As Georgia’s population continues to grow, state leaders in environmental stewardship and economic development need to collaborate with one another to ensure that the natural resources of Georgia are utilized wisely for the betterment of future generations. That was the message of Bart Gobeil, the new president of the Georgia Conservancy.
Gobeil told Rome Seven Hills Rotary Club members that Georgia’s population is expected to grow by as much as 4 million over the next two decades and the environmental group will work hard to live up to its slogan, “A Georgia where people and the environment thrive.”
Gobeil, whose professional background includes stints as the chief operating officer of the State of Georgia from 2011 to 2015 where he had oversight over more than 60 different agencies and authorities, and senior executive director of economic development for the Georgia Ports Authority from 2015 to 2019, said the Georgia Conservancy understands that Georgia needs to attract new jobs, and since that is going to happen, it must work together with developers to minimize the impact of that growth on the environment.
“People need jobs and people need the environment,” Gobeil said.
One of the efforts led by the Georgia Conservancy involved passage of the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act. The law takes a portion of an existing sales tax on outdoor-related purchases and set it aside for the acquisition of land of regional impact to help preserve those areas for future generations. Gobeil said it will ultimately protect both water and land masses and provide additional venues for outdoor recreation.
The Georgia Conservancy is also known across the state for the organization of field trips into natural areas across the state. One of those trips was a canoe trip on the Etowah River earlier this year. Gobeil said the trips are a way to get Georgians engaged with the environment. “Get people to see why the environment is important in their community, their way of life and why it’s important,” Gobeil said. “It’s a low-cost entry point for people who typically won’t come into nature.”
Gobeil asked the community leaders to imagine what the addition of another four million people in Georgia would look like.
“They are attracted to Georgia for its recreation, for its jobs ... and we want to preserve that for future generations of Georgians.”
The Rome City School Board met briefly Tuesday night before board members headed off to the Teacher of the Year Banquet, but before they left they discussed alternative discipline measures for elementary school students during their caucus.
“We have got to get disruption out of the classroom,” Superintendent Lou Byars said. “It may not be more than two or three students per school, but as we all know one student can disrupt an entire hallway.”
As an alternative to suspension, Byars is suggesting the system make elementary students who have serious behavior issues attend afternoon classes for a short time until they can become integrated back into the classroom. The students would be in school from 2:30-6 p.m. Byars said, meaning the system would have to pay teachers extra for staying after hours. To make up for this, the system is holding off on hiring a maintenance person.
Board Chair Faith Collins and board member Elaina Beeman both voiced doubts about this method. Collins is concerned the system may be rewarding bad behavior by allowing kids shorter school days. Beeman is worried that the schools are not doing what they can to get to the root of students’ behavior problems.
“The problem is they want to be suspended and go home,” Byars said. “They lose the privilege of having art and music if we do this.”
Board member Melissa Davis thanked Byars for trying to come up with a different solution than suspensions and Vice Chair Jill Fisher agreed. Before any student would be enrolled in the after-school program, they would first have to be recommended by their principal and approved by the superintendent. The board did not sign any resolution Tuesday night to put this program in place since Byars is still ironing out details.
Tuesday night the board did vote to approve several new hires and fundraising requests. Leslie Dixon, director of school improvement, shared how the system celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month and Wesley Styles, principal of East Central Elementary, shared the climate of his school. The board also decided to hold off on the vote to place red light traffic cameras in front of Rome High School during this month’s meeting.
Rome’s focus to develop new affordable housing in South Rome may spread beyond that community sooner rather than later. Community Development Director Bekki Fox told the city Community Development Services committee Tuesday that her office is working with the South Rome Redevelopment Corp. to acquire some property off Shorter Avenue in West Rome.
“They (SRRC) have agreed to be our development partners as we expand this program to other areas of the city,” Fox said. She explained that parcels had been identified in West Rome but that during the process of running title checks, deed restrictions were discovered that have slowed down the process.
“We feel like there may be a little light at the end of the tunnel,” Fox said. Work is underway to try to clear those hurdles and Fox said that if that pans out, she expects as many as four new homes could be built on the West Rome property. She predicted they could sell even faster than those on Wilson Avenue and Pollock Street in South Rome have.
The revolving fund account that finances the new construction now has almost $680,000 in it, and that will go up to nearly $900,000 as soon as two more sales on Pollock Street are closed.
Fox said the SRRC is also in the process of clearing several lots on Peachtree Street in South Rome for at least two more homes in what is being dubbed the South Meadows community. Fox did say that the contractor, Cargle Brothers, which built the four new homes on Pollock Street, had expressed interest in bidding on the new homes on Peachtree Street, but was not sure if they could do the work without an increase in price.
Construction materials have gone up significantly in the past year.
“Even with all of the stuff that we take care of, it’s hard to keep them affordable,” Fox said. “We hope even if the houses go up in price $5,000 to $10,000, that with the second mortgage that we can provide at the city they will still be affordable.”
Fox said her goal is to have eight more new homes built by the end of 2020.
Rome Floyd Building Inspection official James Martin told the committee that 68 permits have been authorized for new single family homes within the city limits this year, more than double the number, 29, that were issued through the month of September last year.
Megan Treglown with the Downtown Development Authority briefed the committee on the upcoming Fiddlin’ Fest, this Saturday. More than 60 vendors will be set up in the Cotton Block. The Armuchee Ruritan Car show will be located in the 300 and 400 blocks. There will be multiple stages spread out along the Broad Street corridor.
Broad Street will be shut down at 7 a.m. Saturday so that participants can get set up. The event will begin at noon and continue through 8 p.m.
“There’s a lot of fear surrounding mental illness and, truth be told, a lot of prejudice as well,” Jim Moore, president of NAMI Rome, told more than 80 people gathered Tuesday for a candlelight service at Second Avenue United Methodist Church.
“We want to replace that fear with love and hope,” Moore said.
The service marked the National Day of Prayer for mental illness recovery and understanding.
The Rev. Millie Kim, pastor of Second Avenue UMC, led a prayer of confession: “That we are still uninformed about mental illness and how it impacts individuals and their families.”
It was a sentiment expressed several times by speakers pointing out that those living with mental illness are often misunderstood — relegated to the fringes of a society that could help dispel their despair.
Juvenile Court Judge Greg Price, the keynote speaker, spoke of how intervention and inclusion can work. After an uptick of delinquent children in his court in 2012, he sought funding for a mental health counselor to work with them and their families. The rate of children re-offending dropped from 30% to 13%.
“We have cut it in half,” he said to the applause of the crowd.
Price said the applause belongs to the Floyd County Commission and the numerous agencies and organizations working together in the community.
In his courtroom, he said, he sees “a triumvirate of evil” — mental health issues, drug abuse and poverty. And he offered two words to take away in hope.
“Recognition. Not of a problem ... recognition of a need. And opportunity. The opportunity to fill that need,” Price said.
As Bonnie Moore read statements of resolve, people came forward to light seven candles — for truth, healing, understanding, hope, thankfulness, faith and steadfast love.
Attendees then wrote the names of loved ones affected by mental illness on strips of blue paper and lined up to deposit them in the prayer bowl at the base of the candles.
They each took away a prayer bead.
“Keep it in your pocket as a reminder, of mental health and mental illness and the love and the hope we can have in our community,” Bonnie Moore said.
Before the service, the Moores attended the County Commission meeting where the board proclaimed this week Mental Health Awareness Week in Floyd County.