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Candice Branche named Juvenile Court judge in Newton
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COVINGTON — Candice Branche has been selected to serve as Newton County Juvenile Court judge for the next four years.

The selection was announced Dec. 24. Every four years, the Superior Court judges in the Alcovy Judicial Circuit are tasked with appointing a Juvenile Court judge in each county in the circuit — Newton and Walton. In Walton County, the judges reappointed Judge Stan Rhymer, who has served as Juvenile Court judge there for the past 16 years.

Branche succeeds Judge Sheri Roberts, who died due to ongoing health issues in April, just days before she was scheduled to retire. Roberts had served as Juvenile Court judge in Newton County for more than 10 years.

Prior to Branche’s appointment last week, Roberts’ associate judge, Jenny Carter, was appointed to serve in an interim capacity until Roberts’ term expires on Dec. 31.

In announcing Branche’s appointment, Chief Superior Court Judge John Ott said that Branche has “an extensive background in dealing with troubled youth. She received two degrees from the University of Georgia, an undergraduate psychology degree and a master’s degree community counseling.”

Branche has also been a trainer for the National Drug Court Institute, director of needs assessment for Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health, the Charter Greenville Behavioral Health and CPD Parkwood Hospital in Atlanta. She has operated a day care center in South Carolina as part of a program for under privileged children and she has overseen a staff of 15 full-time and part-time employees. She served in the Newton County District Attorney’s Office as an assistant district attorney for approximately nine years in the Juvenile Court, in addition to trying major felony cases as the deputy chief assistant district attorney. She was appointed as an associate Probate Court judge in August.

Branche has lived in Newton County for 15 years and is the mother of two daughters, Lexie and Lindsey.

Leave 2020 behind with First Day guided hikes at Panola Mountain
  • Updated

STOCKBRIDGE — Panola Mountain State Park rangers are giving residents an opportunity to leave 2020 behind and welcome the New Year with guided hikes on Jan. 1.

Dubbed First Day Hikes, participants will get to write down their 2020 burdens and toss them into a fire before climbing to the top of the mountain which, according to park officials, symbolizes all the great things each will accomplish in 2021.

Hikes are open to those ages 10 and up; no pets are permitted. The hike is 3 miles and moderately strenuous. Hikers should wear sturdy shoes and bring water. Space is limited and registration is required. Call 770-389-7801 to register. The cost is $10 plus $5 to park.

Four First Day hikes will be held on Jan. 1 from 9 a.m. to noon, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 1 to 4 p.m. and 3 to 6 p.m.

In addition to the First Day Hikes, Panola Mountain has a host of events scheduled in January including:

Naturalist Hike at Vaughter’s Farm

Jan. 3 from 9 to 11 a.m. The hike is limited to 12 participants and pre-registration is required. Hikers will take a guided hike along the Meadow Loop at Vaughter’s Farm and learn about the area’s history and native species. The cost is $3 and $5 to park.

Guided Mountain Hike

Jan. 3 from 1 to 4 p.m. and Jan. 9 from 1 to 4 p.m. Hikers will be guided by rangers to get a close look at the mountain’s ecology and see how outcrop plants live in the harsh environment. The cost is $10 plus $5 to park. Advance registration is required.

Lost But Found Safe and Sound

Jan. 9 from 3 to 4 p.m. hikers will learn techniques for staying safe and keeping track of your family while in the outdoors. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources Search and Rescue Dog Team volunteer, Diane Stone, and her K9 companion Keegan will lead the interactive class. Participants should meet at the Nature Center. Advanced registration is required. The cost is $5 to park.

To see a complete list of events at the park, visit explore.gastateparks.org/events?p=11 or www.gastateparks.org/PanolaMountain.

Panola Mountain is located at 2620 Ga. Highway 155 SW in Stockbridge. To register for an event, call 770-389-7801.

Democrats call on Newton County to enforce mask-wearing by elections volunteers
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COVINGTON — A mask dispute between Democrats and Republicans volunteering as observers and adjudicators for the absentee ballot process continued over the weekend, with Democrats calling on county leadership to enforce a mask requirement for volunteers at the county’s Administration Building.

Observers for the Newton County Democratic Party walked out of the Newton County Board of Elections Office Monday and Tuesday last week after they complained that a Republican monitor was improperly wearing a mask Tuesday and that she was wearing a faceshield on Wednesday. The Democrats argued that a faceshield without a mask is not sufficient protection against the spread of COVID-19 and does not meet CDC guidelines.

In an email to Board of Elections Chairman Phil Johnson, Dr. Ryan Barrett Sr., chairman of the Newton County Democratic Party, said he had instructed the Democrat members of the voter review panel and monitors for the ballot process that “until we hear concretely that their safety will be made a priority and a face covering that is in compliance with the CDC guidelines (will be required) … I cannot in good faith ask any of them to return to continue the processing and adjudicating of ballots for this election.”

Newton County has a mask mandate for public places, but Johnson said that there are exceptions in the ordinance that “limit our ability to enforce beyond what’s in the law.” Johnson said the Board of Elections consulted with the county and with the Sheriff’s Office and was told that wearing a faceshield fulfilled the county’s mask ordinance requirements.

Over the weekend, Democrats sent out several emails to county officials complaining about the county’s lack of enforcement.

In an email to members of the Board of Commissioners Sunday, Juanita Carson said she had volunteered as an adjudicator and observer in the November General Election, but she felt uncomfortable because one volunteer from the GOP refused to wear a mask and then agreed to wear only a faceshield.

“I was not comfortable but continued because I felt this was important,” wrote Carson. “I expressed my concern to members of the Board of Elections. Now after the recent surge of cases and hospitalizations, I am no longer willing to risk my health and my life. I am 80 years old. I have a daughter with cancer who is severely immune compromised. Others in our group have health issues or family members who are compromised.”

In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Chairman Banes “strongly” encouraged mask-wearing and social distancing as key ways identified by the Department of Health to protect the community from COVID-19.

Banes said the county’s mask ordinance is in line with the one adopted by Gov. Brian Kemp. He noted that no local order may exceed the governor’s executive order.

Newton’s mask ordinance asks that anyone in a public place abide by the ordinance if they do not fall under one of the exemptions outlined in the ordinance. The exemptions are broad and, in particular, do not require anyone entering a polling place to wear a mask, although most do.

The exemptions in the ordinance are listed below:

1. When Social Distancing is both possible and being actively practiced;

2. In personal vehicles;

3. On residential property;

4. On private property where the owner or legal occupant of the property does not consent to enforcement of this Ordinance (there shall be a presumption of consent to enforcement unless the owner/occupant affirmatively indicates otherwise);

5. If a medical provider has advised against the use of a face covering due to an underlying medical issue or because wearing such covering presents a health, safety, or security risk;

6. To the extent removal of the covering is necessary to receive personal services (e.g. haircuts or makeup);

7. To the extent removal of a covering is necessary to treat or examine a person subject to the direction of a medical professional;

8. When consuming food or beverages; however, a face covering shall be required when interacting with others who are not at an individual’s immediate table (i.e. fellow patrons, servers, staff, etc.);

9. To the extent temporary removal of the face cloth is necessary for the purposes of verifying a person’s identity for the purposes of law enforcement, purchasing alcohol, tobacco, or prescription drugs;

10.If a person is employed and working in their capacity as a governmental professional (i.e. public safety, fire, sanitation), or medical professional and is wearing more protective equipment or is otherwise prohibited from utilizing a face covering by the policy of their employer;

11. If an employer consults with an occupational safety and health professional who determines in writing that face coverings are not appropriate for employees, because of heat or other health related or safety concerns;

12. If wearing a mask poses a greater mental or physical health safety or security risk such as when a person has trouble breathing, is unconscious, is incapacitated, or is unable to remove or put on the face covering without assistance;

13. If an individual has a bona fide conscientious objection to the wearing of a face covering based upon health, ethical, or religious reasons; or

14. At any Polling Place, as defined under O.C.G.A. § 21-2-2(27), and no individual shall be denied ingress or egress to or from a Polling Place for failure to wear a face covering or face mask.

Dr. Ann Kimbrough resigns as director of Rockdale County Stormwater Management
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Dr. Ann Kimbrough

CONYERS — Eleven months after she was hired as the director of the Rockdale County Stormwater Management Department, Dr. Ann Kimbrough has resigned.

Kimbrough replaced Todd Cosby as the director in January 2020. Cosby had been director since Stormwater became a separate department in 2018. Cosby has since left Rockdale County and is now a senior engineering project manager at Falcon Design Consultants in McDonough.

Kimbrough’s background was in communications rather than engineering, and she saw her role as being more of educating citizens on the need for stormwater and what their monthly fee goes toward.

Rockdale County is already advertising for a new director and lists among the qualifications the need for bachelor and master’s degrees in civil engineering, civil engineering technology, environmental engineering, construction management, public or business administration, or a related field. It also lists a qualification of 10 years of progressively responsible experience in civil engineering and/or public works administration, including at least four years of experience involving management of a variety of programs and supervision of a sizable professional, administrative, and maintenance staff.

Jennifer Rutledge, the director of Legislative Affairs and Rockdale County clerk, has been named interim director of Stormwater while the search for a new director continues.

Kimbrough is the fourth county department director to leave since July, and several other changes in leadership have been made as well:

♦ Rockdale Water Resources — Derek Bogan was promoted to director in November. Dr. Terrell Boggs had been serving as acting direction since January 2019 when Angie Luna left. Bogan has been serving as deputy director.

♦ Planning and Development — Kc Krzic resigned as director in July, and Kalanos Johnson was approved as director in December.

♦ Technology Services — Al Yelverton resigned as director and Maurice Fickln resigned as deputy director, both in July. Margaret A. Moore-Johnson was approved as director in October.

♦ Finance — Roselyn Miller resigned as director in September and deputy director William Vaughn has been serving as acting director while a search for a new director continues.

♦ Chief of Staff — Corey Hambrick resigned effective Dec. 31, and Jamie Cabe, currently the Rockdale County clerk of Superior Court, will become chief of staff on Jan. 1.

♦ E♦ mergency Management Agency — Dan Morgan has been named the first director of the new Emergency Management Agency Department. The EMA was previously under another public safety department. Morgan, who had been serving as both EMA director and Rockdale County fire chief, resigned as fire chief in December to move into his new role.

♦ Rockdale County Fire Rescue — Marian McDaniel was named the new Rockdale County fire chief in December.