Addressing disconnects following Light Up Ellijay

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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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Health and roads dominate Ellijay’s November council

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ELLIJAY, Ga – Prior to the Ellijay City Council’s November Meeting, they heard a proposal from Russel Brown, local paramedic, for a community welfare program similar to programs in other counties like Floyd County.

According to Brown, patients statistically do better recovering at home. This program would encourage and supervise home health. Different from home healthcare programs, Brown said much of the welfare program is focused on prevention of readmission to hospitals and emergency rooms. They would focus on aspects like vital signs and communication for paperwork. If the program moves forward, it would start out within the Ellijay City Limits.

Funding and grants are available, Brown said, and much of the expense would come from strips for glucometers to measure blood glucose. While he hopes one day it could grow into a community paramedic program, he wished to start at community welfare. Those providing the service would be limited in care, and Brown stated that EMS would still be called for necessary situations.

Specific details for the proposal will come possibly as early as the December City Council meeting as the council requested Brown to return with an official written proposal to detail more things like cost and liability among others.

Signs of Interest is proposing this sign change on behalf of the Gilmer Nursing Home and SunLink Health Systems.

Signs of Interest is proposing this sign change on behalf of the Gilmer Nursing Home and SunLink Health Systems.

Another healthcare entity presented a variance request to change the sign for Gilmer Nursing Home on 1362 South Main St.  While the variance request was submitted to exceed the three-foot sign regulation of the city, it would in fact be lower than the current sign. Standing at 21 feet now, the request states the new sign will only reach 12 feet in height. A representative from Signs of Interest, Andy Lawson, told FYN the sign change was partially to clean up the facilities appearance and simplify the extras to a lower “nicer looking sign.”

Officially approved by the council, the sign will include a small message board to be utilized by the nursing home. Lawson provided FYN with a drawing of what the sign is expected to look like. Though the sign change is indicative of a name change as part of a remodeling project, Lawson told the council that SunLink Health Systems still owns the nursing home.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is planning to abandon part of Highway 382 to rebuild it as a direct line to Highway 515.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is planning to abandon part of Highway 382 to rebuild it as a direct line to Highway 515.

Following the same road further south, Highway 382’s changes came to Ellijay with a formal notification by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) that they will abandon the section of Highway 382 that currently extends from the intersection of 382 and Old Highway 5 to the connection at Highway 515. As seen in the picture, GDOT will be constructing a new connector straight across to Highway 515 with a roundabout at the intersection.

The notification comes with the city of Ellijay needing to accept the abandoned portion of 382 into its responsibility for paving and maintenance. However, a motion was made at the meeting to table the item. Citizens can expect the council to revisit the issue in December.

Along with their discussion of roads, an official petition has reached the council to add speed bumps to Gilmer Street near the Senior Center. The petition garnered 20 names and roused discussion from the council about returning the street to a one-way street as well as discussion on purchasing speed bumps for the street. Continued complaints about the speed of vehicles on the street led to suggestions to officially request the change via petition. Discussion took a turn as Ellijay Police Chief Edward Lacey informed the council that the street was, at one time, a one-way street.

Gilmer Street is a more narrow street and discussion arose  as, if the city returned it to one way, they were unsure of which way to direct the traffic. The council tabled the item and requested an official recommendation from Lacey, on how to return it to a one-way street, to discuss along with the speed bumps option. Again, citizens should look for the council to revisit the item in December.

 

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East Ellijay looking at roads in November

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga – The East Ellijay City Council met for what became a road-focused meeting on Nov. 14. Three major issues saw progress in the meeting.

East Ellijay tied up the end of their Highland Parkway project. Resolution 17-04 to repave sections of Highland Parkway came with a finished cost close to $9,000 below the expected $131,000. East Ellijay Mayor Mack West reported in their November meeting that the city spent $42,639 from Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (LMIG) funds for the project. The remaining $79,318 was remitted to the 2004 SPLOST fund, meaning that balance is still just over $100,000. According to West, the city has yet to use the 2014 SPLOST funds.

The City Council also approved their re-striping expenditures with the addition of the thermoplastics. Pro-Stripe, out of Blairsville, finished striping with costs at $8,920. The project included 24 feet of the thermoplastic striping bars, 14 arrows on Highland Parkway, and six arrows at the Highland Crossing intersection. East Ellijay City Manager Mack Wood reported in the meeting that the extra cost for thermoplastics would increase the life span as they are now “interstate quality.”

An additional purchase for roads came with the city’s approval for purchasing speed bumps. The city will be placing these bumps on Greenfield Road. Consistent notes of high speeds past the S-curves were the reason given. Residents close to the city limits, and even some who live past the city limits, have complained for the need of the additions. Purchasing four total bumps, Wood stated the city would be purchasing six-foot long “humps” to be placed on both sides of the roads. The humps are wider than bumps meaning cars should not have the usual issue of the immediate bounce of a smaller bump.

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Ellijay Presents Proposed Budget for 2018

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ELLIJAY, GA – The City of Ellijay is moving forward in its budgeting process with the presentation of its budget for 2018.

This Proposed budget is still awaiting public comments in the the hearing tomorrow morning, September 29, at 9:00 A.M. After that, the budget can move to October’s regular meeting for approval by the city.

The budget as it currently shows, is not completed numbers for the current fiscal year. However, changes are already being seen as budget hearings and the council prepare for future costs.

Citizens wishing to follow up and speak during comments at the City’s meetings are encouraged to dig deeper into the Proposed 2018 Budget.

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GDOT Work on 515 Slows Traffic

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Officers direct traffic during the replacement of traffic lights at East Ellijay's 1st Avenue and 515 intersection.

ELLIJAY, GA – For those traveling on Highway 515, you may have been noticing trucks at the intersection of 1st Avenue near Hardee’s.

GDOT workers prepare the 1st Avenue intersection of 515 for new traffic lights.

GDOT workers prepare the 1st Avenue intersection of 515 for new traffic lights.

The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) has changed out the traffic lights with newer models including a flashing yellow turn signal for left turns at the intersection.

Many citizens who have been to Pickens county will recognize the same style of traffic lights as are in use on 515 there. According to Mack Wood, City Planner of East Ellijay, the lights were originally a test in Jasper as a cost alternative to completely remodeling the intersections.

A welcome change to many citizens as they get stuck in those turning lanes on the way to and from work, the new lights have overcome several hurdles to installation. Requiring the removal of trees along the median near the intersection was just the first hurdle as the city has had to have wire repairs in the lighting system and further work to prepare for the change.

This is the only intersection on 515 in Gilmer that will receive the update after Wood originally contacted GDOT for the updates. Stating a sight distance issue, this means the intersection of Maddox Drive and 515 at the BP and McDonald’s and the intersection in front of Wal-Mart will not be seeing their light change anytime soon.

 

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Purchases and Donations at East Ellijay’s Council

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EAST ELLIJAY, GA – The East Ellijay City Council’s September Meeting saw the purchase of a new Vehicle, Replacing a Copy Machine on Lease, and accepted a lot donation to the city.

The city has been having continued issues with the man copier at the office. Looking into replacements, the council’s options ranged from $5369 to $1800. That lowest price came from Duplicating Products, Inc. out of Gainesville, Georgia. With a 36-month lease, the the copier would come with 3-hour turn around maintenance.

The council was informed that Duplicating Products is already being used by our local schools, the Gilmer Chamber, and local churches. With the extra references, the council unanimously approved the 36-month lease with Duplicating Products at $50 a month. However, the city will be paying the lease annually instead of monthly.

Another purchase came with a retroactive approval of purchasing a 2017 Explorer for the Police Department. Within the last month, the city hit an issue with three vehicles being out of service at one time. According to Mayor Mack West, the city traded in an older 2007 Ford F150 for a $5,000 credit at Jacky Jones Ford in Cleveland, Georgia. Previously approved to spend $27,000 in the budget on a vehicle, the trade in credit brought the original $27,500 down to $21,700 final cost.

Mayor West also stated that the police are installing much of the needed equipment into the vehicle as well, which is driving down additional costs for the vehicle as well. Utilizing old surplus equipment and doing much of the work in house, Mayor West stated that Police Chief Larry Callahan reduced an expected cost of $6,700 down to an estimated $3,200 for equipping the vehicle.

Moving past the purchases, East Ellijay is being offered a lot donation on First Avenue. While discussions began on what the city could possibly do with the property including a commercial building or a park area, no real discussion could begin before officially accepting the property into the city.

The lot officially measures at 0.84 acres and is being donated after it was originally declared not “buildable” due to setbacks and other issues the land presents against a residential building. The city is expecting to perform a quick claim deed in the coming days to finalize the transaction.

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Gilmer Sees Eclipse Without Incident

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Ellijay during the Eclipse on August 21, 2017, as seen from atop the city cemetery.

ELLIJAY, GA – While locals flocked out across the county to view the eclipse, the city itself seemed to slow to a crawl as the sky darkened.

Locals set up at Walmart to view the Eclipse in Ellijay, Ga.

Locals set up at Walmart to view the Eclipse in Ellijay, Ga.

Indeed the downtown streets were all but bare. Though citizens were crowding the River Street Tavern’s porch and other places, the roads were silent of traffic in the minutes leading up to the eclipse’s peak.

While most of those traveling continued further North, East Ellijay, and the County as a whole, did notice an uptick in traffic in the days prior to the eclipse and again Monday night as sightseers traveled home again.

While the Georgia Department of Transportation reported massive congestion on the roadways, much of that cleared before 1:00 p.m.

Locals, from L to R, Stephanie Watkins, Jessica Cochran, Jennifer Burton, and Rob Burton prepare to watch the eclipse Monday August 21, 2017.

Locals, from L to R, Stephanie Watkins, Jessica Cochran, Jennifer Burton, and Rob Burton prepare to watch the eclipse Monday August 21, 2017.

Still, locals such as the Burtons found friends to join with as they found their way onto Yukon to set up specially to see the event. Others moved to higher ground such as the area behind Wal-Mart and on top of the hill in the city cemetery.

Thankfully, another good report comes from Tony Pritchett, Director of Public Safety, who stated, “We are very pleased to say that Gilmer County as a whole, did not have any events relating to the eclipse other than heavy south bound traffic at the end of the event and into the late evening hours. We are very fortunate that this turned out to be a non impacting event on our public safety resources.”

While Gilmer moves past the eclipse, county officials all agree that they are thankful for a relatively quiet day.

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Ellijay Management Changes Through City Council and Special DDA Meetings

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ELLIJAY, GA – The Ellijay City Council is moving forward to swap out pumper’s for its Fire services.

After numerous problems with its current 2002 Lavern Class A Pumper, the City Council have voted to accept bids on the fire truck. Through their work session, discussion came that a minimum price be set for $85,000. The Council did approve the minimum price on the bids, but can also refuse bids at a later date. The revenue from the sale will offset the cost of the city purchasing a 1996 Smeal Class A Pumper for $60,000.

A First Reader also came at the Council’s July meeting for an “Ordinance For The Demolition and Removal Of A Dwelling Unfit For Human Habitation Located At 19 Hancock Drive.” Designated as parcel 1065. Although this is a First Reader, the demolition could move forward in 30 days if no change occurs in the situation.

Citizens also took time to speak at the meeting with one questioning the Come Play in Ellijay Golf Tournament and the DDA (Downtown Development Authority). Her question was to locate funds raised from last year’s event to support current and future events. The same day as the Council Meeting, the DDA held a special called meeting in which they discussed the Golf Tournament.

During the DDA’s meeting, the Authority officially turned over the Golf Tournament Event to the newly formed Ellijay Merchant’s Association. The Golf Tournament is the latest event to be turned over as the DDA has already relinquished the July 4th event, Light Up Ellijay, St. Petrick’s Day, and the Halloween Festivities.

While turning the events over, the DDA will be giving up the promotions and events committee’s in favor of the Merchant’s Association who have become their own 501c3 organization.

The second action from the DDA’s special called meeting returned the Management of the Welcome Center/Restroom downtown to the City.

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