GUEST EDITORIAL: US economic freedom not so exceptional

Since the birth of our nation 240 years ago, America has been held up as a beacon of liberty for the entire world. And while the U.S. is still among the freest countries on earth, there is evidence that this light has dimmed in recent decades.

The decline can be seen in the United States’ performance in the “Economic Freedom of the World” reports published by the Fraser Institute and the Cato Institute, falling from a peak of 2nd in 2000 to 16th in 2016 (covering 2014 data).

Hong Kong and Singapore grabbed the top two spots, respectively, once again, followed by New Zealand and Switzerland.

“Due to a weakening rule of law, increasing regulation and the ramifications of wars on terrorism and drugs, the United States has seen its economic freedom score plummet in recent years, compared to 2000 when it ranked second globally,” the Cato Institute explained in a press release.

The index of economic freedom is based on 42 data points in five categories: size of government (taxes, expenditures, etc.), legal structure and security of property rights, access to sound money, freedom to trade internationally and regulation of credit, labor and business.

The change in the U.S. score has been most pronounced in the Legal System and Property Rights category, with greater abuses of civil asset forfeiture, under which law enforcement agents may seize money and other property even if one is never charged — much less convicted — of a crime, and eminent domain (particularly following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo v. City of New London in 2005).

In addition, the rule of law has been damaged by the militarization of the police, especially with regard to the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror,” and the USA Patriot Act of 2001 violated citizens’ privacy rights and “opened the door to massive circumvention of the legal system,” the authors noted.

“While the political and economic institutions in the United States have not changed greatly over the years, there has been a slow evolution that has served to loosen the constitutional restrictions on the powers of government. That erosion of the limits on government has contributed to the decline in economic freedom,” the authors asserted. “Expanding economic freedom provides the path to prosperity. The United States is on the wrong path.”

Even if the U.S. has faltered a bit in its leadership role as the embodiment of freedom and opportunity, the news is not all bad, however.

Over the past 35 years, worldwide economic freedom has increased significantly, which, not coincidentally, has also led to a drastic reduction in global poverty rates.

As the “Economic Freedom of the World” reports and mountains of economic literature have demonstrated, rededicating the nation to enhancing economic freedom, instead of imposing government restrictions and controls, would not only allow the U.S. to reclaim the mantle of global champion for liberty, but would also bring greater prosperity and help to boost sluggish economic growth and stagnant incomes.


Seventeen arrested on unrelated drug charges

Over the last week the DeKalb County Drug and Major Crimes Unit along with the drug dogs Mako and Jogi have made 17 drug arrests.

Those arrested, according to a press release from Dekalb County Sheriff Jimmy Harris, were as follows:

-Briggs Mitchell Hatley, 53, of Wellington, Ala., on two counts of counts of Unlawful Possession of Controlled Substance and Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.

-Jason Ray Mooneyham, 33, of Crossville and David Beau Brown, 22, also of Crossville for Unlawful Manufacturing Controlled Substance and Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. Brown was also charged with Giving False ID to Law Enforcement.

-Monica Renee Bogle, 19, of Fort Payne, Aaron Hegwood, 18, of Fort Payne and Hunter Jacob Moseley, 18, of Fyffe, for Unlawful Possession of Controlled Substance and Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.

-Heath Allen Haney, 32, of Valley Head, for Unlawful Possession of Marijuana in the second degree, Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, Obstructing Justice with False ID and warrant for Receiving Stolen Property.

-Carrie Suzanne Tolbert Byrd, 33, of Albertville, for Unlawful Possession of Controlled Substance, Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, and Unlawful Possession of Marijuana in the Second Degree.

-Jeremy Matthew Jones, 40, of Fyffe, for Unlawful Possession of Controlled Substance, Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and Unlawful Possession of Marijuana in the Second Degree.

-Eric Shannon Richards, 44, of Dawson, on two counts of Unlawful Possession of Controlled Substance, Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, Unlawful Possession of Marijuana in the Second Degree and Pistol Concealed without Permit.

-Mary Elizabeth Bates, 44 of Dawson and Sharon Marie Luke Adkins, 46 of Section on two counts of Unlawful Possession of Controlled Substance, Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and Unlawful Possession of Marijuana in the Second Degree.

-Alex Eugene Goldthreate, 47, of Collinsville, for Unlawful Possession of Controlled Substance, Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and warrant for Unlawful Possession of Controlled Substance.

-Skylar Christian Markle, 26, of Albertville, on two counts of Unlawful Possession of Controlled Substance and Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.

Three individual were arrested for outstanding warrant:

-Michael Lloyd Skyles, 55 of Fort Payne, on warrants for Unlawful Possession of Controlled Substance, Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and Unlawful Possession of Marijuana in the Second Degree.

-Billy Wayne Walker, 51, of Henagar, on warrants for Unlawful Possession of Controlled Substance, Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and Parole Violation.

-Brandon Keith Davis, 22, of Crossville, on warrants for Unlawful Possession of Controlled Substance and Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.

There were also two sex offenders arrested including Dwain Allen Williams, 51 of Crossville for leaving the state without notification to the Sheriff’s Office and Jerry Lewis Avirett, 52, of Crossville, for failure to register with local Law Enforcement, according to the press release from Sheriff Harris.

Most of these arrest was made possible by the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit Mako and handler Deputy Andy Brown and Jogi and handler Deputy Duck Jones, Harris said.

“Mako and Jogi have been a great addition to the DeKalb Drug and Major Crimes Unit and DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, they have helped make so many drug arrest,” said Harris. “Mako is about 7 years old and due to health reason we will have to retire him really soon. Jogi is about 6 years old and we will have to retire him in about a year.”

Sheriff Harris says “this was a busy week and a lot of these arrest came from traffic stops where the K-9’s were called to assist. We are already in the process of replacing Mako, these dogs are usually around $8,500 to $10,000 to purchase the dog and its handlers training with the dog. These dogs are a valuable asset to the Sheriff’s Office. The K-9’s also assist the cities and other counties when we are called upon. We also have an arson dog that has been a valuable asset to counties all over North Alabama. Myself and Etowah County Todd Entrekin purchased this K-9 named Andy for the Alabama State Fire Marshal’s Office. His handler is Deputy Fire Marshal Ray Cumby.”

Ballenger’s to shut down Friday night, completely booked for final 2 nights

Ballenger’s Restaurant will close Friday.

Known for its steak and service, the restaurant on U.S. 27 in Subligna is one of those country places that folks don’t just stumble across. You have to be very intentional to find it.

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It looks pretty much like any old building on the side of the highway in Chattooga County. Reservations for the final two nights, Thursday and Friday, are completely booked up.

Herb Ballenger opened the restaurant in June 1992. Ballenger, along with other heirs to the estate of his grandfather, the late T.D. Ballenger, have decided to settle his estate with an auction sometime in early November.

“The date depends on how quickly the auctioneer, Bob Tucker, can get everything lined up,” said Martha Ballenger, Chef Herb’s mother.

The restaurant has only been open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

“We’ve developed a lot of friendships over the years,” Martha Ballenger said.

Rome Assistant District Attorney John McClellan said the personal service customers get from Chef Herb and his family is one of the factors that set the restaurant apart.

“I was not as regular as a lot of people were but Herb would always come out and talk with you,” McClellan said. “I think they had the best steaks of anywhere around Rome.”


SHANNON FAGAN: Crucial games this week

We’re past the midway point of the high school football regular season, but things are just now getting interesting.

For most of our area teams, it’s about playoff positioning from here on out. For others, it’s about keeping their heads above water and finishing the season strong.

I’d like to do the same with picking.

I went 5-1 last week. I should have known better than to doubt the Cherokee County Warriors on homecoming, but oh well. I’m still 27 games over .500 (30-3 for those of you counting), but with each passing week it’s getting a little tougher.

Almost as tough as picking which game I’m going to attend this Friday.

There are three games around the area I’d love to see, but since they haven’t perfected the cloning process yet, I’m only able to go to one. Glad I still have a few days left to think about it. It might just come down to a coin toss, like some of these potential playoff spots in a few short weeks.

The push toward the playoffs begins now.

Gaylesville (1-4) at Woodville (1-4): Here are two of those teams I was talking about trying to keep their heads above water. Both teams have four-game losing streaks, but with a win, it could ignite a spark that could salvage what’s left of the 2016 season.

I know Gaylesville has a ton of injuries, but the Trojans have never lost to Woodville. They’re 10-0 in their history against the Panthers.

Somehow, someway, Gaylesville gets back in the win column … Gaylesville 26, Woodville 20.

Coosa Christian (2-4) at Spring Garden (5-0): Spring Garden got its toughest challenge of the season last week in a come-from-behind win at Donoho. There’s potential for the Panthers to get another one this week from the Conquerors, but when you have a smothering defense and a senior-laden backfield like Spring Garden, it’s too tough a task for almost any 1A team. The Panthers move to 6-0 … Spring Garden 42, Coosa Christian 13.

Valley Head (1-3) at Cedar Bluff (3-2): I know the Cedar Bluff Tigers are still licking their wounds from last week’s loss at Collinsville, but this is still a team not to be toyed with. Both of their losses have come against bigger schools.

I know Valley Head has had an off week to get some things corrected from its last loss, but even with that, I still like Cedar Bluff to come out on top in this one … Cedar Bluff 36, Valley Head 14.

Collinsville (3-2) at Westbrook Christian (2-3): Since Brian Mintz took over the head coaching duties for Shea Monroe, Westbrook Christian has responded well. The Warriors have won two in a row, including last week’s 21-19 victory over Class 4A White Plains.

Collinsville coach Ernie Willingham told me after Friday’s win against Cedar Bluff the Panthers will have their guard up, and I have no reason to doubt him … Collinsville 34, Westbrook Christian 21.

Weaver (4-1) at Piedmont (6-0): Speaking of dangerous teams, there’s none more scarier than the Piedmont Bulldogs right now. They just whipped Class 4A Leeds, and they appear headed for another championship run.

But don’t discount the Weaver Bearcats. Their lone loss this season has been to Ohatchee, and the Indians are undefeated. I look for the Bearcats to give Piedmont a challenge, but Taylor Hayes and company are just playing at another level right now … Piedmont 33, Weaver 14.

Saks (3-2) at Cherokee County (4-2): Here are two more teams who are on a roll. Both of them started at 0-2, but haven’t lost since.

A big part of both squads’ successes of late has been defense. Saks has only allowed a total of 12 points in the past three weeks, including a 37-0 shutout of St. Clair County last week.

The Warriors haven’t been too shabby either. In their three region wins, they’ve yielded an average of less than a touchdown, so points may be at a premium in this one.

But I like the Warriors here. They’re playing at home, and I think they have enough firepower to get them by … Cherokee County 31, Saks 28.

Fyffe (5-0) at Sand Rock (4-1): What a game we have here. It could very well be for the Class 2A, Region 6 championship, and Fyffe could come into Russell Jacoway Stadium as the top-ranked team in the state after what transpired last Friday.

The Red Devils haven’t given up more than 14 points in a game all season and that was in their opener against Geraldine (48-14). They’ve posted two straight shutouts, including last week’s 35-0 victory at Plainview.

Plainview is the one opponent these two teams have in common, and it’s Sand Rock’s lone loss. I know the Wildcats have come a long way since their season opener, but I still don’t think they’re quite on the level Fyffe is right now … Fyffe 35, Sand Rock 21.

National cross country champion to speak at banquet at Berry College

In the long run, the event has become a vital part of keeping the future of the sport on the right path.

When the annual River City Bank Rome Half Marathon is held on Saturday, Dec. 3 at State Mutual Stadium, an event that expects to draw hundreds of runners that will compete individually in the 13.1 mile race, a half-marathon relay or a 5k run, the winner will once again be Greater Rome’s high school distance teams and the athletes who make up those programs.

“Nearly $15,000 have been given back to the high schools since we started it five years ago,” Jay Stephenson, who founded GoGo Running and has partnered with River City Bank in presenting the Rome Half Marathon, said about what the event is all about.

“River City Bank is excited to have the opportunity to be a part of what has become a great community event,” said Roger Smith, RCB president and CEO, “and benefits and promotes the health of the students in Rome and Floyd County.”

Stephenson points out that even before the runners toe the line, the area’s prep teams and athletes will benefit from hearing another nationally-known standout when the GoGo Running All-Area Cross Country Banquet is held Friday, Dec. 2 at Berry College with U.S. national cross country champion Sarah Hall serving as the guest speaker.

“I’ve know the Halls since 2002,” said Stephenson, noting that Hall’s husband, Olympian Ryan Hall, spoke at the event in 2015. “Sarah is one of the most encouraging people you’ll ever want to meet.”

Sara Hall, a seven-time All-American at Stanford, was the 2012 US National Cross Country Champion and in 2011 won the gold medal at the Pan American Games in the steeplechase.

A professional athlete for Asics and a devout Christian, she has also represented the U.S. at three World Indoor Track and Field Championships and a World Cross Country Championship.

Her appearance as the banquet speaker adds to what is a remarkable list of high-profile and decorated runners who have attended the event, a list that has included Olympians Jim Spivey, Janet Cherobon-Bawcom and Zola Budd.

“Hearing from runners like that – what an incredible education for the kids to get,” Stephenson said, adding that the public is welcome to attend the banquet.

The RCB Rome Half Marathon, Half Relay and 5k will all begin and end at State Mutual Stadium on Saturday, with the 5k starting at 8 a.m. and the Half Marathon and Relay starting at 8:05.

Last year, former Berry College standout Kyle Harris won the Half Marathon covering the distance in 1 hour, 13:16 minutes, while Rome’s Jill Braley captured the women’s title.

For more information on the River City Bank Half Marathon, Half Relay and 5k, and the GoGo Running All-Area Banquet go to or contact GoGo Running at The Shoe Box at 706-291-0752.


Ms. Becky Miguel Francisco

Ms. Becky Miguel Francisco, 18 of Centre, passed away Thursday, September 22, 2016 at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. Ms. Francisco was a native of Cherokee County, was a student at Cherokee County High School and was a member of Grace Point Church Of God.

Funeral services were held Sunday, September 25, 2016 at Perry Funeral Home Chapel, with Rev. Ricky Pollard, Rev. Shane Swafford, and Rev. Albert Alameda officiating. Burial followed in Pine Grove Cemetery. Memorials may be made to the funeral home. Perry Funeral Home Directing.

Survivors include parents, Miguel Juan Francisco and Magdelena Mateo Juan; brothers, Ricardo Francisco, Alejandro Mateo both of Centre; sisters, Reyna, Yazmin Francisco, both of Centre; grandparents, Maria Pedro Miguel Francisco, Matias Antonio Eulalia, Maria Pedro Miguel and Juan Francisco all from Guatemala.

City to take up Riverside plans

The fifth — and potentially final — change to an agreement between Ledbetter Properties and the city of Rome regarding development of an 80-acre tract on Riverside Parkway is up for debate tonight.

The Rome City Commission is slated to decide on Ledbetter’s scaled-down shopping center proposal at its meeting set for 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 601 Broad St.

Members of the Coosa River Basin Initiative have tracked Ledbetter’s plans for the city-owned property near Burwell Creek since 2007. CRBI spokesman Joe Cook has praised the company’s willingness to compromise, but board member Terrell Shaw said this month that any development in the wetlands is unacceptable to the organization.

The city’s Redevelopment Committee, which includes three of the nine sitting commissioners, has unanimously backed the proposal. If approved tonight, Robert H. Ledbetter Jr. said his company wants to close on the purchase before the end of the year.

Under the new proposal, just under 8 acres would be reserved for a shopping center similar to Ledbetter’s Riverwalk across the street. Nearly 72 acres would be put into a conservation easement, with plans for a trail that would connect Ridge Ferry Park through the Burwell Creek area to Jackson Hill.

The purchase price for the acreage remains unchanged at $600,000 in the proposed agreement.

Also on the City Commission’s agenda tonight is a public hearing on a request to annex a home at 4 Kirkwood St. in the Riverside subdivision. The parcel would remain zoned as High Density Traditional Residential.

Commissioners also are slated to hear during caucus about the upcoming Hospitality House fund­raiser Walk A Mile In Her Shoes and the North Rome community’s push to move the recycling center from Watters Street.

The caucus, which starts at 5 p.m., and the regular meeting are both open to the public.

Between the two sessions the commissioners have a closed session scheduled. The agenda does not state the nature of the item up for discussion, but topics are limited by state law to certain personnel items, property purchases and potential or pending litigation.


GUEST EDITORIAL: On recent bombing explosions in New York City and New Jersey

The weapons of choice in last weekend’s New York City bombing tell us a lot about the motivation of the bomber — and no one in Boston needs to hear the president of the United States or FBI officials dance around that question.

The bomb that went off in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, injuring 29, was filled with shrapnel, small bearings or metal BBs. It was designed to do grave damage — much like the ones that took three lives and changed the lives of some 260 people here on Marathon Day in 2013. A second pressure-cooker bomb was found before it could be detonated. Five more unexploded devices were found in an Elizabeth, New Jersey, train station.

This was terrorism pure and simple — even if it did take New York’s perfectly pathetic mayor another 24 hours to get those words out.

Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, shot and captured by New Jersey police, was identified by investigators as the “main guy” behind the explosion in New York City and an earlier pipe bomb explosion in New Jersey that targeted a charity road race, benefiting Marines and their families.

Rahami was a naturalized citizen, born in Afghanistan, and harboring what might have been a rather large chip on his shoulder. His parents had filed suit several years ago alleging their fast-food chicken restaurant was targeted by police, not because neighbors had complained it was a late-night nuisance but — because they are Muslim.

It doesn’t take much these days for those who harbor their own set of grievances to turn them into action. Meanwhile radical jihadis provide a wealth of information via the internet on how to make bombs, and at the same time they stoke hatreds which have already taken root.

Public officials, even President Obama, were a little faster to label a stabbing rampage at a Minnesota mall a “potential act of terrorism.” Maybe it was because the now dead suspect was yelling the name of Allah as he did the deed and asking potential victims if they were Muslim.

Other than that, the president had one of his better No Drama Obama performances, admonishing the press to “refrain from getting out ahead of the investigation” even as Rahami was under arrest in New Jersey.

New York and New Jersey were saved from a far worse fate by alert citizens and great police work — and yes, perhaps by the grace of a higher power. But all that happened not because of but in spite of political leaders who don’t lead and can’t inspire.


Sand Rock secures sixth Cherokee County Volleyball Tournament title

SAND ROCK – The Cherokee County Volleyball Tournament has always been a measuring stick for the Sand Rock Lady Wildcats.

There have been years where Lisa Bates’ teams have dominated, but there have also been times when they’ve struggled – particularly mentally – resulting in an early exit.

On Saturday at home, the Lady Wildcats proved up to their latest challenge, sweeping through their competition on their way to their sixth county title.

Sand Rock (22-6) began its day earning a 27-25, 25-18 victory over Spring Garden, then defeated Cherokee County for the fifth time this season (25-8, 23-25, 15-8), setting up a championship showdown with the Cedar Bluff Lady Tigers.

Sand Rock finished off its latest county championship with a 25-20, 25-14 victory against the Lady Tigers (17-11).

“Today was completely mental, and that’s what we’ve been working on the past few days,” Bates said. “I’m proud we mentally dug deep and pulled through today. We had some times where we had to fight through some things. I’m proud we could do that, just mentally tough it out to win today.”

August Gilliland collected 28 kills, 32 digs and three aces on the day for the Lady Wildcats. Savannah Blackwell posted 23 kills and 28 digs. Paige Norris contributed 44 digs. Erin Langley added 34 assists, 18 digs and four aces. Kynleigh Chesnut came away with 12 kills. Haylie Pruitt had 11 kills and four blocks, and senior Audrey Richardson finished with 34 assists.

Bates was particularly proud for Richardson, the team’s lone senior.

“I’m glad we could do that for her because it really means a lot to her,” Bates said. “She’s just a good young lady who doesn’t get a lot of credit for what she does. You won’t find a harder worker. She’s really leading this team and helping this team keep good chemistry and that’s one thing about this team. They really do a lot of things together. They work together. They like each other. We don’t have big hitters and we don’t have outstanding superstars, but we just work well together.”

Cedar Bluff’s path to Saturday’s championship match was a little tougher. The Lady Tigers dropped their first match of the day against Cherokee County 25-13, 27-25 to fall into the loser’s bracket.

Cedar Bluff defeated Gaylesville (25-14, 25-15) and Spring Garden (15-25, 25-18, 15-10) to set up a rematch with the Lady Warriors. The Lady Tigers overcame their earlier loss with a 25-22, 21-25, 15-12 victory to earn their spot in the championship match against Sand Rock.

“I was proud of the way they fought through it,” Cedar Bluff first-year coach Deidra Davis said. “They showed a lot of fight, a lot of guts to be able to come back through something like that. We had to come through and beat Centre, the team that put us in the loser’s bracket. I’m proud of the way they played in that match, to overcome the loss this morning and fight back through it.”

In their first match against Cherokee County, Colbi Whitlock tallied five digs, three kills and an ace. Brooklyn Willbanks added seven digs and three aces. Julianne Wilson managed three kills and a block. Kiana Dobbins delivered five digs and a kill. Hannah Cosby contributed five digs. Matison Bedwell had three assists. Laura Ann Hughes finished with two assists and an ace.

Against Gaylesville, Ashley Goodwin, Whitlock and Willbanks all posted three kills. Willbanks also added nine digs and four aces. Whitlock also had nine digs. Hughes collected nine assists, nine digs and three aces. Haley Chandler finished with four aces and a kill.

In the win over Spring Garden, Whitlock earned six kills and three aces. Cosby contributed five digs, three kills and two aces. Willbanks posted 16 digs and three aces. Dobbins and Bedwell had nine and five digs respectively. Wilson came away with three kills. Hughes finished with seven assists.

In the rematch with Cherokee County, Dobbins led the way with 11 kills and seven digs. Whitlock added seven kills, six digs and two aces. Bedwell posted 11 digs, two kills and an ace. Cosby came away with 10 digs and two blocks. Willbanks contributed six digs and an ace. Wilson had three blocks and Hughes finished with 17 assists and an ace.

In the championship match against Sand Rock, Dobbins and Whitlock both had five kills. Dobbins also added seven digs. Cosby contributed five digs and a pair of kills. Bedwell came away with seven digs and an ace. Hughes finished with eight assists.

“Even though we didn’t win (the championship match), we were able to take a lot of positives away from today,” Davis said. “Coming back through the loser’s bracket like we did, we showed a lot of effort, came together as a team and responded. It’s something we can continue to build on. We hope to keep climbing up the mountain and get to where we want to be at the end of the season.”

A complete roundup of Saturday’s tournament can be found in this Wednesday’s edition of The Cherokee County Herald.