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Rivian deal called 'transformative'
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ATLANTA — Calling it a “new chapter in Georgia’s success story,” Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday officially announced that Rivian Automotive will build an assembly and battery plant in Walton and Morgan counties, just across the Newton County line.

Dozens of state and local officials gathered in Liberty Plaza Thursday afternoon for the announcement that confirmed rumors regarding negotiations with the California-based electric vehicle manufacturer.

Rivian has committed to a $5 billion investment, the largest single economic development project in Georgia history. At full capacity, the company plans to employ 7,500 workers and produce up to 400,000 trucks per year. Production is expected to begin in 2024.

“Today is just the start of a generational partnership that will benefit not just this company but our great state,” said Kemp. “We are so proud to welcome Rivian.”

The Rivian facility will be built on 2,000 acres marketed as the East Atlanta Megasite. About 670 acres of the property, known as Stanton Springs North, is owned by the Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Newton, Morgan and Walton Counties, the same authority that developed Stanton Springs. The remaining property will acquired from private land owners.

Helen Russell, Rivian’s chief people officer, said Georgia’s educational system and talented workforce attracted the company to Georgia.

“The kinds of resources Georgia has at its disposal, we feel, will allow us to have an incredible partnership with the state,” she said.

Shane Short, executive director of the Development Authority of Walton County and lead economic developer for the JDA, said recruitment talks with Rivian have been in the works for a year. Thursday’s ceremony across from the state Capitol was an opportunity for state and local leaders to celebrate the successful conclusion of negotiations, beating out competitors across the country.

“This is a great, great day for Newton County,” said Marcello Banes, chairman of the Newton County Board of Commissioners and a member of the JDA board. “For years I have been speaking about the big things to come here in Newton County. Rivian’s game-changing commitment to Newton County and Stanton Springs North is exactly the type of investment, industry and excitement I have been speaking of. Our community will forevermore feel the effects of this terrific news.”

Banes said he is excited about the number and types of jobs that Rivian will bring to the four-county area.

“Along with these jobs will be growth for not only Newton County but surrounding counties who have partnered with us in the JDA,” he said. “These partnerships show that working together and being #OneNewton brings positive results for all.”

Serra Hall, executive director of the Newton County Industrial Development Authority and who also provides economic development services for the JDA, said the process of recruiting Rivian was arduous but, ultimately, worthwhile.

“The process is something you’ve got to love each and every day,” she said. “… the process is all hours, day and night, and at the same time it’s also about the passion and the understanding why this is important, not only to our area but also to the state of Georgia.”

Banes said Rivian’s announcement is the culmination of a vision that local leaders have pursued for more than 20 years.

“When the Joint Development Authority was set up it was with the foresight to one day make such a transformative and historic announcement that was named today. Newton County’s future is bright, and that future starts now.”

Now, with the deal announced, local officials know that a different level of work is set to begin, including providing infrastructure and a trained workforce.

The Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority is expected to provide water and wastewater treatment to the plant. Director Mike Hopkins said the utility has the necessary water capacity to meet those needs, noting that the county is in the process of expanding treatment capacity at both its water plants. A new wastewater treatment plant about to come online in Stanton Springs will be able to provide wastewater treatment for the new plant.

Because of the size of the project, Rivian will be able to select its power provider from among those that can serve the area, including Walton EMC, the city of Covington and Georgia Power.

What tax abatements and incentives have been offered to land the Rivian plant have not yet been disclosed. The city of Fort Worth had approved a tax incentive package valued at $440 million to lure the plant there before negotiations with the Texas city went cold. Economic development officials here have said negotiations with Rivian are ongoing and incentives are not yet subject to Open Records requests.

Asher Dozier, vice president of economic development for the Newton Industrial Development Authority, said his role will be to develop a workforce that is prepared to provide the employees Rivian needs.

“We are going to partner with Quick Start to begin with,” he said. “Quick Start will take the lead from the state level in recruiting and training early on. … In the long term we are going to work on K-12 and (Georgia Piedmont Technical College) alignment to make sure that we are training our students, and our adults for that matter, to make sure they have the skills to get these high-paying jobs. The last thing we want to do is to bring 7,500 high-paying jobs here and Newton County workers not being prepared to get those jobs.”

Kathy Morgan, in the Newton County Office of Economic Development, whose late husband Davis Morgan was chairman of the Newton Board of Commissioners and spearheaded formation of the JDA, said he would have been thrilled to see the success achieved by the JDA. She said many of the people who supported the initial formation of the JDA are still involved in the work today.

“It’s what they hoped for but beyond their wildest dreams,” she said.

Morgan said she hoped that the amount of effort involved in recruiting an industry like Rivian would not go unnoticed.

“Most people will not realize what an accomplishment this is,” she said. “Most people will never achieve a deal like this in their lifetime, and we’ve pulled off Takeda, Facebook and now this. Serra and Shane have done a tremendous job, the JDA has done a tremendous job. I’m just proud to be here.”

Kemp said the Rivian plant is an outgrowth of work the state’s political and business leaders have been doing for years to make Georgia a leader in the automotive industry.

That track record goes back to the huge auto plant Kia built near LaGrange in 2006 and, more recently, two electric vehicle battery plants in Jackson County.

The governor also cited the Electric Mobility and Innovation Alliance, an initiative he launched last summer aimed at strengthening Georgia’s status as a leader in the electric mobility industry.

“We have all been preparing for a project like Rivian for a long time,” Kemp said. “We knew we could land a project like Rivian. We just had to find the right fit.”

Russell said Rivian will be filling a wide range of jobs at the new plant. Open job postings in Georgia will be immediately available at www.rivian.com/careers.

Pat Wilson, commissioner of the state’s economic development agency, said Rivian’s decision to come to Georgia will impact the entire state.

“We will see more change in the automotive industry in the next 10 years than we have seen in the past 100, and with this announcement, Georgia will be home to one of the main drivers of this transformation,” he said.

Dave Williams, bureau chief for Capitol Beat, contributed to this report.


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Conyers City Council member Cleveland Stroud closes out 28-year tenure
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CONYERS — After serving 28 years as a Conyers City Council member, Cleveland Stroud swung the gavel Wednesday night, closing out his final meeting as a member of that elected body.

Stroud, affectionately known as “Coach,” was first elected in 1994 and is the first Black to serve on the Conyers City Council. As Mayor Vince Evans pointed out Wednesday, Stroud has served with three mayors and three city managers. He’s attended more than 600 council meetings, 22 City Council retreats, 27 Georgia Municipal Association meetings and countless committee meetings.

Fellow council members Gerald Hinesley and Valyncia Smith thanked Stroud, a former high school coach and teacher, for his mentorship.

Hinesley, recalling the time prior to his own election 19 years ago, said, “I had actually, like many people, heard of Coach but didn’t know him. But, boy, once you get to know him, you see he’s the real deal. It has been a joy and a pleasure to serve with him.”

Hinesley said he will miss the humor Stroud is known for bringing to council meetings, but also his wisdom.

“You’re a walking history book of Rockdale County,” said Hinesley. “You never stop teaching, because you’ve taught me a lot over the years, and I sincerely appreciate it.”

Smith expressed her appreciation for Stroud’s wealth of knowledge, saying he exemplifies the “true definition of someone who is a true teacher and who is called to do just that.”

Stroud responded to the praise in true form.

“With all the nice things said tonight, I guess I should have brought my wife along. I don’t know if she knows what a great guy I am,” he quipped.

On a more serious note, Stroud said it was difficult to make the decision not to run for re-election.

“It’s really been a pleasure these 28 years,” said Stroud. “In a way, you hate to leave, and then you know there’s always a time to pass the baton.”

He added that he was pleased with the caliber of candidates who ran for two open seats on the council and with those who won, Eric Fears and Charlie Bryant.

“I guess I’ve seen a lot over the years, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the city and been a part of a lot of these changes,” said Stroud. “I always tell people, it’s good to be the first Black person to do something, but it’s much more important to do well enough that you won’t be the last one elected to do it. And looking around this council tonight … I see that things are working out pretty good.”

Stroud added that he always strived to do what was best for the city.

“I can’t express what being a part of this city means to me,” he said. “I always brag on the staff because that’s our face of the city. Whatever they do, good or bad, it’s going to come back to us, and over 28 years a lot of good has come back to this city because of our staff. Decisions are not always easy to make. We have to sit up here and make tough decisions sometimes. Sometimes it goes against every principle that you have, but you weren’t elected to make people happy; you were elected to do a job. …I try to do that job to the best of my ability. Some people left here happy, some left here sad. I left here feeling that I voted the way I thought things should go for this city, not for Cleveland Stroud, for this city.”

In addition to serving on the council for 28 years, Stroud has been recognized by the community in many ways. In 2019 he was given the Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the Rockdale Black Heritage Hall of Fame induction ceremony. He’s been named the Rockdale County Teacher of the Year and earned seven Region Coach of the Year awards. He was also named State Coach of the Year and was named the county’s Citizen of the Year and the Georgia Optimist Club’s Georgian of the Year. And in 2012, the gymnasium at Rockdale High School was renamed the Cleveland Stroud Gymnasium.


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Rockdale deputy arrested following high-speed chase with state troopers
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CONYERS — A Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office deputy was arrested Dec. 5 after allegedly fleeing from a Georgia State Patrol trooper at speeds in excess of 130 mph.

Tibias Dechun Holmes, 25, was arrested by GSP Trooper Youngblood on Interstate 20 westbound in Fulton County and charged with DUI-alcohol less safe, speeding, reckless driving and fleeing and attempting to elude.

There were three other occupants in the car at the time of Holmes’ arrest. Two of them, Deputy Brandon Cornilus Oglesby, 25, and Deputy Anthony Sebastian Isaac, 22, said they are also with the Rockdale Sheriff’s Office. Oglesby was reportedly in possession of an open beer. The two deputies and a third passenger were picked up at the scene by a sergeant from RCSO, while Holmes was transported to the Atlanta City Jail.

According to a statement released to the medai by the Sheriff’s Office, “The incident is pending internal administration action. Two of the deputies are currently on administrative leave. We are working closely with GSP regarding the matter.”

Sheriff Eric J. Levett also released a statement that reads:

“My Internal Affairs Unit has worked closely with the Georgia State Patrol as we gathered all of the facts surrounding this incident. I am confident that all necessary steps for accountability and transparency will occur during this process, this incident will be thoroughly investigated at the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office. All my deputies are held to a very high standard. Anyone found to be in violation of RCSO policies, procedures, rules, regulations, and/or state law will be held accountable and disciplined accordingly.”

According to the GSP incident report, Holmes was headed westbound on I-20 near the Boulevard overpass at about 10:30 p.m. Dec. 5 when he was spotted by Trooper Youngblood. The trooper was patrolling near Moreland Avenue when he saw Holmes’ Honda Accord go by at 119 mph, according to the trooper’s radar.

Youngblood reported that he attempted to catch up to Holmes’ vehicle, but the suspect accelerated to a radar-detected speed of 134 mph. Youngblood said he was unable to gain much ground on the speeding vehicle until Holmes passed another trooper’s vehicle conducting a traffic stop on the side of the interstate with its blue lights flashing.

“At this time, Holmes slightly reduced his speed but was still traveling at a speed in excess of 100 mph …, “ Youngblood reported.

Youngblood said he was then able to catch up to Holmes’ vehicle, with lights and siren activated. He observed the Honda swerve into the HOV lane from the center lane and then aggressively approach another vehicle from the rear, narrowly avoiding hitting the car before rapidly changing lanes to the right and passing the other car.

Another trooper then joined in the pursuit, and the two officers performed a modified box-in maneuver and guided Holmes’ vehicle to the gore area of the roadway near the Hill Street exit.

Holmes was removed from his vehicle and placed in handcuffs. He reportedly told Youngblood he was a law enforcement officer with the Rockdale Sheriff’s Office. The trooper reported that he detected “an overwhelming odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from his breath.” Holmes refused to comply with the trooper’s request to conduct a field sobriety test.

Youngblood reported that it was very clear that all of the other occupants of the vehicle were “under the influence of alcohol and none of them were safe to operate a motor vehicle.”

In speaking with the other deputies in the car, Youngblood said he was informed that Holmes works for the Newton County Sheriff’s Office. However, the Newton Sheriff’s Office confirmed that Holmes is not an employee of that agency.

The RCSO sergeant who was called to the scene took possession of Holmes’ and Oglesby’s service weapons. Isaac also reportedly had a firearm that belonged to him.

Holmes was hired by the RCSO as a detention deputy in 2018 and since then has compiled a mixed record. He received a written commendation in March 2020 after he and another deputy rescued a woman who was experiencing a mental break and had swum to the middle of a lake.

However, according to his personnel file, he was disciplined three times in 2020 — in February for failing to complete an incident report within the department’s required 48 hours; in August for failing to report for duty at his assigned time, disregarding orders from two supervisors to report; and in September after he was involved in a motor vehicle accident with an RCSO vehicle. The department’s accident review board found him to be at fault.


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Rockdale school system to study creation of public safety division
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CONYERS — Rockdale County Public Schools has launched an effort to determine if a Public Safety Division is needed in the school system.

Superintendent Dr. Terry Oatts announced Tuesday that, after years of researching the merits of a Public Safety Division, the school system will move forward with reviewing such an arrangement. The decision was made in consultation with the Office of School Safety and the Board of Education.

“The time has come to seriously explore establishing our own RCPS Public Safety Division,” said Oatts in a released statement. “We value our longstanding partnership with our local law enforcement agencies, and that partnership would continue at many levels even if RCPS were to establish its own Public Safety Division.”

Within the metro-Atlanta region and throughout the state, some law enforcement agencies have experienced staffing challenges that have made it difficult at times to ensure continuity of School Resource Officer (SRO) coverage, which is the core resource for the arrangement between school districts and local law enforcement agencies.

RCPS Director of Safety Darryn Greene said the school system values its relationship with local law enforcement agencies.

“Our partnership with Conyers Police Department and the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office is solid,” said Greene. “As a former uniformed police officer at the state and local levels as well as having served in the security detail of two presidential administrations, I especially value the partnership between RCPS and our local law enforcement agencies.”

Oatts has impaneled an exploratory Public Safety Task Force consisting of key staff at the school and district levels. He will be soliciting the consultative guidance of local law enforcement and community stakeholders, including parents and students, as the district further explores the prospect of establishing its own Public Safety Division. The prospective timeline for the establishment of the Public Safety Division will be determined by the progress of the Task Force and Board of Education approval.


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