Department of Ag investigates possible neglect
By Parish Howard
After helping one horse to its feet investigators walked the pasture looking for buzzards, signs that others may not have made it.
Thursday morning, Oct. 25, a representative of the Georgia Department of Agriculture and a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office investigator were already at the Grange Road pasture when a county health inspector, responding to a report of possible animal neglect, called for law enforcement back up to meet her at the site.
“Neighbors called to report that there were horses down and not getting up,” said Health Department Environmental Health Specialist III Belinda Sheram. “They said that the horses looked malnourished, that some had injuries that did not appear to be taken care of.”
According to Jefferson County Code Enforcement Agent Jimmy Kitchens, the county’s 911 office has received several calls over the last few weeks of horses being out of the fenced area.
“We had gotten several calls about 18 or so horses being out of the fence just the day before,” a sheriff’s office investigator said.
Charles Perry, a concerned citizen who lives just down the road from the pasture, said that two weeks ago he brought the animals some hay because he was worried about them.
“That’s when I saw one down and went out to try and get it up,” he said. “It was in awful shape. It was laying on its side and every now and then it would thrash at the ground like it was trying to get up. There was this raw place on its neck and it was just running. It smelled like death. Every time I would touch it, it would just groan. Honestly, I cried. I couldn’t stand to see it suffering like that.”
Perry showed law enforcement and the Ag. Department investigator the place where he had seen the animal. They found flesh and hair at the spot and that is when they started searching the pasture for the carcass. They found it on the backside of the property, away from the highway, at the edge of the trees.
The investigator then evaluated all of the near 70 horses residing in the pasture.
According to Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin, his Equine Health Division gets calls weekly, if not daily.
“This particular case is still under investigation,” he said Friday. “But I can tell you that we have instructed them (the owners) to pen off 12 to 15 of the horses for special treatment. We’ve quarantined them on the premises.”
Irvin said that his department evaluates the health of equines on a classification system of 1 to 10, with 10 being the healthiest animals. The animals penned separately at the Grange Road pasture, were classified in the 1 to 2 categories he said. Animals with these classifications, he said, require immediate attention or could soon die.
“These animals will need to receive special attention and a special diet,” he said. “If they receive the appropriate grain and hay and show improvements by next week, then the owner may avoid any citations.”
Any criminal charges would come from local authorities, Irvin said, as his office pursues compliance with the law using the state’s civil system.
Code Enforcement Agent Kitchens said that he will determine if any charges are necessary based on the outcome of the state veterinarian’s investigation.
“If these owners do what they have committed to do, then these horses can be saved,” Irvin said. “We don’t want to impound any animals if we can get the owners to take care of them. I believe the laws are in place not to punish people, but to make sure we can bring people into compliance. That’s my job, to make sure that it gets done, that people comply with the law.”
Irvin said that it also appears the animals may have been taken across state lines or changed ownership without the required tests for Equine Infection Anemia, and the quarantine is partially in place until they can determine if this is the case.
Investigators said Tuesday that the horse found dead at the site has since been buried in compliance with the state’s dead animal disposal act.
The animal’s caretaker, from Hopkins, S.C., said Tuesday that he believes the situation has been blown out of proportion.
“We’ve only had these horses about three weeks,” he said. “When we received them they were in bad shape and I’ve seen plenty of improvement in them since they have been there.
“In my opinion there is no need for an investigation. This is all about some overactive people with nothing better to do, getting involved in something that isn’t any of their business.”
On a subsequent phone call he added, “The Department of Agriculture and myself, we just want to do what’s right and we are doing that. The horses are getting care from my private vet. They have plenty of water and plenty of grass in that pasture. We simply want to be left alone. It would be best for us and the horses.”
Dr. Lee Myers, State Veterinarian for the Department of Agriculture, said late Tuesday that her department has made several trips to the pasture and intends to conduct follow up inspections.
“We will be following up with him this week to make sure that he is taking the appropriate measures to ensure that the horses’ health needs and nutrition needs are being met,” she said. “There are a number of things that could make a horse appear malnourished. Our primary objective is to make sure the animals are taken care of.”
According to Commissioner Irvin, anyone who suspects horses are being mistreated should call his office of equine health.
“Whenever someone sees a horse that is thin, if you can see any of the bony structures such as the ribs or pelvic bones, then you can call our equine division at (404) 656-3713,” said the state’s Director of Equine Health, Maria Luke, DVM. “We ask very specific questions about the condition of the animals. When necessary, we dispatch inspectors who examine the situation, talk to the owners if they can be found and advise them on what they need to do.”
The department enforces the Humane Care of Equines Act, the Equine Act of 1969, the Animal Protection Act as well as dead animal disposal laws.
By Carol McLeod
Voters went to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots for council seats as well as the mayoral position in Wrens. The cities of Gibson, Louisville and Wrens all held elections on Tuesday for local seats, with many incumbents losing their seats to newcomers.
In Gibson, only one incumbent held on to his seat. Warren Pittman kept his council seat with 71 votes, while Dean Reese received 65 votes to take incumbent Paul Hinton’s seat. Hinton received 35 votes.
There were a total of 97 voters on Tuesday. There were 90 votes cast at city hall and seven absentee ballots.
In Louisville, incumbent Tom Watson received 156 votes, running unopposed. The council seat left vacant by James Davis will be filled by Larry Atkins, who took the spot with 144 votes. Atkins’ opponent Elmo Hutchinson was right behind him receiving 139 votes.
City Administrator Don Rhodes said there were a total of 269 votes and 15 absentee for a total of 284 votes. There are 1,325 registered voters in the city of Louisville.
In the city of Wrens, two incumbents suffered upsets losing their seats to the opposition. There are are 1,164 registered voters in Wrens. There were 571 citizens who cast ballots Tuesday, while there were 36 absentee votes for a total of 607 voters.
In the mayoral election, incumbent Dollye Ward lost her seat to challenger Lester Hadden. Hadden won with 406 votes, while Ward received 190.
In the city council seats currently held by Sydney McGahee and Ceola Hannah, only Hannah maintained her seat. Wayne Favors took McGahee’s seat.
Favors received the most votes, 312, while Hannah received 249, McGahee received 217, Earnest Rozier received 117 and Wylie Prescott received 101.
In the special election to fill the seat left vacant by Hadden when he qualified to run for mayor, Tomasenia Jackson won with 208 votes. The race was close with Spence Norton receiving 192 votes and Jack Templeton receiving 178.
How are our elected officials financially compensated
With elections ongoing this week, The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter decided to take a look at salaries for the elected officials in our area.
In Jefferson County, county commissioners make the following: Tommy New and Johnny Davis make $7,477 a year; Sidney Norton and Gonice Davis make $7,664. Chairman William Rabun makes $7,817 a year. Additionally, the county pays into a retirement fund and various insurance premiums for a total benefit package of about twice those amounts. New and Johnny Davis, for example, each have a total benefit package of $14,692.95. Norton and Gonice Davis have a total benefit package of $14,903.86. Rabun’s total benefit package is $15,076.42.
In Avera, the council members and mayor get paid annually, according to City Clerk Amy Hadden. “The mayor gets $200 a year and the council is $100 a year,” she said. The city is supposed to have five council members but one position is vacant with the election in November. The city pays mileage only if the council members or mayor take a class and are reimbursed whatever the minimum state and federal agencies are paying. They receive no benefits, no incentives or other extras, she said.
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In Bartow, Susan Scarboro, the city manager, said the mayor is paid $75 a month. City council members, of whom there are five, earn $125 a year. “The charter says the mayor makes $50 a year,” she said, adding that was in 1974. “It was changed to $75 a month but that was prior to 1995.” Scarboro said that fee was in place when she came to the position as city manager. “And they get paid in December,” she said.
In Louisville, City Administrator Don Rhodes said councilmen earn $75 a month. The mayor earns $150 a month. There are five council members.
“It takes a bill through the legislature to establish a salary,” he said. Rhodes said the council members and mayor do get paid for expenses and mileage for training purposes. The current salary was established in 1979, he said.
In Stapleton, the mayor gets $3,000 a year and is paid in two installments over the year, according to Gail Berry, the city clerk. “There’s no mileage or reimbursement paid other than that amount,” she said. “There’s no actual salary. That’s just a travel expense; he doesn’t turn in any mileage reports. He’s reimbursed at 100 percent for anything he may purchase for the city. That has to be pre-approved or from an approved list.”
Berry said the city has five council people who are each paid $900 per year. “If they go to a meeting somewhere else, they submit a report to the city and get reimbursed,” she said, adding the city reimburses mileage at 44 and a half cents. “That’s what employees get,” she said.
These figures were set around December of 2005, becoming effective with 2006 pay, she said. “The mayor’s allowed $250 in expenses per month, paid semi-annually, which comes to $3,000 a year. The mayor pro tem gets $1,200 annually, whoever is the mayor pro tem. The council selects the mayor pro tem.”
Previous compensation provided the mayor with $75 per meeting. The council received $50 per meeting, according to Berry. “At that time, the mayor turned in his mileage each month,” she said. “There was no differentiation between the mayor pro tem and the other council members at that time. They voted on this December of 2004. It went into effect in January of 2005.”
In Wadley, the mayor makes $300 a month with council members making $200 a month. There is an incentive of $100 additional each month for those council members who complete 120 hours of training, according to Wadley City Clerk Sallie Adams. She said that has been the salary for about eight or nine years. The only thing that changed was the extra $100 for completion of the 120 hours.
“The meal per day is $50 and travel is 45 cents a mile,” Adams said. “I think that changed January of 2006. The old fee was $32 per day and travel at 32 cents a mile. That was for the last seven or eight years.”
The current salary and reimbursement became effective Jan. 1, 2006, Adams said.
In Wrens, City Administrator Donna Scott Johnson said the mayor earns $400 a month with council members making $200 a month. The salary for the mayor and council increased effective Jan. 1, 2006, to the current amounts, Johnson said.
Additionally, the city pays for the mayor and council when attending classes. The city pays the cost of the class, the hotel room, mileage and meals up to the allowed amounts of $6 for breakfast, $7 for lunch and $15 for dinner, she said.
In Jefferson County’s Board of Education, each board member makes $300 a month, according to Carl Bethune, the county’s superintendent. The chairman, Jimmy Fleming, makes $350 a month, Bethune said.
“Travel reimbursement and expenses are paid for training purposes,” Bethune said. The rates of pay previously were $300 a month for the chairman and $250 for the board members, he said.
In Glascock County, there are three commissioners. The chairman makes $4,078 a year. One commissioner makes $1,700 a year and the other makes $3,059 a year. The difference is if a commissioner goes to school and gets certified, he or she is paid an additional $100 a month.
The chairman gets a mileage allowance of $100 a month but is not required to turn in anything for travel expenses. The other two get reimbursed at 30 cents a mile. They also get reimbursed 100 percent for eligible meals.
In Edgehill, the mayor and council members do not receive compensation. They can be partially reimbursed for certain expenses; but the city’s secretary June Milburn said they have not done that in quite a while.
“I think you get paid so much per mileage if you go in your own vehicle,” she said. “We have not had to do that in so long. To tell you the truth, if someone had to go out right now, I’d have to call one of the cities to see what they’re doing. To my understanding, nobody’s ever received any money. I think it’s stated in the city charter that it’s not a paid position.”
In Gibson, City Clerk Brandi Pritchett said the mayor makes $900 a year. Three of the four council members make $600 a year; while, the fourth member who is the mayor pro tem makes $700 a year.
“If they go out of town, they get their mileage, 38 cents a mile,” she said. “All their lodging is paid. They don’t have a certain amount per day or anything like that. They get reimbursed for their meals.”
In Mitchell, according to City Clerk Gail Berry, the mayor is paid a salary of $700 a year. Each council person, there are five, is paid $25 per council meeting attended.
“If they have any travel expenses, mileage is reimbursed at 44 and a half cents per mile,” Berry said. “Any conference fees would be paid by the city. Travel and lodging expenses for the city are generally paid by the city. That’s been in place more than five years.”
Glascock County’s Board of Education members are paid $50 per meeting, according to Mary Griswell, the system’s bookkeeper.
“Any time they come in on official business as a group, or if one is called for an official tribunal, they would be paid,” she said. “If they travel, their travel would be reimbursed at 100 percent for them. They have an annual meeting each summer and our board members do go to that. And they receive several trainings. Those trainings are paid for by the school board. We reimburse them as the state allows on that. The state sets meal allowance amounts and we reimburse them based on the state allowance.”
In certain areas, Atlanta, Savannah, Augusta and Brunswick, those amounts would be $7 for breakfast, $9 for lunch and $20 for a dinner, and in all other areas would be $6 for breakfast, $7 for lunch and $15 for dinner. Their mileage is reimbursed at the state rate, which is currently .485 cents a mile, according to Griswell.
“For the travel, that changed January the first,” she said. “I’m thinking that those meal rates have been set for a few years and then our amount that we pay per board meeting has been set at $50 per meeting for a number of years. I can find that the $50 was in effect in ‘99 and 2000 and the computer doesn’t go back further.”
Editor's Note: See future editions for salary information on area elected officials who do not serve on councils, commissions or school boards. These will include sheriff's, judges, solicitors, court officials, etc.