Fetching Features: a look at Chamber President Paige Green

Community, Lifestyle

Celebrating ten years at a job is amazing in itself, but I recently learned that even five years at a Chamber of Commerce is not exactly common, much less ten.

As if meant to be, the Gilmer Chamber celebrates 40 years in the same month that its President and CEO, Paige Green, achieves a milestone rarely heard of in the business, ten years as President/CEO.

The business isn’t easy, according to Green, who admits the stress can be overwhelming at times. Yet, she seems to have made a life thriving on the energy as her experience in the Chamber business extends far past just ten years. Getting a chance to sit and think back over her career is not something she has done in a while as Green smiled remembering people and mentors from the past. A thought she continues to return to as she shares her story is just how much effect one person can have on another’s life.

People like Terry Exum, a high school friend who first introduced her to the life as she told her of a job in Green’s hometown. The position was Tourism Director in Eufaula, Alabama.

Paige Green, right, poses with Bass U.S. Open Champion Byron Velvick, left, in New York City in 2004.

Paige Green, right, poses with Bass U.S. Open Champion Byron Velvick, left, in New York City in 2004.

Having spent a year in college studying PR and Journalism before switching to and receiving a degree in Business Management from Troy State, Green had moved on to a Masters degree as well before spending her time teaching Business Education. It was 1998 and she had just finished her first year of teaching in Grady, Alabama. It was also the point where she knew she shouldn’t be teaching. The way she recalls her time there, she admits she wasn’t the best teacher. Yet, others would disagree, people like Ruth Bodine, who has worked with Green at the Gilmer Chamber since she became President ten years ago.

As a two-man team, Bodine says it was her and Paige when she became the President. Accomplishing everything from Taste of Ellijay to the Apple Festival, Bodine says she was often asked how the two of them did it? To which she replies, “I don’t know, we just did.”

She recalls how they would relieve the mental stress, days when they would start moving furniture at 4:30 in the afternoon. Even though the day ended at 5:00, they’d still be moving furniture at 7:00 p.m.

Bodine says it was Green’s teaching that kept her at the Chamber so long, and even now as she prepares to leave the Chamber, she looks back and admits she would never have stayed so long without Paige Green.

“I could have failed,” says Bodine who added that it was always Green behind her as she worked on the databases. She taught through partnership as they both agreed they didn’t like the database at the time and had Bodine research and look for a new database. She adds that it was this type of partnership and teaching that kept her working for the Chamber all this time.

Still, Green left her teaching in Grady to return home to Eufaula and take up the mantle as Tourism Director. Nostalgia surfaces as she recalls a tiny office, one belonging to the building’s postmaster in its former life as the post office. With pride in her voice, Green says she left the sign on the door. She calls it her first “real, grown-up job.”

Though you may not be able to notice it if you know her, Green is very introverted. She calls herself a shy girl who can’t inject herself into a conversation. After nearly 20 years of work in social situations, she may have grown out of it slightly, but she says she still retreats back into herself every day. Eufaula was the beginning of a life of going against that urge.

To say she pioneered the position in Eufaula is nothing short of an understatement. Before her, it had been a part-time position before lying vacant for a year. As she walked into her first day, the office held a legal pad, a pen, a telephone, and a typewriter.

A noticeable lack of files on anything from local businesses to statistics for recent years greeted Green as she began her five-year journey to build the tourism of the town into a flourishing economy. It took almost three years before she pitched the brain child of her and friend Ken White, a ‘fee’ added into hotels to help inject life into efforts to grow the Chamber, the tourism, and the town as a whole. Something that anyone who has been to many Board of Commissioners meetings in Gilmer will recognize as the Hotel/Motel tax.

The single change of adding the fee injected an additional $200,000 into her tourism budget. It also kickstarted a growth in fishing tournaments as she began using the funds to host larger events. What she didn’t know at the time is that it would ultimately lead to her leaving the position.

Not by any mistake or incident, but the funds and growth in the tournaments gave way to something that began the actual transition. The spark that led her away from Eufaula was a laugh.

HAving spent five years in Eufala, Alabama, Paige Green, right, leaves to join BASS.

Having spent five years in Eufaula, Alabama, Paige Green, right, leaves to join BASS.

Having worked so closely over the years with BASS (Bass Anglers Sportsman Society), Green grew closer to those she worked alongside. She found herself joking with a college roommate one day who worked with BASS saying “It’d be kind of cool to work with you guys.”

Though they all laughed, it didn’t take long for the seriousness to surface, drawing this young lady away from her hometown to Montgomery, Alabama. Though leaving Eufaula behind, Green often thinks back to both her family and her town. Yet, when talking about switching jobs and moving around, she says, “I’ve always been fortunate that I’ve never had to leave a job. It’s always been for a better opportunity.”

Starting the job in 2003, it wasn’t long before BASS, a company owned by ESPN, had Green flying to Connecticut to visit the home office. Yet throughout her time, it became rather muddy exactly what her title was. Titles like Sponsorship Coordinator and Director’s Assistant were mentioned several times over the years. But if you outlast four bosses like she did, it might be understandable that these things change a lot.

Actually, Green shares that it seemed each new boss came with a promotion for her as her title and function changed. Working to maintain relationships with clients, sponsors, event locations, and contracts, Green says, “I got to plan all of the cool parties, I just didn’t get to go.” Some of these events are widely well known even today, events like the Bassmaster Classic.

Events like these brought out a newer side of her as she began realizing the level of stress that comes with the events. For example, she calls the Bassmaster Classic ‘Hell-Week.’ It only showcases the kind of person it takes to become an events coordinator. These people not only thrive on the stress and chaos, they become addicted to it. She didn’t explicitly admit this, but after five years with Eufaula, five years with BASS, and ten years with the Gilmer Chamber, the term adrenaline junkie gets used more freely.

Indeed, she began showing her best efforts when facing 50 anglers on a lake, 50,000 people attending a weigh-in, sponsors and anglers whose rooms didn’t get booked, and other unforeseen errors. In fact, Green has never had an event in any job that didn’t have logistical problems. It reminds you of the old phrase, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

“Anyone who ever says ‘Oh, the event went so smoothly,’ they are lying,” says Green. The difference is that where most people would be freaking out over the logistical mistakes, Green says, “That’s the cool part, is fixing the problems you didn’t know you’d have.”

Paige Green holds a catch from Lake Toho in Florida.

Paige Green holds a catch from Lake Toho in Florida.

Now, that’s not to say the stress doesn’t get to her. By her own admission, she has come ‘unglued’ at times. “The difference,” says Green, “is being able to stay glued in front of people, and coming unglued in your hotel room that night.”

It is in these moments that one can find the real chink in the armor of this lady. It is the less visible moment that one finds their own humanity. It came in 2005 for Green. In 2004, BASS announced they were moving their company to Orlando, Florida. Though not everyone got an offer to move with the company, she did. As she deliberated the choice of moving, the fear began to settle.

Before you can simply pass this off as a simple choice that should not have had such weight, think about a small-town girl who has never lived more than 80 miles from where she grew up. Though she had traveled, she never moved that far. Think also about a girl very close to her parents, very attached to her life. It’s like walking a tightrope without a safety net for the first time. No short ride to visit with the parents who loved and helped her through the majority of her life, indeed it was new people, a new place, a new climate, a new house, and even new changes to the job.

She had made her decision to leave the company. The only problem was that she never told the company that.

It was in early 2005 that she had decided she was going to teach again. She had full plans to work for Troy University. She was so sure, in fact, that she had the paperwork ready. She had just left the university after accepting the position. It was decided.

It was a simple moment when she pulled off the road into a McDonald’s parking lot. Pulling out her phone, she called the same man she had checked in with for her entire life, her father. It was a simple moment… which changed everything.

She didn’t pull over and call him to question anything about her decision. Yet, as they spoke, Green says she could hear something in his voice. “Do you think I’m making a mistake?” she asked.

Not being the type of father to influence her decisions, he didn’t say whether he thought it was or not. It was her decision.

Paige Green, right, grew up in Eufaula, Alabama with her parents, John, left, and Ellen, middle, Green.

Paige Green, right, grew up in Eufaula, Alabama with her parents, John, left, and Ellen, middle, Green.

“I lost it,” says Green, “I just remember sitting in the parking lot at that McDonald’s at Troy and bawling my eyes out because I didn’t know whether to zig or to zag.”

She traveled home to her Montgomery apartment and sat staring at the wall for three hours. It wasn’t until a knock at the door finally pulled her from her trance that she got up. Answering the door, she found her parents standing there. Driving eighty miles through a storm, they had come to help her choose.

Laying everything out and discussing the options, a decision still could not be reached. Sending her parents home without a conclusion, Green says she woke up the next morning and called Troy to say she wasn’t taking the job. She was moving to Orlando.

As the years progressed, she began traveling more and more. She found herself on the road for 23 weeks out of the year saying, “I had a really nice house for my cat…” Having moved to Orlando in April of 2005, she spent the next three years with the company.

Though she enjoyed traveling and seeing the country, it was a constant suitcase being packed and unpacked. The continuous movement never really allowed roots to grow. She loved the job, but things began to add up to a need for change. It wasn’t just the constant traveling, though. Green says things began changing and people began leaving as rumors grew that the company might be sold.

Searching through options for positions with boat manufacturers to stay in the industry she knew and chamber positions to follow the what she began earlier in life, Green happened upon a posting on the internet about a position with a North Georgia county where she had visited as a child. She had found the Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce.

She had, unfortunately, also found a 17-page application for the position. Something she jokes about to this day and even had in the temporary museum for the Chamber’s 40-year celebration.

Interviewing for the job proved to be far more difficult than just a 17-page application, however, as she first submitted her resume to Tim Chason, the ‘headhunter’ who was hired to find someone for the position. She then had a phone interview with him. After he approved of her as a potential candidate, he provided the 17-page application. He then narrowed down the candidates to four, including Green.

Coming in to interview with a committee meant facing eight people simultaneously. She met them in a boardroom on the second floor of New Horizons Bank, now South State Bank. To this day, she admits she refuses to sit at the head of the table as it was her spot for the interview.

Paige Green stops to pick her first ever Gilmer Apple in 2008 when she joins the Gilmer Chamber.

Paige Green stops to pick her first ever Gilmer Apple in 2008 when she joins the Gilmer Chamber.

In a remarkable turn, she shares a story that Melinda Hadden loves to tell. After the interview ended, Green walked out to her Toyota truck wearing a pencil skirt. Green says, “I’m a girl from South Alabama, so I yanked up my skirt to climb up into the truck.”

The catch is, the entire committee she had just interviewed with was standing at the window of the second floor watching her get into the truck. The twist came as Green shares the story saying that Hadden told the committee as soon as she saw her hike up her skirt, she knew that she was the one.

The job offer came on the very same day.

In perhaps one of the biggest ‘buts’ in Gilmer history, they hired her, but she started the job on October 1. Those of you who have lived in Ellijay know what October means. It 2008, when she was hired, October 1 fell on a Wednesday and one of the largest festivals in North Georgia fell on the following weekend, she had ten days to prepare herself for the Apple Festival.

Again, thriving on the chaos and stress, she has grown into a leader and logistical machine gathering her 20 years of experience into the position’s needs as president. It is a strength only she has access to according to Gilmer’s Tourism Director, Karla Roper.

It is her leadership that sets her apart for Roper. Another veteran of the Chamber world, Roper confesses that what ultimately drew her in with Paige Green was that “she saw me.” The faith and the encouragement is one thing, but the ability to share Roper’s vision and her support for ideas that may seem crazy was the key for Roper.

More than that, she says it is Greens experience that sets her in awe sometimes. The way she intuitively knows who to call and what to do to get things done. It is the thing she seeks on a daily basis to grow in, to gain that knowledge base and the experience that Green holds. Calling her the ‘Mama Bear’ of the Chamber, Roper notes its more than just dealing with issues, Green makes it look effortless and supporting and teaching her staff in the process.

It’s a shared feeling as both women separately noted the energy they get from each other. The growing relationship that feeds the family community is one of Roper’s favorite parts of working with Green.

Decompressing for Paige Green usually involves a visit to her quiet room, pictured, here.

Decompressing for Paige Green usually involves a visit to her quiet room, pictured here.

With Roper echoing the point of how stressful the job has been over ten years, it becomes apparent that a desperate need to decompress is inherent with the position. Green says she has her family and friends to be with at times, but she shares a lesser known secret that is far more consistently used. A ‘quiet room’ furnished with books, comfortable chairs, and a lamp provides her solace. A literal refuge to hermit herself inside. As Green tells it, it is the one place in the world that people know, if she is there, don’t talk to her. It has no tv, she doesn’t take her cell phone there, it has no computer, it holds the world at bay for a few moments to release and simply be.

It is a blanket fort made solid.

But outside of this place, the job awaits, the complaints build, the economy shifts, and the staff rolls on. Teaching a point as President so uncommonly done, the ten-year mark has allowed a look back at how she has made it. Bodine and Roper agree it is the way she treats people that garners success, that it is her inspiration to people that has built the Chamber to what it is today.

Green, on the other hand, says it is the moments that fuel her. In a business with so many intangibilities, it is easy to get lost without something to hold onto as a goal or an achievement. The Chamber sells something that isn’t tangible. It sells memberships and the benefits involved. Likewise, when the Chamber meets a goal like a number of memberships, there is always a higher goal, more to be done.

Such a business is more difficult to run, says Green. That’s why you hold onto the moments that happen. Moments like establishing the Greater Gilmer JDA (Joint Development Authority) or being nominated to the USA Today’s Nicest Places in America become the validation needed for her position.

What exactly is that position? Green says she is the ‘head cheerleader’ for the county. Understanding that every community has something great about it is the first step, but the long and arduous process of marketing and growing that community is the part that needs cheering.

While it can be frustrating as such a public position, most local people see the Chamber cut a ribbon and that’s it. They don’t see many of the posts, marketing ads, and business deals that you would only know from listening to her reports during Commissioner Work Sessions.

Accomplishing success in this kind of market requires a double-edged sword. Simultaneously a great strength and a great weakness, Green says she was told by a friend that she was never satisfied. Despite what she has accomplished, she still feels like there is more to do in Gilmer County, more she can give.

Paige Green, right, attends the weigh in for a tournament held just off Queen Charlotte Islands in Canada.

Paige Green, right, weighs the halibut she caught on a sponsor trip just off Queen Charlotte Islands in Canada.

With roots set in the county, Green says she doesn’t want to leave anytime soon. However, as she looks ahead she confesses a desire that she ends where she began. With no clear plan set, she does want to return to teaching someday. Whether its at Troy or Auburn or anywhere, the draw is undeniable.

Though there is future in the Chamber as well. Green is seeking certification as a CCE (Certified Chamber Executive) and looking at the possibility of getting the Chamber accredited. With only the top 2-3% in the country reaching accredited status. Wanting the status to build trust, she wants to show how strong the Chamber and the County can be.

The funny and energetic social introvert that is Paige Green, she says her shyness only lasts so far. It’s all about home-field advantage because if you catch her in comfortable situations, in her line of work or something she is familiar with, the introversion ceases and she becomes the person she has been for ten years in the Chamber. In control, the master of her domain.

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CF Printing and Promotions Gilmer Ribbon Cutting

Community

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer Chamber welcomed another member this week with CF Printing and Promotions.

The Ribbon Cutting represented the opening of their new location in Jasper in the same lot as Appalachian Gun & Pawn, at 140 Shelby Lane. The official location is the latest step in the company’s growth as they not only spread business across county lines into Gilmer and the surrounding area, but also hosts a North Carolina office.

Commenting at their ribbon cutting, Keely Chalk said, “We do anything with your logo.”

Having started in the business over 20 years ago, Geoff Chalk meets in person with clients to maintain a face to face connection with people instead of an online-only separation.

Check out the Gilmer Chamber’s video of the ribbon cutting below or see more photos on the FYN Facebook Page.

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Gilmer Chamber Awards Attendance Bonus to School Staff

Community

ELLIJAY, Ga – The June Meeting of the Gilmer County Board of Education saw 10 lucky winners of a bonus as a reward for their attendance levels through the year.

Sponsored by the Gilmer Chamber, the drawing awarded $500 to nine of the winners before the tenth name was drawn as the winner of a $2500 bonus.

Gilmer Chamber President and CEO, Paige Green was on hand at the meeting to draw the names alongside Gilmer Schools Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services Stuart Sheriff. Entry into the drawing was given to eligible employees who missed two or fewer days out of the whole school year.

The drawing hosted 126 names in the bowl as eligible.

The $500 winners were:
Nancy Waters
James Stanley
Natasha Eubanks
Aaron Evans
Carl Day
Teresa Hall
Natasha Curtis
Kees DeVente
Wendy Wells

The grand prize winner of $2,500 was Sherrill Davis.

According to Sheriff, the winners will receive the bonus attached to their June paychecks.

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Chamber hosts Candidate Forum in Ellijay

Election 2018

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum to meet the candidates in Gilmer’s two major elections this year.

First, the Post 2 County Commissioner race saw candidates Karleen Ferguson, Woody Janssen, and Jerry Tuso speak about Gilmer specifically and their own lives and qualifications while 7th District State Representative candidates Rick Day, David Ralston, and Margaret Williamson spoke more generally on Gilmer’s place in the state as a whole and their role as a representative.

Hosted by Gilmer Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Paige Green and Board of Directors Chairman Trent Sanford, the event gave five minutes to each candidate to offer their words to citizens before allowing for time for citizens to mingle and speak face-to-face with them and ask their own questions.

The event kicked off with the candidates for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

Jerry Tuso, candidate for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

Jerry Tuso, candidate for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

First to speak was Jerry Tuso who offered a few words about his past as a retired air traffic controller and negotiating contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars over his 19 years in the position. As a past chairman of the Gilmer County GOP and eight years of involvement in the party, Tuso stated he has received great support throughout his time from people like Rita Otum and Stephen Aaron among many others. Tuso said he is running for Post 2 because he was raised and told that hard work and studying could make you something. Tuso continued saying, “It wasn’t enough. My father told me, ‘Son, that’s not enough. You’ve got to be a servant as well.’ So, during my entire working career, I have found ways that I can serve. And that’s why I am running, to serve Gilmer County.”

 

Karleen Ferguson, candidate for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

Karleen Ferguson, candidate for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

Next to speak was Karleen Ferguson. Ferguson has owned property with her husband in Gilmer County for 20 years, and in 2011, she became the Gilmer County Tourism and Events Coordinator. She noted it as the “funnest job in the world because I got to tell everyone that I knew how wonderful Gilmer County was and encourage them to come visit.” However, Ferguson said she learned in that position the impact of tourism on Gilmer’s community. She noted the Apple Festival’s economic effect on hundreds of families in the county, including the apple growers, but also the families who volunteer and work to earn extra income for their own needs. She connected this with the growing agri-tourism area alongside maximizing the natural resources the county has to offer for both citizens and businesses. Ferguson went on to note the effect that commissioners can have on the economy noting the previous board of Charlie Paris, Dallas Miller, and Travis Crouch and their efforts to replace old systems and catching up their departments to maintain the county. She stated, “We are headed in the right direction, and my intention as your county commissioner is to continue the direction that these gentlemen have been leading us in. I am naturally a problem solver … I am a great team player. I have a passion to protect the history and culture of this community as we grow in a qualitative way.”

Woody Janssen, candidate for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

Woody Janssen, candidate for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

The final candidate to speak was Woody Janssen. Living in the county for 12 years, he got out of his major corporate past in national accounts management to settle down locally in Ellijay, where he started a river tubing business. In business since 2009, Janssen said he has been affected by and benefited from what the Board of Commissioners and the Gilmer Chamber have accomplished. Growing out of the recession, he spoke about the growth of the county and his business’ successes in bringing people to the county. It was something he said he wanted to continue in the county. Being so involved in the small business market, Janssen said he hoped to deregulate the county’s small businesses to further expand their growth. Janssen said, “That’s something I’d like to see happen, and I think I can help everybody out. Everybody has done a phenomenal job here locally. I’d like to see less regulation and let’s utilize what we already have.”

 

With that, the night’s events turned towards the District 7 State Representative election.

Rick Day, candidate for Georgia District 7 Representative.

Rick Day, candidate for Georgia District 7 Representative.

First to speak was Rick Day. Running as a Democrat, Day said he hoped citizens were interested in finding out who he was as he came out of nowhere. Day told a story about a job he took on an oil field in central Texas. He said he showed up for work and ran into immediate troubles as the vast majority of his coworkers were Hispanic and did not speak English. Day continued his story saying he was working in his combat boots from his time in the military. The boots began melting in the chemicals. Day said he did not know what to do, feeling alone with boots melting and no way to reach out to family or friends. It was then that his coworkers bought him a new pair of boots simply saying, “Pay it forward.”

It was a touching moment, said Day, who added he rides his motorcycle through our district and sees pockets of poverty, noting 51 percent of this district is employed, meaning that 49 percent are unemployed. With one half of the district “carrying the weight” for the other half, he could only ask how it could happen. Day said, “We are supposed to have leadership in Atlanta. For 10 years, the leadership has gone unchallenged. For 27 years, one person has had the power and authority to make this the number one district in the state … As beautiful as we are, behind the beauty, behind the cake of make-up, there is poverty. There is addiction. There is a quiet desperation.”

It is the quiet desperation that Day said he wants to address. He wants to represent them and increase the economy and growth for all those in the county to answer the “quiet desperation.” Day said the way he intends to pay for that growth and that answer is by adopting the Colorado approach by legalizing cannabis. Day likened the agricultural growth in our region with vineyards to a bridge, saying the next step with cannabis is a massive economic impact and job growth waiting to happen in our region.

Margaret Williamson, candidate for Georgia District 7 Representative.

Margaret Williamson, candidate for Georgia District 7 Representative.

Second to speak was Margaret Williamson. Williamson’s background comes from engineering, marketing, and business administration. However, it was her time at home with her children and supporting her husband that Williamson said allowed her the time to become more active in volunteering in the community. This time in our community is what she said gives her the “pulse of the things that are going on in District 7.” She told a story about visiting Abby’s, a local business, for ice cream and frozen yogurt with her grandchildren. As she sat watching them pile as many sprinkles on their ice cream as they could, Williamson said she realized that was the biggest issue for them. She asked herself what their future in our district was?

She commended the Chamber of Commerce in their efforts as well as the agricultural community as the mainstays of our economy. Growing now into vineyards and tourism exemplifies the growth the community has seen. She also noted the commissioners’ efforts in controlling and growing the economy under an annual $4.4 million debt from past irresponsibilities, a debt obligation stretching to 2032. Williamson said, “Our leadership claims that we are the number one state to do business in. So, let’s capitalize on that here in our district. We have more than other parts of Georgia to offer.”

Utilizing our resources, Williamson said we have enough to attract more of smaller, low impact businesses that offer better-paying jobs with advancement. She went on to note that she is running for the position to offer real representation from someone who cares, will work for the people, and will be honest about legislation and how it will affect the people. Williamson said she wants to change the office to be more present in the district besides just for “photo ops” as well as adding a weekly event in the district during session so that citizens can speak to her about legislation and concerns in the state.

David Ralston, candidate for Georgia District 7 Representative.

David Ralston, candidate for Georgia District 7 Representative.

The final candidate to speak was Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston. Ralston was born and raised in Gilmer County where he graduated high school. Ralston said it was the community’s help that achieved his successes like $550,000 for the “long overdue completion” of the Clear Creek Ball Fields, $150,000 for the Gilmer County Playhouse, $310,000 for equipping the Gilmer Canning Plant, $250,000 for repairs and renovations to the Gilmer County Library, $283,000 in state funds for improvements to the River Park, and $1,2 million for expansion of the Gilmer County Water System.

Ralston went on to say, “Yes, that is your money, but it was your money that was not coming back to Gilmer County until the last few years. It was going to Atlanta, and it was going to south Georgia. And it was going all over the state, except here.” He also noted that the state has reacted to the change and growth of new industries like wine as well as responses like the hiring of a “viticulturist” so that local wineries don’t have to wait for a professional to come to Georgia from other states to “monitor the effects of weather and disease on grapes.”

Ralston also noted the recent legislative session as the most successful in recent memory. The first cut to the state income tax in history, the ending of austerity cuts to local education in Georgia, and the first reform to Georgia’s adoption law in 30 years were the major points that he utilized to exemplify that success. Ralston noted that despite the successes, there is more work to be done.

 

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Gilmer Chamber holding ‘Meet the Candidates’

Election 2018

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer Chamber has officially announced an opportunity for county citizens to meet with the candidates from the two major elections in our county May 2.

As the only two races with competition, citizens will walk and talk with candidates from the local Post 2 Commissioner election as well as the District 7 candidates for the Georgia State House of Representatives.

Candidates for Post 2 Commissioner include Karleen Ferguson, Jerry Tuso, and Woody Janssen. There is no incumbent in this race.

Candidates for House of Representatives District 7 include David Ralston, Rick Day, and Margaret Williamson. Speaker of the House David Ralston is the incumbent in this race.

Scheduled for Wednesday, May 2, at 6:30 pm, the event will last two hours. Find more information with the Chamber’s flier for the event below.

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Gilmer Chamber Upcoming February 2018 Events on Karla’s Korner!

Community, Gilmer County Chamber

Brought to you by the Gilmer Chamber of Commerce, today in Karla’s Korner, BKP and Karla discuss upcoming events in February including: The Business Annual Meeting, Wine About Winter, Wine Tasting at Cartecay Vineyards, Dueling Pianos at River Street Tavern and the Basket Ball Tournament at Gilmer Parks and Recreation.

Addressing disconnects following Light Up Ellijay

News
Crowds flood Downtown Ellijay for Light Up event

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The downtown area of Ellijay was rocked by an historic crowd for its Light Up Ellijay festivities, which echoed throughout the county.

Citizens have responded in various ways and have voiced opinions as to the success or detriment of the Return to Whoville themed event. However, they are not the only ones responding to what some merchants called “Who-mageddon,” a jovial moniker made possible by a lack of major incidents during the event. Indeed, with additional responses from not just Ellijay’s police force, but county fire and rescue personnel as well, the event had only one reported incident, which involved a missing child. According to officials, the child was found within 15 minutes of searching.

This was an outcome Ellijay City Police Chief Edward Lacey said the town was very lucky to have accomplished. While acknowledging the unanticipated crowd, Lacey said his officers performed “admirably,” going so far as to say they gave “150 percent.” Lacey also confirmed with FYN that despite their efforts, the event would have been a lot worse had they not received backup from firefighters helping out with crowd control.

According to the permit issued by the city of Ellijay to the Downtown Ellijay Business and Community Association (DEBACA), the organization expected a maximum of 5,000 people at the event. While no one could confirm details, reports have varied as to the cause of the dramatic increase.

From a few viral videos to a radio station picking up the story in Florida, rumors continue to swirl with no real specific answers. However, DEBACA reported they noticed over 70,000 clicks for Light Up Ellijay in the week leading to the event. After the night was done, license plates were seen from over nine states, according to officials on scene.

Ellijay Mayor Al Hoyle declined to comment about the meetings and processes involved since Light Up Ellijay, but he did speak about the people who attended saying, “That paints a very positive picture of Ellijay. The name ‘Ellijay’ is known, obviously, and it drew that big of a crowd, and that’s great.” He went on to comment that with the quality, he sees future events growing as well.

People already began spilling into the street as earlier as 4:30 p.m. an hour before the tree lighting.

People already began spilling into the street as earlier as 4:30 p.m. an hour before the tree lighting.

Speaking with DEBACA Chairman Steve Cortes, he echoed the sentiment that attracting the crowd was a success on its own. This is the first time the association has hosted the event after transferring the event from the Downtown Development Authority.

Stepping beyond the event itself to identifying the effects a week later, Lacey stated about back-up received, “I think it showed that we were able to admit that we were overwhelmed … A lot of times, agencies that are not willing to ask for help are the ones that get in a lot of trouble … We were able to admit that we needed help and actually request it.”

In fact, not only did the Ellijay Police receive help during the event but also invited members from the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office, Gilmer Fire and Rescue, the Gilmer Chamber, DEBACA, East Ellijay Police, Ellijay Fire, and others to an after action meeting that is usually only held with Public Safety. Lasting more than three hours, the meeting saw members from each entity delving into the event separating out things that did happen versus things that should have happened during the event. Specifying the disconnection between those two ideas led to discussion and thoughts on future events.

A few specific issues came to light in the meeting regarding logistics for things like the addition of vendors for the event, the opening of bathrooms for the event and parking and traffic due to the crowd. Chief Lacey told FYN that the meeting and input from all involved will be considered as he creates his report and in moving towards future events.

Cortes also commented with FYN saying another issue with the crowd comes with future events. Not knowing if they should prepare for a similar crowd to this year or preparing for something lower is part of the stresses of planning. Cortes suggested they would be looking at the upcoming events throughout the year, such as St. PETrick’s Day and Independence Day, to gauge the response they might see at Light Up Ellijay.

One of the bigger points in the meeting  addressed a lack of communication and response from parties involved. Addressing understandings of the permit process and amending it paired with controlling and coordinating the multiple entities became a larger focus. Suggestions on dealing with these issues led towards future events seeing use of Instant Command Structures (ICS) and the Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

EOC is a fusion center of resources that officials say are used to manage and communicate across the different entities of public safety. Fully activated EOC’s could also include members from all sorts of other entities; in Ellijay, this could include mayors, council members, DEBACA members, or more. As explained in the meeting, this would allow instant access to cross-force resources.

The EOC concept also answered issues with traffic. A crowd of the size seen downtown not only gridlocked traffic after 5 p.m., but also clogged emergency access through the area. One hypothetical example of the EOC given at the meeting suggested an issue arising on Hwy. 282. The EOC could coordinate a nearby sheriff’s deputy to the location faster than any other. A more immediate response from a sheriff’s deputy in the area means far lower response times in the face of gridlocked traffic for citizens.

Somebody tracking and directing all requests would streamline services and resources in that instance to better control and guide arising issues, whether they be safety-focused or logistically focused through those involved.

In addition to the EOC, pre-made ICS would be available to handle situations where pre-planned events escalate to any sort of emergency, for example if a driver had grown so frustrated with the crowd that he or she ran people down.

Crowd size sends one child up the clock downtown in an attempt to see the nights events.

Crowd size sends one child up the clock downtown in an attempt to see the nights events.

While this may seem extreme, Lacey told FYN  these are the issues that police deal with everyday. They must prepare for the potential issues that could grow out of events with crowds like we witnessed this year. An approach that imitates an old saying, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst,” is one that the city police face daily in protecting and preparing for situations despite a common thought that such instances would not happen in our town.

In fact, part of Lacey’s research into parades garnered 56 total headlines in newspapers, with 55 of those occurring since July 2001, involving parade incidents and injuries. Crowds like the one at this year’s Light Up Ellijay further intensify the possibility of incidents.

While the entire week was spent identifying issues and areas for improvement, Chief Lacey declined to comment further on the entities involved saying, “It’s enough to say that there was a disconnect, and that we’re going to fix that.”

Cortes echoed approval of the cooperation and coordination found through the meetings held in the week after the event. Noting an increase in involvement as DEBACA continues to grow, Cortes tells FYN that he would love to see representatives from the Chamber, the cities and police forces at their meetings and events. He went on to comment on the meeting saying it answered questions: “What can we do if a big event comes to Ellijay? How can we handle that?” He went on to say, “There’s no finger pointing, everybody knows that a lot could have been done better, and a lot needs to be done if we’re going to work together in the future.”

Though Light Up Ellijay is firmly in the city’s rear view, progress and meetings continue as the response and preparation for next year continue. Continuing in growth and popularity, citizens and officials alike will be closely watching downtown over the coming year in anticipation of another night like Nov. 24.

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