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ONE ACT PLAY STATE CHAMPIONS – During the December meeting of the Vidalia City Council, the Vidalia Heritage Academy One Act Play team was recognized for their recent Class A GAPPS State Championship Victory. Front Row, L to R: Mason Cauley, Director Selena Hutcheson, Thomas Betsill, Brantley Mae Thompson, Miranda Morgan, Lily Nuetzi, Ransom Poole. Back Row, L to R: Owen Belcher, Fine Arts Director Thomas Rhodes, Logan Belcher, Mayor Doug Roper, Hailey Morgan, Maggie Hilton, Josey Harrell, Kate Jarriel, Aubrey Betsill, Mattie Griffee.Photo by Makaylee Randolph
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ONE ACT PLAY STATE CHAMPIONS – During the December meeting of the Vidalia City Council, the Vidalia Heritage Academy One Act Play team was recognized for their recent Class A GAPPS State Championship Victory. Front Row, L to R: Mason Cauley, Director Selena Hutcheson, Thomas Betsill, Brantley Mae Thompson, Miranda Morgan, Lily Nuetzi, Ransom Poole. Back Row, L to R: Owen Belcher, Fine Arts Director Thomas Rhodes, Logan Belcher, Mayor Doug Roper, Hailey Morgan, Maggie Hilton, Josey Harrell, Kate Jarriel, Aubrey Betsill, Mattie Griffee.Photo by Makaylee Randolph

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I think it speaks volumes of Vidalia Heritage Academy to be able to recognize both teams and what they have accomplished.”

The Vidalia Heritage One Act Team – led by One Act Play Director Selena Hutcheson, Fine Arts Director Thomas Rhodes, and Volunteers Amanda Betsill, Donna Belcher, and Nancy Harrell – won the Class A Georgia Association of Private and Parochial Schools (GAPPS) State Championship during the school’s Fall semester. The team was composed of members from 7th until 12th Grades.

Also during the Fall semester, the Vidalia Heritage Academy Varsity Football team – led by Head Coach Seth Sitzman and fellow coaches Jeff McCormick, Billy Johns, Blake Adams, and Bryan Havoc– won the Class A GAPPS 8-Man Football State Championship. Due to their performance during the season, Jackson Poole, Dalton Price, and Brannen Brantley all received both All State and All Region honors, while Hardy Franklin and Trevor White earned the title of All Region players.

The participants, accompanied by their coaches and leaders, stood at the front of the meeting as Roper read official proclamations of the city’s pride in the school’s achievements through the championships.

During the public participation section of the meeting, two community leaders – Reverend Ronald Miller and Sweet Onion Animal Protection Society (SOAPS) Volunteer Dennis Ingley – spoke on the work being completed within the community.

Miller spoke first, as he detailed the community’s efforts to improve Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue within the city, and thanked the City Council and staff for their help throughout the endeavors to improve local neighborhoods. “I would like to take a moment to say thank you to some special staff members within the City Council,” he began, as he named Councilman John Raymond Turner, Interim City Manager Bill Bedingfield, City Marshal Chad Phillips, and Mayor Doug Roper for their collaboration with him.

“I think that as we continue coming together and working together, we will continue to form not only a beautiful spirit among each other and but with our community,” Miller added.

He shared that he was grateful to those coming together to beautify areas of the community, as he shared that many recently had met to discuss needed changes within their neighborhoods to beautify those areas. “I am one who believes in doing a job that no one else is doing – we will continue to do what we need to do to beautify our community, and make safe havens not only for our neighborhoods, but all of the city of Vidalia,” Miller said. “We can talk about it, but until we pick up the shoulder and each other, it will remain dead. We will do the best that we can as leaders in the community to continue that work. I am not standing here to criticize anyone – I am here to thank you for allowing us to do so.”

He continued, “I see some improvement – I can feel the warm spirit of people working. That’s the thing – coming together and working together, and that’s exactly what the community is doing.”

The Reverend ended his address, asking that the city administration continue to support this work, and thanked them again for all that they had done.

Ingley spoke second, sharing a report of the work which SOAPS completes on a daily basis.

“What we are here to tell you about is what we do at SOAPS, which we think is a really good commitment to the community and to the state,” he explained.

According to Ingley, SOAPS not only takes in stray and unwanted dogs and cats, but also rehomes the animals to areas both locally and in other states, such as Florida, Washington D.C., and New York. “We’re not just out here doing a volunteer jobs – we are doing what we feel like the community would love,” he emphasized. “My wife [Theresa] is an expert at this, and spends most of her retired life working on it.”

Ingley shared that this year alone, over 1,000 animals will be rehomed, over 1,000 low-cost sterilization procedures will be completed, dog and cat food will be supplied to all the local animal control facilities in the surrounding area, and more. He also thanked the City Council for allowing the organization to use the Vidalia Community Center for the annual Spayghetti Dinner fundraiser, which will be held on Tuesday, February 27.

Also during the meeting, Mayor Roper announced that local attorney Daniel O’Connor had been selected to fulfill the City Attorney role, as longtime City Attorney Justin Franklin would not be contracted with the municipality in 2023.

Roper commented on the change. “As most of you are probably aware, our city attorney for quite some time has been Justin Franklin, who has served us very well, but we have reached a point where Justin’s time with the city is going to come to an end,” he told the audience. “In next month’s meeting, we will be swearing in Daniel O’Connor as our next city attorney. We’re looking forward to establishing that relationship and moving forward with him.”

He continued, “Unfortunately, Justin could not be here tonight – it would be nice to thank him in a room like this, full of people – but, we certainly appreciate what he has done for us, and wish him nothing but the best moving forward.”

“Daniel, we are looking forward to working with you, and thank you for being here, as well,” Roper concluded on the subject.

Interim City Manager Bill Bedingfield cleared up concerns regarding water bills during his report within the meeting, as he informed the Council and public of the truth behind a YouTube video posted by the viral group Georgia Transparency.

According to Bedingfield, the “Georgia Transparency” group is one of the many First Amendment Auditor groups within the country, which work to “hold public offices accountable” for their actions. Bedingfield said the group came in with cameras and questioned a clerk managing one of the city hall counters, ultimately frustrating her.

Upon this frustration, the group then requested for information on the employee, who had previously been written up for using the computer system to estimate water bills, rather than reviewing the data to determine that the bills were correct. “If your bill is different by $10 or more, it comes up an alert in our system. Our policy when this happens is to edit the bill – meaning, to go in and review the amount of water used to make sure that the bill is correct. It is not a tedious process, but it does take a little bit of time,” Bedingfield explained. “However, there is an ‘estimate’ button, which averages the previous bill and new bill to form an estimation of what the bill should be. This is what that employee was doing.”

Yet, regardless of this estimation, the bill ultimately ends up catching up, according to Bedingfield, meaning any unpaid expense ultimately becomes paid for as the computer system discovers the new water usage to be normal.

Nevertheless, he said that this information got out to the public through the YouTube video, and several concerned citizens had called the City Hall. “I assure you that there was no crazy manipulation done to the bills,” Bedingfield emphasized. “Policy was not followed, and the issue has been handled.”

When asked if the employee was still employed by the city, Bedingfield chose to refrain from commenting on personnel matters within the meeting.

The Council approved a 60-day moratorium on business licenses for shortterm vacation rentals, such as Air BnB’s and VRBO properties, within the city limits. The Licensing and Permitting Committee requested this pause in licenses after contacting the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) for advice on regulating these type of businesses, as currently, Vidalia has no ordinances in place regarding these rentals. The GMA suggested reviewing ordinances from around the state to help in creating regulations applicable to Vidalia; thus, this 60-day window gives the city administration time to complete that review and drafting of ordinances.

Also at the meeting, two bids were awarded to companies for the completion of projects at the Vidalia Regional Airport and Swift Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Council members selected TCA to rehabilitate and replace Runway 7/25 lighting and signage. Passero Engineering, who is overseeing the entire Vidalia Regional Airport Runway Rehabilitation Project, recommended this company for the task, which will cost $926,100 total. The Georgia Department of Transportation will pay 75% of this cost, leaving the city’s share to total $225,000 – Interim City Manager Bill Bedingfield said that the origin of these funds within the city finances will be announced later.

Taylor Industrial Mill Supply was awarded the bid to purchase 8 pieces of aluminum bar grating for the Swift Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. This grating will be used to cover openings within the facility to help improve safety for employees. The purchase totals $13,884.72, and will be funded through the Water/ Sewer Fund, as it was budgeted for in the 2023 budget.

During the business portion of the meeting, the Council tabled the approval of a special event permit submitted by Dr. Jesus Jiminez and Dr. James Mason of the Church of Christ/ Solomon’s Temple. The men were seeking to host a revival in the field adjacent to Paul Thigpen Chevrolet, in which they would provide free food and clothing to attendees from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. each day on December 15-17. Bedingfield explained that because no local church was tied to the event, he was hesitant to suggest approval of the permit, as he felt like that local connection was needed for more information on insurance for the event. An attendee at the meeting spoke up and shared that he knew Mason, and informed the Council that the preacher was affiliated with the Solomon’s Temple church in Swainsboro. Council members agreed to table the permit until more research could be conducted on insurance for the event, and retrieved contact information for the men from the attendee.

Several alcoholic beverage and coin-operated machine licenses were renewed for 2024, but Bedingfield told Council members that 27 businesses had not met the requirements for the alcoholic beverage license renewals and would be voted on later once those issues were resolved.

During his report, Vidalia Fire Chief Brian Sikes announced that as of the end of November, the city was averaging 30 calls less than the year to date in 2022. Vidalia Police Chief James Jermon also announced that he had helped to solve an overcrowding issue at the animal shelter by cutting registration fees in half – from $40 to $20 – and by partnering with local pizza businesses to offer free pizzas to those who adopt a pet. He shared that between these incentives — and an agency out of Brooklyn, New York, which took 5 dogs back north to be rehomed – a total of 20 dogs left the shelter.

Vidalia Recreation Director Scott Strickland announced that the 8U All Star Soccer Team won the State Championship for the second year in a row – a feat which he said the Department was very proud of.

He also shared that the recreation basketball program had experienced tremendous growth, as there was now separate leagues for the 8U and 10U Girls, which has never been available because of lack of participation. The recreation basketball program is starting up soon, and will host a March Madness tournament event at the Vidalia High School gym in the coming months.

ESG Project Manager Tony Hall told the Council that 6,500 water meters continued from page

had been replaced so far in the city, and more will continue throughout the coming weeks. Main water lines and pipes are also being replaced in an effort to tackle the brown water issue within the city.

Vidalia Regional Airport Manager Billy Ragan told the council members that the airport was not only bustling with activity, but also working on planning the upcoming Vidalia Onion Festival Air Show, as Ragan recently gained contacts of potential performers at a conference in Las Vegas.

City Marshal Chad Phillips informed the Council that he was actively reviewing ordinances, and continuing to ensure that the city is running as efficiently as possible.

Downtown Vidalia Association Executive Director Tonya Parker shared that several holiday shopping events had been held downtown, and a total of $350 DVA Dollars were given out to be used in local stores and restaurants.

Parker said that training had begun for the recent designation of Vidalia as a rural zone, and more informative events on the designation would be held within the next few months.

She completed her report by informing both the Council and attendees of the annual Coffee Before Hours networking event, which will be held from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m. at Styles by Barbara.

During the meeting, Vidalia Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Alexa Britton said that by the end of November, there had been more tourists visit the area than in all of 2022, as she emphasized that 2,451 visitors had come from 47 states, 16 countries, and Puerto Rico.

She shared that several of the CVB board members recently traveled to the Savannah College of Art and Design for a presentation on the first quarter of the design phase for the Vidalia Onion Museum. The next quarter of design will begin this month.

According to Britton, December was the Pal’s busiest month, and the new seating and lights are expected to be installed in the facility within the next few months.

COMMUNITY COOPERATIVE EFFORT – Reverend Ronald Miller thanked the Vidalia City Council and administration for their help and support in improving and beautifying neighborhoods within the city.Photo by Makaylee Randolph

SPREADING THROUGHOUT THE EAST COAST – Sweet Onion Animal Protection Society (SOAPS) Volunteer Dennis Ingley told the Council that the organization’s work spanned throughout the East Coast, as they rehomed dogs as far as to New York and Florida.Photo by Makaylee Randolph

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