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November 22, 2007 Issue

Citizens ask for more protection
Eleven of around 70 taken, state monitoring continues
County says no to state's consent order

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Citizens ask for more protection

By Parish Howard
Editor/Publisher

Several Louisville residents appeared before their city council last week asking for better police protection and notifying it that they have already organized a team of armed citizens who are patrolling their neighborhoods.

“We’re not here to point fingers,” Tony Stepp told the council. “We just want to feel safe in our community.”

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Stepp and others pointed to several recent burglaries, home invasions and other crimes and proceeded to ask questions about the city’s police department, how many officers are on duty at any one time, how many cars are in its fleet and how the officers are equipped.

The city’s department, according to Chief Jimmy Miller, currently has six full time men and three part time, and there are normally two deputies on duty at any one time.

“We feel we need more,” Stepp told the council. “If you have an officer at each school crossing when they let out, then there’s no one else out there.”

Stepp told the city he recently stopped two young men from breaking into a neighbor’s home and chased them to a wooded area.

“I called 911,” he said. “It took six minutes for the police to show up. By then the guys had gotten away. We’re worried about our children being attacked by other children and hoodlums.

“And these kids are getting brave. Their coming in people's homes and they’re carrying guns, butcher knives, machetes and semi-automatic weapons.”

Stepp said that he and six other citizens have organized and set up shifts.

“We’re riding around with shotguns protecting our property,” Stepp said. “My shift goes on after this meeting. If you see us out there, that’s what we are doing.”

Stepp mentioned the curfew recently put in place by the city police department, and said that he supports the idea behind it.

“But it ain’t taking care of the problem,” Stepp added. “We’re a small town, but we want to keep what we’ve got. And this is not a black thing or a white thing. This is a what’s mine thing.”

He said he recently confronted a teenager who was on his property. The teen cussed him, he said, and then Stepp claimed he chased the young man off his property with a chainsaw.

Citizen Rodney McGraw also addressed the council, saying he agreed that two officers on duty simply is not enough.

“A lot of citizens are on edge about what happened to my wife,” McGraw said. “She was robbed on our front doorstep. Something has to be done before someone gets killed…I certainly don’t want to kill anybody and don’t want to get killed either, but when your doorbell rings and your kids go to pieces…something has to be done.”

Later in the meeting he added, “Citizens who have never had a gun before are arming themselves.”

Citizen Grady Moye has attended several council meetings complaining about the teenagers and crowds that assemble in his neighborhood at night.

“I agree 100 percent,” Moye said. “Two policemen on duty cannot do what we expect them to do.”

Moye went on to talk about gang activity on the streets of his neighborhood and large crowds that gather in the streets late at night playing loud music and refusing to move for cars that pass through.

“I done got tired of it and whatever it takes, that’s what I’m going to do,” Moye said, adding that he, too, has armed himself.

Jerry Taylor spoke up saying that while he is a relative newcomer to the community, he had looked up statistics online before moving here and one of the things that attracted him was the area’s low crime rate.

“There are a lot of places with a lot worse crime rates,” Taylor said. “I think the city’s police department is doing a good job.”

Stepp later told the city that he believes the citizens would be willing to pay more taxes for more police protection, he even offered to hold fundraisers for the city.

The City Responds

Mayor Rita Culvern thanked the citizens who attended for bringing their concerns to the council and assured them that the city has already begun addressing many of the issues they brought forward.

After a July Public Safety Committee meeting, the council approved the hiring of two additional patrolmen and the city is considering the hiring of an investigator, she said.

“We’ve been running the same number of officers for about the last 30 years,” Chief Miller said in a subsequent interview. “I know we’ve had two officers on duty since the 1970s. And we realize that sooner or later, definitely by the time U.S. Highway One is four-laned, we are going to have to add more.”

Culvern said the city had recently purchased two new patrol cars that are currently waiting on the shop to get them road ready. New cameras and radar equipment is ready to go in them, she added.

“I really believe we have been addressing most all of the issues the citizens were concerned with,” Mayor Culvern said. “We really are being proactive, I just think these citizens were not aware of all we are doing.”

Chief Miller says the city has applied for grants that could help provide bulletproof vests, Tasers and other equipment to the department.

Both Miller and Culvern said that they felt the city is safer than the citizens portrayed it.

“They kept talking about home invasions,” Miller said. “Well, the man responsible for those is in jail. We haven’t had another forcible burglary since then. Sure, we’ve had a few petty thefts, but nothing out of the ordinary.

“Citizens should rest assured that our patrolmen are out there patrolling our streets. They should not feel their safety is threatened in any way.”

Culvern suggested that Stepp work with other concerned citizens and Chief Miller in organizing an official neighborhood watch program.

“I don’t like the idea of people out riding our city streets with guns,” Culvern told those gathered. “Please, if you see someone committing a crime, call 911 or get the number for some of our officers. I strongly caution you, don’t try to approach these individuals on your own. You don’t want to put yourself in that kind of situation.”

In a subsequent interview she added, “We need to be vigilant, but not vigilantes. My fear is that some child who might innocently stop to pick up a pecan in someone’s yard is going to get shot. If you see something out of the ordinary, it is your responsibility to call for law enforcement, not attempt to handle the situation yourself.”

Miller encourages anyone interested in forming or joining a neighborhood watch program to contact him at city hall.

“Once we have enough citizens interested to get started we will hold a meeting and start getting it organized,” Miller said.

Culvern added that she and the council are “very much in support of our chief and our officers.”



Eleven of around 70 taken, state monitoring continues

By Parish Howard
Editor/Publisher

Almost three weeks after beginning an investigation in a Jefferson County pasture, state Department of Agriculture Equine Health officials returned Wednesday, Nov. 7, with trailers.

“A couple of days ago our office impounded 11 horses from this site,” said Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin said Friday. “They have been taken to our critical care center and are under the watchful care of our trained professionals.”

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According to his office, they impounded six females and five males, all ranging in age from an estimated four-months-old colt to its 12-year-old mother.

The department added that five of the horses had body scores from 1.0 to 2.0, five scored from 2 to 2.5 and one had a score of 3.

Irvin said that the health of horses are often evaluated on this scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being animals that are too heavy and with those in the one to two categories being so malnourished they need immediate care.

“We left a notice for the owner to provide hay, grain and veterinary care to the remaining horses,” a representative from Irvin’s office said Monday. “We will continue to monitor the remaining horses.”

Jefferson County Code Enforcement Agent Jimmy Kitchens, who has been working closely with the state’s veterinarians and investigators, was at the pasture Nov. 14, and assisted in corralling the animals impounded.

He said the Department of Agriculture officials spent around six hours corralling the horses in the approximately 75-acre pasture and coaxing them to the trailers.

“The ones they took were some of the worst cases out there,” Kitchens said.

He added that all of those taken had ribs and hipbones plainly visible, both signs that state veterinarians say they look for in malnourished animals.

Kitchens said that one young bay was wearing a halter that was so tight it was cutting into the flesh of the animal’s face.

“It looked like it had been on it a long time,” Kitchens said. “The more that horse grew, the more it would have restricted how much it could have opened its mouth.”

The animals have been taken to a critical care center in Mansfield, where Commissioner Irvin says they will be under the care of trained professionals who will work to nurse the animals back to health.

“You have to be very careful when dealing with malnourished horses,” Irvin said. “You don’t want them to founder on you. But, I don’t see any reason why these animals, with the right care, shouldn’t respond accordingly.”

In most cases like this, Irvin said, the owners relinquish ownership to the state. In some cases, when the owners are less agreeable, the state uses the civil justice system to attempt to gain official custody.

“We find we’re impounding horses several times a year,” Irvin said. “It’s a lot more than I would care to have to impound, but we have to make sure these animals are cared for.

“Some people just don’t know how to care for these animals. That problem is compounded when you deal with large number horses, such as in this case.”

When Irvin’s Equine Health Division first visited the pasture, there were nearly 70 horses there. Irvin said his office will continue to monitor the health of those remaining.

Once the state has official custody and the animals have been brought back to good condition, they can be offered for sale to the public.

As of Friday, Irvin’s office said that it had been in touch with the animal’s owners but did not say whether ownership of the impounded animals had been officially given to the state.

Both Kitchens and the Department of Agriculture confirmed that the situation is still under investigation and no criminal charges have been filed against the animals’ owner, who reportedly lives in the Sumter, S.C. area.



County says no to state's consent order

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

In its regular meeting Tuesday, Nov. 13, Jefferson County Commissioners voted to not sign a consent order regarding the tax assessor’s office. A draft of the consent order to be issued by the Georgia Department of Revenue was sent to the county’s administrator, Paul Bryan.

The draft recognizes that “Jefferson County has raised issues in its original Notice of Appeal challenging the time period which was available to the county to correct prior deficiencies to the tax digest.” The 2003 tax digest was found by the state to have four deficiencies in a total of 13 statistical standards. Three of those four were corrected by the 2006 tax digest, leaving one deficiency.

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Another statement in the draft states, “Jefferson County has submitted and the Commissioner (of Revenue) has reviewed a plan of action which if followed, appropriately shows a good faith effort to respond to the Commissioner’s 2006 Order to correct the deficiencies in the prior review year’s digest and present an acceptable 2009 digest.”

The penalty assessed by the DOR is $66,735 and would be waived, according to the draft, if Jefferson County completes the terms of the consent order.

The document makes more than 20 requirements, including that the county provide the “Board of Tax Assessors the necessary support, in the form of equipment, personnel, office space, internet service, supplies and reliable transportation requested by the Board of Assessors and approved as reasonably necessary by the Commissioner, to ensure the approval of the 2009 tax digest in accordance with the terms of this Order.” Additionally, the county will have to provide “for a revaluation of all property to include the physical review of all properties, either by securing a contractor, using in-house staff or by use of a combination of both, to ensure that the deficiencies cited on the 2006 digest are corrected at the time the 2009 digest is submitted to the Revenue Commissioner.”

Commission Chairman William Rabun read remarks about the consent order before recommending the commission not sign the consent order in its current form.

“Without any reflection on any staff member or board member of the office of the Tax Assessor, we are all aware that we have been penalized $66,735 by the Georgia Revenue Department because board of assessors had established valuations to agricultural property that were not uniform and equalized,” Rabun stated. “The Board of Commissioners is responsible for the payment of this penalty, the financial support of this office and appoints the Board of Tax Assessors.

“As a result of our appeal the penalty has been delayed and we have received a draft Consent Order. The Consent Order appears to have many requirements that I believe will require us to hire additional staff. If the conditions of the Consent Order are not met, then additional penalties may be imposed by the State, some imposed on a daily basis.

“Upon careful consideration and reflection, I do not believe it would be prudent to sign the Consent Order at this time. I believe that all issues and concerns need to be addressed first. That being said, it is my suggestion that we adopt a resolution to request a peer review of the office of the Tax Assessor. We should request that the Department of Revenue appoint a Performance Review to make a thorough and complete investigation of the office with respect to all actions of the board and appraisal staff regarding technical competency of appraisal technique and compliance with state law regulations. After the review we will ask that we be provided with their findings and recommendations. I do not believe we need to agree to something without identifying the issues first.

“We have been informed by the Department of Revenue that if we continue to positively identify and address our issues by having a peer review and follow all their recommendations, if we conduct a countywide reevaluation of real property, and sign a contract to evaluate personal property for commercial accounts (which we did tonight), we could delay making a decision on the consent order until after the first of the year. At that time we should have the results of the peer review.

“This is why I am suggesting that we request a peer review and not sign the consent order at the present time.”

A motion was made, seconded and passed unanimously to reject the consent order and sign instead a request of a performance review by the DOR, asking for a written report of the findings of the performance review board to include evaluations, judgments and recommendations.




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