An estimated 120 employees at the Georgia-Pacific Sterling Sawmill no longer have jobs.
The workers were told on Thursday that the plant, in operation since 1982, will stop manufacturing operations immediately. The employees were told they will continue to be paid and receive all benefits through April 2.
Rick Kimble, senior manager of communications for Georgia-Pacific, said a team of company representatives went to the plant and met in person, first with plant management, followed by union leaders and then with employees to break the news.
Employees were surprised and disappointed with the announcement.
“It’s probably the toughest thing you’ll ever do,” Kimble said of telling workers they no longer have a job.
Some employees will be asked to continue showing up to the plant to help ship the remaining inventory of wood and to permanently close the plant. Many workers will collect a paycheck the next two months, regardless of whether they are asked to help shutter the plant.
Those who are asked to work will do because they don’t want a paycheck without working, Kimble said.
“It’s a matter of pride,” he said.
Laid off employees will have an opportunity to transfer to other Georgia-Pacific facilities across the nation if they are qualified for the open jobs, Kimble said.
There will also be a job fair scheduled sometime soon for those workers who are considering a career change.
“It will take a while for them to realize how this impacts them,” he said. “It could be an individual decision. We’ll do everything to help.”
The plant is being closed because of several factors, including the difficultly in getting timber at a competitive price. One of the problems is there is a shortage of workers qualified to work in the timber harvesting industry.
“Not everyone is interested in working in that type of environment,” Kimble said.
Another factor was housing starts are down, reducing the demand for wood and other Georgia-Pacific facilities have expanded their capacity to manufacture the same timber products.
“We have worked with that particular mill for a long time to make it more competitive,” Kimble said.
Another company spokesman, Randall Morris, said no decision has been made about what to do with the equipment inside the facility. When Gilman Paper Co. closed permanently in 2002, costing more than 900 employees their jobs, an auction was held to sell all the equipment in side.
Qualified employees who want to transfer to other Georgia-Pacific facilities may not have to travel far.
“There are 17 or 18 Georgia-Pacific facilities in this state alone,” Morris said. “There are opportunities for these Georgia-Pacific employees.”
McIntosh County Clerk of Court Rebecca McFerrin is under investigation in response to a judge’ and other officials’ assertions that she is not effectively carrying out all duties of the office.
Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order Wednesday forming a committee composed of Attorney General Chris Carr and two county clerks of court to investigate McFerrin’s office and to report back within 30 days.
State law authorizes such investigations when clerks are charged with crimes or allegations are made of misconduct in office or any incapacity to perform the functions of the office, Kemp’s order said.
The order said it was in response to a formal request from officials in the Atlantic Judicial Circuit.
The request came in the form of a letter from Chief Superior Court Robert L. Russell and State Court Judge C. Jean Bolin in the latter months of the administration of Gov. Nathan Deal. In the Oct. 18 letter, the judges cite McFerrin’s successful 2016 campaign based on her experience and knowledge. McFerrin had worked in the clerk’s office 10 years and was the acting clerk of Superior Court when she was elected in November 2016.
With that said, the judges asserted that some irregularities began shortly after McFerrin took the oath of office. Russell and Bolin wrote that McFerrin appeared to have a lack of knowledge and that she ignored repeated advice from judges “regarding her role as clerk and the importance of established procedure.”
The chief judge received allegations in September that McFerrin had mishandled a number of criminal cases, the letter said.
McFerrin said Friday she was aware the complaint was made but has not seen it.
She asserted she never admitted to the judges that she agreed with their claims laid out in the letter. She acknowledged, however, to some delays in handling cases because of the death in September of Sonja Gardner, the chief deputy clerk who had handled Superior Court criminal cases and juvenile cases.
Gardner succumbed after a long battle with cancer. McFerrin said Gardner worked until a week before her death.
McFerrin said she will cooperate fully with Carr and Clerks of Court Rosa Childs of Dooly County and Kelli Paradise Smith of Oglethorpe County when they carry out their investigation.
“They’ll get anything they ask for. I will cooperate fully,’’ she said.
The letter names eight criminal defendants who were represented by Public Defender John Cloy. The defendants’ bond appearances and other records were not entered and scheduled in a timely fashion although they had been hand-delivered to the clerk’s office, the letter said.
“If the case is never entered into the database, neither the defense attorney or the district attorney have the information to proceed with the case,’’ the letter said.
The clerk of court’s failure to process the case paperwork in a timely fashion deprived the defendants of their rights to due process and legal representation, the judges wrote.
Cloy told the judges he had met with clients in jail whose cases had never appeared on the clerk’s database.
The letter lays out what appears to have been an intentional delay in the case of Shannon Daras who the McIntosh County Sheriff’s Office arrested July 30, 2018, on traffic charges and a felony count of drug possession. According to the complaint:
A judge set Daras’ bond at $13,825, and she was appointed a public defender.
Daras’ mother called Cloy’s office, and he in turn immediately attempted to have the case placed on the court calendar for a bond reduction hearing. Cloy was also advised that Daras’ mother had repeatedly contacted McFerrin a number of times, and, in doing so, had offended her.
It was reported that McFerrin instructed the chief deputy clerk to “put this case on the bottom of the stack” and indicated she was unhappy with the mother’s interference in how she managed cases.
The letter says McFerrin admitted as much to judges Russell and Bolin although McFerrin said Friday she had not admitted to a lot of what was written about the operation of her office.
The judges said Shannon Daras was released from jail on her own recognizance Aug. 20, 2018, to seek medical attention, but the case was not entered into the clerk’s records for nearly a month.
“The clerk’s actions are troubling especially since judges and other clerks have tried counseling her in the past,’’ the judges wrote.
McFerrin said there had been some problems and that she has acted on them.
“A lot of changes have been accomplished in this office,’’ she said. “I’m not perfect. Nobody is.”
She said she is still attending training and is learning every day.
A number of issues occurred because of Gardner’s illness and subsequent death, McFerrin said.
“I miss her terribly,’’ and the office misses her knowledge and talent, she said.
“She did her job real well as long as she was well,’’ McFerrin said.
After Gardner’s death, she found case files in her desk that she and two other clerks worked overtime to enter into the record.
Russell said he was authorized to say that Atlantic Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden, Chief Public Defender Brandon Clark and State Court Solicitor Richard E. Braun joined in the request.
Jeremy McIntyre’s involvement in the Glynn County drug shed case was both key and minimal, putting him into an odd position at sentencing compared to the 14 of his co- defendants who’ve pleaded guilty to their parts in the conspiracy.
According to testimony given in U.S. District Court throughout the life of the case, Kenneth Leon Bradley and McIntyre knew each other — McIntyre worked in a local pawn shop under a federal firearms license, which was the opening in the case that allowed for the involvement of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Bradley needed a stash location for his narcotics, and McIntyre, who’d developed a cocaine habit, allowed Bradley to use a shed on his property in exchange for a regular supply of cocaine for personal use. With the exception of providing cocaine once to Marcus Mungin, one of the co-defendants, that was the extent of McIntyre’s involvement.
However, as was said in Friday’s hearing, if not for the use of the shed, this conspiracy and distribution network may not have gotten off the ground — or if it did, it may have been quite different.
In addition to work at the pawn shop, McIntyre also did quite a bit of construction work in the area. Two people who employed him on jobs, a man he bought hardware from and his sister testified Friday as to McIntyre’s character. To a person, they said he was trustworthy and dependable, and they had no idea he used cocaine or was involved with people who were dealing narcotics.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a motion asking for a downward departure in his sentence. According to the motion, “the assistance of the defendant in the investigation and prosecution of others constitutes ’substantial assistance’ as contemplated by (the sentencing guidelines on such cooperation).” Further, it states he “cooperated early with the investigation in this case, and provided the government with useful information on several indicted co-conspirators. He also met with the government on several occasions after the indictment was returned, and was willing to testify at trial if needed.”
The USAO termed his cooperation as “minimal” — one on a five-point scale — but that was because they received the same information from other defendants and he simply didn’t know enough about the conspiracy to provide anything further.
The sentencing guidelines for McIntyre, even though he didn’t have a criminal record before this matter, pegged the low end of a suggested sentence at more than seven years. But, the federal probation officer and the assistant U.S. attorney both said that even though the number was properly calculated, it’s inflated compared to McIntyre’s culpability.
The probation officer also mentioned that McIntyre completed a drug treatment program while on pretrial release.
With this information in hand, U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood sentenced him to two years and 10 months in prison, with another three years on supervised release. McIntyre’s to report to his assigned federal correctional facility within the next 30 days.
Brandon Hales stood alone in the collision repair lab, preparing a car fender to be spray painted with primer.
The sophomore, a student at the Golden Isles College and Career Academy, worked quietly and diligently, calm despite the pressure.
Twenty feet away, about 10 pairs of eyes watched him.
Hales was one of 93 students registered from 12 schools who participated Friday in the region SkillsUSA competition, hosted by GICCA. The students competed in a variety of competitions and were judged by local industry representatives as they completed activities like car body repair, home electrical wiring, welding and more.
Competition categories included construction, auto-mechanics, early childhood education, extemporaneous speaking, graphic design and more.
“It showcases their skills,” said Jeff Lavinder, collision repair and refinishing instructor at the Career Academy.
Eighteen local GICCA students competed in the SkillsUSA competition. The first and second place winners Friday will move on to the state contest in Atlanta in March.
Those winners will go up against the best in the country at a national competition later this year.
“We’ve had a lot of success here in the collision repair program,” Lavinder said. “… We’ve had many top 15s in the country. If you win that, there’s an international contest with the best in the world.”
Students prepare for the SkillsUSA competition through the practice they receive in class at the Career Academy. The contest also connects them with employers in the industries for which they may hope to work.
“They hear it from us all the time — it’s kind of like a kid hearing it from their parents, and they kind of roll their eyes after a while,” said Roy McDowell, automotive services instructor at the Career Academy and a SkillsUSA advisor. “But I’ve had kids come up to me before and say ‘Mr. McDowell, that judge told me the exact same thing that you told me.’”
The high-stakes environment of the contest is also a good experience for the students, McDowell said.
“It puts them under pressure, and it gets them to see how they work under pressure because everybody knows there’s going to be times that you work under pressure,” he said. “And we would rather them mess up here to get a taste of that pressure than mess up in the real world.”
The day ended Friday with the announcement of winners, who will move on to the next level of the competition.
SkillsUSA aims to let dedicated students demonstrate the skills they’ve acquired, Lavinder said.
“It’s just a continuation of the lessons we’ve been going over since the first semester,” he said. “It’s just showing some skills that they’ve learned.”