been learning what it means to care and to give back to our community. It is our goal to show how much we care and to help the Lorax’s cause of making “things” better.

On Friday March 1, " Read Across America Day" in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday on March 2, seventeen Toombs County High School students went to Lyons Upper Elementary School to read some of Dr. Seuss’s famous books to students.  In an effort to promote literacy and learning, students were able to mentor students through this educational holiday.

{mosimage}Students are pictured with The Cat and the Hat and our new friend, Lucy Badie. Bottom Row: Taylor Todd, Kala Farmer, Casey George, Adriana AlvarezMiddle Row: Allison Gay, Natalie Kirkley, Alex Zamorano, Shaila Bacon, Charleigh Foskey, Hayley Jackson. Standing: Miss Rustin Howard, Anna McIntyre, Alex Dismuke, Brittany Garcia, Erik Casas, Mrs. Stacey Oliver as the Cat in the Hat, Kyle Toole, Hunter Braddock, Dustin Wingard.

March 8--  A University of Georgia economist thinks Georgia is well positioned for steady economic growth.

"I see growth.  Not fast growth, about 2.1% growth here in Georgia and about 1.7% growth nationally assuming our lawmakers don't do something to derail the economy and they certainly could.

{mosimage}"The sequestor is not enough to push us into recession so I'm not too worried about that except for some of our military communites.  If I were living in Warner Robins or Columbus or Hinesville I'd be concerned, but on the whole the sequestor is not a big deal," says Jeff Humphreys, director of UGA's Selig Center for Economic Growth.

Humphreys told the Vidalia Kiwanis Club he's hopeful that housing will be a plus in the coming year.

"That's one of the reasons Georgia is going to start outperforming the national economy.  The housing bust is over and housing is now a tailwind for the economy and it's no longer a headwind.  That's a big plus for Georgia because a lot of our manufacturing is geared to housing like carpeting up in Dalton, the lumber industry across the state and windows and doors," he noted.

Humphreys also believes interest rates will remain generally the same.

"I'm going to believe 'the Fed' and assume they do what they say they're going to do to keep short term rates extremely low.  I think they'll stop their bond buying program late this year or early next year, so mortgages are probably past their low point, but I think will still remain attractive at least through 2015," he predicts.

March 7-- The Georgia Department of Labor announced today that Georgia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for January was 8.7 percent, unchanged from December. The rate was 9.3 percent in January a year ago.

There was a loss of 47,700 mostly seasonal jobs and an increase in initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits over the month, but the increases were not enough to impact the unemployment rate.

“The good news in this report is that we lost the fewest jobs for January since 1987,” said State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler. “And, we start the year with 79,600 more jobs in January than we had in the same period a year ago.”

The number of jobs increased to 3,956,300 from 3,876,700 in January 2012. Most of the over-the-year job growth came in professional and business services, 25,500; leisure and hospitality, 21,300; education and health care, 16,100; trade, transportation, and warehousing, 13,000, and manufacturing 5,800.

The number of first-time claims for unemployment insurance benefits, resulting from layoffs during the month, increased by 20,669 to 71,530 from 50,861 in December.  The increase is mostly from seasonal layoffs in manufacturing, administrative and support services, construction, and retail trade. However, the number of initial claims was down by 6,226, over the year, dropping from 77,756 in January 2012. Most of the over-the-year decline came in manufacturing, retail trade, construction, accommodations and food services, and transportation and warehousing.

Georgia’s labor force grew by 15,704, reaching 4,846,362 in January, its highest level since July 2008. The labor force has grown by 54,127, or 1.1 percent, from 4,792,635 in January 2012. 

The number of long-term unemployed workers declined by 3,700 to 191,300 in January, its lowest level in 35 months. The long-term unemployed—those out of work for more than 26 weeks—make up 45.2 percent of those unemployed in Georgia.


March 6--  The annual STAR student and STAR teacher award recognition program was hosted at Toombs County High School courtesy of the Vidalia Kiwanis Club, Vidalia Rotary Club and Community Hospice.


Top students (L-R) with their STAR teachers behind them are Anna Sullivan and Ashley Lampp from Robert Toombs Christian Academy, Katie Pope and Pamela Richards from Montgomery County High School, Trace Calloway and LaRee Findley from Vidalia High School and Alex Dismuke and Jennifer Irvin from Toombs County High School.



March 5-- Thousands of jobless workers in Georgia receiving federal Extended Unemployment Compensation (EUC) will soon see a reduction in their weekly benefits because of sequestration. EUC is a federally funded benefit for long-term unemployed workers who have exhausted regular state unemployment insurance (UI) benefits.

The Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) has been told by the U.S. Department of Labor to reduce EUC benefits by 10.7 percent, effective the week beginning March 31. There are presently 61,360 recipients of EUC in Georgia. 

The current maximum weekly benefit is $330, while the average benefit is $260.

Regular state-funded unemployment insurance benefits will not be affected.

The federal government will also reduce the state labor department’s administrative funding grant by approximately $3 million. The grant is used to pay costs of administering the unemployment insurance program. The cuts will negatively impact the department’s operations, but it is too soon to know the extent.

The GDOL will notify jobless workers who will be affected. Also, complete information will be available at

March 5--  One of the dirty little secrets in our society is the sexual abuse of children and most often it's by a relative or family friend.

Carol Donaldson of the Sunshine House in Swainsboro says her agency counsels hundreds of children who have been sexually abused in the five-county Middle Judicial Circuit which includes Toombs, Emanuel, Candler, Washington and Jefferson counties.

"It's in the 250 range per year.  One out of four girls and one out of six boys will be sexually abused by the time they reach their 18th birthday.  With those numbers, those children that we can see are small compared to what's really out there," she says.

Donaldson says at one time the Sunshine House was helping over 400 children a year until its budget was cut by former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue.

She says it's up to citizens to be aware of the problem and intervene when they see something suspicious or curious about a child.

"Begin the discussion, that's how the Sunshine House was founded, when a group of individuals in the Exchange Club began asking questions about why there was a case of sensational child abuse in their community. People have to be aware and once they learn there is something that needs to be reported, they have to follow through and make that report and be persistent.  That's how we save the lives of children," Donaldson says.

A new addition to the Sunshine House staff is Jenny Manning of Vidalia.  She was not prepared for the scope of child abuse in our area.

"I was very shocked.  Unless you're involved and see what's going on, you're immune to the problem.  It's not to say it's happening to all kids, but if it's happening to even one, it's a problem,' Manning says.

Jenny has two children of her own and her experience with the Sunshine House has made her more protective and proactive regarding her kids.

"Basically I need to ask more questions about where my children are going and I need to teach them what's right and wrong behavior from an adult," she advises.


March 4--The Vidalia High School Cheerleaders hosted their first Miss Hobachee Pageant since 1969 last week at Southeastern Technical College. 

{mosimage}(L-R) Little Miss Hobachee- Marah Collins, Junior Miss Hobachee – Bentley Wright, Miss Hobachee-Chandler Williams, Teen Miss Hobachee- Chloe’ Toole, and Tiny Miss Hobachee-Danni Thompson. (Photo courtesy C. Williams)

The pageant included five divisions and awarded scholarships to both the Teen and Miss Hobachee winners.

Miss Division, representing Vidalia High School grades 11 and 12 awards: Miss Hobachee-Chandler Williams, 1st Runner up-Mackenzie Wilkerson, Miss Photogenic – Chandler Williams, and Miss Congeniality – Alyssia McCloud

Teen Division, representing Vidalia High School grades 9 and 10 awards: Teen Miss Hobachee- Chloe’ Toole,  1st Runner up- Ashton Craft, Teen Miss Photogenic-Angel Robertson, and Teen Miss Congeniality – Kennedy Joiner

Junior Miss Division, representing JR Trippe Middle School grades 6-8 awards: Junior Miss Hobachee-Bentley Wright, 1st Runner up-Alyssa Reeves, 2nd Runner up-Addison Wingate, 3rd Runner up – Rhiannon Brown, 4th Runner up – AnnaBeth Toole, Junior Miss Photogenic- Bentley Wright

Little Miss Hobachee Division, representing Sally D. Meadows grades 4-5 awards: Little Miss Hobachee- Marah Collins, 1st Runner up- Natalie Clifton, 2nd Runner up- Cealy Shiver, Little Miss Hobachee Photogenic- Marah Collins

Tiny Miss Hobachee Division, representing Sally D. Meadows grades 2-3 awards: Tiny Miss Hobachee- Danni Thompson, 1st Runner up-Jayla Phillips, 2nd Runner up – Kyleigh Johnson, Tiny Miss Photogenic- Danni Thompson

Capitol Kids


Vidalia High School's Political Science Club and Student Government Association traveled to Atlanta to the Georgia State Capitol.  Students toured the Capitol, sait in on legislative sessions and met with Senator Tommie Williams and Representative Greg Morris.

Visit From The Vet


Dr. Chuck Faulk, veterinarian at Four Rivers Veterinary Clinic, spoke to the J. R. Trippe Middle School "For the Love of Pets" club about pet care. 

Dr. Faulk is a former J. R. Trippe student and Olympian so the club members presented him with a J. R. Trippe Olympic t-shirt.  Dr. Faulk's visit was arranged by Tiffany Moore of Four Rivers Veterinary Clinic.







March 4--  The Montgomery County Sheriff's office is asking the public for help in finding a missing man.

Officials say 47-year-old Tony Orlando Burch of Uvalda has been missing since January 28.  He's described as a black male, five feet eight inches tall, 150 pounds with short black hair and brown eyes.

If you have any information on the whereabouts of Tony Burch, call the Montgomery County Sheriff's office, 583-2521.

March 2--  A Montgomery County school system credit card issued years ago to a faculty member turned up in the possession of an accused car thief captured in South Carolina.

{mosimage}Thirty-three-year old Charlie Cobb and two Jeff Davis County women were arrested at an Aiken motel in January when police spotted a truck reported stolen from a house on Sandspur Lane in Toombs County.  Police claim the trio was manufacturing methamphetamine in the motel room.

Cobb also had a Walmart credit card issued to the Montgomery County school system.  The card was in the purse of the teacher who lived in the same neighborhood where the truck was stolen and whose purse had been stolen from her vehicle the day of the truck theft.

Montgomery County School Superintendent Randy Rodgers said more than $11,000 in charges had been made on the card by Cobb.  He says the credit card company was notified and has removed the charges from the school account.

Rodgers reports the incident revealed 12 other cards which had been issued over six years ago and have now been revoked.  He said the card in question had no charges on it since 2007.

Montgomery County Deputy Sheriff Greg Caraway says the GBI is handling the Cobb investigation since it involves multiple jurisdictions.


March 1--Leon Buu Dam, 48, a naturalized American citizen from South Vietnam, pleaded guilty before Chief Judge Lisa Godbey Wood on Thursday, February 28 to two charges relating to the firebombing of Cindy Nails, a business operating on South Tallahassee Street in Hazlehurst, Georgia. The bombing resulted in the total loss of the contents of the business, totaling over $21,000.      

United States Attorney Edward J. Tarver stated, “Whatever his motive, firebombing a commercial business is never the solution.  At a minimum, this Defendant now faces a 15 - year prison sentence.  It is unfortunate that he will now be forced to surrender the rights that he earned on his quest for citizenship.  His arson days are now extinguished.”

            Evidence presented at the guilty plea hearing showed that Cindy Nails caught fire just after business hours on December 7, 2010.  The fire destroyed the interior of the building and all its contents.  Arson investigators discovered a ball-style trailer hitch, an alarm clock, and a bundle of matches wrapped in duct tape, along with evidence of a flammable accelerant inside the building. The investigation revealed that Dam had purchased a trailer hitch and alarm clock, just like those found in the business, along with a quart of Coleman kerosene, at a nearby Wal-Mart a few weeks earlier. Surveillance video from nearby businesses on the night of the bombing placed Dam and his vehicle at the business that night.

            Dam now faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison.  Mr. Tarver noted that there is no parole in the federal system.  He is presently in the custody of the United States Marshal.


March 1--  There's a chance the Navy's Blue Angels won't make it to this year's Vidalia Onion Festival Air Show.

According to Reuters News Agency, the flight demonstration team has already bowed out of several air shows around the country because of cuts to the Defense Department budget.

Marsha Temples of the Vidalia air show committee says the Blue Angels have told her they'll have a decision about the Vidalia show by mid-March.  "We'll have an air show regardless," Temples says, "but obviously we want the Angels because they draw the biggest crowds."

According to Reuters, "Blue Angels shows scheduled in more than two dozen cities between April and September are expected to be canceled as part of the cuts, said the team's spokeswoman, Lieutenant Katie Kelly. Some shows featuring the Blue Angels already have been called off in the face of budget uncertainties."