Four days before the first Homelessness Task Force 2019 meeting was to occur on Thursday, the Rome City Commission discussed bringing a controversial homeless ordinance amendment back to the table.
During Monday's discussion on the "urban camping" and "panhandling" ordinances toward the end of the Commission's regular meeting, a few commissioners expressed frustration over the fact that Rome's public safety officers are still without the tools they've asked for and seemed poised to bring the ordinances up for a vote.
"The Public Safety Committee ought to move this forward to a vote," Public Safety Committee Member Craig McDaniel told the commission. "I feel a sense of urgency after reading emails from the police department over the last couple of weeks. They asked for a tool they could work with."
Fellow committee member Randy Quick agreed with McDaniel, telling the group he felt the ordinance was designed to be an effective tool by allowing officers to give warnings to campers in public spaces before arresting them and confiscating their belongings. He stressed
that the way the ordinance is written now, officers do not have to give warnings.
At that point Commissioner Wendy Davis spoke up saying she felt the ordinance was coming back up for a vote.
"I'm not reading the responses from the community (on the ordinance) the same way my colleagues are," Davis said. "The mayor made it clear we needed continued conversation."
Davis reminded them that those who attended the Aug. 30 called meeting by the Public Safety Committee to discuss the ordinance left the meeting with the knowledge Mayor Bill Collins asked a task force to be formed by community members and that the committee had tabled recommending the passage of the ordinance.
Davis said approving the ordinance now would feel "kinda sneaky."
If Public Safety Committee members had made a motion to revive the ordinance it would have then gone back to the first reading before going back to the full commission for a vote.
Very little discussion followed before the commission moved on to other agenda items.
An email was sent out Monday morning from the Rome City Manager's office to a dozen interested parties, inviting them to the homelessness task force meeting at 9:30 a.m. in the Carnegie Training Room next to City Hall Thursday.
"The Rome City Commission is grateful for your involvement in recent discussions on the area of homelessness in our community," stated the invitation to Devon Smyth of Davies Shelters, Salvation Army Capt. Jason Smith, United Way Executive Director Alli Mitchell, Merlene Justice of Reaching Rome, Diane Lewis of Lewis Chemical and others.
Smyth — also the executive director of the area's first shelter for women and families — said Wednesday she had heard about Monday's commission meeting, but was feeling optimistic about Thursday's task force get together that will include a recap of how the 2009 Homelessness Plan was created and spending time discovering the best way to tackle current issues.
"I am hopeful that this is the beginning of good work collaboratively here in Rome," said Smyth, who already has formed a group called HOPE Alliance that will be reaching out to the homeless population every Monday starting Sept. 23 with breakfast and laundry supplies.
The bell in the Clocktower began to ring precisely at 8:46 a.m. Wednesday, marking the time American Airlines flight 11 struck the north tower of the World Trade Center.
It was also the time a special 9/11 memorial ceremony got under way at the Rome Firefighters Memorial Plaza.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Swarnes, a young enlistee at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on the day of the terrorist attack, reminded a large audience that the day has changed the way Americans go about routine dayto-day tasks.
"Some of you may remember taking family members to the gate at the airport and not just to the security gate, or attending sporting events without going through metal detectors," Swarnes said. "Many first responders are losing their lives today, so lets keep them in our thoughts."
"I was like everyone else that morning, not believing what was unfolding before me that morning on the news," Swarnes recalled. "I knew my vacation was going to be cut short. Within a few days I was sent on a bus, because all aircraft were still grounded, to a nuclear plant in Kentucky to guard."
Swarnes said many young men and women have been motivated by the events of that day to become firefighters, police, EMTs and soldiers.
"I respect them greatly because they are volunteering at a time when we know that there are attacks, all kinds of terroristic threats against the United States and fellow Americans, so they are stepping up when there is a time of danger," Swarnes said.
The Rev. Monty Stallins of the Second Avenue Baptist Church reminded the crowd that hundred of firefighters, police and paramedics ran toward the danger on Sept. 11, 2001.
"They ran into the chaos, they ran into the dust, they ran into the collapse and death and destruction all around them," Stallins said. "It is not enough to simply remember. We must live out of their memory. We must live in honor of their legacy. We're surrounded by people who are doing that every day."
Stallins encouraged the crowd to think about how they would give of themselves for the good of the community "because ultimately that is how we show that we have not forgotten."
Floyd County Police Lt. Dana Collum rang the last alarm bell in a 4-1-2 pattern in remembrance of the 343 firefighters, 61 law enforcement officers and 8 emergency medical technicians who were killed during the attack in New York.
The total death toll was 2,977, but many first responders and private citizens alike who suffered debilitating injuries that day are still suffering 18 years later.
"We will never forget," said Rome Floyd County Fire Department Sgt. Jamie Lambert.
Military and emergency response agency representatives who lined the Firefighters Memorial Plaza included U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Keith Thrash, David Harris from the U.S. Marine Corps, Jeff Rogers from the U.S. Navy, Rome-Floyd County Fire Department Division Chief Dean Oswalt, Floyd County Police Capt. David Bohannon, Rome Police Maj. Rodney Bailey, Floyd County Sheriff's Office Maj. Dave Roberson, 911 Center Assistant Director Sommer Davis Robinson, Floyd Medical Center Paramedic Daniel Helton, Georgia State Patrol Capt. Doug Shamblin, Floyd County Emergency Management Agency Director Tim Herrington and Redmond Regional Medical Center Paramedic Dan Proctor.
A Model High School teacher is practicing a nontraditional teaching method by eliminating desks to create what she calls a more communicative environment with better input.
"Levantate (stand up)," teacher Savanna Arevalo told her students.
The freshmen got up and practiced saying Spanish pronouns under the direction of their teacher. Arevalo gave hand signals and instructions in both English and Spanish, which she said has been very helpful to her students.
"The idea is once you understand the language you can comprehend it and produce it," she said.
Arevalo made the decision to lead a deskless classroom after seeing how fellow Floyd County teacher Heather Brand — she teaches at Armuchee High — as well as Spanish teacher and blogger Alison Weinhold, made the switch. They both had nothing but good things to say about the new teaching style she said.
Eliminating desks has also eliminated cell phone usage in her class because students have no where to hide their devices. It is also more difficult and obvious to try and sleep in class, she added.
The new class format is also very involved because students are constantly engaged in something. Arevalo leads a 10-15 minutes lecture at the beginning of class and then spends the remainder of class doing a mixture of activities where students apply the Spanish. If the work requires writing, Arevalo provides clip boards for the students to use as support.
So far, the students seem to be learning the language at a much faster rate than last year, the Spanish teacher said. The routine of lectures, note taking and vocabulary sheets did not make the language stick last year, said Arevalo. Since going deskless she is having a much better participation rate.
To encourage her students to participate daily in her class, the Model high teacher hands out pesos to students who ask good questions, give good answers or just have overall good participation. Pesos can also
be taken away for distracting behavior or lack of participation as well. Arevalo said the pesos are actual points that go towards a test grade at the end of the semester.
To get a 100, students need to present 55 pesos to their teacher by the end of the semester. To teach responsibility, Arevalo has charged her students to keep up with the laminated play money until the end of the semester. Students can also exchange the individual bills for five and 10 notes to make it easier to keep up. The pesos help keep order in the classroom as well as letting students physically see their participation points, Arevalo added. "The only issue is, I need a bigger classroom," she said, laughing.
Floyd County elections officials are scheduled to get their first round of training on the new Dominion Voting System machines on Oct. 1 and 2.
It's a tighter schedule than Chief Elections Clerk Robert Brady had been hoping for, since they'll be used in the March 2020 presidential preference primary.
"But we'll get it done. We'll get it done," he assured members of the County Elections Board Tuesday at their monthly meeting.
The Georgia Secretary of State is also starting public demonstrations of the machines, which combine touch-screen technology with a print-out of voters' choices. The paper ballot is then scanned and the votes recorded.
Brady said the DVS was unveiled at a shopping center in Duluth on Tuesday and the state wants counties to submit ideas for local demonstrations.
If it's too late to schedule it for the Coosa Valley Fair — which starts at the same time as the training — Elections Board member John Scott Husser Jr. suggested setting up at the Chiaha Harvest Festival at the end of October.
The secretary of state training module will be in Atlanta and involve eight separate equipment stations.
"This is so we'll be able to answer the basic questions," Brady said. "It's two all-day events and a temp will man the office while we're gone."
Brady and his staff, in turn, will train the pollworkers.
The old electronic voting machines will be used for the Rome City elections in November but six counties will be piloting the DVS: Bartow, Paulding, Catoosa, Carroll, Lowndes and Decatur.
The state will collect Floyd County's old machines after the city election, but it's unclear when they'll deliver the new ones. Officials also are waiting for confirmation that DVS equipment will replace the Balotar mail-in absentee voting equipment.
Brady said the county would be responsible next year for supplying toner and paper for the DVS machines, estimated at about 13 cents per ballot. The state is paying for the system.
"But there's a fly in the ointment," he noted. "They don't come with stands, so we'll also have to come up with a way to display these things in a usable fashion. Private and secure."
Vendors have been contacting elections officials around the state, Brady said, with offerings ranging from a $35 set of cardboard dividers for an 8-foot table to a $775 unit that houses four machines.
Each of Floyd County's 25 precincts typically has four or five voting machines. Brady said they'll also need two privacy tables each for the early voting locations.
Elections Board Chair Tom Rees noted that money budgeted for voting equipment in previous years has been left unspent, pending the state's decision on a new system. He asked Brady to get the exact dollar amount for discussion at the next meeting, set for Oct. 15.
Grace Ann Claytor, a pre-K student at Unity Christian School