ELLIJAY, Ga. – Originally considered for Class D and Class E roads, Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners is placing a moratorium on green space subdivisions as they work on details before planning to release the moratorium with a modified ordinance in early 2021.
According to Planning and Zoning Director Karen Henson, Gilmer has a couple subdivision projects currently approved in R2 that are abiding by lot sizes. However, the concern is if these lots are sold and then divided and resold. Class E Roads are only allowed to have 10 lots on them. The county will be looking at options to prevent such a process that would ultimately result in an larger number or lots on roads that cannot support them.
Discussion of the agenda item saw more focus on the moniker of “inferior roads” and right of ways than specific Class E roads. However, Henson indicated in the meeting that all Class E designated roads would be considered a part of the moratorium and later clarified as such.
As approved in the meeting, Henson herself clarified in an email that the Moratorium will be for:
The suspension of Class E roads.
The suspension of subdivisions of land along inferior County roads, which are roads with less than 40 foot right of way and 20 foot surface width with 3 foot shoulders (except for the 2 annual splits).
The suspension of greenspace developments.
During the meeting, with advice from Henson and County Attorney David Clark, the Board is setting the moratorium to take effect later, and will begin the process of the ordinance change that will take several months to complete through advertising, First Reading, a Public Hearing, and a Second Reading with Final Adoption.
As contractors move into the moratorium, it will not shut down developments in areas as it was stated that they can continue developments with upgraded road systems. It will not affect Class D roads in general unless they fall into the county termed “inferior roads.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – A unanimous vote on Monday, August 24, 2020, saw the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners follow up on statements from last year where they discussed lowering the Bond Millage Rate in the county.
While they did not approve lowering the rate in 2019, many citizens have continued discussing and pushing for the reduction this year. A few have very vocally called for the reduction of the “extra half mill” that was put on the Bond Millage rate raising it from 1 to 1.5 mills. Additionally, the viral outbreak and subsequent shutdowns of counties and states cast a dark shadow on local economies and doubt for the financial future of Gilmer.
The Commissioners halted capital spending and major projects as they watched and waited to see just what kind of impact it would have, even delaying their pool project that has been underway for over a year now. The pool was closed at the beginning of May in 2019.
However, the last two months have shown quite the difference. Despite the cancellation of major events in the county and increasing numbers from the virus, recent reports show an increase in collections from tourism and SPLOST.
Whether this played a role in their decision, the commissioners did not say, but they did approve a drop in the bond millage rate by .25 mills, taking it from 1.5 to 1.25 mills.
The School-Board-approved millage rate of 13.963 was approved to be implemented by the Board of Commissioners. This is the Rollback Rate calculated for Gilmer County Schools as they have advertised over the past month since the July meeting. The Board of Education approved this rate last week during their regular August meeting.
They also moved forward with approval of the county’s M&O (Maintenance and Operations) Millage Rate of 6.783 mills. This is also a Rollback Rate calculated for the Board of Commissioners and advertised for the past month since their July Meeting.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the recent announcement of the cancellation of the 2020 Apple Festival, many are still wondering about the impact, the decisions, and the virus’ toll on the festival season.
Earlier this year, Chamber officials were planning on make-up days for the Apple Blossom Festival left over from May. At one point, discussions were set to host the Apple Blossom Festival in August and then the Apple Festival in October as normal. Now, neither of these festivals will see make-up days as the boards over each have fully cancelled the events.
Most of the citizens concerns voice through comments and social media revolve more around the virus than any economic impact. Some are applauding the choice, like Dylan Slade who called it a good decision stating, “Public Health Foremost.”
Still others are discounting the choice. Courtney Graham didn’t state whether she thought the cancellation was good or bad, but did state, “The apple houses are open, the rental cabins are open, they will still come.”
This statement does hold some merit as FYN gathered reports from the county and cities. According to Gilmer County’s Financial Officer, Sandi Holden, the collections of Hotel/Motel Tax in June alone reached $113,870. According to county records, their Hotel/Motel Tax has never been over $100,000 in the last three years. Comparing June to the same month in previous years, 2019 totaled $78,044. In 2018, June totaled $75, 108. In 2017, June totaled only $52,838.
Additionally, there has been only one month that reached $90,000. That was October 2019.
Ellijay is not that different, either. Their year-to-date report shows them already reaching $8,196 by July. Just under half of last year’s total collection of $16,882 and just over two-thirds of 2018’s $11,399 total.
However, October is consistently among the highest months for the county, showing that the Festival season does have a major impact on local economy. October was the highest month of the year for Hotel/Motel Tax in both 2018 and 2019. In 2017, it was third highest behind November and July, the highest month.
Digging deeper than just Hotel/Motel Tax, SPLOST collections on sales tax in the County paint a very similar story with one notable difference.
Just like the Hotel/Motel, SPLOST shows the months of June and July of 2020 setting records for collections in the county. According to Holden, June 2020 saw a SPLOST revenue of $440,176. July 2020 saw a SPLOST Revenue of $453,981.
SPLOST Revenue has only gone above $400,000 three times in the last six years. December 2019 reached $406,020. November 2018 reached $400,655. In those years, October has never gone above $400,000. The final also came in 2020, January reached $401,243.
Therein lies the difference. Whereas the Hotel/Motel Tax saw major increases in October, SPLOST collections saw less so, with October usually falling behind November and December in collections.
Comparatively, April of 2020, which worried local county and city governments and saw halts to projects and capital spending as they awaited the numbers to see how bad the economy would get, saw a collection of $374,630. Higher than any previous year’s October except 2019.
Locals are split with some saying they are happy with the decision and others questioning different signals from different entities. Some online have commented saying that one entity is cancelling the festival while another entity is pushing forward with opening schools, a hot topic in August with news stories from all over Georgia highlighting the issue.
However, one downtown business owner is optimistic despite the cancelled festival.
Steve Cortes, owner of WhimZ Boutique and Heart and Vine and a former head of the merchant’s association, said, “It’s certainly going to have an impact.”
Cortes explained, however, that his hope is that a lot of people will still come. Even in recent years, he notes that his business has had many vacationers, leaf-lookers, and others who either didn’t know of the Festival or weren’t planning to attend.
Cortes admitted there would be an impact, but added on saying, “I don’t think it’s going to have as big of an impact as everybody fears.”
He said that he believes many of the counties visitors have already made plans and probably won’t cancel them. And so he is preparing for an increase as he notes he has continued following guidelines with masks and other ways to combat the virus in his store.
One major note he added, is that August is looking better than his recent months in the business. Comparing sales and business with previous years, August has been optimistically close.
Comparisons of finances are suggesting just as many people could be heading our way in October. It seems an impact is coming, but no clear picture is available yet on what kind of increase or decrease could be seen. Cancelling the festival could mean that business is more spread out across the county, or it could mean overcrowded Apple Houses and Vineyards. It could either mean a more spread out October instead of focused into two weekends, or it could mean a dip from the record setting two months that the county has seen in June and July.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – An email has gone out today with an official statement from the Georgia Apple Festival Board of Directors cancelling the October event for this year, 2020.
Confirming that they will allow vendor fees to rollover to next year’s event or offer refunds upon request, the Festival will be skipped in light of CDC Guidelines and rising numbers in Coronavirus cases. Though they do say they had considered holding the event under those guidelines, the extra costs and restrictions would be too much.
Read the Board of Directors’ full statement as follows:
It is with a heavy heart that the Georgia Apple Festival board of directors announces that the 49th annual Georgia Apple Festival Arts & Crafts show has been cancelled for October 2020. The difficult decision was made following the guidance of the local healthcare community, after consultation with local officials, and with extensive feedback from vendors, volunteers, and local citizens.
The health and well being of all concerned including our volunteers, vendors, and guests was paramount in the decision process. The board also weighed the additional costs and undertaking of trying to produce the event under the current CDC guidelines. It is our belief that the integrity and spirit of the event would suffer and not be profitable for vendors nor provide the type of experience that our guests have come to expect.
All vendors and other stakeholders will receive direct communication from the festival management in the coming days. We ask your patience and understanding as we proceed. Moving forward the board will explore various opportunities to celebrate the fall apple season and that safely enhance and promote Georgia’s apple capital.
We understand the far-reaching impact that this decision will have on the economic well being of our artists, our local businesses and community at large. The impact will also be felt by the two sponsoring agencies, the Ellijay Lions Club and the Gilmer Chamber. The Georgia Apple Festival is the largest fundraiser for both entities and the loss of revenue will be felt deeply by both in their effort to meet the charitable needs of the community supported by the Ellijay Lions Club and the needs of the Gilmer County business community supported by the Gilmer Chamber.
It is our deepest desire that the current health crisis facing our county, state, nation and world will be behind us and that you will make plans to join us October 2021 as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary Georgia Apple Festival.
Congressman Doug Collins visited Ellijay on Tuesday, August 4, 2020, for a Meet and Greet with citizens at the River Street Tavern. During the visit, he took a moment to react to allegations issued by the pro-Loeffler group GUV.
The candidate stopped for pictures and a short speech as the last stop in a day of similar events in the cities of Jasper and Resaca. In Ellijay, he told supporters that he wasn’t bothered by certain ads and increases in the campaign. He said he doesn’t have to buy a bunch of ads “swearing that I’m a conservative” because the people know who he is and his values.
The event saw the U.S. Senate candidate in the local restaurant, The River Street Tavern, with supporters and others looking to hear from him, along with local law enforcement, Republican Party representatives, Chairman Charlie Paris of the Board of Commissioners, and even Magistrate Judge Candidate Reagan Griggs Pritchett.
Collins touched on issues in his short speech including police support, buying the campaign, and the ads against him.
Collins said those running around saying to defund the police were disrespectful. Noting that he was a trooper’s kid, he said, “I want them to get themselves in a cop car somewhere, ride about a few nights, and do the job before they say anything else. Otherwise, shut up and start supporting our police.”
Collins added that “a bad officer needs to be gotten out immediately,” but said that charging a man with felony murder and not waiting for the GBI to do an investigation, not taking it before a Grand Jury, and then holding a press conference to make stuff up is wrong. Collins stated, “I’m going to stand and fight it every single time and call it what it is, and that is ‘wrong.'”
Collins also addressed several ads running against him. He pointed out one saying he was a lawyer, to which he replied that he believes in the entire constitution including the right to legal counsel and representation. Collins pointed out other ads by opponent Kelly Loeffler stating she is conservative, but he called it an “amazing, all-of-a-sudden decision by the Senator that she wanted to be perceived as conservative.” He asked where her voice and conservative values were in previous years over planned parenthood, the second amendment, and Black Lives Matter.
Collins also addressed the ads showing him and Stacy Abrams together saying that yes, he had a picture with her and they passed a continuation of the Hope Scholarship together saying, “I guess when you have enough money to go to school, you don’t have to worry about others being able to go to school, but we worked together to get that done.” He also added that he never hired Stacey Abrams as a lawyer for a basketball team or campaigned with her on the floor of the arena against Brian Kemp when he was running for Governor.
Collins said we have to accomplish a few things in the coming elections. The first is to elect Donald Trump to four more years. The second is to re-elect David Perdue to keep the Senate Red. The third is to look at the ballot and look for one name in the Senate Race, Doug Collins.
Collins said that the Governor picked his choice, and “that was his one vote.” Now, the election has the people’s vote.
Collins and Loeffler will first appear on the ballot on November 3, along with other Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and Independents for the senate seat.
FYN caught up with Collins for a moment after the event to ask about the campaign. Collins reiterated that his answer to the increase in ads and campaign funding was to be the man that the people know. He stated, “We don’t have to spend as much as she does.” as he said his campaign is going to continue the way it is going because the people know who he is and he doesn’t have to make up a campaign like she does.
When asked about campaigns from pro-Loeffler groups quoting Collins as saying Lobbyist are “essential” to the legislative process, Collins responded, “I think this is a sad, desperate attempt by an appointed Senator who has no record of her own.” He accused her of throwing the entire delegation under the bus as he asked, “Does Kelly say that she would vote against our agricultural needs and disaster relief in South Georgia?” and “Would she vote against the funding for our troops and funding for our cities and counties?”
He added, “They’re trying to make me out as something that most people know I am not… She is the one that is not a conservative and she is trying to cover up for it.”
Collins said he is looking forward to the office and he took this step into the campaign “because I believe that the Senate seat in Georgia needs somebody who actually knows how to fight. I believe they need somebody in this seat that actually knows how to get something done, who actually knows how to take the values of the State of Georgia, and take them all across the nation and knows that their is somebody that, without a doubt, has this Presidents back, and I will always have it as we go forward.”
UPDATE – July 26, 2020
According to a social media post by those claiming to be family with the deceased, as well as corroborating comment on FYN, the victim of the hit and run is Teddy Oliver.
While law enforcement is investigating, comments and messages across social media are requesting any citizens who may know anything about the incident to step forward and speak with officials about it.
The Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office hosts a Facebook page and those with information can call the non-emergency number at 706-635-8911.
Original Post – July 25, 2020
ELLIJAY, Ga – Highway 52 East in Ellijay has been shut down tonight, July 25, 2020, in the area near Eastside Grill.
According to the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office, a major accident turned crime occurred earlier tonight when the driver of a vehicle struck a pedestrian and drove off. They have shut down all lanes and have not commented on the current condition of the victim.
At this time the only details available come from a social media post, but FYN is following up with the search for the driver and will make details available when we receive them.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga – In the past week, two county courthouses closed due to confirmed COVID-19 cases. This week county commissioners revealed two vastly different bills for sanitization services. However, neither expenditure is feasible as a regular expense for counties if more virus cases arise within government offices.
Gilmer County paid Restoration 1 out of Dawsonville $6,007.81 for cleaning a 106,000 square foot courthouse and road department building. Fannin County Commissioners to pay a maximum of $70,059 to American Property Restoration out of Atlanta for cleaning its 69,752 square foot courthouse.
Since Tuesday, American Property Restoration dropped the price by five percent to $66,500.
Each county received disinfectant fog and surface wipe downs, but Fannin’s sanitization process included a negative air machine. It circulated the fog throughout the ventilation system to ensure the removal of COVID-19 throughout the building. Other additional charges in the Fannin bill include HEPA filters, labor for wiping down equipment, and PPE for workers. The 30 counts/charges for HEPA filters and labor for equipment wipe down was listed at $30 each.
The 24-person team required heavy-duty disposable PPE, and the company charged $48 per person.
As for disinfectant fog, Fannin paid $1.39 per square foot for the first 30,000 square feet and 50 percent off that price for the remaining 39,752 square feet. Gilmer paid six cents for 80,000 square feet at the courthouse.
Given the emergency nature of the COVID-19 situation, neither county had time to bid out the process. Both operated within a short window to quickly clean and reopen the courthouses.
Fannin Commission Chairman Stan Helton told Fetch Your News that this was a “true emergency;” he didn’t have time to shop around. Also, American Property Restoration specialized in COVID-19 cleaning.
“Not a matter to see who could do it the cheapest,” said Helton. It was about protecting the citizens of Fannin County from an unknown element. The advice about preventing COVID-19 continues to change almost daily.
Restoration 1 that cleaned Gilmer’s courthouse also had a professional COVID-19 virus disinfection team.
However, Fannin can apply for CARES Act funding from the State and receive reimbursement for virus-related expenses. Helton added that the knowledge of the funds made him slightly more comfortable with the price.
“If we prevented one citizen from going to ICU that cost would be comparable to $66,500 and would not be eligible for CARES funds,” added Helton.
Fannin hasn’t yet applied for the reimbursement because the state hasn’t made the portal available to smaller counties at this time.
In June, Gov. Kemp issued a letter explaining CARES Act funding policies to state counties. Previously, only the top five counties with the highest percentage of cases had access to the funds.
According to the letter of guidance from Gov. Kemp, local governments must apply to receive their 30 percent share of $1.23 billion. Once processed, the allocation will be available for “immediate advancement.”
How to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in courthouses
Turning to the future, Helton agreed that it’s not feasible for Fannin to spend $66,500 again, and the county probably won’t perform another cleaning to this extent at the courthouse. Possible future options include cleaning the office with the confirmed case was located, but they haven’t made a final decision.
The commissioners started requiring employees under their authority to wear masks while at work and strongly encouraged the practice among everyone in the courthouse, including the public. Temperature checks also began this week for those visiting the facility.
According to the CDC, the virus spreads “mainly from person to person, mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.” By wearing a mask in public areas, employees limit the spread of those droplets.
Helton wanted people to feel safe to visit the courthouse once it reopened.
Dr. William Whaley and Dr. Raymond Tidman discussed the effectiveness of closing to perform extensive cleanings on courthouses. Both agreed that cases will occur, but spending exorbitant amounts of money isn’t necessary.
“You can teach your own housekeeping staff what they need to know if there has been this virus [case],” explained Dr. Whaley. “If you just shut your doors for 24-hours, the virus is going to die because it doesn’t stick around on surfaces for terribly long.”
Afterward, if someone cleaned the surfaces and highly handled areas, the virus should be removed for that day. However, the practice must occur every day at the end of the day. The county and schools can go over cleaning protocols with their janitorial staff to begin COVID-19 recommended sanitization measures.
CDC guidance about disinfecting cites that coronaviruses die on surfaces in a matter of hours or days. To safely remove COVID-19 from a surface, first clean the area with soap and water, then an EPA-approved spray on the surface. If an EPA-approved disinfectant is unavailable, 1/3 cup of bleach added to one gallon of water, or a 70% alcohol solution will disinfect a surface. Bleach can’t be mixed with other cleaning and disinfection products together. The effectiveness of bleach solutions lasts for up to 24 hours.
Janitorial staff must wear the proper PPE to protect them from harmful chemicals and the virus.
Disinfection plans can adapt as more information becomes available about the spread of COVID-19.
“A COVID virus here or there is going to happen, and you do your cleaning, and that person goes home for a day or two and gets over it,” added Dr. Tidman. “The hair on fire stuff needs to quit.”
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – As many are beginning to talk about the possibility of returning to school, some are still attempting to wrap up the previous year.
In Gilmer, part of that process occurred this week as students returned to the buildings to collect left-behind belongings. Planned in April, the Board of Education and Superintendent had the day set in order to offer a better sense of closure to the school year as the virus ended normal classes mid-semester. But as they returned, they were met by some unexpected people.
Gilmer County’s Public Safety offered a statement today saying. “It’s nearly school-time with many preparations underway. Part of those preparations is helping our kids understand the importance of good health practices. Gilmer County Community Paramedicine, with the generosity of Parkside Ellijay Nursing Home, paired together for a fun project this week at our elementary and middle schools.”
The project was to meet students in the schools and hand out face masks and flyers. According to Public Safety, the Community Paramedicine team visited three of our schools across the county supplied with the generous donation of 1,000 face-covering masks donated by Parkside Ellijay, and 1,000 informational flyers in English and Spanish.
The team handed out all the masks and 700 of the flyers to students and parents who arrived over the three-day period to collect their end-of 2019 school year belongings.
Public Safety was grateful for its partners in the endeavor, saying, “Many thanks to Michael Feist, Director & Part-Owner of Parkside Ellijay for the wonderful donation of the face covering masks, and to Dr. Shanna Downs, School Superintendent, for allowing our Community Paramedicine team to conduct this very successful service to our school children.”
ELLIJAY, Ga – Gilmer’s Health Department and Courthouse are working closely together this week after a confirmed positive test was reported by the county Probate Judge, Scott Chastain.
FYN reached out to the Health Department and spoke with Gilmer Commissioner Chairman Charlie Paris about the Health Department’s involvement. Both entities noted that the Georgia Department of Public Health already has guidelines and directions in the case of positive exposure and the Courthouse is already taking measures in its own way.
Public Information Officer and Risk Communicator for the North Georgia Health District of the Georgia Department of Public Health, Jennifer King said, “COVID-19 is still transmitting in Gilmer County… and while we don’t refer to any specific cases or locations unless we have reason to believe the public is at a higher level of risk, we do share the latest Governor’s Executive Orders relating to COVID-19 protocols with the public, businesses, organizations, and agencies to follow, including information that helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 and how to respond if cases occur.”
King asserted that Gilmer’s local Health Department is working closely with the community in every way possible. Paris also noted that he had been in contact with the Health Department as the courthouse was responding to the exposure.
Continuing communication reaches far beyond just the courthouse, though, as King said, “Our local health department and environmental health office work very closely with community partners, including EMA, Family Connections, government agencies, businesses, churches and schools to remind residents of measures they can take to prevent the spread of the virus and protect against COVID-19.”
King said that public health is urging people to get tested for COVID-19. She went on to note that the department is also attempting to provide that opportunity to do so for free. She said, “We are attempting to prevent further spread of the transmission through contact tracing and repeatedly reminding residents of the critical need to always wear a mask in public, wash their hands frequently or use a hand sanitizer, avoid large crowds, social distance away from others by at least 6 feet, avoid physical contact with others by not shaking hands or giving hugs, and stay home and call their doctor if they feel they may have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive over the past 14 days.”
The Health Department is reaching out across all platforms of media to spread the information of options like the drive-thru testing sites and schedule postings
Citizens who feel they have been in contact or may have been in the courthouse recently are also encouraged to visit the Testings Website. Gilmer has their own testing site times, on Mondays and Fridays, but there are other sites in our nearby counties in case some residents find it more convenient to register for an appointment at one of those.
King also stated, “Because the number of cases in our Hispanic/Latino population in Gilmer County is disproportionally high, local public health works with community leaders, partners, churches and schools to increase outreach to this community by sharing translated information, encouraging free COVID-19 testing, and providing education about the need to prevent the spread of the virus and how to protect against it.”
The Public Health website offers information in both English and Spanish as well as several flyers in both English and Spanish.
NORTH GEORGIA – Both Gilmer and Fannin have received a new order entitled “Amended Third Order Extending Declaration of Judicial Emergency” closing and requiring deep cleaning for offices in the courthouses of both counties.
The order, sign by Superior Court Chief Judge Brenda Weaver of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, states that a number of courthouse employees are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 and are awaiting testing results. Due to this the Chief Judge conferred with Board of Commissioner (BOC) Chairmen from each county and has declared the situation beyond the ability to continue with regular work.
The court has ordered that the counties deep clean and keep closed the following offices:
- Fannin County Superior Court Judge
- Fannin County Juvenile Court Judge
- Fannin County Clerk of Superior and Juvenile Courts
- Fannin County Probate Court
- Fannin County Magistrate Court
- Fannin County District Attorney
- Fannin County CASA
- Gilmer County Superior Court Judge
- Gilmer County Juvenile Court Judge
- Gilmer County Clerk of Superior and Juvenile Courts
- Gilmer County Probate Court
- Gilmer County Magistrate Court
- Gilmer County District Attorney
- Gilmer County Misdemeanor Probation
- Gilmer County CASA
Additionally, Gilmer County has also closed the offices of the Gilmer County Tax Assessor and the Gilmer County Tax Commissioner. These offices are also ordered to perform a deep cleaning and remain closed until further orders are given.
Just as with the previous Judicial Emergency Orders, Remote Videoconference hearings are being utilized and scheduled. The order states that all other provisions of the previous order are still in effect.
This all comes after the announcements of some of Gilmer and Fannin Elected Officials and Courts closing earlier today due to COVID-19 exposures.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is still finding new information from news of exposures in the Courthouse and offices shutting down, but now, Gilmer High School is responding to the general resurgance of the Coronavirus in Georgia as they officially announce cancelling this year’s prom.
Originally cancelled during the school year as responses and shutdowns were widespread in the spring and the schools were closed, opting for “distance learning” alternatives, the prom was rescheduled in April as Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs announced in a meeting that they would be attempting to hold prom in July to make up for the cancellation.
That date was set for this Friday, July 10, 2020.
Today, the high school released a statement on social media stating that they would be cancelling the make-up day as well. They stated, “We have been in constant communication with local authorities regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and after much discussion and deliberation, we have decided to cancel prom this Friday, July 10. This decision was made with a great amount of information pertaining to potential and confirmed cases in Gilmer County. The cases are on a continual rise due to recent events within the county, and our first, and utmost, concern is, and will always be, the safety of our students and staff.”
In response to being forced to cancel the event, the high school is offering refunds through a linked form that parents and students can use for the school.
The school asks for patience moving forward.
They also commented saying a final decision has not been made at this time regarding graduation. However, they did affirm that a decision would be made in the coming days.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Both protesters and police commented tonight with two words that many have not heard recently in news, a “peaceful protest” in Ellijay concluded despite rain and counter-protests in the area.
Authorities prepared after permits were approved yesterday, June 3, for a planned protest expecting 25 to 30 people in attendance. Even Eloisa Rafael, one of three students who were the organizers of the event along with Pedro Chavez and Nashely Hernandez, said that they were expecting around 25 people when they were planning and speaking with friends.
Instead, what the three students saw, were preliminary estimates closer to 200 people gathered in and around the roundabout in Downtown Ellijay with signs, speeches, and chants for support of the Black Lives Matter movements and for prominent names in both media and movements around the country.
All three of the organizers voiced their surprise and excitement at the larger turnout saying that they felt very encouraged by the level of community support in that way.
As protestors began the rally at 4:00 p.m., organizers called for peace and non-violence as they voiced opinions and chants, one man even stood to call for dialogue with police as he said that without dialogue, there can be no change. One of their first speakers, Pastor Robert Diaz, spoke a prayer over the gathering before offering words of encouragement for equality and rights saying, “We are going to make every effort, every day, to let our kids know, and our society know, that love shall prevail over hate, over discrimination, and whatever else.”
Diaz later said in an interview after the event that he was there to support the Black Lives Matter movement saying, “Obviously, all lives do matter, but in this instance, it is actually the black community that is actually more oppressed. We can see that all over, for decades… We are here as a nation, united, to raise our voice and to let the world know that this has to stop.”
Protesters continued under police supervision throughout their two-hour-long rally with speakers and representatives from the community including ministers and students who called for attention to social issues including the death of George Floyd and other media reports of police violence.
Protest organizer Nashely Hernandez said, “I helped organize this today because people need to stop being judge just because of the color of their skin.”
Others echoed the sentiment saying that the message of love and cooperation was central to what they wanted to convey. Local minister, Reverand Adam Bradley, of the Cherry Log Christian Church said, “Be Love” as he spoke to those gathered and offered his message of loving each other in the community.
After allowing certain community members to step forward to speak as well as prepared speakers, chants rang out through the downtown area as they continued their demonstration. Before long, a second group had formed on North Main Street counter-protesting the demonstration. Police stepped in to keep the groups separate, and while chants and rhetoric came from both sides, police and authorities maintained order in the separation of the groups throughout the rally’s length.
Police involvement stretched beyond one entity, however. The Ellijay Police Department lead permitting and planning for the event. However, authorities present at the event shared information that support and deputies came from all around the area as representatives of the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office and Fannin Sheriff’s Office along with other law enforcement officers from Whitfield and Cherokee Counties.
Protest organizer Pedro Chavez said, “We have had a good interaction with the police. We’ve had good communication. They understand what we’re here to do. They understand that we are here to protest peacefully… We appreciate their assistance, but we are here to protest against police brutality, against discrimination, against racism. But overall, we have had a good interaction with the police department.”
On the police side of the event, Ellijay Police Chief Edward Lacey said, “We couldn’t hope for a better event.”
He added that situations like today are always tense because of the unknown. But said, “The organizers were upfront with us and worked with us. That showed that they had a legitimate exercise of their first amendment rights.” As he addressed in an interview, one of the key points of the event was that the group pf protesters peacefully gathered and shared their message and peacefully left.
Those protesters pushed on despite counter-protests and even a bout of heavy rainfall, soaking many of those present as the stood in the center of the roundabout with only trees for cover. One protester repeatedly offered prayers throughout the event and continued his offerings through the same rainfall. He said he was protesting and stayed because “I think we all need to come together as a community, the police and the people, and put away the hate with love and prayer. Support Back the Blue and Black Lives Matter.”
Many others also offered support for both movements, including Karen Brown, who said, “There is no justice untill ALL God’s people are equal.”
Brown, a former teacher, referenced the “8 minutes 46 seconds,” a common reference to the death of George Floyd, as she too said that all lives do matter, but “right now the issue is black lives.”
As the rally concluded and protesters dispersed, many offered statements saying this is only the beginning and promises to each other that they would see them again soon. Eloisa Rafael also said she expects more, “I expect for this not to be the end of it. I expect for Ellijay to keep growing, keep changing, and understand that we are all equal.”
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County’s 2020 graduates have had more than a few setbacks in their senior year due to COVID-19, from missing half a semester, one quarter of their entire senior year, to cancellations of their graduation and prom before rescheduling.
Many school districts in Georgia are trying their best to provide a little extra recognition for their graduates this year due to quarantining practices shutting down the entire state’s school system.
Gilmer is no different as the Board has rescheduled both prom and graduation in addition to providing a digital graduation this Friday. But the community of the county still didn’t think this was enough to make up for months of separation and a lack of closure to the grade school lives.
The Gilmer County Optimist Club pushed forward with a new project this week, and if you’ve driven down Industrial Blvd. this week, you’ve seen the roadside parade of handmade signs that the club has donated and erected to honor these students.
Also recognized at this weeks BOE meeting, the project is getting great appreciation from both the school board and community driving past with honks of appreciation as the project was completed.
Honoring GHS Class of 2020!
Posted by Gilmer County Optimist Club on Sunday, May 17, 2020
The project lead, Lisa Salman, who is also Tourism Director for the Gilmer Chamber, said the idea came together through watching other counties and districts through social media and listening to our own community.
All in the span of about two weeks, Salman pitched the idea to Superintendent Shanna Downs and received approval from the city for a sign permit, then gathered volunteers and donations to buy the materials and hand craft the signs you see on the road. Early Saturday morning, May 16, 2020, volunteers gathered before noon to put up the completed signs. This is the original planned week of graduation.
Graduates each have their own sign recognizing their work and efforts. Salman said that she knew the school was doing things, but said their was meaning in people doing something by hand for the extra recognition. Different volunteers have painted and created different signs, so not all the signs are the same either.
This project is not completed however. Maintenance continues through the week as heavy winds and passing cars have seen a few signs blow down. Salman said they are continue during the week to repair and maintain the project through graduation day.
When asked about the importance of projects like this, Salman said, “We’re friends of youth. Children are so important and I want them to be recognized… I want to make sure they are recognized and t hey could see their name as people drive by and honk.”
The project went up this week to the surprise of all the students as Salman said they spoke with Downs and the City privately to keep this as a Graduation week surprise for the students.
The project saw donations from 35 people and time from 7 volunteers to complete the designs, construction, and finally completion of putting the signs up on the road.
(Photo and video provided by th Gilmer County Optimist Club.)
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners made two approvals this week for farms to, as Chairman Charlie Paris said, “try to recover as quickly as possible.”
While Paris said they are looking at several areas of the county’s economy, two of the approvals in June focused solely on farms and agriculture including the first steps of a change and easing of the ordinance for Farm Wineries and a Resolution supporting the “Right to Farm Act” in legislation.
With local farm wineries, Paris said the only way the county can really help with this is through lessening regulations. To that end, the Commissioners voted to approve moving forward with advertising to change the ordinance to allow local wineries in the unincorporated parts of the county “to serve local Georgia craft beer in their tasting rooms. They would not be allowed to sell the beer packaged and there will be no Sunday sales.”
Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson said, “I know that the winery owners have requested this for some time and we were waiting to bring it up and to see when the right time was. I do think it is a great time to put that gesture in… I also love the fact that we are restricting it to Georgia Craft beers, so it is not any of the name brand national or international brands.”
Gary Engel spoke to the Commissioners in the work session noting that a few wineries were represented in the audience. He said that other counties in the state are already selling beers. He also noted that it would not equate to a great surge in sales, but rather it allows a service to different tastes. Engel said that sometimes a couple will come up to listen to music, one doesn’t like wine but would enjoy a cold beer. He did say that the small increase in sales could aid in the wineries business as well.
He also said they are wanting to increase and pursue the business as Gilmer is increasing in popularity with these as well. Engel said, “From a perspective of the state, with the number of wineries that are going into Gilmer County, this county will soon be the most populated county, south of Virginia, with wineries.”
Additionally, the other approval for farms came in support of a legislative Act in Georgia, the “Right to Farm” Act. Paris said that lawsuits come often against farms as people move in nearby and then sue over the smells or noise. Paris explained that through discussions with farmers, he found that these are not often won, but are often filed and can be expensive to fight against in courts.
In support of local farmers and through discussions with them, Paris said that they asked for support for this Act in protection of some of what he called “nuisance lawsuits.”
The Act increases requirements to file lawsuits against farms according to Paris, in attempt to protect them from some of these filings.
The approval came for Resolution to support the Act at the state level in efforts to help it pass.
GAINESVILLE, GA – 18 Georgia Sheriffs today became the charter members of the “Law Enforcement for Doug Collins” leadership team. The team is being led by former GA Department of Public Safety Commissioner and State Patrol head Mark W. McDonough.
“Public safety professionals stand in the gap every day protecting their communities,” McDonough said. “There is no better example of this than your Sheriff. They know what their communities need and the things that concern their citizens. One of those concerns is strong, demonstrated leadership in Washington, D.C. Doug Collins supports the law enforcement community and we strongly endorse him as our next U.S. Senator.”
The 18 Sheriffs who endorsed are:
- Gerald Couch – Hall County
- Chad Nichols – Rabun County
- Dane Kirby – Fannin County
- Carlton Speed – Banks County
- Craig Nobles – Long County
- Gene Scarbrough – Tift County
- Frank Reynolds – Cherokee County
- Doyle Wooten – Coffee County
- Steve Thomas – Franklin County
- Stacey Nichols – Gilmer County
- Mitch Ralston – Gordon County
- Billy Hancock – Crisp County
- Joey Terrell – Habersham County
- Janis Mangum – Jackson County
- Carlton Powell – Thomas County
- Don Whitaker – Worth County
- Darren Mitchum – Twiggs County
- Stacy Jarrard – Lumpkin County
“Growing up as the son of a Georgia State Trooper, our law enforcement officers were always my biggest heroes and a part of my family,” Doug said. “These men and women put their lives on the line to serve and protect each and every day, and now they’re putting their names and reputations on the line for me. To say I’m humbled is an understatement.”