Union County accepting rollback for 2021 millage rateFeatured News, Featured Stories, News August 31, 2021
BLAIRSVILLE, GA – The 2021 millage rate will be dropping to 6.024 mills from last year’s 7.187 mills in Union County.
“The State Computation form indicates this is a 0.00% tax increase. The rollback rate is set by the State of Georgia using the county’s net digest number,” the county notice stated.
Union County recently completed a county-wide property reevaluation where many citizens saw substantial increases. At public hearings on the matter, Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris promised the millage rate would come down from last year. The property taxes for the year had not been calculated yet.
2020’s millage rate triggered a 17 percent property tax increase on the county side, not including the board of education millage rate. The board of education is also lowering its 2021 millage rate.
The Georgia Department of Revenue has the net tax percent increase on the 2021 Tax Digest at 10.63 percent. The number is “based on growth in the county only (new properties, additions, etc.), NOT inflationary growth.”
The total county net tax increase in dollar amount for $997,886. The total digest value is $1,723,597,819 and the total M&O taxes levied for 2021 is $10,382,953. See the tax digest for a breakdown of the unincorporated and incorporated areas of Union County.
The next county meeting is on September 16 at 6 p.m. at the Union County Courthouse.
Blairsville City Council approves agreement with county to receive TSPLOST fundsFeatured News, Featured Stories July 13, 2021
BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Blairsville City Council approved the intergovernmental agreement with Union County for the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) referendum during the July 2021 meeting.
The approval is one in a series of steps necessary for TSPLOST to appear on a special election ballot in November 2021.
The intergovernmental agreement allows Blairsville to receive a portion of proceeds from a one percent sales tax. TSPLOST would raise the total sales tax from 7 to 8 cents on the dollar. The state allows a county up to 9 cents in sales taxes. The state levies the first 4 cents.
The intergovernmental agreement would last for five years and is contingent on voters approving TPLOST in the fall. Measures such as LOST, SPLOST, ESPLOST, and TSPLOST must be approved by registered voters in Union County.
2021 is an off-year for county elections, but the county could call a special election just for TSPLOST. Municipal elections for Blairsville are being held this year.
As the name implies, TSPLOST funds go solely toward transportation projects, unlike SPLOST which covers most capital outlay efforts for a county and city. TSPLOST must meet a transportation need outside of regular SPLOST or free up SPLOST funds for other projects.
With the intergovernmental agreement in place, the county could levy a fractional rate of up to 1 percent. If Blairsville hadn’t passed the agreement, then the levy amount would stop at .75 percent.
If passed, TSPLOST could generate up to $5 million a year and the city of Blairsville would receive between five or eight percent of those funds.
The closest county to Union with TSPLOST is Lumpkin. Gilmer recently put TSPLOST on the ballot and it failed. Here’s a copy of Georgia’s Sales and Use Tax Rate Chart.
Sales taxes, such as LOST, SPLOST, ESPLOST, and TSPLOST, are meant to alleviate the tax burden on local property owners. Since sales taxes are consumption-based and everyone who makes a purchase within the county contributes. In communities like Union County, weekends often see an influx of tourists looking to escape for the weekend. For the last few years, sales tax-related revenue has continued to increase for Union County at a rate higher than expected.
Property owners in Union County experienced a tax increase of 17 percent last year, and they just received property revaluation notices from the tax commissioner’s office. Several experienced significant property value increases.
Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris remarked throughout last year’s tax increase process that the new property evaluations would result in the millage rate dropping this year. As a result, property owners should see their tax burden decrease.
Those wanting to lower their property values can make a case to the tax assessor’s office, but it doesn’t guarantee values will go down. Property owners have 45 days to appeal.
Paris addresses COVID-19 vaccine and county updatesFeatured Stories March 26, 2021
BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris ran an efficient meeting and covered several topics during the March 2021 meeting.
He reported that over 500 vaccine doses were administered at the last mass vaccine event but wasn’t sure if another mass vaccine day would occur. Also, Union County’s supply went from the Moderna to Pfizer vaccine. Over 7,000 first doses and 5,000 second doses have been given in Union County. Georgia opened the vaccine up to everyone 16 and older on Thursday.
A new restroom is coming to Meeks Park, and TVA is funding approximately $25,000 for the project. It is located next to the intended location for an amphitheater.
Union’s economy is still performing well despite the pandemic. Paris stated that all new restaurants appear to be full almost every night.
The county entered into an agreement with the Georgia Forestry Commission allowing for Union County Fire Department to use surplus Forestry equipment when fighting fires. It’s a five-year agreement that needed to be updated due to a change of leadership. Administrative fees are $100 per transaction for non-title property and $200 per transaction for titled property.
A bank account was opened with United Community Bank for SPLOST 5 which is scheduled to kick in either late April or early May.
Two grants were accepted from the Accountability Courts Supplemental State Funds for Enotah Mental Health Court in the amounts of $29,280 and $6,470.
The County meeting in April was rescheduled for Tuesday, April 20 at 6 p.m. at the courthouse.
Board of Elections Changes
Elizabeth “Libby” Stevens became the Board of Elections Chair for a term of February 1, 2021, to December 31, 2024. She was already serving on the board and Commissioner Paris picked her to keep some normalcy on the board with all the election issues currently going on in the state.
James Sterling Fitzgerald will be taking her spot on the board for the term of January 1, 2021, to December 31, 2023.
Carl Foutz was also appointed to the Board of Elections from January 1, 2021, to December 31, 2022. He is replacing Bill Parker.
Democrats appoint two members, and Republicans appoint two members. The Commission appoints the chairman.
Union County hopes to vaccinate 1,000 in one dayCommunity, Featured News, Featured Stories January 22, 2021
BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Friday marked the first mass COVID-19 vaccination event for Union County, judging from the full schedule, one could label it a success.
The department of public health (DPH) controls who is eligible to receive the vaccine and individuals must sign up through the DPH website – more specifically the District 2 website. However, as of Thursday, the appointments were at full capacity and existing stock is committed as the second dose for other patients.
The state left it up to local health departments to administer the vaccines to people, which can be difficult in a small county. The people eligible to receive the vaccine greatly outnumber the nurses and DPH only allows a certain number of vaccines to each county. DPH is bringing on extra employees to help meet demand as well.
“They’re trying to do all the retirement villages, nursing homes, everything…most of our public safety personnel have already been given the opportunity to get their shot. Now that they’ve opened it up to 65 years and older, we’ve realized it’s going to take months and months to get these shots out at the rate they’re going,” Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris explained.
Fire Chief and EMA Director David Dyer and the local health department created the mass vaccination event at the new sports center.
“We’re experimenting with the logistics of making it all work,” Paris said. “We’ll have six or eight more that are going to be certified [to give shots.]”
The mass vaccination began at 8 a.m. and lasted until 8 p.m. 50 volunteers participated to help make the event a success.
“We can’t tell you when you’re going to be able to get the shot. We’re just going to the Gainesville office and saying give us as many shots as you can.”
The county has set up a link on their website to schedule an appointment for the vaccination event. They started with 150 shots on Monday and grew to 1,000 shots by Thursday.
“The way COVID-19 is spreading throughout the county…There’s no rhyme or reason to who gets it and who doesn’t,” Paris added, “It’s a serious thing, and we take it serious here at the county.”
Union County hopes to hold more mass vaccination events in the future for residents who want the shot – potentially for four consecutive weeks. However, continued vaccination events depend upon DPH sending additional medicine.
The rotary club, county employees, recreation department staff, EMA, and local health department staff all played vital roles in hosting the clinic.
Union County 2021 operating budget adoptedFeatured News, Featured Stories, News December 28, 2020
BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – The 2021 operating budget for Union County was officially set in a called meeting on December 28, 2020.
The total budget for $21,748,780 which was an 11.7 increase from 2020. In a public hearing, Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris cited several reasons for the rising budget including state cuts, property reevaluation, potential gun range costs, COVID-19 expenses, and other various expenses.
Paris thanked his staff, finance director Laura Driskell, purchasing director Pam Hawkins, and county manager Larry Garrett for working to create a streamlined budget.
The 2021 budget incorporated a property tax hike of 17 percent on the county side – a 6.8 percent increase overall. The previous year’s budget fell short of making ends meet by almost $1 million so a property tax increase was necessary. However, the ongoing property reevaluation could drop taxes next year.
SPLOST collections skyrocketed in 2020 and several SPLOST projects are planned in 2021 using the last four months of SPLOST 4 collections and eight months of SPLOST 5. The projects are as follows:
- Jail Roof replacement
- View Grill expansion
- Courthouse HVAC – 2 large roof top units’ replacement
- Meeks Park new restroom facility
- New convenience center for trash and recycling on north end of county
- Future jail property (second half of payment)
- Sheriff’s Office vehicles
- Road work and paving
- City of Blairsville projects
- New pumper engine/fire truck
- Road department dump truck and other equipment and vehicles
- Balls fields complex in front of Farmers Market
- Senior Center upgrades/addition
- SAFE shelter upgrades/addition
- Suches Community Center floor replacement
For a more detailed breakdown of the 2021 operating budget, read this article.
Paris presents 2021 budget, set to adopt MondayFeatured News, Featured Stories, News December 27, 2020
BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – In a public hearing for the 2021 budget, Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris presented the $21,748,780 budget. It will be adopted on December 28 at 4:30 p.m. at the Union County Courthouse.
The budget featured an 11.7 percent increase from 2020, which was $19,462,648. The reasons for the increases included three percent pay raise to county employees (+$440,000), property reevaluation (+$380,000), county’s potential share of gun range expenses (+$500,000), state cutting budgets (+$70,000), health care costs (+$100,000), vehicle and equipment repairs (+$20,000), repairs and maintenance (+$22,000), vehicle purchases (+$40,000), retirement plan matching (+$36,000), LMIG grants (-$104,000), operating costs for the new sports center, and COVID-19 expenses.
The county had to raise financing for the library, health department, court system, and other partially state-funded organizations because the state cut budgets by 15 percent.
The $500,000 budgeted for the gun range could decrease depending on the outcome of the project. DNR listed exacting specifications to receive aid.
Several departments and offices experienced a budget escalation from 2020 with a few decreasing such as elections and health. The three percent employee raise and accounting for state budget cuts account for some of the increases.
“Every year our department heads and elected officials submit their budget requests to our office. We go through all the numbers and items compared to previous years budgets and actual expenditures and cut anywhere possible to get our total budget as low as we reasonably can. However, this is a difficult task because all our county offices and departments do an outstanding job each and every year to be practical and responsible with our budgets.” Paris stated.
County revenues grew in 2020 as well. SPLOST collections well outpaced previous years with November reaching $528,176.50.
The millage rate was set in the summer and increased to 7.361 mills. The overall increase will be 6.8 percent on the school property taxes are factored in. A homestead property with a market value of $100,000 will see a $46.25 tax hike. A non-homestead property valued at $200,000 will experience a $97.26 tax increase.
For years, Paris kept the millage rates low to save property owners money, but the county found it necessary to raise the millage rate this year to replenish the fund balance and cover operating expenses. According to the commissioner, if the counties maintained previous millage rates, Union County’s new rate would still rank in the lowest 10 percent in Georgia.
“Property tax revenue in 2020 was short almost $1 million dollars,” Paris explained.
The tax increase generated $1,629,229.
He also addressed the need to raise salaries for the sheriff’s office, jail, 911 dispatch to keep employees in the county. Paris thanked Sheriff Mack Mason for trying to keep costs low.
A state-required county property reevaluation is currently underway, so the millage rate could drop next year. The cost of the reevaluation is $380,000.
Christmas Eve Snow blankets Union CountyCommunity, Feature News, Featured, Featured News, Featured Stories December 25, 2020
BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Beginning on Christmas Eve, the snow continued on-and-off throughout the night leaving a magical, still Christmas morning for north Georgia.
Estimates are between one and two inches of snow in Union County. According to the National Weather Service, there’s a 20 percent chance of snow showers on Christmas Day after 2 p.m.
As for the rest of the day: “Partly sunny, with a high near 26. West wind 10 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.”
Drivers are asked to use “strong caution” as black ice, iced roads, and slippery road conditions are possible. According to Commissioner Lamar Paris, the road department couldn’t scrap the frozen roads overnight and the “roads are a mess.” He advised people stay home unless “you have to assist Santa.” He hoped sunlight would help to melt some of the snow and ice, but temperatures are remaining below freezing.
GDOT is working on clearing state roads.
Some lost power last night for over an hour because of broken trees and tree limbs that fell because of the snowstorm.
The Union County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook, “The roads are very slick, and some are still impassable. Please stay off the roads and spend this white Christmas with your families.”
Please enjoy the snow, your family, and exercise extreme caution if venturing outside. If you have any snow pictures, send them over!
Christmas events in the MountainsCommunity, Feature News, Featured, Featured News, Featured Stories November 27, 2020
BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – The Christmas season is officially beginning in North Georgia, and Union County has several events to keep the family busy throughout December.
Starting on December 1 the Tour of Trees officially begins on December 1 and runs until December 31 from 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. In the past over 40 trees and wreaths have decorated the Union County Community Center. The Tour of Trees is free to the public. Also, on December 5, children can enjoy breakfast and pictures with Santa Christmas Train at the Community Center from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Christmas on the Square is also taking place on the evening of Saturday, December 5. A night-time caroling is scheduled for 6 p.m. The event also promises photos with Santa, a Christmas Market, and kid activities.
Southern Tree Plantation is ready to help the public find their perfect Christmas Trees with Pictures with Santa on Friday, November 27 from 11:00 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday, November 28 from 10:30 a.m. to 2: p.m. The December dates are yet to be announced.
7M Family Farms will host its first annual Nightly Lights even from November 28 to January 1 from 6:00 p.m. to 10 p.m. Also, it’s first annual Christmas Festival will be on December 12 from 2:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. 7M Family Farms has invited 30 local arts and crafts vendors and Santa Claus for pictures. Candy Cane Lane will be a walk-thru light display. The event is free, but donations are welcome.
Blairsville Holiday Stop and Shop will be open from Friday, November 4, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday, December 5, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Union County Civic Center. Over 50 vendors will be on hand.
St. Luke’s Anglican Church Fourteenth Annual Christmas Bazaar will be held on December 5 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the church’s open-air pavilion and social hall. The event will allow people to socially distance while they shop. Shoppers will find many traditional handmade gifts, a raffle for His and Her Garden themed gift, a Christmas Bazaar Sampler Basket, a silent auction, and baked goods. The proceeds of the event go toward North Georgia charities.
Vogel State Park Annual Tree Lighting will take place on December 12 at 5:00 p.m. Parking opens at 4:00 p.m. This year the program will take place from the “comfort of your vehicle” and park access will be restricted once they reach capacity.
Alpaca Holidays Open House will begin on December 26 and ends on December 29 at Lasso the Moon Alpaca Farm. The interactive tour is great for kids with tours beginning at 11:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., and 1:00 p.m. Please go online to make a reservation. The tour is free.
For those looking for more holiday fun, Mountain Country Christmas in Lights started November 26 and runs through December 26 at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds in Hiawassee, Ga. It’s open every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 6:00 p.m. till 9:00 p.m. The event is an immersive light show with Christmas music, arts and crafts vendors, food, hot chocolate, and pictures with Santa. Those under 12 are free and 12 and older must pay $6.
Record turnout overwhelmingly votes Trump in Union CountyFeatured Stories, News November 4, 2020
BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Union County had zero contested local elections, but citizens still turned out in record numbers for state and federal races.
Overall, Union County overwhelmingly chose President Donald Trump with 12,638 votes (81.29 percent) compared to former Vice President Joe Biden who received 2,801 votes (18.02 percent). Libertarian Jo Jorgensen received 108 votes (0.69 percent). 15,547 Union citizens voted for president. Approximately 19,201 people are registered to vote in Union County.
The voter turnout breaks down as follows:
- 8,242 – advance votes
- 3,556 – absentee mail-in votes
- 3, 749 – election day votes
On down the ballot, Senator David Perdue earned 12,410 votes (80.77 percent), challenger Jon Ossoff received 2,616 (17.03 percent), and Libertarian Shane Hazel received 339 votes (2.21 percent).
In the special senate election, Union County stuck with their former Ninth District Representative Doug Collins, who earned 8,092 (52.72 percent). Every county in the Ninth District went for Collins, but he didn’t have the votes to overcome incumbent Senator Kelly Loeffler’s lead and conceded to her around 10 p.m. on election night. In Union, Loeffler received 3,945 votes (25.50 percent) and Democrat challenger Raphael Warnock earned 1,904 votes (12.40 percent).
As for the new Ninth District House Representative, Andrew Clyde (R) received 12,496 votes (82.54 percent) to Devin Pandy (D)’s 2,643 votes (17.46 percent).
Incumbent State Senator District 51 Steve Gooch (R) easily retained his seat, and in Union, Gooch earned 12,130 votes (80.59 percent) and challenger June Krise (D) received 2,922 (19.41 percent).
The Georgia General Assembly House of Representatives District Eight seat went to Stan Gunter (R). Union County voters turned out for Gunter and cast 12,644 votes (83.28 percent) in his favor. His opponent Dave Cooper (D) received 2,538 votes (16.72 percent).
Public Service Commissioner District One Jason Shaw (I) earned the majority of the vote in Union County as did District 4 Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald.
All results are unofficial until certified by the Secretary of State.
Union County lowers tax increase to 17 percentFeatured, Featured News September 2, 2020
BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – In a called meeting, Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris approved dropping the tax increase from 19.98 percent to 17 percent.
“After hearing from constituents at the three public hearings, Union County has decided to reduce the proposed property tax increase to 17%. The school portion of your bill is about two-thirds of the total tax bill meaning that even with the increase from the county, your actual out of pocket property tax increase should only be about 5.8% of your total property tax bill,” Paris explained.
The county side of the millage rate is now set at 7.178 mills, not the 7.361 mills that was approved in the August 27 called meeting.
The commissioner also detailed all the reasons behind the proposed increase.
- “We have mostly been in the top three lowest mil rates in Georgia out of 159 counties since I have been in office. In trying to help the public with low taxes and provide the best facilities and services possible, this very low rate is just not sustainable any longer.
- Increase of salaries for Sheriff and Jail deputies in order to maintain staff and not lose them to other counties.
- In order to keep property taxes low, we have had to utilize the reserve funds to help balance the budget and need to replenish them.
- Our medical insurance rates have increased each year with 2018 increasing $750,000 which we are still trying to make up for and are going up $100,000 next year.
- We are being required to have all property reevaluated in the county by next year and the cost is $380,000.
- Our commitment to a new gun range that has been in the works for nearly 5 years will be approximately $500,000 and it is too late to change. Thanks to the sheriff, 75% will be paid by grant funding.
- The State of Georgia has cut its budget 15% which is estimated to impact the county library, drug court, health dept by approximately $70,000.
- Vehicle maintenance and equipment repairs are up $40,000.
- Paving (LMIG Funds) from the State DOT will be decreased $104,000.
- While the county is being reimbursed for some of the COVID-19 funds, we have no idea what our cost and expense will be in 2021. We are just holding our breath with the huge amount of new infection we are now experiencing in the county and not sure what the future holds.
Thanks for your understanding as we are all working very hard to keep our budget as low as possible and we will all continue that process. Thank you!!”
The board of education maintained it’s millage rate at 11.74 mills, which was lower than the rollback rate.
Back to School Info for 2018 – 2019 School YearFeatured July 27, 2018
School Year Calendars
Gilmer County Schools 2018-2019 Calendar
Pickens County School 2018-2019 Calendar
Fannin County School 2018-2019 Calendar
Union County School 2018-2019 Calendar
Towns County School 2018-2019 Calendar
Dawson County School 2018-2019 Calendar
White County School 2018-2019 Calendar
Murray County School 2018-2019 Calendar
Lumpkin County School 2018-2019 Calendar
Cherokee County NC School 2018-2019 Calendar
Karla’s Korner – Back to School Special:
Now Hiring Reporters for Union and Cherokee, N.C.Announcements, Business June 6, 2018
Position requires reporting on area municipal, school and county meetings, and a strong emphasis on Breaking News and feature writing. Placement of content on our proprietary website, as well as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube welcomed. Candidates should have knowledge of Word Press, Google drive, and Microsoft. Photography experience helpful.
FetchYourNews.com is looking for dedicated, independent workers. Reporters are given the an enormous opportunity, and must be self-driven individuals.
If you have a passion for your community and reporting the NEWS, call 706-889-9700
FetchYourNews.com currently covers the following areas, but we are ACTIVELY expanding: Pickens, Gilmer, Fannin, Union, Towns, Lumpkin, White, Murray, Dawson, & Cherokee County NC
Job Type: Part-time
Union County’s Most Wanted still at large from large methamphetamine drug bustFeatured, News July 15, 2017
Blairsville, GA – On Thursday, June 22nd , 2017, 34 people were arrested and warrants were issued for 4 others. One of those ‘others’ has since been apprehended and arrested; but the three remaining are currently Union County’s Most Wanted because, according to UCSO Captain Chad Deyton and UCSO Sgt. Tyler Miller, they are the ringleaders.
Union County’s Most Wanted still at large from largest methamphetamine drug bust in Union County history. Still at large as of this writing are Michael Edward Parker, James Keith Cordle and Bridgette Maria Banks.
If anyone should see or might know the whereabouts of any of these persons, please contact the Union County Sheriff’s Office at (706) 439-6066 immediately.
Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com
BKP talks about this Weekend’s Graduations and Memorial Day CelebrationsCommunity May 30, 2017
Fetch Your News covered four of our local counties graduation ceremonies this weekend as well as some great Memorial Day ceremonies. In this segment BKP shows a few pictures from each graduation and from each of the Memorial Day celebrations. He ends the segment Thanking all the men and women who have given their lives so that we can all enjoy the freedoms that we do daily. He makes a special Thank you to 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, Department of Homeland Security head General John Kelly’s son, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.
Christmas Puppet ShowFeatured November 30, 2016
Christmas Puppet Show Announced
The Mountain Regional Puppet Company has announced their show dates for the upcoming Christmas season. The show will debut at the new Mountain Regional Library in Young Harris on December 13, then travel to all the other branches during the remaining week. The show features three classic children’s Christmas books. Animals are featured in Bear Stays Up for Christmas and A Wish to be a Christmas Tree. And then the show finishes with an interpretation of Raymond Briggs’ famous story entitled The Snowman.
In 2016, staff members of the Mountain Regional Library formed a production troupe dedicated to puppet performance. Led by Library Director Vince Stone, this group scripts, choreographs, and performs professional level puppet shows for our community.
The main purpose of these productions is to use puppetry as a creative means to promote literacy and the library. This year’s Christmas production was sponsored by a generous gift from the Friends of Union County Library.
FOUCL president Sally Woodworth says, “We are so proud to help fund this exciting program for our community. The team at Mountain Regional does a wonderful job incorporating books and storytelling in such a unique and entertaining fashion. There are almost as many adults in attendance as there are children. If you haven’t seen them, please come.”
“An innovative aspect of our production is the use of video,” says Stone. “One of the largest challenges in puppetry is making scenic backgrounds and backdrops. By having a huge TV on the back portion
of our stage, we can put the puppets in any setting…a forest, an ocean, a house. Doesn’t matter. This helps the story come alive.”
The 2016 Christmas Show Dates
Mountain Regional Library @ 5 p.m. December 13
Fannin County Public Library @ 5 p.m. December 15
Union County Library @ 11. a.m. December 17
Towns County Library @ 5 p.m. December 19
This show is appropriate for all ages and is free to the public.
FBI Investigation? Fannin County House of CardsFeatured, Featured Stories, News July 24, 2016
“Some would rather climb a tree to tell a lie than stand on the ground and tell the truth” BKP
Monday afternoon July 18th in a Pickens County Courtroom Senior Judge Richard Winegarden signed the nolle prosequi orders dropping the charges against Fannin Focus publisher Mark Thomason and Attorney Russell Stookey.
Thomason and Stookey were arrested Friday 6-24-16. Thomason was charged with three counts; identity fraud, attempt to commit identity fraud and making a false statement. Stookey was charged with two counts; identity fraud and attempt to commit identity fraud.
Appalachian Judicial District Chief Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver filed the complaint with the District Attorney’s office. District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee presented the charges to a Pickens County Grand Jury made up of sixteen citizens. The Grand Jury returned true bills on both Thomason and Stookey.
When the charges were dropped that made the file concerning this case open for the public to view, FYN spent Friday afternoon thoroughly reviewing the file. I listened to the witness interviews several times.
Immediately after the court adjourned Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss did an interview with Channel 2’s Mark Winne. (Doss interview with Mark Winne.) She told Winne she has spoken with the FBI three times since March.
Mark Thomason, Russell Stookey, Lynn Doss, and Fannin Probate Judge Scott Kiker have made claims that there is currently an FBI investigation into Judge Brenda Weaver and Judge Roger Bradley. Thomason, Stookey, and Doss have made the same claims concerning the FBI during interviews. Witness interviews claim Kiker told them about the FBI investigation in detail.
Throughout the DA’s investigation one name kept coming up, County Attorney Lynn Doss. It is common knowledge in the Appalachian Judicial District that Doss does not care very much for Judge Roger Bradley. I stated in a previous article a comment Doss made to me regarding her feelings for Bradley.
Doss serves as the Attorney for Fannin County, Fannin County Water Authority, and the Fannin County Board of Education. Her husband Harry Doss is the Fannin County Juvenile Public Defender and the Fannin County Probate Judge Public Defender. The Doss’s have received a lot of money for several years from Fannin County taxpayers. Side note, FYN has researched Doss and Kiker court cases from Cobb to Towns Counties and have found several cases where Lynn Doss and Scott Kiker are co-counsel. See any conflict with that? Doss is public defender in Kiker’s courtroom. Also what happened to the promise Kiker made the voters of Fannin County that he would be a full-time Probate Judge? Far from it, Kiker has private cases in several counties. And that is a story for another day.
Lynn Doss thoroughly understands attorney/client privilege so why would she risk losing a client like Fannin County Board of Commissioners who pays her $5,708 per month, $68,496 a year? I asked Chairman Bill Simonds if he knew that Fannin County was being investigated by the FBI and also if he knew Doss was speaking to the FBI? Simonds told us he just found out in the last couple of weeks and was not aware of any conversations Doss was having or may have had with the FBI.
Remember the checks from the Judge’s account which Thomason claimed appeared to have been illegally cashed? Who gave the checks to Stookey or Thomason? During an interview with DA Investigator Greg Arp, Simonds told Arp he understood that Doss said she thought the FBI would be contacting her and so Doss wanted the checks. Simonds went on to say, his understanding was that Doss gave the checks to Stookey who in turn gave them to Thomason.
So if Doss told Simonds about the FBI possibly contacting her why did she not come back to her client (Fannin County) and confirm her involvement with the FBI investigation once she was actually contacted?
Investigator Arp asked Simonds if Doss ever admitted to him who she gave the checks to? Simonds replied “Oh Yeah! She gave the checks to this Stookey guy. She is the county attorney. She has no F****** business giving checks out to nobody especially another attorney. She said ‘I do that all the time, I give out numbers.’ Simonds said, ‘Lynn this is a lot different than a F****** telephone number, this ain’t no telephone number.’ She lied about it. I think this is a d*** vendetta. Lynn is vindictive.”
The DA’s investigators Greg Arp and Christy O’Dell interviewed Rita Davis Kirby. Kirby is Fannin County’s CFO. Kirby told investigators that she gave the check in question to Doss and only Doss.
“She is the only one who had the checks. The only person who had copies of those checks. It’s obvious that Lynn is the only one with copies of the checks from Fannin County. If Mark Thomason has a copy of them it came to him from Lynn Doss. In March Lynn comes in and asks me for a copy of the third quarter, second, third and fourth quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016 of Judge Bradley’s checks. She said I have gotten word the FBI is going to be looking into this and they will probably call me so if you will just go ahead and get those for me I will have them when they contact me. I got her the copies and sent them to her. She sent me an email and said could I go ahead and give her the other two judges just for the sake of not singling any one judge out. Something to that effect. She emailed me. Kirby said Doss never came back and said anything about the FBI investigation. “
Kirby was asked if the FBI had made any requests to the commissioner’s office?
“No, and that is what’s strange to me as well.”
Kirby recounted a meeting with investigators between Doss, Simonds, and herself concerning who Doss gave the checks to and how she knew they had been cashed. “ When Bill got a copy of the Open Records Request that Thomason sent Chairman Rob Jones in Pickens County, Lynn came in and was in Bill’s office. Kirby went into Bill’s office and sat down. Lynn read a copy of the email and told Bill she needed to talk to him about this. She needed to explain. She said this is crazy (Lynn), I could kill Mark Thomason (jokingly). All I know about this is ‘Mark Thomason received copies of these checks from Rita,’ and I (Kirby) stopped her. I said “No, Lynn, No he didn’t.” “I thought I had given him those checks but I didn’t. I went back to verify that. I did not give those checks to Mark Thomason, you are the only one I gave those checks too. She said (Lynn) I’m not sure how he got them.”
The reasoning behind the investigation is there is a problem about ‘if’ the checks have been cashed and they’re not supposed to be cashed. Lynn said on the back of the check in the upper left hand corner on Judge Bradley’s checks there are numbers that go across and we understand and were told it was a teller override. (Rita said) I told her that was not a teller override and Lynn said, I spoke to Ruth Jordan and she told me that it was a teller override.
Kirby said she was in the room when Simonds asked Doss who she gave the checks to. “Doss told Bill she gave the checks to Stookey who is Mark Thomason’s Attorney. At that point Bill looked at her and said, “you did what?” She said it’s open records and I gave them to Stookey. She said it’s no different than me giving a phone number to an attorney without asking if she could give the number out. Bill said that ain’t quite the same thing.”
Kirby implied throughout the interview that she feels that Doss shares county information with Thomason.
Did Ruth Jordan tell Lynn Doss that the checks appeared to have been cashed because of the numbers on the back of the check? Jordan is the Blue Ridge Branch Manager of Community & Southern Bank.
DA Investigators O’Dell and Arp interviewed Jordan. Jordan immediately let them know she could not answer questions for the bank but she could talk about procedural issues.
If we show you the back of the check could you tell us if it’s a teller override?
Jordan, “You would not be able to tell anything about the back of the check, I think that is the whole issue somebody doesn’t understand.”
So you couldn’t look at the back of the check and tell if it’s a teller override?
Jordan, “This is what I told everyone I did have a conversation with but I have not had a conversation with any attorney.”
So you haven’t talked with Miss Doss?
Jordan, “Concerning the back of the check in question, “this is a routing number, that is all that is.”
Investigator Odell, is there anything on the back of the check that you can tell that it’s been
cashed, deposited, whatever….?
“Procedural-wise, as far as Community and Southern’s bank policy, a check like that should never be cashed. That’s a business check. It’s a business check. One person does not have ownership of that check. So that check should have been deposited. Now, there is a For Deposit Only here. There is nothing on the back of this check that can tell you the check has been cashed, deposited, you can’t tell anything. There is nothing back there to tell that. It’s a routing number, branch number and teller number.”
Investigator, The only reason you are here is because your name specifically has come up as having a conversation with a certain attorney that has indicated that you were able to tell them from the back of that check. You have not had any conversation with Mrs. Doss regarding any of this?
Any conversation with Mrs. Doss regarding teller overrides? “No”
Jordan, “I have not spoken to Lynn Doss. I will not disclose anyone’s personal information. It’s not going to happen.”
When discussing the subpoena Jordan said, “I was shocked and amazed. I have never gotten a subpoena that was not served by an officer. If a deputy would have showed up with that subpoena it would have been filled out by someone before they got here with it. Generally when I get one on something like that they serve notice and generally they want someone to sign showing I received it. They were here literally wanting us to give them something and I’m like what, we don’t do that. I don’t think they understood. I was shocked that they had what looked like nearly a blank subpoena and I just said I don’t know anything about this. I don’t know what you’re looking for. You’re going to have to give me some information.”
Investigators showed Jordan the check that supposedly had been cashed illegally. Jordan said there was nothing on the check that indicated a teller override or that it had been cashed.
A check when deposited with a teller show the teller’s number so why not just go to the teller and ask if they cashed or deposited the check?
So why did Doss tell Simonds and Kirby that Jordan said the check appeared to be cashed? Who told Thomason the check appeared to be cashed? Remember that is what Thomason said in the email he sent Pickens County Commissioner Rob Jones. The email to Jones was an for an open records request. Who gave Thomason his information?
What about the FBI Investigation? In one witness interview with “Mr. X” he tells Arp and O’Dell that there are two FBI agents doing the investigation. FYN has learned the name of one FBI Agent, Jamie Harter.
Mr. X told Arp and O’Dell the following: Scott Kiker told me that a whistleblower came to Mark Thomason. Kiker would never tell me who the whistleblower was. Only thing Kiker told me was that the whistleblowers had been granted immunity from prosecution. There are two FBI agents.
Kiker said the reason he got involved was he and Thomason had to sign a paper before the FBI would investigate. They had to sign a paper saying that Mark had asked them to come up here. Thomason told Kiker he was afraid to sign it without some legal representation so he requested Scott Kiker to be his legal representation and then he signed the thing and gave it back to the FBI.
So if Scott Kiker is Thomason’s legal counsel concerning the FBI investigation does he know who the whistleblower is? Does he know whom the FBI offered immunity? FYN has reached out to Lynn Doss and Scott Kiker with a list of questions. At the time of this article they have not responded. At the bottom of this article you will see a list of questions we have asked both Doss and Kiker. We will post their answers as soon as they respond.
Remember the attempt to commit identity fraud in the indictment of Thomason. We found something very interesting in the DA’s file. It may be irrelevant but we feel it’s worth mentioning.
In this letter from Assistant District Attorney Chase G. Queen of the Enotah Judicial Circuit, Thomason may have committed identity fraud.
(Article continues under the letter)Check back as this story continues to develop “Fannin County House of Cards.”
FYN would like to be clear regarding the allegations of “cashed checks” there hasn’t been any proof presented at this time which supports the claims of checks being cashed.
Below is the list of questions for Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss and Fannin County Probate Judge Scott Kiker.
I have reviewed the entire file including listening to all of the witness interviews in the case that was dropped last week against Mark Thomason and Russell Stookey.
- One witness stated that Thomason had to sign a form and send it back to the FBI before they would look into Thomason’s complaint. The witness stated that he (Thomason) brought the paperwork to you and I understand you signed as Thomason’s Attorney. Did you sign a document along with Mark Thomason that was sent back to the FBI?
- Have you spoken to or met with the FBI?
- Have you and Lynn Doss ever spoken with or met with the FBI together?
- Did Lynn Doss tell you she was speaking with the FBI? When was the first time you knew that Lynn Doss was involved with the FBI investigation?
- One witness said that you told him there was a whistleblower at UCBI and the FBI has granted this person immunity from prosecution. How are you aware of this information? Who told you (Mark Thomason, Lynn Doss, FBI…)? Do you know the identity of the whistleblower?
- One witness said that when he confronted you about the whistleblower and UCBI you said it was a rumor Mark Thomason started. Is it a rumor?
- Did you represent Greg Joseph Staffins in a shoplifting case in Union County?
- Does the Fannin County Probate Court have or use investigators?
- Has Mark Thomason ever worked for the Probate Court as an investigator?
- Are you aware that allegedly Mark Thomason went into the Blairsville Wal-Mart and identified himself to Wal-Mart employee Jeff Griffin as an investigator for the Fannin County Probate Court specifically Judge Scott Kiker’s Investigator?
- According to Jeff Griffin, Thomason asked to see Wal-Mart case reports on the shoplifting case against Greg Joseph Staffins. Was your office ever contacted by the Union County DA’s office inquiring about Thomason’s relationship to the Probate Court and yourself?
I am working on an article concerning a possible FBI investigation you discussed in a recent interview. I have listened to the witness interview from the Mark Thomason-Russell Stookey case and have several questions.
- You said you have communicated with the FBI 3 times. Were those phone conversations or meetings?
- Did you provide the FBI with any Fannin County documents?
- At any time did you make the Fannin County Chairman Bill Simonds aware of your involvement with an FBI investigation?
- Who (name) did you talk to at the FBI?
- Did you give the checks in question to Russell Stookey or Mark Thomason?
- Did you contact the FBI first?
- Did Ruth Jordan tell you the numbers on the check showed the checks had been cashed?
- Did you tell Chairman Simonds, with Rita Kirby present, that you gave the checks to Stookey and that Ruth Jordan told you the checks had an override number on them indicating they had been cashed?
- Did you tell Mark Thomason the checks appeared to have been cashed?
- Have you ever had a conversation with Scott Kiker concerning the FBI investigation in this matter?
- Has Scott Kiker or Mark Thomason shared with you the name of the whistleblower?
- Have you signed any paperwork with the FBI?
Fannin Focus Publisher Mark Thomason Arrested, Journalist or Vendetta?
Subpoena that Landed Journalist Mark Thomason and Attorney Russell Stookey in Jail
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