09 December 2017

[TPC] - Wm Thomas Craig on pace to make upwards of half a MILLION dollars from Newton Co. this year?

[State of GA]
[Newton Co.]

(Covington, GA * 9 December '17) - Greetings.

Based on our information, The Chronicles can report the following:

Wm Thomas Craig, Esquire, though fired as legal counsel for the Newton County Board of Commissioners some two years ago, is on track to make hundreds of thousands of dollars for fiscal year 2018, paid for by the taxpayers of Newton Co.

How is this possible? While the Newton BOC is no longer using Craig for legal services, the Sheriff of Newton Co., Ezell Brown, is.

Also, ever since Craig was relieved of his duties by the Board, a very concerning trend with the legal costs of the NCSO has been occurring. Take a look at these escalating legal expenses of the Newton Co. Sheriff's office:

  • $24,841 for legal services in FY (fiscal year) 2015
  • $88,078 in FY 2016
  • $280,092 in FY 2017
If that isn't bothersome enough, based on data we have in our possession, it looks as though Craig is on track to get paid approx. $400,000 in FY 2018. But if we look at the rate of appreciation of Craig's legal fees over the past three years, then that would put the amount at more like ONE MILLION DOLLARS (calculated by deriving an average rate of appreciation over the last two cycles and applying that rate to FY 2017's expenditure)!!!

Of particular concern is an invoice from Craig that shows 78.75 billable hours for an amount approaching $20,000 for a 13-day period in July of this year. I'm not even sure if that's possible.


Jeez...good work if you can get it, huh? But seriously, this really looks bad. One might easily assume that this is the Sheriff's way of trying to help Craig financially. If you think about it, that fella has lost out on a couple million dollars worth of revenue from Newton Co over the last two years. Also, no more water consulting fees from Bear Creek, nor from some of his other projects in which he was terminated. We assume he's no longer being paid "consulting" fees from the Landfill. That's probably something to check on.

All of this begs the question - Why? What is really the "why" here? It just doesn't make sense...

In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll admit that I haven't reached out to Sheriff Brown for his side of the story. I plan on doing that next week. But I felt like this really needed to be put in the public discourse now. Also, for the record, I've always liked Ezell. He seems like a nice guy & I think he's been a pretty good Sheriff. But if these legal expenses are accurate, and I believe them to be (otherwise I wouldn't have gone to press), then the Citizens of Newton Co. deserve some answers.

So long for now, until we meet again.

M.B. McCart
Public Advocate 

04 December 2017

[TPC] - Alcovy Telegraph: Odds & Ends; Miscellany + What-not

The Alcovy Telegraph

[State of GA]
[Newton Co.]

(North C-town Representin' * 4 December '17) - Greetings & Salutations, Covingtonians, Newtonians & everyone else. Glad to be with you today & hope it's been a great day for you. December 4th. Three weeks exactly until Christmas. My Dad always told me that time would speed up the older I got and like many other things - he was right on the money on that one.

Another week in the books and, per usual, it had its highs & lows, but as always - it was our week, and that makes it a great week.

So, what's been happening here lately?

  • On the personal tip, I was made aware by its news editor, Jackie Guknecht, that the Covington News had made a decision "to end the relationship" with Yours Truly. Yeah, I know, so sad. Poor ole Marshall...But seriously, as I've mentioned to a few folks over the years, it'd always been a dream for me to write for that publication ever since I was a pretty young fella. I had the opportunity to do that for almost two years, and it was pretty great. Besides, if I'm being honest here, it just wasn't the same after Mrs. GM left (and after they did away with the funny papers) and really - my heart just wasn't in it anymore. If I was going to do it, I would want to do it like I'd been doing it: regular weekly columns with my monthly Esoteric South pieces. There were budgetary issues involved, and the news business it pretty dang tough these days. I harbor no ill feelings towards The News or any of its employees, management or ownership. And I appreciate the folks who've let me know how much they missed my stuff. 
    • In light of these recent developments I actually considered the idea of going to the dark side - The Newton Citizen, but I just couldn't envision that. 
    • I've had some discussions with a few folks about the possibility of a print edition of The Chronicles. And that is something I'm considering. I've talked to a few folks who would like to be involved and have even had some discussions with a couple of possible investors. If I was going to do it - it'd have to be 110%, totally legit & properly capitalized. At least two editions per week & and an actual office/HQ to meet the requirements to become the legal organ of Newton Co. Once we had that type of revenue, we could really maybe accomplish some things. I think my chances of getting the vote of the three county Constitutional officers needed is a possible one. 
    • But then again, why would anybody want to get into the "real" news business. Lots of overhead; printing costs are outrageous. Perhaps spending a little more w/ my little online version and trying to incorporate some local advertising to complement my Google ads might be the way to go. IDK. Send out a smoke signal or slide me an email to give me your thoughts...
  • The Rec Commission. What a weird situation. Seems like a lot of folks are in scaredy cat/walking-on-egg shells mode. I actually had people reaching out to me after they found out I was working on covering this story to tell me, in one case, "tread lightly...you need to be careful with this one." Dafuq? Well, that's never stopped me before and it sure as hell wasn't going to this time. Truth be told, I've kind of secretly been hoping for someone to sue me for as long as I can remember. I'd raise a defense fund. I'd represent myself, naturally, and bring in some co-counsel and some consults. I just think it'd be exciting. But as I always strive to do, I think I word things and present my information in a way to avoid finding myself in an actionable position. 
    • So...anybody know what's going on with that? I finally heard back from the Newton Co. HR director with a whole bunch of nothing. 
    • I just don't get it...
  • I greatly enjoyed Larry McSwain's well-written letter to the editor of The Citizen talking about the lack of action taken on last year's $300,000 audit that showed major problems and issues. He's absolutely right. This current edition of the Newton Co. BOC is almost a full year in. I understand and appreciate that the previous edition of the Board left things in battered tatters and there were immediate things that had to be addressed by the current group, but I'm starting to get this all-too-familiar feeling that things are not going as they should. I'm willing to give this crew another three months or so; however, if they're not able to start getting some serious things done then I'm of the opinion that'll be time to turn on 'em like we did the last time. All I can really see right now is that we've swapped one million dollar county attorney for another.
  • Tomorrow I'm hopefully having at least two meetings/interviews on the JDA of the four counties. I hope to have my 1st installment of my investigative report on Stanton Springs by Wednesday. So keep an eye out for that. And, if all goes well, look for something on the Hospital Authority next week.
Okay for now, friends. Lord willin' & if the Creek don't rise, we'll see you next time.

- MBM 

30 November 2017

[TPC] - Newton Co. Recreation Department: What's Going On?

[State of GA]
[Newton Co.]

(Covington * 11/30/17) - Greetings, readers, and hope all is well out there.

The Newton Co. Rec Department has long been a subject of discussion and conjecture by many over the years.

Last year's forensic audit found some concerning issues with this organization. But (and I'm still not 100% clear on this, and I'm not sure if anyone else is) those issues were either okay per the regulations & procedures of the organization, or since they were not expressly prohibited, then nothing could really be done.

Regardless, it is our understanding that a concerted effort had been made by the Board of Directors of the Rec Commission to try to improve things within that department.

This much we know:

It is a matter of public record that Anthony Avery, Director of Newton Co. Recreation, was terminated by the Commission Board at their meeting Monday night.

But then there began to be mentions that this was not the case, and that Avery was actually on paid administrative leave and that this was now in the hands of the Human Resources department of Newton Co., the county attorney, and the Newton BOC.

Multiple calls to Newton Co. HR have not been returned. "No Comment" from Newton Co. Recreation. So...who knows?

The Newton BOC has a special called meeting today at 4:30 at the Historic Courthouse. They will most likely immediately go into executive session to talk about this. Question. What involvement would the BOC have with any of this? I don't get that. Is this not under the purview of the Board of the Recreation Commission? Speaking of them, they're meeting at 6PM.

A concern, as we understand it, seems to center around the fact that Avery is considered a civil servant as opposed to an at-will employee. That's a key distinction and there are different rules and procedures involved & questions about whether or not the termination was done properly in accordance with the aforementioned rules.

So apparently there are concerns of potential legal issues.

Days of our Lives, Newton edition, once again.

It sounds like this could become an issue, and that maybe the only winner in all of this would be the billable hours for our current million dollar county attorney (not to be confused with our former million dollar county attorney), and perhaps a possible settlement package for the former, suspended (?) director.

But perhaps a silver lining to all of this could be that finally there will be a consensus to move all county employees to an at-will basis. That certainly needs to be done in this writer's estimation.

One last thing. Regardless of what happens, this should be the responsibility, financially or otherwise, of the Recreation Department. They do, after all, have a budget approaching $2 million.

We'll keep an eye on it.

29 November 2017

[TPC] - Words & Expressions Currently In Vogue That Drive Me to Distraction: A Piece by Ellis Millsaps

Sometime back, maybe 10 years ago, maybe 20 (the older I get, the harder it is to say how long ago something happened. I'm not in school; my kids are grown. I've lost my reference points), I wrote a piece for the Covington News entitled, "Words and Expressions I Don't Care to Hear Next Year," or something like that. It must have been at some year's end. Maybe Marshall can reference it for you with one of those 21st Century click-on things (ed.note: I tried but couldn't find a link for it).

I wrote about linguistic trends then annoying me. I probably harped about servers commanding me to "enjoy." I definitely ranted about the substitution of "utilize" to mean simply the time-honored little Anglo-Saxon word "use," but seemingly meant to convey a techno-scientific expertise on the utilizer's part.

"Utilize" is still excruciatingly with us, but thank god some annoying usage trends fade away. For example, maybe twenty years ago, at any rate - whenever,  the "Valley Girl" trend prevailed and many young people, especially females, interspersed their dialogue with the pointless word "like," as in, "I'm all like what, and he's like yeah." "Like," in these instances, meant essentially "uh," but moreover, "I'm like a part of this thing, which is like happening, and I'm like cool."

This has pretty much faded from our lexicon.

Another example around the same time was the tendency of young speakers - again, most likely female, which is in itself possibly a fruitful field for sociological inquiry outside the scope of this essay - to end declarative utterances with a rising intonation suggesting a question or uncertainty, as in, "I was going to the bathroom (?), but maybe I didn't need to go (?), like maybe it's just constipation (?).

Young people do not do this anymore. Maybe there is hope for their forty-something progenitors who still do. I hear them on NPR, but this too is fading away.

Like the end of a declarative sentence.

But what this rambling prologue is leading to is this: "Words and Expressions Currently in Use That Drive Me Up the Wall."

The word that currently peeves me most petulantly is "actually," as in:

"Where did you buy those shoes?"

"Actually, I bought them at Macy's."

In this sentence, "actually" means essentially "uh."

My theory of this phenomenon is that the speaker hopes to con us into thinking they're more thoughtful than they actually are.

I'm sick of hearing "iconic," which has ceased to mean anything other than someone somewhere has somehow heard of the thing so referenced. This was epitomized for me when a young British person referred to his friend who died in the Manchester terrorist attack as "iconic."

I recently invented a public radio drinking game in which the players tune into to NPR and everyone has to drink when they hear the word "iconic." Last drinker standing gets to change the station (for hardcore players there's the lightning round where one tries to get through 15 minutes of Lois Reitzes).

Lately I'm really getting sick of public speakers saying "everything from something to something."

The spectrum they envision is rarely a logical one. For example, "the play covered everything from sexism to philanthropy," or, "their music covers everything from Beatles to Beethoven."

And even if the poles of their comparisons do make some sense, IT'S NEVER EVERYTHING!

And when did it become fashionable, even amongst semi-educated people, to replace "you" and "me" as objects of prepositions with "yourself" and "myself," as in, "as someone like myself or yourself?"

Do they think it makes them look more educated?

Like saying utilize instead of use?

 Ellis Millsaps

Ellis is a recovering Attorney but has worn many hats over the years: father, bus boy, stand-up comedian, novelist, wiffle ball player, rock'n'roll band manager, and at one time wrote a popular and funny column for The Covington News. A Fannin Co. mountain boy originally, Mr. Millsaps now stays at the mill village of Porterdale by way of 20 years in Mansfield. Usually funny and at times irreverent and subversive, he leans left in his political philosophy but can always be counted on for a pretty darn good write-up. The Chronicles are proud to have him involved... 

27 November 2017

[TPC] - Newton Co. and Surrounding Area Well Represented at the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

Doug Biggers, Maloy Brothers, Lanier Mote & Brooks Hunnicutt among locals inducted. 

The Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame held its 36th annual awards ceremony at the Doubletree by Hilton - Perimeter hotel in Atlanta on Saturday, November 25th to a packed house in the Azalea Ballroom. 

The Bluegrass Allstars kicked things off with a really good, fiddle-heavy performance led by Randall Franks of "In the Heat of the Night" fame. Later, artists well-known in Georgia Country, Gospel & Bluegrass circles such as Danny Gardner, Helen Burke, Mitzie Gardner, David Gosdin & Donnie Griggs also performed. 

In all, some three dozen or so Georgia musicians and artists were inducted in this year's edition including several from our neck of the woods. 

Biggers gives his acceptance speech
Doug Biggers was inducted for his many years as a Country & Gospel artist. Mentioned in his introduction speech delivered by the Hall of Fame founder Phyllis Cole, was his time playing with groups such as the Tommy Millwood Band and Steel Road and his many years as serving as Musical Director at various churches. As an aside, Doug is my Brother-in-Law and he's one of the best men you'll ever meet. He's also a super talented guitar player and singer and it's no surprise that he once opened for Trisha Yearwood and recorded multiple Nashville demos. It's always a privilege to play with him and The Biggers Family Band. Doug joins his Dad, Steve Biggers, as a member of the Hall of Fame. 

Mote holding his award
Lanier Mote, mandolin player extraordinaire & another great artist I've had the pleasure to perform with, was another local inducted on Saturday. Lanier has spent decades as a practicing musician and is known far and wide throughout Georgia for his proficiency with many instruments and his singing abilities. He joins longtime collaborator Donna Bopp as a member.  

Local musicians Allen and Steve Maloy of The Maloy Brothers Bluegrass Band were also inducted into The Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame. These fellas and their band are real-deal, top-notch Bluegrass music. They're a fixture on the Bluegrass festival and show circuit and are highly regarded by many music enthusiasts throughout our great state.

And last but not least, fans of the Cowboys BBQ Picker's Circle over the years will be thrilled to know that Brooks Hunnicutt, a marvelous woman with a magnificent voice who has performed with many national and international stars over the years, was also inducted. 

It was a great night with a lot of great music and memories. This writer sure enjoyed it. 

Thanks for reading. 'Til next time. 

- MBM 

23 November 2017

[TPC] - Past Piedmont Chronicles: The History of Thanksgiving

The History of Thanksgiving

By: Marshall B. McCart 
*Originally published  in"About Covington to Madison" Magazine, Fall of 2010

Hello everyone! Good to be back with you once again. November already! Hard to believe, isn't it? Fall is in full force; college football is hitting the homestretch (and as a UGA man, I'll be “giving thanks” once this season is finally behind us); and Thanksgiving is just around the corner.

Many people consider Thanksgiving their favorite holiday—myself included. It's all about the gratitude we feel for the things we have and the people we love. Also, the traditional feast of turkey, dressing, and the rest of the fixins is pretty darned good. Some would also argue that while Thanksgiving has the food, family, and fellowship of Christmas, it doesn't have the stress and hustle and bustle that sometimes leads up to the December holiday. Of course, I think the people who say that usually aren't the ones doing the cooking! But what about the history of this wonderful holiday?

We all remember the story we learned in elementary school about the Pilgrims and Indians coming together for the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock. And while it wasn't quite so simple (and maybe not quite completely accurate either), that basic story is pretty much true. In 1621, the Pilgrims, led by William Bradford, had a three day feast to give thanks for their first successful harvest and invited several of the local Wampanoag Indians including their leader Massasoit. Also in attendance was Squanto--the Indian who translated for the Pilgrims and who also taught them how to fish the local rivers and to grow and harvest the corn and other crops that they were celebrating. It was quite a feast and included turkey, deer, lobster, fish, fowl, corn, squash, and cranberries. This type of celebration as well as its Autumnal timing was similar to the harvest festivals that many parts of Europe had been celebrating for centuries.

Going back to the line about the first Thanksgiving not being completely accurate, I say that because most historians agree that it wasn't truly the first one in the new continent. In 1619, English settlers in Berkley Hundred, near Jamestown in the Virginia colony, had a “day of thanksgiving” which was actually more or less a religious ceremony but did not include a feast. However, that still might not truly be the first one either as it has been documented that the Spanish had a thanksgiving celebration starting in the mid 1500's in modern day Florida. Also, in modern day Canada, settlers there started celebrating a “thanksgiving” in the late 16th century. So while the basic story behind the Pilgrims is true, it would be inaccurate to label it as the very first Thanksgiving in what is now America. As an aside, Canada also celebrates Thanksgiving but does so in September.

Another inaccuracy with this holiday is the popular misconception that it disappeared for over two centuries and was brought back to life by Lincoln during the Civil War. While Lincoln did issue a proclamation to make the final Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving in 1863, several earlier presidents had done the exact same thing including George Washington and John Adams. Also, many states, particularly in the North, had officially been celebrating the holiday decades before Lincoln.

Thanksgiving did not become an official national holiday until FDR and Congress did so in 1941. They specifically made the fourth Thursday in November (rather than the last) as the date for the holiday. A couple of years earlier, FDR had tried to move the holiday up a week to help spur Christmas sales during the lean times of the Depression. His idea flopped and many people, especially in the South, still celebrated on the last Thursday and jokingly referred to the earlier celebration as “Franksgiving” while some parts of the country simply celebrated both holidays. So after two years and “four” Thanksgivings, FDR and Congress made the change and it has been that way ever since.

There have been some recent trends with Thanksgiving particularly relating to the preparation of the turkey. The big thing lately has been deep frying the bird in peanut oil. Unfortunately, this has also led to Thanksgiving day becoming the number one day of the year for home cooking fires in our country. The experts stress three things. Make sure you're outside. Make sure the turkey is completely thawed out. And make sure you slowly submerse it—don't just drop it in there.

And finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one other thing...just in case there is anyone out there who hasn't heard about it yet. In Louisiana, they eat what they call a “turducken”, in which a chicken is stuffed into a duck which is then stuffed into a turkey and then cooked. That's just crazy! Although, I must admit, I really want to try it sometime. There is also a variation called a “gooducken” in which a goose is substituted for the turkey. Strange but true...

Well folks...that's all I got for this one. Hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving and maybe some of us will be dining on turducken this year!

21 November 2017

[TPC] - Tuesday Check-in: Talkin' C-town East Ward, JDA, et al

[State of GA]
[Newton Co.]

(North Covington * 21 November '17) - Greetings, fearless readers, and we sure hope all is well out there. Thanksgiving is just two days away (how can it possibly be late November?) and we're about to start that busy and wonderful five weeks of the Holidays, Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus, New Year's & all the rest.

So glad you could join us this evening. I like those boots...are those new?

In the words of The Senator, on to the bullet points!

  • So it's been two weeks since the Covington municipal election where we saw another Henderson get into elected office in Newton Co., in the West ward of the home city, and saw what can really only be described as an ass kickin' in the East ward. 
    • Susie Keck seems to be a marvelous woman and it was truly a pleasure to be able to support her and to give her my vote. She was a great candidate, ran a great race, and it's looking like she is going to be a great councilwoman (and naturally we'll be keeping an eye on her & helping to make sure she's doing the right things and doing things right). And kudos to our ole pal, AB. Great work, friend! 
    • Chris Smith. If not for the letter he penned to The Covington News, I was going to just let things slide. I wasn't going to mention the numerous times in the past several months that I did write-ups criticizing him and even calling for his resignation. I wasn't going to talk about how so many folks in and around Covington had just had enough and worked very hard to effect real and positive change here in the home city. I wasn't going to discuss how in a municipal race a 62/38 split might as well be on par with the infamous CC75/DF25 we saw a while back in a BOE race. No, I was just going to let it go. I think I'll just link to this Letter to the Editor that appeared in the past Sunday edition of The Covington News. I thank Chris for his service to the city, but he has no one to blame but himself...
  • The Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton & Walton. Stanton Springs. Baxter. Baxalta. Shire. 
    • For some info for those of you who might not have a backstory on this thing, a good place to start might be with some of fellow Citizen-Journalist MP Pat's pieces over at Tax Dogs/Taxpayer's Watchdog Group. Now there are those out there who think that some of these pieces have been inaccurate, misleading or unfair. Well, I've gotten to know this lady pretty good, and she seems to always have her I's dotted & T's crossed. Her ducks seem to always be in a row, if you will, and honestly - I'm a pretty big fan. However, some of these folks seem to think that there's a lot of innuendo, gossip, hearsay & a bit of conspiracy theory going on as it relates to this long, complicated thing that is Stanton Springs and the JDA (Joint Development Authority) story. Maybe, but as I've mentioned in this publication more than once, it does seem to me that perhaps some things haven't really passed the smell test. Or, at a minimum, that major mistakes and crucial errors have been made. To that point: 
    • The Piedmont Chronicles has been researching and studying on this thing for well over two years now. I have a file that is maybe not quite literally an inch thick (but's it damn sure close), and I have now started the next phase of my investigation. 
    • I have been reaching out to former and current JDA Board members, elected officials, and others in the attempt to get the "full story." Really what I'm wanting to do is construct an in-depth and comprehensive history of this whole thing going all the way back to the late 90s and early 2000s with an emphasis on the "Who, What, Where & When?" So...it's going to be a process. And just like I've done in the past with the report on the Bear Creek Mitigation property, or the breaking story on a certain former county political party chairman and appointed official allegedly guilty of plagiarism - I am going to be doing this strictly by the book and with "just the facts." With that said, I may very well offer occasional commentaries, but they will be labeled as such.  
    • I have spoken with Andrea Gray, legal counsel for the JDA, and will most likely be talking to her again. Maybe a few times. So far, she's been helpful and has answered my questions. 

Speaking of files, The Hospital Authority one is getting thicker and thicker... 

As always, thanks for reading. We'll be in touch soon.