Downtown Rome will go smoke-free April 1.
Rome City Commissioners voted 7 to 2 Monday to ban smoking and vaping on all outdoor public property along Broad Street, including in sidewalk cafes. The prohibition includes the side streets for a block deep, the Town Green, Bridgepoint Plaza and the parking decks.
"We're not saying you can't smoke," Commissioner Milton Slack said. "We're just saying that, right here, we need to create a healthy environment for everybody."
A line-up of medical professionals spoke before the vote, pointing out the dangers of even second-hand smoke.
"Smoke exposure harms children from conception forward. There is no safe level," said Dr. Melissa Davis, a pediatrician and member of the Rome Board of Education. Officials from the three local hospitals — Floyd Medical Center, Redmond Regional Medical Center and Harbin Clinic — noted that their campuses are smoke-free. Enforcing the rule is sometimes a struggle, but all said it caused smoking to drop significantly.
Commissioners noted that Rome is a healthcare community and it makes sense to support what the medical coalition called Breatheasy Rome advocated. The original restrictions they proposed were loosened after months of community input, but a majority of the board spoke of modeling a health-conscious culture.
"One hundred percent of the people used these while they were driving," said Com missioner Craig McDaniel, raising his cellphone. "We changed that behavior."
Vaping and e-cigarettes also came in for criticism as a growing and dangerous trend among young people that often leads to tobacco addiction.
Mayor Bill Collins joined Slack, McDaniel and Commissioners Randy Quick, Sundai Stevenson and Evie McNiece in voting for the ban. Commissioners Bill Irmscher and Wendy Davis said they opposed the city's involvement in regulating personal behavior and private businesses.
"Smoking is not illegal," Irmscher said, adding that he spoke to a judge and doctor about the issue and "the doctor said then coughing on Broad Street should be illegal because it spreads germs."
Davis said the best way to regulate smoking is "neighbor-to-neighbor," asking someone to douse a cigarette causing discomfort.
The board made two tweaks before adopting the ordinance. It clarified that business owners must tell patrons they can't smoke in sidewalk cafes. It also exempts from the indoor ban businesses that clearly label their premises as smoking areas.
City commissioners got good news and bad news Monday night regarding the proposed covered tennis courts at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College.
The bad news is that the project is going to cost closer to $5 million than the originally anticipated $4 million. The good news, from Finance Director Sheree Shore is that by refunding remaining costs associated with the Stonebridge Golf course and issuing a single combined bond package, the annual payments could be less than what the city has been paying for the golf course and West Third Street tennis facility.
With escalating construction costs, the budget now looks more than $4,976,500. City Manager Sammy Rich, project manager Tom Lawrence and architect Tony Menefee all indicated they hope to be in a position to establish a final maximum cost figure for the project by the first of May to coincide with the anticipated ground breaking. Once that price is established, Rich said he would come back to
the city commission for a formal vote on bonds to finance the project.
"The first priority is that you have a competition venue that, when you step inside, is second to none," architect Menefee said. "I'm an ACC member institution alumni (Virginia Tech) and I can't wait to come up here and see the ACC tournament."
The new covered courts need to be complete in time for the Rome Tennis Center to host the 2020 Atlantic Coast Conference tennis championships scheduled for April. The ACC tournament was played in Rome in 2017 when the ACC moved the event out of Cary, North Carolina as part of a protest over the state's law requiring people in publiclyowned buildings to use restrooms that correspond with the gender listed on their birth certificate, a law that has since been repealed.
Lawrence said that after the 2017 ACC tournament, he was at the NCAA championships in Athens and run into several of the ACC coaches and asked them what they thought about the Rome Tennis Center. "They couldn't have said better things. They loved it," Lawrence said.
The timeline for the work calls for the final design work to be completed by the end of March, final pricing developed in conjunction with the general contractor BM&K Construction & Engineering out of Braselton, Georgia, during the month of April with construction starting in May. The courts would be finished in February, well in advance of the ACC championships.
Commissioner Wendy Davis said the change in budget was "not an insignificant increase" and was concerned about the impact a full heating and airconditioning system might have on utility bills. Lawrence explained that construction a steel building would have twice the lifespan of an architectural fabric building and cost $110,000 less.
Commissioner Evie McNiece explained that the use of heating and air-conditioning would be relatively minimal since the building would only be used when the weather prohibited play outdoors.
The indoor courts would be located at the northwest corner of the complex, closes to the intersection of the Armuchee Connector and Old Dalton Road.
Leslie Duke has decided to bite the bullet and shut down the Duke Museum of Military History.
"I hate it but I thought about it long and hard," Duke said.
After three years in operation, Duke said the cost of keeping the museum running was just becoming prohibitive and that he needed to turn his attention to other projects he has had in the works.
He is involved in the development of new technologies related to the ballistics industry and the aerospace industry as well as opportunities in the food service sector.
Prior to opening the museum, Duke operated companies called Ballistics Research and Op-Four Weapons, so he is no stranger to high-tech developments in personal weapons systems.
"I have developed some stuff that should prove to be pretty lucrative," Duke said Monday afternoon.
He had been in the process of renovating the interior of the museum for the last couple of weeks and was real excited about several new donations to the museum.
The museum included artifacts and memorabilia related to conflicts the U.S. has been involved in since the Civil War, including items from Vietnam, Somalia, Panama, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Duke said that anyone interested in mannequins or glass display cases can contact him via email as he will be attempting to liquidate virtually all of the hardware related to the display of his military memorabilia as possible.
He estimated that 80-85 percent of the items that were displayed in the museum were part of his personal collection and that most of those items will be available for purchase.
Anyone interested in acquiring items can reach Duke by email at email@example.com.
Duke made the announcement via the museum's Facebook page Monday.
"If you or your family have anything that has been donated or put on loan to the museum please contact us via email so we can make an appointment to return those items to you," Duke said via Facebook.
Today's artwork is by Ansley Combes, a student at the Montessori School of Rome.
Legislation creating a centralized state database of social services is moving through the House with powerful backers, and the sponsor says a recent change to federal law makes it imperative to pass it now.
"Some federal programs under Family First are going to affect DFCS and foster care greatly," said Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome. "There are waivers available, but we're going to need that data to show what's working."
The Family First Prevention Services Act, signed by President Trump last year, changes how federal foster care funding is allocated. The idea is to keep families together, so more money will go to education and counseling programs. That means less, however, for group institutions such as the Murphy-Harpst home for abused and neglected children in Cedartown.
Dempsey on Friday introduced House Bill 197 establishing the Strategic Integrated Data System — the SIDS Project — which calls for all state agencies providing physical and mental health services to pool their data.
The reports, with information identifying clients removed, would be housed under the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget. The database would be available to policy-makers, researchers and state universities studying ways to make programs more effective and cost-efficient.
"It will give us insight from existing data but will also be configured to do deeper dives," Dempsey said.
She and Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, cochaired a study committee last year to examine ways to overcome the challenges of sharing medical information across agencies. Their resulting bills both stalled, but Dempsey said Gov. Brian Kemp is supportive of HB 197.
"I've been working with the governor's staff and OPB and I think they're prepared to do it," she said.
The House supplemental budget for FY 2019 contains $750,000 to get started on the database, which would be set to go live Sept. 1.
"We're hoping the Senate will increase that, or that DFCS can find some grant money," she said.
The Division of Family and Children Services interim director, Tom C. Rawlings, is ready to implement the database as an agency tool, Dempsey said.
An immediate benefit would be to the center that fields calls about child abuse and neglect. Screeners would be able to check services and reports across agencies to prioritize responses, she said.
"So many people here (in the Legislature) are upset about those two lost children in Effingham County that I think there's a will to get something done," Dempsey said. "We've got to get systems talking to each other."
The remains of two children were found buried behind a home in Guyton in late December. One hadn't been seen for two years and the other hadn't been seen for several months, the Associated Press reported, but officials with different agencies had been told conflicting stories about their whereabouts.
Their father, stepmother and two other relatives are charged with child cruelty and concealing a death. Authorities are awaiting the results of autopsies to determine how the boy and girl died. A third child with special needs was taken into protective custody.
Co-sponsors of the bipartisan HB 197 include two longtime healthcare advocates and the chairmen of the House appropriations and rules committees.
The bill would set up a nine-member board of governors charged with vetting requests for data. The four voting members would be appointees from the Senate and the House, a citizen with legal expertise in protecting privacy and a citizen with technical expertise in securing large data systems.
Non-voting members would be a hired director of the SIDS Project, the state auditor, and the directors of the OPB, public health and community health departments.