County discusses details approving Alcohol at Golf Course

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Golf Course

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Attempting to set details down as they move through the three month process, the county discussed details and plans for the first reader of their change to the alcohol ordinance allowing for the sale of beer and wine at the county’s golf course.

To the best of his knowledge, Golf Course Manager Mike Brumby has previously said that Gilmer was the only one he knew that still doesn’t sell drinks in the lodge.

Golf Course

Whitepath Golf Course

But that is set to change in the coming months as the commissioners spoke about signage, management, and allowances during a special called meeting before the December First Reading.

The Golf Course will likely have something inside the shop showing prices for drinks, but Chairman Charlie Paris said he did not want any advertisements of the alcohol outside the building. The ordinance, according to County Attorney David Clark, will allow them to put signage as the wish. Clark also noted that the golf course is likely to require its own license and “point of contact,” meaning someone responsible for the operation.

Paris asserted that he wanted the operation to basically allow for the sale when people ask without making any major notice or advertisements anywhere. Brumby has also started looking at other courses in their management of alcohol sales and advertisements as well, according to Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson.

Another note brought up in the meeting came as Post 1 Commissioner Hubert Parker publicly noted that the county deleted something in its changes removing requirements regarding state roads.

Clark stated, “The reason that was deleted is that there may be other facilities in the county that may qualify from the distance requirements that aren’t necessarily located on state roads. Nothing in particular at this point in time, but it’s just that that’s been a bone of contention with some of these [stores].”

Parker replied, “I’m just saying, we are opening it up… We have to recognize that. That’s all I’m saying.”

Paris noted that many places not on state roads have licenses as they were “grandfathered in.”

Parker replied, “The current policy is anti-competitive. I agree.” He said that his approach understanding the anti-competitive nature is that the county was trying to keep from being anti-competitive.

The board also discussed adding allowances for special use permits for events in area such as River Park. However, upon discussing details for an idea like a “Wine Walk” allowing local vineyards, each of the commissioners agreed that they wanted to address changes to the ordinance in steps and not add any additional ideas along with the Golf Course. As per the specific location of River Park, some debate came from who owns or leases different areas of the park. Ultimately, the board didn’t go into depth on the idea as they decided to focus on the Golf Course now and address other ideas separately.

Recounting Again in Gilmer Elections with Chief Registrar Watkins

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Watkins

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is performing another recount of the recent presidential election this week after state directives sent Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins and election employees back to the counting machines.

According to Chief Registrar and Elections Coordinator Tammy Watkins, the process began at 9:00 a.m. today, Monday, November 30, 2020. However, she and a small number of employees were in office last night preparing for the recount. Different from the recent recount in the news where the state aligned the recount in Georgia with a scheduled audit, this time, the county’s Elections and Probate employees are re-running the ballots through the machine counters instead of hand counting them again.

Watkins said this means the recount will be much faster than last time, unless any issues arise. Something that has already happened today when Watkins said they had a “hiccup” in the machine process that required a call Dominion for aid in loading and beginning the count. She also said they had another issue when trying to count large numbers of ballots quickly. Now, they are counting ballots 50-at-a-time.

Even with these setbacks, Watkins said she doesn’t expect this recount to take longer than today or part of tomorrow. She noted that she was willing to stay after 5 today to get the recount done if the staff was willing, but she was hopeful that it may not even need a late night.

WatkinsWatkins said that the counters had to be wiped for the recount, but the original voting machines haven’t been cleared yet. She also noted that elections keeps a copy of the elections counts and votes for two years on a back-up system before deleting them.

Watkins said they are again only recounting the presidential election during the recount and are using the full review system through the review board.

Watkins said that she doesn’t expect any issues, but if something does come up in error, they would immediately respond to the state to find out the issue, either to find an issue with their input that caused something or an actual election error.

The confidence was shared as even Republican Party Representative and local GOP Chair Richie Stone, who was present as a monitor of the recount, said that he did not expect any issues in county like Gilmer. Stone said, “I don’t expect Gilmer County to be any different. We have honest people in charge here.”

After the recent Georgia-only recount showed matching results, not many are expecting a difference to appear now. However, Watkins said she is still working diligently through the process because, as she said, “it’s possible.”

However, it’s also stressful in our county, Watkins said she is operating the recount as ordered, but she noted that the registrars and elections in Gilmer could be readying ballots today to go out for the coming runoff in early January. “It’s taking me and my staff away from doing that,” said Watkins when asked about having to do two recounts now.

Watkins noted that she is once again expecting a “higher than normal” turnout for the runoff, but maybe not as many as voted in the presidential election. Early voting for that election begins on December 14 and their are still several key offices up for vote like senate seats for David Perdue and Jon Ossoff or Kelly Loeffler and Raphael Warnock.

This is also pushing unusual days as this early voting will be going on during Christmas and New Years. Watkins said she is expecting to have early voting closed for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, December 24 and 25, as well as for New Year’s Day, January 1, which is actually the final day of early voting. This means Gilmer’s final day of early voting would be the last day of the year, December 31. Watkins was quick to note that this could be subject to change based on circumstances. But as of right now, early voters could cast their vote through New Year’s Eve.

Grease fire shuts down Hardee’s in East Ellijay

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Hardee

ELLIJAY, Ga. – According to witnesses, the Hardee’s in East Ellijay on Industrial Blvd suffered a fire in the early hours of today, November 25, 2020.

While it is unclear if anyone was hurt by the fire, there appears to be no major damage to the exterior. However, it is our current understanding that the fire forced the restaurant to close for the day.

FYN has reached out to Gilmer County’s Public Safety and Gilmer Fire for details and is currently awaiting more information about the incident. FYN has been told that the fire started in the grease trap, but Gilmer Fire has not confirmed this.

Authorities were on scene this morning, but have since left the location.

 

Teague sworn in as Associate Probate Judge

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Teague

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Though Gilmer County Probate Judge has said he would be appointing her, and although the move was approved by the Gilmer Board of Commissioners, taking the oath of office is the final step, and the official step, for Gilmer County Probate Court Associate Judge Tracey A. Teague in taking on the position in the coming year.

Judge Scott Chastain said, “She will assume that new role on January 1, 2021. As it stands now, if something happens to me and I am unable to continue my duties as the Probate Judge, the probate office would be left without someone to continue the day to day operations.”

Tracey A. Teague has been an employee of the Probate Office for over 6 years and previously worked for Judge Mullins. She served as the Chief Clerk for Judge Mullins and currently serves in that same role for Judge Chastain. She is a 1992 Gilmer County graduate, she is married to Bobby Teague and has two children, Taylor and Boston.

Chastain previously called Teague a “Lifesaver” in April of last year after her aid in his transition into the office. Now he continued saying, “Tracey has been a tremendous asset to this office and I truly appreciate all she has done to assist me in making the Probate Office in Gilmer County one of the best in Georgia.”

With this oath, as previously reported when Chastain said he wanted to appoint Teague to this position, this will allow Teague to not only step up as the Chief Clerk, but as the actual judge in situations where Chastain is unavailable, in training, or incapacitated. Some might find it strange to think of such contingencies. However, this has already become reality for Gilmer’s Probate Office.

Gilmer County Courthouse

Chastain said, “Back in July when I tested positive for COVID-19, I was not allowed to enter the courthouse for nearly a month. During that time, we got behind on a few things. Across the state of Georgia, Probate Courts were hit pretty hard by the virus and unfortunately, we lost three of our Probate Judges and other probate court staff. It was during this time, the Council for Probate Judges suggested that we all look at the possibility of something happening to us and what it would do to our office and citizens of the county.”

With that suggestion, Chastain began looking at his options and at those serving in clerk capacities under him. Those clerks have already achieved a great deal in the office, according to Chastain who just celebrated state certification for two more clerks as well as that making every clerk in the office certified. At the same time, he is moving forward after administering the oaths and responsibilities to Teague.

Chastain said, “By law, the Probate Judge has the authority to appoint an Associate Judge. It requires that the Probate Judge seek approval of that appointment from the governing body of the county. A few weeks ago, I sent a request to the Board of Commissioners asking them to approve the appointment of Tracey A. Teague. They approved my request at a public meeting on October 28, 2020.”

Gilmer Probate recognizes Clerks state certification

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County’s Probate Office has recognized achievements for two of its clerks as they have reached 90 hours of state training to become “Certified Probate Clerks.”

Probate Clerk Jennifer West, right, receives her certification from Gilmer Probate Judge Scott Chastain, left.

Probate Judge Scott Chastain presented both Jennifer Carney and Jennifer West with certificates for their state certification at a ceremony this week.

Chastain said, “Carney is a deputy probate clerk who focuses most of her time on probate matters, but is also very capable of doing just about anything that needs to be done in the office. West is a deputy probate clerk who focuses most of her time assisting citizens with general questions, marriage licenses, weapon carry licenses, paying traffic citations, death and birth certificates and many other duties at the front window.”

The training is administered and approved by the Institute of Continuing Judicial Education and the Council of Probate Judges. Chastain noted last year that these programs offer a recognition for 30 hours and 60 hours of training for the program.

Speaking to both Carney and West, Chastain said, “I am extremely proud of these ladies and their tremendous accomplishment.”

Clerks

Probate Clerk Jennifer Carney, right, receives her certification from Gilmer Probate Judge Scott Chastain, left.

While this week celebrated and recognized these two clerks for their accomplishments, this day also represents another step for the Probate Office. In April 2019, Judge Chastain stated a goal that he wanted to have all five staff members state certified.

Now, with the completion of the 90-hour certification program, Gilmer County now has all five of the probate clerks state certified. This is includes Jennifer Carney, Jana Grno, Lyndsay Hightower, Tracy Teague, and Jennifer West. The previous three, Jana Grno, Tracy Teague, and Lyndsay Hightower, were recognized last April.

With this, according to Chastain, there are currently 12 Probate Offices in the state of Georgia that have all of their clerk’s state certified. However, Chastain added, “I believe Gilmer County is the only county in Georgia that has a staff of five and all of them are certified.”

School responds to argument with sports coach

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – With social media abuzz and questions coming forth about a recent argument with a Gilmer Athletics Coach at Gilmer High School, FYN has reached out to Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs for comment and answers on the path forward.

Many have already seen the video on Facebook involving the coach and a student resulting in a verbal argument. According to both Dr. Downs and those in the video, the argument arose when a child struck the coaches vehicle at the Larry Walker Center below the high school on Bobcat Trail.

FYN’s current understanding is that this coach told the child that he shouldn’t be hitting his car, that it was a rental, and he could have damaged it. Apparently, the child said that he thought it was his family’s car and left. However, the child’s older brother returned with another person, who was filming when they returned, and began asking the coach what he said to the child. While details are unclear, it appears the argument escalated from there.

Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs did confirm that Gilmer High School Principal Carla Foley would be speaking with the coach and that the school is already amidst investigating the incident. She also confirmed that she was in meetings today as the child’s parent reached out to speak, but has scheduled a meeting to speak with her as well.

Downs said, “I am disappointed at any time that one of our staff members has a negative interaction with a student or with a family.”

The school system is pulling videos from the facility and looking into the incident as Dr. Downs said that the school principal would be handling the issue moving forward as a personnel issue. The Larry Walker Center is considered a part of the High School campus.

Gilmer amid statewide recount and audit of elections

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County and its Probate Court are deep amid recounting ballots today as they join in what Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins is calling both an audit and a recount for the Presidential Election of 2020.

recount

With employees from the Probate Office, Registrars, and some other volunteers, officials are fully confident in finishing the counting by Tuesday night.

A major stress on certain county offices, this major process has drawn in employees from both the Probate Office and Registrar’s Office to undertake recounting every one of the 16,576 ballots cast in Gilmer County, according to viewers and officials present at the recount.

Begun on Friday, November 14, 2o20, the process is being undertaken in the Jury Assembly Room of the Gilmer County Courthouse. Gilmer Probate Judge Scott Chastain said they used the Jury Assembly Room to allow public access and viewing of the audit, as required by law. However, he said the room also allowed for social distancing between tables and for space so that one table would not accidentally hear someone from the next table over possibly causing some confusion.

Chastain told FYN that the process was going well on Friday, and they have been looking at the progress daily. Scheduled to count through today and ending tomorrow, Tuesday, November 17, 2020, they actually have until midnight on Wednesday to finish the count. This means that if something happens, the county does have a buffer of one extra day just in case.

recount

Registrar Sherri Jones, left, helps alongside Gary Watkins, right, in the 2020 recount and audit of the Presidential Election on November 13, 2020.

Nearly twenty people at some times helping the process with including some floating staff that comes and goes, Chastain said that eleven core people including the elections review board are constantly working through the process.

Chastain and Watkins are both confident in the speed they have been accomplishing the task and are both fully confident in finishing in the scheduled time.

One of the major points of note in this process, those involved in recounting the ballots are only counting the presidential election. Chastain said this was a concern of his in the beginning. He worried that they would be needing to recount every vote in every race. Instead, focusing only on the presidential race is also helping in accomplishing the recount and audit with speed.

Moving forward, two very different outcomes could mean two very different futures for Georgia. Should the audit come up with different numbers than what the computers accounted for, Chastain said, “When we’re finished statewide, my hope is what the machines said is what we come up with. Because if we have different numbers than the machines, it’s not going to be a good situation statewide.”

recount

A part of the statewide audit and recount, Gilmer County is going through 16,576 ballots through day-of, in-person-early, and absentee voting.

Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins echoed a similar thought saying that the recount could prove to be a test for the election equipment statewide. Watkins has also voiced, in previous interviews, her faith in Gilmer’s elections staff and poll workers and has been happy with the efforts that Gilmer has put forth in elections.

This specific election has seen records broken in terms of those visiting in early voting as well as absentee ballots. Yet, this phrase is beginning to lose some of its impact as Gilmer has repeatedly increased in the numbers this year in each of the election days throughout local, state, and federal offices.

Regardless of what the audit comes up with, some are still concerned that hand counts could become a common thing in future elections with parties constantly claiming instances of voter fraud and suppression as well as other things. However, nothing concrete has been reported yet.

School responds to argument with sports coach

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – With social media abuzz and questions coming forth about a recent argument with a Gilmer Athletics Coach at Gilmer High School, FYN has reached out to Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs for comment and answers on the path forward.

Many have already seen the video on Facebook involving the coach and a student resulting in a verbal argument. According to both Dr. Downs and those in the video, the argument arose when a child struck the coaches vehicle at the Larry Walker Center below the high school on Bobcat Trail.

FYN’s current understanding is that this coach told the child that he shouldn’t be hitting his car, that it was a rental, and he could have damaged it. Apparently, the child said that he thought it was his family’s car and left. However, the child’s older brother returned with another person, who was filming when they returned, and began asking the coach what he said to the child. While details are unclear, it appears the argument escalated from there.

Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs did confirm that Gilmer High School Principal Carla Foley would be speaking with the coach and that the school is already amidst investigating the incident. She also confirmed that she was in meetings today as the child’s parent reached out to speak, but has scheduled a meeting to speak with her as well.

Downs said, “I am disappointed at any time that one of our staff members has a negative interaction with a student or with a family.”

The school system is pulling videos from the facility and looking into the incident as Dr. Downs said that the school principal would be handling the issue moving forward as a personnel issue. The Larry Walker Center is considered a part of the High School campus.

Tropical Storm Zeta closes most of Gilmer with outages

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ELLIJAY, Ga, – Gilmer County is picking up the pieces today after Tropical Storm Zeta tore through the twin cities early this morning. Massive Power outages, closures, road blocks, debris, and damage are continuing to accumulate today as citizens are beginning the clean-up process.

outages

Gilmer County Citizens and Gilmer Public Safety help in cutting and removing fallen trees from Highway 382 after Tropical Storm Zeta.

Both Gilmer’s County Offices and School System have closed today with only minor amounts of staff reporting if they are safe to do so. Emergency Officials are responding as well, but not alone today. Gilmer County Public Safety posted a photo this morning (right) as they were aided by citizens on Highway 382 in cutting and removing trees blocking the major road.

The Sheriff’s Office posted a statement today saying, “We have all of our available personnel, along with Gilmer Public Safety, Fire/EMS, utility crews, and phone company crews making their way to try and clear trees and roadways of debris along with restoring power as quickly as possible. Our dispatchers are inundated with calls about downed trees and power outages.”

outages

Debris has fallen over most of the county and blocked some from leaving homes until they can clear it themselves or find help from neighbors.

The Sheriff’s Office is also asking citizens to direct power outage calls to your local utility company and phone and cable outages to your phone/cable provider so as not to overwhelm the department as they deal with emergencies coming from the storm. Heavy flow of calls to 911 about downed trees and outages could clog the lines and possibly prevent someone with a life-threatening emergency from connecting.

However, downed live power lines in areas and on roads should be immediately reported to 911 and avoided.

According to Amicalola EMC, over 38,000 customers from just their own company have been affected by outages and the cast majority of those are still without power as of 1:30 p.m. Gilmer County alone has a report of 11,700 customers without power.

outages

With over 11,700 homes without power in Gilmer alone, emergency crews and power company crews are spread thin across the area attempting to respond and recover from the damgage.

Officials are asking that if you must travel today, “Please use extreme caution. We strongly suggest staying at home for a while, as most business will be without power or otherwise closed.”

The Sheriff’s Office asked for patience from citizens saying that officials and power workers are working as diligently as possible. In an effort to help customers understand the process, Amicalola EMC stated, “A substantial number of trees are down in every county, with a high number falling across our power lines, bringing the lines and power poles down with them. Our crews must first gain access to the damaged area, survey the damage, then begin a plan of action. Every storm is unique with its own characteristics, sometimes making storm restoration efforts more difficult than other times. Please be assured that our crews are out working and will restore power to every member just as soon as is safely possible. We know there will most likely be numerous poles to replace, and we will give updates as the information becomes available.”
Road closures are changing today as new areas are discovered and other areas are restored. Readers can stay up to date on these closures through Gilmer’s Public Safety and Road Conditions pages for social media.

Times and Sample Ballot for Early Voting in Gilmer

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Early Voting is well underway in Gilmer County with lines stretching around the block some days. Citizens are adamant in exercising their right to vote in this major election.

As people prepare and plan on their trips to the ballot box through either early voting or on election day, November 3, 2020, the Registrar’s Office of Gilmer County is providing all the information available.

Staying open later in the day until 6:00 p.m. and even opening this Saturday, the office is following requirements by law and attempting to maintain social distancing while providing this service. According to Chief Registrar and Gilmer County Elections Manager, Tammy Watkins, the full operation times for early voting are:

Monday October 19th thru Friday October 23rd 8:30am – 6:00pm

Saturday October 24th 9:00am until 4:00pm

Monday October 26th thru Friday October 30th 8:30am – 6:00pm

VotingAs people are continuing to gather in large droves at the  Gilmer County Registrar Office (1 Broad St Suite 107 Ellijay, GA 30540) the office is also providing sample ballots in multiple locations including inside the office, through local media, through the county website, and below this article.

Another new addition comes in the form of the Absentee Ballot Box drop-off located at the Gilmer County Courthouse. Located around the corner from the office, the drop-off box is next to the main entrance of the courthouse (pictured right).

Citizens who wish to find out more or wish to ask questions can contact the Registrars Office at 706-635-4617.

Additionally, for those preparing for voting on Election Day, the Voter Registration page of the County Website provides locations for each of the voting precincts in the county near the bottom of the page.

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Early Voting gets massive first day in Gilmer

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the presidential election less than a month away, yesterday saw Gilmer County’s first day of early voting with lines stretching far out the door and down the sidewalk in front of the courthouse.

voting

Voters line the street on Tuesday, October 13, 2020, as Gilmer holds its first day of early voting for the Presidential Election.

According to Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins, the county saw a total of 470 people vote early on the first day.

This is no shock, however, as the Registrars Office also reported record breaking turnouts this year in the June elections. At the time, Registrar Sherri Jones said that Friday, June 5, 2020, the final day of early voting, was their busiest day of the entire cycle.

However, that busiest day ended with 161 voters casting their ballots. This Presidential Election is already shattering any expectations from citizens and authorities. The line stretched long well past noon yesterday, and was wrapping around the square today as citizens lined up in the opposite direction.

Early voting has also taken up extra space. The Board of Commissioners, amid budget meetings this week, held their meetings in the Jury Assembly Room. While most of their meetings are being held there currently, due to needs for Social Distancing amid the Coronavirus, they also said their conference room is being used by elections and office staff as the early voting machines are spreading out through the Registrar’s Office to supply enough machines for early voting while also maintaining the same Social Distancing guidelines.

voting

Gilmer’s new absentee ballot drop off waits for the cement to dry for its new location in the courthouse parking lot.

Citizens don’t seem to mind as some, who have never voted, are showing up for the first time ever. One person, who declined to give his name, said he searched and registered this year just to vote against those he saw as attacking the president and the current office.

Gilmer is also adding a new drop-off box this week for absentee ballots. Set in the parking lot of the courthouse, the new box is to be bolted into the ground allowing those dropping off ballots to not have to wait in line.

Watkins said in a meeting with the commissioners last week before early voting that absentee ballots could also be seeing minor issues with some as they originally request an absentee ballot or are on a rollover absentee list, but want to cancel their absentee ballot and vote in person.

Watkins explained that this happened in the last election as a large number of ballots request forms were sent out.

Additionally, if a request is marked with certain health or physical disabilities, these people can be put on a rollover list for absentee ballots as well.

voting

Gilmer’s early voting line stretched down the sidewalk and around the corner of the Courthouse’s parking lot to enter the Registrar’s Office to vote.

While not an issue to handle and fix, the massive turnout already seen will inflate problems in this election as staff are keeping up with the number of people while also dealing with the usual corrections and details that come normally with early voting.

With no clear number on the amount of absentees that could be since we are so early in the cycle, the first day of early voting nearly tripled the busiest day from the last election. As the campaigns continue and more people find time to go to the Gilmer County Courthouse, 1 Broad St., in Ellijay, the numbers are looking like they will only go up from here to shatter previous records in early voting for the county.

Teacher’s arrest causes tension as BOE considers resignation

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Last week’s news of a teacher’s arrest on charges of allegedly carrying out an inappropriate relationship with a student resulted in the following day a letter of resignation submitted to the Gilmer County Board of Education.

This culminated at the Board’s meeting when voting on personnel. Nathan Sutton’s, the teacher in question, resignation was a part of the agenda item.

Board member Ronald Watkins asked to vote on Sutton’s resignation separate from the other personnel changes. While the general personnel passed without issue, Sutton’s resignation was questioned.

Watkins said he wanted the Board to not accept his resignation as it allows him to part from the school board with a letter of resignation rather than being fired for the incident. Watkins referenced another recent resignation, saying it was similarly a situation of allowing a resignation before an investigation could prove any improper behavior.

While the Board was originally split with Board member Tom Ocobock saying he agreed that he wanted it to say on record that he was fired. Ocobock also indicated that he didn’t want Sutton “let off” with a resignation after the alleged incident. This was stressed even further as they both noted Sutton’s alleged confession.

resignation

Gilmer County Board of Education, Board Member Ronald Watkins

However, Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs suggested to the board that the school system would proceed with whatever they voted, she counseled them to accept the resignation on the grounds that the if the Board wished to proceed with firing him instead, they would reject the resignation and continue paying Sutton as a teacher and keeping him as an employee, at least on paper, until the proceeding could go forward with the schools firing policy. With the investigation and the school board’s process to fire him. It could take up to a couple months or even 90 days was suggested as an extreme possibility.

Some of the complicating factors revolved around the victim not being a student anymore, new policy updates for Title 9 with the schools, and proceeding with the termination in face of a resignation letter.

Downs said that she has already filed paperwork with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC) for an ethics complaint on record regarding the incident, and that the police would be moving forward with their investigation. The complaint with the GaPSC also requested to pull Sutton’s certificate for education.

According to the GaPSC website:

Title 20, Education, of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.), outlines the legal guidelines, which govern the state education program.

Title 20 creates the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC) and assigns it responsibility for providing a regulatory system for “certifying and classifying” professional employees in public schools. Title 20 also requires the professional employees of all Georgia public schools to hold state certification.

Downs added that the resignation allows the board to separate from Sutton immediately without the full process of investigating themselves and firing Sutton on those grounds. She said that as far as him going to another school or getting another job, there was little difference in firing Sutton or accepting the resignation. The difference was in paying him until they could fire him or terminating the contract now.

resignation

Gilmer County Board of Education, Board Member Tom Ocobock

Ocobock said that he still wanted him fired, but with Downs saying she had filed the complaint and as long as he could not go to another school for a job, he was okay with the resignation path of separation.

However, Watkins still pushed for the official process saying that he was really discouraged that he has had two people know that will be allowed to resign instead of being fired. He stated, “I want to know how bad something has got to be to where I can fire someone.”

Indeed, with a motion on the floor to accept the resignation, Watkins made his official motion to proceed with the firing process. The motion did not receive a second and died. However, the Board then proceeded with approving the motion to accept Sutton’s resignation 4-0 with Watkins abstaining.

Watkins did make one comment saying he felt he was appearing like “the bad guy” because he abstained from the resignation, but was reassured by other Board members. Ocobock told him he wasn’t the bad guy saying, “You’ve got to think about what it’s going to cost the school and the disruption in the high school where now we’ve got to find another teacher to replace him.”

Commissioners adopt Moratorium on Greenspace subdivision roads

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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:

  1. The suspension of Class E roads.

  2. 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).

  3. 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.”

 

United We Ride Event – October 3rd!

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Board lowers Bond Millage with final approval of rates

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Millage Rate Meeting

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.

Will Gilmer feel an economic impact from cancelling the Apple Festival?

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Festival

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.”

A Report of the Hotel/Motel Tax Collections for Gilmer County.

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.

SPLOST Collections for the last six years show certain trends, but nothing is set to predict the coming three months.

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.

Festival

Craftsmen, Food Vendors, artists, musicians, and many others are a part of the annual festival that stretches far beyond just the fairgrounds and ecmpossaes Apple Arts, a parade, musical shows, a beauty pageant, car shows, and more across two weekends.

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.

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