Thursday, March 15, 2012

Commission approves $7,000 expense for study on federal land

 By Blenda Copeland

Some were asking: why would the Russell County Commission approve an unbudgeted expense of up to $7,000 for a study on land that’s mostly controlled by the federal government?
And where is the commission going to pull the money from?
The questions popped up when the commission approved a request from James McGill, director of special projects for the Phenix City-Russell County Chamber of Commerce.
McGill was briefing the commission on the status of a proposed west gate entrance to Fort Benning.
“We’re building a brand new route,” McGill said in an interview after the meeting. The west gate bridge would be different from Fort Mitchell’s existing back entrance to Fort Benning from Highway 165.
The route McGill was referencing would extend from County Road 24 northeast to the Eddy Bridge – an approximate distance of about two miles or less. It would be in the vicinity of the next intersection after the intersection that’s near Rainbow Foods in Fort Mitchell.
The project is one McGill’s been working on since November 2005. But talk of the project dates back seven years, he said.
McGill said in order to move forward, three major steps were required: first, get permission to enter that area, because most of it is federally-controlled land. That step was completed in January. The second step was to get the commission to approve spending up to an estimated $7,000 on a corridor location study. McGill said the county hasn’t had to do one of those since the ‘70s because most of today’s projects are on roads that have already had such studies done. The deadline on that step was the end of March. The third step is having an Environmental Assessment/or Environmental Impact Study (EIS), whichever is required. Those kinds of studies address existing issues and impacts that roadwork could have on habitats of red cockaded woodpeckers, tortoises and other such populations--if any--and other environmental factors. Such a study’s timeline could span about 90 days or longer.
Along the way, all steps of the process are subject to review and approval by Fort Benning/federal officials.
McGill said there’s no guarantee federal officials will approve the project. But if they do approve it, commissioners could expect an additional waiting period of 18-28 months.
The tradeoffs for the county are: increased traffic safety where some of Fort Mitchell’s newest subdivisions are clustered, a corridor that could enhance growth and development, and a direct route to Fort Benning from that part of the county.
The majority of commissioners supported the west gate project. The lone opposing voice was Commissioner Gentry Lee’s. He said since the west gate would be on mostly federally-controlled land, he’d rather give first preference to other local roads and projects. “I can’t put it (the west gate project) over some of the other things that we need to do,” he said.
All commissioners except Lee voted in favor of spending the money. One commissioner asked County Administrator LeAnn Horne a question before casting a vote. The commissioner wanted to know if the county’s budget could accommodate the unbudgeted $7,000 request. Horne replied, “I’ll do my best.”

Local mom lobbies for down syndrome at the capital

By Denise DuBois

A local mom went to Washington D.C. recently to lobby congressmen for support on Down Syndrome. This is an issue that Melissa Clark knows about personally. Clark’s 4 year old son, John Henry, has Down Syndrome.
“He does everything a typical boy does,” she said. “He is fully capable of learning. It just takes him longer. His speech is delayed. He should not be shied away from. He should be treated as an individual and not a condition.”
The treatment of those with Down Syndrome is what Clark is passionate about. An issue she and others were talking to congressmen about is called the ABLE Act (Achieving a Better Life Experience).
“This affects the quality of life for those with Down Syndrome,” Clark said.
The ABLE Act was introduced in November 2011. It will give parents of children with disabilities the ability to save for their child’s future without the saved money counting against the family’s eligibility for federal benefits.  The legislation also contains Medicaid fraud protection against abuse and a Medicaid pay-back provision when the beneficiary passes away.
Clark said she had a good time in Washington D.C. She and the group she was with visited offices of Alabama and Georgia congressmen and made 19 visits to others. She talked to representatives about money researching Down Syndrome because she said it’s one of the least funded conditions.
While in Washington D.C., Clark attended the Down Syndrome Affiliates in Action (DSAIA) Annual Leadership Conference. Clark is part of the Chattahoochee Valley Down Syndrome Support Group and was the area’s representative at the conference.
“I’m excited to be a part of this unique conference which encourages the exchange of ideas and resources throughtout the Down Syndrome community as a whole,” Clark said. “DSAIA brings Down Syndrome groups together to share best practices and materials. This allows organizations like ours to shorten the learning curve, save money on costs and better serve our local community.”
The Chattahoochee Valley Support Group serves to enhance the lives of all individuals with Down Syndrome by providing information and support to the individuals, their families and the professionals working with them. The group educates the community to promote acceptance, respect and inclusion of all individuals with Down Syndrome.

Firefighter's medical call follows him two years later

By Denise DuBois

In 2010, the Phenix City Fire Department had 3,088 total calls for the year. There were 2,013 EMS calls that the department responded to and one call in March that followed the responding officer two years later.
The fire department helped Sherwood Elementary School celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday on March 2. Firefighters read to classes the tongue-twisting books of the famous author and showed off the colorful pages.
When a group of fire fighters went into Jaime Dyer’s second grade class, Miles Massey, a 7-year-old blond-headed boy, got excited saying the firefighters saved his daddy. Miles told the story of his father having a heart attack and firefighters saving him. Tori Woods, the responding officer from two years ago, stepped forward and hugged the little boy.
“I kept thinking ‘which fire department is this?’” Miles said a few days later. “It gave me flashbacks. And I asked them ‘did you save my daddy’s life?’ I was a little scared.”
When Miles told his class what happened to his dad, he said they were all frozen.
Jeffery Lee Massey was in the hospital for over a month in April 2010. More than 30 days of his time spent was while he was in a coma.
“They had me iced down so the swelling would go down,” Jeffery said. “That’s probably what saved my life.”
Jeffery was working in his car dealership the day of the heart attack. Thankfully, Phenix City’s Station 1 is right across the street from Lee Massey Auto Sales. Kris Kennedy, Phenix City’s fire chief said Matthew Oubre and Woods were the responding officers that day.
Kim, Miles’ mother, said she thought it was a bad April Fools joke when she got the call from a family member about the accident. But it was only March 31.
“I though he’d gotten his days mixed up,” Kim said.
Miles was only in kindergarten when the accident happened. He remembers some of it though.
“I was scared,” he said. “I was at school when it happened. I was pouring water out of my eyes.”
It’s been two years since the accident and Miles still waves to the firefighters when he sees them.
Jeffery sent pizzas to the fire station once he recovered and still thanks the paramedics when he sees them. When the second-grader isn’t waving to firefighters, he is watching big trucks on TV or the Discovery Channel. He also plays baseball.
The Phenix City Fire Department goes on calls everyday to help citizens with emergencies and fires. In 2011, they responded to 3,288 calls- 2,356 were medically related. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Troy river campus may have two buildings

Denise DuBois:

Troy University in Phenix City has planned to move the business college to the riverfront. That announcement was made months ago. The plan was for one building of classrooms and conference rooms. Now, City Manager Wallace Hunter said there is a plan for a second building to be constructed at the same site. 
Troy University has not confirmed the statement yet. Officials released a statement last week saying, “Plans regarding the construction of Troy University’s riverfront site in Phenix City are still being finalized. At this point, all of our efforts are focused on completing the final stages of our fund raising campaign. With the strong support of the city of Phenix City and members of the community, including the recent $600,000 gift from the Daniel Foundation, we feel confident that we will meet our goal for this project.” 
On April 6, Troy University will bring its football team to play its spring scrimmage game at Garrett-Harrison Stadium. That day, Troy University officials will announce plans for the Phenix City riverfront campus as well as hold a ground breaking for the campus.  

SSHS Choir to perform at Carnegie Hall

Blenda Copeland: 

It’s the crowning choral moment of the year: 31 Smiths Station High School students have landed an invitation to sing at New York City’s Carnegie Hall in a few weeks.
The SSHS Chamber Choir leaves April 1 to join six other choirs in singing in the National Festival Chorus. 
The highly esteemed Dr. Z. Randall Stroope will direct the chorus as it sings six songs, from classical to contemporary, in three languages – English, Latin and Russian. Stroope wrote three of the songs that will be performed.
The students that are going on the trip are a part of the top auditioned choir at Smiths Station. They are chosen by stringent audition each spring, said their director, Faye K. Haag, in an email. Haag is in her 13th year at SSHS. The school choir’s accompanist is Scott Yeilding.
In an interview, Haag compared the honor of singing at Carnegie Hall via a sports analogy. “First, Carnegie Hall is the most prestigious concert hall in the U.S. as far as its history goes, and one of the most prestigious in the world…” she said. “…It’s kind of like one of the local teams going to a national playoff in sports…It’s sort of our World Series…”
Haag said she’s this year’s choir had what it took.
“This was the right group to go,” she said. “They are exceedingly talented. They really have worked hard for this.”
The students will be supervised by 16 chaperones.
The students going to New York are:  Troy Turkatte, Patrick Somerlot, James Word, Andrew McLendon, Payton Pryor, Lindsay Bush, Jenna Griffin, Rayven Hamby, Hannah Jordan, Lauren Leo, Courtney Tatum, Emily Hughes, Scarlett Peters, Billi Bonner, Deyanna Johnson, Victoria Johnson, Danesha Davis, Courtney Smith, Michelle Mobley, Hannah Overholser, Brittany Washington, Elana Woodall, Elanie Jarrett, Kateland Stevenson, Lindsay Pope, Natasha Matos, Mallory Reynolds, Jordan Spivey, Cara Creel, Tori Evenson and Stephanie Lee.

νHear a sample of the music the choir will sing:

The choir will be presenting a one-hour concert of the songs March 18, 2012 at Epworth United Methodist Church on Highway 280 in Phenix City, 6 p.m. ET.
Concert is free and open to the public.

Clark leaves Citizen

Blenda Copeland:

After a newspaper career of more than 38 years, an anchoring editor of The Citizen has announced that he’s moving forward with his future.
Citizen Executive Editor Mark Clark made the announcement Tuesday. He will be succeeded by former staff writer Denise DuBois, who now will head the publication.
Clark, a highly decorated writer, began working for The Citizen when it was called The Phenix Citizen-Herald
He wrote his first published story at age 15. “I walked in and talked to (then-editor) Jane Gullatt and told her I was interested in becoming a sports writer,” Clark said. “And she said if I was serious that she’d find something for me to do.” He was assigned to cover a Central High football game. Clark joked that he must not have done too poor of a job because later he was assigned to cover Chattahoochee Valley Community College basketball. He ended up working under an estimated 8-10 editors during the span of his newspaper career.
His 9th grade year in high school Clark was a staff member at The Bulldog Bark, South Girard School’s newspaper. He was also the sports editor of The Keyhole at Central High and started CVCC’s first newspaper, The Buccaneer. Through the years he’s also done stringer work for The Montgomery-Advertiser, Opelika-Auburn News, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Birmingham News, Birmingham Post Herald and Mobile Press-Register. He’s had bylines in almost every major Alabama newspaper at some point through his career.
Through the decades, Clark also garnered numerous awards for his work, estimated at over 30 recognitions in nearly all categories, including advertising, columns, headlines, photos, sports and more. Central High recently honored him for having attended 252 consecutive Central football games. And he was recently privileged to accept the Partner-In-Education of the Year Award for 2012 on behalf of The Citizen during Central’s annual Heart of the Community awards ceremony.
As for his decision to leave, Clark said it’s time.
“There just comes a time when you need to go on, and this is my time to go on,” he said. “I appreciate every column you read, every article you read, and every picture you looked at.” 
The newspaperman said he hopes The Citizen continues to be a great community newspaper. He enjoyed the highs of the print world, rejoicing most in the stories that never won awards: those about average, local kids making it in the sports world and getting their names in the paper. One highlight that stands out: “The real joy was putting out at 54-page special section after Phenix City became the U.S. Little League champions,” he said. He was overjoyed to see five of the nine players on that year’s team get drafted into the major leagues. Of that number, Colby Rasmus today plays for the Toronto Bluejays.
Clark also noted that “parting now doesn’t mean I’m gone forever.” 
He praised his successor’s abilities, saying that Denise DuBois has what it takes to step in and take over as editor of the paper.  

Special Response: Phenix City unit stands prepared

Denise DuBois 

Jason Whitten has been with the Phenix City Police Department since 1994. He has been a part of the department’s swat team since 1997. The lieutenant has been part of hostage situations, mutual aid conditions and rescue teams. 
It’s all in a day’s work as part of the Special Response Team. 
Whitten heads the team with the help of Greg Lahr, the team leader. There are 12 men who make up the special group within the police department. Four of those men are snipers. They are former military, explosive experts, paramedics, entry team specialists, and every one of them volunteers their time for the elite titles. 
The team trains three times a month beyond what the police department demands. The fitness level of these men is above all others and you can bet when they shoot a gun, they hit their target. They train to get into homes or buildings and they train for active shooters. 
Whitten said the motto of the SRT is to get every one home safely when they are in tough situations. 
“These are outstanding officers,” Whitten said of the men he commands. “There aren’t many situations we can’t handle.” 
Those situations come, on average, once a month. Whitten said the team has about 10 circumstances each year when the SRT is needed. 
Some weapons the team uses are not to be named. The ones they can talk about include rifles, hand guns, a grenade thrower, cameras that allow people to be seen in the dark, rubber ball cameras that can be thrown into windows, cameras that look around walls and much, much more. Whitten said the equipment they use keeps getting better.
“Technology is ever changing and we have to keep up with it,” he said. 
Whitten said the team has great support from the city and getting the equipment they need to be successful. 
When the team isn’t involved in a serious situation, Whitten said they compete in shooting tournaments and go through FBI sniper schools. The police department hosted the FBI sniper school where agencies all over the state came and trained at the local facility. Four officers in Phenix City went through the training. 
Whitten remembers some of the situations he has been involved in. They consist of times when the team has aided another agency and a mission that involved rescuing a mother and three children who were being held hostage. 
Of his team and the work they do, Whitten said, “You don’t realize how important it is until it’s needed.” 

Gullatt was one of a kind

Blenda Copeland: 

Two years shy of its 30th anniversary, the founder of a popular local barbecue chain has died.
William Michael
“Mike” Gullatt, 65, died March 8. 
Retired almost seven years from Mike and Ed’s Barbecue, the business he started in 1984, Gullatt left memories unmatched by others.
“He was a good guy to be around, a really fun type guy,” said his cousin Jack Gullatte. “No doubt about it, he had many, many friends. And he was well-liked. He worked hard in his business at Mike and Ed’s. He already had a lot of fans, but he made more with time.”
Mike was known for the way he’d tell super-long stories with a thick Southern drawl, his family said. And keeping a straight face when joking or picking on people. He had a dry, sarcastic wit and was always ready with a retort when someone thought she had finally returned the joke on him, according to his family.
In a tribute post on Facebook, one of Gullatt’s close friends, Greg Glass, wrote that “rare individual” wouldn’t begin to describe his old friend. Glass noted that “The legacy he leaves us is humor, have fun, enjoy every day.”
Customers loved him or feared being the target of his teasing. “He knew everybody’s weakness and would go after it,” said his son, Clay Gullatt. Mike’s business partner of 22 years, Ed Cook, said Mike didn’t mean anything by the ribbing.

“He’d always make little remarks,” he said. “Everybody loved Mike. He was fun to be around. He’d tell jokes. And he’d do anything for you.” Cook also said Gullatt was “a smart guy” and the “perfect business partner.” Tough on employees but a man who secretly gave to those in need, not everyone got to see what his family saw.
“He’d adopt families every Christmas,” Clay said. “He was very methodical about it,” Clay’s sister, Kerri, added. “He would say, ‘Give me your bills.’ And then he would pay (these people’s) gas bills, electric bills, mortgages, even cell phone cards … Nobody ever knew that.” He also helped one faithful employee that struggled to get above the minimum wage life. Today, that employee owns a Mike and Ed’s franchise in Auburn. Framed on the wall there is a handwritten letter from the owner’s former mentor, congratulating and inspiring her. 
Gullatt’s edification was evident at home too.
“He was very loving and forgiving and accepting of me,” said his wife, Donna. His daughter said he constantly supported her and her family in whatever trials they endured in life. And he was his son’s best friend. The two loved tailgating together. They’d go every year to whatever the “game of a lifetime” was that football season. “He was right there with us,” his son said. Earlier this year, on New Year’s Day, the pair was seen on TV in the front row crowd. 
Being close to his family was a given for Mike Gullatt. His daughter recalled the effect his first grandchild had on him. “Friends would come up and say, ‘What’s up with your dad? He’s being really nice,’” she said with a laugh. Like most grandparents, he doted on his grandchildren. He’d get teary-eyed and cry, lip quivering. “He was so proud,” Kerri said. 
All the while, the tolls of health were calling.
Mike had his first heart attack at age 35. Coronary health problems ran in his family. He retired at age 59.
The restaurant, which Gullatt bought as Circle E, which later became Circle G and is now known as Mike and Ed’s, started as one restaurant in Phenix City. The restaurant started franchises 12 years ago. Today there are four franchises: one in Smiths station, two in Columbus, the home office in Phenix City and one in Auburn. 
Mike Gullatt’s funeral was held Monday. He was buried at Ft. Mitchell National Cemetery. He was a U.S. Navy Veteran, member of the Golden Quarter Club and former co-owner of Mike & Ed’s Bar-B-Q in Phenix City. He is survived by his wife, Donna Kinney Gullatt, Smiths Station; daughter, Kerri Gullatt Clark and husband Larry,  Dacula, Ga.; son, Michael “Clay” Gullatt, wife Terri, Phenix City; sisters, Ann Roberts, husband John, Alexander City, Ala., and Jean Amato, Lighthouse Point, Fla.; grandchildren, Hanna Clark, Zachary Clark, Emma Lee Gullatt, and Hope Gullatt; extended family and many caring friends. 

Honey's to open in Phenix City soon

Blenda Copeland: 

Drop the ‘S,’ put up a new sign and Phenix City will have “Honey’s” Restaurant in a few weeks where a former buffet-style American restaurant used to sit.
Opening at the end of this month or by the beginning of April, Honey’s will be located on the service road paralleling Highway 280, in the same building that used to house Shoney’s Restaurant.
The new restaurant’s co-owners are Grecian-born Dimitrios Goumas and Misty Toney, whose nickname is “Honey.” 
Goumas immigrated to the U.S. at age 23. His former restaurant was in Gwinnett County, Ga., before bringing Honey’s to Phenix City. He said the restaurant here will feature freshly prepared meals with no shortcuts or cheap ingredients. 
“Everything’s homemade,” he said. “We make the sauce and everything. It makes a huge difference in the quality.” Some of the house specialties are his own mother’s recipes, unique only to Honey’s. Meanwhile, “Misty brings the good, Southern hospitality,” Goumas said.
The menu will feature lots of authentic Greek and Italian items, as well as American fare. Mediterranean influence will be prevalent throughout. There will be steaks, seafood, salads, soups and more. Honey’s will also feature a breakfast buffet until 11 a.m. ET and lunch buffets, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. ET. 
Goumas said he was attracted to the Phenix City location because of its familiarity.
“I used to drive through here on the way to Destin (Fla.),” he said. 
He drove through with a friend a while ago and noticed the building was for sale.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Miss Alabama USA

By Denise  DuBois 
Staff Writer 

Katherine Webb went from playing softball in the Phenix City youth leagues to being crowned Miss Alabama USA. Webb was crowned on Jan. 28 at the Miss Alabama USA Pageant, a preliminary to the Miss USA beauty pageant.
“Words can’t even describe the feeling,” she recalled standing on stage with another girl waiting for the announcement as the runner up to Miss Alabama USA. “They didn’t call my name and I just remember thinking oh my gosh, my life is forever changed and my dreams have come true. It’s an amazing thing.”
Webb grew up in Phenix City and Columbus. She graduated from Northside High School then she and her family moved to Phenix City.
“That way my brother and I could get in-state tuition to Auburn,” she said.
The charismatic 22-year-old got started in pageants after a stint in modeling. A prom and pageant designer convinced her to do some modeling.
“Being around them and getting to know them, I was inspired,” she said. “It definitely made me want to compete.”
At 18, Webb competed in the Miss Georgia USA pageant and won Miss Photogenic. She was also in the top 15.
“That was a great first experience,” she said.
She waited until after college to compete again, something her dad helped her decide. Once graduation was over, it was time for Miss Alabama USA. 
For this pageant, the young girl already had some experience, but things were different.
She said the time allowed her to know who she was as a person and grow.
“Being more confident and self assured with who I was and who I wanted to portray was the biggest difference,” she said of the two pageants.
Being in the Miss Alabama USA pageant wasn’t just about winning. She said the most important thing she took away from the experience was getting to know the girls she competed with.
And she added, “The confidence and self assurance of competing in the pageant in front of an audience was the best thing. I’ve known what it means to be competitive. It’s a growing and learning experience about yourself.”
Webb said being on stage before the winner is announced, a lot goes through your mind.
“You want to win so badly. To actually be standing there with me and the other girl waiting for your name to be announced or not be announced, you’re nervous, excited, worried they might not call your name. You think my life might be about to change or I might go back home and be Katherine. It’s an indescribable thing.”
Preparing for the pageant was a big deal for Webb. She spent time at the gym, and she prepared mentally. “You have to mentally see yourself winning,” she said.
Her favorite part is being on stage.
“I was really nervous, I won’t lie. I had to channel that nervous into energy that people would see,” Webb said.
But everything wasn’t easy for the tall brunette. The first night of the competition, she lost her shoe on stage while competing in the swimsuit portion of the pageant. Webb recovered wonderfully and she thinks being calm ever gave her a few extra points with the judges. The interview was her favorite portion because she got to be herself and show the judges her personality.
As a role model, Webb looks to Tim Tebow because he stands for what he believes in.
“Now, there are not a lot of people in the public eye that really stay true to themselves. That’s what I hope to do as Miss Alabama,” she said.
Webb wants to be someone others look up to. 
Webb’s goal is to bring the Miss USA title to Alabama, as well as open doors for her future.
Webb has modeled in New York, Atlanta and Miami and says the entertainment industry is where she wants to be.
For other girls who want to be in the entertainment industry, Webb says getting into the Miss USA pageant is a good start. She says one of the most important things is to have confidence and inner beauty.
“It doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside. It’s about inner beauty and who you are on the inside, how you portray yourself in public, and how you’re going to make a difference.”
Webb is an Auburn graduate. She works at the Columbus Chick-fil-a as a manager and training director.
She has three siblings: David, 25, and twins Matthew and Laurie who are 18. Her parents are Alan and Leslie.