It's 2019, and some major government initiatives launched last year will start to take shape in Rome, Floyd County and Cave Spring.
Countywide opioid crisis
A federal judge in Ohio is slated to hear the first of the so-called bellwether suits filed against a dozen or so top opioid manufacturers and distributors.
Rome and Floyd County joined nearby cities and counties in a similar lawsuit, which contends the drugs were heavily marketed as safe and effective when the makers knew they were highly addictive.
"The bellwether cases are the ones the court designated to go to trial. They'll be used as guidance for ours and the others," said Rome attorney Andy Davis, of Brinson, Askew and Berry, et al.
He and local attorney Bob Finnell are among the lawyers representing the North Georgia group, which is seeking to recoup damages that can be used to address the crises in their communities.
Approximately 1,200 lawsuits are part of the multidistrict litigation before U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster in Ohio, Davis said, and another 500 or so are proceeding in different states around the country.
An online community assessment tool unveiled in October shows 68 people in Floyd County died of overdoses between 2012 and 2016. The U.S. Department of Agriculture site puts the county's annual mortality rate at 22.2 per 100,000 people — topping the state's rate of 16.8 and nearly equaling the national rate of 22.5.
Since then, the number of cases has grown and police are all carrying the emergency overdose rescue spray Narcan.
Floyd County Commissioners have said a wide-ranging coalition is needed to combat the epidemic's ripple effect on children, families and the economy. They don't want to wait for the lawsuit to move and have discussed tapping Floyd Against Drugs as the lead agency.
"It's a complex problem," Commissioner Allison Watters said. "It's going to take a concerted effort by government, healthcare, law enforcement, all the providers that touch on mental illness and recovery — and probably beyond that, the faith community and anyone that can help make a difference."
Downtown smoking ban
Rome City Commissioner Craig McDaniel expects to restart hearings this month on a controversial proposal to ban smoking and vaping in the downtown district. McDaniel chairs the city's public safety committee.
A coalition of local healthcare professionals is pushing for the ban, along with supporters who say the smoke offends families. However a number of restaurant owners and retailers contend a prohibition would drive away employees and customers.
Enforcement appears to be a major sticking point, with police saying calls would be low-priority. Business owners are objecting to the stiff penalties that would be levied against them if they fail to stop workers or visitors from violating the law.
City commissioners tabled plans to adopt the ordinance pending further review. However, a number of other new regulations are starting to kick in.
Police Chief Denise Downer McKinney is slated to submit early this year her first quarterly report on an 11 p.m. curfew instituted for unsupervised teens.
The ordinance calls for anyone age 16 and younger to be out of public places and off the streets between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless they're with a custodial adult. The list of banned spots includes parks, parking lots, malls, entertainment venues, school grounds and restaurants.
Exceptions are made for children going to and from school functions, work or other directed activities.
Another new ordinance aimed at controlling public nuisances lets the city seek condemnation of a building or other structure if it’s used more than twice in a six-month period as the site of criminal conduct such as prostitution, drug sales, fights or obstructing pedestrian or vehicle traffic.
Cave Spring revitalization
The Cave Spring City Council is poised to call a vote on the sale of liquor by the drink and on Sundays.
Sandra Lindsey, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, said several investors want to turn a vacant historic building into a distillery, market it for tours and sell the product directly to visitors.
The distillery could sell to licensed distributors with just a state permit but officials like the idea of adding craft brewing to the city's tourism draw. The state sets dates for elections and March 19 would be the earliest.
Work is also expected to get underway in the spring on an estimated $5 million rehabilitation of the city's sewer system and treatment plant.
Consultants with Turnipseed Engineers have been doing video surveys of the failing system and making emergency repairs. Construction is slated to start first on the system itself while the treatment plant modernization plan is being designed.
The city is under an environmental consent order to repair the system or shut it down.
Voters approved a $1,281,000 earmark in the 2017 special purpose, local option sales tax package. The city council also netted a $4.2 million combination grant and loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a $750,000 grant from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
Elections old and new
A spate of state and county elections in 2018 means a number of officials will start new terms this year — and city elections are on the ballot in November.
Terms expire at the end of this year for Cave Spring Mayor Dennis Shoaf and Council members Tom Lindsey and Joyce Mink.
In Rome, up for election this year are the Ward 1 seats held by Commissioners Milton Slack, Bill Irmscher and Sundai Stevenson and the Ward 3 seats occupied by Commissioners Bill Collins, Evie McNiece and Craig McDaniel.
Last year brought nearly back-to-back elections. The May primaries were followed by runoffs several state positions. Then came the November general election, the general election runoff and a special election.
The county's newest elected official is Superior Court Judge Kay Ann Wetherington, who is replacing retired chief judge Tami Colston. Superior Court Judge Billy Sparks and Juvenile Court Judge Greg Price also start new four-year terms.
Floyd County Commissioners Rhonda Wallace, Larry Maxey and Scotty Hancock and county school board members Chip Hood and Tony Daniel also were re-elected to new terms, which run through Dec. 31, 2022.
U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, was re-elected to represent the Northwest Georgia Congressional district and Floyd County's state legislators — Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome; Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome; and Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee — also prevailed at the ballot box.
The special election in December produced the fourth delegate: Rep.-elect Mitchell Scoggins, a Republican from Rydal in Bartow County. He replaces Christian Coomer, who withdrew to accept an appointment to the Georgia Court of Appeals.