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Church security on the radar

Tim Burkhalter

It's probably not going to happen at your church — but it's important to have a plan. After the most recent mass shooting at a church in Texas in which a gunman killed over two dozen people, churches are beginning to consider security as a topic in worship.

"First, have a plan, have that conversation as a church," Floyd County Chief Deputy Sheriff Tom Caldwell said. "The world we're living in now you have to think about it."

He encourages churches to have a security committee and look at issues such as, when the last time locks to the doors of the church were changed.

"Is your parking lot well lit up at night?" Caldwell said the committee should ask.

"Do you want to allow certain people to have weapons in church? That always generates the most conversation."

The sheriff's office has offered several churches assistance since 2014 and two local churches contacted the sheriff's office for help this week, Caldwell said. Sheriff Tim Burkhalter and his chief deputy attended training at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth on church security even before the massacre of nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June of 2015. Emergency Management Director Tim Herrington told the Floyd County Public Safety Committee that Georgia Emergency Management Agency personnel would be in Rome on Nov. 16. This session with the Local Emergency Planning Committee is designed to offer insight into the Texas church massacre and ways to prevent the repeat of such an incident locally.

Once the local committee gets additional information, Herrington said, his office will be in a better position to respond to requests from local churches for information about how they can beef up their security and develop a plan of response should an incident occur.


Summerville OKs Sunday drink sales
• An ELOST in Polk and a TSPLOST in Walker are among the winners in Northwest Georgia elections.

Summerville voters passed alcohol referendums, approving Sunday package and mixed-drink sales in the city beginning Dec. 17.

Polk, Gordon and Walker counties all approved sales tax packages and Euharlee will be adding four homestead exemptions.

Around the Northwest Georgia region, city and county residents weighed in Tuesday on ballot questions and elected officials. A few have races that are going into runoffs.

Elections officials in neighboring counties provided the following information on how their contests turned out:

Bartow County

Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini was easily returned to office, taking more than 90 percent of the vote over challenger Barbara Jackson. Cary Roth edged out Joey Pogue for the sole contested city council seat, 361 to 339.

Adairsville City Council incumbent Lee Castro won another term with 114 votes to 76 for challenger Lynn Whitt Whitlock.

In Kingston, Louise Young Harris beat Vivian Shaw, 69 to 31, for the Post 4 city council seat.

Voters in the city of White picked Kim Dupree Billue as mayor over David King, 94 to 73. They also filled two at-large city council seats. Incumbent Dennis R. Huskins was returned to office but newcomer Tina Wilhite ousted David Richards. Norman Gary Crisp also ran.

Euharlee elected a mayor from two former city council members. Steve Worthington beat Ron Nesbitt by 25 votes, 175 to 150. More than 90 percent of the voters also checked "yes" to four homestead tax exemptions: for disabled people, those over 65, those over 62 and for the first $10,000 on everyone's home.

Chattooga County

Summerville Mayor Harry Harvey won, 305 to 136, over challenger Christopher Nixon. City Councilmember David Ford's 228 votes returned him to office against Michael Mack, 133, and Betty Brady, 84. Incumbent Buddy Windle beat Bobby Patterson, 262 to 172.

City residents also approved Sunday beer and wine sales at stores and restaurants, 273 to 170, and Sunday mixed-drink sales, 250 to 180.

Trion Mayor Larry Stansell was reelected over Tonya Abernathy, 211 to 129. Jeff Wilson took the council seat from incumbent Michael Casey Brown, 235 to 102. Jeff Maddux won the school board special election outright, with 191 votes compared to 80 for Thomas Venn, 48 for Secret Ingle and 24 for Chris Witt.

Polk County

Polk voters overwhelmingly supported the proposed education local option sales tax package, 2,032 to 611. A second round of construction at Cedartown and Rockmart high schools and sports facility improvements are among the planned projects.

Cedartown voters returned incumbents Matt Foster and Jordan Hubbard to the city commission over challengers Jessica Payton and Patrick McNally.

Rockmart will have a runoff for the board of education seat in which no one took more than 50 percent of the vote. Judy Wiggins, with 42.3 percent, and Chris Culver, with 38.9 percent will vie again Dec. 5. Carolyn Williams was the third candidate.

Gordon County

Just under 8 percent of Gordon County's voters showed up to overwhelmingly pass the proposed special purpose, local option sales tax package. Among the many projects are a fire station in Sugar Valley, an agricultural center, trails, recreation, a dog park and a morgue.

Calhoun City Councilman Matt Barton lost to challenger George Crowley, who took 55 percent of the vote. A Dec. 5 runoff for the other open seat is slated between Alvin Long, who had 35.7 percent, and Ray Denmon, who took 32.4 percent. Ed Moyer also ran.

Resaca also will have a runoff for a town council seat. Frontrunner Michael Austin barely missed an outright win, with 49 percent of the vote. He'll face Randy Barron, who got 30.6 percent. Mitch Reed is out, with just 20.4 percent.

Walker County

Walker County will start collecting a 1-cent transportation sales tax on April 1, 2018. The TSPLOST levy for road projects will run for five years. It won approval from 70 percent of the voters, 2,622 to 1,122.

LaFayette City Council incumbent Beacher Garmany was returned to office over Vic Burgess, 340 to 189.

Chickamauga also re-elected incumbents to three at-large city council seats. Evitte Parrish, with 337 votes, Randall Dalton, with 310, and Don Martin, with 234, were the top-three finishers. Lance Tarvin garnered 200 votes, Doug Cogswell got 129 and James Powell pulled in 91.

Catoosa County

Ringgold City Council member Randall Franks was re-elected and Kelly Bomar ousted Jake Haynes in a four-way race for two at-large seats. Bomar won 209 votes, Franks took 188, Rhonda Bishop Swaney got 167 and Haynes got 146.


TODAY'S YOUNG ARTIST

Today's artwork is by East Central Elementary School third-grader Katie Grace Metzger.


Rome's bald eagles

Coffman is Floyd County Schools Teacher of Year
• Jason Coffman, who teaches at Armuchee Elementary, will represent Floyd County Schools at the statewide competition.

Chip Hood

John Jackson

Jason Coffman has been selected out of 18 other finalists across the Floyd County school system as Teacher of the Year.

The Armuchee Elementary teacher was recognized along with the other finalists during Tuesday night's board of education meeting, though a much more vibrant celebration took place earlier in the day, as Coffman was recognized during an assembly before cheering students.

A video of the celebration was played during the board meeting and shows Coffman jumping for joy and even taking a moment to dance with Superintendent John Jackson.

"We work hard, we play hard," said Jackson.

Though no further dancing was had in the boardroom, Coffman was presented with an award by Board Chairman Chip Hood.

Jackson said each finalist represents the best of Floyd County Schools. Coffman is a graduate of Armuchee High and in his application for the honor said he is a product of the school system, which he works to make a difference for. Coffman will now represent Floyd County Schools at the statewide competition, with the winner being announced this spring.


Gang issue of concern to county leaders prior to RICO prosecution
• At least 15 are now in custody around the state.

Wright Bagby

Bill Shiflett

Tom Caldwell

Floyd County Commissioner Wright Bagby expressed concerns about a potential influx of gang members into the Floyd County Jail when a multijurisdictional Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization case is brought to trial in Rome.

"I hate to have 20 confirmed gang members in our jail at one time," Bagby told members of the Floyd County Public Safety committee.

"It is a mean group," Floyd County Police Chief Bill Shiflett said.

The sheriff's office will take gang affiliation into consideration when placing an inmate in the jail, Chief Deputy Tom Caldwell said. They'll get advice from the district attorney's office with respect to separating the inmates when the case comes to trial. As part of routine, officers attempt to determine whether or not an inmate is a gang member when they're booked at the jail.

"If we have two other confirmed gang members in that same cell block then we might try to put them somewhere else based on that information," Caldwell said.

The jail has 25 cell blocks for men and five for women, each cell block has a number of cells ranging from eight to 32 cells. If needed, they can house inmates in other area county jails, Caldwell said.

After the meeting, District Attorney Leigh Patterson — who has agreed to prosecute the statewide case locally — said she could not comment this early in the case whether or not all 20 of the defendants would come to trial at the same time.

The state revealed the arrest of at least 15 suspects on RICO charges on Nov. 1. Floyd County Police Department Investigator Brandon Robinson said he was unaware if any of the five suspects who were still on the run last week had been arrested.

Across Georgia, 57 agencies across Georgia participated in the investigation that examined 153 commercial burglaries that resulted in the theft of more than $1,190,000 in cash and $161,000 worth of property damage, Shiflett said. The gang used a number of tools to break into convenience stores and other businesses, primarily across North Georgia, over a three-year period of time.

One suspect, Narraton Brooks, 26, of Atlanta, was jailed in Rome on Oct. 26 on a RICO charge related to a smash and grab burglary at 3402 Alabama Highway in October 2016.

The gangs involved in the case are more of a collection of neighborhood gangs rather than a national gang, Robinson said.

Police are aware of some ties among the group to the 4PF gang — which stands for Four Pockets Full — and potential connections to the All 'Bout Money gang and the Fast Money gang.