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December 11, 2003 Issue

Officers surround Jim Avery's Gibson home just a few hours after discovering his ex-wife, Becky Kirby Avery dead.

Officer and EMT's enter Jim Avery's Gibson home Thursday afternoon, moments after officers witnessed him shoot himself.







Stapleton woman slain

Ex-husband killed her, then hours later, as officers surrounded his Gibson home, turned a gun on himself

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

An unspeakable tragedy unfolded Dec. 3 that claimed the life of Stapleton resident Becky Avery. She was murdered at her home by her ex-husband, Jim, who later died after shooting himself as officers entered his house in Gibson.

Co-workers at The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter called her home and cell phone Dec. 4 when she did not arrive for work in the late morning hours as expected.

When unable to reach her, they called a relative who went to Avery's home to check on her. When the relative arrived, the window in a side door was found broken and shotgun shells were found lying on the small porch. With that discovery law enforcement was called.

Jefferson County Sheriff's deputies initially arrived at the residence, followed shortly by sheriff's investigators, Glascock County officers and GBI agents.

Avery was found dead in her bedroom, a victim of multiple shotgun wounds, according to a spokesman for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. Shell casings from a shotgun and a handgun were found scattered in the room. The time of death has not been established at this time, investigators said.

Officers left Avery's residence in Stapleton at approximately 2:30 p.m. and rushed to Gibson after learning that the vehicle belonging to Avery's ex-husband had been seen parked at his residence on SR 102 near downtown. They were joined by Glascock officers already at the scene and by game wardens that were called to assist.

The street, just half a block from the Glascock County Courthouse, was blocked off as officers took positions around the house. It was not known at the time if Jim Avery was inside the house. Once secured, several officers went to Glascock County Consolidated School to provide potential backup for the deputy stationed there in sight of the Avery's 14 year-old son.

Officers were quickly summoned to the Gibson residence minutes later when a single gunshot was fired inside the house at 2:52 p.m. Officers broke through the back door and entered at 3:15 p.m. Jim Avery was found in his bed holding a handgun. Officers ordered him to put the gun down but he refused, placing it in his mouth and pulling the trigger.

He died shortly after being transported to McDuffie County Hospital.

Avery carried a .38 caliber handgun with her because she feared injury from her husband, a fact she expressed often during the past to friends and family.

Becky Avery was survived by a 14 year-old son and a 21 year-old daughter.

Judge denies petition over ordinances

Judge said abstentions came within sufficient proximity to Thomas' motion

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

The petition filed in Jefferson County Superior Court by county resident Ben Benson over commissioners' bid approval for electric power at the new law enforcement center was denied Dec. 5 by Judge Kathy Palmer. The petition cited alleged procedural irregularities by Chairman Gardner Hobbs and asked that the vote by nullified.

Central to Benson's claim and Palmer's decision were two votes by commissioners at a Nov. 13 called meeting that occurred within minutes of each other. The first motion, which failed on a 3-2 vote, called for the commission to hire a consultant to assist in determining whether the bid by Georgia Power or that of Jefferson EMC was most cost effective. The other motion, which passed by a 2-1 vote, gave the bid to Georgia Power after the two commissioners voting in favor of the first motion abstained.

Benson claimed that county ordinances mandate that an abstention during a vote required that a commissioner state a reason for the conflict of interest which was not stated by either commissioner at the time of the vote or during the discussion phase that immediately preceded it. Benson further claimed that county ordinances adopted from state law require that a majority of all five commissioners were required to approve the bid.

In her decision, Palmer referenced affidavits from Commissioners Isaiah Thomas and Gonice Davis, who stated that their abstention on the vote giving the bid to Georgia Power came within sufficient proximity to the motion made minutes earlier by Thomas that an independent consultant be hired by the county. Thomas' motion, seconded by Davis, failed in a 3-2 vote. After the motion failed, Chairman Gardner Hobbs called for another motion. Commissioner Sydney Norton made the motion to give the bid to Georgia Power, eventuating to a 2-1 vote in favor of the motion. Thomas and Davis abstained. In their affidavits, Thomas and Davis said their abstention was proper, based on their vote on the prior motion to hire a consultant.

Palmer agreed with county attorney Mickey Moses who, representing Hobbs, asserted that the two motions were contemporaneous, thus providing sufficient grounds to serve as a reason for the abstentions. The vote was proper unless the abstentions do not fit within the ordinances, she said. Her ruling found that Thomas and Davis demonstrated sufficient cause to abstain from voting on the Georgia Power bid. Palmer also told Benson that he had not made a satisfactory case for his claim that the bid required approval by a majority of the five commissioners to be effective, as opposed to the 2-1 vote that resulted from the motion. Moses agreed.

"The motions and the votes were contemporaneous and it (the bid approval) was a fair decision," Moses told the court. "It may not have been in the perfect form but it was fair."

Benson disagreed. He told the court that the two motions were in tandem but rejected the notion that they were so close in proximity and intent that a vote on one motion could qualify as an abstention on the other.

Benson added Tuesday that the 2-1 vote that gave the bid to Georgia Power runs contrary to Georgia law and Jefferson County ordinances and represents a real problem for county residents.

"My concern about the outcome of this verdict is future 2-1 votes by the county commissioners. Such votes will not be a valid representation of the people of Jefferson County," he said. "The County commissioners did not amend Bill No. 597

(House Bill No. 1388), section 4, passed in 1984 according to procedures in the State of Georgia Constitution Article 9, Section 2, which is required. This Local Act of the General Assembly cannot be superseded by a new ordinance as Attorney Moses asserted in court.

"Bill No. 597 (House Bill No. 1388), section 4, contains only a couple sentences. The first gives the chairman the right to vote. The first sentence is quoted in Jefferson County Ordinance Section 2-30 and the other states: 'A quorum shall consist of a majority of the five members of the board and the approval of any matter before the board shall require the affirmative vote of a majority of the five members of the board.' This means three affirmative votes, not two. I am still amazed by the judge's denial to consider all of section 4 of the bill or the Constitutional requirements to amend it. I am eagerly awaiting the Judges written verdict."

Benson filed the petition in mid-November after commissioners awarded the electric bid to Georgia Power. Benson cited ordinance-based parliamentary irregularities that led to the bid award. He claimed that Georgia Power was improperly allowed to make allegations about Jefferson Energy's bid at a Nov. 3 meeting even though Thomas cautioned Jefferson Energy earlier in the meeting to refrain from commenting on Georgia Power's bid. At the Nov. 13 meeting, Jefferson Energy brought a consultant who responded to the assertions made by Georgia Power representatives at the prior meeting. Those comments, according to Thomas, Norton and Davis, confused the issue and led to the motion to hire a consultant to assist the commission.

School board joins consortium demanding funding

Cuts this year and those announced for next year amount to more than $1.5 million in Jefferson County alone

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Jefferson County school board members voted unanimously Nov. 20 to join a growing consortium of Georgia school systems demanding adequate state funding. Timelines released by the Consortium for Adequate School Funding in Georgia calls for litigation in mid-2004 if the matter is not resolved.

Addressing the Jefferson County school board's decision, Chairman Jimmy Fleming said all school systems in the state have been severely impacted by the recent rounds of statewide budget cuts. Especially impacted are the school systems in poorer counties. In Jefferson County, state cuts this year and those announced for next year amount to funding reductions of more than $1.5 million.

"The low-wealth school systems have the least ability to makeup the shortfall with local dollars. Jefferson County is one of those," said Fleming. "Many of those same systems also have the greatest demand placed on them for remediation issues and for gains in student achievement. Again, Jefferson County is one of those."

Brantley County School Superintendent and consortium President Al Hunter said Monday that the consortium began four years ago with a small group of school systems. Current consortium membership is now at 30 school systems and counting, he said. Continuing budget cuts demonstrate the need for an increased awareness and commitment by school systems to press for appropriate state funding. To that end, the consortium will continue to work with the governor and General Assembly to address funding issues with the hope of avoiding litigation, said Hunter.

Fleming said the goal of the consortium is to pool resources and conduct a cost study aimed at determining an adequate rate of funding for education at the classroom level in today's dollars. This type of research has not been done in several years and an unbiased study has never been done, he said.

Addressing the negative impact of mandated actions by the General Assembly, Superintendent Carl Bethune said Friday that governance requirements from Atlanta need to relax program, curriculum and staffing controls and allow school districts more flexibility.

"There are things the state can do during these tough economic times," he said. "Without being provided some flexibility with state requirements, school systems are forced to bear a larger portion of the funding responsibility beyond what the poorer school systems can bear."

Bethune said mandates such as class size, where the addition of only one student to a class beyond the mandated number requires that a school system hire an additional teacher, can have a costly financial impact on poorer school systems. Citing other changes in funding over the past decade, Bethune said requirements relating to textbooks and transportation are woefully underfunded by the General Assembly.

"Funding for both budget areas was provided at 100 percent of the cost 10-15 years ago. Today, school systems are responsible for nearly 50 percent of those costs," said Bethune. "This represents a significant shift in the burden for local tax payers both here and across Georgia."

In the end, Jefferson County and other school systems around the state must be willing to take a stand for the educational future of its students and their families, said Fleming. Using an approach that benefits from the strength of numbers might be sufficient to turn the current tide of underfunding.

"The consortium will bring the collective clout of many school districts to bear both with the governor and the legislature and, if necessary, to the courts for litigation," Fleming said. "We should provide our share in helping to cut state expenses but the current methods being used have worked a hardship on the poorer school systems and are compromising the ability of those school boards, including this school board, to provide adequate instruction."



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Last modified: December 10, 2003