Calhoun Times Publisher John Willis dies
John Willis, 63, publisher of the Calhoun Times and editorial page editor of the Rome News-Tribune, died early Tuesday morning at his home in Rome, after being employed by News Publishing Co. for 27 years.
Daughter Molly Willis Lopez said she would always remember her father’s selflessness and thoughtfulness.
“He cared for everybody and always put others first,” Lopez said. “Anything I ever needed from a dad he always provided. He was always there with the little things and took really good care of us in a lot of ways. … but he did that for so many people.”
Willis was born in Osaka, Japan, the son of an Army physician. He was the editor of the student newspaper at Virginia Military Institute. His first job was with the Worcester County Times in Ocean City, Md., where he served as sports editor. He became director of communications at Anderson College in Anderson, S.C., and later came to Rome in the summer of 1985.
Willis started his own public relations firm in Rome, and then became managing editor of the Coosa Valley View, a business publication that was ultimately acquired by News Publishing Co.
He became business editor of the Rome News-Tribune and editor of the Roman Record before being named publisher of the Calhoun Times in May of 2003. He continued to hold that post after being named editorial page director of the Rome News-Tribune.
“John Willis was unquestionably among the best men and newspaper men I have ever known and worked with,” said Rome News-Tribune Publisher Otis Raybon. “He loved his church, family, friends, co-workers and the newspapers and communities they served. His life was one of service.
Away from work, Willis was a longtime volunteer leader of the youth program at First United Methodist Church of Rome. Devon Goddard Smyth, a former youth minister at FUMC, said Willis served with five different youth ministers.
“He was one of the constants for our kids,” Smyth said. “He was a quiet witness to the faith. When he had something to say the room got still to hear what Papa John had to say.”
Though his family, friends and acquaintances were wide reaching, the editorial staff of the Calhoun Times published an editorial expressing their sadness at his passing.
Govignon takes Bailey's seat
After serving many years as the Calhoun City Attorney, William “Bill” Bailey passed away on April 28, 2012 unexpectedly.
Finishing out Bailey’s term as interim city attorney, George Govignon was eventually appointed as the next City Attorney in November 2012.
Members of the city council expressed memories and a fondness they held for the long time city attorney.
“I’ve worked with him (Bailey) ever since I’ve become mayor, and a little before that when I was on the council,” said Palmer. “We worked well together; he will be missed tremendously.”
Mayor Palmer went on to say that Bailey has served both Gordon County and Calhoun for years and was “very beneficial to our city.”
Eddie Peterson, Calhoun City Administrator, said he knew Bailey for over 30 years.
“Bill Bailey was an excellent County and Municipal attorney. After 30 years dealing with local government issues, one might say Bill knew his stuff,” said Peterson. “He was very straight forward and sometimes blunt; he did not suffer fools gladly.”
Peterson added, “Bill’s solid legal handiwork will be with Calhoun for years to come.”
Council member David Hammond said Bailey was a classic example of a Southern lawyer.
“His 30 plus years of practice in government law allowed him to speak with confidence concerning issues that frequently face city and counties,” said Hammond. “Bill felt very comfortable playing the role of either advocate or adversary.”
Bailey was a graduate of the University of Georgia where he earned a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science and a Juris Doctorate in 1971. He was a member of the prestigious Sphinx Society and served his country during the Vietnam era.
Govignon, a student of Bailey’s, was the only local who applied for the position when applications were accepted by the council in November. Govignon started practicing law in 1997 when Bill Bailey took him in under his wing. Govignon said Bailey had been a close family friend.
“It’s an honor to have been appointed, and also to provide service to my adoptive community of 15 years,” Govignon said.
Life without parole in home invasion
Three men were arrested for the shooting death of Jason David Hammond in his home on Union Grove Church Rd in Nov. 2011.
Claude Simpson, Deounta Curtis and Brent Carey were tried for breaking into Hammond’s home, shooting and killing Hammond in front of a woman and child.
Final arguments in the case were heard in October 2012, and two of the three received life sentences in prison.
None of the men confessed to being the shooter. Curtis never made a statement and Carey and Simpson each blamed someone else for pulling the trigger.
Simpson and Curtis were convicted on three counts of felony murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault, weapons violations, two counts of burglary and false imprisonment, resulting in the sentencing of life without parole for both, while Carey received 45 years and was not charged with murder.
Closing arguments by Simpson’s defense attorney implicated Carey as the driving force behind the case, stating Simpson was simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Curtis’ attorney however argued the jury was shown insufficient evidence to implicate his client in the murder, stating there was DNA evidence left untested on a glove.
Body identified as Calhoun Man
An unknown corpse was discovered near Calhoun near Red Bud Road in June, 2012 and due to an advanced state of decomposition, identifying the body was made difficult and time intensive.
The remains of the human body, were eventually identified as Timmy Butler, 36, of Calhoun. Butler’s family reported him missing in late June and identification was made using medical records and physical evidence gathered by Sheriff’s deputies.
Foul play was not considered a factor in Butler’s death at the time.
Gordon County concludes FCC mandated narrow banding
Gordon County began to conclude a yearlong narrow banding project in December 2012, mandated by the Federal Communications Commission.
Using SPLOST dollars to fund the $2.3 million project, the county contracted out Williams Communications to bring Gordon County up to code with the new mandates.
The contract allowed for the construction of one new tower and upgrades to two existing tower sites in the county, to allow the county’s radio system to it up to a megahertz (MHz) measurement.
Due to the narrow banding of frequencies, constructing more towers will create better coverage. This will also allow interoperability between Gordon and surrounding counties so emergency services and authorities may freely communicate with other state agencies without interference.
The upgrades bring promise of being “the most up-to-date and modernized level of digital communication,” as well as an additional avenue of revenue.
County and City law enforcement awarded new fleets
Both the Calhoun City Police Department and the Gordon County Sheriff’s Department were awarded money to purchase a new fleet of patrol vehicles.
For the Calhoun City Police Department, 27 new Dodge Chargers hit the streets of Calhoun in October, 2012, replacing the old black and white Crown Victoria’s, due to heightened operational costs from repairs and general wear and tear.
Using 2011 SPLOST dollars, the Calhoun City Council approved the purchase of the fleet, costing $609,789.87 for all 27 units, as well as an additional $177,153 each for equipment installation, for a grand total of $786,942.87.
The Gordon County Board of Commissioners approved a bid with Parter Ford in Calhoun, in February, for the purchase of 32 new, 2011 Crown Victoria patrol units for the Sheriff’s office.
The total cost was $968,140, including the cost of equipment installation in the new vehicles using inmate labor. The funds to purchase the patrol units were borrowed from the county’s landfill fund until the next SPLOST check arrived, which would replace the funds taken from the landfill.
Amendment One rejection by Gordon voters largest in state
After months of debate over an amendment to allow a third tier of oversight for the implementation of charter schools in the state of Georgia, the debate raged on even though the state’s population majority voted in favor of the change.
In Gordon County, school superintendents from both school systems spoke out in a joint pronouncement of the charter amendment, citing the oversight would be costly and detrimental to a local school system whose decision to either install or decline a charter school application could potentially be trumped.
Additionally, from both sides of the debate have stemmed several lawsuits regarding the amendment. Those against the amendment charged the wording of the ballot question as misleading to voters, as it provided a biased tone in its phrasing. Those for the amendment alleged state educators were allocating tax payer dollars for anti amendment one propaganda.
In the end, Georgia voters approved the amendment with a 58 to 42 percent majority vote, while Gordon County residents strong “no” vote resonated to the tune of 65.23 to 34.77 percent, the largest in the state.
Both superintendents later expressed pride in Gordon County voters for their thorough opposition.
Elections unseat five incumbents up for reelection
Gordon County voters chose to replace five local seats in the November general elections and all were sworn in to begin four year terms in service to the people of Gordon County.
Ricky Silvers will take the seat of Chief Magistrate Judge, after defeating incumbent John Leggett. Four others submitted a bid for the seat including Larry Black, Jason Fuller, Kevin Smith, and lone Democrat Scott Haynes.
Jeff Gazaway took the seat of Judy Bailey, as Gordon County Commissioner for district one; Norris Sexton took the seat of longtime commissioner Alvin Long for district three.
Kevin Cunningham beat out Tom Bledsoe and Sam Jewett for the seat of George “Duck” Townsend, who did not run for reelection for Gordon County Commissioner district five.
Grant Walraven beat out incumbent Brian Brannon for the seat of Clerk of Superior Court after a hard fought win against Jonathan Vaughn and Tommy Greeson, who also fought for the seat.
Sheriff Mitch Ralston will retain his position as Sheriff for an additional four-year term after beating opponent Jim Banks.
In other uncontested local races, Scott Clements will remain as Tax Commissioner, James Carver as Coroner, John R. (Richie) Parker as Probate Court Judge, and Gordon County School Board of Education seats Chris Johnson, Brenda Null, and Scott Williams.
In other election results; for the 14th Congressional district race, Republican, incumbent, Tom Graves remained in his seat after outpolling Democrat Daniel “Danny” Grant; and in the race for House District 5, Republican incumbent John Meadows defeated Democratic challenger Howard Johnson.
Gordon County as well as the entire state of Georgia overwhelmingly voted to elect Republican Presdential candidate Mitt Romney, who ultimately fell to Barack Obama, who will serve a second and final term.
Also, Rosemary Green ran unopposed to take the seat of retiring District Attorney Joe Campbell who served for 20 years on the Cherokee Court Judicial Circuit.
Fairmount under construction receives National Award of Excellence
Fairmount was one of eight schools to the awarded in the state for the Blue Ribbon Award of Excellence for improving excellence.
Chosen from more than 2,000 schools in the state, Principal Kimm Smith traveled to Washington D.C. with Fairmount Teacher of the Year Michelle Parker to receive the prestigious award.
As part of the reward, State Superintendent Dr. John Barge paid a visit to the school and the students who received free ice cream for their accomplishment.
Fairmount Elementary is currently under construction after the more than 100 year old school building and land mark of Gordon County, was demolished due to physical deterioration.
Reconstruction efforts are underway and the new building has been designed to resemble the original, which helped create the school’s motto, “small school, big heart.”
The Fairmount PTA provided blue t-shirts for the faculty, staff and students for Dr. Barge’s visit to the small rural school.
The City of Resaca broke ground in June for the first of a two phase sewerage project, designed to connect the underground workings of Calhoun City with Resaca.
The first phase entailed the installation of 2,000 feet of pipelines in an effort to remove Resaca resdient’s septic tank system, which have caused problems due to the location of the city in a flood plain area.
The cost of the first phase was $500,000 which was funded with SPLOST dollars. The second phase of the project consist of a collection of sewers in the downtown area of Resaca, to be operated and maintained by the City of Calhoun under an “intergovernmental agreement.”
Funding for the second phase is still not confirmed as Resaca has been awarded a grant by the United States Department of Agriculutre (USDA), however the actual amount has not been confirmed. Whatever is not covered by the grant will be funded through a loan.
The city has stated concern over not being able to fund the second phase of the sewerage project with the recent decline in Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) which was renegotiated after the release of the 2010 census numbers.