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November 6, 2003 Issue

Mayors elected in Wrens and Gibson

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

The four municipal races in Jefferson and Glascock counties concluded Tuesday with new mayors in Wrens and Gibson, one new and one returning council member in Wadley and one returning council member in Louisville.

In the Wrens contest, council member Dollye Ward was elected mayor after defeating David Hastings by a total of 455 votes to 76. Electors at the polls cast 436 votes for Ward and 71 votes for Hastings. Ward received 19 absentee votes compared to five for Hastings.

Gibson voters chose city council challenger Gregg Kelley as the city's next mayor over incumbent Donald Kent. Kelley received a total of 110 votes to Kent's 47 votes. Incumbent Gibson council members Paul Hinton and Warren Pittman had no challengers. In the special election to fill the council seat vacated by Kelley's resignation, Carol Markins defeated Gene Hockenbury 88 votes to 64.

In the Wadley election, the two open council seats were won by challenger Albert Samples who received 351 total votes and incumbent council member Edith Pundt who received a total of 323 votes. Incumbent council member Charles Lewis received 312 total votes. Of those totals, Samples received 111 absentee votes, Pundt received 32 absentee votes while Lewis received 52.

In Louisville, incumbent council member Tom Watson defeated challenger David Smith 220 votes to 134. As part of the total, Watson received 15 absentee votes while Smith received two votes. Incumbent council member James Davis faced no opposition.

Incumbent Stapleton council members Paul Beckworth and Stephen Harden had no challengers for their expiring terms.

Mayor Harold Smith also ran unopposed, although in a surprise move Tuesday a letter from Smith was found at city hall stating that he resigned his position effective immediately.

In Avera, incumbent council members Lisa Hadden and Charles Padgett faced no opposition.

Unopposed mayor resigns on election day

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

In an unexpected election day move, Stapleton Mayor Harold Smith resigned his position effective immediately.

The turn of events in Stapleton politics came on the day that Smith would have been elected for another term as mayor. He was running unopposed for his second term.

Contacted Tuesday, Mayor Pro-tem Paul Beckworth said he had little information to offer concerning Smith's resignation. Beckworth said he had received a call from the city clerk earlier Tuesday, reporting that she had found a briefly worded letter of resignation from Smith on her desk when she arrived at city hall at 9 a.m. Beckworth said Smith's keys and city charge card were included with the letter.

Beckworth said Smith gave no indication of his intentions to resign at the city council meeting Monday night. He said the city attorney had been contacted and would check the city charter to determine the appropriate steps to fill the vacancy.

Contacted Tuesday evening, Smith said he had no comment other than to say that he had "decided to call it a day."

Suspected killer caught...

Wrens animal control officer Walter Hannah holds up the bobcat killed on Stone Street in the middle of town Saturday. The animal is currently being tested for rabies. Hannah believes there may be another bobcat in town and advises residents to report any sightings.

Suspected killer caught

Possibly sick bobcat believed to have killed a number of pets

By Parish Howard

At first Matt Howard didn't know what to think when he saw the puddle of blood, tufts of hair and drag marks on the front porch of his Carlyle Court home in Wrens.

"It was late when I saw it," he said. "At first I just wondered what that was all over my porch. Then I saw it was blood and the gray hair and knew something had gotten my daughter's cat. You could tell something had mauled it here and dragged it over there. I just thought it was dog."

That was Thursday, the night before Halloween.

Friday afternoon he got a call from a neighbor saying that they didn't want to alarm him, but they had seen a bobcat in the neighborhood.

"I had seen him," said Harold Usry, a former Wrens Police Chief who lives next door to Howard. "My dog had been barking erratically so I stepped out back and saw him under the shrubbery (at another neighbor's house). I started walking over there, because I just thought it was a big old tom cat. But then he stood up and I said 'Holy Moley.' I scolded at him and he just looked at me. He was definitely not afraid of me."

Hoping to run him off, Usry went back into his shop and grabbed a pellet gun.

"I know I shot him four or five times," Usry said. "I know I hit him; I saw the hair move. But it didn't even phase him."

So he called the city to report him and his neighbors to warn them.

"Later I went out to cut the grass and saw him cross the street," Usry said. "I picked up a stick and threw it at him and he just stopped and looked back at me. He looked real skinny, like there might be something wrong with him. Whatever it was, he wasn't afraid of me."

The Sightings

The first report Wrens police remember receiving came in Thursday three weeks ago from the Subway restaurant less than a block from the station.

"I had just stepped out back when I saw this cat between me and the trash dumpster," said store manager Julie Bell. "At first I just thought it was a kitty cat but then I realized it was about knee high. I was pretty sure it was a bobcat and so I went back in to get the other girls. He was pretty, but he was a big cat."

The women called the police station to report the cat, but when officers came over they were unable to find it.

"They didn't believe me. They joked with us and gave us a pretty hard time," Bell said. "But later they set up traps."

The traps, normally used to catch stray dogs, were baited with turkey and ham from the sandwich shop, but didn't do any good.

"Something ate the meat it could reach through the bars but didn't go inside the trap," Bell said. "He was a smart cat. I warned the girls to be careful. I hear cats can be very territorial and I didn't want anybody stepping in what the cat might consider his territory."

While Subway employees saw the cat a few more times, they say it never acted aggressively towards them but did not appear to be frightened of them either.

"Later an officer came back and apologized," Bell said. "He said he'd just seen the cat at an intersection and that now he believed us."

Wrens animal control officer Walter Hannah said there have been a number of reports of missing pets and bobcat sightings over the last few weeks.

Sandy Brown of Old Quaker Road, just a little over 100 yards from Usry's and Howard's home, said that her husband, Charles, had been seeing the cat for some time. They believe that it may be responsible for killing one of their dogs in late July.

"His name was Spike and he was about a two-year-old chow," Brown said.

They found the dog inside their chain-link fence, its nose and face sliced up and its throat torn open.

The Browns have found a couple of severely-mauled cat carcasses in their front yard, out of reach of their fenced dogs.

"A neighbor had come to us saying that he was missing some chickens," Brown said. "I told him our dogs stayed in the fence. Later my husband started seeing the bobcat in the mornings crossing the road and in the neighborhood, and we knew it must of been it."

Taking it down

The cat was spotted and killed Saturday morning about a block from the police station.

"The neighbor came over and told me there was something in my yard," said Jason Sheppard of 303 Stone Street.

He saw the animal sitting in his front yard near the corner of his house.

"It looked real poor, like it was sick," Sheppard said. "And it was moving real slow. So I called the police station to report it."

Police Chief David Hannah and several officers responded to the call where they found the cat just feet away from where Sheppard had first seen it. At that point Chief Hannah used a shotgun to put the animal down.

"There are a lot of parents with small children in the neighborhoods where this animal has been seen and some of them are afraid to let their kids out unattended," the chief said. "There are some rabbits missing and some (house) cats have been torn apart. You never know what a wild animal is going to do, especially a sick one. It could have attacked someone."

Department of Natural Resources officers picked up the animal's carcass Saturday.

DNR's opinion

Regional Supervisor Vic VanSant with the Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Division said that he is not convinced all of the attacks were that of the bobcat, although he could not rule them out.

"It is uncommon for bobcats to be seen this often in this type of area, but it isn't unheard of," VanSant said. "Especially if it finds conditions tempting."

These cats generally prefer wooded or overgrown grassy fields with plenty of mice or rats, he said. However, in the fall of the year many juvenile animals, nearly fully grown, are driven away from their mothers and begin looking for their own territory. These animals often have not yet formed a fear of man.

An abundance of free roaming livestock, like semi-tame housecats, rabbits, mice, rats and chickens, could also be very tempting for an array of natural predators.

"There are also several really nasty diseases that cats can carry that may make them act strangely," VanSant said. "It may not make it stay in one area for an extended period of time, but it sounds like there may defintely have been something wrong with this one."

Rabies is just one of these diseases; however, bobcats and other animals are not routinely tested for rabies if they have not bitten or scratched a person or pet that is still living.

"Normal proceedure is that if you or your pet is attacked, you contact the local health department and they determine if the animal needs to be tested," VanSant said. "At that point it becomes a human health risk."

He also said that an animal shot in the head cannot be tested for rabies and they should be confined or dispatched in some way as protect the brain so that it can be tested.

VanSant said his department recommends anyone who finds a wild animal (be it bobcat, raccoon, fox or coyote) in a populated place try to run it off with a pellet gun, sling shot, loud noise or throwing something at it. This will help teach the animal a healthy fear of humans they may one day save its life.

Many of these animals are attracted to food scraps, compost piles and dog and cat food that are left outside.

Another one

"From the reports we've received, there may be at least one more bobcat coming into Wrens," Chief David Hannah said.

Monday the city's animal control officer said that he has received reports of new sightings since the other cat was killed on Saturday.

"I don't believe that this is the same cat I've been tracking," Walter Hannah said. "The one I saw Thursday appeared a foot taller and seemed healthier, as far as its weight goes."

Both Hannahs say that they are concerned about health risks associated with the cat that seemed so sick and with a fox Walter Hannah dispatched in a Kings Mill Road neighborhood Sunday.

"The fox would walk a few feet and fall over," he said. "Then it would get up, walk a few more feet and fall over again. It could have been a snakebite; it could have been anything."

The animal control officer said he killed the animal and buried it.

"I don't want to scare anybody, but there's something wrong with these animals," Walter Hannah said. "A bobcat is not a friendly animal. It shouldn't have let so many people get so close to it."

Anyone who sees any wild animals or domestic animals acting strangely in a residential area is encouraged to call the city at (706) 547-3000 and report it. Chief Hannah said measures would be taken to either trap the animal or dispatch it.

Jefferson County to get new emergency management director

Closing date for submitting application Friday

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Jefferson County commissioners agreed recently to advertise for a part-time county emergency management director to replace outgoing director Fay McGahee. James Tam will serve as acting director for the interim period.

The decision to appoint Tam as acting director was initiated at the October work session and formalized at the Oct. 14 regular session. Tam is currently employed with the county roads department.

The need for an interim director was paramount due to a mandate by the federal Dept. of Homeland Security requiring that a grant application for needed equipment and supplies be received no later than Oct. 31. To accomplish the obviously time consuming task, Tam met with agencies countywide that would play a role in a local emergency or those whose needs would be appropriate for documentation or review by Homeland Security, including all county and city governments, police, sheriff's office, fire departments, healthcare providers, ambulance service, health department and agriculture.

Though no vote was taken at the work session, commissioners verbally agreed to appoint Tam to the position and include a 50-cent per hour pay increase for the required volume of work. The move was put in the form of a motion at the regular session by Commissioner Tommy New and seconded but was defeated by a 3-1 vote. A subsequent motion was made to appoint Tam as acting director with no pay increase. The motion was approved by a 3-1 vote.

Commissioners agreed that the new director must possess the skills and exhibit the personal rapport to coordinate the activities of multiple agencies during a crisis. Other criteria for the position include being computer literate and the ability to develop and maintain emergency plans for the county.

The position came open with the recent resignation of long-time emergency management director Fay McGahee. County administrator Paul Bryan said McGahee had done a tremendous job for the county and he was saddened to receive his resignation.

At the regular session, Bryan said advertising for the position is in keeping with a county personnel policy requiring that vacant positions be advertised. The closing date for submitting applications for the position is Nov. 7.

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