A1 A1
Conyers increases police officer starting pay by 10%
  • Updated

CONYERS — The Conyers City Council is aggressively working to hire police officers, last week voting to increase the starting salary for entry level officers by 10%. New police officers will also receive a $3,000 signing bonus.

The council approved a new pay scale setting the starting salary for police officers at $46,788, outpacing starting salaries for surrounding jurisdictions and exceeding even the Cobb County and Dunwoody Police departments. The new salary scale takes effect Jan. 1, 2022. The city’s previous starting salary for a police officer was $42,500.

“We are seeking out the best people that want to be Conyers Police officers and 911 operators, and those that contribute to the public service ethos that we have as an agency,” said Deputy Chief Scott Freeman. “Our mayor and City Council stand firmly behind the men and women in uniform, and this new pay increase sends a strong signal of their support and desire to hire and retain the best of the best. The new salary will put the CPD in a position to attract the best possible candidates for the Police Department that will help fill the nine vacancies that we currently have for police officer.”

The city also increased the minimum starting salary for 911 operators from $33,040 to $34,913. The city currently has three vacant positions in that department.

In addition to the increase in starting salary, Conyers Police officers are offered a slate of benefits, including take-home vehicles; 12-hour shifts with every other weekend off; a wellness program; gym reimbursement; paid leave; medical, dental and vision insurance; 100% employer paid retirement plan; a free membership to the city-owned Cherokee Run Golf Club; paid dues to the Fraternal Order of Police; tuition reimbursement through the Fraternal Order of Police and more. Incentives are offered for higher education, as well, ranging from 5% for an associate’s degree to 15% for a master’s degree.

Freeman said the city looked at other area police departments’ starting salaries before moving to increase compensation. In comparison, the Rockdale Sheriff’s Office pays $40,497; Newton Sheriff’s Office pays, $42,240; Henry County Police pays $43,435 and Covington Police pays $42,350.

While increasing starting pay for police officers, the city also incorporated the police pay scale with the city’s overall employee pay scale and increased the minimum starting wage for all city employees from $11.80 to $14.50 per hour.

“As you know, we have a very hard time finding people to work overall, not just in the Police Department but in all departments,” Finance Director Isabel Rogers told the council.

Mayor Vince Evans noted that it is important for the city to remain competitive in order to hire qualified employees.

VETERANS STORY: The story of one forgotten 'national hero'

Most Americans believe that Sergeant Alvin York of Pall Mall, Tenn., was the most decorated American soldier of The Great War, better known as WWI. Indeed, York was a national hero and a man of extraordinary courage; his feats in combat were certainly worthy of his various decorations, including the Medal of Honor. The 1941 film, “Sergeant York,” starring Gary Cooper, was the highest-grossing movie that year plus made Sergeant York a household name for the second time to new generations of Americans.

Nonetheless, the most decorated American soldier of WWI was born into the notorious Staffelbach gang from Galena, Kan., in 1892. His mother ran a house of ill-repute out of her home, and several grown sons, all of whom were disreputable characters, were in and out of trouble for a variety of petty crimes. By the time the baby boy, Charles, turned five years old in 1897, his father and two older brothers were arrested for the murder of a disruptive and a bit too persistent gentleman caller who kept demanding his ‘special girl’ in the wee hours of the morning.

Unable to manage family concerns, the mother gave up Charles for adoption. He did not see her again until after WWI. Charles was eventually adopted by Sidney and Phoebe Barger of Scotts City, Missouri, took their last name, and worked as a farmhand.

Charles D. Barger enlisted in the United States Army on April 1, 1918. He earned the Expert Rifleman Badge during basic and was eventually assigned to Company L, 354th Infantry Regiment, 89th Division. Arriving in France in June of 1918, Barger gained a promotion to private first class and due to his marksmanship was selected as an automatic rifle gunner. He fought bravely during the St. Mihiel Offensive but really proved his mettle in the famous Meuse-Argonne Offensive. A week-long German bombardment of high-explosive shells and mustard gas sent numerous American doughboys into hospitals and/or required medical care. The gas fumes lingered for days on end. No one escaped the effects, yet Barger never reported for any type of medical treatment.

On Oct. 31, 1918, his regiment sent out numerous patrols in broad daylight (a questionable tactic) into no man’s land to reconnoiter the German positions. Two patrols were quickly pinned down by heavy rifle and machine gun fire, leaving two officers seriously wounded. Another soldier managed to crawl back to Allied lines to report that the officers were trapped in no man’s land. No man’s land meant exactly that, neither side controlled the area yet had guns and artillery zeroed in on the barren ground. Darkness gave limited concealment; daylight turned no man’s land into a killing field.

Nevertheless, Barger and Pfc Jesse Funk volunteered to run the 500 yards through no man’s land to rescue the two officers. They also discovered a wounded enlisted man about 50 yards from a German machine gun nest. The two intrepid doughboys made three trips into the killing field to rescue their three seriously wounded brothers. That they survived one trip is unbelievable but to survive three trips into no man’s land is nothing short of a miracle. In February, 1919, General John Pershing presented Barger and Funk with the Medal of Honor. In total, by the end of WWI, Charles D. Barger was awarded the Purple Heart 10 times for different wounds suffered during combat.

In an interview after the war, Jesse Funk said of Barger, “Then there was Charlie Barger. He came from down at Scotts City, Mo., and he’d never had much of a chance in life. He was an automatic Chauchat gunner; I was his carrier, and I used to write letters for him and got to know him pretty well. He was scared, too, just as badly scared as any of us, but he had the grit to put it all behind him, and what was more, he’d force it down so far that he could cheer up the other fellows. Believe me, he sure had grit, and I’m proud to have been the running mate of a man that had as much fight in him as he had.”

Barger returned to farming after the war, worked construction for a short time, but had trouble making a living and struggled to stay employed. The American Legion helped Barger find jobs, but as the public gradually became apathetic the “national hero” mentioned as part of an introduction or consideration for a job fell on mute ears. Despondent, Barger rejoined the Army as a machine gunner on Jan. 10, 1921. Within six months the Army permanently discharged the “national hero.”

Barger had one short-lived marriage before marrying his second wife, a union which produced two children, but a wife and kids couldn’t erase WWI and the nightmares he carried with him.

In January 1922, he was hired as a police officer in Kansas City. The next month Barger and another officer were dispatched to arrest two men for bootlegging and suspicion of murder. The suspects decided to shoot it out with the officers. The other officer was hit and went down. Barger was hit five times, in his left wrist, right arm, chest and head. He still returned fire. One suspect was hit in the abdomen and the other criminal was hit three times. One would die from his injuries.

Although Barger recovered from his injuries, a head wound, 10 Purple Hearts, the effects of mustard gas, and PTSD began to take a toll on his mental and physical health. He held out as a police officer for 12 more years until he was dismissed with no pension or any sort of compensation.

Barger worked odd jobs for the next few years, did what he had to do to make ends meet and feed the family, but finally had to accept something he never wanted, charity, from the American Legion and VFW, the only two organizations that stuck with him through the years. Barger once stated, “It’s fine to have all the medals, but the trouble is you can’t eat them.”

During the spring of 1936, Barger moved to a farm near Kansas City and started working for the Civilian Conservation Corps in Blue Springs. County police were called to his home the night of Nov. 23. Barger was brandishing a large hunting knife and torching his farmhouse. He had self-inflicted wounds to his throat, his clothing was torn, and his body was seriously burned in dozens of places. The officers attempted to arrest Barger for threatening to kill his wife. He resisted, then lunged at the two officers with the hunting knife. A deputy fired in self-defense, hitting Barger in his right thigh. Rushed to Kansas City General Hospital, the third-degree burns to his face and arms took his life two days later. Barger was buried near his home.

This soldier, this “national hero,” endured on his own, fought his demons alone, lived WWI every day of his life, and no veteran of war could deny his mental and physical breakdown resulted from the devastating physical and mental impact of war on the mind and the soul. Veteran organizations began a lengthy fight for Barger’s benefits to help his impoverished family, they tried to persuade the government that sent him to war that Barger’s life was changed forever by that war, but all their endeavors proved futile. The government’s refusal echoes the refusals of today: There was no “proof” that his suffering was connected with his service. Medal of Honor recipient Pfc. Charles Barger, recipient of 10 Purple Hearts, still remains a name and a case number.

Pfc. Charles Barger was not cut from the same mold as Sergeant Alvin York. No movie told his story, after the war nobody knew his name. His life was as tragic as his childhood, a child most likely abused, mishandled, and misunderstood. He came from the wrong side of the tracks, but found the right path through the killing field of no man’s land to rescue officers more blessed in life than the son of a woman who ran a house of prostitution.

An abbreviated version of Matthew 7:2 – “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged.” The verse means little in today’s society when those that judge are unqualified and lacking the ability to objectively judge anyone. Judged by wealth, status, home runs, touchdowns, race, creed, or color remains a scourge in today’s environment, but soldiers don’t “judge” on a battlefield. They rely on training, dedication, and the soldier covering their six.

Yes, the soldiers who make it home are the lucky ones, yet when one takes into account the life of veterans like Pfc. Charles Barger, some veterans are not as lucky as others. God bless the unlucky.

VETERANS DAY COMMENTARY: Honoring all the Greatest Generations

This Veteran’s Day I have a bone to pick with Tom Brokaw. In his celebrated book, “The Greatest Generation,” Mr. Brokaw alleges my parents and their canasta club buddies were somehow special. Really? What did this generation do that was so special?

Well, let’s take a brief look at a few of their accomplishments. They ended Adolf Hitler’s reign of death and destruction — they island-hopped all the way across the vast Pacific Ocean into Tokyo Bay — they out-produced all the other countries of the world combined — and in their spare time built a really noisy devise called the atomic bomb.

You bet’cha, my parents’ generation was indeed a generation of greatness. There was, and always will be, something very special about The Greatest Generation. Over a quarter million were killed in combat and over a quarter million were listed as wounded in action. Sadly, many who died remain unknown or forgotten, except by those who visit our national cemeteries, or perhaps by a tourist who may notice a local monument.

Over 250,000 Killed in Action; that is indeed a heartbreaking number, but as cold as this may sound, 250,000 is just a number. It is the veteran who can look beyond the numbers and recognize the fallen as a human being ... a shipmate, a foxhole buddy, your copilot or tail-gunner, the man you trusted to do their job, the man you trusted with your life, a good friend whose dreams of a wife and children and a future were never realized.

Almost as unnoticed as their dead brothers are the remaining survivors of WWII. Most have chosen to remain silent about their experiences on Omaha Beach or Okinawa, in the jungles of Burma, or on a Navy destroyer trying desperately to ward off Japanese Kamikaze attacks. Or perhaps they remember praying they’d live beyond their 25th B-17 mission over Nazi Germany.

It has been and will continue to be my mission to seek out our veterans to offer them an opportunity to tell their story. Their voices are the voices of history; not just the printed words in a history book. Their stories come from broken hearts; not the cold hearts of politicians who never served. Their stories can be trusted, unlike the words of those who lack the courage to wear the uniform.

But “The” Greatest Generation — are they really the veterans of WWII? My father said, “No!”

My father served in WWII for more than three years in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations. Dad flew over the Hump, better known as the Himalayan Mountain Range. At the end of WWII the Himalayans were littered with the crash sites of hundreds upon hundreds of American cargo planes and their never-to-be recovered crews. But were they “The” Greatest Generation? My Dad still said, “No! No, son, we are not the Greatest Generation. Yours is.”

To which I responded in our typical Southern intellectual reply of, “Do what?”

My generation of baby-boomers, “The” Greatest Generation? Come on, we grew up with window air-conditioning… remember? Shoot, I thought we were rich… we had the first window air conditioner in our neighborhood. Neighbors knocked on our front door all summer long. Then I knew we were rich when we were the first ones in our neighborhood to buy a color television set. Then the neighbors knocked on our front door all year long. And we grew up with those great muscle cars, remember? The Mustangs, the Cameros, the GTOs, or as the Beach Boys sang, a giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up 409.

But, my generation of baby-boomers… are we really The Greatest Generation?

My generation fought and died in Vietnam. We won every major battle, only to suffer the indignity of seeing our war lost in the dank hallways of Washington, D.C. When we did come home, many of us were told not to wear our uniforms in public. Many of us endured insults, and many of us, including yours truly, were called baby killers. Yet, for those of us who have lived long enough, we’ve seen our legacy morph from being called baby killers, into being called heroes. We were neither. We were just another generation who answered their call to duty and did the best we could under impossible rules of engagement. What we did and suffered through on the battlefields of Vietnam, and later what we went through after we returned home, is why my father called us “The Greatest Generation.”

My generation, The Greatest Generation? No! And if a family member, even my great-grandchildren, suggested that we were, the answer would still be “No!”

Our aging warriors of WWII are collectively referred to as the “Greatest Generation,” a very hard-earned recognition, but in truth, “Greatest Generations” have existed throughout our history, and they still exist today.

As veterans, we will all face what is called “The Final Inspection.” These men and women of the Greatest Generations have served from Valley Forge to the shores of Tripoli, from the fields of Gettysburg to the fields of Flanders. From Pearl Harbor to Inchon to Khe Sanh. From the Gulf War to the hot sands of Iraq and to the cold mountains of Afghanistan, the Greatest Generations have always been there, always ready to answer their call to duty, always mindful that the next Greatest Generation is only one war away, and perhaps only one battle away before they, too, are called home for their Final Inspection.

The Greatest Generation? Absolutely, it is and always will be, the American veteran.

But are we heroes? No, we are not. OK, then where are the real heroes? One hundred and twenty-five thousand heroes are in one of the 25 American military cemeteries overseas, including a well-kept American cemetery in the heart of Mexico City. Over 94,000 heroes from all our wars are still missing in action or peacefully asleep at the bottom of the sea. At least a few of them have their names carved into monuments all over the world.

The remaining heroes rest in peace in one of our 147 National Cemeteries, including General Robert E. Lee’s confiscated land now called Arlington National Cemetery. Sections include the Global War on Terror, a section for military nurses, Confederate soldiers, and some of the 3,000 former slaves who once farmed the land at Arlington from an area of government homes called Freedmen Village. The cemetery, at present, comprises 639 acres and is the final resting place for over 400,000 individuals, mostly American military personnel.

However, my heroes, all 58,318 of them at last count, are listed on a long black wall in Washington, D.C.

I’m certainly no hero, and if the truth be known, there are no heroes reading this article today. My fellow veterans, you and I know that instead of heroes, we are simply the survivors. We were the lucky ones. We, by the grace of God, made it home.

From the “shot heard around the world” to Shiloh to Saipan to Saigon to Saudi Arabia and to Syria, nearly 2 million American men and women have paid, and continue to pay, the true cost of freedom. It is only through their devotion and sacrifice that our coveted Republic remains free.

You may ask, these veterans, these men and women in uniform; why do they do it? The answer is very simple: They do it for you. So, if you see a veteran, if you know a veteran, simply walk up and say “Thank You,” they have at least earned that.

Newton achieves more than $500,000 in utility cost savings
  • Updated

COVINGTON — Two years after entering into a contract for utility cost oversight, Newton County has reportedly saved more than $550,228.

In October 2019, County Manager Lloyd Kerr presented the board with a proposal to contract with Alexander Tomas and Associates to provide oversight and analysis of the county’s utility bills to determine if the county was being charged correctly.

“If it is determined we are paying more than we should be paying, they would meet with the utility provider to make sure that we are then billed correctly and seek any kind of repayment possible,” Kerr said at the time.

Alexander Tomas and Associates charged the county a percentage of any utility payments they recovered.

According to the county, since approving the contract in October 2019, the county has improved utility pricing and obtained refunds for a total savings of $354,808, or 12% of total utility expenditures in year one and $195,420, or 6.5% in year two.

Following a recommendation by Kerr Tuesday, Nov. 2, the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to expand the contract with Alexander Tomas and Associates to include the monitoring of some buildings not previously covered and to include the county’s various contracts with Verizon Wireless.

According to a press release from Alexander Tomas and Associates (ATA), the agreement with the county grew out of cost-cutting concerns.

“We had a number of older buildings and some new,” Ker is quoted as stating. “No bill audits had ever been done. Utility billing is something that can be very complex. We wanted to make sure that we were being billed correctly and that we were being as efficient as possible with the equipment that we had.”

The process began with ATA capturing historical utility billing and usage data in its technology platform (UtilityTRX). This first step provided the foundation for the cost-cutting efforts. Equipped with the UtilityTRX exception reporting, Jason Johnson, director of Building Services, worked to mitigate obscure issues that fall below traditional accounting systems’ radar.

Some of the more common issues identified included equipment malfunctions, leaks, and building control optimization opportunities. In the next step, ATA’s specially trained team members were tasked with scrutinizing monthly utility charges, while optimizing pricing and rates. Finally, UtilityTRX technologies were used to measure and validate, or dispute, energy savings-based invoices for the 2018 HVAC system upgrades provided by ABM.

“Newton County is one of our great success stories,” said Alex Tomas, president of ATA. “We look forward to our ongoing efforts in partnering with the county to manage their utility expenses. The Newton County Board of Commissioners is actively considering Phase II Real-Time HVAC Oversight that will protect HVAC assets from premature disrepair, while reducing maintenance and labor costs. And that’s exciting!”

Alcovy’s Bryson Virgle (4) runs during a 2020 football game against Newton.