Illegal digging gets three in deep
• Three men face drug charges as well after caught on Thiele property searching for artifacts
By Parish Howard
For several minutes the rangers used night vision equipment to watch the three men dig and sift, looking for buried Indian artifacts by lantern light.
Glascock County DNR Ranger First Class Brian Adams said he had been hearing complaints about the digging on Thiele Kaolin Company's property off Highway 88 for some time, and every time he checked the property he found more evidence of their recent presence.
"It seemed like I always missed them by a day or two," Adams said. "We could tell whoever was digging was doing it at night because they littered it up pretty good with battery packs and those little propane tanks you use for lanterns. They were everywhere."
Jefferson County Ranger Corporal Matt Garthright was checking the property March 11 when, a little after midnight, he found a single set of fresh tire tracks leading into the property.
He drove around the site by a private access road, got out and walked further into the property.
"I observed what appeared to be lantern lights at the digging site," Cpl. Garthright said.
That's when he called Adams and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office for backup.
When Adams arrived, they moved in closer, using their night vision equipment to see what they were facing.
"There were three guys digging in two holes," Adams said. "One was sifting using one of those strainer baskets you use to fry fish."
Cpl. Garthright said one of the others was using a long handled shovel and another was "working a tripod sifter."
Then the two rangers stepped in closer, calling out "Game wardens, put your hands in the air where we can see them."
They then handcuffed the three individuals and identified them as 37-year-old Jason Allen Cash of Gibson, and brothers 34-year-old Robert Darel Gunter and 28-year-old Christopher Scott Gunter, both of Warrenton.
While searching the suspects, the rangers discovered a small bag of marijuana on Cash, a film canister containing marijuana and crystal meth on Robert Gunter and crystal meth and marijuana in a jacket belonging to Scott Gunter.
All three were later charged with the misdemeanor charge Unlawful Digging of Indian Artifacts, and misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Both Robert and Scott Gunter were also charged with felony possession of methamphetamines.
RFC Adams said that it was obvious that the area had been searched fairly thoroughly for artifacts, with evidence of digging covering some five to seven acres.
The Law on Artifacts
"They had one awesome spearhead on them, a nice stone drill with broken tip, a scraper or fletching tool, and some decent arrow heads," Adams said. "They also had a lot of junk--bits of stone and broken points."
The spearhead was later dated and suspected to be 4,000 to 5,000 years old, Garthright said.
While talking to the suspects, Adams said they admitted to digging in the Gibson area as well. They also claimed they had been digging and collecting American Indian artifacts for 15 years or more.
The rangers later obtained a search warrant for the Gunters' Warrenton home to look for Native American burial remains they may have uncovered. While there, they discovered a number of arrowheads and an stone axe head they were able to link to the Jefferson County site.
Adams said there were hundreds of other nice arrowheads, and thousands of broken pieces in the men's home. A number were in nice display cases; other piles of artifacts were in buckets, trays, baskets and other containers.
Among the items the rangers confiscated from the original site were shovels, bush axes, hand rakes, hat lights, gloves, AA batteries, a finger LED light, one pocket knife, one frying basket, lanterns, a tri-fold stool, a homemade sifter, miscellaneous bags containing rocks and arrowheads, one fine arrowhead intact and a GMC Astro Van.
According to DNR, it is perfectly legal to surface collect arrowheads, points and other tools from private property as long as the collector has written permission of the property owner on their person. However, the law concerning digging is a bit more involved.
According to the Georgia Historic Preservation Division of DNR, with the exception of burials and associated objects, archaeological sites belong to the landowner, whether that be a private individual, corporation, or local, state or federal government. The landowners can dig for artifacts on their own property, again excepting any burial sites, but DNR recommends that landowners preserve these sites for future generations and leave digging or excavation of such sites to professional archaeologists.
DNR also requires that landowners intending to excavate or dig potential archaeological sites contact their office in writing within five business days before they begin.
Rangers stress the fact that it is not legal to disturb human burial sites or collect human remains, beads or other objects associated with burials, regardless of to whom the property belongs. It is illegal to buy, sell, trade, import or export American Indian burial, sacred or cultural objects. Those found guilty of this could face fines of up to $500 per object.
Anyone seeking more information on collecting artifacts, digging or artifact identification is encouraged to contact the local DNR office at (706) 595-4211 or see archaeology services section of DNR's Historic Preservation Division website at hpd.dnr.state.ga.us.
Jefferson BOE SPLOST passes
By Ben Roberts
Less than 10 percent of Jefferson County voters turned out to cast ballots in Tuesday's special election to renew the county's education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST); but that was enough for a solid renewal of the referendum.
Even with the lack of turnout at the polls, the one-percent tax was renewed by 95 percent of those voting. The SPLOST referendum passed by an overwhelming total of 817 to 44.
Avera had the largest percentage of voter turnout at 16 percent, while Wadley had the lowest at just six percent. Stapleton-Crossroads had 13 percent, Matthews had 10 and Wrens, Louisville, Bartow and Stapleton precincts each had nine percent.
Tuesday's SPLOST renewal is expected to raise $12 million over the next five years for capital outlay and maintenance projects at the county's six schools. The SPLOST passage will not affect the county's current seven-percent sales tax.
Jefferson County School Superintendent Carl Bethune said he was obviously pleased with Tuesday's passage.
"We're just so appreciative of the confidence of the community for entrusting us with these special tax dollars," he said. "We pledge to spend it wisely."
Neither school nor county voting officials expected much of a turnout for the vote, with no other items on the ballot. When the current education SPLOST was passed in September of 2001, by 92 percent of county voters, it was paired with the county's proposed SPLOST for a new law enforcement center on the ballot as well.
The current education SPLOST was estimated to raise $10 million over its five-year period. That $10 million ceiling is expected to be met sometime this year, so Tuesday's passage of the new referendum will ensure that SPLOST funds continue to be collected without interruption.
Individual precinct results were as follows: Stapleton-Crossroads, 43-2; Matthews, 43-6; Wrens, 172-4; Louisville, 267-17; Wadley, 100-4; Bartow, 34-7; Stapleton, 41-0; Avera, 44-1; absentee ballots were 8-0; and advanced votes were 65-3.
Ballot will decide if courts should be combined
• Glascock Magistrate and Probate court decision will go before voters in 2008 election
By Faye Ellison
Glascock County Commissioners recently voted unanimously to allow registered voters to decide whether the county should combine the Magistrate and Probate courts for the next election in 2008.
Last year, Commissioners and the current Magistrate Judge Misty May went back and forth on whether she should receive full-time pay. When re-elected to office, the position was part-time, giving May a $16,000 salary.
At the beginning of 2005, May informed Commissioners that due to the doubling workload, she needed to be a full-time Magistrate Judge to better serve the citizens of the county.
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In July 2005, the commission voted in what one commissioner called a "reluctant unanimous decision," to pay May the full-time salary to avoid court costs associated with a pending suit.
May's state-mandated salary is now $32,757 per year for a full 40-hour-week position.
Opposition came from Commissioners saying that she was being paid for a part-time position because her qualifying fee reflected a part-time job, but May said that she offered to pay the full-time qualifying fee, but was told it would not be necessary.
"I was told that they have to base qualifying fees on the current status of the office, not what it will be in the future," May said at the time. "I do not have a problem paying the qualifying fees for full-time."
May then filed suit against the commissioners in late June asking that she be paid for the full-time position.
The probate judge currently earns $37,728 per year. If voters decide that the Probate Judge should serve as the Magistrate Judge also, the Commissioners will give the judge a $10,400 increase, bringing the total to $52,527, including an extra $3,000 for a clerk if the Probate Judge feels one is needed.
"There were two options that we could have done," Commission Chairman Anthony Griswell explained. "As the governing board of the county, we could have gone through legislation and combined the two. But we felt it was best for the people of Glascock County to have voters have some input."
Griswell said now the voters will decide if the county should combine the two jobs or leave it like it is.
"This will not have an affect on this four-year term that we are in," Griswell said. "The next general election is in two and a half years. This change will take effect provided citizens want to do so."
The current Magistrate's term will end in 2008, with the new term beginning on Jan. 1, 2009.
Griswell stressed that the Commissioners' decision to allow voters to decide to combine the two offices was strictly to save the county money.
"It would be a right good savings for the taxpayers," he said. "It will also be a nice increase for the Probate Judge.
"Our decision to do this is for cost savings. All rural counties are faced with financial hardships. We are looking at this as another way to be a savings to our taxpayers because we are at 33 mils. The state has a 40 mil cap, so we don't have a lot of room to move and need to find a way to save the county's money."
May voiced her opinion on combining the offices after Commissioners said in July they would look into the option.
"When you start to downsize government, the state may want to adjoin you with another county," she said. "If they abolish this office, that is what they are doing, and it will hurt our county in the long run.
"I have always thought I can't give 110 percent as a magistrate with no clerk. At least being full-time I can put in the 110 percent I promised. I don't just work office hours- call anytime. I am here. It is just a part of being an elected official, being there 24/7."