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Conyers to reallocate some ARPA funds
  • Updated

CONYERS — The Conyers City Council will consider reallocating some of its American Rescue Plan Act funding.

Finance Director Isabel Rogers told members of the city’s Finance Committee last week that most of the $250,000 allocated to assist small businesses impacted by the pandemic was going unused due to a lack of eligible applicants. Rogers said most of those that had applied had already received assistance through other sources, which disqualified them under the city’s guidelines.

The City Council voted last December to allocate a total of $250,000 for small business assistance, to be paid in $5,000 increments. Human Resources Director Casey Duren said the city has received applications from about four businesses that qualified for the funds.

Successful business applicants must meet the following criteria:

♦ Must be a current city business owner for at least the two previous years, as of Nov. 1, 2021, as documented by busineness licenses;

♦ Must be a small business with a maximum of 10 full-time employees.

Those not eligible include government employees; the mayor or members of the Conyers City Council; or if the business has previously received any other COVID-19 related funds, such as PPP, EDIL, or ARPA funds from any other entity, including Rockdale County.

The city had also allocated $250,000 to assist individuals impacted by the pandemic, at $1,000 per applicant. Rogers said the city had made payments to 51 applicants so far.

In addition, because Rogers and other city staff members were able to develop guidelines for distribution of the funds in-house, rather than outsourcing the work to a consultant, the $300,000 earmarked for consulting can also be reallocated.

Rogers and Duren both said they have received positive feedback from other cities about the guidelines established for distribution of ARPA funds in Conyers. Rogers said she had been contacted by the Georgia Municipal Association to request that the city’s guidelines for ARPA distributions be templated for other municipalities in the state.

Rogers said she will bring new recommendations for reallocation of the ARPA funds to the City Council for its approval.

Shelby Symons, Anias Pullen at the top of the Class of 2022 at Heritage High School
  • Updated

CONYERS — The top honor graduates at Heritage High School for the Class of 2022 are Valedictorian Shelby Symons and Salutatorian Anias Pullen. The students were notified of their achievements in surprise announcements in late March.

Heritage High’s graduation ceremony is set for Friday, May 27, at the school.

Get to know the honor grads:

Valedictorian Shelby Symons

Family members: Parents Dennis and Patricia Symons and siblings Megan, Casey and Brianna Symons

Intended College/University: Kennesaw State University (1st choice), University of Georgia (2nd choice)

Intended Major: Biology

Intended Career Field: Forensics

RCPS Schools Attended: Heritage High School

Awards/Scholarships: Chick-fil-A Leadership Scholarship, Superintendent’s Academic Award (three years), Regional Literary Trio Winner (two years), All-State Choir (four years), All-State Sightreading Choir

Extracurricular Activities: Chorus Officer, Literary Trio, All-State choir, NHS, Honor Choir

Favorite Subjects: Biology, vocal, and music theory.

Memorable help from a teacher/staff member/mentor:

“My chorus teacher Mr. Green has been my teacher all four years of high school, and his class has given me so much joy and has helped me become more confident and get out of my comfort zone. It’s been a blessing to get to be surrounded by music every day and be challenged by each new piece.”

Best high school experience:

“I think the best high school experience I had was getting to sing in the literary trio. I got to start doing this my sophomore year and had so much fun getting to really dive into music with my other trio members. During my senior year, two of my best friends who I did trio with in middle school made it on the competition team with me, and getting to win regionals with them and knowing we made it, was one of the highlights of my year. I always wanted to go to state literary and it felt like fate to get to go with the friends who really started my love of singing in trio.”

What was the reaction of your family and friends?

“My mom was crying when she walked through the door to give me the news, and so was I, to be fair. My dad was recording it all and saying he was going to bring air horns to graduation. My whole choir class cheered when they heard the announcement, and it was really nice that I got to share that first moment with all of them. Many of my friends wanted to be in my speech, and there was a lot of hugging and congratulations going around. When my sister found out, she called me and said she knew I would do it, and everyone said they would be in the front row screaming for me when the time came. I’ll remember that first moment every time I see the graduate sign in my yard, and I won’t forget all the love I felt from the people who always believed in me.”

What are your takeaways from this past year?

“This past year has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs. The stress of school and the fun of being a senior. It’s like every big moment of my life was happening all at once. This past year has taught me to really treasure the small moments in life and the people we share them with. Those whose friendship isn’t conditional. My friends have helped me through some of my worst times and always give me a reason to smile. I’ve learned to really lean on others more even if sometimes it’s hard for me to show my weaknesses, it’s worse to pretend I’m always strong.”

What do you look forward to doing over the summer?

“Over the summer, I’m looking forward to getting together with everyone before we all go to college or wherever else. I’m also looking forward to seeing my sister who lives in California because she’s visiting for my graduation, and I’m excited to start preparing for college and figuring out what to do next.”

Advice for freshmen:

“I remember my freshman year wasn’t the best, but I always had something to look forward to with clubs and the friends I had made that year, so don’t just go through high school just to get it over with. Find something you’re passionate about. Whether it be healthcare, fine arts, or math, join a club or a class that you can thrive in and enjoy. Being in choir was one of the best parts of high school and the people I met there I will truly miss, so find something that gives you a purpose or joy in high school because it’s not all boring classes and getting the grade, and it can help you find good friends that might stay in your life even after you walk that stage.”

Salutatorian Anias Pullen

Family members: Parents Ryan and Kimberley Pullen, sisters Adrienne Pullen, Ajanae Pullen, Alani Pullen

Intended College/University: Georgia Institute of Technology

Intended Major: Computer science

Intended Career Field: Full stack development or blockchain engineering

RCPS Schools Attended: Shoal Creek Elementary School, Edwards Middle School, Heritage High School, Rockdale Career Academy

Awards/Scholarships: Superintendent’s Academic Award, UGA Class of 2022 Georgia Certificate of Merit, 2021 RCA Prestige Programming, 1st in East Atlanta Technology Fair — Project Programming 11th/12th

Extracurricular Activities: RCA SkillsUSA president, RCA First Tech Challenge Robotics lead, Lexicon Technologies IT intern, RCA Engravings programming intern, Elementary learning coach/tutor, working at Papa Johns

Favorite Subjects: AP Computer Science and AP Calculus

Memorable help from a teacher/staff member/mentor:

“Out of all my teachers, Mr. Jesse Smith at RCA definitely pushed me the most for my passion in computer science. Every competition, CTSO club, and internship I’ve participated in were all due to his encouragement and resources. I spend most of my schedule in his class, and highly recommend any new students to take up his pathway. Additionally, I’d give big props to Mr. Andrew Baker and Coach Snagg at HHS, and Ms. Roach and Mr. Creel at RCA for their influence in my growing interests in engineering. Although a few of these teachers don’t work here anymore, they definitely left a lasting impact on my education.”

Best high school experience:

“By far it’d have to be the week before COVID happened, back in March of 2020 when I was a sophomore. It was my first year with SkillsUSA, and we traveled to Atlanta for the State Leadership and Skills Conference. It was about 45 of us set to compete over the weekend, but unfortunately the event was canceled after four hours. Despite that, it was the most fun I’ve had on a school trip in a while. The walk around the city and hotel was pretty nice. Plus, they had some delicious sushi boxes, if I do say so myself. Overall, I’ve had some very memorable experiences with any SkillsUSA events at parades, festivals, and even SEL meetings.”

What was the reaction of your family and friends?

“My parents aren’t the best at keeping secrets, so it was pretty funny when they realized I knew about the surprise. Everyone has been very supportive of my efforts leading to this and were very proud but not surprised.”

What are your takeaways from this past year?

“Although I’ve had a difficult year, the transition from COVID to in-person greatly improved my happiness. For a bit, I have been juggling two jobs and several extracurriculars, but I am very content with where I’m at now! I can be particular with my planning, so having worked very hard to set my future is allowing to relax a lot.”

What do you look forward to doing over the summer?

“I’ll be ready to start my summer term at my university a couple weeks after I graduate, so I’m looking forward to the concerts, trips and lectures planned for the program.”

Advice for freshmen:

“Explore everything your school has to offer, especially any career classes (CTAEs). Whether your future plans are at college or work, learning useful trades will always be beneficial for any field. RCA classes are a must if you want the opportunity to gain internship experience, take Dual Enrollment (highly recommend), or join any CTSO clubs (SkillsUSA, Decca, FCCLA, FTC Robotics, HOSA, the list goes on). Have good relationships with any of your teachers because they are truly there to help you!”

Rockdale Commissioner Sherri Washington faces possible disbarment
  • Updated

CONYERS — Rockdale County Commissioner Sherri L. Washington, who is an attorney, faces possible disbarment based on a recommendation by the Georgia Bar Association.

The potential disbarment is the result of three grievances brought against Washington since 2018 that were investigated by the State Bar. Two of the cases in which grievances were filed were civil, and one was a criminal case.

The three grievances were reviewed by the State Bar’s Disciplinary Board, which found probable cause of violations. This was followed by the appointment of a special master in April 2021 to conduct formal disciplinary proceedings and make a recommendation to the Georgia Supreme Court.

The most significant grievance against Washington was brought in 2018 as the result of a divorce case Washington handled in Fulton County. In that case, Washington failed to notify her client, Dashawn Mayweather, of a final hearing in the divorce and failed to appear for the hearing. The result, according to court documents filed on behalf of Mayweather, was that Mayweather was “denied an equitable division of marital assets, denied alimony and required to pay her former husband $5,000 in attorney’s fees.”

Washington said in 2018 that her failure to appear for the divorce hearing and to notify her client of the hearing were due to an oversight.

“I missed an email asking me to go to court, and the judge granted a default judgement,” she said at the time.

Mayweather attempted to have the divorce judgement vacated, but she was unsuccessful. She subsequently sued Washington for legal malpractice and was awarded damages of $48,000, $4,709 in interest and court costs of $884.19.

The judgement against Washington resulted in her having her compensation as a county commissioner garnished. At the time her commissioner pay was $26,000 annually; it was recently increased to $30,527.

The Supreme Court will review the special master case and enter an order, a process that can take several months.

According to the Supreme Court’s website, the court may issue a public reprimand, suspend the lawyer from practice for any period of time up to five years, disbar the lawyer or determine the lawyer should not be disciplined.

A lawyer who has been suspended or disbarred must immediately stop practicing law and notify clients of the discipline. A suspended lawyer may resume practice at the end of the suspension but must also comply with any conditions the court has imposed, such as repaying clients. A disbarred lawyer may not practice law again without going through the entire Bar admissions process, including taking and passing the bar exam.

Attorneys facing discipline may also voluntarily surrender their license, which is tantamount to disbarment.

Attempts to reach Washington for comment were unsuccessful Friday.

Washington, who is a general practice attorney, received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Savannah State University and her law degree from Texas Southern University. She was admitted to the Georgia Bar in 2007.

She was first elected to the Board of Commissioners in 2016 and won re-election in 2020.

Newton County continues work to update residential zoning ordinance
  • Updated

COVINGTON — A moratorium on residential development in Newton County has been extended for a fifth time as the county continues to work on updating its zoning ordinance. The moratorium is now set to expire on July 19.

Commissioners voted unanimously at a Tuesday special called meeting to extend the moratorium, which covers the acceptance of applications for zoning and preliminary plats for new residential development.

The moratorium does not apply to developments that had previously received a preliminary plat nor to developments on raw land with an average lot size of at least 2 acres per parcel.

Former Development Services director Judy Johnson, who has since taken a position with Jasper County, told commissioners in January that the county needs to update its ordinance to address changes the department is seeing in residential development.

“We need to evaluate our road networks, we need to evaluate where our fire stations are, we need to evaluate how many entrances are best for a good planned development. We need to evaluate do we need interconnectivity? And our ordinance at this time is silent over a lot of these good planning measures that make less of an impact when you are dropping X amount of houses on a spot of land,” Johnson said at the time.

The Board of Commissioners has held one work session to discuss changes to the ordinance, and another is expected to be held next month to gather input from the commissioners. Following the work session, two public hearings will be held before a vote by the board — likely sometime in July.

The moratorium has been in place since September 2021.