It was standing room only Monday night as friends and family of Rome City Commissioners and city officials witnessed the swearing in of six newly-elected board members and Mayor Bill Collins' re-election by a unanimous vote of his colleagues.
Collins is Rome’s first black mayor, elected for the first time in 2019. Before he resumed his seat after the undisputed vote of confidence, he paused to catch his breath.
“It’s not been an easy road, but I appreciate the fine citizens of this here county and thank the commissioners for their trust in me,” Collins told the crowd that spilled into the hallway outside chambers. “I want my grandson here to know it takes dedication and integrity and everything that goes along with making sure you hold yourself accountable.”
After thanking the “great leaders” that came before him, he took his usual place in the middle of the large dais before Commissioner Jamie Doss nominated Commissioner Craig McDaniel as mayor pro tem.
“He was a stand-out at West Rome High School and as a businessman, Rotarian and former college president,” Doss said.
As was the case for mayor, no other names were presented for pro tem and McDaniel was elected to be Collins’ right-hand man by a 9 to 0 vote.
McDaniel replaces Mayor Pro Tem Randy Quick. Collins thanked Quick for his service.
“Mr. Quick did an outstanding job as pro tem,” Collins said. “I appreciate all he did.”
Quick said he appreciated the opportunity to serve the city, Mayor Collins and the city’s “incredible staff.”
“The staff here is something we should never take for granted because you all are exceptional,” Quick said.
Collins added toward the end of the meeting that he is looking forward to hearing the fresh ideas of new commissioners Jim Bojo, Mark Cochran and Bonny Askew and working together to find ways to keep the city’s youth from moving outside Floyd County to find work and the quality of life they seek.
“I appreciate all of us moving forward as a team,” Collins said before quoting Rome’s first black commissioner, the late Napoleon Fielder. “Fielder was the first person of color to ever sit on this commission and he’d always say ‘Working together works.’ That is a great opportunity and challenge to us as we move through 2020.”
Trees and power lines weren’t the only things dropped Saturday evening in the Rome area.
The Berry College bald eagles had their first egg of the nesting season sometime in the aftermath of the storms. On the same day, at least four huge pine trees less than 100 yards north of the nest tree were blown down by heavy winds.
Multiple cameras that focused on the nest, at www.berry.edu/eaglecam, went offline during the storm. Sometime after those cameras came back online, the female eagle moved to change position and the egg was visible.
In past years a second egg usually followed the first within a few days. When eagles lay multiple eggs, they are generally a minimum of three days apart.
Once eggs are laid, both adults will take turns incubating them for approximately 35 days before they hatch.
Associate Professor of Biology Renee Carleton, the college’s resident eagle expert, said the female eagle has adapted remarkably to a badly injured left talon.
The injury was sustained sometime during the summer of 2013 and has gradually gotten worse over the years.
“It just doesn’t seem likely to heal,” Carleton said.
People watching the eagle on the cameras can see how difficult a time she has in maneuvering around the nest, but the injury hasn’t hampered her ability to hunt or bring tree branches back to the nest.
The pair of eagles at Berry has had two eggs every year since 2013. Last year, both eggs hatched but neither of the nestlings survived their first week. The year before, one of the two nestlings fell out of the tree and died. In another year, 2014, one of the eggs failed to hatch.
The nest behind the Cage Center athletic complex was first discovered in the spring of 2012 and the pair produced their first two eaglets in 2013.
Those two, if they have survived, are now at the point where they could be reproducing. It takes bald eagles five years to become sexually mature.
Since the Berry nest was first discovered, bald eagle nests have been found at five other locations in Floyd County. Two nests have been located on the Rocky Mountain lakes in the Texas Valley, a nest has been found in the Fosters Bend area near the Alabama state line, another has been found on Booger Hollow Road near Georgia Highlands College’s Paris Lake and another was found on Lake Marvin at the Girl Scout camp up in the Chattahoochee National Forest.
There are as many as half a dozen nests on Weiss Lake, one on the Etowah River near Euharlee and at least two nests on Lake Allatoona.
A public open house is scheduled for Thursday on proposed plans to replace the Turner McCall Boulevard bridge over the Etowah River and Norfolk Southern Railroad.
Georgia Department of Transportation officials will be at the Rome Civic Center on Jackson Hill from 5 to 7 p.m. with maps and information for the drop-in event.
The replacement bridge will have four lanes of traffic plus additional width for turn lanes. Engineers determined after a routine inspection that the current bridge, which was built in 1956, needs to be replaced. The decision was made to extend the turn lanes across the new bridge to facilitate staged construction and to help reduce congestion.
“When the determination was made to replace the bridge, we looked at how we could also improve traffic at the same time,” said GDOT District Six Engineer Grant Waldrop. “The additional bridge width allows for the turn lanes to be extended, which will help to move traffic across Turner McCall Boulevard.”
The project is projected to cost $28.5 million with construction expected to take two years when it gets underway in summer 2022.
According to GDOT estimates, nearly 37,000 vehicles a day are expected to be using the bridge by then. Officials have said the project must be coordinated with the planned widening of Second Avenue to avoid both major thoroughfares being under construction at the same time.
Attendees of the open house can review the project, ask questions, and express any concerns they might have about the proposed improvements.
“We look forward to hearing from the public,” Waldrop said. “Their input on this project is important to us as we move forward.”
Engineers looked at a host of construction options before settling on a plan. The timeline includes making accommodations for pedestrians to continue using the bridge while the work is underway.
There also may be special provisions to keep the river open for paddlers and kayakers, and some environmental considerations may affect the timing. Seasonal restrictions are possible in the removal of the existing bridge due to the presence of bird nests and bats.
The standards used for the original bridge design are below current design standards, according to the project report. A structural analysis shows that it has no reserve capacity in the substructure, but the overall condition of the bridge is classified as fair.
A well-known Harbin Clinic neurosurgeon is expected to announce his bid this week for the U.S. House seat for the 14th District to be vacated by current Rep. Tom Graves.
Dr. John Cowan, who is also the CEO of Rome-based Cortex Toys, has hinted for a few weeks at his desire to run for the seat as a Republican.
“Rome has long wanted someone from this community to represent Northwest Georgia in Congress,” former Floyd County GOP chair Andy Garner said Monday. “John Cowan fits the bill for this district. He’s served our region as a neurosurgeon and church leader, he brings healthcare expertise we desperately need in Washington, he’s not a politician and he’s a staunch conservative.”
Local and state leaders have admitted they were surprised on Dec. 5 when Graves announced, via Twitter, that he was not seeking re-election in 2020 to a sixth term.
The race for the post is likely to be a short lived one with qualifying in March and then the primary in May.
So far, two other people have stepped in to say they’re running for the seat as well.
Both Clayton Fuller and Marjorie Greene have been campaigning around Rome and the district after announcing their intentions.
Fuller, an Air Force veteran from Lookout Mountain and a former assistant district attorney, was appointed by President Donald Trump as a White House Fellow and recently worked in the office of the vice president, his announcement stated.
Greene, a wealthy businesswoman from Alpharetta, switched from challenging Karen Handel in the District 6 race and became the first person to enter the District 14 contest following the announcement by Graves.
Both Fuller and Greene were at a luncheon hosted by the Floyd County Republican Women last week.
There will likely be more candidates who announce they’re running for the post before qualifying begins. State Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, is the only local legislator who has not outright said they’re not running for the post.
As for any opposition from the Democratic Party in November, there have been no announcements as of yet. Ruth Demeter, who chairs the Floyd County party, said they expect to field a candidate.