Addressing disconnects following Light Up Ellijay

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Crowds flood Downtown Ellijay for Light Up event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Probate Court Announces New Website

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ELLIJAY, GA – Scott C. Chastain, Probate Judge of Gilmer County, is pleased to announce the release of a new website, which will give the public greater access to Probate Court’s public records.

The website, www.georgiaprobaterecords.com, gives the public the ability to search probate records and initiate some processes securely online. For example, you can go to the website and begin the application process for marriage licenses and weapons carry licenses.

You will still need to come in to the office to complete the application, but, by starting the application online, it will reduce your time spent at the Probate Office. The website was developed through a partnership with the Probate Court’s software vendor at no charge to the county.

It will help the Probate Court stay on the cutting edge of technology as more and more things move toward web platforms. It is user friendly and safe, having the same level of data encryption and security as online banking. While Judge Chastain assures that the Probate Court is always happy to see you in person, “We want to offer this option in an effort to expand our service to the community.”

In an effort to further serve our community, Probate Judge Scott C. Chastain and his staff are pleased to announce that the Probate Court of Gilmer County is now accepting Visa and Mastercard credit card or debit card payments.

A driver’s license, along with the card, will need to be presented to verify the cardholder. A small convenience fee will be added to the court fees or fines if you choose to use a card. Also, you now have the ability to pay your traffic citation in the courtroom during traffic court. The process is quick, easy, and convenient. This service is provided by EZCourtPay, LLC.

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DDA Updates Businesses on Website

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The Ellijay Downtown Development Authority received an exciting update to its upcoming Ellijay website at it’s Wednesday , January 11, Meeting.

The website currently under construction is adding new features such as live updates connection with a businesses Facebook page. This is in addition to the already announced links and content that business owners can get from becoming part of the site like the YouTube video tour, business photos, direct map links, and descriptions. However, the moe exciting news to those business owners attending the meeting came as the website membership is becoming free.

Business owners all over the Ellijay’s, according to the DDA, are welcome to join the site to increase exposure by visiting ellijay-georgia.com and following the link in the top right to “Add My Business.” Authority members have dropped the $45 fee in favor of increasing memberships to further aid the DDA. Fund raising will still be a part of the plan, however. As the website will be utilizing some advertisement space to raise those funds later.

Discussion also arose on exposing the website with ideas ranging from window stickers similar to the popular “Gilmer’s Got It!” stickers, exposure to tourists through booklets in local hotels, to cross posts and social marketing through the Cities websites and pages. While the website is still collecting members to become fully operational, business owners can “preview” the site’s setup through the same ellijay-georgia.com address.

The DDA also was set to elect new officers during their meeting. But, due to the absence of three members, was forced to table the elections until February’s meeting.

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DDA Plans for New Ideas in New Year

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As the Members of the DDA (Downtown Development Authority) were asked to consider options for new officers as the New Year draws closer, it was another new item for the new year that drew their attention.

The DDA is preparing to launch a new website for its merchants. The website is being controlled and maintained by two local merchants Mark and Josh in an attempt to establish it as a fund raiser for the DDA. The site masters indicated at the meeting they would be selling space to local merchants on the site that would include a “Guide” to downtown Ellijay.

Over 80 categories on the site will range from food services to art to antiques, businesses can opt into the site and put up a description as well as as photos of their stores, an inserted YouTube video showcase, and a map link through Google Maps to allow visitors a direct path to the location. Business owners will also be allowed to put contact information on the site as they each will be showcased on their own page as well as a cycling highlight reel on the main page.

The site ellijay-georgia.com is set to launch in early 2017 as soon as merchants and the site masters get the final businesses set. After site maintenance and upkeep costs, the DDA motioned to accept a personal donation from the site masters in the amount of 30% of the proceeds.

In the same idea of raising funds, the DDA has voted to reduce the price of the local artist prints you find on sale in several of the downtown shops to $20 (from $30) but will continue selling their Christmas ornaments with no reduction.

As the meeting came to close, the DDA invited citizens to speak to the Board. One local citizen, Mona Lowe implored the Board to consider selling their prints and ornaments in a downtown “Swap Meet” of sorts on the Boardwalk. She offered ideas including setting the meet for a spring time date as a part of many people “Spring Cleaning.”

Lowe also asked the Board to consider options as several downtown artists and merchants have been discussing a type of Folk Art Festival. Stating she had been in discussions with several people, Lowe asked the Board what the chances were of something like that happening in Ellijay.

While the Board took no official action or plans for either event, Chairman Jim Stover did ask Lowe to gather more information on the two ideas and preliminary plans on what it would take to accomplish.

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