BOE asks for citizens to vote on 2019-20 Calendars

Bobcat's Corner, News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With a few changes in details sparked from a recent state committee wanting state control over calendars, the Gilmer BOE is moving forward with its annual community vote.

Citizens are encouraged to visit the Gilmer County Charter School System website in order to participate in a vote over six possible calendars created by the schools in our county.

As educators and administrators have spent the last few months considering and creating the calendars up for the vote, Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs said they have actually identified which school created the calendar this year.

She said in February’s work session that she hopes this furthers peoples’ understanding that these options are not just thrown together, but planned and meticulously built by the schools for the school’s and student’s needs.

Downs is asking citizens to “Please review each of the calendars carefully, vote for the calendar of your choice, and remind others to vote as well.” The survey will be posted until March 8. After that, the results will be presented at the March 18 work session.

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Pritchett resigns from Public Safety Director

News, Police & Government
Tony Pritchett

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett has tendered a resignation from his position as Public Safety Director.

Though his letter of resignation is tendered, it is notice of his resignation at March 15, 2019, meaning he will remain in the position until then to prepare and possibly train his replacement. He has served 16 years in Gilmer County, with 12 of those as Chief and Director. He was Fire Chief until 2015 when the position of Public Safety Director was created and he has served in since.

According to his resignation letter, Pritchett cited that he is pursuing other opportunities. Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris said that the County will begin advertising for the position in the next 10 days and will look both internally and externally for candidates.

Paris confirmed that he tendered his letter today, February 6, 2019. He also told FYN that he has appreciated Pritchett’s service over the years and has wished him well in his pursuits.

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Introducing Doug Pritchett to the BOE

Community
Gilmer BOE 2019

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County got its first look at its newest Board of Education member, Doug Pritchett, in January’s meetings, but now, FYN sits down for a few questions with the man selected to fill the vacant spot.

Pritchett is a life-long resident of Gilmer County, having graduated from its High School and only leaving for Reinhardt University and later graduating from University of Georgia. He has been a banker for much of his life as his wife taught in the Gilmer County School System for 34 years. He has had three children graduate from Gilmer as well.

Doug Pritchett, newest member of the Gilmer County Board of Education

Doug Pritchett, newest member of the Gilmer County Board of Education

On joining the Board, Pritchett said, “I’ve always worked in the community. I believe in giving back to the community, and I felt like this was a way I could continue to do that.” He went on to say that he wants to be a positive influence with his only goal to continue the quality that he has seen in the school system so far.

That quality, says Pritchett, is starting to gain momentum with the “stability” the school system has seen in recent years. With a number of Superintendents and changes now behind us, he wants to continue that momentum and stability that has led Gilmer to successes in testing and classes as well as programs like the FFA (Future Farmers of America).

He went on to explain that the county has seen more investment into the students in whatever path they choose through projects like the new Agricultural Center and the coming restructuring of Gilmer County School buildings with a new elementary school. These projects through each cycle reinvest more into the school and students as they study, practice, learn, and compete. With ESPLOST Bonds, Pritchett told FYN that the short term bonds and quick payoff through the life of the ESPLOST allows these projects to be available for the students quicker.

Pritchett has been through board orientation, but will be seeing more training in April and June as he gets deeper into the new position. He acknowledged the trials ahead as he begins looking deeper at items like the recently debated State-Controlled summers issue as well as the needs of the local community. Pritchett said he has received a lot of help from his fellow board members in getting up to speed and getting through his first meeting already.

Ultimately pointing to the students, Pritchett says he wants to focus on helping to prepare them for their futures. Highlighting Gilmer County’s focus on college and career readiness in addition to trade skills and work force preparedness, he touted Gilmer County as one of the best in the state as he said he is looking forward to the next two years and getting to be a part of steering that success.

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Board splits on approval of Foley as principal

News
Gilmer BOE 2019

ELLIJAY, Ga. – As the Gilmer County Board of Education went through usual approvals for administration in January for the coming school year, an unusual take on the votes came as Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs said she was requested to go through approvals one at a time instead of all together.

Those individual votes came so a no vote could be given to Gilmer High School Principal Carla Foley. She was approved in a 3-2 decision with Tom Ocobock and Ronald Watkins as the dissenting votes. FYN later asked these two why they voted no. However, they simply commented that they had their reasons.

Watkins specifically said, “Hopefully, things will straighten up and next year will be a yes vote.” He did note simply that he wasn’t satisfied with the position, declining to explain further.

Ocobock did agree that he wanted next year to be a yes vote, but also declined further comment.

One other dissension came with the Central Administration positions. As Bob Sosebee was recommended for Director of Facilities and Transportation, Ocobock spoke in the meeting saying, “I’m giving him the yes vote, but I want to see marked improvement in maintenance on these schools in this year.”

Ocobock said he has seen trash and alluded to more as he repeated that he wanted a marked improvement.

With these approvals of administration, the Board will move forward next month with recommendations for staff and contracts for the coming school year.

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Post Commissioners raises to advertise at 18 percent

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – After last month’s arguments of legislative versus home rule as the way to go forward with Post Commissioner salaries, this month saw the continuation of that debate.

The next step, a question brought forward from the budget sessions into last months meeting and now into the new year, is the percentage of the raise. Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris originally had offered a number of 20%. Though not arbitrarily thrown out, Paris has since said he was offering the number as a consideration.

Since that time, articles and discussion have focused on 20% as the proposed amount for the Post Commissioner salary increase. Even FYN offered analysis based upon that 20% suggestion.

This percentage is a percentage of the Commission Chairman’s salary. Post Commissioners are currently paid 10% of the chairman’s salary.

This month saw the discussion shift after some pushback from the community over “doubling” the salary.

2016 Survey P2

2016 Survey P2

2016 Survey P1

2016 Survey P1

Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson wasted no time in researching the issue and offering the board her own analysis, one of surrounding counties and their boards’ salaries.

Reaching through 2016, 2017, and 2018, these documents from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs showcased salaries of both the Chairperson and the Post Commissioners, organized into population size groups. Ferguson highlighted the Gilmer and its immediate neighbors like Lumpkin, Fannin, and Pickens.

2017 Survey P2

2017 Survey P2

2017 Survey P1

2017 Survey P1

A new percentage offered in the BOC’s January meetings sits fell to 18% with Ferguson saying, “We talked about 18%, I think going any lower than 18%… I’m in favor of at least 18%.”

Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller stated in the meeting that though he thought the raise was deserved, he would be satisfied with not changing the salary at this time saying, “I, personally, think it’s not a good time to be doing this.” Miller did ultimately vote against the motion to advertise the salary increase in a 2-1 vote.

2018 Survey P2

2018 Survey P2

2018 Survey P1

2018 Survey P1

In 2018, Lumpkin County was at $12,005 annually according to this report. Pickens was at $11,205.

Currently, Gilmer County Post Commissioners are paid $7,125.38 as reported in “Commissioners pushing for ‘Fast Answer’ in pay raises.” With an 18% instead of a 20% increase, effectively not quite doubling the salary, the new base pay of a Post Commissioner would become $12,825.68.

2018 Survey P3

2018 Survey P3

Ferguson also noted in the board’s work session that this change would not take effect for two years, when the next elected Post Commissioner will take office.

Approved, 2-1, for advertising, it is now up to the citizens to speak with the Board of Commissioners and attend February’s meetings to voice the county’s opinion on the matter whether in support or opposition of the change.

 

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Land Ordinance changes delayed

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Despite being ready to go forward with the first reader of changes to the Land Ordinance in Gilmer County, Commissioners listened to a speaker in the Public Hearing who requested they push the ordinance back a month.

Devell Frady stood in Public Comments to ask for the extension as he said he hadn’t heard about it until two days before the public comments.

Agreeing to stall the decision, the board will be re-advertising the ordinance in the next month and holding a new public comments session as well. Having completely restarted the process, Frady said it will give the Builders Association and surveyors more time to read through the changes.

Frady thanked the Commissioners for listening to him and others as they asked for a change to R3 zonings. He also thanked them for listening again as they agreed to allow another 30 days for the public.

The changes will instate new R-4 zoning that all current R-3 could be moved into, and allowing a new R-3 Zoning.

The changes also deal with adding in capabilities for Duplexes and similar structures.

Make sure to see the changes and updates in the Land Use Ordinance before next month’s return to the issue.

The county has already advertised a new Public Hearing for February 14, 2019, at 5:00 p.m.

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Auto-Renewal will go forward with Chamber Contract

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – A not-unexpected turn of events saw the Board of Commissioners (BOC) strike the two items from their agenda on Thursday that involved an Audit and a Contract Termination for the Gilmer Chamber.

Despite this, it doesn’t mean the end of this issue between the two entities. With both sides having agreed that the Hotel/Motel Tax usage by the Chamber is required to have an audit, and moving forward imposing that requirement, a major issue is being resolved. However, it doesn’t mean that citizens won’t be hearing about the issue again in coming sessions.

As Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson stated in their work session, she is wanting to look deeper at the Chamber, the date of the automatic contract renewal, and the Hotel/Motel Tax split. Though most of the discussion at the work session centered on clarifying “if” and “why” a termination would be required to renegotiate the contract and look at some of the expectations from both parties, the lasting issue is still persisting.

Chamber President Paige Green provided a prepared statement on behalf of the Chamber which asked them to reconsider the termination. But much of its points also addressed the issue of changing the split. One sentence stated, “Defunded or reduced funding towards those efforts or even extended negotiation period without resolution will have immediate and long term effects on the great work that has been done to bring us to this point in time.”

Her statement also reaffirms the Chambers commitment to “an open dialogue this year and to answer any questions you have in regards to our efforts.”

The commissioners did not vote down the termination, however. As previously reported in “Chamber Contract in question at BOC,” Ferguson stated several times during the work session that she thought termination was the only way to renegotiate the contract with its pending automatic renewal. Instead of voting down the termination, all three commissioners unanimously approved an agenda change to remove the items from the agenda with the clarification that it was agreed that the audit was required and would start being provided.

This leaves the state of the Gilmer Chamber in a flux of moving forward with an automatic renewal schedule to take effect next week, but knowing that 2019 will be a year in review as the Commissioners look closer at the Hotel/Motel Tax and the Chamber in general.

Ferguson noted during the work session that the Gilmer Chamber holds one of the highest Hotel/Motel tax split-percentages in the state. It was also noted by several chamber members and chamber board members that the Gilmer Chamber was also noted by people across the state as one of the best and most effective chambers.

As both entities move forward in the year, the discussion of the underlying issue will arise. For now, the preamble comes to a close avoiding what Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said would have been “a very, very serious mistake for Gilmer County.”

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Chamber contract in question at BOC

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the vote still set to be made, current indications are saying that the Gilmer Chamber may dodge a termination of their contract with the Board of Commissioners (BOC).

The vote is set for tomorrow’s, January 10, Regular Meeting agenda. The subject matter, however, is a layover from the recent months when former Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch began questioning the Hotel/Motel Tax Split during the 2019 budget process. Now, new Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson has taken up the banner to continue the discussion and added an item to the agenda for termination of the contract.

“I’m just asking for time,” said Ferguson as she explained that she fully respects the Chamber and what they have accomplished but feels that something is wrong. Stating that she wants the time to look into the Chamber further before an automatic renewal date comes next week, Ferguson did later clarify that it was her understanding from legal counsel that termination was the only way to renegotiate the contract.

With nothing short of an uproar of concern from present Chamber Members and Board Members of the Chamber, a heated debate began regarding the impact and possible outcomes of a termination of the contract, even if later renegotiated. Several citizens commented on the subject including Chamber Board Chairman Trent Sanford who noted that negotiations could come without termination. He also noted an occurrence when this happened three years ago when the contract was renegotiated without a termination.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris noted that he was adamantly opposed to terminating the contract.

Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller was more in favor of changes to the contract, but did note he wanted to find a way to do it without terminating the contract.

Ultimately, it’s not even clear if Ferguson will push the issue of termination as she repeatedly stated she thought that was the only way to renegotiate the contract with its pending automatic renewal.

Citizens may not need to wait long into the meeting to find out, though, as Paris said he felt the issue was resolved and would be seeking to remove the item of contract termination from tomorrow’s agenda while leaving the item regarding Chamber audits and discussions of contract renegotiation open.

Both entities, the BOC and Chamber Board, agreed that the contract did stipulate that Hotel/Motel Tax Audits be done. The Chamber stated they have already begun the process to adhere to the imposing of that contract requirement.

Follow FYN as we go deeper into the subject’s details after tomorrow’s vote at the 6 p.m. public meeting open to all citizens.

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