Christmas weather, dramatic lights...
A crowd of frosty but enthusiastic holiday revelers assemble in downtown Gibson Nov. 30 for the annual lighting of the square. Hot chocolate and coffee hit the spot but the little ones stole the show.
Kidnapped 9-month old returned
• Jefferson County officer and mother traveled to Idaho to pick up child from her non-custodial father
By Ben Nelms
It was a happy Thanksgiving after all for a Louisville mother whose nine month-old daughter was abducted Nov. 21 by her non-custodial father. The mother and a Jefferson County Sheriff's investigator traveled to Idaho Nov. 26 to pick up the child from her biological father.
A pending charge of kidnapping was issued Nov. 24 for 21 year-old Augusta resident Joseph Paul Bradley when he failed to return the child to her mother the previous day. Bradley left Georgia with the child on Nov. 21, traveling to Idaho to the home of relatives.
Also facing a pending charge of kidnapping was Bradley's aunt, Janice Johnson, of Augusta. The 44 year-old Johnson was arrested Nov. 24 and booked into Jefferson County jail after attempting to conceal facts relating to the abduction during an interview with sheriff's investigators and GBI agents, said investigator Clark Hiebert.
Hiebert accompanied the mother to Idaho to take custody of the child. They left Louisville at 2 p.m. Wednesday and arrived in Idaho at 10 p.m. Bradley's relatives were waiting for them at the airport, where the mother was reunited with her young daughter. Bradley arrived moments later with the child's clothes.
Mother and child arrived in Louisville at 2 a.m. Friday to a reception of family waiting in the front yard. For them, Thanksgiving was observed one day late. But the wait was worth it, said Sheriff Gary Hutchins.
"It was a happy ending," the sheriff said. "Our concern was to make sure we got the baby back."
The abduction occurred after the mother had agreed to allow the child to accompany Bradley and Johnson to Johnson's family reunion in Portal on Nov. 21. The mother contacted Louisville Police, and later Magistrate Judge Murray Bowman and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, when the child was not returned as agreed on Nov. 23. Bowman subsequently issued warrants for kidnapping for Bradley and Johnson.
Rabies cases confirmed in Glascock County
• Three skunks tested, two are positive for disease
By Ben Nelms
The confirmation of two rabid skunks near Gibson led local health officials Tuesday to advise parents in the area to take precautions with young children and other family members when outside the home.
A resident in the area of Steephollow Road reported killing a suspicious skunk Nov. 24. He also reported that the skunk was suspected of having physical contact with his cat and two dogs. The skunk was suspected of biting at least one of the dogs.
Tests performed by the public health department revealed Dec. 1 that the skunk was rabid, according to Jefferson County Health Department Environmental Specialist III Belinda Sheram. The domestic animals suspected of having contact were voluntarily destroyed by the owner. None had been vaccinated for rabies.
Two other skunks discovered in the immediate vicinity were also killed and shipped for testing. Tests results late Tuesday confirmed that one of the skunks had rabies while the other tested negative.
Sheram advised residents to use extreme caution on occasions when the potential for having contact with rabid animals is present. She stressed the importance of remaining aware of animal activity in the area of the home or wherever humans are present. It is highly unusual for wild animals that often carry rabies, such as raccoons, fox, skunks and bats to be seen in close proximity to domestic animals, she said.
Precautions against contracting rabies should be taken by all owners of domestic animals, Sheram said emphatically.
"The most important thing you can do to eliminate rabies in humans and domestic animals is to get your animals vaccinated," she said. "This is a terribly serious matter. For persons or animals that contract rabies and receive no treatment there is only one outcome. The result is death."
Health department officials in Jefferson and Glascock counties urged owners to vaccinate all domestic animals, to avoid contact with animals that appear or act abnormally, said District 6 Public Information Officer Larry Walker. Rabid animals may stagger, appear restless, be aggressive, act overly friendly or appear to be choking. The most often attributed symptom of rabies, drooling and foaming at the mouth, occur only during the last stages of infection.
Walker said rabies symptoms in humans vary from as few as 14 days, though they often appear 30-50 days after exposure. Symptoms include a short period of mental depression, restlessness, abnormal sensations such as itching around the site of the bite, headache, fever, tiredness, nausea, sore throat and loss of appetite.
Sheram said the importance of vaccinating domestic animals is underscored by the treatment requirements once infection is suspected. The only option to destroying the animal is to quarantine the animals for six months in a kennel-like setting, using prescribed safety precautions when feeding or handling the animal.
Heilig helping to establish democracy in Iraq
• President of local citizens group has been in Iraq since the spring
By Ben Nelms
Residents of Jefferson County who keep up with the affairs of local government may have noticed the absence of a local community activist in the past several months.
In Baghdad since the spring, former Concerned Citizens President Kay Heilig has focused, not on his adopted home in Jefferson County, but on the U.S. mission to establish Iraq's first democratic government.
Heilig was hired as a Senior Advisor for Local Governance for the U. S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Iraqi mission. Put in practical terms, he is the activity manager for the Local Governance Program's implementing partner, North Carolina-based Research Triangle Institute (RTI). RTI International won USAID's competitive bid for the Local Governance Program, with a base year budget of $167.9 million.
Heilig arrived in Kuwait City in March, where his group was sequestered until May 26 when they arrived in Baghdad. Since that time the governance process was initiated in a land where democracy, much like a rumor, was something about which people had only heard.
"The main focus of our work is to lay the foundation for participatory, transparent and accountable government," Heilig said. "This is all new to the Iraqis who were told what to do and what to think for many, many years. Anyone who displayed initiative of any type was shot!"
Entitled the "Iraq Sub-National Governance and Civic Institution Support Program," the RTI project consists of four components.
These include assessing the needs for basic human services such as water, sanitation, health and education, designing and implementing programs to enhance or improve basic human services, developing and implementing mechanisms and institutions for citizens to participate in local government and administering a small-grants program for services improvements and community group projects.
"What is so wonderful in this country is to watch these intelligent people grasp the fundamentals of democracy that we take for granted," he said. "Once they grasp the concept we have to run to keep up with them. One of the main functions we are working on is Citizens Advisory Councils. In Baghdad we have organized Neighborhood Advisory Councils in each of the 88 neighborhoods. These individuals selected their representatives for the nine District Advisory Councils who in turn selected representatives to the Baghdad City Council."
Much of what is happening in Iraq at the street level does not receive coverage by national media outlets in America, Heilig explained. That fact is unfortunate because it detracts from the many positive moves being made and the positive things being accomplished.
"There are lots and lots of good things happening over here. Unfortunately the reporters seem to prefer stories about troops being killed or buildings being blown up," he said. "Repairing over 1,300 schools doesn't make the news. Generating more power than the Iraqis had before the war with an electrical grid that has had no repairs in over 20 years doesn't rate a comment. Furnishing the schools with bench-type desks so the students don't have to sit on the floor and providing painted plywood for a blackboard is not nearly as glamorous as a Humvee burning."
Something that did receive an abundance of press coverage was the arrival last week by Pres. Bush for an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner with troops in Baghdad. That was an event, said Heilig,
"The reaction of the troops was 'over the top' positive! I don't care what spin some try to put on it, he did a brave and dangerous thing," said Heilig. "It was a boost that the troops needed and deserved. This is the type of thing the Commander in Chief should do."
Congress through its funding and Pres. Bush through statements to the nation and to leaders around the world has long stated that the task of rebuilding Iraq will be an ongoing process. Citing the mission perspective of both USAID and RTI, Heilig said the task ahead has as its goal nothing short of providing the Iraqi people with their own Constitution, free elections and representatives elected by the people.
"As for our long term goals, by pushing participatory, transparent and accountable government we hope to lay the foundations for democracy so that the people of Iraq may make well-informed and intelligent decisions about what form of government they want for their country," he said. "These wonderful people are going to be asked to vote on individuals who will get together and formulate a new Constitution for their nation. What type of person would you want to represent you to write a new Constitution for America? This is an awesome responsibility! Then they will be asked to vote on the Constitution. And if that weren't enough, they will be asked to vote on the officials that will run their government."
Heilig's concerns and beliefs about the future for the Iraqi people were not the only things on his mind. He used the reality of the suffering of the Iraqi people through the decades of Saddam Hussein's brutality to make a point that, for Americans, is sometimes forgotten.
"I hope the citizens of Jefferson County realize what wonderful rights they have and I can only hope that they take advantage of these rights," said Heilig. "We tend to take these rights for granted and forget that our ancestors died so that we might have these rights. We have the right to participatory, transparent and accountable government. There is no way a dollar figure could ever be put on these rights."
Heilig has a Master of Arts in International Relations and more than 20 years in mentoring, teaching, facilitating and coaching internationally in various facets of local governance.