LaFayette Council appoints Lt. Ben Hill as interim police chief

The LaFayette City Council named LaFayette Police Lieutenant Ben Hill interim police chief during their meeting Monday night.

Hill will take over for Kenny Vines, whose retirement was announced during the February 9 council meeting. While no timetable was originally set for Vines’ departure from the department, The Sun reported last week that Vines would step down on February 20.

His departure required that the position be filled immediately, and Hill, who was second in command behind Vines, was chosen by the council to assume the role.

Councilwoman Tammie Williams, chair of the Police and Fire Committee, said that Sgt. George Rampey will be the second in command behind Lt. Hill in the interim. The city has already begun the search for a new full-time police chief.

Three proclamations were awarded by the council at the meeting. The first was to Dr. Randy B. Kelley, pastor of Powell Chapel United Methodist Church, for his work as a community leader in LaFayette.

Two proclamations were presented to recognize the “Let’s Move” campaign. “Let’s Move” is a comprehensive initiative dedicated to solving the challenges of childhood obesity so that children may grow up healthy and pursue their dreams.

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Eastside hosts Teacher Education workshop

On Friday, over a dozen teachers from throughout the state came to Eastside Elementary to take part in a Teacher Education training workshop led by Chambers County Career Technical Center Teacher Education Instructor Masie Hales Diamond. The Chambers County School System established the Teacher Education course in 2008 and the teachers in attendance came to learn from Diamond, along with her current and former students and members of the Teacher Education Advisory Committee, on how to implement the course. Among the many items the workshop covered were information on how to interpret the course material, using resources beyond the textbook, understanding course technology and preparing students to go into the classroom. Students in grades 10-12 can take the Teacher Education course to help prepare them for a career in education. Diamond said the course in Chambers County is basically college-level, and the Career Technical Center is currently working with Point University, along with other local secondary institutions, to allow for college credit to be given to those that enroll in the course. Diamond and the school system will host a second workshop on March 13 for teachers that were unable to attend the first one last week. Above, Diamond and Laurie Yates, from Circle of Care, give insight into Chambers County’s program to teachers from across Alabama.

On Friday, over a dozen teachers from throughout the state came to Eastside Elementary to take part in a Teacher Education training workshop led by Chambers County Career Technical Center Teacher Education Instructor Masie Hales Diamond. The Chambers County School System established the Teacher Education course in 2008 and the teachers in attendance came to learn from Diamond, along with her current and former students and members of the Teacher Education Advisory Committee, on how to implement the course. Among the many items the workshop covered were information on how to interpret the course material, using resources beyond the textbook, understanding course technology and preparing students to go into the classroom. Students in grades 10-12 can take the Teacher Education course to help prepare them for a career in education. Diamond said the course in Chambers County is basically college-level, and the Career Technical Center is currently working with Point University, along with other local secondary institutions, to allow for college credit to be given to those that enroll in the course. Diamond and the school system will host a second workshop on March 13 for teachers that were unable to attend the first one last week. Above, Diamond and Laurie Yates, from Circle of Care, give insight into Chambers County’s program to teachers from across Alabama.

Former Chambers County Manager accused of sexual abuse

A former Chambers County Manager has been arrested and charged with sexual abuse of a child less than 12 years old by the Chambers County Sheriff’s Department.

According to a release by Sheriff Sid Lockhart, on February 8, the Sheriff’s Office received a possible report of child sexual abuse by James Patrick Simms. The mother of the child victim contacted law enforcement about the abuse and said that Simms molested her child while driving a vehicle in the county. The child is not related to Simms.

Members of the Chambers County Criminal Investigations Division investigated the allegations over the next several weeks.

As a result of those investigations a warrant was obtained for Simms arrest.

On Thursday, Simms surrendered the Sheriff’s investigations at the Chambers County Detention Facility in LaFayette. He was arrested and booked for sexual abuse of a child.

Simms posted bond that same day and was released from jail.

Sheriff Lockhart said the case remains under investigation, and investigator Shannon Rollins said authorities are looking into Simms’ past to determine if there were any other incidents.

Several news outlets reported that investigators expected more victims to come forward, but Sheriff Lockhart said that comment was never made. He said that in cases such as this, there are often times other victims, but nothing has led his office to believe this is the case in this instance.

Lockhart also said that the incident reported on February 8 is the only time Simms was accused by the victim of sexual abuse.

Simms’ attorney Skip McCoy released a statement on the charges last week. “Mr. Simms vehemently denies these atrocious charges,” McCoy said. “This is nothing but a witch hunt and Mr. Simms is the victim in this case. Once the truth is told we fully expect Mr. Simms to be exonerated from all charges.”

Simms previously served as Chambers County Manager. He left to become Etowah County Chief Administrator in 2006. He remained at Etowah County about a year before he left to take a job in Talladega County. A short time later, he was hired again in Etowah County as CEO and has remained in the position since then.

The Gadsden Times reported last week that Simms was placed on paid administrative leave on February 13 by the Etowah County Commission.

According to The Times, the Etowah County Commission met for about 15 minutes in executive session to discuss “technology and security” of the county’s computer system on February 12. When they convened publicly, the commission voted to place Simms on paid administrative leave “pending further action.” County officials would not comment on why the commission took the action at that time.

Simms is originally from Chambers County and still owns property here.

Lockhart asked that anyone that has any further information regarding this case or similar incidents, to please contact the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office or CrimeStoppers.

LaFayette Police Chief to step down Friday

LaFayette Police Chief Kenny Vines has informed city leadership that he will step down from his post effective this Friday, February 20.

At the February 9 LaFayette City Council meeting, Mayor Barry Moody announced that Chief Vines would be retiring from the force after he was fined for perjury and presenting false documents during his divorce proceedings.

Moody said at the time that no timetable had been set on Chief Vines’ departure and that he would stay on with the department to assist with administrative duties and the transition to a new chief.

However, on Friday, Chief Vines was indicted by the Chambers County Grand Jury on perjury charges. When Vines was informed of the indictment, he immediately reached a plea agreement with the District Attorney’s office.

On Monday, E. Paul Jones, District Attorney for the Fifth Circuit and Damon W. Lewis, Chief Assistant District Attorney released a statement regarding the case. “On February 13, 2015 Chief Kenny Vines of the LaFayette Police Department entered a plea. The plea was an immediate response by Vines to the notice that he had been indicted by the Chambers County Grand Jury for the charge of perjury in the second degree. Perjury, second degree, a class A misdemeanor, is committed when a person swears with the intent to mislead a public servant in the performance of his duty and his false statement is material to the action, proceeding, or matter involved. Vines’ statement arose out of a court action while under oath. Vines pled guilty as indicted and received a six-month sentence suspended over a 12-month period. He was assessed court costs and he relinquished his APOST certification immediately upon signing the plea agreement,” the release stated.

Vines told The LaFayette Sun Monday that he was surprised and was unaware before Friday that his case was being brought before the Grand Jury.

While it may seem like Vines is being charged for the same crime twice or “double jeopardy,” Chief Assistant DA Lewis said they are two different cases.

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February 17, 2015 | Posted in: Local, News | Comments Closed

Registration now underway for Women’s Self-Defense course

Registration is now underway for the third annual Chambers County Women’s Self-Defense Course. Through it’s first two years of existence, the course has seen outstanding participation and early sign-up is encouraged because the spots fill fast.

The course will take place on March 3, 5, 10 and 12 at Langdale United Methodist Church. Attendees will need to be present all four days, as each day builds on the one prior to it. Each session will be from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm CST.

Those interested can register at the Chambers County Sheriff’s Department office in LaFayette. The class is limited to 40 women, and you must be 16 or older to participate. Once the course fills up, those interested will be able to sign up for a waiting list for next year’s course.

The cost of registration is $15 and includes a bottle of pepper spray, a t-shirt and light refreshments.

The Chambers County Sheriff’s Department and Lee County Sheriff’s Department are partnering together this event.

Langdale United Methodist Church is located at 6301 20th Ave, in Valley; the Sheriff’s Office is located in the Chambers County Courthouse in LaFayette. Fees are due upon registration, and checks should be made out to the Chambers County Sheriff’s Department.

For more information contact Kimberly Fuller at 706-590-0291.

LaFayette Library hosting Anderson for Black History Month program

As part of Black History Month, the LaFayette Library will welcome a very special speaker for the Lunch’N Learn program on February 27. Laura Anderson, a member of the Alabama Humanities Foundation’s Road Scholars Speakers Bureau, will present “Mother’s Day 1961: The Freedom Rides in Alabama” at the library.

The Road Scholars Speakers Bureau provides public presentations and lectures on a variety of humanities topics. Designed to educate and entertain, the programs are presented by Alabama’s most enlightening university and independent scholars.

On Sunday, May 14 1961, two groups of passengers boarded buses in Atlanta for separate trips to Birmingham. The passengers, male and female, black and white, students and retirees, were known collectively as “Freedom Riders,” and they rode to test southern states compliance with federal interstate transportation laws. They faced extreme violence. Who were these riders? Why did they participate in a dangerous mission? What did they accomplish?

Using images of the burning of the Freedom Riders’ bus outside of Anniston on Mother’s Day 1961, images from a collection housed in the Archives of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI), along with oral history interviews with persons involved in the Freedom Rides, Anderson’s presentation offers a look at the participants and supporters who risked their lives in effort to bring about Alabama’s compliance with federal law. In addition, the roles of violence, the media and law enforcement in the Civil Rights Movement will be discussed.

Anderson is the Archivist and Director of the Oral History Project at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

The program will begin at noon on the 27th; the library invites everyone to join them for the event, which includes a light lunch. Registration is required. You can contact the Library at 864-0012.

Vines resigns as LaFayette Police Chief

LaFayette Police Chief Kenny Vines is retiring. Mayor Barry Moody announced the move during Monday’s LaFayette City Council. The council approved a motion to accept Vines’ retirement request at the meeting, but several comments were made regarding the circumstances surrounding the decision.

Vines’ retirement comes after Councilman Mike Ellis introduced documents at the January 26 council meeting pertaining to the divorce proceedings of Chief Vines. Ellis had distributed to the mayor and council copies of the document just prior to the start of that meeting.

Ellis stated that during the divorce proceedings, Vines had presented false documents and committed perjury. He said that on January 20, 2015, Circuit Judge Ray Martin had fined Vines $100 and ordered him to serve five days in jail, which was suspended with the payment of the fine. He then called for Vines to be placed on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation by an independent source regarding the charges.

The motion died due to lack of a second. Due to the short notice, Mayor Moody said that the charges would be investigated and addressed.

On Monday, the situation was addressed.

Mayor Moody began by explaining why the council wanted to take the time to investigate.

“Documents were presented at the last council meeting concerning Police Chief Vines’ divorce decree which had been issued only four working days before the January 26th meeting,” he said. “ I and most of the council were aware of the divorce proceedings but were unaware that the final decree had been issued and had not had time nor the opportunity to thoroughly review the 11-page document and sort out the personal matters from the matters that might affect Chief Vines’ ability to perform his duties for the city.”

Moody further explained that Chief Vines was attending a conference at the time of the last meeting and was unavailable to respond.

“I am personally reluctant to act on any personnel matter until I have had an opportunity to review the information and discuss any concerns with the employee,” Moody said. “At the last council meeting, because of the serious nature and the newness of the information, the council and I deemed it wise to fully and carefully consider all additional relevant and appropriate information prior to making any decision as to the proper course of action to be pursued.”

Moody said he had spoken to Vines over the course of the investigation and discussed his ability to perform the duties of police chief. One of the biggest issues was the District Attorney’s concern with Vines’ involvement in any future police investigations.

“Police Chief Vines told me that he felt it would be in the best interest of the City of LaFayette, his family and himself to retire from his current position as police chief,” Moody said.

The retirement will not take effect immediately, as Vines currently performs many administrative duties. This will give the city time to advertise the position and Vines has agreed to assist with the transition. Vines’ roll will be limited to administrative activities necessary to provide the mayor and council with information necessary for a successful transition.

It was clearly a difficult move for the council members present to make. Several spoke out about it. Councilman Ellis, who originally brought the issue before the council and has been outspoken over the past two weeks about the decision not to immediately suspend Vines, was absent from Monday’s meeting.

“We don’t need to ignore the fact that the man gave 27 years to the city and he deserves the consideration and the decency to handle this in a manner that we are handling now and not to be nailed to the wall,” Councilman David Ennis said.

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February 11, 2015 | Posted in: Local, News | Comments Closed

Chambers County not issuing same-sex marriage licenses

Alabama became the 37th state where same-sex couples can legally marry on Monday, but many of the state’s 67 counties did not issue marriage licenses despite a ruling by a federal judge.

As of Tuesday, probate judges in only 16 counties said they would issue same-sex marriage licenses. In several counties, probate judges stopped issuing marriage licenses all together, while some just issued licenses to only heterosexual couples.

On January 23, U.S. District Judge Callie Granade ruled that Alabama’s bans on same-sex marriages were unconstitutional but she agreed to place a hold on her order until Monday to allow state officials time to appeal and make adequate preparations.

Last week, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to extend the stay and on Monday the U.S. Supreme Court did the same.

Late Sunday evening, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore issued an order prohibiting Alabama’s probate judges from issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

“Effective immediately, no probate judge of the State of Alabama nor any agent or employee of any Alabama probate judge shall issue or recognize a marriage license that is inconsistent with…the Alabama Constitution,” the order reads.

Many probate judges in the state decided to follow Moore’s orders rather than the federal court’s ruling.

Chambers County Probate Judge Brandy Easlick was one of those judges.

“In light of Judge Moore’s order and because of my religious beliefs, I will not be issuing same-sex marriage licenses,” Judge Easlick said. “Unless I’m mandated by a court with jurisdiction over me I will not issue same-sex licenses.”

Easlick said that her office did not issue any licenses on Monday, while she sought the opinion of the County Attorney. But going forward, she said that her office would only issue licenses to heterosexual couples.

She added that the probate office stopped performing all marriage ceremonies on February 1.

The professional association of Alabama’s probate judges originally had taken the position that Judge Granade’s ruling only applied to the two women that brought the suit. However, Granade later clarified the ruling making it clear that it applied statewide. The Probate Judges Association then agreed to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

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Updated: Senator Shelby’s annual county visit scheduled for next week

Next Thursday, February 19, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) will make his annual visit to Chambers County. He will meet with leadership and employees at EAMC-Lanier Hospital in Valley. Since 1987, the beginning of Shelby’s first term in the U.S. Senate, he has held more than 1,800 county visits in Alabama’s 67 counties. This visit will mark the 1,898th of his career.

“Throughout my time in the United States Senate, I have made it a top priority to visit all 67 counties in Alabama every year,” said Shelby. “The focus of my statewide travel will be to hear from my constituents about the impact of the Obama Administration’s policies on middle class families, job creation, and economic growth. I believe these visits are an excellent opportunity for us to discuss the important issues currently facing our state and nation.”

Shelby was first elected to the Senate in 1986, and he recently announced that he would be seeking re-election in 2016. If he wins the seat, it will be Shelby’s seventh term in office.

Senator Shelby is one of the most senior members in the U.S. Senate. He is the Chairman of the powerful Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. He also serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Committee on Rules and Administration.

Shelby’s visit is scheduled for 8 am and will last approximately 30 minutes.

*Updated to reflect date change from Feb. 17 to Feb. 19.

Work begins on LaFayette’s CDBG water line project

Work has officially started on a major water line upgrade in the city of LaFayette. Last week, Ballard Construction began laying 8-inch PVC pipe on the Highway 50 bypass, as part of the first phase of the project. In total, the project will include the installation of new water lines at dead-end portions and looping them back to existing pipes to improve water flow. The project will also replace approximately 2,000 feet of cast-iron pipes with PVC pipes on 1st Ave. NW and change the connection for houses on Alabama Ave. from the old cast-iron pipes to an existing PVC water main already in the area. The current work on the bypass is looping a dead-end point at the LaFayette Industrial Park. An 18-inch steel casing is also being placed under the bypass to at the Industrial Park to support the connection. The new loop will also allow access to the Huguley water lines in case of an emergency. As of Tuesday, over 3,000 feet of piping has been laid. After the bypass loop is complete, work will progress to Hospital Street and 2nd Ave. SW, then to Alabama Ave. W and 1st Ave. NW, and will finish on 1st SE on the East side of the courthouse. The anticipated timetable on the project is 126 days. City officials and project crews are working to ensure minimal disruption in water service, though some water discoloration due to sediment flow could occur. This project was made possible thanks to a Community Development Block Grant and funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Work has officially started on a major water line upgrade in the city of LaFayette. Last week, Ballard Construction began laying 8-inch PVC pipe on the Highway 50 bypass, as part of the first phase of the project. In total, the project will include the installation of new water lines at dead-end portions and looping them back to existing pipes to improve water flow. The project will also replace approximately 2,000 feet of cast-iron pipes with PVC pipes on 1st Ave. NW and change the connection for houses on Alabama Ave. from the old cast-iron pipes to an existing PVC water main already in the area. The current work on the bypass is looping a dead-end point at the LaFayette Industrial Park. An 18-inch steel casing is also being placed under the bypass to at the Industrial Park to support the connection. The new loop will also allow access to the Huguley water lines in case of an emergency. As of Tuesday, over 3,000 feet of piping has been laid. After the bypass loop is complete, work will progress to Hospital Street and 2nd Ave. SW, then to Alabama Ave. W and 1st Ave. NW, and will finish on 1st SE on the East side of the courthouse. The anticipated timetable on the project is 126 days. City officials and project crews are working to ensure minimal disruption in water service, though some water discoloration due to sediment flow could occur. This project was made possible thanks to a Community Development Block Grant and funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission.

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