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County imposes one-year probation on sports director

Catoosa commissioners last week updated the county's policies on using athletic facilities and also handed down a one-year probation sanction against Ringgold Youth Sports Association President Earl Epps.

Both issues stem from a six-month-long dispute over Epps' alleged misuse of gym facilities, which ultimately led to a Georgia Bureau of Investigation probe over the summer.

In April, county officials claimed they received complaints that Epps was running a separate league outside of RYSA. They ultimately yanked his access to the Poplar Springs gym while they sorted out the allegations.

While the GBI investigated the matter, dozens of Catoosa County youth basketball players associated with Epps' "Thunder" teams were denied access to county gyms as well.

The allegations included claims that Epps was running the separate league for his own benefit, dictating who could use the gym, publicizing the Poplar Springs Gym as "Earl Epps Gym," and that gym property was damaged on his watch.

The District Attorney's Office ultimately found no criminal wrongdoing on the part of Epps; however, the county decided to revamp its policies and procedures in attempt to streamline how the facilities will be used moving forward. During Tuesday night's (Sept. 19) Board of Commissioners' meeting, Epps again voiced his displeasure with the situation and the imposed probation.

"Probation is meant to study someone's character or their abilities," Epps said. "I've been doing this, my role in the county volunteering for 20 years probably or so. Y'all need to evaluate that. I've watched so many criminal actions take place at our facilities, at our gyms, at our ball fields, in our league, and I've never seen our commissioners try to come down on any parent, any coach, or any one of us like this. If y'all want to put me on probation, what law did I break? They did an investigation. ... What county policy did I violate? There's none."

Epps said what bothers him the most were accusations that he verbally abused players and used racial slurs while coaching.

"I would run 1,000 kids through this door that would contradict that statement," Epps said. "That is the most ludicrous thing I've ever seen in my life said about me. It's just disturbing."

County Attorney Chad Young says the new policies will make sure gym usage will be the same for all the recreation leagues.

"This resolution to adopt the updated policies and procedures

"If y'all want to put me on probation, what law did I break? They did an investigation. ... What county policy did I violate? There's none." — Earl Epps, Ringgold Youth Sports Association president

governs everything from how they streamline and formalize the registration process so everybody uses the same process, how we make sure that officials are paid and documented, and how we handle things such as concussion protocol and safety policies," Young said.

As far as Epps' probation, Young outlined the detailed terms of the sanction.

"This probation doesn't prohibit Mr. Epps from using county facilities. It doesn't even limit him from using from using county facilities. He has the same right to use them like every other citizen under the rules that you adopt," Young said. "Essentially there are six separate conditions of his probation, starting with he cannot advertise any county facilities including the Poplar Springs Gym to be his facility. He's required to use county facilities and abide by the rules you've adopted. He's required to follow the same rental policies, he's required to repair any damage that he may do or that teams under his jurisdiction and control may do, and he's required to comply with all registration and scheduling requirements. As long as he abides by these terms, he can use these facilities like anybody else."

If Epps fails to comply with the stipulations in the probation, he could be subjected to further action including the suspension of his privileges to use the gym altogether.


Denied
Commissioners turn down zoning change request for proposed Dollar General Store

The Catoosa County commissioners have denied a zoning request for a new Dollar General Store on Burning Bush Road after listening to opposition from a number of residents in that community.

The proposed site, at the corner of Burning Bush and Three Notch Road, is currently zoned for C-2, which allows for a 5,000-squarefoot or less commercial business. Hibbymo Properties LLC, which is in negotiations to buy the property, requested the change to C-1 so it could erect a building nearly twice that size.

Catoosa County's Planning and Zoning Commission denied the request 5-0 on Aug. 22, and also unanimously denied the request for a parking space variance before the matter came before the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Sept. 19.

The project's contractor, Bobby Howard, says Hibbymo Properties plans to purchase two acres from a more than fourand-a-half-acre spot at the intersection in order to accommodate the planned 9,100-square-foot facility.

Howard also said the store wouldn't need the five parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of building, as required in the ordinance.

"These Dollar General Stores just don't need 45 spaces," Howard said. "They don't generate that much traffic, especially in a more rural setting like this. They (Dollar General) have done studies, and 30 parking spaces works for them nationwide. They certainly don't want to lose business because they don't have the parking.

Howard explained that the current C-2 zoning allows for everything from grocery stores to child care facilities, bars, churches; basically any commercial establishment up to 5,000 square feet. He says Dollar General is simply looking to add a nice store to the community, just larger than the zoning allows.

"You can run through the traffic studies and a third to a half of those uses would generate more traffic than a Dollar General would," Howard said.

Howard also claims that putting the store on Burning Bush Road would give folks in that rural area a go-to place for their shopping needs in lieu of traveling to a main road or highway to shop.

"Dollar General has figured out a way to build a building out in a rural setting that lets those folks that live there be able to buy a good amount of general merchandise at a very reasonable price," Howard said. "Folks can have goods and services and products where they don't have to go all the way to a main road."

Hilda Jones, one of the owners selling the property to Hibbymo Properties, said she and her business partner purchased the property in an attempt to protect her adjoining 40 acres from undesirable development.

"We were offered a measure of control as to the construction and operation of the business on the site," she explained. "Therefore, we have chosen upgrades for this construction that are well above existing codes. These choices benefit all of us living in this area. The type of business this will be is an asset to our area and in no way a direct competitor to our longtime neighbors and friends, Jimmy Dean with The Front Porch Market and Jody Napier with Napier's Feed Store."

Jones said she and her business partner, John Cline, could have sold the property years ago, but wanted to have a say in how the property would be developed.

Jimmy Dean, who owns The Front Porch Market directly across the street, says he often gets shoppers wishing they could buy milk or bread in that area.

"We can't keep it like it is forever, it has got to change," Dean said. "We need a grocery store there. I think it'd be a benefit to my business, think it'd be a benefit to the community, and I think the people that are opposing it will be the first ones in there within a year."

Although some were in favor of the endeavor, a number of residents, many of whom also voiced their concerns with Planning and Zoning last month, were in attendance at the Sept. 19 meeting to again make their opposition known.

"I live very close to that proposed land and I'd much rather drive a little bit further to the one on the main road than have one right there among us," said Jim Webb. "I would encourage that we should embrace the idea of preserving what makes this part of the county a little bit unique."

Resident Nathan Smith says he realizes a store could still be built on the site, but doesn't want to see the area become commercialized.

"We understand that a 5,000-square-foot-orless Dollar General could be built there now, it's the changing from C-2 zoning to C-1," he said. "A lot of us bought houses in that area for that very reason, to get away from traffic and commercialization."

Ultimately, Commissioner Jim Cutler motioned to follow the recommendation of Planning and Zoning and deny the rezoning request, which was met with a 4-0 vote. Commissioner Bobby Winters didn't vote either way in the matter and expressed his frustration with the vote at the end of the meeting.

"Another thing about the general store, the Dollar Store...that thing will bring in more taxes and sales tax than if they put five or six houses out there in the field. That store would help the citizens about their property tax. That's the reason we need to work on businesses...I don't care what Planning and Zoning says, the buck stops right here."


Ringgold considers going live with council meetings on social media

Ringgold officials recently discussed streaming City Council meetings on social media using Facebook Live.

The possibility was a new business agenda item during the city's Aug. 28 meeting, and Mayor Nick Millwood says council members had a productive discussion about the matter during their work session.

"We did have a good conversation about some of the benefits and pitfalls of Facebook Live for our council meetings," Millwood said. "It was brought up that we need to look at what some of those costs may be, as far as archiving if there are any kind of requirements. ... We'll look and see what other cities are doing in regards to this."

The city already streams its City Council meetings on its website, cityofringgoldga.gov. But through Facebook, residents could view meetings a little easier and engage in conversation with others viewing it.

Millwood also says the city will look at the biggest issues surrounding the effort, the legalities.

"We'll look at any legal issues as far as commenting, retention of records, that kind of stuff," Millwood said.

Councilman Larry Black says like with any endeavor, there are pros and cons to be considered.

"We do feel like Facebook can be good and can be bad," Black said. "Anything we do that's generated by government, we're subject to the Georgia Open Records Act, so we did have a question about if we use that media from Facebook and we record those meetings, then how do we retain that just in case we are served with open record requests where we have to comply with that request within a certain amount of time period? All that entered into the legal issues that were pointed out. We're not necessarily against it, but we feel like we need a lot more information before we commit to doing something like that on Facebook Live."

Like Millwood, Mayor Pro Tem Terry Crawford says he's encouraged by the conversation, and likes the idea of keeping the public as involved as they want to be.

"We had a very good discussion about this in our work session," Crawford said. "Nobody is opposed to (the public) being able to see everything that's going on here, nobody is trying to hide or anything. We're already televising and sending these things out. ... All our meetings are open to the public, our work sessions are open to the public, and there are legal issues that goes with each one of these when we do them. We do need to know exactly where we stand on legal issues with this. We'll find out more about it."

The council could vote on the idea as soon as its next regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, Sept. 25.

"We're going to look at all those things and I appreciate the conversation we had in our work session about this," Millwood said. "We're going to look at gathering additional information."