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Catoosa County manager Alicia Vaughn resigns

On Friday, April 9, the Catoosa County commissioners accepted the resignation from Alicia Vaughn as county manager.

“The board is not at liberty to further discuss this matter, or any personnel matter, beyond the statements made and action taken in today’s public meeting of the board,” the county said in a news release.

“We thank Mrs. Vaughn for her service to the county and wish her all the best in her future endeavors,” the statement said.

County Attorney Chad Young, during Friday’s commissioners’ meeting, told commissioners that Vaughn on Monday, April 5, told some employees she was resigning. Young said she did not present a written or prior notice, turned in her keys and left.

Vaughn became county manager in September 2018.

Prior to that she worked as chief financial officer (CFO) for Whitfield County for six years, had a degree in accounting from the University of Georgia, as well as a wealth of finance experience in government.

Vaughn succeeded Jim Walker, who abruptly resigned in February 2018. He was paid a $54,000 settlement.

Vaughn, when hired, had a severance stipulation in her contract with Catoosa County, as explained to commissioners by County Attorney Chad Young in September 2018 when the county hired Vaughn.

“She (Vaughn) has requested a severance provision only if she’s terminated without cause,” Young told commissioners when they hired Vaughn. “If she does nothing wrong and she comes to work one day and three commissioners decide we don’t want you to be county manager anymore — under those circumstances, yes, she would be entitled to six months severance pay. If she’s terminated for cause, which for cause is, she violates any provision of our personnel policy, violates any provision of the law, fails to do her job or is unable to do her job because of an illness or disability ... any of those things are for cause and she can be terminated without any severance. If she resigns, she’s got to give you 30-days notice and she’s not entitled to any severance.”

Young said Vaughn requested the severance stipulation because she gave up a significant retirement package from her previous employer, Whitfield County, to take the job and would not be eligible for retirement during her first year employed.

“She requested a six-month severance ‘if you send me home without cause’,” Young said.

Young explained that the only real difference in Catoosa’s contract and the previous one with Walker was that Vaughn won’t have a “take home” vehicle allowance.

“There is no vehicle allowance in this one,” Young said. “She’s able to use a county car while she’s here for county business, but not to drive back and forth to home.”

Several hundred turned out Sunday morning, April 4, for an Easter service at the Northwest Georgia Amphitheatre on the Benton Place campus (off Battlefield Parkway) in Ringgold. The event was held by The Gathering (thegatheringcatoosa.com), a Ringgold church at the intersection of Battlefield Parkway and Pine Grove Road.

2021 General Assembly roundup: Elections, police, COVID-19 highlight lawmakers' work in Georgia session

ATLANTA — Elections, pandemic recovery and the echoes of last summer’s protests against police in Georgia dominated a 2021 legislative session marked by bitter divisions between Georgia’s political parties.

The session, which wrapped up Wednesday, March 31, and will return next January, was the General Assembly’s first since the 2020 election cycle upended statewide politics as Democrats notched historic wins and Republicans moved to rewrite dozens of voting laws.

Both sides put off disagreements to largely repeal Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law that had been on the books since the Civil War and helped fuel protests over police brutality and racial injustice that swept the country for months starting last May.

While largely peaceful, those protests boiled over at times in Atlanta with damage done to police cars, businesses and state public-safety offices, ultimately prompting Republican lawmakers to pass a law that places tight limits on how much Georgia cities and counties can cut their local police budgets.

Budgeting was also top of mind for lawmakers this year after they slashed more than $2 billion last year from Georgia schools, troopers, prisons, mental-health and other social services due to the economic slowdown from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Piles of proposals hit a wall as lawmakers closed shop on March 31, leaving many high-profile measures stalled. The casualty list included legislation to legalize online sports betting in Georgia and allow in-person visits between family members and loved ones at hospitals and nursing homes during emergency times like the pandemic.

Those bills that failed to reach Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk this year will have another chance to do so in 2022 for the second half of the two-year term.

Jim Crow or better elections?

Battle lines formed after Democrats claimed victory in the 2020 presidential election and the U.S. Senate runoffs, handing the party key statewide wins for the first time in decades and cementing the idea that years of hard campaigning and demographic changes have shifted voting patterns in their favor.

Republican leaders quickly counter-attacked by holding General Assembly hearings to air former President Donald Trump’s unfounded voter-fraud claims, which laid the groundwork for proposing broad changes to Georgia’s election system in the session.

Ultimately, lawmakers passed a measure along party lines March 25 that adds identification requirements for mail-in voting, confines absentee-ballot drop boxes inside local election offices and polling places and bans non-poll workers from handing out food and drinks to people in line to vote within 150 feet of polling places during elections.

Those changes, along with new rules allowing state election officials to take over poor-performing county election boards, sparked outrage from Democrats and voting-rights advocates who declared voter access for Black and low-income Georgians will be set back worse than at any time since the Jim Crow era.

“After witnessing the GOP gutting of voting rights and inaction on issues like expanding access to health care, Georgia voters are engaged, empowered and know exactly who’s fighting against them,” said U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, who chairs the state Democratic Party. “Georgia Republicans are in for a rude awakening in 2022.”

Republican leaders – from Gov. Brian Kemp to party leaders in both General Assembly chambers to the state’s election chief, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger – have blasted Democrats’ push to frame the election changes as racist acts of voter suppression.

They argue the law changes aim to bolster confidence in Georgia elections and expand voter access, noting the now-enacted bill scraps the state’s controversial signature-verification process for absentee ballots in favor of a voter ID requirement and gives counties the ability to open polls for more hours on weekends during the early-voting period.

“This is not ‘Jim Crow,’” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton. “Nobody is getting lynched for going to vote. Matter of fact, we don’t want 60% to vote – we want 100%. … Stop with the rhetoric.”

Ups and downs for criminal justice

Beyond election issues, Republican and Democratic leaders also sparred over legislation focused on guns, policing and criminal justice – many of which fell by the wayside after rounds of intense debate.

Efforts to loosen rules on interstate gun-carry permits, prosecute violent protesters and create a driver education program on how to interact with police during traffic stops all fell short of final passage amid stern opposition from Democratic leaders.

But Republican lawmakers did push through a measure that blocks most city and county governments from slashing their police budgets by more than 5% over a 5-year span, which opponents called an attempt by state authorities to strip control from local officials over how to police their communities.

Supporters argued the budget limits would help stave off any future moves by local officials to cripple their police forces, pointing out Atlanta and Athens officials nearly joined several cities outside Georgia in shrinking their police budgets after the summer’s heated protests.

Those protests prompted Democratic lawmakers to file dozens of bills on criminal-justice issues this session including more training for officers in de-escalation techniques, bans on using no-knock warrants and choke holds during arrests, a citizen-led review board for officer-involved shootings and legislation outlawing private prisons.

The only proposal to gain bipartisan support and clear the legislature was an overhaul of the citizen’s arrest law, which was scaled back so that only business owners can briefly detain people who commit crimes on their premises, as well as off-duty or out-of-jurisdiction police officers.

The repeal measure came after 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was shot dead in February 2020 while jogging near Brunswick in an encounter with two white men who suspected him of vandalizing a nearby house under construction. The pair claimed they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest.

COVID-19 and the pocketbook

Meanwhile, throughout the bouts of fighting and the stretches of collaboration, the COVID-19 pandemic loomed large over the 2021 session as lawmakers faced twice-weekly infection tests and sought to patch up the state’s $27 billion budget.

Taking cues from the governor, budget drafters in the state Senate and House of Representatives avoided the spending cuts imposed last year that sliced $2.2 billion from state agencies, particularly public schools that receive a huge chunk of annual tax revenues.

Lawmakers hailed Georgia’s economic rebound since the start of the pandemic more than a year ago as fuel to restore budget funding for schools with a mix of state dollars and federal emergency aid – though Democratic lawmakers pushed unsuccessfully to raise new revenues by ditching some lucrative tax breaks and raising the levy on cigarette sales. Instead, lawmakers approved even more tax exemptions.

Democrats’ calls to fully expand Medicaid benefits for low-income Georgians were also blocked by Republicans long opposed to broadening the costly program’s scope, despite a steep jump in eligible recipients amid the pandemic. Lawmakers did pass a bill to automatically enroll some 60,000 Georgia children in Medicaid who already receive food stamps.

Lawmakers also scuttled another attempt to legalize some forms of gambling beyond the Georgia Lottery by shooting down a bill to permit regulated sports betting in the state, pitched as way to raise more funding for the HOPE Scholarship program and need-based scholarships.

Also on the chopping block was a measure that would have given Georgia hospital patients and elderly-care residents isolated by the pandemic a limited window to meet in person with a legal representative or caregiver, who could be a family member. It was gutted before finally stalling on March 31.

The General Assembly next turns its attention to redrawing the boundaries of Georgia’s legislative and congressional districts, marking a Republican-led process that is certain to drum up the same fiery backlash seen from Democrats during the fight over election changes.

Hearings on redistricting are set to take place at the state Capitol in Atlanta sometime this fall or winter.

Catoosa County school board seeking community input for strategic plan

The Catoosa County Board of Education is reviewing and updating the system’s strategic plan. The board values input from parents and community members, so a stakeholder survey is posted on the system’s website (www.catoosa.k12.ga.us) to receive feedback. Stakeholder input will be used to determine priorities, and establish goals and objectives for the school system for the next five years.

Superintendent Reese said, “The board received valuable input from stakeholders on the last strategic plan survey. It is very important for us to understand the community’s priorities and expectations when we are making important decisions for the future.”

The survey will be available until May 3, 2021.

Garden Club members (from left) Bobbie Fant, Roselle Hackler, Gerry Spear, Jeanette Deck and Wynelle Purcell. The photo was taken for Flower Day, when club members would bring flowers and make arrangements for hospital patients.

Ringgold council member Bomar earns GMA certificate

Ringgold City Council member Kelly Bomar received the prestigious Certificate of Achievement from the Harold F. Holtz Municipal Training Institute from the Georgia Municipal Association.

The Harold F. Holtz Municipal Training Institute, a cooperative effort of GMA and the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, provides a nationally recognized series of training opportunities for elected city officials. To receive a Certificate of Achievement, a city official must complete a minimum of 72 units of credit, including at least 36 hours from the required list. The training program consists of a series of more than 50 courses.

“This is an outstanding achievement,” said GMA Executive Director Larry Hanson. “We commend Councilman Kelly Bomar for this accomplishment and for the dedication he’s shown in using this valuable resource to become a more effective city official.”

Kelly added, “As an educator, I understand the importance of education. These classes and training opportunities from GMA are invaluable as we continue to learn and stay current as elected officials.”

Based in Atlanta, GMA is a voluntary, non-profit organization that provides legislative advocacy, research, training, employee benefit and technical consulting services to its 537 member cities.

The Ringgold defense, including Ava Keener (9), Adelyn Tysz (19) and Ava Raby (16), along with keeper Scottie Parton, look to defend a shot by LFO’s Brooklyn Carter. The Lady Tigers rose to the occasion and beat the Lady Warriors in a game that had to be decided with a penalty kick shootout.