Rome and Floyd County voters overwhelmingly supported both the SPLOST and ELOST packages in Tuesday's election, where 22.51 percent of the county's 48,691 voters turned out to cast ballots.
The proposals passed in both the city and in the unincorporated area. "This may be historic," said County Commission Chair Rhonda Wallace.
The $63.8 million special purpose, local option sales tax package contains 25 projects, including major repairs to Cave Spring's failing sewer system. An $8 million agricultural center was positioned as a cornerstone of the SPLOST package — along with trails and an expansion of the ECO River Education Center — but there's also funding for roads, heavy equipment, public safety needs and facility improvements.
"The community came together," Wallace said. "Everybody wanted quality of life and everybody supported law enforcement. The people on the (SPLOST Citizens Advisory Committee) worked so hard to put together the right package. We're not going backward, we're going forward."
The SPLOST netted support from 60.73 percent of the voters, passing 6,599 to 4,269. It won in 20 of the 25 precincts — failing only in Armuchee, Floyd Springs, Fosters Mill, Howell and Watters.
The $80 million education local option sales tax passed in all precincts, 7,613 to 3,240, equal to 70.14 percent of the vote.
More than 66 percent of the voters in the unincorporated area supported the ELOST and 75.34 percent voted yes in Rome.
"All of us thought it would pass, but not by that much," said County School Board Chair Chip Hood. "To me, that means the voters really like the things that are going on and they want the best for the children of Floyd County."
The ELOST package contains allocations for both the county and Rome City school systems.
Up to $48.8 million is earmarked for the county system and will go primarily toward modernizing Armuchee High and building a new Pepperell Middle School.
Rome City Schools will get up to $31.2 million for a new Main Elementary.
They'll also restructure North Heights Elementary into a sixth-grade academy and build a multipurpose facility at Rome High with athletic facilities and a college and career academy. Both systems have a second tier of smaller projects that would be done if funding holds out. Funding from the state will be available to supplement ELOST spending. Collections for the 5-year SPLOST and ELOST will start April 1, 2019, the day after the current levies expire.
Four political newcomers will join three incumbents for the next fouryear term of the Rome Board of Education.
These were the top seven vote-getters out of the 15 candidates in Tuesday's city election to fill each seat on the board: Jill Fisher, 2,023 votes; Will Byington, 1,940 votes; John Uldrick, 1,730 votes; Elaina Beeman, 1,645 votes; Faith Collins, 1,644 votes; Dr. Melissa Davis, 1,620 votes; and Alvin Jackson, 1,612 votes. Byington, Beeman and Collins are all incumbents. They will be joined in the new term by newcomers Fisher, Uldrick, Davis and Jackson. Incumbents Richard Dixon and Dale Swann both ran for re-election but failed to land in the top seven in votes. Current board members Cheryl Huffman and Bruce Jones did not run for re-election.
Byington was thankful for all who voted for him and those who helped him campaign, most importantly his wife, he said.
He hated to see Dixon and Swann not get elected, but he is looking forward to working with the new board members to make further progress in making Rome City Schools the best system in the state, he added. It was an exciting, but also overwhelming, moment Fisher said on Tuesday night. It's a big responsibility, she said, but she is anxious to begin. Staying plugged into what's happening at the schools is a major focus — something made a little bit easier with a child each in elementary, middle and high school.
"I just want to serve and do what's right for our schools," she said. Beeman said the best is yet to come for the school system, which will move forward on carrying out the projects to be funded by an extension of the 1-cent education local option sales tax. With new board members coming on, she said the bottom line is they all have to be on the same page moving forward in doing what's best for the kids. Campaigning is a grueling and tiring task, Uldrick said, and he is happy to have his first shot at it finished. He said he was overwhelmed by the number of people who encouraged and supported his campaign. A steep learning process awaits him, he said. Uldrick said he has no agenda or axe to grind; he just wants to bring a new perspective.
The message of a poem kept playing in Collins' mind on Election Day. It was that the difference she brings to the board can be a great deal of difference in the long run, she said.
"My passion for Rome City Schools is first class," she said.
Davis said she looks to build relationships and wants to get into the schools and frequent the central office to establish a relational foundation before her term starts in January. Finding out what teachers need and providing them more support is an aim of hers, she said.
"Good outcomes come when people stand with other people," she said.
Jackson said board members will have disagreements, but those can't get in the way of the responsibility they have — to not only make things better for students but the community at-large. That starts with them working together and having greater community involvement, Jackson said, while seeking further input from all stakeholders.
He aims to dig into the mechanics, policies and procedures of the board as part of coming into his new role.
In about three weeks an orientation will be held for new board members, Collins said, and they should be ready to roll after that point.
The Rome City Commission and Cave Spring City Council will each be getting a new member in January following elections in the two municipalities Tuesday.
Randy Quick was one of the three top vote-getters in Rome's Ward 2 race, along with Mayor Jamie Doss and Commissioner Wendy Davis, according to unofficial results from the Floyd County Elections Office. They beat out incumbent Sue Lee and challengers Bill Kerestes and Monica Sheppard for the three open seats.
In Cave Spring, incumbent Councilwoman Nellie McCain held her post against political newcomer Marly Peals, 133 to 94, according to Elections Supervisor Judy Dickinson.
Nancy Fricks won over Linde Wentz, 122 to 102, for the seat being vacated by Councilmember Mike Ragland; and Councilmember Charles Jackson, who was unopposed for a full four-year term, drew 188 votes.
In Rome, Doss again pulled in the most votes, 2,451, which gave him 23.58 percent of the total cast. He's been on the commission since 1993.
"I'm honored to have such wonderful support," he said. "We have a lot of devoted employees and citizens, and I look forward to a great future."
The mayor also issued a challenge to all the candidates.
"Let's see who can get their signs down first," he said.
Davis came in second, with 2,035 votes, equal to 19.57 percent of the vote divided among six candidates. She also took the second-highest number of votes in her first election, in 2013.
"I'm delighted the people of Rome decided to re-elect me for a second term," she said. "I'm excited about the progress we're making over in the River District and keeping downtown Rome thriving. I'm looking forward to getting back to work."
Quick, a partner and general manager with Rome Radio Partners LLC, is a political newcomer. He pulled in 1,932 votes, 18.58 percent. "I'm deeply humbled by the number of votes I got," he said. "I look forward to the next four years and the opportunity to be a part of Rome's wonderful future."
Lee, who was first elected in 2009, was off the campaign trail for several months with a broken foot. She won 1,650 votes. First-time campaigners Sheppard and Kerestes took 1,449 votes and 846 votes respectively.
Rome police are investigating the Shorter University director of campus safety's complaint of sexual harassment and ongoing harassment by her supervisor after she reported the behavior to the school at least twice. According to a Rome Police Department report: Paula Penson, the director of campus safety, reported to Rome police that her direct supervisor, Corey Humphries, had been harassing her since late July. They, among others at the school, worked out in the gym at that time and, she stated, Humphries began to be flirtatious with her.
She told police she attempted to ignore the flirtation until Humphries became very "handsy" and touched her "inner thighs and private area" with his hands. She told police she immediately told Humphries to stop and left the gym.
From that point, she said, Humphries did not put his hands on her but began verbally harassing her. She told police that on several occasions he called her into his office by herself and asked her why she would not work out with him anymore.
In October, she filed a verbal complaint with Shorter University human resources and had a meeting with Humphries. But, she said, he continued to harass her the next day.
University spokeswoman Dawn Tolbert said school officials launched their own investigation when Penson first made the allegations and it remains ongoing. She declined to comment further on the charges.
"Shorter followed its standard policy, which is to initiate an investigation and to separate the employees involved. ... When the investigation is complete, Shorter will take any appropriate action," Tolbert said in an emailed statement Tuesday.
Penson told police she attempted to speak with the president of the university and he had an attorney take over the investigation.
According to Penson, it is standard procedure at the school for a person with a harassment complaint to be placed on leave until the investigation is complete. Humphries, she told police, is still at the school.
On Oct. 25, Penson filed a written complaint with the human resources department. At that point she said Humphries "suddenly began to be very callous towards her and had an attitude and demeanor that he might physically harm her." She also stated that he carries a firearm.
Police also spoke with the Assistant Director of Campus Safety James Hall, who said he had observed Humphries rub Penson's shoulders and play with her hair, as well as pick her up. Hall said she requested that he go with her wherever she went on campus for her safety.
Hall also told police he observed Humphries' demeanor "shift to a very negative view toward Ms. Penson" and that Hall was fearful that Humphries might harm Penson.
Humphries declined to comment Tuesday and Penson did not return a call.
Penson was hired as campus safety director at Shorter in 2010 and prior to that was employed by the Floyd County Sheriff's Office as a deputy sheriff.
Humphries came to Shorter from Charleston Southern University in 2012 where he served as assistant dean of campus life.
Today's artwork is by Gilberto Reyes, a fourth-grader at Alto Park Elementary School.