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Wordes' mistrust of government made finale inevitable

Andrew Wordes, right, enjoys happier times in 2009 with his high-profile attorney former Gov. Roy Barnes in front of City Hall. Hatcher Hurd. (click for larger version)

Wordes’ home is just a shell after it exploded with gasoline. Hatcher Hurd. (click for larger version)

April 06, 2012
Free spirits like Andrew Wordes often clash with society.

I was on a ship 1,500 miles away when I heard the news that Andrew Wordes blew himself up in his house. My wife and I were on our first cruise ship together, and my wife happened to be listening to the news in our cabin while I was brushing my teeth.

Like everyone else, I was shocked and then saddened that Andrew had decided to write his own ending to what had become a sad story of the little guy fighting City Hall. Of course, it wasn't as simple as that, but that is the core of Andrew's saga.

I really didn't get to know him until everybody else did when he emerged in his Chicken Man persona. That was back in 2009 when the City Council declared war on chickens – especially the ones Andrew kept on his property – and tried to make him get rid of them.

Well, that became a media circus. Former Gov. Roy Barnes agreed to defend Andrew's right to raise his chickens and for a while it seemed you really could fight City Hall. The council rewrote its ordinances to seemingly cover all the legal niceties that would allow them to get rid of the chickens, but he won in Municipal Court when Judge Maurice Hilliard ruled Andrew and his chickens were grandfathered and could stay.

I should say at this point that there is always another side of things. Alpine Drive where he lived is a quiet, reserved neighborhood. It looks a lot like the neighborhood I grew up in. People are friendly. I think most people there liked Andrew, but I can see how he would be a difficult neighbor.

City authorities tell me Code Enforcement only comes out in answer to a complaint. And Andrew's chickens and other fowl began to run into the hundreds. Then he added pigs and goats. And where there are chickens, there are roosters – not to mention the smell.

Had the story ended there, we might not ever have heard of him again. But Andrew was one of those guys who had trouble with dotting the "i"s and crossing the "t"s in society.

The City Council had a second try at an ordinance to rid Alpine Drive of Andrew's chickens. At the December 2009 meeting he turned a quail loose in council chambers. His friends loved it and the media ate it up.

Then the next day, I got word that Andrew had been arrested on his way home from the council meeting for having an expired tag. This, to me, is where Andrew's life began to unravel. It seemed that the police were especially vigilant that particular night to notice his tag.

But he did have that expired tag, and police can be expected to be vigilant in making sure cars have current tags – anyway, it was news.

Then it turned out there were as many as seven "fixer-upper" vehicles on the property and the city Code Enforcement officers cited him for that. He got into more trouble for grading his property without a permit.

Andrew always claimed he was forced to do the grading because the city was lax in enforcing development ordinances that allowed his property to be damaged by runoff upstream. Nevertheless he was cited and fined.

However, the city Code Enforcement Office took the extraordinary measure of informing his mortgage holder that liens for the fines had been placed against the home. Now Andrew was saying the city really wanted to run him out of town, and a lot of people agreed.

Mayor Jere Wood ordered an investigation of the city's notification, but he said he found no legal reason to pursue it.

Andrew had told Judge Hilliard he could not afford to pay his fines for the illegal grading, so Judge Hilliard offered him community service in lieu of jail time. He took that option, but as Wood, who knew Andrew well, noted to me, Andrew was not the kind of guy follow through or to be on time. That's why all those cars in his backyard never got fixed up.

So it might have been predictable that he had his probation revoked for failure to complete his community service and spent 99 days in the city jail. His mortgage holder, an 80-something widow, sold the house to a buyer who promptly foreclosed.

I talked with Mayor Jere Wood about all this after the tragedy and asked him if Roswell had just grown too dignified to tolerate a man like Andrew who thought he had the right to live the way he wanted and be left alone.

Wood liked Andrew, but he did not think the city drove him to a final desperate act – quite the opposite in fact.

"Usually, when someone does something like this, he doesn't like life, he's depressed or he's painted into a corner. Andrew was none of these things," Wood said.

He had brothers in Florida that were willing to take him in, and two days before the end a friend had offered him a house and a job. He had options, Wood said. Instead, Wood thinks it was a matter of principle for Andrew.

"Misguided as they may have been," he added.

And I can see that. His view of America was the right to live your life the way you want, and to do as you please on your land. But that's all right if you live on the Ponderosa. But if you live in a community of neighbors, it requires more give and take.

But from Andrew's perspective, his animals were gone, his house was about to be taken and the marshals were coming.

And the media offered him another option. The big Atlanta paper and the TV stations were covering his story to the bitter end of eviction. I didn't have the heart for it myself. When he went to jail I knew it could not end pretty, and I just didn't want to be the one writing about it.

The TV cameras were there when the marshals came, and so Andrew had the stage one last time. I suppose he thought he would have the last word. And so he did.

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Tags: Community & Outreach

  1. report print email
    Andrew Wordes
    April 07, 2012 | 03:00 PM

    Hello Hatch thank you for your article on Andrew. Unlike the majority of people that knew Andrew (I used to call him Drew) I knew him for over seven years prior to him becoming The Chicken Man. You mention that Andrew didn't dot his I's and cross his T's. You also mention that he was not a person that would follow through on a project and was usually running late. Could that be because Andrew suffered from adult ADD? That right he was diagnosed back in 2003. Andrew also DID suffer with bouts of depression. So for all the that knew the Chicken Man there was a lot more that made Andrew tick and unfortunately not all of it was his fault.

    Laura Copeland
  2. report print email
    April 10, 2012 | 10:43 AM

    ADD??? Are you kidding me? The USA consumes 98% of the world's supply of Ritalin. We over medicate our children and adults can't cope so they fill their medicine cabinets. Profits galore for the industry. Some medical journals refuse to acknowledge that it's an an actual disorder. I'm not debating that. Tying ADD in your comment to pouring gasoline throughout a house and causing an explosion which endangers the neighborhood, neighbors and public safety is ludicrious.

    Common Sense
  3. report print email
    Travesty turned Tragedy
    April 15, 2012 | 09:06 PM

    1500 miles away so you put your name to yet another City press release intent on covering their culpability in this tragedy.

    Hatcher the public is not so gullible to believe that a man was incarcerated and refused a property bond for an "expired tag", please. That simply is an inaccurate statement and only gives credibility to the perception of police harassment.
    This is the sort of thing that should NEVER happen in America.
    This tragedy is not solely about Mr. Wordes.
    And it is certainly not about chickens.
    It is about the egregious uses to which government power may be put. It was a simple case of Mr. Wordes offending someone in the machine of government and the reality that a few civil servants simply didn't like him.
    This travesty take us right past corrupt and into deliberately evil.
    I encourage the citizens of Roswell take a much firmer hold of their governmental apparatus in the future. I hope and pray that Roswell citizens come to an understanding of our duties and responsibilities.

    Lee Fleck

    “Which is more blameworthy, those who will see and steadily pursue their own interest or those who cannot see or seeing will not act wisely ?” - George Washington

    Lee Fleck
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