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Balta is Floyd's 19th global firm
• Officials cut the ribbon to open the floor covering company's new distribution center in Shannon.

Tom Debusschere

Balta Home USA became Floyd County's 19th international company Thursday. Balta CEO Tom Debusschere made the trip from Belgium to Rome to cut the ribbon formally opening the firm's new distribution center in the former Florida Tile complex off Ga. 53 in Shannon.

Debusschere told a crowd of local government and business leaders that Balta is the largest floor covering firm in Europe and was actually the first company to develop outdoor carpet. "We're bringing rugs to spaces they've never been used before."

Apart from its presence in Europe, Balta has recently acquired Bentley Mills, a California-based firm that is a major player in the commercial carpet market in the United States. Bentley Mills' products have been used in the last nine presidential inaugurations and are a major supplier to the new Freedom Tower in New York.

The company revealed plans earlier this year to Consolidate operations from Dalton and Calhoun to the new facility in Shannon. Balta anticipates having more than 70 employees at the 320,000-square-foot distribution center at some point after the first of the new year.

Balta has a 12-year lease on approximately 45 acres.

Floyd County Commissioner Scotty Hancock welcomed the Belgian executives to Rome on behalf of the county. "With the widening of Ga. 140, we hope this area is going to become the economic hub of Floyd County," Hancock said.

Rome Mayor Jamie Doss thanked the company on behalf of the city. "You've got new jobs, great people and new industry for our city and county," Doss said.

Following the ribbon cutting Hans Fossez, president of Balta Home USA, led the crowd on a tour of the mammoth plant.

Property owners Hardman Knox and Phillip Hight of HK Shannon actually oversaw the Lazarus-like resurrection of the old ceramic tile plant into a modern, new distribution facility with room for Balta to expand in the future.

During the ribbon cutting, Knox said that Fossez immediately saw the vision of how the old building that was abandoned in 2006 might be rehabilitated. Both Knox and Hight indicated they were working to bring additional business to the 172-acre tract which has railroad access on the back side and is fully served by all utilities.


Guns a big draw for RICO auction
• The over 50 guns being auctioned off Saturday could be exactly what buyers come for.

"We do a lot of stuff at this firm," said Brian Bojo, an attorney with McRae, Smith, Peek, Harman & Monroe LLP. "We don't transfer Class 3 firearms."

The comment was made in reference to the necessary preparations Bojo has had to make in setting up a court-ordered auction of seized and forfeited items, including 51 guns, linked to a RICO case. He is the court-appointed receiver in the case involving alleged decade-long thefts from Floyd County Schools by former maintenance director Derry Richardson and at least 12 others that resulted in $6.3 million in losses.

There are four items at the auction classified as Class 3 firearms or devices, which are regulated under the National Firearms Act due to their military-grade likeness. A special license, which few have, is required to handle or transfer the items, Bojo said.

It's a felony to even hand a Class 3 firearm to someone to hold or use, say on a gun range, if that person isn't properly licensed.

The firearms include handguns, shotguns, rifles and collectors guns, and they will be auctioned off Saturday at the Coosa Valley Fairgrounds — thousands of rounds of ammunition are also up for auction.

"There is a special interest in firearm auctions," said fellow MSP attorney Chris Jackson.

The auction starts at 11 a.m. The guns, along with the other items being auctioned off, will be available for inspection today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the fairgrounds — a full list is available at the Dempsey Auction Co. website, www.dempseyauction.com. The guns will only be onsite today.

Those purchasing guns must have a background check, and each sale must get ATF — Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — approval, Bojo said. Guns won't be available to take home Saturday after being paid for, either with cash, a certified check or personal/company check with a bank letter guaranteeing payment.

Purchasers must go to Country Sportsman at 2806 Shorter Ave. by Monday at the earliest to show proof of purchase and their license for pickup.

The Class 3 items will be sold in an online-only auction Dec. 9, and a dealer out of Taylorsville is handling them. In light of the recent mass shootings, Bojo said he didn't feel comfortable having these items at the live auction.

In reaching out to the ATF, Bojo wanted their officials to first off know he had the items, and he solicited them to monitor the process of preparing them for auction and confirm all their boxes were checked. It's a "document-intensive" process, he added.

Indeed, the aim for the auction is getting the most money possible for the school system, but with it being court-ordered, doing everything in a responsible way is crucial — they don't want to put a weapon in the hands of someone who shouldn't have it, said Jackson.

The auction has items for just about anyone who hits the fairgrounds Saturday, from sportsmen to construction managers, weekend warriors to decorators, photographers to grill masters. Also, Richardson's seized home at 241 Riverbluff Drive, which was allegedly built and furnished with illicit funds, is a big-ticket item and will be auctioned off first.

"It's kind of like going into a department store," Bojo said. "You may go in looking for one thing but you see three other things you like."


Thanksgiving Open House

Share your Thanksgiving memories

Remember that photo Grandpa took just when you'd taken that big bite of turkey? Dig it out, or any other photos that bring back Thanksgiving memories, and share them with us for our Thanksgiving Day newspaper. You may email them to RomeNewsTribune@RN-T.com (high resolution .jpgs are best) or bring them by the newsroom to be scanned in our office at 305 E. Sixth Ave. Please submit them by 5 p.m. Tuesday. Questions? Call 706-290-5252.


TODAY'S YOUNG ARTIST

Today's artwork is by Sophie Thacker, a student at Armuchee Elementary School.


Floyd County: Mental illness is straining available resources
• State lawmakers say several legislative initiatives could provide local relief next year.

Floyd County commissioners want the Georgia General Assembly to make addressing mental health needs in local communities a priority next year.

The state legislative body is slated to start its annual 40-day session Jan. 8.

"Looking at our jail — trying to provide care for these folks there is not the ideal situation," Commissioner Allison Watters said during a meeting this week with lawmakers.

The lack of options also sends some residents with a drug dependency or behavioral problem to the Floyd Medical Center emergency room, in search of treatment or medication.

"The jail and the ER, that's where they go," Watters noted.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said several initiatives underway, including Medicaid waivers, are expected to provide some relief.

If the federal government grants the waivers, funding would be available for programs targeting opioid addiction and mental illness in Georgia. Hufstetler said South Carolina has a successful tele-psychiatry program that identifies those individuals and gets them help.

"The state is trying to provide these people with structure, so they don't go to the ER," he said.

All three of the Floyd County legislative delegates are serving on study committees that are examining potential solutions.

Hufstetler and Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, co-chairs of the joint Transparency and Open Access in Government Committee that is scheduled to hold its fourth meeting today, want to propose a central database with information from all state agencies providing services.

"We'll be able to do an analysis on the back end to see what to target and how," Hufstetler said. "There are all these efforts out there, but they're just not being coordinated."

The meeting will be streamed live at 3 p.m. on the General Assembly's website.

Hufstetler also sits on Georgia's Health Care Reform Task Force, which is including mental health in its review. Tele-medicine is on the table, but internet service is too slow in many areas of the state.

That's also one of the findings of the House Rural Development Council, where Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, is serving. He said he expects to see legislation to encourage broadband expansion.

"That technology is as necessary as phone lines were in the past," Lumsden said. "It's the new workhorse."

The number of inmates in the Floyd County jail with mental health problems has increased dramatically since the state closed Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital in 2011.

Chief Deputy Tom Caldwell said about 100 at any given time are on psychotropic medications.

Voters this month approved a SPLOST package that contains $5.2 million for a new medical facility at the jail, with a separate mental health wing.


Jury finds accused murderer not guilty
• John Henry Wetherington Jr. is found not guilty on murder and robbery charges Thursday in Floyd County Superior Court.

John Henry Wetherington Jr.

A Dalton man was found not guilty on murder and robbery charges Thursday morning in Floyd County Superior Court.

The trial of John Henry Wetherington Jr., 28, of Dalton, started Monday, and closing arguments concluded Wednesday afternoon, with the jury picking up deliberations. The jury didn't reach a verdict Wednesday afternoon but finalized their decision Thursday morning.

According to information presented in court:

The verdict acquits Wetherington of accusations he killed 42-yearold Nicholas Shropshire on April 18, 2015, by strangling him. He was also accused of robbing Shropshire of $1,500.

The body was dumped on the side of Floyd Springs Road, and a passerby saw it and called 911. Shropshire was in cardiac arrest when he was found and died later that day at Redmond Regional Medical Center.

Assistant District Attorney Hal Goldin previously said Wetherington was going to sell methamphetamine to Shropshire through Eric Jordan Hunter, 25, of 2014 Wesley Court in Rome.

Hunter was the prosecution's main witness and he admitted to being the driver of the car. He will be sentenced on robbery charges at a later date. He has a prior history of setting people up for drug deals, according to testimony.

The defense contended Wetherington was never in the Nissan Infiniti, only Hunter and an unidentified person were with Shropshire.

During opening statements, defense attorney Arnold Ragas said Hunter never planned on completing a drug deal, he only wanted to rob Shropshire of the money he had on him.

On the day of the murder, Hunter had gone to Wetherington to pick up marijuana, which Wetherington said was the only drug he had sold. In an audio recording of an interview between Wetherington and Floyd County police investigator Chris Fincher, Wetherington said he had chatted with Hunter for a couple of minutes but there was no talk of a drug deal.

Ragas had attempted to poke holes in the investigative process taken by police by trying to show that not all leads were followed up on. He also asserted that Hunter was responsible for Shropshire's death, not Wetherington.

Hunter was the first of the two men to be arrested, as he was taken into custody about two weeks after the incident occurred. Wetherington wasn't arrested until February, almost two years after the date of the murder.