Piedmont Holds Ribbon Cutting Prior to Opening

News

As the Piedmont Stand-Alone Emergency Department enters the final stages of preparation and inspections, they held a celebration with local and state officials to honor the occasion.

Construction is complete and renovations are over, the near $2 million project is now awaiting final inspections and approval of the actual ED (Emergency Department) itself. Upon completion of those, Piedmont will be officially declaring its opening date.

The Ribbon Cutting ceremony was attended by not only local officials like Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, Post Commissioner and Greater Gilmer JDA (Joint Development Authority) Chairman Travis Crouch, and Director of Public Safety Tony Pritchett, but also state officials State Senator Steve Gooch and House Speaker David Ralston.

Group Photo

Piedmont is also already looking to the future of the Emergency Department with suggestions of providing an upgrade to digital for the X-Ray machines in 2018 as well as integration into its Epic System for the local Piedmont Healthcare Offices in Gilmer County that citizens have seen on Industrial Boulevard and on Eller Road behind Walmart in East Ellijay.

This Epic System is an integrated records network that will allow for all admissions and care at the Emergency Room to be instantly accessible by Piedmont’s local Doctors as well as vice versa for Emergency Care Physicians to have instant access to the records of Piedmont Doctor’s patients for pertinent information such as Drug Allergies.

Stay tuned to FYN in the coming days as we delve deeper into the Emergency Department including a look behind the scenes at some of new changes Piedmont is bringing to Gilmer County’s Emergency Care as well as a closer look at the equipment and Epic System.

Meanwhile, check in with the Gilmer Chamber below to watch the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony.

Author

Commissioners Vote to Table Project Chimps’ Application to House 80 Chimpanzees in Fannin County

News

At their August 9th meeting, Fannin County Board of Commissioners discussed  Project Chimps’ application to bring 80 chimpanzees to live in its sanctuary in Fannin County.  The chimpanzees are to arrive in groups of nine to ten over the next year.  In all, Project Chimps will bring approximately 240 chimpanzees over a period of five years.

The Commissioners must approve Project Chimps’ application for exotic animals before the animals can arrive in Fannin County.  According to Fannin County’s Wild and Exotic Animals Ordinance:  “ In the event that the Fannin County Board of Commissioners determines that such a facility cannot be operated within  Fannin County, Georgia, in a manner to insure the health, safety and well-being of the citizens of this County, then the Board of Commissioners shall have the right to reject said application.  The decision of the Board of Commissioners in any individual case, shall be final.”

The Commissioners voted to review the application at the next County Commissioners’ meeting on August 23rd at 6 pm in the Fannin County Courthouse.

The Commissioners’ actions came as a great surprise to Fannin residents, Project Chimps and national organizations that have been pushing for the retirement of New Iberia Research Center’s chimpanzee population.  New Iberia Research Center, operated by the University of Louisiana – Lafayette, currently houses the chimpanzees.

Project Chimps arrived at the Commissioners’ meeting expecting to give a presentation to the Commissioners before they voted on the application.  Post-Commissioner Earl Johnson said he understood Project Chimps had obtained legal counsel.   Sarah Baeckler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps, stated that they had obtained David Ralston as a consultant, not as their attorney.  David Ralston represents Georgia’s 7th District, which includes Fannin County, and is Speaker of the House for Georgia General Assembly. Chairman Simonds said, “I don’t know if we can vote on it yet.”  Mr. Johnson then asked County Attorney Lynn Doss what the appropriate procedures would be for speaking with Project Chimps during the meeting.  Ms. Doss confirmed that the Commissioners need to send comments to her and she will pass the comments on Mr. Ralston.  Post-Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee stated he felt Project Chimps’ obtaining representation by Mr. Ralston was a push to get us [the Commissioners] to vote.

However, during Public Commentary and Commissioners’ Commentary, the Commissioners openly discussed Project Chimps with the organization and Fannin residents in attendance.

Project Chimps’ President and CEO, Sara Baeckler Davis, spoke second during Public Commentary.  She did not give her prepared presentation.  Ms. Baeckler Davis did, though, give an overview of Project Chimps and how it impacts Fannin County.  She spoke about safety measures in place and how the facility will provide jobs and educational opportunities for Fannin residents.  She said that Project Chimps has been overwhelmed by public support from the community.

Sarah Baeckler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps

Sarah Baeckler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps

Ms. Baeckler Davis said that before coming in front of the County Commissioner, she wanted to have her federal and state permits in place since the Commission could not vote on her application without the two permits.  On July 8th, Project Chimps obtained the United States Department of Agriculture permit and on July 25, it obtained the Georgia Division of Natural Resources permit.

Chad Bowers, owner of Better Building Systems, Inc. in Blue Ridge, was the first Fannin resident to speak.  He is the General Contractor for Project Chimps.  He stated that the organization has already brought $200,000 into his Fannin County business and he estimates around $200,000 more in the near future.

Fannin resident Jan Eaton spoke next.  She pressured the Commissioners to be transparent in “what the big hold up is.” She stated that she had visited the “remarkable facility” and it is a “remarkable thing for the community.”  She finished with, “What is the big problem?”

Next up was a neighbor of Project Chimps, Dawn di Lorenzo. Ms. Di Lorenzo lives on Loving Road, which is close to Project Chimps’ facility on Lowery Road.  She said she is delighted the project will be in the community and she wasn’t aware there was any downside.  Janice Hayes of the Cohutta Animal Clinic and Gary Steverson, owner of Blue Ridge Cotton Company, also spoke in favor of Project Chimps.

Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management at Project Chimps

Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management at Project Chimps

Next up was Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management at Project Chimps.  He stated he has over 40 years’ experience re-socializing and integrating groups of chimpanzees.  His last full-time position was for five years as Great Ape Behavioral Consultant at Kumamoto Sanctuary which is part of Kyoto University in Japan.

No one spoke against Project Chimps during Public Commentary.

During the Commissioners’ Commentary, the Commissioners questioned Ms. Baeckler Davis and also gave comments about the project, even though they stated earlier in the meeting that they would not make public comment, but pass all information through County Attorney Lynn Doss.

First off was Commission Chair Bill Simonds.  The direction of his questions was about the long-term funding sources for Project Chimps.  He said he understands that Project Chimps wants to bring 240 individuals that have a life span of 40-60 years. Mr. Simonds said that it was one long commitment and in 40 years people in this room won’t be around to worry about it. Ms. Baeckler Davis affirmed that the organization is not receiving any federal or state grants.  However, the organization is receiving donations from private individuals, other non-profits, and New Iberia Research Center is also contributing money as part of its contract to retire the chimps at the sanctuary.

Ms. Baeckler Davis also reminded the Commissioners about the timeline for arrival of all 240 chimpanzees.  The chimpanzees will arrive in social groups of 9 to 10 animals at a time.  The application is for 80 chimpanzees because that is what the facility can accommodate at this time.  Later groups will move in as the facility expands, which will take a total of five years.  She also said that the chimpanzees must have health certification, which, according to federal regulations can only occur one-month prior to transportation from Louisiana to Georgia.

At the end of his comments about the application, Mr. Simonds stated that he did not want Fannin county residents to be stuck with caring for the chimpanzees because donations to Project Chimps ran dry.

Post-Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee was next.  His line of questioning was about the health of the animals.  First, he wanted to know if the chimpanzees are newly-arrived from Africa.  Then he questioned about what kind of biomedical research the chimpanzees were used for while they were at New Iberia Research Center.  Ms. Baeckler Davis did not answer this questions.  But, she did say that to pass health inspection, which each animal must have before coming to Fannin County, a veterinarian must state that the animals are healthy and not carriers of disease communicable to humans.  Also, the chimpanzees must have rabies, tetanus, pneumonia and tuberculosis vaccines.  She said Project Chimps’ application contained a letter from the attending veterinarian at New Iberia Research Center confirming the animals are free of communicable disease and have had required vaccinations.  She reminded the Commissioners that the chimpanzees also have USDA and Georgia DNR permits.

Next, Post-Commissioner Earl Johnson “wanted to clear the air.”  He said that this (Aug. 9th) evening was the first time he had received information about Project Chimps and he received it at 5:15, 45 minutes before the meeting.  He said that the only communication that has been done was through County Attorney Lynn Doss and she doesn’t vote.  He also doesn’t want his vote to be a knee-jerk reaction.

In balance to Mr. Johnson’s statements, FetchYourNews reports FetchYourNews reports that a formal announcement of Project Chimps was not made until early May 2016 because negotiations between Project Chimps and New Iberia Research Center had not yet been completed. Then in early May, newswire sources like the Associated Press carried stories about New Iberia Research Center’s chimpanzees moving to Fannin County.  This was publicized by other media outlets.

Project Chimps' team meets with Fannin County EMA.

Project Chimps’ team meets with Fannin County EMA.

Project Chimps met with Fannin County Emergency Management Agency in early summer to discuss safety at the facility. Project Chimps formally applied for the exotic animal permit on July 15, 2016. And, Project Chimps’ Open House on June 25th had over 300 attendees and was well-covered in local media.

Open House attendees listen to Ms. Baekler Davis describe the facility.

Open House attendees listen to Ms. Baekler Davis describe the facility.

FetchYourNews also asked Marie Woody, the Chief Land Development Officer for Fannin County, when she was able to officially inform the Commissioners about the arrival of Project Chimps.  Ms. Woody said that Project Chimps delivered their building permit application in late afternoon on Friday, July 15th and she informed Commission Chairman Bill Simonds and County Attorney Lynn Doss on Monday morning, July 18th.

Then, Mr. Johnson went on to list his concerns.  First and foremost are his concerns about security; can chimpanzees escape the facility or uninvited humans or animals get in?  He also wanted to know if security barriers will hold up if a tree falls on them.  Another concern is what biomedical tests the chimps were involved in and if this can pass to humans through birds or squirrels which will get into the open-air space.  He stated that Robert Graham, Director of Fannin County Emergency Management Agency, should be involved in the decision.  He said we should have started talking about this three months ago.

FetchYourNews reports that the facility Project Chimps owns was donated by Dewar Wildlife Trust, which ran the facility as Gorilla Haven. It housed 1-4 male gorillas, most notably Zoo Atlanta’s Willie B. Jr. and Jasiri.  The gorillas are no longer there and the facility has been retro-fitted to house chimpanzees.  Security walls and fences from the gorilla facility remain.  There are is no publicly available record of Gorilla Haven’s gorillas transmitting illness to humans in Fannin County, nor is there any record of escape.

Finally, Mr. Simonds commented on Project Chimps again.  He said, “We want anything that will benefit Fannin County, but we have to answer to taxpayers.”  He also said that the Commissioners received two calls from residents living in My Mountain complaining that Project Chimps will cause their property value to go down.  My Mountain borders the west side of the Project Chimps facility. He ended with, “We (the Commissioners) are not going to rush into anything.”

 

Fannin County Board of Commissioners Meeting, August 9, 2016 

 

 

This is the first in a series of articles FetchYourNews is writing about Project Chimps.  In the next article, FetchYourNews interviews Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management and Sarah Baeckler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps.  Following articles will examine Commissioners worries about safety, health and funding in comparison to national data and Project Chimps’ facility.

 

This article has been updated from the previous version published on August 13.

 

 

 

 

Author

Commissioners Vote to Table Project Chimps’ Application to House 80 Chimpanzees in Fannin County

News

At their August 9th meeting, Fannin County Board of Commissioners discussed  Project Chimps’ application to bring 80 chimpanzees to live in its sanctuary in Fannin County.  The chimpanzees are to arrive in groups of nine to ten over the next year.  In all, Project Chimps will bring approximately 240 chimpanzees over a period of five years.

The Commissioners must approve Project Chimps’ application for exotic animals before the animals can arrive in Fannin County.  According to Fannin County’s Wild and Exotic Animals Ordinance:  “ In the event that the Fannin County Board of Commissioners determines that such a facility cannot be operated within  Fannin County, Georgia, in a manner to insure the health, safety and well-being of the citizens of this County, then the Board of Commissioners shall have the right to reject said application.  The decision of the Board of Commissioners in any individual case, shall be final.”

The Commissioners voted to review the application at the next County Commissioners’ meeting on August 23rd at 6 pm in the Fannin County Courthouse.

The Commissioners’ actions came as a great surprise to Fannin residents, Project Chimps and national organizations that have been pushing for the retirement of New Iberia Research Center’s chimpanzee population.  New Iberia Research Center, operated by the University of Louisiana – Lafayette, currently houses the chimpanzees.

Project Chimps arrived at the Commissioners’ meeting expecting to give a presentation to the Commissioners before they voted on the application.  Post-Commissioner Earl Johnson said he understood Project Chimps had obtained legal counsel.   Sarah Baeckler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps, stated that they had obtained David Ralston as a consultant, not as their attorney.  David Ralston represents Georgia’s 7th District, which includes Fannin County, and is Speaker of the House for Georgia General Assembly. Chairman Simonds said, “I don’t know if we can vote on it yet.”  Mr. Johnson then asked County Attorney Lynn Doss what the appropriate procedures would be for speaking with Project Chimps during the meeting.  Ms. Doss confirmed that the Commissioners need to send comments to her and she will pass the comments on Mr. Ralston.  Post-Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee stated he felt Project Chimps’ obtaining representation by Mr. Ralston was a push to get us [the Commissioners] to vote.

However, during Public Commentary and Commissioners’ Commentary, the Commissioners openly discussed Project Chimps with the organization and Fannin residents in attendance.

Project Chimps’ President and CEO, Sara Baeckler Davis, spoke second during Public Commentary.  She did not give her prepared presentation.  Ms. Baeckler Davis did, though, give an overview of Project Chimps and how it impacts Fannin County.  She spoke about safety measures in place and how the facility will provide jobs and educational opportunities for Fannin residents.  She said that Project Chimps has been overwhelmed by public support from the community.

Sarah Baeckler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps

Sarah Baeckler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps

Ms. Baeckler Davis said that before coming in front of the County Commissioner, she wanted to have her federal and state permits in place since the Commission could not vote on her application without the two permits.  On July 8th, Project Chimps obtained the United States Department of Agriculture permit and on July 25, it obtained the Georgia Division of Natural Resources permit.

Chad Bowers, owner of Better Building Systems, Inc. in Blue Ridge, was the first Fannin resident to speak.  He is the General Contractor for Project Chimps.  He stated that the organization has already brought $200,000 into his Fannin County business and he estimates around $200,000 more in the near future.

Fannin resident Jan Eaton spoke next.  She pressured the Commissioners to be transparent in “what the big hold up is.” She stated that she had visited the “remarkable facility” and it is a “remarkable thing for the community.”  She finished with, “What is the big problem?”

Next up was a neighbor of Project Chimps, Dawn di Lorenzo. Ms. Di Lorenzo lives on Loving Road, which is close to Project Chimps’ facility on Lowery Road.  She said she is delighted the project will be in the community and she wasn’t aware there was any downside.  Janice Hayes of the Cohutta Animal Clinic and Gary Steverson, owner of Blue Ridge Cotton Company, also spoke in favor of Project Chimps.

Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management at Project Chimps

Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management at Project Chimps

Next up was Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management at Project Chimps.  He stated he has over 40 years’ experience re-socializing and integrating groups of chimpanzees.  His last full-time position was for five years as Great Ape Behavioral Consultant at Kumamoto Sanctuary which is part of Kyoto University in Japan.

No one spoke against Project Chimps during Public Commentary.

During the Commissioners’ Commentary, the Commissioners questioned Ms. Baeckler Davis and also gave comments about the project, even though they stated earlier in the meeting that they would not make public comment, but pass all information through County Attorney Lynn Doss.

First off was Commission Chair Bill Simonds.  The direction of his questions was about the long-term funding sources for Project Chimps.  He said he understands that Project Chimps wants to bring 240 individuals that have a life span of 40-60 years. Mr. Simonds said that it was one long commitment and in 40 years people in this room won’t be around to worry about it. Ms. Baeckler Davis affirmed that the organization is not receiving any federal or state grants.  However, the organization is receiving donations from private individuals, other non-profits, and New Iberia Research Center is also contributing money as part of its contract to retire the chimps at the sanctuary.

Ms. Baeckler Davis also reminded the Commissioners about the timeline for arrival of all 240 chimpanzees.  The chimpanzees will arrive in social groups of 9 to 10 animals at a time.  The application is for 80 chimpanzees because that is what the facility can accommodate at this time.  Later groups will move in as the facility expands, which will take a total of five years.  She also said that the chimpanzees must have health certification, which, according to federal regulations can only occur one-month prior to transportation from Louisiana to Georgia.

At the end of his comments about the application, Mr. Simonds stated that he did not want Fannin county residents to be stuck with caring for the chimpanzees because donations to Project Chimps ran dry.

Post-Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee was next.  His line of questioning was about the health of the animals.  First, he wanted to know if the chimpanzees are newly-arrived from Africa.  Then he questioned about what kind of biomedical research the chimpanzees were used for while they were at New Iberia Research Center.  Ms. Baeckler Davis did not answer this questions.  But, she did say that to pass health inspection, which each animal must have before coming to Fannin County, a veterinarian must state that the animals are healthy and not carriers of disease communicable to humans.  Also, the chimpanzees must have rabies, tetanus, pneumonia and tuberculosis vaccines.  She said Project Chimps’ application contained a letter from the attending veterinarian at New Iberia Research Center confirming the animals are free of communicable disease and have had required vaccinations.  She reminded the Commissioners that the chimpanzees also have USDA and Georgia DNR permits.

Next, Post-Commissioner Earl Johnson “wanted to clear the air.”  He said that this (Aug. 9th) evening was the first time he had received information about Project Chimps and he received it at 5:15, 45 minutes before the meeting.  He said that the only communication that has been done was through County Attorney Lynn Doss and she doesn’t vote.  He also doesn’t want his vote to be a knee-jerk reaction.

In balance to Mr. Johnson’s statements, FetchYourNews reports FetchYourNews reports that a formal announcement of Project Chimps was not made until early May 2016 because negotiations between Project Chimps and New Iberia Research Center had not yet been completed. Then in early May, newswire sources like the Associated Press carried stories about New Iberia Research Center’s chimpanzees moving to Fannin County.  This was publicized by other media outlets.

Project Chimps' team meets with Fannin County EMA.

Project Chimps’ team meets with Fannin County EMA.

Project Chimps met with Fannin County Emergency Management Agency in early summer to discuss safety at the facility. Project Chimps formally applied for the exotic animal permit on July 15, 2016. And, Project Chimps’ Open House on June 25th had over 300 attendees and was well-covered in local media.

Open House attendees listen to Ms. Baekler Davis describe the facility.

Open House attendees listen to Ms. Baekler Davis describe the facility.

FetchYourNews also asked Marie Woody, the Chief Land Development Officer for Fannin County, when she was able to officially inform the Commissioners about the arrival of Project Chimps.  Ms. Woody said that Project Chimps delivered their building permit application in late afternoon on Friday, July 15th and she informed Commission Chairman Bill Simonds and County Attorney Lynn Doss on Monday morning, July 18th.

Then, Mr. Johnson went on to list his concerns.  First and foremost are his concerns about security; can chimpanzees escape the facility or uninvited humans or animals get in?  He also wanted to know if security barriers will hold up if a tree falls on them.  Another concern is what biomedical tests the chimps were involved in and if this can pass to humans through birds or squirrels which will get into the open-air space.  He stated that Robert Graham, Director of Fannin County Emergency Management Agency, should be involved in the decision.  He said we should have started talking about this three months ago.

FetchYourNews reports that the facility Project Chimps owns was donated by Dewar Wildlife Trust, which ran the facility as Gorilla Haven. It housed 1-4 male gorillas, most notably Zoo Atlanta’s Willie B. Jr. and Jasiri.  The gorillas are no longer there and the facility has been retro-fitted to house chimpanzees.  Security walls and fences from the gorilla facility remain.  There are is no publicly available record of Gorilla Haven’s gorillas transmitting illness to humans in Fannin County, nor is there any record of escape.

Finally, Mr. Simonds commented on Project Chimps again.  He said, “We want anything that will benefit Fannin County, but we have to answer to taxpayers.”  He also said that the Commissioners received two calls from residents living in My Mountain complaining that Project Chimps will cause their property value to go down.  My Mountain borders the west side of the Project Chimps facility. He ended with, “We (the Commissioners) are not going to rush into anything.”

 

Fannin County Board of Commissioners Meeting, August 9, 2016 

 

 

This is the first in a series of articles FetchYourNews is writing about Project Chimps.  In the next article, FetchYourNews interviews Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management and Sarah Baeckler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps.  Following articles will examine Commissioners worries about safety, health and funding in comparison to national data and Project Chimps’ facility.

 

This article has been updated from the previous version published on August 13.

 

 

 

 

Author

Commissioners Vote to Table Project Chimps’ Application to House 80 Chimpanzees in Fannin County

News

At their August 9th meeting, Fannin County Board of Commissioners discussed  Project Chimps application to bring 80 chimpanzees to live in Project Chimps’ sanctuary in Fannin County.  The chimpanzees are to arrive to sanctuary in groups of nine to ten over the next year. The Commissioners must approve Project Chimps’ application for exotic animals before the animals can arrive in Fannin County.  According to Fannin County’s  Wild and Exotic Animals Ordinance:  “ In the event that the Fannin County Board of Commissioners determines that such a facility cannot be operated within  Fannin County, Georgia, in a manner to insure the health, safety and well being of the citizens of this County, then the Board of Commissioners shall have the right to reject said application.  The decision of the Board of Commissioners in any individual case, shall be final.”

The Commissioners did not vote against the Project Chimps’ exotic animal application; they voted to review the application at the next County Commissioners’ meeting on August 23rd at 6 pm in the Fannin County Courthouse.

Project Chimps is at the former Gorilla Haven facility which housed 1-4 male gorillas, most notably, Atlanta Zoo’s Willie B. Jr. and Jasiri.  The gorillas are no longer there and the facility has been retro-fitted to house chimpanzees.

The Commissioners’ actions came as a great surprise to Fannin residents, Project Chimps and national organizations that have been pushing for the retirement of New Iberia Research Center’s chimpanzee population.  New Iberia Research Center, operated by the University of Louisiana – Lafayette, currently houses the chimpanzees.

Sarah Baekler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps

Sarah Baekler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps

Project Chimps arrived at the Commissioners’ meeting expecting to give a presentation to the Commissioners before they voted on the application.  Post-Commissioner Earl Johnson said he understood Project Chimps had obtained legal counsel.   Sarah Baekler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps, stated that they had obtained David Ralston as a consultant, not as their attorney.  David Ralston represents Georgia’s 7th District, which includes Fannin County, and is Speaker of the House for Georgia General Assembly. Chairman Simonds said, “I don’t know if we can vote on it yet.”  Mr. Johnson then asked County Attorney Lynn Doss what the appropriate procedures would be for speaking with Project Chimps during the meeting.  Ms. Doss confirmed that the Commissioners need to send comments her and she will pass the comments on Mr. Ralston.  Post-Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee stated he felt Project Chimps’ obtaining representation by Mr. Ralston was a push to get us to vote.

However, during Public Commentary and Commissioner’s Commentary, the Commissioners openly discussed Project Chimps with organization representatives and Fannin residents in attendance.

Project Chimps’ President and CEO, Sara Baekler Davis, spoke second during Public Comments.  She did not give her prepared presentation.  Ms. Baekler Davis did, though, give an overview of Project Chimps and how it impacts Fannin County.  She spoke about safety measures in place and how the facility will provide jobs and educational opportunities for Fannin residents.  She said that Project Chimps has been overwhelmed by public support from the community.

Ms. Baekler Davis said that before coming in front of the County Commissioner, she wanted to have her federal and state permits in place since the Commission could not vote on her application without the two permits.  On July 8th, Project Chimps obtained the United States Department of Agriculture permit and on July 25, it obtained the Georgia Division of Natural Resources permit.

Chad Bowers, owner of Better Building Systems, Inc. in Blue Ridge.  He is the General Contractor for Project Chimps.  He stated that the organization has already brought $200,000 into his Fannin County business and he estimates around $200,000 more in the near future.

Fannin resident Jan Eaton spoke next.  She pressured the Commissioners to be transparent about “what the big hold up is.” She stated that she had visited the “remarkable facility” and it is a “remarkable thing for the community.”  She finished with, “What is the big problem?”

Next up was a neighbor of Project Chimps, Dawn di Lorenzo. Ms. Di Lorenzo lives on Loving Road, which is close to Project Chimps’ facility on Lowery Road.  She said she is delighted the project will be in the community and she wasn’t aware there was any downside.  Janice Hayes of the Cohutta Animal Clinic and Gary Steverson, owner of Blue Ridge Cotton Company, also spoke in favor of Project Chimps.

Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management

Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management

Next up was Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management at Project Chimps.  He stated he has over 40 years’ experience re-socializing and integrating groups of chimpanzees.  His last full-time position was for five years as Great Ape Behavioral Consultant at Kumamoto Sanctuary which is part of Kyoto University in Japan.

During the Commissioners’ Commentary, the Commissioners questioned Ms. Baekler Davis and also gave comments about the project, though they stated earlier in the meeting that they would not make public comment but pass all information through County Attorney Lynn Doss.

First off was Commission Chair Bill Simonds.  The direction of his questions was about the long-term funding sources for Project Chimps.  He said that the life span of chimpanzees is 40-60 years and that Project Chimps wants to bring 240 chimpanzees to Fannin County.  Mr. Simonds said that it was one long commitment and in 40 years people in this room won’t be around to worry about it. Ms. Baekler Davis affirmed that the organization is not receiving any federal or state grants.  However, the organization is receiving donations from private individuals and other non-profits and New Iberia Research Center is also contributing money as part of its contract to retire the chimps at the sanctuary.

Ms. Baekler-Davis also reminded the Commissioners about the timeline for arrival of all 240 chimpanzees.  The chimpanzees will arrive in social groups of 9 to 10 animals at a time.  The application is for 80 chimpanzees because that is what the facility can accommodate at this time.  Later groups will move as the facility expands, which will take a total of five years.  She also said that the chimpanzees must have health certification, which, according to federal regulations can only occur one-month prior to transportation from Louisiana to Georgia.

At the end of his comments about the application, Mr. Simonds stated that he did not want Fannin county residents to be stuck with caring for the chimpanzees because donations to Project Chimps ran out.

Post-Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee was next.  His line of questioning was about the health of the animals.  First, he wanted to know if the chimpanzees are newly-arrived from Africa.  Then he questioned about what kind of bio-medical research the chimpanzees were used for while they were at New Iberia Research Center.  Ms. Baekler Davis said that to pass health inspection, which each animal must have before coming to Fannin County, a veterinarian must state that the animals are healthy and not carriers of disease communicable to humans.  Also, the chimpanzees must have rabies, tetanus, pneumonia and tuberculosis vaccines before they can leave New Iberia.  She said Project Chimps a letter from the attending veterinarian at New Iberia Research Center confirming the animals are free of communicable disease and have had required vaccinations.  She reminded the Commissioners that the chimpanzees also have USDA and Georgia DNR permits.

Next, Post-Commissioner Earl Johnson “wanted to clear the air.”  He said that this (Aug. 9th) evening was the first time he had received information about Project Chimps and he received it at 5:15, 45 minutes before the meeting.  He said that the only communication that has been done was through County Attorney Lynn Doss and she doesn’t vote.  He also doesn’t want his vote to be a knee-jerk reaction.

Project Chimps' team meets with Fannin County EMA.

Project Chimps’ team meets with Fannin County EMA.

In balance to Mr. Johnson’s statements, FetchYourNews reports that in early May, news wire sources like the Associated Press carried stories about New Iberia Research Center’s chimpanzees moving to Fannin County.  This was publicized by media outlets.  Project Chimps met with Fannin County Emergency Management Agency in early summer to discuss safety at the facility. Project Chimps formally applied for the exotic animal permit on July 15, 2016. And, Project Chimps’ Open House on June 25th had over 100 attendees and was well-covered in local media.

Open House attendees listen to Ms. Baekler Davis describe the facility.

Open House attendees listen to Ms. Baekler Davis describe the facility.

 

Then, Mr. Johnson went on to list his concerns.  First and foremost are his concerns about security; can chimpanzees escape the facility or uninvited humans or animals get in?  He also wants to know if security barriers will hold up if a tree falls on them.  Another concern is what the chimps were tested for and if this can pass to humans through birds or squirrels which will get into the open-air space.  He stated that Robert Graham, Director of Fannin County Emergency Management Agency, should be involved in the decision.  He said we should have started talking about this three months ago.

FetchYourNews reports that a formal announcement of Project Chimps was not made until early May 2016 because negotiations between Project Chimps and New Iberia Research Center had not yet been completed.

Finally, Mr. Simonds commented on Project Chimps again.  He said, “We want anything that will benefit Fannin County, but we have to answer to taxpayers.”  He also said that the Commissioners received two calls from residents living in My Mountain complaining that Project Chimps will cause their property value to go down.  My Mountain borders the west side of the Project Chimps facility. He ended with, “We (the Commissioners) are not going to rush into anything.”

The Commissioners will reconsider the application at their August 23rd meeting.

 

This is the first in a series of articles FetchYourNews is writing about Project Chimps.  In the next article, FetchYourNews interviews Sarah Baekler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps.  Following articles will examine Commissioners worries about safety, health and funding in comparison to national data and Project Chimps’ facility.

 

 

 

 

 

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House Speaker David Ralston Wins!

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sos.ga.gov

State Representative, District 7 – REP
County Reporting = County Reporting
County DAVID RALSTON (I) SAM SNIDER Total
County Reporting Dawson 334 143 477
County Reporting Fannin 3583 1729 5,312
County Reporting Gilmer 2632 1496 4,128
Total: 6,549 3,368 9,917

Fannin County Board of Education Hears Public Comments about Transgender Bathrooms in Fannin Schools

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Vicki Rhodes of Morganton and Cathy Patterson of Mineral Bluff head to the Fannin Board of Education meeting.

 

Fannin County Board of Education held a three and one-half hour meeting on Thursday night, May 12th.  Two and a half hours were public comments about transgender bathrooms in Fannin County Schools.

Opponents of transgender bathrooms meet at First Baptist Church to prepare for Board of Education meeting

Opponents of transgender bathrooms meet at First Baptist Church to prepare for Board of Education meeting

It was standing-room only in the high school cafeteria.  Even more people were in the gymnasium.  Fannin Rebel TV, the high school television station, broadcast the meeting live to the people in the gym.  Around forty people gave comments about transgender bathrooms and people who do not fit traditional male/female gender identity. Except for attorney Ken Fletcher, everyone who spoke lives in Fannin county, has children in the school system or went through the school system themselves.  By the amount of people at the School Board meeting, Fannin County sent a loud and clear message to the School Board that they don’t want transgender bathrooms in Fannin schools. There were no counter-protesters outside the School Board meeting or along the walk from the First Baptist Church to the Fannin County High School cafeteria.

The meeting opened with an invocation from the Pastor of World Harvest Church North in McCaysville.  During his prayer, he thanked the Board for being here to serve God’s will first to students’ well-being, education and protection.  Bobby Bearden, Chair of the Fannin County School Board reminded the audience that the Board will take everything you say under serious consideration.  He also said that the Board is not here tonight to vote on anything about transgender bathrooms.

 

Comments from the Fannin County Community – Parents, Students and Graduates

The overwhelming theme of the forty plus people who gave comments was about privacy and safety of the children.  Many parents asked the Board why the schools couldn’t have a third bathroom option for transgender students.  At least two parents said that if the school allowed transgender children to use the bathroom of their choice, they will sue the school to build a private bathroom stall for their children. Parent after parent said that they would pull their children out of the Fannin County School system if the schools have transgender bathrooms.  Some parents scolded the Board for putting federal funding ahead of their children’s well-being. If the Fannin County School System chooses to not have transgender bathrooms, the school system could lose $3.5 million in federal funding.

Almost every speaker identified him or herself as a Christian.  Most talked about how the Bible teaches two genders, male and female.  Some parents, like Deena Daughtery, said that they had moved to Fannin County because of its morals.  Many speakers said that they couldn’t believe that the fight over transgender bathrooms had come to Fannin County.

The pastor of Sugar Creek Baptist Church expressed sympathy for the School Board because they were between a rock and hard place in having to make a choice about transgender bathrooms.

julia pruitt

Julia Pruitt

Four people spoke on behalf of Fannin community members who don’t fit traditional male/female gender identity.  Xavier Eaton, a graduate of Fannin County, is transgender.  He said about his time in school, “Everything I went through here was torment.  You don’t know what it is like to be hated.”  He asked the audience to teach children to co-exist with things they don’t believe in.  Julia Pruitt, a Fannin County resident and self-stated lesbian, said that she was listening to ignorance all around her at the meeting.  As a Christian, she believes that Jesus left her with one commandment, “Love thy neighbor.” She told the audience that this (a transgender student) is somebody’s baby that we are talking about.  A therapist practicing in Fannin County told the audience that she was there to let students know that there are other children in Fannin and surrounding counties who are transgender and there are support networks students can reach out to.  She encouraged Fannin students to resist fear-based messages.

Some high school and middle school students spoke.  They indicated that students were not ready to accept transgender bathrooms at school.  Two 8th grade girls had the shortest and most simple comment about transgender bathroom.  It summed up what many parents said without a long explanations. The girls said, “I don’t want to go to the bathroom and see a boy there.”

 

Anthony Walton’s Comments

Anthony Walden

Anthony Walden

Anthony Walton, organizer of Fannin community members who disapprove of transgender bathrooms, spoke for about 15 minutes.  He had several main points.

First, was that people cannot serve God and money.  The Fannin school system needs to make a choice to follow Christian ideas and not be concerned about losing $3.5 million. People are letting the federal government control us with money.  He said that from teaching evolution to acceptance of transgender bathrooms, the US education agenda is immoral and it is time to say “enough!”.

Second, he see transgendered bathrooms as a slippery slope to allowing perversion in school.  He said that if we accept that transgender people are hard-wired to be different, then how do we know that schools won’t see pedophiles as people who are just hard-wired to be different.  Eventually the schools could end up hiring pedophiles to teach our children and there could be perverts in the bathrooms with our daughters and wives.  He gave several examples of how students participating in activities normally reserved for the opposite gender could upset school life.  He said these kind of situations make confusion for students.  What if male athletes play on female teams; what would this do to the playoffs?

He finished up his remarks by promising the School Board that your neighbors and friends in this room will stand with you until the bitter end.

 

Alliance Defending Freedom’s comments

Attorney Ken Fletcher

Attorney Ken Fletcher

Attorney Ken Fletcher, an attorney from Alliance Defending Freedom (see website) was there.  His organization is offering to assist the Fannin County School Board with developing a bathroom policy.  His idea is to have a private school clinic or faculty  bathroom that is open for transgender students.  He told the audience that people who have gender dysphoria live a life of heartache and that there is a 20% suicide rate among transgender people. Mr. Fletcher believes that forcing transgender bathrooms on people is an example of government overreach and transgender bathrooms are another example of President Obama’s executive actions that are forcing unacceptable moral changes in public schools.

 

County Attorney Lynn Doss’ Comments

Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss

Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss

Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss spoke for the Board of Education.  She first cleared up some rumors that have been going around.  She said that Fannin County schools do not have unisex bathrooms and that the School Board is not voting on transgender bathrooms.  Also, non one in the Fannin County school system has had their job threatened over this issue. About the $3.5 million the school system could lose if it provides transgender bathrooms, she said that Fannin County can do without the $3.5 million.  The real money problem is that the school system could be fined $1,000 a day for not providing bathroom. The school system could not take that financial loss.  Like Mr. Fletcher, she said that requiring transgender bathrooms in public schools is another example of government overreach.

Ms. Doss went on to tell the audience that if they really don’t want transgender bathrooms in the schools, they should take their fight to people who have the possibility to change this rule.   The Fannin County School System could refuse to provide transgender bathrooms, but the school system’s action has no power to change the law.  Ms. Doss encouraged everyone to write Gov. Deal and their state and national Senators and Representatives.  She thanked Georgia House Speaker David Ralston for taking a proactive stand for Fannin County.

 

Superintendent Mark Henson’s Comments

Fannin County School Superintendent Mark Henson

Fannin County School Superintendent Mark Henson

At 8:30, two and one-half hours after public comments began, the Board was ready to move into new business.  First, everyone took a 15 minute break.  Then the School Board sat back down to do what it usually does at monthly School Board meetings: listen to and approve purchase requests, go over budget and hear about school programs. (read about the other topics on the School Board May meeting here)

At the end of the School Board meeting, around 9:10, Superintendent Henson gave his remarks about the meeting.  He always sums up School Board meetings and talks about plans for the schools in his end-of-meetings comments.

Mr. Henson promised that everyone employed in the school system, from general staff to teachers to district administrators to the School Board, does everything in their power to keep students safe.  He promises that the School Board will do its best to find a workable solution over the summer.

He talked about the everyday problems that the controversy over transgender bathrooms is bringing to Fannin schools. He said, “If we let this tear us down, then it will.”  He talked about how the school system has so much going for it.  For example, this year’s test scores are in the 11% highest group in Georgia.  Fannin county schools have so much to look forward to said Mr. Henson.  Then, he  announced that the school system is purchasing the Farmer’s Market space next to Swan Drive-In for $350,000 and will build a state-of-the-art agriculture center, something Fannin’s agriculture programs have desperately needed for a long time.

Mr. Henson talked about the disruption this controversy is causing at one of the most critical times in the school year.  “We are only six days from the end of the school year… Everyone needs to calm down and back up.”

I will resign before I let this school system fall apart. – Mark Henson

Then, Mr. Henson said what he personally will do about the situation; “I will resign before I let this school system fall apart.”  This is an especially strong statement from Mr. Henson because he is a graduate of Fannin County schools, his father was high school principal here, his wife works at the school and his children attend Fannin County schools.

Mr. Henson’s comments also covered rumors floating around that Fannin County employees’ jobs are being threatened and the School Board has held secret meetings  to make decisions about transgender bathrooms.

He said absolutely no one’s job has been threatened.  In fact, several school system employees spoke at the meeting about why they don’t want transgender bathrooms.  Mr. Henson then asked the pastor of Sugar Creek Baptist Church if he felt his job with the school system was threatened because he spoke against the School Board and transgender bathrooms.  The pastor said, “Absolutely not.”  In fact, Anthony Walden, the organizer of the protest against transgender bathrooms, works closely with the school system.  He is a School Resource Officer at Fannin County Middle School.

Mr. Henson said that there had been no secret meetings of the School Board about transgender bathrooms.  Mr. Henson, the Fannin County School Board and school system employees pride themselves in how they run a very transparent school system.  Everyone they can read all documents, meeting minutes, school information and school system budget on Fannin’s School Board website. (click here to view the website) . The School Board did go into Executive Session at their workshop meeting on Tuesday.  But, it was to discuss land acquisition (the purchase of the Farmer’s Market) and personnel issues.  April and May is the time when school systems do most of their hiring.

Mr. Henson closed out his comments with thanking all the District Office employees who came out to support the School Board and the school system.

 

School Board Members’ Comments

Finally, it was time for the last item on the agenda, School Board members’ comments about the meeting.

Steve Stanley promised Mr. Henson that “the cavalry  (the School Board) it going to stay right where it is at.”  Mr. Stanley is proud of the new agriculture facility coming to the school system.  He has worked closely with Future Farmers of America and seen how desperately the students need it.

Lewis DeWeese said he wished people knew about the caliber of people we have here.  “We are proud of our team.  All are top-notch God-fearing people who care about children.”

Terry Bramlett said that the people at the meeting tonight should share the same level of passion with representatives in Washington.  He encouraged everyone to write to state and national officials whose duty it is to make legislation about transgender bathrooms.  He shares Mr. Henson’s and Mr. Stanley’s enthusiasm about the new Agriculture Center and reminded the audience that agriculture remains the largest industry in Georgia.

Sandra Mercier said that when she thinks about this controversy, she looks to her personal inspirational statement which she has engraved on her bracelet:  “God grant me the serenity to change what I can, accept what I can’t and the wisdom to know the difference.”

School Board Chair Bobby Bearden said that he was the Board member that told people he was “in it to the end.”  Mr. Bearden was referring to two commenters’ statements that they would call out the Board member who promised to take it to the end if the School Board member doesn’t do what Fannin residents feel about transgender bathrooms.

The School Board meeting ended at 9:30.

 

See related posts:

 “Transgender Bathrooms in Fannin County Schools”

“Fannin Board of Education Workshop:  Middle School Principal, Lunch Prices, Buses, Rain Barrels and Bathrooms”

“Fannin County Board of Education Changes Meeting Location to Accommodate Expected Protesters”

“Fannin Board of Education: Superintendent Henson Will Follow US Law Regarding Transgender Bathrooms”

 

See Related Videos:

Public Comments at Fannin BOE Meeting

Fannin Board of Education:  Superintended Henson Will Follow US Law Regarding Transgender Bathrooms.

March to Fannin County Board of Education

Ken Fletcher of Alliance Defending Freedom Speaks at Fannin County Board of Education

 

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Gilmer County Park & Rec Baseball & Softball Parade with Grand Marshal Speaker David Ralston

GCRPD Baseball, GCRPD Softball, Park and Recreation, Sports

The Gilmer County Park and Recreation Baseball and Softball Parade was held last Saturday in downtown Ellijay. Park and Rec. Director Kevan White said there are about 400 kids in the program ranging from three years old in Tee Ball to 13-16 year old teams.

Follow #TeamFYNSports on twitter @fetchyournews. During the season, send your Baseball and Softball pictures and updates to Kevin Hensley, Director of #TeamFYNSports, email- kevin@FetchYourNews.com.

#TeamFYNSports, “Always looking to spotlight young athletes in a positive manner.”

Scroll down to watch parade video.

Parade Grand Marshall Speaker David Ralston

Parade Grand Marshall Speaker David Ralston

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Georgia Governor Nathan Deal to Veto HB 757 “Religious Liberty Bill”

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Transcript: Deal HB 757 remarks

March 28, 2016

The following is a complete transcript of Gov. Nathan Deal’s remarks regarding HB 757, delievered at a news conference on March 28, 2016.

The decision surrounding HB 757 has generated more intense feelings that most legislation, perhaps because it has highlighted the concerns of many in our religious communities regarding the actions of federal courts, especially the United States Supreme Court in its 5-4 opinion last summer which legalized same sex marriage. (Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ____(2015)).

HB 757 enumerates certain actions that religious leaders, faith-based organizations and people of faith shall not be required to take or perform. These include solemnizing a marriage, attending such marriages, hiring church personnel or renting church property when such acts would be contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs. While most people would agree that government should not force such actions, there has not been a single instance of such taking place in Georgia. If there has been any case of this type in our state it has not been called to my attention. The examples being cited by the proponents of this bill have occurred in other states that have very different laws than Georgia.

One example that is used is the photographer in New Mexico who refused to photograph a same sex marriage (Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock, 309 P. 3d53 (2013)).  That state has a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but it was not applicable. It was the New Mexico Human Rights Act that determined the results in that case. Georgia does not have a Human Rights Act.

The second case that is cited is that of the bakery in Colorado that refused to bake a wedding cake for a same sex couple. There the court ruling was based on Colorado’s Public Accommodation Act which prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation (Craig v. Masterpiece Cakeshop, Inc. ____ P 3d_(2015)). Georgia does not have a Public Accommodation Act.

Therefore, as I have examined the protections this bill seeks to provide to religious organizations and people of faith I can find no examples that any of the things this bill seeks to protect us against have ever occurred in Georgia. It is also apparent that the cases being cited from other states occurred because those state had passed statutes that specifically protected their citizens from adverse actions based on their sexual orientation. Georgia has no such statutes.

HB 757 appeared in several forms during the recent session of the Georgia General Assembly. I had no objection to the “Pastor Protection Act” that was passed by the House of Representatives. The other versions of the bill, however, contained language that could give rise to state-sanctioned discrimination. I did have problems with that and made my concerns known as did many other individuals and organizations, including some within the faith based community.

I appreciate the efforts of the General Assembly to address these concerns and my actions today in no way disparage their motivations on those who support this bill, Their efforts to purge this bill of any possibility that it will allow or encourage discrimination illustrates how difficult it is to legislate on something that is best left to the broad protections of the First Amendment of the United State Constitution. That may be why our Founding Fathers did not attempt to list in detail the circumstances that religious liberty embraced. Instead, they adopted what the late Supreme Court Justice Scalia referred to as “negative protection.” That is, rather than telling government what it can do regarding religion, they told government what it could not do, namely, “establish a religion or interfere with the free exercise thereof.” They had previously proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that Man’s Creator had endowed all men “with certain unalienable rights,” including “Liberty” which embraces religious liberty. They made it clear that those liberties were given by God and not by man’s government. Therefore, it was unnecessary to enumerate in statute or constitution what those liberties included.

In light of our history, I find it ironic that today some in the religious community feel it necessary to ask government to confer upon them certain rights and protections. If indeed our religious liberty is conferred by God and not by man-made government, we should need the “hands-off” admonition of the First Amendment to our Constitution. When legislative bodies attempt to do otherwise, the inclusions and omissions in their statutes can lead to discrimination, even though it may be unintentional. That is too great a risk to take.

Some of those in the religious community who support this bill have resorted to insults that question my moral convictions and my character. Some within the business community who oppose this bill have resorted to threats of withdrawing jobs from our state. I do not respond well to insults or threats. The people of Georgia deserve a leader who will made sound judgments based on solid reasons that are not inflamed by emotion. That is what I intend to do.

As I’ve said before, I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia of which my family and I are a part of for all of our lives. Our actions on HB 757 are not just about protecting the faith-based community or providing a business-friendly climate for job growth in Georgia. This is about the character of our State and the character of its people. Georgia is a welcoming state filled with warm, friendly and loving people. Our cities and countryside are populated with people who worship God in a myriad of ways and in very diverse settings. Our people work side-by-side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way.

For that reason, I will veto HB 757.

 

 

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