ELLIJAY, Ga. – Citizens are questioning the Gilmer County Board of Education this week after reports have surfaced of the involvement of and connections between the school systems Superintendent, Dr. Shanna Downs, and her husband’s, Jeff Downs, career in a company that the school is now engaging to install a security system in the schools.
While allegations pointed that Shanna Downs financially benefited from this contract between the school and the company known as Centegix, where sources say Jeff Downs serves and Senior Vice President of Sales.
FYN looked deeper into the contract and Request for Proposals (RFP) process that was headed up by Gilmer Schools Director of Technology John Call. According to hid RFP listed, the criteria of the RFP included:
1. Bidder’s total proposed price
2. Product quality/appropriateness/compatibility/performance
3. Bidder’s qualifications/experience
4. Bidder’s ability to provide support/service
5. Bidder’s warranty/maintenance
6. Proposed product meeting the district’s present needs as well as future needs through
enhancements and upgrades.
Call headed the reviews and RFP process, according to Downs, who said, “When I realized that my husband would likely accept a position with Centegix in November, I notified the board and I placed our technology director, John Call, in charge of the competitive bidding process for the security system. I asked that I be left completely out of the process.”
Downs further stated that Call and Stuart Sheriff, Assistant Superintendent, contacted Harbin, Hartley and Hawkins Attorneys at Law on November 12 for legal advice. As they saw no problem after Downs recusal, Downs says she informed the Board of her husband’s potential future employment with Centegix. She says, “Mr. Call assembled a committee of building level administrators to review and score the responses to the Request for Proposals (RFPs). Details of that process can be found in our board minutes from December 13, 2018. Until that process was complete, I stayed unaware of the selection of the product.”
Downs made one further note on her husband’s involvement saying, “My husband began work with Centegix on December 3rd and will not make any commission off of the purchase.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Education formally accepted their 2018 Millage Rate this week with unanimous approval from the present board members.
The final vote came 4-0, Nick Weaver was absent, on Thursday, August 23, setting the rate at 14.458 mills for the year.
After discussing the rate on Monday’s Work Session and over the last month since their July Meeting, where Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs informed the board that their calculated rollback rate was 14.458 mills, decreasing from 2017’s 16.12 mill., the final decision lowered the rate by 1.662 over last year.
Downs mentioned in the board’s regular session that no citizens have commented on the Rollback Rate this year or the boards advertisement of it over the last month.
Continuing along the financial discussions, a bid for two extra buses was approved. Coming from extra funding the state found and spread among school systems, this unexpected item set the board with an opportunity to try a different engine. Originally, Director of Operations Bob Sosebee’s Bid Analysis offered the board the bids for both a diesel engine bus and a gasoline bus.
Sosebee said in the meeting that he wanted to offer the board the option of trying gasoline buses instead of diesel with this extra funding as a trend is beginning to see other school systems do similar. Mentioning emissions and testing stresses on the increase, causing a major increase in time spent on repairs, as one point pushing to change, he presented three company’s bids including both engines. the bids include warranty’s on both engines.
The system currently runs its entire bus fleet on diesel engines. When asked for his recommendation, Sosebee suggested the board try the gas buses to be able to compare the two types. Ultimately, approval came from the board as they said they would be willing to use these, as the extra funding came in from the state, as a test pair.
While continuing to replace and grow the bus fleet, Downs noted the Board is still struggling to find bus drivers. Upon a request, Downs is moving forward of increasing the sign on bonus for new drivers from $500 to $1000. As the board discussed the rise and answers to problem, one suggestion arose that the board may look at possibly considering changing the salary as well. Though no real action came except to notify the board of increasing the sign on bonus, indications lean that we could learn more at next month’s meeting.
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.
ELLIJAY, GA – Rezonings and LMIG took a large portion of the Board of Commissioners November Meetings as opposition and details came in abundance for both.
A request to rezone for Lalit Devgan, Tax Map 3150 Parcel 007a, wanted to add a conditional use to the R-1 Residential Zoning. The conditional use would allow for a bed and breakfast home. Though Devgan and the Realtor spoke on behalf of the Bed and Breakfast, numerous others spoke against it. Bill Craig spoke at the meeting about a petition with over 20 names set against the rezone.
Craig also noted the county definition of a bed and breakfast home states the owner must live in the building while maintaining short overnight stays for no more than four guests. Craig and others noted that Devgan openly admitted he would not continually occupy the house as his family lives in Atlanta.
While the idea of “owner occupied” could be overcome by giving a share of the business to a manager. Still more citizens spoke about the business and their opposition to it. Aiden Stuart spoke on the concept of wanting to maintain his area outside of the city to be non-commercial. Saying he moved to Gilmer for the mountain home, he opposed the rezoning as it would be changing the concept of his neighborhood.
As the Commissioners debated the rezoning request, Chairman Charlie Paris stated he would vote to protect what the citizens believe to keep the rural parts of the county in a rural setting. Opposing the rezoning, Paris stated that citizens who move to the county and “do their homework,” to see that the entire surrounding area is marked R1 for a residential zone, want to avoid something commercial coming in later, “I think we have an obligation to protect that for them.”
Post Commissioner Dallas Miller noted he believed the ordinance should be changed to avoid the commercialization of residential zones, but as the ordinance currently stands, he could not vote against it as it is allowed by the ordinance. The application being “pretty cut and dry,” he would have to allow it as a Commissioner. While he noted he really did not want to vote either way, he was not allowed to abstain, therefore voting in favor of the rezoning.
Post Commissioner Travis Crouch also noted the land use ordinance, stating a bed and breakfast home was in the ordinance as an allowed conditional use. He stated he felt conflicted over the issue, but weighing in the ordinance and the recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Board as a unanimous decision to approve, Crouch voted in favor of the rezoning.
With the vote, Chairman Paris actually first moved to deny the request, but had no second. Therefore, his motion died. Crouch then motioned to approve with a second from Miller. The final vote came 2-1 with Paris being the dissenting vote.
Another major issue discussed over the month’s meetings came through next year’s LMIG. The County received estimates for the LMIG funds, along with the currently awarded bids for materials next year. Public Works Director Jim Smith originally gave a list of roads he recommended to pave next year. However, seeing the bids in the work session, Smith recalculated and returned to the Regular Session to estimate the county will be able to re-pave 7.63 miles of road in the unincorporated areas. Especially citing stone increasing by a dollar per ton, Asphault increasing on the 12.5 milmeter super pave by $3.76 per ton, and Emulsion expected to increase even after rebidding, Smith recommended the following roads for LMIG next year: Tower Road, Johnson Mill Road, Blackberry Mountain Road, Pisgah Road, and Cherokee Drive in addition to the second half of the Mountaintown Road as Phase 2 from this years paving.
The 2018 LMIG will also return to County Personnel laying and paving the roads as opposed to bidding the projects this year to free up resources and people to continue working on the Cherry Log Fire Station.
The Board also approved an offer for Duplicating Processes for a new copier contract as seen below. The Commissioners noted that several private entities in the county use this company as well as certain offices in the county who already use them.
Additionally in the meeting, the Commissioners appointed Max Holstein to the Whitepath Golf Course Advisory Board. Though the Commissioners originally had another candidate, Chairman Paris noted he would like to not fill the Board with locals around the Golf Course, but instead maintain a variety of people from across the county.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners approved Materials Bids for the coming 2018 year. After accepting bids for the five areas, only one has been rejected.
Emulsion was the one rejected bid. Hudson Materials delivered a bid to the county for emulsion over $1.50 for all three of their materials. Deemed higher than expected, the commissioners voted to reject this bid. Chairman Paris assured those present there would be enough time to rebid this before the new year.
C.W. Matthews Contracting Company out of Marietta, Georgia, was awarded the county’s asphalt bid for materials ranging between $55 to $62 for 2018. Increases in these prices are also affecting paving projects and the Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (LMIG) for 2018 as Public Works Director Jim Smith estimated the county will be able to pave 7.63 miles with LMIG next year.
West Block Company was awarded its bid for concrete, beating Wayne Davis Concrete Company. Though discussion arose on certain aspects of the bid such as a “truck time charge after one hour,” the commissioners ultimately awarded the bid after continued investigation still resulted with West Block being the lower bid.
Another contested bid came with propane. Though Heritage Propane delivered a fixed price bid of $1.49 per gallon, they were largely outbid by Appalachian Propane at $1.08 per gallon.
The final bid, stone, was another uncontested bid, same as it was last year, by Vulcan Materials Company. With prices ranging between $15 and $30 depending on the grade and type of stone, Director Smith also reports this is another bid continuing to increase costs for the county in the coming year.
ELLIJAY, GA – The Gilmer County Board of Education spoke in there September meetings about the coming renovations to the local high school.
Still in the very early stages, the renovation project is currently in its application stage for state funding. According to Assistant Superintendent Administrative Services Stuart Sheriff, the application has been approved. However, the approval included a project to replace the standing seam metal roof. However, Sheriff states they are not planning on replacing the roof as it is “basically a 40-year roof, and we’re at 20 years.”
Instead of replacing the roof, the plan is to replace the flat roofing in the high school such as the front office where issues have arisen. The resolution of the Board is to go back to the state officially stating they don’t want to replace the standing seam roofing, but the flat roofing instead.
Next month will see the final application from this issue according to Sheriff, and the RFQ (Request For Qualifications) for Construction Managers has been released. October could see great steps into the project as Sheriff says he expects the RFQ to return, the ECAC (E-SPLOST Construction Advisory Committee) to meet, and they expect to be back in October’s meeting for the Board to look at the Construction Manager.
As the project continues, Sheriff tells FYN that actual construction is expected to begin before students leave for the summer. The early stages could included work on the roof and other projects that will not distract or interrupt classes and students studies. However, these preliminary ideas are subject to change as the Manager, Architect, and ECAC continues to meet monthly and details are ironed out.
ELLIJAY, GA – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners is moving heavily onto the topic of roads and paving in August with bid approvals and an Eminent Domain on a right of way.
Due to issues involving the Cherry Log Fire Station, Gilmer County is adjusting projects in August. During their meeting, the Commissioners put final approval on its new amendment to Purchases of the Board of Commissioners in the County Code. This amendment is allowing the Commissioners to increase the spending limit with a single vendor in a year without bidding from $20,000 to $50,000 if the capital project is already in the County Budget. Additionally, the Commissioners added a new requirement that any purchases over $25,000 would require two separate signatures from the County Commissioners.
The next step of the Fire Stations effect on the county came with a stall after the county bid out the project to clear the land. With the one bid received being close to $100,000 over the expected cost, the Board of Commissioners declined the bid and are now set to have the Road Department clear the land instead.
With the Amendment to Purchases, additional materials and asphalt will be bought by the County as they accepted Bartow Paving as the low bidder for paving projects. While Public Works Director Jim Smith said the Road Department will still prep everything for the projects, they will have Bartow Paving actually pave certain roads while our County Department clears the land for the Fire Station. One addendum was added to the award taking 1.9 miles of road off of the projects, on Mountain Town Road. The original bid of $318,000 was cut down by $45,099.69 in order to place the paving within the county budgeted expenditures.
Post Commissioner Dallas Miller originally stated he wanted the County to find an extra source of money so they would not cut out any of the paving project. However, at the regular session, Director Smith said there was additional cost for materials that would cost the county more in addition to the extra $45,000 for the bid. As such, the board approved the bid with the addendum.
Another paving project for the year is Ridgeway Church Road. Ridgeway has seen issues in the County’s attempt to pave an extra portion up to the end of County Maintenance in the form of one resident failing to sign off on the right of way. However, Smith stated they have been in contact with the property owner before and even showed him on site the county’s need for the right of way. Smith states the only issue with signing is that the owner lives out of town and has not responded to the County’s attempts to contact him again.
Along those lines, August saw the board approve Eminent Domain on the Right of Way, approximately 0.77 acres, to move forward with paving the road. The county has collected Right of Ways for every other property on the road.
As the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners continue moving to construct the Cherry Log Fire Station, new issues and obstacles arise.
Bidding out their project to clear the land that the Fire Station will sit on, Commissioner Charlie Paris reports they received only one bid. That $295,468.25 bid from BM&K Construction and Engineering, out of Braselton, was deemed unacceptable by the Commissioners. Paris stated that he is expecting to return to the idea of utilizing county workers to clear the land and expects a far reduced price because of it.
However, currently, capital projects like this cannot use a single vendor to purchase over $20,000 within the year without bidding according to county ordinances.
The Commissioners have called a special meeting on June 21 to address this issue with a possible change to the ordinance to specifically allow capital projects, like the Fire Station, that have been fully approved by the Board of Commissioners and already within the budget to increase that cap for vendors without bidding.
Chairman Paris stated that the Fire Station is budgeted around $350,000 and even if this change passes, that would not change. Instead, they would be using the budgeted money in the same manner as they budgeted, but with set vendors for materials needed as the county completes the clearing project.
When asked why the Commissioners were considering the change, Paris stated that the completion date, set for June 1, would likely be pushed back if they had to bid out each material needed and he did not expect a vast difference in costs. Since the project has already seen delays from last year, Paris did not want this project to take any more time than necessary as he said he had promised the people of Cherry Log that he would have a fire station for them.
He also stated he didn’t want to have the fire station become like the Clear Creek Ball fields and take years to complete.
The Board has already approved advertisement of this ordinance change and is meeting on the 21st to discuss and detail parameters such as what amount of money would be acceptable for this one exception to the ordinance to be set at.
If the change is set during the meeting on the 21st, then citizens could expect the first reader to appear in July’s Commissioner’s Meeting depending on when the advertisement is set to meet the 14 day requirement.