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Henry renews search for aquatic center site
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Vivian Thomas

McDONOUGH — Despite months of discussion over various sites, Henry County is back at square one in the search for a location for its $22 million aquatic center.

At Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting, commissioners were presented with a resolution to select a “secondary location” for the aquatic center. The BOC had previously chosen the Bridges at Jodeco site in Stockbridge, which was promised as a donation of 8 to 14 acres to the county. However, the property was not conveyed to the county by its May deadline.

Commissioner Vivian Thomas said she was ready to abandon the Bridges at Jodeco site, but Commissioner Dee Clemmons argued that the board should approve a resolution to reject the site before moving on to another location. Commission Chair Carlotta Harrell said she would bring forth a resolution to abandon the Bridges at Jodeco site only when the board was ready to approve an alternative site.

Two site options were presented Tuesday as potential secondary locations — Cotton Fields Golf Club and Nash Farm Park. Both sites are owned by the county.

Leisure Services Cluster Leader Jonathon Penn recommended Cotton Fields be considered as the secondary site due to its location close to Interstate 75, limited amount of grading needed, ample parking space, infrastructure already in place and the proximity of hotels and restaurants. Penn also said the aquatic center would enhance operations and revenue at the golf course.

However, neither Cotton Fields nor Nash Farm was met with approval, and county staffers were instructed to renew the site search.

County Manager Cherie Hobson Matthews encouraged commissioners to provide alternative suggestions to the staff.

“If we’re not looking at properties that you all want us to look at, we want to know,” said Matthews. She added that her preference would be a site already owned by the county because that would expedite the project.

“We need to move on this aquatic center as soon as possible so we can get this (architectural design services) contract awarded,” she said. “I’m not sure this vendor is going to honor this price for much longer. Costs are going up.”

Penn told commissioners that Nash Farm Park was not recommended as the secondary site because it is more than 5 miles from I-75, is located near residential neighborhoods, does not have hotels and restaurants nearby and does not have sewer service, which would be a major expense to install. He also said developing an aquatic center at Nash Farm would negatively impact the current uses of the park.

Commissioner Vivian Thomas, who has proposed Nash Farm as not just a location for the aquatic center but also as a destination point in the county, expressed doubts about the Cotton Fields location because of the quality of restaurants and hotels in the area.

“There are not hotels and restaurants that certain families would like to have their children in,” she said.

Thomas also said she felt the aquatic center project could provide the incentive to address the infrastructure needs at Nash Farm.

The aquatic center project was approved by voters in the 2019 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum. The project includes competition and therapy pools and an outdoor water park.

The BOC was first presented with four potential locations for the aquatic center in January, none of which all board members were happy with. A vote taken on each location — Red Hawk Park, Jodeco Road, Mill Road and Willow Lane — failed.

The Bridges at Jodeco site was proposed to the BOC in February. At that time Penn said the location was already graded with utilities and roads already in place, which would minimize the site development costs. He added it offered what the county needed to build the center. The board approved the location in March. However, it was later learned that there is debt on the property, and the owner failed to convey the land to the county by the May deadline set by commissioners.

Henry student donates handmade earrings to Piedmont Henry staff
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STOCKBRIDGE – Kara Benson started making clay earrings near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The sixth-grade student eventually started selling them at Makers Markets around Henry County, with proceeds going toward fundraisers. Benson recently brought 180 pairs of her handcrafted earrings to give to the staff at Piedmont Henry Hospital.

“I have a friend in the ICU with COVID-19 and I know how important the nurses and the staff members at the hospital are,” Benson said. “I just want to show the staff that we love them, and we’re glad they are helping the community.”

The process of making the earrings starts with rolling out the clay, making the design, and then baking the earrings for approximately 25 minutes. After they cool, it’s time to glue on the back and let them dry overnight. Making 180 pairs of earrings was an all-day project, but Benson was glad to show her support. The hospital staff was thrilled by her kind gesture.

“Our staff has been battling the COVID-19 pandemic for over 18 months now and acts of kindness like this really help keep everyone’s spirits up,” said Lily Henson, M.D. CEO of Piedmont Henry. “It means the world to us to know that our efforts are recognized and appreciated.”

The earrings were spread among various departments throughout the hospital, and Benson brought some snacks to be delivered to people who didn’t have their ears pierced.

“Our purpose at Piedmont Henry is to make a positive difference in every life we touch,” Henson said. “We are so proud of Kara for making a positive difference in our lives today.”

Stockbridge hires Frank Trammer as police chief
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STOCKBRIDGE — The city of Stockbridge hired a police chief for its fledgling police department at a special called meeting Monday night.

Frank Trammer, who most recently served as the deputy chief of police for the Georgia Tech Police Department, has been hired to develop and implement the newly created department and oversee sworn officers and civilian employees of the department. He is expected to assume these duties by Oct. 4.

The annual pay scale for the police chief’s job is $92,581.93 to $143,501.98, depending on experience. The council has agreed to pay Trammer $140,000 annually.

The vote to hire Trammer was 3-2, with council members John Blount and LaKeisha Gantt opposed. Both dissenting council members said they were not opposed to Trammer but disagreed with the process that the council was following to implement the police department. Gantt said the decision to move forward with the hire was contrary to recommendations in the most recent feasibility study on implementing a police department. Blount said he felt there wasn’t sufficient planning in place for moving forward with the hire and that “the citizens don’t know what’s going on.”

Blount and Gantt said the city will almost certainly be required to implement a property tax in order to fund the police department, something they said they believe constituents are not aware of. The city currently has no property tax, but residents do pay millage of 1.824 to fund police protection provided by the Henry County Police Department.

Blount said Tuesday that he opposed the hire based on the advice of the city’s financial advisor who had projected that the city’s budget would almost double by 2024 with the addition of a police department.

Gantt said a feasibility study by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia had shown that the city is better off financially to continue receiving police services from the Henry County Police Department.

“The fiscal analysis in this report is unwaveringly supportive of the option of contracting for police services with Henry County,” the 2019 report states.

The report found that Stockbridge residents are receiving police services at 56 cents on the dollar based on millage costs alone, and that the city could pay HCPD more to customize services “and still come out ahead in terms of the alternative, i.e., making the expenditures necessary to provide police services in-house.”

Trammer has more than 20 years of experience in law enforcement. He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Ohio University and a master’s of public administration from Columbus State University. He has also worked for the North Metro S.W.A.T. Team and the Sandy Springs Police Department.

City Manager Randy Knighton called Trammer’s appointment “historical” for the city.

“This important hire signifies the city’s commitment to the people of Stockbridge,” said Knighton. “As a growing, progressive city, the establishment of our police department will provide an important service for all citizens and businesses within the city limits. The city of Stockbridge’s government continues to provide visionary leadership and exceptional municipal services that enhance the quality of life for all of our citizens.”

Trammer acknowledged that the vote to hire him was not unanimous.

“I hope that by virtue of working together we’ll be able to work through some of those concerns and move forward with full implementation of the department,” he said.

Trammer said he believes policing is an “interactive process between the police and the community.”

“I believe police should always maintain a positive, collaborative relationship with our community because the ability of our department to effectively perform its roles is really and truly dependent on approval of our existence, our actions and certainly our behavior,” Trammer said.

Mayor Pro Tem Elton Alexander said he was proud that the city had selected Trammer to lead its new police department.

“We feel confident that this police force in the era of social justice will be formed in the right way, and it will be in partnership with the community, making sure that we have buy-in from the citizens because buy-in from the citizens is how we keep the community safe,” said Alexander.

Blount said his vote against the hire was not a denial of his support for the city moving forward.

“The needs of the city of Stockbridge are great, and they are going to be fulfilled,” said Blount. “But because there are differences in how we get there doesn’t mean we all don’t want the same thing, and that’s a prosperous city.”

Earlier this year the city allocated $3 million for start-up costs for the police department. A study by the Carl Vinson Institute indicated that it will cost the city about $5.5 million annually to operate a police department.

Stockbridge City Manager Knighton is finalist for Roswell job
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STOCKBRIDGE — The city of Roswell has named Randy Knighton, city manager of Stockbridge, as the sole finalist for its city administrator position.

Roswell announced on its website Sept. 15 that Knighton was named the finalist for the position at a special called City Council meeting held Sept. 14.

Knighton was selected in a split 4-3 vote. Roswell announced that the city would be negotiating a contract with Knighton over the following 15 days before making a final vote on his appointment.

The city of Stockbridge has not made an announcement about Knighton’s potential departure.

According to published reports, Knighton could be coming on board at a time of upheaval on the Roswell council. Knighton could be hired before the city’s Nov. 2 elections, which leaves open the possibility that a new mayor and council members could choose to make a different hire. His departure could also have a significant impact in Stockbridge, which is in the process of creating a new police department and completing a number of capital projects.

Roswell’s former city administrator Gary Palmer resigned during the summer without citing a reason.

If Roswell and Knighton successfully negotiate a contract, Knighton will serve as Roswell’s chief operating officer, managing a $146 million budget, more than 30 departments, divisions and offices, and 600 full-time employees. He will oversee the day-to-day operations of the city, and implement policies established by the mayor and City Council.

Knighton was hired by a unanimous vote of the Stockbridge City Council in September 2017. He previously worked as the county administrator for Hall County government since July 2011. Prior to that role, Knighton served as Hall County’s senior planner for four years and planning director for five years. He previously worked for the Orange County Planning Department in Orlando, the city of Orlando Planning Department, and the Osceola County Planning Department in Kissimmee, Fla.

Knighton holds master of public administration and bachelor of arts in criminal justice degrees from the University of Central Florida, and a master of divinity from Emory University. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and the American Planning Association. He is also a credentialed manager of the International City/County Managers Association.