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Floyd BOE OKs principal hire
• The Floyd County Board of Education also goes ahead in adding four more police officers for school security.

Suzie Henderson

John Jackson, Floyd County Schools superintendent

The Floyd County Board of Education Tuesday night approved Suzie Henderson to be the next principal at Alto Park Elementary, as well as making the move to add four police officers to enhance school security.

Suzie Henderson is the current assistant principal at Pepperell Elementary and, in 2009, was named the Floyd County Schools' Teacher of the Year. She will take over the principal position April 1 and replace the retiring Angela Brock.

Following a meeting with Floyd County law enforcement and public safety officials Friday, the board went with their recommendation to add four offduty officers for the rest of the school year at an additional cost of approximately $52,000.

Each of the Floyd County school system's four districts — Pepperell, Model, Coosa and Armuchee — will be provided with an extra police officer in addition to the school resource officers that they already have.

This is seen as a tangible move to enhance security and increase a police presence at schools other than predominantly at the system's high schools.

"What we're basically doing with this plan is buying time," to explore further options, including developing the system's own police force under the recommendation of law enforcement, said Superintendent John Jackson.

Another option was adding an officer for each school for the rest of the school year at an estimated cost of approximately $211,200.

However, there are not enough current Floyd County officers or deputies to meet this end.

Jackson said the system will "immediately" be in contact with local law enforcement officials to set up the training necessary to get these off-duty officers in schools as soon as possible.

The system is also creating a subcommittee of the Local School Coordinating Council, a system-wide collective of representatives of each Local School Governance Team, to focus on school security. Additionally, a checklist with over 15 items has been compiled to measure school security at each school.

The board will have a called meeting March 13 at 8 a.m. to further discuss school security measures.

Also the system will not have students make up four days they missed due to inclement weather — two additional days were already added last month to make up for the loss of instruction time.


Races ready for inaugural running
• Several trainers are expecting good competition.

The first Georgia Steeplechase is slated to bring thoroughbreds from all over the country to Kingston Downs one month from today. The Georgia Steeplechase is touted as the successor to the Atlanta Steeplechase, which folded last year after a 52-year run.

Bill Gallo, director of racing for the National Steeplechase Association, said that when a new group led by Anthony Scott-Hobbs came to the NSA to seek sanctioning for the Georgia Steeplechase, the process was relatively easy.

"It was on an established race course which is beautifully maintained," Gallo said. "They very quickly got all of their ducks in a row and sanctioning was granted by our board of directors."

Scott-Hobbs said five races are planned for the day, along with all the usual activities that fans have grown accustomed to including the Jack Russell dog races, the women's hat contest and more. However, Scott-Hobbs is looking to put more attention on the jumping-horse segment of the racing industry than the party.

Jack Fisher, one of the top trainers in the sport, said he would be bringing four or five horses to the event. "I love coming to Georgia, that's a beautiful course," Fisher said from his base in Monkton, Maryland. "I think they'll have more horses this year than they've had in years past, a lot more."

Fisher said he would be bringing Marleen, an Irish-bred jumper in the Filly/Mare maiden race, With Rhythm in an allowance race and Barhanpour, a French-bred horse in the maiden race.

Gallo said when the Scott-Hobbs led group first requested sanctioning for the event, the NSA suggested they move the date up a couple of weeks so as not to compete with a long-established race in Middleburg, Virginia.

"That took a lot of horses from them," Fisher said.

Trainer Richard Valentine, who spoke from the back of a horse on a farm in The Plains, Virginia, Tuesday, said he was looking to bring a couple of horses to the Georgia Steeplechase and was looking forward to working with the new group that is operating the races.

"I don't know which horses we'll bring yet," Valentine said. "It may be a maiden claimer or a ratings horse."

Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard, of West Grover, Pennsylvania, said he would be shipping several horses to Kingston Downs from his spring training base in Camden, South Carolina, but had not decided on the specific horses yet.

"I'm very excited about the date and it is typically one of the best tracks that we race on," Sheppard said.

"The Carolina Cup has expanded their meet so that's going to bring most of the big stables down a little bit earlier than they normally would have, and I have a feeling it's going to be quite positive for the Georgia Steeplechase."

Gallo said the purses attract the top horses and Scott-Hobbs said the Georgia Steeplechase was offering $100,000 in prize money. "Most of the horses come from Maryland or Virginia, so it's a long ship," Gallo said.

Fisher estimated that it costs a minimum of $2,000 to ship a horse as well as support personnel to the event between Rome and Cartersville.

Tickets for the event, as low as $40 with a parking pass, are available online at www.georgiasteeplechase.org.


'Be thou strong and very courageous'

County boosts pay for child guardians
• Commissioners also discuss management of the Forum and a tax audit at their annual planning retreat.

The Floyd County Commission approved Tuesday an immediate $10,000 increase in the pay for guardians ad litem — lawyers assigned to Juvenile Court who protect the interests of children in foster care.

Commissioners also extended Safari Hospitality's contract to manage the Forum River Center and agreed to audit the collection of local hotel/motel taxes.

Starting salary for a guardian ad litem went to $55,000 from $45,000, after Judge Greg Price said he can't keep his two positions filled. State law requires they be bar-certified attorneys and starting pay in the Atlanta metro area ranges from $49,000 to $159,000 a year.

"They work hard while they're here, but they're constantly looking for another job," County Manager Jamie McCord told the board.

Commission Chair Rhonda Wallace asked for a study on the possibility of a further increase or longevity bonuses but Price "needs something now," she said.

"We thought there might be some retired attorneys or judges to do this, but the pay is just too low," Wallace added.

Displacement and the travel time is a major issue, McCord explained.

Each child in foster care must get at least two face-to-face visits a year with a guardian ad litem.

However, Floyd County Juvenile Court oversees more than 300 local children and, due to the shortage of foster parents, as many as a quarter of them are sent to live outside the county.

"If the kids were all placed in Floyd County it could be OK, but they're spread out all over the state," McCord said.

Board members planned to talk with the state legislative delegation about loosening the requirement to perform guardian ad litem duties. Commissioner Allison Watters said that volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates "from all walks of life" already undergo extensive training to assist abused and neglected children.

"Even a social worker might be a better choice," Commissioner Wright Bagby added.

Commissioners also approved an audit of local hotels and other establishments that are — or should be — collecting hotel/motel taxes.

"Like Airbnbs," McCord said. "Some of those people don't even know they have to, but it's state law. It's an occupancy thing."

The board also agreed to a 12-month extension of the contract with Safari Hospitality to manage the Forum. McCord said the facility has been closed for remodeling during part of the original contract and "I'd like to see them have the opportunity to operate with the Marriott open."

The Courtyard by Marriott, slated to open later this month across the river on West Third Street, is expected to draw a variety of conventions and conferences that could use the Forum. Bagby said the link from the hotel to the levee and Chief John Ross Memorial Bridge is key to a successful partnership.

"I feel very strongly that they shouldn't get a (certificate of occupancy) without that," Bagby said about the hotel.


Cotton gets life for armed robbery
• The inmate who escaped from the courthouse last year is sentenced under the state recidivist statute.

Dustin Earl Cotton will serve life in prison on charges stemming from a January 2017 armed robbery at a gas station — effectively a life without parole sentence because of his previous felony convictions.

The 27-year-old had five prior felony convictions, all in Floyd County, before this case, Assistant District Attorney John McClellan said in Floyd County Superior Court on Tuesday.

The most recent came in October 2017 when he was sentenced to 10 years on escape charges, which he pled guilty to, for slipping his leg cuffs and running from the courthouse earlier last year.

The daylong hunt ended the night of May 8 when law enforcement officials pulled him out of the Etowah River around 10 p.m.

Judge Billy Sparks sentenced Cotton to life on an armed robbery charge under Georgia's recidivist statute which does not allow for the option of parole. He was also found guilty on charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault, hijacking a vehicle, as well as theft and stalking charges.

"His past might have caught up with him a little bit," said Assistant Floyd County Public Defender Jonathan Speiser.

According to McClellan:

Cotton followed a nurse who worked at a nearby nursing home to a Marathon gas station at 2918 Martha Berry Highway on Jan. 30, 2017.

"He got out and put a gun to her head and said 'Don't scream or I'll shoot you,'" McClellan said during the trial last month.

While holding a .32-caliber revolver to her head, Cotton tried to get her into her 2002 Dodge Ram. When he could not get her inside, he fled in the truck, prompting a police chase that eventually ended in Adairsville.

If the robbery would have been in the sight of the store clerk, a confrontation or possibly a shooting could have taken place, McClellan said.

"This is a very serious crime," McClellan said Tuesday. "This could have been deadly for a lot of people involved."

Cotton also hit over 90 mph during the chase, running a red light and speeding through work zones, while endangering others, McClellan continued.

In an impact statement, which was read into the record, the victim claims the incident has left her with paranoia, which arises as she leaves work and she looks around her, eyeing cars behind her that could be following her.

Sparks also ordered Cotton to pay $3,881 in restitution to his victim. Cotton blew out the engine during the chase. However, the judge admitted he did not know how Cotton would pay this amount back while in prison.


TODAY'S YOUNG ARTIST

Today's art is by Model firstgrader Amelia Abernathy.