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April 2, 2009 Issue

Long-serving Judge Q.L. Bryant dies
Jay’s burns
Banks receive TARP funds

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Long-serving Judge Q.L. Bryant dies

By Carol McLeod
Staff writer

Quillian Lynwood “Shooney” Bryant Jr., who had served Jefferson County as its probate judge for 48 years, died Wednesday, March 25, at Doctors Hospital in Augusta. His funeral was Saturday, March 28, in the Louisville United Methodist Church.

A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, he was buried in the Louisville City Cemetery with military honors.

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Bryant graduated from Louisville Academy in 1946; attended Teachers College, currently Georgia Southern; and graduated from the University of Georgia with a law degree in 1956.

Asholyn Lampp, the chief deputy clerk of probate court, worked with Bryant for more than 15 years.

“He was good to work for,” she said. “At times, he was very comical, very funny.

“When I started to work with him, he told me he wasn’t a slave driver. But he was a good man and he was a very honest man,” she said.

In Jefferson County, as in some other counties across the state, the probate judge also has the responsibilities of being the county’s elections superintendent.

The judge, who took office Jan. 1, 1961, saw many changes in the voting process.

“Touch screen voting started while he was here and he was used to the old machine, the Shoup machine,” Lampp said. “That was what they were using when I came here. When he was first in office, they had to count the ballots by hand and they would be up all night long.”

Bryant also worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority.

“He practiced law a few years before he became the probate judge,” Lampp said. “But he kept his (law) license up to date.”

Lampp said Bryant had been a pilot and at one time owned his own plane.

“He loved to fly,” she said.

Until a special election is held to fill the two posts left vacant by Bryant’s death, the county’s state court judge, John Murphy, will be the acting probate judge and the acting elections superintendent.

Murphy said he will be calling for a special election for June 16. He was unsure as of press time when qualifying will start.

“In rural counties such as ours, you’re not required to be a lawyer,” he said, adding the special election will be non-partisan.

“Between Asholyn Lampp, who is the clerk, and the folks at the voters registration office, I think we can handle this special election,” Murphy said.

“I’ll just be filling in for the probate judge until the next one is elected. I don’t anticipate much disruption in the probate court,” he said.

According to the website, www.gaprobate.org, county probate courts have jurisdiction in the probate of wills, administration of estates, appointment of guardians and involuntary hospitalization of incapacitated adults and other individuals.

Probate court judges also administer oaths of office and issue marriage licenses.

In order to qualify for election to the office, a person must be at least 25 years old, a high school graduate, a U.S. citizen and a county resident for at least two years preceding the election, the website states.

Bryant was a member of the American Legion, the County Officers Association of Georgia, the State Bar of Georgia and Council of Probate Judges.

“I think he was a real good man,” Lampp said. “A real honest man and he was real good to work for.”



Jay’s burns

By Parish Howard
Editor/Publisher

Jay Bullock was just going to bed Thursday evening when he got a call informing him that firemen were responding to his Wrens hardware store.

By the time he got there crews with hoses were already in the building.

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Wrens Fire Chief Larry Cheely said a passing motorist reportedly saw the smoke and called in the fire and the call came into the Wrens firestation at 11:09 p.m.

“We got there three minutes later,” Cheely said. “There was a lot of smoke coming out of the building from all over and every door I approached, you could feel the heat coming off a few feet away. We couldn’t see any flames at that point, but there was definitely a lot of heat.”

His firefighters forced open the front doors and found the blaze was primarily in the main aisle of the front portion of the main room of the building.

“We’re pretty sure the fire started right there around the chicken coop area and spread to the back wall,” Cheely said. “We’re lucky we got to it when we did, that we had such a quick response and quick knock down. It was on the verge of being a very big fire.”

Cheely said the heat and flames melted a good deal of insulation, roofing and vinyl on the ceiling and back wall. Inventory along that central aisle was burned and there was fair amount of smoke and heat damage, he said.

“I was really impressed with the turnout and minimal amount of damage the fire fighter had to do,” Bullock said. “They did a great job. There was only minimal water damage.”

Five departments responded.

Bullock said he believes there were somewhere around 50 firefighters and other emergency responders present at one time during the incident.

“I appreciate the great response from the surrounding fire departments,” Cheely said. “It was getting to the critical stage and if we had been just a few minutes later this could have been a major incident.”

Bullock said that they believe the fire started with a heat light at the coop in the central aisle. They had just received a new delivery and there were some 600 young fowl in the store when the fire started.

According to Brittney Smith, a Jay’s Hardware cashier, there were six survivors of the coop where the baby chicken, ducks and turkeys were being kept.

“We’re guessing they must have hopped out when the coop collapsed,” she said. “They were running around the store loose. One had burned feet and singed wings. Another had some melted plastic on it.”

The survivors were sold the next morning to a local man who has been buying animals from the hardware store for years, Smith said.

“He said that he was going to make sure these made it,” Smith said. “He said he was going to help them recover, that they must be pretty hearty to get through all this. He said he definitely wasn’t going to eat them.”

Jay’s Hardware has been carrying baby chicks, ducks and turkeys during the spring and Easter season for years and the store normally sells somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 to 4,000 of these every year.

“We’ve had a great response from our customers,” Bullock said. “We’ve had over 1,000 people come in over the last three days since the fire.”

There was extensive smoke damage and as of Tuesday, employees were still working amid industrial sized air purifiers at cleaning up soot and melted display fronts.

“The firemen told me it got somewhere between 800 and 900 degrees in here,” Bullock said. “The heat melted the clock on the front wall.

“It melted all of our phone lines and computer lines. We now have one phone line up and running, but we’re used to 10.”

Bullock said that he expects the cleanup to take 30 to 60 days to get the store back to where it was before the fire, but he intends for it to remain open in the meantime.

“I just want to thank everyone who responded and who has helped out,” Bullock added. “Marc Peebles (an assistant fire chief and Wrens police man who arrived first on the scene) did a great job of organizing the response Thursday night.”



Banks receive TARP funds

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Louisville-based Queensborough National Bank and Trust Company received $12 million from the federal government under the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, commonly called TARP.

Wrens-based First State Bank received $2.4 million through the program.

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As of press time Tuesday, the most recent report from the U.S. Treasury Department, dated March 30, showed fewer than 20 Georgia banks allocated to receive funds through this program.

“We had to submit an application that was approved because we have the financial strength to use the capital injection appropriately,” said Bill Easterlin, the president and CEO of Queensborough. The bank has 21 branches, started in Louisville and will open its 22nd branch in Augusta in the spring, he said.

“The main thing here is that we were approved because we’re a good bank,” Easterlin said. “It creates a large cushion for us so that we can continue to move forward even in a recession.”

Easterlin said the bank does not have executive pay on the scale of larger banks that meet compensation restrictions.

“They (the restrictions) were put in for large, high flying banks,” he said. “We are not large, high flying. Compensation restrictions are of no consideration to us. We aren’t anywhere near those parameters.”

According to the document on the Treasury Department’s website, First State is the only other nearby bank that has been approved for funds under this program. But, Easterlin pointed out the process is ongoing.

“So there may be other banks approved in this area,” he said. “I presume there will be. After all, the banks in this area are good banks.”

Easterlin said nobody can predict exactly what will happen in the future.

“The programs and policies that are put in place are helpful in total. There’s no one silver bullet here. These programs will need to work together and we will need time to affect the economy. We can’t approve a program in December and expect the economy to improve in February or March,” he said.

The bank president said economists’ opinions vary as to when the country will begin to see what he called, “positive economic information.”

He said he thought by the fourth quarter of this year.

“That’s just my guess. I don’t know,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that I think that everyone will be back to full employment by this fall.”

He recommends people to be conservative with their spending.

“I do know that we’ll come back. I know it’s a matter of time,” he said.

“I do know that the lower interest rates have had a positive effect on the mortgage generation locally in the Augusta and Savannah markets. The house prices are holding strong.”

Easterlin said now is a good time to buy a house.

“The last three months, December, January and February, have been among the most active in people buying a house or refinancing their house at a lower rate. I think that the national statistics are correct but they don’t necessarily apply to what is happening in Augusta, Ga., or Louisville, Ga. We’re just not seeing that kind of price depreciation.”

Easterlin said the bank has already paid its first dividend to the government.

“Back in February,” he said. “We received the money in January. We’ve already paid our first dividend payment of about $65,000 back to the government.”

Easterlin explained that TARP is a preferred stock investment made by the federal government.

“It requires us to pay quarterly dividends to the government in the middle month of each quarter. The next payments will be for a full quarter’s worth. It will be about $163,000 every quarter henceforth,” he said.

Easterlin said the application process was discussed at the management level and then presented to the board of directors.

“There is not a requirement that the money be repaid. It is our intention to make sure that that happens within a 10-year time frame,” he said.

“That’s the difference between a loan and a capital injection. If there’s a required repayment, it’s a loan. This is a permanent injection of capital. It is our intention to repurchase those securities within a 10-year time frame,” Easterlin said.

“We are approved as one of the banks that should succeed. There are a lot of banks in the country that have applied and were not approved. There are lots of reasons to not be approved. Or they didn’t apply. We don’t know if they applied or not. There’s no announcement of a bank that applied and wasn’t approved,” he said.

First State Bank, headquartered in Wrens with a branch office in Louisville and one in Americus, was approved in January for funding under TARP and was placed on the current list effective March 27.

“Our holding company had a shareholders meeting today,” said Joe Gore, the bank’s president, on Tuesday, March 24.

“Our shareholders approved the issuance of preferred stock, which means we will be able to participate in the TARP program. The amount of the funding will be $2.4 million. We’ve already been approved; in fact, the closing is scheduled for this Friday. The only thing we were waiting on was the shareholders’ approval,” he said.

“There’s a misconception that TARP capital is for banks that are not strong, in fact, you have to be strong to get it,” Gore said, echoing Easterlin’s comment.

“Our management approved the program,” Gore said, adding that after they received preliminary approval, it was discussed among the management, approved by the board of directors and then approved by the bank’s shareholders.

“We expect to close the transaction this Friday, March 27,” he said. “We want to use this money to commit additional resources to small business lending and mortgage lending.”

“The compensation restrictions that are a part of this are not a concern to us. We don’t have anyone who makes the kind of compensation you hear about on TV,” he said.




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