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June 21, 2007 Issue

Louisville downtown to get $600K makeover
Tax assessor seeks raise for his staff
Civilian follows enlisted son to Iraq

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Louisville downtown to get $600K makeover

• City expects to see construction completed over the next two years

By Jessica Newberry
Intern

Within several years, Louisville should be the newest recipient of an extreme makeover, thanks to what has become known as the Streetscape Project.

Although the project has been in the works for several years, Mayor Rita Culvern is very supportive of the plans to revitalize the downtown area.

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“This project is a much-needed freshening for the city, and I am very excited to be in office to see Louisville shine,” said Culvern. “It will really bring out its character and beauty.”

The city of Louisville and the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce began developing a project for downtown improvements approximately 3 years ago and applied for funding with the help of the CSRA Regional Development Council.

The city was notified in the fall of 2006 that they were to receive $500,000 in funding for the Streetscape Project as a part of Georgia’s Transportation Enhancement (TE) Program.

As specified by TE, the local match must provide at least 20 percent of the total project cost. The city of Louisville will contribute $125,000, most of which is designated for the preliminary engineering stage.

“This is basically a revitalization project for the downtown area, and it will greatly improve its appearance,” said city administrator Don Rhodes.

“We are hoping that this will bring additional business to Louisville, and it should definitely bring more visitors.”

Louisville’s Streetscape project will focus on the downtown area on both sides of Broad Street.

Improvements include work on existing medians and construction of a new, narrow median at the north end of downtown. Crosswalks will be added at the Market House and at each end of the street to make the entire area more accessible for pedestrians.

“We are also planning to remove the raised step area that begins at the post office and make the east side of the street handicap accessible,” said Rhodes.

New sidewalks on both sides of the street, landscaping and new sections of brick pavement are also included in the Streetscape plans, but the existing tree planters in the median and the brick walkways on the median’s perimeter will remain.

Louisville’s TE project will soon be put out for bids according to state regulations.

The project’s extensive timeline can be attributed to the required approval from the Department of Transportation, according to Rhodes.

“We hope to start work in the next 60 days, but our progress depends on approval from the state,” he said.

Although the initial TE funding will cover much of the project, the city is applying for additional funding to give the downtown area a complete renovation.

The TE Program was created by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991.

As a part of the Federal Aid Highway Program, TE provides funding for projects including facilities for pedestrians and bicycles, scenic or historic highway programs, historic preservation and scenic beautification including landscaping.



Tax assessor seeks raise for his staff

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Jefferson County Chief Tax Assessor George Rachels requested the county commission review salaries for his department.

In the June meeting of the commission, Rachels told the commissioners that the county pays to train assessors only to have them leave for the same work in other counties because the pay is higher.

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“They’d asked for raises based on another county in our area making that much money,” said Jefferson County Administrator Paul Bryan.

“I did the research and that county was paying more than we were on all positions.

I confirmed that the tax assessor’s office was paid about $2 (more); across the board they were paying more than what we were.

This county’s digest was approximately a little more than three times greater than ours.

We had already placed a 3 percent increase in the budget for all employees to address the inflation issue caused by gas prices and food prices.

However we could not see increasing one department (additionally) and not other departments.”

Bryan said that although he sympathizes with Rachels, he feels the commissioners’ hands are tied.

“That happens in all departments,” Bryan said of employees receiving training and then accepting jobs elsewhere. “It is critical in his department I will be the first to acknowledge. But that is no different than the sheriff’s office or the correctional institution.”

Bryan said about three years ago the commission adopted a step-ingrade pay system developed by the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute of Government in order to maintain the parity and equity for all county employees.



Civilian follows enlisted son to Iraq

A mother's journey

• She wanted to share her son's experiences, to understand, and that desire led her to Iraq

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Paula Jackson wanted to be where her son had been, to see what he had seen and to sit in a chair where he had sat.

She hoped this would help her understand what her son, Paul Hamrick, had experienced and survived.

Even now, three years later, she’s not certain why that chair meant so much, why, as she says, she became obsessed.

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She knows only that it held significance and hoped it would bring her some closure to the time her son spent as an American solider in Iraq and the time she spent waiting.

“When he came home, he showed me pictures,” Jackson said. “He was a tanker. So I thought, you know, OK, my kid’s in this tank.”

Hamrick was in the 3rd Infantry Division and at the beginning of the war their entrance into Iraq was covered extensively by CNN and other news outlets. Jackson said she was glued to the TV.

“They kept talking about the 3rd ID,” she said. “To get away from the TV, I started cross stitching this angel.”

Jackson said she kept the volume on the TV up but stayed in another room. She couldn’t watch the news, but she had to listen.

“I had this view of my driveway and I played this game that Paul was going to come home any minute. God, it was awful,” she said.

When Hamrick came home, he showed Jackson pictures from his time in Iraq.

That was when she discovered her son had not gone from Kuwait into Baghdad inside a tank but on the top of a truck, manning a 50- caliber machine gun with only a helmet and a flack jacket for protection.

“They had no metal plates in those jackets,” Jackson said.

“My son found some pieces of metal that he duct taped to his flack jacket and that’s how he went to Baghdad. And they gave those guys one bottle of water each for three days.

And that was one bottle of water to drink, wash or shave with.

“When they finally made it into Baghdad, they took one of Saddam’s son’s palaces.

Everything was so lavish in there. I couldn’t believe the things this man had. There was this huge chair in there, huge.

It was made of gold, silver and marble. That was the first place where my son got to sit down. And he sat down and prayed in that chair. And for some reason, I wanted to go and sit in that chair. I was obsessed with it.”

Jackson said the opportunity came for her to go to Iraq as an employee of a government contractor, General Dynamics.

“They were asking for volunteers,” she said. “And I thought if I went over there maybe I could see what he had seen and try to understand what had happened over there. Because he was different when he came back.”

Jackson said her son had always been a happy go lucky kid. “When he got back from that place,” she said, “he was totally changed.”

So, in March of 2004, Jackson packed her bags and got ready to go. Then she had to tell her son.

“I told him that I needed to go for that reason, so I could have some kind of understanding of what he had gone through,” she said. “And he begged me, he said, ‘Mama, please, don’t go to that place.’

“And I told him, ‘It’s going to be OK. You guys got it ready for me. I’m going to go find that chair that you sat in.’”

Jackson went to Iraq as logistics support for General Dynamics, flying from Kuwait on a C-130 with the British military, having fl own into Kuwait on an Air Force jet.

“I was in Kuwait for about three weeks,” she said, working on another program, a communications system for the Kuwaitis.

When she landed in Iraq, she said she was the only civilian on the flight and the only American. She had three duffle bags and a brief case. No one came to meet her, she said. All the British soldiers left for their own assignments.

“It’s 140 degrees outside. After about two hours of sitting by sandbags, not knowing what I was going to do, these special ops guys pulled up. So I’m sitting there trying to not be seen, when one of the guys came up to me and said, ‘Young lady, are you lost?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I think so.’”

He asked where she needed to go and she told him General Dynamics at Camp Victory.

Jackson said he told her they would take her and she asked, “Is that thing bullet proof?”

When he said it was, she accepted the ride.

“The building was a concrete, cinder block building,” she said of her destination. “Shot to hell. I could lie in my cot and see the two checkpoints at Baghdad highway. There was a sniper position on top of my roof.”

She became accustomed to eating fast. “You know, when you’re over there, you don’t want to spend too much time at the mess hall because it’s a target. So you eat really fast. Even now, I still do that.”

The only bathrooms were Port-o-lets, Jackson said. The weather was 140 degrees. “It was horrible. I got so tired of seeing blue skies; I never want to see another blue sky again. No clouds, not once did it rain.”

She said she had placed a box over one window in the room where her cot was. There was another window and a door in the room.

“I had no privacy,” she said. “The American military had set up anti-tank mines 400 meters away from us. One night, I saw the box float towards me. Then it was like all hell broke loose. The glass came flying all over me. I just had one cut, that box saved me.”

Even her 15 years in the Army didn’t quite prepare her for her time in Iraq.

“It got so I could listen and I could tell which (rounds) were going out and which ones were coming in,” she said. During the six months she was there, she filled orders for equipment to go out to different units.

“I’d have to box it up. Sometimes, I’d have to take it out to the units. So I had a Chevy pickup, just a regular old Chevy pickup. I’d load it up with my stuff and take it out to the units. They had different supply points where units would come in and pick up supplies. I’d leave Camp Victory and I’d tell the guards at the gate if you don’t see me in about 45 minutes, you come look for me. OK?”

She said she got accustomed to the mortars. “By the time you knew they were coming, it was too late to do anything,” she said.

“I found out where that chair was and everybody told me they’re never going to let you in that palace and I was thinking, ‘Somebody’s going to let me sit in that chair,’” Jackson said.

“So I got up early one Sunday morning and I went over to that palace and there were maybe two privates standing in this like guardhouse. I had a picture of Paul sitting in that chair and I had my ID with me.”

She said she showed the picture to the privates and told them her story.

“I said, ‘Do you think you can help me?’ and they said, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ll get you in that chair.’ They took me up to this other guard, a spec 4 (E-4), and they kind of explained and I told the spec 4 my story and he said, ‘I’ll take you to the chair.’ And I said, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’

“All around these palaces were these huge moats. There was a tree I recognized from a picture Paul had and I said, ‘Take my picture with this tree,’ and they did.

“So then we got up to the palace door and I took a deep breath and we walked in and there was that chair. I didn’t know whether to cry and I just sat in that chair and held my picture of Paul in that chair and the guy took my picture. I don’t know why I was so obsessed with that chair. I guess because it was where Paul first got to sit down and pray.”

Her son was still in the Army when she returned to Georgia. He was stationed at Fort Stewart in Hinesville.

“He came to see me,” she said. “I think more about not what I went through when I was there; it seems so minute compared to what he went through. That’s what I think about the most – is what he went through. He was in country nine months.” They both got back to the United States on the same day, one year apart.

She said she believes her experience in Iraq has really changed her. She gets upset, she said, when people don’t do their jobs. “And when people don’t treat each other right. You know, when you’ve been over there, what can somebody do to you?

“They forget what state our country’s in and what our young men and women are doing over there. Yet we take time to poke fun at each other and make jokes. What’s really bad, you know people don’t know what you’ve been through and they say things that just shouldn’t be said. I don’t know how to explain that feeling.”

She said this perspective is something that comes from her time in Iraq.

Her son has completed his Army commitment and is in college.




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