The Rome City Commission has the authority to ban smoking within the city limits — but should it?
That's the question Commissioner Craig McDaniel hopes to answer at the Sept. 18 meeting of the public safety committee he chairs. At a special called meeting Monday, he said he knows there are pros and cons.
"It's a great idea," he said. "Personally, I wish tobacco would be banned entirely. But, in reality, that's not going to happen."
Since a coalition of local healthcare professionals, agencies and nonprofits called Breatheasy Rome brought the idea to the board last month, commissioners have heard from a host of different interests.
McDaniel said a large percentage of restaurant workers smoke, which has employers concerned some would leave for competitors outside the city. There also are smokers who live and work downtown, he noted.
Commissioner Bill Collins said he's heard from a business owner who thinks a ban would deter some customers and another who thinks it's an overreach.
"He said 'Why do y'all feel like you have to tell other people what they can and cannot do' ... These are the hurdles we face," Collins said.
There's also the question of enforcement — a task the busy police department isn't eager to take on. Chief Denise Downer-McKinney said there also could be perceived conflicts, since some of her officers are smokers.
"How would a person who smokes enforce this and do it fairly? ... I'm all about not smoking. I'm all about health. I just see some potential issues," she said.
Still, there appeared to be a desire to follow in the footsteps of cities such as Savannah, Augusta and Canton that have opted for a smoke-free atmosphere.
"We're looking at the welfare of all the people of Floyd County, especially the kids. That's who we should cater to," said Commissioner Milton Slack. "Once we start to implement this and education comes about, I think everyone will adhere to it."
The committee is devoting the Sept. 18 meeting to accepting public comments. The session starts at 2 p.m. in City Hall, 601 Broad St. McDaniel said every attendee would be allowed up to two minutes to speak.
"We want to be very transparent, and we want to make sure our downtown merchants are on board," he said.
The public safety committee's recommendation will go to the full City Commission for possible action.
Thunderstorms are forecast today and Wednesday across Northwest Georgia — but officials are looking ahead toward Thursday and the potential fallout from Hurricane Florence.
"We're going to monitor it all the way," Floyd County Emergency Management Agency Director Tim Herrington said. "If it starts moving south, that's going to change things for us."
Florence rapidly strengthened into a potentially catastrophic Category 4 hurricane on Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week.
The first effects were already being seen on barrier islands Monday as dangerous rip currents and seawater flowed over the state highway. People were told to prepare to evacuate communities up and down a stretch of coastline already identified as particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels due to climate change.
For many, the challenge could be finding a safe refuge: If Florence slows to a crawl just off the coast, it could carry torrential rains up into the Appalachian mountains, causing flash floods, mudslides and other dangerous weather across a wide area.
Herrington said he's staying in close contact with state EMA officials. He's already spoken with the public works directors in Rome and Floyd County and representatives of Georgia Power Co.
"We want to make sure there are resources in the area if anything happens," he said.
Larry Brooks, executive director of the American Red Cross of Northwest Georgia, said they've been preparing response vehicles, material resources and their network and leadership teams since Sunday.
"While we hope Georgia will not receive any direct impacts, it is our wish to be prepared with an adequate response whatever the final path of Florence may be," Brooks said.
The National Weather Service is forecasting scattered to numerous thunderstorms over the next two days, primarily in the afternoons and evenings.
A few storms could be strong with gusty winds, frequent lightning and heavy rainfall — although winds for the most part are expected to be calm. The high today is expected to be near 87, with a low around 69 this evening.
Wednesday's forecast is much of the same.
The weather hazards for Thursday through Sunday, if any, will greatly depend on the track of Hurricane Florence, according to the NWS.
A warm ocean is the fuel that powers hurricanes, and Florence will be moving over waters where temperatures are peaking near 85 degrees, hurricane specialist Eric Blake wrote. And with little wind shear to pull the storm apart, Florence's hurricane wind field was expected to expand over the coming days, increasing its storm surge and inland wind threats along with life-threatening freshwater flooding.
Behind it, Hurricane Isaac was expected to lose strength as it reaches the Caribbean, and Helene, much farther out to sea, may veer northward into the open Atlantic as the 2018 hurricane season reaches its peak.
More than a month after flooding effectively shut down the town for several days, Cave Spring is still waiting for word on recovery assistance.
"We met the threshold amount, no doubt about it," Floyd County Emergency Management Agency Director Tim Herrington said Monday. "The issue we have is that it wasn't a federally declared disaster."
Cave Spring sustained significant flooding when Little Cedar Creek overflowed Aug. 2, following an unusual weather pattern that pounded the south end of the county with more than seven inches of rain in three days.
Much of the downtown district was closed, with at least four or five inches of standing water covering The Square. Floyd County Public Works Director Michael Skeen described the creek, Rolater Park and the main street looking like a single body of water.
County Commission Chair Rhonda Wallace signed an emergency declaration and state and local officials toured the area to determine the damage.
Herrington said the county was potentially eligible for financial recovery assistance once the loss hit $348,667.54 — calculated by multiplying the official population of 96,317 by $3.62.
Without a federal disaster declaration by President Donald Trump, he filed a request for state aid last month with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. But it may be deemed just a local disaster.
"I was hoping Polk County would apply, but they didn't meet the threshold to submit paperwork," Herrington said. "Ringgold in Catoosa County had an EF-1 tornado, but they also sustained only minor damage. I was hoping we could piggyback on those counties."
Still, Herrington said there could be other sources of recovery assistance for Cave Spring, such as low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration. He said he's hoping GEMA will turn up some options.
"If there's anything out there, we're going to try to get it," he said.
A consolidated application for the funding of federal programs at Rome City Schools will go before board members tonight.
The board meets tonight at 5:45 p.m. at the boardroom at 508 E. Second St. Board members will caucus at 4 p.m.
Assistant Superintendent Dawn Williams said the board will be presented with an overview of the federal — title — programs that the consolidated application will release funding for. To receive the federal funds, the annual application has to be approved by the board and then the state, she continued.
Included in the application are programs under Title I, II, III and IV. The school system is a Title I district, based on the socioeconomic status of the students at each of its schools, and this funding makes up the majority of the federal funding, Williams said. Title II includes professional learning, while Title III concerns programs for immigrant students and English learners as well as special education.
The state Department of Education must approve the needs assessment, which comes from the number of students from low-income families counted last school year, for the school system for the funds to be released, Williams said. The application states how the federal funds will be used to address items on each school improvement plan.
Also on the agenda for the board are fundraising requests for this school year. Superintendent Lou Byars said each elementary school can hold one school fundraiser, while secondary schools can have one for each team or club it has.
"These are school funds, not money from PTOs or booster clubs," he said.
Board members will also look to approve the Career, Technical and Agricultural Education local plan. With board approval, funds can be released to the school system which pays for teachers in extended-day or extended-year programs, Byars said.
As part of the 21st Century Community Learning Grant, which supports the ASPIRE after-school program, the board has to accept the annual grant amount each year. It will look to do so tonight.
Today's artwork is by Nevayah Watters, a student at Armuchee Elementary.