Murder Trial Set for March In Thomaston
L-R: Cameron Jones and Kiera Williams
A local man and an Atlanta woman will stand trial in Upson Superior Court in March for the murder of 46-year-old Roderick Crawford of Barnesville, according to Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney Ben Coker.
Cameron Jones, 21, of Thomaston is scheduled for trial March 9 and 19-year-old Kiera Williams’ trial will start a week later on March 16.
Investigators said the pair were involved in an escort scam that resulted in victims being robbed when they intended to meet Williams for sex. Crawford left home Dec. 28, 2018 and his body was found Jan. 3, 2019 behind an abandoned mobile home in Lincoln Park. His car was found earlier in Clayton County.
Crawford was shot to death.
Jones and Williams were arrested in DeKalb County and charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, kidnapping and possession of a firearm during commission of a crime, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Williams also was wanted in connection with a second homicide in Forest Park. She faced charges of armed robbery, aggravated assault and murder in the death of 28-year-old Mario Rashad Edwards of Covington, who was found shot dead inside a vacant apartment Dec. 21, 2018.
There was additional security at the courthouse for Jones’ and Williams’ first appearance in court because of gang ties. Clayton County deputies discovered a plot by Jones to kill deputies transporting them to court.
Remembering a Civic Leader
Despite freezing temperatures, dozens of local citizens gathered to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday.
After a small celebration on the courthouse square, participants walked from the square to Upson Lee Middle School for a MLK Day celebration. Donisha Gray was the guest speaker. See more photos in the 1-23-2020 edition of The Upson Beacon on Page 14 or on The Upson Beacon's Facebook page.
microburst damages flint river property
A suspected microburst tore through Flint River properties located off Pleasant Valley Road during a thunderstorm in Upson County last Saturday.
Emergency Management Agency Director Martha Ann McCarty visited the area Monday and said she suspects it was a microburst of straight-line winds, but sent pictures to the state for confirmation. The Beacon received reports of hundreds of fallen trees and severe damage to several properties in that area.
A microburst is a pattern of intense winds that descends from rain clouds, hits the ground, and fans out – often, but not always associated with thunderstorms or strong rains. The National Weather Service states that microbursts are not as widely recognized as tornadoes, but they can cause comparable and, in some cases, worse damage than some tornadoes.
Wind speeds as high as 150 miles per hour are possible in extreme microburst cases.
Sheldon and Barbie Crane’s cabin and porch collapsed from a large fallen tree during the storm. The Cranes’ cabin would have collapsed completely but a boat given to Sheldon from his “pawpaw” supported one side. Shelden said, “I am more upset about my pawpaw’s boat being crushed than I am about the cabin.”
A large tree fell and covered Kevin and Rinda Hamilton’s cabin located next door to the Cranes. Other properties experienced fallen trees and damage to sheds and docks, and a camper was flipped upside down.
After 38 years, sheryl is coming home
Closure is Emotional Conflict for Local Family of 'Jane Doe' Murdered in Brooks County
by Bridge Turner
“If it weren’t for divine intervention, we would not be here today.”
Johnnie Hay said those words, spoken by an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, immediately gave her peace when she and her family met with officials in Quitman, Ga. last week to end a 38-year search for her sister, Sheryl Hammack.
Johnnie, now living in Meansville, was 11 when her sister left home in late 1981 to travel with the fair. Middle sister Lynn Johnson, who still lives in Thomaston, was 17 at the time, and has a clear memory of the weeks that followed Sheryl’s departure.
“She left right at the end of September or first of October in 1981,” Lynn said of her then 18-year-old sister. “I remember she called us two to three times a week. After about three weeks, she said she was coming home for Christmas, and that’s the last time we heard from her.”
Lynn said her mother, Kathleen Hammack, bought a gift for Sheryl that Christmas, and the gift was under the tree every Christmas until recent years.
“I think Mom always held out hope,” Johnnie said. “I personally didn’t. I always felt like she was deceased. That was my way of dealing with it. It was easier than thinking she was living on the street somewhere or being in sex trafficking. But even until this happened, you still had that small bit of hope in the back of your mind.”
Johnnie and Lynn describe their mother, who also lives in Thomaston, as a “very strong woman, but emotionally drained.” Now 81, she is “handling it as well as can be expected,” the daughters agreed.
They may have thought the worst, but the close-knit, faith-based family never stopped looking for Sheryl. Johnnie said she searched websites, watched television programs about missing persons, and received calls from her friends and co-workers any time they saw someone resembling her sister. Lynn said the family posted a picture of Sheryl on Facebook every February for her birthday.
She would have been 57 next month.
“Birthdays and holidays, especially Christmas, were horrible,” Lynn said. “I don’t like to see or even hear about a fair.”
“I know this is odd, but I still love the smell of the fair,” Johnnie said, tapping into a different sensory emotion. “Every time I smell diesel fuel, it makes me think of her. I love the fair because of that.”
The sisters have made certain that Sheryl will not be forgotten by reminding their children that they have another aunt.
On Halloween 1981, the body of a white female was discovered beside a small, dirt lane entrance to a corn field near Dixie, Ga. The victim, described as 5-foot-2, 105 pounds with shoulder length brown hair and hazel eyes, was partially covered by limbs and foliage. Her death was determined to be from a stab wound to her abdomen and associated strangulation, according to GBI reports.
The Bunting family of Brooks County insisted that she not be buried in a pauper’s grave, but instead in their family plot in a dignified manner. Her likeness was carved into the marble slab, along with the phrase, “Known only to God.”
After a fateful series of events led the family to this “Jane Doe” murder, DNA tests confirmed, on Dec. 19 last year, that the victim was Shirlene “Sheryl” Ann Hammack.
“It’s closure, but 38 years is a long time,” Lynn said softly, looking through tear-filled eyes. “The death was still hard to take.”
“It’s a sense of relief, but an ending that we didn’t want to deal with,” Johnnie added, also fighting tears. “Our faith is strong, and that’s what has kept us going.”
The sisters said they met the now retired law enforcement officer who arrested Sheryl’s killer, then 52-year-old George Newsome, in 1981. Newsome escaped from the Brooks County Jail and remained a fugitive until he was recaptured in January 1983 in Alabama. After being captured, he admitted to the homicide, but officials did not connect it to Sheryl’s disappearance.
Newsome died in prison in August 1988, having never revealed the identity of his victim.
Info Sought on Missing Woman and Caregiver
A Culloden woman with family ties to Upson County and her caregiver have been missing for three months following a report filed by her daughter in early October 2019.
Linda Kimble, 59, was reported missing by her daughter, Richetta Henderson, after being placed into the care of Kishia Mitchell, an Auxilium Care, Inc. worker. According to Gwinnett County Police, the last known address for Mitchell is now a vacant property.
Police added that Mitchell has an active warrant for probation violation, but has not been charged in relation to Kimble’s missing status.
Henderson, along with local family members Faye Williams, Edith Williams, Janet Kendall and Chandria Taylor, continue to search for answers.
“I thought that she [Mitchell] was a perfect person for my mom and all of a sudden there’s no more communication,” Kimble’s daughter said. “And it got to the point where I had to call the police and file a missing persons report.”
Following is a story by Asia Simone Burns which appeared on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution website:
Gwinnett County police have taken out warrants against a home health care worker after multiple people with special needs who were supposed to be in her care told authorities they hadn’t eaten for days.
The health care worker is also tied to the disappearance of a woman, officials said.
Kishia Mitchell is facing two counts of exploitation of a disabled or elder person and two counts of unlicensed personal care home, Gwinnett police spokeswoman Cpl. Michele Pihera said in a news release. The case was opened Oct. 4 when Linda Kimble’s daughter reported her missing, according to a Gwinnett police report.
The daughter said Kimble, 59, was discharged from Eastside Emory Hospital in August. Her mother was then put into the care of Mitchell, an Auxilium Care Inc. worker. The woman told police she had tried to visit her mother several times “but Kishia made several excuses,” the incident report said.
“Kishia told (Kimble’s daughter) to give her mother three weeks to get settled in before visiting her,” the report said. “When (Kimble’s daughter) asked Kishia for a phone number or address to see and speak with her mom, she stopped replying.”
Eventually, the woman drove to an address in Stone Mountain where Mitchell had instructed her to mail a check. The place was vacant, the report said. The woman called Mitchell and said she was at the Stone Mountain address, but Mitchell told her that her mother had moved. She again refused to provide an address.
A Gwinnett investigator began to search for more information about Mitchell and found that Auxilium Care had been permanently closed. When a Gwinnett police officer called Mitchell to ask about Kimble’s whereabouts, she said Kimble was at a location in Snellville. That property was vacant, police said.
On Oct. 11, police were sent to a Wells Fargo bank on Rockbridge Road on another call related to Mitchell.
A 26-year-old man walked into the bank and said he hadn’t seen Mitchell, who was his caretaker, for two days. He told investigators he hadn’t eaten.
Officers took him back to the place he said was his home and found nine other adults with “varying levels of special needs,” Pihera said.
“There was no caretaker present, and officers learned that the residents had not eaten or had access to medications in several days,” she said.
Eight of the nine people were relocated using Temporary Emergency Relocation Funds, and the ninth person declined relocation. Kimble was not among the residents found in the house.
Warrants for Mitchell’s arrest were obtained a week later, records show.
“At this time, detectives are still seeking the whereabouts of both Linda Kimble and Kishia Mitchell,” Pihera said. “It is imperative that Linda is located so we can make sure her physical and medical needs are being met.”
Kimble, who suffers from dementia, is described as a black woman with black hair and brown eyes. She is about 5-foot-6 and weighs roughly 170 pounds, police said.
Anyone with information is asked to contact GCPD detectives at 770-513-5300. Tipsters can remain anonymous, and be eligible for rewards of up to $2,000, by contacting Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404-577-8477, texting information to 274637 or visiting the Crime Stoppers website.
The Gwinnett County PD detective associated with the case failed to return calls from The Upson Beacon requesting updated developments regarding the disappearance.
“Give the police whatever information they need,” said Henderson in a message to Mitchell. “Turn yourself in.”
Henderson asks that anyone with information contact her at 678-764-8633, 706-975-4080 or 478-951-0134, the fugitive unit at 770-822-3151, or email@example.com.
Upson-Lee Elementary Named 2019-20 Reward School
According to the Georgia Department of Education and the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, Upson-Lee Elementary is “beating the odds” and has been named a Georgia Department of Education 2019-20 Reward School.
Reward Schools, as designated by the GaDOE, are among the greatest improving five percent of Title 1 Schools throughout the state. ULES posted a 14.1 point gain this year in the CCRPI, rising from a score of 62.4 in 2018 to 76.5 in 2019.
In addition to improving CCRPI scores, Reward Schools must maintain or improve the performance of certain subgroups, to include economically disadvantaged, English language learners, and students with disabilities.
Thomaston-Upson Superintendent Dr. Larry Derico and Assistant Superintendent Julie English visited ULES on Friday, Dec. 20 to deliver the good news.
“This is a huge accomplishment, and we appreciate you all,” English stated as she addressed the faculty and staff.
Dr. Derico said, “We are extremely proud of the ULES faculty, staff, students, and their families for meeting the challenges, for overcoming barriers, and for ensuring that we provide excellence in education at all times to all students.”
K-9 “Beno” Joins TPD Force
By Bridge Turner
The Thomaston Police Department is proud to announce the addition of K-9 Officer Beno, a sizeable male German shepherd, to the local force.
Beno was introduced to Mayor J.D. Stallings and the city council in person by his handler, Patrolman Jared Fordham, and Chief Mike Richardson at a recent meeting at City Hall.
The new four-legged officer is from Lask, Poland and was shipped to Highland Canine of Harmony, N.C., where he and Patrolman Fordham trained together for four weeks. Beno lives with Fordham, rides to and from each work shift with him, and the two train together on a daily basis.
“Typically I will feed him before work, complete obedience training either before work or at the beginning of the shift, then make traffic stops and answer calls for service as usual, with Beno in my patrol car,” Fordham said.
Beno does not require a special diet or nutrition plan, but his portion of the patrol vehicle is customized. The rear is divided with half being for Beno and the other half providing a seat for prisoner transport, according to Fordham. Beno’s kennel also has lights and a fan to regulate temperature.
The canine already has begun pulling his weight on the force. He has detected marijuana a half dozen times during traffic stops, resulting in three arrests; detected powder cocaine on a traffic stop, one arrest; detected methamphetamine on two traffic stops, one arrest per stop; and detected meth while sniffing a hotel room, another arrest.
All of that was accomplished during his first 10 days on the job.
The Upson County Sheriff’s Office has its own K-9 officer, but there’s no law that says they can’t work together.
“As with all of our resources, the police department is always willing to assist the sheriff’s office, state patrol, or other law enforcement,” Fordham said. “The sheriff’s office has also allowed their canine to assist the police department in the past. Beno has already assisted GSP, but has not been requested for the sheriff’s office yet.”
Beno is extremely friendly, according to his handler, and is trained to respond to commands in both English and German languages. Fordham emphasized that his name is pronounced “Ben-o” and not “Bean-o.”
“He will allow anyone to pet him, so if you see us and want to meet him, just ask,” Fordham said. “Beno also does well with kids.”
The Upson Ministerial Association generously requested to sponsor/donate a ballistic patrol vest for Beno. The custom fit vest is being produced at a cost of approximately $1,200, according to an estimate by Fordham.
TPD’s previous K-9 officer, named Ryder, suffered from a congenital health condition that prevented him from working in the field. City Finance Director Lonnie Joyce and his wife adopted Ryder and gave him specialized care, including treatment at Auburn University. Despite Joyce’s efforts, Ryder died in Spring of 2019.
“He was so sweet, I don’t think he was cut out for police work,” Joyce said. “He was a special dog.”
Ryder was guaranteed by his breeder, so the warranty covered the cost of his replacement, Beno, and Fordham’s training. Sadly, the warranty could not ease the painful loss experienced by the Joyce family.
SCTC Nursing Program Now Being Offered at Thomaston Location
Southern Crescent Technical College has officially been approved by the Georgia Board of Nursing to expand the associate degree nursing (RN) program to the Flint River Campus in Thomaston.
The nursing program is currently offered at the SCTC Henry County Center. Twenty qualified students have been accepted into this new cohort being offered on the Flint River Campus beginning in January for Spring Semester 2020.
“The approval of this expansion of SCTC's associate degree nursing program marks a significant gain for our college and community in meeting the demand for qualified registered nurses,” said Dr. Alvetta P. Thomas, SCTC president. “This approval results from several years of planning and strong support from both our community and our local healthcare partners.”
The new cohort will be housed in newly renovated Building A on the Flint River Campus. The renovated space will feature state-of-the-art equipment, along with a simulation room where students will use their knowledge to replicate “real life” scenarios. Simulation allows students to “practice” critical thinking skills, psychomotor skills and decision-making skills in a safe and controlled environment.
SCTC Dean for Allied Health Kimberly Register stated, “With the expansion to our Flint River Campus, Southern Crescent Technical College is enhancing our high-quality, high-demand associate degree nursing program and making it available to more students. Along with the strong support from our highly educated nursing faculty, we are confident that the program expansion will be successful and will open opportunities for many qualified students. Our goal is to continue to graduate exceptional nurses who are both clinically competent and also possess excellent leadership skills.”
Nursing has also been recognized as a high demand career in Governor Deal’s High Demand Career Initiatives report for the state of Georgia, resulting in additional financial aid opportunities for students through the Hope Career Grant. With projected state and nationwide shortages, the development and implementation of additional training programs is critical.
Angie Ballard, nursing department chair at SCTC, said, “The nursing shortage in the state of Georgia is reaching critical levels. Our focus is to continue creating a culture of success within our existing program by expanding to the Flint River Campus. We anticipate more applicants and graduates from our program, which will help bridge the gap between the workforce needs in both our region and state. This is truly an exciting time for our college and students!”
In addition to RN at the Henry County Center, SCTC currently offers practical nursing (LPN) programs on both the Griffin and Flint River campuses. The ASN program will allow students the option to pursue an advanced level of nursing by earning associate’s degrees and gaining the skills and knowledge needed to practice as registered nurses. Graduates of the program will be qualified to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).
For more information on the ASN (RN) program, please contact 770.229.3320 or ASN@sctech.edu.
GOHS: Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over
If alcohol will be part of your holiday celebrations, the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety is reminding you not to drink and drive.
State officials recently began working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Drive Sober or Get Pulled over campaign. That means the state’s year-round “zero tolerance” policy on driving under the influence will be in force through the end of the year.
“Consider this your warning because state troopers, sheriff’s deputies and police officers are going to arrest all impaired drivers they find on the road,” GOHS Director Allen Poole said. “If alcohol is going to be part of your holiday plans, please include a plan for a sober ride with a designated driver, ride-share service or cab before the party starts.”
Figures from the NHTSA show 839 people across the U.S. were killed in car accidents that involved a drunk driver in December 2018. The GOHS said more of those fatalities happened between Christmas and New Year than during any other holiday last year.
About 25 percent of the 375 traffic accident fatalities in Georgia in 2018 involved alcohol impairment, according to state officials.
The GOHS also reminds non-drinkers to use extra caution when driving during the holidays.
“The holidays are a busy time with so many of us trying to get so much done in a short period of time, and we want to remind people to avoid rushing on the road by obeying the speed limit and complying with Georgia’s hands-free law,” Pool said. “And always remember the best defense against a drunk, distracted or speeding driver is a buckled seat belt.”
State officials are urging drivers who do consume alcohol during the holidays to take advantage of AAA’s “Tow-To-Go” program, where drivers who become intoxicated can arrange to get a free ride and have their vehicle towed for free, up to 10 miles. The service will be available from now until Jan. 2.
Drivers can find information about the program at autoclubsouth.aaa.com/safety/tow_to_go.aspx or by calling 855-2-TOW-2-GO.
Other tips the GOHS is offering drivers during the holidays include:
>Remember even one alcoholic beverage is too many.
>Serve non-alcoholic drinks at holiday parties to encourage designated drivers and don’t hesitate to take keys away from anyone who has consumed alcohol.
>Call 911 or send a message to *GSP if you see a dunk driver on the roads.
Dunkin’ Opens in Time for 2020
Photo by Luke Haney.
Dunkin’ Donuts opened its doors in Thomaston at 5 a.m. on Dec. 16. The line outside the door began at approximately 7:30 p.m. the night before, and the first 100 people in line received a year’s worth of free coffee coupons. The Thomaston location is one of the first Dunkin’ sites to have the “next generation” design. A few of the new items in Dunkin’s new generation stores include an open concept design, bar style seating, and bar style coffee taps. A ribbon cutting was held to commemorate opening day at the Thomaston location. Photo by Luke Haney.
City Adopts $33 Million 2020 Budget
Includes 5% Raise for PD & Linemen, Tentative 1 Mill Tax Increase for New FD
By Bridge Turner
The Thomaston City Council voted unanimously last week to adopt a $33 million operating budget for 2020 which includes a two percent raise for all employees and an additional three percent for certified law enforcement and electrical linemen.
Following the vote, one councilmember appropriately commented, “Finally.”
A decision was reached after weeks of debate surrounding excessive turnover in the Thomaston Police Department which has accounted for almost one-third attrition on the force. Mayor Pro-Tem Doug Head has repeatedly pushed for the five percent raise, and an outcry from local residents and officials during a public hearing prior to last week’s meeting seemed to tip the scales.
In the previous December meeting, council leaned toward a three percent hike across the board.
“When I walked out of the last meeting, I didn’t feel like we were addressing the issue,” Head commented before the final vote.
“What’s different about the police department is that people are leaving, and I’m afraid it will get worse. That’s one position where lives may depend on it.”
“I felt like… I’m not sure I did the right thing,” he continued. “Admittedly you have to have some support, and I want to bring the issue back up. I really would like for us to look at giving these policemen the five percent raise. I think we need to reconsider.”
Councilmember Lakeitha Reeves, who previously advocated equal increases for all city employees, agreed to compromise after the public hearing.
“I listened during the comments as it relates to retention of the police and safety of our community,” Reeves said, “and I can support the five percent if we can give the other employees two percent.”
Reeves added a condition that the city conduct an internal salary study and revisit employee compensation by the middle of 2020.
“I think we’ve looked at this to death. We just have to figure out what you want to do,” Finance Director Lonnie Joyce told the council. “Again, we’re talking about a $33 million budget, so $10,000 or $15,000 one way or the other isn’t going to kill us.”
A few budget items remain fluid, including support for a $199,000 debt payment due in 2020 to MEAG for Thomaston’s participation in Plant Vogtle. City Manager Russell Thompson initially suggested funding the debt with surplus revenue from water and electrical service, then councilmembers considered a monthly assessment to customers. Another option mentioned was a draw from the city’s “reserve” fund.
The electric fund is by far the largest budget item at $15 million, followed by the water and sewer fund at $5.4 million. Sanitation and joint projects with Upson County account for more than $1 million each.
Thompson reminded councilmembers that the budget includes a “tentative” one-mill tax increase dedicated to the construction of a new fire station, estimated at approximately $2.5 million. Also added was a secretarial position requested by TFD Chief Renee Harris.
TPD and Electrical Department heads will receive only the two percent standard increase for 2020.
Council OKs $2.57 Million ESG Contract
By Bridge Turner
Councilmembers voted unanimously last week to approve a $2.57 million contract renewal for 2020 with ESG Operations, which handles water treatment and distribution for the City of Thomaston.
The renewal reflects a 3.5 percent increase from ESG’s 2019 agreement with the city.
Councilmembers also approved a two-year contract renewal with the Thomaston Housing Authority for Community Development property management. The contract includes an increase in both salaries and management fees.
The council agreed to increase management fees from the current six percent to eight percent the first year, then to 10 percent during the second year of the renewed agreement. THA’s Patricia Allen initially requested an increase from six to 12 percent for management of the property.
Effective Jan. 1, the city will switch its credit card payment service from Government Windows to Payment Service Network. The change will improve connectivity with the city system, and will save its customers money, according to Finance Director Lonnie Joyce.
Charge for card payments will be reduced from four percent to 2.75 percent with the new system, Joyce said. The city will incur a set-up fee of approximately $500, and there will be a nominal monthly fee once the changeover is completed, Joyce added.
Several local board nominations were made by council, including councilman Ryan Tucker for the Office Building Authority, Sandy Kersey (District 3) and Troy Woodard (District 1) for the Thomaston Zoning Commission, and Darren Day and Lane Coggins for the Downtown Development Authority. All were approved unanimously.
Tucker nominated current chair Carson Gleaton to retain her position on the Industrial Development Authority.
“I asked Executive Director Kyle Fletcher how important continuity is to that board, and she told me it is huge,” Tucker said. “They’ve been a pretty productive bunch. Given the momentum they have, in an effort to maintain that, I move that Carson Gleaton continue in her role.”
Councilmember Lakeitha Reeves seconded the motion, which passed by a 4-1 vote. Councilman Jeff Middlebrooks, who cast the only “no” vote, had suggested the council consider Jerry Adams for the seat.
Council Members Compromise on Employee Raises
By Bridge Turner
After multiple budget work sessions and lengthy debate, Thomaston City Council members tentatively agreed last week to a three percent across-the-board raise for city employees in 2020.
Board members have been divided on allocation of raises, some suggesting a higher increase is needed in departments with increasing turnover rates, and others demanding equity of distribution. Mayor Pro-Tem Doug Head voiced the strongest support for structuring raises based on recent attrition trends.
“The truth is we are having specific issues in the police department. We’re actually losing people,” Head said. “Everybody is of equal value, but we are having particular risk in certain places.”
Head pointed to six members recently leaving the Thomaston Police Department, and two to three more expected to leave by year end. Salaries and benefits have been cited in exit interviews as reasons for the departures.
City salaries were adjusted in 2018 based on recommendations of a Carl Vinson study in July 2017, when each job was examined individually. The city adhered to a “step” program suggested by the study, raising employee pay 1.25 percent in 2019, and workers were scheduled for another 1.25 percent hike in 2020. When Upson County announced an across-the-board raise of 1.75 percent for its employees in 2020, city officials penned a proposal matching that increase.
Upson County Sheriff Dan Kilgore, who also has expressed concern because of turnover in his office, proposed a five percent raise for his key personnel.
“I met with the sheriff, and they’re $300 to $400 ahead of us now on [approximately $36,000] starting salary,” said TPD Chief Mike Richardson. “They’re going to more than $38,000 at the start of the year, right at a $2,000 difference if we do nothing. My concern is keeping pace.”
Richardson has indicated difficulty in remaining competitive with neighboring towns and counties, and said the problem is compounded by more lucrative opportunities “in our own back yard.” He added that he already has lost one employee to the county, due in part to a more attractive benefit package. As an elected, independent, constitutional officer, Kilgore’s budget process is slightly different than Richardson’s.
Head and council member Ryan Tucker advocated maintaining the 1.75 percent increase across the board and adding 3.25 percent [five percent total] for certified law enforcement and electrical linemen, another area of concern for the city. Head’s and Tucker’s positions echoed a recommendation from City Manager Russell Thompson.
“That’s the staff recommendation. We have information and data to support the need for that decision,” Head said. “Why are we moving away from that?”
Council members Lakeitha Reeves and Jeff Middlebrooks disagreed, Reeves saying she would like to see all other employees receive a three percent raise if certain departments receive five percent. Council member Don Greathouse said any decisions made by the council should be data driven.
Council members compromised to adjust the budget to a three percent raise for all employees and conduct an internal salary study to determine where further changes are needed. That study could take as long as six months to complete, according to Thompson.
“It comes down to what level of service you want to provide, and how you are going to pay for it,” Thompson concluded. “The city hasn’t raised millage in 15 years. If you had gone up one mil every three years, we’re not having this conversation. We can only provide the level of service our constituents are willing to pay for, so you have to determine the expectations of our populous.”
Further budget adjustments will be required to offset the across-the-board increase from 1.75 percent to three percent and the addition of a secretarial position requested by Thomaston Fire Chief Renee Harris. A proposed dog park is among potential budget cuts discussed by council members.
A public hearing on the budget is planned for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17 in the city-county meeting room of the government complex, 106 East Lee Street.
Thomaston Begins Christmas Celebrations
Hundreds gathered last weekend to watch the annual Christmas Lights Parade stroll through town.
IDA Approves Hotel Feasibility Study for Upson
By Bridge Turner
The Thomaston-Upson Industrial Development Authority voted last week to approve a $12,500 expenditure for a local hotel feasibility study, to be conducted by The Highland Group of Atlanta.
IDA members recently committed $31,000 to retention of retail consultant NextSite of Birmingham, Ala. to assist with business and industry recruitment for a minimum of two years. Executive Director Kyle Fletcher said a hotel feasibility study is the next logical step in the recruitment process.
“I believe this would be an important document for both our retail consultant to have, along with current and future developers,” Fletcher told authority members. “I think this board has put a priority on a hotel, and we’ve been shut down a few times in pursuing it. If you want to do it, this is the first thing you need to have.”
Fletcher said she had spoken with Andy Camp, vice president of business development with NextSite, who said his company has worked successfully with The Highland Group on previous projects. Highland partner Mark Skinner agreed to an $8,500 retainer from the IDA, with a $4,000 balance due upon completion of the study.
From its inception, the hotel feasibility study should take approximately two weeks to complete, according to Fletcher, and will include gathering information from existing businesses and industries in the area. The study is intended to determine need for the service, and likelihood of the area’s ability to support the investment.
Board member Steve Rush expressed concern at last month’s meeting about the city’s ability to provide adequate wastewater service to a hotel. At last week’s meeting, recently re-elected Mayor J.D. Stallings assured IDA members the city had researched potential locations and he is confident that sewage needs can be met.
Fletcher reported that the IDA currently holds $160,814 in an account designated for leftover funds from approximately five years of budgets generated through a city-county joint services delivery agreement. The authority consistently has operated under budget for that period, and has amassed a six-figure savings.
Contributions to the IDA’s budget are made at an approximate two-thirds (county) and one-third (city) ratio, and both entities are entitled by the agreement to recover leftover funds at that same ratio, according to City Attorney Joel Bentley. Fletcher requested that the city and county allow use of those funds to fulfill various IDA obligations.
County Commission Chairman Norman Allen, who sits on the IDA board, told members the county could not commit to releasing its portion of the funds until completion of a joint projects audit currently under way.
Secretary of State Visits Board of Elections
By Luke Haney
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger recently visited Upson County to speak with members of the local Board of Elections about new voting machines that will be used in the March 24 Presidential Primary Election.
Robert Haney, chairman of the Board of Elections, spoke about his plan to improve training processes to ensure that all poll workers are properly educated on the new equipment and fully prepared for the upcoming elections.
Board of Education Requests Reports on Bullying at Schools
By Luke Haney
Principals of all Upson Lee schools were present at the November Board of Education meeting, upon request of board member Angeline McGill, to discuss how each school handles bullying and the policies that each school has in place.
Rhonda Gulley, principal of Upson Lee Middle School, spoke first because most bullying tends to take place at middle school age. Gulley stated that all schools have the same bullying policy, per each school’s handbook.
At the middle school, students have an extended learning time, referred to as ELT. At the beginning of each school year, students hear from school counselors during several ELT advisements and learn what constitutes bullying and how to gain help if a student is being bullied.
“Our biggest challenge is that what parents consider bullying and what we consider to be bullying are not the same things. Also, we can’t handle things that we do not know about,” Gulley said. She added that social media plays a large role in bullying.
Gulley stated that any case brought to the attention of any staff member would be investigated and handled according to the policies in the handbook and what disciplinary step a child may be on. “We revisit it often,” she explained. Gulley also said that if one grade level is having more issues than another, counselors will continue to add more advisement sessions to educate students on the dangers of bullying.
Board member Steve Sadler asked what the requirement is for a situation where the student brings an incident to the attention of a teacher.
“Depending on if the situation is more administrative, they will come to us,” Gulley answered. “If they feel that it may be more social or emotional, they go to the counselors first.” She stated that the counselors always inform administration about situations before they address them. The middle school also has a bullying prevention hotline number printed on posters inside the school.
On the topic of cyber-bullying, Gulley says that it usually is more prevalent during school breaks when the students have a lot of free time. Often, students will bring these issues into school once the breaks have ended, turning the incident into a school-related issue. The middle school has only encountered five bullying-related cases in the 2019-2020 school year.
“If we don’t know about it, we can’t do anything about it, but as soon as we find out, we do. Our teachers are great about turning things in to us,” Gulley assured board members.
Pre-K Principal Jason Weems stated that pre-K is “all physical.”
“We try to teach them how to interact with each other using verbalization more than physical,” Weems explained. “Most of them only know how to do two things: cry and hit.” He stated that he has had several students who would do “mean” things, but there have been no cases of bullying this year at pre-K.
In reference to the bullying policy, Weems stated that he will always contact both parents immediately, starting with the victim’s parent, to let them know what happened and how it will be addressed. He generally speaks with the defending child’s parents on speaker phone so they also can speak to their child.
At the elementary and primary schools, administration states that there have been no confirmed cases at the primary school and five cases at the elementary school, none of which have reached a repetitive stage. Administration stated that bullying tends to happen more often on school buses at this age.
Upson Lee High School has had zero confirmed cases. Like the middle school, most situations tend to occur outside of school via social media. The biggest challenge and the first thing that administration and counselors at the high school do is to locate the source. Many things reported from social media are screenshots and have no name attached to them. This creates a challenge of finding proof.
With this being Dr. Jarvis Price’s first year as principal, he stated that when a case may occur, his goal is to be fair to both sides. Price also stated that if there is a case to investigate inside the school, he is always willing to look at video footage of the hallways with the involved parents.
There have been no cases of bullying at the alternative school this year. Administration states that any case will be handled fairly and fully following system protocol.
Christmas Lane Open Dec. 7
By Ian Shales
"He was the most successful and creative person that I have ever known."
Those are the words that Greg Wilson uses to describe his father, George Wilson. Standing at 6 feet 5 inches tall, George was a strong and imaginative man who loved children. He was the recreational director for B.F. Goodrich Martha Mills and coached the city-county junior high football team.
While stationed in England during World War II, George noticed how the holiday decorations were quite different than those of America. Adorned with varying types of greenery, homes in England displayed holly around the door frames. That inspired George to do the same when he returned home to Thomaston. After his first tour of duty, he similarly decorated his home. .George used magnolia branches but made one important addition… lights!
When Greg was five years old, the Wilson family moved to R Street. George continued to express his love for Christmas and set out to create a “Candyland.”
George placed a Santa cut-out on the roof, illuminated by a spotlight. Next, there was a particular elm tree in the front yard that was wrapped with red and white oilcloth on the trunk and branches. George and a few of his football players would get together and make peppermints out of discarded spools from the mills. He drew some elves, cut them out, and painted them to add to the display.
Those elves are 64 this year, old enough to receive Social Security.
The Wilsons had another Santa made out of paper mache that would stand out in the front yard during the holiday season. That same Santa Claus is nearly 100 years old today. Families would come from all over to see this charming place. Kids were awestruck at its beauty.
The idea of Christmas Lane, as it is known today, wasn't introduced until 1972. Earlene Simmons and Carlene Maddox lived across the street from the Wilsons, so they had a good view of Candyland's beauty. The two proposed the idea to George to have a formalized Christmas village where everybody decorated their yards. The idea was to have everyone place a Christmas tree by the sidewalk and transform R Street into a magical wonderland. The two women insisted that he would be in charge. George said, "I could see that coming!"
Christmas Lane was George's pride and joy, and he poured his heart into it every year.
Over the years, the Wilsons made additions to their display. One such addition was the castle that still stands tall and proud in their front yard. Before George passed away in 1994, it would take a day and a half to set up the castle. Greg decided to simplify things. Initially, the castle was a very complex masterpiece with many pieces. Greg attached pieces to make larger sections that were easier to install.
What usually took a day and a half, now takes 37 minutes.
Every year for the opening of Christmas Lane, Santa makes an appearance to add to the festivities. In times past, he has arrived in a police car, fire truck, horse and carriage, and a steam tractor. One year, Santa was brought in with Percheron horses and a Coca-Cola wagon. However, this dramatic entrance had to be canceled because of liability issues.
Even though families are not required to decorate their homes if they live on R Street, Greg Wilson says everyone wants to participate. It is a team effort to pull off Christmas Lane every year, but it is doable and, more importantly, exciting and magical.
This year, Christmas Lane officially opens on Saturday, Dec. 7.
By Luke Haney
The Silvertown Baptist Soup Kitchen served a Thanksgiving feast last Thursday. The menu included everything from turkey to chocolate cake.
This is the 10th year that the Silvertown Baptist Soup Kitchen has served a thanksgiving meal.
The following churches and organizations provided food and volunteers: Logtown Bethel Church, Mountain View Baptist Church, New Life Church, North Ridge Church, Northside Baptist Church, Silvertown Baptist Church, Home Depot of Thomaston and Home Depot of Griffin.
Silvertown Baptist Church hosts the soup kitchen every Tuesday and Thursday at 11:30 a.m. All are welcome to attend and donations are accepted and appreciated.
KRAMER PURSUES DREAM OF OLYMPIC SHOOTING
Thomaston native and Upson-Lee ROTC standout Rosemary Kramer, now a senior at Georgia Southern University, has taken a year off from academics to pursue her dream of representing the United States on its Olympic shooting team.
Kramer, a prodigy at air rifle, hunted growing up. Her parents, also shooters, taught her from a young age to be safe with guns. In high school, she attended a UL ROTC tryout and “shot pretty well,” she said. She ended up shooting competitively on the team for four years.
Kramer had chosen Columbus State University to continue competitive shooting at the collegiate level, but the day before she was scheduled to sign her contract, the new president of the school canceled the rifle program. The coach at Columbus State told her that Georgia Southern had open spots in Statesboro, and she made the team.
Kramer began compiling an impressive resume during her freshman year as the team’s leading performer in both smallbore and air rifle. During her sophomore year, she was a member of Georgia Southern’s Southern Conference air rifle championship squad, and a first team all-SoCon selection to the air rifle squad. As a junior, she was a first team all-conference selection, and named the SoCon Air Rifle Athlete of the Year.
Senior year has seen Kramer named first team All-American in air rifle, as selected by the National Rifle Association. She placed third at the NCAA Air Rifle Championships in West Virginia, and tied the event’s air rifle record with a 599 in the preliminary round. She went on to become the SoCon Air Rifle champion, and was a first team All-SoCon selection in both smallbore and air rifle. In October 2018, she fired a school and SoCon record 598.
Kramer averaged a school record 594.154 in air rifle, and placed first in 10 air rifle meets and first overall in five matches. She has been named SoCon Air Rifle Shooter of the Month three times, and was selected to compete in the World University Games in Naples, Italy.
The first NCAA medalist and All-American in Georgia Southern history, Kramer is the first GSU Rifle student-athlete to qualify for NCAAs in the six-year history of the program. She holds school records in multiple categories, and has been named a Collegiate Rifle Coaches Association Scholastic All-American.
“It was many years of working toward improvement,” said GSU head rifle coach Sandra Worman. “The final tools she needed to really soar were mental management, positive self-talk and performance management through her shooter’s journal. Once she dialed in to those assets, she confidently found her footing in the stratosphere.”
Kramer’s skills have taken her outside of collegiate competition. In May, Kramer competed in the Munich World Cup in Germany. The competition gave her the opportunity to post an international score so she could attend the Olympic trials, one of only 11 women to do so.
The venture also gave her an opportunity to stay with athletes who had competed previously in the Olympics, and talk with them about their experiences during the competition, as well as their training leading up to it. “It was awesome,” she said of her first time leaving the U.S., and added that other athletes gave her tips about “stuff that will help me stay sane as I go through this.”
Kramer is currently training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. She will compete in the Olympic trials in December and February, and hopes to compete in Tokyo in the 2020 Olympics.
Worman says she likes Kramer’s chances.
“It’s like her to rise to the occasion, and she eats pressure for breakfast,” the coach said. She’s also had the chance to experiment with different ways and methods of training, and even different rifles. Rotating out of a college program and onto the national team is a very different environment than she’s had for the past four years.”
As she awaits her Olympic trial, Kramer is practicing at least six days a week and spending a lot of time working in the gym, focusing on balance training. But she says the thing she enjoys most about shooting is that it requires a lot of patience and concentration. She added that she believes shooting has increased her overall confidence and decision-making abilities.
“I think it’s made me a more confident person,” she said. “I know what I’m capable of, and I know what I enjoy doing, and what I’m good at. Knowing that helps me to make decisions in life more easily. It’s given me a lot of patience and perseverance, and a work ethic that I’m really proud of.”
Kramer plans to return to GSU next year and complete her degree.
When asked about being a potential role model for young women, Kramer says she’s “okay with that.”
“It’s really inspiring, and it makes me want to be a better person… I remember looking up to certain people, the way that they changed my life,” she said. “It means I have to be a little more careful about what I do, but I’m okay with that. I like to think that maybe I can change people’s lives for the better.”
Community Mourns Local Sports Legend Hugh Frank Radcliffe
Thomaston native Hugh Frank Radcliffe, best known for a baseball pitching performance in which he struck out 28 batters in nine innings, died Nov. 10 at 90 years old.
Radcliffe’s national record-setting, 28-strikeout game occurred against Lanier High School April 19, 1948 at Silvertown Ball Park. One opposing batter, after striking out, reached first base on a passed ball, an error charged to the catcher. Radcliffe struck out an additional batter to complete the no-hitter.
He finished the 1948 season with 201 strikeouts in 81 and two-thirds innings, an average of 2.6 strikeouts per inning, allowing only 16 hits and three earned runs for the entire season. The standout performance caught the attention of the Philadelphia Phillies organization, which offered Radcliffe a contract immediately thereafter.
Beacon sports columnist Jim Fowler called Radcliffe “the greatest to ever grace the athletic fields here,” referring to his all-state achievements in basketball and football, as well as baseball. He once punted a football 78 yards in the air, and won a region pole-vaulting championship on a sprained ankle, according to Fowler.
Radcliffe was featured in the Atlanta Journal, Time-Life Magazine and Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and was one of the original inductees into the Thomaston-Upson Sports Hall of Fame. The City of Thomaston declared March 27, 1998 “Hugh Frank Radcliffe Day,” honoring him on the 50th anniversary of the renowned game.
After two years with the Phillies, he signed with the New York Yankees. An injury to his pitching arm shortened his promising Major League Baseball career. Fowler said Radcliffe told him one of his most memorable achievements was striking out Joe DiMaggio in a spring training intra-squad game while with the Yankees.
Radcliffe is survived by his wife of 71 years, Marjorie Carraway Radcliffe.
Commissioners Split on Adding New PR Position
By Bridge Turner
After months of consideration, Upson County commissioners decided last week to suspend discussion of creating a new governmental position designed to enhance “citizen engagement.”
Board members were clearly divided on the topic, which was introduced by Commissioner Benjamin Watson at a recent county work session. Earlier in the year, county officials approached members of the Thomaston City Council regarding involvement.
“I don’t think we should wait on the city to participate,” Watson said. “If it [the position] does what we hope it will do, the city hopefully will want to join in later. With Heart & Soul wrapping up, I’m concerned that the money spent on that will be out the door if we don’t have someone overseeing the process moving forward.”
The new position would be a transition from Heart & Soul, which has gathered and prioritized information of importance to residents. The job description has fluctuated since first mention, but Chairman Norman Allen summarized by saying, “We need someone to tell our story.”
“It’s not about marketing, it’s about telling our story,” Allen said. “Taxpayers need to know what’s going on. It’s our responsibility to tell our citizenry what we’re doing and how we’re performing. We also need to get that information to potential business and industry leaders outside our area.”
Branding is only part of the latest description, according to County Manager Jason Tinsley.
“This person would be in charge of engagement through multi-media, representing and reporting on events, and saturating the public with our activities,” Tinsley explained. “It’s not just a continuation of Heart & Soul, it’s intended to bring people closer to government.”
Commissioner Lorenzo Wilder was first to voice opposition to creating the position.
“I was against it when we first talked about it, and unless somebody can convince me that the city’s buying into this thing too, I’m still against it,” Wilder said. “I think the city should be taking the lead on that position. Until we can do things together, we will never move forward.”
Commissioner Paul Jones agreed with Wilder.
“If the city’s not involved, I’m not for it,” Jones commented. “About 85 percent of what happens, happens in the city. I can’t see being their promoter if they [city] don’t have any skin in the game.”
Commissioner James Ellington, who has stated his position “against growing government,” said his concerns are primarily fiscal.
“I see somewhat of a need, but my urgency for that need is different from other people in the room,” Ellington said. “I’m skeptical about creating a $60,000 position to do something that’s hard to determine return of investment. We can guess, but from a business standpoint, it’s hard to measure what the return would be.”
Ellington added that he would be more receptive to the idea if an existing county employee could transition into the new position, reducing the need for additional payroll expense.
Allen closed the discussion with a comment about unity and progress.
“Strong cities make strong counties, and strong counties make strong cities, so I try to use the word ‘community’,” Allen said. “We need to educate those inside and outside the community about where the growth is, where the opportunities are, and what the challenges are.
“The last thing I’ll say,” he concluded, “is if you ain’t growing, you’re dying.”
Community Enterprises, Property Owners Diverge On Future of Park Drive
By Bridge Turner
The Thomaston City Council voted 4-1 last week to approve a $587,000 “base” bid for improvements to Greatest Generation Memorial Park, leaving the door open to negotiation which could push the project over $1 million.
The park project is tied to a $520,000 transportation enhancement grant dating back to 2011. To secure the federal grant, the city is required to commit $130,000 in matching funds, $97,000 of which already has been spent on consulting fees, according to City Manager Russell Thompson.
The total bid from Earthscape Designs, Inc. is more than $1.45 million, which includes four options which may be added to the base cost. The four options have been put on hold largely because Community Enterprises, Inc. and adjacent property owners disagree on how the southern “triangle” and southern portion of Park Drive, at the entrance to Silvertown, should be restricted in the future.
Members of Community Enterprises want all elements of the south entrance to remain intact and untouched and the Rogers family, owners of the property between the entrance and West Central Georgia Bank, asked the council to remain open to the possibility of cutting a driveway off southern Park Drive and selling the southern triangle.
Neil Hightower, president of Community Enterprises, reminded councilmembers that the organization already had contributed approximately $800,000 to the existing park. Another $214,000 donated by the group is currently held in a city account designated for a “mutually agreed upon project” involving the park.
The agreement originally involved the late Mayor Hays Arnold and a previous city administration.
“Those funds belong to the City of Thomaston. Other than the letter with the mayor [Arnold], we have no control over those funds. Our request is strictly a request,” Hightower said. “We feel that both parts that were designed by a very prominent architect, Mr. Draper, should be preserved as an entrance to Silvertown, which is probably one of the best mill villages in the country.”
“We would also like for people to be aware of the benefit of putting Silvertown on the National Register [of Historic Places],” Hightower added. “People can get tax advantages for improvements, and those who don’t can do anything they want with their property. From my perspective, there appears to be no downside.”
Mayor Pro-Tem Doug Head disagreed.
“To say that there is no downside, I might take issue with that,” Head said. “I just don’t know what opportunity lies down the road and how it might be affected. If the south portion is included, in my mind there is a risk.”
The property at the entrance is part of a donation from BFGoodrich.
“Keep in mind that in the deed of three tracts donated to the city, tract number three is the crescent,” Kay Hightower said, referring to Park Drive and the two triangles at the entrance to Silvertown. “It’s not half the crescent, it’s the full crescent. That’s how they were given to the citizens, and that’s exactly how the deed reads.”
“We want to work with the city officials, not against you. But we’re long-term residents here, and we have ideas about what the community should be and should not be,” Neil Hightower continued. “If we disagree, you’ll know about it. We hope we’ll agree most of the time, but we’ll be friends no matter how the chips fall.”
Eddie Rogers, president of West Central Georgia and joint owner of the adjacent property, said his family has missed multiple opportunities to sell the tract because of restrictions or indecision regarding the south portion of the entrance.
“We had the opportunity a couple of years ago to sell this property, and had several other chances with the other administration [Arnold] was in, and they said they didn’t think it would be approved,” Rogers told the council. “Each time we’ve had a developer come along, especially the last time, the sale was contingent upon them being able to buy the [south] triangle.”
Rogers said his family has a vested interest in what type of development may locate next to the bank.
“With us [WCG] being beside the property – the bank has an investment in the community as well – we’re trying to make sure that whatever goes there is a controlled development,” he explained. “Not something slapped in there that doesn’t complement the community.”
“We’ve been trying to sell this property for 15 years, and each time somebody wanted the option to get closer to the corner. I’d have to tell them, ‘That’s up to the city’,” Rogers added. “We’re having to rent the property now just to pay the taxes. We’ve been paying taxes on it for 10 to 12 years with no income, so we have no choice.”
Rogers urged the council to consider options and not prohibit the possibility of selling the southern triangle, saying, “Something great may come along.”
Hightower addressed the council once more.
“I understand his concerns, but we think our concerns are just as important,” he said. “We have a letter from the CEO of BFGoodrich confirming the reason they donated that property. It was not to help a commercial property right next door. It was zoned to protect it as an entrance to an important village that we hope one day will be on the National Register.”
Thompson told councilmembers an additional $15,500 would be required for a materials tester and $25,000 would be required for a resident inspector during the project. His recommendation was to award the base bid and use $117,000 in city funds to match, continue conversations with both parties regarding the south entrance, then add options as council deems appropriate.
Councilman Don Greathouse cast the only “no” vote.
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