BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – The Sydnie Grace Jones Memorial Intersection dedication was a heartfelt event for everyone in attendance as family and friends celebrated the young woman’s life.
Sydnie, a Fannin County High School graduate, tragically died in January 2021. She was 19 years old. Two other Fannin students and Sydnie were involved in a horrific car crash at the Hwy 515 and SR 325 intersection in Union County.
All those who spoke at the dedication mentioned Sydnie’s love for life and ability to put anyone at ease. She enjoyed meeting people and helping people. An active member of the church, Sydnie was “on the way to help someone in need through a ministry the church had started” when the accident occurred.
Sydnie’s mother, Melinda Jones, hopes the intersection will bring people a bit of joy and positive memories.
“I don’t need to say a lot about Sydnie Grace. You all know her; she spoke for herself. She had a lot of good times,” Jones recalled. “Sydnie did not waste a moment…in her legacy, she didn’t waste a minute, and I would ask that you don’t waste a minute of your time whether it be with your children, friends, or family members.”
She joked that her daughter knew it all and wouldn’t let Melinda teach her anything. Sydnie “never met a stranger and had a smile for everyone,” Jones added. She made her family proud in everything she did.
Her eldest brother Connor read “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep.” Several of Sydnie’s friends spoke about their time and memories of her life. They acknowledged her larger-than-life persona. They also mentioned her patience and ability to listen to anyone who needed a shoulder to lean on.
For seven Christmases, Sydnie served as an elf bringing joy to children by either playing games, handing out candy, or “dabbing with Santa” on December weekends.
First Baptist of Blue Ridge Preacher Bob Richardson remembered Sydnie’s dedication to the word of God and how she never missed a night of Bible study for college-age students. Also, her commitment to bringing skate church to Fannin County. They are moving forward with a skate park area and opening the ministry.
“She is still going to be able to do something for the Lord, even as she is with the Lord,” Richardson said. The pro-shop will have a wall dedicated to Sydnie with her picture and catchphrases.
The Ridge Community Church Pastor Chan Mitchell joked that when he first met Sydnie, he felt she was either going to be the “life of the party” or “I’m going to have to call security.”
Representative Stan Gunter (R – 8) and Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston (R – 7) were instrumental in dedicating the intersection to Sydnie. House Resolution 282 honors the life and memory of Sydnie Grace Jones and designates the intersection in her memory.
“Christ said the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. It is my hope by naming this intersection it will remind people to remember her example of loving others,” Gunter stated.
Ralston commended Gunter for making the day possible and sponsoring the resolution.
“A compassionate and generous young woman, Ms. Jones will long be remembered for her love of family and friendship, and this loyal daughter, granddaughter, and friend will be missed by all who had the great fortune of knowing her,” the resolution read.
“There’s nothing we can say or do today to bring Sydnie Grace back, but we can honor her memory,” Speaker Ralston added. “Generations from now on in time will see her name as they go through that intersection. When we get some safety features added there or finished adding, then we will have done some positive things in her memory…Let’s give thanks today for her memory and for the great light she brought to the world.”
The additional safety features on Hwy 515 will prevent drivers from passing across all four lanes of traffic at the intersection with an R-cut.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – A new sign for the Cecil Mathews Memorial Bridge stands on the roadside just at Turniptown Creek just before you get to the shops at Whitepath Commons when traveling from Ellijay. A simple brown sign stands for a man of Ellijay’s history.
On September 14, 2021, Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives and Representative of District 7, David Ralston visited the site with family and friends of the late Cecil Mathews to dedicate the bridge over Turniptown Creek to him.
With 7 kids, six daughters and one son, Cecil Mathews was memorialized in a ceremony dedicating the bridge to his memory for his remaining family. All of his children but one were able to attend, but few had a short drive. Eldest child Maxine Clark said that many of the siblings are spread all over the southeast from Kentucky to Alabama and one still living in Ellijay.
With local leaders Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson and Chamber President/CEO Jennifer Grimmer also attending, the family listened as Speaker Ralston read the official resolution naming the bridge and delivered two duplicated signs to the family members.
Ralston said, “He was a very highly thought of person in this community.”
Mathews opened his own sawmill in Ellijay in 1965 after operating others for 15 years previous. According to the approved resolution, he later completed the total electrification of the business in 1966 which “allowed for the streamlining of production and an increase in lumber supply used in the manufacture of furniture and flooring.”
A special feat in that day, the electrification allowed for 15,000 feet of lumber to be sawed in a day with grading still done by hand. This also attracted other businesses to the county at the time and aided in modernizing the area.
Patsy Harris, one of Mathews’ daughters, accepted a bound copy of the resolution on behalf of the family.
Harris said, “Thanks be to God, there is seven of us children and we’re all still living. We’re all in our 70’s and 80’s. I appreciate what you did.”
Maxine Clark of Blairsville and Mathew’s eldest daughter, chuckled as she fought back tears when asked about the sign and what it meant to see her father memorialized in the area they grew up. Amid the tearful moment she could only reply, “What do you think?”
Taking a moment, Clark eventually said, “Daddy was the best man in my life. I still can’t talk about it but I guess I’m the ‘bawl-box’ of the family.”
Each of his seven children, from eldest to youngest, are Maxine Clark, Joann Crotzer, Doris Hammond, Jackie Allums, James Mathews, Patsy Harris, and Susan Buckner.
GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – An official statement from the Georgia Transmission Corporation (GTC) today has given relief to the Boardtown road community, through Highway 515, who have been vocally opposing the major project’s plans to build on the road.
The community and its leaders often stated that they supported the project and agreed with it being a needed upgrade, but wanted the project relocated to a different location. Many specifically stated Highway 515 as an alternative.
Even GTC said they had originally looked at 515 but were turned down.
Today, with the aid of House Speaker David Ralston and Senator Steve Gooch, the GTC said, “Following months of extensive analysis at the request of the local community, Georgia Transmission has determined that Highway 515 is a viable corridor for the Whitepath Electric Reliability Project. Conversations are underway with the Georgia Department of Transportation to develop a proposed route for the project adjacent to Highway 515 that meets engineering and safety constraints.”
GTC gave specific thanks to Ralston and Gooch and the community saying the result was a culmination of efforts and input from “community partners including citizens, civic organizations, and elected officials.”
As plans continue for the official path the 46 kV sub-transmission line will take, a preliminary path has already been laid out in consultation with Speaker Ralston. GTC said that this new path involves purchasing easements to minimize the impact of the line on rights of way owned by both the public and the Georgia Department of Transportation.
In late September of 2020, GTC said they were beginning “an extensive look” into the 515 and another alternative path. Just over seven months later, they are confirming this path as viable.
The opposition started last year after a series of public information meetings showed a pathway leading down Boardtown road after GTC had already ruled out the 515 path and one along a CSX rail line.
GTC said the Highway 515 path was denied due to limitations including a request denial by GDOT.
Now, with the path approved, House Speaker Ralston said, “This outcome demonstrates that workable solutions can be achieved when parties come together in cooperative spirit for the betterment of the community. Sen. Gooch and I are pleased that our partners at Georgia Transmission and Amicalola EMC have done their due diligence in service to the community and are now able to take the next step in ensuring reliable electricity for households and businesses in Gilmer County.”
Ralston was brought in on the project discussion after Gilmer County’s Board of Commissioners drafted letters to him and Gooch last year. Citizens flooded into the county’s monthly meeting asking for help in discussions to find an alternative path from Boardtown. With the board’s letters and offers to set up additional meetings for citizens, they pledged to aid in what ways they could.
With the confirmation of this alternative path’s viability, Georgia Transmission Vice President of Project Services John Reese said, “Georgia Transmission is proud that we were able to honor our word to the community while fulfilling our mission of helping to keep the lights on for Gilmer County. Although considerable work remains to be done we appreciate the active engagement of Amicalola EMC and its members, and the leadership of Speaker Ralston and Senator Gooch, in identifying a solution to the critical electric reliability need in the area.”
According to GTC’s statement, they will soon begin undertaking the process necessary for “advancing the route along Highway 515.” This process involves finalizing the route, contacting property owners in the area, and more public meetings.
For citizens wishing to continue following this project, Georgia Transmission will offer updates on the project page of their site.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – As the Blue Ridge City Council discussed revising the Rules and Procedures of its meetings, conflict erupted over the newly proposed Code of Civility presented by Council Member Mike Panter.
During a very heated discussion, it was also revealed by Council Member Nathan Fitts that Panter had allegedly made criminal threats against him.
Panter read from a letter sent to council regarding the review of the City’s Charter and the recommendations that were being made based on a committee that had been formed for the review.
Along with the committee Panter said input had been taken from several sources including Donna Thompson, who runs a local governmental accountability group, current and previous council members, a local attorney, business owners and residents.
Panter did point out that prior to reading his letter to the council, the letter itself had already been leaked to the public.
Later Council Member Rhonda Haight would question this remark asking Panter, “Do you have a problem with the public knowing what we are doing?”
Panter pointed out that as far as the Rules and Procedures of council meetings, previous City Attorney David Syfan had drafted an ordinance that would still be in compliance with the City Charter.
In an effort to save tax dollars Panter suggested that the city vote on the adoption of this particular ordinance instead of paying more attorney fees to have new ordinances written: “I think we should readopt this ordinance which was done away with by previous council.”
“It (vote to adopt ordinance) was moved a few months later because evidently the council didn’t like what he came up with and they just threw it away,” Panter explained of the ordinance drafted by Syfan and why it was not already put in place.
“I’m totally great with that ordinance that David wrote,” Haight said, adding, “I thought it was wonderful. He did a great job.”
Haight did have concerns over the Code of Civility section Panter was presenting and expressed these concerns.
According to the Code of Civility section, a council member would be asked to resign or a vote could take place for the elected official’s removal after receiving two censures.
This section of the Code of Civility came directly on the heels of a censure of Council Member Nathan Fitts. Earlier in the same meeting, Panter had brought forth a censure against Fitts for “continuous inappropriate conduct”.
Haight felt this particular item in the Code of Civility would be in violation of the City’s Charter since evidentiary hearings would need to take place for a censure vote and no evidentiary hearing was given to Fitts previously that night.
Panter replied to Haight, “Our charter says that we have the right to remove an elected official.”
“For wrongdoing,” Fitts retorted to Panter’s comment. “The only person that has violated state and local law is you and Ms. Whitener.”
Incivility ensued as Mayor Donna Whitener questioned Fitts over his accusations against her. After a brief period of numerous calls to and points of order, discussion continued over the proposed code.
Haight pointed out that the Code of Civility was also attempting to limit the council’s transparency.
The Code states of council that:
“There should be no public statements, letters to the editor or on social media or with an organization, advertisements, emails, texts or announcements regarding official city business without Council approval.”
“As a public official I have every right to tell the public what we are doing. I have every right to post on social media what we are doing,” Haight spoke to Panter, “I will never vote on this as it is.”
Council Member Fitts agreed with Haight that the Code of Civility needs attempts to limit the transparency of local government and needs further review.
Fitts also pointed out the hypocrisy of Panter in not only introducing the Code of Civility but also for the censure that Panter brought forth earlier in the evening.
“You made a criminal threat to me and Ms. Haight this week and said that you were going to drag me out of the council meeting by the hair and beat me up,” Fitts made public the alleged threat by fellow Council Member Panter. “You need to practice what you preach.”
Fitts and Haight have both personally sought legal advice from former Blue Ridge City Attorney David Syfan regarding any proposed new ordinances. Both Fitts and Haight are personally paying Syfan for his help.
“This will not be charged to the city,” Haight made clear her and Fitts personal financial responsibility to Syfan.
Current City Attorney James Balli, according to Haight is not trained in municipal law, where Syfan is.
Panter, who is the newest elected official to the council, questioned why Syfan was let go in the first place.
Leading both Haight and Fitts to agree that Balli was hired solely on the recommendation of Mayor Whitener.
Fitts went into further detail with Haight backing up his recollection of events.
Fitts stated of the reason for Balli’s hire, “She (Whitener) said that because Speaker Ralston was from Blue Ridge and that Mr. Balli was his pick. She said that Blue Ridge would get stuff that we would not get otherwise and that’s why she asked us to choose Mr. Balli.”
Whitener replied that Fitts and Haight’s claims were “more misinformation” and that council had a chance to vote no.
The Rules and Procedures Ordinance along with the Code of Civility will be discussed and reworked before vote will be taken on its adoption.
ATLANTA, Ga – During the pre-legislative conference, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston confirmed they would form a special committee concerning election integrity.
The committee will devote its “full attention” to restoring confidence in the election process. Several Georgians continue to believe voter fraud occurred in the presidential election, but three recounts confirmed the results.
Ralston added new voting legislation could be introduced this session.
“I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t pass significant measures this session, assuming the governor approved them and signed them into law,” Ralston commented.
Ralston tasked the election integrity committee with two items:
- keep elections open and accessible to all registered voters.
- ensure proper oversight and security of the election’s process.
The members of the committee will be announced next week.
However, Ralston urged caution before making too many changes to existing election laws. One change he supported was ending jungle primaries. He asked potential members of the committee to include that provision in any legislation brought forward.
When questioned, Ralston didn’t commit to removing no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia or removing the 50 plus rule for Georgia elections.
“I’m certainly going to listen to both sides of that and frankly I don’t know where I’m going to come down, but someone is going to have to make a very strong case,” Ralston stated.
Ralston thanked Senators Kelly Loeffler (R) and David Perdue (R) for their service and congratulated Senators-elect Jon Ossoff (D) and Raphael Warnock (D).
He added that Republicans in Georgia and across the country will need to create a path forward.
“Our Republican party, and frankly our government, is at its best when we’re working for our people. We address fundamental issues that make people’s lives better. We have to turn our attention from those seeking to divide us and focus our attention on the work that brings us together,” Ralston remarked.
Other items for the 2021 session include COVID-19 relief, mental health, education, and more.
ATLANTA, Ga – Georgia Republican Leaders Governor Brian Kemp, Speaker of the House David Ralston, and Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan spoke out against the violence in the United States Capitol.
Kemp called the actions of the extremists “un-American” and a “disgrace.” He commented on the peaceful protests that took place in Georgia over the summer, but “we did not allow anarchy and we certainly will not allow that now.”
He condemned those breaking into government buildings and berating police officers. The governor also alluded that a special session in Georgia would have ended in similar violence and denounced Rudy Guiliani for his “trial by combat” comments.
Kemp extended the National Guard executive order as well.
Duncan “strongly and vehemently condemned the rioting and violence at the U.S. Capitol and other places across this country.” He asked President Donald Trump to deliver clear instructions to those in Washington DC and tell them to peacefully leave the Capitol. As for Georgians, Duncan implored them to “put down their differences, their partisanship, and pick up their freedom.”
Speaker Ralston called it a “sad day.”
“The shocking images we have seen from our nation’s Capitol today are indefensible, un-American, and frankly heartbreaking. I stand here with our governor, out lt. governor, and the support of the members of the General Assembly to condemn in the strongest possible terms these acts of lawlessness,” Ralston stated.
He remarked that the loss of an election isn’t a reason to “jeopardize” the safety of other citizens and reminded everyone that “we are one nation under God.”
Kemp added that they are looking into increased safety protocols ahead of the legislative session which begins on Monday.
“We will move forward together working on the things that really matter to the people of our state,” Kemp ended.
Earlier today, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and staff were evacuated from their offices because of threats.
One woman was shot to the chest at the Capitol and the streets in DC continue to be filled with people. At this time, capitol police and other officers are working to clear out the Capitol. Some senators and representatives are hopeful they will return to Congress tonight.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – Congressman Doug Collins stopped in Blue Ridge on his campaign tour in the race for U.S. Senate. With him were special guests Georgia State Speaker of the House David Ralston and former member of the foreign policy advisory panel to Donald Trump, George Papadopoulos.
Collins spoke briefly on his record as U.S. Congressman, highlighting his conservative values and his reputation for representing the people of the 9th District.
Collins has stood up to multiple government agencies and individuals during his career, most notably holding the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and James Comey accountable.
Collins was also a visible ally to President Donald Trump during the U.S. House of Representatives Impeachment Hearings.
Now, Collins wants to take this same momentum and move it to the U.S. Senate.
With the U.S. Senate seat open to a Jungle Primary on the Nov. 3 ballot, Collins wants to set the record straight on what is and isn’t true about himself and his biggest Republican rival, Senator Kelly Loeffler.
According to Collins, Loeffler’s attacks on him are unfounded and in many cases an attempt at deflection about her true nature and intent.
Collins specifically sited Loeffler’s pro-life stance that seems to not have been her view a mere two years ago when she worked with Planned Parenthood to have a booth set up at a basketball game where monies raised would be split with the organization.
“I am the one who is actually concerned about life,” Collins said pointing to decisions his family has made in their personal life that reflect these values.
Loeffler also made claims that Collins was not Pro-Second Amendment and that as a lawyer Collins represented criminals.
Collins assured the crowd, having grown up the son of a trooper neither of these claims could be further from the truth.
“She doesn’t want you to know that she worked with Michael Bloomberg,” Collins said of Loeffler’s Second Amendment claims and her own personal work on a gun control agenda.
In his career as a lawyer, Collins took indigent clients, none of which were pictured in Loeffler’s ad. Collins stated, “Doug Collins defender of criminals? No, Doug Collins did his constitutional duty taking indigent clients.”
Loeffeler has also released ads containing a picture of Collins with former Georgia House Representative Stacey Abrams.
Abrams made waves as the Democratic nominee for Georgia Governor in 2018, known for her liberal stances.
Collins explained the photo, “This was after we saved the HOPE scholarship. Stacey joined us on a conservative idea and voted for it because she understood that people needed that money.”
According to Collins, Loeffler actually employed Abrams as an attorney for a basketball team and in 2018 Loeffler honored Abrams as a woman of distinction while “Abrams for Governor” signs were in the background of the photo-op.
Lastly, Collins pointed out that Loeffler makes her decisions based on her own self-interest and money.
“She claims to be tough on China,” Collins said and added, “Take the ten state owned companies that are listed on the New York Stock Exchange, owned by the Chinese Communist Party, and delist them.”
Jeffrey Sprecher, Leoffler’s husband, is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Intercontinental Exchange, and the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange.
Collins said of his suggestion to delist the Chinese companies, that it will never happen because Loeffler will choose her pocketbook and their pocketbook over policy everyday.
“I may not have $35 million, but I’ve got all I need because I’ve got you and I’ve got the voters of Georgia and they understand who the real conservative is in this race,” Collins said referencing the amount the Loeffler has spent on her Senate campaign, “Georgia can’t be bought.”
Atlanta, GA – On Monday, April 27, Governor Brian P. Kemp will join Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, Speaker David Ralston, and faith leaders from across Georgia in holding a Day of Prayer service in the rotunda of the Georgia State Capitol at 10:00 a.m. As the state continues to battle COVID-19, Kemp, Duncan, and Ralston are calling on all Georgians and members of the faith community around the state to participate by posting videos of their prayers on social media throughout the day.
“Our unprecedented battle with COVID-19 has proven the resolve of the people of Georgia to fight hard, come together, and do what is necessary to stop the spread of the virus,” said Governor Kemp. “While we cannot all be together right now, we can join with one another in prayer for our frontline healthcare workers, first responders, law enforcement, business owners, local leaders, and fellow Georgians as we continue the important work of fighting COVID-19 and safely reopening our state. On Monday, I am calling on all Georgians to participate in our Day of Prayer by posting on social media and showing their support for their fellow citizens.”
“COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on countless lives across our state and nation. In the midst of tremendous loss, uncertainty, and anxiety, I look forward to joining together in prayer,” said Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan. “Faith and prayer are a comfort to millions of Georgians, and whatever your background, I hope Monday will be a chance for us to focus on those who are hurting and seek wisdom for the hard road ahead.”
“I’m very proud of the response to this crisis by our state government and local and federal partners as well as healthcare workers and frontline personnel,” said Speaker David Ralston. “In such trying times, it is appropriate that we come together to pray for those battling this disease and its impact as well as those who have tragically lost loved ones. I join with Governor Kemp, Lt. Governor Duncan, and all Georgians in praying for the mercy and comfort of our Lord as we look forward to brighter days ahead.”
To ensure adherence to social distancing guidelines, the Day of Prayer service will not be open to the general public. Georgians are encouraged to participate via livestream at www.facebook.com/GovKemp at 10:00 a.m.
#BKP has House Speaker David Ralston on the show to discuss the elections in Georgia, the worldwide pandemic, and much more.
UPDATE: April 8, 2020
ATLANTA, Ga – After announcing his support of extending the Public Health State of Emergency through May 13, House Speaker David Ralston has again asked Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) to move the Georgia Primary to June 16.
Ralston has been very vocal about moving the election until Georgia can overcome the COVID-19 outbreak, which has a death rate in Georgia of 3.65 percent.
“We have seen many reports recently about how impactful a May 19 primary will be on the
ability of poll workers to report. Paramount is the health of voters, poll workers and others who
must be at polling precincts on Election Day,” stated Ralston in the letter.
Original Story from March 26, 2020 below:
ATLANTA, Ga – Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston (Ga -7) sent a letter to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) asking him to please move Georgia’s May 19th primary due to novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
In the letter, Ralston asserts that he would like the primary to be moved to a date of June 23 or later. He cites several other southern states that have already moved their May Primaries to June or July as a precautionary measure to keep the public safe.
An exert from the letter below:
“At the present time, our state, the entire nation and the world are confronted by a public health emergency of unprecedented magnitude.
Our prayer is that we will be on the other side of this difficult period sooner rather than later. However, the inescapable truth is that we do not know the duration of the immediate health peril. Reputable scientists and physicians cannot agree on its duration.
All of which means that the precautionary measures recommended by the CDC and adopted in executive order by Governor Kemp will continue for an unknown period of time.”
The Georgia Speaker of the House also addresses the right to vote as one of America’s “cherished freedoms” and it “should be free of impact from circumstances which create obstacles to its exercise.”
The May 19th primary puts Georgia over a month ahead of anyone else in the south.
View the full letter here. Secretary Raffensperger 3 26 2020
On Tuesday, March 24, Raffensperger announced that the Secretary of State’s Office would be mailing out absentee ballots to 6.9 Georgia voters for the May 19th primary. This was his answer to ensuring the health of Georgia voters and poll workers during the pandemic.
In a press release issued by Raffensperger on the absentee ballots, he said,
“Times of turbulence and upheaval like the one we Georgians face require decisive action if the liberties we hold so dear are to be preserved,” said Raffensperger. “I am acting today because the people of Georgia, from the earliest settlers to heroes like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Congressman John Lewis, have fought too long and too hard for their right to vote to have it curtailed. Georgia has faced challenges before and overcome them, and we can do so again through the grit and ingenuity that has made America a shining example for democracies around the world.”
In the 2016 and 2018 November elections, around 95 percent of Georgia voters opted to cast their ballot in person versus the 5 percent who did so by mail. With social distancing as the most important tool for limiting the spread of coronavirus, providing alternatives to voting in person is crucial. All Georgia voters can request and vote an absentee ballot for any reason.
While Secretary Raffensperger is encouraging as many voters as possible to vote by mail, some rely on in-person voting to exercise their right to vote privately and securely. People without internet or mail access, such as those experiencing homelessness; Georgians who need language assistance; and people with disabilities who rely on voting machines to cast their ballot will still be able to do so in person on the state’s new voting system. Additionally, research from the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law shows that eliminating “in-person voting could disproportionately disenfranchise Black, Latino, and young voters”. Their right to vote too needs protection.
To that end, Raffensperger is taking extra steps to limit the threat of COVID-19 at the polling place. Poll workers will receive additional resources to clean the equipment regularly. In-person voters who show up to vote in person will be instructed to maintain a safe distance when waiting to vote.
These measures will protect poll workers as well. Understanding the extra risk Georgia’s generally elderly poll workers face, Raffensperger is working to help counties hire more and younger poll workers. Extra staff will allow those who feel sick to be absent from the polls without significantly impacting continuity while a younger pool of workers will increase resiliency in the face of the COVID-19 threat.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – “We are extremely proud to partner with Ellijay Telephone Company to expand broadband access,” said U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Georgia State Director Joyce White as she announced a $4.4 million investment grant into Gilmer County through ETC.
Holding a celebratory ceremony on February 7, 2020, ETC shareholders, administrators, and a group of employees were joined by numerous officials from Georgia’s State Government and the USDA to both announce the award and celebrate the accomplishment.
As a part of the USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program, ETC’s application over the last year has “persevered,” as said by White during the ceremony. The grant they receive will provide $4.4 million to support the construction of 90 miles of fiber-optic cable infrastructure in Gilmer County.
Jason Smith, COO of ETC, said the service extension is going to be providing “1 Gig Fiber Broadband.” He went on to add, “The total project is estimated at $5.9 million, $4.4 [million] of that will be provided by the grant and almost $1.5 [million] is provided by ETC.”
The program is set to incorporate 2,159 households, two community facilities, and an Educational facility. Additionally, there have been 25 businesses and 24 farms pre-subscribed to the service.
House Speaker David Ralston spoke at the ceremony about the great need for better internet and high-speed broadband connections as the foundation of improvements in education, transportation, and healthcare. He noted key points like telemedicine and farming as specific examples. Ralston threw his support behind the application with a letter of support for ETC during the application process. He said he wanted to salute ETC’s efforts and called the program a part of efforts to revitalize rural Georgia.
State Sen. Steve Gooch also wrote a letter of support for ETC’s application. He spoke at the ceremony of the need for the internet’s infrastructure for industry and economic development as well. Gooch said attracting new businesses and industry are among the first question when companies scout new locations. He said questions about providers, speed, reliability, and hubs are always among the initial questions interested parties would ask.
Gooch also echoed Ralston’s words about education as he shared his experience from his travels around the state hearing from community leaders. He said they told him about families in their communities when kids were sent home with homework to be done online. Parents would have to drive the kids back into town to a library or business with wifi to complete their homework assignments. Gooch said responding to these challenges is easier when private companies partner with the public interests to achieve success. Gooch said, “This is one success story, but we need thousands of others just like it.”
Parts of those challenges include the costs of preliminary and ground-work of projects like this do not compare to the number of houses or facilities reached. ETC’s Jason Smith noted these challenges as he said the estimated costs of this project reach $65,000 per mile. He said, “When you consider that many of our most rural areas have less than five homes per mile, it is easy to see why a grant plays such a vital role in broadband deployment.”
Smith went on to say that the grant award is an early step in the project. With funding, he wants ETC to move forward quickly but said the project will not happen overnight. With an estimated timeline of five years to complete the expansion. However, Smith said that ETC is hoping to reach goals to reduce that time by one year if possible.
The ReConnect Program offers funding options through loans, grants, and combinations of the two in order to facilitate broadband deployment in “areas of rural America that don’t currently have sufficient access to broadband,” according to the USDA’s website and ReConnect Program Informational.
In March 2018, the USDA reports that Congress provided $600 million to them to expand broadband infrastructure and services in Rural America. On December 13, 2018, Secretary Perdue announced the rules of his ReConnect program and the loans and grants involved. They received 146 applications between May 31, 2019, and July 12, 2019, requesting $1.4 billion in total funding.
Additionally, Perdue announced in December 2019 that the USDA will continue ReConnect through another round of applications in 2020 and will fund another $550 million through the program.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – “This is the kind of project that will spread prosperity throughout our entire region. It is the kind of skin-in-the-game project that deserves support…” Georgia Speaker of the House, David Ralston praised the CORE Facility in Ellijay who hosted their official ribbon-cutting today.
Nestled just off Maddox Drive on the banks of the Coosawattee River in Ellijay, Georgia, the CORE Facility hosts business offices and incubation locations for entrepreneurs and start-ups in need of an office or workspace without the hassles of long-term investment.
However, the facility’s impact reaches so much farther than the city limits or the county’s borders. Today marked a celebration for the region and for the state. Representatives statewide joined together for this ribbon cutting including Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, Gilmer Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, Pickens Commission Chairman Rob Jones, Fannin Commission Chairman Stan Helton, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, State Senator Steve Gooch, State Representative of District 11 Rick Jasperse, Ellijay City Mayor Al Hoyle, Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, and many representatives from the Ellijay and East Ellijay City Councils and Gilmer Board of Education. Efforts from many organizations have led into combined organizations such as the Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority (JDA) and the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation.
That Foundation was the birthplace of the initiative to build CORE. According to Kent Sanford, Executive Director of the Greater Gilmer JDA and part of the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation, a 14-month birth cycle has finally come to full fruition.
While the celebration was a culmination of efforts so far, it is only the beginning. It is a project that holds great impact on the future, according to Ralston who said, “It will create jobs in our area. The jobs of tomorrow will be possible because of the work that goes on in this building.”
Ralston also dedicated support to the facility as he announced, “Because of the local commitment to the CORE building the State of Georgia, through our OneGeorgia Authority, is awarding $420,000 to this project to be used for Facility purchase and improvement costs. This $420,000 grant is historic. both in terms of its dollar amount and the impact it will have on this project and community.”
Ralston continued speaking about the economic development and job creation in the county before offering the second announcement of the day regarding the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation, also known as Georgia’s Rural Center.
Ralston stated at the ribbon-cutting, “I am proud to announce that the new North Georgia of the Georgia Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation will be housed right here in Ellijay in this facility. The office will be led by Janet Cochran.”
Ralston’s office later offered a full Press Release on the announcement stating the center serves as a central information and research hub for rural best practices, including community planning, industry-specific assistance and cooperative efforts with community partners. The center was proposed by the House Rural Development Council in 2017 and was created by House Bill 951, which was enacted in 2018.
These announcements were applauded by those present and praised by the Chairman of the Gilmer Chamber, John Marshall, who said, “Mr. Speaker, once again you have proven yourself to be the very epitome of a stalwart and faithful advocate not only to your hometown and all the other communities in these beautiful North Georgia Mountains, but to each and every corner of the state of Georgia.”
President of the Gilmer Chamber, Paige Green also praised the facility as the realization of a dream for the community that has spread to benefit not only one county but something larger that now spans the region.
Today was a celebration of completing the first steps of a larger plan for the facility. Though it is now open, it is only the first phase of that dream. Director Sanford noted last year that the hopes for the facility include two more phases.
In Phase II, the foundation will continue renovation onto the second floor to open up a larger area for education and training in a 1,200 square foot space upstairs.
In Phase III, hopes for the CORE Facility could extend into the schools for things like STEM Classes, STEM Saturdays, or other forays into education connection. Consolidating resources for these could include shared STEM kits or a shared expense for a STEM subscription service involving 3d-printing necessary components. However, specific details into PHASE III have yet to be finalized.
Ultimately, the CORE wants to continue spreading and growing this larger community where possible. Opportunities that may come have yet to be revealed, but one ribbon-cutting today, one celebration, can lead to something bigger than imagining tomorrow.
Our 2nd Amendment rights are not up for debate. That’s why I refuse to entertain gun control activists who seek to undermine our safety and compromise the freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. From passing “the most pro-gun bill in state history” to ensuring that students, faculty, and visitors can protect themselves on a college campus, I am proud of my record of defending and expanding our 2nd Amendment Rights.
This election, I am once again endorsed by the NRA – National Rifle Association of America and countless #2A supporters throughout the District. Together, we will stand up for our God-given rights and remain “freedom’s safest place.”
ATLANTA – Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) today announced that the FY 2019 state budget includes $1.26 million in infrastructure funding for the Ellijay Gilmer County Water and Sewerage Authority (EGCSWA). The funding will be used to build the “Yukon Road project” which will provide service to new customers, ensure redundancy for the utility, and provide fire protection.
“Funding this project is an important priority for Ellijay, Gilmer County and all of our North Georgia mountain region,” said Speaker David Ralston. “The Yukon Road project will help us plan for growth while providing fire protection for residents and property. It will also give both the Pickens and Gilmer water systems an important back-up capability in the event either system requires it.”
The Yukon Road project will be constructed in two phases. The first phase will consist of a new water main on Yukon Road to the Gilmer/Pickens County line and an interconnection with the Pickens County Water Authority system. The first phase of the project is expected to cost $710,000.
The second phase of the project will consist of the construction of a 300,000 gallon water storage tank and booster pump station upgrades. This will allow EGCWSA to deliver 500,000 gallons per day to Pickens County in addition to new customers on Yukon Road. The second phase of the project is estimated to cost $550,000.
The funding for the project will be provided through the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA).
The FY 2019 budget was adopted by the General Assembly during the 2018 legislative session that ended last month. The budget is on the Governor’s desk awaiting his approval.
|Monday, March 5, 2018(Blue Ridge, GA) – Today, House Speaker David Ralston qualified to run for re-election in House District 7. The Republican Primary is May 22, 2018.
“Serving as House District 7’s voice in the Georgia General Assembly is an honor and responsibility I hold dear,” said Ralston. “Representing the best interests of North Georgia remains my number one priority.
“In the State House, we passed comprehensive tax reform that will empower job creators, spur economic growth, and keep more money in the pockets of Georgia taxpayers. Thanks to President Trump and the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, we delivered the largest tax cut in modern, Georgia history.
“To keep District 7 – and our entire state growing – I created the House Rural Development Council to identify the problems facing communities outside of Metro Atlanta and prescribe legislative solutions for growth and prosperity. We have already passed several of the Committee’s recommendations and have a long-term commitment to the success and vitality of rural Georgia.
“While I am proud of what we have accomplished at the State Capitol and throughout District 7, I am seeking re-election to continue fighting for Gilmer, Fannin, and Dawson County families. With the continued support of local voters, we can keep our community strong and our future bright.”
David Ralston is the 73rd Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives, a position he has held since 2010. He was first elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 2002, and represents House District 7, which includes Fannin and Gilmer counties and a portion of Dawson County.