This week, city officials attempted to correct the public's "misinformation" about a proposed move of the Calhoun Recycling Center from its current space, yet numerous questions remain concerning the future of its operations and where it will be based.
Over the past few years, Calhoun City Schools has shared its warehouses off Pine Street with the city's recycling center. and over time, the school district has needed more of the warehouse space to store furnishings, equipment and construction materials, according to Superintendent Michele Taylor.
When the recycling cneter moved into the warehouse, they were able to use most of the building's space. Yet currently, the center only occupies about 12 percent of the facility, according to City Recycling Coordinator Judy Peterson, which they use to gather and bale cardboard – the center's main source of revenue.
The school district reached out to Assistant City Administrator Paul Worley on Nov. 8 to ask what the long plan range was for the recycling center, as CCS wanted the remainder of the warehouse space for storage, operations and filing records, Taylor said in an email. The district's administration said they wanted the space by April/May, and after a requested extension from the city, a June 1 date was given, according to Taylor.
"We're not forcing anybody out by June 1," Taylor said. "June 1 was the date they were aware that we would be moving additional items into the warehouse. That's some misinformation that's out there."
According to Taylor, at the beginning of the year, CCS Facilities and Operations Director Tom Griffith
started meeting with city officials, including his father-in-law Mayor Jimmy Palmer, and recycling center staff to determine where a new recycling building could be.
This discussion began before the end of last year, but wasn't brought up with the City Council until March 11 during a work session. But, City Councilwoman Jackie Palazzolo, who oversees the recycling center and gives monthly reports to the council on its operations, did not find out about the proposed changes until last week, she said. She wasn't able to attend the March 11 work session and wasn't informed about the details of the meeting until a week later. She said she expected to know of these developments months before now.
Palazzolo, along with other council members and Palmer, received an official email on March 20 from Worley providing an update for the city's recycling operations. She said she learned of the updates a couple days prior to the email being sent, despite the center being under her domain of responsibility.
Worley's email gave an update on why the recycling center would be moving out of the warehouse, and then explained how Worley, Palmer and other city staff had been working to find another location for the cardboard baling operations.
Since city officials had a hard time finding a facility within the budgeted $170,000 from 2018 SPLOST funds, saying "nothing has worked out," Worley said in his email that the process of baling cardboard would halt until a solution was found.
This update has raised questions, both from city employees and community members, regarding the future of recycling in Calhoun.
During the council's work session on Monday, Palazzolo brought up a few concerns to the mayor and council, to which Palmer said a lot of "misinformation" was circulating.
Palazzolo said that when the arrangement between the recycling center and the school district was made years ago, it was clear that the center's use of the warehouse was temporary. What she wasn't aware of until last week was that they needed to be out of the warehouse by June 1.
"When did we find out the information that we were going to lose the building?" Palazzolo asked Palmer, who confirmed it was in November. "I feel like we waited until just a few months before to start putting estimates out and to start figuring out the game plan. That bothers me greatly."
Palmer responded by turning to Worley, who said estimates have been started since the end of the year, but have taken more time than expected to be returned. Palazzolo commented that the "transparency, the communication has not been there."
In the time since she found out about the situation, the councilwoman has worked with Peterson and Momon Construction to get an estimate for building a new facility, which came back at $172,500.
On Monday night, the mayor said he didn't want to settle for the Momon bid since it wouldn't lead to growth for the future of the recycling center.
Palazzolo has sent Momon's estimate to other council members and the mayor, and has yet to receive a reply. She also proposed an idea that the recycling center facility could be added on to the new Calhoun Police Department station on McDaniel Station Road, which the city is still working to finalize funding for.
Palmer said that no solution proposed to help the recycling center grow in the future was off the table. However, he expressed disinterest in the Momon bid as well as Palazzolo's proposal for the recycling center to be part of the new police station construction.
"I don't personally think recycling will be a part of the new police station," Palmer said.
Regardless of if the center can find a facility in the near future or now, the drop-off center on Pine Street will still remain for locals to drop off their recycling, said Worley, they just won't have a building to produce bales of cardboard.
Both Palazzolo and Palmer have been receiving phone calls, emails and messages from community members who have heard that the recycling center will no longer have a home after June 1 if something doesn't work out.
"It's just misinformation," Palmer said of the public's comments. "I don't think of it as anything but a temporary setback. We're going to continue to recycling all the same things except cardboard won't be baled."
Palmer said in order to make up for the amount of cardboard that won't be baled, there will be additional bins set up around the city for collecting cardboard, which will be picked up with an increased frequency to current recycling pickup schedules.
Palmer also said the estimates for constructing a new recycling center — based on Worley's research, which started in November — ranged from $350,000-$400,000, which was way out of budget.
Palazzolo asked if the issue of the recycling center's future was going to be discussed and voted on by the entirety of the city council, to which Palmer said they would need to get a time and place where all council members could attend. When Palazzolo asked when that could be, no answer was provided.
Later on Monday, Worley sent out a public notice from the city explaining the situation, also using the term "misinformation." The notice said the city would "temporarily suspend the baling of cardboard" and that the only change to the department would be that "the city will ship all materials to a larger industrial recycling center that can process the material in a more cost effective manner."
When asked later Monday about when cardboard baling would resume, Worley said, "It's more like an indefinite suspension."
"We can't put it into a time frame," he said. "There is no time estimate."
The notice said the actual processing of recyclable material would be adjusted to decrease the overall cost to taxpayers. However, when Palmer and Worley were asked how much money would be saved, they were unable to provide any specific numbers or estimates.
"I don't think you can give that number until you totally evaluate things," Palmer said.
The "larger industrial recycling center" mentioned would likely be one in Dalton, as Worley said the city was looking at working with Caraustar Industries.
Industries. Should this partnership pan out, the cardboard from Calhoun would have to be shipped to Dalton, which would cost more than how cardboard is currently being picked up, according to Palazzolo. Currently, cardboard is picked up for the recycling center through a free service by Mauldin Trash Services.
After Monday's evening City Council meeting, Palmer maintained his belief that the recycling center wouldn't change much as a result of the suspension of baling operations. and even though he said the lack of a determined plan for the center's future has nothing to do with finances, in the same breath he said the center loses money each fiscal year.
"I am not opposed to recycling," Palmer said. "I'm trying to do what's best for the community and continue recycling. (People) think we're closing the whole center down, but we're moving forward with recycling."
When asked why Palazzolo wasn't made aware of the situation until recently, Palmer answered the question by stating email invitations were sent to each council member for budget meetings and the recycling center was a topic covered at one of these meetings. With specific regards to Palazzolo, Palmer didn't want to comment.
Though asked three times about the specifics of how much the city would save with the drawback on recycling operations, the mayor pointed back to how he didn't see a great deal of change coming for the recycling center.
"I imagine there will be some savings in that due to the fact of whether that be employees, whether it be different things," Palmer said. "I'm sure there are going to be some savings."
Peterson said if the mayor's plans include paying Santek to pick up the center's materials in the future, which was also briefly mentioned in the work session, there would be no transparency as to where the materials are going. She said Santek's services would cost more and the city would have no way of knowing if those recyclables were being diverted from the landfill or not.
Palazzolo, who said she was blindsided by this development and should have known by January at the latest, said the recycling center isn't being held to the same standard as the other public services, such as the recreation department and Fields Ferry Golf Course.
The councilwoman said the golf course hadn't made any profit until recently, and had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, as compared to the recycling center's tens of thousands of dollars a year.
"I understand there are people not passionate about recycling and I get it," Palazzolo said. "But there are also people not passionate about golf. It upsets me greatly that a decision was made with no conversation."
Despite the claims of the public attaining misinformation, not many questions have been answered. Palazzolo said she was going to be bringing back up the issue at the next City Council work session, and that she would be pushing for a conversation that included the entire council and mayor.
And yet despite the city's future halting of cardboard baling – which Peterson said would be detrimental to the growth of the recycling center – and plans for paying Santek to pick up materials instead of letting Mauldin keep picking it up for free, the mayor and the assistant city administrator say recycling will still continue to develop.
"I promise you, recycling is strong and going," Palmer said. "There are several things that distorted the truth. We're not out to destroy recycling."
A preliminary report on the fatal crash of a small airplane in Gordon County is expected to be released sometime early next week, according to Keith Holloway, a media relations member of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Holloway said an NTSB investigator was on the scene of the crash, in a field near a residential neighborhood on Spencer Drive, on Saturday, examining the site and documenting the aircraft. The plane is being moved to a secure facility for further examination by the NTSB investigator, he added.
The report will not state a cause of the crash, rather it will just give factual information documented by the investigator, Holloway continued. It will look at the pilot's flight record, medical history and flight certification, he added.
According to Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen, an Innovator experimental plane, being flown by 63-year-old Richard Hogan, of Dawsonville, crashed
in a field south of Calhoun at 3:45 p.m. Saturday. The plan was an amateur-built aircraft. Hogan was the only person in the plan at the time of the crash.
The FAA is working with the NTSB to determine the cause of the crash, Bergen said.
Hogan's body was taken to the GBI Crime Lab in Atlanta for further examination and a ruling on the official cause of death, according to Gordon County Deputy Coroner Christy Nicholson.
Nicholson pronounced Hogan dead on the scene of the crash at 4:32 p.m. But Hogan died upon impact from multiple blunt force trauma injuries, she said.
The Gordon County Sheriff's Office initially responded to the crash along with firefighters and EMS personnel.
According to the sheriff's office, the small plane had crashed into a wooded area within a few hundred yards of a residential neighborhood. The plane was completely destroyed.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim of this tragic accident," said Sheriff Mitch Ralston.
John McEuen started off as a teenager working a part-time job. Now, he has traveled the world, touring and performing his songs for thousands of his fans. and he's coming to perform in Calhoun this week.
McEuen, who started off his performance career as a high school student working at Disneyland's Magic Shop, said he discovered at a young age that he loved being making people laugh. and through his brief career as a magician, doing tricks and performing, he knew that he wanted to make a life out of being on stage.
Later, after discovering influential bands and attending a few bluegrass concerts, he decided not only to pursue show business in general, but to specialize in playing music.
"I intended for my music to take me as far as it has, I just wasn't sure it would," McEuen said. "I intended to be in show business and travel and play and see as many parts of the world as I could while doing it."
At 21, McEuen had started the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band — an American country rock band that quickly rose to fame — and was "living the dream." The band was the first American musical group to sing in the Soviet Union, and over the past decades, McEuen has played with the likes of Bob Dylan, John Denver and Johnny Cash.
And it all started with a job in his hometown, where he became friends with comedian and singer Steve Martin.
Through his high school job at Disneyland, he met Martin, and the two of them became friends, working together, learning to play instruments and reciting the famous poem by Stephen Vincent Benet, "The Mountain Whippoorwill."
McEuen would play the banjo and Martin would recite the poem, which was inspired by the Gordon County area, according to McEuen. and though Martin claims McEuen taught him to play banjo, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band founder said Martin was catching on just fine on his own.
"I think I was drawn to music by the notes that were fun to play," McEuen said, explaining how specific bands had inspired him to learn to play. "(The Dillards) opened a door for me. After their concert, bluegrass came into my life."
McEuen helped Martin produce an album, attended the first play Martin ever wrote and supported his friend through his pursuits.
And while McEuen was traveling down the path of music and Martin became well-known in the comedy world, the two still remain close today. But McEuen attributes the start of his music career to the time when his life overlapped with Martin's.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is most known for their 1972 album, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," and though McEuen left the band in 1986 to pursue a solo career, is singing career was far from over.
Since the formation of the musical group in 1966, McEuen has been able to tour the world, perform in several countries and made a successful career out of playing his music, both in the band and as a solo artist.
He has performed with some of the world's most popular singers and yet still aims to give his fans and audiences an experience to remember.
"Although I've met (Bob Dylan) several times and been backstage with him, I don't think he has any clue of what I do," McEuen said, laughing as he recalled prior encounters with Dylan. "He's in Bob's world, which is fine."
He never thought he would perform with Johnny Cash, but that opportunity did end up presenting itself, and McEuen said Cash was a "great guy to sing with." McEuen also said he met John Denver when he was John Deutschendorf, before he changed his name.
And even though he's been able to perform with such outstanding figures, he says audience members are what make or break a concert. He said he's been to every state and several countries to perform, but the dynamic of each show is completely dependent on the fans in his opinion.
"You can be on a flatbed truck in the middle of a field, but if it's a good audience, it doesn't matter where you are," McEuen said. "It's what you tell them and where you take them that counts."
McEuen tries to incorporate personal stories and experiences into his music, attempting to take audience members away from whatever might be troubling them in their daily lives. He likes to give his fans a night to remember.
He doesn't work for a living, he plays, according to McEuen, and he always looks forward to playing for his fans, hoping that they have almost as much fun as he does during his shows.
And though he's been on the road for decades, McEuen is still trying to put out new music and is currently working on writing his second book. He doesn't see an end to his performing career approaching anytime soon.
McEuen will be performing in Calhoun as a part of the Harris Arts Center's 13th Annual Georgia String Band Festival and the Gordon County Fiddlers' Convention, with his concert kicking off weekend festivities.
He said though he's been to Chattanooga and Atlanta, he just hasn't made it to Calhoun yet. and he's excited to see a new corner of the world.
"Out of all the places I've played over the years, I'm really looking forward to this show in Calhoun," McEuen said. "I've played all the states and so many places over the years, and playing a small town is more important in some ways than playing Pittsburgh or New York City. I might be the only concert these people see this year so it better be good."
The singer said he always feels like the most important show in the country that night is the one he's doing, saying "any show you do could be your last one, so it better be a good one."
McEuen will perform Friday, at 7 p.m. at the Ratner Theatre, 212 S. Wall St., and will be joined by special guest and ex-NGDB member, John Cable.
Tickets for McEuen's concert are $20, and seating is limited. For more information on the concert or other activities included in the String Band Festival, call the Harris Arts Center at 706-629-2599.