24 March 2017

Recapping SPLOST

- TPC -  
24 March '17

Welcome back to the Chronicles, Dear Readers. It's good to be with you once again.

So...SPLOST passed Tuesday night. And it passed in a pretty big way. While not entirely unexpected, it was, nonetheless, a little disappointing. Several folks, including myself, felt like it wasn't in the best interest of the home county, but that's the way it goes. You win some; you lose some. Or, in the case of Yours Truly, you rarely win, but that's okay. It's just the nature of the beast.

Hell, last November I found myself on the double losing side of the presidential election. My guy, Gary Johnson, finished 3rd with only 3% of the vote. Here I am now on the losing side in Newton County's SPLOST election on the sorry end of a 25/75 split. 25% is a huge increase over 3%! That's a win, baby!

And I think of a Beck song:

"I'm a driver, I'm a winner, things are gonna change, I can feel it."
And I also think of the a Steely Dan song: "I am another gentleman loser."
When it's all said and done, it's not rocket science. Basically, it comes down to money. It's the American way. The pro side raised and spent a whole bunch of it. They GOTV (got out the vote). There was nothing like that on the other side. There never is.

Also, and several of the pro-SPLOST folks will actually tell you this, all those pork projects that irritated some of us so much are precisely why this thing passed. These organizations that are getting these funds really put the word out, send out email blasts, and push their people to go vote. And when you always hold this as a special election in the spring,  that's all you have to do to win. Throw out some scraps and spend a little change. And again, that's just the way it goes.

But there is a silver lining. Several have mentioned it. Newton County has no excuses. They got their SPLOST. There should be no way that we will see a tax increase.


We'll see...

As always, we appreciate you reading. 'Til next time.



17 March 2017

Why I'm voting against the 2017 Newton Co. SPLOST

The Piedmont Chronicles 

Howdy, folks. Hope all is well out there. It's been a while since we've conversed in this space, and for that, I apologize. But, what can I say? I think of the old fable about the lady who nurses the snake back to health. I am Marshall McCart, after all, and these are The Piedmont Chronicles. You know who you're dealing with here, right? As I always have during the 7 year life of this blog, I tend to take breaks, but I always seem to forget to put out the proverbial "Gone Fishing" sign. Oh well, it's not like you people are paying for this or anything.

So, SPLOST is upon us once again. Last time around, about six years ago, I wrote an editorial to the Covington News explaining why I wasn't supporting it. This time around and I find myself as a stringer for that publication, and as you may have noticed, they're all for it. And that's fine. That's their prerogative, and I write about music and occasionally,Living Southern, in that publication, not politics. We can agree to disagree.

I have, however, been surprised with a few of the other supporters for this edition of the SPLOST. Namely, Mr. J. Aaron Brooks, but again, that's his prerogative. And truth be told, he's been making some compelling points, as he sometimes does. He is, after all, an economist in addition to being a "local politician," gentleman, and scholar. So, there's that...

It wasn't an easy decision, but I have, just here recently, really, made my decision on this thing. I will not be voting for the 2017 SPLOST. What kept me from making this decision were the monies earmarked for a new Animal Control building. Lord knows we need it; Newton County Animal Control has long been improperly funded, and a new building has been needed for quite some time. This is an issue near and dear to my heart, but I think sometimes you have forego things you may desire in order to make the best decision for the long run. And I think that's where we're at.

As I said on this page several months back, it should have been a better list. And that's not knocking anybody involved with this process. You have to remember that all the leg work for this thing was done last year, when we had a less than ideal situation with our county political structure. If only the SPLOST was coming up for renewal next year, we'd be golden. But that's not the case. Whereas we now have faith and confidence with things regarding the Newton BOC, last year we did not. It is what it is.

What are my problems with this year's SPLOST? Glad you asked. 

A full million for economic development? I'm sorry. Just no. Right at a million for District 2 and 4 projects? Again, I'm sorry, I just can't abide by it. And if we're doing that, why not $500K each for Districts 1, 3 & 5? A million three for the Yellow River Trail? Come on!  And upwards of $15 million for the municipalities of Newton County? Are you kidding me?! There were other issues as well; however, the biggest thing, to me, was the money NOT being spent. Only $1.3 million for solid waste? What?! The biggest drain on the county budget, and they're only going to throw it peanuts? Solving our nightmarish trash woes is the epitome of what SPLOST could AND should be used for. We could easily turn solid waste into at least a zero sum situation with proper funding for projects like gasification, landfill reclamation, methane extraction, etc.,  if not actually realizing a profit - but only with the proper funding and investment.

And that's without going into the amount for debt reduction. A major item of consideration.

But this is the kicker, folks. This thing, SPLOST, is for five years. This is big time, baby! It's for keeps. If we make the wrong decision now, then we're stuck with it. We need to get it right, now.

I will say this: if we vote down the SPLOST on the 21st then it is true that we'd have to wait 12 months, per state law, to do another one. That's been verified, and that's probably been the biggest and most compelling argument for the pro side. It wouldn't be the end of the world, though. This is a multi-year process. Sure, there would be some issues - primarily for the municipalities, and maybe for the county government as well - but it wouldn't be fatal. Solutions could be found. Creative financing could be used to get by. We'll be fine. So, in my estimation, we need to get our heads right and pass a better SPLOST list this time next year. But if we pass this list now, then we're stuck with it. For five years.

I think the wise, prudent and responsible decision is to vote NO on the 2017 SPLOST.

Thank you for your time.

Kind Regards,

Marshall McCart

25 January 2017

[TPC] - Wednesday Night Check-in: Talkin' Trash Edition

- TPC -
~ est. 2010 ~
[State of GA]
[Newton Co.]

[ Updated - see below] - 

Greetings, dear readers, and welcome back to The Chronicles. Hope all is well.

The big item of discussion pertaining to Newton Co. as of late has revolved around trash. Back at the first of the year word hit that the county Solid Waste Authority (SWA) had come up with a solution to solve the trash woes of the home county and a way to solve the approx. $2 million bleeding per year that we've been seeing. That solution was to close the convenience centers and go with mandatory curbside pick up. A Request For Proposal (RFP) was done last year by the SWA to this effect and the accepted bid was tendered by Advanced Disposal. Upon further review, it was obvious that this was not the way to go for Newton (more on that later).

As the first full week of the new year turned into the second week it started to look like this was going to be a done deal; however, the proverbial #NewtonCounty12 kicked into gear and things went from there.

It is in this writer's estimation that the tide was turned by the tireless efforts of many people; however, it was two of the home county's most well known activists - the River Lady and the one and only Samuel Hay, who really led the charge. But the articulation of the case against this was laid out by another activist, Ms. Ann Neuhierl. Here's her letter to the editor to the Covington News from several days ago: 

It has become apparent that the RFP(Q) for Solid Waste RFQP#16-06A was written to prevent the local companies now serving Newton County from being awarded any/all of the contracts for Solid Waste Management. Taken a while to figure this out, but the recent announcement of a “pending contract” (is this an “intent to award”?) has brought this to light. I’ve seen many RFPs written in a “preferential” way. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. The RFP(Q) also doesn’t appear to have been well-advertised. Local haulers have stated they knew nothing about it. Again, just because you are only required to announce in one publication doesn’t mean you should. It’s not even on our County Website.
In this “voluntary” system, will the local companies be prohibited through their “district sub-contract(s)” with ADS from charging their current rates independently and running their current routes? If this is the case, the Centers will be much cheaper and heavily used, again, and the roads will suffer. My cul-de-sac currently has three waste-disposal trucks each week. There are more than three companies servicing the rest of my neighborhood.
Why do we need to increase costs by contracting with ADS or anyone else to set up routes and haulers? Why would those of us who already have curbside pick-up for $14/month want to pay more for the same service? AND when you have a “monopoly” the price doesn’t go down, does it? What time frame will the “agreed upon” fees be held to? How would this cost be controlled? Curbside should be managed by the SWA. If we don’t have the staff, hire it!
Why are we awarding curbside pickup to a company associated others set on bringing a Trash Mountain to our county? DAS also has a horrible environmental record. Are we not interested in working on cleaning up our environmental issues?
Why isn’t recycling part of the RFP(Q) and pending contract(s)? This is key to cleaning up our county. If we included recycling, we could close the centers and stop the financial losses and the road wear associated. What happened to all the talk about following other counties' lead(s) in becoming a zero-landfill county?
Will ADS have the same or a different rate as others for tonnage disposal at our landfill?
Why was a quorum avoided for the Private SWA/BOC meeting Tuesday with ADS and the local haulers? Why are meetings like this being held before any citizen input on the SWA intentions?
The reason so many fought so hard for a SWA was to stop the Trash Mountain and clean up and reduce our landfill. I think SWA members, for the most part, want to head in this direction. Unfortunately, some of the current plans have what could be called “Unintended Consequences” that will not be good for the county...
As it turns out, this RFP was not just for curbside pickup. It was also for operation and control of the landfill, and that, dear readers, seems to be the rub. Once you see that actual RFP, you can tell that this was done by design. A back door way to take over the landfill, or so it seems.

Fortunately for us, cooler, calmer and smarter heads have prevailed, at least for the moment. At the SWA/Newton Co. BOC meeting on Monday the 23rd, Mr. Ronnie Johnston, Mayor of Covington and SWA member, seemed to save the day, according to multiple reports. First, he insisted that citizen comments be added before any vote was taken, and he, seemingly, was the driving force behind making sure that this questionable bill of goods did not turn into a bill of lading. And say what you will about Mr. Mayor, and I've said a few choice words about him over the years, you can't deny the fact that he's got his finger on the pulse of things way more that a lot of folks in position of power around these parts. Simply put - this was bullshit; and he, along with several other folks, at least gave us a chance to steer clear of it. Kudos, also, to Commissioners Cowan and  Edwards. Doesn't it feel nice to have faith and confidence in our BOC? It's been a long time since we could say that, no?

And there's a myriad of other things: 

- possibly putting multiple existing going concerns out of business
- the questionable legalities of a state political subdivision trying to enforce mandatory trash pick up (municipalities are basically like corporations, counties are not)
- the recurring feeling that there may be foxes in the hen house as it relates to these issues within Newton County 
- And what about the logistics of mandatory collection? Hwy 36 would turn into a damn disaster on pickup days!

A solution is out there. Like several others, I think you have to maintain at least some of the convenience centers. Maybe 5, perhaps 7. Mandatory collection? No way!

More to come later... 

Thanks for reading. Til next time.

UPDATE 1.27.16 - I forgot to mention that the local haulers who would have been adversely effected by this change were instrumental in keeping this from becoming a done deal.


08 January 2017

[TPC] - The Story of Millsaps

- TPC -
~ est. 2010 ~
[State of GA]
[Newton Co.]

The Story of Millsaps
Chapters 1 - 13
By TPC Cont. Writer Ellis Millsaps 

*Ed. note (8 January '16): I was originally going to do this in a serial format and had done a post of the first two chapters, but upon further review have decided to do this as just one post. It is a fine piece of work, and very interesting.

*Original Ed. Note: What follows is a familial history that Ellis wrote several years back, much of which was originally published in the Covington News. Most of it centers on his parents, and his father in particular. Enjoy! - MBM 

Chapter One: In Which Doris Gets her Oats

The man Wallace Millsaps, known to thousands as Preacher Millsaps and whom his Appalachian relatives called “Wallus,” was born in the spring of 1909 in a log house built by Millsaps before him on Upper Jack's River in what is now the federally owned Cohutta Wilderness Preserve in Fannin County, near the Tennessee/ Georgia/ North Carolina line.

The spot where the cabin stood is fertile bottom land situated as high above sea level as such land could be in Georgia and is sometimes occupied by a U.S. Forrest Ranger station until miscreant locals burn it down again.

My father's parents Mount Aubrey and Lovey Jane Millsaps. 

His father, Mount Millsaps, and his mother, Lovey Jane, lived on a parcel of land that was part of a 4,000-acre tract of Cherokee Indian land “given” to a Thomas Millsaps by the State of Georgia for his service in the War of 1812.

My father's great-grandmother was a member of that tribe.
The entire Cohutta range was then owned by descendants of the men who had received the original land grants, most of whom were land rich and dirt poor, and almost all of whom lost their land to the government for inability to pay its taxes during the Great Depression.

The boy Wallace's schooling ended at the sixth-grade level because the one-room church that doubled as a school only had six grades.
To go to high school required a 15-mile trip to the hamlet of Epworth and you had to buy your books, both insurmountable obstacles.

He kept attending the sixth grade for a couple of years after he'd graduated to pick up what learning he could – which is not as time consuming as it sounds because the young women the state sent to Jack's River to be schoolmarms never came back to face the mountain winters of Jack's River, once they went home at Christmas.
As a boy, while much of the country was engaging in the excess of the Roaring Twenties, Wallace worked as a shepherd, tending sheep that foraged in the forest, living off of what he could kill and catch, away from home for days at a time, sleeping on the ground.
He wore shoes only in winter. He was 16 years old before he saw a town bigger than a country store doubling as a U.S. Post Office – the town being the county seat of Blue Ridge 18 miles away, the barefoot teen-aged Wallace driving a mule, (who may have been named Doris, and who may have eaten oats) down the circular paths out of the mountains, pulling a wagon load of watermelons to be sold for whatever he could get.

03 January 2017

[TPC] - The Road Ahead

- TPC -
~ est. 2010 ~
[State of GA]
[Newton Co.]

Greetings, you fine and fabulous readers! It's been a while since we've conversed and we've missed you during the holiday break. Hope everyone had a great Christmas and New Year's.

So...now we get to spend the next few weeks trying to remember to write a 7 instead of a 6 on our checks and other documents. How could it possibly be 2017? It just doesn't seem right. Oh well, time marches on, and so do we. 

Newton County Politics

As I write this, the newest edition of the Newton County Board of Commissioners is having their very first meeting at the Historic Courthouse on the Covington Square. There seems to be a widespread sense of optimism throughout the home county, albeit somewhat guarded and cautious. A large and general consensus seems to feel very good about Mr. Stan Edwards being the new Representative from the 1st district. Several feel that he can be the statesman and communicator to put together a voting-majority coalition to finally start getting the hard decisions made and doing the right things while doing things right. A sizable but smaller group feels equally good about Ronnie Cowan bringing his strong intellect and ability for analysis to the table for the greater good of the home county. And more and more, there are good feelings and thoughts about Marcello Banes being a free & independent Chairman of the Board with a strong & genuine desire to help to get this ship in the right direction. 

We'll see... 

What are the most pressing issues for this current board? Hell, what isn't? It's going to be a tough row to hoe and I agree with the words that some have shared in the past few days that they will need at least a little bit of time to get their legs under them. But once that happens - and one would think that this needs to happen sooner rather than later - this board will have a laundry list of items to consider and there will be several tough decisions to be made. What's most pressing? Landfill and the convenience centers? JDA? Additional and more in-depth forensic audits? A move to zero-based budgeting? Streamlining operations and cutting bureaucratic redundancies? The list goes on and on. What's important to you? After all, you, as Citizen and Qualified Elector, are the most important person in this county. You are The People! And you are in charge. You need to talk to your representation. Here's their contact info: 


Marcello Banes, Chairman (Elected/2017)
O: 678.625.1201
M: 404-805-5094
F: 770.784.2007
Stan Edwards – District One (Elected/2017)
O: 678-625-1200
M: 678-294-9166
F: 678.625.1221

Email: asedwards@co.newton.ga.us

Lanier Sims – District Two (Elected/2011)

O: 678.625.1200

M: 404.585.1922
F: 678.625.1221
Email: lsims@co.newton.ga.us

Nancy Schulz – District Three (Elected/2009)

O: 678.625.1200    

M: 770.337.7562

F: 770.784.2014

J.C. Henderson – District Four (Elected/1997)
O: 678.625.1200
M: 770.896.3826
F: 770.784.2014

Ronnie Cowan – District Five (Elected/2017)
O: 678-625-1200
M: 678.313.4607
F: 678.625.1221
Email: rcowan@co.newton.ga.us

In terms of the road ahead for The Piedmont Chronicles, well...we're just going to keep doing what we're doing. An eye on local events, politics, and issues as well coverage of music, the arts, culture, local history, and human interest stories. Ellis Millsaps is still our main (and only) contributing writer, and we might be putting out a few new things and features, too.

I hope this post finds you well and I hope 2017 is the best year yet for all of us.


M.B. McCart 

19 December 2016

[TPC] - Trash Centers to be closed from midday Christmas Eve until Wednesday, December 28th

The Piedmont Chronicles   
~ est. 2010 ~
[State of GA]
[Newton Co.]

Greetings, fine folks.

Well, just like last year, the Newton Co. trash centers will be closed for multiple days during the peak of trash accumulation season. At least this time around, they seem to be trying to give a good bit of notice. Good for them...

They'll be open a half-day on Thursday, December 24th, and won't again reopen until Wednesday, December 28th.

They've put the word out that they'll be investigating any illegal trash dumps at the gates and will be prosecuting. I'm told the fine will be $250.

So for all of you folks who just dropped that $50 for a tag for the right to dump your trash until, technically, February 15th - here's what you need to know:

A lot of governmental entities and some businesses will be closed on Monday, December 26th, but the trash centers get an extra day on top of that to be closed. Why? You'd have to ask Junior Hilliard, Keith Ellis, or the BOC, I suppose. Although, in the spirit of full disclosure, they're really not getting two extra days off as the centers have been closed on Mondays since October 1st of this year. And in the public sector, by golly, they're gonna get that day off even if the holiday falls on a Sunday. We peons in the private sector don't get that, do we? But t
hat's just the way it is. 

And just like last year, I'll have to publicly state my opinion that this seems like a really bad idea. All these people hosting all of these gatherings; all of those packages and wrapping paper. All of that food being cooked and consumed. As previously mentioned, it's the peak of trash production and accumulation of the entire year, and they're going to close it down until Wednesday morning - 90 hours without trash service. What, so 11 people can get an extra day off? Are they even getting paid for that day off? Because I'd almost feel better if they did, but we don't know because we pay the contract holder a set amount and he pays the center operators. Was this a part of the operating agreement? I guess I know what one of my next ORRs will be, perhaps. And on a side note, this money was already budgeted, so if the contract holder isn't paying the operators, this would just be money in their pocket, right? I'd sure like to know the answer to that one...

Regardless, if you're out in the unincorporated areas of the home county, you won't be able to dump your trash from midday Saturday until Wednesday. So, just know that.

If the time has come where you think it's time to do something else, here's a listing of the private trash pickup services that do business in Newton Co:
Republic Services678-221-4087
Peach State Disposal (offers curbside recycling)

14 December 2016

[TPC] - A Follow up on the Jones Co. Property

The Piedmont Chronicles   
~ est. 2010 ~
[State of GA]
[Newton Co.]

(Covington, GA * 12.14.2016) - 

As previously reported by The Chronicles, many questions have been raised about Newton Co.'s purchase of a tract of land in Jones Co., GA for mitigation purposes for the now-defunct Bear Creek Reservoir. This purchase was covered by David Sawyer in his forensic audit of Newton Co. At the time of our last report, we had some of the needed information. Since then, an Open Records Request has been filed and processed, and we now have all of the particulars. Here is what we now know: 
Vis-a-vis the purchase and sales agreement of 24 July 2009:

  • According to Special Stipulation (SS) 22. F, Newton Co. did grant the seller, Southern Vision LLC, and its authorized signor, David Frazier, an option to repurchase the "PROPERTY." 
  • As mentioned in the last write-up, it was stipulated in SS 22. C that the Seller could not remove any standing timber from the "PROPERTY." 
  • This agreement was signed off on by the following: 
    • SELLER: Southern Vision, LLC 
    • BUYER: Newton Co., GA 
        • The Security Bank of Jones Co. 
        • The Security Bank of Bibb Co. 
The closing statement from January 6, 2010 gives us the following information: 

  • The closing agent was J. Scott Pippin and per the contract, the closing attorney was Wm. Thomas Craig.. 
  • The seller's closing costs were $35,221; the buyer's closing costs were $11,589.55
  • Of the $2 million price to purchase, the net proceeds to David Frazier and Southern Vision LLC was $1,475,818.55. Of that amount, $1,475,818.55 was directed to State Bank & Trust; leaving an amount of $0.00 delivered to the seller out of the proceeds. 
  • An non-refundable option payment of $500,000 that was paid in 2009, as specified by the purchase and sales agreement, is listed as a part of the settlement statement; however, that payment - made to the seller, Southern Vision LLC - is not included in the reconciliation of funds for the closing. 
The "ASSIGNMENT OF RIGHTS TO CONSERVATION EASEMENT PROPERTY" agreement from 2014 gives us the following information: 

  • An assignment and modification was made that transfers the rights of repurchase from Southern Vision, LLC to Timbervest Partners III Georgia, LLC, 
  • The deletion of SS 22.C - the removal of standing timber from the "PROPERTY." 
    • Signed off on by: 
      • CONSENT & MODIFICATION: William K. Ellis, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of Newton Co.