ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners is taking steps to make changes to how it deals with something that has been called “useless” and “a document you approve then throw in a desk.”
While the Commissioner meeting spent a large amount of time on citizen’s concerns over Rainbow Lake, the Commissioner also spent a large portion of time discussing their future with the county’s Joint Comprehensive Plan.
The annual update to the Community Work Program and Capital Improvements Element within the Joint Comprehensive Plan Document was how the agenda item was worded, yet it grew into much more with input from both Post Commissioners Travis Crouch and Dallas Miller.
With a joint meeting to be set for input from the community involving the cities of Ellijay and East Ellijay, Crouch suggested there are far more entities that need to be involved in the process as a whole and in that meeting.
Miller noted in the Regular Session that he was disappointed that there is no resolution needed on the plan. Attempting to make a point, he clarified that as a strategic planning document, it doesn’t address the counties highest priorities, its infrastructure, or anything about revenue or funding for these projects.
Miller went on to say that there are many things about the document that needs to be changed to become more useful to the county instead of something the board does to maintain its qualified status for grants and government funding sources. He also noted that the document does not commit the county to anything listed on it.
Counterpointing Miller’s discussion, County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris stated that he thought the fact that the document held no legal commitment was a good thing as it isolated the regional commission from the county in that aspect. However, he did note that the county does commit itself to projects on its own and nothing would stop the county from doing those things.
Crouch also commented further saying the document was so frustrating to him as it is wasted potential as the county is, in fact, is addressing the issue last minute. Instead of just saying “here it is,” he wants more involvement and more usage of the document.
While the Joint Comprehensive Plan is not useless, as it is required for certified status and helps in grant pursuit, the feeling from both Post Commissioners indicated they wanted more. A feeling that has been voiced numerous times over past years.
Though the county still needs to move forward on this item now, Paris suggested an alternative to waiting until next year to address concerns saying, “We have to do this document and we’ll do it and we’ll get it out of the way. But there is not a thing in the world that stops us from creating our own document that does everything that you said, Travis. We can have our own plan, and it will undoubtedly include an awful lot of whats on [the Joint Comprehensive Plan] and some things that, perhaps, are not. That can be our plan and we can commit to it, and we can do whatever we want to with it.”
Attempting to include all the stakeholders while addressing the concerns of usefulness and commitment from the board, the document could be used to create the necessary document for the Joint Comprehensive Plan.
With both Post Commissioners indicating an interest in the concept, Paris suggested they take the next few months to begin the process to create the county’s own “plan.” While no direct action was taken, all three commissioners seemed agreed to pursue the plan.
Also taking time from the Commissioners’ meeting was a rezoning request asking to change a property on Laurel Hill Lane from R-1 Residential to A-1 Agricultural. The applicant, Jason Rice, and his lawyer, Jeb Chatham, indicated at the meeting his intention to construct an outbuilding and hosting of animals on the property. Paris questioned if he was aware of last year’s changes to hobby livestock in Residential areas of the county.
Rice said it was more about the freedom and flexibility of an Agricultural Zoning. He wanted to have more freedom to do what he wanted without worrying about the rules and restrictions of R-1. He stated he didn’t fully have it figured out, but what he wanted was the flexibility to do more.
Ultimately, the zoning failed to gain a motion from the board and was then was denied 3-0 with Paris reasserting his statements from previous meetings to protect landowners who researched and did their due diligence to find a residential area and expect it not to change. It was noted in their work session that while the Planning and Zoning board recommended approval, there was opposition and a letter sent to the Chairman in opposition to the zoning changes.
Their meeting continued on as the commissioners appointed Ron Cheslocke to the Keep Gilmer Beautiful Committee.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners August meeting saw an unexpected addition to its agenda as citizens from the Rainbow Lake area met to ask the board to stop the clear cutting of over 500 acres of Timber in the area.
“Devastation,” the word kept arising as citizen after citizen walked to the podium asking the Commissioners to stop the process, or somehow change it to selective cutting.
It is the word that Diane Davenport used when she said she lived downstream of the area. She told the board, “It’s going to devastate us for as long as I live, and as long as my family who inherit my land live.”
Joe Paprocki offered a structured argument against the clear-cut saying there are four main areas majorly affected in the county by this process.
The first area is the water, “We think the soil erosion and silt run-off will critically impact not only Rainbow Lake itself, but James Creek, Mountaintown Creek, and even Carter’s Lake. It will also impact our groundwater and well water.”
The second area is the wildlife, “We believe a clear-cut of this magnitude will be, pretty much, a 100% obliteration of habitat which will vastly diminish animal populations… for many years to come.”
The third area is the countywide quality of life, “We believe people come to Gilmer County to enjoy its forests, lake, creeks, fresh air, and natural beauty. We believe deforestation on this scale will force people like us to reconsider where we are living, if we want to be surrounded and hemmed in by this devastation.”
The fourth area is the property values, “I think we will almost immediately see property values plummet… That means tax revenues are going to go down with it, and county services will go down. Jobs will probably be lost.”
Paprocki said that he has heard people say its private property and there is nothing they can do, but that “800 acres” of devastation, an area large enough to land a 747 commercial airplane, affects the public and is, therefore, a public issue.
One citizen called the area a “war-zone” affecting the lives of the animals she keeps on a farm in the area, another referred to the endangered species in the area as well as the threat of invasive species cropping up after the clear-cut.
As if punctuating the emotion of the community, Alvin Sisson stepped to the podium. Speaking slowly and holding back tears, he choked out his words in short parts. “I was born and raised in Gilmer County, in this area. I have worked the whole project when they built Rainbow Lake. I worked Rainbow Lake from cutting the brush to building the dam itself.”
Noting the three major creeks that feed into Rainbow Lake, Sisson said the creeks would go red with mud before they feed that into the lake as a whole. He noted 500-foot buffers would not stop the devastation, they would not hold back the destruction of the area.
Everyone who spoke either opposed the clear-cut or asked to change to selective cut except one.
Richie Mullins of the Georgia Forestry Commission offered what basically became a crash course in the Commission’s water and forest quality assurance. Walking those present through the logging process and his part, as a Water Quality Specialist, in continuing to maintain the creeks’ and lake’s clarity in the process of and the aftermath of the project.
Calling himself the “Erosion Police,” Mullins assured citizens that he was the area’s biggest advocate for maintaining the lake and the water. Even he never fully said the clear-cut was a good thing, instead trying to assure citizens that he would monitor the project and address their concerns.
Even he himself told a resident that he would prefer a selective cut.
The situation was summed up in one short sentence by Commission Chairman Charlie Paris as he said, “I’d stop it if I could, but I can’t.”
He went on to explain that while he wholeheartedly agreed with citizens about avoiding the clear-cut at all costs, he could not find any legal ways to force the issue. Pausing a moment, he said that if anyone had a legal argument he wanted it so that he could use it. As he stated, in the end, it is their land and they can do it as long as they follow the rules.
“I hate that,” said Paris, “and I know not as much as ya’ll do, but I do hate that.”
Despite the disappointing response, one citizen stood to say, “We just appreciate being heard so that other people know about what is going on because, frankly, it blindsided me.”
As it stands with citizens continuing to look for answers to the project, it seems that they will be keeping a close eye on the logging operation alongside the Forestry Commission to maintain the area after the project completes.
JASPER, Ga. – It’s not Veterans’ Day, but you might think it was if you were in Pickens County on August 9 as they finally dedicated their long-awaited Veterans Memorial next to Lee Newton Park.
Situated at the edge of the parking lot on Stegall Drive, the Memorial opened for the public with an official dedication at 11:00 a.m. The dedication saw the colors of each military branch set in honor at the site while veterans and members of the American Legion hung the American Flag over the memorial. While several people offered words to sanctify the grounds, they added an offering of the 21-Gun Salute and “Taps,” as well.
The ceremony’s impact was only dwarfed by the size of the crowd that attended the day to offer thanks and respect to those who served. Most of them are veterans or have veterans in their family, a fact noted when a speaker asked these people to raise their hands during his speech.
One of those veterans is Al Parson Larson. At 90-years-old, Larson says he served on the USS Astoria, a light cruiser, in World War II. The day’s events held a certain somberness throughout, but meeting Larson punctuated the event as he confessed it would be the last time he would ever wear his uniform. It has been 70 years since Larson last wore his uniform in the line of duty. He says he has reached the point where it is just too difficult to get it on. He chuckled a moment before saying, “At least it still fits.”
Attending the event with his son, Larson was one of the few attending the event in uniform, and hundreds more who bore caps, shirts, and more signifying their service. But this photo, according to him, will be one of the last photos ever taken of him dressed out.
Veterans Memorial Park holds 5 smaller monuments in individual bricked in areas becoming part of the larger memorial that hosts bricks of honor for those who wish to purchase them in order to help build, expand, and maintain the memorial. Hoping to extend these bricks across the hillside, they confirmed they are still selling the bricks and will continue selling them indefinitely.
One speaker noted that 1% of Americans have served in the military, but looking at Pickens County, 12% of those in the county are veterans. Looking at this statistic, it has long been a need to honor that large portion of the community. But the honor is for all those who serve. The memorial has been a long time needed and a long time coming, but today it is finished. It stands as this county’s tribute for those in service.
Summing up the day’s feelings, John Trammell, President and CEO of Community Bank of Pickens County, said, “Vets, thank you for bravely doing what you were called to do so we can safely do what we are free to do.”
Make sure to check out more photos of the day at FYN’s Facebook Page.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners held their Special Called Meeting in which discussion of the county’s Millage Rate and decisions were made.
Considered their calculations of accepting the Rollback Rate at 6.370, the generalized budget for the county would wind up relatively the same, with only a possible $10,000 difference over what they collected this year.
With the continued growth in Gilmer County, Post Commissioner Dallas Miller noted it was one of the bigger rollbacks he has seen. He also noted the Rollback Rate represented over $800,000 dollars in budget difference to the county.
The county has not increased or decreased its Millage Rate in several years, maintaining 6.983 in since 2015.
Miller suggested to the board that he believed they should continue maintaining the current millage rate. Repeating their same argument against the state directive of Rollback Rate and what is called a tax increase, the board as a whole agreed upon the unfairness of calling it a tax increase when they maintain the same rate.
Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch commented on the rate saying they could “split the difference” and lower the rate slightly without going all the way to the Rollback. He went on to note that last year, the commissioners had to cut $2.5 million from the county’s initial proposed budget.
Crouch took a moment to ask Commission Chairman Charlie Paris how he felt this year’s budget would compare.
Paris responded by saying, “That we will probably have to cut a bit more. That’s been the trend.”
Agreeing with Paris, Crouch noted he held similar expectations. The board heard similar arguments from department heads including Public Works Director Jim Smith who noted the increasing costs in gravel and stone. Paris agreed, noting increases to diesel, gas, and salaries as well.
The opposing discussion came from Paris as he said he believes the biggest issue he gets calls on in the county is roads. However, looking at the choice between the services and taxes, he said he felt the citizens would be more dissatisfied with what is called a “tax increase.” He admitted that he was mixed emotions on the topic, but confessed he would come down on accepting the rollback.
Ultimately, as discussion began circling to repetition, a motion came from Dallas Miller to maintain the 6.983 millage rate. Crouch seconded the motion leading to a 2-1 vote with Charlie Paris as the dissenting vote.
The bond millage vote also approved maintaining the current rate with a unanimous 3-0 vote.
Moving forward on this decision, the board will begin advertising the rate before the formal public hearings on the millage rate, and then on to the final adoption.
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Ellijay, Ga. – Holding their special meeting on July 31 after final consolidated numbers became available, the Gilmer County Board of Education presented their 5-year-tax-history and voted on their millage rate.
The 2018 Consolidated Tax Digest showed a 13% increase in real and personal property values and a 20.8% decrease in motor vehicle values. Alongside an increase in exemptions of 14.24%, the overall net increase settled at 11.48%.
Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs informed the board that, through these changes, their calculated rollback rate is 14.458 mill, decreasing from 2017’s 16.12 mill.
Approving the 14.458 mill rollback rate and 5-year-history during their called meeting, the Board is not done with this as they will return for final approval of the 1.662 decrease as the rollback millage rate at their August 23 meeting according to Downs.
Citizens wishing to speak to the board about this topic should contact Dr. Shanna Downs at the Board of Educations Administration and Technology Building (706-276-5000) to sign up to speak at the Regular Meeting or speak at the August 20 Work Session.
ELLIJAY, GA. – Casting the final vote for the coming ESPLOST, alongside votes on bids and lunch prices, set the theme for the Board of Education’s last regular meeting before school starts back.
As previously reported in last week’s BOE to call for an ESPLOST Election, the survey results were provided to board member along with the choices for the final item on the list of projects. While Gilmer County Charter Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs reiterated that the priorities of the new ESPLOST will remain with the continuing technology, security, safety, and bus purchases, this sets two major projects into Gilmer County’s Educational future.
Those projects take up two of the five items as set on the official ballot question which reads as:
(a) upgrading the technology used to support teaching and learning at all facilities, including the purchase and
installation of computers, laptops, tablets, mobile devices, servers, wiring, wireless antennas, and other technology upgrades with necessary hardware, software, and programs; (b) the acquisition, construction, equipping, and installation of safety and security equipment to improve security in all facilities located within the School District (c) the purchase of new school buses; (d) the acquisition, construction, and equipping of a new elementaryschool to replace the current Ellijay Primary School; and (e) the acquisition, construction, and equipping of a new performing/fine arts center, all in accordance with the facilities plans of the School District…
The official resolution was approved in a 4-1 vote with board member Nick Weaver as the dissenting vote. With earlier disagreements on which final project was to be implemented and the polled decision leaning towards the Performing Arts Center, this vote count was not entirely unexpected as the board’s poll on the project inclusion was a mirror outcome.
Moving forward with the ESPLOST at this point will see the Board of Education formally submitting their Notice of Sales and Use Tax For Educational Purposes Election to Gilmer County Probate Judge Scott Chastain, as Election Superintendent, to have the referendum voted on by the public in the November 2018 elections. Citizens will take this opportunity to voice their opinions on the ESPLOST and decide on the continuing the already in place ESPLOST for another cycle with its new projects.
Financially, the board is estimating $28 million in collections but is aiming high so as not to have an interruption in collections during the cycle.
Finance discussions continued through the meeting during the board’s nutrition and financial reports. The board voted unanimously to support a recommendation by Director of Nutrition Services Linda Waters to increase staff lunch prices from $3.50 to $3.75 and visitor lunches from $4.00 to $4.25. The quarter increases on each of these follow federal regulations which Waters’ recent changes to menus. She stated in the work session, “By Federal Regulations, we have to charge what it costs us to produce a meal.”
Additionally, the July meeting saw the board vote to approve fuel bids for the year. They awarded Petroleum Traders Corp the bid for diesel and gasoline at $0.0315 over costs of diesel and $0.0196 over costs of gasoline. They also awarded Thomas Oil for Propane at $0.95 per gallon.
Out of 159 sheriffs in the Sheriff’s Association, nine serve as regional vice-presidents. Then, there is the executive board with a first vice president, second vice-president, secretary/treasurer, and the president of the Sheriff’s Association.
This year, the position of president is filled by Gilmer County’s own Sheriff Stacy Nicholson.
After serving for six years as a regional vice president, Nicholson ran for the position of secretary/treasurer in 2015. Having been elected to that position, the process continued as the elected person will serve in all positions until he reaches and concludes with the presidency. A process that Nicholson says helps to prepare that person for the presidency as he gains experience and service throughout each other position.
But this is more than just a presidency as it sets his future in the Association on the Board of Directors. While he has served on the board in previous years as a regional vice president, his election in 2015 placed him permanently on the board as long as he serves as sheriff. This is because the Board of Directors is made up of the four Executive Board members, the current regional vice presidents, and the past presidents of the association.
Our sheriff’s progress along this path was not always so clear, though. He began at 19-years-old when he took a job at the jail. Nicholson says he wasn’t running around as a kid playing “sheriff” or anything that would have preceded his life in law enforcement. He had never considered the career until his mother made a call one day and got him a position in the jail in March of 1991. In a process that only took one weekend, the young man went from needing a part-time job and searching for something to fill that need to an on-the-clock deputy working and training at the Detention Center on March 3.
There was no training seminars to attend, no special certifications to obtain. He simply spoke with Sheriff Bernhardt on the phone as the interview, showed up to collect his uniform, and began work the next day.
Even then, it was never a thought in Nicholson’s mind about the position of sheriff. Instead, he began immediately looking at the next level of law enforcement, a deputy. More specifically, he began striving to become a deputy-on-patrol. Serving daily at the jail led to a quick “training” as he dealt with situations and convicts, but it was also short-lived.
Six months after entering the detention center, he achieved his goal and secured his promotion.
To this day, Stacy Nicholson holds true to his thoughts, “Anybody who wants to be in local law enforcement, where they’re out patrolling the streets of a community, they ought to start out in the jail because you’re locked up in a building for 8-12 hours every day with inmates.”
The situation quickly teaches you, according to Nicholson, how to handle situations, criminal activity, and convicts. It is how he likes to hire deputies as he says it “makes or breaks them.” It allows the department to see if that person can handle the life the way they want it handled. More than just handling difficult situations, though, it is a position of power over others that will show if you abuse the power while in a more contained and observed environment.
Though his time in the detention center was “eye-opening” and an extreme change from his life to that point, Nicholson actually says the part of his career that hit the hardest was his time as a deputy.
The life became more physically demanding as he began dealing with arrests, chases, and the dangers of responding to emergencies and criminal activity. However, it also became more mentally taxing as Nicholson realized the best tool for most situations was his own calm demeanor. That calm sense could permeate most people to de-escalate situations.
Nicholson relates his promotion out of the jail as similar to the inmates he watched over. He says, “It was almost a feeling like an inmate just released from six months confinement. He feels free, I felt free. I’m in a car, I’m a deputy sheriff… I can go anywhere I want to in this county.”
Nicholson’s high point of the promotion was shattered quickly, though, with one of the first calls to which he responded. He notes that at that time in the county, at best, he had one other deputy patrolling somewhere in the county during a shift. A lot of times, he would be the only deputy patrolling on his shift. Still, even with another deputy on patrol, he could be twenty minutes away at any given time.
It became an isolating job, alone against the criminal element. Though we still live in a “good area,” and even in the early ’90s, a lower crime area relative to some in the country. Still, Nicholson says, there were those who would easily decide to harm you, or worse, to avoid going to jail.
Telling the story of one of his first calls on patrol, Nicholson recalled a mentally deranged man. The only deputy on duty that night, he responded to a call about this man who had “ripped his parent’s home apart.” Arriving on the scene and beginning to assess the situation, he discovered that this deranged man believed he was Satan. Not exaggerating, he repeated this part of the story adding weight to each word, “He thought that He. Was. Satan. He actually believed he was the devil.”
Scared to death, he continued talking to the man and convinced him to get into his vehicle without force.
It became quite real about the types of things he would see in this career. It sunk in deep as to exactly what the police academy and training could never prepare him to handle. Yet, Nicholson says it taught him more than anything else. It taught him he had to always be quick-thinking and maintain the calm air. It became a solemn lesson to “try to use my mouth more than muscle.”
The flip-side of the job, however, makes it worse. Though sharing the extreme stories like this one showcases the rarer moments of the position, he says it is actually a slow, boring job on patrol. It is because of this usual pace that sets such a disparity to the moments when he got a call to more serious situations. His job was never like the movies with gunfights every day and then you just walk away and grab a drink. The high-intensity points were harder to handle because you are calm and relaxed before the call. It causes an adrenaline spike and your body kicks over into a different gear so suddenly. An “adrenaline dump” like that made it hard for Nicholson to keep from shaking on some days.
Even in his years as a detective, it seemed it would always happen as he laid down to sleep when a call came in. The rebound from preparing to sleep and shut down for the day all the way back to being on high function and stress of working a crime scene could be extreme. With so much adrenaline, Nicholson can only refer to these moments as “containment, ” conquering the feeling and holding it down in order to function properly in the situation.
“It’s all in your brain and, I guess, in your gut,” Nicholson says that while he has known people who thrive on the adrenaline and actively seek it, they really become a minority in the big picture, only 1-2%. He notes, “If a cop tells you he has never been in a situation where he was scared, he’s probably lying.”
This is the point of courage, though. He references an old John Wayne quote, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” It is the point of the job that sets them apart from most people. You cannot do the job without courage, you cannot last in it.
Courage in the moment doesn’t mean you don’t feel the effects. Dealing with everything that an officer sees, feels, and hears through the line of duty is another trial all its own.
Handling it, he said, is to just put it away for a while. Still, he says he had to deal with it eventually. Nicholson says throughout his time in this career through deputy, detective, and sheriff, he deals with those emotions and dark points through camaraderie with friends and fellow officers, taking a night to talk with close friends and talking through the hard points.
Nicholson also says he finds relief in his faith in God after becoming a Christian in 1982. Turning to him in order to find comfort in letting go of the issues, “talking to God” is something that Nicholson says he falls on later. As you find yourself in certain situations and you put off the emotions to deal with, you have to turn back and face it with God’s help at some point. Stress is an enormously negative factor in his position and dealing with it productively in the key. Fighting against destructive processes that lead to heavy drinking and suicide is the reality of any serious law enforcement career.
One of the hardest points in his career is one well known in Gilmer County. It is hard to speak about the Sheriff’s Office in Gilmer without speaking of one of its biggest losses in Officer Brett Dickey. Even over 20 years later, Nicholson says it shapes and affects him to this day.
Directly involved in the shooting, Nicholson was one of the officers on location that night. He and Mark Sanford were on location attempting to get a man out of the house with other officers forming a perimeter around the residence.
Even speaking of it today, watching and listening to Sheriff Nicholson retell the story, you can see the change it puts into his face, into his voice. You watch his eyes fall to the floor as he mentions the details. You see him straighten in his chair slightly as if preparing to brace against an impact. You hear his voice soften, losing a little of the authoritative tone. In this moment, you hear the wound.
“That’s the only shot I’ve ever fired in the line of duty.” Firing the shot at the suspect as he was shooting, Nicholson says he fired into a very small area to try to shoot him to stop the gunfire. With 10 shots fired randomly, Nicholson says, “The entire situation, it seemed like it took thirty minutes to unfold, but it actually happened all in about three to four seconds… Two deputies were hit, it was definitely a dark night in the career.”
He swears it is an incident that he will never forget. It was a turning point that set the direction for his life in the coming years. After that, Nicholson began taking training personally to become something more. It became more than just a job that night.
It was a night that forced Nicholson deeper into the life that is law enforcement.
Even now, as Sheriff, he couldn’t quite answer the question if the lifestyle is something he can turn off after he leaves. It even defines his goals in the position as he says, “My number one goal is to never have to bury an officer. That’s my number one goal, and my second goal is that we don’t have to kill someone else.”
Accomplishing both of these goals is something Nicholson says he understands isn’t as likely as it used to be, but it is something he continually strives for in his career.
With his career and training advancing, Nicholson began thinking about running for office in 1998. Though he was thinking of it at that time. He didn’t run for the position until 2004. Now on his fourth term, Nicholson continues his efforts into the position of law enforcement. While he looks at it from more of the big picture standpoint than he did as a deputy, he says he has to remember he is first a law enforcement officer and must act accordingly. However, the position of sheriff is a political figure and has public responsibilities because of that.
He offers an example of his wife and kid being sick at one time. Heading to the store to get Gatorade to help them feel better, he says he may get caught for an hour in the Gatorade aisle talking to someone about a neighbor dispute going on. “The sheriff is the representative of the law enforcement community to the citizens. The citizens would much prefer to talk specifically to the sheriff than a deputy that’s actually going to take care of the problem.”
It becomes a balancing act of the law enforcement lifestyle and being a politician. Being in a smaller community only increases the access as everyone knows and commonly sees the sheriff.
On the enforcement side, taking the role in the big picture sense, he says he has had to pay more attention to national news and its effects on the local office and citizens. Going further, rather than worrying about what to do on patrol, he’s looked more at locations. Patrol zones and the need for visibility of officers in certain areas over others.
The position also separates you from others, “It’s tough to have to discipline someone who is one of your better friends… You learn to keep at least a small amount of distance between yourself and those you are managing.” As much as you want to be close friends with those you serve alongside, the position demands authority. Nicholson compares the Sheriff’s Office to more of a family, saying someone has to be the father. Someone has to be in that leadership role.
The depth of the role is one thing Nicholson says he has been surprised with after becoming sheriff. He explains that he didn’t expect just how much people, both citizens and employees, look to him to solve certain problems. He chuckles as he admits, “I can’t tell you the number of times that I pull into the parking lot and I might handle four situations in the parking lot before I get to the front doors of the courthouse.”
People often look to the sheriff for advice on situations or to be a mediator.
Despite the public attention, Nicholson says the hardest thing he deals with in his position is balancing the needs against the county’s resources. Speaking specifically to certain needs over others is a basic understood principle of leadership, it is one Nicholson says he knows too well when balancing budgets and funds versus the office’s and deputy’s needs. Whether it is equipment, training, salary, or maintenance, he says that trying to prioritize these needs and provide for them is the toughest task.
Despite the surprises and the difficulties, Nicholson states, “It’s me, it’s my command staff, all the way down to the boots on the ground troops. I think we have put together one of the best law enforcement agencies that Georgia has to offer.”
Gaining state certification in his first term was one proud moment for Nicholson as the office grew in discipline and achieved policy changes. Though it wasn’t easy, he says he had to ‘hold his own feet to the fire’ during the process as the office went down the long checklist to accomplish the feat. Setting the direction for the office at the time, the changes to policies and disciplines were only the start of keeping the office on track to the task.
It signaled a growth and change from the days of one or two deputies on patrol in the county into a more professional standardized agency, a growth that Nicholson holds close as one of his accomplishments that his deputies and command staff have helped him to achieve.
It is a point echoed by his one on his command staff, Major Mike Gobble, who said, “When he took office, one of his first goals was to bring the Sheriff’s Office up-to-date and modernize the sheriff’s office from salaries to equipment. Making sure we had the pull to do our job, that was one of his major priorities.”
Gobble says going from one to two deputies on shift to four or five deputies on shift improved their response time alongside managing patrol zones. Gobble went on to say its the struggle that he sees the sheriff fight for his deputies for salaries, benefits, and retirement that shows his leadership. It is that leadership that draws Gobble further into his position in the command staff.
Now, having Gilmer’s sheriff moving into the position as President of the Sheriff’s Association, it’s prideful to see that position held here in Gilmer County. As sheriff, Gobble says he handles the position with respect and class. He knows how to deal with the citizens of the county, but also with those outside the county and at the state level. “He’s a very approachable kind of person. Not just as a sheriff, but an approachable kind of person.”
It is a quality Gobble says serves the people well to be able to talk to people respectfully while having an “open ear” to help them with their problems. Its the point that not every employee sees, he’s working towards improving their positions and pay for what they give to service.
Improving these positions is something Nicholson himself says is very difficult, especially around budget times in the year. Noted repeatedly over the years for the struggles at budget times in the county, Nicholson says it is about the perspective of the county. “I’m not over those departments, I’ve got my own stuff to look after… but we are all a part of the same county government.”
It is always a difficult process for those involved. He continues his thoughts on the topic saying, “I always have a true respect for the need for the other county departments to have adequate funding… But when it comes down to it, I’ve got to put being a citizen aside and be the sheriff. My responsibility is to look after the sheriff’s office.”
While the financial portions of the sheriff’s position stand as Nicholson’s least-liked part of the job, he balances the other half seeing the community support for officers in our county. He says he gets disappointed at seeing the news from across the nation in communities that protest and fight law enforcement. Living in this community affords him his favorite part of the job in being around people so much.
From the employees he works alongside to the citizens that speak to him to the courthouse’s own community feel. Its the interaction with people that highlights the days for Nicholson as he says, “It ought to be illegal to be paid to have this much fun.”
Even the littlest things like one situation that he recalls, he was speaking with an officer at the security station of the courthouse, one man came in and began speaking with Nicholson as another man walks in. The two gentlemen eventually began conversing with each other, but it became apparent that neither could hear well. As the conversation progresses with one trying to sell a car and the other speaking on a completely different topic of a situation years earlier. Nicholson says it was the funniest conversation he has ever heard and a prime example of simply getting more interaction with the public as sheriff.
It is an honor that he says competes with and conflicts with his appointment to the Sheriff’s Association, conflict simply in the idea that it is just as big of an honor to be a part of the leadership of Gilmer’s community as it is to be a part of the leadership of the state organization.
The presidency will see Nicholson in the legislature’s sessions and a part of committee meetings in the process. Traveling to the capitol during legislative session and a winter, summer, and fall conference for the association make-up the major commitments of the positions.
Starting to look at the Executive Committee 2009 as something he wanted to achieve, he gained this desire from a now past president that still serves on the Board of Directors as an inspiration to the position. As one of a few people that Nicholson calls a mentor, this unnamed guide led Nicholson to the executive board through his own example in the position. Now achieving it himself, Nicholson says he hopes that he can, in turn, be that example for other younger sheriffs and build the same relationships with them that have inspired him.
Calling the presidency a great achievement, Nicholson didn’t agree that it is a capstone on his career saying, “I’m not done with being sheriff in Gilmer County.”
While focusing on his position on the Executive Board and his position as Gilmer Sheriff, Nicholson says he doesn’t have a set goal to accomplish past the coming presidency. Promoting the profession of law enforcement as president of the Sheriff’s Association and growing the Sheriff’s Office in Gilmer County, these are the focus that Nicholson uses to define the next stages of his career.
To continue his growth in the county office, he says he is reaching an age where he can’t plan several terms ahead anymore. He wants to look at the question of running for Sheriff again to each election period. That said, he did confirm that he definitely will run again in 2020.