As they head into their planning retreat this weekend, the Rome City Schools board will be focusing on coming into compliance with a February audit from the Georgia Department of Transportation that will end the system's 35-year partnership with the city bus service.
The main issue facing the city schools and government is the approaching Aug. 1 deadline and the federal government not allowing an extension so guidelines can be met. Superintendent Lou Byars told the board during their called meeting Monday that the GDOT consultant has been unable to get the system an extension so they can come into compliance.
"We have to make a decision this weekend," Byars told the board. "We are running out of time."
To come into agreement with regulations the school system will have to lease or buy buses, hire drivers, build a facility to maintain them and hire maintenance staff, all by Aug. 1 unless an extension is granted. Byars told the board he has concerns for the safety of their students and a wrong move could leave the system open to lawsuits.
"There are no good scenarios" Byars said. "We can't make that transition."
Board Member John Uldrick asked Byars when a decision needs to be made so the school system can implement a plan. Byars said this weekend is the deadline for the board to come up with a plan and will present all of his findings to them during this weekend's planning session.
"We keep running round and round in a circle," Board Chair Faith Collins said. "It is time for us to get off of that circle and make some decisions."
"Every time I think we've got somewhere to go, we get pushed back," Byars said.
Byars will present board members with the cost of buying city buses outright with the caveat some city bus drivers may not follow the buses, leaving the system with the responsibility of hiring and training new drivers. Byars said he is pursuing options but isn't sure which one will be best for the school board at this time.
Ray Boylston of RLS Inc., was assigned last week by the GDOT as an independent contractor to help the city sort out how to come into compliance with the GDOT audit. According to Byars and City Manager Sammy Rich, Boylston agrees that the Aug. 1 deadline is unrealistic, however he has not been able to get the city an extension. Boylston is the one who reported to the GDOT that the contract between the city and the school system was not in compliance and needed to be terminated.
The Rome City Schools board will depart for the Forrest Hills Resort and Conference Center near Dahlonega on Friday where they will spend two days discussing their transportation and budget for next school year.
Mechanical problems on the river
The Roman Holiday was stuck while traveling down the Coosa River carrying second-graders from Glenwood Primary on Tuesday around noon.
The Roman Holiday departed with the second group of students of the day and shortly after launch the captain recognized an issue with the steering of the boat. Before the issue worsened, the captain dropped anchor and called for assistance. Though the boat never lost power, Floyd County Schools public relations coordinator Lenora McEntire-Doss said the safest thing to do was to move all students onboard to smaller boats to get them to land quickly.
Rome-Floyd Fire Department helped take the 28 students and two teachers onboard in two smaller boats back to the dock at Heritage Park. The group was then safely taken by school bus back to the ECO Center for lunch and to finish up their field trip.
"Special thanks to the Rome-Floyd Fire Department, ECO Center and Floyd County EMA for all of their assistance in making this a most memorable, and safe, field trip," McEntire-Doss said.
City Manager Sammy Rich said the cause of the mechanical issue was a bolt that was sheared off in the control arm.
Flower pots now adorn all four of the bump-outs at Second Avenue and Broad, the first phase of a Blooms on Broad project. The Rev. Joel Snider, executive director of the Community Foundation for Greater Rome told members of the Rome Seven Hills Rotary Club Tuesday that the project represents, "One of the ways that targeted private money can make a difference in a community."
"This is our first project that is outside of the charity bank role," Snider said. The CFFGR is nearing it's fourth year in operation and has generated approximately $1.3 million in charitable giving.
The foundation has already produced several cycles of community grant funding, but wanted to go a step further in an effort to enhance the aesthetic beauty of Rome, increase civic engagement and provide a community asset for years to come.
The idea for Blooms on Broad came from a visit to Columbus, Indiana. The first planters at Second Avenue and Broad is the first phase of the project. The official launch is slated for Thursday. Phase Two will involve the addition of five more intersections up Broad Street to the project.
"We're doing it this way because we want to evaluate," Snider said. "Instead of rolling out 72 planters that all of a sudden we have to have functioning, we want to make sure that we're doing everything correctly."
Snider said that he can envision a mini-grant type of program that would encourage property and business owners to beautify the area in front of their individual locations.
The Downtown Development Authority Design committee came up with the specific style of pots while Snider said that consultants at Berry College have been instrumental in assisting with the types of floral displays that are appropriate at specific times of the year.
This first year, the city has agreed to make sure the flowers are watered regularly and will take over full maintenance in year two.
"This will give us (the foundation) a different sort of credibility in the eyes of many people," Snider said.
"It does me good to say 'thank you' for having the foundation because this is one of those things that is going to make all of the difference as we go forward with building that quality of life that makes this an exceptional community," said Rome City Manager Sammy Rich.
The official Blooms on Broad launch will take place at Second and Broad at 10 a.m. Thursday.
A judge denied bond to a former Rome filmmaker after hearing allegations of how he repeatedly abused multiple women over a 14-year period of time.
Senior Judge Walter Matthews described patterns of abuse as "insidious" and "manipulative" prior to denying bond for 30-year-old Eliot Ryan Rutledge.
Previously denied bond following his April 12 arrest, Rutledge had filed a motion in Floyd County Superior Court for reconsideration.
Rutledge is now facing felony charges from three women, and allegations of abuse from five other women were presented to the court as similar transaction evidence.
At this point, Rome Police Department detective Corey Bowers testified eight women have stepped forward to police with evidence including recordings of Rutledge as he attacked them, Bowers said. He beat and choked several of the women, Bowers said. He wouldn't let them leave their homes and in some of the older allegations — of which he doesn't face charges — he reportedly sexually assaulted at least one of the women several times.
At one point Rutledge attempted to justify slamming a woman's head into a door frame, causing her to almost black out, by saying "he was tired of being ignored," Bowers said. At another point he video recorded a woman cowering in the corner and mocked her with derogatory comments.
Bowers also testified police uncovered a "very large collection" of messages between Rutledge and several of the women describing the violence and subsequent apologies.
"All of these women are terrified of him," Assistant District Attorney Natalee Staats told the judge. She said one of the women was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder because of the abuse.
His charges include felony aggravated assault, false imprisonment, second-degree damage to property as well as misdemeanor battery, simple battery and disorderly conduct.
Some of the incidents could not be prosecuted locally because they went beyond the range of the statute of limitations or took place in other jurisdictions. One woman said she met and was abused by Rutledge while at film school in San Francisco, Bowers said. He was also known in Rome for roles in local theater and film productions.
Rutledge used similar patterns of physical and emotional abuse to control and manipulate his victims, she said. "This behavior has been going on, as best I can tell, has been going back 14 years," Staats told the court.
Tuesday was the advertised deadline for prospective economic development officials to submit their applications to become Rome and Floyd County's chief industrial recruiter. However, Jimmy Byars, chairman of the Rome-Floyd County Development Authority, said Tuesday was not a hard deadline.
Byars said that a meeting between himself, City Manager Sammy Rich and Floyd County Manager Jamie McCord is slated for Wednesday to begin looking at the applications. "We're certainly not cutting them off," Byars said. "If we've got somebody we'll start interviewing."
The job has received more than 14 applications, the last number Byars said he was aware of, but he had not actually looked at any of the applications yet.
For the past 20 years, the job has fallen under the umbrella of the Rome Floyd Chamber, however the model was changed during protracted discussions between city/county/chamber officials over the course of the last six to eight months. Now the Rome Floyd County Development Authority is the lead agency, empowered to hire its own executive director and staff.
Heather Seckman, the economic development director at the Rome Floyd Chamber, confirmed that she is not a candidate and would stay with the Chamber in a project management-type of position once the new development team is in place. She has continued her economic development work in the interim and has most recently been involved with site selection consultants at meetings in Chicago and Richmond.
"I don't know that there is one ideal, right candidate," Rich said. The folks who do this for a living, it's a pretty small pond. Most of these folks are generally very well connected. You can say we're looking for someone who can hit the ground running."
The advertisement for the position indicates the new economic development director should have a college degree with an emphasis on economic development, real estate or marketing and ideally have at least five years of experience to be given serious consideration for the position. The salary for the position is listed as "Depending on Qualification." Rome, Floyd County and the Rome-Floyd County Development Authority are each contributing $150,000 a year to the start-up budget for the new staff, which is likely to include an assistant, and an administrative aide.
Today's artwork is by Emily Fonseca Lopez, a first-grader at Elm Street Elementary School.