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July 31--  The day before officially opening its doors, the new Cornerstone Children's Center held a ribbon-cutting for the $1 million-plus, nearly ten-thousand square foot building adjacent to the Vidalia First United Methodist Church.

Local officials, including Vidalia Mayor Ronnie Dixon, were on hand to applaud the effort.

"We're excited. The City of Vidalia wants to congratulate the First United Methodist and Cornerstone.  This is going to be a great asset to our community," the Mayor said.


Vidalia native Cassie Neal (holding the scissors) is Cornerstone's Director and says the church decided to build the center because, "The need in the community for care for children from infants all the way to children in an after-school program where they'd be in a loving, Christ-centered environment.

"I was amazed at the faith people had. Before we ever broke ground, I had people saying 'I'll sign my child up,' and that speaks volumes about the faith of people.

"The other thing I think is amazing for us is we have certified teachers on the staff.  People with years of experience and people with a few years of experience, so we have a wide range of experience as far as our staff is concerned."

Cassie says the center is employing 27 people to care for and teach 120 children in a faith-based atmosphere.

"When they're learning the alphabet, they'll learn scripture verses to go with each letter of the alphabet.  We've taken the everyday ABC's and numbers and all that and incorporated the spiritual aspect of it as well.  There's scripture that goes along with everything we're doing because God created all that for us," she says. 


July 31--  Students return to school in the Vidalia City school system Wednesday, August 7.  Information parents and students need to know about dress codes and school supplies is available on individual school web sites listed below.





July 31--  President Obama got cold water thrown on his Tuesday visit to Chattanooga.  The local paper pointed out how his administration had wasted tax money with a local energy project.

Take your jobs plan and shove it, Mr. President: Your policies have harmed Chattanooga enough

President Obama,

Welcome to Chattanooga, one of hundreds of cities throughout this great nation struggling to succeed in spite of your foolish policies that limit job creation, stifle economic growth and suffocate the entrepreneurial spirit.

Forgive us if you are not greeted with the same level of Southern hospitality that our area usually bestows on its distinguished guests. You see, we understand you are in town to share your umpteenth different job creation plan during your time in office. If it works as well as your other job creation programs, then thanks, but no thanks. We’d prefer you keep it to yourself.

That’s because your jobs creation plans so far have included a ridiculous government spending spree and punitive tax increase on job creators that were passed, as well as a minimum wage increase that, thankfully, was not. Economists — and regular folks with a basic understanding of math — understand that these are three of the most damaging policies imaginable when a country is mired in unemployment and starving for job growth.

Even though 64 percent of Chattanooga respondents said they would rather you hadn’t chosen to visit our fair city, according to a survey on the Times Free Press website, it’s probably good that you’re here. It will give you an opportunity to see the failure of your most comprehensive jobs plan to date, the disastrous stimulus scheme, up close and personal.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 helped fund the Gig to Nowhere project, a $552 million socialist-style experiment in government-owned Internet, cable and phone services orchestrated by EPB — Chattanooga’s government-owned electric monopoly.

• • •

The Gig to Nowhere is a Smart Grid, a high tech local electricity infrastructure intended to improve energy efficiency and reduce power outages. After lobbying for, and receiving, $111.6 million in stimulus money from your administration, EPB decided to build a souped-up version of the Smart Grid with fiber optics rather than more cost-effective wireless technology. This decision was supposed to allow EPB to provide the fastest Internet service in the Western Hemisphere, a gigabit-per-second Internet speed that would send tech companies and web entrepreneurs stampeding to Chattanooga in droves.

In reality, though, the gig, like most of the projects funded by your stimulus plan, has been an absolute bust.

While the Smart Grid will cost taxpayers and local electric customers well over a half-billion dollars when all is said and done, there has been little improvement in the quality of EPB’s electric service. Worse, despite being heavily subsidized, EPB’s government-owned Internet, cable and telephone outfit that competes head-to-head against private companies like AT&T and Comcast is barely staying afloat, often relying on loans from electric service reserve funds to afford its business expenses.

Further, there has been no credible evidence to suggest that EPB can even provide a gig of service consistently and reliably. Any companies hoping to utilize the Gig to Nowhere are quoted monthly billing costs that make the service unfeasible. As a result, Chattanooga has remained a relative ghost town for technological innovation. Almost no economic development whatsoever has resulted from the gig.

• • •

What the gig has brought, however, is that shocking price tag. Because of your unwillingness to balance the budget, Mr. President, the $111.6 million federal handout to subsidize the Gig to Nowhere will actually cost federal taxpayers $158.2 million, due to interest. Once EPB received the stimulus infusion to fund the pork project, the electric monopoly took out a $219.8 bond that will balloon to $391.3 million by the time Chattanoogans are done paying it off.

The bond’s first payment comes due this fall and there remain significant questions about how EPB can manage to pay the debt without hiking electric rates on EPB customers.

Building a Smart Grid to get into a telecom sector already well-served by private companies was a bad idea from the start. But getting government involved in places it doesn’t belong is a hallmark of your administration. As a result, you and your policymakers were happy to fund the Gig to Nowhere.

You claimed that the Smart Grid would create jobs for Chattanooga. But in reality, all it did was push America deeper in debt and lure a local government agency into making a terrible financial decision that will weigh on Chattanoogans like a millstone for decades to come.

So excuse us, Mr. President, for our lack of enthusiasm for your new jobs program. Here in Chattanooga we’re still reeling from your old one.

— The Free Press


July 31--  This year's Paul Anderson Youth Home Cycling Challenge hits the road to Lakeland, Florida today where seven residents of the home will start a 600-mile trek that will take them to Vero Beach, New Smyrna Beach, Jacksonville, Savannah and back to Vidalia on August 7. 

{mosimage}The goal is to raise $100,000 for youth home operations.  Three riders who are making the ride for the first time this year are (L-R) are Sam, Logan and Joseph.

You can track the daily progress of the riders at

July 30--  The Toombs County school board has accepted the resignation of its Facilities Manager, Willis NeSmith, who is also the Mayor of Lyons.

NeSmith was hired in January to help the school board monitor construction of the new Toombs County High School and manage other school system facilities.  Bids for the new high school will be opened Thursday, August 1.

He resigned effective July 15 and his resignation was approved by the school board at its August meeting.

In other personnel actions, the board hired Neal Salter to a maintenance position, Shannon Chambers as Maintenance Supervisor, Kip Hart as the high school science instructional coach and Justin Redman as high school science teacher.

July 30--  STEPHEN A. KEATING, 53, of Jesup, Georgia, was sentenced yesterday by Chief United States District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood to 110 years in prison for his sexual exploitation of minors through the production and distribution of numerous images of child pornography. 

Evidence presented at the guilty plea and sentencing hearings showed that between 2009 and 2011, KEATING repeatedly sexually molested three children under the age of 12 to create pictures and videos of that conduct, then distributed images of the abuse.  In addition to those three children, further investigation following KEATING’s guilty plea revealed that KEATING sexually molested 12 minor victims whose abuse was not captured on film.

United States Attorney Edward J. Tarver said, “This Defendant’s lengthy sentence represents the lifetime of pain and anguish he has brought upon his victims.  Depraved acts such as these will bring together every facet of law enforcement to garner the severest punishment allowed by law.  Protecting this country’s children is the highest priority for the Department of Justice and this United States Attorney’s Office.” 

            “The hideous abuse Stephen Keating inflicted on more than a dozen children can never be erased, but hopefully his victims can find some comfort in the fact that he will never again be a free man,” said Brock D. Nicholson, special agent in charge of HSI Atlanta.

“This investigation is a perfect example of the revolution in international law enforcement cooperation in cases involving child exploitation and victim identification. After Danish police first discovered the photos, and less than 24 hours after we identified Keating as the perpetrator, HSI and a host of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were searching his residence, putting him in handcuffs and rescuing his victims.” 

Each count of child exploitation to which KEATING pleaded guilty carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, followed by at least 5 years of supervised release.  The count of distribution of child pornography carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years in prison and a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, followed by at least 5 years of supervised release.  KEATING was also ordered to register as a sex offender.

The charges against KEATING arose out of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).  This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a unified and comprehensive strategy to combat child exploitation.

Initiated by the Department of Justice in May, 2006, Project Safe Childhood combines law enforcement efforts, community action, and public awareness to reduce the incidence of sexual exploitation of children.  Led by United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit

July 30--  The Toombs County Board of Education has approved the school system's fiscal year 2014 budget.

The budget estimates an increase in local tax revenue of $1.3 million while cutting the cost of instruction by more than a million dollars and reducing the system's reserve fund by more than $1.8 million to just over $50,000.

Overall, the general fund budget of $22.1 million is about $600,000 less than fiscal year 2013.

School Superintendent Dr. Kim Corley says the system is operating on a thin margin in part due to increased costs of health insurance and teacher retirement.

"Over the last couple of years health insurance has increased by over a half-million dollars and that's money we have to come up with at the local level.  Also, our portion of teacher retirement went up as well.  That eats into your fund equity year after year," she says.

The school board is waiting on the county's tax digest to decide what to do about county school tax rates on property owners.

Chief Tax Assessor Willie Haynes says the digest is about a month late this year due to property revaluation in the county which has generated about 600 appeals to his office.  He's hopeful the digest will be finalized by the end of August.

The school system budget also contains more than $11 million in sales tax revenue to help pay for the first year of construction of the new Toombs County High School.

"We're very excited about that.  Years and years of planning has gone into this project and we're hoping that bids will come in very reasonable and we'll be able to get started," Dr. Corley says.

A bid opening on the new school is Thursday, August 1.  Dr. Corley hopes a contract can be awarded at the school board's meeting on August 8.


July 31-- East Georgia State College students attending the college during summer have been named to the summer semester 2013 dean’s honor and merit lists. 

                According to Dr. Tim Goodman, EGSC's vice president for academic affairs, students maintaining a grade point average of 3.5 or higher on 15 or more hours of course work during the semester are placed on the dean’s honor list, while students taking a course load of at least 12, but less than 15 hours, with a grade point average of 3.5 or higher are named to the dean’s merit list.

                EGSC students included on the dean’s honors merit list are Shannon Higgs of Lyons and Megan S. Moseley of Vidalia. 

                Students included on the dean’s merit list are Michael G. Allen of Louisville; Evelyn L. Bruton of Homestead, Florida; Noelle L. Cann, Bonnie E. Hall and Steven D. Church of Swainsboro; Ryan P. Lynch of Hampton, Georgia; Jaleesa S. McCray of Collins; Robyn Smith of Cobbtown; Matthew W. Swan of Wadley; and Bruce A. Tanner and Donald W. Wheeler of Vidalia.



July 29--  A Glenwood man is dead following a Sunday morning shooting.

According to GBI Agent Todd Lowery, 48-year-old William Anderson died after being shot by his brother-in-law, 47-year-old Jerry Steve Sutton.  The shooting happened about 9:15 Sunday morning in the Apple Village Apartments in the apartment occupied by Sutton's mother.

Agent Lowery classified the shooting as a "domestic dispute."  Sutton was arrested and charged with murder.

July 29--  A Vidalia woman was killed in a Saturday night traffic accident.

The Georgia State Patrol reports 50-year-old Elizabeth Walker Hopkins of 904 5th Street died after being hit by a car west of the intersection of Highway 292 and Broadfoot Boulevard.

Trooper First Class Claxton says the woman was walking west along the side of the road when hit by a car travelling in the same direction.

The accident is being investigated by the Patrol's fatality investigation team.

July 27--  Vidalia Rotarian Donya Thompson (right) is presented an American Red Cross Certificate of Appreciation by Rotary President Sandra Kate Hendrix.

{mosimage}Donya has volunteered her time the last few years to help organize the Red Cross blood drive in Vidalia which is held every two months.  The Georgia Power Ambassadors co-sponsor the blood drive at the Vidalia Community Center.

The next bloodmobile is Tuesday, August 6 from one till seven p.m.

July 26--  The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says it has no evidence of homicide in the drowning death of 30-year-old Kaywanna Wells earlier this month in the Vidalia City swimming pool.

Agent Todd Lowery says it's difficult to determine if the drowning was accidental or a suicide.  An autopsy report has yet to be completed.  Lowery says the toxicology report in the autopsy may provide some useful information, however, he admits officials may never know what led to the drowning.

The woman's body was found in the city pool early the morning of July 8th when officials came to open the pool for swim team practice.  It was estimated she had been in the water for several hours before being discovered.

July 26--  The man who killed Toombs County teenager Courtney Wilkes two years ago in Florida is facing the death penalty and the next phase in the sentencing process will take place in August.

Judge Kelvin Wells will hold what's called a "Spencer Hearing" for Steven Cozzie August 21 in the Walton County Circuit Court in DeFuniak Springs.


The purpose of the "Spencer Hearing" is to ensure the reliability of the penalty and sentencing process in Florida. The hearing was named for Leonard Spencer, who was sentenced in 1989 to death after a jury found him guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and multiple counts of armed robbery.

In Spencer's case, the defense attorney went looking for the Judge and Prosecutor and found them in the Judge's chambers proofreading an order sentencing Spencer to death. The attorney, "voiced his concern that the Judge had drafted an order expressing his reasons and conclusions for imposing the death penalty prior to Spencer's counsel having an opportunity to be heard," according to the Appeals Court.

The Florida Supreme Court ultimately determined that a Trial Judge should not formulate his/her sentencing decision prior to giving the defendant an opportunity to be heard. They then established a procedure to be used in the sentencing phase, which included the Trial Judge holding a hearing to give the defendant and his or her counsel the opportunity to be heard and an opportunity to present any additional evidence - now called a "Spencer Hearing". The Prosecuting attorney will also have an opportunity to offer additional evidence in support of the death sentence.

After the hearing, Judge Wells will make the ultimate decison on the life or death of Cozzie.



July 26--  Vidalia police are investigating a burglary in downtown Vidalia.

Police Lieutenant Jimmy Sims says Lee Discount Company on  Northwest Main Street was burglarized overnight Wednesday.

Owner Jan Lee says she discovered the breakin when she opened the loan office Thursday morning.  She said the thief entered the building through a bathroom window and cut utility lines to the building before entering to deactivate the burglary alarm.

She discounted rumors that a $100,000 or more had been stolen but confirmed that a significant amount of cash is missing.

Several years ago the office was robbed at gunpoint two times within a four month period.

July 26--  The Emanuel County Sheriff's office has issued a press release regarding the death of a young girl in the county.

"On Thursday, July 25th, 2013, at approximately 6:35am, deputies and investigators from the Emanuel County Sheriff's Office were called to the residence of Preston Burns and Sonia Rich in reference to their missing six year old daughter, Dena Burns.

The parents reported to the officers that Dena suffered from autism, and had apparently walked away from their residence. They further
told officers that the child liked playing in water.

Deputies, along with officers from the Swainsboro Police Department and troopers from the Georgia State Patrol immediately began searching the area surrounding the residence and nearby bodies of water for the missing girl.

After searching for approximately 30 minutes, the girl was found unconscious in a neighboring pond. Officers pulled the body from the pond and began performing CPR while waiting on an ambulance to arrive.

Emanuel County Emergency Medical Services arrived shortly thereafter and began further attempts to resuscitate the child. The child was transported to the Emanuel Medical Center, but later pronounced dead by the Emanuel County Coroner's Office.

According to Emanuel County Sheriff J. Tyson Stephens, an autopsy will be performed at the GBI Crime Lab in Atlanta on Friday, July 26th. Sheriff Stephens further stated that foul play is not suspected in the incident, but that the investigation is ongoing.

The sheriff wished to thank all of the officers and agencies involved in the search for their quick response to the incident and teamwork displayed while conducting the search."


July 25--  The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports....

"Another Republican has entered the crowded race to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.

Businessman David Perdue announced Wednesday that he will seek the GOP nomination in next year’s primary. Perdue, a cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, had been expected to join the contest since forming an exploratory committee in May.

The GOP field also includes U.S. Reps. Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston, as well as former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel.

Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn and CEO of an Atlanta-based non-profit organization, became the most well-known Democrat to enter the race when she declared her candidacy on Tuesday.

Perdue, a native of Macon, Ga., has served as senior vice president of Asia operations for Sara Lee, president and CEO of Reebok and chairman and CEO of Dollar General."

July 25-- The Georgia Department of Labor announced today that the unemployment rate in the Heart of Georgia-Altamaha region increased to 12.9 percent in June, up 1.4 percent from 11.5 percent in May. The rate was 12 percent in June a year ago.

The rate increased primarily because of two seasonal factors: large numbers of education workers are unemployed during the summer and new graduates are considered unemployed until they find a job.

The labor force, which is the number of people employed plus those unemployed but actively looking for work, rose to 126,094 in June, up by 561 from 125,533 in May. It was down by 643 from 126,737 in June 2012.   

Metro Athens had the lowest area jobless rate at 7.2 percent, while the Heart of Georgia-Altamaha region had the highest at 12.9 percent.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for June was 8.6 percent, up from 8.3 percent in May. The rate was 9.1 percent in June a year ago.

July 25--  A former CIA agent who now lives in Vidalia is warning about the dangers of violent Islamists inflitrating the United States and its government.

{mosimage}Kevin Shipp told the Vidalia Kiwanis Club Tuesday that President Obama is influenced by pro-Islamic advisers who impact U.S. foreign policy.

"It's extremely prevalent.  This leads all the way up to the chief advisers for counter-terrorism and national security to the current President of the United States.

"The CIA reports directly to the Executive Branch and the President of the United States.  They're required to carry out his orders.  We're arming Islamic jihadists in Syria right now, the CIA is, at the behest of the President.  The CIA is engaging in things that most of us who've been in there would decry, but they're doing it right now.

"This is happening.  Radical Islam is staging a cultural jihad.  We're allowing them to do it under our First Amendment. They're using our Constitution against us and destroying us from the inside, calling people Islamophobs, using hate crime legislation and basically eroding us from the inside," Shipp says.

Shipp says Islamic enclaves are being set up around the country.

"They are sponsored by or actually occupied by the Muslims of America which is guided by a terrorist-supporting sheik in Pakistan.  There is one in Commerce, Georgia engaging in para-military training, there's one in Redhouse, Virginia and there's one in Oakland, Calfornia and they are specifically training and waiting for jihad.  Essentially they are sleeper cells in the United States.

"There's big camp in Jesup, Georgia right now.  The Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan's group, has purchased 1,800 acres and they're hiring Muslim street gangs from California to provide security for this compound," he says.

In an upcoming report, Shipp will discuss what American citizens should do to combat Muslim extremists.


July 24--  The fiscal year 2014 budget for the Montgomery County school system is $140,000 less than FY2013, however, school officials say they still have to increase the property tax rate.  Expected expenditures total $7.2 million.

{mosimage}"We are not increasing taxes.  The amount of taxes we projected to receive in 2012 was $2,253,000 and we're projecting the same amount in 2013.  Because of the revaluation of our tax digest, it will take an increase of about 1.4 mils to generate the same amount of money," says County School Superintendent Randy Rodgers.

Rodgers says the Montgomery County tax digest has gone down about 14 percent.

The school board will hold public hearings before the final vote on the property tax millage rate.

Rodgers says the school system is saving money by having fewer days of school but longer school days.

"We'll be able to provide the same amount of instruction in the 163 days on the extended day system and the economy in that situation comes from savings in energy and savings in support staff," says Rodgers.

The budget also includes more money for teachers in fiscal year 2014.

"Last year our teachers were paid for 181 days and this year they'll be paid for 185 days," Rodgers reports.

In addition to approving the school system budget, the school board also accepted a federal program that will provide free meals for all students in the county's elementary and middle school.  It was not accepted for the county high school which has an insufficient percentage of low income students to qualify. 



July 24-- The novelist Thomas Wolfe was not always right: you can return home. Dr. H. Lee Cheek Jr., who has taught and served as a college administrator in Georgia for many years, has returned to the South Georgia as East Georgia State College’s new Chair of the Social Sciences Division, where he will also serve as professor of political science.  He assumed his duties on July 1.

{mosimage} “East Georgia State College is a very forward-looking, imaginative institution of higher learning,” Dr. Cheek said. “The College’s stress on teaching excellence and student learning are most appealing.”  Dr. Cheek, who is a leading authority on American political thought generally and southern political thinkers specifically, believes “East Georgia State College is a wonderful institution, with a deep appreciation for its past, and much anticipation about the future. I look forward to being part of that future.

  Dr. Cheek earned his bachelor's degree from Western Carolina University, a graduate degree in theology from Duke University in Durham, N.C.; his master of public administration degree from Western Carolina University; and his doctorate from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

  He previously served as Dean of the Social Sciences at the Gainesville State University/University of North Georgia, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Athens State University in Alabama, and Vice President for College Advancement and Professor of Political Science at Brewton-Parker College in Mt. Vernon, Georgia. Cheek taught at Brewton-Parker College from 1997-2000, and he rejoined the Brewton-Parker faculty in 2005. In 2000, 2006, and 2007, Cheek was awarded Brewton-Parker College's "Professor of the Year Award" by the student body, and, in 2008, the Jordan Excellence in Teaching Award was bestowed upon him by the College's faculty and administration. From 2000 to 2005, Cheek served as Associate Professor of Political Science at Lee University. In May 2002, Cheek was given Lee University’s Excellence in Scholarship award, and, in May 2004, he received Lee University's Excellence in Advising award. He has also served as a congressional aide and as a political consultant.

   Dr. Cheek's books include Political Philosophy and Cultural Renewal (Transaction/Rutgers, 2001, with Kathy B. Cheek); Calhoun and Popular Rule, (University of Missouri Press, 2001; paper edition, 2004); Calhoun: Selected Speeches and Writings (Regnery, 2003); Order and Legitimacy (Transaction/Rutgers, 2004); an edition of Calhoun's A Disquisition on Government (St. Augustine's, 2007); a critical edition of W. H. Mallock's The Limits of Pure Democracy (Transaction/Rutgers, 2007 ); Confronting Modernity: Towards a Theology of Ministry in the Wesleyan Tradition (Wesley Studies Society, 2010); a scholarly edition of A Theory of Public Opinion (Transaction/Rutgers, 2013); Patrick Henry-Onslow Debate Liberty and Republicanism in American Political Thought (Lexington Books, 2013); and, the Founding of the American Republic (Bloomsbury, 2014; forthcoming). He has also published numerous journal articles in publications like the Journal of Politics, Methodist History, International Social Science Review, and Hebraic Political Studies and is a regular commentator on American politics.  Dr. Cheek is also a senior fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) in New York.


  “We are very excited and fortunate to have Dr. Cheek join us as Chair of the Division of Social Sciences,” said EGSC President Dr. Robert Boehmer.” Dr. Cheek is an experienced and accomplished leader who brings a commitment to academic excellence that will inspire our students to success.”

   Dr. Cheek’s current research includes an intellectual biography of Francis Graham Wilson, a prominent 20th century political scientist (I.S.I. Books, 2012), and a book on Patrick Henry's constitutionalism and political theory. Dr. Cheek is also a United Methodist clergyman and former U.S. Army chaplain. He currently serves on the editorial board of Humanities, the Political Science Reviewer, Anamnesis, and The University Bookman and has served as a Fellow of the Earhart Foundation, Wilbur Foundation, the Center for Judicial Studies, and the Center for International Media Studies.            

  Dr. Cheek resides in Vidalia, Georgia, with his wife, Kathy B. Cheek, a teacher of ballet and yoga and the former executive director of the Ohoopee Regional Council for the Arts.


{mosimage}July 23--  In a ceremony on Monday, Holly Reynolds, Foster Chair and Rescue Coordinator for the Sweet Onion Animal Protection Society, was presented the Hometown Hero Award from WTOC television station in Savannah.  Reynolds was recognized for her dedication and service to SOAPS and was humbled by the honor. 


“It means a lot.  This is something that I do for the animals and so I was pleasantly surprised when I got the news.”  Reynolds added, “I have always been an animal lover and I became involved in 2008 and had my first rescue at that time and became more and more involved and started the foster program that we have now and also started making connections with rescues up north that we send rescues to monthly.”  She added, “I just do it for the love of the animals.  It’s not always a happy story.  We have a lot of stress and challenges and heartache at times with animals but the reward is well worth it.”


Theresa Ingley, CEO of the Sweet Onion Animal Protection Society says that Holly does an outstanding job placing rescued animals with new homes.  “Holly is a mover and a shaker.  We have no problem finding animals; it’s getting animals to permanent homes.  That is a huge job that requires hours and hours on email, telephone, and text, and Holly does that in an amazing way.”


Ingley says SOAPS has placed around 3,000 animals in the last two years.  “Both 2011 and 2012 we moved between 1,200 and 1,500 animals each of those years, so we moved approximately 3,000 animals out of this area.”


Reynolds went on to say that SOAPS is always looking for new help.  “We can always use volunteers.  They can go to our website and there should be an application on there.”



July 22--  A state senate committee is studying tax reform in Georgia including the feasibility of replacing the income tax with a sales tax.

Senator Judson Hill of Marietta is chairing the study committee which held its first hearing last week.

"The broad picture is to look at tax reform and the fair tax as a subset of that and see what we can do to promote job creation and economic development and growth for the people of the state," he says.

Senator Hill believes their are good reasons to look at changing the state's tax system.

"It truly is more fair.  It brings in revenues from all across the economy.  There's an underground economy out there that doesn't pay taxes.  By taxing consumption, you eliminate that.  Also you eliminate the need to file an income tax at the state level and it's real simple and easy to understand.

"We want to explore that and make sure these broad generalizations can be done in a fiscally responsible way and whether more tax reform measures would be beneficial in this state and how to go about doing that," he reports.

The study committee chairman believes state level tax reform is the place to start.

"Many people believe the states are the best incubators of great ideas and solutions.  We've seen the challenges of getting many things accomplished in Washington.

"I intend to have at least one or more hearings around the state whether it's in Vidalia or Middle Georgia or North Georgia because I think it's vitally important that all Georgians participate in this dicsussion.

The committee is expected to report its findings and any proposed legislation in time to be considered when the legislature convenes in January. 

July 20--  State Senator Jack Hill of Reidsville reports state revenue is the best it's been in six years and provides some analysis in his "Report From The Senate."


As the numbers for June came in and wound up FY13, the total of $17.0 billion showed the highest revenue collections since 2007.  And the net gain over FY2012 collections of $951.4 million showed an improvement of $200 million over the FY12 gain of a year ago.  The rate of growth of 5.9% met revenue projections and the budget passed by the legislature and will mean approximately $300 million to be added to the Revenue Shortfall Reserve (RSR).  The 5.9% growth rate was a full 1.1% over the growth rate a year ago.


So, with an increased volume of moving parts to the revenue report now, it certainly makes sense to look inside the numbers and examine what is going well and what areas require additional study.  Additionally, the RSR and its growth is important as we consider options for the FY015 budget with the many pressures budget writers will face from a spending standpoint.  Also, as policy makers study tax reform proposals, it is vital we really understand revenue trends, strengths and weaknesses.



Individual Income Taxes showed solid 7.5% growth in FY13 producing $8.7 billion. 


Individual Withholding payments were up $354 million, or 4.1% reflecting growing payrolls.  Individual Estimated payments were up as well by $134 million or 23.5% also reflecting improving economic activity.  The other Individual Tax categories were also up $183 million.


Refunds were up by $60 million but only by 2.9%.  Actually the number of refunds was down for the fiscal year by some 166,000 which is significant even as the amount paid out went up $60 million.  It is important to note a phenomenon that many states and the federal government saw in their tax collections.  Many employers and individuals were aware that the fiscal cliff that occurred on December 31, 2012 would increase individual tax rates.  As a result, many timed bonus payments or sold assets before the fiscal cliff hit in order to get a better tax rate.  It is difficult to tell how much this impacted Georgia but reports from Illinois indicated it could be almost $1.3 billion there in additional tax revenue to that State. 



If there is an area that is difficult to fathom right now, this category qualifies.  FY13 saw the implementation of the new and used car title fee replacing sales taxes and local ad valorem taxes as well as the sales tax exemption on energy in manufacturing and agricultural production.  The Sales Tax category, however had been lagging before these changes went into effect, and the challenge now is to glean information on sales taxes that is not obscured by the new exemptions and auto tax changes.  This information takes on a whole new importance with the discussion being conducted by some leaders concerning the reduction and/or elimination of the state income tax.  The presumption is that some transfer to the sales tax would be made.


Net State Sales Taxes produced $5.3 billion of the state's $17.0 billion total or about 31%.  This total came after one quarter of the year of the vehicle tag change which reduced the sales tax collection figure.  Sales Tax collections were down -0.1% compared to last year.  Just for reference purposes, if you add in the gain in the Title Fee category, presumably due to the beginning in March of 2013 of the Title fee in lieu of sales taxes, an adjusted growth of about 2.1% in Net Sales Taxes would have been shown.  So, with that adjustment, the Sales Tax category looks better.


Inside the Sales Tax figures, positive categories for the year include Food and Grocery up 5.4%, General Merchandise up 2.7% and accommodations, up 6.6%.  Decliners included Car and Auto, -12.1% (Title Fee Change), Manufacturing, down -0.5%, Other Services down -18.0% and Utilities, down -4.2%. 


It is also interesting to note that Corporate Income Taxes grew 35% or $207 million over FY2012.  In years past this category was difficult to read because of the ability to write off losses from prior years.  But with estimated payments rising by 33% and refunds down 42%, it appears as if companies are rebounding.  



One of the top key numbers the bond underwriters look at is a state's "Rainy Day Fund."  One of the acts of faith the underwriters have shown in Georgia is the belief that Georgia would rebuild its reserve as the recession recedes.  This, of course, is the "spend it or save it" dilemma that every state will face as they emerge from the recession. 


Georgia's RSR totaled about $1.6 billion when the recession began in 2007 and it quickly disappeared when the bottom dropped out of the state's economy.  The RSR dropped to about $50 million at its lowest point or about one day's requirement to operate the state.


With the gain shown in FY13, the RSR may climb from $600-$700 million for the first time in five years or so.  So the leadership of the state, faced with pressures for new spending, will have to resolve what is the right level of saving, versus the top priorities in spending.

July 19--  Bill Mitchell started volunteering with the Chamber of Commerce when he worked for Oxford Industries in Vidalia.  In 1999 he became the President of the Toombs-Montgomery Chamber of Commerce and Thursday night he was named the Chamber Executive of the Year by the Georgia Association of Chamber of Commerce Executive Directors.

The association's chairperson, Candace Boothby of Newnan, says Mitchell's record speaks for itself.

"Bill is one of our seasoned veterans and professionals in the chamber industry.  He's had a long career of being a leader by example and is being recognized for just being one of our stellar chamber executives," she said.

{mosimage}(L-R) Candace Boothby, Bill Mitchell and Fred Boscarino, President of the Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce and the 2012 recipient of the association's top award.

The local chamber board chairwoman, Susan Taylor, echoes Boothby's remarks and says, "I feel that Bill is a very hands-on person and he stays real involved.  He's been a presence in our community from the very beginning and I think that makes a big difference when you're in that position."

And for his part, Bill takes little of the credit for the honor, "I'll tell you what I told the folks at the awards ceremony.  Our community deserves this.  Not me, but our community.  Our staff at the chamber, our volunteers, our board, our elected officials, we've got a trail of absolutely great things happening over the past few years and I attribute that to everything that our community does."

July 18--  For two weeks, the public weighed in, and now Southeastern Technical College’s new mascot has a name: Paul the Patriot.

From May 20 to May 31, the front page of STC’s website asked viewers for suggestions on the name of their new mascot, who made his debut at the Pine Tree Festival Parade in Swainsboro on May 4. The winning name, selected by STC President Dr. Cathryn Mitchell, would earn the submitter a $100 prize.

{mosimage}Nearly 200 submissions were received, and after examining the names, Donna Darley of Uvalda’s submission of “Paul”—after Paul Revere—was selected.

“I’m just so happy to be a part of this, to have this connection to the college,” said Darley.

Paul will be making appearances all over the college’s eight-county service delivery area to promote STC. College officials hope that the mascot will become a rallying point for students and the community as a whole, a figurehead for technical education in southeast Georgia.






July 18--  Property revaluations in Toombs County are expected to increase the value of the county's tax digest, however, the chairman of the county commission says he expects a rollback in the tax rate on the county's portion of the property tax.

"I've talked to several of the commissioners and it's not our desire to use this increase in the digest as a backdoor tax increase.  Our desire is to rollback the millage rate so that it's a net zero for the county.

"I'm sure certain people will see increases and certain people will see decreases, but as far as it effects the county's income, it will be a net wash and we'll make sure we reduce the millage rate.  I will make sure that I vote, if I cast the tie breaking vote, to keep the millage rate low enough that it does not create additional revenue for the county. 

"The economy is still rough and we need to do everything we can to make sure the people of Toombs County have money in their pockets to spend at stores and to employ our citizens," Commission Chairman Blake Tillery says.

Meanwhile, there's still a chance the Toombs County school board will raise its property tax rate.

County School Superintendent Dr. Kim Corley says it's not something the board wants to do, but it's an option.

"We're just looking at options right now to consider different things.  Nothing is definite at this point, but that is something we're having to consider.   Our tax rates are just so low.  We're the sixth lowest in the state of Georgia right now and we've tried to keep it that way so we don't have to go up on the property owners, but at some point, we may have to consider it," she said.

In actions at its July meeting, the county commission:

*  approved an agreement that guarantees the Lyons Fire Department will respond to county fires within five miles of the city limits.  The county will pay $600 per fire and says the agreement will help reduce fire insurance rates for county residents.

*  agreed to build seven new cells at the county landfill in the next two years.

*  approved a survey to identify which dirt roads the county wants to pave using $500,000 in transportation sales tax revenue.

* approved an agreement with Montgomery County to house its prisoners in the Toombs County jail for a fee of $35 a day for each inmate.

* approved an annual contract of $105,509 to pay public defenders in the court system.

*  reappointed Raymond Turner and named Gail Widener to the Heart of Georgia Regional Commission Aging Advisory Committee. 

July 17--  The Toombs County Commission has a new county seal and Toombs County has its first-ever county logo.

{mosimage}The old county commission seal referred to the Toombs County Board of Roads and Bridges.  Toombs County manager John Jones says that only represents a fraction of county functions these days and felt it was time to update the 1905 seal.


The county commission also adopted a county logo at its July meeting. 

July 17--  The Toombs County Employee of the Month for July is Tommy Rauton from the county Road Department.  He receives a free meal for two from a local restaurant.

{mosimage}(L-R) Commissioners Jeff McCormick and Wendell Dixon, Tommy Rauton, Commission Chairman Blake Tillery, Commissioners Roy Lee Williams and Darriel Nobles. 

July 17--  The state of Georgia calls it Highway 130.  The city of Vidalia calls it Adams Street.  Drivers call it the worst road in the city, however, there's light at the end of the tunnel.

Vidalia Mayor Ronnie Dixon says the Georgia Department of Transportation has agreed to move the project to the head of the line in regional projects.  This came after the regional transportation committee heard from the city and endorsed a higher priority.

"We're really excited about it.  To start with it seemed like they (the DOT) didn't really want to do it, but we're fortunate to have a good committee that we met with a couple of weeks ago and the DOT said if they recommend it, we'll go along with it, so we got it all worked out.

"I think we'll probably be bidding the project within the next 30 to 60 days.  We've already engineered it and know what we need to do," the mayor said.

The estimated $1.6 million dollar project is much more than just resurfacing the street, according to city Finanace Director Bill Bedingfield.

"There are drainage issues right now from Highway 280 out to Third or Fourth Streets that are major problems that have to be fixed.  There are also water and sewer lines under the middle of the street which have to be moved to the sides.  It's a much bigger project than most people think, much more than just resurfacing Adams Street," he points out.

The project is expected to improve drainage along a half-mile section of the road, relocate 1.2 miles of water lines and replace curbs, gutters and sidewalks, Bedingfield says.


July 15--  The Senate State Fair Tax Study Committee will hold its first meeting on Wednesday, July 17 at the Georgia State Capitol. Chaired by Senator Judson Hill (R – Marietta), over the next few months this study committee will review the viability of enforcing the Fair Tax as a method of state tax reform. The committee will report its findings and any proposed legislation on or before December 31, 2013.

The Senate State Fair Tax Study Committee was created by the passage of Senate Resolution 72 during the 2013 legislative session. The Fair Tax is a proposed method of state and federal level tax reform that taxes consumers on the sale of new goods and services and eliminates the employee payroll tax.

July 15-- All students in the Toombs County school system will get free breakfasts and lunches when school starts in August.  The school system made the following announcement.

"Toombs County School Nutrition Program is slated to implement the Community Eligibility Option (CEO) for Free Meal Reimbursement in School Year 2014.  Through CEO, a school district, a group of schools or a single school may offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students. This eliminates the procedure of distributing and processing meal applications.

Toombs County School Nutrition Director Courtney Gay shared, “This program is a wonderful opportunity for our students and the Toombs County School Nutrition Program. Families will benefit from the money saved each month and in turn have those extra funds to spend in our community. It is a win-win for our students, families, school system, and community!”

The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 includes the implementation of CEO to insure that every student in low-income neighborhoods can participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP).  To qualify, a district or school must have 40 percent or more of its students eligible for free meals based on direct certification.

By participating in CEO and eliminating the need for meal applications, Toombs County School Nutrition Program will reduce administrative and printing costs.  Families also benefit from the elimination of completing and submitting meal applications. 

Toombs County School Superintendent Dr. Kim Corley added, “I am extremely excited that our system was selected to participate in this program. We strive to be proactive and implement programs that will benefit our students, parents, and community. This is another opportunity to make these educational stakeholders a priority in the Toombs County School System!”

Georgia is one of 11 states selected to pilot this innovative program. CEO will be available to the entire country in School Year 2015."

The new program does not apply to the Vidalia City School System.  Superintendent Dr. Garrett Wilcox says the system did not have enough students receiving "free and reduced price" meals to apply for the program.


July 12--  The Sweet Onion City had lots of activity Thursday with events in retail, charitable and civic areas of interest.


The long-awaited Chic-fil-A opened its newest store Thursday morning with a ribbon-cutting.  (Front row - Company VP Bubba Cathy, franchise operators Candace and Britt McDade and their twin sons, Hampton and Levi, and Toombs County Commission Chairman Blake Tillery. (Back row -Britt's Chic-fil-A Atlanta mentor Mike Holmes, Drew Read, Bill Torrance and Bill Mitchell)

{mosimage}Local citizens, including Benny McLendon (L), turned out to show support for Nick Eason's Foundation, by dining at Canape Restaurant in downtown Vidalia.  About $2,000 was raised to help area citizens who are fighting cancer.


The Vidalia Rotary Club inducted new officers.  Former Club President Mac Jordan administers the oath of office to (L-R) incoming President Sandra Kate Hendrix, Rotary Foundation Chairman Dr. Lloyd Darby, Treasurer Nicky Catron, President-elect Brian Fabacher, Sergeant-at-Arms Zack Fowler and Secretary Richard Martin. 

July 12--  How much did the service region of East Georgia State College benefit economically in fiscal year 2012 from having the college located in this region? 

According to the newly released report from the Selig Center for Economic Growth in the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia, it benefitted $70 million in 2012. The report indicated that even during tough economic conditions, Georgia’s public university system made a $14 billion dollar economic impact on the state’s economy during the fiscal year 2012.  East Georgia State College, a state college of the University System of Georgia, contributed $70 million to that total, in addition to employing 858 people in 2012.  .

            According to a college news release, "These are impressive numbers as they are and will continue to increase now that EGSC is in our fourth year as part of the NCAA (National College Athletic Association) and has opened student apartment housing called “Bobcat Villas” on campus. Additionally, the college is now offering selected baccalaureate degrees along with the AA programs currently offered. The College’s faculty also instructs students at East Georgia State College Statesboro, in collaboration with Georgia Southern University and beginning this fall at East Georgia State College Augusta, in collaboration with Georgia Regents University. The study areas used in this impact report as it relates to EGSC are the counties of Emanuel, Candler, Bulloch, Johnson, Jefferson, Toombs, Treutlen, Tattnall and Jenkins."

      Dr. Bob Boehmer, president of East Georgia State College stated, "The new 2012 Economic Impact Report is clear evidence that education is a good investment and it emphasizes the wisdom and vision of the Swainsboro leaders who led the effort to establish East Georgia State College, then Emanuel County Junior College, in the early seventies.”

       “We have EGSC alumni serving as successful pharmacists, judges, lawyers, teachers, anthropologists, doctors, engineers, and business and industry leaders, many in our local communities and this region of our state,” added Dr. Boehmer.

      “The primary focus of EGSC is to provide the best possible educational environment for  our students by meeting the objectives of the Complete College Georgia initiative of increasing college graduates. To be able to do this and contribute to the economic well-being of our service area makes East Georgia State College a vital driving force in East Central Georgia,” concluded Dr. Boehmer.

“The study shows clearly that East Georgia State College is good for business in our area. Businesses looking for a place to locate pay particular attention to the educational opportunities of their potential site. There are also other benefits, not measured in the study, such as the cultural opportunities and intellectual stimulation afforded through the College’s privately funded Vision Series,” added External Affairs, Alumni, and Foundation Director, Elizabeth Gilmer.

“The spending of residential students living in “Bobcat Villas” alone means a $2.4 million jump, based on factors used by the Selig Center researchers. The intercollegiate sports teams have proven to be an economic boost.  Among other factors, out-of-town sports teams will generate spending in the service area as teams come into our town to compete against East Georgia State College athletes,” concluded Gilmer. 

Economic impact benefits are based on three important categories of college/university related expenses; 1) spending by the institutions themselves for salaries and fringe benefits, operating supplies and expenses, and other budgeted expense, 2) spending by the students who attend the college and 3) spending by the institutions for capital projects (construction).   Each of these categories creates spending which is then multiplied by further spending.

 “A college or university improves the skills of its graduates, which increases their lifetime earnings. Local businesses benefit from easy access to a large pool of part-time and full-time workers,” said study author Dr. Jeffrey M. Humphreys, director of economic forecasting for the Selig Center. For every job created on campus, there are 1.6 off-campus jobs that exist because of spending related to the institution.

      “You can’t underestimate the value of education and the value that the East Georgia State College community brings to Swainsboro and the region. More than just the economics, it’s the intangible effects of having the quality of people in the EGSC family – the professors, the staff and administrators, and the students – that add so much to our community and the region. With over 3400 students, the College is a powerful economic engine that helps drive our service communities forward. From realtors to convenience store operators, everyone benefits. During slowdowns in the economy we usually see an upturn in the number of students seeking to improve themselves, so it’s near recession-proof too,” commented Swainsboro Mayor Charles Schwabe, a member of the EGSC Foundation.


July 12-- The Georgia Department of Education has released results of the annual standardized testing conducted for students in grades three through eight. 

Students are tested in reading, English/language arts, math, science and social studies.

The charts below show how students in schools in our area did on their testing this year.  The percentage figure reflects the percentage of students in each grade who met or exceeded state standards.

Students in grades three, five and eight who don't meet the standard in reading are not promoted to the next grade according to state law.  The same law applies to students in the fifth and eighth grades in math.

In reading, the highest percentage in third grade was achieved by Treutlen Elementary, in fourth grade by Toombs Central, in fifth grade by Montgomery Elementary, in sixth grade by J.R. Trippe Middle School, in seventh grade by Toombs County Middle School and in eighth grade by Montgomery County Middle School.

In English/language arts, the highest percentage in third grade was by Lyons Upper Elementary, in fourth grade by Treutlen Elementary, in fifth grade by Montgomery Elementary, in sixth grade by J.R. Trippe Middle School, in seventh grade by Treutlen Middle School and in eighth grade by Montgomery County Middle School.

The top achiever in math in third grade was Treutlen Elementary, in fourth grade Toombs Central Elementary, in fifth grade Treutlen Elementary, and J.R. Trippe Middle school in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

In science, the highest percentage in third grade was by Lyons Upper Elementary, in fourth grade Toombs Central, in fifth grade Montgomery County Elementary and by J.R. Trippe Middle School in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

In social studies, the highest percentage in third grade was by Treutlen Elementary, in fourth grade by Toombs Central, in fifth grade by Sally Meadows Elementary, J.R. Trippe Middle School in the sixth and seventh grades and by Montgomery County Middle School in the eighth grade.










Treutlen Elementary



Montgomery Elem



Lyons Upper Elem



Toombs Central



Sally Meadows Elem






Toombs Central



Montgomery Elem



Treutlen Elem



Lyons Upper Elem



Sally Meadows Elem






Montgomery Elem



Sally Meadows Elem



Toombs Central



Treutlen Elem



Lyons Upper Elem






J.R. Trippe MS



Treutlen MS



Toombs Co MS



Montgomery MS






Treutlen MS



Montgomery MS



J.R. Trippe MS



Toombs Co MS






Toombs MS



Treutlen MS



J.R. Trippe MS



Montgomery MS







Lyons Upper Elem



Treutlen Elem



Montgomery Elem



Sally Meadows Elem



Toombs Central






Treutlen Elem



Toombs Central



Lyons Upper Elem



Montgomery Elem



Sally Meadows Elem






Montgomery Elem



Toombs Central



Sally Meadows Elem



Treutlen Elem



Lyons Upper Elem






J.R. Trippe MS



Toombs Co MS



Treutlen MS



Montgomery MS






Treutlen MS



J.R. Trippe MS



Toombs Co MS



Montgomery Co MS






Montgomery Co MS



J.R. Trippe MS



Treutlen MS



Toombs Co MS







Treutlen Elem



Lyons Upper Elem



Sally Meadows Elem



Montgomery Elem



Toombs Central Elem






Toombs Central Elem



Treutlen Elem



Montgomery Elem



Lyons Upper Elem



Sally Meadows Elem






Treutlen Elem



Sally Meadows Elem



Montgomery Elem



Lyons Upper Elem



Toombs Central






J.R. Trippe MS



Montgomery MS



Toombs Co MS



Treutlen MS






J.R.Trippe MS



Toombs Co MS



Montgomery Co MS



Treutlen MS






J.R. Trippe MS



Toombs Co MS



Montgomery Co MS



Treutlen MS







Lyons Upper Elem



Treutlen Elem



Toombs Central



Sally Meadows Elem



Montgomery Co Elem






Toombs Central



Treutlen Elem



Sally Meadows Elem



Lyons Upper Elem



Montgomery Co Elem






Montgomery Co Elem



Toombs Central



Sally Meadows Elem



Lyons Upper Elem



Treutlen Elem






J.R.Trippe MS



Toombs Co MS



Treutlen MS



Montgomery Co MS






J.R. Trippe  MS



Treutlen MS



Toombs Co MS



Montgomery Co MS






J.R. Trippe MS



Toombs Co MS



Montgomery Co MS



Treutlen MS







Treutlen Elem



Sally Meadows Elem



Toombs Central



Montgomery Co Elem



Lyons Upper Elem






Toombs Central



Treutlen Elem



Sally Meadows Elem



Lyons Upper Elem



Montgomery Co Elem






Sally Meadows Elem



Lyons Upper Elem



Treutlen Elem



Toombs Central



Montgomery Co Elem






J.R. Trippe MS



Toombs Co MS



Treutlen MS



Montgomery Co MS






J.R. Trippe MS



Toombs Co MS



Treutlen MS



Montgomery Co MS






Montgomery Co MS



J.R.Trippe MS



Toombs Co MS



Treutlen MS





July 11-- With the advent of a new school year just weeks away, the Georgia Department of Revenue announces that the “back to school” sales tax holiday will be August 9-10, 2013.

“The 2013 sales tax holiday represents an excellent opportunity for parents to save money on basic necessities when getting their children ready for the upcoming school year in Georgia,” said DOR Commissioner Doug MacGinnitie. 

Clothing and footwear with a sales price of $100 or less per item will be exempt from sales tax, along with single purchases of $1,000 or less of personal computers and computer-related accessories. Also, general school supplies to be used in the classroom or in classroom-related activities with a sales price of $20 or less per item are exempt from sales tax.

More information concerning the 2013 sales tax holiday and tax exempt items can be found on the Department’s website here under Sales Tax:

July 11--  The Athens Banner-Herald reports on a cozy relationship between the state's Insurance Commissioner and his staff and the industry he regulates.

"Georgia’s top insurance regulator and two senior staffers accepted $100-per-head meals and, in one case, a round of golf last month funded by the industry they oversee, according to recent financial disclosures.

That spending is legal under Georgia law, though Gov. Nathan Deal and other elected leaders forbid or discourage it elsewhere in state government. The sums spent on Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens and his staff represent larger-than-average lobbyist spending on executive officials. While lobbyists frequently splurge on those elected to office, it is less common for them to pick up the tab for staff regulators who set and enforce rules. One of the entertainment expenditures would be illegal when a new lobbying law takes effect next year.

The case was also notable because a lobbyist twice paid for pricey dinners for a regulator’s family.

Aubie Knight, CEO of the Independent Insurance Agents of Georgia, said there is nothing wrong with hosting Hudgens and his staff to a June convention and trade show at a resort on Amelia Island in Florida, northeast of Jacksonville on the Atlantic Coast. Hudgens and his staff have attended since he took office in 2011 and pay for their own travel and lodging.

Knight said the event allows regulators and insurance agents to discuss industry topics.

“I don’t have a problem with that, nor does the organization have it,” Knight said in an interview. “I can understand the optics of it, how it could look bad to outsiders. I can understand how some people could look at that and say, ‘Huh, what’s going on here?’”

Hudgens said it was not a conflict of interest to accept meals or gifts from people his office regulates. After being questioned about the spending, Hudgens said his staff will pay for their own entertainment at future gatherings and begin following a new law limiting lobbyist spending before it legally takes effect in January.

“I was in the Legislature 14 years,” said Hudgens, a Republican. “I never felt my vote was for sale, and I don’t think someone taking me out to dinner ever influenced my vote, yea or nay. And I brought that same feeling into the position as insurance commissioner.”

His office makes decisions that have financial consequences for the insurance industry. It approves price hikes sought by insurance firms, licenses insurance companies and agents and investigates consumer complaints.

A lobbyist for the insurance agents, Gould Hagler, reported spending more than $350 to buy meals for Hudgens and his wife over two days.

More unusual was the spending on rank-and-file regulators, such as Steve Manders, who works as Hudgens’ director of insurance products review. He helps review insurance policies sold in Georgia and drafts rules governing the industry.

During one meal, Hagler spent $411 to cover the expenses of Manders, his wife and their two daughters, or just over $100 per head. Hagler also spent $123 to buy Manders a round of golf during the convention. That golf expense would be illegal once a new law takes effect Jan. 1, setting the state’s first limits on lobbying expenditures. Other lawmakers attending the convention also received free meals and, in one instance, lodging.

Hudgens said he was uncomfortable that Manders’ children had attended one of the two meals.

“It’s really disheartening that a staffer would accept a gift who’s in a position to not only influence policy, but individual actions by insurance companies,” said William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, part of a coalition that pushed to limit lobbyist spending.

Besides Manders, the lobbying group spent more than $350 on meals for Tammy Holmes, who oversees insurance agent licensing, and her husband. The group made similar expenditures on both Manders and Holmes at past meetings, according to state records.

“I really think that more than anything else, we could just kind of chalk that up to being good hosts, Southern hospitality,” Knight said.

Deal signed an executive order in 2011 that bans executive branch employees under his control from accepting lobbyist spending or gifts worth more than $25. Deal’s order also says the state prefers the government pay for employee travel and expenses rather than allowing others to pick up the tab. Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said the order does not apply to executive agencies run by other elected officials, for example, Hudgens.

Georgia adopted a new law this year that will generally limit lobbyists from spending more than $75 at a time to influence public officials starting Jan. 1. However, lobbyists will still be allowed to pay to send public officials and their staff on trips within the United States that are related to their government functions."


July 10--  Newsmax reports the U.S. Department of Justice sent organizers to Sanford, Florida to orchestrate protests calling for the prosecution of George Zimmerman in the aftermath of the Travon Martin shooting.

Report: Justice Dept Backed Trayvon Martin Rallies

A secretive branch of the U.S. Department of Justice was deployed to Sanford, Fla., in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting to help organize rallies, including one headlined by the Rev. Al Sharpton, calling for the arrest and prosecution of George Zimmerman.

Records obtained by the watchdog group Judicial Watch, under the Freedom of Information Act, showed that members of the Justice Department's Community Relations Service were sent to Sanford in March and April of 2012 to help manage protests, The Daily Caller reported Wednesday.

The 347 pages of documents obtained from the federal government showed that $5,320 in expenses was claimed by the Community Relations Service for workers assigned to protests and marches in and around Sanford after Zimmerman was accused of shooting Martin.

At a March 31 rally, CRS workers provided technical assistance to the city of Sanford and rally organizers for the event billed as "The March for Trayvon Martin," where civil-rights activist and MSNBC host Sharpton called for Zimmerman's prosecution, according to The Daily Caller.

"These documents detail the extraordinary intervention by the Justice Department in the pressure campaign leading to the prosecution of George Zimmerman," said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a statement posted on the watchdog group's website. "My guess is that most Americans would rightly object to taxpayers paying government employees to help organize racially charged demonstrations."

The release of the Justice Department documents came as the defense rested their case in the second-degree murder trial without calling Zimmerman to testify.

According to federal documents obtained by Judicial Watch, the feds spent $674.14 from March 25-27 in Sanford "to work marches, demonstrations and rallies related to the shooting death of an African-American teen by a neighborhood watch captain." Another $1,142.14 was claimed for similar work from March 25-28.

From March 30 to April 1, the CRS staff rang up $892.55 in expenses "to provide support for protest deployment in Florida." Also during that time, the agency claimed another $751.60 in expenses to "provide technical assistance to the city of Sanford, event organizers, and law enforcement agencies for the march and rally on March 31."

CRS filed for $1,307.40 in expenses from April 3-12 "to provide technical assistance, conciliation and onsite mediation during demonstrations planned in Sanford." And from April 11-12, CRS spent $552.35 while in Sanford "to provide technical assistance for the preparation of possible marches and rallies related to the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old African-American male."

The CRS was created under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Daily Caller reported. The agency describes its role as the Department of Justice's "peacemaker for community conflicts and tensions arising from differences of race, color, and national origin."


July 10-- Geese have become something of a fixture at Southeastern Technical College, making a home on the Vidalia campus’s pond, but every year the geese’s numbers grow from fixture to nuisance, and the birds get taken on their own summer vacation from school.


This year, STC’s Fish and Wildlife Management (FWM) program aided the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and US Department of Agriculture Wildlife Division (USDA) in removing 168 Canada Geese from the Vidalia campus pond on June 25.

“FWM students frequently participate in DNR projects,” said Jill Lehman, FWM program head. “Six FWM students participated in this goose relocation project.”

With people stationed around the pond, the team herded the geese together in the water and a small boat pushed the group towards the corral set up behind the college’s main building. Once the geese hit land, it was a mad dash as the students, their instructor and DNR and USDA workers all spread their arms and closed on the geese, funneling the land-bound birds into the corral.

“After nesting, geese undergo an annual molt: a four-to-five week flightless period when they shed and re-grow their outer wing feathers,” said Lehman. “Since the geese are flightless, agencies can corral the geese.”

Once contained, the geese were carefully sexed and banded, to aid in the tracking and maintenance of the state’s Canada Goose population. The entire process took nearly four hours, and once it was done, the geese were shipped off to northwest Georgia.

After restocking the goose population in the 70s and 80s, the DNR has had to carefully monitor the birds, as they took to the environment so well that overpopulation became a problem in some areas. A harvest season was established to help control the population, which is currently estimated at around 45,000 across the state.


July 10--  A crowd started gathering last night at the location of the new Chic-fil-A on Highway 280 West in Vidalia.  One hundred have been chosen by the company in a random drawing to win free Chic-fil-A meals for a year.

The Sweet Onion City's first and only Chic-fil-a is bringing more than 65 jobs and will open for business Thursday mornng at six a.m  Meanwhile, Chic-fil-A groupies have set up a tent city in the parking lot.


Chic-fil-A is partnering with the Paul Anderson Youth Home in Vidalia to collect yard and garden tools for use by residents of the home in landscaping and yardwork.  You may drop off rakes, shovels, hammers, wheel barrows, water hoses, work gloves, water hoses, brooms, sprinklers, hoes, sledge hammers and pitchforks at the restaurant.

Britt McDade is the franchise operator.  He's a graduate of Southern Polytechnic in Marietta and worked in construction prior to joining Chic-fil-A.  He and his wife, Candace, have twin sons, Hampton and Levi.

July 10--  The budget for Vidalia City schools in fiscal year 2014 is less than this year.

Tuesday night the school board approved a total budget of $25,342,646.26 which is almost $866,000 less than fiscal year 2013.

At the same time, the board had to increase it s budget for teachers by almost $200,000 to pay for three special ed teachers mandated by the state.

School Superintendent Dr. Garrett Wilcox said, "We've done what we could to make some adjustments, mainly through attrition, to maintain some type of safe fund balance moving forward."

The new budget reflects a total reserve of $1.5 million including $980,000 in the general fund in FY14.  However, there are furlough days when employees won't be paid.

"Unfortunately, this will be our third year of ten furlough days.  We'd hoped we could make some adjustments and at least reduce that number, but we haven't made it to a point where we feel comfortable doing that yet," the superintendent said.

The school board is requesting waivers to various state requirements including one to keep class sizes larger than state standards, a move needed to keep fewer teachers on the payroll.

The school board voted to move the location of its regular meetings held on the second Tuesday of each month.  Starting August 13th, the meetings will be held in the city council chambers at the Vidalia Municipal Annex.

The board has a called meeting at its offices on Adams Street Friday, August 2 at one p.m. to discuss charter school options being offered by the state.

July 9--  An inmate from Rogers State Prison in Reidsville was on the run about three hours Tuesday afternoon before being captured.

Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight and his deputies assisted in the search for the escapee in the southeastern part of the county.  The sheriff says the prisoner was on a work detail outside the fence when he ran for it.

Officials employed a helicopter and tracking dogs in the search.  Sheriff Kight said the man was found in an abandoned trailer in the vicinity of the Joe Weber Road and Highway 147.

July 9--  The Vidalia Recreation Department has reopened the city tennis courts at the Ed Smith Recreation Complex.

{mosimage}The courts underwent a weeklong $24,000 renovation that is expected to give area tennis players an excellent surface to play on for years to come, according to Rec Director Tommie Sasser.

July 9--  The Mayor of Dalton is running for Governor of Georgia and issued the following news release today.

Pennington Takes First Steps in Republican Campaign for Georgia Governor


Dalton, GA - A job-creating businessman and Mayor of Dalton, Georgia - David Pennington has taken the first steps in his campaign for Governor of Georgia.  Pennington, a Republican, filed the necessary paperwork to begin his campaign for the GOP nomination.


David Pennington is also launching an initial website:, which contains links to his social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter.


Pennington expects to make a full formal announcement later in the campaign.


"Georgia citizens' incomes are ranked down where they were in 1979. Georgia has trailed the nation in economic performance, with the national economy growing 71% faster than ours for much of the last decade," Pennington states on the site.  David added, "Our leadership is failing us ... We need ethical leadership that will focus on job creation, not scoring political points.  We need a proven, job-creating businessman to take the reins."


Pennington's biography found on the site outlines his background and key concerns, as he takes his first steps in the race.


Under David's leadership in Dalton - general property taxes have been reduced 28%; general fund spending has been reduced 19%; and the general fund surplus has been increased over 50%. To encourage entrepreneurship - business license fees have been reduced by up to 50%, and the permitting process streamlined to shorten the time to begin doing business.


David notes that, as a principled conservative, he has a "disdain for those who would hide behind a party label to raise taxes or increase wasteful government spending."


On job creation - David also notes that, "as an economics major and graduate from the University of Georgia, he has seen that job creation is not just about what is done on the local level but is also heavily influenced by what happens in the state capital."


He encourages the media and Georgia citizens to read the full biography to understand his background.


"Today, I am taking the first steps in this race," said Pennington, "I look forward to growing my campaign, to making a formal announcement in the future, and to bringing real leadership to the Governor's office that will improve our economy, improve management of our budget, promote our values, and return Georgia to greatness."




July 9--  Sales tax collections in Vidalia are a mixed bag during the first few months of 2013.

According to city financial reports, local option sales tax collections through May total $1,022,447.68 and are down by just over one-half of a percent.

During the first four months of the year, the city reports Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue increased 1.95% for a total of $688,966.98.  However, April collections were down 4.83% compared to April of last year.

The Transportation Special Purpose Sales Tax which started in January has earned the city $42,027.81. Collections are averaging about $8,400 a month.

The city is attracting more visitors this year.  The hotel/motel tax is 6.36% higher than last year and has collected $133,244.33 through June.  Proceeds are used to help finance the Vidalia Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Downtown Vidalia Assocation.  So far this year, the city has paid the VACVB $45,303.37 and the DVA $7,994.66.

Collections are also up from the alcohol tax.  The increase through June is 2.34% and equals $131,821.86 in revenue for the city.


July 8-- Despite the fact unemployment in the state and nation has improved, unemployment in the nine-county Vidalia trade area is worse this year than it was a year ago.

According to the state Labor Department, the unemployment rate in May was higher in every county than it was in May, 2012.

Each county has double-digit inflation with Treutlen and Jeff Davis Counties topping the list at 13.6%.  The lowest rate is 10.2% and that's in Appling and Tattnall Counties.   The rate in Toombs County is 10.4%, an increase of nearly one-half of one percent in the past year.


May 2013

April 2013

May 2012













Jeff Davis
































July 5--  State Senator Jack Hill of Reidsville provides a summary of new state laws which took effect July 1st. 


Every July 1, many new or altered laws go into effect and everybody for the first time realizes how the legislature can alter their day to day life.  July 1, 2013 is no different.  Here's a list of new laws and a short explanation.  See the web site at the bottom of the column to research for a more complete view of any new law.


HB 99 - Allows Home Brew production to increase from 100 gallons a year per person in the household to 200 gallons per person.  Federal law tops out at 200 gallons as well.


SB 136 - The new Boating under the Influence legislation actually went into effect on June 15 and lowers the Blood Alcohol Content for impaired operation from .010 to .08, the same as for autos for adults 21 and over. Flotation devices are also required for children under 13 in moving boats. Young people 12-15 must have a safety course to operate a jet ski unaccompanied.


SB 70 - Requires high schools to include CPR training and automated external defibrillator (AED) instruction as part of existing health or physical education courses.


SB 211 - Local school systems will no longer owe excise taxes on motor fuel purchased for school buses.  The exemption is good for two years.


HB 287 - Transfers the State Archives from the Secretary of State to  the Board of Regents.


HB 372 - Lowers the eligibility requirements for the HOPE Grant (Technical Schools) from 3.0 to 2.0 which is seen as an encouragement for enrollment in many of the trades programs.


HB 154 - Revises Georgia's Workers Compensation Laws-caps medical benefits for non-catastrophic injuries at 400 weeks where there presently is no cap.  Shortens mileage reimbursement time.  Reduces interest rate to 5% on lump sum present-day payments and clarifies workday for 15 day return to work period.  Increases weekly benefit on temporary partial disability from $334 to $350 and on temporary total disability form $500 to $525.


HB 382 - Gives a public school sovereign immunity when operating under a joint-use agreement with private recreation or arts activities with proper liability insurance.


HB 126 - New Code section that prohibits anyone from knowingly obstructing or hindering a park ranger in his or her official duties.  Also allows authorized hunting with a registered sound suppressor. 


HB 207 - Allows an additional weekend for turkey hunting for children 16 and under and mobility impaired persons.


HB 226 - Requires EPD-issued decals for used tire and scrap tire carriers and revises the number of tires that may be stored by one person.


HB 274 - State taking over regulation and licensing of falconry hunting from federal government.  Requires applicant's facilities and equipment be inspected.   


SB 121 - Establishes new military-related special license plates qualifying all honorably discharge veterans for the plates.  Creates AID Atlanta plate and Appalachian Train Conservancy plate.


HB 407 - Increases the length of time from 6 months to 1 year an ignition interlock device must be in use as part of the penalty for a second DUI conviction.


HB 482 - Retiring Department of Corrections employees who carry department issued weapons may now retain those weapons upon honorable retirement with over 20 years of service.


SB 61 - Shortens the time a storage building operator has before they can attach a lien on property from 10 days to 7 days in arrears and allows for contacting the renter by last known email or postal mail.


HB188 - May already be in effect but provides for a process for returning veterans to become licensed in professional trades after receiving training in the military.


If you would like additional information regarding a specific piece of legislation, you may access the Georgia General Assembly website at


July 5--  When the Georgia legislature cracked down on illegal immigrants in 2011, it caused a major labor problem for Georgia's produce farmers.

Toombs County organic farmer Jason Berry tried to tell lawmakers back then it would be a disaster, but not enough listened.

"When Georgia passed House Bill 87 was when we started seeing issues with getting enough labor to pick our crops.  We tried to talk with state representatives and senators about the bill, but state government went ahead and passed it.

"The migrant workers were afraid to come to Georgia.  For example, with blueberries, Florida starts out early in the season and the season moves on up through Georgia and North Carolina on up to New Jersey.

"In 2011 I got calls from crew leaders who said they weren't coming to Georgia and were going on up to North Carolina and going through Alabama and Tennessee to get there.  They were afraid to even come through Georgia and these were legal folks.  Now they may have been some undocumented workers in the group, but the way the law read, if there were illegals in the vehicle with you, you could be held accountable.

"So basically we ended up losing about twenty percent of the crop and we had about half of the people we would have liked to have had," Berry said.

The situation has led Berry to be a supporter of the immigration law which has passed the U.S. Senate but has little chance in the House.  He and others met with President Obama in the White House to support the administration's efforts.

"We need to do something to give these people a legal way to come here and work.  They want to work, we need them to work and it's very important we give them a legal channel to do so," he says.



July 4-- Missy has been missing since Monday from John Wilkes Road in Lyons/Toombs County.

{mosimage}Please contact Holly at 912 539 9840 if you have seen her or can offer any info!

July 4-- At the Southeastern Technical College Board of Directors’ year-end meeting at Flat Creek Lodge in Swainsboro, the board honored four directors who were attending their final meeting.

{mosimage}(L-R) David Smith, Pollyann Martin, Kenny Griffin, Erma Jenkins and Martin Moses—ending his term as chairperson—receive gifts honoring their service to the STC Board of Directors.  

Kenny Griffin, manager of Georgia Power Company’s Swainsboro office, first became a board member in 2004 at Swainsboro Technical College, and has been heavily involved with technical education ever since, attending a long list of conferences and events around the state and becoming the first chair of STC’s board after merging with Swainsboro Tech.

Erma Jenkins was appointed to Swainsboro Tech’s board in 2002 and, within two years, became the chair of the Swainsboro Technical College Board of Directors. Jenkins, the Emanuel County School System superintendent, worked with four different presidents during her time at Swainsboro Tech and Southeastern Tech, serving terms as vice-chairperson and chairperson on both boards.

Pollyann Martin, a broker at The Temples Company in Vidalia, has represented Toombs County on STC’s board since 2003. Her dedication to technical education in Georgia is evidenced in the list of positions she’s held: Technical College Directors’ Association of Georgia (TCDA) treasurer in 2005, TCDA vice president in 2006, TCDA president in 2007, TCDA past president in 2008, first vice chair of merged Southeastern Tech board, and STC board chair from 2010-2011.

David Smith began his term on the STC Board of Directors in 2010. The following year, Smith, the director of purchasing at Rotary Corporation in Glennville, became a TCDA-certified board member and he finished his three year term with the meeting at Flat Creek Lodge.


July 3-- Please help us find Pearl. 

{mosimage}Our 6 month old Boston Terrier went missing on June 24 in the Aimwell Road area close to Glendale Subdivision. She is very small weighing only around 3 or 4 pounds. If you see her, please contact Greg or Vicki Caraway at 912-245-4465

July 3--  It's not every day that a farm boy from Georgia is invited to the White House for a meeting with the President.

"I got a call Friday afternoon and it was a blocked number and I almost didn't answer it.  The caller said this is Julie Rodriguez from the White House and we'd like you to attend a roundtable with the President," recalls Jason Berry, a local organic farmer and operations manager for Dole Berries in Baxley.

{mosimage}Turns out Berry (left corner) was part of a diverse group of people with a common cause, i.e., support of comprensive immigration reform which passed the U.S. Senate a few days after Berry's June 24th White House visit.

"We all were in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing and President Obama came in from the door in the rear of the room and went around.  Everybody introduced themselves and shook hands with him. 

"Then they let the press come in and it was like a bunch of rabid dogs coming in.  The President gave his five minute speech on why the White House is supporting comprehensive immigration reform and then they kicked the press out of the room and we had about 45 minutes to talk with the President.  He went around to each person and wanted to hear how we are affected and why we support this thing.

"I don't think he really understood how much we needed a reliable, skilled workforce, but I think he does now.  I was impressed with him.  He was very calm, cool and collected, as usual.  He was more down to earth than I expected him to be and I was impressed.

"It was a once in a lifetime experience and I'll be able to talk about it with the kids and the grandkids.  It was a special experience for sure," Berry said. 

{mosimage}Jason is a 1997 graduate of Robert Toombs Christian Academy and a 2002 UGA grad.  His wife, Stacy, accompanied him to the White House.

(Editor's Note:  Check back for future stories with Jason regarding immigration and farm labor issues in Southeast Georgia.)

July 2-– Christopher Ceolinski, 38, of Blackstone, Massachusetts pled guilty today before United States District Court J. Randal Hall for receiving child pornography and transferring obscene material to a person under the age of 16.  Ceolinski faces a mandatory minimum of five years imprisonment and a maximum of thirty years on the two charges. He will be required to register as a sex offender, and will be subject to a term of supervised release of between five years and life.  Following the guilty plea, Ceolinski was returned to the custody of the United States Marshal Service to await sentencing.

            According to the evidence presented at Ceolinski’s plea hearing, in July 2011, Ceolinski, initially posing as a 20-year-old, sent an unsolicited friend request to a 15-year-old girl in Lincolnton, Georgia, which was accepted.  The two began regular communications, which quickly became sexual in nature.  Beginning in August 2011, Ceolinski, who had admitted his true age of 36, sent obscene images of himself to the girl over the Internet and through messaging systems.  Several months later, he also sent an iPod Touch to the girl so she could send sexually explicit images of herself to him, as he requested.  Ultimately, Ceolinski traveled to Georgia to secretly meet with the girl.  Some time later the girl’s mother became aware of the communications, and contacted law enforcement. 

              When Ceolinski was arrested in Massachusetts on a federal complaint filed in Augusta, his mobile phone was found to contain illegal images of the 15-year-old victim.  Ceolinski admitted to Federal Bureau of Investigation agents the length and nature of his contact with the Lincolnton girl.  Ceolinski was subsequently detained and transferred to Georgia to face the charges here.

            United States Attorney Edward J. Tarver stated, “This Defendant used social networking sites to locate and prey on innocent children.  This type of exploitation constitutes a serious and heinous crime that results in an immeasurable, long-lasting, impact on the child.  There should be no doubt that the United States Attorney’s Office will prosecute those who promote and facilitate these crimes, as there is no higher priority within the Department of Justice than to protect our Nation’s children. ”         

            This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a U.S. Department of Justice initiative designed to protect children from online exploitation and abuse.  Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as identify and rescue victims.    

            The case was the result of an investigation conducted by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Greenwood prosecuted the case.  For additional information, please contact First Assistant United States Attorney James D. Durham at (912) 201-2547.

July 1--  The Uvalda city council has overruled an executive order by the town's mayor.

At a called meeting Monday night, Mayor Paul Bridges appeared and called the meeting illegal before departing city hall.

After his departure, the council was advised by its attorney that the meeting conformed to the city charter and was legal.

The council then voted to rescind a June 21st executive order by Mayor Bridges which ordered Police Chief Lewis Smith to cease conducting road blocks in the city.

Mayor Pro Tem Elaine Manning said, "I believe it's a way for Mayor Bridges to obstruct our police department.  He's just trying to keep them for doing their job."

Mayor Bridge's order cites nine reasons why he objects to roadblocks including safety issues and city liability concerns.

Chief Smith traces the conflict with the mayor to a roadblock where a Hispanic driver was busted for marijuana.  He says the mayor testified for the defense at the trial which resulted in a conviction. 

July 1--  Part of the newly re-widened U.S. Highway One north of Lyons is scheduled for opening next Monday.

According to the Georgia Department of Transportation,if weather permits. U.S. 1/State Route 4 traffic will shift from its current location to the newly constructed section of U.S. 1/State Route 4 over Pendleton Creek.

{mosimage}The traffic shift will begin Monday the 8th around 3p.m. starting north of the U.S.1/Louis Starra intersection and extend south of the US1/Five Point Road in Toombs County. During the first few days of the shift, the contractor crew will lead both north and southbound motorists through this work zone with a pilot vehicle.  Motorists should pay close attention to the instructions of the flagmen and the Contractor  pilot vehicle and do not attempt to pass the pilot vehicle.

 “I only ask that motorists continue to be alert while traveling through our work zone.  Their safety, and the safety of the crews are the upmost concern,” explain Bryan Czech, Area Engineer. “Thank you, also, to all who travel U.S.1 for being patient with the contractor for the work he has done, and for the work he will continue to do,” noted Czech.

 This $23 million construction project includes 8.5 miles of new roadway and two new bridges over Pendleton Creek. The project completion date is September 2, 2014 and the contractor is McLendon Enterprises, Inc. of Vidalia.  


July 1--  A one-vehicle accident killed two Treutlen County teenagers Saturday evening.

According to Treutlen County Coroner Greg Higgs, 14-year-old Shykeria Flanders was ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene of the accident on a county dirt road near the Boiling Springs community southeast of Soperton.

The other victim, 15-year-old Tykeria Phillips, was transported to Memorial Medical Center in Savannah and was pronounced dead at the hospital.  A 19-year-old passenger, Tashon Strickland, suffered head injuries and was also taken to Savannah.

The accident happened a little after six p.m. Saturday when the vehicle left the road and hit a tree.

Georgia State Patrol Trooper David Lawrence is investigating the accident.

July 1--  A national magazine which covers healthcare news has named Meadows Regional Medical Center in Vidalia to its list of "100 Great Community Hospitals."

"When an industry trade publication picks you out from among the 5,000 hospitals in the country as being one of the Top 100, that's always a cause for celebration and we appreciate the recognition," says Meadows CEO Alan Kent.

{mosimage}Becker's Hospital Review says its list is "based on hospitals' quality of care and service to community."  The hospitals on the list have fewer than 550 beds and minimal teaching programs, and are often located in rural areas as the only hospitals in their communities. Whether independent or part of a larger health system, the  hospitals have worked with limited resources to continually provide the quality of care and the experience patients expect.

The Becker's Hospital Review editorial team selected community hospitals based on rankings and awards from iVantage Health Analytics, Truven Health Analytics (formerly Thomson Reuters), Healthgrades and The Joint Commission. Nominations for the list were also considered.

Here's what the magazine had to say about Meadows:

"Meadows Regional Medical Center (Vidalia, Ga.). Founded in 1963 as the Dr. John M. Meadows Memorial Hospital, the state-of-the-art 194,000-square-foot Meadows Regional Medical Center opened in 2011. Located 88 miles west of Savannah, Ga., the new 64-bed facility features a large emergency department with 22 trauma, diagnostic and treatment rooms, as well as a modern cardiac catheterization lab. In 2013, the hospital received a Patient Safety Excellence Award from Healthgrades."

Kent says the selection on Meadows has more to do with its people.

"It really has a lot to do with the folks we have there.  You can't just have a pretty building.  You've got to be producing the results that puts you in the Top 100.  When you put it all together, it's really the people that make the difference and not just the beautiful facility," he says.

The CEO also notes special challenges facing rural hospitals like Meadows,

"There are a lot of urban and suburban hospitals which have the advantages of a lot of things going on.  When you get to the more rural areas, hospitals are struggling generally nationwide.

"You have fewer insured patients and a lot more patients don't have easy access so when they come to hospitals they're really very sick.  A lot of them haven't had good continuity at care.  In building what we're trying to build at Meadows, we're trying to address all those issues.  We feel that quality healthcare shouldn't be a problem just because you choose to live in a beautiful rural area like Toombs County," Kent says.