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Posted on June 29, 2023 at 9:36 AM by Ken Kocher
Larry Stephens, Jr., is an Atlanta baby and a quiet Madison institution. Born at Crawford Long Hospital, Stephens found himself as the night stock manager at Madison’s Piggly Wiggly in 1990 and at a crossroads. He had arrived at “The Pig” after leaving a day job at a hardware store and a night shift job at a convenience store. Larry was a young man trying to support a family.
A job at Madison’s water plant became available and Stephens, who was about to have a larger family, gave the opportunity a hard look. “Charles Young (former Madison city manager) talked a good game.” Young’s pitch: learn a valuable skill, work hard, and provide an important service to your community. Stephens took the job and working at the plant for four years before moving his family to south Georgia to be closer to his wife, Audra’s, family. He moved back to Madison in 1998 and resumed a career with both the city and the water department.
Larry has since been elevated to Chief Operator of the Madison Water System, controlling the quality and flow of approximately 2.5 million gallons of safe drinking water every day. He is surrounded by computer monitors that give him real-time data on the city’s water system. Stephens takes ownership of the system that provides an entire city with fresh, clean, clear drinking water. City Manager John Klimm relates that, “Larry is an exemplary employee. We are blessed to have such a dedicated and knowledgeable employee. He cares deeply about the citizens we serve, and he is a role model for every city employee.”
Stephens and the seven employees with whom he works at Madison’s two water plants, “make sure we do things the right way.” The water that flows to the city’s plants from Hard Labor Creek and Lake Oconee is tested constantly for contaminants and harmful agents. “We do a large amount of testing, and we have monitors that take readings every 15 seconds,” he says. Workers at the plants complete 40 to 50 additional tests on the water quality every shift. Stephens also monitors both the levels and water quality of the five water towers the city maintains on College Drive, Atlanta Highway, Lions Club Road, Woodkraft Road, and in the Flat Rock Community.
Larry says the water department team “takes care of each other.” “I’ve never met anybody here I can’t get along with.” The water department supervisor says he expects the best of his workers and tries to set an example. “We talk like people. That’s how my guys and I talk. There’s no reason to get loud.”
Since Stephens, a certified Class One Drinking Water License holder with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, introduced new testing policies and employment schedules in 2012, the system has not failed an EPD inspection. On average, he says, the water department receives two complaints a year from customers. When a complaint comes in, he travels to the customer with his test kit and works with them to get a resolution. The city has approximately 2,600 water taps.
Stephens says getting the city job was “luck” and it has given him an opportunity to enjoy serving the community and providing for Audra and the couple’s three children. It also, he says, has given him insight. In November 2014, Stephens suffered a grand mal seizure and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. On December 8 the same year, his daughter Dawn’s birthday, he underwent successful surgery to have the tumor removed. Prior to the surgery he made a promise to Dawn that when it was over, that day, he would sing Happy Birthday to the then 25-year-old. Stephens says he came out from under the fog of anesthesia at Athen’s St. Mary’s Hospital alive and with a good prognosis. So, he says, he sang as best he could to Dawn. “It was kind of blurry,” the affable Stephens says. “But I sang.”
Posted on May 26, 2023 at 11:18 AM by Ken Kocher
As both the superintendent of the Madison Water Department and pastor of the Rutledge Baptist Church, Wayne Ghann says each job has its rewards and challenges. “They keep me up at night sometimes,” he laughs. Ghann manages 14 employees at the water and the wastewater facilities. Each employee works a 10-hour shift, keeping the facilities manned 20 hours a day.
Wayne is proud of the water produced at the City of Madison’s two water treatment plants. Our water, says Ghann, is top notch. “I would put ours against any bottled water you can buy.” Water, says Ghann, is tested and re-tested during each shift. “There’s a good bit of work going on,” he says. “They test all day long.”
Water coming from Hard Labor Creek is processed at the city’s Second Street plant and water from Lake Oconee is processed at the Briar Lane facility. Altogether, he says, the city processes more than 1.5 million gallons of clean, safe drinking water every day on average for its more than 3,000 customers. Madison is well-positioned for future growth and water use. The Second Street facility is permitted to produce 1.75 million gallons a day and the Lake Oconee facility is permitted to produce 2 million gallons per day.
Ghann has been working with the city Water Department since he sold his plumbing business in 1997, starting as an operator at the city’s Second Street plant. He wasn’t convinced the job would be a good fit. “I wasn’t planning on staying but just a little while,” he laughs. In 2011 he was named superintendent.
He felt the same way before he became the pastor of Rutledge Baptist Church. Ghann has been the pastor of the church for the past 30 years. Leading the church, he says, was a calling he struggled with. “I never wanted to be a pastor,” he says, “I just wanted to be a plumber. I fought it for a lot of years but I’m glad I surrendered to it,” he says. He also learned from his father, who pastored Faith Baptist Church for 45 years.
Wayne has been married to his wife, Lorrie, for 44 years. The couple has three children: Daniel, Josh, and Amanda and nine grandchildren.
For the moment, he says, he finds himself in the right place. Whether at church or at work, Ghann says he keeps his perspective faith-based and practical. A calming hand over sometimes turbulent water. “I just try to treat everybody fairly,” he says. “During times of crisis, I find I can sometimes give comfort and give people some peace.”
Posted on April 18, 2023 at 2:10 PM by Ken Kocher
Tim Thomas, Stephen Warren and Craig Jarrell
Every week, three men - one driving, two collecting - scoop up more than 120,000 pounds of garbage from residential customers in Madison. They do so in the broiler that is August and the deep freeze of December. If it’s raining, they collect. If it’s 10 degrees, they collect. If it's 100 degrees, they collect.
On Monday and Friday, the team of Craig Jarrell, Tim Thomas, and recently hired Stephen Warren, collect more than 10 tons of trash per day. On Tuesday and Thursday 20 tons per day are collected and taken to the Morgan County transfer station. On Wednesday the team patrols Madison in the “junk” trunk, an open bed truck that picks up everything from discarded furniture to mattresses.
The men begin each day at 7 a.m. and work until the route is complete. They have, Jarrell says, eight hours to complete the route. If they do so with efficiency and hard work and get done earlier, they get done earlier. “If they want to roll, that’s on them,” Jarrell says.
Jarrell has been driving the truck for the past 16 years and serves as both the supervisor for the crew and an important look-out for the men. “It’s my job to keep them safe. People sometimes get mad because I have to block the street.” Jarrell says that at times he must position the truck to protect his crew. “There have been plenty of times they’ve almost gotten hit.” In fact, Jarrell begs for patience. “We want to keep them safe and get them home after a route.”
For Thomas, a lean, fit-looking man, the work has been fulfilling for the past 16 years. A collector, Tim breaks open a wide grin when he tries to describe his role on the team. “It’s a lot of walking,” he jokes. Warren, who has worked the truck for the past eight months, says he enjoys the freedom and labor of the truck. “I like it because it’s almost like a workout.” Jarrell says the workers have customers that appreciate the level of work it takes to keep the city clean. “These guys work in the rain, sleet, snow, it doesn’t matter,” he says. “We can’t keep Tim that skinny doing nothing,” he jokes.
Thomas is a father, as is Warren, as is Jarrell. Thomas says when the crew works hard, they can shave off time off the eight-hour shift. That, he says, allows him to “go home and rest up so I can do it again the next day.” For Jarrell, it’s about getting the important job done and getting through the rigors of collecting tons of garbage safely.
“At the end of the day, everybody gets to go home,” he says.