Fire chief is really leaving

Published 5:06 pm Monday, July 15, 2019

By Ken Gustafson

AMERICUS — Sumter County Fire Chief John Ekaitis told the Sumter County Board of Commissioners (BOC) at its Tuesday work session that he will be staying with Sumter County Fire & Rescue and will not be headed to LaGrange to take over as chief of the Troup County Fire Department. “At the process in revelations into the news of me accepting a position of fire chief for Troup County, Georgia, I was offered a position at Troup County,” Ekaitis said. “But now, due to my professional beliefs, I will be staying here in Sumter County as the fire chief.”

After talking with Ekaitis later, the Times-Recorder learned that he is, in fact, leaving Sumter County to take the position in Troup County.

“My career goal has been to become fire chief of a larger department in a growing county. This is fulfilling my life goal,” he told the ATR. “This board of commissioners (Sumter) has supported Sumter County Fire & Rescue throughout my seven and a half years here and they’ve done an outstanding job for the citizens of Sumter County to provide fire protection to the unincorporated areas and Andersonville, DeSoto, and Plains.

“There’s not a more committed group of career and volunteer firefighters than the members of Sumter County Fire & Rescue. I’m proud of each and every one of them. I thank the community, the department and the board of commissioners for all they’ve done for me.”

In other business at the work session, the BOC voted to allow the Boys and Girls Club of Albany (BGCA) to use their funds for the purpose of refurbishing a building in Plains that was leased to them by Sumter County.

Back in February, the BGCA entered into a lease agreement with the county to use the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Unit, located at 304 Waymon St., Plains. That building was once operated by the now defunct Boys and Girls Club of Americus-Sumter County.

Before the BGCA could move into the building, much refurbishing and upgrading had to take place. One of the major problems with the facility was that mold was detected inside. Once the mold was eradicated and the building was deemed safe for operation, the BGCA was able to move into the building in February.

However, the organization wanted permission from the county to do further capital upgrades on the Carter Unit. Marvin Laster, CEO of the BGCA, told the BOC of the BGCA’s plans for further upgrades and described what has been taking place there since they occupied the unit back in February.

“That unit of operation is up and running,” Laster said. “We have 43 members that are registered. We have roughly 22 to 25 members per day. We count average daily attendance based on the number of kids that attend at least three times a week.” Laster went on to tell the BOC that since February, the BGCA has had over 6,500 program hours in which kids participated. He describef the different activities the kids are involved in and said those activities are focused around an acronym, STREAM, which stands for science, technology, reading, engineering, arts, and math.

Laster told the BOC that the BGCA is working with former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter to begin the Carter Campaign for Kids. “President Carter is running again. This time, his campaign is for kids,” Laster said. “This campaign is to raise between $5 million and $7 million, which will include a number of capital upgrades to the facilities in Montezuma, Americus, and Albany.”

Laster said the campaign will also include a $2.2 million endowment and a possible $1 million educational endowment. “This educational endowment will be used for first-generational college students,” Laster said. “We want to provide somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000 for first-time college students to go to college.”

Laster told the BOC that the BGCA is on steady ground financially and that the organization plans to make a number of capital improvements to the Carter Unit in Plains. He distributed a packet to each commissioner describing in detail the upgrades that the BGCA would like to make. “We would like to make $250,000 worth of capital improvements at the Carter Unit,” Laster said. The upgrades to be made will involve new furnishings, painting, and flooring, among other upgrades.

Once Laster finished his presentation, BOC Chairman Clay Jones asked for a motion for approval to allow the BGCA to make those upgrades. Commissioner Thomas Jordan made a motion for approval and was seconded by Commissioner George Torbert. It passed unanimously.

Commissioner Mark Waddell was not at the work session when it began, but arrived approximately 40 minutes later.

The BOC also voted to accept bids from Ginn Commercial Fleets in Covington on behalf of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office for the purchase of a 2019 Dodge Durango for $32,250 and two 2019 Dodge Chargers for $45,188. The total price for all three police pursuit vehicles to be purchased is $77,438.

Sumter County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy, Col. Eric Bryant, came before the BOC to request its approval to allow the sheriff’s office to purchase the three vehicles. “We are back here following up on our bid opening that was authorized by this board,” Bryant said. “We did in fact open bids for our patrol vehicles on June 25.”

County Financial Director Janice Jarvis told the BOC that the purchase of the vehicles is a SPLOST purchase and that she is fine with the bids. She recommended that the BOC accept Bryant’s recommendation.

Bryant said July is the cut-off month to accept the bids and to make the purchases and recommended that the BOC make its approval that evening.

Commissioner Torbert made a motion for approval and was seconded by Commissioner Scott Roberson. It passed unanimously.