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.