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Ringgold buys new equipment for various departments
• Also at the meeting, City Council members renew general liability insurance coverage at a cost of $66,874.

Dan Wright

The city of Ringgold recently approved the purchase of new vehicles and equipment for different departments.

On March 25, Ringgold's City Council signed off on the purchase of a new vehicle and two equipment pieces.

City Manager Dan Wright said the biggest purchase, while pricey, actually came in nearly $60,000 under what the city planned to spend on it.

"We recommend approval of the bid from Mid-South Equipment of Chattanooga for a JCB 3CX-15 Super Backhoe/Front Loader in the amount of $90,500 to be paid from the sewer fund," Wright said. "We had budgeted $150,000, but the bid came in at $90,500."

The council unanimously approved the purchase, as well as the purchase of a Dodge 3500 utility truck for the water department and a landscape rake.

"It's recommended that we buy it (the truck) from Mt. View Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram for $44,569.50 due to it being closest to the bid specifications," Wright said.

The landscape rake will be purchased from Meade Equipment for the city's sewer department in the amount of $7,425.

Wright said the rake was identified and budgeted as a capital improvement purchase.

In addition to the new vehicle and equipment, the city also voted to approve its general liability insurance with Hudson Insurance at a cost of $66,874.

Adam Cook is a general assignment reporter and covers the Walker-Catoosa County area. He has been a reporter since 2009.


APPEAL HEARING
Fired 911 director argues case before commissioners

Catoosa County commissioners heard a grievance appeal Tuesday night, April 16, from former EMA and 911 Director Dennis Thayer, who was abruptly fired from his post in March.

Thayer, who was hired in March 2018, was fired by Catoosa County Manager Alisha Vaughn March 11 on the grounds that he allegedly failed to develop departmental policies as instructed and that he failed to cut back on the amount of time he was spending on out-of-town training sessions.

County policy allows terminated employees the opportunity to have their grievances heard.

Usually, grievances are submitted through a chain of command from a department head to the county manager, and then to the Board of Commissioners.

In this case, Thayer was a department head and the action he's appealing was taken by the county manager, which is why the appeal was being heard directly by the Board of Commissioners.

County Attorney Chad Young prefaced the hearing's testimony by pointing out that Thayer opted to have the hearing made public.

Traditionally, the board has given employees the option of having their appeal heard in an executive session, which is essentially closed-door as a personnel matter; however, Mr. Thayer requested to have his grievance heard in a public hearing portion of an open meeting.

On Nov. 28, Thayer claims Vaughn communicated to him she wanted his first priority to be developing policies and to curtail some of his out-of-town training trips.

"She states in here (in the termination letter) that I had not reduced any of my training trips and that no policies had been done," Thayer said. "These statements are both false."

Thayer said that when he took over the position in March 2018, there were no policies specifically at the 911 Center.

"There were no department policies when I took over," Thayer said.

Thayer added that on the day he was fired, he had approximately 30-40 policies available in draft format based on the November conversation he and Vaughn had about developing such policies. He also claimed that 23 policies have been enacted since he took over the position.

As for the directive that he was to scale back the number of out-oftown training sessions he attended, Thayer says he also complied with that command.

"After our Nov. 28 meeting, I canceled seven scheduled classes I had throughout the remainder of this spring. That was 13 days of training I cancelled," Thayer said.

In all, Thayer told commissioners he was tasked with acquiring five specific certifications when he was hired to meet the demands of the position.

"This equaled 51 days of training," Thayer said. "These are classes that I had to take to meet the qualifications and the requirements set forth upon me when I was hired. I wasn't taking these classes because I enjoyed them or because I just wanted to take classes. I was taking these classes to meet the requirements of my job."

One of the biggest incidents that Vaughn claims led to the firing was an instance where she denied Thayer permission to attend a training session, but claims he wound up going anyway without telling her.

"I told him he could not attend and he attended anyway," Vaughn said. "I was not aware that Mr. Thayer attended the training. I heard that from a third party."

Both Vaughn and Thayer gave differing accounts of an email exchange regarding that trip, with Thayer adamantly denying that he would deliberately disobey orders from his superior.

"I have a public safety career that has lasted 37 years and it's a very positive public safety career," Thayer said. "I have never, ever taken the stance to completely ignore what I was told by a supervisor and do the opposite. There is no win-win in that for me. Why would I do that? It doesn't make any logical sense."

As the hearing progressed, Thayer also claimed he wasn't given a performance "appraisal" as laid out in the county's employee handbook. He further contends that his firing was done outside of policy because employees are supposed to be granted and notified of a "dismissal conference."

Thayer said he was blindsided by the firing while others knew it was coming.

"She (Vaughn) already met with the interim 911 director early that morning. She had already told other people she was going to fire me that day. Yet in violation of policy, I wasn't told that that was what I was walking into," Thayer said.

After Thayer presented his side of things, Vaughn defended her decision to fire him.

"I did not feel like he was focusing on getting policies in place at 911," Vaughn said.

She also stated that not having the county's EMA director available when needed, him not following directives was unacceptable.

"I believe it is a very serious issue when your EMA/911 director is out of the office. If we had had any kind of emergency whatsoever, we were not covered because he did not tell me in advance (he would be out)."

Now, Thayer must wait on a decision from commissioners, who were tasked with gathering information during the hearing and are required to provide a decision in writing within 30 days to either affirm the Vaughn's decision to fire Thayer, or to overturn the decision and reinstate Thayer.

Adam Cook is a general assignment reporter and covers the Walker-Catoosa County area. He has been a reporter since 2009.


Catoosa County sheriff discusses issues facing law enforcement

Gary Sisk

What are the big issues facing law enforcement in Catoosa County right now? Sheriff Gary Sisk says that, among other things, his office is seeing an increase in mental health issues.

"It can get complicated," says Sisk. "The last three times we've dealt with barricade situations, it's involved mental health problems. There aren't enough local resources to help everyone who needs help. People often end up self-medicating with street drugs, and then the sheriff's department ends up involved."

Sisk says sheriff's deputies take a 40-hour course, taught by the state, in crisis intervention, but that officers often still feel the strain of dealing with the many situations they face.

"When there's a circumstance that seems to involve mental health problems," says Sisk, "we have to decide whether to turn a person over to a family member, incarcerate them, or transport them to a mental health facility."

Sisk says the closest mental health facility is in Rome, Ga., but if it's full, it's often necessary to go to Atlanta or farther. But, says Sisk, "CHI Memorial (which is based in Chattanooga) has been helping us out lately."

On the crime front, Sisk says one of the biggest issues right now is "entering autos."

"People are stealing from cars but not necessarily breaking into them," says Sisk. "They'll walk down a street or a line of cars parked somewhere and check for ones that aren't locked."

Sisk says he's amazed at how many people leave firearms in their vehicles — and often in unlocked vehicles. He says these are top items thieves look for and they end up on the black market once stolen.

Most home break-ins, says Sisk, occur between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. and involve someone who is connected to the homeowner or renter in some way. "People need to be mindful about who comes into their homes and who knows their schedules," says Sisk. "If your children have friends visiting, do you know who they are, if they have drug issues or are connected to people who do?"

Sisk says prescription medicines are one of the top items burglars are looking for when they break into a home. Other things include electronics and firearms.

There are many things people can do to safeguard themselves and their property, says Sisk.

• Get into the habit of locking your vehicle. Thieves are more likely to move on to an easier target.

• Don't leave tempting items in your vehicle, especially firearms.

• If you buy a big-ticket item, like a TV, dispose of the packaging discreetly to keep it from being an advertisement to everyone who drives by your house.

• Be careful about letting personal information get out. Don't share your address or work schedule with just anyone and especially not on social media – and give your children the same warning.

• Get involved in your community. "People are less involved with their neighbors today," says Sisk, "and more engrossed in their own small circles, especially online." Sisk encourages people to know their neighbors and their habits so they can tell when something isn't right.

• Be vigilant. Pay attention to what's going on outside your home. If you see a vehicle that doesn't seem to belong in your neighborhood or that's acting in a suspicious manner – passing by multiple times or very slowly, for instance, call the sheriff or police. It helps, says Sisk, if you can take note of make, model, color and tag number on a vehicle or note physical characteristics of a suspicious person on foot.

• Neighborhood Facebook groups can also be useful, says Sisk. It's a way for people to quickly notify one another if something unusual is going on.

Sisk says he's optimistic about the future of Catoosa County but he sees the need to be pro-active about reducing crime and recidivism and helping with mental health issues.

"I encourage my deputies to work as mentors in the schools," says Sisk. "Many of them do and it means a lot to the kids to have someone in law enforcement show an interest in them, play a little basketball with them, play cards with them, talk to them. The kids light up when an officer visits them."

As for those already "in the system," Sisk says he'd like to see more efforts to help them turn their lives around. Sisk says he has an inmate mentor program at the county jail. "Inmates are paired with citizens who help them study for GEDs and help them with issues in their lives. We need to stop saying these things are not our problems. We need to get to the root of the problems and solve them, whether it's education, helping people with addictions, helping with mental health issues or just helping change attitudes. The earlier we start, the better."

Tamara Wolk is a reporter for The Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga., and Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga.


New interactive historical art in Fort Oglethorpe

Those who frequent Gilbert-Stephenson Park are probably familiar with the restroom building toward the back — the one with the Coke machine out front.

The concrete block building now has stage-one of a whole new look that is part of the "Interactive Art Walk" of Fort Oglethorpe's Thriving Communities project. Mural artist Wes Hardin, of Dothan, Ala., is painting the history of Fort Oglethorpe on the building. A solar-powered audio box will also be placed at the building to tell four stories about how the city went from military training ground to actual city.

Chris McKeever, director of the 6th Cavalry Museum and a member of the Thriving Communities committee, says she and committee members discussed what elements they thought would be most important to include in the mural.

"Everyone thinks of the bandstand," says McKeever, "so we wanted that. We wanted to start in 1905 when Fort Oglethorpe actually became commissioned as an army post. Camp Greenleaf is incorporated into the mural, and so are the officers' houses on Barnhardt Circle. And the Women's Army Corp, of course."

McKeever says the committee gave Hardin DVDs on the history of the area. He also toured the 6th Cavalry Museum, took pictures and did some of his own research to help determine how the mural should look. He submitted a pencil composition of his ideas to the committee and then a color proof.

On April 15, Hardin finally started to paint. On his first day he applied a base coat. Then he used a projector to superimpose his sketches onto the building's surface and he sketched his outlines. Finally, he started to paint.

Hardin has covered two walls of the building with the story of the fort's early days up until the training of WACs in the 1940s. During the next phase of the project, McKeever says, Hardin will cover the rest of the building with pictures depicting Fort Oglethorpe right up to the present time. "And he'll return every few years to touch up the painting," says McKeever.

The audio box that will accompany the first phase of the project contains four stories, complete with sound effects and music, about the history of the military post, told by Caroline Figiel of K.C. Production/Creative Digital. Each story, says Mc Keever, will run 2 minutes or under.

One story featured on the box, says McKeever, quotes Gen. John Pershing from a visit he made to Fort Oglethorpe at a time the cavalry of horses was being replaced by a mechanized cavalry. "Tell your children to remember what they've seen here today," said Pershing, "because they'll never see it again."

The phase-one mural painting is being paid for with a $20,000 grant from the Lyndhurst Foundation. A $5,000 Tourism Product Development grant from the state of Georgia is paying for the audio presentation.

"We're very excited to see this coming to life," says McKeever. The public is invited to visit, look and listen to this beginning of the "Interactive Art Walk" that the Thriving Communities Committee hopes to see spread throughout Fort Oglethorpe.

Tamara Wolk is a reporter for The Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga., and Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga.