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July 22, 2010 Issue

Gibson bank reopening
Meth lab busted in Stapleton
SPLOST passes, Davis retains seat
Wadley votes to borrow money for investigation
Wadley public forum brings officers and SCLC together

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Gibson bank reopening

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

Glascock County citizens will see a new business on Monday, a business they can bank on.

It was a dark day on Friday, March 20, 2009, as those who were customers of the bank found they were no longer able to use their funds saved inside. At 6 p.m. that day, the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance closed First City Bank, headquartered in Stockbridge, and its branches, which included Gibson.

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Later in the year, the bank was purchased by Gibson native, Bill Kent, son of Pope and Cloise Kent, with one stipulation from the FDIC, another bank must occupy the space. Kent, who lives in Cherokee County, said he was born and raised in Gibson and still visits his parents at their residence located across from the bank building. He knew how important it was for Gibson to have a bank.

“A bank is almost a heart of a county,” Kent said. “It is hard to imagine a county to not have a bank. It has caused a lot of senior citizens to have a hard time to go to other counties for banking. Even the local stores had to take their deposits to another county. This is something I didn’t realize in the beginning, but it is the heart of the county, it’s the county’s center. They have to have a bank to grow.”

Since the opening of the new Dollar General at the beginning of July, Southern Bank will be the newest business to open its doors. Southern Bank Chairman and CEO Preston Conner said the FDIC and state have given their approval. With that, he said, a tentative opening date is Monday, July 26.

More than a year later, Gibson will have a bank.

“It takes several months,” Conner said of the process of approval. “We have to submit an application to the state banking department and FDIC. Then they come bank and tell you whether it is accepted or not, just to establish a branch.

“It’s a lengthy process, and right now with the banking industry the way it is, it takes even longer. The FDIC is good people and the regulatory people are good people and we work well with them. I believe they received some encouragement from citizens to get the bank over there. I do think the community let them know they would support a bank.”

Conner said Southern Bank was interested in the Glascock County bank before it was purchased by the Stockbridge owned company.

“Whenever they closed it, the stockholders knew about the offer made before,” Conner explained. “They called and asked if we would consider opening over there. We waited to see if any local banks would open and they didn’t and that is when we decided we would.”

Conner said Kent completely renovated the building, strictly because he wanted to have a bank in his hometown.

“We were able to work out something and so we have a lease on the building,” Conner said.

Southern Bank was founded in December of 1945, as the Bank of Sardis. Later a bank was put in Waynesboro in 1987, and the name was changed to the Bank of Burke County, while ownership continued to remain the same the whole time. Then the bank in Hephzibah was opened.

“We said hey, ‘we should come up with a name to be good anywhere,’ so we changed the name to Southern Bank,” Conner said. “That will be Southern Bank Gibson Office.

“We are excited about the opportunity to be there. We feel like it will be a good move for us and the Glascock County community. We are just a small community bank and we believe in service in the communities.”

Southern Bank has an office in Sardis, two in Waynesboro and one in Hephzibah. Conner added that the bank will offer all the same services as before and will add safe deposit boxes and a night depository. There will also be an ATM, but no drive-through window, which may be added at a later date.

“It will be a full service bank,” he said. “Our plan is to convert the little wing in the back into a small area available to the public for showers and things like that. It will be a community room.”

The bank will be open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“Right now we have hired two local people and will look at the need for more and move some of our people until we can see what the need is there in personnel,” Conner explained.

County Commission Chairman Anthony Griswell shared his excitement for the new bank.

“We most definitely will use the bank for county funds and any way that we can support our bank, we are there for them,” he said. “Everybody is very excited in waiting for the doors to open to move their money back home. The people at Southern Bank are so nice, and Preston Conner leading the helm is a very big plus for them. We are all so very excited for them to be coming.

“I would like to encourage all the citizens of Glascock County to use Southern Bank because the bottom line of it is, for us to be able to have a bank here, we have got to support them and all of our local businesses as well. We also encourage people outside of the county to come look at interest rates and what they are willing to pay, even a half a percent is worth traveling for.

“This is so encouraging, hearing a lot of bad news in the way the economy is, and here we are able to get our bank back and get a Dollar General. It is the first chain to come to Glascock County.”

Kent said he believes this bank will always have a place in the county.

“I am very, very excited,” he laughed. “It has been a long drawn out situation. Everybody is excited. I am so proud the community has it. I am just as excited as they are. I am excited for them. We got a good country banker now.”




Meth lab busted in Stapleton

By Jared Stepp
Apprentice

An estimated $2,000 worth of methamphetamine was found still cooling in the camper turned meth lab of Ronnie Turner, 40, and his girlfriend, Shannon Harrell, 39, both of Stapleton on Wednesday, July 14, during an ongoing investigation.

“Close to an ounce,” said Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Mike Marbert. He said the batch of red phosphorus was in the process of crystallizing when police arrived on the scene.

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Marbert and officers from the Stapleton Police Department and from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office arrived around 3 p.m. with a search warrant in hand. Turner had a warrant in another county, but the other county declined to pick him up, Lt. Clark Hiebert said. Hiebert is an investigator with the JCSO.

“We have been aware that this guy’s been cooking up meth for eight to ten months,” Hiebert said. “He doesn’t do it on a regular basis. We had to watch and learn. We were able to obtain information on a day when he was making it.

“What we did was, two of us not dressed in police clothes went there to try to get him to come to the door; we had a search warrant,” he said. “As we drove up, he walks out of the door and we ask him if he knows someone; and, as I got close, I put him under arrest.”

Neither fought the arrest, but both denied knowing anything about the lab.

“He was trying to act like he didn’t know what was going on,” Maj. Charles Gibbons, an officer with JCSO, said about Turner. “Denial is just another part of being involved in criminal activity.”

“He said he was experimenting, trying to see if he could make it,” Hiebert said.

“His girlfriend denied any knowledge,” said Marbert.

“She claimed when she walked in and saw what he was doing she started putting it in the trash,” Hiebert said. “When one of the officers walked in (for the arrest) she was laying on the couch and she was removing the red phosphorous from the match boxes.”

This, Hiebert said, made Harrell involved in the crime.

“We were very familiar with what was really happening,” he said.

Gibbons said he was unsure whether Turner was on drugs at the time of his arrest but said his girlfriend wasn’t.

The camper was parked beside the East Church Street home of Turner’s stepfather, also named Ronnie, and his wife, Jan Harden, both of whom Gibbons said had no involvement in the meth lab.

“They had said they were aware of it,” Hiebert said. “But he only does it occasionally. It had been reported that he had been doing it in the past, so GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) did a knock-and-talk. They went there and went through the camper but couldn’t find anything.”

This time Coleman fuel, Heet, cold medicine, tubing, matches and strike plates were all found in the camper, Marbert said, adding the ingredients are all used in making crystal meth.

“It depends on the type process; it can take several hours. Some people do it in stages,” he said.

“They smoke it in a pipe, kind of like a crack pipe,” he said.

No children were seen on the premises, Gibbons said, but several children’s toys were in the yard around the camper.

Turner and Harrell were each charged by the JCSO with criminal intent of manufacturing methamphetamine, which is a felony.

An Atlanta-based hazmat company was called to dispose of the materials.

“The byproducts of the process have to be disposed of in accordance to the EPA,” Marbert said. He said it can cost between $2,000 and $5,000 to clean up such a site.

“This team is only allowed to dispose of contaminants. I broke it down for them. I put it (the drugs) outside and they just dispose of it,” he said.

The camper will be placed on public record at the courthouse that a lab was found there, he said.

“It will definitely affect property sales.”

“(There are) a lot of these little labs around different parts of Jefferson County,” Gibbons said. “It’s not going to be tolerated and we will be vigilant and be on the lookout for labs. We will be vigilant.”

Marbert explained there are three types of drugs; narcotics stimulants and hallucinogens.

He said crystal meth, a stimulant, allows a temporary high and is prescribed for weight loss, but has major effects on the user.

“It’s a very ravaging drug. Watching a person over the span of 10 years you see them go from bad to worse,” Marbert said. “You stop eating, stop bathing and stop taking care of yourself. You’re constantly going after the high; you’re chasing the dragon.”



SPLOST passes, Davis retains seat

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

The Special Projects Local Option Sales Tax that appeared on Tuesday’ s ballot passed by more than a thousand votes and Jefferson County Commissioner Wayne Davis retains his seat.

In all, 1,387 votes were cast in support of the proposed SPLOST while 382 were cast in opposition. The SPLOST is projected to raise $9.72 million in sales tax revenue to be divided among each of the cities, the county and the county’s development authority.

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The funds will be used to pay for a variety of projects including the purchase of public safety vehicles and equipment, renovations and equipment for local water/sewer and solid waste management systems, street paving and upgrades for roads and street department equipment.

The tax will replace the current 1 percent sales tax the county collects, which expires in December. The new tax will begin in January and remain in place for five years or until the projected funds have been raised.

District 3 County Commissioner Wayne Davis had only one opponent, David Hastings. Davis secured his seat with 270 votes more than Hastings. With no republican opposition, Davis will be unopposed in November.

Gonice Davis, the District 1 commissioner, ran in the primary unopposed as no other candidates qualified and will also appear on the November ballot unopposed.

Probate Judge Asholyn Lampp said there were no provisional ballots.

See next week’s edition for a complete list of the local returns in the primary for the state offices including governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general and several state commissioner offices.



Wadley votes to borrow money for investigation

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

During a called meeting Monday, July 19, three Wadley city council members voted to borrow $20,000 in order to pay Betty Williams-Kirby, a local attorney, to investigate the city’s executive branch.

The council members, Dorothy Strowbridge, Albert Samples and Izell Mack, had voted during the council’s last meeting to hire Williams-Kirby and to pay her $20,000.

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An official source said the city’s mayor, Herman Baker, called the meeting because the funds are not in the budget. In order for payments to be made, the budget has to be amended.

The source said about 10 citizens attended the meeting.

Strowbridge, Samples and Mack voted to borrow the money. Council member Edie Pundt voted against the motion. Council member John Maye did not attend because of a work conflict, the source said.

During the regular meeting, which was held Monday, July 12, Pundt had said the city did not have the money to pay Williams-Kirby. Before that vote, the city’s attorney, John Murphy, asked if there had been any thought given to having the district attorney do the investigation.

“And that won’t cost us anything,” he said at the time.

One of the council members who voted to borrow the money said they preferred to have a private lawyer conduct the investigation, the source said.

It has not been decided who will actually borrow the money on behalf of the city; although, it was stated that Pundt should not as she works for the bank.



Wadley public forum brings officers and SCLC together

By Carol McLeod and Bonnie K. Sargent
Staff Writer

About 14 citizens met with officials from the Jefferson County Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference at the library in Wadley Saturday, July 17, to discuss complaints against the city’s police department.

Also on hand were Wadley Chief of Police Wesley Lewis; two members of his staff and four of the five city council members, Izell Mack, Dorothy Strowbridge, John Maye and Edie Pundt.

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James Ivery, the president of the local chapter of SCLC, moderated the meeting.

He said he has been receiving complaints from citizens about the Wadley Police Department for three years.

“The complaints that I got were disturbing,” he said.

Ivery said he had received complaints regarding police brutality, police harassment, injustice, racial profiling, violation of citizens’ rights and delayed responses. Ivery said some complaints had come from within the police department.

“Our job is to address the issues of the community,” he said.

A citizen asked Ivery how many complaints he had, to which he responded, “Four or five.”

Ivery played a tape recording of a discussion between a citizen and the police chief.

Lewis said the tape was of a conversation between him and a citizen. He said the citizen had been told he couldn’t discuss the particular complaint because the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was still investigating.

He also said the citizen is not a party to the complaint.

Lewis responded to one of the other complaints mentioned and said the GBI had contacted the complainant to take a polygraph, which she has not done.

Lewis said he turns over every complaint he receives to the GBI.

The chief said the FBI did an investigation and said the woman’s rights were not violated.

Another matter discussed was a recent shooting of a citizen by a police officer resulting in the death of the citizen.

“I know y’all carry cameras,” Ivery told Lewis. “Why weren’t the cameras on?”

Lewis said at that time, there was only one car with a camera and no officers had body cameras.

“The camera in the car was not working,” Lewis said.

The chief said the citizen had a knife that was about 8 inches and had cut an officer’s hand.

“If they’re in fear for their life, they have the right to defend themselves,” he said.

The chief said that now each car has a camera and every officer wears a body camera.

“The citizens are paying for those cameras,” Ivery said.

“No, sir,” Lewis said.

“Drug dealers paying for it?” Ivery said.

“Yes, sir,” Lewis said.

“I applaud you for getting drugs off the streets,” Ivery told Lewis.

Bobby Adams, the vice president of the local SCLC chapter, stood and said, “I love all of you all. But I don’t like wrongness.”

Then he talked about the chief of police and said, “That man puts his life on the line for you every day, whether he loves you or hates you.”

He said that children don’t listen anymore.

“It’s time for us to come together,” a citizen said. “Y’all stop beating each other down. That’s what we need in this room, love. And that’s what we need in this town.”




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