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On Ballot: Mayor, council, BOE
• Calhoun is due for changes as the City looks to hire two new employees and prepares for November elections.

The City of Calhoun has opened the qualifying time period for the mayor, two city council seats and two school board seats – which will be voted on in the November election – and is also looking to hire two new employees.

The incumbent elected officials are Jimmy Palmer, who has been the mayor of Calhoun for more than 20 years now; on the City Council, Post 1 Councilwoman Jackie Palazzolo and Post 2 Councilman Al Edwards; and on the Calhoun City Schools Board of Education, Post 4 Board Member Eddie Reeves and Post 5 Board Member Tony Swink.

By not having all of their officials run for reelection in one voting season, the city follows a staggered election process, which City Administrator Eddie Peterson said allows for long-term continuity.

Qualifying fees are listed at $432 for the mayor position, $252 for city council and $1 for the board of education.

Qualifying for the offices listed above will be held at City Hall, located at 226 S. Wall St., beginning at 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 19 and will end at 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 21. The general election will be held Nov. 5.

The city is also accepting applications for both an engineer in training and a certified police officer.

Veteran helps others like him
• The Department of Labor employee understand the struggles of disabled veterans and helps them succeed post-service.

Joshua Hickman

As a veteran who served in Iraq, Joshua Hickman has been looking for a way to help other veterans, specifically those who return from their service disabled in some way. And on May 1 he started a job that allows him to do exactly that.

Now, as the disabled veteran outreach program specialist for the Georgia Department of Labor, Hickman is reaching out to local veterans in the Northwest Georgia area and assisting them with job preparation skills, resume building and interviewing techniques. Though he is based in Rome, Hickman aims to visit other local towns, including Calhoun.

In fact, nearly a week ago, Hickman was at the Calhoun Public Library, offering his services to any veteran who needed assistance in being offered a job or needed their resume polished.

"In smaller towns, the larger the veteran population, the more increased the barriers for employing veterans will be," Hickman said.

When he came back from Iraq, Hickman didn't know the services available to help veterans reintegrate back to their home towns and societies. He said he had to do everything on his own – search for jobs, overcome his own personal barriers and defeat the stigmas of being a disabled veteran.

Yet, now that he's aware of the opportunities for veterans and he works for the department, Hickman wants to help give other veterans what he didn't have.

Nyala Edwards, the manager of the Calhoun library, said that "soldiers are heroes that risk their lives" during their time in service and need to be taken care of when they return home.

"Too often they are told to go to Atlanta's VA Hospital to receive medical care or go to Rome to sign up for benefits," said Edwards, who expressed her gratitude for Hickman for serving the Calhoun community. "This is unacceptable to me because the veterans that came to our library said they did not have the transportation and quite a few are homeless."

Edwards said during the times Hickman comes to Calhoun, she will set aside study rooms for him in the library, and veterans who come to talk with him work toward developing job-ready skills and talk about how to overcome their individual barriers to employment.

"This is free help to those (who need it) and beneficial to the Calhoun/Gordon County community when there are so many looking for jobs," Edwards said.

"I don't work for veterans, I work with them," Hickman said, explaining the two-step method of his job. "And my partner, Terry Meadows, talks to employers to try to get them hired."

Though Hickman is brand new to this position, he foresees both staying in this area of the state long-term and making a career out of this job. His passion for disabled veterans is one of the things that motivates him, and he said he could see himself retiring from this position.

Hickman will be visiting the Calhoun library, 100 N. Park Ave., every first and third Thursday of each month, from 1-3:30 p.m., offering free consultations and assistance.

Hickman and his office will also be hosting a Veteran Resource Fair in Gordon County at the Agriculture Center, 1282 GA-53 Spur, on Aug. 7 from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., which will gather local agencies and organizations that focus on helping veterans.

Hickman's work includes assisting veterans who might be homeless, disabled, recently separated, lacking high school education (or GED), low-income, Wounded Warriors, transitioning back to the states, incarcerated and/or released offenders, as well as veterans' caretakers and spouses.

Taco Bell is back in business
• Nearly a year after the fire that closed the restaurant, the Taco Bell on Ga. 53 opens its doors once again.

Around lunchtime any day of the week, many drivers find the Calhoun Chick-fil-A drive-thru packed and lining cars up out on Ga. 53. Yet as of earlier this month, the Chick-fil-A isn't the only restaurant in that intersection to draw a large lunch crowd.

For the past year, the lot at 481 Ga. 53 East has consisted of an old Taco Bell building that was damaged by a July fire. And though in December the City of Calhoun's building official didn't foresee the franchise reopening any time soon, the drive-thru of the nation-wide chain is once again drawing customers to buy its food since it opened earlier this month.

In early July of 2018, Calhoun firefighters were called out to the Taco Bell when a fire broke out. And though the fire was put out, the damage was enough to close the building and force owners to make decisions on how to proceed.

In November, Calhoun Building Official Don McGinnis approved a construction permit for the first contractor but still said that the team of builders was making little headway, especially after they discovered water damage and other unexpected problems with the building's foundation.

In May, McGinnis said a new contractor took over the project and sped the progress along. Mohamad El-Fassih, a contractor with Michigan-based Acme Enterprises, took over the project this spring as an approved contractor with Taco Bell Corporate, predicting in early April that the project would be completed by the end of May.

El-Fassih said he didn't know what happened with the first contractor who was hired to finish the project but that Taco Bell Corporate asked him to step in and finish construction since he's worked on many projects for the company prior to this one.

Once taking over construction, El-Fassih said his workers almost had to start from scratch, as the only redeemable qualities of the building were the base foundation and the roof structure.

Despite earlier predictions, El-Fassih said his team finished construction completely on June 10, extending finalization beyond their goal by only a few days.

"Everything went so smoothly," El-Fassih said. "The city was very helpful and pleasant to work with."

El-Fassih said the only reason for the delay in opening the building was due to training new staff, getting everything inside the building organized and making sure the drive-thru system and store equipment was up to date.

Since the restaurant opened this month, El-Fassih has communicated with Taco Bell Corporate and was relayed a message that the newly renovated business is doing well.

"They are very busy right now and the customers are very happy that Taco Bell is back in business," El-Fassih said. "The inside has a new design, so instead of the kitchen being in the back where it usually is, the processional line is in the front of the store so customers can see their food being prepared. Customers like the building and how it looks, I've been told."

Since the Taco Bell closed after the July fire, a competitor has opened right across the highway — Del Taco, which opened in December. Since Del Taco sells the same style food, Taco Bell might have a bit of friendly rivalry from the restaurant across the street — yet, given their current lunch crowds, Taco Bell's re-opening has been proven to be successful so far.

Trackside Pizzeria and Pub aims to open downtown in August
• The new restaurant will feature a bar and arcade.

Local restaurateur Derrick Williams says his newest project — Trackside Pizzeria and Pub — should open in August, if the build out goes as planned.

Williams, owner of Duke's Seafood and Wings, stopped by the location of his latest venture in downtown Calhoun earlier this week to check out the progress.

Trackside will occupy three storefronts of the building being redeveloped on South Park Avenue. The center of the three rooms will feature a kitchen serving brick oven-style pizza and plenty of seating. The space to the left will be an arcade, including a mix of older and newer games. And the space to the right, adjacent to what will be Freight and Rail Brewing Co., will have additional seating and a bar.

Williams said the development of the brewery and their decision not to serve food was a big motivator for him to bring a restaurant into the new downtown space.

"You always hear there's nothing to do in Calhoun," said Williams. "We're going to try to bring life to downtown Calhoun."

He said Trackside will be a family-friendly environment, and he intends to bring in arcade games adults will enjoy, as well as virtual realty-style games and other fun things targeted toward entertaining kids.

The building is located on South Park Avenue between Court and Oothcalooga streets. It had been unoccupied for a number of years before recent redevelopment.

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