The Northwest Georgia Housing Authority has so many irons in the fire that Executive Director Sandra Hudson confessed to her board of directors Wednesday that sometimes it is hard to keep up with everything.
Hudson reported that the deal to convert Highrise One on North Fifth Avenue into a personal care facility and Rental Assistance Demonstration housing should close by the end of May.
"All of the architects plans have been revised," Hudson said.
She reported that efforts are also underway to re-syndicate the Ashland Park Apartments off Broadus Road.
Re-syndication would provide financial support necessary for major upgrades to the apartment complex, which is now being managed by the housing authority.
Hudson also said construction of 66 new units at the Altoview Terrace complex in East Rome between Spring Creek Street and East 14th Street should get underway early this fall.
In the meantime, Randy Lippert reported that two new single-family homes on Maple Street, replacement housing for dilapidated properties that were demolished using Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds, are now about 75% complete.
"Those homes that we're building look fantastic," Chairwoman Lee Hight said. Hudson said that 10 families from the Willingham Village complex in West Rome have already been identified for movement to the new replacement homes that are being developed along the Maple Street corridor over the next several years.
The need for affordable housing remains a major issue in Rome. Melvin Scott reported that the wait list for public housing now numbers 1,063 people. He said the public housing complexes in Rome are all at least 97 percent occupied. The housing authority is allocated 761 Section Eight Housing Choice Vouchers and Scott said 715 of those are currently being used. There is still a need for qualified landlords to participate in the Section Eight program.
Hudson said the authority is looking at ways to tighten the budget in the wake of federal subsidy cuts. One issue that is being looked at is how the authority offers health insurance to its employees. She estimated the authority could save over $100,000 annually with a reduction in the amount of money the authority contributes to employees' dependents health care. The authority currently presently pays 75% of the healthcare insurance for both employees and dependents, however less than a third of the agency's employees participate in the health care program.
Scott also briefed the board on talks he has initiated with the Atlanta Hawks Foundation to develop new playgrounds in both the Rockmart and Rome public housing communities. He said the Hawks have been focused entirely on the immediate Atlanta area but had expressed an interest in branching out. Scott said he hopes to arrange a tour of the Northwest Georgia units for Hawks Foundation personnel soon and wants to showcase how the NWGHA is making an effort to do more than just provide housing.
"We're making an attempt to change lives," Scott said.
Rockmart public housing resident Kristie Tevepaugh was sworn in Wednesday as a new member of the authority, representing tenants in both Rockmart and Rome.
School bus hit head-on
When first responders arrived on the scene of a two-vehicle crash involving a Floyd County school bus they found an oasis of relative calm.
Rome-Floyd Fire Battalion Chief Danny Lee had high praise for the bus driver, saying she kept her focus on her young passengers following the wreck that happened just before 3:30 p.m. on Calhoun Road near June Street.
"The way she handled those kids ... when I got here, she had the numbers for me. Everybody was off the bus and accounted for," Lee said.
Joyce Phillips has been driving a school bus for more than 30 years. She said there are standard procedures to protect the children and she followed them.
"They're all fine," she said, standing under a tree with a clipboard in her hand. "The ones who aren't here have been signed out to their parents or taken to the local hospital to get checked out."
Floyd County Schools Superintendent Jeff Wilson said students were calling their parents on cellphones from the scene immediately after the crash. School officials also called parents and prepared a letter explaining what happened. He said Phillips maintained control, as she was trained to do.
"She did a fantastic job keeping them all together. Teenagers sometimes wander off; they might decide they want to walk home," Wilson said. "But the first thing she did was take care of her kids ... Everything else, we can deal with later."
Wilson said a bus was called to deliver the students whose parents were not readily available, but he noted a few "extra" buses parked nearby. Those drivers came on their own.
"When something like this happens, drivers with empty vehicles will come to see if they can help," he said. "They might be done for the day, but they're like a military unit. They have each others' back."
Georgia State Patrol Tfc. Lee Bowden said 16 students went to the hospital — seven by ambulance, nine by family members — and all of the injuries were minor.
The driver of the 2004 Buick Le Sabre that hit the bus, Mandy Coast, 33, of Rome, and her two young children also were taken by ambulance, he said. She sustained some broken bones, "but nothing life-threatening."
According to Bowden:
Coast was heading north on Calhoun Road when she went into the southbound lane, overcorrected and slid almost into the shoulder on her side of the road.
Then she overcorrected again, "which brought her back into the southbound lane, where she struck the bus headon," he said.
Coast is charged with DUI drugs, failure to maintain a lane and two counts of endangering a child under 14 while DUI.
"These decisions are the hardest to make," Judge Billy Sparks said to Demonte Tywon Penn, who plead guilty Wednesday evening to malice murder of his boyfriend along with possessing a firearm during the commission of a crime.
Sparks had listened to the state's case against Penn, along with comments from family members, defense attorney Sean Lowe and Penn himself. The judge was weighing whether or not to sentence the 27-year-old man to life in prison with the chance of parole.
"No matter what decision I make, I will lose sleep over it," he said.
Sparks said he was satisfied that the killing of 25-yearold Martez Harris was an act that could not be redeemed and sentenced Penn to life in prison without the chance of parole for malice murder and a consecutive five-year sentence for possessing a firearm during a crime.
Before Sparks handed down the sentence, Assistant District Attorney Kevin Salmon walked the court through the state's case and outlined some of the facts of the crime.
On May 23, 2018, Penn went to visit Harris who was living at his aunt's apartment on Tamassee Lane behind the West Rome Walmart.
Penn went there to confront Harris about the nature of their relationship, with Penn accusing Harris of not being faithful to him. The two had an on again off again relationship, with prosecution saying Penn was hoping Harris would come out with him and was hurt when he did not.
Prosecutors said Penn planned to kill Harris and then himself when he went to Tamassee Lane, based on letters and videos Penn told police he made before the events of May 23.
"I cannot allow him to do this to anyone else," and "I hope and pray you get everything that is coming to you," along with profane language, were in both the letters and videos made by Penn. The first letter was addressed to the family of Harris and apologized to the victim's 4-year-old daughter for taking her father away. The second letter was to Penn's family, where he told them he wanted to die with the man he loved.
During the argument between the two men, Penn pulled out his gun, which Lowe later pointed out he had a license for, and tried to get Harris to go for a ride with him. Harris refused and, according to Penn, pulled a knife from the kitchen although the prosecution disputed that detail. Penn fired shots in the apartment which scarred the door frame of the apartment.
Salmon said witnesses in the apartment complex saw Harris run down Tamassee Lane screaming for help with Penn chasing him holding his gun. The two went down a trail which leads to the parking lot of the West Rome Walmart where Penn fatally shot Harris in the back.
"I'm at Walmart, I just killed my boyfriend," a recording of Penn's 911 call said.
Lowe said Penn's actions were done out of overwhelming emotion, things got dark and black and then he realized he was in the woods and Harris was dead. Penn worked as a security guard and regularly carried a firearm, he added. Penn called 911 himself, surrendered to police and cooperated with the investigation, Lowe told the court.
Lowe asked Sparks for a life sentence with a chance of parole. This would have allowed Penn the opportunity to apply for parole in 30 years, and he could have been released from prison on parole around the age of 60.
Penn's mother, Sharice Nelms, told the court her son had been strung along and abused by Harris. "Didn't make what he did right," she said of her son. "They lost their baby. I'm losing mine, too."
Rossunda Kennedy, aunt to Harris and owner of the apartment where the argument began, said the doorframe of her apartment still has a scar from the gun that killed her nephew and it is a daily reminder of what happened. She said Harris had a 4-year-old who doesn't understand why her daddy is gone. Statements from Harris' mother and sister were also read for the court.
Penn was the last one to speak and said the shooting was not supposed to happen.
"It was an argument that went wrong," he said. "I need him to come back to me, come back to his family."
Penn said he wants things to go back to normal but knows things never will. He told Sparks he was not a killer and sorry he could not change anything, but he did not know what else to say.
Wednesday was coincidentally Harris' birthday. He would have been 26.
The Cave Spring City Council is shooting for a July deadline to adopt a revised alcohol control ordinance that includes liquor sales by the package and drink.
"We'd like to have it done within 60 days," Mayor Pro Tem Tom Lindsey said following a Tuesday night work session on a proposed draft.
City Attorney Frank Beacham is using Rome's ordinance as a template. He's also incorporating elements that council members like in other Georgia cities such as Ball Ground, Kennesaw, Dahlonega and Acworth. The work session focused on tailoring the changes to Cave Spring — as it exists and as they'd like to see it develop.
"Cave Spring is not like Rome," Council member Nellie McCain said during a discussion of how close to homes, schools and parks that package stores may be located.
Some of the questions are easy. "No," they answered unanimously when Beacham asked if they want to allow brown-bagging, the practice of patrons bringing their own alcohol to a venue.
Others will take some wrangling with the wording. Council members all said they don't want local motels to put bars in their lobbies. But Sandra Lindsey, director of the Downtown Development Authority, got a positive response when she described "boutique motels with lounges."
The board stalled out at the question of allowing stand-alone bars, with the majority agreeing that serving alcohol without food would not be a good fit for the tiny historic city. However, Council member Joyce Mink noted that Marietta Square has a few upscale places where people can drop in for an exotic drink.
"They're nice places that put a lot of effort into their little drinks," she said. "The drinks are expensive .... but it's something you might do if you just want to relax before you go on to dinner or wherever you're going."
Signage sparked some debate, with the majority wanting to maintain a ban on advertising drinks and drink specials, but several expressed caution about affecting local businesses.
Sandra Lindsey noted that many people don't know the newly renovated Creekside restaurant now sells alcohol. But Council member Charles Jackson said most places have websites with that information.
"Or they could change the name to Creekside Bar and Grill," Council member Nancy Fricks said with a smile. "We'll have all our restaurants named 'bar and grill' in a while."
Plans are to meet at least one more time — perhaps two — to vet the draft ordinance, with Beacham making changes as required. A May 7 session is expected to focus on rules for on-premises consumption.
Council members also are discussing the possibility of visiting some of the nearby downtown districts to see how their provisions work in practice.
Today's artwork is by Elaine Holden, a third-grader at Pepperell Elementary School.