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February 16, 2006 Issue

Thelma Jackson has lived at Pine Valley Apartments in Wrens for nearly 30 years. Just a couple of weeks ago, she and every other resident found letters pinned to their doors giving them 30 days to find new homes.

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Some 40 families told to find new homes



Other Top Stories
Hadden resigns from DAJC
Commission votes to locate office in Peebles House

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Some 40 families told to find new homes

• Wrens pastor, mayor, principal and school superintendent meet to begin discussions centered on what can be done to help find housing

By Parish Howard
Editor

For almost 30 years, 55-year-old Thelma Jackson has called Wrens' Pine Valley Apartments home. It's where she has raised her granddaughter, Laheede, a freshman basketball player at Jefferson County High School.

For a long time the apartment complex, which has provided income-based Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funded section 8 homes, has needed some work. The driveway is deeply pitted, and the units themselves need attention. Still, for many of the 40-some odd families who depend on the government's assistance, it is the only home they have ever known.

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That is the reason the notes Jackson and other residents recently found pinned to their doors were so disturbing. The letters gave everyone living in the 52-unit complex 30 days to move out.

"I've lived here since 1977," Jackson said. "It's been so long since I had to look for a place to live, I don't know what to do. We're all just devastated. And if we're still here on March 8 at 5 p.m. they say they're going to have the police move us out and then turn off the gas, water and lights. Now that's ugly."

The Cause

According to Linda Allen, a Regional Public Affairs Officer for HUD, Pine Valley Apartments is in default, the mortgage has not been paid in quite some time and the property is currently in foreclosure.

Around $433,000 is owed on the mortgage and Allen said she expects the property to be sold at public auction possibly within the next 30-45 days.

"Pine Valley is currently without an owner or a manager and HUD is not in the business of owning or managing properties," Allen said.

She said the former owner, Nashville, Tenn.-based TAMCO has had a section 8 subsidy contract with HUD, but that contract expired Nov. 5.

"We extended the subsidies an extra three months so that the people wouldn't just be put out of their housing," Allen said. "But you can't keep people in unsafe housing. We're all about safe and sanitary properties and we've been doing all we can to keep this thing going, but eventually, without an owner or a manager things have to end."

The First Signs

The first signs of the impending closure began to show in early fall.

Jackson said someone came around to the apartments in October and talked about improvements that would need to be made to all of the buildings that line the north eastern end of Kings Mill Road. There was even some talk of residents possibly finding alternate housing, but according to Jackson, they were also asked whether or not they would want to stay in Pine Valley.

Even Lamb Investments, the company that was then managing the property, said they were unsure of everything that was happening.

With the contract ending, HUD brought in the Department of Community Affairs (DCA), which manages another income-based housing program. DCA issues housing choice vouchers that are connected to the individual household as opposed to the property-based program the apartment complex used.

In October, DCA conducted inspections of the property and found the vast majority of the 52 units "not habitable," meaning that the vouchers could not be used there.

According to a spokesman for Lamb Investments, every Pine Valley resident who complied with DCA received a voucher which they could use anywhere in the state excepting blocked out counties and major metropolitan areas.

Jackson said that while she and her neighbors are looking for homes, they're finding that a lot of housing does not accept the vouchers, an option left entirely up to the property owner.

The Lamb Investment spokesperson said that while the availability of voucher-accepting housing is certainly an issue, housing in general is an issue when you consider the fact that 40 families are looking for homes at the same time. Residents have 120 days to exercise the vouchers, but as of the publication of this newspaper, only 24 days to move out of Pine Valley.

And with DCA's regional office and other governmental officials reluctant to provide any additional information on the issue, residents are left with a number of unanswered questions.

What can be done?

Minnie Davis, pastor of Spring Bethel AME Church, heard about the notices, spoke to several residents and met with several local officials Tuesday in an effort to begin looking into what can be done to help.

Davis and her husband, Fred, met with Wrens Mayor Dollye Ward, City Administrator Donna Scott Johnson, Jefferson County School Superintendent Carl Bethune, Wrens Middle School Principal Julia Wells and a local newspaper representative to discuss the issues involved.

"The most pressing issue seems to be finding housing for these people," Davis said. "There doesn't appear to be any immediate housing in our area. How do we help them?"

She went on to say that she knows of six families who have found alternate shelter, either in Thomson or surrounding counties or with other family members.

"I've spoken to some people and it looks like housing in Wrens is full," Davis said. "There may be a couple of places left in Thomson or Wadley, but there are parents here who don't want to take their children out of our schools."

Wells said that she recently spoke to a number of the children at Wrens Middle who currently live in Pine Valley and asked them what their parents have planned to do.

"Some are moving out of the area, some are staying with relatives and the others just don't know," Wells said. "And trust me they're feeling this…For some of these people, Wrens is all they know and they don't want to have to leave."

Bethune said he guessed there may be as many as 60 children in the school system affected by this issue, 20 each at Wrens Elementary, Wrens Middle and Jefferson County High School.

Those gathered discussed possibilities and considered plans of action.

"There's not going to be an easy solution," Davis said.

She went on to say that she had contacted Congressman John Barrow's office. School board member Charlie Brown is planning to speak to state representative J.B. Powell and the city suggested "bending" representative Jimmy Lord's ear about the issue when he comes to town later this week.

"We do have an emergency here," Ward said. "Housing is a problem, there's no doubt about it."

The primary goal, they all agreed, was to attempt to find alternative, if only temporary, housing that would allow as many residents as possible to remain a part of the community.

"This is a stressful situation," Davis said. "I want Pine Valley's residents to know that there are people working on their behalf. If we work together, we can get some answers. I don't want the situation to get out of control."

The group said they would meet again next Tuesday at 10 a.m. and begin planning a meeting with Pine Valley residents.



Hadden resigns from DAJC

• Resignation offered after questioned over purchase of a piece of property adjacent to a potential DAJC project

By Ben Roberts
Staff Writer

A Jefferson County elected official has resigned his seat on the county's Development Authority after questions arose about a land purchase he may have made based on confidential information to which he had access.

Lester Hadden, a Wrens City Councilman and appointed member of the Development Authority of Jefferson County (DAJC), faxed a letter of resignation to the DAJC office on Tuesday, Feb. 14, according to DAJC officials.

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In the letter, obtained by The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter, Hadden stated his reason for resigning was due to his purchase of a one-acre lot on King's Mill Road joining land currently under an option to purchase by the DAJC.

The letter goes on to state Hadden was unaware the lot was bordered by the potential DAJC property, but he admitted, "Some may feel this is a conflict of interest."

According to documents on file in the Jefferson County Clerk of Court's office, in early June of last year the DAJC entered into back-up option agreements to purchase a combined 600-acre tract from three separate property owners.

The tract, which lies east of Kings Mill Road, north of Campground Road and west of the rail line, is currently owned by Gail W. Arrington, Tony C. Wren Enterprises LLC and the estate of Nina T. McCorquodale.

DAJC officials have declined to provide details of those option agreements, except to say they have been extended and will now expire on April 15, 2006. DAJC members must decide before that date if they are going to purchase the property.

A deed on file at the courthouse dated Sept. 22, 2005, shows that Hadden then purchased a less than one acre lot fronting Kings Mill Road near the intersection of Campground Road, from Gertrude O. Little and her brother, Newt Oliphant Jr., for $3,000. The 200-foot by 200-foot lot is bordered on three sides by the properties currently being considered for purchase.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Hadden said he was approached by Oliphant sometime in August about purchasing the property for the price of $3,000. He claims at the time he did not realize it ran adjacent to the 600 acres being considered by the DAJC.

"I bought it because it was for sale, to turn," he said. "I'm selling it now. I didn't even know it was part of the tract."

Hadden said he had since made a number of improvements to the property, including moving a mobile home on the lot and installing both a well and septic tank. According to Hadden, the lot, along with two other properties in Wrens, has been transferred to R&M LLC, a corporation owned by Hadden's daughter and her husband.

Hadden said they are expected to sell the property, however, to a new owner as early as this week for $39,900.

Hadden maintains he will see no return on the money he spent, instead giving the property to his daughter as an investment opportunity.

He also said it never occurred to him there might be a conflict of interest, nor has any fellow DAJC member discussed the possibility of such a conflict with him.

DAJC chairman, Bill Easterlin, said he became aware of Hadden's purchase only after it was made and said he had not spoken directly to Hadden regarding the deal.

Easterlin said the one-acre lot had been left out of the 600-acre tract because it had multiple owners and because of the tight time frame officials were under to put the deal together.

He went on to say he regretted the situation and Hadden's resignation as a result of it.

"He was very helpful in his time, so it is regretful that we accept his resignation," Easterlin said. "He was very influential in helping to bring these landowners to the table, a good community communicator."

Jefferson County Economic Developer, Tom Jordan, says he learned of Hadden's purchase after it was made as well; but that he had not spoken with Hadden about the land either

Jordan said he believed Hadden made the mistake "out of ignorance;" but admitted, "It doesn't look good."

Jordan said the DAJC is currently putting together a Code of Ethics as well as an oath of office to make board members more aware of such conflicting situations. Jordan pointed out however, it can sometimes be difficult to avoid such situations in a county and community the size of Jefferson.



Commission votes to locate office in Peebles House

• Library Board declines offer to move in because of space issues

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

During a rescheduled regular Glascock County Commission meeting Thursday, Commissioners and citizens found that the library board declined the offer to use the Peebles' House. Later in the same meeting, commissioners voted 2-1 to move themselves in instead.

The Glascock County Library has been looking into the costs to move into the Peebles' House for the past three months. The cost of a new library would be around $350,000, which the library board was trying to raise, when they were offered an opportunity to move into the house.

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At last month’s regular meeting, the Library Board gave the commissioners a list of renovations to be made to the structure to make it possible to house the library. Those renovations included handicap access, support beams for rooms with bookshelves, pest control, electrical wiring, data and telephone lines, lighting, fire code upgrades, monitoring equipment, building security and furniture and equipment.

The board wanted to move towards the center of Gibson, where the library will be more accessible to citizens. They also noted that since opening in 2000, they have grown considerably and will continue to grow.

Due to safety concerns and a lack of space, the Library Board Chairman Anthony Lamb sent a letter to the commissioners stating their reasons for declining the space.

At January’s meeting they told commissioners they would need the upstairs and downstairs to provide all the services they currently provide, but stated in the letter that they were told that the library should only consider using the bottom floor of the Peebles’ House.

“The bottom floor would be an excellent library, it would hold the weight,” Commission Chairman Anthony Griswell said. “The upstairs was not recommended because of weight and safety issues of children on the stairs.”

Lamb expressed the board’s appreciation for consideration to move into the house.

Also, in the letter Lamb pointed out that the bottom floor of the Peebles’ House has more square feet than the space the library now occupies, but the amount of practical usable space is much less.

Lamb pointed out the fact that the building was designed as a residence. It divides the area into several rooms, with each having numerous doorways, windows and fireplaces which left little room for shelves. He also noted that almost one third of the space on the bottom floor is in the hallway, which in addition to interior doorways contains the stairs and two main exterior doors.

“While it would be physically possible to move the library into the bottom floor of the Peebles’ House, the move would cost us shelf space we now have, need and would offer no room for growth,” Lamb said in the letter. “Additionally, since the cost of further renovating the Peebles’ House, to actually hold the library would be the total responsibility of the library, no money would be left to spend for growth."

Griswell said the library would stay in its current location at 738 Railroad Street in Gibson located next to the Glascock County Board of Education.

After reading the letter, Griswell said many people had suggested ideas about what to do with the Peebles’ House.

“There have already been calls for some uses for the house,” Griswell said. “One idea was to rent it out for showers, meals and that sort of thing. Maybe there will be more ideas to emerge. I thought it might have been a good idea [to have the library to move into the Peebles’ House], but sometimes it might turn out not to be the best idea.”

Peebles’ House vs. Courthouse

Later in the meeting, Griswell gave an update on the Glascock County Courthouse’s completion. The county clerk said that all the furniture should be in by March 6 and the first court date will be March 24.

The offices currently located at the old school building will be moved to the newly renovated courthouse during the week of March 13-17. Griswell said there will be a rededication ceremony for the courthouse later in the year.

“We are going to get everybody in the courthouse and get it functional and maybe have a rededication service in the late spring or summer time,” he said. “We’re trying to get back in it. Our lease on the temporary facility will run out in April.”

At the end of the meeting, Commissioner Jay Dixon suggested the Commission office be moved to the Peebles’ House.

Griswell said the county office would only have one person there most of the time. He also pointed out that the courthouse would not house that many people and the courtroom would only be used twice a year, which could be a place to hold commission meetings.

“I got to tell you I don’t want to be down there,” Griswell said. “I was hoping that the library would work out. Maybe if we rented it out and people in the community could go in and use it. But nobody feels good about that house. It’s been a bad taste for everybody’s mouth.”

Commissioner Johnny Crutchfield felt that the house needs to be used since it has been renovated and still sits empty.

“They never have liked it and maybe never will,” Crutchfield said. “But we’ve put dollars into that thing and so why not use it. That’s my way of looking at it.”

Griswell said that the costs of heating and cooling another building would be costly.

“But put one person down there and you have to run the heat and air for the whole building,” he said. “We have five rooms downstairs and four rooms upstairs.

“The bottom line is...we are here to serve the people. This past time during the election, two-thirds of people across the county said they were fed up with that Peebles’ House. They are bent out of shape. The people gave the answer of what they were wanting.”

Griswell then stated that he wanted the minutes of the meeting to reflect that he was opposed to the commission offices moving to the Peebles’ House.

Dixon then spoke up about his role in acquiring the Peebles’ House earlier while in office.

“I can understand where you’re coming from about the election,” Dixon explained. “But I am the commissioner that made the motion to buy the property to start with. I feel like if two-thirds of the people in the county were opposed to it, I wouldn’t be in this chair.”

Griswell then asked commission members if they would like to vote.

“We can put it to a vote,” he said. “But I want people to know up front that I have never had any intention of going to that Peebles’ House.”

Crutchfield and Dixon both asked to vote on the issue. Both voted for the commission offices to move into the Peebles’ House.

“I want the minutes to show that Mr. Griswell is opposed due to the fact that this will create more of a cost...and so stands opposed," Griswell said.

After the vote, commissioners discussed how the heated subject would not affect their relationships.

“Our relationships have been good between all of us and its going to be that way,” Griswell said. “Anyway y'all vote we are still going to work together. We have to do this. If we all say yes, something’s wrong.”

In an interview on Tuesday, Griswell discussed why he felt so strongly about not having the commission offices move to the Peebles’ House.

“There has been controversy over the years,” he said. “While I was campaigning, I probably covered 80 percent of the county and it was always a subject to come up.

“But we’re supposed to disagree. It is nice to agree on some things, but if you agree on everything the people are not getting their fair shake.”

After Thursday night’s meeting, Griswell is trying to find the positive side of the situation.

“I think it is too big to hold the commissioners,” he said. “But maybe we can fill the rest of the area with other offices. We have the situation at the courthouse where we will have three people there and just one at the Peebles’ House.

“I am thinking about the people’s tax dollars. We will have to heat and cool the courthouse, Peebles’ House and Senior Center. When you run a small county, you really have to watch the dollars. I am tight with a dollar and that is how I run my business. That is why I felt so strongly.”

Griswell continued saying that there will have to be other meetings to finalize plans.

“There are going to be some costs involved,” he said. “Maybe we can have a called meeting next week. But we can’t just let it sit there, I just want to make sure we utilize our resources the best way we can.

“Maybe something good comes out of everything. Maybe it will be the best thing after all. Maybe it will serve as a reminder as how elected officials ought to think their responsibilities are looking after the taxpayers money."




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