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Rural council to focus on jobs
• The House study committee expects to recommend legislation to help spread economic opportunities.

Rep. Eddie Lumsden

It's a familiar cliche, but Rep. Eddie Lumsden says it's true: Graduation day is the saddest day in some rural Georgia communities.

"That's when their best and brightest go off and never return," the Armuchee Republican said.

Lumsden serves on the House Rural Economic Development Council, tasked with examining the issues that keep some areas in the state from thriving — and to come up with legislative solutions.

The group, co-chaired by Republican Reps. Terry England of Auburn and Jay Powell of Camilla, is slated to focus on jobs during a two-day session in Warm Springs this week. They'll meet Dec. 13 in Milledgeville to approve a report with recommendations for action during the 2018 General Assembly.

"There will be a number of different bills, because there are so many different things that affect our communities regarding their ability to attract prospective employers," Lumsden said.

The council started its two-day sessions in Tifton with presentations focusing on the challenges of broadband. High-speed internet is a necessity for businesses and an educated workforce. But Lumsden said there are "financial realities" that limit telecommunication companies' expansion in some places.

In Toccoa, they heard about the difficulties of getting backing for business start-ups in rural areas. The lack of healthcare and support for people with developmental disabilities were the topics in Thomaston and Bainbridge.

Lumsden said it became clear there are differences between rural South Georgia counties and those in the north, such as Chattooga County. In most of North Georgia, people are no more than 30 or 40 minutes away from a medical facility, while those in the south could have to drive for hours.

"It takes about 42,000 people to support a hospital, and many counties in rural South Georgia have only about 6,000 or 7,000," he said.

Thirty-three of the state's 159 counties have fewer than 10,000 residents, according to the 2010 census, and nearly all are in the south. In comparison, Chattooga's population was 24,824; Polk County had 41,776; and Floyd County, 26th-largest in the state, had 96,560.

The committee also met in Ellijay and Dalton for sessions on infrastructure and labor. In Metter they heard more about healthcare and in Waycross they discussed transportation and forestry. The latest gathering, Nov. 8 and 9 in Albany, focused on regional economic development and K-12 education.

Lumsden said there are common issues and there also are some community-specific problems.

"The state can help identify the issues and provide some resources and encouragement — but there are some problems the Legislature can't solve," he said. "There has to be a strong desire on the part of local communities to do what needs to be done."


Merit raises included in Rome budget
• Tonight, the City Commission is slated to unveil its proposed spending plans for the coming year.

Sheree Shore

Artagus Newell

Money for city employee merit raises of up to 4 percent is included in the 2018 general fund budget the Rome City Commission is slated to get tonight.

However, both the city and its employees will see a 3-percent hike in their share of the costs of health insurance.

Commissioner Evie Mc- Niece, who chairs the finance committee, is scheduled to present the proposed spending plans for the 27 separate accounts the board funds each year.

The drafts will be available for review online and at city hall before commissioners officially adopt them next month.

Commissioners caucus at 5 p.m. and start their regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall, 601 Broad St. Both sessions are public.

The two largest accounts are the general fund — which uses tax revenue to pay for daily operations — and the water and sewer fund, which gets its money from customer fees.

Transit, building inspection, solid waste, community development and the Stonebridge Golf Course are among the other departments that maintain separate budgets.

"The city is looking at just over $117 million in proposed expenditures for next year," Finance Director Sheree Shore told committee members before they signed off on the drafts.

No millage rate increase is being proposed and revenue from property taxes is projected to be right at 2017 levels. The state is expected to allocate more funding from tag and title fees and Floyd County is contributing $20,000 more for environmental services. Other sources of revenue are expected to drop or remain flat.

Overall, revenues and expenses for the general fund are projected to rise 2.3 percent. Commissioners are expected to add or reinstate several positions that were cut due to the budget crunch during the recession.

The city and county will split the cost of a transportation planner. City Manager Sammy Rich told the committee a planner is "critical" to ensure the community makes the best use of the increase in money coming from the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Also, Rome and Floyd County will each contribute $50,000 toward the cost of an update to their 10-year comprehensive plan, which is required by the state to maintain their certified local government status. The remaining $15,000 will come from the planning department's fund balance.

Planning Director Artagus Newell is reviewing proposals from consultants, who will assist in the process. Newell said he's planning a number of community meetings next year to determine how residents want to see the county develop over the long term.


On the water, on the playground

TODAY'S YOUNG ARTIST

Today's artwork is by Callie Vreeland, a fourth-grader at Pepperell Elementary School.


'If looks could have killed, I'd be dead'
• Shorter Director of Campus Safety Paula Penson shares the details of an encounter with her former boss the day before she filed a police report.

As Paula Penson walked down the steps of the Sheffield - Thompson building on the Shorter University campus Nov. 7, she crossed paths with Corey Humphries, a man she was instructed to not have any contact with following her complaints of sexual and work harassment.

Penson, the director of campus safety at Shorter, was wearing sunglasses when she saw him. She did her best to look away from the then-vice president of student affairs and her direct supervisor. But he never took his eyes off her.

When she glanced up, she caught his gaze.

"If looks could have killed, I'd be dead," she said. "He did a double-take looking at me."

As she continued to proceed down the stairs, James Hall, the assistant director of campus safety, stopped to talk with Humphries, who was heading into President Donald Dowless' office, she said. Hall went everywhere with Penson since her claims against Humphries were first reported to Shorter's human resources department in October.

The two men didn't say much. But when Hall and Penson came back together, he told her Humphries looked distraught and frazzled. She had been told by others at the university that "he is looking suicidal," mad at the world and filled with anger.

"That scared me because he carries a firearm; he did on campus," she said.

With a wife and three kids, along with one on the way, Humphries was a man with a lot to lose, Penson said. The encounter prompted her to file a report detailing Humphries' alleged actions against her with Rome police, leading to her claims reaching the public.

Penson said she was informed of Humphries' resignation the next day, Nov. 8. But despite this, the two were still in close proximity in the days that followed. His university-provided home at 1 Rockridge Drive was right down the steps from her office. Up until last week, when she said he moved out, he still drove up on the campus and parked his vehicle in the welcome center parking lot.

Her worries about Humphries and any potential retaliation against her weren't settled during this time, but the university felt differently, she said.

"This is what they're saying: Mr. Humphries resigned, so he's no longer affiliated with them, so they resolved that sexual battery and work harassment," she said. "That they resolved that by him resigning. Well, all this other has backed up and got on top of it, them harassing me now with the retaliation."

It's a matter of time, Penson said, until she is fired from Shorter for bringing all this to light. Right now, she feels someone is digging up dirt on her to get her fired.

"I know it's gonna happen," she said. "I'm not quitting."

Penson pointed to what she feels is a prolonged internal investigation, which, at its conclusion, would lead to recommendations to the university on resolving her case.

"It doesn't matter what his recommendations are because you don't have to uphold them," she said. "This is just the formality — the protocol that you do."

David Archer, the conflict investigator appointed by the university's law firm, Brinson, Askew and Berry, had recommended that Humphries should be put on administrative leave on Oct. 26, the day of a board of trustees meeting, Penson said. But that didn't happen, she said, diminishing her faith in the university doing the right thing in her mind.

"I just wanted the man to leave me alone. I wanted the man to leave me alone at work because I love my job," she said. "I've been loyal to Shorter and, right now, I'm more hurt by Shorter. I really thought they cared about me."

But a leave of absence or a resignation by Humphries wouldn't have been necessary, she said, if Shorter had taken the steps necessary to reaching an agreement that set the boundaries of the work relationship between Penson and him.

"They could have put us in a room and we could have talked this out. I really feel like that could have happened. That was my intention was to leave me alone at work. ... Just as easy as that. Leave me alone."

She said she just wanted him to leave her alone and let her do her job. She was also willing to speak with him about the situation and work it out amicably.

"This is how I feel: If Shorter had taken the necessary steps and the right steps to this, he and I would probably still be there right now working, under a working relationship because that's all I wanted," she said.