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Fort Oglethorpe renews task force agreement
City Council remembers commander for contributions to law enforcement, community

Fort Oglethorpe officials recently renewed a working agreement between its police department and the Lookout Mountain Drug Task Force and afterwards took time to remember Cmdr. Pat Doyle, who died a couple of weeks earlier.

Fort Oglethorpe Police Chief Mike Helton presented a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the matter to the City Council during its first meeting of the year on Monday night, Jan. 14

"The city has adjoined with the Lookout Mountain Drug Task Force and the other agencies within the judicial circuit for a number of years now," Helton said. "We've had an officer attached to the task force for years. There's no additional cost to us at all and there's nothing budget-wise."

The board unanimously approved the MOU; however, Doyle was on everyone's minds

Although the agreement will keep up the PD's working relationship with the Lookout Mountain Drug Task Force, Helton and the council made it a point to recognize Doyle's contributions to the task force and the community as both an officer of the law and a family man.

"He was pretty well known and very respected in this community," Mayor Earl Gray said.

Doyle died Dec. 30 after a battle with cancer. He was 47 years old.

Chief Helton, who knew Doyle a long time, explained how he was a great lawman and a proud father.

"He will be seriously missed," Helton said. "He was a great leader for that task force. He'd been serving there a number of years. We just posted in the police department today that his family has established a college fund for his son. That was his pride and joy, was his son."

Helton said Doyle loved being a doting father and took a lot of pride in protecting the community.

"He spent a lot of time hunting and bonding with his son. I think that was his only child, who meant the world to him," Helton said.

Helton said no matter the circumstances, Doyle always gave everything he had to those around him.

"We want to thank him for his service and his family for his sacrifice. He put in a lot of hours," Helton said. "Whenever the call came in — and usually that's after dark and after 5 o'clock ... they would always respond any time they were needed. He was just a great man."

'(Pat Doyle) spent a lot of time hunting and bonding with his son. I think that was his only child, who meant the world to him.'

Mike Helton

Fort Oglethorpe Police Chief


County to oversee Fort Oglethorpe elections

The city of Fort Oglethorpe has reached an agreement with Catoosa County to oversee its municipal elections that'll take place later this year.

During the Jan. 14 City Council meeting, officials unanimously approved a new contract in the amount of $13,403 that puts the Catoosa County Board of Elections in charge of running the whole show.

"It's an intergovernmental agreement with the Catoosa County Board of Elections and Registration to conduct elections on behalf of the city of Fort Oglethorpe," said Fort Oglethorpe City Manager Jennifer Payne-Simpkins. "We had an existing agreement similar to this, but this new agreement actually expands the duties at no additional cost to the city."

Unlike in years past, prospective candidates will now qualify at the Catoosa County Elections Office instead of Fort Oglethorpe City Hall.

"The Catoosa County Board of Elections and Registration will actually do everything for candidate qualification," Payne-Simpkins said. "They will also handle everything — the building and printing ballots, tallying ballots, on-site technical support during advanced voting, on-site election day technical support, and certification of final election results."

According to City Clerk Carol Murray, Fort Oglethorpe will have Mayor Earl Gray's term expiring this year, as well as the terms of City Council members Rhonda James and Derek Rogers.

The mayoral candidate qualifying fee will be $315, while those seeking to run for council will have to pay a fee of $255.

Both fees represent 3 percent of each office's annual total gross salary.

Mayor Earl Gray said that letting the county handle everything for the elections makes a lot of sense since the county has done a lot of the work in recent years anyway.

"Ms. Simpkins and myself spent quite a bit of time with them and this is pretty much like the old one," Mayor Gray said. "It does get it to where it doesn't have to be renewed every year. It also has a section in it where the contract can be voided at any time by either party. I think it's a good solution and it's also going to put everything at the county where last year we were doing some of it here and some of it at the county. I think it's a good deal for the city."

Also, qualifying dates for the three seats will last for a week this year rather than the usual three days.

Qualifying will open Monday morning, Aug. 19, at 8:30 a.m. and run through Friday, Aug. 23, at 4:30 p.m. Candidate hopefuls can fill out their qualifying paperwork and pay fees at Catoosa County's Freedom Center (Ringgold precinct) on Evitt Street behind the historic Depot.

In addition to the elections agreement, the board also unanimously appointed Councilman Jim Childs to serve as mayor pro tem for 2019.


Kemp adds funds to help ailing residents remain at home

Raghubir Singh and her husband love their rural home, and they want to stay there.

Their medical problems, though, may force them to leave.

Raghubir is 75, has serious shoulder problems and had surgery recently. And that's not the worst of it.

"My husband is a pretty sick man,'' she says. Surinder Singh, 82, has heart, lung and kidney conditions, as well as diabetes. He was recently hospitalized for nine days, she adds.

"How can I take care of him?'' she asks. "I need some help now."

The Singhs, who have been in Georgia for more than 40 years, are on a waiting list to receive government services through a home and community waiver. The aid could mean help with bathing, dressing, meals, housekeeping, home health services, or respite for caregivers.

Potential good news for those on the waiting list came recently.

Gov. Brian Kemp unveiled a budget proposal for fiscal 2020 that includes an extra $1.8 million for these home and community-based services, which help people remain in their homes instead of moving to nursing homes or other institutions.

The budget boost could translate into services for 1,000 of the 7,000 older Georgians on waiting lists for home and community services, says the Georgia Council on Aging.

"We are so grateful to the governor for his insight and budget recommendation," Vicki Johnson, chair of the Georgia Council on Aging, said Thursday, Jan. 17, in a statement after Kemp's budget was released. "Not only is this the most cost-efficient way of helping our elderly citizens, but it also allows them to stay in their homes where they prefer to be."

In fiscal 2017, about 34,000 Georgians received these services, a 9.9 percent increase from the previous year. Seniors in all 159 of Georgia's counties are on the waiting list. The counties with the most are DeKalb, Gwinnett, Fulton, Clayton, Bibb and Chatham.

Home and community-based care is about one-tenth the cost of nursing home care, Johnson said.

"It's far less expensive than the alternatives, and it's giving our seniors and their families an option they want and need," she said.

To qualify for a waiver program, an individual can have higher income and resources than permitted in the regular Medicaid program.

A person may be selected from the waiting list to receive services based on the severity of need, the availability of family support, the length of time on the waiting list, and an individual's continued eligibility for the level of care provided in a nursing home, according to state documents.

The Kemp budget also would inject an additional $1 million to ease the waiting list for Meals on Wheels, a popular home delivery program for seniors.

The budget plan also includes $338,802 for Georgia's Aging and Disability Resource Connection. These community centers provide information and referral services to older Georgians about private and public help that's available.

More than 95,000 Georgians received assistance through the centers in fiscal 2017 from more than 26,000 community-based providers, said the Council on Aging, which had requested a $4 million increase in state funds for the program.

Georgia Health News, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, tracks state medical issues on its website georgiahealthnews.com.

DID YOU KNOW?

More than 95,000 Georgians received assistance through community centers in fiscal 2017 from more than 26,000 communitybased providers, said the Council on Aging.


QUEST FULFILLED
Tonya Craft sworn in as attorney 9 years after acquittal on molestation charges

Nearly nine years after being acquitted on child molestation charges, former Chickamauga kindergarten teacher Tonya Craft was sworn in as an attorney Friday afternoon, Jan. 18, in Hamilton County, Tennessee.

America learned Tonya Craft's name while watching her fight for her freedom in Catoosa County Superior Court in 2010. She was accused of molesting three young girls, including her daughter, and was ultimately found not guilty on all counts — 22 in all — after a long, community-dividing trial.

Now, nine years later, she'll be spending a lot more time in courtrooms after being sworn in as an attorney, hell-bent on defending the falsely accused.

"Once I was sworn in, it was like 'yeah, I can finally breathe,'" Craft said of the Jan. 18 ceremony. "It was really emotional, but in a good way."

The day of the verdict, May 11, 2010, Craft stood surrounded by her four-man defense team and a full courtroom of spectators as each "not guilty" verdict was read aloud from the booming voice of longtime Clerk of Court Norman Stone.

Later that evening, during a celebration at her parents' East Ridge, Tennessee, home, Craft said the ordeal renewed an interest in potentially going to law school. She said she wanted to help others get through situations like hers.

Now, after regaining custody of her children, publishing a book, consulting on cases, and finishing law school and finally conquering the bar exam, Craft can be an advocate for the falsely accused in a full-time capacity.

"It was a process," Craft said of her law degree pursuit. "After four years of commuting to Nashville and it taking me three times to pass the bar exam, it was tough."

Craft said the bar exam hurdle was difficult for her, but that didn't divert from her from her goal of becoming an attorney. "I don't care. I am not ashamed of it," Craft said. "I'm not ashamed of that because I didn't quit. ... I didn't pass it the first or the second time, but I did the third."

Although her accomplishment was a big deal, Craft said, after the celebration was over, she switched right back to mom mode.

"After the swearing-in and the celebration, my daughter was cheering at a basketball game, so I changed out of those clothes. I put on sweats and a sweatshirt and went out to watch her," Craft recalled. "The most important thing is being a mom, so I got done and then went to that game she was cheering at."

Now that everything is official, Craft is focused on building her office and getting to work on more cases involving the falsely accused.

Since her acquittal, she's already consulted on numerous cases and served as a family mediator.

'Once I was sworn in, it was like 'yeah, I can finally breathe.' It was really emotional, but in a good way.'

Tonya Craft

"I've already been mediating," Craft said. "I've been mediating for about four years now and I've been consulting for about seven. My office is Tonya Craft Legal, so I'm going to do mediation, consultation, and litigation."

Lately, Craft said, she's worked on cases in Hawaii, New Jersey, Florida, Alabama and Georgia.

A man who was acquitted in the first case Craft consulted on even made the trip up from Florida to see her sworn in.

"We ended up getting his kids back after the criminal trial when he was acquitted and he we was able to be here," Craft said. "That was just great."

Also in attendance during the swearing-in were two of her attorneys from her criminal case: Dr. Demosthenes Lorandos and Cary King. Having both with her during the ceremony was special and fitting for the trio.

"Doc and Cary were there with me and they went with me from my office over to the courthouse," Craft said. "It's funny because the last time we were all together in the car was when we were going to the courthouse for the verdict. We talked about how very different the atmosphere was."

Craft said she and Lorandos have written a chapter together in a textbook about forensic interviews and investigations focused on examples of how they are handled properly and improperly.

Craft said she's working with another of her attorneys, Scott King, to create a special team to work cases like hers.

"Scott and I actually are working. ... Our goal is to make it where anybody in the nation that is falsely accused can have a great team come in and defend them," Craft explained. "We want to build what I wish I could have found — a whole team to come in and defend me. I couldn't (at the time), so I had to put this team together and build it. We want to have the team already built. It's really neat because all these people who worked on my case, I'm pretty much working with all of them in certain capacities now."

Documentary

Recently, Craft has been working with a Los Angeles-based production company on a documentary that will chronicle her story.

"The documentary folks were there filming at the swearing-in," Craft said. "They filmed me getting ready that day and then we got in the car and went driving around Chickamauga. We were in front of the house that I lived in with the kids. We went over to the school board building and by the elementary school and just kind of talked about stuff."

In addition to having attorneys, clients, and supporters in attendance, Craft said the best part was having her children and husband there.

"The kids were there. They've been there through the whole thing and they're real excited and proud," Craft said. "They were really sad for me when I didn't pass the bar the first time. ... That was the first test I've ever failed in my life. I cried for two days. It's only offered twice a year. So essentially, I studied for a year and a half for that thing. I was so over it. It was great having them there with me when I finally got sworn in."

Although the documentary is in production, a solid release date hasn't been announced yet.

"For the documentary, I've been out to LA three or four times over the past year," Craft said. "It's going to be a six-episode documentary. The first few episodes are all the pre-trial stuff, the trial and verdict, and then right after it. The stuff they're filming now, the swearing-in, is the first stuff they videoed in live time. They're going to be back and filming some things over the next six to ten months. It'll be probably about a year before it airs."

Craft said that when it came time to choose a production company to work with in LA, her daughter flew out there with her to sit in on meetings.

"She said she wanted to help make that decision, which was fine because it is kind of 'our' story, you know? It's not just mine. She and I have done a lot of this together, so it's been really special. I'm blessed and I'm excited."

Reflecting on it all

Nine years is a long time to process the events that took place — how they affected Craft, her children, and how they've altered the course of her life.

"When you go through something really difficult, you have to accept that things are never going to be the same again," Craft said. "It'll never go back to the way it was. Like with passing the bar — I feel like I have been punched in the face a thousand times. I've been knocked down, but it's not about getting knocked down, it's about making sure you get back up. There were times, especially during the trial, when I wasn't scared of getting knocked down. I was scared there was going to be a time when I couldn't get back up."

The way her case played out really created a less-than-stellar perception of both Walker and Catoosa counties, and the local legal system. However, Craft said she won't let that keep her from visiting the area.

"There's a small group of people that did a really bad thing and made some really bad choices," Craft said. "Those choices affected me, affected my children, other people's kids, other adults. But still, Chickamauga, Catoosa County, all that area ... they are good people and I go there frequently. I have friends there and I'm not going to shy away from going there. Any kind of black eye that's been put on that community has been done by the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit (which prosecuted the case). There are some people there that have done some bad things, but the community is a great community."

Craft's groundbreaking case was one of the biggest trials to occur in Catoosa County, and it launched her into the public eye as a poster woman for the falsely accused.

Although the case continues to open a lot of doors, Craft said things could have easily been different.

"Everything that's happened and the opportunities that I have, the blessings that are happening, I appreciate greatly," Craft said. "But I didn't ask for it and I didn't want it. I would love to be teaching kindergarten and for nobody to have heard of Tonya Craft except little kindergartners. I would love that, but that's not the case."

'Doc and Cary were there with me and they went with me from my office over to the courthouse. It's funny because the last time we were all together in the car was when we were going to the courthouse for the verdict. We talked about how very different the atmosphere was.'

'Everything that's happened and the opportunities that I have, the blessings that are happening, I appreciate greatly. But I didn't ask for it and I didn't want it. I would love to be teaching kindergarten and for nobody to have heard of Tonya Craft except little kindergartners. I would love that, but that's not the case.'