More than 52,700 dry-packaged meals were put together for the hungry in Rome and Floyd County on Saturday. Close to 150 volunteers representing groups ranging from the Rome Rotary Club to SunTrust Bank and even the Georgia Highlands College men's and women's basketball teams jammed one of the buildings at the Coosa Valley Fairgrounds to help create the meals which were then distributed to the Salvation Army, Action Ministries and Victory Baptist Church.
The project of the Rome-Floyd County United Way was originally expecting to pack 25,000 meals, but as the number of volunteers who registered grew through the last two weeks, the goal was upped to 50,000 and before the two-hour project was over Saturday, even that number was eclipsed.
Retired restaurateur Curtis Gardner was among those who showed up early to make sure he had a place on one of the many packaging assembly lines. Gardner worked with City Commissioner Evie McNiece, youngsters Wyatt Thornton and Grant Carpenter, and others on one of several Rome Rotary assembly lines.
"It just seems like a great thing to do to feed the hungry. I think it's tremendously important to pay attention to the hungry, and Kelsey (Mitchell) has done a great job in rallying the troops," Gardner said.
Teddy Tripp, a representative of Meals of Hope out of Naples, Florida, the agency which provided the food, said Meals of Hope works with organizations all over the country to provide meals for the hungry. There are four different meals — the macaroni and cheese; the tomato basil pasta; an oatmeal; and a fortified beans and rice meal — that they have developed over the last 10 years. Volunteers in Rome on Saturday packaged the macaroni and cheese and tomato basil pasta meals.
Both the men's and women's basketball teams at Georgia Highlands College turned out to give something back to the community.
"It gives a great opportunity to our players to meet people, get some visibility and to give back," David Mathis said. "They're scholarship athletes, and most of them aren't from Rome and Floyd County, so it gives them a chance to meet a lot of people outside of Georgia Highlands College."
Janee' Knorr, one of the women's team members from Atlanta, settled in one of the assembly lines to help build the boxes to store the dry-packaged meals which have a shelf life of at least six months. Chris Wright, a men's team member from Kingston, New York, worked right next to J.R. Davis, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Georgia, who also brought a large delegation of youth from the club to help with the project.
United Way Executive Director Rich Lampkin said he was pleased with the turnout and happy to help provide meals to the hungry in Rome as well as generate some new enthusiasm for the United Way locally.
There is a voice inside each of us, Story Corps founder Dave Isay told first-year Berry College students earlier this week. It is always there, sending hints and motivations. And as its message becomes clearer, it is up to each individual to listen and answer its call.
It was Isay's own voice, emerging while a college student on his way to medical school, that changed his life trajectory, leading him into producing radio documentaries. His work became telling other people's stories for them.
But around 15 years ago, Isay had the idea, a simple one, he says, to "take a documentary and turn it on its head" by giving anyone an opportunity to talk about their own life, rather than have it shared through someone else.
"The purpose is to give as many people a chance to be listened to," he said of Story-Corps, now a compilation of thousands and thousands of oral histories by everyday people.
When the project first started, a recording booth was set up at Grand Central Terminal in New York City. And the basis for what they would say took on a "if I had 40 minutes left to live" style, with participants putting moments of their lives on the record for their future family members to know. The recordings are then preserved at the Library of Congress, while also being featured on NPR, and shared through the StoryCorps website and podcast.
As the stories have spread and have played through headphones, car speakers and computers, people have been able to connect with the lives and feelings and experiences of those they've never met. It's about finding "the wisdom that's all around us," Isay said.
"It's there for the taking," he continued, "hiding in plain sight."
During the lecture at the Cage Center on Thursday night, Isay played a few selections: a married couple pondering on a life of love, a man reflecting on the comfort of his father's presence amidst the tumultuous environment of school desegregation in the South, and an elderly woman recalling the time her inflatable bra was mistaken for a bomb when it burst on an airplane heading for the Andes Mountains.
Isay teased to a new Story-Corps project, which comes from the division felt across the U.S. between Americans.
"As a country we kind of don't love each other anymore," he said, adding that by just listening to someone and hearing about their life, understanding can be reached.
The new project, which will launch in the coming weeks, aims to put two strangers in a booth, particularly those of different political beliefs.
"Listening to each other is our patriotic duty," Isay said.
Isay shared that possibly Berry College would be involved, getting students from Young Democrats and Young Republicans to sit down and talk about anything but politics.
In closing his remarks, Isay once again spoke to the Berry College freshmen — who were tasked with reading his book "Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work" over the summer — seated on the floor of the gym. He told them that finding their inner voice requires taking risks and finding courage to overcome challenges. Students should not be settling their life on the notion of "working less, for more money, for a short time," but on following their calling.
Though civil actions in the RICO case concerning decade-long thefts totaling $6.3 million from Floyd County Schools have wrapped up and more than $3 million has been returned, through a settlement and the liquidation of seized and forfeited items, it is still not over.
Early last week, during a Floyd County Board of Education meeting, attorney King Askew, who represents the school system, gave an update on the case. He said that though the civil case has come to a close, there is an ongoing discussion on whether or not to pursue civil action against another party.
Askew then turned to the criminal piece of the RICO case. Indictments have not been handed down for the 13 people arrested and charged with inflating and falsifying invoices paid by the school system and violating the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and other crimes — one of those arrested has died since his arrest in June 2016. He explained to board members the statute of limitations for felony charges, such as theft, is four years and for RICO charges is five years.
The statute of limitations for the felony charges from the case runs out this November, and then November 2019 for RICO charges, according to Floyd County District Attorney Leigh Patterson.
"I don't normally make comments on a pending case," Patterson said. "But obviously I know this is important to the community and we are continuing to work on it."
Tuesday's board meeting was the second time recently when board members openly asked about the status of the criminal case — they discussed it during caucus at August's meeting.
They have said the topic of when those charged will have their cases taken up in court is something they are often asked about by community members. And this case has been a topic for the last four years.
Where it's been
Floyd County police Maj. Jeff Jones and Chief Mark Wallace, then the assistant police chief, delivered the 3,000-page case summary to the DA's office in September of last year, ending a nearly three-year investigation that took almost 20,000 man hours and took the two men across the country — the expense of the investigation was $429,920.94.
"It's kind of like the taxpayers have paid twice," Wallace said at the time.
Their investigation led to the arrest of Derry Richardson, the former maintenance director for the system and who investigators said was the mastermind of the thefts, along with his wife Lisa, father Jimmy and brother Dwayne. The Richardsons and six others turned themselves in to police on June 9, 2016. The six others arrested were Robert Mitchell Anderson, Russell David Burkhalter, Samuel Max Tucker, Harry Anthony Bailey, Robert Chad Watson and William Greg McCary, who died from a fall at Little River Canyon in May 2017.
In July 2017, three more arrests were made on felony theft by taking, bribery and RICO charges, with Charles Raiden Sherman, David Gary English and Rodney Don Holder being taken into custody.
On Nov. 2, 2017, the Floyd County Board of Education approved a settlement with Johnson Controls Inc., which will pay the system $2.3 million and provide services and equipment for two years. The total value of the settlement is $2.7 million, and money from it has been put toward school system projects.
Derry Richardson had worked for Johnson Controls before taking his position with Floyd County Schools. However, the company was not a party in the RICO lawsuit brought by the school system. The state attempted to add Johnson Controls as a party, but that request was denied in Floyd County Superior Court.
Then this March, the school system received $1,138,007 through the liquidation of seized and forfeited items connected to the RICO case. Some of the returned funds came from an auction of seized and forfeited items held Nov. 18, 2017, at the Coosa Valley Fairgrounds. More recovered funds, totaling $123,218, were received by the school system in May, to be put toward security upgrades at two schools.
A representative of the owners of Mount Berry Mall is slated to present plans for a multi-million dollar makeover Tuesday to the Floyd County Commission.
The proposal has been in the works for several years, but Hull Property Group is ramping up its push for a local buy-in of $1.5 million in Tax Allocation District financing. Project manager Hamp Manning is scheduled to discuss the request at the board's caucus session.
With TAD financing, tax revenue generated from improvements to the site would be plowed back into the redevelopment instead of into the city and county general funds. If approved, HPG has said it would start work in early 2019.
Plans call for demolishing the vacant Sears end of the mall and refurbishing the rest of the structure. HPG would market the rest of the property to new businesses such as a hotel and restaurants.
The 156-acre Mount Berry TAD created last year encompasses nine parcels, including the mall and the vacant land by the tennis center that is currently accessed only from the Armuchee Connector.
Manning told the Rome Redevelopment Agency last month that HPG would spend $5.3 million on the demolition and improvements to the interior and facade as Phase I. The company could spend another $6 million to $8 million on commercial projects on the outparcels in Phase II.
City members of the redevelopment agency backed the proposal in a voice vote but the county's representatives, Commissioner Larry Maxey and County Manager Jamie McCord, did not weigh in.
County commissioners have previously expressed concern that some of the property could be sold for residential development. A majority agreed with Maxey, a builder, who said the tax break would give an unfair advantage to homebuilders without sparking the economic activity expected in exchange for TAD financing.
HPG has seen the tax valuation of the mall continue to drop, going to $4.88 million this year from $6.4 million three years ago. The increase in online sales, which pulls from brick-and-mortar sales, is part of the problem. However, the company is trying to revitalize its malls and launched an upgrade of its Dalton property last month.
Commissioners caucus at 4 p.m. and start their regular meeting at 6 p.m. in the County Administration Building, 12 E. Fourth Ave. Both sessions are public.
Today's artwork is by Model Elementary student Victoria Nadu.