Glynn County Sheriff Neal Jump said he sympathizes with the plight of 66-year-old Helen McCloud Watkins, a grandmother who is caught up in an ongoing family custody dispute.
But when she chained herself to the front door of the Glynn County Courthouse in protest Wednesday afternoon, Jump had no choice but to arrest her, he said. McCloud spent the night Wednesday in the Glynn County Detention Center, charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass, according to court records. Watkins, who lives at Altamaha Regional Park, was still in jail late Thursday afternoon on $1,256 bond, a jail spokeswoman said.
Jump said earlier Thursday that he too was working to see that Watkins is released in a timely manner. She has no previous arrest record, Jump said. The detention center mugshot reveals a face more suited to baking goodies for a church social than spending time behind bars.
“I talked to her, and we’re in the process of getting her out,” Jump said early Thursday afternoon. “But what she did was wrong and violated the criminal rules of Georgia. I can’t look the other way. She said, I was trying to get attention for my case. Well, you just can’t do it this way.”
Watkins allegedly had been frustrated with the lack of progress in an ongoing custody dispute involving relatives, Jump said. On Wednesday around 4:10 p.m., she walked to the steps of the courthouse, then used a chain and a lock to secure “a part of her body” to the door, Jump said. After some negotiations with the sheriff’s office’s court services manager, Maj. Josh Lewis, Watkins voluntarily unlocked herself from the door, he said.
Deputies took her for a mental and physical medical clearance before booking her into the county detention center on the charge of criminal trespass, Jump said.
“Naturally, the first thing we did was have her medically checked,” Jump said. “She’s a happy lady, she was smiling this morning and joking. I’m very sympathetic to her cause, but the path she went down to protest it was wrong.”
With the courthouse reopening after the New Year’s Day holiday, there was relatively little activity taking place there, Jump said. The incident could have caused significant problems on a busier day in court.
Her release will be conditioned upon her agreement to stay out of further trouble, and to keep away from the courthouse unless she has specific reasons to be there, Jump said.
“I feel sorry for the lady, but what she did was improper,” Jump said. “I said, I understand your frustration, but I have to do what I was sworn to do.”
It marked the second arrest involving a protest at the Glynn County Courthouse is less than a year.
In early March of 2018, Brandon Matthew Harper unleashed a barrage of eggs on the main entrance of the courthouse, allegedly in frustration over a decision handed down in an earlier court case.
Harper entered into a pre-trail diversion agreement several days later on the felony charge of interference with government property, court records show.
Not all commissioners were pleased with the way the election of Glynn County Commission officers and the appointment of finance committee members shook out Thursday.
The commission elected its 2019 chairman and vice chairman, and approved appointments to the county’s finance committee.
Commissioner Mike Browning was unanimously elected chairman and the former chairman, Commissioner Bill Brunson, as vice chairman 6-0, Brunson himself abstaining.
“It will be a tough act to follow,” Browning said.
Commissioner Allen Booker was appointed chairman of the finance committee, serving with commissioner Peter Murphy and new commissioner David O’Quinn.
Browning postponed appointments to other board and committees, including the pension and personnel committees, because of two new commissioners who were sworn in earlier that night: David O’Quinn and Wayne Neal.
“Now that we have the two new ones seated, I need to talk with these commissioners to make sure they’re where they want to be, where they need to be,” Browning said. “… On these committees, I’m going to take a look before we get into the new year. There may be some changes. For tonight, we’re going with the finance committee.”
He said they needed to get on with appointing members of the finance committee because its next meeting is set to take place before the county commission’s next meeting.
Finance committee appointments were approved 6-1 with commissioner Bob Coleman voting against.
“It didn’t turn out like I was told it was going to,” Coleman said.
Coleman said he had a phone conversation with Browning prior to the commission meeting, during which he agreed to support Browning as chairman if Browning would nominate him to the finance committee.
“I gave Browning my support for his chairmanship, and you see what I got,” Coleman said.
He also opposed the appointment of brand new commissioners to the committee.
“You don’t just go and put a freshman commissioner on the finance committee,” Browning said. “You got to kind of grow into that stuff.”
Dealing with issues that come before the finance committee requires not only a background in financial management but also a familiarity with county government, something new commissioners may not have, he said.
“I voted to let the public know I don’t approve the stuff they’re doing here, and I’m going to fight it every chance I get,” Coleman said.
Browning, on the other hand, said it wasn’t something they’d set in stone.
“That’s something I’ve got to talk to him about. I told him that I’d think about it and we’d come back to it,” Browning said. “... I certainly want to accommodate Commissioner Coleman. He’s been on the commission for quite a while.”
He referenced his earlier comment about talking to commissioners to see what committees they want to serve on, adding that composition of the finance committee can also be altered.
“I did say we might make some changes, even the decisions we made tonight there might be some changes,” Browning said. “What we don’t want to do is nail them down before we get the new commissioners on board. The problem with all that is we have a finance committee meeting that’s going to take place before the regular commission meeting, so I put something together so we could get that meeting accomplished.”
In other business, the county commission approved a list of items recommended by the finance committee last month, including $1.87 million in spending on repaving Frederica Road from Kings Way to a point near Thrive at Frederica on St. Simons Island.
County Public Works staff said last month that the project could begin as early as February. The contractor will work at night on some of the more congested stretches of the artery.
“Day or night, there’ll be plenty of short-term pain and discomfort for all, I think, during this operation, but there is some long-term gain when we fix this,” Public Works Director Dave Austin said at a meeting in December. Along with the new pavement, intersections at Wymberly Road, Riverview Drive and Sea Island Road. Frederica will be widened to extend existing turn lanes approaching the intersection of Sea Island Road.
The commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 17.
Gas prices in these parts are dropping fast — faster, apparently, than those fuel cost experts at AAA can keep up with.
The automobile advocacy group listed the average price Wednesday for a gallon of regular gas in the Brunswick area at around $2.19 per gallon, about 22 cents less per gallon than the $2.41 per gallon in our area this time a month ago.
But it did not require shrewd shopping to find prices much cheaper than that on Wednesday. Bob Blackwell found it at $2.03 per gallon at the gas station at the Walmart Neighborhood Market in Brunswick. That comes to about 38 cents less per gallon than the average cost for gas locally in early December, which adds up to measurable savings, the Brunswick resident said.
“It’s great,” Blackwell said as he gassed up his vehicle Wednesday. “It’s good for everybody. Definitely, gas prices make a difference. The extra money right now is good.”
For instance, a person filling up Ford Explorer SUV would spend about $39.42 to fill up with 18 gallons of regular unleaded gasoline at the current average price in Brunswick of $2.19. That is roughly $6 less than it would have it cost a month ago; it added up to nearly a $7 savings at the price Blackwell was paying Wednesday at Walmart station.
The average cost of regular gas in the Brunswick area this time last year was about $2.42 per gallon, according to AAA.
Georgia’s statewide average Wednesday was $2.01 per gallon, 26 cents less per gallon statewide than motorists paid a month ago. This time last year the statewide average cost for a gallon of gas was $2.35 per gallon, according to AAA.
Nationwide, the average cost for a gallon of gas Wednesday was $2.25, nearly a quarter more per gallon than Georgians were paying on average. But gas prices have been dropping steadily at local, state and national gas pumps for several months now, said Garrett Townsend, Georigia’s AAA spokesman.
The Metro Atlanta resident paid less than $2 per gallon for gas near his home earlier this week. On average, folks in the Atlanta Metro area were paying an average of $2.08 per gallon for regular gas, according to AAA.
Townsend said nearly a third of gas pumps nationwide are charging below $2 per gallon.
“Americans are finding gas prices below $2 per gallon at 31 percent of filling stations in the U.S.,” Townsend said. “We’ve seen gas prices plummet since around October.”
The reasons for the dropping prices include everything from a wobbly stock market to a worldwide oversupply of crude oil. It has been nearly 18 months since Georgians, and the rest of America, saw gas prices this low, Townsend said.
“We would attribute it mainly to a weakness in the stock market and concerns about global crude (oil) oversupply,” Townsend said. “It’s been sort of a roller coaster ride for those prices in crude, but in the end it is leveling out and that translates to lower prices at the pump for us.”
Brunswick resident Kenneth Green could have told him that. The Brunswick resident and military veteran of Desert Storm has kept a steady eye on the falling gas prices.
“A lot of it is coming out of the Middle East, from OPEC,” said the retired minister from Ohio, as he filled up at $2.03 a gallon at the Walmart station. “I was reading the other day that a barrel of crude in Iraq has gone from $84 per barrel to $64 per barrel to now, where it’s somewhere around $40 to $44 a barrel. If you follow that you will see that there’s going to be a significant reduction in gas prices. Now that’s doing a lot of good for us, the consumers. It’s good news, absolutely.”
Folks were lined up in a deluge of rain blowing sideways late Thursday afternoon at the pas pumps at the Dash Food Mart, 3900 Newcastle St. And why not, at $2 per gallon for regular? It looked even better on the Gas 2 Go pump outside front, which advertised gas at “$1.99” (and nine-tenths) per gallon.