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Elections board approves weekend voting for Oct. 26-27

UPDATE: The Floyd County Elections Board approved weekend voting today for the Rome City Commission election on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 26-27, at the Rome Civic Center on Jackson Hill. The site will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.


As of Monday afternoon 27 voters had cast their ballots at the Floyd County Health Department during the first day of early voting period for the Nov. 5 Rome City Commission election.

There may be more people than that show up to the Floyd County Board of Elections and Voter Registration meeting Tuesday at noon to advocate for weekend voting, Rome City Commissioner Wendy Davis said Monday.

“Our community is used to Saturday and Sunday voting. Taking that away is not the direction I think any of us would like to go in,” Davis said. “I am hopeful that at tomorrow’s Elections Board meeting the board will direct Chief (Clerk of Elections Robert) Brady to make that happen.”

Davis said the city has even reserved the Rome Civic Center for voting on Oct. 26 and 27 in the hopes the county will approve the addition of that weekend during the three-week early voting period.

“We’ve told Mr. Brady the Civic Center is available and that that’s what we want,” Davis said. “Our understanding is that there’s no reason our city elections should not have the same amount of early voting our city has previously had.”

Brady reiterated Monday while overseeing early voting at the Health Department that at this point weekend voting is not a possibility.

“The issue here at hand is not one of cost, it is not one of lack of interest or concern about anything other than the election has already started and we can’t make any changes,” Brady said. “I’m not opposed to them attempting it, but there’s a reason laws are in place that don’t allow you to make changes in the system once the system has begun to operate.”

Brady has maintained the city did not ask for weekend voting until after he already had made the official call for the election at least 60 days before the election, as required by law.

City officials have said it was more of a case of miscommunication about how elections have been conducted in Floyd County over the past several years.

“There was a month’s worth of discussion and lots of things were bandied about, but nobody ever said anything to me about Saturday and Sunday voting,” Brady said Monday. “That issue came after it was too late to make the change and because it’s too late to make the change, we’re stuck with it the way it is.”

Rome City Clerk Joe Smith said recently City Attorney Andy Davis did not find any state statutes or case law that would prevent the city from adding weekend voting — even after the election had begun.

All registered Rome voters have the opportunity to vote on three candidates for both the Ward 1 and Ward 3 races out of five candidates in Ward 1 and four candidates in Ward 3. They also will decide if local establishments with at least 50% of sales as alcohol will be able to serve drinks as early as 11 a.m. on Sundays — instead of the current 12:30 p.m. pour time.

Currently polls are only open for early voting Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Nov. 1 at the Health Department. Regular precincts will be open Nov. 5 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Poll Manager Marsha Hudson said Monday she’s hoping early voting will become busier as the week goes on.

“To me voting means having rights we wouldn’t have otherwise from a long time ago,” said Hudson, who is black. “I think everybody should exercise that right. I was taught that from an early age. My mom was very active in voting drives back in the day. She had nine children and all of them voted as soon as they were able.”

Trinity UMC's annual pumpkin sale opens with story-telling, swan gourds and pumpkin fudge

Pumpkins have arrived at Trinity United Methodist Church, marking the official start of Halloween season in Rome.

The annual Great Pumpkin Patch at 606 Turner McCall Blvd. has been a fixture – and a church youth fundraiser – for more than two decades.

“We have pumpkins from $1 to $40 or $50, if you want a really big one; from the little bitties on up,” said Kristen Vardy, a youth parent volunteer.

The patch will be open through Oct. 31 from noon to 8 p.m., Sunday through Friday, and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays. A perennial favorite, Debbie Lewis, will be back for storytelling on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon. The stories are geared to young children and won’t be scary, Vardy said.

In addition to thousands of traditional orange pumpkins, the sale features a rainbow variety of harvest gourds.

“There are crazy colors, crazy textures, swan gourds ...,” Vardy said.

New this year, the speckled swan gourds are colored like watermelons but have fat bodies and long curved necks that mimic the shape of swans. They run $8 a piece.

Also new is the peanut butter pumpkin fudge, at $5 a batch. It joins homemade pumpkin bread – $4 for the small loaf, $7 for the large – in the tiny “extras” shop. Carving kits will be in soon.

Another change is the start date of the sale, which previously ran the whole month of October. A second shipment would have been due about now, but Vardy said they decided to open mid-month instead because of the heat.

And, for the first time, the church has more off-site field trips scheduled than class outings at the patch.

“I guess it’s easier for them this way,” Vardy said. “We take pumpkins and a carver with us and do story time and sing songs.”

Day cares and other schools interested in scheduling a field trip can call the church office at 706-291-0033.

The patch will be open rain or shine. Cash, checks, debit and credit cards are accepted along with Google Pay and Apple Pay.

“Even if you don’t want to buy a pumpkin, come on by and take pictures. It’s local and close by,” Vardy said.

Beer Fest kicks off month of November

Where can you get spicy food, drink good beer and watch the Bulldogs take on the Gators all while supporting the arts? This year’s Rome Beer Fest held at Heritage Park on Nov. 2, that’s where.

The 12th annual event is one of two primary fundraisers for the Rome Area Council for the Arts who use to support multiple art organizations and events in the community. Traditionally held in September, this year’s event will be held in early November so attendees can enjoy the cooler fall temperatures a release from RACA stated.

Rome City Brewery will be giving festival goers a sneak peek at their new IPA “When in Rome,” which the brewery will be adding to their growing list of brews. Alongside RCBC and their spread of best sellers, other breweries from around the state will be there as well — Creature Comforts, Orpheus, SweetWater, Monday Night, Scofflaw, Terrapin and more are currently listed as participants on the festival’s media release.

Entertainment will be led by musicians Justin Brogdon, lead singer and guitarist of Athens based rock trio The Royal Velvet, and Jess Franklin. Franklin is the band leader and lead guitar player for country star Brantley Gilbert and formerly played for Tishamingo.

Several local eateries will be on site selling select items from their menus allowing festival participants to enjoy lunch, dinner and snacks at the festival.

Aventine, Rome’s soon to be launched restaurant will be showcasing part of their forthcoming menu. Harvest Moon and Jamwich will be partnering with presenting sponsor Louisiana Hot Sauce to offer up some spicy food options. La Scala will be making bratwurst and other beer-friendly foods. Finally, Johnny’s New York Style Pizza will be offering their namesake food to pair with the festivals brews.

General Admission tickets are $40 and VIP tickets are $100. Designated driver wristbands are $10 online and at the gate. Tickets and other info can be found at romebeerfest.com. Gates open at 12 p.m. for VIP ticket holders and 1 p.m. for general admission. Last pour will be at 4:45 p.m. and the event will conclude at 5 p.m.

Olisa Obi, a first-grade student at St. Mary’s Catholic School

City Commission passes 'urban camping' and panhandling ordinances with 8-1 vote

After more than two months of debate on the merits of two amended city ordinances requested by local law enforcement to help them better handle complaints about homeless camps and aggressive panhandlers, the Rome City Commission passed the “urban camping” and panhandling ordinances 8 votes to 1 Monday night at Rome City Hall.

City Commissioner Wendy Davis was the lone dissenter after the commission heard from four guests — including a homeless man named Allen — who mostly wanted commissioners to vote against the ordinances.

“I can’t thank you enough for coming here,” Davis told Allen, who had shared his story about falling on hard times after he’d had a massive heart attack last year. “You told your story and that took a lot of courage.”

Davis shared with the more than eight homeless advocates in the audience that when another homeless man asked Mayor Bill Collins before the meeting what would happen if the ordinances were passed and a police officer came upon a homeless person camping in the woods, the mayor could not give him an answer.

“I can’t let that go,” Davis explained. “I understand these (ordinances) are a tool, but they’re not a solution.”

Devon Smyth, director of Davies Shelters and the founder of a new collaborative group reaching out to the homeless known as HOPE Alliance, shared her own solutions with the Commission before their vote.

She told them HOPE Alliance — a new coalition of citizens, nonprofits and community leaders working to build long-term solutions to end homelessness in Rome — is picking up the 2009 Rome and Floyd County Plan “Breaking the Cycle of Homelessness One Person at a Time” where it left off without the formation of a new 501(c)3 nonprofit.

“We need your investment,” Smyth told the Commission. “The HOPE Alliance is requesting that the City of Rome engage Simply Strategic Consulting to guide our new collaboration through the process of formation, strategic planning, administrative coordination, membership policy, evaluation, reporting and fundraising.”

She went on to explain that with the help of Courtney Cash, the owner of the consulting firm, the group hopes to meet seven outcomes over the next 12 months.

Those outcomes include things like coming up with a basic needs list for the homeless and coordinating services to deliver those necessities; creating an up-to-date inventory of transitional housing resources; assisting with the 2020 Census for a more accurate count of the homeless population for better planning on delivery of services and the procurement of government funding; creating a list of professional mental health service providers willing to serve as transitional counselors to respond in emergency situations; and developing a community-wide fundraising effort in the spring of 2020 to help fund needed services for the homeless.

“In addition, the HOPE Alliance will develop a long-term fundraising plan that includes significant grant-based funding,” Smyth said toward the conclusion of her speech. “Thank you again for your leadership and time as we work together to affect change in Rome and Floyd County.”

Mayor Collins addressed Allen directly, telling him that the ordinances are a blessing in disguise because they have caused the revival of the community’s efforts to work collaboratively toward solutions.

“There’s a great opportunity here,” Collins told him as he nodded. “Your voice will not go unheard. I would say if we see you in six months or a year from now, you will have a different story to tell.”

Rome Police Chief Denise Downer-McKinney sat quietly in the back of the room during the entire meeting with her best poker face. She shared her thoughts afterward.

“I’m glad officers have a tool now to assist them in their jobs,” Downer-McKinney said. “I’m elated the ordinances have brought people together and provided an opportunity to collaborate and work toward a long-term solution.”