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September 14, 2006 Issue

Matthews P.O. to be closed
Wadley shoplifter shot by policeman
Gator jaywalks

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Matthews P.O. to be closed

• Postal Service planning meeting for local community input at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 27 at Mt. Moriah

By Parish Howard
Editor

It’s more than an old building, a few antiquated post office boxes and a well worn bench. Many of the residents of Matthews consider their little P.O. the “hub” of their neighborhood and a big part of what continues to hold the unincorporated community together.

But as of the end of September, when the current contract with Joyce Weatherford runs out, the doors will be locked and the blue postal service collection box out front will be removed. On Sept. 1 Matthews residents and each of its 64 post office box holders received letters explaining that effective Sept. 30 the “postal facility will be temporarily closed” as the “contractor has given written notice to terminate the contract.”

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Weatherford, who has been sorting mail and operating the little P.O. for around 20 years, said that letter does not tell the whole story, and that if she could continue to offer her services, she would.

The Contract

Weatherford claims it was a change in the proposed contract that would have reduced her hours of operation from 27 to 18 per week and thereby cut her pay by more than $6,300 a year that forced her to turn down the contract.

“I can’t operate it for what they’re offering,” Weatherford said. As an independent contractor, Weatherford said she has basically been self employed, covering her own rent, business phone, heating and cooling bills and paying to have the office bonded, and working in the office herself for the USPS’s contracted $11,000 a year.

“In 20 years the contract hasn’t changed,” she said. “The cost of everything, my heating, bonding, everything has gone up, but not the amount of the contract.” Now, under the new contract, which cuts her hours by about nine per week, the USPS is offering Weatherford $4,665.90.

“I can’t pay my bills for that,” she said. “That’s $6,000 less than it was, and I wasn’t clearing minimum wage before. What bothers me the most is that it looks like this post office is being closed because I decided the cancel the contract. Well, it isn’t that simple.”

According to USPS Public Information and Communication Specialist Tina Freeberg, the decision to switch to a contracted community station in 1985, as well as the current decision to cut contracted hours, were both based on declines in mail and customer traffic determined by periodic reviews.

These reviews, Freeberg said, are not public record and this newspaper could not get access to them by press time.

“We review all of our post offices regularly,” Freeberg said. “And then we make decisions based on the needs of the community. In 1985 we determined that there was not a need for a full eight-hour-aday post office there in Matthews.”

After the most recent review, which was done sometime within the last couple of months, Freeberg said, the postal service decided to reduce the Matthews office’s hours to three per day. Five rural community post offices across the state were reviewed at the same time, she added, and some of these others were also reduced.

“It is only six miles to the Wrens Post Office and we have rural carriers that come out of that office that are basically post offices on wheels,” Freeberg said. “They can call and order stamps or money orders and our carriers can bring them to their homes. They can pick up packages and do just about anything a post office can do.”

However Weatherford, and a number of her customers feel that the community has a lot more to lose from the closure.

History and Identity

“It’s kind of like we’re losing our identity,” claimed Mrs. Frankie Jones, a former Matthews Postmaster who owns the building, an old store, where the P.O. is based.

Jones’s father, Hoyt Haulbrook, was a mail carrier in Louisville and moved to Matthews to take over as post master there in 1934. She herself took over in the 1960s and spent 20 years as its last official postmaster.

To her, and other long-time residents, who remember when the Matthews was “a bustling little community,” the post office is one of the last physical reminders of a more prosperous era.

She remembers her father and several other men 60 year ago sitting on an old bench in front of the post office discussing local events and trading news. That old bench is still there and for years, it was used to drop off mail after regular hours.

“It’s actually an old bread box,” Mrs. Jones explained. “When this was a store and Colonial from Augusta would deliver bread that would get here in the mornings before the store opened, they would put the bread in that box so the dogs couldn’t get to it. But, it’s neat to remember all those old men out there and now there’s another generation who gather out there on it.”

Weatherford said she does not want to complain, that she has enjoyed her time in Matthews, but she admits that she does hate to see the change come.

“There’s more to the Mattews Post Office than a place to pick up your mail,” Weatherford said. “It is a part of this community. We know which of our more elderly residents live alone and know that if they don’t come in to get their mail on their schedule that we need to check on them.”

She knows the style of stamps her customers want. There are a few elderly customers who drive up, honk their horn, and she takes their mail out to them.

When someone dies, the deceased’s family drops dishes and Tupperware off here because they know it will get back to the right people, she said. One lady often drops off two dozen eggs here for another lady.

“It’s the hub of the community,” Weatherford said. “I hate it that now they aren’t going to have that. Stamp sales and the volume of mail you handle are not the true measure of a post office.”

The postal service says the change in the contract is a means to providing more efficient service.

“Matthews will not lose its identity,” Freeberg said. “It will maintain its own 30818 ZIP code and people can continue to have mail sent to Matthews. It is already being delivered from the Wrens office.

“The postal service is a business,” Freeberg said. “We do not get any tax subsidy and we haven’t since 1971. We just want do serve our customers, the customers of Matthews, but not at the high cost we are operating at now.”

Wrens Postmaster Mandy Pennington said that she understands the residents’ feeling of loss, but says she will do everything possible to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Community Input

The postal service is planning a community meeting for Wednesday, Sept. 27, at 6:30 p.m. at Mt. Moriah Camp Ground’s conference room. According to Freeberg, the meeting’s purpose is to get input from the post office’s customers and “let them know our views since this person has elected to cancel their contract. We will also them know about the contract if someone else wants to take it out. That is a possibility.”



Wadley shoplifter shot by policeman

• Suspect dies Saturday from bullet wound to abdomen

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Walter Victor Graham Jr., 51, died Saturday morning of injuries sustained Friday when he was shot in the abdomen by Cpl. Donald Meadows, a Wadley police officer.

The incident happened around noon at the back of a home in the 100 block of Hudson Circle in Wadley. About 11:47 a.m. Friday, a local dollar store called police and reported they had a shoplifter and the subject fled, according to reports.

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Special agent in charge Gary Nicholson of the GBI, said the shooting incident occurred at 173 Hudson Circle, at the rear of the house.

“The police officer received a lookout on a suspect that was wanted for shoplifting at the dollar store. Mr. Graham met the description of that lookout,” Nicholson said.

When the officer went to talk with Graham, Graham fled and the officer chased him to the rear of that residence, Nicholson said.

“The suspect made a threatening move and that’s when the officer fired once.”

In accordance with standard policy, the officer was relieved of his duties with pay and placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, according to Wadley Police Chief Paul Jordan.

Jordan, who would not identify the officer by name, said nothing like this had happened before. “This is the first incident involving an officer,” he said.

Graham died of his injuries at the Medical College of Georgia, where he had been transported after the shooting.

“I’ve turned this over to the GBI,” Jordan said. It is standard practice for the GBI to be called to investigate incidents where there has been a death or use of deadly force, according to Nicholson.

“We’re still conducting interviews,” Nicholson said. “When we finish, we’ll turn the information over to the district attorney.”

Nicholson would not confirm the officer’s name, saying, “We don’t release their names unless there’s been an arrest.”

The agent would not reveal any other details of the incident, saying the investigation is ongoing. “I think our investigation will be completed within the next couple of weeks,” he said.

Policy is for certain evidence to be sent to the GBI crime lab and those results are pending. There will also be an autopsy conducted. Nicholson said he thought Graham’s autopsy has been completed.

The results of the investigation will be sent to the Jefferson County District Attorney, Stephen Askew. Nicholson said the District Attorney may let a grand jury review the evidence.

The decision to return Meadows to duty, and when, will be up to Jordan, Nicholson said.

“The chief requested the investigation,” Nicholson said. “He will have access to everything we found. (That decision) is totally up to him.”



Gator jaywalks

• Live gator removed from bypass

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Who has the right of way? You or the alligator?

On Wednesday, Sept. 6, in the early afternoon on Highway 1 at the Wadley bypass, most motorists decided to yield to the alligator as it crossed the highway.



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The animal seemed to have left the creek on the east side of the road, heading toward the creek on the west side.

Usually at such incidents, the Department of Natural Resources is called and sends an officer to remove the alligator. This particular time, however, passersby stopped and performed the service.

Three men stopped to try and help the creature cross the road.

With rope and a stick – a long stick – the men finally gently prodded the alligator to the nearby pond considered to be its destination.

Willie Hall, 35, said he was just driving by and stopped when he saw what was happening. Brothers Charlie Miller, 26, and Randy Miller, 28, did the same. All men are from Wadley.

Vic VanSant, the regional supervisor for game management with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources says alligators are not typically aggressive but advises the average citizen to avoid the alligator as much as possible.

“If they’re in the road the first thing is safety to the people. So you really don’t want to encourage people to stop or get out of their vehicle. Traffic safety for people is a big deal. If there’s one (an alligator) in the road, the best thing to do is let it alone and let it cross the road if that’s what it’s trying to do,” VanSant said.

“When there’s a break in the traffic, try to leave them alone and give them an escape route.”

The way the three men led the alligator to the other pond is one way of dealing with the animal, according to VanSant. But that can lead to another problem, getting the ropes off the creature. In the case last week, the alligator solved that problem himself.

At one point, the three men had a rope around the alligator’s neck and had just gotten another rope around its mouth. After a moment or so, it seemed the alligator decided he didn’t like all the attention. He moved his head a bit to one side, and the rope around his mouth slid to the road.

“There’s plenty of data to indicate that we don’t have a shortage of alligators,” the DNR supervisor said, adding there are alligator trappers on contract who can come and catch problem alligators.

“A guy called on his cell phone and they sent me down here,” said Cpl. Donald Meadows of the Wadley Police Department.

“I think a car ran over him,” said David Way, an investigator with the Wadley Police Department. “When we first got here, he was limping on his right foot.”

Way tapped his own right hand in remembrance and then said the alligator was fine within a few minutes.

“He got up on all fours real good,” Way said.

Way said there have been other alligators in the area from time to time. It was the officer’s opinion that this particular alligator had crossed the road before.

“When a car would come, he would lay down,” Way said.

Way watched as the men carefully encouraged the creature to finish his trip to the pond.

“It makes you wonder how many more’s around,” he said.




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