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The annual Thanksgiving meal in Rockmart at the Nathan Dean Community Center provided by the Stocks Family is coming up on Saturday, Nov. 16 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The meal is offered up for free, and will include live entertainment throughout the midday event from Inspirational Voices, Men's Passing Through, Marvin Williams, Sharon Whatley, Apostle Trixie Morgan, and more. Those in need will also be able to take home food baskets, clothes, coats and blankets. Toys for children in attendance will also be given out during the meal. God's Loving Angels will be assisting with the annual event. T-shirts will be on sale for $12; contact Floreace Stocks at 678-719-1981 for more information on how to purchase, or how to help put on the annual feast.

Celebrate Recovery meets every Monday night at the First Baptist Church of Rockmart starting with dinner at 6 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. Large Group at 7 p.m. and Small Share Group at 8 p.m.

Cedartown's Christmas parade is coming up on Saturday, Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. on Main Street! This year's theme is "Candy Lane" and entries are being accepted to participate. Visit Cedartowngeorgia.gov to learn more now!

The holiday season is coming up soon for Rockmart's annual Christmas parade, kicking off a weekend of events on the evening on Thursday, December 6 through the downtown square on South Marble Street and ending with the annual Christmas tree lighting. The Unwrap the Joy of Christmas event will continue on Saturday, Dec. 7 and Sunday, Dec. 8 in downtown, including carolers, a Christmas 5K and much more. Check back for more in the weeks to come.

The Cedartown Farmer's Market has a new location and time for the 2019 season. Market-goers are invited to come out to the corner of Ware and South Main Street in Cedartown continuing on Tuesdays from 1 to 5 p.m. Contact Five Cedars Farm to participate at 678-246-1216 to learn more about becoming a vendor.

RCAC has classes for toddlers, children and adults at the Rockmart Cultural Arts Center in drawing, painting, photography, yoga, chorus, piano, whittling, and pottery. For more information, call 770-684-2707 or email rcac@rockmart-ga.gov

Give a child a safe place to go after school and learn valuable lessons about community, life and academics by getting involved in the Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Georgia in Cedartown. Visit their center at 321 E. Queen St., Cedartown from 2:30 to 6 p.m. on weekdays and bring your children ages 5-18 for afternoon activities. For more information on how to participate or volunteer, call our office at 770-749-0869 or email asams@bgcnwga.org.

The Rockmart History Museum on South Marble Street in downtown Rockmart is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and on Saturday 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. The Museum welcomes visitors and group tours. Contact Pat Sampson at 678-764-5201 for information. RHM meetings are held on the first Wednesday of each month and volunteers are welcome and encouraged to take part.

Interested in becoming a Foster or Adoptive Parent? Open your heart to a child in need and find out how you can help. Join others who seek the love of a child every second Tuesday night of each month at 6 p.m. at Polk County Division of Family and Children Services office, 100 County Loop Road in Cedartown. Information sessions explain what is required to become a foster or adoptive parent in Georgia. For more information call Robin Forston at 404-895-6517 or email robin. forston@dhs.ga.gov or call 1-877-210-KIDS. Visit www.fostergeorgia.com for more information.

The Polk County Democratic Committee Meets on the second Saturday of every month at 9:30 a.m. In the "even" months (February, April, June, August, etc.) the organization meets at The Rockmart Library at 316 N. Piedmont Ave., Rockmart and during the "odd" months (January, March, etc.) they meet at the Cedartown Welcome Center, 609 Main St., Cedartown, GA 30125.

The American Legion in Rockmart is hosting their monthly all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner coming up this Wednesday, November 20. Meal of spaghetti, meatballs, garlic toast and salad, $5. They hold dinners on the third Wednesday of every month. Join the group for a good meal and to support veteran and children's programs. The Legion is located at 1 Veterans Circle, Rockmart.

USAPA Pickelball Ambassador Daneen England is holding a free pickleball clinic every Monday (weather permitting) from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Rockmart Tennis courts, located at 436 Hogue Avenue, Rockmart. Loaner paddles and all necessary equipment will be on hand to learn t he sport. This is a free event for anyone and they just need to wear comfortable gym clothes and tennis shoes. Contact England at 770-356-1282, or by email at howardd999@yahoo.com for more information.

The office of Exceptional Students of Polk School District is available to assist with the identification of children with disabilities and provision a free appropriate public education beginning at the age of three through the age of 21. If you suspect your child is experiencing any developmental delay or you suspect your child might have a disability and would like assistance or for more information about services available through Polk School District, contact the PSD Exceptional Student Services office at 770-684-8718.

Lutheran Services of Georgia's Heritage Adoption Program partners with DFCS to find Forever Families for children waiting in Georgia's foster care system. Information Sessions are held on the third Thursday of every month at 6 p.m. at the Rome Office, located at 336 Broad St., Suite 200. Individual sessions may be scheduled to accommodate families as needed. For more email aweaver@lsga.org or call 706-506-0649.

Did you know that nationwide the American Red Cross assists 53 people every 60 seconds during personal and local disasters? Our Northwest Georgia Red Cross Chapter serves Polk County. If you'd like to do some meaningful volunteering, please contact Arthene Bressler at 762-231-9896 and visit our website at www.redcross.org/local/georgia.

Get assistance

Do you think you might be pregnant? You can know for sure. Contact Life Matters Outreach today to schedule a free pregnancy test. You have a right to know all the options available to you. We offer free evidence-based education and resources so that you can make a well-informed decision. The services provided at LMO Pregnancy Care Center are free of charge. Clients are treated with respect and unconditional acceptance. We are here to help YOU. Call 770-748-8911 for more information.

Anna Kresge Memorial United Methodist Church will be sponsoring a clothing bank for children ages infant to 5 years old on the first Thursday of each month beginning in September from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the conference room of One Door Polk in Cedartown. Contact 770-748-6811 for more information on how to donate or participate in the giveaway.

Victory Baptist Church's Bread of Life Food Pantry is now open. One bag of nonperishable food, five items to pick from produce, eggs and milk and two items from frozen meats, breads and others will be available. ID is required. Limit of two IDs per address. Regular hours are Mondays, 1 to 3 p.m.; Tuesdays, 5 to 7 p.m.; and Thursdays, 8 to 10 a.m.

Community Share Ministries is hosting "Hope for the Hungry" on the first Tuesday of every month to provide food assistance to the community. They'll be in town again on Tuesday, June 4. Food is provided free of charge, and no identification is required to get help. Those interested can visit Community Share Ministries Cedartown thrift store at 1116 N. Main St., Cedartown.

The Georgia Legal Services Program's Claire Sherburne will be on hand at One Door Polk in Cedartown every fourth Monday to help those in need with free civil legal services to low-income persons. This will include all cases related to housing, employment, education, domestic violence, consumer fraud, wills, healthcare and other issues involved in the legal complications of everyday life. Call 404-206-5175 for more information.

The Polk County Alzheimer's Caregiver Support group will meet monthly on the first Monday at 11 a.m. at Polk Medical Center. Those interested can join for fellowship and lunch in the cafeteria. For more information call John Giglio at 678-246-8188.

Aragon First United Methodist Church offers a food pantry for the community to use if they need assistance. They are open Mondays from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and Tuesday mornings from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. A picture ID is required to participate. Call 770-684-4855 for more information.

Soup and Savior, a local nonprofit organization, meets from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays to provide needed items to deserving people. This includes a free meal (soup), clothing and gives other assistance. Meetings are held at Glad Tidings, located at 703 Robert L Parks Blvd. in Cedartown. Donations are accepted.

Just Us Ministries Inc. Food Bank has distribution every Tuesday and Thursday at 904 Young Farms Road in Cedartown. On Tuesday the distribution is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to noon. A picture ID is required. For more information call 770-687-1009 or 678-901-3354, email justusmin.org@gmail.com, or visit Justusministries.com.

A caregivers support group meets on the second Monday of each month at 11 a.m. at Rockmart Presbyterian Church. Call 770-684-6289 for more information.

Take back your life and get help. Narconon can help you take steps to overcome addiction in your family. Call today for free for screenings or referrals at 1-800-431-1754.


The Rev. Gilbert Richardson and the Ware's Grove Church family of 200 Potash Road, invite everyone to join the Impact Service held each Sunday at 9:45 a.m., followed by regular worship services at 11:15 a.m. Bible class is held Wednesday nights at 7 p.m.

FMC to merge with Atrium
Floyd County will be freed from backing over $120 million in hospital bonds.

Floyd Health System, the parent corporation of Floyd Polk Medical Center, and North Carolina-based Atrium Health announced plans to merge, but the deal may take up to a year before completion.

In a called meeting early last week, Floyd's board approved the agreement — termed a "strategic combination" — between the two hospital systems.

The approval of the letter of intent approved on Nov. 5 triggers a series of final negotiations to hammer out details in one of the largest business deals ever in Floyd County.

The entire process could take up to a year before it is completed, said FMC

President and CEO Kurt Stuenkel.

"I am a believer in what we're doing here," Stuenkel said. "This is the culmination of, really, a two-year journey for us as we have been examining as an organization what do we need to do to position ourselves to face the future. ... It's time to consider getting bigger."

Atrium's Executive Vice President Carol Lovin said that the health care giant was attracted to FMC because of its culture of caring for the entire community.

"I can assure you they are celebrating up in Charlotte this morning," Lovin said following Tuesday's meeting.

Characterizing the merger as a partnership, Stuenkel said it will function much like how Polk Medical Center and Cherokee Medical Center joined the Floyd Medical Center family. FMC is now joining the Atrium family.

"It is not a sale, it is a joining of our two organizations," Stuenkel said.

The deal

Atrium has a network of nearly 40 hospitals and 900 service delivery locations in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

Floyd Medical Center is owned by the Hospital Authority of Floyd County and leased to Floyd Healthcare Management. Floyd Healthcare Management Inc. will continue to exist and operate as it has in the past.

As part of this deal, the Floyd board will get two new members from Atrium.

"Atrium, in this proposed transaction, has allowed Floyd to maintain a tremendous amount of local governance – which you don't always see in a transaction like this," FMC's lead staff attorney Tommy Manning said. "It will continue to operate in a similar fashion in the future."

Atrium further committed to invest a minimum of $650 million in FMC and its affiliate hospitals in Cedartown and Centre over an 11-year period of time.

It also agreed to invest an estimated $50 million in surplus cash at FMC, along with another $30 million – for a total of $80 million – with Floyd Health Care Foundation at the time the deal is completed. Interest from that $80 million will be used to address health needs related to indigent care and social issues in the region.

"That's a new element in our health system that would not exist had it not been for this journey we've been on the past two years," Stuenkel said.

Part of the terms of the letter of intent include Atrium's commitment to remove Floyd County as a guarantor of all bonded indebtedness at FMC.

"For some in our community that has been an issue; they've been concerned about that. Well, that concern will go away," Stuenkel said.

The county backed $127.5 million in bonds, out of a total of $185 million, for expansion and upgrades to the hospital. As of June 30, the remaining bonded amount was at $123,215,000.

"That's a real big deal," said Floyd County Commissioner Wright Bagby, a member of the Hospital Authority of Floyd County and Floyd Healthcare Management board of directors.

"Our debt will be gone as one of the first items in this thing. They (Atrium) have an even better bond rating than we do as a county. They may substitute them for us or they may put together their own bond package for the debt thing."

According to a 2018 report on mergers nationwide by Kaufman-Hall, healthcare mergers and acquisitions have continued to focus on what they term as "strategic growth."

Hospitals are seeking out partners who bring strong operational capabilities or innovative clinical models to their markets, the report stated.

"We absolutely believe that we can be better by being together," Lovin said. "We know that with size and scale health care systems can be more efficient."

Aside from economies of scale, Lovin said that "economies of skill" are also critical to the deal.

"When we bring the talent of Floyd together with the talent of Atrium, we'll do amazing things. We know we can draw from each others resources," Lovin said.

Going forward

The deal will bring lots of intellectual capital to FMC, Stuenkel said.

"They have the clinical capabilities, the clinical knowledge, the administrative knowledge, economies of scale ... We've chosen a great partner that is going to bring us all of that," Stuenkel said.

All of the executive, physician and employment contracts at Floyd Medical Center will be honored once the deal is completed.

Atrium will also recognize prior service of FMC employees for the purpose of benefit eligibility. Stuenkel, for as long as he remains president and CEO at FMC, will report to the Atrium CEO, as will any successor to Stuenkel.

Atrium has also agreed to maintain and operate the hospitals in Rome, Cedartown and Centre for no less than 10 years.

Last year, Atrium entered into a similar arrangement with Navicent Health in Macon. Navicent operates hospitals in Bibb, Baldwin and Peach counties.

Stuenkel said the question that kept coming up among his leadership team is how the hospital could best position itself for the future in a rapidly changing health care environment.

"Hospitals in Columbus, in Athens, in LaGrange and in Macon have all gone through a similar thought process," Stuenkel said.

"We've joined an industry-leading provider that is doing innovative things ... Even though we're a $500 million organization, we're not as big as others are to access clinical capabilities, administrative knowledge and we've chosen a great partner in Atrium Health that is going to bring us all of that," he said.

Gang leader going back to prison
Will serve 16 more years after smuggling conspiracy unveiled in September

Ronald Paul Jr.

An admitted leader within the Aryan Brotherhood will have to serve a full prison term after his probation was revoked on new charges he was involved in a contraband smuggling scheme at the Polk County Jail.

Ronald "Ronnie" Paul Jr., 25, who was charged in September for his involvement in a contraband smuggling scheme, went before Judge Mark Murphy the Tallapoosa Circuit Superior Court in a probation revocation hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 5. During the hearing, much of the evidence against him in the conspiracy case unearthed by Polk County Sheriff's deputies following an August discovery of drugs and tobacco.

Assistant District Attorney Jaeson Smith said he brought state gang experts into the courtroom and also presented Paul's own voice on phone recordings made at the jail where he admitted his leadership role as a lieutenant in the Aryan Brotherhood as just some of the evidence in a wider jail smuggling conspiracy. Charges in the case in September were filed against David Crider, along with family members and friends including Crystal Bruce, Yvonne Paul, Elaine Van Camp for their involvement in smuggling contraband during an August incident involving a juvenile leaving contraband near dumpsters where inmates had access to the items. Two more ended up being charged in the case for a total of six overall.

Smith said that through deputies in the Sheriff's Office Gang Investigation Unit spending hours going through recordings of phone calls between Paul and others, they were able to determine that he was the head of the smuggling operation, and also his leadership role in the Aryan Brotherhood.

"Ultimately we determined that Ronnie Paul was the one in the jail who was organizing these drops in and around the jail," Smith said. "Paul was the organizer as the true gang enterprise system within the jail."

Some of those drops took place on the highways and were smuggled in via inmate work crews, and others took place at the jail itself sticking contraband through fencing around the property.

"Once we determined when the drops were taking place, investigators were then able to pull surveillance footage and ultimately determine who was working with Ronnie Paul on the outside to make these drops," Smith said.

Paul also was sending money to a relative in a Florida prison through his connections outside of the jail.

Smith said it was just a first step in tackling contraband getting into the Polk County Jail.

"For the time being, we've cut the dragon's head off but we expect it to grow back over time," he said. "We went after the top leader, and we'll continue those efforts."

Paul was back in the Polk County Jail on new charges after he served four years in prison on a 20-year sentence on aggravated assault and criminal trespass and damage to property charges he took a guilty plea on in 2015.

District Attorney Jack Browning said that he hoped the latest development in the smuggling case will give pause to gang members operating within Polk County as law enforcement continues to assert pressure on criminal organizations like the Aryan Brotherhood, the Gangster Disciples and the Ghostface Gang.

"While gangs are not a pervasive problem here in Polk, if we ignore them, they will become one," Browning said. "This case sends a pretty good shot across the bow and sends the message that we know about you, and that we're onto you."

Browning said that support from the executive branch at the state level has given district attorney's offices around the state the confidence to pursue gang-related cases with the knowledge they have support from Governor Brian Kemp.

He added that training resources to tackle growing gang-related crime in Georgia is on the rise, and that the Sheriff's Office Gang Investigation Unit, the Polk County Drug Task Force and other local agencies — including his own — are getting an education on various criminal organizations operating locally and around the state.

Paul's case will go before the grand jury in the coming months. If convicted at trial, he could face an additional 85 years of prison time on charges including use of communication facility in committing or facilitating a felony act, conspiracy to commit a felony, Party to a crime, unlawful for person employ / association with criminal street gang to conduct / participate in criminal activity, unlawful for person to commit offense with intent to obtain / gain criminal street gang status / position, unlawful for person with criminal street gang position to engage / consider criminal street gang and felony gang position.

It was the first case worked by the newly formed Sheriff's Office Gang Investigation Unit. Sheriff Johnny Moats said in a press release about Paul's sentencing he will continue to promote the unit's investigation work.

"As the Sheriff of Polk County, my office will work hard to identify, monitor, and arrest anyone that is involved in any criminal gang. There is no room for criminal gangs in Polk County," he said.

Branch, Ross, Fee and Tanner are winners in the municipal elections
Aragon elects council members, Rockmart a mayor and Cedartown a new commissioner on 2019 ballot

The returns came back fast in Polk County for municipal elections that saw a new commissioner, new mayor and new council member ahead for Cedartown, Rockmart and Aragon.

With less than 1,000 ballots cast in 2019 municipal elections, voters chose Cedartown's Sam Branch to take over a seat on the Commission, Sherman Ross to serve as Mayor of Rockmart, and Buddy Tanner to serve on the Aragon City Council. Council member Judd Fee also retained his seat in a four-candidate race for two seats.

Branch with 164 votes won over Randell Brazier with 80 votes for the seat formerly held by Jordan Hubbard. Branch will be sworn in and take over the remaining time on the seat during the November Cedartown City Commission meeting.

"I'm very excited about the future and what I think we'll be able to do as a City Commission. It's already a great board, and I'm extremely honored to have the opportunity to be a part of that board," Branch said. "I just want to take the time to thank the citizens of Cedartown for trusting in me... This is one of the greatest little cities in Georgia, and we're going to keep it that way."

Branch said one of his first priorities will be to work with recreation and youth after hearing from Cedartown Youth Baseball representatives at the city's recent work session on Nov. 4.

"Every small town tries to do, and this is something that Cedartown has done and we're going to continue to do this: is focus on our youth, our children," he said. "The Cedartown Youth Baseball board has done a phenomenal job with that program, and one thing I want to do is to continue to support that program and take a lot of what they've done and see if we can apply it to our other programs, like softball, football and of course with soccer coming up with that complex being built."

With a 307-115 win, Ross will begin a four year term as the new Mayor of Rockmart in January. He won out 72.75 to 27.25% over WZOT co-owner and Polk School District administrator Mark Lumpkin.

Ross said he was thankful for all those who helped him with his campaign, from stuffing envelopes to placing his signs out in their front yards. He said his win in the race was a team effort.

"I look forward to working with the new council — especially new members — and the department heads to keep Rockmart moving forward in a positive direction," Ross said.

He said one of his first action items coming into office in January will be to gather stakeholders in the community to tackle a growing homeless problem within Rockmart. He seeks to work with Rockmart Police Chief Randy Turner and other organizations like Crossview Community Church, Mosaic Place and more to help with the problem.

"One of the first steps is to help find avenues to put people on the right path," he said. "I look forward to working with several people and groups in the community to make this situation better."

Ross said he wants find ways to help Rockmart's homeless population without having to cause people any additional trouble in their lives.

Over in Aragon, the council will see the return of Fee as well as Tanner after they both took the majority of the 104 votes in the council race. Mike Long Jr. had 12 votes and Gary Shindelbower received 16 votes. Tanner drew in the majority of the low turnout council race with 41 votes, and Fee kept his seat with 35 votes.

Tanner will join the board in January when he is sworn into office to take over the seat being vacated at year's end by Debbie Pittman, who will be the new mayor after seeking the seat without any competition.

Additional uncontested races included the two commission seats in Cedartown held by Dale Tuck and Andrew Carter, and council seats in Rockmart including incumbent Rick Stone, and new council members Marty Robinson and Mike Bradley. Stone keeps his Ward 5 seat on the council, while Bradley replaced Ross without opposition to take on the remaining time on the Ward 4 seat, and Robinson takes over the Ward 2 seat from James Payne, who elected not to run for a new term.

With this year's election over, Polk County polling places will reopen come March for presidential primaries, and then in May for state and local primaries. Next November will also mark the first election utilizing new voting machines within the state.

Inspiration and expectation
Culver celebrates parents, teacher's example as he finishes college degree two decades later

People in Polk County know Chris Culver for his exterminating business and his service on the Board of Education.

Yet back in the late 1990's when he was getting ready to finish his college education and begin down a path that would take him from student teaching in the classroom, life took him in an unexpected direction. He went from a West Georgia student to a young man focused on his career.

His time as a student came full circle in the past 18 months after Culver decided it was finally time to finish his education. Culver stood up during the November Board of Education work session to announce his degree is finished and to present his parents Bob and Joy with a long overdue diploma.

Though the workload wasn't easy between running a business, family life, his service on the board and almost daily assignments to write, Culver said he enjoyed his time as a student again. He even got to study up on the origins of Polk County and gain a greater connection for his hometown.

"The whole education process has always intrigued me. I had great instructors through Liberty University," Culver said. "It was time consuming over the past 18 months, but worth every minute of the process."

He said the last few years on the board working with educators and the experience of teachers and staff continuing their own education provided the inspiration, and the expectation his parents had for him to finish school in years past when he was younger pushed him forward to complete the work.

"I knew that I should do it, I could do it and I wanted to do it," he said. "I also had a lot of help. The educators around me never stopped helping me. Everyone was willing to lend a hand, and there was a group around me that held me accountable."

Culver added that with his own son set to head off to school at Mississippi State for the Fall Semester of 2020, he wanted to set a positive example for his children as they go off to school themselves.

"My kids were able to watch me sit there and finish my education as they are out playing and having fun," he said. "Take it from me, finish college while you're young and have those expectations out of yourself. Dig deep and find a way to come through."

He also hopes his new degree from Liberty University in interdisciplinary studies, focusing on history, philosophy and political science inspires others who dropped out and want to go back and finish their degree to take the steps.

"The educators and administration have inspired me so much, and I'm so honored to be a part of Polk School District," Culver said. "I knew it was time. The time of excuses was over, and there was no sense. It was time to do it and finish it up."

During the work session ceremony, Culver also challenged the rest of the district to continue to live up to the standards of excellence he believes students, teachers and even parents should have for themselves and others.

Culver charged educators during the presentation to "keep inspiring."

"Someone is wathcing and listening. It might be a 45-yearold guy like me," he added.

He added later that "this is something that we need to do in Polk County. Every family member needs to set expectations for their youth. No matter who you are, it makes no difference we need to all have the same expectations. We as the adult community need to hold our children accountable."

Culver was praised by Superintendent Laurie Atkins and fellow board members for his efforts.

Though he won't be returning back to class anytime soon, he does hope to see others take up his lead and hit the books.